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This is the first image NASA’s Perseverance rover sent back after touching down on Mars today, Feb. 18, 2021. The view, from one of Perseverance’s Hazard Cameras, is partially obscured by a dust cover.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Welcome back to the newsletter. After months of dreary coronavirus updates, this week let’s just focus on some cool, interesting and even useful science and health news. Feel free to let me know if that works for you…

Coffee and Tea Are Really Good For You

New research adds a cup or two of good news to a pot of mounting evidence indicating that both coffee and tea — and apparently lots of it — can help people live longer, healthier lives. There’s just one catch: The evidence suggests you’ll want to eat well and exercise, too. Caffeinated drinks won’t make up for copious doughnuts and couch time.

Scientists Hack into Sleepers’ Dreams and Chat a Bit


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Study team member Christopher Mazurek wears the electronic headgear used to monitor dreamer’s activities. Image credit: Christopher Mazurek

Breakthrough points to greater understanding of consciousness

Scientists have figured out how to hack into people’s sleep and communicate with them while they dream. The finding is a breakthrough in dream research and suggests study techniques that could be used to better grasp human consciousness.

The discovery was made during lucid dreaming, when people are aware that they are dreaming and, in some cases, are able to manipulate their dreams.

During the most common dream phase of sleep, called REM (rapid eye movement) and while dreaming vividly, some participants were able to follow instructions, answer yes-no questions and even do some simple math. …


Prevention efforts must be increased before mutant strains cause a resurgence

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Illustration: mathisworks/Getty

With more contagious and perhaps deadlier strains of the coronavirus circulating, the Biden administration should forcefully acknowledge that airborne spread is a primary means of transmission, then take immediate action to strengthen measures to reduce risk, especially in schools and workplaces, according to a letter signed by 13 leading scientists and physicians with expertise in infectious diseases, aerosol transmission, and occupational health. The letter was sent to U.S. officials leading the pandemic response.

“It will be months before most of the population is vaccinated,” the letter states. “In the meantime, more transmissible variants are projected to become the dominant strains…


Both beverages, especially in large amounts, are linked to better health and longer life

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Photo: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

New research adds a cup or two of good news to a pot of mounting evidence indicating that both coffee and tea — and apparently lots of it — can help people live longer, healthier lives. There’s just one catch: The evidence suggests you’ll want to eat well and exercise, too. Caffeinated drinks won’t make up for copious doughnuts and couch time.

In several past studies, coffee consumption has been linked to a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. A study last month tied consumption of several daily cups of coffee to a…


Mild fever or other symptoms means the vaccine is working. Don’t mess with that.

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Photo: James Yarema/Unsplash

Experts say that people should avoid painkillers before and after getting a Covid-19 vaccine, to give it the best chance of doing what it’s supposed to do: stimulate your immune system. Mild symptoms like fever, chills, headache, and tiredness indicate the vaccine is tricking your cells into learning how to fend off the coronavirus.

“These symptoms mean your immune system is revving up and the vaccine is working,” says Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Don’t use them beforehand. Try very hard not to.”

“This builds immunological memory,” says Michael Mina, MD, an…


Outcomes are improving, but many people don’t get the therapies they need

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Image: sirawit99/Getty Images

Scientists and doctors have made significant progress in treating Covid-19. But the available therapies are few, the evidence for each is at least somewhat mixed, and they all have considerable limitations. Meanwhile, many Americans at the greatest risk for the worst outcomes don’t have access to key therapies that only work early on to help prevent severe symptoms and hospitalization.

“We are much better off than we were last spring,” says Manish Sagar, MD, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center and associate professor of medicine and microbiology at Boston University School of Medicine. “We have a number of…


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Chimpanzees in an enclosure at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone, in November 2019. Photo: Tony Goldberg

The finding could help save chimpanzees and shed light on similar bacteria that infect people

Scientists have discovered what they believe is a new species of bacteria causing infections that have been highly fatal in chimpanzees. The discoverers do not see it as an immediate threat to humans. But the bacterium, tentatively named Sarcina troglodytae, is in the genus Sarcina, which includes other bacteria known to cause similar illness and sometimes death in people.

The discovery, detailed February 3 in the journal Nature Communications, suggests more research is needed to understand the various species of Sarcina bacteria and their potential threats to people, the researchers say.

Because chimpanzees share 99% of our DNA, there’s often…


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Image: Unsplash

All the usual suspects continue to heighten anxiety. Here’s how to curb yours.

Stress levels in America are higher now than during a previous peak last spring during Covid-19 lockdowns, a new survey finds. And it’s not just you. Or me. In the Harris Poll, conducted in the days just after the presidential inauguration, 84% of U.S. adults said they’re feeling some level of stress.

On average, people ranked their stress level at 5.6, where 1 equals little to none and 10 represents “a great deal of stress.” The survey has been repeated four times since last spring, when the average stress level reached 5.4 before falling to 5.0 in August.

What’s causing…


High-intensity routines are brief and effective but not easy

Woman working out in her living room.
Woman working out in her living room.
Photo: Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Researchers are racing to figure out the minimum amount of exercise needed to improve fitness and health. Findings in multiple labs have generated tantalizing headlines suggesting all you need is one lousy minute of effort or, based on one new study, a mere four seconds.

The reality is quite different.

Brief but intense workouts can absolutely improve aerobic fitness, as well as muscle strength and power. In as little as 10 to 15 minutes, you can gain fitness benefits similar to an hour of traditional, less intense exercise. …


Facing the more contagious coronavirus requires better fit and filtering, or doubling up, and watching out for fakes

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Photo: PansLaos/Getty Images

With the coronavirus evolving to be more contagious, it might take fewer virus particles to make you sick. Just maintaining the same level of protection you had against the initial strain therefore requires a more effective mask. But the choices are bewildering, ranging from the gold-standard N95s to highly effective surgical masks to a slew of reusable options that range from good to fraudulent.

“We use N95 masks in the hospital, and I’ve taken care of more Covid patients than I can count,” says Abraar Karan, MD, an internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School…

Robert Roy Britt

Explainer of things, independent health and science journalist, author, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience and Space dot com.

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