How 4.5M gamers helped advance science

Published about 1 month ago • 8 min read

Daily Edition • April 18, 2024

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Sometimes we discover community in the most unlikely of places. Take Simon Dell for example, a man from South Yorkshire, England, who found solidarity while struggling with depression thanks to a mouse village he created in his garden. It began in 2018, when he built a miniature house for a wild mouse he’d spotted. Since then, the village has expanded to include tiny homes, a bookshop, pub, and activities for the 20 rodents that call it home. Dell told Metro that photographing the cute critters and sharing the images with his social media followers has been a bright spot in his life. “Photography gave me a reason to get up and out again, and the mouse village gave me back my smile,” he said.

Must Reads


Technology


How Millions of Gamers Helped Enhance Biomedical Research — And Outsmarted AI

About four years ago, McGill University began harnessing the power of video games and citizen scientists as a way to map the gut microbiome. Now, data is revealing just how valuable gamers can be for boosting scientific research.

In a study published Monday, researchers detailed how 4.5 million global gamers helped reconstruct microbial evolutionary histories by playing a mini-game included in Borderlands 3, a wildly popular video game. “These players have helped trace the evolutionary relationships of more than a million different kinds of bacteria that live in the human gut, some of which play a crucial role in our health,” a press release explains.

“This information represents an exponential increase in what we have discovered about the microbiome up till now,” the release continues, adding: “Humans have been able to take on tasks that even the best existing computer algorithms have been unable to solve yet.” The results of the study will help advance scientists’ knowledge of the microbiome as well as lay a foundation for the use of improved AI programs down the road.

Jérôme Waldispühl, senior author of the paper, explained: “We didn’t know whether the players of a popular game like Borderlands 3 would be interested or whether the results would be good enough to improve on what was already known about microbial evolution. But we’ve been amazed by the results.” Learn more about how the gamers outsmarted AI.

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Environment


Greece Is the First European Nation to Ban Bottom Trawling in All Marine Parks

It’s been a history-making week for Greece: On Tuesday, it became the first European nation to announce a ban on bottom trawling in all of its national marine parks by 2026 and marine protected areas by 2030.

Bottom trawling is the technique of wrangling fish in massive nets that scrape against the ocean bed, damaging coral, sponges, and other marine life and habitats, along with stirring up carbon from the seafloor. (As Grist reports, the practice has been likened to strip-mining or clear-cutting forests.)

“The ocean has paid a heavy price for its service to humankind. It has been a vital source of life and livelihood. We have not been kind to it in return. So, we meet today with a new sense of urgency,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in his speech at the Our Ocean Conference in Athens.

With a plan to invest about $832 million to protect “the future health of our ocean,” Mitsotakis outlined how the country will use drones, satellites, and AI to enforce the ban. In addition, it aims to reduce the volume of plastic litter in Greek waters by half.

While Greece’s ban is monumental, conservationists hope it’s the first of many more to come for the continent. “We hope this creates a domino effect on other European countries to do the same,” Nicholas Fournier, the campaign director for Oceana, told The Guardian.

Humanity


Reading Glasses Linked to Earnings Bumps for Those in Low-Income Communities

There are so many reasons to appreciate reading glasses: They help us see better, reduce eye strain, and prevent headaches. Another potential reason to add to the list? They may lead to higher earnings for individuals in low-income communities, new research found.

For the study, published earlier this month, researchers went to 56 villages in Bangladesh and gave free reading glasses to hundreds of adults who are farsighted, meaning they struggle to see nearby things, like the fine print on a restaurant menu.

Eight months later, the researchers checked back in and found that the newly bespectacled individuals had seen their median income grow by 33% compared to those without glasses. And many people who previously weren’t in the workforce were able to start jobs after getting a pair.

“This is a really big study,” Dr. David Friedman, a professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the project, told NPR. “This is the first time we can really say that something that will improve [someone’s] quality of life from a visual standpoint will also help with poverty alleviation, which is an enormous finding.” Read more about the potentially life-changing power of eye care.

In Other News


  1. New federal safety rules will help protect coal miners from toxic silica dust exposure with the aim to prevent lung disease.
  2. A first-of-its-kind Parkinson’s treatment is showing promise, as the new antibody drug appears to help slow the progression of some patients’ movement-related symptoms.
  3. Meet Aurora: the four-legged robot designed to look like a “predator” to keep wildlife safely away from airport runways.
  4. Metal detectorists in Denmark discovered a “tiny and absolutely spectacular” artifact that depicts Alexander the Great.
  5. “Practice makes progress!” Watch two young bull elk practice their sparring techniques in New Mexico.

Something We Love


The Wild One Dog Walk Kit

Wild One’s products are everywhere these days, and for good reason. The brand’s stylish Harness Walk Kit, which includes a harness, leash, and poop bag carrier, comes in a range of sizes and colors to suit most every pup. And Wild One partners with animal rescue organizations across the U.S. to provide dogs with support, gear, and care.

Recommendations are independently selected by our team but may result in a commission to Nice News which helps keep our content free.

Inspiring Story


Brave big sister

Earlier this month, 6-year-old Olivia Patterson was playing outside when she spotted flames coming from the roof of her house in North Yorkshire, England. Undeterred by the fire, she ran into her home to alert her mother and two younger siblings who were sleeping inside. Thankfully, the family escaped the blaze and are all safe and sound. “We are absolutely so proud of her,” said Olivia’s grandmother, who added: “She’s 6 years old and ran into a burning building.”

Photo of the Day


Yesterday marked 100 days until the start of the Paris Olympics. In celebration of the countdown, synchronized swimmers performed a routine in London — watch it here.

Master Money Management With FinanceBuzz


Investing wisely and saving money are more important than ever, but that can be difficult if you’re struggling financially. To help, FinanceBuzz has put together some tips for how you can supplement your income without doing much extra “work,” or even getting a side job.

Odds & Ends


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😾 Instant meme: a grumpy cat is rescued by firefighters

🍷 Would you give up your phone for free wine?

🐟 Inside the silent world of schools of fish

Quote of the Day


“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

– MARY OLIVER

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