For every expectant father who’s ever wished they, too, could feel a fetus kicking their bladder, science now has an answer. Researchers in Japan have put together a suit packed with balloons, sensors, and warm water so you can feel what it’s like to be pregnant.
The condoms, developed by UK biotech company Futura Medical, are lined with a gel that increases blood flow. The gel’s active ingredient, glyceryl nitrate, has been used for as a vasodilator for over a century. The tricky part was getting the gel to stay in the condom without degrading the latex, but the company found a way (and quickly patented it).
Microscopy often yields striking snapshots, but these colorful compositions have a less-than-glamorous subject: fruit fly intestines.
The insides of these humble critters may help researchers understand the human digestive system. Each of us has something like 500 million intestinal nerve cells, yet little is known about what they’re up to. According to a recent Wellcome Trust press release, fruit fly feces (seen in image 3 above) have helped researchers at the University of Cambridge understand how the gut’s nerve cells affect metabolism.
“We reasoned that what comes out of the gut may be able to tell us about what is going on inside,” says Irene Miguel-Aliaga, who headed the study. “So, we devised a method to extract information about several metabolic features from the flies’ fecal deposits–which are actually rather pretty and don’t smell bad. Then we turned specific neurons on and off and examined what came out.”
Examining fruit fly poo allowed the scientists to assign different functions to different intestinal neurons. Some regulate appetite, for example, while others adjust intestinal water balance during reproduction.
What monkey mothers eat has a large impact on how skittish their offspring act in stressful situations like stranger danger–or the presence of a Mr. Potato Head in their cage.
According to researchers, even normal monkeys find the toy’s large eyes to be “mildly stressful.” But baby monkeys from mothers who were fed a high-fat diet (over 35 percent of calories from fat, modeled after a typical American diet) had a much stronger reaction to an encounter with the spud man, and also spazzed in the presence of an unknown human.
The study, presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual conference, found that in stressful situations, the female offspring were more anxious and the males more aggressive, explains LiveScience:
If requiring stores to label their cell phones with radiation-output levels wasn’t enough, San Francisco has found a new way to revel in cell phone hysteria: Now one of its trendy maternity boutiques sells radiation-shielding maternity clothes.
These clothes are specifically designed to shield their little unborn hipster babies from computer and cell phone radiation. Radiation-shielding maternity clothing has been popular in China for years, but a young company is now marketing its line of Belly Armor directly to San Francisco’s expectant mothers.
The clothing, which start at $59 for a T-shirt, is made by a company called RadiaShield, whose website encourages expectant mothers to “protect their child within” from the radiation of daily lives. Fact check: most of the radiation that a cell phone emits is actually a low-frequency, non-harmful type of radiation called non-ionizing radiation. It doesn’t contain enough energy to remove electrons from an atom, unlike higher-energy, higher-frequency, known-to-be harmful radiations like x-rays and UV light.
Placentophagy, or the practice of ingesting the placenta after giving birth, has been inching its way into the mainstream. Animals do it, and mothers have been offering testimony that eating the nutrient-rich placenta can have health benefits, including regulating hormones that may cause postpartum depression. Granted, no empirical data exists to prove that this is true—but that hasn’t stopped some mothers from adopting the “what does science know about my body/my child” approach (a philosophy that has yielded less-than-stellar results in other health debates).
Still, no evidence has surfaced showing that placenta-eating causes any harm, so for now it remains a harmless endeavor—and one ripe for media commentary. Take a fringe health pseudo-trend and add a journalist’s personal experience, and you have Joel Stein’s witty Time magazine account of just how the mechanics of eating a placenta go down. Writes Stein:
When the placenta did come out, Cassandra, dazed from 21 hours of labor, somehow made sure the nurses delivered it to us in a flat plastic container, which I put into an ice-filled Monsters vs Aliens cooler I brought….
In a fog, I drove the placenta home, where I wrapped the container in a bag and wrapped that bag in a bag and wrapped that bag in every remaining bag we had in the house.
Some expectant parents are so excited to see their new baby, they just can’t bear to wait nine months. Soon they may not have to, thanks to designer Jorge Lopes of London’s Royal College of Art, who has started making life-size models of unborn babies based on MRI and ultrasound images. ABC News tells us:
“I think we’re at the beginning of a new science, really,” said Stuart Campbell, who heads the obstetrics and gynecology department at King’s College London. “It’s the sort of technique that in the future could be done in a matter of hours. So that the couple could have a model in their hands in a few hours.”
Lopes can create models at various points throughout a pregnancy and has also done models of twins. “It’s amazing to see [a parent’s] face when they can hold the models, when they can understand very well the size, the scale,” he said, holding up one of the models. “Something like this is only 12 weeks. It’s very nice to hold this, ‘Oh, this is your son.'”
Some say the models could help parents bond with baby before he or she is born.
In the past, an expectant mother who wanted to know the gender of her unborn baby had to wait for a sonogram 20 weeks into her pregnancy. But now an at-home test can determine a baby’s sex only 10 weeks in, with 78 to 80 percent accuracy, according to IntelliGender, the test’s creator.
When we asked the company’s rep exactly how the test worked, we were told what we pretty much already knew: It’s an analysis of urine in which chemicals react with hormones to indicate the gender of the baby. It takes about 10 minutes for the urine sample to turn either orange (for a girl) or green (for a boy). Interestingly, recent sexual activity can yield a false “boy” result.
Doctors have discovered that a 27-year-old British woman has a double womb. Not only that, she also has two cervixes and two vaginas. Having two sets of reproductive organs, a condition known as uterus didelphys, may sound bizarre, but doctors say it affects as many as one in 1,000 women.
Lindsay Hasaj never suspected she was doubly-endowed, and neither did her husband or any of the doctors she had visited in her 27 years of life. Uterus didelphys occurs during embryonic development, when the two halves of the uterus, each attached to a fallopian tube, fail to fuse together. From the outside, women with uterus didelphys look completely normal. Doctors performing pelvic exams might not even notice, because, as one doctor explained, it’s like walking blindfolded into a tent separated with a tarp down the middle.
Hasaj was finally diagnosed after she had a sonogram for her pregnancy (which is in her right uterus). Only afterwards did Hasaj connect her condition with the problems she’d always had in using tampons.
In the category of “conclusions we can’t believe needed to be reached,” Australian researchers who studied 299 women over eight years—including during their pregnancies—found that they were no mentally worse for wear after bearing children. Neither pregnancy nor motherhood had any detrimental effect on each mother’s cognitive capacity, said Helen Christensen, director of the Center for Mental Health Research at Australian National University.
Christensen says previous studies may have linked cognitive deficits to pregnancy because they were comparing pregnant women with other non-pregnant women. In this study, they were able to compare a woman’s mental capacity to herself, by measuring it before, during, and after her pregnancy.
The researchers did find, however, that the mothers were slightly less well-educated than women of the same age who didn’t have children (the study followed a total of 2,500 women’s lives in detail). Future studies will reveal whether this small difference, attributed to an interruption in education, will give mothers a long-term disadvantage—although there is indication that delaying motherhood increases earnings.