Weird Science: Angst-Filled Worms; Zombie Apocalypse; and Addiction After Death

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Weird Science: Angst-Filled Worms; Zombie Apocalypse; and Addiction After Death

2017 is already off to a weird start in the science world. The Salk Institute learns that roundworms behave just like angsty teens, but they’re doing it without the help of My Chemical Romance. Over in the U.K., a group of students at the University of Leicester concluded that humans wouldn’t last 100 days in the event of a worldwide zombie apocalypse, which spells bad news for the future of The Walking Dead. And, finally, researchers in Vienna have found that the part of the brain responsible for addiction in drug addicts lives well-beyond death. Creepy.


Worms are Teenage Dirtbags, Baby

A new study out of the Salk Institute noticed that the neurological development in adolescent worms acts almost exactly like human teenagers—though without the resolve to be nicknamed “T-Money” like…some teenagers.

The study examined how microscopic Caenorhabditis elegans worm react to the smell of the chemical diacetyl, better known as “buttered popcorn smell,” which just so happens to exist in the C. elegans diet. To observe the behavioral differences between adults and kids, the team placed the worms at the center of a dish and splashed a dab of diacetyl on one side and a neutral odor on the other side. Over a series of trials, they noted the paths the worms took. The surprise? Adolescent worms lazily meandered towards the diacetyl—often not getting there at all—whereas adult worms beelined for the buttery goods.

“It’s like the younger worms are angsty teens,” says Laura Hale, a collaborative researcher at Salk and author of the paper, to the Institute. “To watch their behavior, it’s as though they say, ‘Yeah, I know I’m supposed to go over there but I just don’t feel like it.’”

Obviously, it’s kind of ridiculous to compare the brain development of a species with 302 neurons compared to a human’s’ 100 billion; however, the Salt team sees this adolescent development as an evolutionary necessity.

“These results support the idea that evolution works by making a juvenile plastic to learn a lot of things; then making an adult tuned to take advantage of that learning. Instead of merely being rebellious, teens—both humans and worms—may just be staying flexible to adapt to an unpredictable world.” An unpredictable world in which one teen steals their parent’s car to go to Joey Fischer’s summer rager—perhaps not that kind of evolutionary flexibility.


A Zombie Apocalypse Would Kill Us in 100 Days

Just further confirmation that The Walking Dead is completely ludicrous and that Carl should’ve died long ago, a new study—if you want to call it that—from students at the University of Leicester suggests that, one hundred days after the spread of a zombie infection, zombies would outnumber humans by a million to one, leaving the world with just 273 total survivors.

To investigate the spread and survival rates of a hypothetical zombie virus, the students used an SIR model, an epidemiological model that analyzes the spread of disease throughout a population—similar to what scientists used to study the potential effects of the ebola outbreak in 2014. That model then split the population into three blocks—those susceptible to infection, those infected, and those who’ve died or recovered—and then considered the infection rates.

The results were grim. Without factoring in natural birth and death rates, humankind would be unable to fight the undead and that in less than a year the human race might be wiped out. Essentially, the study concluded that the only way humanity could survive such an event would be for the population to transform into crazed, zombie-fighting, Rick Grimes, and, over time—many, many years—the human population could potentially recover from the apocalypse.


Your Body Craves Drugs Even After Death

How dangerous is addiction? Even by dying, the addiction still continues living within the brain.

Researchers at the University of Vienna have found that a protein known as FosB, located in the reward center of the brain, alters in the brain’s of addicts—e.g. Heroin addicts. What happens is that, due to constant supply of drugs—e.g. heroin—FosB turns into a genetically modified “super” version of itself, DeltaFosB. This DeltaFosB, compared to normal FosB, is a more stable, longer-lasting protein in the brain. It lasts so long, in fact, that even after an addict overdoses, the protein continues living in the addicts brain, craving another dose of the stimulus—something the researchers call “dependence memory.”

The study examined tissue samples from the nucleus accumbens, an area in the hypothalamus, of fifteen deceased heroin addicts. Monika Seltenhammer of MedUni Vienna’s Department of Forensic Medicine, noted, “Using highly sensitive detection methods, DeltaFosB was still detectable nine days after death.” In live subjects, the researchers think this sensation persists for months, which Seltenhammer says could help with the after-care and psychological support of recovering addicts.

Image: DH Singh CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tommy Burson is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen San Diego but with more sunscreen and jorts.