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Johnjoe McFadden Some 2,700 years ago in the ancient city of Sam’al, in what is now modern Turkey, an elderly servant of the king sits in a corner of his house and contemplates the nature of his soul. His name is Katumuwa. He stares at a basalt stele made for him, featuring his own graven portrait together with an inscription in ancient Aramaic. It instructs his family, when he dies, to celebrate ‘a feast at this chamber: a bull for Hadad harpatalli and a ram for Nik-arawas of the hunters and a ram for Shamash, and a ram for Hadad of the vineyards, and a ram for Kubaba, and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.’ Katumuwa believed that he had built a durable stone receptacle for his soul after death. This stele might be one of the earliest written records of dualism: the belief that our conscious mind is located in an immaterial soul or spirit, distinct from the matter of the body. More than 2 millennia later, I was also contemplating the nature of the soul, as my son lay propped up on a hospital gurney. He was undertaking an electroencephalogram (EEG), a test that detects electrical activity in the brain, for a condition that fortunately turned out to be benign. As I watched the irregular wavy lines march across the screen, with spikes provoked by his perceptions of events such as the banging of a door, I wondered at the nature of the consciousness that generated those signals. Just how do the atoms and molecules that make up the neurons in our brain – not so different to the bits of matter in Katumwa’s inert stele or the steel barriers on my son’s hospital bed – manage to generate human awareness and the power of thought? In answering that longstanding question, most neurobiologists today would point to the information-processing performed by brain neurons. For both Katumuwa and my son, this would begin as soon as light and sound reached their eyes and ears, stimulating their neurons to fire in response to different aspects of their environment. For Katumuwa, perhaps, this might have been the pinecone or comb that his likeness was holding on the stele; for my son, the beeps from the machine or the movement of the clock on the wall. © Aeon Media Group Ltd. 2012-2021

Keyword: Consciousness; Attention
Link ID: 27782 - Posted: 04.21.2021

By Emily Anthes Male tanagers are meant to be noticed. Many species of the small, tropical bird sport deep black feathers and splashes of eye-catching color — electric yellows, traffic-cone oranges and nearly neon scarlets. To achieve this flashiness, the birds must spend time and energy foraging for, and metabolizing, plants that contain special color pigments, which make their way into the feathers. A vibrantly colored male is thus sending an “honest signal,” many scientists have long theorized: He is alerting nearby females that he has a good diet, is in good health and would make a worthy mate. But some birds may be guilty of false advertising, a new study suggests. Male tanagers have microstructures in their feathers that enhance their colors, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports. These microstructures, like evolution’s own Instagram filters, may make the males seem as if they are more attractive than they truly are. “Many male birds are colorful not just because they’re honestly signaling their quality, but because they’re trying to get chosen,” said Dakota McCoy, a doctoral student at Harvard University who conducted the research as part of her dissertation. “This is basically experimental evidence that whenever there’s a high-stakes test in life, it’s worth your while to cheat a little bit.” The new study is an important contribution to the longstanding debate over how, and why, brightly colored feathers evolved in birds, said Geoffrey Hill, an ornithologist and evolutionary ecologist at Auburn University. “Scientists have spent the last 150 years since Darwin and Wallace trying to understand ornaments in animals and especially colors in birds,” he said. “And this is the kind of original approach that helps us.” © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27781 - Posted: 04.21.2021

David Cox When John Abraham began to lose his mind in late 2019, his family immediately feared the worst. Abraham had enjoyed robust health throughout retirement, but now at 80 he suddenly found himself struggling to finish sentences. “I would be talking to people, and all of a sudden the final word wouldn’t come to mind,” he remembers. “I assumed this was simply a feature of ageing, and I was finding ways of getting around it.” But within weeks, further erratic behaviours started to develop. Abraham’s family recall him often falling asleep mid-conversation, he would sometimes shout out bizarre comments in public, and during the night he would wake up every 15 minutes, sometimes hallucinating. Patients can go from being in a nursing home, unable to communicate, to returning to work To his son Steve, the diagnosis seemed inevitable, one which all families dread. “I was convinced my dad had dementia,” he says. “What I couldn’t believe was the speed at which it was all happening. It was like dementia on steroids.” Dementia is not just one disease – it has more than 200 different subtypes. Over the past decade neurologists have become increasingly interested in one particular subtype, known as autoimmune dementia. In this condition, the symptoms of memory loss and confusion are the result of brain inflammation caused by rogue antibodies – known as autoantibodies – binding to the neuronal tissue, rather than an underlying neurodegenerative disease. Crucially this means that unlike almost all other forms of dementia, in some cases it can be cured, andspecialist neurologists have become increasingly adept at both spotting and treating it. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 27780 - Posted: 04.21.2021

By Nambi Ndugga and Austin Frakt American deaths from misuse of substances, including alcohol, have increased over the past two decades, but not uniformly across various demographic groups. Overall rates of alcohol abuse and related deaths have consistently and significantly increased for white non-Hispanic Americans, while Black Americans have experienced a much slower and less significant incline, and some other groups have had declines. More recently, alcohol use has been up during the pandemic, with one study showing a greater increase in misuse among women than among men. (For men, heavy drinking is considered more than four drinks per day and 14 drinks per week, and for women, more than three drinks per day and seven drinks per week, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.) “Alcohol kills many more people than many may realize,” said Yusuf Ransome, an assistant professor at Yale’s School of Public Health. “It is a major contributor to deaths linked to physical injuries, interpersonal violence, motor vehicle crashes, self-harm and other harmful outcomes.” One reason for this might be that alcohol is often viewed as socially acceptable. “Alcohol use has been normalized because it is consumed sometimes at family and communal gatherings, casual outings, and that’s the type of drinking that is typically seen or showed within the media,” he said. “We rarely see the long-term health impacts of excessive alcohol use, nor do we show the acute dangers of alcohol misuse and abuse.” Between 2000 and 2016, according to research published in JAMA, alcohol-related deaths continually increased for white men (2.3 percent per year on average) and white women (4.1 percent), with middle-aged white Americans accounting for the highest increase in deaths. Rapid increases during this period in mortality related to alcohol and drugs like opioids among white Americans — particularly those without a college degree — have been termed “deaths of despair.” Sign up for The Upshot Newsletter: Analysis that explains politics, policy and everyday life, with an emphasis on data and charts. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Stress
Link ID: 27779 - Posted: 04.21.2021

Jordana Cepelewicz During every waking moment, we humans and other animals have to balance on the edge of our awareness of past and present. We must absorb new sensory information about the world around us while holding on to short-term memories of earlier observations or events. Our ability to make sense of our surroundings, to learn, to act and to think all depend on constant, nimble interactions between perception and memory. But to accomplish this, the brain has to keep the two distinct; otherwise, incoming data streams could interfere with representations of previous stimuli and cause us to overwrite or misinterpret important contextual information. Compounding that challenge, a body of research hints that the brain does not neatly partition short-term memory function exclusively into higher cognitive areas like the prefrontal cortex. Instead, the sensory regions and other lower cortical centers that detect and represent experiences may also encode and store memories of them. And yet those memories can’t be allowed to intrude on our perception of the present, or to be randomly rewritten by new experiences. A paper published recently in Nature Neuroscience may finally explain how the brain’s protective buffer works. A pair of researchers showed that, to represent current and past stimuli simultaneously without mutual interference, the brain essentially “rotates” sensory information to encode it as a memory. The two orthogonal representations can then draw from overlapping neural activity without intruding on each other. The details of this mechanism may help to resolve several long-standing debates about memory processing. To figure out how the brain prevents new information and short-term memories from blurring together, Timothy Buschman, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, and Alexandra Libby, a graduate student in his lab, decided to focus on auditory perception in mice. They had the animals passively listen to sequences of four chords over and over again, in what Buschman dubbed “the worst concert ever.” All Rights Reserved © 2021

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27778 - Posted: 04.17.2021

Mark Shelhamer, Sc.D. A few short months ago, news programs around the globe showed NASA engineers and scientists celebrating as a robot named Perseverance successfully landed on the surface of Mars. The mission: capture and share images and audio that have never been seen or heard before. As impressed as most observers were of this major milestone, many couldn’t help but wonder when we might be ready to someday send humans. While it seems the stuff of science fiction and almost inconceivable, the answer—according to recent NASA planning—is before the end of the 2030s, less than two decades away. There are still many obstacles to accomplishing such a feat, many of which have to do with overcoming cognitive and mental health challenges that would impact a crew: long-term isolation, eyesight impairment, and psychological effects from the stress of danger and what could amount to life-or-death decisions. For a mission to succeed, high mental and cognitive function would be absolutely critical; astronauts would be called on to perform demanding tasks in a demanding environment. Losing 20 IQ points halfway to Mars is not an option. Finding the answers to overcoming those obstacles has not only offered us the opportunity to advance spaceflight, it also allows us to apply what we learn to help people here on Earth. While we haven’t yet seen anything as a dramatic as a clear loss of intellectual capacity in space, there are enough indicators to suggest that we should pay close attention. Stress—an emotional or mental state resulting from tense or overwhelming circumstances—and the body’s response to it, which involves multiple systems, from metabolism to muscles to memory—may be the chief challenge that astronauts face. Spaceflight is full of stressors, many of which can have an impact on brain function, cognitive performance, and mental capacities. Several changes in brain structure and function have been observed [in astronauts after spaceflight]. The full implications of these changes for health and performance are not yet known, but any adverse consequences will be increasingly important as spaceflights become longer and more ambitious (such as a three-year mission to Mars). © 2021 The Dana Foundation.

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 27777 - Posted: 04.17.2021

by Grace Huckins Autism-linked mutations in the CUL3 gene may alter brain structure by disrupting the ‘skeletons’ of neurons, according to a new study. Like all cells, neurons contain long strands of protein that help them keep their shape. These strands, collectively called a cytoskeleton, also help ferry substances within cells and enable developing cells to migrate through the brain. Mice engineered to have a CUL3 mutation that resembles one seen in an autistic person show atypical expression of a variety of cytoskeleton proteins, the new work shows. These mice exhibit some autism-like social behaviors — for instance, unlike wildtype mice, they display no preference for a novel mouse over a familiar one. In addition, various cortical regions in the CUL3 mice are smaller than in wildtype mice, and their cortices are, on the whole, thinner. The brain and behavioral differences observed in these mice may be linked to cytoskeletal abnormalities, says lead investigator Lilia Iakoucheva, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. Mutations in CUL3 could lead to cytoskeletal changes via RhoA, an enzyme linked to autism, Iakoucheva says. RhoA carries out some of the effects of mutations in KCTD13, an autism-related gene that works with CUL3, according to past work by her team. The new study represents an important step forward in understanding the link between Rho enzymes and autism, says Froylan Calderón de Anda, research group leader at the Center for Molecular Neurobiology Hamburg in Germany, who was not involved in the work. “Little by little, we are adding to this puzzle.” © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27776 - Posted: 04.17.2021

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. It was dark by the time the 41-year-old woman was able to start the long drive from her father’s apartment in Washington, D.C., to her home in Westchester County, N.Y. She was eager to get back to her husband and three children. Somewhere after she crossed the border into Maryland, the woman suddenly developed a terrible itch all over her body. She’d been a little itchy for the past couple of weeks but attributed that to dry skin from her now-faded summertime tan. This seemed very different: much stronger, much deeper. And absolutely everywhere, all at the same time. The sensation was so intense it was hard for the woman to pay attention to the road. She found herself driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other working to respond to her skin’s new need. There was no rash — or at least nothing she could feel — just the terrible itch, so deep inside her skin that she felt as if she couldn’t scratch hard enough to really get to it. By the light of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel she saw that her nails and fingers were dark with blood. That scared her, and she tried to stop scratching, but she couldn’t. It felt as if a million ants were crawling all over her body. Not on her skin, but somehow under it. The woman had gone to Washington to help her elderly father move. His place was a mess. Many of his belongings hadn’t been touched in years. She figured that she was having a reaction to all the dust and dirt and who knows what else she encountered while cleaning. As soon as she got home, she took a long shower; the cool water soothed her excoriated skin. She lathered herself with moisturizer and sank gratefully into her bed. But the reprieve didn’t last, and from that night on she was tormented by an itch that no scratching could satisfy. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 27775 - Posted: 04.17.2021

: Peter Campochiaro, M.D. A 72-year-old lawyer who is pursuing his passion for photography in retirement was suddenly unable to take sharp, well-focused photographs. An examination of each eye revealed yellow spots in the macula, the central area of the retina responsible for sharp vision. The macula in the right eye was thickened and raised in height, substantially reducing and distorting his vision. A test called a fluorescein angiogram, in which fluorescent dye is injected into an arm vein that travels to blood vessels in the retina for imaging, revealed a spot of intense fluorescence that enlarged over time, indicating the presence of abnormal blood vessels leaking plasma into surrounding tissue. An optical coherence tomography scan provided a two-dimensional optical cross section showing fluid beneath and within the right eye’s macula. The patient had a condition known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), common to about 200 million individuals globally and referred to as “age-related” because it is rarely seen in individuals younger than 60 years old. With people living longer and longer, it is estimated that by 2040, there will be 300 million individuals with AMD throughout the world. And besides the blurred vision that this patient was experiencing, other patients often complain about difficulty recognizing familiar faces; straight lines that appear wavy; dark, empty areas or blind spots; and a general loss of central vision, which is necessary for driving, reading, and recognizing faces. Besides age, smoking is a universally agreed upon risk factor for AMD; hypertension and high blood lipids have been identified in some studies but not others. © 2021 The Dana Foundation.

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 27774 - Posted: 04.17.2021

By Pam Belluck Reports about the mysterious Covid-related inflammatory syndrome that afflicts some children and teenagers have mostly focused on physical symptoms: rash, abdominal pain, red eyes and, most seriously, heart problems like low blood pressure, shock and difficulty pumping. Now, a new report shows that a significant number of young people with the syndrome also develop neurological symptoms, including hallucinations, confusion, speech impairments and problems with balance and coordination. The study of 46 children treated at one hospital in London found that just over half — 24 — experienced such neurological symptoms, which they had never had before. Those patients were about twice as likely as those without neurological symptoms to need ventilators because they were “very unwell with systemic shock as part of their hyperinflammatory state,” said an author of the study, Dr. Omar Abdel-Mannan, a clinical research fellow at University College London’s Institute of Neurology. Patients with neurological symptoms were also about twice as likely to require medication to improve the heart’s ability to squeeze, he said. The condition, called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), typically emerges two to six weeks after a Covid infection, often one that produces only mild symptoms or none at all. The syndrome is rare, but can be very serious. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 3,165 cases in 48 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, including 36 deaths. The new findings strengthen the theory that the syndrome is related to a surge of inflammation triggered by an immune response to the virus, Dr. Abdel-Mannan said. For the children in the report, the neurological symptoms mostly resolved as the physical symptoms were treated. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27773 - Posted: 04.14.2021

Natalie Grover Few species in the animal kingdom can change the size of their brain. Fewer still can change it back to its original size. Now researchers have found the first insect species with that ability: Indian jumping ants. They are like catnip to researchers in the field. In contrast to their cousins, Indian jumping ants colonies do not perish once their queen dies. Instead, “chosen” workers take her place – with expanded ovaries and shrunken brains – to produce offspring. But, if a worker’s “pseudo-queen” status is somehow revoked, their bodies can bounce back, the research suggests. Typically, whether an ant will be a worker or a queen is decided at the larval stage. If fed generously and given the right hormones, the ant has the chance to become a big queen. If not, then it is stuck with a career as a sterile worker deprived of the opportunity to switch – unless it’s part of a species such as the Indian jumping ant. “They have this ability to completely transform themselves at the adult stage, and that makes them interesting to try to understand,” said lead author Dr Clint Penick from US-based Kennesaw State University. Social insects such as ants typically inhabit a caste-based society – the queen reigns as the sole reproducer by secreting pheromones that thwart female worker ants from laying eggs. The other ants work hard: foraging and hunting for food, cleaning, caring for the young and defending the nest. But unlike typical colonies that wither away on the death of their queen, Indian jumping ant colonies are functionally immortal. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27772 - Posted: 04.14.2021

By Anushree Dave Screams of joy appear to be easier for our brains to comprehend than screams of fear, a new study suggests. The results add a surprising new layer to scientists’ long-held notion that our brains are wired to quickly recognize and respond to fearful screams as a survival mechanism (SN: 7/16/15). The study looked at different scream types and how listeners perceive them. For example, the team asked participants to imagine “you are being attacked by an armed stranger in a dark alley” and scream in fear and to imagine “your favorite team wins the World Cup” and scream in joy. Each of the 12 participants produced seven different types of screams: six emotional screams (pain, anger, fear, pleasure, sadness, and joy) and one neutral scream where the volunteer just loudly yelled the ‘a’ vowel. Separate sets of study participants were then tasked with classifying and distinguishing between the different scream types. In one task, 33 volunteers were asked to listen to screams and given three seconds to categorize them into one of the seven different screams. In another task, 35 different volunteers were presented with two screams, one at a time, and were asked to categorize the screams as quickly as possible while still trying to make an accurate decision about what type of scream it was, either alarming screams of pain, anger or fear or non-alarming screams of pleasure, sadness or joy. It took longer for participants to complete the task when it involved fear and other alarming screams, and those screams were not as easily recognizable as non-alarming screams like joy, the researchers report online April 13 in PLOS Biology. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 27771 - Posted: 04.14.2021

Sarah DeGenova Ackerman The human brain is made up of billions of neurons that form complex connections with one another. Flexibility at these connections is a major driver of learning and memory, but things can go wrong if it isn’t tightly regulated. For example, in people, too much plasticity at the wrong time is linked to brain disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, reduced levels of the two neuroplasticity-controlling proteins we identified are linked to increased susceptibility to autism and schizophrenia. Similarly, in our fruit flies, removing the cellular brakes on plasticity permanently impaired their crawling behavior. While fruit flies are of course different from humans, their brains work in very similar ways to the human brain and can offer valuable insight. One obvious benefit of discovering the effect of these proteins is the potential to treat some neurological diseases. But since a neuron’s flexibility is closely tied to learning and memory, in theory, researchers might be able to boost plasticity in a controlled way to enhance cognition in adults. This could, for example, allow people to more easily learn a new language or musical instrument. A colorful microscope image of a developing fruit fly brain. In this image showing a developing fruit fly brain on the right and the attached nerve cord on the left, the astrocytes are labeled in different colors showing their wide distribution among neurons. Sarah DeGenova Ackerman, CC BY-ND © 2010–2021, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Glia
Link ID: 27770 - Posted: 04.14.2021

by Peter Hess Dysfunction in a brain circuit that regulates movement may contribute to some of the motor learning difficulties associated with autism, according to a new mouse study. The mice lack one copy of a chromosomal region called 16p11.2. Up to about one-third of people with this deletion have autism, and some have speech and motor problems. Most autistic people have motor difficulties and show delays in developmental milestones such as standing and walking. The 16p mice, too, are slow to learn new motor tasks, such as balancing on a spinning rod. The explanation seems to be a shortage of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline in the motor cortex, which helps coordinate and execute movements. The dearth originates in the locus coeruleus, a part of the brainstem that serves as the brain’s main source of the chemical. “Noradrenaline is known to be involved in modulating the excitability of neurons,” says lead researcher Simon Chen, assistant professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. “When there’s low noradrenaline in the motor cortex and the mouse is learning a movement, it takes them longer for the neural circuits to consolidate neurons that are important to control movement.” The learning process is similar for people, Chen says. When learning how to walk, for instance, a child loses her footing and falls many times. But once in a while, she will take a few more steps than she did in the previous attempt, and the brain remembers the movement that made that possible. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Autism; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27769 - Posted: 04.14.2021

By Charles Choi Even after ancient humans took their first steps out of Africa, they still unexpectedly may have possessed brains more like those of great apes than modern humans, a new study suggests. For decades, scientists had thought modern humanlike organization of brain structures evolved soon after the human lineage Homo arose roughly 2.8 million years ago (SN: 3/4/15). But an analysis of fossilized human skulls that retain imprints of the brains they once held now suggests such brain development occurred much later. Modernlike brains may have emerged in an evolutionary sprint starting about 1.7 million years ago, researchers report in the April 9 Science. What sets modern humans apart most from our closest living relatives, the great apes, is most likely our brain. To learn more about how the modern human brain evolved, the researchers analyzed replicas of the brain’s convoluted outer surface, re-created from the oldest known fossils to preserve the inner surfaces of early human skulls. The 1.77-million to 1.85-million-year-old fossils are from the Dmanisi archaeological site in the modern-day nation of Georgia and were compared with bones from Africa and Southeast Asia ranging from roughly 2 million to 70,000 years old. The scientists focused on the brain’s frontal lobes, which are linked with complex mental tasks such as toolmaking and language. Early Homo from Dmanisi and Africa still apparently retained a great ape–like organization of the frontal lobe 1.8 million years ago, “a million or so years later than previously thought,” says paleoanthropologist Philipp Gunz at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who did not take part in this study. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021.

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 27768 - Posted: 04.10.2021

By Nikk Ogasa Honey bees can’t speak, of course, but scientists have found that the insects combine teamwork and odor chemicals to relay the queen’s location to the rest of the colony, revealing an extraordinary means of long distance, mass communication. The research is “really nice, and really careful,” says Gordon Berman, a biologist at Emory University who was not involved in the study. It shows once again, he says, that insects are capable of “exquisite and complex behaviors.” Honey bees communicate with chemicals called pheromones, which they sense through their antennae. Like a monarch pressing a button, the queen emits pheromones to summon worker bees to fulfill her needs. But her pheromones only travel so far. Busy worker bees, however, roam around, and they, too, can call to each other by releasing a pheromone called Nasanov, through a gesticulation known as “scenting; they raise their abdomens to expose their pheromone glands and fan their wings to direct the smelly chemicals backward (seen in the video above, and close-up in the video below). Scientists have long known individual bees scented, but just how these individual signals work together to gather tens of thousands of bees around a queen, such as when the colony leaves the hive to swarm, has remained a mystery. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Evolution
Link ID: 27767 - Posted: 04.10.2021

by Angie Voyles Askham Sluggish fetal head growth toward the end of the second trimester foretells poor performance on tests of cognition, language and fine motor skills at age 2, according to a new international study. By the time a child shows developmental delays, which are common in autism, “a lot of other things have already happened” to put her on that track, says Hao Huang, associate professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study. If clinicians could predict such delays in advance, they could start behavioral interventions early, during the period when a child’s brain is most responsive to treatment, he says. The new study offers a step toward that goal, identifying a potential biomarker of atypical development in routine ultrasound scans taken at 20 to 25 weeks of gestation. Researchers analyzed the scans — performed more frequently than usual during 3,598 pregnancies at six international sites — to measure how fetal head circumference changed over time. “[Change in] head circumference is a very nice proxy of growth, particularly brain growth,” says study investigator José Villar, professor of perinatal medicine at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Fetal head growth follows one of five paths, Villar and his colleagues found. Each path is associated with a different outcome on cognitive and behavioral tests when the child is 2 years old. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Autism
Link ID: 27766 - Posted: 04.10.2021

Nicola Davis It is a trope used in films from King Kong to Tarzan – a male primate standing upright and beating its chest, sometimes with a yell and often with more than a dash of hubris. But it seems the pounding action is less about misplaced bravado than Hollywood would suggest: researchers studying adult male mountain gorillas say that while chest-beating might be done to show off, it also provides honest information. “We found it is definitely a real, reliable signal – males are conveying their true size,” said Edward Wright, co-author of the research from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. Advertisement Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Wright and colleagues report how they studied chest-beating in six adult male mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes national park in Rwanda. The team used a camera setup involving two parallel green lasers a known distance apart to determine the breadth of each gorilla’s back from a photograph. They then recorded 36 chest-beating episodes among these six males between November 2015 and July 2016, and analysed the recordings. The results revealed that the duration of the chest-beating, number of beats and the rate of the beats during an episode were not associated with the size of the gorilla. However, the average peak frequency of the sound produced was – the larger the gorilla, the lower the frequency of the sound produced. © 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 27765 - Posted: 04.10.2021

By Meagan Cantwell In order to see the world as clearly as we do, we process vision from each eyeball on both sides of our brain—a capability known as bilateral visual projection. For a long time, researchers thought this feature developed after fish transitioned to land, more than 375 million years ago. But does this theory hold water today? In a new study, scientists injected fluorescent tracers into the eyes of 11 fish species to illuminate their visual systems. After examining their brains under a specialized 3D fluorescence microscope, they found ancient fish with genomes more similar to mammals can project vision on both the same and opposite side of their brain (see video, above). This suggests bilateral vision did not coincide with the transition from water to land, researchers report this week in Science. In the future, scientists plan to uncover the genes that drive same-sided visual projection to better understand how vision evolved. © 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Vision; Evolution
Link ID: 27764 - Posted: 04.10.2021

By Alla Katsnelson New monthly payments in the pandemic relief package have the potential to lift millions of American children out of poverty. Some scientists believe the payments could change children’s lives even more fundamentally — via their brains. It’s well established that growing up in poverty correlates with disparities in educational achievement, health and employment. But an emerging branch of neuroscience asks how poverty affects the developing brain. Over the past 15 years, dozens of studies have found that children raised in meager circumstances have subtle brain differences compared with children from families of higher means. On average, the surface area of the brain’s outer layer of cells is smaller, especially in areas relating to language and impulse control, as is the volume of a structure called the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. These differences don’t reflect inherited or inborn traits, research suggests, but rather the circumstances in which the children grew up. Researchers have speculated that specific aspects of poverty — subpar nutrition, elevated stress levels, low-quality education — might influence brain and cognitive development. But almost all the work to date is correlational. And although those factors may be at play to various degrees for different families, poverty is their common root. A continuing study called Baby’s First Years, started in 2018, aims to determine whether reducing poverty can itself promote healthy brain development. © 2021 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27763 - Posted: 04.08.2021