Scientific experiments I want to fundcreated: ; modified:
- have an estimate of how much these experiments will cost
- want to fund or to run some of these experiments
Get in touch via email@example.com
Study people who claim to be able to sleep very little
Specific mutations that are associated with lower than usual amount of sleep have been identified in the last few years. For example, He et al 2009 (a) He Y, Jones CR, Fujiki N, Xu Y, Guo B, Holder JL, Rossner MJ, Nishino S, Fu YH. The transcriptional repressor DEC2 regulates sleep length in mammals. Science. 2009 Aug 14;325(5942):866-70. write:
The habitual self-reported total sleep time per 24-hour day was much shorter in mutation carriers (average 6.25 hours) compared with the noncarriers (average 8.06 hours) in this family. … The mutation changes a C to G in the DNA sequence of DEC2, which is predicted to cause a proline-to-arginine alteration at amino acid position 385 of DEC2
A positive outlook is common among all of the short-sleepers that Fu has studied. “Anecdotally,” she says, “they are all very energetic, very optimistic. It’s very common for them to feel like they want to cram as much into life as they can, but we’re not sure how or whether this is related to their mutations.”
I would set up a global call for people who claim to be able to sleep for less than 4 hours a night (e.g. Thái_Ngọc (a)), then try to verify whether this is true, and in cases when this is true (if such cases even exist, which is doubtful tbh) study how these people differ from the rest of us.
Also, there’s this dude.
Update: Chris X Edwards writes in an email:
After 4 hours of sleep, I just rode my bicycle into work and it’s 05:45 as I type this. I do have the positive energetic outlook described! I only sleep 4 hours maybe twice a week; another 3 days I get 6 hours; and the other two I can sleep up to 7 if I try very hard to be lazy. But consider this - this has all changed as I’ve aged. When I was a teen, I could sleep 18 hours a day and I often did. So I think it’s important for any such study to note the effects of aging on sleep requirements … [continued in this appendix]
Study weird humans more generally
Examples of weird abilities: changing pupil size voluntarily,
Study the effects of CO2 on humans
It is perplexing that there do not exist any universally accepted, pre-registered, large-n randomized control trials of CO2 effects on cognitive ability, sleep quality, physical performance, etc.
I would fund many studies that would test different concentrations of CO2 (100-10,000ppm) on all of these characteristics with number of participants in hundreds or thousands for each trial.
I would probably start with something like testing effects of spending several hours in a room with 1,000ppm on cognitive ability with 1,000 people.
Study the effects of air composition on humans more generally
A study published in Anesthesiology in 1975 found that nitrogen at atmospheric pressure worsens reaction time: Winter PM, Bruce DL, Bach MJ, Jay GW. The anesthetic effect of air at atmospheric pressure. Anesthesiology. 1975 Jun;42(6):658-61. Notably, I couldn’t find any other studies of effects of nitrogen or helium on cognitive performance.
Nitrogen has recognized narcotic potential at hyperbaric pressures. No narcotic effect of helium has been demonstrated at any pressure. We evaluated the effect of nitrogen in air at one atmosphere on human performance by comparing it with helium-oxygen using a four-alternative divided-attention task that requires rapid response to auditory and visual signal changes. There was a 9.3 per cent decrease in response time when subjects breathed helium-oxygen, a significant change (P less than 0.001). This change could not be ascribed to practice since the order of presentation of gases did not have a significant effect. It concluded that the nitrogen in ambient air slightly but measurable impairs human performance compared with a non-anesthetic gas such as helium. [note n=20, via samizstat (a)]
I would first run a pre-registered large-n RCT which would try to replicate this experiment. And, in case the results are interesting, I would look into the effects of helium on other parameters and then would look into other breathing gases.
Possibility for self-experimentation
Heliox (a) is a breathing gas composed of a mixture of helium (He) and oxygen (O2). Unlike nitrogen, helium has not yet been found to induce any narcosis. Heliox is commonly used with patients who experience difficulty breathing and is sometimes used during deep diving.
It appears that you can buy Heliox and then run a randomized (although non-blind) experiment on yourself seeing if it affects your cognitive ability, attention, endurance, etc.
Seeing a tiger will increase your heart rate. Flashing an image in front of a epiliptic might trigger a seizure (a). 40 Hz flicker protects against neurodegeneration in mice (doi). Adaikkan C, Middleton SJ, Marco A, Pao PC, Mathys H, Kim DN, Gao F, Young JZ, Suk HJ, Boyden ES, McHugh TJ. Gamma entrainment binds higher-order brain regions and offers neuroprotection. Neuron. 2019 Jun 5;102(5):929-43.
It appears that nobody has scientifically investigated the positive and negative effects of various visuals on cognitive ability, alertness, health, etc. What if there’s a gif that makes you as alert as a cup of coffee? What if there’s a gif that protects against neurodegeneration? What if there’s a gif that stops a seizure?
I don’t have any particular hypotheses I’m attached to here, but I would definitely fund someone to explore this space.
High quality RCTs of supplements and weird understudied drugs
- Russian nootropics and weird psychiatric drugs like Piracetam, Noopept, Phenibut, Meldonium, Bromantane – we still don’t really know if any of them work because they were discovered a long time ago in USSR and nobody has an incentive to run good RCTs on them
- see Slate Star Codex’s An Iron Curtain Has Descended Upon Psychopharmacology (a)
- take the entire top of /r/nootropics and try to replicate the studies linked there
- HGH potentially improves cognitive ability (doi) Ong LK, Chow WZ, TeBay C, Kluge M, Pietrogrande G, Zalewska K, Crock P, Åberg ND, Bivard A, Johnson SJ, Walker FR. Growth hormone improves cognitive function after experimental stroke. Stroke. 2018 May;49(5):1257-66.
Breeding knockouts without observable behavioral differences
It is possible to be born without large parts of your brain, such as your hippocampus, your cerebellum, an entire hemisphere, or the majority of the volume of your brain
There is a huge industry of papers showing that claiming to show these features are necessary for movement, memory, etc, despite the existence of clear counterexamples in humans
It would be a great service to biology to breed mice that emulate these phenotypes (that is, knockouts without observable behavioral differences), and figure out what is common between the way they solve problems and the way anatomically normal mice do
All sorts of directed evolution experiments
- breed mice selecting for low sleep time while keeping their energy/intelligence constant
- breed eukaryotic parasites (via Adam Strandberg (a))
Interesting animals to study
Don’t really have any particular hypotheses in mind but these animals seem especially interesting:
- Araneophagic jumping spider
- Deep sea fish (a)
- How did their circadian rhythms evolve?
- What happened to their sleep?
- Creatures living in extreme environments
- Temperature, e.g. Geogemma barossii (a)
- “Boiling water — 212 degrees Fahrenheit — would be practically freezing for this creature, which thrives at temperatures around 250 degrees Fahrenheit. // No other organism on the planet is known to be able to live at such extreme heat.”
- Radiation, e.g. Deinococcus radiodurans (a)
- viroids (a)
- Temperature, e.g. Geogemma barossii (a)
Also see this twitter discussion: If money/time/tools were no issue, which organism(s) would you ask your current research questions in, and why? (a)
New form of alternative splicing?
It’s assumed that ribosome stalling leads to partially formed proteins and is bad. What if sometimes it is intentional and is just a form of alternative splicing?
An email from Chris X Edwards
… Another thing to consider is that my (younger) wife sleeps a lot more than I do and because of her I spend a lot of time lying there in bed awake in a quiet dark room. I hypothesize that some people can shut down parts of their brains for sleep-like recovery easier than others (like dolphins or birds maybe). So don’t overlook people who only need X hours of “definitely sleeping” but also lie in bed for Y hours “awake”. Also, I used to be a serious athlete and although I now have a more active life than normal people, I’m much more relaxed than when I was younger. When I do put in a high watt workout however, I do sleep longer and more “intensely”. So consider how physical activity and history of athletic training might influence things. And finally, when people age, bladders become less elastic. I never sleep more than 4 hours at a stretch because that is the maximum amount of time I can go before I need to pee.