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Chan Zuckerberg BioHub Awards $50 Million to “Risky” Science

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The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub—the nonprofit medical research institute launched by Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg—has announced its first class of scientific grantees, each of whom will receive up to $1.5 million in funding. The biohub was created to provide a safe but exciting space for scientific experimentation, all with an eye to eliminating disease around the world.

Biohub co-leader Stephen Quake is a bioengineer at Stanford University, one of the organization’s major partners. “We told researchers, 'Give us your riskiest ideas,'” Quake told Nature. “There is a creative anarchy in the atmosphere here in the Silicon Valley that we want to harvest.”

The 47 grantees represent a broad range of scientific specialties from immunology to (perhaps unsurprisingly) human social networks. Here are 10 of them.

1. JILL F. BANFIELD, UC BERKELEY

Banfield studies geomicrobiology and environmental microbiology—that is, the tiny organisms living in the rock, soil, and sand.

2. MARTIN KAMPMANN, UC SAN FRANCISCO

Kampmann’s research focuses on the molecular mechanisms behind neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

3. MARKITA LANDRY, UC BERKELEY

Landry uses her background in chemical and biomolecular engineering to develop infrared and nanosensor scanners that will produce super-high-resolution images of the inside of the brain.

4. JURIJ LESKOVEC, STANFORD

Leskovec analyzes information and social networks from the large-scale (humans) to the microscopic (neurons) and even the invisible (data).

5. MICHEL MAHARBIZ, LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LAB

Maharbiz develops very, very, very, very small implantable biosensors, including one he calls “neural dust.”

6. RIKKY MULLER, UC BERKELEY

Muller is creating wireless microsystems that could be directly attached to the human brain for long-term, non-invasive monitoring, and treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders.

7. KATIE POLLARD, UC SAN FRANCISCO

An epidemiologist and biostatistician, Pollard researches the ways our microbiome influences our health and response to disease and treatment.

8. MANU PRAKASH, STANFORD

Prakash and his colleagues have invented a number of low-cost, hand-powered tools for researchers and medical practitioners working in remote areas. Their latest invention was a paper centrifuge that can be made for about $0.20.

9. ELIZABETH SATTELY, STANFORD

Sattely’s focus is plants—specifically food plants like grains, and how they might be engineered to become more nutritious.

10. KE XU, UC BERKELEY

Xu has invented new microscope techniques so advanced that we can now see biological structures we’d never seen before.

Check out the Biohub website for the complete list of grantees.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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