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Scientists Study the Complex Roles of Gases in Our Bodies

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We like the idea that our being is divided into two parts: body and mind. But the more we learn about our biology, the more we see that the borders between the two are permeable, if not outright imaginary. Take gases, for instance. A new study shows how the gases swirling inside our bodies can power our brains and affect the way we act. The paper was published in the journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease

Our body parts are constantly in flux, working and changing in a very active ecosystem. They need fuel to stay active. For your nervous system, this means the chemicals called neurotransmitters, which help communicate impulses from one nerve cell to another. Those neurotransmitters take a number of different forms—including gases. 

Some gaseous neurotransmitters (or gasotransmitters) are produced by your organs and tissues. Others—such as nitric oxide (NO), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), methane (CH4), hydrogen (H2), and ammonia (NH3)—are the products of fermentation in your gut by microscopic organisms like bacteria. These tiny molecules feed and help regulate your cells and those of the microbes living inside you—complex relationships that can have much larger consequences. 

NO, for example, is a favorite food of the E. coli bacteria that live in your gut. The more stress your body is under, the more NO it makes, which means that E. coli stands to gain quite a bit by stirring up trouble in your body. 

Like your microbiome (the ecosystem of microbes in and on your body), these gases serve us best when they and their fuel sources are balanced. Studies in mice have shown that a deficiency of NO-producing enzymes can lead to increased sexual activity and depression, while not having enough H2S may trigger seizures and other neurological disorders. 

The review study’s lead author Alexander Oleskin is a biologist at Lomonosov Moscow State University. “Prospectively the research findings will be implemented in medical and psychiatric practice,” he said in a press statement. In the future, he says, doctors could use probiotics to encourage the growth of gas-producing or gas-consuming bacteria.

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Animals
Why Do Female Spotted Hyenas Give Birth Through Their Pseudo-Penises?
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At the zoo, you can sometimes tell the difference between male and female animals by noting their physical size, their behavior, and yes, their nether regions. Hyenas, however, flip the script: Not only are lady spotted hyenas bigger and meaner than their male counterparts, ruling the pack with an iron paw, they also sport what appear to be penises—shaft, scrotum, and all.

"Appear" is the key word here: These 7-inch-long phalluses don't produce sperm, so they're technically really long clitorises in disguise. But why do female hyenas have them? And do they actually have to (gulp) give birth through them? Wouldn't that hurt … a lot?

The short answers to these questions are, respectively, "We don't know," "Yes," and "OW." Longer answers can be found in this MinuteEarth video, which provides the full lowdown on hyena sex. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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science
Are Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Really Linked? Researchers Investigate
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Around the world, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are said to go hand-in-hand. But do they? As PsyPost reports, a pair of Pennsylvania psychologists recently dove into the empirical evidence tying the three together, asking college students to talk about their drug use, sex lives, and music preferences and talents to suss out whether people who play and enjoy rock music really do have more active sex lives and drug use.

Published in the journal Human Ethnology Bulletin, the study [PDF] of 467 students relied on self-reporting, which isn't typically the most reliable evidence—people are wont to exaggerate how often they've had sex, for instance—but the survey also asked them about their desires, posing questions like "If you could, how frequently would you have sex?" It also asked about how often the students drank and what drugs they had tried in their lifetimes. They also described their musical experience and what kind of music they listened to.

The results were mixed, but the researchers identified a relationship between liking faster, "harder" music and having more sex and doing more drugs. Acoustic indie rock aficionados weren't getting quite as wild as heavy metal fans. High-tempo-music lovers were more likely to have taken hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, for example, and tended to have had more sexual partners in the previous year than people who favored slower types of music. According to the study, previous research has found that attention-seeking people are more likely to enjoy "hard" music.

The study didn't have a diverse enough group either in age or in ethnicity to really begin to make sweeping generalizations about humans, especially since college students (the participants were between 18 and 25) tend to engage in more risky behaviors in general. But this could lay the groundwork for future research into the topic. Until then, it might be more accurate to change the phrase to "sex, drugs, and heavy metal."

[h/t PsyPost]

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