Science

'Nature' Editorial Juxtaposes FOIA Email Release With Illegal Hacking (vice.com) 69

Jason Koebler and Sarah Emerson, reporting for Motherboard: Private emails between scientists working on a controversial genetic technology called "gene drive" were released last week. Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, their publication has been criticized by some as an attempt to discredit the science community. Gene drives are a genetic engineering approach with huge implications. They're meant to seed genetic traits -- one that stops mosquitoes from carrying malaria, for instance, or hampers invasive rodents' ability to reproduce -- in a population, and with terrifyingly high odds of inheritance. If things go wrong, gene drives could destabilize ecosystems. (So far, they've only been applied to yeast, fruit flies, and mosquitoes in a lab setting.) More ideally, they could wipe out deadly plagues by targeting their vectors, or give threatened species a fighting chance. Like any young technology, there are a lot of unknowns, and stakeholders are hoping to provide clarity at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity next year; the same convention where a proposed gene drive moratorium was rejected in 2016. The emails and other documents reveal details about gene drive's biggest funders, including DARPA, the US military's research agency.
Space

Almost All Bronze Age Artifacts Were Made From Meteorite Iron (sciencealert.com) 132

dryriver shares a report from Science Alert: According to a new study, it's possible that all iron-based weapons and tools of the Bronze Age were forged using metal salvaged from meteorites. The finding has given experts a better insight into how these tools were created before humans worked out how to produce iron from its ore. While previous studies had found specific Bronze Age objects to be made from meteoric metal -- like one of the daggers buried with King Tutankhamun -- this latest research answers the question of just how widespread the practice was. Albert Jambon, from the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, studied museum artifacts from Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and China, analyzing them using an X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer to discover they all shared the same off-world origins. "The present results complementing high quality analyses from the literature suggest that most or all irons from the Bronze Age are derived from meteoritic iron," writes Jambon in his published paper. "The next step will be to determine where and when terrestrial iron smelting appeared for the first time."
Mars

Boeing CEO Says Boeing Will Beat SpaceX To Mars (space.com) 128

Boeing's CEO says the megarocket his company is helping to build for NASA will deliver astronauts to the Red Planet before billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX. Space.com reports: According to Fortune, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was speaking on CNBC today when host Jim Cramer asked whether Boeing or SpaceX would "get a man on Mars first." "Eventually we're going to go to Mars, and I firmly believe the first person that sets foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket," Muilenburg said, according to Fortune. Boeing is the main contractor for the first stage of NASA's giant Space Launch System , which is designed to launch astronauts on deep-space missions using the space agency's new Orion spacecraft. (United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne are also SLS contractors.) NASA hopes to build a "Deep Space Gateway" near the moon before using SLS and Orion vehicles to send explorers to Mars. The first test launch is scheduled for 2019. "Do it," Musk tweeted.
Medicine

What It Looks Like When You Fry Your Eye In An Eclipse (npr.org) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Doctors in New York say a woman in her 20s came in three days after looking at the Aug. 21 eclipse without protective glasses. She had peeked several times, for about six seconds, when the sun was only partially covered by the moon. Four hours later, she started experiencing blurred and distorted vision and saw a central black spot in her left eye. The doctors studied her eyes with several different imaging technologies, described in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, and were able to observe the damage at the cellular level.

"We were very surprised at how precisely concordant the imaged damage was with the crescent shape of the eclipse itself," noted Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, in an email to NPR. He says this was the most severely injured patient they saw after the eclipse. All in all, 22 people came to their urgent care clinic with concerns about possible eclipse-related damage, and most of them complained of blurred vision. Of those, only three showed some degree of abnormality in the retina. Two of them had only mild changes, however, and their symptoms have gone away. The young woman described in this case report, at last check, still has not recovered normal vision.
For your viewing pleasure, The Verge has embedded several images of the woman's retinas in their report.
Earth

The Firestorm This Time: Why Los Angeles Is Burning (wired.com) 231

The Thomas Fire spread through the hills above Ventura, in the northern greater Los Angeles megalopolis, with the speed of a hurricane. Driven by 50 mph Santa Ana winds -- bone-dry katabatic air moving at freeway speeds out of the Mojave desert -- the fire transformed overnight from a 5,000-acre burn in a charming chaparral-lined canyon to an inferno the size of Orlando, Florida, that only stopped spreading because it reached the Pacific. Several readers have shared a Wired report: Tens of thousands of people evacuated their homes in Ventura; 150 buildings burned and thousands more along the hillside and into downtown are threatened. That isn't the only part of Southern California on fire. The hills above Valencia, where Interstate 5 drops down out of the hills into the city, are burning. Same for a hillside of the San Gabriel Mountains, overlooking the San Fernando Valley. And the same, too, near the Mount Wilson Observatory, and on a hillside overlooking Interstate 405 -- the flames in view of the Getty Center and destroying homes in the rich-people neighborhoods of Bel-Air and Holmby Hills. And it's all horribly normal. [...] Before humans, wildfires happened maybe once or twice a century, long enough for fire-adapted plant species like chapparal to build up a bank of seeds that could come back after a burn. Now, with fires more frequent, native plants can't keep up. Exotic weeds take root. Fires don't burn like this in Northern California. That's one of the things that makes the island on the land an island. Most wildfires in the Sierra Nevadas and northern boreal forests are slower, smaller, and more easily put out, relative to the south. Trees buffer the wind and burn less easily than undergrowth. Keeley says northern mountains and forests are "flammability-limited ecosystems," where fires only get big if the climate allows it -- higher temperatures and dryer conditions providing more fuel. Climate change makes fires there more frequent and more severe.
Earth

Earth Will Likely Be Much Warmer In 2100 Than We Anticipated, Scientists Warn (vice.com) 378

According to a new analysis of the most realistic climate models to date, global temperature rise by 2100 could be 15 percent higher than the highest projections from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). What this means is that cuts in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) will have to be even greater than expected to meet the Paris climate target of keeping global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Motherboard reports: The world is a long way from making sufficient emission reductions to meet the Paris climate targets to begin with -- nevermind cutting out another 15 percent. But there's some good news, too. Both rich and poor countries have begun to move away from coal and oil, the two biggest CO2 sources, according to many energy analysts. Patrick Brown is a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, California, a co-author of the study published Wednesday in Nature. "Our results imply 15 percent less cumulative emissions than previously calculated [are needed] in order to stay below 2 degrees Celsius," he told me. Brown and co-authors focused on finding out what future warming might be, using only the climate models that best replicate observations over the last 15-20 years. On a business-as-usual emissions trajectory, they found that the mean global temperature rise would be 4.8 degrees Celsius by 2100, compared to the IPCC estimate of 4.3 degrees Celsius. The latter estimate is considered catastrophic for our planet, and would lead to sea level rise of over 30 feet, potentially putting the homes of 600 million people underwater.
Medicine

Victims of Mystery Attacks In Cuba Left With Anomalies In Brain Tissue (arstechnica.com) 233

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: American victims of mysterious attacks in Cuba have abnormalities in their brains' white matter, according to new medical testing reported by the Associated Press. But, so far, it's unclear how or if the white-matter anomalies seen in the victims relate to their symptoms. White matter is made up of dense nerve fibers that connect neurons in different areas of the brain, forming networks. It gets its name from the light-colored electrical insulation, myelin, that coats the fibers. Overall, the tissue is essential for rapidly transmitting brain signals critical for learning and cognitive function.

In August, U.S. authorities first acknowledged that American diplomats and their spouses stationed in Havana, Cuba, had been the targets of puzzling attacks for months. The attacks were carried out by unknown agents and for unknown reasons, using a completely baffling weaponry. The attacks were sometimes marked by bizarrely targeted and piercing noises or vibrations, but other times they were completely imperceptible. Victims complained of a range of symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, headaches, balance problems, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), nosebleeds, difficulty concentrating and recalling words, permanent hearing loss, and speech and vision problems. Doctors have also identified mild brain injuries, including swelling and concussion. U.S. officials now report that 24 Americans were injured in the attacks but wouldn't comment on how many showed abnormalities in their white matter.

Medicine

FCC Chair Ajit Pai Falsely Claims Killing Net Neutrality Will Help Sick and Disabled People (vice.com) 207

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: One popular claim by the telecom sector is that net neutrality rules are somehow preventing people who are sick or disabled from gaining access to essential medical services they need to survive. Verizon, for example, has been trying to argue since at least 2014 that the FCC's net neutrality rules' ban on paid prioritization (which prevents ISPs from letting deep-pocketed content companies buy their way to a distinct network performance advantage over smaller competitors) harms the hearing impaired. That's much to the chagrin of groups that actually represent those constituents, who have consistently and repeatedly stated that this claim simply isn't true. Comcast lobbyists have also repeated this patently-false claim in their attempt to lift the FCC ban on unfair paid prioritization deals.

The claim that net neutrality rules hurt the sick also popped up in a recent facts-optional fact sheet the agency has been circulating to try and justify the agency's Orwellian-named "Restoring Internet Freedom" net neutrality repeal. In the FCC's current rules, the FCC was careful to distinguish between "Broadband Internet Access Services (BIAS)," which is general internet traffic like browsing, e-mail or app data and "Non-BIAS data services," which are often given prioritized, isolated capacity to ensure lower latency, better speed, and greater reliability. VoIP services, pacemakers, energy meters and all telemedicine applications fall under this category and are exempt from the rules. Despite the fact that the FCC's net neutrality rules clearly exempt medical services from the ban on uncompetitive paid prioritization, FCC boss Ajit Pai has consistently tried to claim otherwise. He did so again last week during a speech in which he attempted to defend his agency from the massive backlash to its assault on net neutrality.
"By ending the outright ban on paid prioritization, we hope to make it easier for consumers to benefit from services that need prioritization -- such as latency-sensitive telemedicine," Pai said. "By replacing an outright ban with a robust transparency requirement and FTC-led consumer protection, we will enable these services to come into being and help seniors."
Earth

Air Pollution Harm To Unborn Babies May Be Global Health Catastrophe, Warn Doctors (theguardian.com) 132

Air pollution significantly increases the risk of low birth weight in babies, leading to lifelong damage to health, according to a large new study. From a report: The research was conducted in London, UK, but its implications for many millions of women in cities around the world with far worse air pollution are "something approaching a public health catastrophe," the doctors involved said. Globally, two billion children -- 90% of all children -- are exposed to air pollution above World Health Organization guidelines. A Unicef study also published on Wednesday found that 17 million babies suffer air six times more toxic than the guidelines. The team said that there are no reliable ways for women in cities to avoid chronic exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and called for urgent action from governments to cut pollution from vehicles and other sources.
ISS

The International Space Station is Super Germy (washingtonpost.com) 88

Thousands of species have colonized the International Space Station -- and only one of them is Homo sapiens. From a report: According to a new study in the journal PeerJ, the interior surfaces of the 17-year-old, 250-mile-high, airtight space station harbor at least 1,000 and perhaps more than 4,000 microbe species (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source ) -- a finding that is actually "reassuring," according to co-author David Coil. "Diversity is generally associated with a healthy ecosystem," said the University of California at Davis microbiologist. A varied population of microscopic inhabitants is probably a signature of a healthy spacecraft, he added. And as humanity considers even longer ventures in space -- such as an 18-month voyage to Mars -- scientists must understand who these microbes are. The samples for Coil's paper were collected in 2014 as part of the citizen science program Project MERCCURI. The initiative, conceived by a group of National Football League and National Basketball Association cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers, involved swabbing down dozens of professional sports stadiums, identifying the microbes in the samples, and sending those species to the ISS to see whether they would thrive. (Bacillus aryabhatti, collected from a practice football field used by the Oakland Raiders, grew fastest.)
Space

New Evidence Points To Icy Plate Tectonics On Europa (gizmodo.com) 67

According to new research published today in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Europa has what it takes to support plate tectonics. "Using computer models, a team lead by Brown University planetary scientist Brandon Johnson was able to demonstrate the physical feasibility of icy plates driving deep into the icy interior in a processes similar to what's seen on Earth," reports Gizmodo. "Excitingly, this same process could be delivering important minerals to the ocean below, heightening the moon's status a potentially habitable world." From the report: Europa has surface features reminiscent of Earth's mid-ocean ridges. For astronomers, this hinted at geological processes akin to subduction zones, where, on Earth, tectonic plates slide underneath another, sinking deep into the planet's interior. Several years ago, researchers Simon Kattenhorn and Louise Prockter posited this explanation when they noticed that a 20,000 square-kilometer (7,722 square-mile) chunk of ice had mysteriously disappeared from Europa's surface. Their explanation was that Europa's surface, like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, is composed of tectonic plates, and that occasionally a plate of ice will sink beneath the other into warmer layers below. But this observational evidence of extension and spreading needed to be supported by geophysical reality. To that end, Johnson's team ran a computer simulation to see if it was possible for ice to sink in this way.

On our planet, subduction is primarily driven by differences in temperature between a descending slab and the surrounding mantle. Dense crustal material features a negative buoyancy that drives it down into the mantle. The Brown University scientists figured a similar thing happens on Europa, but with ice. In the case of Europa, the researchers surmised that the moon has two frozen layers -- an outer lid of very cold ice that sits above a layer of slightly warmer convecting ice. Their models showed that subduction is indeed possible in this alien environment, but only if the outer shell contains varying amounts of salt. This added ingredient provides the necessary density differences for a slab to conduct.

Medicine

'Watershed' Medical Trial Proves Type 2 Diabetes Can Be Reversed (bbc.com) 224

dryriver writes: For those suffering from type 2 diabetes, there is good news. Nearly half of the participants in a watershed trial of a new diabetes treatment were able to reverse their affliction. The method is quite simple -- an all liquid diet that causes participants to lose a lot of weight, followed by a carefully controlled diet of real solid foods. Four times a day, a sachet of powder is stirred in water to make a soup or shake. They contain about 200 calories, but also the right balance of nutrients. If the patient can keep away from other foods long enough, there is a chance of reversing type 2 diabetes completely. Prof Roy Taylor, from Newcastle University, told the BBC: "It's a real watershed moment. Before we started this line of work, doctors and specialists regarded type 2 as irreversible. But if we grasp the nettle and get people out of their dangerous state (being overweight), they can get remission of diabetes." However, doctors are not calling this a cure. If the weight goes back on, then the diabetes will return. The trial only looked at people diagnosed with diabetes in the last six years. Doctors believe -- but do not know with absolute certainty yet -- that in people who have had the affliction much longer than that, there may be too much permanent damage to make remission possible. The trial results have been published in the Lancet medical journal.
Science

Why Some People Can Hear Silent GIF (bbc.com) 167

An anonymous reader shares a BBC report: Some people claim they can hear a thudding sound when the pylon hits the ground and the picture vibrates. Last weekend, Dr Lisa DeBruine from the Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology at the University of Glasgow posted it on Twitter, asking her followers to describe whether they experienced any auditory sensations while watching it. One person who suffers from ringing ears replied: "I hear a vibrating thudding sound, and it also cuts out my tinnitus during the camera shake." Others offered explanations as to why. While another suggested it may have something to do with correlated neuronal activity: "The brain is 'expecting/predicting' what is coming visually and then fires a version of what it expects across the relevant senses. Also explains why some might 'feel' a physical shake."
Businesses

The Compelling Case For Working Less (bbc.com) 176

An anonymous reader shares a report from the BBC, written by Amanda Ruggeri: As we fill our days with more and more "doing," many of us are finding that non-stop activity isn't the apotheosis of productivity. It is its adversary. Researchers are learning that it doesn't just mean that the work we produce at the end of a 14-hour day is of worse quality than when we're fresh. This pattern of working also undermines our creativity and our cognition. Over time, it can make us feel physically sick -- and even, ironically, as if we have no purpose. Think of mental work as doing push-ups, says Josh Davis, author of Two Awesome Hours. Say you want to do 10,000. The most 'efficient' way would be to do them all at once without a break. We know instinctively, though, that that is impossible. Instead, if we did just a few at a time, between other activities and stretched out over weeks, hitting 10,000 would become far more feasible. "The brain is very much like a muscle in this respect," Davis writes. "Set up the wrong conditions through constant work and we can accomplish little. Set up the right conditions and there is probably little we can't do." Many of us, though, tend to think of our brains not as muscles, but as a computer: a machine capable of constant work. Not only is that untrue, but pushing ourselves to work for hours without a break can be harmful, some experts say. Ruggeri goes on to highlight the negative health effects associated with working long hours. "One meta-analysis found that long working hours increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 40% -- almost as much as smoking (50%)," she writes. "Another found that people who worked long hours had a significantly higher risk of stroke, while people who worked more than 11 hours a day were almost 2.5 times more likely to have a major depressive episode than those who worked seven to eight."
Power

The World's Astonishing Dependence On Fossil Fuels Hasn't Changed In 40 Years (qz.com) 243

schwit1 shares a report from Quartz, adding: "Maybe 'dependence' is a poor description of poor people using the ready availability of cheap energy to help lift themselves out of poverty": There are few ways to understand why. First, most of the world's clean-energy sources are used to generate electricity. But electricity forms only 25% of the world's energy consumption. Second, as the rich world moved towards a cleaner energy mix, much of the poor world was just starting to gain access to modern forms of energy. Inevitably, they chose the cheapest option, which was and remains fossil fuels. So yes, we're using much more clean energy than we used to. But the world's energy demand has grown so steeply that we're also using a lot more fossil fuels than in the past.
Science

Fewer Toys Gives Kids a Better Quality of Playtime, Study Claims (nypost.com) 145

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New York Post: Toddlers with just a few toys were more creative and focused than tots with more choices, according to the study, published in an upcoming edition of the journal Infant Behavior and Development. For the study, University of Toledo researchers gave kids under age 3 either four toys or 16 toys and recorded their playing habits, according to the report. "When provided with fewer toys in the environment, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively," researchers said. Fewer toys "promotes development and healthy play," they concluded. The bah humbug-boosting findings may be one reason to skimp on the stocking stuffers -- but parents have another option. Simply keep more toys in storage also helps rein in the attention of scatterbrained toddlers, researchers said.
Earth

Nations Agree To Ban Fishing in Arctic Ocean For At Least 16 Years (sciencemag.org) 96

Several readers share a report: Nine nations and the European Union have reached a deal to place the central Arctic Ocean (CAO) off-limits to commercial fishers for at least the next 16 years. The pact, announced last week, will give scientists time to understand the region's marine ecology -- and the potential impacts of climate change -- before fishing becomes widespread. "There is no other high seas area where we've decided to do the science first," says Scott Highleyman, vice president of conservation policy and programs at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C., who also served on the U.S. delegation to the negotiations. "It's a great example of putting the precautionary principle into action." The deal to protect 2.8 million square kilometers of international waters in the Arctic was reached after six meetings spread over 2 years. It includes not just nations with coastal claims in the Arctic, but nations such as China, Japan, and South Korea with fishing fleets interested in operating in the region.
Earth

Silicon Valley Billionaires Award $22 Million in 'Breakthrough Prizes' (theguardian.com) 23

An anonymous reader quote The Guardian: The most glitzy event on the scientific calendar took place on Sunday night when the Breakthrough Foundation gave away $22 million in prizes to dozens of physicists, biologists and mathematicians at a ceremony in Silicon Valley. The winners this year include five researchers who won $3 million each for their work on cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases, two mathematicians, and a team of 27 physicists who mapped the primordial light that warmed the universe moments after the big bang 13.8 billion years ago. Now in their sixth year, the Breakthrough prizes are backed by Yuri Milner, a Silicon Valley tech investor, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki from the DNA testing company 23andMe, and Google's Sergey Brin. Launched by Milner in 2012, the awards aim to make rock stars of scientists and raise their profile in the public consciousness. The annual ceremony at Nasa's Ames Research Center in California provides a rare opportunity for some of the world's leading minds to rub shoulders with celebrities, who this year included Morgan Freeman as host, fellow actors Kerry Washington and Mila Kunis, and Miss USA 2017 Kara McCullough...

Life sciences prizewinner, Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute in San Diego, was honoured for three decades of painstaking research into the genetic programs that flip into action when plants find themselves plunged into shade. Her work revealed that plants can sense when a nearby competitor is about to steal their light, sparking a growth spurt in response. The plants detect threatening neighbours by sensing a surge in the particular wavelengths of red light that are given off by vegetation. Chory now has ambitious plans to breed plants that can suck vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a bid to combat climate change. She believes that crops could be selected to absorb 20 times more of the greenhouse gas than they do today, and convert it into suberin, a waxy material found in roots and bark that breaks down incredibly slowly in soil. "If we can do this on 5% of the landmass people are growing crops on, we can take out 50% of global human emissions," she said.

The Mercury News published a list of all the winners, pointing out they were chosen from more than 11,000 entries (from 178 countries). And Wired notes that the top prize winners get $2 million more than Nobel prize winners.
Space

Two Stars Collided And Solved Half of Astronomy's Problems. Now What? (fivethirtyeight.com) 171

"It's hard to overstate the enormous leap forward that astronomy took on August 17, 2017," reports an article shared by schwit1: On that day, astronomers bore witness to the titanic collision of two neutron stars, the densest things in the universe besides black holes. In the collision's wake, astronomers answered multiple major questions that have dominated their field for a generation. They solved the origin of gamma-ray bursts, mysterious jets of hardcore radiation that could potentially roast Earth. They glimpsed the forging of heavy metals, like gold and platinum. They measured the rate at which the expansion of the universe is accelerating. They caught light at the same time as gravitational waves, confirmation that waves move at the speed of light. And there was more, and there is much more yet to come from this discovery... "Now it's a question of, do we have the right instrumentation for doing all the follow-up work?" said Edo Berger, an astronomer at Harvard who studies explosive cosmic events. "Do we have the right telescopes? What's going to happen when we have not just one event, but one a month, or one a week -- how do we deal with that flood...?"

The August 17 gravitational wave gave astronomers a glimpse at an entirely different universe. For most of history, they've studied stars and galaxies, which seem static and unchanging from the vantage point of human timescales... But GW170817 revealed a universe alive, pulsating with creation and destruction on human timescales... [T]he event itself unfolded in less than three human-designated weeks. This faster timescale is "pushing the way astronomy is done," Berger said... In space, the Fermi space telescope glimpsed a burst of gamma radiation. Within an hour, astronomers made six independent discoveries of a bright, fast-fading flash: A new phenomenon called a kilonova... Nine days later, X-rays streamed in, and after 16 days, radio waves arrived, too. Each type of information tells astronomers something different. Richard O'Shaughnessy, an astronomer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, describes the discovery as a "Rosetta stone for astronomy."

"What this has done is provide one event that unites all these different threads of astronomy at once," he said. "Like, all our dreams have come true, and they came true now..." Thanks to the August 17 event, astronomers now know what to look for. Soon, they will be able to sift through an embarrassment of neutron-star mergers and other phenomena... And they are talking about how to turn their eyes to the sky, at a moment's notice, the next time the universe throws something big their way. "It's a wonderful time, it's a terrifying time," O'Shaughnessy said. "I can't really capture the wonder and the horror and glee and happiness."

Medicine

Can Researchers Detect Irregular Heart Rhythms with the Apple Watch? (usatoday.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: Might wearing an Apple Watch save you from a stroke or cardio problem? Apple is careful not to make that direct claim. But the company, in collaboration with Stanford University School of Medicine, launched the Apple Heart Study app on Thursday that uses the heart rate sensor inside the Apple Watch to collect data on irregular heart rhythms... If an irregular heart rhythm is detected, participants in the study will be notified through the Apple Watch and on their iPhones. Should that occur, you'll be offered a free consultation with a study doctor, and possibly an electrocardiogram patch for additional monitoring...

A participant in the study merely has to download the app and wear the watch... The way Apple explains it, a sensor inside the watch uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor has an optical design that gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist. Using software algorithms, the Apple Watch can isolate heart rhythms from other noise, and identify an irregular heart rhythm.

The FDA has also approved the first personal electrocardiogram accessory for the Apple Watch, according to TechNewsWorld. "The KardiaBand" also detects and records atrial fibrillation that can lead to strokes or other heart problems. "The user simply touches an integrated sensor, and the results are then displayed on the face of the Apple Watch."

An irregular, bloodflow-disrupting heartbeat is the top cause of strokes, which kill 130,000 people every year just in the U.S. -- in many case before they've experienced any symptoms.

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