RIP, Lou Ottens

Inverse Daily: Gut microbes could be the future of brain health

Plus: How George Lucas' biggest failure saved American sci-fi movies.

Gut bacteria , gut flora, microbiome. Bacteria inside the small intestine, concept, representation. ...

Think about the food you eat and your behavior. Not just, like, a time when you ate 3-4 Reese’s peanut butter eggs in one sitting and became a little wired. Go deeper. Think for a second about the prospect that some food contains bacteria that may make you more social if you eat it regularly, and for long enough. And not getting enough of it may make you anti-social.

It’s an idea backed by a growing body of evidence that’s quite plainly telling us the gut is inextricably linked to the brain. That means our moods, our behavior, and the decisions we make. Extrapolated, the mind spins into all kinds of theories about how food’s microbiome effect has shaped history, mental health, and the norms of entire cultures. Essentially, we are what we eat, which is today’s big idea in Inverse Daily.

Staff Writer Katie MacBride tells me that the increased evidence connecting diet and the brain will lead to more nuanced studies in the years to come.

“I don’t think it means we’re going to be able to treat every symptom stemming from a neurological condition through food,” MacBride says. “But I do think that, pretty quickly, we’re going to see researchers target specific symptoms and behaviors through certain organisms in our microbiome.

“Instead of seeing deficiencies in our microbiome as either unimportant or only relevant to our digestion, I think it will be common for us to consider what neurotransmitters or regions of the brain could be suffering as a result.

“When I say it like that, it sounds a little like the hippie moms I knew growing up in Berkeley, but this is going to be very specific types of microbes with very specific behavioral results.

“And in general, I think and hope we’ll see more research into how ailments or deficiencies in one part of the body might be affecting our health and behavior in unexpected ways.”

It’s all connected. So are the stories in this daily dispatch. I’m Nick Lucchesi, editor-in-chief at Inverse. Let’s get into it.

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By George! — It’s hard to imagine George Lucas as a scrappy young upstart looking to take on the establishment. But in 1971, that was just the case. On the 50th anniversary of the release of THX 1138, his early dystopian sci-fi effort (pre-Star Wars), we present to you a genuine caper story that involves:

  • Lucas
  • A VW bus
  • The Warner Brothers Water Tower
  • One of his friends impersonating a movie editor to steal the reels of that movie before studio suits could mess with it.

It’s a wild story, and I’m happy we have it for you.

“The executives didn’t see the harm in what they were trying to force George to do,” a friend of Lucas tells Inverse. “George was going crazy. He said they didn’t have the right to do that.”

Read the full story.

More like this:

An illustration of the NASA Mars Ascent Vehicle that would be launched from the Martian surface carrying precious samples from the Red Planet.


Mars to Earth — Space writer Passant Rabie reports on the Mars Sample Return program for you in a far-flung new story of an ambitious scientific project. In an effort to find out whether Mars ever supported life, NASA took another step toward retrieving precious samples from the Red Planet this month. Basically, it signed a contract.

Here are the details: The aerospace company and defense contractor Northrop Grumman will design and develop the propulsion system for the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), as well as other supporting equipment, over a 14-month period. The photo above really shows off how the MAV will launch samples in one step on its journey back to Earth. The contract is expected to cost around $60 million. The mission has a potential launch date slated for 2026.

What they’re saying: “We are committed to helping build the rockets that will orbit the samples Perseverance collects so they can be returned to Earth.” —Rebecca Torzone, vice president of missile products at Northrop Grumman.

Read the full story.

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The side view of jaw bone and teeth from a Neanderthal skull. One of the eight science images of the week from Inverse.


This week in science — Card story editor Bryan Lawver offers a look at eight images that defined the week in science, from SpaceX Starship to why cotton masks work, to ancient history to zombie sea slugs. Get a little weird. It’s Friday.

See the full gallery.

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Our big story — The evidence for a connection between gut health and brain health is becoming increasingly hard to ignore, writes Katie MacBride. A new study adds to the mountain: In the paper, a team of scientists at Baylor University link gut bacteria to specific brain conditions.

But beyond this, the team may have unlocked how to leverage the connection to treat brain conditions that affect social behavior.

The new research suggests hacking that connection via the vagus nerve by changing the composition of microbes in the gut. This nerve functions as a kind of fiber-optic cable that carries messages between the gut and the brain. Specifically, the team behind this paper looked at the microbiome’s role in hyperactivity seen in mice lacking a gene associated with autism. What they found suggests altering the population of gut microbiota through food may in turn alter behavior.

What they’re saying: “If this ends up working as well in humans as it does in mice, we might end up being able to correct a behavioral deficiency by what we put in a milkshake.” —Mauro Costa-Mattioli, study author and director of the Memory and Brain Research Center at Baylor University.

Read the full story.

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That’s all for this edition of Inverse Daily. You can follow me on Twitter @nicklucchesi, where I share some of my favorite stories from Inverse, Input, and Mic every day.

Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape. He died on March 6, 2021, at the age of 94 at his home in the Netherlands.


Rest in Peace, Lou Ottens.

Cassettes are second maybe only to vinyl when it comes to the coolest medium on which to experience music. But Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette, still preferred CDs for their sound quality, no matter the cool factor of cassette-only releases or friendships bonded by the exchange of mixtapes.

The inventor and sound engineer died on March 6. He was also instrumental in the development of the CD at Philips, the Dutch company that made consumer electronics before pivoting in recent years to healthcare tech.

The cassette tape was presented in 1963 at a tech conference in Berlin. The tagline was “Smaller than a pack of cigarettes!” reports The Guardian in its obituary. (Cassettes and cigarettes. Time flies.)

“Of all the musicians and historians I interviewed for the cassette documentary, Lou was by far the most critical of the format,” Zack Taylor, the director of Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape, told Rolling Stone in its story. “When I arrived on his doorstep in 2013, I expected to find a proud engineer, ready to take a bow and talk about the revolution he helped start. In reality, Lou couldn’t understand why people were still talking about the primitive, lo-fi cassette, even as the format celebrated its 50th anniversary. As an engineer, he was always focused on fidelity and reliability (two things that cassettes aren’t exactly famous for).”

Over the years, more than 100 billion cassette tapes have been sold and probably a million friendships forged. Have a great weekend, everybody.

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