A test for autism is on the horizon, powered by A.I.

Research has shown that early intervention can make ASD more manageable.

BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM: Joshua Whitehouse (11) poses among his drawings at 'Number 9 Gallery' in Birmingham, 14 March 2002. The young artist suffering from a rare form of Autism called Aspergers syndrome have put all his artistic efforts on drawing Ne
BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM: Joshua Whitehouse (11) poses among his drawings at 'Number 9 Gallery' in Birmingham, 14 March 2002. The young artist suffering from a rare form of Autism called Aspergers syndrome have put all his artistic efforts on drawing Ne

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a very broad set of neurodevelopmental conditions. Around 1 in 160 children have it worldwide. It’s a much larger ratio in the U.S. at 1 in 68. While symptoms vary significantly, those who experience ASD often have trouble communicating, managing their emotions or developing social skills.


Some with autism develop speech problems. Others have difficulty reading social situations or adapting to new environments. Others still exhibit anxiety, hyperactivity or other compulsive behaviors. ASD sometimes comes with cognitive impairment, but not always.

Children usually start showing signs of autism at 18 months of age or so. Research has shown that early intervention can help make the condition more manageable. Unfortunately, no one knows what causes it, although it’s thought to have both genetic and environmental components. What’s more, no reliable diagnostic is currently in place (here is how the disease is currently diagnosed). But thanks to work by an international team of scientists, an autism test is now on the horizon.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK, partnering with colleagues at the University of Bologna, in Italy, have identified a number of different biomarkers present in those with autism, that’s absent in those who don’t. Their discovery should lead to a medical test for the condition—either a blood or urine test—a first of its kind. The results of the study were published in the journal Molecular Autism.

UK and Italian researchers are developing the world’s first test for autism. Credit: Getty Images.

For the study, scientists compared blood samples from 38 Italian children diagnosed autism (29 boys and 9 girls) to 31 children without the diagnosis (23 boys and 8 girls). The children were all between the ages of 7 and 12. With help from colleagues at the University of Birmingham, U.K., researchers used artificial intelligence algorithms to compare and contrast the proteins in the two groups’ samples. This allowed for the development of an algorithm that could tell which children have ASD with 90% accuracy, and which children didn’t, with 87% accuracy.

The algorithm kept an eye on higher levels of a molecule known as dityrosine (DT), which is present when proteins are damaged during oxidation or advanced glycation end products (AGE). The latter occurs when proteins or fats come into contact with glucose and are altered by it. Those with autism showed higher levels of protein damage.

The lead author of the study was Naila Rabbani, a biologist at the University of Warwick. “Our discovery could lead to earlier diagnosis and intervention,” she said in a press release. “We hope the tests will also reveal new causative factors. With further testing we may reveal specific plasma and urinary profiles or ‘fingerprints’ of compounds with damaging modifications. This may help us improve the diagnosis of ASD and point the way to new causes of ASD.”

What does the test mean for those with autism who excel? Credit: Getty Images.

Previous research has shown that 30-35% of autism cases are genetic in origin. The other 65-70% come from a combination of rare genetic variants, a series of mutations, and environmental factors. The results of this study could help uncover previously unknown causes of autism. It also supports suspected ones. “Our finding is consistent with low-level inflammation in ASD,” Rabbani said, “and also with disturbance in the supply of amino acids to neurons.”

What’s more, the researchers have increased the accuracy of an ASD diagnosis. Rabbani told Gizmodo, “Our test is expected to improve the accuracy of ASD diagnosis from 60–70 percent currently achieved by experts in neurological disorders to approximately 90 percent accuracy.” The test has already been patented. Now, Rabbani and colleagues are looking for corporate sponsorship to help develop it, and get it ready for the regulatory approval process. But the very next step is to validate these findings with a larger cohort. As Rabbani told the BBC, she aims to test younger children, perhaps as young as one or two.

Experts caution that once commonplace, the test won’t tell parents where on the spectrum their child would be, or the severity of the condition. Instead, it would outline what risk factors a child has. It’s important to note too, that many with ASD have made significant contributions to society and are loved by friends and family.

There are those autistic savants as well, who have unparalleled math, music, or artistic capabilities. As a result, many with ASD don’t see themselves as having a disease, merely a condition. So what does such a test mean for those with autism who are happy or even blossoming?

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7 most notorious and excessive Roman Emperors

These Roman Emperors were infamous for their debauchery and cruelty.

Nero's Torches. A group of early Christian martyrs about to be burned alive during the reign of emperor Nero in 64 AD.

1876. Painted by Henryk Siemiradzki.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Roman Emperors were known for their excesses and violent behavior.
  • From Caligula to Elagabalus, the emperors exercised total power in the service of their often-strange desires.
  • Most of these emperors met violent ends themselves.

We rightfully complain about many of our politicians and leaders today, but historically speaking, humanity has seen much worse. Arguably no set of rulers has been as debauched, ingenious in their cruelty, and prone to excess as the Roman Emperors.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are seven Roman rulers who were perhaps the worst of the worst in what was one of the largest empires that ever existed, lasting for over a thousand years.

1. Caligula

Officially known as Gaius (Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), Caligula was the third Roman Emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. He acquired the nickname "Caligula" (meaning "little [soldier's] boot") from his father's soldiers during a campaign.

While recognized for some positive measures in the early days of his rule, he became famous throughout the ages as an absolutely insane emperor, who killed anyone when it pleased him, spent exorbitantly, was obsessed with perverse sex, and proclaimed himself to be a living god.

Caligula gives his horse Incitatus a drink during a banquet. Credit: An engraving by Persichini from a drawing by Pinelli, from "The History of the Roman Emperors" from Augustus to Constantine, by Jean Baptiste Louis Crevier. 1836.

Among his litany of misdeeds, according to the accounts of Caligula's contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, he slept with whomever he wanted, brazenly taking other men's wives (even on their wedding nights) and publicly talking about it.

He also had an insatiable blood thirst, killing for mere amusement. Once, as reports historian Suetonius, when the bridge across the sea at Puteoli was being blessed, he had a number of spectators who were there to inspect it thrown off into the water. When some tried to cling to the ships' rudders, Caligula had them dislodged with hooks and oars so they would drown. On another occasion, he got so bored that he had his guards throw a whole section of the audience into the arena during the intermission so they would be eaten by wild beasts. He also allegedly executed two consuls who forgot his birthday.

Suetonius relayed further atrocities of the mad emperor's character, writing that Caligula "frequently had trials by torture held in his presence while he was eating or otherwise enjoying himself; and kept an expert headsman in readiness to decapitate the prisoners brought in from gaol." One particular form of torture associated with Caligula involved having people sawed in half.

He caused mass starvation and purposefully wasted money and resources, like making his troops stage fake battles just for theater. If that wasn't enough, he turned his palace into a brothel and was accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, whom he also prostituted to other men. Perhaps most famously, he was planning to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus a consul and went as far as making the horse into a priest.

In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy of Praetorian Guard officers, senators, and other members of the court.

2. Nero

Fully named Nero Claudius Caesar, Nero ruled from 54 to 68 AD and was arguably an even worse madman than his uncle Caligula. He had his step-brother Britannicus killed, his wife Octavia executed, and his mother Agrippina stabbed and murdered. He personally kicked to death his lover Poppeaea while she was pregnant with his child — a horrific action the Roman historian Tacitus depicted as "a casual outburst of rage."

He spent exorbitantly and built a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neronis.

He is also remembered for being strangely obsessed with music. He sang and played the lyre, although it's not likely he really fiddled as Rome burned in what is a popular myth about this crazed tyrant. As misplaced retribution for the fire which burned down a sizable portion of Rome in the year 64, he executed scores of early Christians, some of them outfitted in animal skins and brutalized by dogs, with others burned at the stake.

He died by suicide.

Roman Emperor Nero in the burning ruins of Rome. July 64 AD.Credit: From an original painting by S.J. Ferris. (Photo by Kean Collection / Getty Images)

3. Commodus

Like some of his counterparts, Commodus (a.k.a. Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus) thought he was a god — in his case, a reincarnation of the Greek demigod Hercules. Ruling from 176 to 192 AD, he was also known for his debauched ways and strange stunts that seemed designed to affirm his divine status. Numerous statues around the empire showed him as Hercules, a warrior who fought both men and beasts. He fought hundreds of exotic animals in an arena like a gladiator, confusing and terrifying his subjects. Once, he killed 100 lions in a single day.

Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) questions the loyalty of his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) In Dreamworks Pictures' and Universal Pictures' Oscar-winning drama "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott.Credit: Photo By Getty Images

The burning desire to kill living creatures as a gladiator for the New Year's Day celebrations in 193 AD brought about his demise. After Commodus shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning as part of the Plebeian Games leading up to New Year's, his fitness coach (aptly named Narcissus), choked the emperor to death in his bath.

4. Elagabalus

Officially named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, Elagabalus's nickname comes from his priesthood in the cult of the Syrian god Elagabal. Ruling as emperor from 218 to 222 AD, he was so devoted to the cult, which he tried to spread in Rome, that he had himself circumcised to prove his dedication. He further offended the religious sensitivities of his compatriots by essentially replacing the main Roman god Jupiter with Elagabal as the chief deity. In another nod to his convictions, he installed on Palatine Hill a cone-like fetish made of black stone as a symbol of the Syrian sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus.

His sexual proclivities were also not well received at the time. He was likely transgender (wearing makeup and wigs), had five marriages, and was quite open about his male lovers. According to the Roman historian (and the emperor's contemporary) Cassius Dio, Elagabalus prostituted himself in brothels and taverns and was one of the first historical figures on record to be looking for sex reassignment surgery.

He was eventually murdered in 222 in an assassination plot engineered by his own grandmother Julia Maesa.

5. Vitellius

Emperor for just eight months, from April 19th to December 20th of the year 69 AD, Vitellius made some key administrative contributions to the empire but is ultimately remembered as a cruel glutton. He was described by Suetonius as overly fond of eating and drinking, to the point where he would eat at banquets four times a day while sending out the Roman navy to get him rare foods. He also had little social grace, inviting himself over to the houses of different noblemen to eat at their banquets, too.

Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome.Credit: Georges Rochegrosse. 1883.

He was also quite vicious and reportedly either had his own mother starved to death or approved a poison with which she committed suicide.

Vitellius was ultimately murdered in brutal fashion by supporters of the rival emperor Vespasian, who dragged him through Rome's streets, then likely beheaded him and threw his body into the Tiber river. "Yet I was once your emperor," were supposedly his last words, wrote historian Cassius Dio.

6. Caracalla

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus I ruled Rome from 211 to 217 AD on his own (while previously co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus from 198). "Caracalla"' was his nickname, referencing a hooded coat from Gaul that he brought into Roman fashion.

He started off his rise to individual power by murdering his younger brother Geta, who was named co-heir by their father. Caracalla's bloodthirsty tyranny didn't stop there. He wiped out Geta's supporters and was known to execute any opponents to his or Roman rule. For instance, he slaughtered up to 20,000 citizens of Alexandria after a local theatrical satire dared to mock him.

Geta Dying in His Mother's Arms.Credit: Jacques Pajou (1766-1828)

One of the positive outcomes of his rule was the Edict of Caracalla, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire. He was also known for building gigantic baths.

Like others on this list, Caracalla met a brutal end, being assassinated by army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who installed himself as the next emperor.

7. Tiberius

As the second emperor, Tiberius (ruling from 42 BC to 16 AD) is known for a number of accomplishments, especially his military exploits. He was one of the Roman Empire's most successful generals, conquering Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and parts of Germania.

He was also remembered by his contemporaries as a rather sullen, perverse, and angry man. In the chapter on his life from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the historian Suetonius, Tiberius is said to have been disliked from an early age for his personality by even his family. Suetonius wrote that his mother Antonia often called him "an abortion of a man, that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature."

"Orgy of the Times of Tiberius on Capri".Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki. 1881.

Suetonius also paints a damning picture of Tiberius after he retreated from public life to the island of Capri. His years on the island would put Jeffrey Epstein to shame. A horrendous pedophile, Tiberius had a reputation for "depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe," Suetonius wrote, describing how "in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this 'the old goat's garden,' punning on the island's name."

There's much, much more — far too salacious and, frankly, disgusting to repeat here. For the intrepid or morbidly curious reader, here's a link for more information.

After he died, Tiberius was fittingly succeeded in emperorship by his grandnephew and adopted grandson Caligula.

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