"We're all here because we want to be the first humans able to fly."

"And we also want to live forever, see through walls, and shoot lasers from our eyeballs," the Ukrainian scientist tells me with a totally straight face. "But that's all science-fiction nonsense for now. So in the meantime, we're just making yogurt with an anti-aging protein, and things like that."


That must be Stamos' secret. GIF from Dannon Oikos/YouTube.

We're standing in the attic of a bicycle repair shop in Somerville, Massachusetts, where a group of local scientists and curious hobbyists have built a do-it-yourself laboratory for homegrown biology experiments.

The space is strewn with secondhand equipment, all scavenged and salvaged from the dumpsters of nearby universities and major pharmaceutical companies. Someone even found a way to use a breast pump to filter out bacteria samples. Yeah.

But as wild as this all may sound, it's hardly the most remarkable thing to come out of the life science revolution that's sweeping across the world.

"I cannot believe my eyes!" — Me, when I saw this stuff. GIF from "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."

Recent advancements in biotech have made it easier than ever to manipulate and edit DNA with shocking accuracy.

At the forefront of this biological renaissance is a little thing scientists call CRISPR-Cas9, often shortened to just plain ol' CRISPR. It's a system that we pretty much stole from certain bacteria that uses enzymes and something called guide RNA to target and cut sequences of DNA.

But that's all kinds of confusing for non-science-y types, so think of it like this: DNA is full of information that tells a story, like a book. Previously, if we wanted to change any part of this DNA-book, we had to chop up random sections with our metaphorical scissors, or splash white-out on the pages, trying to scribble in new notes wherever we could. Sure, it got the job done sometimes. But it was also pretty messy and inefficient.

The CRISPR system offers a new kind of "find-and-replace" feature. Now we can take our DNA-book and say, "OK, CRISPR, please find that sentence that specifically says, 'Harry met Hagrid.'" Then we can tell it to cut out that particular sentence and either get rid of it entirely or add our own new, much cooler sentence in its place. (Like "Harry met Hagrid and then they high-fived and it was so epic that they destroyed Voldemort and everyone was awesome.")

Got that?

TL;DR: Everything is awesome with CRISPR. GIF from "The LEGO Movie."

Now imagine that instead of just rewriting their own derivative Harry Potter fanfic, scientists can use this "find-and-replace" feature to turn specific genes "on" or "off," or even add new sequences of base pairs into the genome. This makes it easier than ever to go in and splice, add, or change one little piece of genetic information and see what happens.

"It's like a toolkit, essentially," explained Joanne Kamens, executive director of Addgene. "It's like having just the right screwdriver we never had, and it's allowing scientists to create hundreds of new tools and making everything exponentially faster."

A much-more useful CRISPR explainer video. GIF from Desktop Genetics/YouTube.

This kind of super-accurate gene editing — and genetic synthesis in general — have become more accessible in the past few years.

CRISPR might be the prom queen of the biggest labs, but there are other similar versions of this kind of precision gene-editing technology — like the methods that my Ukrainian friend was using in that attic. And these tools are collectively changing the world as we know it, in attics and labs all over the world.

Let's go down the DNA rabbit hole... GIF from McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT/YouTube.

Here are five of the most fascinating inventions and discoveries we've seen in biotech to date:

1. Gene editing could help us limit, or maybe even destroy, diseases like malaria and cancer.

Now that we can slice into DNA with alarming accuracy, we can target exactly where diseases exist in the body and how drugs get delivered to kill those diseases. It's like a microbiological version of "Mission: Impossible" when you're trying to defuse a bomb — gene editing tells you exactly which wire to cut, without the risk of blowing up the building (which in this case is a human body).

Scientists at the University of California San Francisco, for example, have found a way to turn human T cells into hyper-efficient disease-killing machines. Similarly, at Temple University, researchers are using CRISPR to literally cut HIV out of live subjects. Pretty neat, huh?

As for those pesky mosquito-born illnesses plaguing our warming world, CRISPR has already made it easier to identify diseases such as Zika, malaria, and West Nile in patients and hosts alike — and some scientists hope to use gene editing to remove the disease-carrying capability from the mosquito genome entirely, destroying them at the source.

EXACTLY. GIF from "Adventure Time."

2. This same application is revolutionizing how we study mental health, too.

Scientists at MIT have already used gene editing to create lab mice with autism and OCD so they can better understand what causes those conditions and how best to treat them.

If they can create those conditions, they might be able to un-create them, too, by essentially flipping a switch on the problematic genes. (The only trick is figuring out with certainty which specific genes out of the billions in our body are causing the problems, which is easier said than done.)

I know, Krang. It's pretty mind-blowing. GIF from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

3. It could also help us bring back the wooly mammoth or any other number of crazy chimera breeds.

Yup: Scientists at Harvard University successfully spliced wooly mammoth DNA into elephant cells. This is just on a cellular level so far, mind you; no one's prepared to go all "Jurassic Park" without looking into all the potential ramifications of such a project.

But, I mean, you knew this was coming, right? As cool and generally comforting as these other remarkable projects have been, we're still talking about genetic engineering, so of course there'd be some kind of super-powered kaiju-animal hybrids in the cards.

In China, scientists have already used CRISPR to breed dogs with twice the muscle mass by simply deleting one gene from their DNA. And in Boston, they've found a way to modify pig organs to make them compatible with human bodies in need of transplant donors.

And if you're wondering about the practical applications and ethical justifications of these kinds of projects, well ... those are totally valid things to be concerned about. But scientists are actively engaged in those discussions, and if it makes you feel any better, we're probably still a long way away from creating fully customizable mature synthetic humans. Probably.


My thoughts exactly, Doc Brown. GIF from "Back to the Future."

4. Gene editing could also help to revamp the entire agriculture industry — without the use of any off-putting genetic additives.

GMOs get a bad wrap. But gene editing is different from, say, adding a bit of flounder DNA into a tomato, which is why the FDA recently approved the first CRISPR-modified mushroom for human consumption.

These specially designed mushrooms have a greater resistance to browning — again, not because of any scary-sounding chemicals or foreign genes, but simply because biologists found a way to isolate and shut off the naturally occurring genes that caused the mushrooms to turn brown after you cut into them.

That's it. Really. Nothing scary about it.

Naturally occurring mushroom-hat parachutes are still in the early developmental stages. GIF from "Super Mario Bros. Super Show."

This method is also working to create disease-resistant plants, which is how a team at Seoul National University is trying to save the banana. Because why bother introducing pesticides or foreign genetic material when you can just poke at the DNA that the plant already has to improve its nutrient content and help it survive under less-than-ideal conditions? It's not quite "natural" in the traditional sense, but it's also not so different from the exchange and selective breeding of crops that's been going on for centuries.

Just, ya know — easier, and cooler-sounding.

So that's what Beaker's been meeping about all these years! GIF from "The Muppet Show."

5. But perhaps most importantly, gene editing is lowering the bar for scientific research and making it accessible to everyone.

Until recently, a lot of genetic and biotech data was protected behind intellectual property laws and institutional restrictions. But now? Anyone can buy an all-in-one CRISPR starter kit online or order a plasmid straight from a place like Addgene for a mere $65 and see what they can do with it ... just like those guys in the Somerville attic.

"It's like designing apps" for smartphones, said DeskGen's A.J. Ajetunmobi. DeskGen is a biotech startup that offers free open-source desktop gene-editing software, allowing anyone to design an experiment from anywhere in the world.

"People can focus on fixing problems instead of learning how to code," he said. "In life sciences, we're still stuck teaching people how to code. It's hard to teach that and still keep minds open."

GIF from "Dexter's Laboratory."

"Diversity of perspective makes everything better. People are so much more innovative when they're not coming at it from a specific overhead," Ajetunmobi added.

The possibilities for progress are endless as long as the opportunities are available to everyone — not just the pharmaceutical companies who can afford to pay millions for special equipment and data.

"The barriers to entry [in biotech] are significant," Ajetunmobi told me with an eyeroll and a laugh, before pointing out that it would be logistically difficult for an individual — say, a 30-year-old writer who is me — to obtain all the necessary plasmids and parts to breed a personal army of altruistic disease-resistant pig-human hybrid super-farmers with laser vision and flight capabilities.

"But now, there's nothing technically stopping anyone from experimenting and exploring."

Maybe you, too, can create your own web-shooters! ... Maybe. GIF from "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Personally, I decided to keep it simple and stick with the DIY bioluminescent yeast starter kit.

I'll leave the cool sci-fi-sounding progress to the pros (or to my new friends trying to find the fountain of youth in yogurt). But it's still nice to know that the opportunity is out there for anyone eager enough to give it a try.

Who knows? Maybe that 14-year-old kid next door will find a way to make pigs fly sooner than we think.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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Pets

Ginger the dog reunited with family 5 years after being stolen

Ginger's family never gave up hope, and it payed off.

Ginger the dog was missing for five years before being reunited with her family.

A sweet pup is finally home with her family where she belongs after way too many years away.

Ginger the dog was stolen from her family back in 2017. Her owner, Barney Lattimore of Janesville, Wisconsin, never gave up the hope that his sweet girl was out there somewhere. Whenever he'd see a dog listed on a rescue website or humane society website that even remotely resembled his Ginger, he would inquire about the dog. Unfortunately, it was never her. You'd think that after a while he would stop, but if he had, he likely wouldn't have gotten the sweetest reunion.

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That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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