Chapter 16. None
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The make-up of the bacteria found in human faeces may influence levels of dangerous fat in our bodies, say researchers from King's College London. Their analysis of stool samples in a study of more than 3,600 twins found evidence that some of this bacteria is inherited. What is contained in faeces bacteria could therefore partly explain why obesity passes down through families. The study is published in Genome Biology. The research team extracted information from study participants about the human faecal microbiome - the bacteria present in faeces samples - and compared these to six different measures of obesity, including body mass index (BMI) and different types of body fat. The researchers found the strongest links with visceral fat, where participants with a high diversity of bacteria in their faeces had lower levels of visceral fat. This type of body fat is bad news because it is stored in the stomach area around important organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines and is linked with higher risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Dr Michelle Beaumont, lead study author from the department of twin research and genetic epidemiology at King's College London, said although the study showed a clear link, it was not yet possible to explain why it existed. One theory is that a lack of variety in faecal bacteria could lead to the domination of high levels of gut microbes which are good at turning carbohydrates into fat. © 2016 BBC.
Link ID: 22694 - Posted: 09.26.2016
By GINA KOLATA You must lose weight, a doctor told Sarah Bramblette, advising a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet. But Ms. Bramblette had a basic question: How much do I weigh? The doctor’s scale went up to 350 pounds, and she was heavier than that. If she did not know the number, how would she know if the diet was working? The doctor had no answer. So Ms. Bramblette, 39, who lived in Ohio at the time, resorted to a solution that made her burn with shame. She drove to a nearby junkyard that had a scale that could weigh her. She was 502 pounds. One in three Americans is obese, a rate that has been steadily growing for more than two decades, but the health care system — in its attitudes, equipment and common practices — is ill prepared, and its practitioners are often unwilling, to treat the rising population of fat patients. The difficulties range from scales and scanners, like M.R.I. machines that are not built big enough for very heavy people, to surgeons who categorically refuse to give knee or hip replacements to the obese, to drug doses that have not been calibrated for obese patients. The situation is particularly thorny for the more than 15 million Americans who have extreme obesity — a body mass index of 40 or higher — and face a wide range of health concerns. Part of the problem, both patients and doctors say, is a reluctance to look beyond a fat person’s weight. Patty Nece, 58, of Alexandria, Va., went to an orthopedist because her hip was aching. She had lost nearly 70 pounds and, although she still had a way to go, was feeling good about herself. Until she saw the doctor. “He came to the door of the exam room, and I started to tell him my symptoms,” Ms. Nece said. “He said: ‘Let me cut to the chase. You need to lose weight.’” © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22693 - Posted: 09.26.2016
George Paxinos Many people today believe they possess a soul. While conceptions of the soul differ, many would describe it as an “invisible force that appears to animate us”. It’s often believed the soul can survive death and is intimately associated with a person’s memories, passions and values. Some argue the soul has no mass, takes no space and is localised nowhere. But as a neuroscientist and psychologist, I have no use for the soul. On the contrary, all functions attributable to this kind of soul can be explained by the workings of the brain. Psychology is the study of behaviour. To carry out their work of modifying behaviour, such as in treating addiction, phobia, anxiety and depression, psychologists do not need to assume people have souls. For the psychologists, it is not so much that souls do not exist, it is that there is no need for them. It is said psychology lost its soul in the 1930s. By this time, the discipline fully became a science, relying on experimentation and control rather than introspection. What is the soul? It is not only religious thinkers who have proposed that we possess a soul. Some of the most notable proponents have been philosophers, such as Plato (424-348 BCE) and René Descartes in the 17th century. Plato believed we do not learn new things but recall things we knew before birth. For this to be so, he concluded, we must have a soul. Centuries later, Descartes wrote his thesis Passions of the Soul, where he argued there was a distinction between the mind, which he described as a “thinking substance”, and the body, “the extended substance”. He wrote: © 2010–2016, The Conversation US, Inc.
Link ID: 22692 - Posted: 09.26.2016
By Michael Price A deadly disease known as African sleeping sickness has puzzled doctors for decades. It would disappear from villages without a trace, only to re-emerge weeks or months later with no known cause. Frustrated health officials wondered how sleeping sickness could persist when not a single villager or animal—the disease’s only carriers—tested positive for the insect-borne parasite that causes it. Now, scientists may have an answer at last: They’ve discovered the disease was hiding in plain sight this whole time, living in and even transmitting via human skin. African sleeping sickness, also known as African trypanosomiasis, is caused by a microscopic wormlike parasite spread exclusively by the tsetse fly. As such, it’s limited by the fly’s range to sub-Saharan Africa. Locals avoid places where the flies are numerous, but political unrest can displace residents and force them into the path of the disease. Once infected, people have anywhere from weeks to years before the parasite crashes into the brain, causing headaches, tremors, confusion, and paralysis. Those infected also suffer from a disrupted sleep cycle, bouts of random sleepiness and wakefulness that gives the disease its name. Without treatment—toxic drugs that keep patients bedridden for weeks—those infected nearly always slip into a coma and die. In the 1950s and 1960s, health officials got the number of reported cases down to a few thousand per year and were on track to eradicate it, says parasitologist Annette MacLeod of the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, who led the new discovery. But despite their best efforts, they could never get rid of the last few thousand cases. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Link ID: 22691 - Posted: 09.24.2016
By CONOR DOUGHERTY SAN FRANCISCO — Every now and again, when I’m feeling a little down, I go to Baseball-Reference.com and look up the San Francisco Giants’ box score from July 29, 2012. It’s an odd choice for a Giants fan. The Los Angeles Dodgers won, 4-0, completing a weekend sweep in which they outscored the Giants by 19-3 and tied them for the lead in the National League West. The Giants went on to win the World Series that year, but that’s not why I remember the July 29 game. I remember that afternoon because my mom, in the throes of Alzheimer’s, left the house she shared with my dad in the Noe Valley neighborhood, walked four or so miles and somehow ended up at AT&T Park. Then she went inside and watched her team. It took a while for me to believe this. When Mom told me she had gone to the park — my dad barely watches baseball, so the Giants have always been a thing between me and Mom — I assumed it was an old memory misplaced on a new day. But it turned out that Sunday game did overlap with the hours she had been out, and a month or so later my dad got a credit card bill with the charge for the ticket. I can’t tell you when Mom cheered or if she managed to find her seat. All I know is Clayton Kershaw struck out seven, the Giants had five hits, and even though I’ve committed these statistics to memory, I still like looking them up. On the chance that this hasn’t been clubbed into your head by now, the Giants have won the World Series in every even-numbered year this decade. And for reasons that I choose to see as cosmic, this run of baseball dominance has tracked my mom’s descent into Alzheimer’s. The disease doesn’t take people from you in a day or a week or a season. You get years of steady disappearance, with an indeterminate end. So for me and Mom and baseball, this decade has been a long goodbye. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22690 - Posted: 09.24.2016
By Dwayne Godwin, Jorge Cham The brain processes a wealth of visual information in parallel so that we perceive the world around us in the blink of an eye Dwayne Godwin is a neuroscientist at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Jorge Cham draws the comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper at www.phdcomics.com. © 2016 Scientific American
Link ID: 22689 - Posted: 09.24.2016
By Virginia Morell There will never be a horse like Mr. Ed, the talking equine TV star. But scientists have discovered that the animals can learn to use another human tool for communicating: pointing to symbols. They join a short list of other species, including some primates, dolphins, and pigeons, with this talent. Scientists taught 23 riding horses of various breeds to look at a display board with three icons, representing wearing or not wearing a blanket. Horses could choose between a “no change” symbol or symbols for “blanket on” or “blanket off.” Previously, their owners made this decision for them. Horses are adept at learning and following signals people give them, and it took these equines an average of 10 days to learn to approach and touch the board and to understand the meaning of the symbols. All 23 horses learned the entire task within 14 days. They were then tested in various weather conditions to see whether they could use the board to tell their trainers about their blanket preferences. The scientists report online in Applied Animal Behaviour Science that the horses did not touch the symbols randomly, but made their choices based on the weather. If it was wet, cold, and windy, they touched the "blanket on" icon; horses that were already wearing a blanket nosed the “no change” image. But when the weather was sunny, the animals touched the "blanket off" symbol; those that weren’t blanketed pressed the “no change” icon. The study’s strong results show that the horses understood the consequences of their choices, say the scientists, who hope that other researchers will use their method to ask horses more questions. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Carl Zimmer Modern humans evolved in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. But how did our species go on to populate the rest of the globe? The question, one of the biggest in studies of human evolution, has intrigued scientists for decades. In a series of extraordinary genetic analyses published on Wednesday, researchers believe they have found an answer. In the journal Nature, three separate teams of geneticists survey DNA collected from cultures around the globe, many for the first time, and conclude that all non-Africans today trace their ancestry to a single population emerging from Africa between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago. “I think all three studies are basically saying the same thing,” said Joshua M. Akey of the University of Washington, who wrote a commentary accompanying the new work. “We know there were multiple dispersals out of Africa, but we can trace our ancestry back to a single one.” The three teams sequenced the genomes of 787 people, obtaining highly detailed scans of each. The genomes were drawn from people in hundreds of indigenous populations: Basques, African pygmies, Mayans, Bedouins, Sherpas and Cree Indians, to name just a few. The DNA of indigenous populations is essential to understanding human history, many geneticists believe. Yet until now scientists have sequenced entire genomes from very few people outside population centers like Europe and China. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22682 - Posted: 09.22.2016
By Andy Coghlan You made a choice and it didn’t turn out too well. How will your brain ensure you do better next time? It seems there’s a hub in the brain that doles out rewards and punishments to reinforce vital survival skills. “Imagine you go to a restaurant hoping to have a good dinner,” says Bo Li of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. “If the food exceeds your expectations, you will likely come back again, whereas you will avoid it in future if the food disappoints.” Li’s team has discovered that a part of the brain’s basal ganglia area, called the habenula-projecting globus pallidus (GPh), plays a crucial role in this process. They trained mice to associate specific sound cues either with a reward of a drink of water or a punishment of a puff of air in the face, and then surprised them by switching them around. When mice expecting a drink were instead punished with a puff of air, GPh neurons became particularly active. But when the mice were unexpectedly rewarded, the activity of these neurons was inhibited. Further experiments revealed that once activated GPh neurons enforce punishment in the brain, reducing levels of the reward chemical dopamine in regions of the brain that plan actions. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 22681 - Posted: 09.22.2016
Sara Reardon Two heads are better than one: an idea that a new global brain initiative hopes to take advantage of. In recent years, brain-mapping initiatives have been popping up around the world. They have different goals and areas of expertise, but now researchers will attempt to apply their collective knowledge in a global push to more fully understand the brain. Thomas Shannon, US Under Secretary of State, announced the launch of the International Brain Initiative on 19 September at a meeting that accompanied the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York City. Details — including which US agency will spearhead the programme and who will pay for it — are still up in the air. However, researchers held a separate, but concurrent, meeting hosted by the US National Science Foundation at Rockefeller University to discuss which aspects of the programmes already in existence could be aligned under the global initiative. The reaction was a mixture of concerns over the fact that attemping to align projects could siphon money and attention from existing initiatives in other countries, and anticipation over the possibilities for advancing our knowledge about the brain. “I thought the most exciting moment in my scientific career was when the president announced the BRAIN Initiative in 2013,” says Cori Bargmann, a neuroscientist at the Rockefeller University in New York City and one of the main architects of the US Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. “But this was better.” © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited,
Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 22680 - Posted: 09.22.2016
By Elisabeth Pain BARCELONA, SPAIN—In a bid to win the public's hearts and minds, the Spanish scientific community has pledged to become more transparent about animal research. Ninety research centers, universities, scientific societies, and companies around Spain have adopted a set of standards, launched yesterday by the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE), on how research organizations should open up communication channels about their use of laboratory animals. They are joining a growing movement for transparency in Europe. Although animal research is generally accepted in Spain as beneficial, “part of the society is opposed to this type of research or isn’t sure about supporting it,” Juan Lerma, a professor at the Institute of Neurosciences of Alicante, Spain, who coordinated a COSCE commission on the use of animal research, wrote in the document. The signatories want to help the public better understand the benefits, costs, and limitations of animal research through a “realistic” description of the expected results, the impact on animals' welfare, and ethical considerations. Among other things, the Spanish organizations pledge to publicly recognize the fact that they're doing animal research, talk clearly about when, how, and why they use animals, allow visitors into their facilities, highlight the contribution of animal research during the dissemination of results, and publicize efforts to replace, reduce, and refine animal research. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 22679 - Posted: 09.22.2016
By Meredith Wadman While the United Nations General Assembly prepared for its sometimes divisive annual general debate on Monday, a less official United Nations of Brain Projects met nearby in a display of international amity and unbounded enthusiasm for the idea that transnational cooperation can, must, and will, at last, explain the brain. The tribe of some 400 neuroscientists, computational biologists, physicists, physicians, ethicists, government science counselors, and private funders convened at The Rockefeller University on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in New York City. The Coordinating Global Brain Projects gathering was mandated by the U.S. Congress in a 2015 law funding the U.S. Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The meeting aimed to synchronize the explosion of big, ambitious neuroscience efforts being launched from Europe to China. Nearly 50 speakers from more than a dozen countries explained how their nations are plumbing brain science; all seemed eager to be part of the as-yet unmapped coordination that they hope will lead to a mellifluous symphony rather than a cacophony of competing chords. “We are really seeing international cooperation at a level that we have not seen before,” said Rockefeller’s Cori Bargmann, a neurobiologist who with Rafael Yuste of Columbia University convened the meeting with the backing of the universities, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Kavli Foundation, a private funder of neuroscience and nanoscience. Bargmann and Yuste have been integral to planning the BRAIN Initiative launched by President Barack Obama in the spring of 2013, which, along with the European Human Brain Project, started the new push for large-scale neuroscience initiatives. “This could be historic,” Yuste said. “I could imagine out of this meeting that groups of people could get together and start international collaborations the way the astronomers and the physicists have been doing for decades.” © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 22678 - Posted: 09.21.2016
By Carey Goldberg I’d just gotten used to the idea that I’m a walking mountain of microbes. The sizzling field of research into the microbiome — our full complement of bugs — is casting new light on our role as homes to the trillions of bacteria that inhabit each of us. At least most of them are friendly, I figured. But now comes the next microbial shift in my self-image, courtesy of the new book “The Mind-Gut Connection.” My trillions of gut microbes, it seems, are in constant communication with my brain, and there’s mounting evidence that they may affect how I feel — not just physically but emotionally. Does this mean — gulp — that maybe our bugs are driving the bus? I spoke with the book’s author, Dr. Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine and psychiatry at UCLA, executive director of the Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience and expert in brain-gut microbiome interactions. Edited excerpts: So we’re not only packed with trillions of gut microbes but they’re in constant cross-talk with our brains — that’s the picture? First of all, you have to realize that these are invisible creatures. So even though there are 100 trillion of them living in our gut, you wouldn’t be able to see them with the naked eye. It’s not like something tangible sitting inside of you, like another organ. © Copyright WBUR 2016
Link ID: 22673 - Posted: 09.20.2016
Laura Sanders In growing brains, billions of nerve cells must make trillions of precise connections. As they snake through the brain, nerve cell tendrils called axons use the brain’s stiffness to guide them on their challenging journey, a study of frog nerve cells suggests. The results, described online September 19 in Nature Neuroscience, show that along with chemical guidance signals, the brain’s physical properties help shape its connections. That insight may be key to understanding how nerve cells wire the brain, says study coauthor Kristian Franze. “I strongly believe that it’s not enough to look at chemistry,” says Franze, a mechanobiologist at the University of Cambridge. “We need to look at environmental factors, too.” The notion that physical features help guide axons is gaining momentum, says neuroscientist Samantha Butler of UCLA. “It’s a really intriguing study.” A better understanding of how nerve cells find their targets could help scientists coax new cells to grow after a spinal cord injury or design better materials for nerve cell implants. Franze and colleagues studied nerve cells from the retina of frogs. Experiments on cells in dishes suggested that axons, signal-transmitting tendrils led by tiny pioneering structures called growth cones, grew differently on hard and soft material. Axons grew longer and straighter on stiff surfaces and seemed to meander more on softer material. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22672 - Posted: 09.20.2016
By SABRINA TAVERNISE WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug to treat patients with the most common childhood form of muscular dystrophy, a vivid example of the growing power that patients and their advocates wield over the federal government’s evaluation of drugs. The agency’s approval went against the recommendation of its experts. The main clinical trial of the drug was small, involving only 12 boys with the disease known as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and did not have an adequate control group of boys who had the disease but did not take the drug. A group of independent experts convened by the agency this spring said there was not enough evidence that it was effective. But the vote was close. Large and impassioned groups of patients, including boys in wheelchairs, and their advocates, weighed in. The muscular dystrophy community is well organized and has lobbied for years to win approval for the drug, getting members of Congress to write letters to the agency. A decision on the drug had been delayed for months. The approval was so controversial that F.D.A. employees fought over it, a dispute that was taken to the agency’s commissioner, Dr. Robert M. Califf, who ultimately decided that it would stand. The approval delighted the drug’s advocates and sent the share price of the drug’s maker, Sarepta Therapeutics, soaring. But it was taken as a deeply troubling sign among drug policy experts who believe the F.D.A. has been far too influenced by patient advocates and drug companies, and has allowed the delicate balance in drug approvals to tilt toward speedy decisions based on preliminary data and away from more conclusive evidence of effectiveness and safety. © 2016 The New York Times Company
By Meredith Wadman Last year, in a move to counter charges that it has neglected the health and safety of its players, the National Football League (NFL) tapped Elizabeth “Betsy” Nabel as its first chief health and medical adviser, a paid position to which she told The Boston Globe she devotes about 1 day a month, plus some nights and weekends. (She and NFL have not disclosed her salary.) And last week, Nabel answered Science’s questions on the heels of NFL’s 14 September announcement that it will devote $40 million in new funding to medical research, primarily neuroscience relevant to repetitive head injuries—with grant applications judged by an NFL-convened panel of scientists, rather than by National Institutes of Health (NIH) study sections. Nabel is well known to many medical scientists as the cardiologist who directed the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH, then left that job in 2009 to become president of a prestigious Harvard University–affiliated teaching hospital: Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Nabel’s new role with NFL came under media scrutiny in May, when a report by Democrats on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee found that NFL inappropriately tried to influence the way its “unrestricted” donation to NIH was spent. It revealed, for example, that last year Nabel contacted NIH’s neurology institute director Walter Koroshetz to question the objectivity of an NIH study section and of a principal investigator whose team the peer reviewers had just awarded a $16 million grant. Robert Stern and his group at Boston University, with others, were proposing to image the brains and chart the symptoms of scores of college and professional football players across time. NFL suggested that the scientists, who have led in establishing the link between repetitive head injury and the neurodegenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), were not objective; Nabel described them in one email as “a more marginal group” whose influence it would be well to “dilute.” The scientists were to have been paid from $30 million that NFL donated to NIH in 2012. After the league objected to its $16 million going to fund the Boston University–led team—it did offer to fund $2 million of the amount—NIH’s neurology institute ended up wholly funding the 7-year grant with its own money. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Scienc
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 22669 - Posted: 09.20.2016
By PAGAN KENNEDY In 1914, The Lancet reported on a clergyman who was found dead in a pool; he had left behind this suicide note: “Another sleepless night, no real sleep for weeks. Oh, my poor brain, I cannot bear the lengthy, dark hours of the night.” I came across that passage with a shock of recognition. Many people think that the worst part of insomnia is the daytime grogginess. But like that pastor, I suffered most in the dark hours after midnight, when my desire for sleep, my raging thirst for it, would drive me into temporary insanity. On the worst nights, my mind would turn into a mad dog that snapped and gnawed itself. Though one in 10 American adults suffer from chronic insomnia, we have yet to answer the most fundamental questions about the affliction. Scientists are still arguing about the mechanisms of sleep and the reasons it fails in seemingly healthy people. There are few — if any — reliable treatments for insomnia. At the same time, medical journals warn that bad sleep can fester into diseases like cancer and diabetes. Deep in the night, those warnings scuttle around my mind like rats. About 18 months ago, during a particularly grueling period, I felt so desperate that I consulted yet another doctor — but all he did was suggest the same drugs that had failed me in the past. I was thrown back once again on my own ways of coping. As a child, I had invented mental games to distract myself. For instance, I would compile a list of things and people that made me happy, starting with words that began with A and moving through the alphabet. One night, I was in the Qs, trying to figure out what to add to quesadillas, queer theory and Questlove. Then, suddenly, the game infuriated me — why, why, why did I have to spend hours doing this? In the red glare of the digital clock, my brain rattled its cage. I prepared for a wave of lunacy. But instead of a meltdown, I had a wild idea: What if there was another, easier, way to drive the miserable thoughts from my mind? I began to fantasize about a machine that would do the thinking for me. I pictured it like another brain that would fit on top of my head. The next day, I cobbled together my first insomnia machine. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22667 - Posted: 09.19.2016
By Colin Barras It is not just about speed. The only songbird known to perform a rapid tap dance during courtship makes more noise with its feet during its routines than at other times. The blue-capped cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus cyanocephalus) from East Africa is blessed with the attributes of a Broadway star: striking good looks, a strong singing voice – and fine tap-dancing skills. The dances are so fast that they went unnoticed until 2015, when Masayo Soma at Hokkaido University in Japan and her colleagues captured the performances on high-speed film. The bird’s speciality is a left-right-left shuffle – only with the feet striking the perch up to 50 times a second. The vision of some birds operates at a faster rate than that of humans, so the cordon-bleu’s dance may simply be about creating an impressive visual performance. But it could also be about winning over a potential mate with rhythm. To explore the idea, Soma and her colleagues recorded audio of the courtship dances, which both males and females perform. They found that the tap dances are unusually loud: the feet strike the branch with enough force to generate sound averaging 30 decibels. This typically drops to just 20 decibels when a bird’s feet strike the branch as it hops around when it is not performing, which means the step sounds are not just a by-product of movement. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 22665 - Posted: 09.19.2016
Tina Hesman Saey Color vision may actually work like a colorized version of a black-and-white movie, a new study suggests. Cone cells, which sense red, green or blue light, detect white more often than colors, researchers report September 14 in Science Advances. The textbook-rewriting discovery could change scientists’ thinking about how color vision works. For decades, researchers have known that three types of cone cells in the retina are responsible for color vision. Those cone cells were thought to send “red,” “green” and “blue” signals to the brain. The brain supposedly combines the colors, much the way a color printer does, to create a rainbow-hued picture of the world (including black and white). But the new findings indicate that “the retina is doing more of the work, and it’s doing it in a more simpleminded way,” says Jay Neitz, a color vision scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the study. Red and green cone cells each come in two types: One type signals “white”; another signals color, vision researcher Ramkumar Sabesan and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered. The large number of cells that detect white (and black — the absence of white) create a high-resolution black-and-white picture of a person’s surroundings, picking out edges and fine details. Red- and green-signaling cells fill in low-resolution color information. The process works much like filling in a coloring book or adding color to a black-and-white film, says Sabesan, who is now at the University of Washington. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016
Link ID: 22660 - Posted: 09.15.2016
By Brian Owens It’s certainly something to crow about. New Caledonian crows are known for their ingenious use of tools to get at hard-to-reach food. Now it turns out that their Hawaiian cousins are adept tool-users as well. Christian Rutz at the University of St Andrews in the UK has spent 10 years studying the New Caledonian crow and wondered whether any other crow species are disposed to use tools. So he looked for crows that have similar features to the New Caledonian crow – a straight bill and large, mobile eyes that allow it to manipulate tools, much as archaeologists use opposable thumbs as an evolutionary signature for tool use in early humans. “The Hawaiian crow really stood out,” he says. “They look quite similar.” Hawaiian crows are extinct in the wild, but 109 birds still live in two captive breeding facilities in Hawaii. That meant Rutz was able to test pretty much every member of the species. He stuffed tasty morsels into a variety of holes and crevices in a log, and gave the birds a variety of sticks to see if they would use them to dig out the food. Almost all of them did, and most extracted the food in less than a minute, faster than the researchers themselves could. “It’s mind-blowing,” says Rutz. “They’re very good at getting the tool in the right position, and if they’re not happy with it they’ll modify it or make their own.” © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.