uc research

Scientists just discovered a “universal contraceptive” made from chemical compounds

  • The birth control of the future has arrived.
  • Researchers at University of California, Berkeley recently figured out how to solve some of the most common problems posed by traditional birth control methods by targeting the mechanism that powers sperm’s “drilling” capabilities.
  • That mechanism — or “power kick” — as scientists like to call it, is known as Catsper, an ion channel that activates once sperm gets close to an egg.
  • According to Wired, UC Berkeley researchers tested over 50 chemical compounds to find a way to turn off sperm’s “power kick” and discovered two potential solutions: lupeol and pristimerin. Read more (5/17/17)

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Advice from a College Senior at Berkeley

Long post! This is definitely based off of my personal experience but some might find it useful. I am not a super social person, but I managed straight As most semesters, was involved in clubs and a Cappella, had 2 part time jobs at one point, and did research for 2 years. See below the cut to find more academic, research, and Berkeley specific advice.

If anyone actually reads this, ask me if you have any questions about school, life, research, Berkeley, food, or nutrition!

Apartment Related~

Things you need for your apartment that you might not have considered:

  • can opener
  • wine corker (even if you don’t drink you might want one for cooking)
  • a second trash can for recyclables
  • good quality food storage, esp. ones that can be baked or microwaved in
  • quality mug, tea, coffeemaker, whatever will prevent you from buying overpriced coffee on or around campus
  • pepper spray
  • plunger
  • sink/bathroom declogging detergent
  • fan
  • something to kill wall/ceiling bugs, such as a vacuum with hose or a swiffer sweeper without the cloth
  • air fresheners
  • quarters
  • an extra laundry basket or bag for clean clothes, because no way will you fold everything right away and you need space as more dirties pile up
  • flashlights and candles for power outages
  • tool kit and first aid kit

Things I bought that I didn’t really use:

  • hair products– just had no time
  • Brita filter– tap ended up being just fine and I got too lazy to clean/replace filters

Food advice from a nutrition major~

  • don’t share food with your roommate, especially perishables
  • don’t buy more fresh food than you can reasonably eat in a few days/a week
  • use going out to eat as a social activity, not your primary source of meals. You will save SO MUCH money and eat SO MUCH healthier
  • Investing in quality caffeine and accessories at home saves you SO MUCH TIME AND MONEY

School, Work, and Research Related~

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Did our Sun have a twin when it was born 4.5 billion years ago?

Almost certainly yes – though not an identical twin. And so did every other Sun-like star in the universe, according to a new analysis by a theoretical physicist from the University of California, Berkeley, and a radio astronomer from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University.

Many stars have companions, including our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, a triplet system. Astronomers have long sought an explanation. Are binary and triplet star systems born that way? Did one star capture another? Do binary stars sometimes split up and become single stars?

Astronomers have even searched for a companion to our Sun, a star dubbed Nemesis because it was supposed to have kicked an asteroid into Earth’s orbit that collided with our planet and exterminated the dinosaurs. It has never been found.

The new assertion is based on a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud filled with recently formed stars in the constellation Perseus, and a mathematical model that can explain the Perseus observations only if all Sun-like stars are born with a companion.

“We are saying, yes, there probably was a Nemesis, a long time ago,” said co-author Steven Stahler, a UC Berkeley research astronomer.

“We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide binaries. These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years.”

In this study, “wide” means that the two stars are separated by more than 500 astronomical units, or AU, where one astronomical unit is the average distance between the Sun and Earth (93 million miles). A wide binary companion to our Sun would have been 17 times farther from the Sun than its most distant planet today, Neptune.

Based on this model, the Sun’s sibling most likely escaped and mixed with all the other stars in our region of the Milky Way galaxy, never to be seen again.

“The idea that many stars form with a companion has been suggested before, but the question is: how many?” said first author Sarah Sadavoy, a NASA Hubble fellow at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. “Based on our simple model, we say that nearly all stars form with a companion. The Perseus cloud is generally considered a typical low-mass star-forming region, but our model needs to be checked in other clouds.”

The idea that all stars are born in a litter has implications beyond star formation, including the very origins of galaxies, Stahler said.

Stahler and Sadavoy posted their findings in April on the arXiv server. Their paper has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Stars Birthed in ‘Dense Cores’

Astronomers have speculated about the origins of binary and multiple star systems for hundreds of years, and in recent years have created computer simulations of collapsing masses of gas to understand how they condense under gravity into stars. They have also simulated the interaction of many young stars recently freed from their gas clouds. Several years ago, one such computer simulation by Pavel Kroupa of the University of Bonn led him to conclude that all stars are born as binaries.

Yet direct evidence from observations has been scarce. As astronomers look at younger and younger stars, they find a greater proportion of binaries, but why is still a mystery.

“The key here is that no one looked before in a systematic way at the relation of real young stars to the clouds that spawn them,” Stahler said. “Our work is a step forward in understanding both how binaries form and also the role that binaries play in early stellar evolution. We now believe that most stars, which are quite similar to our own Sun, form as binaries. I think we have the strongest evidence to date for such an assertion.”

According to Stahler, astronomers have known for several decades that stars are born inside egg-shaped cocoons called dense cores, which are sprinkled throughout immense clouds of cold, molecular hydrogen that are the nurseries for young stars. Through an optical telescope, these clouds look like holes in the starry sky, because the dust accompanying the gas blocks light from both the stars forming inside and the stars behind. The clouds can, however, be probed by radio telescopes, since the cold dust grains in them emit at these radio wavelengths, and radio waves are not blocked by the dust.

The Perseus molecular cloud is one such stellar nursery, about 600 light-years from Earth and about 50 light-years long. Last year, a team of astronomers completed a survey that used the Very Large Array, a collection of radio dishes in New Mexico, to look at star formation inside the cloud. Called VANDAM, it was the first complete survey of all young stars in a molecular cloud, that is, stars less than about 4 million years old, including both single and multiple stars down to separations of about 15 astronomical units. This captured all multiple stars with a separation of more than about the radius of Uranus’ orbit – 19 AU – in our solar system.

Stahler heard about the survey after approaching Sadavoy, a member of the VANDAM team, and asking for her help in observing young stars inside dense cores. The VANDAM survey produced a census of all Class 0 stars – those less than about 500,000 years old – and Class I stars – those between about 500,000 and 1 million years old. Both types of stars are so young that they are not yet burning hydrogen to produce energy.

Sadavoy took the results from VANDAM and combined them with additional observations that reveal the egg-shaped cocoons around the young stars. These additional observations come from the Gould Belt Survey with SCUBA-2 on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. By combining these two data sets, Sadavoy was able to produce a robust census of the binary and single-star populations in Perseus, turning up 55 young stars in 24 multiple-star systems, all but five of them binary, and 45 single-star systems.

Using these data, Sadavoy and Stahler discovered that all of the widely separated binary systems – those with stars separated by more than 500 AU – were very young systems, containing two Class 0 stars. These systems also tended to be aligned with the long axis of the egg-shaped dense core. The slightly older Class I binary stars were closer together, many separated by about 200 AU, and showed no tendency to align along the egg’s axis.

“This has not been seen before or tested, and is super interesting,” Sadavoy said. “We don’t yet know quite what it means, but it isn’t random and must say something about the way wide binaries form.”

Egg-Shaped Cores Collapse into Two Centers

Stahler and Sadavoy mathematically modeled various scenarios to explain this distribution of stars, assuming typical formation, breakup and orbital shrinking times. They concluded that the only way to explain the observations is to assume that all stars of masses around that of the Sun start off as wide Class 0 binaries in egg-shaped dense cores, after which some 60 percent split up over time. The rest shrink to form tight binaries.

“As the egg contracts, the densest part of the egg will be toward the middle, and that forms two concentrations of density along the middle axis,” he said. “These centers of higher density at some point collapse in on themselves because of their self-gravity to form Class 0 stars.”

“Within our picture, single low-mass, Sun-like stars are not primordial,” Stahler added. “They are the result of the breakup of binaries. “

Their theory implies that each dense core, which typically comprises a few solar masses, converts twice as much material into stars as was previously thought.

Stahler said that he has been asking radio astronomers to compare dense cores with their embedded young stars for more than 20 years, in order to test theories of binary star formation. The new data and model are a start, he says, but more work needs to be done to understand the physics behind the rule.

Such studies may come along soon, because the capabilities of a now-upgraded VLA and the ALMA telescope in Chile, plus the SCUBA-2 survey in Hawaii, “are finally giving us the data and statistics we need. This is going to change our understanding of dense cores and the embedded stars within them,” Sadavoy said.

TOP IMAGE….Radio image of a very young binary star system, less than about 1 million years old, that formed within a dense core (oval outline) in the Perseus molecular cloud. All stars likely form as binaries within dense cores. (SCUBA-2 survey image by Sarah Sadavoy, CfA)

CENTRE IMAGE….A radio image of a triple star system forming within a dusty disk in the Perseus molecular cloud obtained by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. (Image: Bill Saxton, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NRAO/AUI/NSF)

LOWER IMAGE….This infrared image from the Hubble Space Telescope contains a bright, fan-shaped object (lower right quadrant) thought to be a binary star that emits light pulses as the two stars interact. The primitive binary system is located in the IC 348 region of the Perseus molecular cloud and was included in the study by the Berkeley/Harvard team. (Image: NASA, ESA and J. Muzerolle, STScI)

BOTTOM IMAGE….A dark molecular cloud, Barnard 68, is filled with gas and dust that block the light from stars forming inside as well as stars and galaxies located behind it. These and other stellar nurseries, like the Perseus molecular cloud, can only be probed by radio waves. Credit: FORS Team, 8.2-meter VLT Antu, ESO

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about the U.S.’s opioid addiction epidemic in the news. But chronic pain is an epidemic, too, and sometimes opioids are the best treatment. We talk to experts working on the front lines of both sides — palliative care pharmacist Rabia Atayee, PharmD, on the difficulties of managing chronic pain, and psychiatrist Carla Marienfeld, MD, on treating opioid addiction.

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X-ray eyes in the sky: Drones and WiFi for 3-D through-wall imaging

Researchers at UC Santa Barbara professor Yasamin Mostofi’s lab have given the first demonstration of three-dimensional imaging of objects through walls using ordinary wireless signal. The technique, which involves two drones working in tandem, could have a variety of applications, such as emergency search-and-rescue, archaeological discovery and structural monitoring.

“Our proposed approach has enabled unmanned aerial vehicles to image details through walls in 3D with only WiFi signals,” said Mostofi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UCSB. “This approach utilizes only WiFi RSSI measurements, does not require any prior measurements in the area of interest and does not need objects to move to be imaged.”

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Meanwhile, Mexican-Americans’ high school graduation rate was more than double that of their parents, and their college graduation rate more than doubled that of their fathers and tripled that of their mothers. According to Lee, the results are clear: When success is measured as progress from generation to generation, Mexican-Americans come out on top.

From Why Mexicans are the Most Successful Immigrants in America.

A new study from UC Irvine and UCLA examines how we frame success.

Okay, so I’ve been having a really bad time with my Ulcerative Colitis today so I thought that I’ll finally write the prompt that anon sent me the other day: here.

Again, this is only my experience with this horrible chronic illness and how it’s affected me. It’s a very personal illness that affects everyone who has it very differently so although I might have it worse than some people, I do not have it as bad as others do (at this moment in time - but it’s still bloody bad). So here goes!

- Lily entered her flat with Sirius to pick up some of her library books that she had forgotten for their study session. 

- They were both studying Physics with Astronomy at Cardiff University and became good friends during their second year.

- She tried to avoid them during their first year because they seemed so arrogant and loud, especially when paired with that annoying James Potter.

- But after finding them on their own crying in the Library one day because of how much stress they were under to prove themselves to their family, Lily realised she was wrong about them and befriended Sirius. 

- She even went so far as to start talking to Potter, who somehow ended up being her boyfriend 

- She still doesn’t know how that happened herself but she wouldn’t change it.

-  Neither of them had yet to meet her best friend and room mate, Remus. 

- Lily never told them why they hadn’t other than the fact that he was sick.

- Lily opened the door and threw her bag down onto the side table.

- “Just make yourself at home, I’ll go get the books.” She smiled and walked down towards the hall, calling out Remus’ name as she went.

- Sirius walked over to the sofa and sat down on the arm.

- They started drumming their fingers on their legs when they saw some movement through the open door leading to the kitchen. 

- Curiosity got the better of them and they decided to investigate.

- When they walked in, they saw a duvet burrito sitting in one of the dining chairs and bent over the table.

- “Lils,” the duvet groaned, “put kettle on would you, love?” 

- “Erm …” Sirius furrowed their eyebrows and rotated around the room. “Can you point me in the direction of the kettle?” 

- The duvet sat up bolt right to reveal caramel curly hair with a undercut, forest green and brown eyes and a startled expression of the cutest person Sirius had ever seen.

- Sirius felt their breath catch in their throat.

- “You’re not Lily.” Sirius chuckled at the deer caught in the headlights expression on the boy.

- “I don’t know what gave me away,” they winked. “I’m Sirius.”

- The boy let out a long breath they were holding.

- “Oh, James’ best friend? Lily’s told me about you. Your name’s fitting since you’re studying Astronomy,” Sirius laughed, “I’m Remus.” He smiled, but it looked more like a wince.

- “Ha, yeah.” They mussed their hair with a love sick smile. “It’s nice to finally meet you.” Sirius fussed about the kitchen, finding the kettle and flicking it on.

- “Yeah, sorry it’s when I’m like … this.” He fluffed the side of the duvet to signify his meaning. “I wasn’t expecting guests otherwise I would of being wearing actual clothes and not … suit’o’duvet.” 

- “No, it’s fine.” Sirius chuckled and smiled widely at Remus who returned the smile.

- “I can’t find Remus any where-oh, they you are!” Lily rushed into the kitchen. “How you feeling?”

- “Ughhhh.” He groaned, dropping his head down onto the table, earning a little giggled from Sirius. 

- “Let me guess, you caught the flu, huh?” They grinned.

- Remus sat up tall and faced Sirius, his lovely smile gone from his face and it was replaced with a haunted, almost angry look.

- “No, I caught a chronic illness, actually.” He snapped making Sirius’ smile drop off of their face. 

- “You might not see it since it’s been deemed an invisible illness because able bodied people don’t understand how hard it is suffering every single day of your life the way I do, so they just act as if I’m faking it.”

- “Remus,” Lily cut him off, “Sirius’ didn’t know you were chronically ill. I haven’t told them, it isn’t Sirius’ fault they got it wrong.” She nudged him with a pointed look.

- Remus sighed heavily and looked away from them, ashamed of himself.

- “No, no you’re right. I’m sorry, Sirius. It’s just … I get a little defensive. It’s just… people tend to think this isn’t a real illness because … they can’t see that I’m actually ill. I didn’t mean to snap at you.” Sirius shook their head.

- “It’s okay. I’m sorry, too. I didn’t mean to seem so insensitive.“ They tried to smile at Remus but he didn’t look back at them and got up from his chair instead.

- “I’m just gonna .. sorry again.” he mumbled and stumbled out of the kitchen and toward the hallway where the bedrooms were.

- “Sorry about that.” Lily smiled apologetically at Sirius when they heard Remus’ bedroom door slam shut. 

- “He’s just having a bad time at the moment. His tutors are being total pricks with him because he’s having a flare and can’t attend some of his lectures. He does his best to go to all of them, but some just can’t be helped. Not that they seem to care …” She mumbled under her breath.

- She moved over to the counter and started making a cup of tea with the water Sirius boiled earlier. 

- “Can I ask what it is he has?” Sirius asked sheepishly, “or is it too personal?”

- “It’s okay. Remus doesn’t mind. It’s a bowel disease called Ulcerative Colitis; it’s when you have ulcers along the lining of your large bowels and rectum, but it’s also so, so much more than just that and it’s much worse than it sounds.”

- “We didn’t actually know what it was until he was diagnosed at the beginning of last year, then I went a little mad with research on it. I think I freaked him out at first because of all the horrific stories I’d read about other people who had it and had to have surgery to remove their bowels and have a pouch and stoma and stuff and how much pain they had gone through, but Remus isn’t at that stage, and touch wood,” she slammed her hand down onto the table top “he never will be.” 

- “Geez, I can’t even imagine.” Sirius winced.

- “It was a horrible time. For nearly two months he was just in agony with his stomach, would bleed every time he went to the bathroom, was constantly tired and in pain, couldn’t walk for more than five minutes without going light headed and nearly fainting, and his heart rate was going a million miles to the dozen.” 

- She grabbed the milk from the fridge, added it to the cup of tea and mixed it together.

- “He wouldn’t go to the doctors for so long because he thought he would get over it and that it was just a bug. I physically had to drag him to the walk in centre and they ended up sending him for bloods.”

- She put the milk back into the fridge and shut the door.

- “Turned out he was anaemic. Severally so. They emitted him into hospital the next day for iron and blood transfusions. They said to him if he hadn’t gone to the doctors himself when he did, a week later he would have been going to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.”

- “Christ …” Sirius let out a puff of air. 

- “I know. He was in hospital for two days getting the transfusions, then had to go for a colonoscopy and had to have some other procedures and stuff where they found out he has Ulcerative Colitis and set him on these tablets for life. He has on and off days, but lately he’s been pretty bad.” 

- “The problem is, so many people make the assumption that it’s just a ‘pooping illness’ but it’s so far from that. It affects his joints, his eyes, his skin, he gets mouth ulcers, high fevers, abdominal pains, God, the list just goes on! There’s so many foods and drinks that he can’t even have, either. It’s just yeah, a life changing thing The worse part is there’s no cure, just medication upon medication to maintain it.” 

- She sighed and picked up the cup of tea. “Let me just take this to him and we’ll get off.” 

- Sirius watched her go with a firm expression on their face. 

- They were determined to research more into this illness to find out how they could be there for Remus, because if Sirius had their way, they would be seeing a lot more of Remus.

- The next time they saw Remus was two weeks later at the university Library.

- He was leaning up against a bookshelf with a slight wince, restocking the shelves.

- With a skip in their step, Sirius made their way over to Remus.

- “Hello, again.” Sirius beamed at him.

- Remus turned with a confused expression to the voice speaking to him, then smiled sheepishly.

- “Oh, hello.” He replied, shoving the book in his hand quickly into its correct place and turning to face Sirius. “I didn’t think I’d see you again.”

- “How come?” Sirius asked, genuinely confused.

- “Well, I wasn’t exactly pleasant during our first meeting.” He mussed his hair, looking a bit timid. “Sorry about that, again. It was a bad day.” 

- Sirius waved his hand through the air nonchalantly.

- “Eh, bygones be bygones.” His smile never faulting. “How are you feeling today?” Remus shrugged.

- “Pretty much the same as I was that day, but I’ve got to pay the bills and my medication some way.” He gave a lopsided smile. 

- “I’m sorry you have to go through this. I did some research into UC after Lily told me about it, so if you ever need to talk … I mean, I won’t understand what you’re going through physically, but I’ll get it from a medical point of view … kinda?” Remus looked astonished. Sirius started to shift between their feet, sheepishly. 

- Remus’ expression changed to a sweet smile as he watched Sirius suddenly become nervous.

- “Thank you, Sirius. You didn’t need to do that.”

- “No, but I wanted to. I didn’t want to be one of those people who don’t try to understand what you’re going through. I wanted to understand it a little better for you.”

- “But … why?” Remus was puzzled.

- “Because … I think we could be good friends?” They bit their lip.

- “Really?” Sirius nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

- They both just stared at each other for a moment with small smiles.

- “So, did you need help with anything or …?” Remus came back to himself and realised he had a job to do.

- “Oh, no no. I just, I saw you from across the room and thought I’d say hey … Hey!” They grinned causing Remus to chuckled.

- “Hey.” He looked amused and started playing with the hem of his jumper.

- “So, erm … would-you-like-to-go-for-a-coffee-with-me?” Sirius rushed. Remus blinked, then looked at his cart of books next to him.

- “Erm … I would love to, really … but erm…” Sirius followed his eye line, then slapped their face with a small groan.

- “But you’re working, obviously. Sorry, idiot moment.” They cringed.

- “I finish in about an hour and a half if you want to then?” Remus smiled.

- “Yes!” Sirius grimaced. “That sounded too enthusiastic, didn’t it?”

- Remus barked a laugh then nodded.

- “Just a little. It’s okay though, no one’s ever been so enthusiastic to go for a coffee with me before.” He grinned widely.

- Oh, he has dimples when he smiles! Sirius mentally shook themselves.

- “Well, I certainly am. I’ll wait for you in the coffee shop downstairs. Hour an and half. Work hard, Remmy.” They winked and skipped away whilst Remus just smirked and shook his head.

- “So, tell me more about yourself.” Remus smiled over his cup of tea to Sirius.

- Sirius was already sat at a small table by the window people watching and it looked as if he had already gone through a few drinks by the time Remus had finished work. Remus quickly said hello and ordered drinks for the both of them and sat down.

- “There’s not much to tell, really.” Sirius scratched their nose. 

- “Let’s see … Well, I’m 21, I’m a Scorpio,” they winked causing Remus to roll his eyes playfully, “I was adopted by the Potters at 15, so James has been my brother officially for five years, my birth family were horrific and didn’t accept me, but that’s a long story. Erm … I love the stars, obviously since I do Astrology. I love sketching and painting too. Oh, and I have 4 tattoos.” 

- “What type of things do you like to sketch?” He leant on his hand smiling sweetly at Sirius.

- “Everything. I love drawing people, places; sometimes I’ll come and sit here in this spot and just draw people going about their every day life and make stories for them.” 

- “Me too! I mean, the making up stories about people, not the drawing I suck at that.” He chuckled along with Sirius. “But I love coming up with stories for people passing by. I tend to write them down for inspiration. I want to be an author.” 

- “I’d love to read some sometime.” 

- “Only if I get to see some of your drawings.” 

- “Deal!” They chuckled together. 

- “Thank you for this, Sirius. I don’t tend to hang out with people that much, apart from Lily of course.” 

- Sirius tilted his head much like a dog.

- “How come?” Remus bit his lip and looked away sadly. “Sorry, that was rude of me. You don’t have to answer that.” 

- “No, no, it’s okay. It’s just … I lost a lot of friends when I was diagnosed. A lot of people don’t understand that I am ill constantly. Like right now, I might not seem it to you, but I’m feeling really sick-”

- “Oh sorry! Do you need anything? Do you want to go home?” Sirius panicked.

- “No, it’s okay. I’m used to it. Sometimes, like now, I can manage the pain, but I’m still in it.  Other times, I just can’t and I have to stay at home, or somewhere near a bathroom incase - I know sounds horrible but … yeah. It’s my reality.” 

- “The friends I used to have when I first got ill, always thought I was faking my illness to get out of going out with them, which really wasn’t the case. I have to cancel a lot because I can’t handle going out, that and I’m not allowed to drink alcohol anymore because it triggers my ulcers, and since that’s all my old friends used to do …” He rolled his eyes and took a sip of his tea.

- “S’why I don’t really date much, too. I tried a little at the end of last year but it was a disaster. Gid just thought I was being dramatic and a hypochondriac. He thought I was using my illness to avoid him and was all ‘me me me’ and so on.”

- “Once, when I was having a really bad flare and couldn’t leave the bed, he actually said to me ‘God, Remus, you’re not the only one who gets sick! Stop being so lazy!’” 

- “Safe to say it didn’t work out, nor did it end well. He told me he was doing me a ‘favour’ by going out with me since I was ‘defective.’” Remus used sarcastic quotation marks, shrugged and took a sip of his tea. “Sorry, I’m rambling.”

- “If I ever meet that guy, I’m going to punch him in the face. And then in the bollocks for good measure.” Sirius growled.

- They were furious anyone would say that to another human being, especially someone as wonderful as Remus.

- Remus spat out his tea and burst out laughing. He quickly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

- “Oh, god sorry. But damn, I’d pay to see that!” Sirius’ scowl lifted to a smirk.

- “Then I’ll definitely make sure you have a front row ticket.” They winked, making Remus melt slightly.

- “I’ll be sure to be there - with a camera!” 

- Sirius smirked and walked their fingers across the table and laced them with Remus’, giving his hand a small squeeze.

- “I don’t think he was doing you a favour, Remus. You shouldn’t have to settle for a prick just because you have a chronic illness. You deserve someone a lot better than that. Someone who cares about you and will actually make an effort. Maybe someone a little closer than you think …?”

- Remus blushed and dipped his head.

- “Thank you.” Remus eyes glisten slightly as he squeezed Sirius’ hand back and bit his lip. “You might be right.”

- They both looked down at their joint hands, then back into each others eyes.

- “Soo…” Remus sighed happily and changed the conversation, “tell me about your tattoos?” 

- Remus beamed, not letting go of Sirius’ hand anytime soon, as Sirius enthusiastically told him about his body art.

Again, this is just the experience I have with Ulcerative Colitis, and hopefully no-one is offended by it :/ I hope this is what you were after, anon, and hopefully it’ll introduce some people to this horrible illness that they maybe didn’t know about before. Also, cute Wolfstar and genderfluid!Sirius - my heart.

The Strange Case of the Woman Who Can’t Remember Her Past-Or Imagine Her Future (Part 2)

Story by Erika Hayasaki

MCKINNON FIRST BEGAN to realize that her memory was not the same as everyone else’s back in 1977, when a friend from high school, who was studying to be a physician’s assistant, asked if she would participate in a memory test as part of a school assignment. When her friend asked basic questions about her childhood as part of the test, McKinnon would reply, “Why are you asking stuff like this? No one remembers that!” She knew that other people claimed to have detailed memories, but she always thought they embellished and made stuff up—just like she did.

McKinnon’s friend was so disturbed by her responses that she suggested McKinnon get her memory checked by a professional. McKinnon put the exchange aside for almost three decades. Then one day in 2004, she came across an article about Endel Tulving, the researcher who had originally characterized the difference between episodic and semantic memory.
McKinnon read about how, at the University of Toronto, Tulving studied an amnesic patient, K. C., who was in a motorcycle accident at 30 that resulted in brain damage affecting his episodic memory. He could not remember anything in his life except experiences from the last minute or two. Yet despite this deficiency, the patient could remember basic knowledge learned before his accident, like math and history, and when taught new information in experiments, he could retain lessons, even though he could not recall visits to the laboratory where he was taught. His case became crucial to Tulving’s theories about memory.

Like McKinnon, people with amnesia usually lose their episodic memories and keep their semantic ones. But amnesiacs tend to come by their memory loss through brain trauma, developmental disorders, or degenerative conditions. And they are often impaired in their day-to-day functioning; they cannot live normal lives. Reading about Tulving’s case studies, McKinnon recognized a resemblance to her own experiences—minus the brain lesions, injuries, or debilitating side effects. Her brain and life, as far as she knew, seemed to be healthy and intact.

One of Tulving’s arguments struck a particular chord. A profile of the psychologist reported his belief “that some perfectly intelligent and healthy people also lack the ability to remember personal experiences. These people have no episodic memory; they know but do not remember. Such people have not yet been identified, but Tulving predicts they soon will be.”
McKinnon felt too intimidated to contact Tulving himself; he seemed too famous. So instead she set her sights on Brian Levine, a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto who had worked closely with Tulving and whose expertise in episodic and autobiographical memory caught her eye.

On August 25, 2006, McKinnon sent Levine an email that referenced Tulving’s prediction about healthy people with no episodic memories:“I think there’s at least a possibility that I might be one of the people he was describing.

“I’m 52 y/o, extremely stable, with a very satisfying life & well-developed sense of humor. Contacting you is a big (and, frankly, scary) step for me … I’ll appreciate any guidance you may be able to give me.”

“I GET A lot of emails from people with various issues,” Levine says. “With Susie, I felt like this was worth pursuing.” So Levine invitedMcKinnon to his lab in Toronto. His first move, in collaboration with researcher Daniela Palombo, was to begin looking for some underlying physiological or psychological explanation for McKin­non’s apparent lack of episodic memories: a neurological condition, trauma, or brain damage caused by anoxia at birth. They found no such thing.

Next, Levine ran McKinnon through something called an autobiographical interview, to vet her own report that she lacks episodic memories. Before the interview, his lab team spoke with Green, a close friend of McKinnon’s, and McKinnon’s brother and mother, asking each for stories about McKinnon that they would try to verify with her.

When Levine and colleagues quizzed McKinnon about events that her friends and relatives described—like the time she was in The Sound of Music during high school—she had no such recollections, even when she was probed with follow-up questions like “Do you remember any objects in the environment?” The interview seemed to confirm that, sure enough, McKinnon had no recognizable episodic memories.

Soon, Levine discovered two more healthy individuals who also seemed to lack episodic memories. Both were middle-aged men with successful jobs, one of them a PhD. One was in a long-term relationship. Levine put both men through the same battery of tests in his lab. He also ran all three of his patients through an MRI machine. Each showed reduced activity in regions of the brain crucial to the mind’s understanding of the self, the ability to mentally time travel, and the capacity to form episodic memories.

Levine published a study about Mc­Kinnon and his two other subjects in Neuropsychologia in April 2015. Since then, hundreds of people claiming to have severely deficient autobiographical memory have reached out to Levine’s team. Each must go through a set of tests as well, he says, and results might lead to only a dozen or so provable cases. But the response suggests that the discovery of McKinnon and the other two subjects wasn’t a fluke. “It raises fairly large questions,” Levine says. “What exactly does recollection do for us?” If members of our species can get by so well without episodic memories, why did we evolve to have them in the first place? And how long are they liable to stick around?

SPEND ENOUGH TIME with McKinnon and it’s hard to escape the creeping sense that she’s not just different—she’s lucky. Memories that would be searing to anyone else leave little impression on her. Like the time in 1986 when the couple was living in Arizona and Green was jumped by a group of white men while out fishing. When he came home, his head was covered with welts. “She went to get ice and she started crying,” Green says. He began to cry too. They felt terrorized.

Once again, McKinnon knows the salient facts of the story, but the details and the painful associations all reside with Green. ForMcKinnon, the memory doesn’t trigger the trauma and fear associated with it. “I can imagine being upset and scared, but I don’t remember that at all,” she says. “I can’t put myself back there. I can only imagine what it would have been like.”

McKinnon also quickly forgets arguments, which might be the reason she and Green have stayed together so long, she jokes. She cannot hold a grudge. She is unfamiliar with the feeling of regret and oblivious to the diminishments of aging. A 1972 yearbook photo shows that she was once a petite brunette with a delicate face framed by a pixie cut. (“Dorky little innocent thing,” she says, looking at the picture.) On an intellectual level, McKinnon knows that this is her; but put the picture away and, in her mind, she has always been the 60-year-old woman she is now, broad-­shouldered and fair, her face pinkish and time-lined, her closely cropped hair white and gray. She doesn’t know what it’s like to linger in a memory, to long for the past, to dwell in it.

More than a decade ago a woman named Jill Price came to the attention of scientists at UC Irvine. She exhibited a condition that is pretty much the direct opposite of McKinnon’s: the researchers called it hyperthymestic syndrome, or highly superior autobiographical memory. Price has an extraordinary ability to recall just about any fact that has intersected with her life: July 18, 1984, was a quiet Wednesday, as she writes in her memoir, and Price picked up the book Helter Skelter and read it for the second time. Monday, February 28, 1983, the final episode of M*A*S*H aired, and it was raining. The next day Price’s windshield wipers stopped working as she drove.

In contrast to McKinnon, who has received relatively little press attention, Price became an instant media sensation. Diane Sawyer had her on air twice in one day. Her powers of memory, after all, seemed supremely enviable, superhuman.

But as the UC Irvine researchers—and a story in WIRED—noted, Price’s extraordinary feats of recollection were accompanied by a kind of obsessive-compulsive fixation on recording the details of her life, one that appeared to have taken root after a “traumatizing” move to LA when she was a girl. As an adult in her 40s, she still lived with her parents. And she buttressed her memory with cramped pages full of notes on everything that happened to her in any given day.

Which is all just to say: When it comes to people with highly unusual memories, it’s not clear that we as a culture are so good at choosing who to envy.

YOU MIGHT THINK that McKinnon would lean on technology to help compensate for her disorder. After all, she lives at a moment when software companies are churning out products that are, essentially, surrogates for the very faculties she lacks. Isn’t a Facebook feed a kind of prosthetic autobiographical memory? Google Photos will even form gauzy retrospective mental associations for you: The artificially intelligent software plunges straight into your photo library, plucks out faces and related events, and automatically generates poignant little videos—synthetic episodic memories. Other software tools aim to capture your entire life in documents—emails, calendar reminders, schoolwork, voicemails, texts, snapshots, videos, and other bits of recordable data—to provide a searchable database of your memories.

And yet the life-logging impulse is lost on McKinnon. Once, she decided to keep a journal to see if she could preserve her memories. “I stopped doing that after two or three days,” she says. “If I get so obsessed with capturing every moment because I’m afraid of losing the memory, I’m never going to experience those moments.” And what else, really, does she have?
She does use email, which sometimes serves as a useful reference. But she doesn’t make a special effort to log her experiences there. And she doesn’t use social media. No Pinterest. No Instagram. She had a Facebook account, but she quit using it. It didn’t interest her.

Even if she had a Facebook feed, she would have very little to put there in the way of photos or videos. McKinnon once borrowed a video camera to film one of their departures on a Caribbean cruise, but she didn’t enjoy it. She lost the feeling of the moment, she says. She likewise doesn’t take photos. She says she doesn’t find them that compelling to look at. Sure enough, I notice there are no pictures on the ­couple’s refrigerator, shelves, or walls. No framed wedding portraits. No posed beach shots. There are just a few photo albums in an upstairs office.

McKinnon pulls down the album of her 1981 courthouse wedding to Green in Maywood, Illinois. There’s a shot of the friends who surprised the newlyweds on the steps outside. There’s one of Green opening a gag gift—a set of four mugs with images of cats having sex. McKinnon is practiced at laughing through all the anecdotes about the day that she has memorized over the years, with help from the album. But looking at the pictures, she says, feels like observing somebody else’s wedding.

Today, though, she learns something new about the day she married Green. As we look over the album, Green mentions a close friend who attended the wedding. “I didn’t even know she was there,” McKinnon says. That’s because there are no photos of this friend. Because she was the one behind the camera.

This actually feels like the kind of error anyone could make: Doesn’t the person behind the camera often get edited out of recall? Even when the person behind the camera is you?

While it’s abundantly clear that McKinnon isn’t using technology to become more like us, it’s conceivable that technology could, over the long run, make us all a bit more like McKinnon. My iPhone now holds 1,217 photos and 159 videos just from the past eight months. By focusing on clicking picture after picture, I may actually be blurring away my memories of these experiences through something researchers call “the photo-taking impairment effect.” And by automatically storing all those photos in the cloud—which relieves my mind of the burden of cataloging a bunch of memories—I may be short-circuiting some part of my own process of episodic memory formation.

“What would humanity lose if they lost some of that ability?”McKinnon asks during one of our conversations, as if wondering aloud for me. “If they had technology to replace it, what would be lost? The human experience would change, but would it be a plus? Or a minus? Or—just a change?”
I CAN HEAR McKinnon sniffling. We’re sitting in a dark movie theater at Olympia’s Capital Mall, watching Inside Out. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that she’s crying. Most of the movie takes place in the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. The girl’s emotions, represented as cartoon workers in a control room, are on an emergency mission to save her from psychological catastrophe: the loss of her core memories, which look like little glowing orbs with video loops playing across their surface. The core memories power her personality islands, which—well, it’s hard to describe, but suffice it to say the structures of Riley’s personality begin to crumble when her core memories go missing.

McKinnon loves the movie, despite the fact that it seems to present her daily reality as an utter catastrophe. (When we talk about the islands of personality, core memories, and the control room of Riley’s consciousness, McKinnon laughs. “If I have the islands,” she says, “I’m not sure there’s any connections to headquarters.”)

I’m surprised to find out that, even though she doesn’t experience her own life as a narrative, McKinnon loves stories. Especially fantasy and sci-fi: Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games. She’s read all the books, seen all the movies and episodes. She can’t remember what they were about, but that just makes it better. Each time she rereads or rewatches something, it’s like experiencing it for the first time. (Here’s another thing to envy about her: She is impervious to spoilers.)

But she cannot for the life of her make up a story. She does not daydream. Her mind does not wander. This lack of imagination is common among amnesiacs. Most of us can visualize a beach scene on command, for example: We can picture lounging on a chair with a piña colada in hand, roaring waves, grains of sand between our toes. When McKinnon tries this mental exercise, she can visualize a hammock, maybe. “And then there’s probably a palm tree. As soon as, in my mind, I’d try to grab that palm tree, I lose the hammock.” She cannot fit the images together into a finished puzzle. She also cannot play chess, even though her husband plays often. “I can’t hold in my mind more than one move ahead.” In other words, not only does McKinnon lack a window into the past, she also lacks a window into the future.

McKinnon and I did a lot that day. We ate, we spoke, we walked around the mall. But of course, she doesn’t remember the details, nor does she seem to mind. While most of us experience life as a story of gain and loss, McKinnon exists always and only in her own denouement. There is no inciting incident. No conflict. And no anxious sense of momentum toward the finale. She achieves effortlessly what some people spend years striving for: She lives entirely in the present.

Photograph by Alma Haser

Source: Wired

Age-Related Cognitive Decline Tied to Immune-System Molecule

A blood-borne molecule that increases in abundance as we age blocks regeneration of brain cells and promotes cognitive decline, suggests a new study by researchers at UC San Francisco and Stanford School of Medicine.

The molecule in question, known as beta-2 microglobulin, or B2M, is a component of a larger molecule called MHC I (major histocompatibility complex class I), which plays a major role in the adaptive immune system. A growing body of research indicates that the B2M-MHC I complex, which is present in all cells in the body except red blood cells and plasma cells, can act in the brain in ways not obviously related to immunity—guiding brain development, shaping nerve cell communication, and even affecting behavior.

“We are in the process of elucidating the exact mechanism by which B2M works,” said Saul A. Villeda, PhD, a UCSF Faculty Fellow and co-senior author of the new study. “Since B2M increases with age, both in the blood and in the brain, we want to know what is the ‘traditional’ immune contribution to effects on cognition, and what is the non-traditional neural contribution.”

In 2014, highly publicized work in the laboratories of Villeda and Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, professor of neurology at Stanford, showed that connecting the circulatory system of a young mouse to that of an old mouse could reverse the declines in learning ability that typically emerge as mice age.

Over the course of their long-term research on so-called young blood, however, the researchers had noted an opposite effect: blood from older animals appears to contain “pro-aging factors” that suppress neurogenesis—the sprouting of new brain cells in regions important for memory—which in turn can contribute to cognitive decline.

In the new research, published online on July 6, 2015 in Nature Medicine, Villeda and co-senior author Wyss-Coray again joined forces to follow up on these findings, as well as a range of studies correlating high B2M blood levels with cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease, HIV-associated dementia, and as a consequence of chronic dialysis for kidney disease.

Members of the Villeda and Wyss-Coray labs first showed that B2M levels steadily rise with age in mice, and are also higher in young mice in which the circulatory system is joined to that of an older mouse. These findings were confirmed in humans, in whom B2M levels rose with age in both blood and in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that bathes the brain.

When B2M was administered to young mice, either via the circulatory system or directly into the brain, the mice performed poorly on tests of learning and memory compared to untreated mice, and neurogenesis was also suppressed in these mice.

These experiments were complemented by genetic manipulations in which some mice were engineered to lack a gene known as Tap1, which is crucial for the MHC I complex to make its way to the cell surface. In these mice, administration of B2M in young mice had no significant effect, either in tests of learning or in assessments of neurogenesis.

The group also bred mice missing the gene for B2M itself. These mice performed better than their normal counterparts on learning tests well into old age, and their brains did not exhibit the decline in neurogenesis typically seen in aged mice.

Villeda emphasized that the effects on learning observed in the B2M-administration experiments were reversible: 30 days after the B2M injections, the treated mice performed as well on tests as untreated mice, indicating that B2M-induced cognitive decline in humans could potentially be treated with targeted drugs.

“From a translational perspective, we are interested in developing antibodies or small molecules to target this protein late in life,” said Villeda. “Since B2M goes up with age in blood, CSF, and also in the brain itself, this allows us multiple avenues in which to target this protein therapeutically.”

Julia Serano

Julia Serano is a biologist who works as a researcher at UC Berkeley in the field of evolutionary and developmental biology. She received her doctorate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from Columbia University. Among her discoveries is that of the K10 transport/localization element (TLS) in Drosophilia melanogaster (the common fruit fly). She is openly transgender and bisexual, and is an activist for the rights of transgender and bisexual people in addition to her scientific work.


Are some people genetically predisposed to stay happily married? Researchers at UC Berkeley have found a major clue in our DNA.


A team of UC Berkeley researchers has discovered that the 85% of the average tech worker’s clothes are free tech t-shirts, hoodies, and other assorted clothing.

The study of this prevalent free clothing, known by tech workers as “swag,” has come at the same time as a massive tech boom that has swept the Bay Area. On a normal weekday in San Francisco, you’re liable to see dozens of young hipsters walking down the street wearing t-shirts, jackets, hats, and even socks emblazoned with the names and logos of companies ranging from tech titans to ten-person startups. Tech companies hand out free logo-festooned paraphernalia at career fairs, company events, and almost any opportunity available.

Jacques Larue, the Berkeley sociology professor who led the research team, explains why giving away free t-shirts and other clothing has become so popular. “Trendy tech companies offer free snacks, free drinks, free meals, free personal trainers, free laundry, and free egg-freezing, so why not also give out some free swag?” Larue also found that this trend had unexpected effects. “We noticed that in the period between 2009 and today, Bay Area clothing retailers have experienced a massive drop in sales of casualwear.”

It’s not hard to see why. A tech worker that we stopped on the street (easily recognisable by her branded Airbnb hoodie) said that she hasn’t needed to buy any clothes for 2 years. “I have just bundles of free shirts from work and from conferences, and there’s too many of them to wear! But they’re really nice: like, they’re the American Apparel 50/50s that are really soft, so I gave them to my parents and my corgi to wear. And one of the middle schoolers that my dad teaches was like, ‘Hey, my mom works for the company on your shirt!’”

We asked her why she didn’t just stop taking the free clothing if she already had too many. 

“But… but it’s free!”

We also asked a man about the hat he was wearing, emblazoned with “Keta Labs” in bright green type. He shrugged and responded that he “[doesn’t] know what the company does. I just took the hat because it’s soft and I thought it looked cool.”

Charities have also received a massive influx of unwanted tech company paraphernalia, and as a result, many of the homeless people around Golden Gate Park have been seen wearing MongoDB shirts.

Larue’s team followed a group of tech company workers for a year and found that the prevalence of free clothing in the Silicon Valley ecosystem has in fact created a “hierarchy of swag” in tech companies. In more traditional companies, employees show up to work in suits (or, in the case of venture capitalists, in tastefully unbuttoned suits and blazers). In Silicon Valley, the almost uniform work attire is the t-shirt, hoodies, and jeans: the Mark Zuckerberg look. As a result, Larue discovered that casual clothing has taken on a new social significance in the swanky offices of Silicon Valley.

“For example, Dropbox t-shirts are very common. They’re given to basically everyone, they’re fairly cheap. So although Dropbox is a very respected company, wearing a Dropbox t-shirt doesn’t mean that you work there and doesn’t signify anything special. However, if you’ve got a Dropbox backpack, it’s almost certain that you used to work there and deserve the respect accorded a Dropbox employee. Certain types of swag can also be specific to an event or period of time or achievement: for example, Google sends hoodies to candidates who receive Google offers, so if you get one of these hoodies and you see someone else with an identical one, you know that both of you got Google offers.”

Larue’s study also revealed that the choice of clothing can also signify one’s status within a company. While employees at an investment bank may show up to work with pretty much the same business suits, a techie’s choice of a t-shirt signifies one’s status in the workplace.

Most normal people wear old t-shirts because they can’t afford new ones. But in Silicon Valley, a person wearing old company swag, possibly with an outdated logo, signifies that a person is an early employee who newer hires should defer to. By showing up to a formal event with flip-flops, tech CEOs show that they have the power to ignore social and clothing-based norms that less privileged employees feel obligated to follow. Larue calls this the “hierarchy of swag.”

Meanwhile, reaction to the study has been mixed. Protesters have already begun gathering at GoogleBus stops “to stop massive techie clothing corporations from driving local mom-and-pop t-shirt-printing stores out of business.” On the other hand, startup ShirtMe has announced plans to give people free t-shirts with company-sponsored ads on them. A spokesperson detailed their long-term vision of putting LCD screens on t-shirts, literally turning people into walking billboards. Other startups have begun to compensate employees with clothing instead of equity because “the clothing is actually worth something.”