Inverse Daily: The psilocybin breakthrough

Scientists have discovered a new way to produce psilocybin quicker than ever before.

TGIF, Inverse Daily! While the astronauts at the International Space Station get ready to break the record for spacewalks, here at Inverse HQ, we’re thinking about extraterrestrials, the future of solar energy, and how to brew up the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.

So make like a moose getting out of a pool, and enjoy what we’re serving below.

This article is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day.

INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“If we had a safe, effective, male contraceptive, men would use it for sure.”

— John Amory, M.D., a physician and professor at the University of Washington

We can’t handle the truth

Forget about asking whether or not there’s life beyond Earth. The better question is: Could we handle knowing there is life beyond Earth?

In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Jim Green, Ph.D., NASA’s chief scientist, essentially replied with a big fat nope. Green says that it’s inevitable we’ll find evidence of life on Mars. He also says that the world will not be able to hang when that announcement is made.

Green wasn’t speaking for NASA as a whole, nor was he paving the way for some formal announcement, but he does seem pretty confident. The scientist who is involved in the Mars 2020 mission promised that what’s found up there will be “revolutionary” and shake up humanity. Meanwhile, a few days earlier, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk seemed pretty certain that the universe was ours alone, announcing his plans to colonize Mars in order to preserve the only form of consciousness (that’s us) that exists in the entire galaxy.

Whichever side you’re on, we seem to be getting pretty close to finding signs of extraterrestrials — without having to storm Area 51.

Learn more about the plans to explore Mars.

The more you know:

Magic brew

While considered a narcotic with “no legitimate medical purpose” by the United States government, it’s increasingly evident that “magic mushrooms” could be a promising way to treat conditions like depression, addiction, and PTSD. But sourcing and producing psilocybin — a psychedelic compound found in more than 100 mushroom species — on a mass scale for research or distribution can be slow and expensive.

In an effort to solve these problems, scientists at Miami University discovered a new way to produce psilocybin quicker than ever before. By relocating psilocybin encoding DNA from mushrooms into E. coli bacteria, scientists found they could produce huge amounts of psilocybin, and fast.

The breakthrough could pave the way toward mass study and production of safe psilocybin therapies — and it all came from a process that the scientists say is very similar to the one behind the making of beer.

Take a trip over here to learn more.

The more you know:

Paint the future

Solar paint may be coming to a building near you. The nascent area of research could replace solid silicon panels with a solution that’s easier to build into new developments, removing the physical limits of clean energy to bring it to more places.

It’s been a long time coming. Researchers at the University of Buffalo announced back in 2013 that they had made progress on plasmonics-enhanced materials, but they also noted that thin paint makes absorbing light tough. Similarly, a team of Australian researchers demonstrated solar paint back in June 2017.

The potential for solar paint could soon shift. Wai-Lun Chan, an associate professor at the University of Kansas, tells Mike Brown that most silicon-based panels can reach about 20 percent efficiency. Some of the best solar paint, on the other hand, can reach around 15 percent efficiency. Coupled with savings on manufacturing, it could mean a cheaper and easier way to reach similar results to traditional panels.

Peep the future of solar energy over here.

The more you know:

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Wave goodbye

Sleep is super important for memory, from both an emotional and biological standpoint. When we learn to do new things, new ensembles of neurons learn to fire together, and when we sleep, those connections are strengthened.

In a new study, a team of scientists identified that two brain waves that pulsate during the early stages of sleep can have a big impact on that process. Slow oscillations play a key role in memory consolidation, which is the ingraining of memories deep in the brain, while delta waves are responsible for our active forgetting of information.

This team also found that, at least when it comes to rats, if delta waves are disrupted, memories can become enhanced. When the scientists implanted devices into the brains of 12 rats, they were able to manipulate these sleep-linked brain waves and later, the rats were better at remembering new skills compared to a control group.

Study co-author Karunesh Ganguly, Ph.D., told Emma Betuel that this experiment suggests there could be a future (but a very long-off future) where a similar tinkering could boost human memory. Ganguly says that it is possible for there to be non-invasive ways to target delta waves — which is great for those of us who forget our keys but don’t want an implant through our skulls.

Learn more about the memory-boosting power of brain wave manipulation.

The more you know:

The dark arts

Shawn Coss is an Ohio-based artist who describes his work as “complete and utter darkness with just a hint of light.” In 2016, he started a series called “Inktober Illness,” a take on the art challenge “Inktober.” His first piece was his depiction of borderline personality disorder: A woman, her face dark, with two skulls rising from either side of her.

The image struck people in a certain way. Some were angry because the depiction didn’t match their own interpretation of the condition. But the overwhelming response was one of gratitude. Coss’ art was an acknowledgement that, sometimes, mental health means being in a dark place, and it helped to have such a huge internal experience laid out on the page.

Coss and I recently spoke about where the series is today, how creating it affected him personally, and what it’s like to make something people can connect to. This interview was originally included in my newsletter Sunday Scaries — which, if you’d like, you can sign up for here.

To see more art, head to Inverse.

The more you know:

Today’s good thing

Today, that’s the cleanup efforts taking place in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. On Thursday, the Ocean Cleanup project announced a free-floating boom device successfully captured and retained plastic debris in this polluted area for the first time.

Meanwhile …

  • China’s experimental maglev train could give hyperloop a run for its money.
  • Uber’s helicopter service could chart the future of moving around cities.
  • Astronomers get their first good look at the cosmic web that connects galaxies, and it’s incredibly detailed.
  • Star Wars IX theory predicts Palpatine’s return and death.
  • We need to talk about the ending of Joker. (Spoilers)

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That’s it for this week! Inverse Daily will be back in your inboxes on Monday.

Until then, I’ll be reflecting on the weirdest Star Wars fan art dug up by Inverse.