Chapter 1. An Introduction to Brain and Behavior

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By Neuroskeptic A new paper asks why neuroscience hasn’t had more “impact on our daily lives.” The article, Neuroscience and everyday life: facing the translation problem, comes from Dutch researchers Jolien C. Francken and Marc Slors. It’s a thought-provoking piece, but it left me feeling that the authors are expecting too much from neuroscience. I don’t think insights from neuroscience are likely to change our lives any time soon. Francken and Slors describe a disconnect between neuroscience research and everyday life, which they dub the ‘translation problem’. The root of the problem, they say, is that while neuroscience uses words drawn from everyday experience – ‘lying’, ‘love’, ‘memory’, and so on – neuroscientists rarely use these terms in the usual sense. Instead, neuroscientists will study particular aspects of the phenomena in question, using particular (often highly artificial) experimental tasks. As a result, say Francken and Slors, the neuroscience of (say) ‘love’ does not directly relate to ‘love’ as the average person would use the word: We should be cautious in interpreting the outcomes of neuroscience experiments simply as, say, results about ‘lying ’, ‘free will ’, ‘love’, or any other folk-psychological category. How then can neuroscientific findings be translated in terms that speak to our practical concerns in a nonmisleading, non-naive way? They go on to discuss the nature of the translation problem in much more detail, as well as potential solutions.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24099 - Posted: 09.23.2017

A family has settled a lawsuit against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) after it took a girl’s unattended dog and put it down. The legal outcome ends an attempt to in effect put Peta on trial for euthanising hundreds of animals each year. Wilber Zarate from Virginia had sued the group for taking his daughter’s chihuahua from a mobile home park on the state’s eastern shore and euthanising it before the end of a required five-day grace period. Zarate alleged Peta operated under a broad policy of euthanising animals, including healthy ones, because it “considers pet ownership to be a form of involuntary bondage”. Peta denied the allegations and maintained the incident in 2014 was a “terrible mistake”. Two women affiliated with Peta – Victoria Carey and Jennifer Wood – travelled to Accomack County, Virginia, because they said a mobile home park owner asked for help capturing wild dogs and feral cats. The women removed an unattended and unleashed chihuahua named Maya, which was a Christmas present to nine-year-old Cynthia Zarate. Maya was put down later that day, a violation of a state law that requires a five-day grace period. Peta was fined $500 for the violation. A trial had been scheduled for September, during which Zarate’s attorneys had planned to question current and former Peta employees about its euthanasia policy. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 24054 - Posted: 09.11.2017

By David Grimm It started in May with a web post by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Tell Yale University to Stop Tormenting Birds!” the headline read, followed by text accusing postdoc Christine Lattin of wasteful experiments and animal abuse in her research on stress in wild house sparrows. Then the emails from PETA supporters began flooding Lattin’s inbox: “You should kill yourself, you sick bitch!” Then the messages on Facebook and Twitter: “What you’re doing is so sick and evil.” “I hope someone throws you into the fire …” By the end of August, PETA—based in Norfolk, Virginia—had organized three protests against Lattin, and she says she was getting 40 to 50 messages a day. “Every time I went to check my email or Twitter, my heart started racing. I worried there might be another message. I worried about the safety of my family.” In some ways, Lattin’s story is nothing new. PETA and other animal rights groups have hounded researchers for decades in hopes of shutting down animal experiments in the United States and elsewhere. But Lattin is an unusual target. She’s a self-professed animal lover with a background in bird rescue; her studies are far less invasive than the research PETA has traditionally gone after; and she’s only a postdoc, much younger and less established than any scientist the group has singled out before. That has prompted critics to accuse PETA of trying to destroy Lattin’s career. “She’s at the most vulnerable point in the academic spectrum,” says Kevin Folta, a molecular biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. (Folta was targeted by activists opposed to genetically engineered crops after reports that he did not disclose funding from agriculture giant Monsanto; Folta say he did nothing wrong.) PETA’s campaign, he says, “is a warning shot for anyone even thinking about doing animal research.” © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 24052 - Posted: 09.09.2017

Marsha Lederman Santiago Ramon y Cajal wanted to be an artist, but his father, a physician and anatomy teacher, wanted his son to follow in his medical footsteps. It's a familiar story of family dynamics, but what wound up happening in this case was revolutionary. Cajal, who was born in 1852 in northeastern Spain, did ultimately go into medicine, as his father wished. He became a pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist. But he also applied his artistic skills to his area of interest. His hand-drawn illustrations of the brain, based on what he saw through the microscope using stained brain tissue (thanks to a technique developed by his contemporary, the Italian histologist Camillo Golgi) were pioneering. Cajal, who won the Nobel Prize in 1906 (along with Golgi), is known as the father of modern neuroscience. More than a century after he made them, his drawings are still used to illustrate principles of neuroscience. "When I was a student … everybody would start their talk, 'as first shown by Cajal,'" says Brian MacVicar, co-director at Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. When MacVicar learned that an exhibition of Cajal's drawings was being planned by neuroscience colleagues in Minnesota along with the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, he was immediately on a mission: to bring the drawings to Vancouver. He finally extracted a yes from the show organizers, but not operating in the art world, MacVicar wasn't sure who might want to exhibit them in Vancouver. The answer turned out to be right in his backyard – or at least, a few blocks away on campus. Scott Watson, director/curator of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia, had seen Cajal's work at the Istanbul Biennial in 2015 – and understood their appeal and value.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24030 - Posted: 09.04.2017

Sara Reardon Scientists studying human behaviour and cognitive brain function are up in arms over a plan by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to classify most studies involving human participants as clinical trials. An open letter sent on 31 August to NIH director Francis Collins says that the policy could “unnecessarily increase the administrative burden on investigators,” slowing the pace of discovery in basic research. It asked the NIH to delay implementation of the policy until it consulted with the behavioural science community. As this article went to press, the letter had garnered 2,070 signatures. “Every scientist I have talked to who is doing basic research on the human mind and brain has been shocked by this policy, which makes no sense,” says Nancy Kanwisher, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who co-wrote the letter with four other researchers. The policy is part of an NIH clinical trial reform effort started in 2014 to ensure that all clinical results were publicly reported. The policy is scheduled to go into effect in January 2018. Its definition of a clinical trial included anything involving behavioural ‘interventions’, such as having participants perform a memory task or monitor their food intake. Such studies would need special evaluation by NIH review committees and institutional ethics review boards; and the experiments would need to be registered online in the clinicaltrials.gov database. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24029 - Posted: 09.02.2017

By Aggie Mika A drawing based on one of Ramón y Cajal’s “selfies,” with his pyramidal neuron illustrations around him. According to Hunter, Ramón y Cajal obsessively took photos of himself throughout his life. DAWN HUNTER, WITH PERMISSIONIt was in the spring of 2015 when Dawn Hunter saw Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s century-old elaborate drawings of the nervous system in person for the first time, at the late scientist’s exhibit within the National Institutes of Health. She was instantly compelled to recreate his ornate illustrations herself. “I just immediately started drawing [them] because they were so beautiful,” says Hunter, a visual art and design professor at the University of South Carolina. “His drawings in person were even more amazing than I thought they were going to be.” Ramón y Cajal’s drawings first caught Hunter’s eye while doing research for a neuroanatomy textbook she was asked to illustrate in 2012. Ramón y Cajal, hailed by many as the father of modern neuroscience, depicted the inner workings of the brain through thousands of intricate illustrations before his death in 1934. He first posited that unique, inter-connected entities called neurons were the central nervous system’s fundamental unit of function. A recreation of Ramón y Cajal Cajal’s retina depiction. “His retina drawing is particularly interesting because he combines both of his main drawing techniques. . . . Part of the drawing is designed and drawn out preliminarily and part of it is drawn from observation,” says Hunter.DAWN HUNTER, WITH PERMISSIONWhile recreating his work, Hunter was able to shed unprecedented light on how he went about his craft. “Some neuroscientists erroneously think that he traced all of his drawings from a projection, which he did not,” she says. This involves expanding a magnified image of the specimen being viewed under the microscope onto the table using a drawing tube or camera lucida. While he did use this tool in certain instances, she says, he drew some of his drawings, like his famous pyramidal neurons, “through his observation with his eye,” a technique known as perceptual drawing. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24024 - Posted: 09.02.2017

By Jocelyn Kaiser The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, has confirmed that the agency’s definition of clinical trials now includes imaging studies of normal brain function that do not test new treatments. The change will impose new requirements that many researchers say don’t make sense and could stifle cognitive neuroscience. Although NIH revised its definition of clinical trials in 2014, the agency is only now implementing it as part of a new clinical trials policy. Concerns arose this summer when an NIH official said the definition could apply to many basic behavioral research projects, including brain studies—for example, having healthy volunteers perform a computer task while wearing an electrode cap or lying in an MRI machine. Scientists say the new requirements—such as training and registration on clinicaltrials.gov—are unnecessary, will impose a huge paperwork burden, and will confuse patients seeking to enroll in trials. NIH told ScienceInsider in July that the agency was still deciding exactly which behavioral studies would be covered by the new definition. On 11 August, the agency released a set of case studies that has confirmed many researchers’ fears. Case No. 18 states that a study in which a healthy volunteer undergoes MRI brain imaging while performing a working memory test is now a clinical trial because the effect being evaluated—brain function—is a health-related outcome. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24003 - Posted: 08.26.2017

By WILLIAM GRIMES Marian C. Diamond, a neuroscientist who overturned long-held beliefs by showing that environmental factors can change the structure of the brain and that the brain continues to develop throughout one’s life, died on July 25 at her home in Oakland, Calif. She was 90. Her son Richard Diamond confirmed the death. Dr. Diamond’s most celebrated study was of the preserved brain of Albert Einstein, in the 1980s, but it was her work two decades earlier, at the University of California, Berkeley, that had the most lasting impact. Dr. Diamond was an instructor at Cornell University in the late 1950s when she read a paper in Science magazine showing that rats who navigated mazes quickly had a different brain chemistry than slower rats. They showed much higher levels of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that accelerates the transmission of neural signals. “What a thrill I had when my mind jumped immediately to the question, ‘I wonder if the anatomy of these brains would also show a difference in learning ability?’ ” Dr. Diamond wrote in an autobiographical essay for the Society for Neuroscience. She was able to test her theory after joining a team at Berkeley led by Mark R. Rosenzweig, one of the authors of the Science paper. To gauge the effects of environment on performance, Dr. Rosenzweig and his colleagues had begun raising rats in so-called enriched cages, outfitted with ladders and wheels, in the company of other rats. The rats in a control group were raised alone in bare cages. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23966 - Posted: 08.17.2017

By M. GREGG BLOCHE Was the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” program an instance of human experimentation? Recently declassified documents raise this explosive question. The documents were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in connection with a federal lawsuit scheduled for trial next month. The case was brought on behalf of three former detainees against two psychologists who developed the C.I.A.’s program. I reviewed some of the documents in a recent article in The Texas Law Review. Internal C.I.A. records indicate that the psychologists, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen, anticipated objections that critics would later level against the program, such as that coercion might generate unreliable information, and contracted with the agency to design research tools that addressed some of these concerns. Redactions in the released documents (and the C.I.A.’s withholding of others) make it impossible to know the full extent, if any, of the agency’s data collection efforts or the findings they yielded. At their depositions for the A.C.L.U. lawsuit, each of the psychologists denied having evaluated the program’s effectiveness. But the C.I.A. paid the psychologists to develop a research methodology and instructed physicians and other medical staff members at clandestine detention sites to monitor and chart the health conditions of detainees. In response, the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights has charged that the program was an unlawful experiment on human beings. It calls the program “one of the gravest breaches of medical ethics by United States health professionals since the Nuremberg Code,” the ethical principles written to protect people from human experimentation after World War II. In its lawsuit, the A.C.L.U. is pressing a similar claim. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression
Link ID: 23956 - Posted: 08.14.2017

By Robert Sanders, Media relations Marian Cleeves Diamond, one of the founders of modern neuroscience who was the first to show that the brain can change with experience and improve with enrichment, and who discovered evidence of this in the brain of Albert Einstein, died July 25 at the age of 90 in Oakland. A professor emerita of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Diamond achieved celebrity in 1984 when she examined preserved slices of Einstein’s brain, finding that he had more support cells in the brain than average. Her main claim to fame, however, came from work on rats, in which she showed that an enriched environment — toys and companions — changed the anatomy of the brain. The implication was that the brains of all animals, including humans, benefit from an enriched environment, and that impoverished environments can lower the capacity to learn. “Her research demonstrated the impact of enrichment on brain development — a simple but powerful new understanding that has literally changed the world, from how we think about ourselves to how we raise our children,” said UC Berkeley colleague George Brooks, a professor of integrative biology. “Dr. Diamond showed anatomically, for the first time, what we now call plasticity of the brain. In doing so she shattered the old paradigm of understanding the brain as a static and unchangeable entity that simply degenerated as we age. ” Her results were initially resisted by some neuroscientists. At one meeting, she later recalled, a man stood up after her talk and said loudly, “Young lady, that brain cannot change!” © 2017 UC Regents

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23896 - Posted: 07.31.2017

by Tom Siegfried Scientists pour a lot of brainpower into understanding how their experimental equipment works. You don’t want to be fooled into thinking you’ve made a great discovery because of some quirk in the apparatus you didn’t know about. Just the other day, a new paper published online suggested that the instruments used to detect gravitational waves exhibited such a quirk, tricking scientists into claiming the detection of waves that maybe weren’t really there. It appears that gravity wave fans can relax, though. A response to the challenge pretty much establishes that the new criticism doesn’t undermine the wave discoveries. Of course, you never know — supposedly well-established results sometimes do fade away. Often that’s because scientists have neglected to understand the most important part of the entire experimental apparatus — their own brains. It’s the brain, after all, that devises experiments and interprets their results. How the brain perceives, how it makes decisions and judgments, and how those judgments can go awry are at least as important to science as knowing the intricacies of nonbiotic experimental machinery. And as any brain scientist will tell you, there’s still a long way to go before understanding the brain will get crossed off science’s to-do list. But there has been progress. A recent special issue of the journal Neuron offers a convenient set of “perspective” papers exploring the current state of understanding of the brain’s inner workings. Those papers show that a lot is known. But at the same time they emphasize that there’s a lot we don’t know. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 23878 - Posted: 07.26.2017

By Neuroskeptic A number of so-called scientific journals have accepted a Star Wars-themed spoof paper. The manuscript is an absurd mess of factual errors, plagiarism and movie quotes. I know because I wrote it. Inspired by previous publishing “stings”, I wanted to test whether ‘predatory‘ journals would publish an obviously absurd paper. So I created a spoof manuscript about “midi-chlorians” – the fictional entities which live inside cells and give Jedi their powers in Star Wars. I filled it with other references to the galaxy far, far away, and submitted it to nine journals under the names of Dr Lucas McGeorge and Dr Annette Kin. Four journals fell for the sting. The American Journal of Medical and Biological Research (SciEP) accepted the paper, but asked for a $360 fee, which I didn’t pay. Amazingly, three other journals not only accepted but actually published the spoof. Here’s the paper from the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access (MedCrave), Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Austin) and American Research Journal of Biosciences (ARJ) I hadn’t expected this, as all those journals charge publication fees, but I never paid them a penny. So what did they publish? A travesty, which they should have rejected within about 5 minutes – or 2 minutes if the reviewer was familiar with Star Wars. Some highlights: “Beyond supplying cellular energy, midichloria perform functions such as Force sensitivity…”

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 23869 - Posted: 07.25.2017

By LISA SANDERS, M.D. The 35-year-old man lay on the bed with his eyes closed, motionless except for the regular jerking of his abdomen and chest — what is known medically as a singultus (from the Latin for ‘‘sob’’) but popularly and onomatopoeically as a hiccup. The man was exhausted. He couldn’t eat, could barely drink and hadn’t slept much since the hiccups began, nearly three weeks earlier. Unending Contractions At first it was just annoying — these spasms that interrupted his life every 10 to 12 seconds. Friends and family suggested remedies, and he tried them all: holding his breath, drinking cold water, drinking hot water, drinking out of the wrong side of the glass, drinking water while holding his nose. Sometimes they even worked for a while. He would find himself waiting for the next jerk, and when it didn’t come, he’d get this tiny sense of triumph that the ridiculous ordeal was over. But after 15 minutes, maybe 30, they would suddenly return: hiccup, hiccup, hiccup. His neck, stomach and chest muscles ached from the constant regular contractions. On this evening, the man had one of the all too rare breaks from the spasms and fell asleep. When his wife heard the regular sound start up again, she came into their bedroom to check on him. He looked awful — thin, tired and uncomfortable. And suddenly she was scared. They needed to go to the hospital, she told him. He was too weak, he told her, ‘‘and so very tired.’’ He would go, but first he’d rest. They had been to the emergency room several times already. During their first visit — nearly two weeks earlier — the doctors at the local hospital in their Queens neighborhood gave him a medication, chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic that has been shown to stop hiccups, though it’s not clear why. It was like a miracle; the rhythmic spasms stopped. But a few hours later, when the drug wore off, the hiccups returned. The couple went back a few days later because he started throwing up while hiccupping. Those doctors offered an acid reducer for his stomach and more chlorpromazine. They encouraged the man to have patience. Sometimes these things can last, they said. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 23853 - Posted: 07.20.2017

People with higher IQs are less likely to die before the age of 79. That’s according to a study of over 65,000 people born in Scotland in 1936. Each of the people in the study took an intelligence test at the age of 11, and their health was then followed for 68 years, until the end of 2015. When Ian Deary, of the University of Edinburgh, UK, and his team analysed data from the study, they found that a higher test score in childhood was linked to a 28 per cent lower risk of death from respiratory disease, a 25 per cent reduced risk of coronary heart disease, and a 24 per cent lower risk of death from stroke. These people were also less likely to die from injuries, digestive diseases, and dementia – even when factors like socio-economic status were taken into account. Deary’s team say there are several theories for why more intelligent people live longer, such as people with higher IQs being more likely to look after their health and less likely to smoke. They also tend to do more exercise and seek medical attention when ill. “I’m hoping it means that if we can find out what smart people do and copy them, then we have a chance of a slightly longer and healthier life,” says Dreary. But there’s evidence genetics is involved too. A recent study suggests that very rare genetic variants can play an important role in lowering intelligence, and that these may also be likely to impair a person’s health. Journal reference: British Medical Journal, DOI: 10.1136/bmj.j2708 © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Intelligence
Link ID: 23786 - Posted: 06.29.2017

Frances Perraudin A 90-tonne machine that will allow cancer patients to receive state-of-the-art high-energy proton beam therapy on the NHS for the first time is to be installed at a hospital in Manchester. The cyclotron delivers a special type of radiotherapy currently only available overseas. The NHS has been paying for patients to travel abroad for the treatment since 2008. A 90-metre (300ft) crane will be used to lower the machine into position at the Christie hospital on Thursday. It will sit in a bunker reinforced with 270 timber, steel and concrete posts. Proton beam therapy targets certain cancers very precisely, increasing success rates and reducing side-effects. It causes less damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumour and is particularly appropriate for certain cancers in children, who are more at risk of lasting damage because their organs are still growing. The treatment came to national attention in 2014 when a police search was mounted after the parents of five-year-old Ashya King took him out of hospital against doctors’ wishes and travelled to the continent. The couple hoped to secure proton beam therapy to treat their son’s brain tumour, but doctors argued that the treatment would not increase the boy’s chances of recovery. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 23777 - Posted: 06.27.2017

By Kat McGowan Doctors at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital could not figure out what was wrong with the 29-year-old man sitting before them. An otherwise healthy construction worker from Nicaragua, the patient was suffering from a splitting headache, double vision and ringing in his ears. Part of his face was also numb. The cause could have been anything—from an infection to a stroke, a tumor or some kind of autoimmune disease. The Emergency Department (ED) staff took a magnetic resonance imaging scan of the man’s brain, performed a spinal tap and completed a series of other tests that did not turn up any obvious reason for the swelling in his brain—a condition that is formally known as encephalitis. Most likely, it was some kind of infection. But what kind? Nineteen standard tests are available to help clinicians try to pin down the source of encephalitis, but they test for the presence of only the most common infections; more than 60 percent of cases go unsolved each year. Physicians looked in the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid (which surrounds the brain and protects it) for evidence of Lyme disease, syphilis and valley fever, among other things. Nothing matched. So the S.F. General ED staff settled on the most likely culprit as a diagnosis: a form of tuberculosis (TB) that causes brain inflammation but cannot always be detected with typical tests. Doctors gave the man a prescription for some steroids to reduce the swelling plus some anti-TB drugs and sent him home. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 23767 - Posted: 06.23.2017

By Joshua Rothman In 2004, when she was twenty-three, Sunaura Taylor Googled “arthrogryposis,” the name of a condition she has had since birth. Its Greek roots mean “hooked joints”; the arms and legs of many people who have it are shorter than usual because their joints are permanently flexed. Taylor was curious about whether animals had it, too. In the journal of the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Centre, she found a report called “Congenital Limb Deformity in a Red Fox.” It described a young fox with arthrogryposis. He had “marked flexure of the carpal and tarsal joints of all four limbs”—that is, hooked legs. He walked on the backs of his paws, which were heavily callused. In a surprised tone, the report noted that he was muscular, even a little fat: his stomach contained “the remains of two rodents and bones from a larger mammal mixed with partially digested apple, suggesting that the limb deformity did not preclude successful hunting and foraging.” All this had been discovered after he had been shot by someone walking in the woods, who noticed that he “had an abnormal gait and appeared sick.” Taylor was taken aback by this story. The fox, she thought, had been living a perfectly good life before someone had shot it. Perhaps that someone—the report named only “a resident of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia”—had been afraid of it; maybe he’d seen it as a weird, stumbling creature and imagined the shooting as an act of mercy. Taylor’s hands are small, and she has trouble lifting them; she uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. Once, her libertarian grandmother had told her that, were it not for the help of others, Taylor would “die in the woods.” When she read about the fox, she was coming into political consciousness as a disabled person. She had been learning about what disabilities scholars call the “better-off-dead narrative”—the idea, pervasive in movies and books, that life with a disability is inherently and irredeemably tragic. In the fox, she saw herself. © 2017 Condé Nast.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 23710 - Posted: 06.06.2017

By David Z. Hambrick Physical similarities aside, we share a lot in common with our primate relatives. For example, as Jane Goodall famously documented, chimpanzees form lifelong bonds and show affection in much the same way as humans. Chimps can also solve novel problems, use objects as tools, and may possess “theory of mind”—an understanding that others may have different perspectives than oneself. They can even outperform humans in certain types of cognitive tasks. These commonalities may not seem all that surprising given what we now know from the field of comparative genomics: We share nearly all of our DNA with chimpanzees and other primates. However, social and cognitive complexity is not unique to our closest evolutionary cousins. In fact, it is abundant in species with which we would seem to have very little in common—like the spotted hyena. For more than three decades, the Michigan State University zoologist Kay Holekamp has studied the habits of the spotted hyena in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, once spending five years straight living in a tent among her oft-maligned subjects. One of the world’s longest-running studies of a wild mammal, this landmark project has revealed that spotted hyenas not only have social groups as complex as those of many primates, but are also capable of some of the same types of problem solving. This research sheds light on one of science’s greatest mysteries—how intelligence has evolved across the animal kingdom. According to the social brain hypothesis, intelligence has evolved to meet the demands of social life. The subject of many popular articles and books, this hypothesis posits that the complex information processing that goes along with coexisting with members of one’s own species—forming coalitions, settling disputes, trying to outwit each other, and so on—selects for larger brains and greater intelligence. By contrast, the cognitive buffer hypothesis holds that intelligence emerges as an adaption to dealing with novelty in the environment, in whatever form it presents itself. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 23685 - Posted: 05.31.2017

By Meredith Wadman In 2013, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector visited Thomas D. Morris, Inc., a Maryland animal breeder that sells to U.S. government and academic scientists. The inspector found numerous violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which sets standards for humane treatment. Fifteen unshorn sheep were penned in a sweltering building, while a group of calves and sheep had no shelter at all. A goat and a lamb were lame; another goat had an egg-sized swelling on its shoulder. In a subsequent letter, USDA warned the firm, which had 18 employees and $5 million in revenue in 2013, that future violations could result in fines or criminal prosecution. But it’s difficult for the public to know whether the company—which supplied animals used in at least 48 biomedical studies published since 2012—has kept a clean record. That’s because, on 3 February, USDA abruptly removed inspection reports, warning letters, and other documents on nearly 8000 animal facilities that the agency regulates, including Thomas D. Morris, from public databases. Some of the documents, which are maintained by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), have since been restored. But thousands remain hidden, and animal welfare advocates are now in court trying to force USDA to restore the records, and post all new documents, too. USDA officials said the removal was prompted by their commitment to “maintaining the privacy rights of individuals” identified in the documents, which animal rights groups, journalists, and others have regularly used to publicize the failings of AWA violators. And they say they are still reviewing the withdrawn documents, with an eye toward blacking out information that shouldn’t be public before reposting them. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 23658 - Posted: 05.25.2017

By Sandrine Ceurstemont Hear them roar. Lionfish have been recorded making sounds for the first time. Decoding these sounds could give us an insight into secret lives of this voracious invasive species – and help us keep tabs on its spread. Many fish produce sounds to communicate with each other as low-pitched noises travel far underwater. “It’s a dominant mode of communication,” says Alex Bogdanoff at North Carolina State University. Bogdanoff and his team decided to investigate the lionfish’s ability to produce sound after hearing reports from several divers that they make noises. This invasive species has been spreading through the Caribbean and east coast of the US. They often devour several organisms at a time, which is drastically reducing some native fish populations and altering ecosystems. The team recorded the underwater soundscape in an outdoor tank for five days, at first with a single lionfish and then with a group of five individuals. Occasionally, they stirred up the water with a net to see whether stress caused the fish to make different sounds. The team found that the fish often produced a rhythmic sound similar to a heartbeat and to calls made by other fish. But they also produced another noise made up of a much quicker series of beats (listen to the audio file, below). “It sounds like the rapid beating of a drum,” says Bogdanoff. Lionfish seemed to alter their calls when they were agitated, producing quicker and louder pulses. In follow-up experiments, the team found that they made sounds throughout the day, but were more vocal in the morning and evening. Sounds are likely to vary between individuals as well. Bogdanoff and his team are now working on identifying these differences. They already have evidence that body size affects the noises that lionfish make. Males and females are likely to make different calls, so that they can find one another and reproduce. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: ADHD
Link ID: 23620 - Posted: 05.17.2017