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By Laura Sanders Everyone knows that the brain influences the heart. Stressful thoughts can set the heart pounding, sometimes with such deep force that we worry people can hear it. Anxiety can trigger the irregular skittering of atrial fibrillation. In more extreme and rarer cases, emotional turmoil from a shock — the death of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, an intense argument — can trigger a syndrome that mimics a heart attack. But not everyone knows that the heart talks back. Subscribe to Science News Powerful signals travel from the heart to the brain, affecting our perceptions, decisions and mental health. And the heart is not alone in talking back. Other organs also send mysterious signals to the brain in ways that scientists are just beginning to tease apart. A bodywide perspective that seeks to understand our biology and behavior is relatively new, leaving lots of big, basic questions. The complexities of brain-body interactions are “only matched by our ignorance of their organization,” says Peter Strick, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh. Exploring the relationships between the heart, other organs and the brain isn’t just fascinating anatomy. A deeper understanding of how we sense and use signals from inside our bodies — a growing field called interoception — may point to new treatments for disorders such as anxiety. “We have forgotten that interactions with the internal world are probably as important as interactions with the external world,” says cognitive neuroscientist Catherine Tallon-Baudry of École Normale Supérieure in Paris. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Emotions; Depression
Link ID: 29313 - Posted: 05.18.2024

By Angie Voyles Askham Some questions about neurons, such as how they give rise to behavior, are tricky to answer when those cells are embedded within their natural milieu. “Is residence in a nervous system sufficient to allow synapses to form?” says Kristin Baldwin, professor of genetics and development at Columbia University. “Are synapses that we can see sufficient to allow communication? And is synaptic communication sufficient to actually endow an animal with a set of behaviors that would be appropriate for it?” The best way to answer those questions is to put the cells in a new environment where their extrinsic and intrinsic influences can be teased apart, says Xin Jin, assistant professor of neuroscience at the Scripps Research Institute. For a long time, Jin says, that new environment was the unnatural setting of a petri dish. But two new studies that make use of chimeric mice—animals with both mouse and rat cells in their brain—point to another option: One demonstrates how rat stem cells can restore a mouse’s ability to smell, whereas the other shows how rat stem cells can give rise to a forebrain in mice that would otherwise lack one. The studies were published last month in Cell. Because rat brains are larger than mouse brains and develop at a different rate, the chimeras enable researchers to probe the competing forces of a cell’s intrinsic programming and its external environment. The work opens up doors for new research and the ability to explore the origins of species-specific cellular behaviors, says Jin, who was not involved in either study. “It’s sort of a fundamental ‘nature versus nurture,’” says Baldwin, who led one of the new studies. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 29312 - Posted: 05.18.2024

By Meghan Rosen An experimental weight loss procedure cranks up the heat to dial down hunger. Blasting a patch of patients’ stomach lining with thermal energy curbed hunger and cut pounds, researchers reported in a small pilot study to be presented at the annual Digestive Disease Week meeting on May 19 in Washington, D.C. Called gastric fundus mucosal ablation, the procedure relies on an endoscope, a thin tube that can be threaded down the throat. It takes less than an hour and doesn’t require hospitalization. “The advantage of this is that it’s a relatively straightforward procedure,” says Cleveland Clinic surgical endoscopist Matthew Kroh, who was not involved with the work. Side effects, which included mild nausea and cramping, are minimal, one study author said in a news conference on May 8. That’s a big difference from bariatric surgery, considered the gold standard treatment for obesity, which includes many techniques to restrict stomach size or affect food absorption. Patients can be hospitalized for days and take weeks to recover. Obese people often avoid these treatments because they don’t want to endure surgery, Kroh says. The new procedure could one day offer an easier option — if the results hold up in larger groups of patients. “There’s potential,” Kroh says, “but I think we have to be cautious.” The trial included 10 women, so the method is still at the proof-of-concept stage. On average, the women lost nearly 8 percent of their body weight, some 19 pounds, over six months. That’s less than patients typically see from bariatric surgery or pharmaceutical treatments like the anti-obesity drug Wegovy (SN 12/13/23). © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Obesity; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 29311 - Posted: 05.18.2024

By Jordan Pearson Engineers and scientists have an enduring fascination with spider silk. Similar to typical worm silk that makes for comfy bedsheets, but much tougher, the material has inspired the invention of lighter and more breathable body armor and materials that could make airplane components stronger without adding weight. Researchers are even using examples drawn from spider webs to design sensitive microphones that can one day be used to treat hearing loss and deafness and to improve other listening devices. Spiders use their webs like enormous external eardrums. A team of scientists from Binghamton University and Cornell University reported in 2022 that webs allow arachnids to detect sound from 10 feet away. When you hear a sound through your ear, what you’re really experiencing are changes in air pressure that cause your eardrum to vibrate. This is how microphones work: by mimicking the human ear and vibrating in response to pressure. Instead of vibrating when hit by a wave of pressure like a stick hitting a drumhead, they move with the flow of the air being displaced. Air is a fluid medium “like honey,” said Ronald Miles, a professor of mechanical engineering at Binghamton. Humans navigate this environment without noticing much resistance, but silk fibers are buffeted about by the velocity of the viscous forces in air. Dr. Miles couldn’t help but wonder if this principle could lead to a new kind of microphone. “Humans are kind of arrogant animals,” he said. “They make devices that work like they do.” But he wondered about building a device to be more like a spider and sense “sound with the motion of the air.” © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hearing
Link ID: 29310 - Posted: 05.18.2024

By Kermit Pattison Since the Stone Age, hunters have brought down big game with spears, atlatls, and bows and arrows. Now, a new study reveals traditional societies around the globe also relied on another deadly but often-overlooked weapon: our legs. According to a report published today in Nature Human Behaviour, running down big game such as antelope, moose, and even kangaroos was far more widespread than previously recognized. Researchers documented nearly 400 cases of endurance pursuits—a technique in which prey are chased to exhaustion—by Indigenous peoples around the globe between the 16th and 21st centuries. And in some cases, they suggest, it can be more efficient than stealthy stalking. The findings bolster the idea that humans evolved to be hunting harriers, says Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. “Nobody else has come up with any other explanation for why humans evolved to run long distances,” says Lieberman, who adds that he’s impressed with the paper’s “depth of scholarship.” For decades, some anthropologists have argued that endurance running was among the first hunting techniques employed by early hominins in Africa. Advocates suggest subsequent millennia spent chasing down prey shaped many unique human features, including our springy arched feet, slow-twitch muscle fibers optimized for efficiency, heat-shedding bare skin, and prodigious ability to sweat. The “born to run” idea has become something of an origin story among many endurance athletes. But a pack of skeptics has dogged the theory. Critics cited the higher energetic costs of running over walking and noted that accounts of persistence hunting among modern foragers are rare. Yet hints of such pursuits kept popping up as Eugène Morin, an archaeologist at Trent University and co-author of the new paper, scoured the literature for a book he was writing on hunting among traditional societies. As he pored over early accounts by missionaries, travelers, and explorers, he repeatedly found descriptions of long-distance running and tracking. © 2024 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 29309 - Posted: 05.16.2024

By Jake Buehler Sounding like a toxic moth might keep some beetles safe from hungry bats. When certain tiger beetles hear an echolocating bat draw near, they respond with extremely high-pitched clicks. This acoustic countermeasure is a dead ringer for the noises toxic moths make to signal their nasty taste to bats, researchers report May 15 in Biology Letters. Such sound-based mimicry may be widespread among groups of night-flying insects, the scientists say. At night, bats and bugs are locked in sonic warfare. At least seven major insect groups have ears sensitive to bat echolocation pitches, and many often flee in response. Some moths have sound-absorbent wings and fuzz that impart stealth against bat sonar (SN: 11/14/18). Others use their genitals to make ultrasonic trills — above the range of human hearing — that may startle bats or jam their sonar (SN: 7/3/13). Previous research suggested some tiger beetles — a family of fast-running, often strikingly colored predatory beetles with strong jaws — also make high-pitched clicks as a response to human-made imitations of bat ultrasound. So Harlan Gough, a conservation entomologist now at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Burbank, Wash., and his colleagues set out to answer why. The researchers collected 19 tiger beetle species from southern Arizona and brought them into the lab. They tethered the insects to a metal rod and prompted them to fly. The team then filmed and recorded audio to see how the beetles responded to playback of a bat clicking sequence that immediately precedes an attack. Right away, seven of these species — all nocturnal fliers — pulled their hard, case-like forewings into the path of their beating hindwings. The resulting collisions made high-pitched clicking noises. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Hearing; Evolution
Link ID: 29308 - Posted: 05.16.2024

By Asher Mullard With obesity drugs now helping people to slim down, researchers are working to capitalize on their popularity by bulking up the weight-loss drug pipeline. The latest contender takes a Trojan horse approach — hiding a small molecule in a gut-hormone-mimicking peptide already used in obesity drugs — to strike a double blow to the brain cells that control appetite. The new work, which demonstrated the effects of this drug candidate in mice and rats, was published today in Nature1. “It’s a strong paper,” says Daniel Drucker, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada, who helped to unravel the role of gut hormones such as GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) and GIP (glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide) in obesity. The blockbuster weight-loss drugs semaglutide (Wegovy) and tirzepatide (Zepbound) act by mimicking these hormones, binding to their receptors on neurons in the brain that control hunger pangs. These drugs can help people to lose 15–20% of their body weight. And it could be possible to eke even more activity from these hormone mimics by fusing them to other drugs, the new study suggests. “Very high marks for the novelty” of the research, says Drucker, who was not involved and consults for the pharmaceutical industry. “Let’s hope that we’ll see some proof of concept in the clinic”, when the approach is tested in humans. Trojan therapeutics The drug contender takes aim at both the GLP-1 receptor and the NMDA receptor, an ion channel found on cells in the brain that was linked to obesity in 20152. At the time, small molecules that blocked the NMDA receptor seemed like a non-starter for obesity-drug developers, because this type of compound, which includes the party drug and antidepressant ketamine, is riddled with harmful side effects. But Christoffer Clemmensen, a metabolism specialist at the University of Copenhagen, saw a path forwards. He speculated that it might be possible to sidestep the safety risks by fusing an NMDA-receptor blocker to a gut-hormone mimic that acts only on the neurons that regulate appetite. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 29307 - Posted: 05.16.2024

By Emily Anthes Half a century ago, one of the hottest questions in science was whether humans could teach animals to talk. Scientists tried using sign language to converse with apes and trained parrots to deploy growing English vocabularies. The work quickly attracted media attention — and controversy. The research lacked rigor, critics argued, and what seemed like animal communication could simply have been wishful thinking, with researchers unconsciously cuing their animals to respond in certain ways. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the research fell out of favor. “The whole field completely disintegrated,” said Irene Pepperberg, a comparative cognition researcher at Boston University, who became known for her work with an African gray parrot named Alex. Today, advances in technology and a growing appreciation for the sophistication of animal minds have renewed interest in finding ways to bridge the species divide. Pet owners are teaching their dogs to press “talking buttons” and zoos are training their apes to use touch screens. In a cautious new paper, a team of scientists outlines a framework for evaluating whether such tools might give animals new ways to express themselves. The research is designed “to rise above some of the things that have been controversial in the past,” said Jennifer Cunha, a visiting research associate at Indiana University. The paper, which is being presented at a science conference on Tuesday, focuses on Ms. Cunha’s parrot, an 11-year-old Goffin’s cockatoo named Ellie. Since 2019, Ms. Cunha has been teaching Ellie to use an interactive “speech board,” a tablet-based app that contains more than 200 illustrated icons, corresponding to words and phrases including “sunflower seeds,” “happy” and “I feel hot.” When Ellie presses on an icon with her tongue, a computerized voice speaks the word or phrase aloud. In the new study, Ms. Cunha and her colleagues did not set out to determine whether Ellie’s use of the speech board amounted to communication. Instead, they used quantitative, computational methods to analyze Ellie’s icon presses to learn more about whether the speech board had what they called “expressive and enrichment potential.” © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language; Epilepsy
Link ID: 29306 - Posted: 05.14.2024

By Lee Alan Dugatkin 1 The complexity of animal social behavior is astonishing I have studied animal behavior for more than 35 years, so I’m rarely surprised at just how nuanced, subtle, and complex the social behavior of nonhuman animals can be. But, every once in a while, that “my goodness, how astonishing!” feeling—which I felt so often in graduate school—returns. That’s how I felt when I read Kevin Oh and Alexander Badyaev’s work on sexual selection and social networks in house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus). The house finches in question, I learned while researching my book, live on the campus of the University of Arizona, where, in 2003, Oh was doing his graduate work and Badyaev was a young assistant professor. Using data on thousands of finches they banded over six years, these two researchers were able to map the social network the birds relied on during breeding season. This network was composed of 25 “neighborhoods” with an average of 30 finches per group. Females rarely left their neighborhoods to interact with birds in other neighborhoods. But how much males moved around from one neighborhood to the next depended on their coloring. Those with plenty of red coloration—which females tend to prefer as mating partners—generally remained put, just like females. But drabber colored males were more likely to socialize across many neighborhoods. The question was why? The answer was what rekindled my own sense of awe in the power of natural selection to shape animal social behavior. When Oh and Bedyaev mapped reproductive success in their house finches, they found that the most colorful males did well no matter what neighborhood they were in. Drab males, however, had greater reproductive success if they tried their luck all around town—essentially, this allowed them to find just the spot where their relative coloration was greatest and therefore most likely to score them a mate. In other words, they learned to play the field, restructuring social networks in a way that served their purposes best. 2 Technology is radically changing how scientists study the behavior of animals © 2024 NautilusNext Inc.,

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 29305 - Posted: 05.14.2024

By Carissa Wong Researchers have mapped a tiny piece of the human brain in astonishing detail. The resulting cell atlas, which was described today in Science1 and is available online, reveals new patterns of connections between brain cells called neurons, as well as cells that wrap around themselves to form knots, and pairs of neurons that are almost mirror images of each other. The 3D map covers a volume of about one cubic millimetre, one-millionth of a whole brain, and contains roughly 57,000 cells and 150 million synapses — the connections between neurons. It incorporates a colossal 1.4 petabytes of data. “It’s a little bit humbling,” says Viren Jain, a neuroscientist at Google in Mountain View, California, and a co-author of the paper. “How are we ever going to really come to terms with all this complexity?” The brain fragment was taken from a 45-year-old woman when she underwent surgery to treat her epilepsy. It came from the cortex, a part of the brain involved in learning, problem-solving and processing sensory signals. The sample was immersed in preservatives and stained with heavy metals to make the cells easier to see. Neuroscientist Jeff Lichtman at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues then cut the sample into around 5,000 slices — each just 34 nanometres thick — that could be imaged using electron microscopes. Jain’s team then built artificial-intelligence models that were able to stitch the microscope images together to reconstruct the whole sample in 3D. “I remember this moment, going into the map and looking at one individual synapse from this woman’s brain, and then zooming out into these other millions of pixels,” says Jain. “It felt sort of spiritual.” When examining the model in detail, the researchers discovered unconventional neurons, including some that made up to 50 connections with each other. “In general, you would find a couple of connections at most between two neurons,” says Jain. Elsewhere, the model showed neurons with tendrils that formed knots around themselves. “Nobody had seen anything like this before,” Jain adds. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 29304 - Posted: 05.14.2024

By Angie Voyles Askham Each time we blink, it obscures our visual world for 100 to 300 milliseconds. It’s a necessary action that also, researchers long presumed, presents the brain with a problem: how to cobble together a cohesive picture of the before and after. “No one really thought about blinks as an act of looking or vision to begin with,” says Martin Rolfs, professor of experimental psychology at Humboldt University of Berlin. But blinking may be a more important component of vision than previously thought, according to a study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Participants performed better on a visual task when they blinked while looking at the visual stimulus than when they blinked before it appeared. The blink, the team found, caused a change in visual input that improved participants’ perception. The finding suggests that blinking is a feature of seeing rather than a bug, says Rolfs, who was not involved with the study but wrote a commentary about it. And it could explain why adults blink more frequently than is seemingly necessary, the researchers say. “The brain capitalizes on things that are changing in the visual world—whether it’s blinks or eye movements, or any type of ocular-motor dynamics,” says Patrick Mayo, a neuroscientist in the ophthalmology department at the University of Pittsburgh, who was also not involved in the work. “That is … a point that’s still not well appreciated in visual neuroscience, generally.” The researchers started their investigation by simulating a blink. In the computational model they devised, a person staring at black and white stripes would suddenly see a dark, uniform gray before once again viewing the high-contrast pattern. The interruption would cause a brief change in the stimulus input to neurons in the retina, which in turn could increase the cells’ sensitivity to stimuli right after a blink, they hypothesized. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Vision; Attention
Link ID: 29303 - Posted: 05.14.2024

By Miryam Naddaf Scientists have developed brain implants that can decode internal speech — identifying words that two people spoke in their minds without moving their lips or making a sound. Although the technology is at an early stage — it was shown to work with only a handful of words, and not phrases or sentences — it could have clinical applications in future. Similar brain–computer interface (BCI) devices, which translate signals in the brain into text, have reached speeds of 62–78 words per minute for some people. But these technologies were trained to interpret speech that is at least partly vocalized or mimed. The latest study — published in Nature Human Behaviour on 13 May1 — is the first to decode words spoken entirely internally, by recording signals from individual neurons in the brain in real time. “It's probably the most advanced study so far on decoding imagined speech,” says Silvia Marchesotti, a neuroengineer at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. “This technology would be particularly useful for people that have no means of movement any more,” says study co-author Sarah Wandelt, a neural engineer who was at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena at the time the research was done. “For instance, we can think about a condition like locked-in syndrome.” The researchers implanted arrays of tiny electrodes in the brains of two people with spinal-cord injuries. They placed the devices in the supramarginal gyrus (SMG), a region of the brain that had not been previously explored in speech-decoding BCIs. © 2024 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging; Language
Link ID: 29302 - Posted: 05.14.2024

By Darren Incorvaia Wouldn’t it be nice if you could stave off the miserable effects from a night out drinking by simply popping a pill? Researchers are now one step closer to that reality, developing a gel that helped mice quickly and safely break down alcohol. The gel is a combination of iron atoms and the milk protein beta-lactoglobulin. When it encounters alcohol in the digestive system, this combo mimics the behavior of an enzyme that converts ethanol into acetate, food scientist Jiaqi Su of ETH Zurich and colleagues report May 13 in Nature Nanotechnology. As the body naturally breaks down alcohol, it produces the by-product acetaldehyde, which causes hangovers and can damage the liver. “One really nice feature of [the new gel] is they’re able to convert alcohol directly to acetate, which means there’s no accumulation of the toxic intermediate,” says biochemist Duo Xu of Stanford University. “It’s like a hydrogel-based nano-liver that does the work for us.” If the gel works in humans, Su and colleagues say, it could be used to prevent hangovers and potentially the harms of chronic drinking (SN: 3/22/23). Over time, excessive alcohol use can damage vital organs such as the heart, liver and brain. A 2023 study found that about 5 percent of the global population suffers from liver diseases related to drinking too much alcohol. To test the gel, Su’s team fed it to eight mice and then waited 20 minutes before plying the rodents with booze. Eight other mice received gel without iron and eight more were given a saline solution and force-fed alcohol 20 minutes later. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2024.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29301 - Posted: 05.14.2024

Andrew Gregory Health editor A British toddler has had her hearing restored after becoming the first person in the world to take part in a pioneering gene therapy trial, in a development that doctors say marks a new era in treating deafness. Opal Sandy was born unable to hear anything due to auditory neuropathy, a condition that disrupts nerve impulses travelling from the inner ear to the brain and can be caused by a faulty gene. But after receiving an infusion containing a working copy of the gene during groundbreaking surgery that took just 16 minutes, the 18-month-old can hear almost perfectly and enjoys playing with toy drums. Her parents were left “gobsmacked” when they realised she could hear for the first time after the treatment. “I couldn’t really believe it,” Opal’s mother, Jo Sandy, said. “It was … bonkers.” The girl, from Oxfordshire, was treated at Addenbrooke’s hospital, part of Cambridge university hospitals NHS foundation trust, which is running the Chord trial. More deaf children from the UK, Spain and the US are being recruited to the trial and will all be followed up for five years. Prof Manohar Bance, an ear surgeon at the trust and chief investigator for the trial, said the initial results were “better than I hoped or expected” and could cure patients with this type of deafness. “We have results from [Opal] which are very spectacular – so close to normal hearing restoration. So we do hope it could be a potential cure.” He added: “There’s been so much work, decades of work … to finally see something that actually worked in humans …. It was quite spectacular and a bit awe-inspiring really. It felt very special.” Auditory neuropathy can be caused by a fault in the OTOF gene, which makes a protein called otoferlin. This enables cells in the ear to communicate with the hearing nerve. To overcome the fault, the new therapy from biotech firm Regeneron sends a working copy of the gene to the ear. © 2024 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Hearing; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 29300 - Posted: 05.09.2024

By Lauren Schenkman Repeated exposure to cocaine and morphine subverts the reward-system neurons that underlie hunger and thirst, according to a new study in mice. “The nerve cells get scrambled at the neural level in terms of their responses to food and water,” says lead investigator Eric Nestler, professor of neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “So the ability of the brain, in a way, to compute that the individual is hungry or thirsty becomes lost.” In addiction research, there has been a “long-appreciated hypothesis that drugs of abuse hijack the natural reward circuitry of the brain,” says Marcelo Wood, professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the new work. “It’s something that everyone talks about and writes about,” he says, but the exact physiology behind it “remained rather unknown.” In the new work, mice injected daily with morphine or cocaine for up to five days showed progressively increased activity in neurons in the nucleus accumbens that also respond to food and water, according to measures of FOS protein, a marker of neuronal activation. The drugs also elicited a stronger response than the natural rewards, two-photon calcium images showed, confirming what scientists have thought based on behavioral evidence, Nestler says. These alterations ultimately curbed the animals’ urge for sustenance, the study also shows: The mice ate less food and drank less water than mice given a saline solution, and lost weight—even after withdrawing from the drugs for three days. That confirms the hijacking hypothesis “pretty convincingly,” Wood says. “I thought that was brilliant.” © 2024 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 29299 - Posted: 05.09.2024

By Emily Cooke & LiveScience Optical illusions play on the brain's biases, tricking it into perceiving images differently than how they really are. And now, in mice, scientists have harnessed an optical illusion to reveal hidden insights into how the brain processes visual information. The research focused on the neon-color-spreading illusion, which incorporates patterns of thin lines on a solid background. Parts of these lines are a different color — such as lime green, in the example above — and the brain perceives these lines as part of a solid shape with a distinct border — a circle, in this case. The closed shape also appears brighter than the lines surrounding it. It's well established that this illusion causes the human brain to falsely fill in and perceive a nonexistent outline and brightness — but there's been ongoing debate about what's going on in the brain when it happens. Now, for the first time, scientists have demonstrated that the illusion works on mice, and this allowed them to peer into the rodents' brains to see what's going on. Specifically, they zoomed in on part of the brain called the visual cortex. When light hits our eyes, electrical signals are sent via nerves to the visual cortex. This region processes that visual data and sends it on to other areas of the brain, allowing us to perceive the world around us. The visual cortex is made of six layers of neurons that are progressively numbered V1, V2, V3 and so on. Each layer is responsible for processing different features of images that hit the eyes, with V1 neurons handling the first and most basic layer of data, while the other layers belong to the "higher visual areas." These neurons are responsible for more complex visual processing than V1 neurons. © 2024 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN,

Keyword: Vision; Consciousness
Link ID: 29298 - Posted: 05.09.2024

By Clay Risen Academic conferences are usually staid affairs, but the 1973 International Symposium on Gender Identity, held in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, was an exception. Everything was peaceful until a psychologist named John Money stood and yelled, “Mickey Diamond, I hate your guts!” Milton Diamond, a sexologist who had gone by Mickey since childhood, was sitting on the other side of the room. Dr. Money and Dr. Diamond were bitter rivals: Dr. Money, a nationally recognized researcher at Johns Hopkins University, had long argued that sexual and gender identity are neutral at birth and shaped primarily by an infant’s surroundings. Dr. Diamond, who was just beginning his career at the University of Hawaii, strongly disagreed, and had said so repeatedly — including in a widely read 1965 critique of Dr. Money’s work. He took particular issue with Dr. Money’s recommendation that intersex infants have surgery to “correct” their genitals. Dr. Money rushed over to Dr. Diamond, getting in his face, furiously insisting he was right. Dr. Diamond only replied, “The data is not there.” At one point, eyewitnesses reported that Dr. Money slugged Dr. Diamond, though Dr. Diamond later said he didn’t remember it. The incident, reported by the journalist John Colapinto in Rolling Stone magazine and in a subsequent book, “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl” (2000), was especially heated because of a recent announcement by Dr. Money. He had been working with a child who in 1965, after his penis was irreparably damaged during a circumcision, had undergone further surgery to remove his male genitalia. The child was then raised as a girl, taking on all the conventional physical and emotional characteristics of a female adolescent — happily, Dr. Money said. Though the child was not born intersex, Dr. Money claimed that the case proved that gender and sexual identity were malleable and that intersex children should indeed receive surgery. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 29297 - Posted: 05.09.2024

By Johann Hari Ever since I was a teenager, I have dreamed of shedding a lot of weight. So when I shrank from 203 pounds to 161 in a year, I was baffled by my feelings. I was taking Ozempic, and I was haunted by the sense that I was cheating and doing something immoral. I’m not the only one. In the United States (where I now split my time), over 70 percent of people are overweight or obese, and according to one poll, 47 percent of respondents said they were willing to pay to take the new weight-loss drugs. It’s not hard to see why. They cause users to lose an average of 10 to 20 percent of their body weight, and clinical trials suggest that the next generation of drugs (probably available soon) leads to a 24 percent loss, on average. Yet as more and more people take drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro, we get more confused as a culture, bombarding anyone in the public eye who takes them with brutal shaming. This is happening because we are trapped in a set of old stories about what obesity is and the morally acceptable ways to overcome it. But the fact that so many of us are turning to the new weight-loss drugs can be an opportunity to find a way out of that trap of shame and stigma — and to a more truthful story. In my lifetime, obesity has exploded, from being rare to almost being the norm. I was born in 1979, and by the time I was 21, obesity rates in the United States had more than doubled. They have skyrocketed since. The obvious question is, why? And how do these new weight-loss drugs work? The answer to both lies in one word: satiety. It’s a concept that we don’t use much in everyday life but that we’ve all experienced at some point. It describes the sensation of having had enough and not wanting any more. The primary reason we have gained weight at a pace unprecedented in human history is that our diets have radically changed in ways that have deeply undermined our ability to feel sated. My father grew up in a village in the Swiss mountains, where he ate fresh, whole foods that had been cooked from scratch and prepared on the day they were eaten. But in the 30 years between his childhood and mine, in the suburbs of London, the nature of food transformed across the Western world. He was horrified to see that almost everything I ate was reheated and heavily processed. The evidence is clear that the kind of food my father grew up eating quickly makes you feel full. But the kind of food I grew up eating, much of which is made in factories, often with artificial chemicals, left me feeling empty and as if I had a hole in my stomach. In a recent study of what American children eat, ultraprocessed food was found to make up 67 percent of their daily diet. This kind of food makes you want to eat more and more. Satiety comes late, if at all. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 29296 - Posted: 05.07.2024

By Gillian Dohrn “Puppy-dog eyes didn’t just evolve for us, in domestic dogs,” says comparative anatomist Heather Smith. Her team’s work has thrown a 2019 finding1 that the muscles in dogs’ eyebrows evolved to communicate with humans in the doghouse by showing that African wild dogs also have the muscles to make the infamous pleading expression. The study was published on 10 April in The Anatomical Record2. Now, one of the researchers who described the evolution of puppy-dog eyebrow muscles is considering what the African dog discovery means for canine evolution. “It opens a door to thinking about where dogs come from, and what they are,” says Anne Burrows, a biological anthropologist at the Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and author of the earlier paper. The 2019 study garnered headlines around the world when it found that the two muscles responsible for creating the sad–sweet puppy-dog stare are pronounced in several domestic breeds (Canis familiaris), but almost absent in wolves (Canis lupus). If the social dynamic between humans and dogs drove eyebrow evolution, Smith wondered whether the highly social African wild dog might also have expressive brows. African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Between 1997 and 2012, their numbers dropped by half in some areas. With only 8,000 or so remaining in the wild, studying them is difficult but crucial for conservation efforts. Smith, who is based at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, and her colleagues dissected a recently deceased African wild dog from Phoenix Zoo. They found that both the levator anguli oculi medalis (LAOM) and the retractor anguli oculi lateralis (RAOL) muscles, credited with creating the puppy-dog expression, were similar in size to those of domestic dog breeds.

Keyword: Emotions; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 29295 - Posted: 05.07.2024

By Dan Falk Some years ago, when he was still living in southern California, neuroscientist Christof Koch drank a bottle of Barolo wine while watching The Highlander, and then, at midnight, ran up to the summit of Mount Wilson, the 5,710-foot peak that looms over Los Angeles. After an hour of “stumbling around with my headlamp and becoming nauseated,” as he later described the incident, he realized the nighttime adventure was probably not a smart idea, and climbed back down, though not before shouting into the darkness the last line of William Ernest Henley’s 1875 poem “Invictus”: “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.” Koch, who first rose to prominence for his collaborative work with the late Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, is hardly the only scientist to ponder the nature of the self—but he is perhaps the most adventurous, both in body and mind. He sees consciousness as the central mystery of our universe, and is willing to explore any reasonable idea in the search for an explanation. Over the years, Koch has toyed with a wide array of ideas, some of them distinctly speculative—like the idea that the Internet might become conscious, for example, or that with sufficient technology, multiple brains could be fused together, linking their accompanying minds along the way. (And yet, he does have his limits: He’s deeply skeptical both of the idea that we can “upload” our minds and of the “simulation hypothesis.”) In his new book, Then I Am Myself The World, Koch, currently the chief scientist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, ventures through the challenging landscape of integrated information theory (IIT), a framework that attempts to compute the amount of consciousness in a system based on the degree to which information is networked. Along the way, he struggles with what may be the most difficult question of all: How do our thoughts—seemingly ethereal and without mass or any other physical properties—have real-world consequences? © 2024 NautilusNext Inc.,

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 29294 - Posted: 05.07.2024