Chapter 13. Memory, Learning, and Development
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Ah, to sleep, perchance … to shrink your neural connections? That's the conclusion of new research that examined subtle changes in the brain during sleep. The researchers found that sleep provides a time when thebrain's synapses — the connections among neurons—shrink back by nearly 20 percent. During this time, the synapses rest and prepare for the next day, when they will grow stronger while receiving new input—that is, learning new things, the researchers said. Without this reset, known as "synaptic homeostasis," synapses could become overloaded and burned out, like an electrical outlet with too many appliances plugged in to it, the scientists said. "Sleep is the perfect time to allow the synaptic renormalization to occur … because when we are awake, we are 'slaves' of the here and now, always attending some stimuli and learning something," said study co-author Dr. Chiara Cirelli of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Sleep and Consciousness. "During sleep, we are much less preoccupied by the external world … and the brain can sample [or assess] all our synapses, and renormalize them in a smart way," Cirelli told Live Science. Cirelli and her colleague, Dr. Giulio Tononi, also of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, introduced this synaptic homeostasis hypothesis (SHY) in 2003. © 2017 Scientific American
Carl Zimmer Over the years, scientists have come up with a lot of ideas about why we sleep. Some have argued that it’s a way to save energy. Others have suggested that slumber provides an opportunity to clear away the brain’s cellular waste. Still others have proposed that sleep simply forces animals to lie still, letting them hide from predators. A pair of papers published on Thursday in the journal Science offer evidence for another notion: We sleep to forget some of the things we learn each day. In order to learn, we have to grow connections, or synapses, between the neurons in our brains. These connections enable neurons to send signals to one another quickly and efficiently. We store new memories in these networks. In 2003, Giulio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli, biologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proposed that synapses grew so exuberantly during the day that our brain circuits got “noisy.” When we sleep, the scientists argued, our brains pare back the connections to lift the signal over the noise. In the years since, Dr. Tononi and Dr. Cirelli, along with other researchers, have found a great deal of indirect evidence to support the so-called synaptic homeostasis hypothesis. It turns out, for example, that neurons can prune their synapses — at least in a dish. In laboratory experiments on clumps of neurons, scientists can give them a drug that spurs them to grow extra synapses. Afterward, the neurons pare back some of the growth. Other evidence comes from the electric waves released by the brain. During deep sleep, the waves slow down. Dr. Tononi and Dr. Cirelli have argued that shrinking synapses produce this change. © 2017 The New York Times Company
By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS During her pregnancy, she never drank alcohol or had a cigarette. But nearly every day, Stacey, then 24, smoked marijuana. With her fiancé’s blessing, she began taking a few puffs in her first trimester to quell morning sickness before going to work at a sandwich shop. When sciatica made it unbearable to stand during her 12-hour shifts, she discreetly vaped marijuana oil on her lunch break. “I wouldn’t necessarily say, ‘Go smoke a pound of pot when you’re pregnant,’” said Stacey, now a stay-at-home mother in Deltona, Fla., who asked that her full name be withheld because street-bought marijuana is illegal in Florida. “In moderation, it’s O.K.” Many pregnant women, particularly younger ones, seem to agree, a recent federal survey shows. As states legalize marijuana or its medical use, expectant mothers are taking it up in increasing numbers — another example of the many ways in which acceptance of marijuana has outstripped scientific understanding of its effects on human health. Often pregnant women presume that cannabis has no consequences for developing infants. But preliminary research suggests otherwise: Marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — can cross the placenta to reach the fetus, experts say, potentially harming brain development, cognition and birth weight. THC can also be present in breast milk. “There is an increased perception of the safety of cannabis use, even in pregnancy, without data to say it’s actually safe,” said Dr. Torri Metz, an obstetrician at Denver Health Medical Center who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. Ten percent of her patients acknowledge recent marijuana use. © 2017 The New York Times Company
By Emma Hiolski Imagine cells that can move through your brain, hunting down cancer and destroying it before they themselves disappear without a trace. Scientists have just achieved that in mice, creating personalized tumor-homing cells from adult skin cells that can shrink brain tumors to 2% to 5% of their original size. Although the strategy has yet to be fully tested in people, the new method could one day give doctors a quick way to develop a custom treatment for aggressive cancers like glioblastoma, which kills most human patients in 12–15 months. It only took 4 days to create the tumor-homing cells for the mice. Glioblastomas are nasty: They spread roots and tendrils of cancerous cells through the brain, making them impossible to remove surgically. They, and other cancers, also exude a chemical signal that attracts stem cells—specialized cells that can produce multiple cell types in the body. Scientists think stem cells might detect tumors as a wound that needs healing and migrate to help fix the damage. But that gives scientists a secret weapon—if they can harness stem cells’ natural ability to “home” toward tumor cells, the stem cells could be manipulated to deliver cancer-killing drugs precisely where they are needed. Other research has already exploited this method using neural stem cells—which give rise to neurons and other brain cells—to hunt down brain cancer in mice and deliver tumor-eradicating drugs. But few have tried this in people, in part because getting those neural stem cells is hard, says Shawn Hingtgen, a stem cell biologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
New clinical trial results provide evidence that high-dose immunosuppressive therapy followed by transplantation of a person's own blood-forming stem cells can induce sustained remission of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system. Five years after receiving the treatment, called high-dose immunosuppressive therapy and autologous hematopoietic cell transplant (HDIT/HCT), 69 percent of trial participants had survived without experiencing progression of disability, relapse of MS symptoms or new brain lesions. Notably, participants did not take any MS medications after receiving HDIT/HCT. Other studies have indicated that currently available MS drugs have lower success rates. The trial, called HALT-MS, was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and conducted by the NIAID-funded Immune Tolerance Network (link is external) (ITN). The researchers published three-year results from the study in December 2014, and the final five-year results appear online Feb. 1 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. “These extended findings suggest that one-time treatment with HDIT/HCT may be substantially more effective than long-term treatment with the best available medications for people with a certain type of MS,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “These encouraging results support the development of a large, randomized trial to directly compare HDIT/HCT to standard of care for this often-debilitating disease.”
Homa Khaleeli The old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed: try, try again”, might need rewriting. Because, according to new research, even if you do succeed, you should still try, try again. “Overlearning”, scientists say, could be the key to remembering what you have learned. In a study of 183 volunteers, participants were asked to spot the orientation of a pattern in an image. It is a task that took eight 20-minute rounds of training to master. Some volunteers, however, were asked to carry on for a further 16 20-minute blocks to “overlearn” before being moved on to another task. When tested the next day, they had retained the ability better than those who had mastered it and then stopped learning. Primary school encourages pupils to wear slippers in class Read more The lead author of the paper, Takeo Watanabe, a professor of cognitive linguistic and psychological sciences, pointed out that: “If you do overlearning, you may be able to increase the chance that what you learn will not be gone.” But what other tricks can help us learn better? According to researchers at Bournemouth University, children who don’t wear shoes in the classroom not only learn, but behave better. Pupils feel more relaxed when they can kick their shoes off at the door says lead researcher Stephen Heppell, which means they are more engaged in lessons. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23173 - Posted: 02.01.2017
By SHERI FINK, STEVE EDER and MATTHEW GOLDSTEIN A group of brain performance centers backed by Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary, promotes results that are nothing short of stunning: improvements reported by 91 percent of patients with depression, 90 percent with attention deficit disorder, 90 percent with anxiety. The treatment offered by Neurocore, a business in which Ms. DeVos and her husband, Dick, are the chief investors, consists of showing movies to patients and interrupting them when the viewers become distracted, in an effort to retrain their brains. With eight centers in Michigan and Florida and plans to expand, Neurocore says it has assessed about 10,000 people for health problems that often require medication. “Is it time for a mind makeover?” the company asks in its advertising. “All it takes is science.” But a review of Neurocore’s claims and interviews with medical experts suggest its conclusions are unproven and its methods questionable. Neurocore has not published its results in peer-reviewed medical literature. Its techniques — including mapping brain waves to diagnose problems and using neurofeedback, a form of biofeedback, to treat them — are not considered standards of care for the majority of the disorders it treats, including autism. Social workers, not doctors, perform assessments, and low-paid technicians with little training apply the methods to patients, including children with complex problems. In interviews, nearly a dozen child psychiatrists and psychologists with expertise in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D., expressed caution regarding some of Neurocore’s assertions, advertising and methods. “This causes real harm to children because it diverts attention, hope and resources,” said Dr. Matthew Siegel, a child psychiatrist at Maine Behavioral Healthcare and associate professor at Tufts School of Medicine, who co-wrote autism practice standards for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “If there were something out there that was uniquely powerful and wonderful, we’d all be using it.” © 2017 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23171 - Posted: 01.31.2017
James Gorman What fly is famous on TV? Think corpses and detectives wanting to know how long that body has been in a storage locker or suitcase. It’s the blowfly, of course. Its larvae, a.k.a. maggots, feed on rotting flesh, which could be that spouse or business partner who got in the way. Or, in a good police procedural, both the spouse and the business partner, sent to the great beyond together for their transgressions. By seeing whether the eggs have hatched and how big the larvae are, forensic scientists can get an idea of how much time has passed since the victims met their end and began the final chapter in the way of all flesh. By the way, if you have a problem with a spouse or business partner, it’s worth keeping in mind that the flies can indeed get into a suitcase. They stick their ovipositor through the gaps in the zipper. Or the newly hatched larvae themselves can sneak through. But there are aspects of the maggot’s life that have remained somewhat obscure. Martin Hall, a forensic entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London, thought that one part of the fly’s development in particular needed further study. The maggots are a bit like caterpillars in that at a certain point in their development they wrap themselves up in a case and go through one of the most astonishing events in the natural world: metamorphosis. In 10 days, the maggot, which has no legs or eyes and is something like “an animated sock,” Dr. Hall said, turns into the extraordinarily complex blowfly. No doubt blowflies are not as appealing as butterflies to most people, but chalk that up to a human bias for pretty fluttery things that land on flowers. It’s certainly not the fly’s fault. Any close-up image of its multifaceted, jewel-like eye shows that it is marvelous in its own way, even if it does feed on the dead. Science Times © 2017 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23169 - Posted: 01.31.2017
By Andrew Joseph, Public health officials on Thursday said they had detected a bizarre cluster of cases in which patients in Massachusetts developed amnesia over the past few years — a highly unusual syndrome that could be connected to opioid use. The officials have identified only 14 cases so far. But officials said it’s possible that clinicians have simply missed other cases. The patients were all relatively young — they ranged in age from 19 to 52. Thirteen of the 14 patients identified had a substance use disorder, and the 14th patient tested positive for opioids and cocaine on a toxicology screen. “What we’re concerned about is maybe a contaminant or something else added to the drug might be triggering this,” said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the state epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and an author of the new report. “Traditionally there’s no evidence that the drugs themselves can do this.” The pattern emerged when Dr. Jed Barash, a neurologist at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Mass., reported four of the amnesia cases to the state’s public health department. The department then sent out an alert to specialists, including neurologists and emergency physicians, asking about similar cases, ultimately identifying 10 more from 2012 to 2016 at hospitals in eastern Massachusetts. (The patients included one person who lived in New Hampshire and one person who was visiting Massachusetts from Washington state.) © 2017 Scientific American,
By Emily Underwood LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—In a barbed wire–enclosed parking lot 100 meters downwind of the Route 110 freeway, an aluminum hose sticks out of a white trailer, its nozzle aimed at an overpass. Every minute, the hose sucks up hundreds of liters of air mixed with exhaust from the roughly 300,000 cars and diesel-burning freight trucks that rumble by each day. Crouched inside the trailer, a young chemical engineer named Arian Saffari lifts the lid off a sooty cylinder attached to the hose, part of a sophisticated filtration system that captures and sorts pollutants by size. Inside is a scientific payload: particles of sulfate, nitrate, ammonium, black carbon, and heavy metal at least 200 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The particles are too fine for many air pollution sensors to accurately measure, says Saffari, who works in a lab led by Constantinos Sioutas at the University of Southern California (USC) here. Typically smaller than 0.2 µm in diameter, these “ultrafine” particles fall within a broader class of air pollutants commonly referred to as PM2.5 because of their size, 2.5 µm or less. When it comes to toxicity, size matters: The smaller the particles that cells are exposed to, Saffari says, the higher their levels of oxidative stress, marked by the production of chemically reactive molecules such as peroxides, which can damage DNA and other cellular structures. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Anil Ananthaswamy People with post-traumatic stress disorder often get flashbacks that can be triggered by an innocuous smell or sound. Now a study that linked unrelated memories and separated them again, suggests that one day we may be able to decouple memories and prevent flashbacks in people with PTSD. Individual memories are stored in groups of neurons – an idea first proposed by psychologist Donald Hebb in 1949. Only now are we developing sophisticated techniques for examining these ensembles of neurons. To see whether two independent memories can become linked, Kaoru Inokuchi at the University of Toyama in Japan, and colleagues used a standard method for creating memories in mice. When mice are exposed to pain, they can learn to link this with associated stimuli, a taste, for example. The team trained mice to form two separate fear memories. First, the mice learned to avoid the sugary taste of saccharine. Whenever they licked a bottle filled with saccharine solution, they were injected with lithium chloride, which induces nausea. Disconnecting memories A few days later, the same mice were taught to associate a tone with a mild electric shock. This caused the mice to freeze whenever they heard it, even if it wasn’t followed with a shock. They remembered the tone as a traumatic experience. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Meredith Wadman Many children with congenital heart disease (CHD)—the most common major birth defect in the United States—sustain brain damage that often leads to problems with behavior, thinking, and learning. Now, for the first time, researchers have described how the lack of brain oxygen that results from heart malformations might stunt the brains of newborns, opening avenues to potential therapies that could be used even before babies are born. The results are “incredibly exciting,” says Caitlin Rollins, a child neurologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. “This kind of study allows us to start understanding the cellular mechanisms” behind the brain damage, she says. In the future, she adds, “we might be able to alter the course of brain development” with drugs targeted at the cellular anomalies and delivered during pregnancy. CHD reduces oxygen delivery to the brain at a time when the fetus most needs it. This lack of oxygen is thought to be a primary cause of the brain aberrations, which first become visible on MRI scans in the third trimester of pregnancy. (The heart anomalies themselves are commonly identified in the second trimester, on routine ultrasound scans.) Yet until now, scientists have been unclear about the underlying cellular process causing the brain problems. So a research team led by scientists at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., delivered subpar levels of oxygen to newborn piglets, whose course of brain development and whose highly evolved brain structure mirrors in many respects those of humans. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23150 - Posted: 01.26.2017
By Andy Coghlan NEW drug will finally cure Alzheimer’s! Sound familiar? Seemingly every other week, the results of one preliminary trial or another promise that a game-changing drug for Alzheimer’s disease is just around the corner. Check back a few months later, though, and all mention of the drug has vanished, save perhaps for a terse story about a failed trial. Almost all clinical trials of new drugs to combat Alzheimer’s fail. No drug has bucked the trend in 20 years, but you wouldn’t know it from the constant promises of a breakthrough. Last November, after the failure of a particularly high-profile trial, for some the jig was up. “There are no treatments that can slow or reverse this devastating condition,” says Bryce Vissel at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. “There is no question that we have to look at Alzheimer’s in a different way.” So are we heading in the right direction, or do we need to rip up all the textbooks and start over? Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, and by some metrics its prevalence is rising. Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that in 2015, 46.8 million people worldwide had dementia, a number that is set to double every 20 years, mostly because of an increasing number of older people in developing countries like India and China, leading to a global healthcare crisis. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 23149 - Posted: 01.26.2017
Sarah DeVos Targeting tangles of tau protein in mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms has reversed their brain damage, halting memory loss and extending their lives. Clumps of two types of sticky protein build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease: beta-amyloid plaques, and tangles of tau. While many attempts to develop drugs to treat Alzheimer’s have targeted beta-amyloid, tau protein tangles have long been suspected to play a role in memory loss. “Tau is what correlates with memory problems, so one hypothesis is that lowering tau could be beneficial,” says Tim Miller of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Now Miller’s team has purged tau tangles from the brains of Alzheimer’s-like mice for the first time. They used fragments of RNA called antisense oligonucleotides to sabotage the gene that makes tau, preventing it from being fully translated into protein. Once a day for four weeks, the team injected the antisense treatment, named Tau-ASO12, into the fluid at the base of each mouse’s spine. The mice had been genetically engineered to make a rogue form of tau similar to what is seen in people with Alzheimer’s, predisposing the mice to developing tau-related brain problems. The drug successfully spread throughout the brain, and was linked to a reduction in levels of tau that was made. It also seemed to destroy existing tau tangles, and prevent tau from spreading around the brain in older mice. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 23148 - Posted: 01.26.2017
By Helen Briggs BBC News The idea that dogs are more intelligent than cats has been called into question. Japanese scientists say cats are as good as dogs at certain memory tests, suggesting they may be just as smart. A study - involving 49 domestic cats - shows felines can recall memories of pleasant experiences, such as eating a favourite snack. Dogs show this type of recollection - a unique memory of a specific event known as episodic memory. Humans often consciously try to reconstruct past events that have taken place in their lives, such as what they ate for breakfast, their first day in a new job or a family wedding. These memories are linked with an individual take on events, so they are unique to that person. Saho Takagi, a psychologist at Kyoto University, said cats, as well as dogs, used memories of a single past experience, which may imply they have episodic memory similar to that of humans. "Episodic memory is viewed as being related to introspective function of the mind; our study may imply a type of consciousness in cats," she told BBC News. "An interesting speculation is that they may enjoy actively recalling memories of their experience like humans." The Japanese team tested 49 domestic cats on their ability to remember which bowl they had already eaten out of and which remained untouched, after a 15-minute interval. © 2017 BBC
By Ingfei Chen Learning Morse code, with its tappity-tap rhythms of dots and dashes, could take far less effort—and attention—than one might think. The trick is a wearable computer that engages the sensory powers of touch, according to a recent pilot study. The results suggest that mobile devices may be able to teach us manual skills, almost subconsciously, as we go about our everyday routines. Ph.D. student Caitlyn Seim and computer science professor Thad Starner of the Georgia Institute of Technology tinker with haptics, the integration of vibrations or other tactile cues with computing gadgets. Last September at the 20th International Symposium on Wearable Computers in Heidelberg, Germany, they announced that they had programmed Google Glass to passively teach its wearers Morse code—with preliminary signs of success. For the study, 12 participants wore the smart glasses while engrossed in an online game on a PC. During multiple hour-long sessions, half the players heard Google Glass's built-in speaker repeatedly spelling out words and felt taps behind the right ear (from a bone-conduction transducer built into the frames) for the dots and dashes corresponding to each letter. The other six participants heard only the audio, without the corresponding vibrations. After each run of game playing, all the players were asked to tap out letters in Morse code using a finger on the touch pad of the smart glasses; for example, if they tapped “dot-dot,” an “i” would pop up on the visual display. The brief testing essentially prompted them to try to learn the code. After four one-hour sessions, the group that had received tactile cues could tap a pangram (a sentence using the entire alphabet) with 94 percent accuracy. The audio-only group eventually achieved 47 percent accuracy, learning solely from their trial-and-error inputs. © 2017 Scientific American
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23138 - Posted: 01.24.2017
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Being nearsighted is far more common than it once was. The prevalence of myopia, the condition’s medical name, in Americans has soared by 66 percent since the early 1970s, according to a 2009 study by the National Eye Institute; in China and other East Asian countries, as many as 90 percent of recent high school graduates are thought to be nearsighted. Myopia results when eyeballs are longer than normal, changing the angle at which light enters the eye and therefore the ability to focus on distant objects. The disorder involves a complex interplay of genetics and environment and usually begins before adolescence, when the eye is growing, but it can worsen in early adulthood. Some experts connect the elevated rates of myopia to the many hours young people stare at computers and other screens. But a recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology suggests that a greater factor may be a side effect of all that screen-watching — it’s keeping children inside. This new study joins a growing body of research indicating that a lack of direct sunlight may reshape the human eye and impair vision. Researchers at King’s College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and other institutions gave vision exams to more than 3,100 older European men and women and interviewed them at length about their education, careers and how often they remembered being outside during various stages of their lives. This biographical information was then cross-referenced with historical data about sunlight, originally compiled for research on skin cancer and other conditions. © 2017 The New York Times Company
About 11 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 24 experienced depression at some point in their lives, and fewer than half of them sought professional help for a mental health condition over the previous year, according to Statistics Canada. The information was released Wednesday in the agency's Health Reports, and is based on data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey Mental Health. The report was based on 4,031 respondents aged 15 to 24, which when extrapolated represents more than 4.4 million young people. Canadians 15 to 24 years old had a higher rate of depression than any other age group. Suicide is the second leading cause of death (after accidents), accounting for nearly a quarter of deaths in the 15-24 category, Statistics Canada said. An estimated 14 per cent of respondents reported having had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. The figure includes six per cent having that thought in the past 12 months. As well, 3.5 per cent had attempted suicide, according to the data. Report author Leanne Findlay said the findings confirm people with depression or suicidal thoughts are increasingly likely to seek professional help. Young people in the study were more likely to turn to friends or family, and when they did, generally felt they received a lot or some help. Factors such as perceived ability to deal with stress and "negative social interactions" — for instance, feeling others were angry with you — were related to depression and suicidal thoughts. Symptoms of depression include feeling sad or having trouble sleeping that last two weeks or more, Findlay said. "Knowledge of these risk and protective factors may facilitate early intervention," Findlay concluded. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.
By Helen Briggs BBC News Babies build knowledge about the language they hear even in the first few months of life, research shows. If you move countries and forget your birth language, you retain this hidden ability, according to a study. Dutch-speaking adults adopted from South Korea exceeded expectations at Korean pronunciation when retrained after losing their birth language. Scientists say parents should talk to babies as much as possible in early life. Dr Jiyoun Choi of Hanyang University in Seoul led the research. The study is the first to show that the early experience of adopted children in their birth language gives them an advantage decades later even if they think it is forgotten, she said. ''This finding indicates that useful language knowledge is laid down in [the] very early months of life, which can be retained without further input of the language and revealed via re-learning,'' she told BBC News. In the study, adults aged about 30 who had been adopted as babies by Dutch-speaking families were asked to pronounce Korean consonants after a short training course. Korean consonants are unlike those spoken in Dutch. The participants were compared with a group of adults who had not been exposed to the Korean language as children and then rated by native Korean speakers. Both groups performed to the same level before training, but after training the international adoptees exceeded expectations. There was no difference between children who were adopted under six months of age - before they could speak - and those who were adopted after 17 months, when they had learned to talk. This suggests that the language knowledge retained is abstract in nature, rather than dependent on the amount of experience. © 2017 BBC
By Kevin Pelphrey, In September, the Florida State University football team made a visit to a Tallahassee middle school that would become famous. At lunchtime, student-athlete Travis Rudolph noticed sixth grader Bo Paske eating alone, so he joined Bo for the meal. Bo, who has autism, often sat by himself in the lunchroom. The world took note of the athlete’s gesture after his mother’s Facebook post about it went viral. “This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes,” she wrote. This story touched people because it calls to mind something universal: the sting of social exclusion. We have all known children who often eat, or play, alone. And all of us have felt left out at one time or another. But although this experience may be universal, a new generation of children is experiencing a wave of inclusiveness. Technology of various types, often thought of as an isolating influence, can actually abet people’s good intentions or help those with autism learn to fit in. One new app called Sit With Us, invented by 16-year-old Natalie Hampton, helps vulnerable children who have difficulty finding a welcoming group in the lunchroom. Its motto is inspiring: “The first step to a warmer, more inclusive community can begin with LUNCH.” Sit With Us allows students to designate themselves as ‘ambassadors’ and to signal to anyone seeking company that they’re invited to join the ambassador’s table. © 2017 Scientific American