Most Recent Links
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, have discovered that in zebrafish, decreased levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) cue the retina, the light-sensing tissue in the back of the eye, to produce stem cells. The finding sheds light on how the zebrafish regenerates its retina after injury and informs efforts to restore vision in people who are blind. The research was funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI) and appears online today in Stem Cell Reports. NEI is part of the National Institutes of Health. “This work opens up new ideas for therapies for blinding diseases and has implications for the broader field of regenerative medicine,” said Tom Greenwell, Ph.D., NEI program officer for retinal neuroscience. For years, vision scientists have studied zebrafish to understand their retinal regenerative capacity. Zebrafish easily recover from retinal injuries that would permanently blind a person. Early studies in zebrafish led to the idea that dying retinal cells release signals that trigger support cells in the retinal called Muller glia to dedifferentiate — return to a stem-like state — and proliferate. However, recent studies in the mouse brain and pancreas suggest GABA, a well-characterized neurotransmitter, might also play an important role in regeneration distinct from its role in communicating local signals from one neuron to the next. Scientists studying a part of the brain called the hippocampus found that GABA levels regulate the activity of neural stem cells. When GABA levels are high, the stem cells stay quiet, and if GABA levels decrease, then the stem cells start to divide, explained James Patton, Ph.D., Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt and senior author of the new study in zebrafish retina. A similar phenomenon was reported in mouse pancreas.
By Torah Kachur, A simple, non-invasive, non-medicinal, safe and cheap way to get a better night's sleep is to play some pink noise, according to a study published on Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Pink noise has more lower octaves than typical white noise and is hardly soothing. For example, it can be one-second pulses of the sound of a rushing waterfall. The short pieces of quick, quiet sounds would be really annoying if you were trying to fall asleep. But the pink noise isn't trying to get you to fall asleep; it's trying to keep you in a very deep sleep where you have slow brainwaves. This is one of our deepest forms of sleep and, in particular, seems to decline in aging adults. "When you play the pulses at particular times during deep sleep, it actually leads to an enhancement of the electrical signal. So it leads to essentially more of a synchronization of the neurons," said Nelly Papalambros, a PhD student at Northwestern University and the first author on the work. The pulses are timed to coincide with your entry into slow wave sleep. They sound to the same beat as your brainwaves, and they seem to increase the effectiveness of your very valuable and very elusive deep sleep. That slow wave sleep is critical for memory consolidation or, basically, your ability to incorporate new material learned that day with old material and memories. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.
If I was the late Andy Rooney, I’d say “You know what really bothers me? When science shows some facts about nature, and then someone rejects those facts because they’re inconvenient or uncomfortable for their ideology.” Indeed, when people ignore such inconvenient truths, it not only makes their cause look bad, but can produce palpable harm. Case in point: the damage that the Russian charlatan-agronomist Lysenko did to Soviet agriculture under Stalin. Rejecting both natural selection and modern genetics, Lysenko made all sorts of wild promises about improving Soviet agriculture based on bogus treatment of plants that would supposedly change their genetics. It not only didn’t work, failing to relieve Russia of its chronic famines, but Lyesnko’s Stalin-supported resistance to modern (“Western”) genetics led to the imprisonment and even the execution of really good geneticists and agronomists like Niklolia Vavilov. The ideological embrace of an unevidenced but politically amenable view of science set back Russian genetics for decades. Other cases in point: the denial of evolution by creationists, and of anthropogenic global warming by conservatives. I needn’t belabor these. But the opposition to research on group and sex differences continues. One of its big exponents is the author Cordelia Fine, who has written two books with the explicit aim of showing that there are no reliably accepted evolved and biological differences in behavior between men and women. I read her first book, Delusions of Gender, and found it a mixed bag: some of her targets did indeed do bad science, and she properly called them out; but the book was also tendentious, and wasn’t objective about other studies. I’m now about to read her second book, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society. Judging from the reviews, which have been positive, it’s just as much a polemic as the first book, and has an ideological aim.
By Meredith Wadman The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering repealing a rule that exempts captive members of 11 threatened primate species from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). If the agency approves a repeal, the captive animals would be designated as threatened, like their wild counterparts, and researchers would need to apply for permits for experiments. To be approved, studies would have to be aimed at species survival and recovery. A rule change would affect biomedical researchers who work with several hundred captive Japanese macaques housed in Oregon. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a Norfolk, Virginia–based animal rights organization, petitioned FWS this past January, asking it to extend ESA protections to captive members of the 11 species housed in research labs, zoos, and held as pets. For obscure reasons, a “special rule” exempted these captive populations from ESA protection in 1976. Among the 11 species, the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata) appears to be the only one regularly used in U.S. research. A troop of roughly 300 resides at the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Hillsboro. That is where the main impact of a successful PETA petition would be felt by scientists. “The importance of protecting endangered animals can’t be minimized,” says Jared Goodman, the director of animal law at the PETA Foundation in Los Angeles, California. “These animals are not listed lightly [under the Endangered Species Act],” he adds. “And the agencies until now have unlawfully provided differential treatment to animals in captivity who are similarly threatened.” © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 23335 - Posted: 03.10.2017
There has been much gnashing of teeth in the science-journalism community this week, with the release of an infographic that claims to rate the best and worst sites for scientific news. According to the American Council on Science and Health, which helped to prepare the ranking, the field is in a shoddy state. “If journalism as a whole is bad (and it is),” says the council, “science journalism is even worse. Not only is it susceptible to the same sorts of biases that afflict regular journalism, but it is uniquely vulnerable to outrageous sensationalism”. News aggregator RealClearScience, which also worked on the analysis, goes further: “Much of science reporting is a morass of ideologically driven junk science, hyped research, or thick, technical jargon that almost no one can understand”. How — without bias or outrageous sensationalism, of course — do they judge the newspapers and magazines that emerge from this sludge? Simple: they rank each by how evidence-based and compelling they subjectively judge its content to be. Modesty (almost) prevents us from naming the publication graded highest on both (okay, it’s Nature), but some names are lower than they would like. Big hitters including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian score relatively poorly. It’s a curious exercise, and one that fails to satisfy on any level. It is, of course, flattering to be judged as producing compelling content. But one audience’s compelling is another’s snoozefest, so it seems strikingly unfair to directly compare publications that serve readers with such different interests as, say, The Economist and Chemistry World. It is equally unfair to damn all who work on a publication because of some stories that do not meet the grade. (This is especially pertinent now that online offerings spread the brand and the content so much thinner.) © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited
Link ID: 23334 - Posted: 03.09.2017
Mo Costandi To many of us, having to memorize a long list of items feels like a chore. But for others, it is more like a sport. Every year, hundreds of these ‘memory athletes’ compete with one another in the World Memory Championships, memorising hundreds of words, numbers, or other pieces of information within minutes. The current world champion is Alex Mullen, who beat his competitors by memorizing a string of more than 550 digits in under 5 minutes. You may think that such prodigious mental feats are linked to having an unusual brain, or to being extraordinarily clever. But they are not. New research published in the journal Neuron shows that you, too, can be a super memorizer with just six weeks of intensive mnemonic training, and also reveals the long-lasting changes to brain structure and function that occur as a result of such training. The Homer Simpson effect: forgetting to remember Read more Martin Dresler of Radboud University in the Netherlands and his colleagues recruited 23 memory athletes, all of whom are currently in the top 50 of the memory sports world rankings, and a group of control participants, who had no previous experience of memory training, and who were carefully selected to match the group of champions in age, sex, and IQ. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23333 - Posted: 03.09.2017
By Catherine Offord Getting to Santa María, Bolivia, is no easy feat. Home to a farming and foraging society, the village is located deep in the Amazon rainforest and is accessible only by river. The area lacks electricity and running water, and the Tsimane’ people who live there make contact with the outside world only occasionally, during trips to neighboring towns. But for auditory researcher Josh McDermott, this remoteness was central to the community’s scientific appeal. In 2015, the MIT scientist loaded a laptop, headphones, and a gasoline generator into a canoe and pushed off from the Amazonian town of San Borja, some 50 kilometers downriver from Santa María. Together with collaborator Ricardo Godoy, an anthropologist at Brandeis University, McDermott planned to carry out experiments to test whether the Tsimane’ could discern certain combinations of musical tones, and whether they preferred some over others. The pair wanted to address a long-standing question in music research: Are the features of musical perception seen across cultures innate, or do similarities in preferences observed around the world mirror the spread of Western culture and its (much-better-studied) music? “Particular musical intervals are used in Western music and in other cultures,” McDermott says. “They don’t appear to be random—some are used more commonly than others. The question is: What’s the explanation for that?” © 1986-2017 The Scientist
Link ID: 23332 - Posted: 03.09.2017
By Colin Barras What a difference 1000 kilometres make. Neanderthals living in prehistoric Belgium enjoyed their meat – but the Neanderthals who lived in what is now northern Spain seem to have survived on an almost exclusively vegetarian diet. This is according to new DNA analysis that also suggests sick Neanderthals could self-medicate with naturally occurring painkillers and antibiotics, and that they shared mouth microbiomes with humans – perhaps exchanged by kissing. Neanderthals didn’t clean their teeth particularly well – which is lucky for scientific investigators. Over time, plaque built up into a hard substance called dental calculus, which still clings to the ancient teeth even after tens of thousands of years. Researchers have already identified tiny food fragments in ancient dental calculus to get an insight into the diets of prehistoric hominins. Now Laura Weyrich at the University of Adelaide, Australia, and her colleagues have shown that dental calculus also carries ancient DNA that can reveal both what Neanderthals ate and which bacteria lived in their mouths. The team focused on three Neanderthals – two 48,000-year-old specimens from a site called El Sidrón in Spain and a 39,000-year-old specimen from a site called Spy in Belgium. The results suggested that the Spy Neanderthal often dined on woolly rhinoceros, sheep and mushrooms – but no plants. The El Sidrón Neanderthals ate more meagre fare: moss, bark and mushrooms – and, apparently, no meat. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Joshua A. Krisch Alcian blue-stained skateUCSF/JULIUS LABSharks, rays, and skates can detect minute fluctuations in electric fields—signals as subtle as a small fish breathing within the vicinity—and rely on specialized electrosensory cells to navigate, and hunt for prey hidden in the sand. But how these elasmobranch fish separate signal from noise has long baffled scientists. In an environment full of tiny electrical impulses, how does the skate home in on prey? See “Sensory Biology Around the Animal Kingdom” In a study published this week (March 6) in Nature, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have analyzed the electrosensory cells of the little skate (Leucoraja erinacea). They found that voltage-gated calcium channels within these cells appear to work in concert with calcium-activated potassium channels, both specifically tuned in the little skate to pick up on weak electrical signals. “We have elucidated a molecular basis for electrosensation, at least in the little skate, which accounts for this unusual and highly sensitive mechanism for detecting electrical fields,” said coauthor Nicholas Bellono, a postdoc at USCF. “How general it is, we don’t know. But this is really the first instance in which we’ve been able to drill down and ask what molecules could be involved in this kind of system.” © 1986-2017 The Scientist
Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 23330 - Posted: 03.09.2017
By Jackie Snow Last month, Facebook announced software that could simply look at a photo and tell, for example, whether it was a picture of a cat or a dog. A related program identifies cancerous skin lesions as well as trained dermatologists can. Both technologies are based on neural networks, sophisticated computer algorithms at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence (AI)—but even their developers aren’t sure exactly how they work. Now, researchers have found a way to "look" at neural networks in action and see how they draw conclusions. Neural networks, also called neural nets, are loosely based on the brain’s use of layers of neurons working together. Like the human brain, they aren't hard-wired to produce a specific result—they “learn” on training sets of data, making and reinforcing connections between multiple inputs. A neural net might have a layer of neurons that look at pixels and a layer that looks at edges, like the outline of a person against a background. After being trained on thousands or millions of data points, a neural network algorithm will come up with its own rules on how to process new data. But it's unclear what the algorithm is using from those data to come to its conclusions. “Neural nets are fascinating mathematical models,” says Wojciech Samek, a researcher at Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications at the Heinrich Hertz Institute in Berlin. “They outperform classical methods in many fields, but are often used in a black box manner.” © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Andy Coghlan In primates such as humans, living in cooperative societies usually means having bigger brains — with brainpower needed to navigate complex social situations. But surprisingly, in birds the opposite may be true. Group-living woodpecker species have been found to have smaller brains than solitary ones. Cooperative societies might in fact enable birds to jettison all that brainpower otherwise needed on their own to constantly out-think, outfox and outcompete wily rivals, say researchers. Socialism in birds may therefore mean the individuals can afford to get dumber. The results are based on a comparison of brain sizes in 61 woodpecker species. The eight group-living species identified typically had brains that were roughly 30 per cent smaller than solitary and pair-living ones. “It’s a pretty big effect,” says lead researcher Richard Byrne at the University of St Andrews in the UK. Byrne’s explanation is that a solitary life is more taxing on the woodpecker brain than for those in cooperative groups, in which a kind of group-wide “social brain” takes the strain off individuals when a challenge arises. Group-living acorn woodpeckers in North America, for example, are well known for creating collective “granaries” of acorns by jamming them into crevices accessible to the whole group during hard times. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 23328 - Posted: 03.08.2017
By Lindzi Wessel You may have seen the ads: Just spray a bit of human pheromone on your skin, and you’re guaranteed to land a date. Scientists have long debated whether humans secrete chemicals that alter the behavior of other people. A new study throws more cold water on the idea, finding that two pheromones that proponents have long contended affect human attraction to each other have no such impact on the opposite sex—and indeed experts are divided about whether human pheromones even exist. The study, published today in Royal Society Open Science, asked heterosexual participants to rate opposite-sex faces on attractiveness while being exposed to two steroids that are putative human pheromones. One is androstadienone (AND), found in male sweat and semen, whereas the second, estratetraenol (EST), is in women’s urine. Researchers also asked participants to judge gender-ambiguous, or “neutral,” faces, created by merging images of men and women together. The authors reasoned that if the steroids were pheromones, female volunteers given AND would see gender-neutral faces as male, and male volunteers given EST would see gender-neutral faces as female. They also theorized that the steroids corresponding to the opposite sex would lead the volunteers to rate opposite sex faces as more attractive. That didn’t happen. The researchers found no effects of the steroids on any behaviors and concluded that the label of “putative human pheromone” for AND and EST should be dropped. “I’ve convinced myself that AND and EST are not worth pursuing,” says the study’s lead author, Leigh Simmons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia in Crawley. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe Recognizing when a friend or colleague feels sad, angry or surprised is key to getting along with others. But a new study suggests that a knack for eavesdropping on feelings may sometimes come with an extra dose of stress. This and other research challenge the prevailing view that emotional intelligence is uniformly beneficial to its bearer. In a study published in the September 2016 issue of Emotion, psychologists Myriam Bechtoldt and Vanessa Schneider of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany asked 166 male university students a series of questions to measure their emotional smarts. For example, they showed the students photographs of people's faces and asked them to what extent feelings such as happiness or disgust were being expressed. The students then had to give job talks in front of judges displaying stern facial expressions. The scientists measured concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol in the students' saliva before and after the talk. In students who were rated more emotionally intelligent, the stress measures increased more during the experiment and took longer to go back to baseline. The findings suggest that some people may be too emotionally astute for their own good, says Hillary Anger Elfenbein, a professor of organizational behavior at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the study. “Sometimes you can be so good at something that it causes trouble,” she notes. Indeed, the study adds to previous research hinting at a dark side of emotional intelligence. A study published in 2002 in Personality and Individual Differences suggested that emotionally perceptive people might be particularly susceptible to feelings of depression and hopelessness. © 2017 Scientific American
By Bahar Gholipour, Spectrum An analysis of whole-genome sequences from more than 5,000 people has unearthed 18 new candidate genes for autism. The study, the largest yet of its kind, was published this week in Nature Neuroscience. The new work identified 61 genes associated with autism, 43 of which turned up in previous studies. An independent study published last month looked at several autism genes and made a strong case for three of the new genes2. Most of the new candidates play roles in cellular processes already implicated in autism and intellectual disability. They also point to possible new treatments. “Eighty percent of them involve common biological pathways that have potential targets for future medicines,” says study investigator Ryan Yuen, research associate at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. The study is the largest analysis of whole genomes from people with autism and their family members to date. Participants are enrolled in MSSNG, an effort funded by Google and the nonprofit group Autism Speaks to analyze sequences from 10,000 people. Other studies typically focus on the coding regions of the genome, called theexomes. Most of the mutations identified in the new work land in genes, but some affect noncoding regions of the genome. Understanding the role of these noncoding mutations is a “challenging task,” says Ivan Iossifov, associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, who was not involved in the study. “The more data that’s available, the better,” he says. “This paper provides a very useful resource for the community to further study.” © 2017 Scientific American,
Laura Spinney The misinformation was swiftly corrected, but some historical myths have proved difficult to erase. Since at least 2010, for example, an online community has shared the apparently unshakeable recollection of Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s, despite the fact that he lived until 2013, leaving prison in 1990 and going on to serve as South Africa's first black president. Memory is notoriously fallible, but some experts worry that a new phenomenon is emerging. “Memories are shared among groups in novel ways through sites such as Facebook and Instagram, blurring the line between individual and collective memories,” says psychologist Daniel Schacter, who studies memory at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “The development of Internet-based misinformation, such as recently well-publicized fake news sites, has the potential to distort individual and collective memories in disturbing ways.” Collective memories form the basis of history, and people's understanding of history shapes how they think about the future. The fictitious terrorist attacks, for example, were cited to justify a travel ban on the citizens of seven “countries of concern”. Although history has frequently been interpreted for political ends, psychologists are now investigating the fundamental processes by which collective memories form, to understand what makes them vulnerable to distortion. They show that social networks powerfully shape memory, and that people need little prompting to conform to a majority recollection — even if it is wrong. Not all the findings are gloomy, however. Research is pointing to ways of dislodging false memories or preventing them from forming in the first place. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23324 - Posted: 03.07.2017
By Clare Wilson The repeated thoughts and urges of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) may be caused by an inability to learn to distinguish between safe and risky situations. A brain-scanning study has found that the part of the brain that sends out safety signals seems to be less active in people with the condition. People with OCD feel they have to carry out certain actions, such as washing their hands again and again, checking the oven has been turned off, or repeatedly going over religious thoughts. Those worst affected may spend hours every day on these compulsive “rituals”. To find out more about why this happens, Naomi Fineberg of Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust in the UK and her team trained 78 people to fear a picture of an angry face. The team did it by sometimes giving the volunteers an electric shock to the wrist when they saw the picture while they were lying in an fMRI brain scanner. About half the group had OCD. The team then tried to “detrain” the volunteers, by showing them the same picture many times, but without any shocks. Judging by how much the volunteers sweated in response to seeing the picture, the team found that people without OCD soon learned to stop associating the face with the shock, but people with the condition remained scared. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Nicola Davis The mystery of why sheep get horny in the winter might have been solved, according to new research. Scientists say they have uncovered the key to the mechanism by which changes in the length of the day prompt certain animals to begin breeding, trigger the growth of horns and even change the thickness of their coat. The findings, the team add, could help farmers tinker with the timing of the lambing season. “Now we know what that link is we can start to understand how it can be controlled,” said David Bates, professor of oncology at the University of Nottingham and co-author of the research. It has long been known that changes in animals’ fertility over the seasons is linked to melatonin – a hormone released at night from the pineal gland in the brain. This hormone acts on another gland, the pituitary, affecting the levels of various sex hormones it produces. With the onset of fertility in sheep linked to longer periods of melatonin production, winter is the season for ovine Casanovas. But there is a puzzle. The region of the pituitary gland that detects melatonin is separate to the region that produces sex hormones. As a result, scientists had been baffled as to how melatonin ends up affecting the onset of fertility. “No-one has been able to find what the link is,” said Bates. Now Bates and colleagues from the University of Bristol say they have the answer. Writing in the journal PNAS, the team reveal the missing link is a protein, known as vascular endothelial growth factor, which is made in the region of the pituitary gland that detects melatonin. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited
By The Scientist Staff For thousands of years, people have appreciated birdsong as one of nature’s most melodic sounds. And for at least a few centuries, researchers have been talking about—and analyzing— birdsong, some attaching the label “music” to the avian behavior. In the mid-17th century, for example, German scholar Athanasius Kircher transcribed bird song with musical notation. Whether singing avian species hear their calls in a musical sense is, of course, anybody’s guess. But still today, it’s fairly uncontroversial to speak about bird vocalizations using terms such as “song” and “music.” Around the animal kingdom, several nonavians also produce sounds that are sometimes discussed using a musical vocabulary. Whale songs echo through the ocean for hundreds of miles, while frogs and crickets chorus on warm summer nights throughout much of the world. The stringency of the criteria for earning a label such as song varies by taxon, however. Birds, whales, mice, and even bats have a vocal repertoire that includes songs and simpler calls, while any insect or fish that produces sound for the sake of communication is considered, at least by some, to be “singing”—though no scientist seriously compares these species’ chirps and grunts to birdsong. Semantics aside, more and more tonal or cadenced animal communication signals are attracting the attention of researchers. Technological advancements have enabled the study of mouse and bat calls that are broadcast in the ultrasonic range, as well as of the love songs of fruit flies, which vibrate their wings to produce sound within the frequency range of human hearing, but do so a million times more quietly than our ears can detect. And research continues to delve into the musical skills of diverse bird species that have long been recognized for their singing prowess, confirming that there is an overlap between the genes and brain areas involved in bird and human vocal learning. © 1986-2017 The Scientist
Ian Sample Science editor Selling high calorie foods in plain packaging could help in the battle against obesity according to a leading researcher who has won a share of the most lucrative prize in neuroscience for his work on the brain’s reward system. The colourful wrapping and attractive advertising of calorie-rich foods encourage people to buy items that put them at risk of overeating and becoming obese in the future, said Wolfram Schultz, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. “We should not advertise, propagate or encourage the unnecessary ingestion of calories,” Schultz said at a press conference held on Monday to announce the winners of the 2017 Brain Prize. “There should be some way of regulating the desire to get more calories. We don’t need these calories.” “Colourful wrapping of high energy foods of course makes you buy more of that stuff and once you have it in your fridge, it’s in front of you every time you open the fridge and ultimately you’re going to eat it and eat too much,” he added. Schultz shares the €1m prize from the Lundbeck Foundation in Denmark with professors Peter Dayan, director of the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at UCL, and Ray Dolan, director of the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing. Together, the scientists unravelled how the brain uses rewards to learn and shape behaviour.
by Laura Sanders If your young child is facing ear tubes, an MRI or even extensive dental work, you’ve probably got a lot of concerns. One of them may be about whether the drugs used to render your child briefly unconscious can permanently harm his brain. Here’s the frustrating answer: No one knows. “It’s a tough conundrum for parents of kids who need procedures,” says pediatric anesthesiologist Mary Ellen McCann, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Everything has risks and benefits,” but in this case, the decision to go ahead with surgery is made more difficult by an incomplete understanding of anesthesia’s risks for babies and young children. Some studies suggest that single, short exposures to anesthesia aren’t dangerous. Still, scientists and doctors say that we desperately need more data before we really understand what anesthesia does to developing brains. It helps to know this nonanswer comes with a lot of baggage, a sign that a lot of very smart and committed people are trying to answer the question. In December, the FDA issued a drug safety communication about anesthetics that sounded alarming, beginning with a warning that “repeated or lengthy use of general anesthetic and sedation drugs during surgeries or procedures in children younger than 3 years or in pregnant women during their third trimester may affect the development of children’s brains.” FDA recommended more conversations between parents and doctors, in the hopes of delaying surgeries that can safely wait, and the amount of anesthesia exposure in this potentially vulnerable population. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.