Drugs, Genes & Vampires


Today at Science Journal Club, I read a very unusual article named, ‘The ten strangest ideas in science.’ I plan to reveal to you the contents of this article and the impacts these ideas produce which resonate throughout our daily lives.

Primarily, contrary to popular belief, psychedelic drugs may help those with mental health issues. For most of us, it is difficult to tell which drugs are legal and those that are not due to the ever changing government recommendations and statistics. Some of the drugs deemed most potent and dangerous by our government have been recorded to have strikingly positive effects in mental health patients. At ICL, researchers have shown a strong correlation between the way LSD affects the brains of patients and a reduction in levels of depression. Another psychedelic, a well-known ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms called psilocybin has been shown to reduce depression in cancer patients for as long as 6 months after just one treatment. This seems amazing, but perhaps it is merely the placebo effect? How can we be sure these experiments were conducted thoroughly and accurately? If you went to the doctor today and asked for drugs like these, you would obviously be denied them. However, with marijuana being legalised in some US states, could the UK be the next place to see once banned substances become commonplace?

Next, a very strange star has been discovered which some may believe to harbour alien life. This star lies in the Cygnus constellation, almost 1500 light years from Earth, and is surrounded by a novel and somewhat alien structure. It is called Tabby’s star after its discoverer and pulses with unusual and striking brightness, unlike anything observed before. Although unlikely, a theory suggests that this megastructure originates from extra-terrestrial life harvesting energy from the star. This was initially presented in a joking manner, however, now more and more possibilities are being excluded-perhaps it is the only plausible explanation? Scientists are staying tuned into the star for any more signals from possible aliens!

Unfortunately, today I also discovered that if we became in essence ‘vampires’, we might be able to prolong our lives. Dr Wyss-Coray at Stanford University conducted an experiment where he injected old mice with plasma from young mice and extraordinarily their organs started to exhibit signs of reverse ageing, acting more like those of the mice from which the plasma was taken in the first place. The plasma affects proteins in the brain and this allows old mice to effectively become half their age. This is amazing, but I am sceptical as to whether this treatment will work in humans, let alone make it through the rigorous testing and trials that will allow it to become commonplace.

I have always wondered why some animals can detect magnetic fields and others cannot. Is it a trait solely for particular branches of animals, or was it once for all? Well, in an article I read earlier, I discovered that once, a very long time ago, humans did possess the power to feel magnetic fields and the Earth’s poles. Here I will quote an extract from the article detailing the experiment:

‘Deep underground at Caltech in the US, Kirschvink had 24 volunteers hooked up to brainwave monitors and sat, in complete darkness, inside a Faraday cage. This structure blocks out electromagnetic background noise. He then applied a rotating magnetic field similar in strength to Earth’s around them. When the field was rotated… (he) recorded a drop in the alpha waves in the volunteer’s brains. This kind of drop is normally associated with brain processing, which suggests that the volunteer’s neurons were firing in response to the moving magnetic field and so were able to subconsciously sense it.’ Isn’t this amazing- we may once have possessed a sixth sense. If so, I’d certainly like to learn how to use and apply it!

Did you know other abilities may be embodied in our genes, and memories can be passed down through your genes? This can be demonstrated when you realise that when baby sea turtles are born, they automatically know to head towards the sea-why? This may be partly instinct, but researchers believe genetics also plays a role in this. Dr Treffert who studies savants (people with developmental disorders who display extraordinary talents in another area such as music) shows in several studies how these traits may be passed down in genes and amplified in savants. This is not a new idea, as Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist suggests that we all possess a ‘cosmic consciousness’ that we can take from when we need it. This is a similar concept to reincarnation, and although scientists are also trying to show that if we are nurtured we can acquire new skills, some studies suggest the contrary and our abilities are ultimately limited by our genepool.

Despite all the suffering in our world, the biggest killer of all is now old age. The SENS research foundation envisages that the first person to live to be 1000 years old is actually alive today. Medical practises are prolonging our lifespans by two years every decade and this is increasing at an alarming pace. Sens suggests that the 7 major types of damage from ageing are cell loss, mutations, junk proteins inside and also outside of cells, cancer-causing mutations, useless cells that don’t die and cross-linking proteins weakening bonds in tissues. For each of these areas, SENS is producing therapies and cures so that we might live longer. Maybe I’ll still be writing this blog in the 3000s!

Lifespan is important; most of all for our sun which needs to keep undergoing fusion to support life on Earth. However, we may be able to harness more energy from the Sun’s hidden twin. The Nemesis theory is based upon the idea that most stars revolve around a binary star system. It suggests that the mass extinctions caused by comets were a direct impact of Nemesis, the Sun’s twin, entering our Solar System. We have never seen this star because it moves so slowly in relation to our Earth, but the theory is definitely disputed. The main basis for this prediction is the fact that a star named Sedna is not in its predicted position. This is hardly reliable; we cannot trust everything we read!

Finally, I would like to conclude by proposing a frightening concept. Apparently, human intelligence emerged as a ‘freak genetic mutation.’ A million years ago, brain size increased dramatically by 30% for humans. Prof Blakemore from Oxford University suggests that a ‘Mitochondiral Eve’ had a genetic mutation that made her exceedingly intelligent due to a genetic mutation. From that point, natural selection occurred and the rest is history. This theory is also disputed, but if it is true, and brain power was not just due to gradual evolution, who knows where our brains could take us in the future?

Thank you for reading this week’s blog post, keep your eyes peeled for my next one!















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