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By James Gallagher Health and science correspondent, BBC News Babies born by Caesarean section have dramatically different gut bacteria to those born vaginally, according to the largest study in the field. The UK scientists say these early encounters with microbes may act as a "thermostat" for the immune system. And they may help explain why Caesarean babies are more likely to have some health problems later in life. The researchers stress women should not swab babies with their vaginal fluids - known as "vaginal seeding". How important are gut bacteria? Our bodies are not entirely human - instead we are an ecosystem with around half our body's cells made up of microbes such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most of them live in our gut and are collectively known as our microbiome. The microbiome is linked to diseases including allergy, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson's, whether cancer drugs work and even depression and autism. This study - by Wellcome Sanger Institute, UCL, and the University of Birmingham - assessed how the microbiome forms when we leave our mother's sterile womb and enter a world full of bugs. Regular samples were taken from the nappies of nearly 600 babies for the first month of life, and some provided faecal samples for up to a year. © 2019 BBC

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 26637 - Posted: 09.23.2019

Damian Carrington Environment editor Air pollution particles have been found on the foetal side of placentas, indicating that unborn babies are directly exposed to the black carbon produced by motor traffic and fuel burning. The research is the first study to show the placental barrier can be penetrated by particles breathed in by the mother. It found thousands of the tiny particles per cubic millimetre of tissue in every placenta analysed. The link between exposure to dirty air and increased miscarriages, premature births and low birth weights is well established. The research suggests the particles themselves may be the cause, not solely the inflammatory response the pollution produces in mothers. Damage to foetuses has lifelong consequences and Prof Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University in Belgium, who led the study, said: “This is the most vulnerable period of life. All the organ systems are in development. For the protection of future generations, we have to reduce exposure.” He said governments had the responsibility of cutting air pollution but that people should avoid busy roads when possible. A comprehensive global review concluded that air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body. Nanoparticles have also been found to cross the blood-brain barrier and billions have been found in the hearts of young city dwellers. While air pollution is reducing in some nations, the evidence of harm caused by even low levels is rapidly increasing and 90% of the world’s population live in places where air pollution is above World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26621 - Posted: 09.18.2019

Randi Hagerman Fragile X syndrome is caused by an expansion of CGG nucleotide repeats in the FMR1 gene at the end of the long arms of the X chromosome. To identify the mutation, researchers culture cells in media deficient in folic acid, which causes the ends of the X chromosome to appear as though they are about to break off. Before molecular testing, this was the only way to see the mutation. The FMR1 gene encodes the fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), which regulates gene expression and protein translation in the brain. FMRP is important for maintaining synaptic plasticity and the ability to make new neurons. Levels of FMRP associated with disease severity in patients with FXS. © 1986–2019 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26614 - Posted: 09.16.2019

Culture helps shape when babies learn to walk By Sujata Gupta For generations, farther back than anyone can remember, the women in Rano Dodojonova’s family have placed their babies in “gahvoras,” cradles that are part diaper, part restraining device. Dodojonova, a research assistant who lives in Tajikistan, was cradled for the first two or three years of her life. She cradled her three children in the same way. Ubiquitous throughout Central Asia, the wooden gahvora is often a gift for newlyweds. The mother positions her baby on his back with his bottom firmly over a hole. Underneath is a bucket to capture whatever comes out. She then binds the baby with several long swaths of fabric so that only the baby’s head can move. Next, she connects a funnel, specially designed for either boys or girls, to send urine out to that same bucket under the cradle. Finally, she drapes heavy fabric over the handle atop the gahvora to protect the child from bright light and insects. Babies stay in that womblike apparatus for hours on end, with use decreasing as the child ages. When babies fuss, mothers often shush them by vigorously rocking the cradle back and forth or leaning over the side to breastfeed. Besides keeping babies dry and warm, gahvoras provide a sense of safety, Dodojonova says. “It is very nice for children because they are bound and cannot move.” Eventually, they are running and jumping like children everywhere. To the uninitiated, this child-rearing approach may sound odd, or even shocking. Yet cultures should be viewed within their own context, says psychologist Catherine Tamis-LeMonda of New York University. “We engage in practices that fit our needs, our own everyday lives.” © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26599 - Posted: 09.11.2019

Randi Hagerman When I visited Ricaurte, Colombia, in 2016, I was surrounded by men with long faces and prominent ears. As we spoke, they would ask repetitive questions while mumbling and failing to maintain eye contact, and when they shook my hand, they turned their body away from me. They were interested in me but were too shy to interact. This type of anxiety-related approach-withdrawal behavior is typical of those with fragile X syndrome (FXS), a well-characterized genetic disease that is the most common inherited form of intellectual disability and the most common single-gene cause of autism. Even many of the Ricaurte women, who usually have at least one good copy of the X chromosome, showed similar social deficits. I had never seen so many individuals with FXS all together. I thought to myself: This is ground zero for FXS. Likely because the founding families of this small village had one or more carriers of the causative mutation, Ricaurte has the highest known prevalence of FXS in the world. Last year, our team published the results of genetic testing of almost all of the inhabitants in this village. We found that nearly 5 percent of male and more than 3 percent of female inhabitants of Ricaurte have FXS,1 compared to around 0.02 percent of people living in the US and in Europe. In Ricaurte, the residents are supportive of these individuals, who work in the community and are well accepted. Their behavior does not seem unusual to those living in the village. Relatives who have moved away from Ricaurte and then subsequently have had a child with FXS will move back to this town for the acceptance and support they find there. This pattern further enhances the genetic cluster of FXS-causing mutations in this area. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 26582 - Posted: 09.06.2019

Alison Abbott A small clinical study in California has suggested for the first time that it might be possible to reverse the body’s epigenetic clock, which measures a person’s biological age. For one year, nine healthy volunteers took a cocktail of three common drugs — growth hormone and two diabetes medications — and on average shed 2.5 years of their biological ages, measured by analysing marks on a person’s genomes. The participants’ immune systems also showed signs of rejuvenation. The results were a surprise even to the trial organizers — but researchers caution that the findings are preliminary because the trial was small and did not include a control arm. “I’d expected to see slowing down of the clock, but not a reversal,” says geneticist Steve Horvath at the University of California, Los Angeles, who conducted the epigenetic analysis. “That felt kind of futuristic.” The findings were published on 5 September in Aging Cell. “It may be that there is an effect,” says cell biologist Wolfgang Wagner at the University of Aachen in Germany. “But the results are not rock solid because the study is very small and not well controlled.” Marks of life The epigenetic clock relies on the body’s epigenome, which comprises chemical modifications, such as methyl groups, that tag DNA. The pattern of these tags changes during the course of life, and tracks a person’s biological age, which can lag behind or exceed chronological age. © 2019 Springer Nature Publishing AG

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26579 - Posted: 09.06.2019

By Carl Zimmer SAN DIEGO — Two hundred and fifty miles over Alysson Muotri’s head, a thousand tiny spheres of brain cells were sailing through space. The clusters, called brain organoids, had been grown a few weeks earlier in the biologist’s lab here at the University of California, San Diego. He and his colleagues altered human skin cells into stem cells, then coaxed them to develop as brain cells do in an embryo. The organoids grew into balls about the size of a pinhead, each containing hundreds of thousands of cells in a variety of types, each type producing the same chemicals and electrical signals as those cells do in our own brains. In July, NASA packed the organoids aboard a rocket and sent them to the International Space Station to see how they develop in zero gravity. Now the organoids were stowed inside a metal box, fed by bags of nutritious broth. “I think they are replicating like crazy at this stage, and so we’re going to have bigger organoids,” Dr. Muotri said in a recent interview in his office overlooking the Pacific. What, exactly, are they growing into? That’s a question that has scientists and philosophers alike scratching their heads. On Thursday, Dr. Muotri and his colleagues reported that they have recorded simple brain waves in these organoids. In mature human brains, such waves are produced by widespread networks of neurons firing in synchrony. Particular wave patterns are linked to particular forms of brain activity, like retrieving memories and dreaming. As the organoids mature, the researchers also found, the waves change in ways that resemble the changes in the developing brains of premature babies. “It’s pretty amazing,” said Giorgia Quadrato, a neurobiologist at the University of Southern California who was not involved in the new study. “No one really knew if that was possible.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26569 - Posted: 09.04.2019

By Laura Sanders It’s baby’s first brain wave, sort of. As lentil-sized clusters of nerve cells grow in a lab dish, they begin to fire off rhythmic electrical signals. These oscillations share some features with those found in the brains of developing human babies, researchers report October 3 in Cell Stem Cell. Three-dimensional spheres of human brain cells, called cerebral organoids, are extremely simplistic models of the human brain. Still, these easy-to-obtain organoids may offer a better way to study how a brain is made, and how that process can go wrong (SN: 2/20/18). “The field is white-hot,” with fast progress in both making and understanding brain organoids, says John Huguenard, a neuroscientist at Stanford University not involved in the study. Finding this sort of coordinated electrical activity in organoids’ nerve cells, or neurons, is a first, he says. “The neurons are growing up and becoming mature enough where they can not only start to behave like neurons and fire individually, but now they can be coordinated.” For the study, researchers coaxed stem cells into forming some of the neurons that make up the outer layer of the brain. These cortical organoids grew in lab dishes that held arrays of electrodes printed along the bottom, allowing the scientists to monitor electrical activity as the organoids developed. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 26556 - Posted: 08.30.2019

By Lenny Bernstein With a nationwide prescription opioid lawsuit scheduled for trial in two months, attorneys for newborns suffering from exposure to opioids in the womb have made a last-ditch plea for special legal treatment for the infants and their guardians. Attorneys representing a group that may number more than 250,000 children have spent much of the past two years seeking a separate trial against drug companies but have been rebuffed twice by the judge who oversees the sprawling legal case. The children are still included in that lawsuit, along with about 2,000 other plaintiffs, against some two dozen defendants from the pharmaceutical industry. The children’s lawyers also have complained that attorneys for cities and counties spearheading the lawsuit have refused to let them take part in settlement negotiations that are occurring as the trial date approaches. The attorneys, from 20 firms that represent children across the country, insist that a settlement or verdict must yield billions of dollars specifically earmarked for years-long monitoring of the physical and mental health of children born with “neonatal abstinence syndrome.” That is the formal name for the cluster of difficult symptoms endured by babies who undergo withdrawal from opioids in the days after birth. Without that guarantee, the attorneys contend, cities and towns are likely to spend any money they receive from drug companies on more pressing and popular needs, as some states did with windfalls from the $206 billion settlement with tobacco companies two decades ago. “Our goal is to make sure that we do not have a tobacco-style settlement, where all of the money goes to the governmental entities, and there’s not a significant trust set aside to help these children,” said Stuart Smith, one of the lawyers representing the families. © 1996-2019 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 26531 - Posted: 08.23.2019

By Michael Price First piloted as an experiment to reduce dental cavities in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945, fluoridated drinking water has since been hailed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as “one of public health’s greatest success stories.” Today, about two-thirds of people in the United States receive fluoridated tap water, as do many people in Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Now, a controversial new study links fluoridation to lower IQ in young children, especially boys whose mothers drank fluoridated water while pregnant. Longtime fluoridation critics are lauding the study, but other researchers say it suffers from numerous flaws that undercut its credibility. Either way, “It’s a potential bombshell,” says Philippe Grandjean, an environmental health researcher at Harvard University who wasn’t involved in the work. Fluoride is well-known for protecting teeth against cavities by strengthening tooth enamel. It’s found naturally in low concentrations in both freshwater and seawater, as well as in plant material, especially tea leaves. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, public health researchers and government officials in cities around the world experimentally added fluoride to public drinking water; they found it reduced the prevalence of cavities by about 60%. Today, fluoridated water flows through the taps of about 5% of the world’s population, including 66% of Americans and 38% of Canadians. Yet skepticism has dogged the practice for as long as it has existed. Some have blamed fluoridated water for a wide range of illnesses including cancer, but most criticism has been dismissed as pseudoscience. Over the years, though, a small number of scientists have published meta-analyses casting doubt on the efficacy of water fluoridation in preventing cavities. More recently, scientists have published small-scale studies that appear to link prenatal fluoride exposure to lower IQ, although dental research groups were quick to challenge them. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26516 - Posted: 08.19.2019

Ashley Yeager Drops of blood, filter paper, bacteria, a bacterial inhibitor, and a baking dish—that’s all it took for microbiologist Robert Guthrie to develop a basic test for phenylketonuria, a genetic metabolic disease that, if left untreated in infants, soon leads to neurological dysfunction and intellectual disability. The test would lay the foundation for screening newborns for diseases. In 1957, Guthrie met Robert Warner, a specialist who diagnosed individuals with mental disabilities. Warner told Guthrie about phenylketonuria (PKU), now known to affect roughly 1 in 10,000 children. The disease makes it impossible to break down the amino acid phenylalanine, so that it builds up to toxic levels in the body and disrupts neuronal communication. Once a child was diagnosed, a strict low-phenylalanine diet could prevent further damage, but Warner had no easy way to measure phenylalanine levels in his PKU patients’ blood to monitor the diet’s effects. He asked Guthrie for help. Guthrie reported back to Warner three days later with a solution. Guthrie knew from past work that the bacterial inhibitor β-2-thienylalanine blocked Bacillus subtilis from flourishing by substituting for phenylalanine in growing peptide chains, resulting in inactive proteins. He also knew that adding phenylalanine to the cell cultures restored normal protein function and spurred the bacterium’s growth. So his solution was simple: prick the skin, collect a few drops of blood on filter paper, and place the filter paper in a baking pan covered in β-2-thienylalanine. Add Bacillus subtilis to the filter paper and heat the pan overnight. If the bacterium grows exponentially, the level of phenylalanine is high. The assay worked well, so Guthrie used it as a model to develop tests for other metabolic diseases. © 1986–2019 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26515 - Posted: 08.19.2019

A mother has laid bare the "brutal reality" of bringing up her adoptive son after he was left damaged by exposure to alcohol in the womb. Judith Knox says her 12-year-old son has a range of behavioural problems as a result of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It is estimated that as many as 172,000 people could be affected by the disorder in Scotland. But Ms Knox said it took six years for her son to be properly diagnosed. FASD is an umbrella term that describes the adverse physical and emotional conditions that affect people whose mother drank during pregnancy. A new support service for parents and carers, called FASD Hub Scotland, has now been launched. Ms Knox, who does not want to name her son or identify him through recent pictures, said the service was long overdue. She told BBC Scotland: "This has put a lot of strain on the family. "Your parenting is always being scrutinised and he just wants 100% of your attention, 100% of the time." The 51-year-old and her ex-husband adopted their son at the age of seven months and he quickly began to exhibit a raft of worrying behaviour. This included biting his fingers until they bled in a bid to stave off sleep, picking plaster from the walls to eat and ignoring the range of toys his family had bought him. Her son was eventually diagnosed with FASD at the age of six, after doctors initially wrongly thought he had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. But his behaviour continued to push his family to their limits.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26340 - Posted: 06.20.2019

Children can keep full visual perception — the ability to process and understand visual information — after brain surgery for severe epilepsy, according to a study funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health. While brain surgery can halt seizures, it carries significant risks, including an impairment in visual perception. However, a new report by Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, researchers from a study of children who had undergone epilepsy surgery suggests that the lasting effects on visual perception can be minimal, even among children who lost tissue in the brain’s visual centers. Normal visual function requires not just information sent from the eye (sight), but also processing in the brain that allows us to understand and act on that information (perception). Signals from the eye are first processed in the early visual cortex, a region at the back of the brain that is necessary for sight. They then travel through other parts of the cerebral cortex, enabling recognition of patterns, faces, objects, scenes, and written words. In adults, even if their sight is still present, injury or removal of even a small area of the brain’s vision processing centers can lead to dramatic, permanent loss of perception, making them unable to recognize faces, locations, or to read, for example. But in children, who are still developing, this part of the brain appears able to rewire itself, a process known as plasticity. “Although there are studies of the memory and language function of children who have parts of the brain removed surgically for the treatment of epilepsy, there have been rather few studies that examine the impact of the surgery on the visual system of the brain and the resulting perceptual behavior,” said Marlene Behrmann, Ph.D., senior author of the study. “We aimed to close this gap.”

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Link ID: 26303 - Posted: 06.05.2019

Laura Sanders A teenager’s brain does not magically mature into its reasoned, adult form the night before his or her 18th birthday. Instead, aspects of brain development stretch into a person’s 20s — a protracted fine-tuning with serious implications for young people caught in the U.S. justice system, argues cognitive neuroscientist B.J. Casey of Yale University. In the May 22 Neuron, Casey describes the heartbreaking case of Kalief Browder, sent at age 16 to Rikers Island correctional facility in New York City after being accused of stealing a backpack. Unable to come up with the $3,000 bail, Browder spent three years in the violent jail before his case was ultimately dropped. About two-thirds of his time in custody was spent in solitary confinement — “a terrible place for a child to have to grow up,” Casey says. Two years after his 2013 release, Browder died from suicide. Casey uses the case to highlight how the criminal justice system — and the accompanying violence, stress and isolation (SN: 12/8/18, p. 11) that come with being incarcerated — can interfere with brain development in adolescents and children. Other recent stories of immigrant children being separated from their families and held in detention centers have raised similar concerns (SN Online: 6/20/18). Studies with lab animals and brain imaging experiments in people show that chronic stress and other assaults “impact the very brain circuitry that is changing so radically during adolescence,” Casey says. An abundance of science says that “the way we’re treating our young people is not the way to a healthy development.” |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 26262 - Posted: 05.23.2019

By Nathaniel Scharping | Don’t get a big head, your mother may have told you. That’s good advice, but it comes too late for most of us. Humans have had big heads, relatively speaking, for hundreds of thousands of years, much to our mothers’ dismay. Our oversize noggins are a literal pain during childbirth. Babies have to twist and turn as they exit the birth canal, sometimes leading to complications that necessitate surgery. And while big heads can be painful for the mother, they can downright transformative for babies: A fetus’ pliable skull deforms during birth like putty squeezed through a tube to allow it to pass into the world. This cranial deformation has been known about for a long time, but in a new study, scientists from France and the U.S. actually watched it happen using an MRI machine during labor. The images, published in a study in PLOS One, show how the skulls (and brains) of seven infants squished and warped during birth to pass through the birth canal. They also shine new light on how much our skulls change shape as we’re born. The researchers recruited pregnant women in France to undergo an MRI a few weeks before pregnancy and another in the minutes before they began to actually give birth. In total, seven women were scanned in the second stage of labor, when the baby begins to make its way out of the uterus. They were then rushed to the maternity ward to actually complete giving birth.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 26252 - Posted: 05.20.2019

Before he was born, his parents knew their boy was in trouble. That was clear from what their doctors' saw in their baby's ultrasound. And tragically, the boy died when he was only ten months old. But in his short life, he left behind a valuable legacy by helping scientists understand a crucial type of brain cell. That's because — as it turned out — the child had none. "One of the things about being a pediatric geneticist is on any given day you can see a patient you could spend the rest of your life or your career thinking about," Dr. James Bennett told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald. Dr. Bennett is a physician and researcher from Seattle Children's Hospital and assistant professor of pediatric genetics at the University of Washington. Devastating problems with brain development On the first day he met the child — the boy's very first day of life — Dr. Bennett said he could tell this baby needed a lot of support. The baby was having difficulty breathing, had an enlarged head as well as some very significant abnormalities of his brain. "Every single part of his brain was affected. There was no connection between the left side and the right side of his brain. And there was too much fluid on the brain — that the spaces that hold fluid around the brain were enlarged. And the white matter, which is the part of the brain that sort of connects the neurons — you can think of it as sort of the wires connecting things in the brain — was decreased and abnormal," said Dr. Bennett. Scientists had never seen a medical mystery like this before, so Dr. Bennett was determined to figure out what was wrong with the infant. He he undertook a "diagnostic odyssey" to identify the cause of this extremely rare condition. ©2019 CBC/Radio-Canada

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 26251 - Posted: 05.20.2019

By Shubham Saharan Thomas Jessell, renowned neurologist and former director of and key contributor to the founding of Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, has died. He was 67. In a statement to MBBI affiliates, Institute co-directors Rui Costa, Eric Kandel, and Richard Axel attributed Jessell’s death to a rapidly-progressing neurodegenerative disorder. Jessell was endowed under the Claire Tow Professorship in Motor Neuron Disorders in the neuroscience and biochemistry and molecular biophysics departments. He was well known for his research on chemical signals and neurological circuits. Originally an assistant professor in the department of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, Jessell moved to Columbia in 1985 to work as an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a philanthropic organization that provides funding for biological and medical research as well as scientific education. Jessell, along with Axel and Kandel from the department of neuroscience, played a significant role in founding the MBBI, a center dedicated to neuroscience research, which is located at the Jerome L. Greene Science Center on the Manhattanville campus. In March 2018, HHMI stripped Jessell of all titles and grants and announced that it would stop funding his lab starting May 31. Columbia began investigating Jessell’s misconduct in December 2017, after which he was removed from all administrative positions, including his co-directorship of the MBBI, for engaging in a years-long relationship that violated the University policy on consensual romantic and sexual relationships between faculty and students. Copyright Spectator Publishing Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26187 - Posted: 05.01.2019

By Nicholas Wade Sydney Brenner, a South African-born biologist who helped determine the nature of the genetic code and shared a Nobel Prize in 2002 for developing a tiny transparent worm into a test bed for biological discoveries, died on Friday in Singapore. He was 92. He had lived and worked in Singapore in recent years, affiliated with the government-sponsored Agency for Science, Technology and Research, which confirmed his death. A witty, wide-ranging scientist, Dr. Brenner was a central player in the golden age of molecular biology, which extended from the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 to the mid-1960s. He then showed, in experiments with a roundworm known as C. elegans, how it might be possible to decode the human genome. That work laid the basis for the genomic phase of biology. Later, in a project still coming to fruition, he focused on understanding the functioning of the brain. “I think my real skills are in getting things started,” he said in his autobiography, “My Life in Science” (2001). “In fact, that’s what I enjoy most, the opening game. And I’m afraid that once it gets past that point, I get rather bored and want to do other things.” As a young South African studying at Oxford University, he was one of the first people to view the model of DNA that had been constructed in Cambridge, England, by Francis H. C. Crick and James D. Watson. He was 22 at the time and would call it the most exciting day of his life. “The double helix was a revelatory experience; for me everything fell into place, and my future scientific life was decided there and then,” Dr. Brenner wrote. Impressed by Dr. Brenner’s insights and ready humor, Dr. Crick recruited him to Cambridge a few years later. Dr. Crick, a theoretical biologist, liked to have with him someone he could bounce ideas off. Dr. Watson had played this role in the discovery of DNA, and Dr. Brenner became his successor, sharing an office with Dr. Crick for 20 years at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26116 - Posted: 04.06.2019

By Heather Murphy An essential rite of passage for many an otherwise nonviolent child involves cutting an earthworm down the middle and watching as the two halves squirm. One half — the one with the brain — will typically grow into a full worm. Scientists have now identified the master control gene responsible for that regrowth in one particularly hardy type of worm. How hardy? Chop the three-banded panther worm in halves or thirds — either crosswise or diagonally — and each segment will regenerate just fine, said Mansi Srivastava, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University. Within eight days, you’ll have two or three fully functioning new worms, mouth, brain and all. “It’s hard to kill them,” she said. Dr. Srivastava and her co-authors published a paper Friday outlining their genetic discovery. The process is known as “full-body regeneration,” and the term has captured the imagination of many individuals ready for a fresh start or second self. “I’ll get a new body right now!!” one person wrote in a lively Reddit thread about the finding, adding “I knew it was coming!!” Another posted: “Two of me working together and sharing our stuff? Count me in!” Headlines suggesting that the scientists have found the DNA switch that could lead to human limb regrowth have fueled hopes that the discovery will offer precisely that. Unfortunately, no one is growing a new arm or getting a second body with the help of marine worm DNA anytime soon, said Peter W. Reddien, a biologist with M.I.T.’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and another author of the paper. But he added that he didn’t totally blame people for getting carried away because his field truly is stranger than fiction. “You can damage large amounts of the heart muscle of a fish and the heart will come back,” he said. “You can remove the jaw or even the entire head and some animals will grow it back. It’s amazing.” What’s accurate in this particular case is that a master control gene known as E.G.R. — or early growth response — is present in many kinds of organisms, including humans. An injury that pierces skin often activates it, he said. But activation is just one small piece of a larger puzzle. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26058 - Posted: 03.21.2019

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent Scientists have grown a miniature brain in a dish with a spinal cord and muscles attached, an advance that promises to accelerate the study of conditions such as motor neurone disease. The lentil-sized grey blob of human brain cells were seen to spontaneously send out tendril-like connections to link up with the spinal cord and muscle tissue, which was taken from a mouse. The muscles were then seen to visibly contract under the control of the so-called brain organoid. The research is is the latest in a series of increasingly sophisticated approximations of the human brain grown in the laboratory – this time with something approaching a central nervous system attached. Madeline Lancaster, who led the work at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, said: “We like to think of them as mini-brains on the move.” The scientists used a new method to grow the miniature brain from human stem cells, which allowed the organoid to reach a more sophisticated stage of development than previous experiments. The latest blob shows similarities, in terms of the variety of neurons and their organisation, to the human foetal brain at 12-16 weeks of pregnancy. However, the scientists said the structure was still too small and primitive to have anything approaching thoughts, feelings or consciousness. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26050 - Posted: 03.19.2019