Chapter 16. None
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By KEVIN RANDALL MILWAUKEE — When two financiers purchased the Milwaukee Bucks for $550 million last April, they promised to pour not only money and new management into the moribund franchise, but also the same kind of creative and critical thinking that had helped make them hedge fund billionaires. It was not enough to increase the franchise’s sales force or beef up the team’s analytics department — the Bucks were looking for a more elusive edge. So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks. The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season. With the tenets of “Moneyball” now employed in the front offices of every major sport, perhaps it was inevitable that professional teams would turn to emotion metrics and neuroscience tools to try to gain an edge in evaluating players. Many sports teams have adopted advanced data analytics to help determine a player’s athletic abilities and value. And now, some are taking it a step further — trying to analyze the psychological aspects of the players as well. “We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 20445 - Posted: 12.27.2014
ByDavid Malakoff This bird might look like a holiday ornament, but it is actually a rare half-female, half-male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis, pictured with female plumage on the left and male plumage on the right) spotted a few years ago in Rock Island, Illinois. Researchers have long known such split-sex “gynandromorphs” exist in insects, crustaceans, and birds. But scientists rarely get to extensively study a gynandromorph in the wild; most published observations cover just a day or so. Observers got to follow this bird, however, for more than 40 days between December 2008 and March 2010. They documented how it interacted with other birds and even how it responded to recorded calls. The results suggest being half-and-half carries consequences: The cardinal didn’t appear to have a mate, and observers never heard it sing, the researchers report this month in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. On the other hand, it wasn’t “subjected to any unusual agonistic behaviors from other cardinals,” according to the paper. Intriguingly, another gynandromorph cardinal sighted briefly in 1969 had the opposite plumage, they note: the male’s bright red plumes on the right, the drabber female feathers on the left. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 20442 - Posted: 12.27.2014
George Johnson Training a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell would have seemed pretty stupid to Ivan Pavlov. He was after much bigger things. Using instruments like metronomes and harmoniums, he demonstrated that a dog could make astonishingly fine discriminations — distinguishing between a rhythm of 96 and 104 beats a minute or an ascending and a descending musical scale. But what he really wanted to know was what his animals were thinking. His dream was a grand theory of the mind. He couldn’t put his subjects on a couch like his colleague Freud and ask them to free-associate, so he gauged their reactions to a variety of stimuli, meticulously counting their “psychic secretions,” those droplets of drool. He knew he was pricking at the skin of something deeper. “It would be stupid,” he said, “to reject the subjective world.” This is not the Pavlov most people think they know. In an excellent new biography, “Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science,” Daniel P. Todes, a medical historian, describes a man whose laboratory in pre-Soviet Russia was like an early-20th-century version of the White House Brain Initiative, with its aim “to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind.” That was also Pavlov’s goal: to build a science that would “brightly illuminate our mysterious nature” and “our consciousness and its torments.” He spoke those words 111 years ago and spent his life pursuing his goal. Yet when we hear his name, we reflexively think of a drooling dog and a clanging bell. Our brains have been conditioned with the myth. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20439 - Posted: 12.23.2014
Richard Stephens ‘The curve that sets everything straight” was how comedian Phyllis Diller once described the smile. And it’s true that there’s something charming, trustworthy and disarming about a smile – but this can be misleading. Dig a little deeper and you will understand a much less wholesome side. Because, ladies and gentleman, the smile is one of the biggest fakes going. I know what you’re thinking: we all pull a false smile now and again to appease our fellows and avoid unnecessary conflict. On the other hand, a genuine smile of true enjoyment is something different. Psychologists have named such a smile after the French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne de Boulogne. The Duchenne smile, utilising the muscles around the eyes that lift the cheeks to produce crow’s feet, has long been held as an inimitable sign of true human emotion. Or at least it was until 2013, when a team of researchers from Northeastern University, Boston, broke that hoodoo. Sarah Gunnery and her colleagues asked one group of volunteers to imitate smiles on photographs, and another group of volunteers to rate them. Some of the photographs depicted mouth-only smiles but others were Duchenne smiles, using mouth and eye muscles together. Surprisingly, a high proportion of individuals – two-thirds – could fake a Duchenne smile – and those that could do this were better able to put on false expressions in their everyday lives. This straightforward study indicates that even the sacrosanct Duchenne smile can be convincingly simulated. So much for smiling being an inimitable sign of true human emotion. So why are we so good at faking smiles? The answer isn’t necessarily sinister – some research shows you can actually smile yourself into a better mood. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited
Link ID: 20438 - Posted: 12.23.2014
Alison Abbott Activists calling for an end to research using non-human primates have stepped up activities in Germany and Italy. An estimated 800 animal-rights activists demonstrated in front of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, on 20 December, calling for an end to the research with monkeys that takes place there. A smaller group maintained an all-night vigil. Friedrich Mülln, head of the activist group SOKO Tierschutz, which organized the action, told Nature that the group would continue actions against the institute next year “until the department that does this research is closed down.” In September, SOKO Tierschutz, which is based in Augsburg, Germany, posted a video on its website that included material filmed secretly in the institute by a former animal carer. The footage was used in a television report that claimed malpractice in the laboratory, but a preliminary investigation commissioned in response by the Max Planck Society did not reveal systematic problems in animal welfare. The society says that the Tübingen scientists contribute importantly to global research efforts to understand the human brain. In a similar undercover operation, an anonymous person took smartphone footage of caged monkeys in a primate laboratory at the Sapienza University of Rome. The popular show Striscia la Notizia, which mixes exposé with entertainment, used the footage in an 18 December report which claimed that scientists at the university conducted their work in secret and without oversight. The TV report also said that its producers contacted the Italian ministry of health and the local health office, and that neither was able to explain what the lab's experiments are about. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group
Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20437 - Posted: 12.23.2014
By Nicholas Bakalar Planning to read in bed tonight? It may be better to read an actual book instead of an e-book reader. A small study has found that reading light-emitting electronic devices before bedtime is a recipe for poor sleep. Researchers randomly assigned 12 healthy young adults to one of two activities: reading a light-emitting e-book in a dimly lit room for about four hours before bedtime on five consecutive evenings, or reading a printed book for the same amount of time. All participants did both tasks. The researchers took blood samples to measure melatonin levels, and electronically tracked how long it took to fall asleep and how much time was spent in each sleep stage. The study, done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Compared with a printed book, a light-emitting e-book decreased sleepiness, reduced REM sleep (often called dream sleep), and substantially suppressed the normal bedtime rise of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep and wake cycle. The e-book users took longer to fall asleep and felt sleepier in the morning. “Much more has to be known about the kind of impact these devices have on our health and well-being,” said the lead author, Anne-Marie Chang, an assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State. “The technology moves quickly, and the science lags.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
By Susan Milius In nighttime flying duels, Mexican free-tailed bats make short, wavering sirenlike waaoo-waaoo sounds that jam each other’s sonar. These “amazing aerial battles” mark the first examples of echolocating animals routinely sabotaging the sonar signals of their own kind, says Aaron Corcoran of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Many bats, like dolphins, several cave-dwelling birds and some other animals, locate prey and landscape features by pinging out sounds and listening for echoes. Some prey, such as tiger moths, detect an incoming attack and make frenzied noises that can jam bat echolocation, Corcoran and his colleagues showed in 2009 (SN: 1/31/09, p. 10). And hawkmoths under attack make squeaks with their genitals in what also may be defensive jamming (SN Online: 7/3/13). But Corcoran didn’t expect bat-on-bat ultrasonic warfare. He was studying moths dodging bats in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains when his equipment picked up a feeding buzz high in the night sky. A free-tailed bat was sending faster and faster echolocation calls to refine the target position during the final second of an attack. (Bats, the only mammals known with superfast muscles, can emit more than 150 sounds a second.) Then another free-tailed bat gave a slip-sliding call. Corcoran, in a grad student frenzy of seeing his thesis topic as relevant to everything, thought the call would be a fine way to jam a buzz. “Then I totally told myself that’s impossible — that’s too good to be true.” Five years later he concluded he wasn’t just hearing things. He and William Conner, also of Wake Forest, report in the Nov. 7 Science that the up-and-down call can cut capture success by about 70 percent. Using multiple microphones, he found that one bat jams another, swoops toward the moth and gets jammed itself. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 201
Link ID: 20435 - Posted: 12.20.2014
by Andy Coghlan If quitting smoking is one of your New Year's resolutions, we might have just the thing. Cytisine, a plant extract commonly used in eastern Europe to wean people off cigarettes, appears to be much better at the task than nicotine replacement patches and gums. Not to be confused with the DNA building block cytosine, cytisine is an alkaloid extract from the laburnum or golden rain tree (Laburnum anagyroides), which grows all over Europe. It works by blocking nicotine's access to the brain's pleasure receptors. Like nicotine, cytisine is toxic when ingested in large amounts but is safe at low doses. It is produced commercially mainly in Bulgaria and Poland, and has been used as a quitting aid in eastern European countries since the 1960s but is largely unknown elsewhere. Clinical trials carried out in the 60s and 70s did not meet US and European standards so did not lead to wider adoption. Researchers in New Zealand have now carried out a fresh trial of cytisine. They recruited 1310 smokers who intended to quit and gave exactly half of them cytisine as a course of tablets, taken daily in diminishing doses for 25 days. The other half received standard nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) – either as patches, gums or lozenges – for two months. The researchers noted the number of people who managed to abstain from smoking at one week, one month, two months and six months into the trial. Throughout, they found that people taking cytisine were less likely to have smoked than those using NRT. Six months in, 143 of the 655 cytisine recipients were still not smoking compared with 100 in the NRT group. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 20434 - Posted: 12.20.2014
By Will Dunham WASHINGTON (Reuters) - You might want to be careful about who you call a birdbrain. Some of our feathered friends exhibit powers of perception that put humans to shame. Scientists said on Thursday that little songbirds known as golden-winged warblers fled their nesting grounds in Tennessee up to two days before the arrival of a fierce storm system that unleashed 84 tornadoes in southern U.S. states in April. The researchers said the birds were apparently alerted to the danger by sounds at frequencies below the range of human hearing. The storm killed 35 people, wrecked many homes, toppled trees and tossed vehicles around like toys, but the warblers were already long gone, flying up to 930 miles (1,500 km) to avoid the storm and reaching points as far away as Florida and Cuba, the researchers said. Local weather conditions were normal when the birds took flight from their breeding ground in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Tennessee, with no significant changes in factors like barometric pressure, temperature or wind speeds. And the storm, already spawning tornadoes, was still hundreds of miles away. "This suggests that these birds can detect severe weather at great distances," said wildlife biologist David Andersen of the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Minnesota, one of the researchers in the study published in the journal Current Biology. "We hypothesize that the birds were detecting infrasound from tornadoes that were already occurring when the storm was still quite distant from our study site," Andersen added.
|By Joshua A. Krisch There is a mystery on Tiwai Island. A large wildlife sanctuary in Sierra Leone, the island is home to pygmy hippopotamuses, hundreds of bird species and several species of primates, including Campbell’s monkeys. These monkeys communicate via an advanced language that primatologists and linguists have been studying for decades. Over time, experts nearly cracked the code behind monkey vocabulary. And then came krak. In the Ivory Coast’s Tai Forest Campbell’s monkeys (Cercopithecus campbelli) use the term krak to indicate that a leopard is nearby and the term hok to warn of an eagle circling overheard. Primatologists indexed their monkey lexicon accordingly. But on Tiwai Island they found that those same monkeys used krak as a general alarm call—one that, occasionally, even referred to eagles. “Why on Earth were they producing krak when they heard an eagle,” asks co-author Philippe Schlenker, a linguist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research and professor at New York University. “For some reason krak, which is a leopard in the Tai Forest, seems to be recycled as a general alarm call on Tiwai Island.” In a paper published in the November 28 Linguistics and Philosophy Schlenker and his team applied logic and human linguistics to crack the krak code. Their findings imply that some monkey dialects can be just as sophisticated as human language. In 2009 a team of scientists travelled to Tai Forest with one mission—to terrify Campbell’s monkeys. Prior studies had collected monkey calls and then parsed vague meanings based on events that were already happening on the forest floor. But these primatologists set up realistic model leopards and played recordings of eagle screeches over loudspeakers. Their field experiments resulted in some of the best data available about how monkeys verbally respond to predators. © 2014 Scientific American
By Smitha Mundasad Health reporter, BBC News The precise part of the brain that gives people a sense of direction has been pinpointed by scientists. People with stronger nerve signals in their "internal compass" tended to be better navigators. The study, published in the journal Current Biology, suggested people get lost when their compass cannot keep up. The researchers in London hope the discovery will help explain why direction sense can deteriorate in conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. Scientists have long believed that such a signal existed within the brain, but until now it had been pure speculation. Volunteers were asked to navigate through a virtual environment Volunteers were asked to navigate towards certain objects placed in four corners of the virtual room They were then asked to navigate the area, from memory alone, while their brains were being scanned by an MRI machine. The scans revealed a part of the brain - known as the entorhinal region - fired up consistently during the tasks. The stronger the signal in the region, the better the volunteers were at finding their way around correctly. Dr Hugo Spiers, who led the study, said: "Studies on London cab drivers have shown that the first thing they do when they work out a route is calculate which direction they need to head in. "We now know the entorhinal cortex is responsible for such calculations and the quality of the signals from this region seem to determine how good someone's navigational skills will be." Dr Martin Chadwick, who was also involved in the study, explained: "Our results provide evidence to support the idea that your internal compass readjusts as you move through the environment. BBC © 2014
Keyword: Animal Migration
Link ID: 20431 - Posted: 12.20.2014
By ADAM FRANK In the endless public wars between science and religion, Buddhism has mostly been given a pass. The genesis of this cultural tolerance began with the idea, popular in the 1970s, that Buddhism was somehow in harmony with the frontiers of quantum physics. While the silliness of “quantum spirituality” is apparent enough these days, the possibility that Eastern traditions might have something to say to science did not disappear. Instead, a more natural locus for that encounter was found in the study of the mind. Spurred by the Dalai Lama’s remarkable engagement with scientists, interest in Buddhist attitudes toward the study of the mind has grown steadily. But within the Dalai Lama’s cheerful embrace lies a quandary whose resolution could shake either tradition to its core: the true relationship between our material brains and our decidedly nonmaterial minds. More than evolution, more than inexhaustible arguments over God’s existence, the real fault line between science and religion runs through the nature of consciousness. Carefully unpacking that contentious question, and exploring what Buddhism offers its investigation, is the subject of Evan Thompson’s new book, “Waking, Dreaming, Being.” A professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia, Thompson is in a unique position to take up the challenge. In addition to a career built studying cognitive science’s approach to the mind, he is intimate with the long history of Buddhist and Vedic commentary on the mind too. He also happens to be the son of the maverick cultural historian William Irwin Thompson, whose Lindisfarne Association proposed the “study and realization of a new planetary culture” (a goal that reveals a lot about its strengths and weaknesses). Growing up in this environment, the younger Thompson managed to pick up an enthusiasm for non-Western philosophical traditions and a healthy skepticism for their spiritualist assumptions. © 2014 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 20430 - Posted: 12.20.2014
By GINA KOLATA After three decades of failure, researchers have found a treatment that greatly improves the prognosis for people having the most severe and disabling strokes. By directly removing large blood clots blocking blood vessels in the brain, they can save brain tissue that would have otherwise died, enabling many to return to an independent life. The study, published online Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine and conducted by researchers in the Netherlands, is being met with an outpouring of excitement. One reason the treatment worked, researchers suspect, is that doctors used a new type of snare to grab the clots. It is a stent, basically a small wire cage, on the end of a catheter that is inserted in the groin and threaded through an artery to the brain. When the tip of the catheter reaches the clot, the stent is opened and pushed into the clot. It snags the clot, allowing the doctor to withdraw the catheter and pull out the stent with the clot attached. About 630,000 Americans each year have strokes caused by clots blocking blood vessels in the brain. In about a third to half, the clot is in a large vessel, which has potentially devastating consequences. People with smaller clots are helped by the lifesaving drug tPA, which dissolves them. But for those with big clots, tPA often does not help. Until now, no other treatments had been shown to work. One in five patients who had tPA alone recovered enough to return to living independently. But one in three who also had their clot removed directly were able to take care of themselves after their stroke. And that, said Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, director of the Duke Stroke Center, is “a significant and meaningful improvement in what people are able to do.” © 2014 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 20429 - Posted: 12.18.2014
By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website A link between autism and air pollution exposure during pregnancy has been suggested by scientists. The Harvard School of Public Health team said high levels of pollution had been linked to a doubling of autism in their study of 1,767 children. They said tiny particulate matter, which can pass from the lungs to the bloodstream, may be to blame. Experts said pregnant women should minimise their exposure, although the link had still to be proven. Air pollution is definitely damaging. The World Health Organization estimates it causes 3.7 million deaths each year. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, investigated any possible link with autism. It analysed 245 children with autism and 1,522 without. By looking at estimated pollution exposure during pregnancy, based on the mother's home address, the scientists concluded high levels of pollution were more common in children with autism. The strongest link was with fine particulate matter - invisible specks of mineral dust, carbon and other chemicals - that enter the bloodstream and cause damage throughout the body. Yet, the research is unable to conclusively say that pollution causes autism as there could be other factors that were not accounted for in the study. Consistent pattern There is a large inherited component to autism, but lead researcher Dr Marc Weisskopf said there was mounting evidence that air pollution may play a role too. BBC © 2014
Jason G Goldman We humans don’t typically agree on all that much, but there is at least one thing that an impressive amount of us accept: which hand is easiest to control. If you use one hand for writing, you probably use the same one for eating as well, and most of us – around 85% of our species – prefer our right hands. In fact, "there has never been any report of a human population in which left-handed individuals predominate", according to archaeologist Natalie Uomini at the University of Liverpool in the UK. Lateralisation of limb use – that is, a bias towards one side or the other – usually begins in the brain. We know that some tasks are largely controlled by brain activity in the left hemisphere, while the right hemisphere governs other tasks. Confusingly, there is some crossing of nerves between the body and the brain, which means it’s actually the left side of the brain that has more control over the right side of the body and vice versa. In other words, the brain’s left hemisphere helps control the operation of the right hand, eye, leg and so on. Some argue that this division of neurological labour has been a feature of animals for half a billion years. Perhaps it evolved because it is more efficient to allow the two hemispheres to carry out different computations at the same time. The left side of the brain, for instance, might have evolved to carry out routine operations – things like foraging for food – while the right side was kept free to detect and react rapidly to unexpected challenges in the environment – an approaching predator, for instance. This can be seen in various fish, toads and birds, which are all more likely to attack prey seen in the right eye. © 2014 BBC.
By Candy Schulman My mother’s greatest fear was Alzheimer’s. She got Lewy body dementia, or LBD, instead. This little known, oddly named, debilitating illness afflicts an estimated 1.3 million Americans, the actor and comedian Robin Williams possibly among them. It is often misdiagnosed because its signs, such as hallucinations and body rigidity, do not seem like those of dementia, but in the end it robs people of themselves even more painfully. I first noticed my mother’s cognitive difficulties when she was 88. Until then, she’d led an extraordinarily active life: She was a competitive golfer with a bureau full of trophies, a painter and a sculptor. Every Hanukkah she hosted a lively feast for her eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. This time, though, she needed my help planning, shopping and cooking. She was having difficulty with the guest list, trying to write every family member’s name on a piece of paper, adding up the numbers to see how many potatoes to buy for latkes. Her concentration became frayed and she kept ripping it up and starting again, close to tears. Several months before that, she had sent me a Mother’s Day card that was illustrated with childlike prose, colorful illustrations and glitter hearts. The poem on the cover was printed in a playful purple font: “For you, Mom. For kissing my boo-boos, for wiping my face. . . . For calming my fears with your loving embrace.” On Mother’s Day and the rest of the year, Mom added in a shaky script, “thanks.”
Link ID: 20422 - Posted: 12.16.2014
|By Emilie Reas If you carried a gene that doubled your likelihood of getting Alzheimer's disease, would you want to know? What if there was a simple lifestyle change that virtually abolished that elevated risk? People with a gene known as APOE e4 have a higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. Even before behavioral symptoms appear, their brains show reduced metabolism, altered activity and more deterioration than those without the high-risk gene. Yet accumulating research is showing that carrying this gene is not necessarily a sentence for memory loss and confusion—if you know how to work it to your advantage with exercise. Scientists have long known that exercise can help stave off cognitive decline. Over the past decade evidence has mounted suggesting that this benefit is even greater for those at higher genetic risk for Alzheimer's. For example, two studies by a team in Finland and Sweden found that exercising at least twice a week in midlife lowers one's chance of getting dementia more than 20 years later, and this protective effect is stronger in people with the APOE e4 gene. Several others reported that frequent exercise—at least three times a week in some studies; up to more than an hour a day in others—can slow cognitive decline only in those carrying the high-risk gene. Furthermore, for those who carry the gene, being sedentary is associated with increased brain accumulation of the toxic protein beta-amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer's. More recent studies, including a 2012 paper published in Alzheimer's & Dementia and a 2011 paper in NeuroImage, found that high-risk individuals who exercise have greater brain activity and glucose uptake during a memory task compared with their less active counterparts or with those at low genetic risk. © 2014 Scientific American
|By Ingrid Wickelgren Confusion is one symptom of a concussion. But confusion may also characterize decisions about how soon to let an athlete play after taking a hit to the head. Sizing up symptoms such as dizziness and nausea is subjective, after all. Now a study suggests that a blood test could objectively determine whether or not the damage is bad enough to put a player on the bench. The work is in the Journal of Neurotrauma. [Robert Siman et al, Serum SNTF Increases in Concussed Professional Ice Hockey Players and Relates to the Severity of Post Concussion Symptoms] A strong blow to the head causes chemical changes within nerve cells that damage their structural proteins. Among the debris is a protein fragment called SNTF—which in more severe cases, spills into the bloodstream. The new study followed 20 professional hockey players who got concussions with symptoms that lasted six days or more. And blood levels of SNTF were much higher one hour to six days later than were levels of the protein fragment in eight other athletes who had gotten concussions that cleared up within five days. Levels were also low in 45 non-concussed players tested during the pre-season. A blood test for SNTF might thus forecast recovery time from a head injury. Combined with other neurological tests, levels of this molecule could help doctors tell athletes when it’s safe to suit up again. © 2014 Scientific American
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20419 - Posted: 12.16.2014
By Bruce Bower In the movie Roxanne, Steve Martin plays a lovesick guy who mocks his own huge schnoz by declaring: “It’s not the size of a nose that’s important. It’s what’s in it that matters.” Scientists demonstrated the surprising truth behind that joke this year: People can whiff an average of more than 1 trillion different odors, regardless of nose size (SN: 4/19/14, p. 6). No one had systematically probed how many scents people can actually tell apart. So a team led by Leslie Vosshall of Rockefeller University in New York City asked 26 men and women to discriminate between pairs of scents created from mixes of 128 odor molecules. Volunteers easily discriminated between smells that shared as much as 51 percent of their odor molecules. Errors gradually rose as pairs of scents became chemically more alike. Vosshall’s group calculated that an average participant could tell apart a minimum of more than 1 trillion smells made up of different combinations of 30 odor molecules. Really good smellers could have detected way more than 1 trillion odor mixtures, the scientists said. Smell lags behind sight and hearing as a sense that people need to find food, avoid dangers and otherwise succeed at surviving. Still, detecting the faint odor of spoiled food and other olfactory feats must have contributed to the success of Homo sapiens over the last 200,000 years. Perhaps many animals can whiff the difference between a trillion or more smells. For now, odor-detection studies modeled on Vosshall’s approach have been conducted only with humans. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014.
Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 20417 - Posted: 12.16.2014
by Andy Coghlan It may not sound very appetising, but an edible powder made from waste excreted by bacteria in our guts may help people to avoid gaining weight. Stabilising a person's weight could have a major health impact, says Gary Frost of Imperial College London, because as people on Western diets grow older, they tend to put on between 0.3 and 0.8 kilograms per year on average. A fatty acid called propionate is released when the bacteria in our gut digest fibre. Propionate makes people feel full by activating cells in the large intestine that produce the satiety hormones GLP-1 and PYY: these tell the brain that it's time to stop eating. But to trigger a big enough dose of this appetite-suppressing signal from gut bacteria alone, people would have to eat extremely large amounts of fibre. To get around that, Frost and his team made the molecule in a concentrated form called inulin-propionate ester (IPE). "That gives you eight times the amount of someone following a typical Western diet," he says. To test its appetite-stemming properties, the team gave powdered IPE, mixed in with fruit juice or a milkshake, to a group of overweight volunteers every day for six months. A type of ordinary fibre was given to another set of people, who acted as controls. Only one of the 25 volunteers taking IPE put on more than 3 per cent of their body weight over that time, compared with six of the 24 controls. One reason for this might be that the IPE recipients ate around 9 per cent less over the six months. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 20416 - Posted: 12.13.2014