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Laurel Hamers Even Amelia Earhart couldn’t compete with the great frigate bird. She flew nonstop across the United States for 19 hours in 1932; the frigate bird can stay aloft up to two months without landing, a new study finds. The seabird saves energy on transoceanic treks by capitalizing on the large-scale movement patterns of the atmosphere, researchers report in the July 1 Science. By hitching a ride on favorable winds, the bird can spend more time soaring and less time flapping its wings. “Frigate birds are really an anomaly,” says Scott Shaffer, an ecologist at San Jose State University in California who wasn’t involved in the study. The large seabird spends much of its life over the open ocean. Both juvenile and adult birds undertake nonstop flights lasting weeks or months, the scientists found. Frigate birds can’t land in the water to catch a meal or take a break because their feathers aren’t waterproof, so scientists weren’t sure how the birds made such extreme journeys. Researchers attached tiny accelerometers, GPS trackers and heart rate monitors to great frigate birds flying from a tiny island near Madagascar. By pooling data collected over several years, the team re-created what the birds were doing minute-by-minute over long flights — everything from how often the birds flapped their wings to when they dived for food. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
By Tara Parker-Pope About one in eight women take an antidepressant at some time during pregnancy, reports Roni Rabin in today’s Science Times. But is it safe? Some new research shows that antidepressant use during pregnancy may be linked to certain problems in newborns. A new review of the medical literature concludes that treatment decisions for depression during pregnancy must be made on a case-by-case basis. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer,” said Dr. Kimberly Yonkers, a professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine who was the report’s lead author, and who acknowledged receiving research support from antidepressant manufacturers. “You can’t say, ‘Stop medication for all women because it’s harmful,’ and you can’t put all women on medication either.” To learn more, read the full story, “Depression Is a Dilemma for Women in Pregnancy,” and then please join the discussion below. Did you experience depression during pregnancy? Did you take medication to treat it? © 2016 The New York Times Company
Angus Chen At the center of Geel, a charming Belgian town less than an hour's drive from of Antwerp, is a church dedicated to Dymphna, a saint believed to have the power to cure mental disorders. It's a medieval church with stone arches, spires and a half-built bell tower, and it has inspired an unusual centuries-old practice: For over 700 years, residents of Geel have been accepting people with mental disorders, often very severe mental disorders, into their homes and caring for them. It isn't meant to be a treatment or therapy. The people are not called patients, but guests or boarders. They go to Geel and join households to share a life with people who can watch over them. Today, there are about 250 boarders in Geel. One of them is a Flemish man named Luc Ennekans. He's slim and has green eyes, and he's 51 years old. NPR's Lulu Miller went to Geel and met him and his host family there and reported this story for Invisibilia. Like all of the guests in the town today, Ennekans first went to a public psychiatric hospital in Geel that manages the boarder program. Ennekans saw medical professionals and received treatment and an evaluation. Then he was paired with a household. His hosts, Toni Smit and Arthur Shouten, say that living with Ennekans was rough at the start. Ennekans became deeply attached to Smit. "If it were up to Luc, he would be hugging and kissing me all day," Smit says. He showered her with such affection, bringing her flowers, little kisses, linking arms with her on walks, that it began to interfere with Smit and Shouten's marriage. "You couldn't even give each other a hug or Luc is standing behind us," Shouten says. Wrinkles like this are common, according to the couple. They've had six boarders over the years, each with a unique set of challenges. © 2016 npr
By Amina Zafar, CBC News The Zika virus can cause devastating brain defects in newborns with microcephaly, but also in babies with normal-sized heads and those born to women infected late in pregnancy, Brazilian doctors say. In Wednesday's issue of the journal The Lancet, researchers said that of 602 babies born in Brazil with definite or probable Zika cases one in five had head circumferences in the normal range. Dr. Cesar Victora of the Federal University of Pelotas in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and his team say the current focus on screening for microcephaly or small head circumference alone is too narrow. "We should not equate Zika congenital infection with microcephaly," Victora said in an interview from Washington. "We could well have many babies with normal head size who are affected. We will need to think about other exams to screen these babies, such as improving the diagnostic test we have for Zika and also possibly in areas that are undergoing an epidemic, doing ultrasound of the brains of these babies as soon as they are born." The epidemic in the worst-hit northeastern regions of the country peaked in November 2015. While the current season is cooler and mosquitoes aren't reproducing in Brazil, public health authorities continue to advise pregnant women to avoid travel to countries with Zika outbreaks. Countries in South Asia, the Western Pacific Islands, and South and Central America also have outbreaks. ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22384 - Posted: 07.01.2016
By Maya Smith Bonobos (pictured) are known as the peaceful ape. They’re less aggressive than their chimpanzee cousins, and when they have disagreements they’re more likely to make love, not war. Now, a new study reveals one way females keep the peace. In most primate societies, female genitals swell to advertise that they’re ready to mate, leading to fighting among males as they jostle for a partner. But in bonobos, the swellings only indicate fertility half the time, according to a study in the wild published this week in BMC Evolutionary Biology. The findings confirm what scientists have observed in captivity. The researchers behind the new study hypothesize females may have evolved the behavior to gain the upper hand in mating. Because males cannot look to sexual swellings as a reliable indicator of fertility, the females are free to choose their mates. And that helps everyone get along. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
by Bethany Brookshire There’s an osprey nest just outside Jeffrey Brodeur’s office at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “I literally turn to my left and they’re right there,” says Brodeur, the organization’s communications and outreach specialist. WHOI started live-streaming the osprey nest in 2005. For the first few years, few people really noticed. All that changed in 2014. An osprey pair had taken up residence and produced two chicks. But the mother began to attack her own offspring. Brodeur began getting e-mails complaining about “momzilla.” And that was just the beginning. “We became this trainwreck of an osprey nest,” he says. In the summer of 2015, the osprey family tried again. This time, they suffered food shortages. The camera received an avalanche of attention, complaints and e-mails protesting the institute’s lack of intervention. One scolded, “it is absolutely disgusting that you will not take those chicks away from that demented witch of a parent!!!!! Instead you let them be constantly abused and go without [sic] food. Yes this is nature but you have a choice to help or not. This is totally unacceptable. She should be done away with so not to abuse again.” By mid-2015, Brodeur began to receive threats. “People were saying ‘we’re gonna come help them if you don’t,’” he recalls. The osprey cam was turned off, and remains off to this day. Brodeur says he’s always wondered why people had such strong feelings about a bird’s parenting skills. Why do people spend so much time and emotion attempting to apply their own moral sense to an animal’s actions? The answer lies in the human capacity for empathy — one of the qualities that helps us along as a social species. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.
By Aviva Rutkin MONKEYS controlling a robotic arm with their thoughts. Chicks born with a bit of quail brain spliced in. Rats with their brains synced to create a mind-meld computer. For two days in June, some of neuroscience’s most extraordinary feats were debated over coffee and vegetarian food at the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science in Philadelphia. The idea wasn’t to celebrate these accomplishments but to examine them. Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, assembled a group of scientists, philosophers and policy-makers to discuss the moral implications for the animals involved. “An animal would go from being a thing to a person, with all the moral and legal status that implies“ “Neuroscience is remodelling – in sometimes shocking ways – the conventional boundaries between creatures versus organs versus tissue, between machines versus animals, between one species versus blended species,” Farah told New Scientist. “We thought, let’s look at the ways in which advances in animal neuroscience might raise new ethical issues that haven’t been encountered before, or that might have changed enough that they need revisiting.” It’s a timely question. Animal welfare has been hotly debated in some corners for years, but a handful of recent cases have brought the issue to the fore. Last year, under pressure from activists and Congress, the US National Institutes of Health shut down its chimp research programme, and sent the animals to sanctuaries. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 22381 - Posted: 06.30.2016
By Gary Stix Bullies often like being bullies—and an entire line of research links aggressive behaviors to brain areas tied to sensations of reward—sites deep below the organ’s surface with names like the ventromedial hypothalamus and the extended amygdala. One lingering puzzle is what precedes the aggressive act. What makes a person—or, in this case, a mouse—lash out? A new study, published June 29 in Nature, shows that the thought of being the aggressor simply feels good to certain animals. I had a fascinating talk this week with Scott Russo from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the paper’s senior author, who described the significance of these findings. What did your study find? We discovered a brain circuit—connecting the basal forebrain and lateral habenula—that appears to control the motivation of a male mouse to be aggressive and subordinate another male mouse. The significance of these findings is that the circuit seems to be telling an animal that subordinating, or “bullying,” another animal is a rewarding behavior. To test this, we adapted a conditioned place preference protocol—often used to measure the rewarding properties of addictive drugs, whereby mice were allowed to attack an intruder mouse within one of two environmental contexts: When asked which of the two environmental contexts they preferred, aggressive mice chose the environment in which they were allowed to attack the intruder mouse over the environment in which they had no access to the intruder mouse. Interestingly, the basal forebrain and lateral habenula have been previously shown to support conditioned place preference to drugs of abuse, such as nicotine and cocaine, suggesting that similar neural processes mediate rewarding aspects of aggression and addictive substances. © 2016 Scientific American
Link ID: 22380 - Posted: 06.30.2016
When you walk into a room, your eyes process your surroundings immediately: refrigerator, sink, table, chairs. "This is the kitchen," you realize. Your brain has taken data and come to a clear conclusion about the world around you, in an instant. But how does this actually happen? Elissa Aminoff, a research scientist in the Department of Psychology and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Carnegie Mellon University, shares her insights on what computer modeling can tell us about human vision and memory. What do you do? What interests me is how the brain and the mind understand our visual environment. The visual world is really rich with information, and it’s extremely complex. So we have to find ways to break visual data down. What specific parts of our [visual] world is the brain using to give us what we see? In order to answer that question, we’re collaborating with computer scientists and using computer vision algorithms. The goal is to compare these digital methods with the brain. Perhaps they can help us find out what types of data the brain is working with. Does that mean that our brains function like a computer? That’s something you hear a lot about these days. No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s that computers are giving us the closest thing that we have right now to an analogous mechanism. The brain is really, really complex. It deals with massive amounts of data. We need help in organizing these data and computers can do that. Right now, there are algorithms that can identify an object as a phone or as a mug, just like the brain. But are they doing the same thing? Probably not. © 2016 Scientific American,
Link ID: 22379 - Posted: 06.30.2016
By Aviva Rutkin Machine minds are often described as black boxes, their decision-making processes all but inscrutable. But in the case of machine intelligence, researchers are cracking that black box open and peering inside. What they find is that humans and machines don’t pay attention to the same things when they look at pictures – not at all. Researchers at Facebook and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg got humans and machines to look at pictures and answer simple questions – a task that neural-network-based artificial intelligence can handle. But the researchers weren’t interested in the answers. They wanted to map human and AI attention, in order to shed a little light on the differences between us and them. “These attention maps are something we can measure in both humans and machines, which is pretty rare,” says Lawrence Zitnick at Facebook AI Research. Comparing the two could provide insight “into whether computers are looking in the right place”. First, Zitnick and his colleagues asked human workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk to answer simple questions about a set of pictures, such as “What is the man doing?” or “What number of cats are lying on the bed?” Each picture was blurred, and the worker would have to click around to sharpen it. A map of those clicks served as a guide to what part of the picture they were paying attention to. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 22378 - Posted: 06.30.2016
By Patrick Monahan Birds are perhaps best known for their bright colors, aerial prowess, and melodic songs. But research presented in Austin last week at the Evolution Conference shows that bacteria have granted some birds another important attribute: stink. Having long taken a back seat to sight and sound, scent is becoming more and more recognized as an important sense for songbirds, and dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis, pictured) are no stranger to it. When these common birds clean their feathers—or preen—they spread pungent oil from their “preen glands” all over their bodies. The act is important for enticing mates: Three of the gland’s smelly chemicals are found in very different quantities in the two sexes, and males with a more masculine musk end up with more offspring. Females with a more feminine scent profile are more successful, too. But juncos likely aren’t making their perfume alone: Lots of those preen gland chemicals are naturally made by bacteria. And new work is making the bird-bacteria link even more firm. When researchers inject antibiotics into the juncos’ preen glands, the concentrations of three smelly molecules tend to decrease—the same three molecules that juncos find sexy in the right proportions, Danielle Whittaker of Michigan State University in East Lansing told attendees. So it seems like juncos may actually be picking mates based on their bacterial—rather than self-produced—body odor, a first for birds. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Susan Gaidos By age 25, Patrick Schnur had cycled through a series of treatment programs, trying different medications to kick his heroin habit. But the drugs posed problems too: Vivitrol injections were painful and created intense heroin cravings as the drug wore off. Suboxone left him drowsy, depressed and unable to study or go running like he wanted to. Determined to resume the life he had before his addiction, Schnur decided to hunker down and get clean on his own. In December 2015, he had been sober for two years and had just finished his first semester of college, with a 4.0 grade point average. Yet, just before the holidays, he gave in to the cravings. Settling into his dorm room he stuck a needle in his vein. It was his last shot. Scientists are searching for a different kind of shot to prevent such tragedies: a vaccine to counter addiction to heroin and other opioids, such as the prescription painkiller fentanyl and similar knockoff drugs. In some ways, the vaccines work like traditional vaccines for infectious diseases such as measles, priming the immune system to attack foreign molecules. But instead of targeting viruses, the vaccines zero in on addictive chemicals, training the immune system to usher the drugs out of the body before they can reach the brain. Such a vaccine may have helped Schnur, a onetime computer whiz who grew up in the Midwest, far removed from the hard edges of the drug world. His overdose death reflects a growing heroin epidemic and alarming trend. In the 1960s, heroin was seen as a hard-core street drug abused mostly in inner cities. Now heroin is a problem in many suburban and rural towns across America, where it is used primarily by young, white adults — male and female, according to research published by psychiatrist Theodore Cicero of Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues in 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 201
Worldwide voting for the BEST ILLUSION OF THE YEAR will take place online from 4pm EST on June 29th to 4pm EST on June 30th. The winning illusions will receive a $3,000 award for 1st place, a $2,000 award for 2nd place, and a $1,000 award for 3rd place. Anybody with an internet connection (that means YOU!) can vote to pick the Top 3 Winners from the current Top 10 List! The Best illusion of the Year Contest is a celebration of the ingenuity and creativity of the world’s premier illusion research community. Contestants from all around the world submitted novel illusions (unpublished, or published no earlier than 2015), and an international panel of judges rated them and narrowed them to the TOP TEN.
Link ID: 22375 - Posted: 06.29.2016
Nicola Davis Death by cannibalism might seem like a high price to pay for a fleeting moment of passion, but male praying mantises are doing it for the kids, new research suggests. Scientists have discovered that female praying mantises who eat their mates after sex produce a greater number of eggs than those who do not, with the bodies of the ill-fated males used to aid their production. Of the species of praying mantises known to exhibit sexual cannibalism it is estimated up to 28% of males are eaten by their partner. After mating, the female stores the male’s sperm and later uses it to fertilise the eggs that she produces. The authors say the new study backs up a long-mooted theory that males could have evolved a behavioural trait of self-sacrifice to boost their reproductive success. “There is an obvious cost – you are dead, you have lost all future mating possibilities,” said William Brown, of the State University of New York at Fredonia, who co-authored the research. “We measure costs and benefit in terms of offspring production,” he added. If, by dying, the male can boost the number of offspring produced by one female, the theory goes, it could outweigh the downsides of missing out on future conquests. Published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researchers in the US and Australia, the new study reveals how scientists unpicked the influence of cannibalism on the production of offspring in the praying mantis Tenodera sinensis, by tracking what happened to male ejaculate and bodily tissues after mating. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited
By Christie Aschwanden What is gender? It might sound like the kind of question that college students debate in a liberal arts class.1 But for the International Olympic Committee, it’s a practical question that demands a hard and fast answer. As at previous Olympic Games, athletes competing in Rio de Janeiro will be segregated into women’s events and men’s events, and that means the IOC needs a way to sort women from men. New IOC guidelines issued in November allow athletes who have transitioned to another gender to compete without sex reassignment surgery. The rules allow athletes who’d previously identified as female to compete in the male category without restriction, because they would not gain an advantage from their previous gender. Those who transition from male to female, on the other hand, must meet several requirements. The athlete must declare a female identity, and this identity cannot change for at least four years. The athlete must also document that her total serum testosterone levels have remained below a certain limit for a minimum of 12 months before competing, and these levels must remain under the threshold as long as she’s competing. The Olympic committee’s decision is a “huge step forward for everybody in the [transgender] community,” Caitlyn Jenner told me last week. “You can still have your old parts, which I think is very forward thinking.” Jenner is a trans woman who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics when she was Bruce Jenner, and she’s keeping the anatomical details of her own transition private. The public “is obsessed with — do you have it, or don’t have it?” she said, but “a trans person’s body parts is nobody’s business.”
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 22373 - Posted: 06.29.2016
By Ben Panko Everyone needs a stretch every now and then, but most lab rats don’t get the chance. According to new research, they are simply too confined in standard-sized cages to move naturally, potentially affecting their health and the outcomes of some experiments. Knowing that lab rat cages are a far cry from the rodents’ natural habitats, a team of scientists set out to observe the movements of some slightly more free-range rats. Most lab rats in the United States, Canada, and the European Union are housed in cages at least 18–20 centimeters tall, by regulation. But mature rats can reach almost twice that height when standing—between 26 and 30 centimeters. In the new experiment, scientists observed rats in much larger, multilevel habitats with a height of 125 centimeters. Compared with their tightly caged counterparts, who were unable to stand upright, 3-month-old rats stood an average of 178 times per day and 13-month-old rats stood an average of 73 times per day. They were also much more active: Three-month-old rats were seen climbing 76 times per day on average, whereas rats of all ages burrowed for about 20–30 minutes per day. The tightly caged rats, who don't have the space for these behaviors, seemed to stretch to make up for it, extending their bodies lengthwise nine times more often than rats housed in the larger cages, the scientists report today in Royal Society Open Science. The scientists say their findings are just the beginning of research into how standard laboratory cages may interfere with rats' normal movements. To find out how this may affect experimental results in fields like medicine and psychology, they say many more studies need to be done. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 22372 - Posted: 06.29.2016
By BENEDICT CAREY New York University’s medical school has quietly shut down eight studies at its prominent psychiatric research center and parted ways with a top researcher after discovering a series of violations in a study of an experimental, mind-altering drug. A subsequent federal investigation found lax oversight of study participants, most of whom had serious mental issues. The Food and Drug Administration investigators also found that records had been falsified and researchers had failed to keep accurate case histories. In one of the shuttered studies, people with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress caused by childhood abuse took a relatively untested drug intended to mimic the effects of marijuana, to see if it relieved symptoms. “I think their intent was good, and they were considerate to me,” said one of those subjects, Diane Ruffcorn, 40, of Seattle, who said she was sexually abused as a child. “But what concerned me, I was given this drug, and all these tests, and then it was goodbye, I was on my own. There was no follow-up.” It’s a critical time for two important but still controversial areas of psychiatry: the search for a blood test or other biological sign of post-traumatic stress disorder, which has so far come up empty, and the use of recreational drugs like ecstasy and marijuana to treat it. At least one trial of marijuana, and one using ecstasy, are in the works for traumatized veterans, and some psychiatrists and many patients see this work as having enormous promise to reshape and improve treatment for trauma. But obtaining approval to use the drugs in experiments is still politically sensitive. Doctors who have done studies with these drugs say that their uncertain effects on traumatic memory make close supervision during treatment essential. © 2016 The New York Times Company
by German Lopez and Javier Zarracina After years of struggling with treatments for his worsening cancer, Roy was miserable — anxious, depressed, hopeless. Traditional cancer treatments had left him debilitated, and it was unclear whether they would save his life. But then Roy secured a spot in a clinical trial to test an exotic drug. The drug was not meant to cure his cancer; it was meant to cure his terror. And it worked. A few hours after taking a little pill, Roy declared to researchers, "Cancer is not important, the important stuff is love." His concerns about his imminent death had suddenly vanished — and the effects lasted for at least months, according to researchers. It was not a traditional antidepressant, like Zoloft, or anti-anxiety medication, like Xanax, that led Roy to reevaluate his life. It was a drug that has been illegal for decades but is now at the center of a renaissance in research: psilocybin, from hallucinogenic magic mushrooms. Psychologists and psychiatrists have been studying hallucinogens for decades — as treatment for things like alcoholism and depression, and to stimulate creativity. But support for studies dried up in the 1970s, after the federal government listed many psychedelics as Schedule 1 drugs. But now researchers are giving the drugs another look. © 2016 Vox Media, Inc.
By Clare Wilson People who meditate are more aware of their unconscious brain activity – or so a new take on a classic “free will” experiment suggests. The results hint that the feeling of conscious control over our actions can vary – and provide more clues to understanding the complex nature of free will. The famous experiment that challenged our notions of free will was first done in 1983 by neuroscientist Benjamin Libet. It involved measuring electrical activity in someone’s brain while asking them to press a button, whenever they like, while they watch a special clock that allows them to note the time precisely. Typically people feel like they decide to press the button about 200 milliseconds before their finger moves – but the electrodes reveal activity in the part of their brain that controls movement occurs a further 350 milliseconds before they feel they make that decision. This suggests that in fact it is the unconscious brain that “decides” when to press the button. In the new study, a team at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, did a slimmed-down version of the experiment (omitting the brain electrodes), with 57 volunteers, 11 of whom regularly practised mindfulness mediation. The meditators had a longer gap in time between when they felt like they decided to move their finger and when it physically moved – 149 compared with 68 milliseconds for the other people. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 22369 - Posted: 06.28.2016
By Rachel Rabkin Peachman It began with a simple roller-skating accident three years ago. Taylor Aschenbrenner, then 8 years old, lost her balance amid a jumble of classmates, tumbled to the floor and felt someone else’s skate roll over her left foot. The searing pain hit her immediately. The diagnosis, however, would take much longer. An X-ray, M.R.I.s, a CT scan and blood tests over several months revealed no evidence of a break, sprain or other significant problem. Taylor’s primary symptom was pain — so severe that she could not put weight on the foot. “Our family doctor first told us to give it some time,” said Taylor’s mother, Jodi Aschenbrenner, of Hudson, Wis. But time didn’t heal the pain. After about a month, an orthopedist recommended physical therapy. That didn’t end the problem, either. “I couldn’t walk or play outside or do anything,” Taylor said. After she had spent a year and a half on crutches, her orthopedist suggested she see Dr. Stefan Friedrichsdorf, the medical director ofpain medicine, palliative care and integrative medicine at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. He and his team promptly recognized Taylor’s condition as complex regional pain syndrome, a misfiring within the peripheral and central nervous systems that causes pain signals to go into overdrive and stay turned on even after an initial injury or trauma has healed. He came up with a treatment plan for Taylor that included cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy, mind-body techniques, stress-reduction strategies, topical pain-relief patches and a focus on returning to her normal life and sleep routine, among other things. © 2016 The New York Times Company