Research Roundup: Human Screenome Project, four pathways in aging and a new DNA-based method to track animals

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Jan. 12 – Jan. 18.

The Human Screenome Project collects 30 million data points

The Human Screenome Project, a multidimensional map of people’s digital lives, collects data and records which websites users browse online, a Jan. 15 commentary article in “Nature” reports.

Previous screen studies have relied on people self-reporting their screen time, which can lead to inaccuracies. Although studies have been using software to log total screen time and time between mobile applications, there is no method used to monitor digital interactions of how people use mobile applications.

The Stanford Screenomics Lab currently has 600 participants in the study and over 30 million data points.

“No matter what you study, whether it’s politics, addiction, health, relationships or climate action, if you really want to understand people’s beliefs and behaviors, you really need to look at their ‘screenome,’ because so much of our lives is now filtered through our digital devices,” pediatrics and medicine professor Thomas Robinson told Stanford News.

“Many of the things we once did face-to-face are now reflected and recorded on our screens, whether it is banking or deciding what to eat or making friends or playing games or dating or exercising or discussing politics, and so on.” Robinson added.

Four aging metabolic pathways identified in humans

To better understand the biological mechanisms behind aging, a Jan. 13 “Nature Medicine” study defined four “ageotypes” that indicate how an individual’s molecular makeup changes as one ages.

“Our study captures a much more comprehensive view of how we age by studying a broad range of molecules and taking multiple samples across years from each participant,” genetics professor and chair Michael Snyder told Stanford Medicine News. “We’re able to see clear patterns of how individuals experience aging on a molecular level, and there’s quite a bit of difference.”

The researchers used 43 men and women between 34 and 68 years old to identify four ageotypes in which aging biomarkers are commonly observed in metabolic, immune, hepatic and nephrotic pathways. For example, people who are metabolic agers may be at a higher risk for developing diabetes or have elevated blood sugar levels as they become older.

“The ageotype is more than a label; it can help individuals zero in on health-risk factors and find the areas in which they’re most likely to encounter problems down the line,” Snyder told Stanford Medicine News. “Most importantly, our study shows that it’s possible to change the way you age for the better. We’re starting to understand how that happens with behavior, but we’ll need more participants and more measurements over time to fully flesh it out.”

Analyzing DNA in soil samples to track animals

Analyzing DNA left behind by animals in soil samples may be more effective in tracking animals than the traditional camera traps currently used, a study published on Jan. 14 in “Proceedings of the Royal Society B” found.

Led by environmental biology professor Elizabeth Hadly, the team is studying how to better monitor biodiversity, which is crucial to conservation efforts. The researchers studied environmental DNA (eDNA) found in soil samples derived from animal hair, feces, skin and saliva.

The findings suggest that studying eDNA provides certain advantages over the traditional camera traps, hidden recording devices used to track animal activity. eDNA can detect genetic traces of animals that were too small for the camera trap to visually capture an image. Additionally, eDNA is useful in distinguishing similar-looking species compared to using cameras.

“Its overall accuracy, combined with decreasing costs of genetic sequencing and new portable sequencers, makes eDNA a likely candidate to become the standard for biodiversity surveys in the next decade,” Kevin Leempoel, a postdoctoral research fellow in biology, told Stanford News.

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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