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Bill Chappell In what researchers say is a first, they've discovered the neuron in worms that detects Earth's magnetic field. Animals have been known to sense the magnetic field; a new study identifies the microscopic, antenna-shaped sensor that helps worms orient themselves underground. The sensory neuron that the worm C. elegans uses to migrate up or down through the soil could be similar to what many other animals use, according to the team of scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin. The team's work was published Wednesday by eLife. In contrast to previous breakthroughs — such as a 2012 study on how pigeons' brains use information about magnetic fields, and another from the same year on olfactory cells in trout — the new work identifies the sensory neuron that detects magnetic fields. "We also found the first hint at a novel sensory mechanism for detecting the magnetic field," says Jon Pierce-Shimomura, an assistant professor of neuroscience who worked on the study. "Now researchers can check to see if this is used in other animals too." The list of animals that could be studied for their use of magnetic fields is long — and it seems to grow each year. In early 2014, for instance, a study found that dogs who need to relieve themselves of waste prefer to align themselves on a north-south axis when the magnetic conditions are right. Pierce-Shimomura says his team was surprised to make a new breakthrough in magnetism by looking at worms, which aren't known for their sophisticated migrations. © 2015 NPR
Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 21072 - Posted: 06.18.2015
by Curtis Abraham A step forward for equal LGBT rights in Africa. Last week, the influential Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) published a study on the science of human sexual diversity. A comprehensive review of recent scientific papers on the subject, it concluded that sexual behaviour is naturally varied, and discrimination unjustified. It stated that there is no evidence that orientation can be altered by therapy or that being gay is contagious. The report also sets straight the idea that homosexuality is a Western malaise: "There is no basis for the view that homosexuality is 'un-African' either in the sense of it being a 'colonial import', or on the basis that prevalence of people with same-sex or bisexual orientations is any different in African countries compared to countries on any other continent." Going further, the report asserted not only that tolerance of sexual diversity benefits communities but it positively affects public health, civil society and long-term economic growth. Zero tolerance Launched at the Seventh South African AIDS Conference in Durban, the study comes a year after the Ugandan government passed a law imposing a life sentence on anyone who has sexual relations with someone of the same sex. Other countries, including Burundi, Cameroon and Nigeria, then passed similar anti-gay laws. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 21071 - Posted: 06.18.2015
Maanvi Singh Teenagers aren't exactly known for their responsible decision making. But some young people are especially prone to making rash, risky decisions about sex, drugs and alcohol. Individual differences in the brain's working memory — which allows people to draw on and use information to make decisions — could help explain why some adolescents are especially impulsive when it comes to sex, according to a study published Wednesday in Child Development. "Working memory is the ability to keep different things in mind when you're making decisions or problem solving," explains Atika Khurana, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Oregon who led the study. Khurana and her colleagues rounded up 360 adolescents, ages 12 to 15, and assessed their working memory using a series of tests. For example, the researchers told the participants a string of random numbers and asked them to repeat what they heard in reverse order. "We basically tested their ability to keep information in mind while making decisions," Khurana says. The researchers then tracked all the participants for two years, and asked about the teens' sexual activity. And through another series of tests and surveys, the researcher tried to gauge how likely each teen was to act without thinking, to make rash decisions and take risks. There was a correlation between weaker working memory and the likelihood that a teen would have sex — including unprotected sex — at a younger age. And they were more likely to act without much deliberation. That trend held true even after the researchers accounted for the teenagers' age, socioeconomic status and gender. © 2015 NPR
By Nicholas Bakalar A new study has found a simple way to significantly reduce teenage smoking: raise the tobacco sales age to 21. In 2005, Needham, Mass., did just that, while surrounding communities kept their age limit at 18. Researchers surveyed 16,000 high school students in Needham and 16 surrounding communities four times between 2006 and 2012, gathering data on their smoking habits. The study is in Tobacco Control. Over the seven years, the number of children under 18 buying cigarettes in Needham decreased to 11.6 percent from 18.4 percent, while in the surrounding communities it hardly changed — down to 19 percent from 19.4. In 2006, 12.9 percent of students in Needham and 14.8 percent of students in surrounding communities reported having smoked in the past 30 days. By 2010, 6.7 percent of Needham students reported smoking, compared with 12 percent in other towns. At the end of the study in 2012, smoking had declined to 5.5 percent in Needham and 8.5 percent outside. “More than 80 percent of smokers begin before 18,” said the lead author, Shari Kessel Schneider, project director at the Education Development Center in Waltham, Mass. “Our findings provide strong support for initiatives going on all across the country to increase the sales age as a means for decreasing youth access to cigarettes, initiation of smoking, and ultimately addiction.” © 2015 The New York Times Company
By Greg Toppo On the morning of August 12, 2013, nearly eight months after 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 26 people, Michael Mudry, an investigator with the Connecticut State Police, drove to nearby Danbury to try to solve a little mystery. Police had found a Garmin GPS unit in Lanza's house, and its records showed that the gunman had driven to the same spot nine times in April, May and June 2012, arriving around midnight each time and staying for hours. The GPS readout took Mudry to the vast parking lot of a suburban shopping center, about 14 miles west of Lanza's home. Workers at a movie theater there immediately recognized Lanza from a photograph. He was at the theater constantly, they told Mudry, but never to see movies. He came to the lobby to play an arcade game, the same one, over and over again, sometimes for eight to 10 hours a night. Witnesses said he would whip himself into a frenzy, and on occasion the theater manager had to unplug the game to get him to leave. Police had been scouring Lanza's home since the shootings, and on his computer hard drive they found information on weapons magazine capacities, images of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, copies of the violent movies Bloody Wednesday and Rampage, and a list of ingredients for TNT. And like many teenaged boys, Lanza owned the typical first-person shooter, fighting and action games: Call of Duty, Dead or Alive, Grand Theft Auto. © 2015 Scientific American,
Link ID: 21068 - Posted: 06.18.2015
Tom Bawden The mystery behind the nightingale’s beautiful song has been revealed, with scientists finding that male birds sing complex notes to prove to females that they would be a good father to their children. Nightingales use their songs to advertise their family values, according to new research which discovers that the better the singer, the more support they are likely to offer their young family by feeding and defending them from predators. But while the beauty comes from the complexity of the song, the effect it has on the females is based on something far more mundane – the amount of effort the singer has put into his performance. Researchers at the Freie Universitat Berlin found that complicated choral arrangements are much harder to sing, especially when they include frequent appearances of long buzzing sounds and require the bird to be in good physical condition. “We don’t think the female is concerned with the beauty of the song but rather the information encoded in the song that tells her about the singer’s characteristics – his age, where he was raised, the strength of his immune system and how motivated he is to contribute to bringing up the young,” Professor Silke Kipper, one of the report’s authors, told The Independent. “The songs can also be a good indication of the bird’s ability to learn, which is another important characteristic of a good parent.” © independent.co.uk
By Andrea Alfano There are many types of touch. A cold splash of water, the tug of a strong breeze or the heat and heft of your coffee mug will each play on your skin in a different way. Within your skin is an array of touch sensors, each associated with nerve fibers that connect to the central nervous system. These sensors comprise specialized nerve endings and skin cells. Along with the fibers, they translate our physical interactions with the world into electrical signals that our brain can process. They help to bridge the gap between the physical act of touching and the cognitive awareness of tactile sensation. Even a simple stroke across the forearm engages several distinct nerve fibers. Three types—A-beta, A-delta and C fibers—have subtypes that are specialized for sensing particular types of touch; other subtypes carry information related to pain. The integration of information from these fibers is what allows us to gain such rich sensory experiences through our skin, but it has also made it more challenging for researchers to understand the fibers’ individual roles. Although these fibers do not act in isolation, the examples that follow highlight the primary nerve fibers engaged by different types of touch. © 2015 Scientific American
Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 21066 - Posted: 06.18.2015
The structure of the living cell is defined by the difference between what’s inside and what’s not. Biologists have taken great pains over the years to document the minute workings of the openings in cell membranes that allow hydrogen, sodium, calcium and other ions to make their way inside across the barrier that envelops the cell and its contents. Five scholars of the brain have built upon these observations to suggest that these activities may provide a foundation for a badly needed theory to understand consciousness and some of the cognitive processes that underlie it. They contend that when animal cells open and close themselves to the outside world, these actions can be construed as more than just responses to external stimuli. In fact, they constitute the basis for perception, cognition and movement in the animal kingdom—and may underlie consciousness itself. Read about what the five have to say and then continue to Koch’s reply. The five authors and NYU neurology professor Oliver Sacks; Antonio Damasio and Gil B. Carvalho from the University of Southern California, Norman D. Cook from the faculty of Kansai University in Osaka, Japan and Harry T. Hunt from Brock University in Ontario. They have framed their ideas in the form of an open letter to Christof Koch, president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and a Scientific American MIND columnist (Consciousness Redux) and member of Scientific American’s board of advisers.
Link ID: 21065 - Posted: 06.17.2015
By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website Scientists have discovered a chemical in blood that indicates whether people will have declining brain function. Looking for the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease, they analysed levels of 1,129 proteins circulating in the blood of more than 200 twins. These were compared with data from cognitive-function tests over the next decade, in Translational Psychiatry. And levels of one protein, MAPKAPK5, tended to be lower in those people whose brains declined. MAPKAPK5 is involved in relaying chemical messages within the body, although its connection with cognitive decline is unclear. Dementia cases are expected to treble globally by 2050, but there is no cure or treatment. It can take more than a decade from the first changes in the brain to culminate in symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and personality change. And drug companies believe they need to treat patients years before symptoms appear in order to protect the brain. Dr Steven Kiddle, a Medical Research Council scientist at King's College London, told the BBC News website: "People think it may be hard to reverse 20 years of potential damage to your brain. "But if you could start much earlier in that process, then you might be able to find something that works." He said a blood test could help identify people for clinical trials. But he added: "A test you could go in to your doctor to say, 'Do I have Alzheimer's disease or not?' I think that's a long way off." © 2015 BBC
Link ID: 21064 - Posted: 06.17.2015
By Tori Rodriguez Joint flexibility is an oft-coveted trait that provides a special advantage to dancers and athletes, but there can be too much of this good thing. A growing body of research suggests a surprising link between high levels of flexibility and anxiety. A study published last year in the journal Frontiers in Psychology is among the most recent to confirm the association, finding that people with hypermobile joints have heightened brain activity in anxiety regions. Joint hypermobility, which affects approximately 20 percent of the population, confers an unusually large range of motion. Hypermobile people can often, for instance, touch their thumb to their inner forearm or place their hands flat on the floor without bending their knees. The trait appears to be genetic and is a result of variation in collagen, the main structural protein of connective tissue. Being double-jointed has long been linked with an increased risk for asthma and irritable bowel syndrome, among other physical disorders. “Joint hypermobility has an impact on the whole body and not just joints,” says Jessica Eccles, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Sussex in England. It was only a matter of time before scientists also looked at whether joint hypermobility was linked to mental disorders. The investigation began in 1993 and heated up in 1998 when researcher Rocío Martín-Santos, now at the Hospital Clinic of the University of Barcelona, and her colleagues discovered that patients with anxiety were 16 times more likely to have lax joints. Their findings have since been replicated numerous times in large populations. © 2015 Scientific American
By Rachel Feltman Here's why you hate the sound of your own voice(1:07) If you've ever listened to your voice recorded, chances are you probably didn't like what you heard. So, why do most people hate the sound of their own voice? The answer: It's all in how sound travel to your ears. (Pamela Kirkland/The Washington Post) Whether you've heard yourself talking on the radio or just gabbing in a friend's Instagram video, you probably know the sound of your own voice -- and chances are pretty good that you hate it. As the video above explains, your voice as you hear it when you speak out loud is very different from the voice the rest of the world perceives. That's because it comes to you via a different channel than everyone else. When sound waves from the outside world -- someone else's voice, for example -- hit the outer ear, they're siphoned straight through the ear canal to hit the ear drum, creating vibrations that the brain will translate into sound. When we talk, our ear drums and inner ears vibrate from the sound waves we're putting out into the air. But they also have a another source of vibration -- the movements caused by the production of the sound. Our vocal cords and airways are trembling, too, and those vibrations make their way over to auditory processing as well. Your body is better at carrying low, rich tones than the air is. So when those two sources of sound get combined into one perception of your own voice, it sounds lower and richer. That's why hearing the way your voice sounds without all the body vibes can be off-putting -- it's unfamiliar -- or even unpleasant, because of the relative tinniness.
Link ID: 21062 - Posted: 06.17.2015
You remember your first kiss. You remember your childhood phone number, where you parked your car, and the last time you got really drunk. You probably remember the digits of pi, or at least the first three of them (slacker). Each day you accumulate fresh memories—kissing new people, acquiring different phone numbers and (possibly) competing in pi-memorizing championships (we would root for you). With all those new adventures stacking up, you might start worrying that your brain is growing full. But, wait—is that how it works? Can your brain run out of space, like a hard drive? It depends on what kind of memory you’re talking about. “It’s not like each memory takes a cell and then that cell is used up,” says Nelson Cowan, cognitive psychologist at the University of Missouri. Over the long term, memories are encoded in neural patterns—circuits of connected neurons. And your brain’s ability to knit together new patterns is limitless, so theoretically the number of memories stored in those patterns is limitless as well. Memories don’t always keep to themselves, though. They can crossbreed, like similar but distinct species, creating the recollection equivalent of a mule. If you can’t remember it, a memory is pretty much worthless—and similar memories can interfere with each other, getting in the way of surfacing the right one. Though memory interference is well documented, researchers like Cowan are still guessing at the phenomenon’s neural mechanics.
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 21061 - Posted: 06.17.2015
by Laura Sanders The motor homunculus is a funny-looking fellow with a hulking thumb, delicate toes and a tongue that wags below his head. His body parts and proportions stem from decades-old experiments that mapped brain areas to the body parts they control. Now, a new study suggests that the motor homunculus’ neck was in the wrong place. Hyder Jinnah of Emory University in Atlanta and colleagues used fMRI to scan the brains of volunteers as they activated their head-turning neck muscles. (Pads held participants’ heads still, so the muscles fired but heads didn’t move.) This head turn was accompanied by activity in part of the brain that controls movement. The exact spot seems to be between the brain areas that control the shoulder and the trunk — not between the areas responsible for moving the thumb and the top of the head as earlier motor homunculi had suggested, the team reports in the June 17 Journal of Neuroscience. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.
Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 21060 - Posted: 06.17.2015
By David Shultz Not usually lauded for their cuddly appearance, opossums were long thought to have a social inclination to match their looks; the marsupials have mostly been observed lurking alone and hissing at others who encroach on their personal space. However, a new study published online today in Biology Letters suggests that opossums sometimes live in groups and may form pair bonds with mates before the mating season starts. Based on 17,127 observations of 312 artificial nests over 8 years, scientists at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, discovered 10 instances of multiple opossums sharing the same den with no signs of hostility or ongoing reproductive activity. An additional observation made on the university campus revealed a group of 13 opossums from three separate age groups all sharing a single den. The researchers speculate that this type of “gregarious denning” may be relatively common in the wild and that males and females may work cooperatively to build a nest—a ritual that could trigger the onset of an estrous cycle in females. Furthermore, the group of 13 animals was discovered in a large concrete box housing electrical equipment, much bigger than the typical artificial dens used by scientists studying opossums. The team suspects that building larger artificial dens may promote more social interactions like the ones they observed. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Link ID: 21059 - Posted: 06.17.2015
by Michael Le Page It is perhaps the most extraordinary eye in the living world – so extraordinary that no one believed the biologist who first described it more than a century ago. Now it appears that the tiny owner of this eye uses it to catch invisible prey by detecting polarised light. This suggestion is also likely to be greeted with disbelief, for the eye belongs to a single-celled organism called Erythropsidinium. It has no nerves, let alone a brain. So how could it "see" its prey? Fernando Gómez of the University of São Paulo, Brazil, thinks it can. "Erythropsidinium is a sniper," he told New Scientist. "It is waiting to see the prey, and it shoots in that direction." Erythropsidinium belongs to a group of single-celled planktonic organisms known as dinoflagellates. They can swim using a tail, or flagellum, and many possess chloroplasts, allowing them to get their food by photosynthesis just as plants do. Others hunt by shooting out stinging darts similar to the nematocysts of jellyfishMovie Camera. They sense vibrations when prey comes near, but they often have to fire off several darts before they manage to hit it, Gómez says. Erythropsidinium and its close relatives can do better, Gómez thinks, because they spot prey with their unique and sophisticated eye, called the ocelloid, which juts out from the cell. "It knows where the prey is," he says. At the front of the ocelloid is a clear sphere rather like an eyeball. At the back is a dark, hemispherical structure where light is detected. The ocelloid is strikingly reminiscent of the camera-like eyes of vertebrates, but it is actually a modified chloroplast. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Almost half of 346,000 deaths from 12 cancers among U.S. adults in one year are attributed to cigarette smoking, despite 50 years of progress on butting out, new research suggests. Cancer researchers updated the estimate on deaths due to cigarette smoking to reflect changes in smoking patterns and how some data now suggest that the risk of cancer death among smokers can increase over time. Of 345,962 cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2011, 167,805 or 48.5 per cent were attributed to smoking cigarettes, Rebecca Siegel and her co-authors said in a research letter published in Monday's issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. The largest proportions of cancer deaths linked to smoking among those 35 and older were for cancers of the lung, bronchus and trachea (125,799 of 156, 855 deaths or 80 per cent) and larynx (2,856 of 3,728 deaths or nearly 77 per cent). About half of the deaths from cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus and urinary bladder were also attributable to smoking. Smoking was also cited as the cause of many deaths from cancer of the colon, kidney, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, and from myeloid leukemia. "Cigarette smoking continues to cause numerous deaths from multiple cancers despite half a century of decreasing prevalence," Rebecca Siegel from the American Cancer Society in Atlanta and her co-authors said. Dr. Norman Edelman, a senior scientific advisor to the American Lung Association, said when people hear about smoking and cancer, their thoughts often turn to lung cancer alone. ©2015 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21057 - Posted: 06.16.2015
By BENEDICT CAREY Marijuana use did not increase among teenagers in the states in which medical marijuana has become legal, researchers reported Monday. The new analysis is the most comprehensive effort to date to answer a much-debated question: Does decriminalization of marijuana lead more adolescents to begin using it? The study found that states that had legalized medical use had higher prevailing rates of teenage marijuana use before enacting the laws, compared with states where the drug remains illegal. Those higher levels were unaffected by the changes in the law, the study found. The report, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, covered a 24-year period and was based on surveys of more than one million adolescents in 48 states. The research says nothing about the effect of legalizing recreational use, however. A primary concern on both sides of the debate over medical marijuana has been that loosening marijuana restrictions might send the wrong message to young people, and make the drug both more available and more appealing. Teenagers who develop and sustain a heavy, daily habit increase their risk of having cognitive difficulties later on, several studies now suggest. Previous research on usage trends in the wake of the laws has been mixed, some reporting evidence of an increase among adolescents and others — including two recent, multistate studies — finding no difference. The new analysis should carry far more weight, experts said, not only because of its size and scope but also because the funders included the National Institute of Drug Abuse, whose director has been outspoken about the risks of increased use. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21056 - Posted: 06.16.2015
by Colin Barras Bacteria aren't renowned for their punctuality – but perhaps one day they will be. A working circadian clock has been inserted in E. coli that allows the microbes to keep to a 24-hour schedule. The tiny timekeepers could eventually be used in biological computers or for combating the effects of jet lag. Many plants and animals use circadian clocks to regulate their daily activities – but bacterial circadian rhythms are much less well understood. The best studied belongs to photosynthetic cyanobacteria: other common microbes, like E. coli, don't carry clocks at all, says Pamela Silver of Harvard Medical School. The cyanobacterial clock is based around the kaiABC gene cluster and ATP – the molecular fuel that nearly all living cells rely on. During the day, while the cyanobacteria are active, the KaiA protein encourages the KaiC protein to bind to phosphate groups from ATP. At night, the KaiB protein kicks into action, disrupting the activity of KaiA and encouraging KaiC to hand back the phosphate. Silver, her former student Anna Chen and other colleagues have transplanted this kaiABC clock wholesale into E. coli – the first time such a sophisticated clock has been slotted into a new microbe. But would the bacteria use their new clocks to keep time? "That's the cleverest part – and it's down to Anna's genius," says Silver. Chen suggested hooking up the kaiABC clock to a green fluorescent protein so that the phosphorylated KaiC protein would make the E. coli glow. Sure enough, the E. coli became gradually more fluorescent and then returned to a non-fluorescent state over a 24-hour period, proving that the kaiABC clock kept ticking even after it was transplanted. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 21055 - Posted: 06.16.2015
Aaron E. Carroll One of my family’s favorite shows is “The Biggest Loser.” Although some viewers don’t appreciate how it pushes people so hard to lose weight, the show probably inspires some overweight people to regain control of their lives. But one of the most frustrating parts of the show, at least for me, is its overwhelming emphasis on exercise. Because when it comes to reaching a healthy weight, what you don’t eat is much, much more important. Think about it this way: If an overweight man is consuming 1,000 more calories than he is burning and wants to be in energy balance, he can do it by exercising. But exercise consumes far fewer calories than many people think. Thirty minutes of jogging or swimming laps might burn off 350 calories. Many people, fat or fit, can’t keep up a strenuous 30-minute exercise regimen, day in and day out. They might exercise a few times a week, if that. Or they could achieve the same calorie reduction by eliminating two 16-ounce sodas each day. Proclamations that people need to be more active are ubiquitous in the media. The importance of exercise for proper weight management is reinforced when people bemoan the loss of gym class in schools as a cause of the obesity epidemic. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program places the focus on exercise as a critical component in combating excess weight and obesity. Exercise has many benefits, but there are problems with relying on it to control weight. First, it’s just not true that Americans, in general, aren’t listening to calls for more activity. From 2001 to 2009, the percentage of people who were sufficiently physically active increased. But so did the percentage of Americans who were obese. The former did not prevent the latter. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 21054 - Posted: 06.15.2015
By Stephen L. Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde and Bevil Conway This past February a photograph of a dress nearly broke the Internet. It all started when a proud mother-in-law-to-be snapped a picture of the dress she planned to wear to her daughter's wedding. When she shared her picture with her daughter and almost-son-in-law, the couple could not agree on the color: she saw white and gold, but he saw blue and black. A friend of the bride posted the confusing photo on Tumblr. Followers then reposted it to Twitter, and the image went viral. “The Dress” pitted the opinions of superstar celebrities against one another (Kanye and Kim disagreed, for instance) and attracted millions of views on social media. The public at large was split into white-and-gold and blue-and-black camps. So much attention was drawn, you would have thought the garment was conjured by a fairy godmother and accessorized with glass slippers. To sort out the conundrum, the media tapped dozens of neuroscientists and psychologists for comment. Pride in our heightened relevance to society gave way to embarrassment as we realized that our scientific explanations for the color wars were not only diverse but also incomplete. Especially perplexing was the fact that people saw it differently on the same device under the same viewing conditions. This curious inconsistency suggests that The Dress is a new type of perceptual phenomenon, previously unknown to scientists. Although some early explanations for the illusion focused on individual differences in the ocular structure of the eye, such as the patterning and function of rod and cone photoreceptor cells or the light-filtering properties internal to the eye, the most important culprit may be the brain's color-processing mechanisms. These might vary from one person to the next and can depend on prior experiences and beliefs. © 2015 Scientific American
Link ID: 21053 - Posted: 06.15.2015