If You Hate Floss, It’s O.K. to Try These Alternatives

Interdental brushes

These small, textured brushes made for cleaning between teeth can be easier to hold and maneuver than floss. The Cochrane Review found that such tools can reduce gingivitis symptoms and plaque in the short term, and a 2015 review of nearly 400 studies, published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, found “moderate” evidence that interdental brushes reduce plaque and gingivitis symptoms. People with tightly spaced teeth may have trouble using them, and according to the A.D.A., people with electronic implants in their mouths should avoid interdental brushes with an exposed metal wire.


Like interdental brushes, some toothpicks (usually made of wood, rubber, or plastic) may be easier to hold than a strand of floss. The toothpicks you might pick up at your local diner are probably not A.D.A. approved, but you can find wooden “plaque removers” with the A.D.A. Seal of Acceptance. The Cochrane Review found that wooden “cleaning sticks” can help reduce gingivitis but not plaque, whereas those made of synthetic materials can help reduce plaque but not gingivitis symptoms.

Floss picks

A floss pick is a disposable tool with a toothpick on one end and a bit of floss held taut on the other. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry found that floss picks are “at least as good as” regular dental floss when it comes to removing plaque. Reusable floss holders are also available — some are just a plastic handle that you can string floss onto, and others have disposable floss cartridges that you have to buy separately — but none of these tools have the ADA Seal of Acceptance, and a 2011 study published in Clinical Oral Investigations found that many reusable floss holders are difficult to maneuver.

Tape floss

According to the A.D.A., your flossing technique and frequency are more important than what your floss is made out of — nylon, plastic, waxed, or unwaxed. Some people find that a wide, flat, tape-style floss (rather than a strand of fibers woven together) is more comfortable and easier to slide between tightly spaced teeth.

Some things just can’t take the place of flossing, according to the A.D.A. Charcoal, for example, wears away at tooth enamel. Tongue scrapers don’t work. Oil pulling doesn’t improve oral health — and, according to the British Dental Journal, harmful side effects such as upset stomach have been reported.

Do you have to floss if you use an electric toothbrush?

Regardless of what kind of toothbrush you use — and how good your brushing technique is — it can’t replace flossing. A 2014 Cochrane Review found that electric toothbrushes are generally more effective than manual brushes at reducing plaque and gingivitis symptoms. But even the best toothbrushes clean only the top, front, and back surfaces of the teeth. Unless you use an interdental cleaner, you’re leaving the side surfaces exposed.

“Cleaning in between our teeth is one of the best things we can do to prevent cavities, bleeding, gum disease, and infection,” Dr. Sahota said.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/11/smarter-living/wirecutter/if-you-hate-floss-its-ok-to-try-these-alternatives.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

There Are Parasitic Wasps, and Then There’s the Crypt-Keeper

To deposit its eggs, the parasitic oak gall wasp pierces a leaf or stem with its ovipositor, a long tubelike organ that would be a stinger if this wasp were the kind that stings. The plant puffs and swells, forming tumor-like growths called galls. These serve as tiny nursery domes, known cutely (for a parasite) as crypts. Within each crypt, a wasp egg develops until it grows large enough to chew a hole into the gall’s crispy skin and emerge an adult.

Thus goes the life-cycle of Bassettia pallida. Unless the crypt-keeper wasp — Euderus set, a parasite in its own right — comes along.

The size of a pin, the wasp locates smooth, dome-shaped galls created by the other wasps. Then, puncturing the gall, it injects its eggs, beside or inside the young oak gall wasp. As both eggs develop inside the crypt, the baby crypt-keeper feeds off the body of baby Bassettia.

There’s more. Just as Bassettia begins chewing an escape hatch into the gall skin, Euderus stops it. Now the unfinished hole is too small to allow exit. Bassettia’s head becomes caught, plugging it like a cork. The head is visible from the outside, but it is unresponsive. A few days later, Euderus will crawl into the head and chew its way out, the victor: a parasite’s parasite.

The crypt-keeper wasp’s manipulation of its host and exit through its head was first described in the literature in 2017. But as scientists have studied it further, things have only gotten weirder.

It started when Scott Egan, an evolutionary biologist at Rice University who first described the crypt-keeper, began collaborating with Andrew Forbes, an ecologist at the University of Iowa.

Between 2015 and 2018, Dr. Forbes’s lab had collected more than 23,000 galls from oak trees in Iowa, the Midwest, New England, North Carolina and Texas. His team had hoped to learn about the diversity of gall wasp species and find galls that had been parasitized. But the more he talked with Dr. Egan, the more they suspected that the crypt-keeper was using multiple host species — unusual behavior among parasites, which are usually very specialized.

Dr. Forbes’ lab confirmed the hunch by rearing some wasps and their gall crypts in plastic cups within a chamber that simulated changing seasons. The parasitoid crypt-keepers did have many different species of hosts, and all the hosts had one key thing in common: the galls they occupied were small, smooth, non-woody, lacking fuzz or sharp spines — defenseless. These little crypts were perfect for Euderus’ keeping.

“Parasites or parasitoids are very specialized to a host,” said Anna Ward, a doctoral student in Dr. Forbes’s lab and lead author of the paper that reported this finding, which was published Wednesday in Biology Letters. “You’d think it was only attacking one host or a small subset. We were surprised to see that Euderus set was able to manipulate these very different hosts.”

That the crypt-keeper seeks victims based not on their kind but on the vulnerability of their homes suggests that assumptions about an organism’s behavior can sometimes cause people to miss important truths about how the animals really live.

“These interactions can help us understand our impact on the world,” said Ms. Ward. “With climate change, how can we know our true impact if we don’t even know what’s there?”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/27/science/crypt-keeper-wasps-parasitic.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

From Your Mouth to Your Screen, Transcribing Takes the Next Step

The Rev system allows the customer to choose whether they want more accuracy or a quicker turnaround at lower cost, said Jason Chicola, the company’s founder and chief executive. Increasingly, his customers will correct machine-generated texts rather than transcribing from scratch. He said that while Rev had 40,000 human transcribers, he did not believe that automated transcription would decimate his work force. “Humans and machines will work together for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Nevertheless, speech technologies are having an undeniable impact on the structure of corporations.

“We have chatbots that are running live in production, and they are deflecting a lot of service cases,” said Richard Socher, the chief scientist at Salesforce, a cloud-based software company. “In large service organizations, with thousands of people, if you can automate 5 percent of password reset requests, it’s a big impact on that organization.”

In the medical field, automated transcription is being used to change the way doctors take notes. In recent years, electronic health record systems became part of a routine office visit, and doctors were criticized for looking at their screens and typing rather than maintaining eye contact with patients. Now, several health start-ups are offering transcription services that capture text and potentially video in the examining room and use a remote human transcriber, or scribe, to edit the automated text and produce a “structured” set of notes from the patient visit.

One of the companies, Robin Healthcare, based in Berkeley, Calif., records office visits with an automated speech transcription system that is then annotated by a staff of human “scribes” who work in the United States, according to Noah Auerhahn, the company’s chief executive. Most of the scribes are pre-med students who listen to the doctor’s conversation, then produce a finished record within two hours of the patient’s visit. The Robin Healthcare system is being used at the University of California, San Francisco, and at Duke University.

A competitor, DeepScribe, also based in Berkeley, takes a more automated approach to generating electronic health records. The firm uses several speech engines from large technology companies like Google and IBM to record the conversation and creates a summary of the examination that is checked by a human. By relying more on speech automation, DeepScribe is able to offer a less expensive service, said Akilesh Bapu, the company’s chief executive.

In the past, human speech transcription has largely been limited to the legal and medical fields. This year, the cost of automated transcription has collapsed as rival start-up firms have competed for a rapidly growing market. Companies such as Otter.ai and Descript, a rival San Francisco-based start-up started by the Groupon founder Andrew Mason, are giving away basic transcription services and focusing on charging for subscriptions that offer enhanced features.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/technology/automatic-speech-transcription-ai.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Saving Money, and Your Sanity, on College Visits (Hint: Resist the Swag)

Some schools offer free “fly in” visits for underrepresented students, including those who are from low-income families or are the first in their families to attend college. “You could get a visit paid for,” said Belinda J. Wilkerson, an education consultant in Fayetteville, N.C.

Oberlin College, for instance, has a multicultural visit program that covers all expenses for high-achieving high school students. The programs typically are competitive, and some are offered only to admitted applicants. CollegeVine, an online college advising site, lists programs on its website.

If air travel is out of the question, try to visit a “proxy” school near home, said Vinay Bhaskara, co-founder of CollegeVine.

“It’s not a perfect match,” he said, “but you’ll get a rough idea.”

If you can afford only one visit, make it a top-choice college that values “demonstrated interest” and take the official tour. “If you just drive through campus,” Ms. Carlton said, “they don’t know you’re there.”

And be sure to sign up to attend visits by admissions representatives to your school, or talk to a representative at a local college fair: Those also count as showing interest, Ms. Carlton said, as does calling a college representative.

“The best way to show interest is to visit,” she said, “but it’s not the only way.”

Here are some questions and answers about college visits:

My child wants a sweatshirt from every college we visit. Help!

Ms. Barad recommends avoiding the campus bookstore when visiting — or at least having a talk ahead of time about who will pay for any college swag. High school students like to collect the T-shirts and sweatshirts so they can post pictures of themselves wearing them on Instagram — and colleges are well aware of this for marketing purposes. Often, acceptance letters come with discount coupons for the campus store, she said. So perhaps you can make a deal that if your child gets in, you’ll spring for the pricey sweatshirt.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/20/your-money/college-visits.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Social Mania – The New York Times

Back in the early days of his illness, before there was a diagnosis, I panicked with the appearance of every post. Would his friends desert him? Would everyone think our family was crazy?

Inevitably, people did ask questions. Desperate to protect Roland, my family agreed to keep answers vague: “stress,” “taking time off,” “family emergency.” We avoided labels, squirmed through euphemisms, focused on the fixable and walked on eggshells in his presence. I wanted to help Roland, but I also wanted everything to go back to normal. I didn’t know that this would become our new normal for over a decade.

Most people who suffer from bipolar disorder might have episodes that last days, or weeks. Roland, an overachiever even in mania, had episodes that lasted six months. There were hundreds of miles between us, but, during these bouts, I felt like we were in the back seat of our 1989 Honda Accord, throwing elbows at each other again. I’d reprimand him for going off his medications; he’d label me weak-minded. He’d call me 10 times in a row at work to demand money; I’d refuse. He’d threaten to cut off contact with our family; I’d use Facebook location services to track him and tattle to my parents. We’d hang up on each other, then five minutes later we’d do it all over again.

One day, Roland called me in a frenzy: “Facebook changed the algorithm! I used to get dozens of comments and likes on my posts. Now I get nothing!”

In fact, Facebook had started allowing users to control the content they see, and many people wanted to see less of Roland. Facebook is a mirror of society, after all: We showcase birthdays and babies, not unruly displays of mental illness.

But I never muted Roland. I came to need those posts, to dread the silence that followed them far more than I dreaded the mania. When he was posting, I knew he was still alive.

During his depressions, Roland would fall silent for weeks at a time, unable to get out of bed, caught in a dizzying suicide spiral. I’d hop on a flight to help my heroic parents and brother Ryan clean up the manic wreckage: vintage clothes piled high, business ventures gone wrong, strangers inhabiting Roland’s home. Every time my phone rang, I’d prepare to receive the news that Roland had killed himself.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/27/well/family/bipolar-disorder-social-media.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

How to Plan In Case Things Go Wrong

Ten days into what would have been two months in South America, I broke my leg in two places. I was deep in Chile, a country whose language I didn’t speak, and I’d just booked flights to Brazil and Easter Island. I could have panicked. Instead, I was just disappointed. After years of extended traveling, I had a system in place to handle emergencies. I was in a staggering amount of pain, in an embarrassed heap far from home and hostel, but I wasn’t too worried.

You don’t need to go overboard to be prepared for travel emergences. My advice is to plan for the obviously probable, and don’t sweat the unlikely and improbable. Here’s some precautionary steps I’ve found to be invaluable during my trips over the years.

Before You Go Do a bit of research

How tolerant a country’s residents are toward foreigners varies significantly from region to region, and of course, person to person. Some understanding of local cultural norms will go a long way in bridging any etiquette differences and assessing risks. Are shorts O.K.? Do you need to wear a head covering? Should you tip? A few minutes online before you leave will give you a much better idea of dos and don’ts. A good place to start is Travel.state.gov’s Country Information.

Take a working phone

A prepared traveler has a mobile phone provider like Google Fi, Sprint or T-Mobile that works in other countries, or has obtained a local SIM card. The value in having a working phone overseas can’t be overstated. The last thing you should be concerned about in a crisis is how much your phone bill is going to be. Or worse, figuring out how to get your phone working in an emergency. Regardless, download the local area to your Maps app, and download the local language pack on Google Translate. That will cover you for most of it, even if you don’t have a signal.

Protect yourself online

Back up your photos and documents to the cloud, either Google Photos, iPhoto or any number of free and paid services available. (Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews products has a guide.) A V.P.N., password manager and two-factor authorization on websites and apps that have this security will all make it harder to break into your accounts.

Buy travel insurance

Travel insurance has paid me back far more than I’ve paid into it. And it’s cheap enough that I never travel without it. Just make sure you get receipts for everything. Those flights I booked before breaking my leg? I got all that money back thanks to travel insurance. However, when I got my camera gear stolen on a train in Italy I barely got anything thanks to high deductibles and low coverage costs. Oh, well. Your homeowners and health insurance might cover you for some things, but probably not.

Wirecutter also looks at travel insurance and recommends which ones worth buying.

During your journeyFind out the local emergency info

In some countries, 911 works outside the United States. In Europe and Central Asia it’s usually 112. Britain and many former British Territories use 999. Google the country you’re visiting plus “emergency number.” Alternately, Wikipedia has a list, and the State Department has a PDF. There might not be an English-speaking person at the other end of the line, but it’s a start.

Take a card

At the check-in desk, there’s almost always a business card for the establishment. Take it and put it in your wallet or with your passport. Or both. Now you have a way to explain — with or without speaking the local language — to every cabbie in the area how to get back to where your stuff is. Worst case? Take a picture of the front of the hotel or hostel with the name.

Minimize risk

This one is easy: Don’t put your wallet or passport in your back pocket. Secure a purse or backpack with a small lock. If you can get at your items easily, so can someone else.

When things go wrong

There are infinite possibilities of what could happen, but statistically they won’t. Could you get hit by a meteorite in Luxembourg? Sure. Will you? No. For the most part, the same risks you take every day are the same ones that you will have abroad: Cars are dangerous, pickpockets like crowded areas and the like.

The most important thing to realize is that whatever has happened, it has happened there before and probably to locals as well. Unless you’re in the middle of the desert or over an ice cap, hospitals, clinics and police are there to help.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/20/travel/how-to-plan-in-case-things-go-wrong.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Are 8 Out of 10 Women Really Wearing the Wrong Bra Size?

Walk into a Victoria’s Secret, and the hundreds of colorful, lacy options lining the walls and piled upon tables — bralette, demi-cup, wireless, racer back, sport, strapless — will swallow you. But before you grab a few bras to try on, you need to hedge your bets on what size you wear.

The staff at Victoria’s Secret, along with many scientists and even, famously, Oprah, say you have a 20 percent chance of choosing right. That number — the idea that 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size — has been ingrained in the minds of shoppers for decades, becoming a puzzle that no one can seem to solve.

That’s because the statistic is bunk.

There Are No Size Standards

Researchers and retailers acknowledge that the 80 percent number isn’t foolproof, but they often use it to illustrate a widespread problem: ill-fitting bras.

“We were actually encouraged to talk about that statistic,” said Carrie Gergely, who worked as a Victoria’s Secret bra fitter and store manager from 2003 to 2008. Ms. Gergely recognized that the size on the tag wasn’t the real issue. Knowing how to look for the right fit was.

Women, she said, didn’t know how the cups were supposed to fit. They didn’t know where the chest plate between the breasts was supposed to lie, she said, and “they didn’t know how the straps were supposed to rest, or where it should hit on their back. They just had no concept of how they were supposed to wear the bra.”

Regardless, the “wrong size” became a mantra. One man, the plastic surgeon Edward Pechter, gets credit for it.

Dr. Pechter first published the statistic in small 1998 study, writing in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery that 70 percent of women or more were wearing the incorrect bra size. The article outlined a new method for measuring breasts, with which he hoped to standardize sizing for augmentation and reduction surgeries.

But Dr. Pechter didn’t reach his estimate through surveying a large and diverse sample. Instead he used anecdotal evidence from publications like Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal and the Playtex Fit Guide. (He also studied only women who reported wearing cup sizes AA through DDD. Today you can find bras in sizes up to an O cup.)

Jenny Burbage, a sports biomechanist at the University of Portsmouth in Hampshire, England, has made studying breasts (and how to support them) her life’s work. In one of her studies, “Evaluation of professional bra fitting criteria for bra selection and fitting in the UK,” Ms. Burbage noted that “it has been suggested that 70 to 100 percent of women are wearing the wrong size bra,” citing Dr. Pechter’s work along with few other small studies to reach that range.

“There aren’t many scientific papers available which have effectively looked at issues of bra fit and the number of women who may be wearing the wrong size bra,” Ms. Burbage said in an interview. Anecdotally, she sees “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of women” who come through her lab struggling with fit issues.

Like Ms. Gergely, Dr. Burbage said the issue was not that people were simply wearing an incorrect size but that they often didn’t know how to check for the best fit. “Women are going to be different sizes in different bras,” she said. “I might have three or four different bra sizes based on what bra I’m wearing and what manufacturer that comes from.”

The lack of standardization can be frustrating, but it also gives women more opportunity to find styles and shapes that work for them.

The ‘Right’ Size

If fit is relative, why are retailers still fixating on the idea that the right size exists?

Online companies like ThirdLove and True&Co. promise that shoppers can find the perfect fit from their bedroom instead of a fitting room. Both ThirdLove and True&Co. call attention to their inclusive sizing and encourage women to shop via Fit Finder (ThirdLove) and Fit Quiz (True&Co.) tools, which recommend bras based on one’s breast shape, with names like “teardrop” or “bottom happy.”

It’s a new approach for the lingerie industry, with gender and size inclusivity outpacing hypersexualized marketing. But, like Victoria’s Secret, they insinuate the same thing: that you’re wearing the wrong size and that they can help you find the right one.

“We’ve always focused on this idea, ‘Are you wearing the right size?’” said Heidi Zak, the ThirdLove co-founder and chief executive. According to Ms. Zak, the company has consistently used the concept that people are wearing the wrong size in its marketing. She considers the statistic an invitation for shoppers to find bras that work, not an admonition.

“I think that we’re actually trained as women to be like, ‘If you don’t wear a cookie-cutter size, then there’s nothing for you,’” she said. To combat that sentiment, ThirdLove sells bras in cup sizes AA to I, including some half-cup options.

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Cora Harrington, the author of “In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie” and editor of the Lingerie Addict blog, eschews the oft-repeated 80-percent-plus number in her book. She couldn’t verify it, and she is not interested in repeating a figure that makes people feel as if they’ve failed before they even start shopping.

“I’ve heard that stat for at least as long as I’ve been writing about lingerie,” Ms. Harrington said. Phrasing bra fitting as a chore, she said, or as something women are doing wrong, or that they don’t really know their bodies very well, doesn’t “invite people to come in and learn more about bras.”

Think Beyond the Size on the Label

Ms. Harrington recognizes that shopping for a bra can be difficult but said there has never been a better time to do so. Online shopping means that people aren’t limited to the options in their neighborhood, and lingerie brands are now introducing lines in a greater range of sizes beyond D cups. (Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty line is doing it.)

Ms. Harrington recommends reading reviews on blogs or forums, trying on as many bras as possible and going to specialized shops where expert fitters can provide feedback and new options. She said that once you find a style you like, you can look for discounted colorways from previous seasons, but she also encourages people to support boutiques when they can.

Finding a bra that fits well is tricky not only because sizing varies by brand, but also because of how sizes are related to one another.

LaJean Lawson, a scientist and consultant for the Champion sportswear brand, explained that the cup size is usually based on the difference between the band and bust measurements (below the rib cage and over the fullest part of the breast). The cup is measured by volume, and, confusingly, that volume can stay the same as you move down a band size and up a cup size, or up a band size and down a cup size.

This is called sister sizing, and it means that, theoretically, a 34C could have a similar volume to a 32D or 36B. But bras may fit differently based on the shape of the bra and the band measurements, how your breast volume is distributed on your body and, again, by brand.

With all of those variables at play, you may be surprised to find that the size that works best for you is pretty different from what you’re wearing. To ease label shock, the site What Bra Sizes Look Like, an offshoot from a community on Reddit called A Bra That Fits, displays photos submitted by visitors to show how different sizes can look. When you’re shopping for yourself, stay open to trying various sizes.

Because there are so many variations in bra styles and sizes, finding a comfortable and supportive fit involves trial and error. (Wirecutter, the review site owned by The New York Times, has recommendations for how to shop for bras and check for fit.)

But it may also mean accepting that as your body changes during menstruation, pregnancy or regular weight fluctuations, your bra size may change. Experts like Linda Becker, the fitter at Linda’s bra salon in Manhattan, recommend rechecking your bra fit every six months to a year.

Ultimately, there is no shortcut to finding a good fit. But if your bra doesn’t fit, Ms. Harrington said, “the fault is not you.”

”I feel like if more companies and more brands were saying that, it might be easier for people.”

Let Us Help You

Finding a bra that fits well is tricky. Staffers at Wirecutter, the review site owned by The New York Times, spoke with a variety of experts, including lingerie shop owners, professional bra fitters and even a biomechanics researcher, to try to make sense of it all. Here are some tips and tricks they’ve learned in reporting about different kinds of bras. — Anna Perling

  • Most of a bra’s support comes from the band, and as such, the band should be snug. You want a few fingers’ worth (half an inch or so) of room at the back. If you can stretch a band farther away from your body, try a smaller band size. Fit the bra initially on the loosest setting so that you can tighten the band as the material stretches over time.

  • The band should sit parallel to the floor and not ride up. You can raise your hands above your head to check for fit here. If the band rides up, it may be too big, and if it feels uncomfortably tight, it could be too small.

  • Straps should be reasonably snug, not digging in or falling off. You can adjust the length accordingly.

  • Wires should not float off your chest, sit on the breasts or dig into your sides. If they do, try a larger cup size.

  • For underwire bras, the gore (the center piece joining the two cups) should lie flat on the center of your chest. If it’s floating off your body, your bra may be too big or too small (you can look for other fit signs to determine whether to size up or down), or you may just need to try a different style or brand.

  • Cups should contain the breasts evenly, without creating spillage or cutting into your sides or the top part of your chest. Gaping means you may need a different cup size or a smaller band size. Baggy or wrinkled cups are a sign that a bra is too big. Spilling over the top and sides means a cup is too small.

  • To make sure everything is sitting in your bra correctly, Iris Clarke of Iris Lingerie in Brooklyn recommends that you use the “scoop and swoop” technique. Once you have a bra on, lift a breast with your hand from the side, situating it in the cup and above the underwire, and then tuck or smooth the top of your tissue into the cup to let it settle. It sounds weird, but it makes a difference — breasts are dead weight, so you need to nudge them where you want them.

  • Because a person’s breasts can be of unequal size, Ms. Clarke suggests fitting based on your larger breast so that you aren’t spilling out of a cup.

  • For extra-tricky fits, some stores and tailors offer simple alterations for bra straps, bands or cups. Fees vary, so we recommend requesting a quote (or two).

A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/10/style/lingerie-are-8-out-of-10-women-really-wearing-the-wrong-bra-size-a-bra-myth-busted.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

She’s 8 Years Old. Her Superpower? Creating Anti-Bullying Comics.

Jennifer Gilbert was there with her son Jackson, 9, a seasoned fan of Star Wars and Marvel Comics. Mrs. Gilbert discovered Loot over Labor Day weekend, and Jackson has become a once-a-week regular. She has seen the benefit of him finding peers with common interests. “It has built his confidence,” she said.

Long gone are the days when comic books were seen as a bad influence on young readers.

Last year, annual sales of comics and graphic novels in the United States and Canada reached just over $1 billion, according to estimates by ICV2, an online publication that covers pop culture, and Comichron, an online resource for comics research. Part of the $80 million increase from 2017 was attributed to sales outside of comic stores, which includes chain bookstores and major online retailers, with sales of graphic novels for young readers the biggest factor.

“Graphix, the imprint from Scholastic, has really turbocharged that part of the market,” said Milton Griepp, the chief executive of ICV2. The Graphix library includes “Bone” by Jeff Smith, “Dog Man” by Dav Pilkey and the memoirs of Raina Telegemeier. Her latest, “Guts,” about tackling fourth grade and coping with anxiety, has an initial print run of one million copies.

Another significant factor, Mr. Griepp said, are libraries, which have added more graphic novels to their collections over the years. “We in the comics business owe a huge debt of thanks to the librarians who have helped make this possible.”

Paul Levitz, a former president of DC Comics, has seen the industry go through many changes. Last weekend, he happened to be dining downstairs at Frank’s when he learned about Loot and ventured to the second floor to take a look. “Loot isn’t really a comic shop — at least not yet,” Mr. Levitz wrote in an email. “It’s more of a great art experience. With arts education in public schools fiscally challenged, it’s great to have folks like this stepping up to fill the gap.”

Since stepping down from his role at DC, Mr. Levitz has been teaching graphic novel courses at colleges. He said he was impressed by some of the material on offer for Loot’s cartoonists in training, including a binder of instructions for drawing facial expressions. “I wish I had some of those tools for my college course on writing graphic novels,” he added.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/nyregion/comics-brooklyn-loot.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

Iris van Herpen Designs for Nature

LEIDEN, the Netherlands — The imposing red stone edifice rises from an otherwise empty area in this old Dutch city like a mesa in the American West, bound — round and round — with what looks like a white ribbon.

Get closer, though, and you will discover that the ribbon is actually about 3,300 seamless feet of white concrete friezes with fossil-like patterns inspired by erosion on the volcanic island of Lanzarote, in the Canaries. It seems an extraordinary accessory for the building, until you learn it was designed by the 35-year-old Dutch couturière Iris van Herpen, for the new addition to the renovated Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Netherlands’ natural history museum.

“I don’t see a difference between architecture and fashion,” Ms. van Herpen said, taking in the finished building for the first time on a sunny July morning. “They can really talk to each other.”

There are fashion designers who find inspiration in museums. And designers who underwrite the renovation of museums. And designers who open their own museums. But there are few, if any, who have worked directly with architects to create a museum.

Ms. van Herpen, however, is not your ordinary designer. Several times she has visited the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator, at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, and used what she saw and experienced there to inform her work. In 2011, she collaborated with the London-based architect Daniel Widrig to create a white 3-D-printed bolero in swirling nautilus shapes. In 2012, she was the first (with the help of the American-Israeli architect Neri Oxman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab) to produce a fully flexible 3-D printed dress. And in July, she partnered with Anthony Howe, an American kinetic sculptor, to produce the closing piece of her couture show in Paris: a corset minidress with feather wings that spun as the model walked.

“Calling Iris a designer is nomenclature,” Mr. Howe said backstage before that show at the Élysée Montmartre. “She’s an artist who happens to make things that fit on the human form. Yes, it has everything to have to do with a model, a human form. But what she does is way beyond that. Way beyond.”

Still, Ms. van Herpen does produce clothes one can wear — about 100 pieces a year, each of which cost from $20,000 to more than $100,000, and are purchased and worn by prominent women. Cate Blanchett walked the red carpet last year as jury president of the Cannes Film Festival in a fluttering laser-cut and laser-bonded van Herpen gown that had been made for her and lent for the occasion. Much of the rest of the designer’s work ends up in museum collections, or retrospectives; she has two new exhibitions pending: in 2021 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and in 2022 in an undisclosed location.

Her existence is monastic: the studio, a rough-hewed space in an old warehouse at Amsterdam’s former lumber port, is small, spartan and staffed with a clutch of other millennials — mostly women. A former ballerina, Ms. van Herpen is lean, soft-spoken and reserved; she dresses in secondhand finds and wears little makeup. Branding and a global retail network are not part of her five-year plan. (She probably doesn’t have a five-year plan.) It is the addition of outside projects, like designing costumes for the Paris Opera Ballet or working on the biodiversity center’s renovation, that keep her engaged as well as afloat financially.

That’s why, when Neutelings Riedijk Architects of Rotterdam won the 2013 competition to renovate the original Fons Verheijen-designed museum, as well as to construct a new five-story, 400,000-square-foot addition, they emailed Ms. van Herpen — and she immediately agreed.

Michiel Riedijk, the project’s lead architect, said, “We wanted to evoke nature in all its elements — biodiversity, geology, tectonics — and not do so in a straightforward 19th-century manner.

“Hence, Iris.”

Her work, he said, embodies “the notion of permanent change,” and “the beauty of nature.” It has, he added, the same focus as the museum, with its collection of 42 million items (museum officials called it one of the world’s largest), from a T-Rex skeleton to butterflies.

The architects already had decided to clad the building, inside and out, with a rust-red travertine from Iran. “They showed me that stone and I fell in love with it,” Ms. van Herpen said. “The crystals, and color formations — it was beautiful. Then they showed me the skeleton of the facade, with the glass, and I wanted what I did to grow out of that.”

She proposed a series of custom panels, eventually totaling 263, made of concrete and white marble powder. She drew the designs by hand and on the computer, and once she figured out where to place each one, redrew the ends so they would meet flawlessly, like a good tailor properly joining plaids at the seams.

To the eye, the panels look a bit like fossils, and like lava flows — “like pleated silk, in a way,” Ms. van Herpen said. To the touch, they are cashmere soft, with a faint layer of fine dust. In essence, the building is like a body: The window frames are the skeleton; the travertine stone, the flesh, and Ms. van Herpen’s ribbon as tendons. “It really does feel alive,” she said.

Though she has long admired architecture, and has worked with architects, Ms. van Herpen said she was surprised how wildly different the rhythms are between her métier and architecture, and how decisive one must be when constructing a building as opposed to a dress.

“Fashion is very fast-paced, and there are fittings, and changes — the design is always evolving,” she said. “But this is such a long process. And you have to be sure about what you choose, because once you go into production, there is no way back. There is no way of changing your mind.”

She took in the building again, and shook her head. “I have even more respect for architecture than I did before,” she said with a laugh. “And I have realized I will never be an architect.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/01/style/iris-van-herpen-fashion-netherlands.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

These Ants Use Germ-Killers, and They’re Better Than Ours

As a microbiologist, Massimiliano Marvasi has spent years studying how microbes have defeated us. Many pathogens have evolved resistance to penicillin and other antimicrobial drugs, and now public health experts are warning of a global crisis in treating infectious diseases.

These days, Dr. Marvasi, a senior researcher at the University of Florence in Italy, finds solace in studying ants.

About 240 species of ants grow underground gardens of fungi. They protect their farms against pathogens using powerful chemicals secreted by bacteria on their bodies. Unlike humans, ants are not facing a crisis of antimicrobial resistance.

Writing in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Dr. Marvasi and his colleagues argue that fungus-farming ants could serve as a model for drug development. It’s not just that they have antimicrobials — it’s how they use their drugs.

Fungus-farming ants bring leaves or other debris to gardens in their nests, where certain kinds of fungi thrive. The fungi — which can flourish nowhere else — grow into dense webs that the ants feed to their larvae.

But the crops are also attractive to a parasitic fungus called Escovopsis. It attacks the gardens and starves the ants.

“It’s a war between the ants and the pathogens for the same food,” Dr. Marvasi said.

The ants have powerful allies in this war: bacteria that live on their thoraxes. Worker ants coat eggs with certain strains of these bacteria. As an ant matures, it feeds its personal supply of bacteria with secretions from glands on its thorax.

The bacteria pay the ants back for this special care by making powerful antimicrobials that kill Escovopsis, protecting the gardens from destruction.

The fact that bacteria make antimicrobials is hardly surprising. The ones that doctors prescribe today were mostly discovered in the soil, made by microbes. What is surprising is that the chemicals used by the ants work so well.

Escovopsis has evolved defenses against the bacteria, producing compounds that inhibit their growth. And yet the ants still manage to keep these pathogens in check.

Dr. Marvasi and his co-authors — Ayush Pathak of Imperial College London and Steve Kett of Middlesex University London — argue that we would do well to look more closely at the ants to figure out the secrets to their success.

One important advantage is that the bacteria on ants make several antimicrobials at once. “It’s an impressive chemical factory,” said Dr. Marvasi.

Powerful evolutionary forces create this variety, said Sarah Worsley, a senior research associate at the University of East Anglia in England, who was not involved in the new study.

When the ants forage for garden fertilizer, they pick up random bacteria from the ground. These compete fiercely with the resident microbes for the nutrients provided by the ant glands. Natural selection favors the residents that make powerful antimicrobials that ward off the newcomers.

“These antimicrobials are being produced as a result of this warfare on the ant’s surface,” said Dr. Worsley. “The ants get in on the competition and use those antimicrobials to look after their fungus gardens.”

Researchers are also learning how new antimicrobials evolve. “We’re accumulating so much new information on the molecular level now,” said Katrin Kellner, a molecular ecologist at the University of Texas at Tyler.

Sometimes resident bacteria on ants take up a gene from competitors. The protein made by the new gene may then alter the shape of an existing antimicrobial.

Other mutations may shuffle genetic switches in the bacteria’s DNA. As a result, it may produce new antimicrobial compounds.

But Ulrich Mueller, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, warned that scientists may not yet understand the ants well enough to learn from their success.

Some antimicrobials that kill Escovopsis, for example, also seem to defend the ants from their own infections. It’s possible that their evolution has little to do with protecting fungal gardens.

“That dimension has been completely ignored,” Dr. Mueller said.

Dr. Marvasi and his colleagues are investigating the evolutionary competition between the bacteria on ants and Escovopsis, pitting the organisms against one another in Petri dishes.

They want to see if the combination of related antimicrobials is the secret to the ants’ success. Mimicking that strategy might help keep our own antimicrobial drugs potent.

“The idea is maybe to have one main antibiotic, but in a mixture of similar antibiotics,” Dr. Marvasi said.

Dr. Worsley and her colleagues are reproducing the evolution of the bacteria living on the ants. The scientists are tweaking the bacterial genes that produce antimicrobials, hoping to discover new compounds that might work on human diseases, rather than garden parasites.

“We’re shortcutting evolution by taking inspiration from these arms races in the past,” she said.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/science/ants-fungus-antibiotic-resistance.html?emc=rss&partner=rss