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February 22, 2019

Weekend reads: This disease turns deer brains into 'Swiss cheese.' What could it do to humans?

Daily Briefing

    Ben Palmer's reads

    Long-lost twins? Brady Feigl is a 6'4" pitcher for the Single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. He has red hair, a red beard, wears glasses, and needed Tommy John surgery during his career. And then there's Brady Feigl, who is a 6'4" pitcher for the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. He has red hair, a red beard, wears glasses, and needed Tommy John surgery during his career. Given their similarities, the two took a DNA test to see if they were long-lost relatives. As it turns out, the two Bradys are not related at all. However, they both have 53% of Germanic ancestry.

    Why do we yawn? We don't really know. Yawning doesn't just happen when you're tired, it happens all the time—seeing someone yawn, reading about yawning, even being anxious or hungry can make you yawn. But why do we yawn? According to Adrian Guggisberg, a professor of clinical neuroscience at the University of Geneva, that's a difficult question. It was previously thought that yawning was a way for the body to increase oxygen levels in the blood, but that's been disproven in research. "The real answer so far is we don't really know why we yawn," Guggisberg said. "No physiological effect of yawning has been observed so far, and that's why we speculate. It's possible yawning doesn't really have a physiological effect." Separately, Andrew Gallup, an assistant professor of psychology at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, said it's possible that yawning "functions to promote arousal and alertness." That could explain why yawning is contagious, as it could serve to "promote coordinated arousal among members of the group, synchronizing their mental state," Gallup said.

    Danielle Poindexter's reads

    A 'zombie disease' is infecting deer across the country. Are humans next?  An infectious disease known as "chronic wasting disease," has sickened deer, elk, and moose across 24 states by turning their brains into "Swiss cheese," Julia Belluz writes for Vox. The disease, which is similar to mad cow disease, can spread through direct or indirect contact with bodily fluids. But researchers are calling the infection a "zombie disease," because it is spread by prions—pathogenic proteins that can't be killed because they aren't alive. But will the disease infect humans next? A recent study found that the disease prions can infect human cells in a petri dish—but so far, there have been no documented cases of the disease in people.

    A kindergartner could be the first human to contact aliens. Scientists at Arecibo Observatory—a 1,000-foot-wide telescope in Puerto Rico—are asking kids to participate in a contest to create a radio broadcast for aliens. The winner of the contest, which falls on the 45th anniversary of the scientists' attempt to contact aliens in 1974, will have their message broadcast into space. That means a child might be the first human being to make contact with aliens. The "new Arecbio Message" will contain updated information about Earth, such as the current population size and recent scientific advancements. Alessandra Abe Pacini, a researcher at Arecibo, said kids, from kindergarteners to 16-year-olds, are best suited to the task because "students know a little bit about everything ... for sure they can design a message that is actually much more important."

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