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Human placentas are full of mutated cells dumped by the embryo

THE human placenta is riddled with cancer-like patterns of mutations. But the discovery is better news than it might appear: it is helping scientists open a new window on the mysterious world of early human development.

In some ways, the placenta is a forgotten organ. It begins to form shortly after fertilisation from the embryo’s cells and then helps to support the future fetus as it develops before it is discarded at birth.

But …

“I AM not just busy, I am being overwhelmed by an onslaught of requests like yours…”

There is a certain irony to the email I have just received: the pioneer of burnout research is feeling utterly swamped by work. Christina Maslach, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, spearheaded the study of burnout back in the 1970s and has been working on ways to tackle the problem ever since. Her expertise was already highly sought after even before the coronavirus pandemic. Now she can barely move under the weight of her inbox.

It is hardly surprising. In the year since the word lockdown became ubiquitous, it seems as if almost everyone has hit the wall at least once. But amid the emotional roller coaster of work stress, homeschooling, social isolation and the not inconsiderable fact that there is still a pandemic raging outside, how can you tell when you have reached the end of your tether? When does feeling understandably stressed in difficult times turn into an irretrievable case of burnout? And what can you do to protect yourself?

Thankfully, five decades of research means we have a fairly good idea of what burnout is and what causes it. According to Maslach’s Burnout Inventory, an assessment tool she co-developed, burnout arises when three factors coincide: an overwhelming feeling of emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment and a feeling of lack of accomplishment. For those experiencing burnout, these criteria might manifest in feelings like being exhausted even after plenty of sleep, being emotionally distant from loved ones or no longer caring about jobs that need doing. …

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