What’s up with worms; time-change tips; mocktails

March 12, 2024

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Global worming. 

Across North America, at least 70 imported earthworm species have colonized the continent, now accounting for three in four worms in Canada and one in three worms in the U.S. and Mexico. That’s making researchers squirm. “Earthworms tell the story of the Anthropocene, the age we live in,” said Elizabeth Hadly, a professor of biology and of earth system science and the senior author of a new study on the spread of nonnative earthworms. “It is a story of global homogenization of biodiversity by humans, which often leads to the decline of unique local species and the disruption of native ecosystem processes.” Some nonnative species pose no threat and have enhanced the agricultural economy, but others alter their soil microhabitat in ways that stress trees and set off changes that can help invasive plants spread, as well as harm native plants, amphibians, and insects.

The history of municipal bonds. 

Muni bonds aren’t the dishiest topic on Wall Street. But assistant professor of history Destin Jenkins, MA ’13, PhD ’16, has made the case that over time, the muni market has exacerbated racial disparities across the United States. In 1963, for example, Jackson, Miss., refused to desegregate hiring at its airport, which meant turning down federal funding in favor of muni bonds. The Wall Street Journal recently explored Jenkins’s study of mid-20th-century San Francisco, when the city borrowed to finance parks and cultural offerings that disproportionately benefited white residents—and then paid the money back with everyone’s tax dollars. “Black neighborhoods,” Jenkins writes, “were continuously deemed unworthy of debt.”

Breaking the mold.

Science and Engineering Quad with orange statues of women in front of buildingsPhoto courtesy: Taylor Jones 

A temporary installation in the Science and Engineering Quad brings five life-size 3D-printed statues to campus. The statues are a satellite of the IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit, a collection of 120 statues designed to open the eyes of girls around the country to STEM careers. The Stanford statues, on campus through April, are modeled on fire scientist Jenny Briggs, ’94; roboticist and dancer Catie Cuan, MS ’20, PhD ’23; mechanical engineer and toymaker Debbie Sterling, ’05; microbiologist Dorothy Tovar, PhD ’22; and molecular architect and polymer chemist Helen Tran, a former Stanford postdoc.

Peanut protection.

Eight percent of kids and 10 percent of adults have food allergies. For some of them, a meal can be a minefield of potentially life-threatening allergens. A new treatment might change that. Omalizumab is an injected antibody that binds to and inactivates the antibodies that cause many kinds of allergic disease, and it’s already FDA-approved to treat conditions like allergic asthma and chronic hives. In a new Stanford-led study, researchers administered monthly or bimonthly injections of omalizumab to 177 children, each of whom had a peanut allergy and at least two other food allergies. After 16 weeks, 66.9 percent of participants could tolerate the amount of peanut protein in about two or three peanuts, and almost 50 percent could safely eat small amounts of all three allergenic foods. “This is something that our food allergy community has been waiting a long time for,” said the study’s senior author, Sharon Chinthrajah, an associate professor of medicine and of pediatrics. “There is a real need for treatment that goes beyond vigilance.”

But wait, there’s more.

A new course titled Democracy and Disagreement will be offered at Stanford this spring, based on student interest in engaging more deeply on some of the most contentious issues of our time.

While learning American Sign Language during the pandemic, then-high schooler Mariella Satow, ’27, found few free resources, so she collaborated with the Deaf community to create one: SignUp Captions is a browser extension that offers sign language overlays for more than 100 titles on Disney+ and Netflix, making kids’ flicks more accessible.

Mocktails have become a popular alternative to alcoholic beverages, with sales growing 20 percent each year in recent years, but a new study cautions those with alcohol use disorder to be wary of drinks that remind them of the real thing.

After having a stroke, many people experience spasms in their hands and arms, and the only treatments available are painful injections or drugs that cause drowsiness. Now, Stanford researchers have helped developglove-like, wearable medical device that targets the spasms using simple, high-frequency mechanical vibrations on the hands and fingers.

With the premier of Dune 2 earlier this month, assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences Mathieu Lapôtre offered insight on the nonfictional sand dunes of Earth and its Milky Way neighbors, including why dune fields near Abu Dhabi provided the perfect backdrop for the otherworldly film set.

When galaxies collide, the black holes at their center begin orbiting one another before merging, and astronomers have just identified the largest pair yet. Researchers estimate that the black holes at the center of elliptical galaxy B2 0402+379 (the Loop’s longtime favorite galaxy, obviously) weigh about 28 billion times the mass of the Sun.

Still groggy from the time change? Here are tips from a sleep medicine doctor to get you waking up on time.

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