Chapter 6. Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell

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By Bob Grant In the past decade, some bat species have been added to the ranks of “singing” animals, with complex, mostly ultrasonic vocalizations that, when slowed down, rival the tunes of some songbirds. Like birds, bats broadcast chirps, warbles, and trills to attract mates and defend territories. There are about 1,300 known bat species, and the social vocalizations of about 50 have been studied. Of those, researchers have shown that about 20 species seem to be singing, with songs that are differentiated from simpler calls by both their structural complexity and their function. Bats don’t sound like birds to the naked ear; most singing species broadcast predominately in the ultrasonic range, undetectable by humans. And in contrast to the often lengthy songs of avian species, the flying mammals sing in repeated bursts of only a few hundred milliseconds. Researchers must first slow down the bat songs—so that their frequencies drop into the audible range—to hear the similarities. Kirsten Bohn, a behavioral biologist at Johns Hopkins University, first heard Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) sing more than 10 years ago, when she was a postdoc in the lab of Mike Smotherman at Texas A&M University. “I started hearing a couple of these songs slowed down,” she recalls. “And it really was like, ‘Holy moly—that’s a song! That sounds like a bird.’” The neural circuitry used to learn and produce song may also share similarities between bats and birds. Bohn and Smotherman say they’ve gathered some tantalizing evidence that bats use some of the same brain regions—namely, the basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex—that birds rely upon to produce, process, and perhaps even learn songs. “We have an idea of how the neural circuits control vocalizing in the bats and how they might be adapted to produce song,” Smotherman says. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Hearing; Language
Link ID: 23369 - Posted: 03.17.2017

By Jenny Rood To human ears, the trilling of birdsong ranks among nature’s most musical sounds. That similarity to human music is now inspiring researchers to apply music theory to avian vocalizations. For example, zebra finch neurobiologist Ofer Tchernichovski of the City University of New York, together with musician and musicologist Hollis Taylor, recently analyzed the song of the Australian pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) and found an inverse relationship between motif complexity and repetition that paralleled patterns found in human music (R Soc Open Sci, 3:160357, 2016). Tchernichovski’s work also suggests that birds can perceive rhythm and change their calls in response. Last year, he and colleague Eitan Globerson, a symphony conductor at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance as well as a neurobiologist at Bar Ilan University in Israel, demonstrated that zebra finches, a vocal learning species, adapt their innate calls—as opposed to learned song—to avoid overlapping with unusual rhythmic patterns produced by a vocal robot (Curr Biol, 26:309-18, 2016). The researchers also found that both males and females use the brain’s song system to do this, although females do not learn song. But these complexities of birdsong might be more comparable to human speech than to human music, says Henkjan Honing, a music cognition scientist at the University of Amsterdam. Honing’s research suggests that some birds don’t discern rhythm well. Zebra finches, for example, seem to pay attention to pauses between notes on short time scales but have trouble recognizing overarching rhythmic patterns—one of the key skills thought necessary for musical perception (Front Psychol, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00730, 2016). © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Animal Communication; Hearing
Link ID: 23368 - Posted: 03.17.2017

By Catherine Offord A few years ago, UK composer and technology reporter LJ Rich participated in a music technology competition as part of a project with the BBC. The 24-hour event brought together various musicians, and entailed staying awake into the wee hours trying to solve technical problems related to music. Late into the night, during a break from work, Rich thought of a way to keep people’s spirits up. “At about four in the morning, I remember playing different tastes to people on a piano in the room we were working in,” she says. For instance, “to great amusement, during breakfast I played people the taste of eggs.” It didn’t take long before Rich learned, for the first time, that food’s association with music was not as universally appreciated as she had assumed. “You realize everybody else doesn’t perceive the world that way,” she says. “For me, it was quite a surprise to find that people didn’t realize that certain foods had different keys.” Rich had long known she had absolute pitch—the ability to identify a musical note, such as B flat, without any reference. But that night, she learned she also has what’s known as synesthesia, a little-understood mode of perception that links senses such as taste and hearing in unusual ways, and is thought to be present in around 4 percent of the general population. It’s a difficult phenomenon to get to the bottom of. Like Rich, many synesthetes are unaware their perception is atypical; what’s more, detecting synesthesia usually relies on self-reported experiences—an obstacle for standardized testing. But a growing body of evidence suggests that Rich is far from being alone in possessing both absolute pitch and synesthesia. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 23353 - Posted: 03.14.2017

By Diana Kwon Deep in the Amazon rainforests of Bolivia live the Tsimane’, a tribe that has remained relatively untouched by Western civilization. Tsimane’ people possess a unique characteristic: they do not cringe at musical tones that sound discordant to Western ears. The vast majority of Westerners prefer consonant chords to dissonant ones, based on the intervals between the musical notes that compose the chords. One particularly notable example of this is the Devil’s Interval, or flatted fifth, which received its name in the Middle Ages because the sound it produced was deemed so unpleasant that people associated it with sinister forces. The flatted fifth later became a staple of numerous jazz, blues, and rock-and-roll songs. Over the years, scientists have gathered compelling evidence to suggest that an aversion to dissonance is innate. In 1996, in a letter to Nature, Harvard psychologists, Marcel Zentner and Jerome Kagan, reported on a study suggesting that four-month-old infants preferred consonant intervals to dissonant ones. Researchers subsequently replicated these results: one lab discovered the same effect in two-month-olds and another in two-day-old infants of both deaf and hearing parents. Some scientists even found these preferences in certain animals, such as young chimpanzees and baby chickens. “Of course the ambiguity is [that] even young infants have quite a bit of exposure to typical Western music,” says Josh McDermott, a researcher who studies auditory cognition at MIT. “So the counter-argument is that they get early exposure, and that shapes their preference.” © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Hearing; Emotions
Link ID: 23345 - Posted: 03.11.2017

By Aylin Woodward Noise is everywhere, but that’s OK. Your brain can still keep track of a conversation in the face of revving motorcycles, noisy cocktail parties or screaming children – in part by predicting what’s coming next and filling in any blanks. New data suggests that these insertions are processed as if the brain had really heard the parts of the word that are missing. “The brain has evolved a way to overcome interruptions that happen in the real world,” says Matthew Leonard at the University of California, San Francisco. We’ve known since the 1970s that the brain can “fill in” inaudible sections of speech, but understanding how it achieves this phenomenon – termed perceptual restoration – has been difficult. To investigate, Leonard’s team played volunteers words that were partially obscured or inaudible to see how their brains responded. The experiment involved people who already had hundreds of electrodes implanted into their brain to monitor their epilepsy. These electrodes detect seizures, but can also be used to record other types of brain activity. The team played the volunteers recordings of a word that could either be “faster” or “factor”, with the middle sound replaced by noise. Data from the electrodes showed that their brains responded as if they had actually heard the missing “s” or “c” sound. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Hearing; Attention
Link ID: 23344 - Posted: 03.11.2017

By Catherine Offord Getting to Santa María, Bolivia, is no easy feat. Home to a farming and foraging society, the village is located deep in the Amazon rainforest and is accessible only by river. The area lacks electricity and running water, and the Tsimane’ people who live there make contact with the outside world only occasionally, during trips to neighboring towns. But for auditory researcher Josh McDermott, this remoteness was central to the community’s scientific appeal. In 2015, the MIT scientist loaded a laptop, headphones, and a gasoline generator into a canoe and pushed off from the Amazonian town of San Borja, some 50 kilometers downriver from Santa María. Together with collaborator Ricardo Godoy, an anthropologist at Brandeis University, McDermott planned to carry out experiments to test whether the Tsimane’ could discern certain combinations of musical tones, and whether they preferred some over others. The pair wanted to address a long-standing question in music research: Are the features of musical perception seen across cultures innate, or do similarities in preferences observed around the world mirror the spread of Western culture and its (much-better-studied) music? “Particular musical intervals are used in Western music and in other cultures,” McDermott says. “They don’t appear to be random—some are used more commonly than others. The question is: What’s the explanation for that?” © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 23332 - Posted: 03.09.2017

By Lindzi Wessel You may have seen the ads: Just spray a bit of human pheromone on your skin, and you’re guaranteed to land a date. Scientists have long debated whether humans secrete chemicals that alter the behavior of other people. A new study throws more cold water on the idea, finding that two pheromones that proponents have long contended affect human attraction to each other have no such impact on the opposite sex—and indeed experts are divided about whether human pheromones even exist. The study, published today in Royal Society Open Science, asked heterosexual participants to rate opposite-sex faces on attractiveness while being exposed to two steroids that are putative human pheromones. One is androstadienone (AND), found in male sweat and semen, whereas the second, estratetraenol (EST), is in women’s urine. Researchers also asked participants to judge gender-ambiguous, or “neutral,” faces, created by merging images of men and women together. The authors reasoned that if the steroids were pheromones, female volunteers given AND would see gender-neutral faces as male, and male volunteers given EST would see gender-neutral faces as female. They also theorized that the steroids corresponding to the opposite sex would lead the volunteers to rate opposite sex faces as more attractive. That didn’t happen. The researchers found no effects of the steroids on any behaviors and concluded that the label of “putative human pheromone” for AND and EST should be dropped. “I’ve convinced myself that AND and EST are not worth pursuing,” says the study’s lead author, Leigh Simmons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia in Crawley. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 23327 - Posted: 03.08.2017

By Jia Naqvi He loves dancing to songs, such as Michael Jackson’s "Beat It" and the "Macarena," but he can't listen to music in the usual way. He laughs whenever someone takes his picture with a camera flash, which is the only intensity of light he can perceive. He loves trying to balance himself, but his legs don't allow him to walk without support. He is one in a million, literally. Born deaf-blind and with a condition, osteopetrosis, that makes bones both dense and fragile, 6-year-old Orion Theodore Withrow is among an unknown number of children with a newly identified genetic disorder that researchers are just beginning to decipher. It goes by an acronym, COMMAD, that gives little away until each letter is explained, revealing an array of problems that also affect eye formation and pigmentation in eyes, skin and hair. The rare disorder severely impairs the person's ability to communicate. Children such as Orion, who are born to genetically deaf parents, are at a higher risk, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. The finding has important implications for the deaf community, said its senior author, Brian Brooks, clinical director and chief of the Pediatric, Developmental and Genetic Ophthalmology Section at the National Eye Institute. “It is relatively common for folks in deaf community to marry each other,” he said, and what's key is whether each of the couple has a specific genetic "misspelling" that causes a syndrome called Waardenburg 2A. If yes, there's the likelihood of a child inheriting the mutation from both parents. The result, researchers found, is COMMAD. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Hearing; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23317 - Posted: 03.06.2017

By Steve Mirsky To conserve water, members of my household abide by the old aphorism “If it's yellow, let it mellow.” You're in a state of ignorance about that wizened phrase? If so, it recommends that one not flush the toilet after each relatively innocent act of micturition. But there's one exception to the rule: after asparagus, it's one and done—because those delicious stalks make urine smell like hell. To me and mine, anyway. The digestion of asparagus produces methanethiol and S-methyl thioesters, chemical compounds containing stinky sulfur, also known as brimstone. Hey, when I said that postasparagus urine smells like hell, I meant it literally. Methanethiol is the major culprit in halitosis and flatus, which covers both ends of that discussion. And although thioesters can also grab your nostrils by the throat, they might have played a key role in the origin of life. So be glad they were there stinking up the abiotic Earth. But does a compound reek if nobody is there to sniff it? Less philosophically, does it reek if you personally can't smell it? For only some of us are genetically gifted enough to fully appreciate the distinctive scents of postasparagus urine. The rest wander around unaware of their own olfactory offenses. Recently researchers dove deep into our DNA to determine, although we've all dealt it, exactly who smelt it. Their findings can be found in a paper entitled “Sniffing Out Significant ‘Pee Values’: Genome Wide Association Study of Asparagus Anosmia.” Asparagus anosmia refers to the inability “to smell the metabolites of asparagus in urine,” the authors helpfully explain. They don't bother to note that their bathroom humor plays on the ubiquity in research papers of the p-value, a statistical evaluation of the data that assesses whether said data look robust or are more likely the stuff that should never be allowed to mellow. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23288 - Posted: 02.28.2017

By Greta Keenan The ocean might seem like a quiet place, but listen carefully and you might just hear the sounds of the fish choir. Most of this underwater music comes from soloist fish, repeating the same calls over and over. But when the calls of different fish overlap, they form a chorus. Robert McCauley and colleagues at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, recorded vocal fish in the coastal waters off Port Headland in Western Australia over an 18-month period, and identified seven distinct fish choruses, happening at dawn and at dusk. You can listen to three of them here: The low “foghorn” call is made by the Black Jewfish (Protonibea diacanthus) while the grunting call that researcher Miles Parsons compares to the “buzzer in the Operation board game” comes from a species of Terapontid. The third chorus is a quieter batfish that makes a “ba-ba-ba” call. “I’ve been listening to fish squawks, burble and pops for nearly 30 years now, and they still amaze me with their variety,” says McCauley, who led the research. Sound plays an important role in various fish behaviours such as reproduction, feeding and territorial disputes. Nocturnal predatory fish use calls to stay together to hunt, while fish that are active during the day use sound to defend their territory. “You get the dusk and dawn choruses like you would with the birds in the forest,” says Steve Simpson, a marine biologist at the University of Exeter, UK. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Animal Communication
Link ID: 23256 - Posted: 02.21.2017

By Robert F. Service Predicting color is easy: Shine a light with a wavelength of 510 nanometers, and most people will say it looks green. Yet figuring out exactly how a particular molecule will smell is much tougher. Now, 22 teams of computer scientists have unveiled a set of algorithms able to predict the odor of different molecules based on their chemical structure. It remains to be seen how broadly useful such programs will be, but one hope is that such algorithms may help fragrancemakers and food producers design new odorants with precisely tailored scents. This latest smell prediction effort began with a recent study by olfactory researcher Leslie Vosshall and colleagues at The Rockefeller University in New York City, in which 49 volunteers rated the smell of 476 vials of pure odorants. For each one, the volunteers labeled the smell with one of 19 descriptors, including “fish,” “garlic,” “sweet,” or “burnt.” They also rated each odor’s pleasantness and intensity, creating a massive database of more than 1 million data points for all the odorant molecules in their study. When computational biologist Pablo Meyer learned of the Rockefeller study 2 years ago, he saw an opportunity to test whether computer scientists could use it to predict how people would assess smells. Besides working at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, Meyer heads something called the DREAM challenges, contests that ask teams of computer scientists to solve outstanding biomedical problems, such as predicting the outcome of prostate cancer treatment based on clinical variables or detecting breast cancer from mammogram data. “I knew from graduate school that olfaction was still one of the big unknowns,” Meyer says. Even though researchers have discovered some 400 separate odor receptors in humans, he adds, just how they work together to distinguish different smells remains largely a mystery. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Robotics
Link ID: 23254 - Posted: 02.20.2017

By Rachael Lallensack Goats know who their real friends are. A study published today in Royal Society Open Science shows that the animals can recognize what other goats look like and sound like, but only those they are closest with. Up until the late 1960s, the overwhelming assumption was that only humans could mentally keep track of how other individuals look, smell, and sound—what scientists call cross-modal recognition. We now know that many different kinds of animals can do this like horses, lions, crows, dogs, and certain primates. Instead of a lab, these researchers settled into Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Boughton Monchelsea, U.K., to find out whether goats had the ability to recognize each other. To do so, they first recorded the calls of individual goats. Then, they set up three pens in the shape of a triangle in the sanctuary’s pasture. Equidistant between the two pens at the base of the triangle was a stereo speaker, camouflaged as to not distract the goat participants. A “watcher” goat stood at the peak of the triangle, and the two remaining corners were filled with the watcher’s “stablemate” (they share a stall at night) and a random herd member. Then, the team would play either the stablemate’s or the random goat’s call over the speaker and time how long it took for the watcher to match the call with the correct goat. They repeated this test again, but with two random goats. The researchers found that the watcher goat would look at the goat that matched the call quickly and for a longer time, but only in the test that included their stablemate. The results indicate that goats are not only capable of cross-modal recognition, but that they might also be able to use inferential reasoning, in other words, process of elimination. Think back to the test: Perhaps when the goat heard a call that it knew was not its pal, it inferred that it must have been the other one. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Hearing
Link ID: 23229 - Posted: 02.15.2017

By Lenny Bernstein Forty million American adults have lost some hearing because of noise, and half of them suffered the damage outside the workplace, from everyday exposure to leaf blowers, sirens, rock concerts and other loud sounds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday. A quarter of people ages 20 to 69 were suffering some hearing deficits, the CDC reported in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, even though the vast majority of the people in the study claimed to have good or excellent hearing. The researchers found that 24 percent of adults had “audiometric notches” — a deterioration in the softest sound a person can hear — in one or both ears. The data came from 3,583 people who had undergone hearing tests and reported the results in the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The review's more surprising finding — which the CDC had not previously studied — was that 53 percent of those people said they had no regular exposure to loud noise at work. That means the hearing loss was caused by other environmental factors, including listening to music through headphones with the volume turned up too high. “Noise is damaging hearing before anyone notices or diagnoses it,” said Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting director. “Because of that, the start of hearing loss is underrecognized.” The study revealed that 19 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 29 had some hearing loss, a finding that Schuchat called alarming. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 23197 - Posted: 02.08.2017

By JANE E. BRODY Dizziness is not a disease but rather a symptom that can result from a huge variety of underlying disorders or, in some cases, no disorder at all. Readily determining its cause and how best to treat it — or whether to let it resolve on its own — can depend on how well patients are able to describe exactly how they feel during a dizziness episode and the circumstances under which it usually occurs. For example, I recently experienced a rather frightening attack of dizziness, accompanied by nausea, at a food and beverage tasting event where I ate much more than I usually do. Suddenly feeling that I might faint at any moment, I lay down on a concrete balcony for about 10 minutes until the disconcerting sensations passed, after which I felt completely normal. The next morning I checked the internet for my symptom — dizziness after eating — and discovered the condition had a name: Postprandial hypotension, a sudden drop in blood pressure when too much blood is diverted to the digestive tract, leaving the brain relatively deprived. The condition most often affects older adults who may have an associated disorder like diabetes, hypertension or Parkinson’s disease that impedes the body’s ability to maintain a normal blood pressure. Fortunately, I am thus far spared any disorder linked to this symptom, but I’m now careful to avoid overeating lest it happen again. “An essential problem is that almost every disease can cause dizziness,” say two medical experts who wrote a comprehensive new book, “Dizziness: Why You Feel Dizzy and What Will Help You Feel Better.” Although the vast majority of patients seen at dizziness clinics do not have a serious health problem, the authors, Dr. Gregory T. Whitman and Dr. Robert W. Baloh, emphasize that doctors must always “be on the alert for a serious disease presenting as ‘dizziness,’” like “stroke, transient ischemic attacks, multiple sclerosis and brain tumors.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 23196 - Posted: 02.07.2017

By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News website Deaf mice have been able to hear a tiny whisper after being given a "landmark" gene therapy by US scientists. They say restoring near-normal hearing in the animals paves the way for similar treatments for people "in the near future". Studies, published in Nature Biotechnology, corrected errors that led to the sound-sensing hairs in the ear becoming defective. The researchers used a synthetic virus to nip in and correct the defect. "It's unprecedented, this is the first time we've seen this level of hearing restoration," said researcher Dr Jeffrey Holt, from Boston Children's Hospital. Hair defect About half of all forms of deafness are due to an error in the instructions for life - DNA. In the experiments at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the mice had a genetic disorder called Usher syndrome. It means there are inaccurate instructions for building microscopic hairs inside the ear. In healthy ears, sets of outer hair cells magnify sound waves and inner hair cells then convert sounds to electrical signals that go to the brain. The hairs normally form these neat V-shaped rows. But in Usher syndrome they become disorganised - severely affecting hearing. The researchers developed a synthetic virus that was able to "infect" the ear with the correct instructions for building hair cells. © 2017 BBC.

Keyword: Hearing; Regeneration
Link ID: 23195 - Posted: 02.07.2017

By Tiffany O'Callaghan Imagine feeling angry or upset whenever you hear a certain everyday sound. It’s a condition called misophonia, and we know little about its causes. Now there’s evidence that misophonics show distinctive brain activity whenever they hear their trigger sounds, a finding that could help devise coping strategies and treatments. Olana Tansley-Hancock knows misophonia’s symptoms only too well. From the age of about 7 or 8, she experienced feelings of rage and discomfort whenever she heard the sound of other people eating. By adolescence, she was eating many of her meals alone. As time wore on, many more sounds would trigger her misophonia. Rustling papers and tapping toes on train journeys constantly forced her to change seats and carriages. Clacking keyboards in the office meant she was always making excuses to leave the room. Finally, she went to a doctor for help. “I got laughed at,” she says. “People who suffer from misophonia often have to make adjustments to their lives, just to function,” says Miren Edelstein at the University of California, San Diego. “Misophonia seems so odd that it’s difficult to appreciate how disabling it can be,” says her colleague, V. S. Ramachandran. The condition was first given the name misophonia in 2000, but until 2013, there had only been two case studies published. More recently, clear evidence has emerged that misophonia isn’t a symptom of other conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, nor is it a matter of being oversensitive to other people’s bad manners. Some studies, including work by Ramachandran and Edelstein, have found that trigger sounds spur a full fight-or-flight response in people with misophonia. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Hearing; Attention
Link ID: 23181 - Posted: 02.03.2017

Erin Hare One chilly day in February 1877, a British cotton baron named Joseph Sidebotham heard what he thought was a canary warbling near his hotel window. He was vacationing with his family in France, and soon realized the tune wasn’t coming from outside. “The singing was in our salon,” he wrote of the incident in Nature. “The songster was a mouse.” The family fed the creature bits of biscuit, and it quickly became comfortable enough to climb onto the warm hearth at night and regale them with songs. It would sing for hours. Clearly, Sidebotham concluded, this was no ordinary mouse. More than a century later, however, scientists discovered he was wrong. It turns out that all mice chitter away to each other. Their language is usually just too high-pitched for human ears to detect. Today, mouse songs are no mere curiosity. Researchers are able to engineer mice to express genetic mutations associated with human speech disorders, and then measure the changes in the animals’ songs. They’re leveraging these beautifully complex vocalizations to uncover the mysteries of human speech. Anecdotal accounts of singing mice date back to 1843. In the journal The Zoologist, the British entomologist and botanist Edward Newman wrote that the song of a rare “murine Orpheus” sounds as “if the mouth of a canary were carefully closed, and the bird, in revenge, were to turn ventriloquist, and sing in the very centre of his stomach.” © 2017 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.

Keyword: Language; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23162 - Posted: 01.28.2017

By Matt Blois Some of the signals animals use to communicate are obvious. Birds sing. Lions roar. But there’s a whole category of signals in the natural world that humans rarely notice. Researchers have found that one species of cichlid uses urine to send chemical signals to rivals during aggressive displays. The team separated large fish from small fish with a transparent divider. Half the dividers contained holes to allow water to flow back and forth. The scientists then injected the fish with a violet dye (pictured), turning their urine bright blue. When the animals saw each other, they raised their fins and rushed toward the divider. They also changed the way they peed. Fish separated by a solid barrier couldn’t detect their opponent’s urine. In an attempt to get their message across, they urinated even more. Without the chemical cues provided by the urine, smaller fish often tried to attack their larger opponents, the team reports this month in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Humans could be missing other signals as well, the researchers contend. In addition to chemical signals, animals use seismic vibrations, electricity, and ultraviolet light to communicate. Visual signals might be more obvious, but this research stresses the importance of looking for less noticeable forms of communication, the authors say. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 23160 - Posted: 01.28.2017

By Marcy Cuttler, CBC News Imagine waking up suddenly deaf in one ear. Musician and composer Richard Einhorn has lived through it. In June 2010, the 64-year-old New Yorker awoke to his ears ringing. "The first thing you think of, of course, is a brain tumour or a stroke," he said. At the time, he was in upstate Massachusetts, far from help. So he called a cab and went to the closest hospital. Doctors eventually told him it was sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) — a little-known and not well understood condition that affects one person per 5,000 every year according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. What doctors do know: that most people diagnosed with it are between the ages of 40 and 60; that men and women can be equally afflicted; and that it usually only impacts one ear. Einhorn, who couldn't hear well in his other ear due to a pre-existing condition, was left completely deaf. "It was incredibly difficult to communicate with anybody ... we were doing it with notes," he said. "I wouldn't recommend it on my worst enemy. It was really, really terrible." Dr. James Bonaparte says if you wake up with ringing in your ears that continues throughout the day, or if you notice a drop in hearing on one side — and you don't have a cold at the time — get checked. (CBC) ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 23153 - Posted: 01.27.2017

By NATALIE ANGIER Whether personally or professionally, Daniel Kronauer of Rockefeller University is the sort of biologist who leaves no stone unturned. Passionate about ants and other insects since kindergarten, Dr. Kronauer says he still loves flipping over rocks “just to see what’s crawling around underneath.” In an amply windowed fourth-floor laboratory on the east side of Manhattan, he and his colleagues are assaying the biology, brain, genetics and behavior of a single species of ant in ambitious, uncompromising detail. The researchers have painstakingly hand-decorated thousands of clonal raider ants, Cerapachys biroi, with bright dots of pink, blue, red and lime-green paint, a color-coded system that allows computers to track the ants’ movements 24 hours a day — and makes them look like walking jelly beans. The scientists have manipulated the DNA of these ants, creating what Dr. Kronauer says are the world’s first transgenic ants. Among the surprising results is a line of Greta Garbo types that defy the standard ant preference for hypersociality and instead just want to be left alone. The researchers also have identified the molecular and neural cues that spur ants to act like nurses and feed the young, or to act like queens and breed more young, or to serve as brutal police officers, capturing upstart nestmates, spread-eagling them on the ground and reducing them to so many chitinous splinters. Dr. Kronauer, who was born and raised in Germany and just turned 40, is tall, sandy-haired, blue-eyed and married to a dentist. He is amiable and direct, and his lab’s ambitions are both lofty and pragmatic. “Our ultimate goal is to have a fundamental understanding of how a complex biological system works,” Dr. Kronauer said. “I use ants as a model to do this.” As he sees it, ants in a colony are like cells in a multicellular organism, or like neurons in the brain: their fates joined, their labor synchronized, the whole an emergent force to be reckoned with. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 23141 - Posted: 01.24.2017