Last minute holiday gifts for the bio-inspired
“Merry Christmas! Isn’t it fun to say Merry Christmas to everyone? Time for a party and presents and things that make children happy and give their hearts wings!” go the lyrics of the popular Christmas poem. But adults (of various religions) need their gifts this time of year, too. For the biologically inspired big children, the process of finding the right fit can be daunting. To inform your choices in both conventional and unconventional ways, Leaps.org is presenting a roundup of the coolest bio-products related to health, nutrition, gaming, lifestyle and more.
AYO Circadian Light Therapy Wearable
We don’t hear it tick, but we have our own clock inside our body–more precisely, circadian clocks. Our cells contain tiny molecular clocks that keep track of our circadian rhythms, or our sleep and metabolism pattern and activity levels, on a daily basis. Chronic circadian disruptions can lead to sleep disorders, poor energy levels, weight gain, lousy mood, and sped-up aging, as well as increased risk for every “modern” disease out there, from diabetes to cancer.
Now, high-tech glasses have been developed that attempt to mimic the benefits of sunlight. In the morning and afternoon, these glasses shed blue light into your eyes to stimulate the master clock at the base of your brain for less drowsiness. The technology's design draws from an area of research, chronobiology, that received a Nobel Prize in 2017 and has become increasingly active in recent years.
“We have been developing and testing the AYO Circadian Health solution for the past five years in collaboration with some of the world's leading experts and researchers in chronobiology, light therapy and health,” said Alexander Dimitrov, co-creator of AYO. “We have done studies with over 25,000 participants, and over one million light sessions,” Dimotrov continued, partnering with institutions such as Mount Sinai Hospital, City of Hope and the U.S. Department of Defense.
The technology could fundamentally reshape the way we view sleep, health and our daily calendars. And, when connecting to a mobile app, the glasses could minimize circadian disruptions for travelers between conflicting time zones.
It's not easy for many people to break free of their attachment to the concept of chronological age, which counts years by how many times we’ve circled the sun since the day we were born. Society lumps us all into one age bracket according to our date of birth but, lately, research is suggesting that we should do some serious deconditioning. According to these studies, the more accurate measure is your biological age, a measurement based on various biomarkers of the body’s overall health and resilience, regardless of your calendar age.
If you want to find out your “true” biological age, myDNAge is a test that focuses on epigenetics, or patterns of changes in DNA methylation, with some initial research pointing to its accuracy. It offers a snapshot of your epigenetic age as well as key biomarkers related to your metabolism, risk of Alzheimer's and more, according to Xiaojing Yang, group leader of epigenetics at myDNAge. “You can perform tests six to 12 months [apart] to track the impact of lifestyle changes,” Yang said. The kit could be a useful tool both for citizen scientists and biohacking veterans.
($299 for one kit–Use code NEWYEARNEWME to receive 50% off a second kit)
Prairie Sky Yak Cheese
Do you love cheese? Do you love exotic cheese? Do you have an interest in preserving biological and genetic diversity? If you answered yes to all three questions, yak cheese was made for you. This type of cheese typically comes from a free-range yak living 13,000 feet above surface level in the Tibetan Himalayas, a relative of the endangered Wild yak. (North America is home to at least 5,000 registered yaks.)
“When I learned that we had a piece of rare biodiversity to be preserved for future generations, I realized that the yak in North America needed a job,” said Nicole Geijer Porter, president of World Heritage Yak Conservancy (WHYC), an organization formed to protect heritage yak “If an animal cannot be beneficial to the rancher in some way, exclusively as pets and lawn ornaments, they will go extinct. Raised for meat they are often hybridized with cattle to grow bigger and faster, so they will also go extinct,” said Porter, an epigeneticist turned yak herder.
Each slice of cheese and piece of butter supports the genetic testing and tracking of Tibetan yak. (You can become a member of WHYC through the Adopt-A-Yak program). “This project is also of biological importance because of the low methane emission research on yak, and the high nutritional content of the milk and cheese,” said Porter.
As for flavor, the Prairie Sky Yak Gruyere is a semi-hard cheese with a nutty taste sometimes compared to chocolate; Tomme de Savoie is a semi-soft Alpine cheese reminiscent of a washed rind muenster; and the Yak Cheddar is made with yak milk following the classic English recipe from Wells Cathedral, with earthly and pungent flavors.
Bite Toothpaste Bits
The price of a healthy smile is steep. Each year over one billion plastic toothpaste tubes are thrown out, over 50 Empire State Buildings worth of these tubes end up in landfills or oceans, and many animals suffer and die each year in cruel tests for improving oral care in people.
Sustainable oral care is both an act of self-love and giving back to the environment. Bite is a toothpaste that boasts about its green practices for a reason: it uses recyclable glass bottles with aluminum lids that break down into sand after they’ve been used. For shipping, Bite uses kraft envelopes padded with recycled and compostable newspapers, and its boxes are made of fully recycled, corrugated cardboard and sealed with paper tape. Bite refills come in 100% home compostable pouches every four months (still no plastic).
Sustainability aside, there may be an element of fun to Bite – as you brush, a mint foam forms “like magic,” the company claims.
Fractional Laser Treatment for Skin
The environment is hard on our skin: from ultraviolet rays to pollution, a constant oxidative war is waged upon it, leading to loss of collagen and damage to the barrier function of the skin. A fractional laser treatment is a type of laser skin resurfacing procedure that essentially traumatizes the skin – in a good way - through subjecting a small area of it to tiny amounts of laser energy. The laser penetrates the second layer of skin, the dermis, leading to skin exfoliation, which stimulates collagen and elastin production.
The treatment may help with soothing acne scarring, correcting uneven skin tone and texture, and reducing wrinkles and fine lines, sun damage and age spots. Recent research suggests the fractional laser can help with improving skin elasticity and reducing the amount and depth of wrinkles, though there’s little to no evidence for any benefits for eyebags, dark circles, discolorations within the eye area and water retention.
(Typically, a single fractional laser treatment costs $750 for a small area, $1500 for a full facial treatment, and $2000 for full face.)
Gadgets and Apps to Measure Your Heart Rate Variability
Heart rate variability may sound like a condition that requires immediate medical treatment, but the more you have of it, the better for your health. Although you may think of the heart as a steadily beating metronome, there are actually small differences in the amount of time between each beat. These differences are called HRV, and having more HRV has been linked to better fitness and fewer diseases.
HRV is easy to measure with a range of gadgets on the market, including Fitbits and Oura Rings. Which product floats your boat is a matter of personal preference, but the Polar H10 chest strap offers some advantages. For example, you can measure your HRV with the Polar H10 while walking around, unlike some devices that require you to stay still while taking a reading.
Plus, the Polar sensor pairs with free apps such as Elite HRV that are great for tracking how your HRV changes over time. "HRV really helps you gauge if you're moving in a positive or negative direction" with your health, says Jason Moore, the CEO and founder of Elite HRV and Spren. Have fun experimenting over the holidays with different lifestyle habits that are associated with higher HRV, some studies show, such as intermittent fasting, regular exercise and just getting more sleep.
Its predecessor, FOODMarble AIRE1 was a pocket-size breath-testing device that measured hydrogen on the breath. More hydrogen means less digestion, and the AIRE1 used advanced breathalyzer technology to figure out what exactly is going on with the gut. Now, the company has launched FoodMarble AIRE2, which also measures methane alongside with hydrogen. High levels of methane in the body may cause abdominal pain, bloating and constipation, cirrhosis of the liver and chronic pancreatitis. The AIRE2 also comes with haptic feedback to make it easier to use.
Research suggests that these breath tests are valid as at-home diagnostic tools for many digestive conditions. To get the most accurate results, though, it’s important to closely follow the recommended protocol - for example, you can’t eat or drink anything for 10 to 12 hours before the test.
Adventurist Backpack’s Classic Backpack
The Classic backpack is a perfect option for life science aficionados who enjoy getting outside and exploring in nature. Padding in the front and back provides extra protection for camera gear, laptop, and other electronics, and it's completely water-resistant so you can get outside in winter weather.
Nobility points: Adventurist Backpack Co. is partnered with national non-profit Feeding America, and every backpack sold helps provide 25 meals to families in need across the U.S.
This Saves Lives
Speaking of nobility points, you could load your new backpack with a food choice that helps feed others as well. In 2013, actors Kristin Bell, Ryan Devlin, Ravi Patel and Todd Grinnell teamed up to start This Saves Lives, which makes power bars full of vitamins and nutrients, and the company has a unique business model: for every bar you buy, a packet of food is sent to a child in need. In addition to offering essential nutrients, the bars are non-GMO, kosher and gluten-free. Note:This Saves Lives is owned by the same company, GOOD Worldwide, that owns Leaps.org.
(Wild Blueberry & Pistachio bars, $23.99)
NADI X Pants
Even if you’re a yoga zealot enjoying the benefits to your strength, balance and flexibility, chances are you're performing the movements sort of askew. Wearable technology wants to improve your yoga posture and these sleek yoga pants called NADI X have subtle electronic sensors that track how you place your hands, rotate your hips, and align your back. The leggings use haptic feedback (or vibrations on your skin) to slowly guide you into correct alignment. You can also combine the wearable with an app that contains 40 poses and fitting music. Even if you aren't into yoga, you could use the pants for a perfect stretching session. If you do use it for yoga poses, the pants will “speak” to you, letting out a soothing "om" sound once everything is perfect.
Meta Quest Pro VR headset
When it comes to perfecting virtual reality (VR), the Meta Quest Pro VR headset is one step ahead the rest. In a vibrant 3D virtual space, your Meta avatar has the ability to translate your real-life facial expressions into the virtual realm so the experience can feel more personal, while controllers track your movement and use haptic feedback to translate your hand gestures and finger actions into VR as well. Unlike its Quest 2 headset, Meta markets this Quest Pro headset, which was just released in October, as a great tool for work and business meetings, but you can also use it to play games, watch movies, or download fitness apps or mental-health related apps – some of which are designed to help you get boxing workouts with long-distance friends, fight your fear of heights or meditate in outer space.
Rouge Sur Mesure Custom Lip Color Creator
Beauty and artificial intelligence (AI) complement each other well in the new Yves Saint Laurent lip personalized color – which wants to put the final nail on the coffin of generic lipsticks. This is a lipstick printer at its core. You pair a device to your smartphone and then insert three lipstick cartridges into the base, each of which comes with a color palette (all four could create up to 4,000 lipstick shades). Particularly charming is the fact that you can take a photo of your outfit, and the app will suggest shades that match or clash it.
($299, cartridges $89 each)
Dairy-Free Cream Cheese and Meatless Breakfast Patties
On the environmental front again, meatless patties and dairy-free cream cheese constitute conscientious and delicious choices for vegans, vegetarians and pretty much anyone else. Chicago-based Nature's Fynd is worth checking out. It uses a microbe named Fusarium strain flavolapis, which has originsin an acidic hot spring at Yellowstone National Park.
“We use this remarkable microbe to grow Fy — a nutritional fungi protein that’s made into a wide variety of delicious and sustainable foods,” says Karuna Rawal, Nature’s Fynd CMO. Fy is grown via a breakthrough fermentation process using a fraction of the water, land, and energy compared to traditional protein sources.
It’s a sustainable way to grow food for Earth’s population,” but Nature’s Fynd isn’t just concentrating on Earth. The company recently partnered with NASA to send Fy to space. “As long as there’s an appropriately controlled environment, we can grow Fy anytime, anywhere. It could be a nutritious food source for astronauts on deep space missions," said Rawal.
Biologically curious people may be especially interested in trying cannabinoid (CBD) oil. CBD is a natural and safe substance found in cannabis, which has been found to tackle anxiety and depression, reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, help manage chronic pain and migraines, improve sleep patterns, and keep panic attacks at bay. Kanibi’s Isolate CBD Oil Tincture is a good choice as it is cinnamon-flavored and made in an FDA-inspected facility.
($109--25% off on your first order)
Govee RGBIC Floor Lamp
Another winner for anyone who's been hearing about the health benefits of obeying your circadian rhythms: "RGB" lights, or red-green-blue lights that can be operated by remote control to shine bright blue light during the day and then, with a few touches of your phone, bathe you in warmer, red light to get you ready for bed. Look for RGB bulbs to stick into the light fixtures you already have, or you could opt for the Govee floor lamp that syncs with an app on your phone (or Alexa) for circadian color changing. You can also put it on party mode and watch it shift across 16 million color shades in response to the rhythms and beats of Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas and Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah.
If you suffer from packing anxiety (or incompetence), an app may take away the pain. PackPoint is an app that builds your packing list according to trip type, activities and weather. You add your trip details, select activities (fancy dinner, business meeting, or even workout are some examples), and PackPoint tells you what you need to bring to your destination. The app is free, but upgrading to Premium for a small fee lets you add your own activities and packing list items.
(Free, Premium Package $2.99)
Roses symbolize love, passion, innocence, friendship, and the disarming power of natural beauty. They wilt fast, though, and their spectacle is an unsettling reminder of the fragility of beauty and existence. Unless you dip the rose in 24 karat gold.
The Eternity Rose is put through an intricate three-month process of electroplating, or coating the rose with copper and then with other metals in micro-thin layers. You won’t have to see your flowers sag after a few days because these roses never die. The glitter of gold atop the natural rose (or platinum or silver–whatever you prefer) will fit right in with the Christmas Eve ambiance.
($169 for the gold rose)
Today’s podcast guest is Rosalind Picard, a researcher, inventor named on over 100 patents, entrepreneur, author, professor and engineer. When it comes to the science related to endowing computer software with emotional intelligence, she wrote the book. It’s published by MIT Press and called Affective Computing.
Dr. Picard is founder and director of the MIT Media Lab’s Affective Computing Research Group. Her research and engineering contributions have been recognized internationally. For example, she received the 2022 International Lombardy Prize for Computer Science Research, considered by many to be the Nobel prize in computer science.
Through her research and companies, Dr. Picard has developed wearable sensors, algorithms and systems for sensing, recognizing and responding to information about human emotion. Her products are focused on using fitness trackers to advance clinical quality treatments for a range of conditions.
Meanwhile, in just the past few years, numerous fitness tracking companies have released products with their own stress sensors and systems. You may have heard about Fitbit’s Stress Management Score, or Whoop’s Stress Monitor – these features and apps measure things like your heart rhythm and a certain type of invisible sweat to identify stress. They’re designed to raise awareness about forms of stress such as anxieties and anger, and suggest strategies like meditation to relax in real time when stress occurs.
But how well do these off-the-shelf gadgets work? There’s no one more knowledgeable and experienced than Rosalind Picard to explain the science behind these stress features, what they do exactly, how they might be able to help us, and their current shortcomings.
Dr. Picard is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, and a popular speaker who’s given over a hundred invited keynote talks and a TED talk with over 2 million views. She holds a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech, and Masters and Doctorate degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts with her husband, where they’ve raised three sons.
In our conversation, we discuss stress scores on fitness trackers to improve well-being. She describes the difference between commercial products that might help people become more mindful of their health and products that are FDA approved and really capable of advancing the science. We also talk about several fascinating findings and concepts discovered in Dr. Picard’s lab including the multiple arousal theory, a phenomenon you’ll want to hear about. And we explore the complexity of stress, one reason it’s so tough to measure. For example, many forms of stress are actually good for us. Can fitness trackers tell the difference between stress that’s healthy and unhealthy?
- Dr. Picard’s book, Affective Computing
- Dr. Picard’s bio
- Dr. Picard on Twitter
- Dr. Picard’s company, Empatica - https://www.empatica.com/ - The FDA-cleared Empatica Health Monitoring Platform provides accurate, continuous health insights for researchers and clinicians, collected in the real world
- Empatica Twitter
- Dr. Picard and her team have published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles across AI, Machine Learning, Affective Computing, Digital Health, and Human-computer interaction.
- Dr. Picard’s TED talk
If you look back on the last century of scientific achievements, you might notice that most of the scientists we celebrate are overwhelmingly white, while scientists of color take a backseat. Since the Nobel Prize was introduced in 1901, for example, no black scientists have landed this prestigious award.
The work of black women scientists has gone unrecognized in particular. Their work uncredited and often stolen, black women have nevertheless contributed to some of the most important advancements of the last 100 years, from the polio vaccine to GPS.
Here are five black women who have changed science forever.
Dr. May Edward Chinn
Dr. May Edward Chinn practicing medicine in Harlem
George B. Davis, PhD.
Chinn was born to poor parents in New York City just before the start of the 20th century. Although she showed great promise as a pianist, playing with the legendary musician Paul Robeson throughout the 1920s, she decided to study medicine instead. Chinn, like other black doctors of the time, were barred from studying or practicing in New York hospitals. So Chinn formed a private practice and made house calls, sometimes operating in patients’ living rooms, using an ironing board as a makeshift operating table.
Chinn worked among the city’s poor, and in doing this, started to notice her patients had late-stage cancers that often had gone undetected or untreated for years. To learn more about cancer and its prevention, Chinn begged information off white doctors who were willing to share with her, and even accompanied her patients to other clinic appointments in the city, claiming to be the family physician. Chinn took this information and integrated it into her own practice, creating guidelines for early cancer detection that were revolutionary at the time—for instance, checking patient health histories, checking family histories, performing routine pap smears, and screening patients for cancer even before they showed symptoms. For years, Chinn was the only black female doctor working in Harlem, and she continued to work closely with the poor and advocate for early cancer screenings until she retired at age 81.
Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy
Alice Ball was a chemist best known for her groundbreaking work on the development of the “Ball Method,” the first successful treatment for those suffering from leprosy during the early 20th century.
In 1916, while she was an undergraduate student at the University of Hawaii, Ball studied the effects of Chaulmoogra oil in treating leprosy. This oil was a well-established therapy in Asian countries, but it had such a foul taste and led to such unpleasant side effects that many patients refused to take it.
So Ball developed a method to isolate and extract the active compounds from Chaulmoogra oil to create an injectable medicine. This marked a significant breakthrough in leprosy treatment and became the standard of care for several decades afterward.
Unfortunately, Ball died before she could publish her results, and credit for this discovery was given to another scientist. One of her colleagues, however, was able to properly credit her in a publication in 1922.
onathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty
The person who arguably contributed the most to scientific research in the last century, surprisingly, wasn’t even a scientist. Henrietta Lacks was a tobacco farmer and mother of five children who lived in Maryland during the 1940s. In 1951, Lacks visited Johns Hopkins Hospital where doctors found a cancerous tumor on her cervix. Before treating the tumor, the doctor who examined Lacks clipped two small samples of tissue from Lacks’ cervix without her knowledge or consent—something unthinkable today thanks to informed consent practices, but commonplace back then.
As Lacks underwent treatment for her cancer, her tissue samples made their way to the desk of George Otto Gey, a cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins. He noticed that unlike the other cell cultures that came into his lab, Lacks’ cells grew and multiplied instead of dying out. Lacks’ cells were “immortal,” meaning that because of a genetic defect, they were able to reproduce indefinitely as long as certain conditions were kept stable inside the lab.
Gey started shipping Lacks’ cells to other researchers across the globe, and scientists were thrilled to have an unlimited amount of sturdy human cells with which to experiment. Long after Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, her cells continued to multiply and scientists continued to use them to develop cancer treatments, to learn more about HIV/AIDS, to pioneer fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization, and to develop the polio vaccine. To this day, Lacks’ cells have saved an estimated 10 million lives, and her family is beginning to get the compensation and recognition that Henrietta deserved.
Dr. Gladys West
Gladys West was a mathematician who helped invent something nearly everyone uses today. West started her career in the 1950s at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia, and took data from satellites to create a mathematical model of the Earth’s shape and gravitational field. This important work would lay the groundwork for the technology that would later become the Global Positioning System, or GPS. West’s work was not widely recognized until she was honored by the US Air Force in 2018.
Dr. Kizzmekia "Kizzy" Corbett
At just 35 years old, immunologist Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett has already made history. A viral immunologist by training, Corbett studied coronaviruses at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and researched possible vaccines for coronaviruses such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).At the start of the COVID pandemic, Corbett and her team at the NIH partnered with pharmaceutical giant Moderna to develop an mRNA-based vaccine against the virus. Corbett’s previous work with mRNA and coronaviruses was vital in developing the vaccine, which became one of the first to be authorized for emergency use in the United States. The vaccine, along with others, is responsible for saving an estimated 14 million lives.
Sarah Watts is a health and science writer based in Chicago.