Blood From Human Umbilical Cords Can Rejuvenate Old Mouse Brains

When a baby is born, the now-useless umbilical cord is usually thrown away. But sometimes, it finds renewed purpose. Parents can decide to donate the blood from the cord to blood banks, which freeze the stem cells within so they can eventually be used to treat people with various cancers and genetic disorders. In the process, plasma—the liquid portion of blood—is usually ignored. But neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray thinks this liquid has a purpose, too.

His team at Stanford University School of Medicine has found that plasma from human umbilical cords can rejuvenate the brains of old mice—specifically in an area called the hippocampus that’s vital for learning and memory. Using actual cord plasma “is not something you’d ever want to develop as a treatment,” … Read the rest

For the First Time, UNESCO’s Peace Prize Goes to a Mayor

You probably haven’t heard of the winner of this year’s UNESCO Peace Prize. In the past, the award, officially called the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Prize, has been granted to internationally renowned figures including Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, and Shimon Peres. This year, for the first time ever, the award goes to a mayor: 56-year-old Giusi Nicolini, mayor of a small Italian island that’s home to about 6,000 people.

The island in question is Lampedusa, a small islet roughly equidistant from Southern Sicily, Malta and Tunisia. In recent years, it’s found itself at the heart of Europe’s refugee crisis. As mayor, Nicolini has stood out from her colleagues by campaigning to ensure that the island deals as efficiently and humanely as possible with the migrants and refugees … Read the rest

The Secret Lives of Speakeasies

This post is part of a CityLab series on open secrets—stories about what’s hiding in plain sight.

Whisper “speakeasy” into a search engine of your choice and odds are you will stumble across the story of Kate Hester, the Pittsburgh hotelkeeper at the center of the amusing, possibly apocryphal origin story for the word.

Hester appeared in what can only be described as a prototypical trend piece for The New York Times in July 6, 1891. The story goes like this: Hester owned a saloon in McKeesport, just southeast of the city, that sold booze in defiance of a state law that upped the costs of licenses for alcohol so much that it was nearly prohibited. When customers got too rowdy, Hester would hush … Read the rest

The Disappearing Act on Saturn’s Largest Moon

In the summer of 2014, Jason Hofgartner and his professors at Cornell University were looking at radar images of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, when they noticed something strange. The bright spots they had seen just a year before inside Ligeia Mare, a large lake in the moon’s northern region, were no longer there.

The features, imaged by the Cassini spacecraft, had vanished. The astronomers dubbed them “magic islands” because of their shape and disappearing act. Nearly three years later, scientists still don’t know what they are or what’s causing them, but they’re days away from getting one last shot to find out.

On Saturday, as Cassini begins its slow descent into Saturn’s atmosphere for the end of its mission, the spacecraft will make one final … Read the rest

Stealing Moments at Seattle’s Hidden Beaches

“My Secret City” is a collaboration between CityLab and Narratively, a digital publication featuring extraordinary stories of ordinary people, told through video, text, photo essays, comics journalism and more.

A few blocks down the street from the house I grew up in, there’s a tiny path—just a single paver square wide—nestled between two fancy driveways. The owners of the houses on either side seemed to purposefully grow their gardens and hedges over the path, narrowing it even more. On hot summer afternoons, barefoot and towel-toting, I’d look for the lighter-colored section of pavement between blacktops and follow the path to the bottom of the hill, where it widened into a ten-foot square of usually-dead grass before narrowing again at the edge of Lake Washington. There, … Read the rest

The Giant Sea Mammal That Went Extinct in Less Than Three Decades

The Pleistocene, the geologic era immediately preceding our own, was an age of giants. North America was home to mastodons and saber-tooth cats; mammoths and wooly rhinos roamed Eurasia; giant lizards and bear-sized wombats strode across the Australian outback. Most of these giants died at the by the end of the last Ice Age, some 14,000 years ago. Whether this wave of extinctions was caused by climate change, overhunting by humans, or some combination of both remains a subject of intense debate among scientists.

Complicating the picture, though, is the fact that a few Pleistocene giants survived the Quaternary extinction event and nearly made it intact to the present. Most of these survivor species found refuge on islands. Giant sloths were still living on Cuba 6,000 … Read the rest

Creativity Makes You Seem More Attractive

Dos Equis’s most Interesting Man in the World ran a marathon just because it was on his way, is both left- and right-handed, and is fluent in all the world’s languages, including three that he alone speaks. The character was, until recently, played by a 70-something, little-known actor named Jonathan Goldsmith, whose earlier claim to fame was selling waterless car-wash products. And yet he—or at least his persona—was undeniably enticing.

According to a new paper published in Royal Society Open Science, the appeal of average-looking Interesting Men, both real and fictional, might be all in their interestingness.

First, the participants were shown images like these:

Examples of the attractive (far left) and less-attractive female faces and the attractive (left) and less-attractive male (far right) used
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The Secret PR Push That Shaped the Atomic Bomb’s Origin Story

In August 1945, a few days after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the government released an official report on the history of the destructive weapon. “The work on the atomic bomb,” it explained, was undertaken in Los Alamos, where “an extraordinary galaxy of scientific stars gathered on this New Mexican mesa.” Despite its dull prose, the Smyth report, as it came to be known, would make The New York Times’ bestseller list and be translated into more than three-dozen languages. “J. R. Oppenheimer has been director of the [Los Alamos] laboratory from the start,” it explained.

Emphasizing the contributions of Julius Robert Oppenheimer—the theoretical physicist who is still commonly referred to as the father of the atomic bomb—was routine at … Read the rest

Retracing the Steps of Trailblazing Women on Paris’s Streets

This post is part of a CityLab series on open secrets—stories about what’s hiding in plain sight.

When Heidi Evans moved from London to Paris three years ago, she was keen on new adventures and practicing her French. She started working for a large and fairly corporate tour company, showing awestruck tourists around the city’s charming cobblestone streets. But she soon realized that something was off with the historical context she was providing. “The tour was focused on all of these great things that men had done throughout history, with only the occasional wicked woman like Marie Antoinette,” says Evans. “We spent a lot of time talking about men named Louis.”

And so, last August, Evans launched … Read the rest

Inside Abu Dhabi’s Most Rollicking Karaoke Joint

“My Secret City” is a collaboration between CityLab and Narratively, a digital publication featuring extraordinary stories of ordinary people, told through video, text, photo essays, comics journalism and more.

When I tell other Americans that I have been living in Abu Dhabi for seven years, I’m often confronted with what I call The Look. Its exact composition could probably be broken down into 23 percent wariness and 77 percent abject horror—allotting perhaps a small variance for envy and intrigue if the listener has spent time perusing heavily filtered travel photos on Instagram. (Ooh! Sand dunes!) Most know Abu Dhabi as that place where Vin Diesel nonchalantly jumped a sports car between three skyscrapers; where Carrie Bradshaw shopped a lot while wearing impractical ballgowns through ancient … Read the rest

What Was the Most Significant Environmental Catastrophe of All Time?

Donald Worster, environmental historian

The worst environmental catastrophe in Earth’s history occurred 66 million years ago, when an asteroid struck, killing an estimated 70 percent of all species. Nothing humans have done compares. But the 1930s Dust Bowl was the worst catastrophe in America’s history, and such a phenomenon may become global as the world’s climate changes.


John McNeill, history professor, Georgetown

The deliberate rupture of the dikes on China’s Yellow River in 1938, by Chinese troops trying to halt a Japanese advance. It killed half a million Chinese, displaced millions more, and led to a decade of flooding.


Graham Roumieu

David Yarnold, president and CEO, National Audubon Society

DDT was a human-made environmental disaster that caused the shells of bird eggs to thin, which crushed … Read the rest

Puppy Love

Neutering your pet isn’t exactly an aesthetic decision. But if for some reason you find Buddy’s postprocedural appearance disconcerting, you have options—like Neuticles, a set of testicular implants that promises to give your pet a more “natural” look. The manufacturer claims to have sold more than 500,000 implants, prompting a question: Just how big is the pet economy?

According to the American Pet Products Association, pet spending has risen every year since 1994, even during the Great Recession, and is estimated to have reached almost $63 billion last year. Some of us contribute more to that total than others, however. For example, people who have attended college are more likely than those who didn’t to make “specialty purchases” for their dogs. [1]

In general, the less … Read the rest