Inverse Daily: Say Hello to These Little Brains

Think of your brain, and then imagine something a million times smaller. That pea-sized lump you’re considering is a mini-brain, and it’s an organoid that scientists have been perfecting since 2013.

Welcome back to Inverse Daily, gang! I’m Sarah and I’m bringing you the news.

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Before we get into it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Melody H., Jacob B., and Emily R. While I would love to give you guys the world, for now you’ll have to settle for our August prizes. That’s some fancy stuff!

This month, we’re giving your home theater setup a makeover. That means you can win either a brand spankin’ new 55” Samsung TV, a Sonos Beam Sound Bar, or an Apple TV 4K.

  • For a deeper look at our September prizes, head on over here.

Good luck and thanks for reading!

INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Considering how important sleep is to our well-being, it’s astonishing that we know so little about how sleep is regulated.”

— Ying-Hui Fu, Ph.D., a neurology professor at UC San Francisco.

Let’s Get Physical

The idea that there is a “gay gene” goes back to a 1993 claim that the genetic marker Xq28 is linked to male homosexuality. Since then, that study has been debated, while more work has been done to link same-sex sexuality to genetics. Most recently, scientists conducted the largest study yet on the topic, and evaluated the genes of about 470,000 people. In the end, they concluded that there are likely thousands of gene variants that are involved in and interact with the manifestation of same-sex sexuality — and you know what, they don’t really matter.

That’s because there’s no evidence that these genes can be used to meaningfully or effectively predict or identify a person’s sexual behavior. This isn’t to say that same-sex attraction isn’t written into our genes — it is — but to say it’s only genes limits sexuality’s lovely, complex scope and the role that one’s environment plays in shaping desire.

Learn why a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors influence your sex life.

The more you know:

It’s Alive … Kind Of

Think of your brain, and then imagine something a million times smaller. That pea-sized lump you’re considering is a mini-brain, and it’s an organoid that scientists have been perfecting since 2013. On Thursday, UC San Diego researchers announced the most exciting mini-brain update yet: The mini-brains they’ve grown are capable of emitting brain waves, and they’re at the same level as the electrical currents created by preterm baby brains.

What this exactly means as far as the mini-brains being capable of the casual notion of consciousness isn’t clear. Lead author Alysson Muotri, Ph.D., told me he’s not sure what their cognitive potential is because tests designed to evaluate organoid consciousness don’t exist yet. That’s something that he hopes to change, and he’s holding a meeting in October with other biologists, philosophers, and ethicists in an attempt to figure it out.

“I get this question a lot: What are they thinking? Are they self-aware? And that is very unlikely,” Muotri says. “However, the truth is, we don’t have evidence either way. We don’t know yet how much potential they have.”

Say hello to these little brains.

The more you know:

Flex Machina

Will super-smart A.I. take over the world? On Thursday, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, clashed with Jack Ma, co-founder of the Alibaba Group and estimated to be China’s richest man, on the topic during an on-stage debate at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai. Over in corner number one, we’ve got Musk, who thinks artificial intelligence is a force that could overtake humans faster than most expect. Meanwhile, Ma struck a more optimistic tone about the opportunities A.I. presents and sees how they could better humanity.

It’s not the first time Musk has sounded the alarm over unregulated A.I. He previously told state leaders at the National Governors Association in 2017 that A.I. is “a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization,” calling for leaders to regulate before it’s too late. On Thursday, Musk pointed to humanity’s rapid progress over the past 7,000 years of civilization as a sign that technology could advance faster than many realize.

Is Musk right? I don’t know, but my Roomba seems pretty nice.

Get the lastest on the human-robot war over here.

The more you know:

Musk Reads

Elon Musk is pushing the boundaries of where we can go and what we can do. Don’t miss a beat by signing up for Musk Reads, our newsletter about all things SpaceX, Tesla, and The Boring Company.

Sign up here.

Sad Desk Lunch

The connection between diet and depression is often investigated, but the connection is a bit fraught. However, while it’s unclear if a good diet can prevent or treat depression, a new study highlights how a poor diet may be one of the things that sets the condition in motion.

In an effort to evaluate the impacts of high-sodium, low-potassium diets on depression — in other words, fast-food heavy meals — researchers evaluated a sample of 84 low-income adolescents. They discovered that the preteens who excreted more sodium and less potassium in their urine had higher rates of depressive symptoms when they were surveyed 1.5 years later than when they donated the samples. This suggests that the effects of a high-sodium, low-potassium diet accumulate over time, but, as always, the researchers say they need more data to be sure.

Are you really what you eat? See what the science says here.

The more you know:

I Came in Like a Wrecking Ball

As Miami prepares for a “scooternado,” here’s something else to consider: Electric scooters are dangerous pretty much all of the time.

E-scooters, like the ones Bird and Lime have been dropping into cities by the boatload, are fun and pretty easy to use. But as they’ve exploded in popularity over the past couple of years, doctors have expressed concern over how many patients they’re seeing in emergency rooms with injuries from scooter crashes. New research from three Level I trauma centers in California, the emergency rooms that see the worst emergency cases, shows that the number of hospital admissions from electric scooter accidents have risen since they showed up in 2017. More worryingly, 98% of the riders weren’t wearing helmets, and very many of them were intoxicated.

So yeah, it’s a chill time to go back to 2003 and be a Scooter Kid. But it’s still a motorized vehicle, and let’s admit it, none of us are actually that good at them.

Scoot on over and learn more about e-scooter injuries at Inverse.

The more you know:

Today’s Good Thing

Today, that’s this pumice rock the size of Manhattan. This big boy likely blasted from a volcano 130 feet below the surface of the ocean and now is going full Ornico Flow towards Australia. Scientists are excited about it because they anticipate that deep ocean creatures, like mollusks and corals, will likely latch onto the pumice as it passes. In turn, it’s thought that this hitchhiking-meets-rescue mission could help repopulate the in-trouble Great Barrier Reef.

Meanwhile …

  • Learn what happens to your body after a “long feast weekend.”
  • Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt, won’t be released in theaters until September 20, but early reviews following its debut at the Venice Film Festival have already begun trickling out.
  • Did Rey’s vision in Episode VIII tease a connection to the spiritual realm of Mortis that could come to fruition in Episode IX?

Inverse Loot

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Thanks for reading, everybody! I hope you had a chill long weekend.

Any thoughts on mini-brains and their not-quite but not-impossible consciousness? Let me know over at sarah.sloat@inverse.com or say hi on Twitter.

Meanwhile, I’ll be thinking about that time Inverse was a little too into Pokémon Go.