Livin' on the MDedge

Flying acid zombies, poster face-lifts, and feces of champions


The flying dead

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Just when you thought cicada infestations couldn’t get worse – the cicadas are now zombies on an acid trip.

West Virginia University researchers recently discovered that a fungus called Massopora, which has compounds similar to those found in psychedelic mushrooms, can infect cicadas and cause seriously weird behavior.

How weird, you ask? Well, male cicadas try to mate with everything they encounter, even though the fungus has eaten away their limbs … and their genitals. Talk about a bad trip.

It gets worse. These zombie-like cicadas are flying around and exposing their healthy brethren to the fungus. So, now we have to worry about potentially billions of these buggers becoming rotting, flying, hypersexual machines.

Makes a person really want to stay inside for the whole summer, perhaps in a fortified bunker. Just in case.

Also, for the curious: One of the study’s authors concedes that if a person were “motivated enough,” they might be able to get high off the cicada fungus. Not interested in finding out exactly how many cicadas you’d have to crunch on before you start tasting colors?

Poster do-over

It’s time to get ready for a revolution – and just in time for 4th of July. No, we’re not redeclaring independence from Britain. It’s something much, much more radical, at least to the scientific community.

Get ready for … the redesign of the science poster.

Mike Morrison, a doctoral student in psychology, has proposed a new way to present information at meetings that breathes new life into the tired poster design. While fascinating insights could be held on a poster, the reality of meetings and conferences is that people often skim over the posters they see, barely registering the information.

Morrison is taking advantage of the ever-present smartphone to ramp up the classic science poster to a new level. He proposes a format where the key research finding is smack in the middle, in big, readable language. Accompanying this is a QR code you can scan, which would take you to a page with the full details of the study.

Morrison tweeted out his idea, and it spread quickly through the scientific community, gaining traction from younger scientists and students who love the idea.

We’re in the age of remakes now – in which classics are reinvented for a new audience. It’s time the science poster got a face-lift, too.

Running a marathon, one Veillonella at a time


Exhausted runner after race

What’s the difference between an elite athlete and a person who’s out of juice after running for 30 seconds?

Well, many things, we’re sure. A proper diet, rigorous training, not spending 12 hours a day sitting behind a computer screen. But just to add insult to injury, according to a study published in Nature Medicine, athletes even poop better than us normal people.

That may require a bit of explanation. A group of researchers from Harvard University, Boston, analyzed stool samples from elite marathon runners before and just after they participated in the 2015 Boston Marathon. They found that, following the race, the athletes had significantly higher amounts of Veillonella in their microbiota. This bacteria breaks down lactic acid, which is made during intense exercise and causes muscle fatigue and stress.

Naturally, the next step was to take that bacteria, feed it to mice, then get them running on a treadmill.

While not every mouse fed Veillonella saw increased performance, on average, mice that received the bacteria saw a 13% improvement over their non–Veillonella enhanced friends.

The researchers noted that this sort of probiotic treatment could be useful to patients with metabolic diseases, such as diabetes. Plus, there’s the obvious benefit to athletes. We look forward to hearing advertisements swearing by Veillonella-infused Wheaties, the true breakfast of champions.

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