New research from David Westaway, PhD, of the University of Alberta and Jiri Safar, MD, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has uncovered a quality control mechanism in brain cells that may help keep deadly neurological diseases in check for months or years…
Posts tagged science.
We tend to focus on major decisions as having momentous effects, but what if something as simple as a missed train could change the course of your life? And what if you follow two different paths to see which turned out better?
Scientists made an unexpected discovery on January 5 when they found the bodies of two conjoined gray whale calves (Eschrichtius robustus) floating in Laguna Ojo de Liebre (map) in Baja California.
The conjoined twins—also known as Siamese twins—measured about seven to ten feet (two to three meters) in length, according to several reports. That’s shorter than the usual 12- to 16-foot (3.6- to 4.8-meter) length of full-term gray whale calves.
Given that these glass sculptures have been enlarged to around one million times the actual size of the original, there has been room for interpretation. Some of the distinctive features of each microbe have been exaggerated to make them more impressive. The results are truly mesmerizing.
Lera Boroditsky once did a simple experiment: She asked people to close their eyes and point southeast. A room of distinguished professors in the U.S. pointed in almost every possible direction, whereas 5-year-old Australian aboriginal girls always got it right.
She says the difference lies in language. Boroditsky, an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, says the Australian aboriginal language doesn’t use words like left or right. It uses compass points, so they say things like “that girl to the east of you is my sister.”
If you want to learn another language and become fluent, you may have to change the way you behave in small but sometimes significant ways, specifically how you sort things into categories and what you notice.
Researchers are starting to study how those changes happen, says Aneta Pavlenko, a professor of applied linguistics at Temple University. She studies bilingualism and is the author of an upcoming book on this work.
If people speaking different languages need to group or observe things differently, then bilinguals ought to switch focus depending on the language they use. That’s exactly the case, according to Pavlenko.
For example, she says English distinguishes between cups and glasses, but in Russian, the difference between chashka (cup) andstakan (glass) is based on shape, not material.
Based on her research, she started teaching future language teachers how to help their English-speaking students group things in Russian. If English-speaking students of Russian had to sort cups and glasses into different piles, then re-sort into chashka andstakan, they should sort them differently. She says language teachers could do activities like this with their students instead of just memorizing words.
"They feel generally that this acknowledges something that they’ve long expected, long wanted to do but didn’t know how," Pavlenko says. "They felt that it moved them forward, away from teaching pronunciation and doing the ‘repeat after me’ activities."
Pavlenko points to research showing that if you’re hungry, you’ll pay more attention to food-related stimuli, and she says speaking another language fluently works the same way.
One’s native language could also affect memory, says Pavlenko. She points to novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who was fully trilingual in English, French and Russian. She says Nabokov wrote three memoirs: He published one in English, and when another publishing house asked for one in Russian, he accepted, thinking he would simply translate his first memoir.
"When Nabokov started translating it into Russian, he recalled a lot of things that he did not remember when he was writing it in English, and so in essence it became a somewhat different book," Pavlenko says. "It came out in Russian and he felt that in order to represent his childhood properly to his American readership, he had to produce a new version. So the version of Nabokov’s autobiography we know now is actually a third attempt, where he had to recall more things in Russian and then re-translate them from Russian back into English."
Boroditsky also studied the differences in what research subjects remembered when using English, which doesn’t always note the intent of an action, and Spanish, which does. This can lead to differences in how people remember what they saw, potentially important in eyewitness testimony, she says.
John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University, acknowledges such differences but says they don’t really matter. The experiments “show that there are these tiny differentials that you can find that seem to correlate with what language you speak,” McWhorter says. “Nothing has ever demonstrated that your language makes you process life in a different way. It just doesn’t work.”
As an example, he refers to modern speakers of a Mayan language, who also use directions that roughly correspond to compass points, rather than left or right. Researchers asked people, most of whom only knew this language, to do tasks like memorizing how a ball moved through a maze, which would have been easier had they thought about it in terms of left and right, rather than compass points. The participants were just as good at these tasks and sometimes better, leading the experimenters to conclude they were not constrained by their language.
Boroditsky disagrees. She says the counterexamples simply prove language isn’t the only factor affecting what we notice. Like studying to be a pilot or doctor, she says, learning to speak a different language fluently can also change us, and this means we can learn those changes, like learning any other skill.
"It’s like a very extensive training program," Boroditsky says. "There’s nothing exotic about the effects that language has on cognition. It’s just the same that any learning has on cognition."
It’s a New Year, So Here Are 8 Things to Blow Your Mind
2014 is upon us! Why not start the year off with a little awe? After all, it can make us better people. Here is a round-up of some interesting tidbits about our own psychology and physiology that should do the trick.
1. Why We Get Chills in Response to Music
Music is a human universal, but the ways in which it affects people is quite varied and highly dependent on personality type. While you may often get involuntary “chills”—otherwise known by their medical name, cutis anserina—in response to your favorite melodies, 8% of the population, according to a recent study, knows no such sensation. Core personality metrics like extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experience were measured, and of all these dimensions, only openness to experience was related to feeling chills. People high in openness tend to be creative, curious about many things and have active imaginations. Bonus: If you are in fact prone to music-induced goosebumps you probably also receive them in response to other mediums—movies, paintings, landscapes, magazines… you name it!
2. Why Our Fingers Prune Up After Long Exposure to Rain, the Ocean, and Hot Tubs
Ask people why they suspect their fingers and toes prune up after extended soaks in the jacuzzi and you’re bound to get some interesting hypotheses. Osmosis, dehydration, the effects of minerals (or chlorine) on the skin. The truth is far more interesting, and we have Charles Darwin to thank. After prolonged time spent in a wet environment, our fingers and toes develop “treads” to enhance grip and traction. It’s a rainy day adaptation that would have likely proven very useful in the time when we were shoeless and swinging from branches.
3. Why Your Furniture Could Be Hurting Your Relationship
In a fascinating experiment, individuals who sat at a wobbly chair and table predicted that celebrity couples were more likely to dissolve. When people using stable furniture were asked to evaluate the same relationships, their outlooks were markedly more positive. This study sheds light on an important but often overlooked psychological truth: our environment can have a profound effect on the quality of our thoughts—in ways we have yet to even measure—so we should be discerning and curate them accordingly.
4. Your Ex is Cocaine for Your Brain
As opposed to our innate drive for friendship, which serves a relatively higher-order evolutionary purpose, our drive for love—which evolved as a means to reproduction—is fairly simple. The Economist highlighted a study which showed that a “relatively small area of the human brain is active in love, compared with that involved in, say, ordinary friendship.” Indeed, the sensation of being in love is primarily a “gut feeling”, manufactured in the brain by the same regions which generate the euphoria induced by drugs—like cocaine. “So the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but instead like those of people snorting coke,” says Dr. Larry Young, a researcher into social attachment at Emory University.
5. Why Sex Isn’t Disgusting
Arousal, a sensation meant to facilitate sex, and ultimately reproduction, and disgust, an evolutionary defense mechanism to prevent disease, would seem at odds with one another. However, thanks to billions of years of our ancestors shrugging off the nasty in favor of, well, the nasty, sensitivity to both now cohabitates in that wonderful brain of ours. An article published by Dutch psychologists recently have come up with an explanation: “Saliva, sweat, semen and body odours are among the strongest disgust elicitors. This results in the intriguing question of how people succeed in having pleasurable sex at all. One possible explanation could be that sexual engagement temporarily reduces the disgust eliciting properties of particular stimuli or that sexual engagement might weaken the hesitation to actually approach these stimuli.”
6. Why Movies are Like Dreaming While Awake
Jonah Lehrer, pre-plagarism scandal, wrote that from the perspective of your brain, dreaming and movie-watching are strangely parallel experiences. If this is the case, watching a movie in a darkened theater may be closest one can get sleep with open eyes. It turns out that with the combination of audio and visual stimulation—what’s known to psychologists as “sensorimotor processing—a part of the brain that is associated with analysis and self-awareness goes dark as well. Scientists argue that such “inactivation” of this region, otherwise known as the prefrontal cortex, is what, thankfully, allows us to lose ourselves in the movie. Attention, Hollywood: this does not explain 2013’s After Earth. We were just lost.
7. Social Rejection—Bad For a Friday Night, Good For Creativity?
Recent studies have shown that the experience of social rejection, however unpleasant it may feel, may actually promote creative thinking for some. For people with a highly independent self-concept (psychojargon for those that view themselves as separate from others and value personal over group goals), not getting past that velvet rope actually reinforce feelings of distinctiveness and increase creativity by helping said social victim to recruit ideas from unusual places in the brain.
8. Your Breath Reveals a Lot More Than What You Had For Dinner
Blood tests and other invasive forms of medical diagnosis may soon be a thing of the past. Doctors are now using breath tests to uncover not only liver and kidney disorders, but also asthma, diabetes, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal infections—even the rejection of transplanted organs—by analyzing biomarkers in exhaled breath. “Anything you can have a blood test for, there is potentially a breath test for, as long as there is a volatile component,” says Raed A. Dweik, director of the pulmonary vascular program at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute. In fact, breath tests actually exceed blood tests in accuracy for detecting certain types of cancers, particularly tumors of the lung.
Patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease were able to care for themselves longer and needed less help performing everyday chores when they took a daily capsule containing 200 IUs of alpha tocopherol, or vitamin E, a study has found.
Best of 2013!
- Physicists: Earth May be Breaking Through Dark Matter Walls
- Black Holes May Turboboost Super-Civilizations
- Giant, Magnetized Outflows From Our Galactic Center
- Nearby Ancient Star is Almost as Old as the Universe
- Higgs Boson = Cosmic Doomsday?
- Why Are Black Holes so Bright?
- 'Monster' Starburst Galaxies Discovered in Early Universe
- Curtains Down for the Black Hole Firewall Paradox: Making Gravity Safe for Einstein Again
- Planck Shows Almost Perfect Cosmos—Plus Axis of Evil
- Einstein’s Gravity Theory Passes Toughest Test Yet
- Strange New Bursts of Gamma Rays Point to a New Way to Destroy a Star
- Are the Newly Discovered Planets Ideal SETI Targets?
- Giants Elliptical Galaxy Harbors Largest Known Black Hole in Universe
- Hunting for Alien Megastructures
- "Laws of Physics for a Holographic Universe"—New Theories of Space-Time
- Giant Black Hole’s Dust Oddity Surprises Scientists
- Time to Plan for A Mission to Alpha Centauri
- Obese Black Hole Galaxies Could Reveal Quasar Secrets
- If This Theory is Correct, We May Live in a Web of Alternate Timelines
- Our Lopsided Universe is Darker, Lighter, Slower, Older & More Mysterious Than We Thought
- How Giant Black Holes Spin: A New Twist Revealed
- Oceanic Black Holes Found in Southern Atlantic
- 'Listening' to Black Holes Form With Gravity Waves
- Inside the Enigma of Black Holes
- Astronomers Discover Densest Galaxy Ever
- Did a Hyper Black-Hole Spawn the Universe?
- Supermassive Black Holes at Galaxy Centers—“Exit Doors From Our Universe”
- "Other Universes Are Pulling on Our Universe"—New Planck Data Triggers Controversy
- Seven-Planet Solar System Found
- How Did Supermassive Black Holes Grow So Big?
- Black Holes Don’t Make a Big Splash
- "Distant, Younger Galaxies Look Very Different Than Nearby Galaxies"
- New Type of Black Hole Quasar Discovered
Drugs that boost brainpower are increasingly being taken by healthy people to study or work harder. Could this become the norm, or a condition of employment?
Portuguese designer Susana Soares has developed a device for detecting cancer and other serious diseases using trained bees. The bees are placed in a glass chamber into which the patient exhales; the bees fly into a smaller secondary chamber if they detect cancer.
Scientists have found that honey bees - Apis mellifera - have an extraordinary sense of smell that is more acute than that of a sniffer dog and can detect airborne molecules in the parts-per-trillion range.
Bees can be trained to detect specific chemical odours, including the biomarkers associated with diseases such as tuberculosis, lung, skin and pancreatic cancer.
Physicists add ‘Quantum Cheshire Cats’ to list of quantum paradoxes
Given all the weird things that can occur in quantum mechanics—from entanglement to superposition to teleportation—not much seems surprising in the quantum world. Nevertheless, a new finding that an object’s physical properties can be disembodied from the object itself is not something we’re used to seeing on an everyday basis. In a new paper, physicists have theoretically shown that this phenomenon, which they call a quantum Cheshire Cat, is an inherent feature of quantum mechanics and could prove useful for performing precise quantum measurements by removing unwanted properties.
Consider that you can see less than 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum and hear less than 1% of the acoustic spectrum. As you read this, you are traveling at 220 km/sec across the galaxy. 90% of the cells in your body carry their own microbial DNA and are not “you.” The atoms in your body are 99.9999999999999999% empty space and none of them are the ones you were born with, but they all originated in the belly of a star. Human beings have 46 chromosomes, 2 less than the common potato.
The existence of the rainbow depends on the conical photoreceptors in your eyes; to animals without cones, the rainbow does not exist. So you don’t just look at a rainbow, you create it. This is pretty amazing, especially considering that all the beautiful colors you see represent less than 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum.”
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Prehistoric rock art of Iran. The ancient petroglyphs date back 4500 to 17000 years.
By and large, we accept the use of animals as objects and tools. Sixty-two percent of Americans surveyed in a Gallup poll, for example, deemed it “morally acceptable” to use animals for medical research, and despite the growth of the animal rights movement, there aren’t many vegetarians. And what does a T-bone steak represent if not a reduction of an animal to parts, to its instrumental value? There are issues with farming, of course, especially the industrial-scale factory farming that is the norm today. But whatever our objection to the system itself, the truth is that most of us accept the idea that we can use an animal’s body to nourish out own.
For most of us, then, the real ethical question surrounding [genetically engineered] pharm animals comes down to the genetic engineering itself. Is there something about editing DNA and remixing biological material that is just inherently wrong? …critics of biotechnology worry that breaching species barriers violates the rules of God or nature or both.
…These interspecies combinations can raise unfortunate existential questions, threatening our sense of uniqueness. If we can make our cells spring to life in a sheep or make a piece of our biological code work in a beady-eyed little rodent, what is it, exactly, that separates man from beast?
Emily Anthes, pondering several questions about what really bothers people about genetic engineering. We live in a world where we can make goats that can produce antimicrobial milk, clone farm animals and pets, buy aquarium fish that are part jellyfish, and raise genetically-mutated mice to model our own medicine.
If you’re interested in the technology, ethics or future questions and answers surrounding genetically engineering animals, I highly recommend checking out Emily’s new book, Frankenstein’s Cat.