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The Volunteers in This Extreme 1965 Isolation Study Lost Track of Entire Weeks

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In 1965, scientists wanted to study the psychological and physiological effects of isolation on humans, so they found two volunteers—a midwife named Josie Laures and a furniture maker named Antoine Senni—and left them alone in two separate caves in the French Alps for several months.

When Laures finally emerged from isolation 88 days later, after setting a world record, she thought it was February 25. It was March 12.

When Senni emerged after his record-setting 126 days, he thought it was February 4. It was April 5. 

After months in complete isolation, and without any sunlight to indicate time of day, both cave dwellers had lost track of entire weeks. Though scientists reported that both volunteers were physically and mentally healthy, their sleep patterns, and perceptions of time, were altered drastically during their time in the caves. 

In their recent story on the cave dwellers, The Atlantic explains, “Absent any cues from sunlight or even from clocks, Laures’s and Senni’s sleep schedules got wacky—sometimes without them realizing it.” Senna, for instance, would sometimes fall asleep for 30 hours at a time, and wake up thinking he’d just had a short nap. Scientists later discovered that, isolated from temporal cues, humans tend to slip into 48-hour sleep cycles—making it even harder to keep track of time.

Though both volunteers survived their ordeal, they admitted it wasn’t a particularly fun time. After emerging from her cave, Laures told the Associated Press

I am so happy to have lasted it out, that I have forgotten everything. I can tell you though that it became very difficult toward the end and I felt terribly worn out … At the start of my stay I read, and then I lost the desire. I didn't suffer from the cold. I was well heated in my little tent. My tape recorder refused to work the first few days, but later I managed to repair it and I listened to music. Outside of that I knitted, and knitted some more, and looked forward to the time when I would finally see the sun.

Check out the full story at The Atlantic to learn more about Laures and Senni's surreal experience.

[h/t: The Atlantic]

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science
The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Buckingham Palace Was Built With Jurassic Fossils, Scientists Find
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The UK's Buckingham Palace is a vestige from another era, and not just because it was built in the early 18th century. According to a new study, the limestone used to construct it is filled with the fossilized remains of microbes from the Jurassic period of 200 million years ago, as The Telegraph reports.

The palace is made of oolitic limestone, which consists of individual balls of carbonate sediment called ooids. The material is strong but lightweight, and is found worldwide. Jurassic oolite has been used to construct numerous famous buildings, from those in the British city of Bath to the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.

A new study from Australian National University published in Scientific Reports found that the spherical ooids in Buckingham Palace's walls are made up of layers and layers of mineralized microbes. Inspired by a mathematical model from the 1970s for predicting the growth of brain tumors, the researchers created a model that explains how ooids are created and predicts the factors that limit their ultimate size.

A hand holding a chunk of oolite limestone
Australian National University

They found that the mineralization of the microbes forms the central core of the ooid, and the layers of sediment that gather around that core feed those microbes until the nutrients can no longer reach the core from the outermost layer.

This contrasts with previous research on how ooids form, which hypothesized that they are the result of sediment gathered from rolling on the ocean floor. It also reshapes how we think about the buildings made out of oolitic limestone from this period. Next time you look up at the Empire State Building or Buckingham Palace, thank the ancient microbes.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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