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Scientists Record High-Speed Imagery of Snot Rockets

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These high-speed images of sneezes will make you never want to leave the house without a pack of tissues again. In the journal Experiments in Fluids, a group of MIT scientists who study the ways infections spread through snot sprays report that sneezes aren’t as simple as we thought. Rather, mucus ejects from our mouths and noses in “a complex cascade of events from sheets, to bag bursts, to ligaments, which finally break into droplets,” they write. 

The researchers recorded the sneezes of three people using two high-speed cameras (6000 to 8000 frames per second). They tickled the subjects' noses, then took images of 100 sneezes.

They found that the droplets of saliva and mucus don’t spray ready-made from our bodies. Instead, the liquid emerges from your face in thick sheets that expand with your breath—kind of like your sneeze is blowing up a snot balloon. From there, the mucus-saliva mixture goes through a quick succession of shapes, becoming long, thin filaments before forming airborne droplets. Bigger droplets fall to the ground, while the smaller droplets remain suspended in a “turbulent cloud” of potentially infectious snot.

“We expected to see droplets coming out fully formed from the respiratory tract,” one of the study’s authors, MIT assistant professor Lydia Bourouiba, explains in a press release. "It turns out that’s not the case at all.” To their surprise, snot droplets aren’t uniform.

And some people spray differently than others. People with more elastic snot shot liquid filaments farther into the air than other sneezers, whose snot broke into droplets earlier. This might mean that some people are more likely to spread germs than others through their sneezes.

Bourouiba is creating a new lab to study the way infectious diseases spread through droplets, especially the common cold and the flu. In addition to studying how diseases spread through the environment, she also hopes to be able to identify people who are “super spreaders.” She has previously studied how coughs spread infectious drops through the air.

All images from the paper, “Visualization of sneeze ejecta: steps of fluid fragmentation leading to respiratory droplets,” by B. E. Scharfman, A. H. Techet, J. W. M. Bush, L. Bourouiba.

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Medicine
Why Haven't We Cured Cancer Yet?
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Walkathons, fundraisers, and ribbon-shaped bumper stickers raise research dollars and boost spirits, but cancer—the dreaded disease that affects more than 14 million people and their families at any given time—still remains bereft of a cure.

Why? For starters, cancer isn't just one disease—it's more than 100 of them, with different causes. This makes it impossible to treat each one using a one-size-fits-all method. Secondly, scientists use lab-grown cell lines cultivated from human tumors to develop cancer therapies. Living masses are far more complex, so potential treatments that show promise in lab experiments often don't work on cancer patients. As for the tumors themselves, they're prone to tiny genetic mutations, so just one growth might contain multiple types of cancer cells, and even unique sub-clones of tumors. These distinct entities might not respond the same way, or at all, to the same drug.

These are just a few of the challenges that cancer researchers face—but the good news is that they're working to beat all of them, as this TED-Ed video explains below.

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Health
Skipping Breakfast Could Be Bad for Your Heart
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There are mountains of evidence supporting the claim that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Getting something in your stomach in the first hours of the morning can regulate your glucose levels, improve your cognition, and keep your hunger in check. Now new research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology points to another reason not to wait until lunchtime to break last night’s fast. As TIME reports, people who skip breakfast are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis, a disease caused by plaque buildup in the arteries.

Researchers surveyed over 4000 men and women between the ages of 40 and 54 living in Spain. After looking at the dietary habits of each participant, they broke them into three groups: people who consumed more than 20 percent of their daily calories in the morning; those who got 5 to 20 percent; and those who ate less than 5 percent.

The subjects who ate very little in the a.m. hours or skipped breakfast all together were 2.5 more likely to have generalized atherosclerosis. This meant that plaque was starting to collect on the walls of their arteries, hardening and narrowing them and increasing the risk for heart attack or stroke. People who fell into the 5 to 20 percent calorie category were also more likely to show early signs of the disease, while those who ate the most calories in the morning were the healthiest.

These results aren’t entirely surprising. Previous studies have shown a connection between skipping breakfast and health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and unwanted weight gain. A possible explanation for this trend could be that waiting several hours after waking up to eat your first meal of the day could trigger hormonal imbalances. The time between getting into and out of bed is the longest most of us go without eating, and our bodies expect us to consume some calories to help kickstart our energy for the day (drinking straight coffee doesn’t cut it). Another theory is that people who don’t eat in the morning are so hungry by the time lunch rolls around that they overcompensate for those missing calories, which is why skipping breakfast doesn’t make sense as a diet strategy.

But of course there are many breakfast skippers who aren’t motivated by health reasons either way: They just don’t think they have the time or energy to feed themselves in the morning before walking out the door. If this describes you, here are some simple, protein-packed meals you can prepare the night before.

[h/t TIME]

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