Last minute holiday gifts for the bio-inspired
“Merry Christmas! Isn’t it fun to say Merry Christmas to everyone? Time for a party and presents and things that make children happy and give their hearts wings!” go the lyrics of the popular Christmas poem. But adults (of various religions) need their gifts this time of year, too. For the biologically inspired big children, the process of finding the right fit can be daunting. To inform your choices in both conventional and unconventional ways, Leaps.org is presenting a roundup of the coolest bio-products related to health, nutrition, gaming, lifestyle and more.
AYO Circadian Light Therapy Wearable
We don’t hear it tick, but we have our own clock inside our body–more precisely, circadian clocks. Our cells contain tiny molecular clocks that keep track of our circadian rhythms, or our sleep and metabolism pattern and activity levels, on a daily basis. Chronic circadian disruptions can lead to sleep disorders, poor energy levels, weight gain, lousy mood, and sped-up aging, as well as increased risk for every “modern” disease out there, from diabetes to cancer.
Now, high-tech glasses have been developed that attempt to mimic the benefits of sunlight. In the morning and afternoon, these glasses shed blue light into your eyes to stimulate the master clock at the base of your brain for less drowsiness. The technology's design draws from an area of research, chronobiology, that received a Nobel Prize in 2017 and has become increasingly active in recent years.
“We have been developing and testing the AYO Circadian Health solution for the past five years in collaboration with some of the world's leading experts and researchers in chronobiology, light therapy and health,” said Alexander Dimitrov, co-creator of AYO. “We have done studies with over 25,000 participants, and over one million light sessions,” Dimotrov continued, partnering with institutions such as Mount Sinai Hospital, City of Hope and the U.S. Department of Defense.
The technology could fundamentally reshape the way we view sleep, health and our daily calendars. And, when connecting to a mobile app, the glasses could minimize circadian disruptions for travelers between conflicting time zones.
It's not easy for many people to break free of their attachment to the concept of chronological age, which counts years by how many times we’ve circled the sun since the day we were born. Society lumps us all into one age bracket according to our date of birth but, lately, research is suggesting that we should do some serious deconditioning. According to these studies, the more accurate measure is your biological age, a measurement based on various biomarkers of the body’s overall health and resilience, regardless of your calendar age.
If you want to find out your “true” biological age, myDNAge is a test that focuses on epigenetics, or patterns of changes in DNA methylation, with some initial research pointing to its accuracy. It offers a snapshot of your epigenetic age as well as key biomarkers related to your metabolism, risk of Alzheimer's and more, according to Xiaojing Yang, group leader of epigenetics at myDNAge. “You can perform tests six to 12 months [apart] to track the impact of lifestyle changes,” Yang said. The kit could be a useful tool both for citizen scientists and biohacking veterans.
($299 for one kit–Use code NEWYEARNEWME to receive 50% off a second kit)
Prairie Sky Yak Cheese
Do you love cheese? Do you love exotic cheese? Do you have an interest in preserving biological and genetic diversity? If you answered yes to all three questions, yak cheese was made for you. This type of cheese typically comes from a free-range yak living 13,000 feet above surface level in the Tibetan Himalayas, a relative of the endangered Wild yak. (North America is home to at least 5,000 registered yaks.)
“When I learned that we had a piece of rare biodiversity to be preserved for future generations, I realized that the yak in North America needed a job,” said Nicole Geijer Porter, president of World Heritage Yak Conservancy (WHYC), an organization formed to protect heritage yak “If an animal cannot be beneficial to the rancher in some way, exclusively as pets and lawn ornaments, they will go extinct. Raised for meat they are often hybridized with cattle to grow bigger and faster, so they will also go extinct,” said Porter, an epigeneticist turned yak herder.
Each slice of cheese and piece of butter supports the genetic testing and tracking of Tibetan yak. (You can become a member of WHYC through the Adopt-A-Yak program). “This project is also of biological importance because of the low methane emission research on yak, and the high nutritional content of the milk and cheese,” said Porter.
As for flavor, the Prairie Sky Yak Gruyere is a semi-hard cheese with a nutty taste sometimes compared to chocolate; Tomme de Savoie is a semi-soft Alpine cheese reminiscent of a washed rind muenster; and the Yak Cheddar is made with yak milk following the classic English recipe from Wells Cathedral, with earthly and pungent flavors.
Bite Toothpaste Bits
The price of a healthy smile is steep. Each year over one billion plastic toothpaste tubes are thrown out, over 50 Empire State Buildings worth of these tubes end up in landfills or oceans, and many animals suffer and die each year in cruel tests for improving oral care in people.
Sustainable oral care is both an act of self-love and giving back to the environment. Bite is a toothpaste that boasts about its green practices for a reason: it uses recyclable glass bottles with aluminum lids that break down into sand after they’ve been used. For shipping, Bite uses kraft envelopes padded with recycled and compostable newspapers, and its boxes are made of fully recycled, corrugated cardboard and sealed with paper tape. Bite refills come in 100% home compostable pouches every four months (still no plastic).
Sustainability aside, there may be an element of fun to Bite – as you brush, a mint foam forms “like magic,” the company claims.
Fractional Laser Treatment for Skin
The environment is hard on our skin: from ultraviolet rays to pollution, a constant oxidative war is waged upon it, leading to loss of collagen and damage to the barrier function of the skin. A fractional laser treatment is a type of laser skin resurfacing procedure that essentially traumatizes the skin – in a good way - through subjecting a small area of it to tiny amounts of laser energy. The laser penetrates the second layer of skin, the dermis, leading to skin exfoliation, which stimulates collagen and elastin production.
The treatment may help with soothing acne scarring, correcting uneven skin tone and texture, and reducing wrinkles and fine lines, sun damage and age spots. Recent research suggests the fractional laser can help with improving skin elasticity and reducing the amount and depth of wrinkles, though there’s little to no evidence for any benefits for eyebags, dark circles, discolorations within the eye area and water retention.
(Typically, a single fractional laser treatment costs $750 for a small area, $1500 for a full facial treatment, and $2000 for full face.)
Gadgets and Apps to Measure Your Heart Rate Variability
Heart rate variability may sound like a condition that requires immediate medical treatment, but the more you have of it, the better for your health. Although you may think of the heart as a steadily beating metronome, there are actually small differences in the amount of time between each beat. These differences are called HRV, and having more HRV has been linked to better fitness and fewer diseases.
HRV is easy to measure with a range of gadgets on the market, including Fitbits and Oura Rings. Which product floats your boat is a matter of personal preference, but the Polar H10 chest strap offers some advantages. For example, you can measure your HRV with the Polar H10 while walking around, unlike some devices that require you to stay still while taking a reading.
Plus, the Polar sensor pairs with free apps such as Elite HRV that are great for tracking how your HRV changes over time. "HRV really helps you gauge if you're moving in a positive or negative direction" with your health, says Jason Moore, the CEO and founder of Elite HRV and Spren. Have fun experimenting over the holidays with different lifestyle habits that are associated with higher HRV, some studies show, such as intermittent fasting, regular exercise and just getting more sleep.
Its predecessor, FOODMarble AIRE1 was a pocket-size breath-testing device that measured hydrogen on the breath. More hydrogen means less digestion, and the AIRE1 used advanced breathalyzer technology to figure out what exactly is going on with the gut. Now, the company has launched FoodMarble AIRE2, which also measures methane alongside with hydrogen. High levels of methane in the body may cause abdominal pain, bloating and constipation, cirrhosis of the liver and chronic pancreatitis. The AIRE2 also comes with haptic feedback to make it easier to use.
Research suggests that these breath tests are valid as at-home diagnostic tools for many digestive conditions. To get the most accurate results, though, it’s important to closely follow the recommended protocol - for example, you can’t eat or drink anything for 10 to 12 hours before the test.
Adventurist Backpack’s Classic Backpack
The Classic backpack is a perfect option for life science aficionados who enjoy getting outside and exploring in nature. Padding in the front and back provides extra protection for camera gear, laptop, and other electronics, and it's completely water-resistant so you can get outside in winter weather.
Nobility points: Adventurist Backpack Co. is partnered with national non-profit Feeding America, and every backpack sold helps provide 25 meals to families in need across the U.S.
This Saves Lives
Speaking of nobility points, you could load your new backpack with a food choice that helps feed others as well. In 2013, actors Kristin Bell, Ryan Devlin, Ravi Patel and Todd Grinnell teamed up to start This Saves Lives, which makes power bars full of vitamins and nutrients, and the company has a unique business model: for every bar you buy, a packet of food is sent to a child in need. In addition to offering essential nutrients, the bars are non-GMO, kosher and gluten-free. Note:This Saves Lives is owned by the same company, GOOD Worldwide, that owns Leaps.org.
(Wild Blueberry & Pistachio bars, $23.99)
NADI X Pants
Even if you’re a yoga zealot enjoying the benefits to your strength, balance and flexibility, chances are you're performing the movements sort of askew. Wearable technology wants to improve your yoga posture and these sleek yoga pants called NADI X have subtle electronic sensors that track how you place your hands, rotate your hips, and align your back. The leggings use haptic feedback (or vibrations on your skin) to slowly guide you into correct alignment. You can also combine the wearable with an app that contains 40 poses and fitting music. Even if you aren't into yoga, you could use the pants for a perfect stretching session. If you do use it for yoga poses, the pants will “speak” to you, letting out a soothing "om" sound once everything is perfect.
Meta Quest Pro VR headset
When it comes to perfecting virtual reality (VR), the Meta Quest Pro VR headset is one step ahead the rest. In a vibrant 3D virtual space, your Meta avatar has the ability to translate your real-life facial expressions into the virtual realm so the experience can feel more personal, while controllers track your movement and use haptic feedback to translate your hand gestures and finger actions into VR as well. Unlike its Quest 2 headset, Meta markets this Quest Pro headset, which was just released in October, as a great tool for work and business meetings, but you can also use it to play games, watch movies, or download fitness apps or mental-health related apps – some of which are designed to help you get boxing workouts with long-distance friends, fight your fear of heights or meditate in outer space.
Rouge Sur Mesure Custom Lip Color Creator
Beauty and artificial intelligence (AI) complement each other well in the new Yves Saint Laurent lip personalized color – which wants to put the final nail on the coffin of generic lipsticks. This is a lipstick printer at its core. You pair a device to your smartphone and then insert three lipstick cartridges into the base, each of which comes with a color palette (all four could create up to 4,000 lipstick shades). Particularly charming is the fact that you can take a photo of your outfit, and the app will suggest shades that match or clash it.
($299, cartridges $89 each)
Dairy-Free Cream Cheese and Meatless Breakfast Patties
On the environmental front again, meatless patties and dairy-free cream cheese constitute conscientious and delicious choices for vegans, vegetarians and pretty much anyone else. Chicago-based Nature's Fynd is worth checking out. It uses a microbe named Fusarium strain flavolapis, which has originsin an acidic hot spring at Yellowstone National Park.
“We use this remarkable microbe to grow Fy — a nutritional fungi protein that’s made into a wide variety of delicious and sustainable foods,” says Karuna Rawal, Nature’s Fynd CMO. Fy is grown via a breakthrough fermentation process using a fraction of the water, land, and energy compared to traditional protein sources.
It’s a sustainable way to grow food for Earth’s population,” but Nature’s Fynd isn’t just concentrating on Earth. The company recently partnered with NASA to send Fy to space. “As long as there’s an appropriately controlled environment, we can grow Fy anytime, anywhere. It could be a nutritious food source for astronauts on deep space missions," said Rawal.
Biologically curious people may be especially interested in trying cannabinoid (CBD) oil. CBD is a natural and safe substance found in cannabis, which has been found to tackle anxiety and depression, reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, help manage chronic pain and migraines, improve sleep patterns, and keep panic attacks at bay. Kanibi’s Isolate CBD Oil Tincture is a good choice as it is cinnamon-flavored and made in an FDA-inspected facility.
($109--25% off on your first order)
Govee RGBIC Floor Lamp
Another winner for anyone who's been hearing about the health benefits of obeying your circadian rhythms: "RGB" lights, or red-green-blue lights that can be operated by remote control to shine bright blue light during the day and then, with a few touches of your phone, bathe you in warmer, red light to get you ready for bed. Look for RGB bulbs to stick into the light fixtures you already have, or you could opt for the Govee floor lamp that syncs with an app on your phone (or Alexa) for circadian color changing. You can also put it on party mode and watch it shift across 16 million color shades in response to the rhythms and beats of Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas and Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah.
If you suffer from packing anxiety (or incompetence), an app may take away the pain. PackPoint is an app that builds your packing list according to trip type, activities and weather. You add your trip details, select activities (fancy dinner, business meeting, or even workout are some examples), and PackPoint tells you what you need to bring to your destination. The app is free, but upgrading to Premium for a small fee lets you add your own activities and packing list items.
(Free, Premium Package $2.99)
Roses symbolize love, passion, innocence, friendship, and the disarming power of natural beauty. They wilt fast, though, and their spectacle is an unsettling reminder of the fragility of beauty and existence. Unless you dip the rose in 24 karat gold.
The Eternity Rose is put through an intricate three-month process of electroplating, or coating the rose with copper and then with other metals in micro-thin layers. You won’t have to see your flowers sag after a few days because these roses never die. The glitter of gold atop the natural rose (or platinum or silver–whatever you prefer) will fit right in with the Christmas Eve ambiance.
($169 for the gold rose)
Story by Freethink
Try burning an iron metal ingot and you’ll have to wait a long time — but grind it into a powder and it will readily burst into flames. That’s how sparklers work: metal dust burning in a beautiful display of light and heat. But could we burn iron for more than fun? Could this simple material become a cheap, clean, carbon-free fuel?
In new experiments — conducted on rockets, in microgravity — Canadian and Dutch researchers are looking at ways of boosting the efficiency of burning iron, with a view to turning this abundant material — the fourth most common in the Earth’s crust, about about 5% of its mass — into an alternative energy source.
Iron as a fuel
Iron is abundantly available and cheap. More importantly, the byproduct of burning iron is rust (iron oxide), a solid material that is easy to collect and recycle. Neither burning iron nor converting its oxide back produces any carbon in the process.
Iron oxide is potentially renewable by reacting with electricity or hydrogen to become iron again.
Iron has a high energy density: it requires almost the same volume as gasoline to produce the same amount of energy. However, iron has poor specific energy: it’s a lot heavier than gas to produce the same amount of energy. (Think of picking up a jug of gasoline, and then imagine trying to pick up a similar sized chunk of iron.) Therefore, its weight is prohibitive for many applications. Burning iron to run a car isn’t very practical if the iron fuel weighs as much as the car itself.
In its powdered form, however, iron offers more promise as a high-density energy carrier or storage system. Iron-burning furnaces could provide direct heat for industry, home heating, or to generate electricity.
Plus, iron oxide is potentially renewable by reacting with electricity or hydrogen to become iron again (as long as you’ve got a source of clean electricity or green hydrogen). When there’s excess electricity available from renewables like solar and wind, for example, rust could be converted back into iron powder, and then burned on demand to release that energy again.
However, these methods of recycling rust are very energy intensive and inefficient, currently, so improvements to the efficiency of burning iron itself may be crucial to making such a circular system viable.
The science of discrete burning
Powdered particles have a high surface area to volume ratio, which means it is easier to ignite them. This is true for metals as well.
Under the right circumstances, powdered iron can burn in a manner known as discrete burning. In its most ideal form, the flame completely consumes one particle before the heat radiating from it combusts other particles in its vicinity. By studying this process, researchers can better understand and model how iron combusts, allowing them to design better iron-burning furnaces.
Discrete burning is difficult to achieve on Earth. Perfect discrete burning requires a specific particle density and oxygen concentration. When the particles are too close and compacted, the fire jumps to neighboring particles before fully consuming a particle, resulting in a more chaotic and less controlled burn.
Presently, the rate at which powdered iron particles burn or how they release heat in different conditions is poorly understood. This hinders the development of technologies to efficiently utilize iron as a large-scale fuel.
Burning metal in microgravity
In April, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a suborbital “sounding” rocket, carrying three experimental setups. As the rocket traced its parabolic trajectory through the atmosphere, the experiments got a few minutes in free fall, simulating microgravity.
One of the experiments on this mission studied how iron powder burns in the absence of gravity.
In microgravity, particles float in a more uniformly distributed cloud. This allows researchers to model the flow of iron particles and how a flame propagates through a cloud of iron particles in different oxygen concentrations.
Existing fossil fuel power plants could potentially be retrofitted to run on iron fuel.
Insights into how flames propagate through iron powder under different conditions could help design much more efficient iron-burning furnaces.
Clean and carbon-free energy on Earth
Various businesses are looking at ways to incorporate iron fuels into their processes. In particular, it could serve as a cleaner way to supply industrial heat by burning iron to heat water.
For example, Dutch brewery Swinkels Family Brewers, in collaboration with the Eindhoven University of Technology, switched to iron fuel as the heat source to power its brewing process, accounting for 15 million glasses of beer annually. Dutch startup RIFT is running proof-of-concept iron fuel power plants in Helmond and Arnhem.
As researchers continue to improve the efficiency of burning iron, its applicability will extend to other use cases as well. But is the infrastructure in place for this transition?
Often, the transition to new energy sources is slowed by the need to create new infrastructure to utilize them. Fortunately, this isn’t the case with switching from fossil fuels to iron. Since the ideal temperature to burn iron is similar to that for hydrocarbons, existing fossil fuel power plants could potentially be retrofitted to run on iron fuel.
Tom Oxley is building what he calls a “natural highway into the brain” that lets people use their minds to control their phones and computers. The device, called the Stentrode, could improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living with spinal cord paralysis, ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Leaps.org talked with Dr. Oxley for today’s podcast. A fascinating thing about the Stentrode is that it works very differently from other “brain computer interfaces” you may be familiar with, like Elon Musk’s Neuralink. Some BCIs are implanted by surgeons directly into a person’s brain, but the Stentrode is much less invasive. Dr. Oxley’s company, Synchron, opts for a “natural” approach, using stents in blood vessels to access the brain. This offers some major advantages to the handful of people who’ve already started to use the Stentrode.
The audio improves about 10 minutes into the episode. (There was a minor headset issue early on, but everything is audible throughout.) Dr. Oxley’s work creates game-changing opportunities for patients desperate for new options. His take on where we're headed with BCIs is must listening for anyone who cares about the future of health and technology.
In our conversation, Dr. Oxley talks about “Bluetooth brain”; the critical role of AI in the present and future of BCIs; how BCIs compare to voice command technology; regulatory frameworks for revolutionary technologies; specific people with paralysis who’ve been able to regain some independence thanks to the Stentrode; what it means to be a neurointerventionist; how to scale BCIs for more people to use them; the risks of BCIs malfunctioning; organic implants; and how BCIs help us understand the brain, among other topics.
Dr. Oxley received his PhD in neuro engineering from the University of Melbourne in Australia. He is the founding CEO of Synchron and an associate professor and the head of the vascular bionics laboratory at the University of Melbourne. He’s also a clinical instructor in the Deepartment of Neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Hospital. Dr. Oxley has completed more than 1,600 endovascular neurosurgical procedures on patients, including people with aneurysms and strokes, and has authored over 100 peer reviewed articles.
Synchron website - https://synchron.com/
Assessment of Safety of a Fully Implanted Endovascular Brain-Computer Interface for Severe Paralysis in 4 Patients (paper co-authored by Tom Oxley) - https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/art...
More research related to Synchron's work - https://synchron.com/research
Tom Oxley on LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomoxl
Tom Oxley on Twitter - https://twitter.com/tomoxl?lang=en
Tom Oxley website - https://tomoxl.com/
Novel brain implant helps paralyzed woman speak using digital avatar - https://engineering.berkeley.edu/news/2023/08/novel-brain-implant-helps-paralyzed-woman-speak-using-a-digital-avatar/
Edward Chang lab - https://changlab.ucsf.edu/
BCIs convert brain activity into text at 62 words per minute - https://med.stanford.edu/neurosurgery/news/2023/he...
Leaps.org: The Mind-Blowing Promise of Neural Implants - https://leaps.org/the-mind-blowing-promise-of-neural-implants/