How Beyond Meat became a $550 million brand, winning over meat-eaters with a vegan burger that ‘bleeds’

How the Beyond Meat burger is taking on the multibillion-dollar beef…

In 2018, U.S. consumers ate roughly 13 billion burgers, according to data from consumer trends market research company NPD Group. And burgers are consistently one of the most popular items on menus across the country.

Yet eating too much red meat can increase your risk of everything from heart disease to certain cancers, and the beef industry has a huge impact on the environment.

Still, people love it.

So what is it about burgers? Maybe it’s the juiciness people can’t resist, or that distinctive savory umami flavor. Maybe it’s the American-ness of it all.

Plant-based “meat” producer Beyond Meat is betting on it: The company is taking on the beef burger with Beyond Burger, a vegan veggie-based patty that is meant to look, cook, taste and even “bleed” like red meat, but that is healthier and more sustainable.

“The burger is something people love,” Ethan Brown, founder of Beyond Meat, tells CNBC Make It. “And so we went after that core part of the American diet.”

CNBC Beyond Burger
The Beyond Burger made by Beyond Meat
Photo by CNBC Make It

It’s working in a big way.

The company has famous investors like Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio and even former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and America’s largest meat processor, Tyson Foods.

And since their debut at Whole Foods in May 2016, Beyond Burger patties have made their way into tens of thousands of supermarkets (from Kroger and Safeway to Whole Foods), restaurants (from TGI Friday to Carl’s Jr.), hotels (like The Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong) and even sports stadiums (like Yankee Stadium).

Beyond Meat says it has sold 25 million Beyond Burgers worldwide. The company recently filed for an IPO and is reportedly worth more than half a billion dollars.

A vegan burger that ‘bleeds?’

Just don’t call Beyond Burger a veggie burger. It may be 100 percent plant-based (and GMO-, soy- and gluten-free), but this vegan patty is meant for meat-eaters too.

”[W]e’re reaching mainstream consumers that are interested in healthier forms of meat,” Brown tells CNBC Make It.

To accomplish a juicy, meat-tasting product that carnivores will crave, Beyond Meat biophysicists figure out, at a molecular level, what it is that makes meat taste and behave like meat. They then identify plant materials that behave the same way, to replicate it.

So “we like to think of meat, not from its origin — say from a chicken or a cow — but in terms of … the proteins, the carbohydrates, the lipids, the minerals and vitamins, all of which are available — except for cholesterol — in the plant kingdom,” says Beyond Meat biophysicist Rebecca Miller.

CNBC Beyond Meat Beyond Burger
The Beyond Meat Beyond Burger cooking.

The lab technicians at Beyond Meat’s research and development lab in El Segundo, California, are even trained meat sommeliers, and they are constantly innovating on the product.

The main ingredients in the original Beyond Burger are pea protein, beet coloring and beet juice to make it “bloody,” and potato starch and coconut oil to create juiciness. Beyond recently launched its 2.0 burger (available only at Carl’s Jr. and A&W restaurants for now), which also includes brown rice and mung bean proteins, for a meatier taste and texture, according to the company’s website. Each 4-ounce Beyond Burger patty has 20 grams of protein and about 20 grams of fat, which is comparable to a beef patty.

Many are huge fans of Beyond Burger, which like a beef burger, can take grill marks, cooks slightly pink in the middle and releases juices when you bite in.

“It’s so meaty, it’s almost kind of freaky,” says vegan mom Erin Landry on her @mrs.modernvegan Instagram, after trying Beyond Burger at a Carl’s Jr. drive through.

“I’m not vegan … but I promise, this is actually really good,” says meat-eating music producer That Orko after taste-testing Carl’s Jr. Beyond Burger on pop singer Miss Krystle’s YouTube channel.

Two CNBC Make It staffers who tried Beyond Meat products also liked the burger but were even more impressed with its Beyond Sausage. “The burger is very tasty,” but the sausages, “they could be real,” says producer Mary Stevens.

Still, Beyond Burger is processed (the plant ingredients are put through heating, cooling and pressure to turn them into a meaty substance), no more than vegan junk food, say some critics. ( “It’s a process we’re proud of, and one we feel consumers are more comfortable with vs. the process of traditional livestock production,” says Allison Aronoff, Beyond Meat’s senior communications manager.)

And although eating a plant-based “meat” is healthier than read meat in many ways, it can be higher in sodium than beef, says dietitian Jen Bruning. (One Beyond Burger patty has 380 milligrams of sodium according to the company website; for comparison, Wegmans 80/20 ground beef patties have 90 milligrams per patty; the average fast food single patty burger has 378 milligrams of sodium.)

Beyond big business

Whatever your burger pleasure, targeting meat-eaters is a smart move — there are way more of them than there are vegans and vegetarians. Only 5 percent of Americans identify as vegetarian and 3 percent vegan, according to a 2017 Gallup poll. Those numbers haven’t changed much in the last decade or so.

Brown says the company found that 93 percent of the consumers in conventional grocery stores that are buying a Beyond Meat product are also putting animal meat their basket. “So they’re buying not only plant based meat, but they’re buying animal meat and that’s a really important breakthrough for us,” Brown tells CNBC Make It.

One tipping point in bringing plant-based “meat” to the masses has been the increase in product quality thanks to brands like Beyond Meat, James Kenji López-Alt, chef/partner at Wursthall restaurant in San Mateo, California, tells CNBC Make It.

“Tens of millions of dollars have been invested into researching this product and making it better and making it more real meat-like. And I think we are … 99 percent of the way there,” he tells CNBC Make It. “It’s close enough that people eating it enjoy it the same way that they enjoy actual ground beef.”

Plus, he says, prices have “reduced drastically” to about the same amount as meat. (At Bareburger restaurant in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, a Beyond Burger costs $12.95 and a comparable beef burger is $11.99. At the grocer, Beyond retails for about $5.99 for two patties, while four Wegmans patties retail for about $5.44 online.)

All this has made Beyond Meat big business.

Beyond Meat products are in more than 32,000 grocery stores, including Kroger, Safeway, Publix, Target and Wegmans. And Beyond Burger has menus from Fridays and Del Taco to Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grill to upscale Brasserie Ruhlmann in New York City; they’re served at universities from Ohio State to Harvard and even theme parks like Legoland.

While TGI Fridays declines to share sales data, its senior director of food and beverage innovation David Spirito tells CNBC Make It that Fridays has guests saying they came to Fridays specifically for the Beyond Burger.

And burgers are not the only plant-based “meat” Beyond Meat sells. It also sells sausage, chicken strips and beef crumbles, and has other products in the works.

“We want to make bacon, we want to make steak, we want to make the most intricate and beautiful pieces of meat,” says Brown.

In November, Beyond Meat filed for a $100 million initial public offering, reporting a 167 percent increase increase in revenue (to $56.4 million) for the first nine months of 2018 from the same period in 2017.

The company has grown from a $4.8 million valuation in 2011 to $550 million in November 2017, when Beyond Meat closed its latest ($55 million) round of funding, according to private market data company PitchBook. In addition to Gates, DiCaprio and Tyson, notable investorsinclude Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and the Humane Society of the United States.

PREMIUM Bill Gates close up
Bill Gates
Photo by Pacific Press
Patties with a purpose

But plant-based meat is not only lucrative, it’s good for the environment.

Beyond Meat was started in 2009 by Brown, who was once a carnivore, but growing up around his family’s farm in Western Maryland had an impact.

“I spent a lot of time there with dairy cows, so I was very close to animals growing up, loved them and was fascinated by them.”

Screenshot: Ethan Brown Beyond Meat
Ethan Brown, founder Beyond Meat

Passionate about the environment, Brown pursued a career in clean energy to help mitigate the effects of climate change. “But I began to realize that livestock had a larger contribution to the climate than many other things that I was working on in terms of the emissions,” he tells CNBC Make It.

Indeed, 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from methane emitted from cows. And it takes an average 308 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of beef, according to the USDA. Raising livestock for meat and dairy also depletes farmland.

In fact, eliminating or reducing consumption of such products “is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said University of Oxford’s Joseph Poore, co-author of a recent study analyzing the environmental damage of farming.

Producing Beyond Burgers uses 99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, creates 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires 46 percent less energy than producing beef burgers, according to a September report commissioned by Beyond Meat. The report, which measures the environmental impact of a quarter pound Beyond Burger as compared to a quarter pound U.S. beef burger, was conducted by the Center for Sustainable Systems at University of Michigan.

And of course, plant-based “meat” production does not entail any inhumane treatment of animals, something that plagues factory farming.

For all these reasons, in 2018, Beyond Meat was a co-winner of the United Nations’ Champions of the Earth Award, in the Science and Innovation category. The other winner? Impossible Foods.

Battle of the burgers

Beyond Meat isn’t the only plant-based “meat” game in town. Impossible Foods, which launched in 2011 and is headquartered in Redwood City, California, also makes its products entirely from plants.

Impossible Burger uses heme, a genetically engineered iron-containing molecule for the taste and aroma of meat. It is available at White Castle (the $1.99 slider) and at other restaurants in the U.S. and Hong Kong, and the company plans to hit grocery stores this year. Actor Kal Penn (who appropriately starred and “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle” — pre-vegan sliders) and Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Bill Gates have invested in the company. Impossible Foods was valued at $350 million in January 2018, according to Pitchbook.

Another emerging company in the space, San Francisco-based Memphis Meats, is growing animal meat in the lab. Launched in August 2015, Memphis Meats has raised money (reportedly over $20 million) from the likes of Gates and Richard Branson. Unlike Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, Memphis Meat uses harvested animal cells to grow its product, which is known as called “clean meat.”

But Brown says Beyond Meat’s biggest competitor “really [is] the meat industry itself.”

U.S. retail sales of plant-based “meats” grew by 24 percent in 2018, while animal meats grew by just 2 percent, according to Nielsen data commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association. The market for meat substitutes is expected to grow to $6.4 billion worldwide by 2023. And Brown and others believe alternative meats are the future.

“In 30 years or so, … I think that in the future clean and plant-based meat will become the norm, and in 30 years it is unlikely animals will need to be killed for food anymore,” Branson wrote in a blog post in February.

David Lee, Impossible Food’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer agrees. “Pat Brown [Impossible Foods founder and CEO] puts it very nicely,” Lee tells CNBC Make It. “He says, ‘You know, one day children everywhere will look up at their parents and say, “What? You used to eat meat from animals? How strange.”’

Lee says the goal is to give meat-eaters everywhere “something that tastes better but it’s better for them, that is better for the environment.”

It’s the goal of Beyond Meat as well.

“Someday, I think plant-based meat will overtake animal protein as the main source of meat,” Brown tells CNBC Make It. “I do believe it will happen in my lifetime.”


What is CRISPR? The revolutionary gene-editing tech explained

A precise, inexpensive way of editing DNA could open up new paths to treating disease and improving our crops, but the technology is already proving controversial

Until very recently if you wanted to create, say, a drought-resistant corn plant, your options were extremely limited. You could opt for selective breeding, try bombarding seeds with radiation in the hope of inducing a favourable change, or else opt to insert a snippet of DNA from another organism entirely.

But these approaches were long-winded, imprecise or expensive – and sometimes all three at the same time. Enter CRISPR. Precise and inexpensive to produce, this small molecule can be programmed to edit the DNA of organisms right down to specific genes.

The development of cheap, relatively easy gene-editing has opened up a smorgasbord of new scientific possibilities. In the US, CRISPR-edited long-life mushrooms have already been approved by authorities while elsewhere researchers are toying with the idea creating spicy tomatoes and peach-flavoured strawberries.

But the game-changing technology could have the biggest impact when it comes to human health. If we could edit out the troublesome mutations that cause genetic diseases – such as haemophilia and sickle-cell anaemia – we could put an end to them altogether. The path for human gene-editing is littered with controversies and tough ethical dilemmas, however, as the news in late 2018 that – against all ethical guidance – a Chinese scientist had secretly created the first gene-edited babies.

Here’s everything you need to know about the complex and sometimes controversial technology driving the gene-editing revolution.

What is CRISPR?

CRISPR evolved as a way for some species of bacteria to defend themselves against viral invaders. Each time they faced a new virus, bacteria would capture snippets of DNA from that virus’ genome and create a copy to store in its own DNA. “They gather a set of sequences that they’ve been exposed to,” says Malcolm White, a biologist at the University of St Andrews, “these [bacteria] essentially carry a little library in their genome.”

To stick with the library analogy, these snippets of viral DNA were like little books – each one containing the data that allowed the bacterium to recognise and quickly kill off a virus next time it invaded. And in-between these chunks of useful DNA there are slightly less useful chunks of repetitive DNA keeping them separate – like a kind of molecular bookend.

These repeating segments of DNA are what gives CRISPR its name – Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat – but it’s really the bits between these repeats that make CRISPR so useful. These useful bits are, somewhat unhelpfully, called spacers, and each one contains a reference to the DNA of a virus the bacteria (or its ancestors) had come across in the past. When a previously unseen virus attacks the bacterium, it adds another spacer to its library of previous attacks.

When a virus from that same species attacks again, the spacer corresponding to that virus’ genome swings into action. It’s a bit like the way that our own immune systems can recognise a flu virus if we’ve had that year’s flu vaccine. The spacer sequence is turned into RNA – a molecule that contains messages from DNA – and hunts down the corresponding piece of viral DNA. Once it finds it, an enzyme attached to the RNA string acts as a pair of biological scissors, cutting the target DNA and rendering the virus harmless.

You might have heard this system referred to as CRISPR-Cas9 as well as just plain CRISPR. In this case, the Cas9 bit refers to the enzyme used to cut the target DNA. “We can programme [Cas9] very easily to target one DNA sequence and to be very specific so it won’t cut anything that’s even similar in sequence,” says White. There can be other kinds of enzymes involved in gene-editing – Cas12 and Cpf1 for example – but all of them work in the same basic way.

How does it work?

Of course, all this is only useful if you’re a bacterium. So how do we turn an anti-virus defence mechanism into something that could let us edit human genomes at will?

Rather than relying on bacteria to create the molecules for them, scientists have worked out how to create their own versions of the CRISPR molecules in the lab. To start with, they need to work out the section of DNA that they want to target. For a condition sickle-cell anaemia, which is caused by a fault in a single gene, this is relatively easy, since we’ve already sequenced the gene that causes this disease and so know exactly the genetic code that we’re trying to target.

Before we get down to the business of unzipping and chopping up DNA, it’s worth getting to grips with the basics of how DNA is structured. Holding together the familiar DNA double-helix are four different nitrogen bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). The ordering of these bases determines everything about us, genetically-speaking. Eye colour, how tall we’re likely to be, whether we’re susceptible to certain diseases, it’s all written out in base pairs in our genetic code.

Like teeth on a zipper, these bases always pair up with their complementary base. A always pairs with T while G always pairs with C, over and over again until you’ve got to the three billion base pairs that make up the human genome.

But DNA isn’t much use staying locked up in a double helix – it needs to get that information out there and into the cell where it can be used to create proteins, which are the building blocks of pretty much everything in our bodies. To do to this, DNA unzips itself, breaking apart those base pairs until they’re flapping about in the cell.

These flapping, momentarily unpaired base pairs match up with short segments of RNA which contain their own own bases. RNA shares three bases with DNA – G, C and A – but T is alway replaced by U (uracil). Similar base-pairing rules apply, so an exposed DNA G base will pair with an RNA C base while a DNA A base will pair with a U. If you have an exposed DNA sequence of GAC, for example, you’ll end up with an RNA sequence of CUG.

Scientists use these basic principles to create their own CRISPR molecules which, as we pointed out above, are short stretches of RNA. All you need to do is open up a stretch of interesting-looking DNA – like the bit that contains the mutation that leads to sickle-cell anaemia – and build the complementary RNA sequence, with DNA-chopping enzyme attached. It’s a bit like starting with one side of a zipper and using that to build the corresponding but opposite side of the zipper that neatly fits into it.

Once you’ve got your CRISPR molecules, you need them to get your target cell. Luckily, viruses love nothing more than injecting stuff into other cells, so popping CRISPR molecules into otherwise benign viruses is one particularly useful way of introducing CRISPR into cells that’s already been put to work with in numerous studies involving mice.

Now CRISPR-Cas9 can really get to work. The Cas9 enzyme starts by unzipping bits of the DNA double helix while the RNA molecule sniffs its way along the exposed base pairs looking for a perfect match. Once the perfect match is found, Cas9 cuts out the troublesome gene before repairing the remaining bits of DNA. Other enzymes can add in insert genes instead of deleting them, but the basic process of unzipping, recognising and editing remains the same across different CRISPR molecules.

What is CRISPR used for?

CRISPR is particularly attractive to the agricultural industry, which is always looking for a way to engineer disease- and weather-resistant crops which will increase yields and, subsequently, their profit margins. In October 2015, plant biologists at Pennsylvania State University in the US presented US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulators with button mushrooms that had been edited so they go brown a lot more slowly than normal mushrooms.

A year later, the USDA confirmed that the same mushrooms would be cultivated and sold without having to pass through the agency’s regulatory process for genetically-modified foods. Now, non-browning mushrooms are hardly the most thrilling foodstuff, granted, but this USDA is a pretty big deal because it hints that CRISPR-edited crops might be able to sidestep some of the environmental backlash levelled at GMO crops.

And it’s not just mushrooms getting the CRISPR love. In Australia, one scientist has already used CRISPR to make bananas resistant to a deadly fungus threatening to decimate the world’s crop of the fruit, while others are working on using the technology to create naturally decaffeinated coffee or finally engineer the perfect tomato.


After characterising CRISPR in 1993, Francisco Mojica at the University of Alicante in Spain became the first to hypothesise that the DNA sequences were part of bacteria’s adaptive immune system.
Scientists at Danisco, a Danish food research firm, proved experimentally that CRISPR was part of a bacterial immune system and that Cas9 inactivates the invading virus.
Emmanuelle Charpentier’s group at Umeå University in Sweden demonstrates the role of tracerRNA in guiding Cas9 to its cellular target.
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley simplify the CRISPR system by fusing together different elements into a single, synthetic guide

Although the agricultural world provides some of the furthest-along examples of CRISPR in action, the stakes are much higher when it comes to human health. Animal studies are already underway to use CRISPR to tackle sickle-cell anaemia and haemophilia – two promising candidates for CRISPR-treatment because they’re determined by a relatively small number of mutations. In the case of sickle-cell anaemia, the condition is caused by just the mutation of a single base pair in one gene.

The more genes involved in a condition, the harder it becomes to use CRISPR as a potential solution. “There are not many human diseases where only one gene is mutated,” says White. Certain cancers, for instance, are linked to multiple mutations in different genes, and often the link between genetic mutations and cancer risk are poorly understood so there’s no guarantee that – even if we could use CRISPR to fix faulty genes – that’d it’d be any kind of panacea for cancer.

Why is CRISPR controversial?

Late last year, He Jiankui, a researcher the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen shocked the scientific worldwhen he claimed responsibility for the world’s first CRISPR-edited human beings. He reportedly took embryos from couples where the  father was HIV-positive and the mother HIV-negative and used CRISPR to edit the gene controlling a protein channel that HIV uses to enter cells.

The experiment – which was detailed in a YouTube video, not a peer-reviewed journal – was widely condemned by scientists. “It’s been widely acknowledged that the science is not yet ready for clinical application,” says Sarah Chan, a bioethicist and director of the Mason Institute for Medicine, Life Sciences and the Law at the University of Edinburgh said at the time. “More has to be done to resolve uncertainties, and to try and understand the risks.”

Although the He study does violate clear ethical boundaries, it does raise one of the big ethical conundrums when it comes to CRISPR. The problem is that it’s not that easy to use CRISPR to change your genome once you’re an adult – you’d need to find some way of introducing the molecules to every single target cell.

This is perhaps achievable for conditions like sickle-cell anaemia, where you only need to change the DNA in red blood cells. By using CRISPR to edit bone marrow – where red blood cells are produced – you might be able to target a relatively small percentage of cells and still fix the condition.

But if you want to change a person’s entire genome, you need to edit their DNA when they’re little more than a tiny cluster of cells. This leads to all kinds of ethical issues. Why stop at identifying and chopping out genetic diseases, for instance, if we could also tweak an embryo’s DNA so the resulting baby was more likely to be intelligent, or good-looking?

“What if we wanted to change future life span, or intelligence, or Alzheimer’s disease potential or whether they go bald when they get to middle age,” says White. “Societies going to have to come to terms with what we want – it’s not up to scientists.”

Although human gene-editing raises some of the biggest ethical questions, things aren’t an awful lot clearer when it comes to agriculture. In July 1018, the European Court of Justice threw the future of gene-edited crops into doubt when it confirmed that CRISPR-edited crops would not be exempt from existing regulations limiting the cultivation and sale of genetically-modified crops.

Crops that have been genetically-modified – usually by inserting a gene from one organism into another – have long been sidelined in Europe, despite their popularity in other parts of the world. Despite a scientific consensus that GM foods are safe to eat, headlines warning of ‘frankenfood’ and lobbying from environmental groups helped keep GM crops away from human consumption.

But agricultural advocates for CRISPR hoped that the new gene-editing technology would provide an opportunity to redress this balance. The ECJ ruling means that any CRISPR-edited food that is to be grown or sold in the EU must pass stringent safety tests that non-edited crops (or crops made using certain techniques like radiation mutation) do not have to face. For now, at least, one of the biggest barriers facing CRISPR isn’t science, but public relations.

Tesla to cut workforce while ramping up Model 3 production rate More ways to keep the Model 3’s cost low By Andrew MohanJAN 18, 201911:58 AM EST0 COMMENTS

Tesla will be cutting about seven percent of its full-time workforce as it continues to increases production of the Model 3, said the company’s CEO Elon Musk on January 18th in an email to employees. This comes after the announcement that the Model 3 needs to be sold across more markets in an effort to attract more customers. “The net effect is that Tesla must work much harder than other manufacturers to survive while building affordable, sustainable products,” said Elon Musk in an email to Tesla employees.

“Higher volume and manufacturing design improvements are crucial for Tesla to achieve the economies of scale required to manufacture the standard range 354km (roughly 220 miles), standard interior Model 3 at $35k and still be a viable company.” Elon Musk also said that more focus is needed on to the lower priced variants of the sedan, with the most affordable option so far being USD $44,000 (roughly CAD $58,000).

Following the release of this news, Tesla dropped nearly seven percent in premarket shares, according to CNBC. “This quarter, as with Q3, shipment of higher priced Model 3 variants (this time to Europe and Asia) will hopefully allow us, with great difficulty, effort and some luck, to target a tiny profit,” said Musk.

This isn’t the only news regarding Tesla trying to get the Model 3 to a more affordable price range. Earlier this week Elon Musk confirmed that Tesla’s referral program will soon end. This is the second time since June that Tesla has laid off a portion of its staff. During the summer nine percent of the company’s workforce lost their jobs, and Tesla cited trying to cut costs and eliminate duplicated positions. Source: CNBC

Read more at MobileSyrup.comTesla to cut workforce while ramping up Model 3 production rate

Concussion tests miss important brain function problems: SFU/Mayo Clinic study

Brain Vital Signs is a portable system to analyze electrical activity in different parts of the brain in real time at the rink, using a headpiece studded with sensors.

Brain research study lead author and Simon Fraser University Ph.D student Shaun Fickling uses ‘brain vital signs’ to monitor brain function.
Brain research study lead author and Simon Fraser University Ph.D student Shaun Fickling uses ‘brain vital signs’ to monitor brain function.HANDOUT

Widely used clinical concussion tests miss important changes to brain function in hockey players who have been cleared to return to play, a new multi-year study reveals.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University and the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center have developed a more sensitive tool to measure the brain’s vital signs using complex brainwave data that can be deployed right at the rink.

Their research — published this week in Brain: A Journal of Neurology — found that Junior A hockey players who pass concussion protocols often have persistent, undetected deficits in attention and processing.

That means we are sending many players back on the ice too early, said SFU neuroscientist Ryan D’Arcy, the study’s senior author.

Brain Vital Signs is a portable system to analyze electroencephalography (EEG — or electrical activity in different parts of the brain) in real time at the rink, using a headpiece studded with sensors.

The test takes 10 minutes to run and measures well-established brain functions, including sensory responses, attention and cognitive function and is intended to improve on and replace “subjective and error-prone” tests now in use.

“We felt that what was needed was an objective measure of the brain’s vital signs, like we look at blood pressure or heart rate,” he said.

The researchers — based at Surrey’s Health and Technology District and in Rochester, Minn. — tested 47 players before the season started, so they were able to compare those results with scores taken after a concussion and after sub-concussive hits.

Dr. Ryan D’Arcy is the senior author of a new study on the effects of concussion on brain function.HANDOUT / PNG

But it turns out that the comparison was unnecessary. Concussions create a distinct “fingerprint” of brainwave patterns specific to concussion, said D’Arcy.

When the players returned to play based on conventional tests, that fingerprint was still detectable.

“What’s even more surprising … we also found that players who were not diagnosed with concussions showed decreased cognitive processing speed post season, thought to be the result of repetitive sub-concussive impacts,” said Shaun Fickling, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D student at SFU.

Players who were not diagnosed with concussion during the season showed slower cognitive processing at the end of the season, when compared with their pre-season baseline tests.

Rather than just blows to the head, any major impact could have implications for the player’s brain health.

“Sub-concussive effects are something we should be paying more attention to,” said D’Arcy. “We can now monitor brain health throughout the season.”

The researchers can also determine how long it takes after the end of the hockey season for players’ brain function to return to normal.

The researchers believe their Vital Signs device could help guide concussion treatment and recovery, which is notoriously unpredictable.

“You can’t treat what you can’t measure, but as soon as you can measure you can start to see which treatments are really working,” he said.


Memories of eating influence your next meal – new research pinpoints brain cells involved

What you had before sways what you eat next time – but only if you remember. MaxSokolov/

Of course you know that eating is vital to your survival, but have you ever thought about how your brain controls how much you eat, when you eat and what you eat?

This is not a trivial question, because two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese and overeating is a major cause of this epidemic. To date, the scientific effort to understand how the brain controls eating has focused primarily on brain areas involved in hunger, fullness and pleasure. To be better armed in the fight against obesity, neuroscientists, including me, are starting to expand our investigation to other parts of the brain associated with different functions. My lab’s recent research focuses on one that’s been relatively overlooked: memory.

For many people, decisions about whether to eat now, what to eat and how much to eat are often influenced by memories of what they ate recently. For instance, in addition to my scale and tight clothes, my memory of overeating pizza yesterday played a pivotal role in my decision to eat salad for lunch today.

Memories of recently eaten foods can serve as a powerful mechanism for controlling eating behavior because they provide you with a record of your recent intake that likely outlasts most of the hormonal and brain signals generated by your meal. But surprisingly, the brain regions that allow memory to control future eating behavior are largely unknown.

Distraction by TV or video games now can lead to overeating later on. Dean Drobot/

Memories of last meal influence the next

Studies done in people support the idea that meal-related memory can control future eating behavior.

When researchers impair the memory of a meal by distracting healthy participants while they eat – such as by having them play computer games or watch television – people eat more at the next opportunity. The opposite is also true: enhancing meal-related memory by having people reflect on what they just ate decreases future intake.

Patients suffering from amnesia do not remember eating and will eat when presented with food, even if they have just eaten and should feel full. And memory deficits are associated with overeating and increased weight in relatively healthy people.

So what’s going on? We all know that we don’t eat just because we’re hungry. Most of our decisions about eating are influenced by a myriad of other influences that have nothing to do with how hungry or full we are, such as time of day, the sight and smell of food, or an advertisement for a favorite restaurant. My lab has chosen to focus on memory, in part, because it is something that is adaptable and more within our control.

We’ve started our search by focusing on a brain region called the hippocampus, which is absolutely vital for personal memories of what, where and when something happened to you.

Interestingly, hippocampal cells receive signals about hunger status and are connected to other brain areas that are important for starting and stopping eating, such as the hypothalamus. My colleagues and I reasoned that if hippocampal-dependent memory inhibits future eating, then disrupting hippocampal function after a meal is eaten, when the memory of the meal is being stabilized, should promote eating later on when these cells are functioning normally.

Effect of turning neurons off, then back on

In my lab, we tested this prediction using optogenetics. This state-of-the-art method uses light to control individual cells in a behaving animal. We were able to inhibit hippocampal cells for 10 minutes before, during or after rats ate a meal.

To do this, we inserted a specific gene into hippocampal cells that caused these cells to immediately stop functioning as soon as we shined light of a certain wavelength on them. The cells remained inactive as long as we shined the light. Crucially, their function returned to normal as soon as we turned the light off.

Area of the hippocampus in a rat’s brain controlled during the study. The front of the animal’s brain is on the left. Hannapel et al., eNeuro (2019)CC BY

We discovered that optogenetically inhibiting hippocampal cells after rats ate a meal caused the animals to eat their next meal sooner and caused them to eat almost twice as much food during that next meal. And remember, the hippocampal cells were working normally by the time the rats ate again. We saw this effect after the intervention whether the rats were offered rodent chow, a sugar solution, or water sweetened with saccharin.

That rats would eat more saccharin after we interfered with their hippocampal function is particularly interesting because saccharin is a noncaloric sweetener that produces very few of the gastrointestinal (GI) chemical signals normally generated by food. We concluded that the effect we saw after inactivating hippocampal cells is most likely explained by an effect on memory consolidation, rather than by an impaired ability to process GI messages.

Thus, our findings show that hippocampal cells are necessary during the period following a meal for limiting future energy intake. We suggest that neurons in the hippocampus inhibit future eating behavior by consolidating the memory of the preceding meal.

These findings have significant implications for understanding the causes of obesity and the ways in which to treat it. Scientists, including my research group have shown in previous studies that feeding rats too much fat or sugar impairs hippocampal memory. Similarly, overeating and obesity in humans are associated with hippocampal damage and hippocampal-dependent memory deficits.

Impaired hippocampal functioning, in turn, leads to further overeating and weight gain, leading to a vicious cycle that may perpetuate obesity. Our research adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that techniques that promote hippocampal-dependent memories of what, when and how much one eats may prove to be promising strategies for reducing eating and promoting weight loss.

The $50 Wemo Dimmer Smart Light Switch is on sale for one of its best prices yet

Never get out of bed to turn off the lights again.



The Wemo Dimmer Switch is currently on sale for $49.99 at Amazon. Though it sells for $80 regularly, it’s more common to find it priced around $67 on average there. This deal is price-matching a one-day sale at Best Buy, so it’s very likely this price won’t last for much longer than that at Amazon either. This is the lowest it’s ever dropped on Amazon without a coupon, too.

You can control this switch from the wall, the Wemo app, and your Alexa or Google Assistant device. You don’t need anything special other than Wi-Fi. With this dimmer, you can schedule your lights to do what you want. Adjust them with the sunset or sunrise. Turn off your lights with your phone when you’re at work and realize you forgot to — or from bed when you’re like me and being extra lazy. Set your lights to turn on slowly and help you wake up. These things are awesome, and once you get one you’ll wish you’d had it sooner.

This switch will calibrate to your current lightbulbs to prevent flickering and maximize the dimming range. You can also pair it with Nest to help detect when you’re home or away and automate your lights. It requires a neutral wire and will work with any one-way connection light switch.

At Amazon, this smart dimmer received 3.7 out of 5 stars based on 824 customer reviews.

Research: Halo of highly energized electrons around the black hole contracts dramatically during feeding frenzy —

On March 11, an instrument aboard the International Space Station detected an enormous explosion of X-ray light that grew to be six times as bright as the Crab Nebula, nearly 10,000 light years away from Earth. Scientists determined the source was a black hole caught in the midst of an outburst — an extreme phase in which a black hole can spew brilliant bursts of X-ray energy as it devours an avalanche of gas and dust from a nearby star.

Now astronomers from MIT and elsewhere have detected “echoes” within this burst of X-ray emissions, that they believe could be a clue to how black holes evolve during an outburst. In a study published today in the journal Nature, the team reports evidence that as the black hole consumes enormous amounts of stellar material, its corona — the halo of highly-energized electrons that surrounds a black hole — significantly shrinks, from an initial expanse of about 100 kilometers (about the width of Massachusetts) to a mere 10 kilometers, in just over a month.

The findings are the first evidence that the corona shrinks as a black hole feeds, or accretes. The results also suggest that it is the corona that drives a black hole’s evolution during the most extreme phase of its outburst.

“This is the first time that we’ve seen this kind of evidence that it’s the corona shrinking during this particular phase of outburst evolution,” says Jack Steiner, a research scientist in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “The corona is still pretty mysterious, and we still have a loose understanding of what it is. But we now have evidence that the thing that’s evolving in the system is the structure of the corona itself.”

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Steiner’s MIT co-authors include Ronald Remillard and first author Erin Kara.

X-ray echoes

The black hole detected on March 11 was named MAXI J1820+070, for the instrument that detected it. The Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) mission is a set of X-ray detectors installed in the Japanese Experiment Module of the International Space Station (ISS), that monitors the entire sky for X-ray outbursts and flares.

Soon after the instrument picked up the black hole’s outburst, Steiner and his colleagues started observing the event with NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer, or NICER, another instrument aboard the ISS, which was designed partly by MIT, to measure the amount and timing of incoming X-ray photons.

“This boomingly bright black hole came on the scene, and it was almost completely unobscured, so we got a very pristine view of what was going on,” Steiner says.

A typical outburst can occur when a black hole sucks away enormous amounts of material from a nearby star. This material accumulates around the black hole, in a swirling vortex known as an accretion disk, which can span millions of miles across. Material in the disk that is closer to the center of the black hole spins faster, generating friction that heats up the disk.

“The gas in the center is millions of degrees in temperature,” Steiner says. “When you heat something that hot, it shines out as X-rays. This disk can undergo avalanches and pour its gas down onto the central black hole at about a Mount Everest’s worth of gas per second. And that’s when it goes into outburst, which usually lasts about a year.”

Scientists have previously observed that X-ray photons emitted by the accretion disk can ping-pong off high-energy electrons in a black hole’s corona. Steiner says some of these photons can scatter “out to infinity,” while others scatter back onto the accretion disk as higher-energy X-rays.

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By using NICER, the team was able to collect extremely precise measurements of both the energy and timing of X-ray photons throughout the black hole’s outburst. Crucially, they picked up “echoes,” or lags between low-energy photons (those that may have initially been emitted by the accretion disk) and high-energy photons (the X-rays that likely had interacted with the corona’s electrons). Over the course of a month, the researchers observed that the length of these lags decreased significantly, indicating that the distance between the corona and the accretion disk was also shrinking. But was it the disk or the corona that was shifting in?

To answer this, the researchers measured a signature that astronomers know as the “iron line” — a feature that is emitted by the iron atoms in an accretion disk only when they are energized, such as by the reflection of X-ray photons off a corona’s electrons. Iron, therefore, can measure the inner boundary of an accretion disk.

When the researchers measured the iron line throughout the outburst, they found no measurable change, suggesting that the disk itself was not shifting in shape, but remaining relatively stable. Together with the evidence of a diminishing X-ray lag, they concluded that it must be the corona that was changing, and shrinking as a result of the black hole’s outburst.

“We see that the corona starts off as this bloated, 100-kilometer blob inside the inner accretion disk, then shrinks down to something like 10 kilometers, over about a month,” Steiner says. “This is the first unambiguous case of a corona shrinking while the disk is stable.”

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“NICER has allowed us to measure light echoes closer to a stellar-mass black hole than ever before,” Kara adds. “Previously these light echoes off the inner accretion disk were only seen in supermassive black holes, which are millions to billions of solar masses and evolve over millions of years. Stellar black holes like J1820 have much lower masses and evolve much faster, so we can see changes play out on human time scales.”

While it’s unclear what is exactly causing the corona to contract, Steiner speculates that the cloud of high-energy electrons is being squeezed by the overwhelming pressure generated by the accretion disk’s in-falling avalanche of gas.

The findings offer new insights into an important phase of a black hole’s outburst, known as a transition from a hard to a soft state. Scientists have known that at some point early on in an outburst, a black hole shifts from a “hard” phase that is dominated by the corona’s energy, to a “soft” phase that is ruled more by the accretion disk’s emissions.

“This transition marks a fundamental change in a black hole’s mode of accretion,” Steiner says. “But we don’t know exactly what’s going on. How does a black hole transition from being dominated by a corona to its disk? Does the disk move in and take over, or does the corona change and dissipate in some way? This is something people have been trying to unravel for decades And now this is a definitive piece of work in regards to what’s happening in this transition phase, and that what’s changing is the corona.”

This research is supported, in part, by NASA through the NICER mission and the Astrophysics Explorers Program.