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James Gorman When the leader of a flock goes the wrong way, what will the flock do? With human beings, nobody can be sure. But with homing pigeons, the answer is that they find their way home anyway. Either the lead pigeon recognizes that it has no clue and falls back into the flock, letting birds that know where they are going take over, or the flock collectively decides that the direction that it is taking just doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t follow. Several European scientists report these findings in a stirring report in Biology Letters titled, “Misinformed Leaders Lose Influence Over Pigeon Flocks.” Isobel Watts, a doctoral student in zoology at Oxford, conducted the study with her advisers, Theresa Burt de Perera and Dora Biro, and with the participation of Mate Nagy, a statistical physicist from Hungary, who is affiliated with several institutions, including Oxford and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Dr. Biro, who studies social behavior in primates as well as pigeons, said that the common questions that ran through her work were “about group living and what types of challenges and opportunities it brings.” She and her colleagues at Oxford have pioneered a method of studying flock behavior that uses very-fine-resolution GPS units, which the birds wear in pigeon-size backpacks. The devices record a detailed position for each bird a number of times a second. Researchers in Budapest and Oxford developed software to analyze small movements and responses of every bird in a flock. With this method, the scientists can identify which pigeons are leading the way. They can build a picture of how each bird responds to changes in the flight of other birds. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Jon Hamilton There's growing evidence that a physical injury to the brain can make people susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies of troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have found that service members who suffer a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury are far more likely to develop PTSD, a condition that can cause flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety for years after a traumatic event. And research on both people and animals suggest the reason is that a brain injury can disrupt circuits that normally dampen the response to a frightening event. The result is like "driving a car and the brake's not fully functioning," says Minxiong Huang, a biomedical physicist at the University of California, San Diego. Scientists have suspected a link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and PTSD for many years. But the evidence was murky until researchers began studying troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. What they found was a lot of service members like Charles Mayer, an Army sniper from San Diego who developed PTSD after finishing a deployment in Iraq. In 2010, Mayer was on patrol in an Army Humvee near Baghdad when a roadside bomb went off. "I was unconscious for several minutes," he says. So he found out what happened from the people who dragged him out. The blast fractured Mayer's spine. It also affected his memory and thinking. That became painfully clear when Mayer got out of the Army in 2012. © 2016 npr
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 Alison F. Takemura Bodies like to keep their pH close to 7.4, whether that means hyperventilating to make the blood alkaline, or burning energy, shifting to anaerobic metabolism, and producing lactate to make the blood acidic. The lungs and kidneys can regulate pH changes systemically, but they may not act quickly on a local scale. Because even small pH changes can dramatically affect the nervous system, a study led by Sten Grillner of Karolinska Institute in Sweden looked for a mechanism for pH homeostasis in the spinal cord. Using the lamprey as a model system, the researchers observed that a type of spinal canal neuron, called CSF-c, fired more rapidly when they bathed it with high pH (7.7) or low pH (7.1) media. They could suspend the elevated activity by blocking two ion channels: PKD2L1 channels, which stimulate neurons in alkaline conditions, or ASIC3 channels, which, the team showed previously, do the same in acidic states. As the neurons fired, they released the hormone somatostatin, which inhibited the lamprey’s locomotor network. These results suggest that, whichever direction pH deviates, “the response of the system is just to reduce activity as much as possible,” Grillner says. The pH-regulating role of CSF-c neurons is likely conserved among animals, the authors suspect, given the presence of these neurons across vertebrate taxa. © 1986-2016 The Scientist
Keyword: Movement Disorders
Link ID: 22688 - Posted: 09.24.2016
By Karl Gruber Five lionesses in Botswana have grown a mane and are showing male-like behaviours. One is even roaring and mounting other females. Male lions are distinguished by their mane, which they use to attract females, and they roar to protect their territory or call upon members of their pride. Females lack a mane and are not as vocal. . New Scientist Live: Book tickets to our festival of ideas and discovery – 22 to 25 September in London But sometimes lionesses grow a mane and even behave a bit like males. However, until now, reports of such maned lionesses have been extremely rare and largely anecdotal. We knew they existed, but little about how they behave. Now, Geoffrey D. Gilfillan at the University of Sussex in Falmer, UK, and colleagues have reported five lionesses sporting a mane at the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana’s Okavango delta. Gilfillan started studying these lionesses back in March 2014, and for the next two years he focused on recording the behaviour of one of them, called SaF05. She had an underdeveloped mane and was larger than most females. “While SaF05 is mostly female in her behaviour – staying with the pride, mating males – she also has some male behaviours, such as increased scent-marking and roaring, as well as mounting other females,” says Gilfillan. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By MICHAEL HEDRICK My father said on numerous occasions when I was growing up that he would see other families that had problems like divorce and drug use, and he would thank God that his family was so perfect. Things would change, though. They always do. And that perfect family would face just as much struggle as any other. Growing up in the mountains above Boulder, Colo., our life was good. My parents had left their life in Chicago behind for an ideal they saw in a piece of art they found at a flea market, a haphazardly painted picture of a cabin next to a river with the mountains towering in the background. Born in the early ‘80s, my brothers and I shared a bond as best friends in our small neighborhood, isolated from town, where we spent time outside sledding, building forts and making dams in the ditch that ran by our house. The biggest problems we seemed to face were bloody knees and the occasional broken bone from snowboarding and bike accidents. My dad, a subscriber to “Mother Earth News,” relished our family’s home in the mountains. There were backpacking trips to the national park 30 miles away, where he taught us how to build a fire and to hang our food from tree limbs to keep it out of reach of bears. Other times he would take us on long father-son road trips, where we would drive the long highways with nothing to look at but the passing fields and nothing to pay attention to but the books on tape from Focus on the Family that my father put on the car stereo. Those tapes provided a Christian look at what it meant to be a man, covering issues like lust, sex and puberty, and he’d answer our questions about girls and all manner of things relating to our growing into healthy young men. © 2016 The New York Times Company
By Mallory Locklear Men and women show different patterns of drug abuse, with women becoming addicted to some substances much more quickly. Now a study in rats has found that sex hormones can reduce opioid abuse. From studies of other drugs, such as cocaine and alcohol, we know that women are less likely to use these substances than men, but become addicted faster when they do. “There are a lot of data to indicate that women transition from that initial use to having a substance-use disorder much more rapidly,” says Mark Smith, a psychologist at Davidson College, North Carolina. Once addicted, women also seem to have stronger drug cravings. Tracking drug use throughout women’s menstrual cycles suggests that both these differences could be shaped by hormones – with more intense cravings and greater euphoria at particular times in the cycle, says Smith. Craving crash Now Smith’s team has investigated the effects of hormones on opioid addiction in rats. Their findings suggest that hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone may help women to kick the habit. The researchers allowed female rats to self-administer heroin, and measured how much they chose to take at different times in their oestrous cycle – a regular sequence of hormone fluctuations similar to those seen in the menstrual cycle in women. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
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.
By Michael Price A soft brush that feels like prickly thorns. A vibrating tuning fork that produces no vibration. Not being able to tell which direction body joints are moving without looking at them. Those are some of the bizarre sensations reported by a 9-year-old girl and 19-year-old woman in a new study. The duo, researchers say, shares an extremely rare genetic mutation that may shed light on a so-called “sixth sense” in humans: proprioception, or the body’s awareness of where it is in space. The new work may even explain why some of us are klutzier than others. The patients’ affliction doesn’t have a name. It was discovered by one of the study’s lead authors, pediatric neurologist Carsten Bönnemann at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, who specializes in diagnosing unknown genetic illnesses in young people. He noticed that the girl and the woman shared a suite of physical symptoms, including hips, fingers, and feet that bent at unusual angles. They also had scoliosis, an unusual curvature of the spine. And, significantly, they had difficulty walking, showed an extreme lack of coordination, and couldn’t physically feel objects against their skin. Bönnemann screened their genomes and looked for mutations that they might have in common. One in particular stood out: a catastrophic mutation in PIEZO2, a gene that has been linked to the body’s sense of touch and its ability to perform coordinated movements. At about the same time, in a “very lucky accident,” Bönnemann attended a lecture by Alexander Chesler, a neurologist also at NIH, on PIEZO2. Bönnemann invited Chesler to help study his newly identified patients. © 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
Nicola Davis Tyrannosaur, Breaking the Waves and Schindler’s List might make you reach for the tissues, but psychologists say they have found a reason why traumatic films are so appealing. Researchers at Oxford University say that watching traumatic films boosts feelings of group bonding, as well as increasing pain tolerance by upping levels of feel-good, pain-killing chemicals produced in the brain. “The argument here is that actually, maybe the emotional wringing you get from tragedy triggers the endorphin system,” said Robin Dunbar, a co-author of the study and professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford. Previous research has found that laughing together, dancing together and working in a team can increase social bonding and heighten pain tolerance through an endorphin boost. “All of those things, including singing and dancing and jogging and laughter, all produce an endorphin kick for the same reason - they are putting the musculature of the body under stress,” said Dunbar. Being harrowed, he adds, could have a similar effect. “It has turned out that the same areas in the brain that deal with physical pain also handle psychological pain,” said Dunbar. Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Dunbar and colleagues describe how they set out to unpick whether our love of storytelling, a device used to share knowledge and cultivate a sense of identity within a group, is underpinned by an endorphin-related bonding mechanism. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited