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Motu researchers on super-cooled livers, climate change and health, infostorms and fake news, vampire brain cancers and lesser know consequences of global deforestation

Motu researchers on super-cooled livers, climate change and health, infostorms and fake news, vampire brain cancers and lesser know consequences of global deforestation

This week’s Top 5 comes from Bronwyn Bruce-Brand, Sophie Hale, Dom White and Shaan Badenhorst of economic research institute Motu.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 5 yourself, contact

1. Super-cooling tripled the shelf life of donor livers

Waiting lists for organ transplants in the U.S. (shown below) and worldwide continue to far exceed the supply of organs made available for donation.

To make matters worse, thousands of donated organs are discarded every year, in many cases because there wasn’t a suitable patient to receive the organ within the viable time window. Researchers in Boston have developed a super-cooling preparation scheme using cryoprotectants and managed to successfully preserve donated human livers for three times as long as current methods (from nine to 27 hours). With further development, experts believe this technology could be extended to other organs and have the potential to save countless lives in the future.

2. Climate change affects health care provision and health outcomes

Climate change is affecting our health outcomes now. Too often, climate change is considered a problem for future generations, but evidence from a range of studies suggests that health outcomes have already been affected and will be exacerbated with further environmental degradation. Not only is climate change affecting the provision of health care, but it is also directly affecting our health. Heightened allergies, pregnancy and new-born complications, as well as increased heart and lung disease are just some of the issues discussed in this article.

3. Infostorms and fake news

In a room full of panicking people trying to find an exit, there are two sources of information. Primary information is observing a fire or an earthquake first-hand; secondary information is the social queues given by those around you (who you observe to be panicking). Even without the primary information, your brain tells you it’s probably best to panic and find an exit, even if the primary information you’re assuming might be false. Danish researchers are looking at this phenomenon in the context of digital information and social media, dubbed an “infostorm.” When faced with a barrage of information online, unable to check the source of this information, our likely reaction is to gauge the secondary information provided by others whom we are socially connected to. This is now ubiquitous online where likes, shares, retweets and ratings implicitly become the social currency of fact verification among individuals. Varied information sources and authentic information provision from credible sources can help to combat infostorms by preventing closed networks of unchallenged beliefs.

4. Vampire brain cancers

Three independent research studies from Germany, the US and Switzerland have reinforced each other’s findings on the nature of certain types of brain cancer. The tumours establish in the brain’s electrical network, using the signals from the brain’s own healthy nerve cells to grow. However, the “fuel” from these healthy nerve cells could be reduced so that the tumours don’t grow as fast. Tests in mice show that when the researchers stop the “fuel” production of healthy nerve cells the tumours (called gliomas) don’t just slow, they completely stagnate. However, in humans the vampire-like gliomas don’t just use the “fuel” from these nerve cells, but actually encourage the nerve cells to produce more “fuel.” This enables gliomas to not only steal the electrical activity that helps them to grow, but actually increase their own energy supply for further growth. Understanding how these gliomas can create networks in the brain and how they can be slowed down might help to reduce their rates of growth and improve patient duration and quality of life, which for a brain tumour of this nature is currently within two years.

5. Lesser known consequences of global deforestation

What would happen if the world’s trees disappeared? Since humans began practising agriculture, we have cleared nearly half of the world’s trees. There are many well-known negative consequences of losing our leafy companions such as habitat loss and consequent losses of biodiversity across ecosystems. There are some other less well-known impacts which include: increased spread of diseases such as Ebola, Nipah virus and West Nile virus; decreased mental health; loss of shade reliant crops like coffee; and ocean acidification. Forests are vital for sustaining all forms of life on this planet and making Earth inhabitable. As summed up by Thomas Crowther, a global systems ecologist at ETH Zurich: “Even if we could live in a world without trees, who would want to?”

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I am implementing my technology on a project that should save 10-15,000 tonnes of deforestation in Africa next year. It will compound over years and countries. Pretty cool to be involved in, but the industry is still only 5% of the total deforestation in that continent.

They're deliberately burning them in Indonesia. Did you see the pics of Singapore yesterday?

Dirt poor farmers on $2/day burning weeds to replant dryland rice crops. Rainforest doesn't burn. Lifting Sumatran farmers out of poverty is the quickest way to stop the fires.

Tropical forest burns when there is a distinct dry season. I doubt that rice would be the best crop on what are effectively peat-lands. How do you propose lifting Sumatran farmers out of poverty while discouraging deforestation? One mechanism is REDD+ but this seldom appeals to climate change deniers.

Yeah I think you'll find diversified crops works well rather than all eggs in one basket crop.

Helping improve knowledge of what to grow, as they say show man how to fish you feed him for life.

Climate change deniers ? I don't think anyone denies that climate changes or has a cycle.

However I guess your implying everything in the world is mans fault, wish we could tax those volcanoes.

Simon - if you have a distinct dry season it isn't rainforest - it is open savanna forest. Peat is only 15% of the land in Sumatra so not really as relevant as you suggest, though you're right it doesn't grow great dryland rice. Nothing like being dirt poor to limit your crop options.

REDD+ is a mechanism for clueless, money grubbing bureaucrats who have no idea about endemic corruption at ground zero. Getting rid of tariffs and non tariff barriers for third world countries agricultural exports would be a great start to lift these poor buggers out of poverty. That and rule of law, property rights etc. Actual problems - rather than computer model generated climate fantasies.

I think your No2 is inline with your No3.

How about actually post your sources rather than just fluffy words

Keep researching Motu. Here is the "Lesser known consequences of global deforestation". An extra 2.2 million ha of tree cover...
"Here we analyse 35 years’ worth of satellite data and provide a comprehensive record of global land-change dynamics during the period 1982–2016. We show that—contrary to the prevailing view that forest area has declined globally—tree cover has increased by 2.24 million km2 (+7.1% relative to the 1982 level). "

Tree cover has increased but biomass has decreased. Deforestation losses have been mainly to mature forest whereas newly afforested areas will take time to grow. This may take centuries for boreal forest.

Indeed, one would think folk could conceive that total number of trees is not the sole measure to be concerned with.

No biomass isn't decreasing either. Thanks CO2. "Here we use three long-term satellite leaf area index (LAI) records and ten global ecosystem models to investigate four key drivers of LAI trends during 1982–2009. We show a persistent and widespread increase of growing season integrated LAI (greening) over 25% to 50% of the global vegetated area, whereas less than 4% of the globe shows decreasing LAI (browning). Factorial simulations with multiple global ecosystem models suggest that CO2 fertilization effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend, followed by nitrogen deposition (9%), climate change (8%) and land cover change (LCC) (4%). CO2 fertilization effects explain most of the greening trends in the tropics, whereas climate change resulted in greening of the high latitudes and the Tibetan Plateau. LCC contributed most to the regional greening observed in southeast China and the eastern United States."
"The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States."

Regarding 3,Artificial Intelligence is the new God of the Net Age and Social Media are the priests and Algorithms are the mantras that influence and indirectly attempt to control us and our behaviours. To be agnostic or atheistic against this new religion is much harder than the existing religions.