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Europe’s ambitious project to unpick the workings of the human brain faces a crisis less than a year after it was launched with great fanfare at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne. Some neuroscientists involved in the billion-euro Human Brain Project (HBP) are furious that much of their research into how the brain executes its cognitive functions is to be sidelined as the initiative enters its next phase. Arguments over the strategy and direction of mega-science projects are nothing new. But the acrimony over this project is particularly unfortunate, given its status as one of two European Union (EU) flagship programmes designed to cross some of the widest interdisciplinary barriers and solve societal problems — such as brain disease. Already, some leading scientists have walked away. If more follow, the project could waste a golden opportunity to understand the brain. Dissent in the ranks about what the project should encompass and who should decide this has been raging for months. But it peaked in late May, when the project’s leaders made clear that they intended to exclude studies on cognition from their core future plans. The first funding, or ‘ramp-up’, phase of the brain project began in October last year with €54 million (US$73 million) from the European Commissionand is scheduled to run for three years. The second phase of the ten-year project will be funded to the tune of around €100 million per year for two or three years. But in their detailed plans for this second stage, submitted on 10 June to the commission for approval, the project managers eliminated research on human cognitive architecture. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 19806 - Posted: 07.09.2014

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Can too much studying ruin your eyesight? Maybe. A German study has found that the more education a person has, the greater the likelihood that he will be nearsighted. The researchers did ophthalmological and physical examinations on 4,685 people ages 35 to 74. About 38 percent were nearsighted. But of those who graduated after 13 years in the three-tiered German secondary school system, about 60.3 percent were nearsighted, compared with 41.6 percent of those who graduated after 10 years, 27.2 percent of those who graduated after nine years and 26.9 percent of those who never graduated. The percentage of myopic people was also higher among university graduates than among graduates of vocational schools or those who had no professional training at all. The study was published online in Ophthalmology. The association remained after adjusting for age, gender and many known myopia-associated variations in DNA sequences. “The effect on myopia of the genetic variations is much less than the effect of education,” said the lead author, Dr. Alireza Mirshahi, an ophthalmologist at the University Medical Center in Mainz. “We used to think that myopia was predetermined by genetics. This is one proof that environmental factors have a much higher effect than we thought.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 19805 - Posted: 07.09.2014

By Virginia Morell Many moth species sing courtship songs, and until now, scientists knew of only two types of such melodies. Some species imitate attacking bats, causing a female to freeze in place, whereas others croon tunes that directly woo the ladies. But the male yellow peach moth (Conogethes punctiferalis, pictured) belts out a combination song, scientists report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. These tiny troubadours, which are found throughout Asia, emit ultrasonic refrains composed of short and long pulses by contracting their abdominal tymbals, sound-producing membranes. (Listen to a male’s courtship song above.) The short pulses, the scientists say, are similar to the hunting calls of insectivorous horseshoe bats. However, unlike other moth species, these males aren’t directing the batlike tunes at females, but rather at rival males. Using playback experiments, the scientists showed that a male drives away competitors with the short pulses of his ditty, while inducing a female to mate with the long note. Indeed, a receptive virgin female moth (1 to 3 days old) typically raises her wings after hearing this part of the male’s song—a sign that she accepts the male, the scientists say. It is thus the first moth species known to have a dual-purpose melody. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 19804 - Posted: 07.09.2014

Alison Abbott The European Union’s high-profile, €1-billion Human Brain Project (HBP), launched last October, has come under fire from neuroscientists, who claim that poor management has run part of the effort’s scientific plans off course. Around 150 scientists have signed a protest letter that was delivered to the European Commission on 7 July. The letter requests that the commission seriously consider whether the project is still fit for purpose as it reviews proposals for the second round of funding, to be awarded in 2016. The HBP was originally designed to promote digital technologies by supporting and learning from neuroscience. A key element of the project, which has inspired other brain-research initiatives around the world (see Nature 503, 26–28; 2013), is to develop supercomputers that neuroscientists will use to try to simulate the brain. But as the initiative has developed, its goal has become more and more diffuse. And after months of often fractious discussions about the programme’s scientific scope, tempers boiled over at the end of May, when the HBP’s three-man executive board decided to cut parts of the project, including one on cognitive neuroscience, from the second phase — in a manner that the signatories say was autocratic and scientifically inappropriate. Stanislas Dehaene, director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit run by the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) in Paris and one of the winners of this year’s prestigious Brain Prize, had led this part of the effort. On 30 May, he withdrew his participation from the second phase, citing lack of confidence in some of the decisions being made and in the programme’s management; he has not signed the letter. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 19803 - Posted: 07.08.2014

by Helen Thomson A blood test for Alzheimer's might be just two years away. Abdul Hye at King's College London and his colleagues have identified 10 proteins in blood that can predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease a year after having mild memory problems. Its accuracy is almost 90 per cent. That could prove a huge boost for researchers seeking treatments. So far, trials of Alzheimer's drugs are thought to have failed because they have been given too late in the course of the disease to halt progression. The new blood test will initially be used to identify those people with mild cognitive impairment who are likely to get Alzheimer's disease and so might be good candidates for clinical trials to find drugs that halt disease progression. "Having a blood test is a really big step forward," says team member Ian Pike of Proteome Sciences in Cobham, UK. "The most important thing we can do is get the correct patients into clinical trials so we can tell, for example, whether it is a drug that is slowing the progression of the disease or the fact that we just happen to have a group of patients who have a slow progressing form of the disease." "This [blood test] is a technical tour de force," says Eric Karran, director of research at the Alzheimer's Research UK charity. However, he remains cautious about its use beyond clinical research. For every 10 people who take the test, one will get an incorrect result. "Alzheimer's is the most feared diagnosis, so we have to be careful, particularly in the absence of any treatment," he says. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19802 - Posted: 07.08.2014

By EMILY ANTHES It was love at first pet when Laurel Braitman and her husband adopted a 4-year-old Bernese mountain dog, a 120-pound bundle of fur named Oliver. The first few months were blissful. But over time, Oliver’s troubled mind slowly began to reveal itself. He snapped at invisible flies. He licked his tail until it was wounded and raw. He fell to pieces when he spied a suitcase. And once, while home alone, he ripped a hole in a screen and jumped out of a fourth-floor window. To everyone’s astonishment, he survived. Oliver’s anguish devastated Dr. Braitman, a historian of science, but it also awakened her curiosity and sent her on an investigation deep into the minds of animals. The result is the lovely, big-hearted book “Animal Madness,” in which Dr. Braitman makes a compelling case that nonhuman creatures can also be afflicted with mental illness and that their suffering is not so different from our own. In the 17th century, Descartes described animals as automatons, a view that held sway for centuries. Today, however, a large and growing body of research makes it clear that animals have never been unthinking machines. We now know that species from magpies to elephants can recognize themselves in the mirror, which some scientists consider a sign of self-awareness. Rats emit a form of laughter when they’re tickled. And dolphins, parrots and dogs show clear signs of distress when their companions die. Together, these and many other findings demonstrate what any devoted pet owner has probably already concluded: that animals have complex minds and rich emotional lives. Unfortunately, as Dr. Braitman notes, “every animal with a mind has the capacity to lose hold of it from time to time.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Aggression
Link ID: 19801 - Posted: 07.08.2014

Check out the winner of the 2014 Best Illusion of the Year Contest. Created by psychologists at the University of Nevada, Reno, this optical illusion starts with an image of a circle surrounded by other circles. As the video begins and the exterior circles grow and shrink, it looks like the center circle is changing size, too—but it isn’t. Dubbed “The Dynamic Ebbinghaus,” the trick is a spinoff of the original Ebbinghaus mirage created in the 1800s.

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 19800 - Posted: 07.08.2014

By JOSHUA A. KRISCH Excessive alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, is responsible for 10 percent of deaths among working-age adults in the United States, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers used an online tool called the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact application to estimate alcohol-related deaths ranging from car crashes and alcohol poisoning to liver and heart disease. They defined binge drinking as at least five consecutive drinks for men and four consecutive drinks for women. One in six adults from 20 to 65 reported binge drinking at least four times a month; the actual number is likely higher because subjects tend to underreport their drinking habits, the researchers said. The number of Americans who binge drink skyrocketed during the 1990s and leveled off in 2001, but the average frequency of binge drinking episodes is still rising. Excessive drinking is the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the United States, after smoking, poor nutrition and physical inactivity. “It’s a huge public health problem any way you slice it,” said Robert D. Brewer, a co-author of the paper and the director of the alcohol program at the C.D.C.“There are things that we can do about it,” like raising the alcohol tax and encouraging doctors to talk to their patients about alcohol abuse, “but a lot of those strategies tend to be underused.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 19799 - Posted: 07.08.2014

|By Emilie Reas A poor diet can eat away at brain health. Now a study in Neurology helps elucidate why. It suggests that eating a lot of sugar or other carbohydrates can be hazardous to both brain structure and function. Diabetes, which is characterized by chronically high levels of blood glucose, has been linked to an elevated risk of dementia and a smaller hippocampus, a brain region critical for memory. The new study sought to identify whether glucose had an effect on memory even in people without the disease because having it could induce other brain changes that confound the data. In the experiment, researchers at the Charité University Medical Center in Berlin evaluated both short- and long-term glucose markers in 141 healthy, nondiabetic older adults. The participants performed a memory test and underwent imaging to assess the structure of their hippocampus. Higher levels on both glucose measures were associated with worse memory, as well as a smaller hippocampus and compromised hippocampal structure. The researchers also found that the structural changes partially accounted for the statistical link between glucose and memory. According to study co-author Agnes Flöel, a neurologist at Charité, the results “provide further evidence that glucose might directly contribute to hippocampal atrophy,” but she cautions that their data cannot establish a causal relation between sugar and brain health. These findings indicate that even in the absence of diabetes or glucose intolerance, higher blood sugar may harm the brain and disrupt memory function. Future research will need to characterize how glucose exerts these effects and whether dietary or lifestyle interventions might reverse such pathological changes. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 19798 - Posted: 07.08.2014

Priyanka Pulla Not everyone who is obese is unhealthy. So say some researchers, who note that a small fraction of overweight people have normal blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and are thus “healthy obese.” Now, scientists have identified a single protein that seems to determine whether obesity is harmful or benign. The protein is a new player in our understanding of how obesity leads to disease, says Alan Saltiel, a cell biologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who was not involved in the study. It is well known that obesity leads to a wide range of health problems, from diabetes to heart disease to cancer. So established is the link between extra pounds and illness that last year the American Medical Association voted to classify obesity itself as a disease. Although some researchers have suggested that a small number of obese people are healthy, that idea remains controversial. Instead, the emerging consensus is that healthy obesity is a transient phase, says Ravi Retnakaran, an endocrinologist at the Leadership Sinai Centre for Diabetes in Toronto, Canada. Sooner or later, he says, these outliers will develop metabolic syndrome, a condition in which glucose, cholesterol, and lipid levels soar, causing diabetes and heart disease. In fact, so-called healthy obese people may already have early signs of disease, which are too muted to show up on routine tests. In a study of more than 14,000 metabolically healthy Korean people last year, scientists found early plaque buildup in the arteries of obese subjects more often than they did in the lean ones. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 19797 - Posted: 07.04.2014

By ALEX HALBERSTADT Dr. Vint Virga likes to arrive at a zoo several hours before it opens, when the sun is still in the trees and the lanes are quiet and the trash cans empty. Many of the animals haven’t yet slipped into their afternoon ma­laise, when they retreat, appearing to wait out the heat and the visitors and not do much of anything. Virga likes to creep to the edge of their enclosures and watch. He chooses a spot and tries not to vary it, he says, “to give the animals a sense of control.” Sometimes he watches an animal for hours, hardly moving. That’s because what to an average zoo visitor looks like frolicking or restlessness or even boredom looks to Virga like a lot more — looks, in fact, like a veritable Russian novel of truculence, joy, sociability, horniness, ire, protectiveness, deference, melancholy and even humor. The ability to interpret animal behavior, Virga says, is a function of temperament, curiosity and, mostly, decades of practice. It is not, it turns out, especially easy. Do you know what it means when an elephant lowers her head and folds her trunk underneath it? Or when a zebra wuffles, softly blowing air between her lips; or when a colobus monkey snuffles, sounding a little like a hog rooting in the mud; or when a red fox screams, sounding disconcertingly like an infant; or when red fox kits chatter at one another; or when an African wild dog licks and nibbles at the lips of another; or when a California sea lion resting on the water’s surface stretches a fore flipper and one or both rear flippers in the air, like a synchronized swimmer; or when a hippopotamus “dung showers” by defecating while rapidly flapping its tail? Virga knows, because it is his job to know. He is a behaviorist, and what he does, expressed plainly, is see into the inner lives of animals. The profession is an odd one: It is largely unregulated, and declaring that you are an expert is sometimes enough to be taken for one. Most behaviorists are former animal trainers; some come from other fields entirely. Virga happens to be a veterinarian, very likely the only one in the country whose full-time job is tending to the psychological welfare of animals in captivity. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Rights; Aggression
Link ID: 19796 - Posted: 07.04.2014

|By Jessica Wright and SFARI.org CHD8, a gene that regulates the structure of DNA, is the closest thing so far to an ‘autism gene,’ suggests a study published today in Cell. People with mutations in this gene all have the same cluster of symptoms, including a large head, constipation and characteristic facial features; nearly all also have have autism. Autism is notoriously heterogeneous, perhaps involving mutations in any of hundreds of genes. Typically, researchers begin by studying people with similar symptoms and working backward to identify what causes those symptoms. But that approach has not been particularly productive. “We’ve tried for so long to identify subtypes of autism based on behavior alone and we’ve done abysmally at that,” says lead researcher Raphael Bernier, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington in Seattle. The reverse approach — that is, beginning with people who all have mutations in the same gene and characterizing their symptoms — may prove to be more useful for simplifying autism’s complexity. For example, identifying subtypes of autism may help researchers develop drugs tailored to that particular cause, says Evan Eichler, professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington, who spearheaded the genetics side of the study. “I think the most important realization is that not all autisms are created equal,” he says. © 2014 Scientific American,

Keyword: Autism; Aggression
Link ID: 19795 - Posted: 07.04.2014

By GABRIELLE GLASER When their son had to take a medical leave from college, Jack and Wendy knew they — and he — needed help with his binge drinking. Their son’s psychiatrist, along with a few friends, suggested Alcoholics Anonymous. He had a disease, and in order to stay alive, he’d have to attend A.A. meetings and abstain from alcohol for the rest of his life, they said. But the couple, a Manhattan reporter and editor who asked to be identified only by their first names to protect their son’s privacy, resisted that approach. Instead, they turned to a group of psychologists who specialize in treating substance use and other compulsive behaviors at the Center for Motivation and Change. The center, known as the C.M.C., operates out of two floors of a 19th-century building on 30th Street and Fifth Avenue. It is part of a growing wing of addiction treatment that rejects the A.A. model of strict abstinence as the sole form of recovery for alcohol and drug users. Instead, it uses a suite of techniques that provide a hands-on, practical approach to solving emotional and behavioral problems, rather than having abusers forever swear off the substance — a particularly difficult step for young people to take. And unlike programs like Al-Anon, A.A.’s offshoot for family members, the C.M.C.’s approach does not advocate interventions or disengaging from someone who is drinking or using drugs. “The traditional language often sets parents up to feel they have to make extreme choices: Either force them into rehab or detach until they hit rock bottom,” said Carrie Wilkens, a psychologist who helped found the C.M.C. 10 years ago. “Science tells us those formulas don’t work very well.” When parents issue edicts, demanding an immediate end to all substance use, it often lodges the family in a harmful cycle, said Nicole Kosanke, a psychologist at the C.M.C. Tough love might look like an appropriate response, she said, but it often backfires by further damaging the frayed connections to the people to whom the child is closest. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 19794 - Posted: 07.04.2014

By Helen Briggs Health editor, BBC News website More than 99% of drug trials for Alzheimer's disease during the past decade have failed, according to a study. There is an urgent need to increase the number of potential therapies being investigated, say US scientists. Only one new medicine has been approved since 2004, they report in the journal Alzheimer's Research & Therapy. The drug failure rate is troubling and higher than for other diseases such as cancer, says Alzheimer's Research UK. Dr Jeffrey Cummings, of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, in Las Vegas, and colleagues, examined a public website that records clinical trials. Between 2002 and 2012, they found 99.6% of trials of drugs aimed at preventing, curing or improving the symptoms of Alzheimer's had failed or been discontinued. This compares with a failure rate of 81% for cancer drugs. The failure rate was "especially troubling" given the rising numbers of people with dementia, said Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer's Research UK. "The authors of the study highlight a worrying decline in the number of clinical trials for Alzheimer's treatments in more recent years," he said. "There is a danger that the high failure rates of trials in the past will discourage pharmaceutical companies from investing in dementia research. BBC © 2014

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19793 - Posted: 07.04.2014

BY Jenny Marder and Rebecca Jacobson Scientists at the NIH are mapping the activity of thousands of individual neurons inside the brain of a zebrafish as the animal hunts for food. In a small, windowless room that houses two powerful electron microscopes, a scientist is searching for the perfect fish brain. As the massive machines hum nearby, two gigantic fish eyes loom large, taking up most of a computer screen. The magnified perspective is misleading. The zebrafish is a larva, a newborn, just one week old, and barely six millimeters long. On the screen, it looks grumpy, like it’s frowning. Chris Harris, a postdoctoral researcher at the lab, is scrolling through the image. As he zooms in, the eyes become even larger and then disappear altogether, replaced by a glimpse of what lies within and behind them in its brain: a jungle of axons and dendrites and cell bodies — all the stuff that makes up individual neurons. He traces the outer edge of one of the cells with a gloved finger. “This layer is the nuclear membrane,” he says. “And just outside of that is the cell body membrane itself.” He points out the mitochondria, the individual axons, which send nerve impulses from one neuron to the next; the branching dendrites, which receive signals; and thick black dots that represent synaptic vesicles — pouches that hold neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals. © 1996 - 2014 MacNeil / Lehrer Productions.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 19792 - Posted: 07.04.2014

By LISA SANDERS, M.D. On Wednesday, we challenged Well readers to solve the case of a middle-aged woman who suddenly began to have episodes of confusion caused by low blood sugars. Her endocrinologist thought she might have an insulinoma, an insulin-producing tumor of the pancreas, but the testing he did seemed to rule out that diagnosis. Nearly 200 of you took on the challenge of trying to figure out what was causing her life-threatening drops in blood sugar level. The correct diagnosis is… Insulinoma The first respondent to make the diagnosis was Karen Unkel of Kinder, La. She is not a doctor but has a longstanding interest in hypoglycemia that allowed her to recognize the disease even in the face of an apparently negative work-up. Well done, Ms. Unkel. An insulinoma is a rare tumor of pancreatic tissue that makes and secretes insulin independently of blood glucose levels. This results in episodes of hypoglycemia that can be quite severe, even life-threatening. The diagnosis is suspected when a patient fulfills what is known as Whipple’s triad: 1) symptoms of hypoglycemia 2) associated with low measured blood sugar and 3) which improve when blood sugar is raised to the normal range. The diagnosis is made when doctors show that the patient is making too much insulin given his or her blood sugar level. Measuring insulin levels is not always accurate because insulin is processed rapidly in the body and because it is difficult to distinguish between insulin made naturally in the pancreas and any insulin that the patient might be injecting. What is measured instead is something known as C-peptide. Insulin is first made as a larger molecule known as proinsulin. When blood sugar rises, an extra bit is shaved off the molecule; that extra bit is C-peptide, and both the resulting insulin and C-peptide are released into the bloodstream. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity; Aggression
Link ID: 19791 - Posted: 07.04.2014

—By Chris Mooney The United States has a voting problem. In the 2012 presidential election, only about 57 percent of eligible American voters turned out, a far lower participation rate than in comparable democracies. That means about 93 million people who were eligible to vote didn't bother. Clearly, figuring out why people vote (and why they don't) is of premium importance to those who care about the health of democracy, as well as to campaigns that are becoming ever more sophisticated in targeting individual voters. To that end, much research has shown that demographic factors such as age and poverty affect one's likelihood of voting. But are there individual-level biological factors that also influence whether a person votes? The idea has long been heretical in political science, and yet the logic behind it is unavoidable. People vary in all sorts of ways—ranging from personalities to genetics—that affect their behavior. Political participation can be an emotional, and even a stressful activity, and in an era of GOP-led efforts to make voting more difficult, voting in certain locales can be a major hassle. To vote, you need both to be motivated and also not so intimidated you stay away from the polls. So are there biological factors that can shape these perceptions? "Our study is unique in that it is the first to examine whether differences in physiology may be causally related to differences in political activity," says lead study author Jeffrey French. ©2014 Mother Jones

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 19790 - Posted: 07.04.2014

Hassan DuRant The colorful little guy pictured above puts the eyes of every other animal to shame. Whereas humans receive color information via three color receptors in our eyes, mantis shrimp (Neogonodactylus oerstedii) have 12. Six of these differentiate five discrete wavelengths of ultraviolet light, researchers report online today in Current Biology. The mantis shrimp’s vision is possible by making use of specially tuned, UV-specific optical filters in its color-detecting cone cells. The optical filters are made of mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs), a substance commonly found in the skin or exoskeleton of marine organisms. Often referred to as nature’s sunscreens, MAAs are usually employed to protect an organism from DNA-damaging UV rays; however, the mantis shrimp has incorporated them into powerful spectral tuning filters. Though the reason for the mantis shrimp’s complex visual perception is poorly understood, one possibility is that the UV detection could help visualize otherwise difficult-to-see prey on coral reefs. Many organisms absorb UV light—these organisms would be easy to spot as black objects in a bright world. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 19789 - Posted: 07.04.2014

|By Ferris Jabr You know the exit is somewhere along this stretch of highway, but you have never taken it before and do not want to miss it. As you carefully scan the side of the road for the exit sign, numerous distractions intrude on your visual field: billboards, a snazzy convertible, a cell phone buzzing on the dashboard. How does your brain focus on the task at hand? To answer this question, neuroscientists generally study the way the brain strengthens its response to what you are looking for—jolting itself with an especially large electrical pulse when you see it. Another mental trick may be just as important, according to a study published in April in the Journal of Neuroscience: the brain deliberately weakens its reaction to everything else so that the target seems more important in comparison. Cognitive neuroscientists John Gaspar and John McDonald, both at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, arrived at the conclusion after asking 48 college students to take attention tests on a computer. The volunteers had to quickly spot a lone yellow circle among an array of green circles without being distracted by an even more eye-catching red circle. All the while the researchers monitored electrical activity in the students' brains using a net of electrodes attached to their scalps. The recorded patterns revealed that their brains consistently suppressed reactions to all circles except the one they were looking for—the first direct evidence of this particular neural process in action. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 19788 - Posted: 07.03.2014

by Helen Thomson ONE moment you're conscious, the next you're not. For the first time, researchers have switched off consciousness by electrically stimulating a single brain area. Scientists have been probing individual regions of the brain for over a century, exploring their function by zapping them with electricity and temporarily putting them out of action. Despite this, they have never been able to turn off consciousness – until now. Although only tested in one person, the discovery suggests that a single area – the claustrum – might be integral to combining disparate brain activity into a seamless package of thoughts, sensations and emotions. It takes us a step closer to answering a problem that has confounded scientists and philosophers for millennia – namely how our conscious awareness arises. Many theories abound but most agree that consciousness has to involve the integration of activity from several brain networks, allowing us to perceive our surroundings as one single unifying experience rather than isolated sensory perceptions. One proponent of this idea was Francis Crick, a pioneering neuroscientist who earlier in his career had identified the structure of DNA. Just days before he died in July 2004, Crick was working on a paper that suggested our consciousness needs something akin to an orchestra conductor to bind all of our different external and internal perceptions together. With his colleague Christof Koch, at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, he hypothesised that this conductor would need to rapidly integrate information across distinct regions of the brain and bind together information arriving at different times. For example, information about the smell and colour of a rose, its name, and a memory of its relevance, can be bound into one conscious experience of being handed a rose on Valentine's day. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 19787 - Posted: 07.03.2014