I'll have Extra-Terrestrial Life and Viruses, with a side of aging brains

Our understanding of life on the nano-scale is growing, from outer space to our guts. Plus: modern life may be aging our brains and making us sick.

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Welcome to the June 25 edition of The Digest.

Are we a step closer to finding extraterrestrial life?

Unlikely, but NASA scientists did detect phosphorus locked inside salt-rich ice grains ejected from volcanoes on the surface of Enceladus, one of the Saturns moons during their Cassini mission. Phosphorus is an ingredient in amino acids and a crucial building block of DNA. Life (as we know it) simply isn’t possible without it. While scientists didn’t find ET out there, finding the ingredients of life is still an incredible discovery for astrobiology. Link.

A quick fun fact about Enceladus: it’s covered by fresh, clean ice, making it one of the most reflective bodies in the Solar System! Link.

The potential of extra-terrestrial life always leads to me pondering over our lives here on Earth, especially the impact of our modern lifestyles on our health.

We've all read the articles linking higher rates of dementia to sedentary lifestyles. You may have even seen the connection made between higher BMI in lower brain volumes. Now, scientists may have connected modern industrialized lifestyles to faster aging in the brain.A team of scientists has been tracking the health of Indigenous populations and found that they lose half of the brain volume Industrialized populations do after the age of 40. Although those studied were afflicted with more infections, they suffer far fewer age-related chronic diseases. Link.

At the micro—really the nano— scale, scientists may have found the secret to a long, healthy life: gut viruses.

Our gut-biome has a substantial impact on our health, but most research has focused on bacteria. Now, scientists have found that viruses are just as important in your intestines. From the article: “We have learned that if a virus pays a bacterium a visit, it may actually strengthen the bacterium. The viruses we found in the healthy Japanese centenarians contained extra genes that could boost the bacteria.” Link.