A new tooth-mounted sensor will soon help you lose weight

Although there are many advantages, it could be problematic for one particular group of people.

One of the toughest parts of dieting is examining not only what you’ve eaten, but how much. It’s hard to determine sometimes whether or not you’ve exercising good portion control. Not to worry. Though this is a concern for the near-term, according to scientists at Tufts University, it won’t be for long. They’ve developed a tooth-mounted sensor that in oncoming years, will tell you exactly what you’ve eating and how much.


Researchers at Tufts School of Engineering say the sensor can monitor how much sugar, salt, and alcohol a person has consumed, and transmit that information wirelessly to a mobile app. It could for instance, tell someone who’s anemic if they’re getting enough iron. In fact, it’ll monitor for a wide range of nutrients to make sure you’re getting your daily requirements. But it goes beyond that. It can even monitor your stress level and psychological state by picking up certain biochemicals, an influx of cortisol say—the stress hormone.

This isn’t the first mouth-mounted sensor to be tested. But it is the smallest, just 2mm x 2mm. The tiny, thin square is also flexible and able to stick to irregular surfaces, such as tooth enamel. Previous models included a mouth guard, which researchers say was obtrusive, sensors that had to be replaced often, and prototypes that came with bulky wiring. This model is sturdy and so thin, you’d hardly know it was there.

Many people know what they should be eating. But portion control is important too, and hard to evaluate, especially in a society that tends to overfeed us. Credit: Getty Images.

The “bioresponsive” layer scans for certain chemicals. This is sandwiched between two square-shaped gold rings. Together, these form an antenna. Researchers say it works sort of like a toll booth. When the sensor encounters something with a certain chemical makeup, vis-à-vis whatever you’ve put in your mouth, the electrical properties of the sensor change, causing it to transmit a different spectrum of radiofrequency waves. So far, the prototype was tested successfully with water, apple juice, a salt-laden soup, mouthwash, and alcohol.

Biomedical engineering professor Fiorenzo Omenetto, Ph.D. was a co-author on this study. He said in a press release, “In theory we can modify the bioresponsive layer in these sensors to target other chemicals – we are really limited only by our creativity.” He added, “We have extended common RFID [radiofrequency ID] technology to a sensor package that can dynamically read and transmit information on its environment, whether it is affixed to a tooth, to skin, or any other surface.” Not only is it small, thin, unobtrusive, and versatile, it’ll be inexpensive to produce.

Going vegan can be really healthy, if done properly. Such a sensor could ensure that they and others are receiving all the nutrients they require. Credit: Getty Images.

A Fitbit for the diet might help users keep track of what they’ve eaten and how much, which would be helpful for those trying to lose weight. It could also aid someone making a big dietary change, say to veganism, to be sure they are getting enough protein, iron, and other nutrients. One downside though, while it may not outright cause an eating disorder, such a sensor could theoretically exacerbate the symptoms of one. We may need certain regulations to limit access for those who could be damaged by such a device.

On the plus side, besides all the other advantages mentioned, it might help us better understand human diet and nutrition, allowing researchers to make “conclusive links between dietary intake and health.” Currently, the sensor can detect what you’ve eaten. But, it still has a ways to go before it can say how much of any one substance you’ve consumed. Still, scientists see a clear path forward and in years to come, are confident such a device will become a reality.

To learn about another biosensor poised to dramatically disrupt healthcare, click here.

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Kosovo land swap could end conflict - or restart war

Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case

Image: SRF
Strange Maps
  • The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
  • Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
  • A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict

The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it wasn't: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Serbians are historically very attached to it. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that recognise the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it actually has a lot of international support for that position (2).

The irony is that on the longer term, both Kosovo and Serbia want the same thing: EU membership. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued, between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics and not a few locals warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovar independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

In principle, countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging, but land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the Meuse river (3). But those bits of land were tiny, and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders carry a lot more weight in the Balkans.

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The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

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