The Vietnamese version of China's hit reality show Sisters Who Make Waves has recently been released on the country's national television platform VTV3 and sites like YouTube. The show is crowded with Vietnam's hottest celebrities and has become highly popular, attracting a wide range of local viewers. The original show made a similar splash in the Chinese entertainment market when it was first released in 2020.
The Chinese version included stars like Zhang Yuqi, who has gained over 13 million viewers on China's Sina Weibo, and the Vietnamese show is star-studded as well. 53-year-old Vietnamese singer Hồng Nhung has joined the show, along with actress Ninh Dương Lan Ngọc and model H'Hen Niê.
Wanghe Minjun, a TV industry expert, told the Global Times that celebrities on the show need to be successful women, but also need to have contrasting personalities.
"Like all reality shows, the program needs tension and something that can spur discussion," said the expert, such as "a woman who has been to red carpet events many times but still remains childish in everyday life."
The show has become popular on YouTube, with an episode released two weeks ago having been viewed by 4.97 million viewers.
"A singer can connect with listeners' emotions through her voice. Listening to Hồng Nhung is like watching a movie unfold in my mind. I'm impressed that her skill is increasing as she gets older," a Vietnamese netizen said in a post on YouTube.
Xu Shuming, a cultural sociologist, told the Global Times that Sisters Who Make Waves is actually an "encouraging show that gives the audience an image of modern women's potential in the social sphere."
"Compared to shows about young idols, ones about mature and successful women can be more eye-catching since they can draw the attention of a larger group of people," Xu told the Global Times.
Vietnamese actress and singer Chi Pu joined the original Chinese show for its 2023 season and became widely popular with domestic viewers.
Her appearance on the show reassured the international market about the "universal acceptance of the subject of women's power," Wanghe told the Global Times. Chi Pu's Chinese journey was also significant for the later Vietnamese adaptation.
The original Chinese version is available on China's video platform Mango TV, which collaborated with Vietnamese platforms VTV3 and YeaH1 Group, as well as production company STV Production.
"With the advantages of multiple platforms and a large audience, we are confident in creating a reality show that will be successful in the Vietnamese entertainment market in 2023," Le Phuong Thao, the chief investment representative of YeaH1 Group, told the media.
So far, the Vietnamese version of Sisters Who Make Waves has attracted a total of 33 sponsors, the highest ever for a Vietnamese reality TV show.
The show's international success also indicates that the burgeoning Chinese entertainment industry is able to produce cultural IP of a "global standard," Wanghe said.
Other Chinese reality shows like Street Dance of China and Our Songs, a singing program, have also been adapted into Vietnamese and Spanish versions. The singing program Super Vocal has also been brought to audiences in North America.
"Chinese IP is good not only because of the shows' creativity, but also the growing Chinese entertainment industry. Its scale has convinced many international insiders," Wanghe told the Global Times.
"The Chinese people value friendship. We never forget our old friends, nor your historic contributions to promoting the growth of China-US relations and enhancing friendship between the two peoples," Chinese President Xi Jinping said during the meeting with former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger in Beijing, on July 20, 2023, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
In the last few years, when China-US relations were at a low ebb, people-to-people exchanges between the two countries have never been interrupted.
How should the two civilizations of China and the US coexist to bring prosperity and stability to their people?
From serving at the grassroots to being the Chinese President, Xi has been a consistent builder of friendship with the American people.
This story is a part of the "Witness to history" series by the Global Times, comprising of comprehensive interviews with people who have witnessed Xi's high regard for and personal efforts in promoting people-to-people friendship between China and the US. They have also actively demonstrated to the world that the will of the Chinese and American people is to cooperate, and how such cooperation is beneficial to the people of the two countries and the world. Liu Zhonghan, 76, never imagined that the emotion he expresses in "Ah! Kuliang," a 1,800-word essay he wrote 31 years ago, would spread the story of the Gardner couple far and wide, and created a profound connection between himself and this small hillside area in Fuzhou, East China's Fujian Province.
"Just like the legendary story of the Gardner couple and Kuliang becoming more well-known, the development of the China-US people-to-people friendship is like a snowball rolling. Now, this snowball has grown big and fast," Liu told the Global Times.
At the end of June, when Liu came to Fuzhou for the third time to attend the "Bond with Kuliang: 2023 China-US People-to-People Friendship Forum," at which he met several good friends - the descendants of American families who once lived in Kuliang as early as a century ago, he felt surprised and gratified.
He was surprised by the tremendous changes in the cityscape of Fuzhou, and was gratified to witness the most genuine, enduring, and pure friendship between the people of China and the US, which is also part of the spiritual essence hidden in Kuliang's story.
A century of love for China
"When I met Elizabeth Gardner, her husband Milton Gardner, a university physics professor, had been deceased for two years, leaving behind a collection of Chinese memorabilia and the regret of never having been able to return to his second homeland," Liu recounted.
This is a story from 1985, just a few years after China's reform and opening-up began. Liu, an intellectual youth at that time from the countryside of Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, boarded a plane bound for San Francisco. He chose to pursue a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis.
Upon arriving in the US, in order to learn English and make new friends, Liu joined the local grassroots organization "International House," a nonprofit organization that matches new foreign arrivals with local elderly people. It was there that Liu met Elizabeth Gardner, who shared the story of her "Chinese" husband.
Milton Gardner traveled with his parents as an infant to China in 1901 and spent nearly a decade of his childhood in suburban Fuzhou's Kuliang. After returning to the US with his family in 1911, Gardner's greatest wish was to return to his childhood home in China.
Unfortunately, he was never able to fulfill his wish.
"Kuliang, Kuliang..." Milton Gardner kept uttering the word in the final hours of his life. Elizabeth Gardner knew it was a place in China where her husband had spent his childhood, but she was unsure of the exact location. In order to fulfill her husband's last wish, Elizabeth Gardner visited China six times, but was unable to find her husband's hometown.
It wasn't until January 1992 that Liu found a clue in a stamp in Milton Gardner's China collection and confirmed that Kuliang was located in Fuzhou, based on the postmark.
Subsequently, Liu wrote about this story in the People's Daily Overseas Chronicle, which attracted the attention of Xi Jinping, then secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Fuzhou Committee. Xi immediately instructed relevant authorities to invite Mrs. Gardner to visit Kuliang.
As Elizabeth Gardner's companion on her visit to Fuzhou, Liu still vividly remembers the warm reception they received in August 1992, when Elizabeth Gardner stayed at the Western-style stone villa in Kuliang and met local villagers, including her husband's childhood Chinese friends, with whom she shared joyful, tear-filled conversations.
Liu said the trip enabled more people to know about Kuliang and Fuzhou, enhancing and shining a light on the friendship between China and the US.
At that time, Milton Gardener's unfulfilled wish was finally realized. Elizabeth Gardner noted with sincerity that the beautiful, unique, kind, and great love of Kuliang let her understand why her husband was so deeply attached to this place, Liu told the Global Times.
At the end of the trip, Xi presented Elizabeth Gardner and Liu with beautiful Fuzhou lacquer craftworks and photo albums of their visit to Fuzhou. "The trip and photo albums became the most precious treasure for Elizabeth Gardner and me in our lives," he said.
Kuliang's story does not end there.
After graduation, Liu traveled frequently between China and the US for work, and he corresponded with Elizabeth Gardner until her death in 2002.
In 2012, when visiting the US as China's vice president, Xi shared the Kuliang story with the audience at a welcome luncheon held by US friendship groups, to a warm reception in both countries.
At the forum, Liu met Lee Gardner, Milton Gardner's grandnephew, who is in his 70s.
On June 26, 2023, a grand donation ceremony was held in Kuliang. Lee Gardner donated a complete family chronicle and related documents from several visits paid by him to Fuzhou, saying that his whole family is grateful to Xi for realizing the dream of a senior US citizen, and expressed his belief in the universality of words of love even in different languages.
Liu believed that while facing profound changes unseen in a century and increasing confrontations between countries, it is of great significance to explore and promote the story of Kuliang.
"From the mid-19th century onward, a large number of foreigners came to Fuzhou to work and live. At its peak, Kuliang had over 300 Western-style villas. How could such a small hillside village attract people from different countries to live harmoniously? It is because the people living here have a welcoming mindset. The home of humanity should be like this: A peaceful and loving living environment that allows everyone to live with dignity and in harmony," Liu said.
From Elizabeth Gardner's description of her husband, as well as through extensive research, Liu learned that Milton Gardner wasn't just a brilliant academic who joined the MIT Radiation Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts during World War II, where he helped in the gargantuan task of developing and improving radar systems to overcome German and Japanese aggressors, but was also a staunch peace-loving anti-war campaigner.
It was through such virtues that, after returning to the US, Milton Gardener continued writing letters to his childhood friends in China, and collected the stamps on the letters he received, and preserved them through nearly a century of war and displacement.
"It shows that friendship between people transcends language, race, and ideology. However, some hegemonic countries ignore the most basic needs of their own people for small profits," Liu said.
Liu hopes that selfish politicians can listen to their conscience, and view opinion from the perspective of ordinary people, and especially in the context of interactions between the people of China and the US.
To Liu's relief, currently, Kuliang is no longer a mysterious place to peace-loving people in China and the US, and even around the world. There are still many beautiful and lovely stories like this to be told.
Some American media outlets are indistinctively portraying Chinese nationals as spies. Yet instead of proving the so-called espionage threat from China, they have only exposed how dumbed down and crude US propaganda tactics are, which is even insulting the intelligence of American readers.
An article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published on Monday local time alleged that "Chinese nationals, sometimes posing as tourists, have accessed military bases and other sensitive sites in the US as many as 100 times in recent years," sparking espionage concerns.
Liu Pengyu, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy to the US, refuted these claims as malicious fabrications. In fact, anyone with critical thinking skills can easily tell that US' smear is riddled with loopholes in this case.
For instance, who are the "incursionists"? The WSJ claims these are "people who say they are following Google Maps to direct them to the nearest McDonalds or Burger King, which happens to be on a nearby military base," or Chinese nationals who said "they have a reservation at an on-base hotel." The article said there have been 100 incidents involving Chinese nationals trying to access American military and other installations. Yet at the same time it finds it hard to skirt around the truth - "no cases appear to have resulted in espionage charges." In other words, it means the WSJ knows this is another baseless defamation.
Given the lengthy description by the WSJ, US military bases are as easily accessible as public libraries. Anyone find it plausible?
US military bases have the most stringent level on both physical and cyber security measures, and are not places for ordinary people to make incursions in such simplistic ways. Hyping up that Chinese people poses espionage threat via such low-level approaches is an insult to American readers' intelligence, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.
Since this year, the US has frequently sensationalized unfounded smears such as the "Chinese spy balloon" saga and that Cuba may host a secret Chinese spy base focusing on the US. As expected, all have been debunked as unfounded slanders in the end. In recent years, many international students, businesspersons, and scientists have been labeled as "spies" and imprisoned by the US security agencies simply because they are of Chinese descent or have had dealings with China, with most cases lacking substantial evidence.
Borrowing a recent buzzword - AIGC (Artificial intelligence generated content), we can say stories in US media obsessed with China's "spy" operations are typically CIAGC, CIA-generated content, which aimed at conducting cognitive infiltration and manipulating public perception, Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
The WSJ, among other US media, is blatantly seeking to create an atmosphere where China is perceived as a security threat to the US, aligning with overall US policies toward China, in an attempt to legitimize US containment tactics, Lü said.
By shrieking so-called espionage concerns, US media may be laying the ground for more future de-coupling or de-risking in high-tech and defense sectors.
Ironically, one key goal of US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo's recent China visit was promoting commercial ties where they align with US interests, including efforts to foster tourism. The WSJ quoted Raimondo in its reporting on August 27 as saying that if tourism revives to 2019 levels, travel by Chinese visitors would generate about $30 billion in spending, supporting some 50,000 American jobs.
Yet if walking into a Burger King or McDonalds can be misconstrued as evidence of espionage, guess how many Chinese people will be willing to travel to the US?
Huawei's comeback in the 5G industry demonstrates China's ability to overcome the US technological blockade. Additionally, a growing number of ethnic Chinese scientists switched their affiliation from American to Chinese institutions, amid chilling anti-Chinese sentiment in the US.
Ultimately, time will prove that the US' malicious and low-level propaganda war will only backfire.
Canada is under fire, again. This time, it has become a laughingstock of the world.
Since the end of World War II, no country's parliament or politicians have ever honored Nazi war veterans in an official event, as, obviously, it is an act violating the most fundamental value of human society in today's world. But Canada did. Despite it later pled ignorance for the episode, the world's audience did seem not to buy it, and the news story has been staying in the headlines among global media for days.
It started on September 22. During a visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the Canadian Parliament, the Speaker of Canada's House of Commons, Anthony Rota, introduced Yaroslav Hunka, a constituent from his electoral district, as "a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero" for fighting against Russians for Ukrainian independence during the WWII. All parliamentarians then rose to give him a standing ovation.
The move sparked anger across the Jewish world which quickly discovered that Hunka served in a Nazi unit. The Canada-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization dedicated to Holocaust education and antisemitism programs, issued a statement on September 24, pointing out that Hunka "served in a Nazi military unit during the Second World War implicated in the mass murder of Jews and others," and that "an apology is owed to every Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Second World War who fought the Nazis." Calls for an apology from Canada are getting louder these days from a growing number of countries, including Russia, Poland, and Belarus.
In the face of controversy, Rota announced his resignation on Tuesday and said he did not know of Hunka's Nazi ties. Yet what's confusing is that Trudeau and Rota are not the only ones who are blind to the basic history of WWII. When Canadian politicians mindlessly rose to their feet and applauded, not a single professional politician in the Parliament seemed to have considered that the Soviet Union and Canada were on the same side during WWII - the side that battled Nazis together - and that those who fought Russians may be the unjust forces in the war.
It is a vivid epitome of the Western world, where anti-Russia is the overwhelming political correctness, people are reluctant to think: How could anyone who has ever fought against Russia possibly be the bad guy?
Canada has been following the US-led alliance closely in almost every major issue, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and tends to seek attention, showcasing its value in the Western world every now and then. Against the backdrop, its foreign policy tends to become growingly irrational and childish, Liu Dan, a researcher at the Center for Regional Country Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, told the Global Times.
Yao Peng, deputy secretary-general of the Canadian Studies Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the current political syndrome in Canada is defining political correctness based on camp confrontation in the major power game, and the so-called political correctness is above mature, rational, and balanced principles of international relations and order. It is against this backdrop that they tend to shut their eyes to common sense and questioning, resulting in the farce of applauding to a Nazi-linked veteran.
This time, the episode in Canada not only disregards the moral principle and international history established after WWII, but also hurts the feelings of the Jewish world and all victims of the brutal war.
On Monday, Trudeau said the case is "deeply embarrassing," and then quickly turned the subject to Russia, claiming "it's going to be really important that all of us push back against Russian disinformation and continue our steadfast unequivocal support for Ukraine." The logic is ridiculous. What does the ignorance of Canadian politicians have to do with Russia?
Trudeau’s rhetoric only shows that he has little sense of historical and moral justice, as evidenced by his habitual tendency to shift blame rather than introspect in response to the overwhelming condemnation from Jewish groups. He is going too far down the wrong path, Yao said.
Also in September, we see another example of how Westerners turn blind eyes to or distort history. During her speech at the Atlantic Council Global Citizen Awards ceremony in New York on Thursday last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen overlooked the US' responsibility for the catastrophic Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945, and Japanese fascist aggression that brought disasters to neighboring countries, while only criticizing Russia for engaging in "nuclear saber-rattling."
It seems Western countries can say anything and do anything without the bottom line as long as it is detrimental to their rivals, even if their words and deeds go against historical facts, moral conscience, and international norms.
To defeat Russia, the US-led West offered controversial armor-piercing munitions containing depleted uranium to Ukraine, and cluster munitions that could cause deaths and serious injuries to civilians. They also owe the world a responsible explanation over reports of US involvement in the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, a critical infrastructure delivering gas from Russia to Europe.
The mentality of Westerners is so deeply trapped in the Cold War, and they have lost in the hysteria on the path to completely defeat their opponents. They are leading the world toward a dangerous direction. As Canadian researcher Tamara Lorincz noted, while everyone applauded the Ukrainian Nazi, "Not one MP called for peace, ceasefire and negotiations."
When Canada, be its ignorance real or fake, crosses the bottom line of basic human values by honoring a Nazi, the Western world, which is used to confusing black and white, distorting history in an attempt to win the major power game, should be vigilant. Those who fool with history will eventually become a laughingstock in history.
The Tianzhou-5 cargo spacecraft has detached from the China Space Station complex and entered an independent flight phase, the China Manned Space Agency announced on Friday, a move seen by experts as being part of preparations for the upcoming cargo supply run scheduled for early May.
In the next stage, Tianzhou-5 will rendezvous and dock with the space station's forward port after the Shenzhou-15 manned spacecraft departs from the space station complex, the agency said.
The Tianzhou-5 cargo spacecraft was launched into orbit on November 12, 2022, from the Wenchang space port in South China's Hainan Province.
It was loaded with supplies for the three crews of the Shenzhou-15 mission, including consumables for their six-month stay in orbit, propellants, and experimental equipment.
It also carried several experimental projects, including an experimental satellite from the Macao Special Administrative Region, a space hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell, and a high-energy particle detection payload.
Space analysts said the move is part of preparations for the next Tianzhou-6 cargo mission, which is scheduled for launch in early to mid-May, according to Xinhua News Agency.
The Tianzhou cargo spacecraft has a total length of 10.6 meters and weighs 13.5 tons. For the Tianzhou-6 mission, its cargo capacity has been increased from 6.9 tons to 7.4 tons, making it one of the most capable cargo spacecraft in the world.
In previous models, the original cargo compartment had a partially unsealed section, but Tianzhou-6 has moved the equipment from the unsealed section to the propulsion compartment, significantly increasing the space in the cargo compartment and raising the loading volume from 18.1 cubic meters to 22.5 cubic meters, an increase of over 20 percent.
Additionally, Tianzhou-6 will carry 1.75 tons of propellant, about 700 kilograms of which has been prepared for refueling the space station.
Apart from daily supplies, the cargo list for Tianzhou-6 includes an additional set of electric propulsion xenon gas bottles.
These can serve as backup fuel propellant for the space station, and effectively reduce the station's propellant consumption.
Multiple coastal cities including Wenzhou in East China's Zhejiang Province and Guangzhou in South China’s Guangdong Province and Sanya in South China’s Hainan Province have launched emergency monitoring on maritime environment and aquatic food over Fukushima contaminated water dumping to safeguard China’s marine environment.
The South Zhejiang Institute of Radiation Medicine and Nuclear Technology in Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, established a special working group of marine radioactive pollution monitoring for the East China Sea last Friday after Japan started dumping Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater.
The group will conduct real-time monitoring of the nuclear-contaminated seawater area and have preliminarily planned to carry out sampling and monitoring in the sea area every two months to promptly respond to and monitor the potential impact of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater on the East China Sea, Wenzhou Daily reported on Sunday.
According to Wan Xinlong, leader of the special working group, the institute has been proactively conducting background radiation investigations of marine radioactive pollution in the relevant sea areas in response to potential pollution risks caused by the discharge of Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater since last year. They have so far conducted two rounds of background radiation investigations, and their technical expertise and monitoring capabilities have become relatively mature.
“As of present, the levels of nuclear radioactivity in seawater, marine creatures, and seabed sediments collected from offshore areas are all within the range of natural background radiation levels and the nuclear-contaminated wastewater has not yet had an impact on the coastal areas of Wenzhou,” Wan said.
Wan noted that in order to comprehensively understand the distribution and trend of radioactive pollution, the originally planned quarterly sampling and monitoring will be shortened to every two months. The third round of sampling is scheduled to take place this September, with a larger sampling area compared to the previous two rounds.
The special working group will focus on monitoring marine radioactive pollution in the East China Sea region, with increased monitoring frequencies and enlarged monitoring ranges and strengthened collection and monitoring of samples such as seawater, marine creatures and sediments in a bid to promptly master the concentration and changes of radioactive pollutants in the ocean.
A team from Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School created a diffusion model of radioactive materials on the ocean scale from macroscopic and microscopic perspectives respectively to simulate the long-term effects of the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater dumping program, according to which the nuclear pollutants will reach the coastal waters of China 240 days after being initially dumped, and will reach the coast of North America and cover almost the whole North Pacific Ocean in 1,200 days.
According to Wan, apart from the institute, domestic relevant departments and institutions are closely monitoring the radiation situation in China’s coastal areas. And they are ready to take immediate measures in case of any abnormal situation.
Wan noted that portable radiation detectors can only detect whether there is hazardous radiation on the surface of objects or in the air but can’t detect the presence of pollutants inside the objects.
Besides, these radiation detectors require a high level of expertise for accurate operation. Even a slight deviation could lead to inaccurate measurement. Thus, it is not recommended for the general public without proper knowledge and guidance to buy these detectors.
Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Guangzhou Food Safety Risk Monitoring and Evaluation Center said the center will proactively carry out emergency monitoring over Fukushima contaminated water dumping and will continue to monitor the situation of artificial radioactive pollution in seafood products sold in Guangzhou to safeguard food safety in the city, Guangzhou Daily reported on Sunday.
The Guangzhou CDC reminds residents to pay attention to authoritative information released by government departments and not to believe rumors or unreliable information that could cause unnecessary panic. They also advised to avoid purchasing or consuming food produced in areas affected by radiation contamination. When traveling to Japan, it’s not recommended to buy local seafood products or food items from unknown origins for gifting to relatives and friends back in China to reduce the chance of consuming nuclear-contaminated foods.
To prevent food products from radiation-affected areas in Japan from entering Sanya city in South China’s Hainan Province, the local market supervision bureau conducted thorough inspections over the weekend on the city's supermarkets, wet markets and other food production and distribution units to ensure they are not using or selling food products or food ingredients originating from nuclear radiation-affected areas in Japan, the bureau announced on Sunday.
The market watchdog will continue to intensify inspections of food production and sales companies, especially those dealing with imported and frozen foods to rigorously prevent substandard food products from entering the market.
China’s General Administration of Customs banned import of all aquatic products originating from Japan starting from August 24, 2023, when Japan started dumping nuclear-contaminated wastewater from crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea.
The National Nuclear Safety Administration of China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) on August 24, 2023 announced that relevant departments are organizing the marine radiation environment monitoring of China's jurisdictional sea areas in 2023.
The MEE said it will continue to strengthen relevant monitoring work and promptly follow and assess the potential impact of the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant on China’s marine radiation environment.
Sometimes science does not move fast enough, despite much hard work and effort. That’s true in the case of the Zika virus outbreak currently marching through the Americas. As we report in a collection of stories, much remains unclear, including the relationship between Zika infection and microcephaly and how best to combat the mosquitoes that spread the disease. So far, however, evidence does suggest that this little-known (and previously largely ignored) virus may indeed target the nervous system, probably triggering Guillain-Barré syndrome in a small percentage of patients. The virus could even pose as-yet undiscovered health risks that may take years to untangle. While scientists will no doubt eventually be able to answer many of the public’s pressing questions, it may be too late for many. It’s not a global emergency, but the public is also apparently impatient with science’s progress on providing practical advice about the human microbiome — the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in and on us. This issue features two articles about new results from this hot field. Laura Sanders details surprising ways that gut microbes can meddle with the brain, hinting that certain microbial mixes may influence depression and other mental disorders. And Meghan Rosen describes the microbiome’s role in malnutrition, suggesting that resetting children’s microbes may be a useful treatment. It’s hard not to conclude that manipulating the bacteria in your body could offer a path to better health and happiness. Judging from the shelves at Whole Foods, that is what many makers of probiotic supplements would like you to believe. And it may well turn out to be true — studies have linked the microbiome to metabolic and digestive issues such as obesity, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. But science hasn’t yet come up with broad recommendations for the best ways to tend your personal microfloral garden. And since the Food and Drug Administration regulates supplements as foods, not as medicines, probiotic pills may vary in quality and even in actual ingredients; makers don’t have to prove that probiotics are safe or effective.
Notably, none of the researchers that Sanders asked while reporting “Microbes and the mind” said that they regularly take probiotic supplements. They also said that any effects on the brain, while fascinating, are probably subtle for most people — otherwise you’d notice a mood change every time you took antibiotics. In Rosen’s story about malnutrition, researcher François Leulier says: “We can envision some therapy solutions, but we’re still at the basic research level.” It’s just too early to start megadosing, he says, even for very sick kids.
To fill in the gap, people look to anecdote. Or, sometimes knowingly, they engage in uncontrolled self-experiments with an N of 1, fueled by the Internet (see the website Quantified Self) and DIY culture. The data gleaned from these personal trials may help individuals, but they can’t answer big questions.
An eager public — and intriguing science — is propelling microbiome research along. Zika research is sprinting after an elusive and mysterious foe, trying to stop the damage from the virus and learn from a vast natural experiment. In both cases, science must move more swiftly if it is to catch up.
Capuchins in northeast Brazil have wielded stones to crack open cashew nuts for 600 to 700 years, researchers report July 11 in Current Biology. Unearthed “hammers” and “anvils” are the earliest evidence of monkey tool use to date.
Today, Brazilian bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) still open cashews by placing them on the flat surfaces of anvil rocks and pounding the nuts with large stones. Unlike pebbles and other rocks, the tool stones are distinctively heavy, blemished with wear marks, greased with cashew residue and clustered under cashew trees, Michael Haslam of the University of Oxford and colleagues found. The team mapped where the monkeys left these modern tools scattered under cashew trees. When the researchers dug beneath dense, ancient cashew groves, they found 69 more stone tools — clustered in similar arrangements to modern tools, of similar heft and with the same distinctive wear marks — buried in three sequentially deeper layers of sediment. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal shows that the deepest tools rest in a layer of excavated soil dating back as early as 1266, suggesting that capuchins have been using stone tools to crack nuts for hundreds of years. The new findings are “incredibly important,” says archaeologist Huw Barton of the University of Leicester in England. They “will help us reassess the earliest evidence of tool use by our own ancestors.”
Capuchins are the only monkeys in South America that frequently use tools. It’s a habit they evolved independently from other inventive primates, such as humans and chimps. (The three species last shared a common ancestor some 35 million years ago.) Understanding why capuchins picked up the skill could point to situations that inspired the rise of tool use across species, says primatologist and study coauthor Tiago Falótico of the University of Sao Paulo.
Elisabetta Visalberghi, a primatologist at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies in Rome, agrees that it’s likely that the monkeys “used tools in the past as they do now.” But she doubts that wear-and-tear scratches — which Haslam’s team used to identify buried stones as tools — were indeed produced by cracking cashews. The nuts are relatively soft; so are the stones, she says. While Haslam’s team compared markings on modern and ancient tools, they didn’t test if new marks appear on modern stones after they are used by capuchins. Visalberghi says those experiments are “fundamental to evaluate the relevance of the results.” SUBSCRIBE While this is not the first archaeological evidence of monkey tool use, it is the oldest by far. Haslam, Falótico and colleagues reported the first evidence last month in the Journal of Human Evolution: 10- to 50-year-old buried tools used by long-tailed macaques in Thailand. Before that, chimpanzees were the only primates other than humans with an ancient track record of tool use, dating back thousands of years (SN: 02/17/07, p. 99).
Compared with that of chimps, the record of capuchin tools is relatively young. But 600 to 700 years isn’t a final estimate, the researchers say. Even older monkey tools could rest in deeper soil under the cashew trees.
Talking about her cover story on what iron-loving elements are telling geologists about the Earth’s deep past, Alexandra Witze likens these rare metals to time travelers. They can tell you, she says, what was happening more than 4.5 billion years ago, during the first 50 million years of our planet’s existence. By then the Earth’s molten interior had begun to settle into its current layer cake form: a dense, solid inner core surrounded by an outer liquid core — both rich in iron and metals such as gold, platinum, ruthenium and others that tend to form alloys with iron. The scarcity of these metals in the outer layers of the planet — the mantle and crust — make them precious to us. Their high melting points and other properties help them resist change, allowing geoscientists to use them as fingerprints that mark events in the distant past. With new, more precise analytic techniques, scientists can now measure the amounts of these iron-loving metals relative to other elements to deduce what happened to them over eons of time. These traces are found in some very old rocks, Witze reports (SN: 8/6/16, p. 22), such as 3.8-billion-year-old deposits in Greenland. But the metals also show up as ancient time capsules in younger rock. Studying these traces reveals the imperfect mixing of the mantle and can provide insight into outstanding questions, such as why amounts of these metals differ in the mantles of the moon and Earth. Science is surprisingly adept at this type of virtual time travel. Researchers have repeatedly come up with ways to discover facts about the distant past. In this issue of Science News alone, several new findings illustrate the ability of science to figure out things that would seem impossibly difficult to know. A black hole in a distant galaxy formed over 13 billion years ago, for example, so long ago that it’s hard to even imagine reconstructing the events that led to its birth. But scientists have now pieced together clues, Christopher Crockett reports (SN: 8/6/16, p. 7), that it formed by the direct collapse of a massive gas cloud, rather than from the death of a massive star (the more common origin of black holes).
Reconstructing the evolution of the tail has been stymied by a lack of fossils from creatures that led the transition from water to land. But that hasn’t stopped scientists eager to explore the biomechanics of fishlike animals attempting to hop out of the water and up a slope. Studies of big-tailed fish called mudskippers highlight the utility of a tail in balancing flipper-hops up a sandy incline, Susan Milius reports (SN: 8/6/16, p. 13). To describe the math, scientists built a robot and made it scale an unsteady hill of shifty poppy seeds or plastic bits. Their conclusion: The tail could have been a big assist to flippered creatures emerging on sandy shores several hundred million years ago.
The story on Homo naledi by Bruce Bower (SN: 8/6/16, p. 12) shows why sometimes scientists might just prefer to actually time travel. Efforts to date the bones of this hominid species have proved frustrating; the latest estimate, 912,000 years old, was deduced from evolutionary trees. Knowing how old H. naledi actually is might reveal the diversity of relatively recent hominid species, and perhaps help piece together the story of how Homo sapiens became the sole survivors. That’s some time travel I’d be interested in booking.
To zip through the bloodstream and spread infection throughout the body, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease take a cue from the white blood cells trying to attack them. Both use specialized bonds to stick to the cells lining blood vessels and move along at their own pace, biologist Tara Moriarty and colleagues report September 6 in Cell Reports.
“It’s really an amazing case of convergent evolution,” says Wendy Thomas, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who wasn’t part of the study. “There’s little structural similarity between the molecules involved in these behaviors, and yet their behavior is the same.” Traveling through the bloodstream is more like a whitewater rafting adventure than a lazy Sunday afternoon float. It can be a highly efficient way for bacteria to spread from an infection site to set up shop elsewhere in the body, but the microbes need some way to control where they go instead of just being swept away. So to move at their own speed while withstanding the forces of blood flow, bacteria creep along the side walls by steadily making and breaking bonds with other cells, says Moriarty, of the University of Toronto.
Borrelia burgdorferi is a corkscrew-shaped bacterium that causes Lyme disease. It works its way into the human body via a bite from an infected tick but then spreads through the whole body, causing joint pain and neurological problems. Biologists have known that B. burgdorferi can move in and out of the bloodstream, says Mark Wooten, a microbiologist at the University of Toledo in Ohio who wasn’t involved in the work. But this study gives a detailed explanation of exactly how it might do so. Moriarty and her colleagues lined flow chambers with human endothelial cells to mimic the bloodstream environment. Then her team used high-powered microscopes to watch what happened to bacteria moving through the chamber along with blood cells. A computer program helped the scientists track exactly how individual bacteria navigated the mock bloodstream. The researchers found that B. burgdorferi making a protein called BBK32 form specialized links called “catch bonds” with the endothelial cells — a technique that white blood cells also use. Catch bonds get stronger when under mechanical stress, helping the bacteria to hold on under pressure. Bungee cord–like structures called tethers work alongside the catch bonds to even out the load placed on the bonds.
But B. burgdorferi need to move to infect, and if they let go of the blood vessel walls completely, they’ll be washed away. So like someone moving hand-over-hand across monkey bars, B. burgdorferi shift their load from bond to bond. As they break one bond, they transfer their load to a new bond, moving steadily forward while remaining continually attached. White blood cells use a similar trick to move across endothelial cells.
B. burgdorferi can also use whiplike appendages called flagella to control their movement through the bloodstream. In B. burgdorferi and other related bacteria, the flagella wrap around the bacteria to help the microbes propel themselves forward like drill bits. The force generated by the B. burgdorferi flagella is greater than the forces trying to rip the bacteria off the blood vessel walls, Moriarty and her colleagues found.
“What that basically means is that bacteria are strong enough to overcome the force that they experience under blood flow, which means they should be theoretically strong enough to get to a spot where they can exit the bloodstream,” says Moriarty. That might allow Lyme bacteria to control when and where they exit the bloodstream to infect other organs.