The week’s most astounding developments from the neobiological frontier.

June 23, 2022

Monitoring blood pressure with graphene tattoos

The medical necessity of submitting to continuous blood pressure monitoring often has a trade-off in the social embarrassment department because of the need to wear a large cuff around your upper arm that inflates and deflates periodically throughout the day. The process could soon get a lot less obtrusive thanks to a new thin, lightweight wearable developed by a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. Using graphene as the electronic component, the device is so thin that the researchers describe it as an “electronic tattoo.” They showed it can monitor arterial blood pressure for more than five hours, which they say is 10X longer than any previous reported studies. Nature Nanotechnology

Love language hypothesis demonstrated

A 30-year old concept in psychology known as “Chapman’s Love Languages Hypothesis” holds that people differ in how they communicate with their intimate partners—and how they want their partners to communicate with them. The hypothesis has never been proven, but it suggests that people who show empathy and generosity toward their lover by expressing affection in their partner’s preferred way have higher quality relationships. Now researchers at the University of Warsaw in Poland have provided some experimental proof of this hypothesis. They studied 100 men and 100 women from several countries who were aged 17–58, sexually active, and currently in committed heterosexual relationships lasting anywhere from 6 months to 24 years. Based on interviews with both partners, they found those who matched on love languages did indeed have better relationships and more sexual satisfaction. PLOS ONE

A concussion detection patch

Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a flexible electronic device that can be worn as an adhesive patch on the back of the neck to detect head snap motions and other dynamic strains experienced by athletes in football or other high-contact sports. The long-term health risks of repeated hits to the head has led to concussion protocols in the last few years at all levels of sport where players seen to suffer a concussion are pulled off the field. But concussions are often hard to detect, and there are no good quantitative biomarkers that can be easily assessed. Technology based on sensors integrated in a football player’s helmet already exists for detecting concussion risk, but it is prone to false readings. The new technology would eliminate that problem, the researchers write. Scientific Reports

An image showing the placement of the proposed patch and the head rotation kinematics it can electronically detect. Juan Pastrana

New biosensors based on plant proteins

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Colorado, Boulder have developed a method to generate new biosensors to detect a wide range of biological molecules based on a plant receptor protein called PYR1 (pyrabactin resistance 1). As a proof-of-principle, they used this platform to evolve 21 molecular sensors for a range of small molecules. The PYR1 system provides a scaffold for rapidly evolving a diversity of new biosensors that will “enable new applications in biotechnology, synthetic biology, and medicine,” they write. See also our recent story on a new microchip based on biomolecules. Nature Biotechnology

A leg up on survival into old age

Researchers at the Clinimex Medicina do Exercício in Rio de Janeiro have developed a new predictor of all-cause mortality based on the ability to perform a simple, 10-second stance balancing on one leg. Based on a 2008–2020 study of 1,702 people (2/3 men and 1/3 women) who were between 51–75 years of age, the researchers found that successful performance of the one-legged stance predicts survival. “There is potential benefit to including the [test] as part of routine physical examination in middle-aged and older adults,” they write. British Journal of Sports Medicine

The future of avocado toast

Earlier this month, proto.life reported on efforts to extend the shelf life of fresh fruit and vegetables based on silk fiber coatings. Now researchers at Harvard University have developed a way to make antimicrobial food coatings they can directly apply to fruits and vegetables based on a biodegradable polysaccharide known as pullulan fiber applied via a rotary jet spinner. Once applied, the coating can be rinsed off under running water, and in laboratory tests, it significantly extended the shelf life of avocados. Could it signal an end to the hard->hard->hard->rotten avocado cycle? Nature Food