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Sat, 06 Feb 2016
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Science & Technology

Take 2

Gamma rhythms and mental compression: How your brain plays memories in fast forward

A newly discovered mechanism in the brain may explain how we can recall nearly all of what happened on a recent afternoon, or make a thorough plan for how to spend tomorrow, in a fraction of the time that it takes to actually live out the experience.

The findings could advance research into schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer's disease, and other disorders where real experiences and ones that exist only in the mind can become distorted.

The mechanism compresses information needed for memory retrieval, imagination, or planning and encodes it on a brain wave frequency that's separate from the one used for recording real-time experiences.

Brain cells share different kinds of information with one another using a variety of different brain waves, analogous to the way radio stations broadcast on different frequencies. Researchers found that one of these frequencies allows us to play back memories, or envision future activities, in fast forward.


Shape-shifting worm can develop into five distinct forms, each so different as to look like different species

© MPI f. Developmental Biology
One of the larger, nematode-eating forms of Pristionchus.
Their shapes are so different that they look like five different species.

But genetic studies have shown single species of nematode worm, newly discovered inside figs, can develop into five distinct forms. It is a striking example of physical divergence without genetic divergence.

"We were shocked," says team member Erik Ragsdale of the University of Indiana. "It is remarkable and unusual."

Young Pristionchus nematodes hitch a ride to new figs on the wasps that fertilise the figs. If you look inside the fig soon after the wasps arrive, only a small form of the nematode can be found. It has a simple tube-like mouth for feeding on microbes.


Scientists conducting world's first arthropod survey find that our homes are just crawling with bugs

© Matt Bertone
False bombardier beetle
You may think your home is your castle, protected from animal invaders by cleaning products, sealed windows, doors, and walls. But scientists who have conducted the world's first survey of arthropods—creepy crawlies like insects, spiders, mites, and centipedes—in U.S. homes, report otherwise.

They randomly sampled the arthropod community in 50 homes in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2012. The houses ranged in age from 7 to 94 years old, and from 840 to 4833 square feet. Armed with forceps, aspirators, and butterfly nets, the scientists hand-collected specimens—living and dead—from each room. They searched under and behind furniture, along baseboards, ceilings, on shelves, and in closets, amassing a collection of more than 10,000 specimens.

They gathered at least 579 morphospecies—animal types that are difficult to precisely identify—from 304 families. Flies were the most abundant, followed by spiders, beetles, ants, and book lice, whereas fleas and the American cockroach were relatively rare, the scientists report in today's issue of PeerJ.

Some of these, such as the book lice, have a long evolutionary history of living with humans. But the vast majority of specimens were inadvertent visitors, such as gall midges, leafhoppers, and ground beetles (like the false bombardier beetle, pictured above), who had wandered in and were likely looking for the exit.


Study finds no link between marijuana use and lowered IQ in teens

© Stanimir G. Stoev/Shutterstock
Roughly half of Americans use marijuana at some point in their lives, and many start as teenagers. Although some studies suggest the drug could harm the maturing adolescent brain, the true risk is controversial. Now, in the first study of its kind, scientists have analyzed long-term marijuana use in teens, comparing IQ changes in twin siblings who either used or abstained from marijuana for 10 years. After taking environmental factors into account, the scientists found no measurable link between marijuana use and lower IQ.

"This is a very well-conducted study ... and a welcome addition to the literature," says Valerie Curran, a psychopharmacologist at the University College London. She and her colleagues reached "broadly the same conclusions" in a separate, nontwin study of more than 2000 British teenagers, published earlier this month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, she says. But, warning that the study has important limitations, George Patton, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, adds that it in no way proves that marijuana—particularly heavy, or chronic use—is safe for teenagers.

Most studies that linked marijuana to cognitive deficits, such as memory loss and low IQ, looked at a single "snapshot" in time, says statistician Nicholas Jackson of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, lead author of the new work. That makes it impossible to tell which came first: drug use or poor cognitive performance. "It's a classic chicken-egg scenario," he says.


Study finds high doses of cocaine causes brain to eat itself

© Stringer / Reuters
New research suggests that high doses of cocaine can cause the brain to eat itself, according to The Daily Telegraph.

A study carried out by researchers at John Hopkins University found that cocaine can cause a process called "autophagy."The Guardian explained that properly regulated autophagy removes unnecessary debris that is dissolved away by enzymes within cell "pockets."

However, Dr. Prasun Guha, who led the study, explained autophagy by describing a cell as having parallels with as a household generating trash: While "autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash. Usually it's a good thing. But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell."

The test studied the effects of cocaine on mice. After performing postmortems on the mice, the scientists determined that the brains of mice given larger doses of cocaine showed clear signs of autophagy-induced cell death.


Innovative scans of the great pyramid in Egypt reveal new anomalies

© HIP Institute
Researchers of the ScanPyramids mission remove the plates previously placed inside the Bent pyramid to capture cosmic particles.
New anomalies have been detected on Egypt's pyramids by researchers scanning the monuments with innovative technologies, the Ministry of Antiquities said.

According to preliminary results, thermal "points of interest" were observed on the northern facade of the Great Pyramid at Giza, known as Khufu or Cheops, and on the west face of Red pyramid in Dahshur.

The announcement comes at the end of a three-month project to scan four pyramids which are more than 4,500 years old. They include the Great Pyramid, Khafre or Chephren at Giza, the Bent pyramid and the Red pyramid at Dahshur.

Scheduled to last one year, the project, called ScanPyramids, uses a mix of innovative technologies such as infrared thermography, muon radiography, and 3-D reconstruction to identify the presence of unknown internal structures and cavities.

People 2

Hearing emotions: Brain recognizes emotions via sound much faster than by language

Canadian researchers have discovered that it only takes one-tenth of a second for our brains to begin to recognize emotions conveyed by vocalizations.

Investigators say it doesn't matter whether the non-verbal sounds are growls of anger, the laughter of happiness or cries of sadness. We pay more attention when an emotion (such as happiness, sadness or anger) is expressed through vocalizations than we do when the same emotion is expressed in speech.

Scientists at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, believe this process is evolutionary in origin. That is, the speed with which the brain "tags" these vocalizations and the preference given to them compared to language, is due to the potentially crucial role that decoding vocal sounds has played in human survival.

Comment: The sound of your voice influences your emotional state, says researchers


Electric headphones stimulate vagus nerve to induce dopamine high

There's a famous saying about things that sound too good to be true. Still, it doesn't hurt to keep an open mind about things when it comes to emerging technology.

A Florida startup company that made a splash at this year's Consumer Electronics Show is selling a seemingly irresistible concept: A wearable device that gives you all the benefits of a runner's high, minus the pesky tradition of actually running.

Dubbed Nervana, the device pairs with your phone or music player to add low-power electric nerve stimulation to the audio feed going into your ear. According to the design team, the electrical pulse — timed with the beat of the music — triggers the brain's vagus nerve, which in turn releases feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These are the "reward" chemicals that the brain generates in response to stimuli like exercise or sex.

Comment: For more information, Consumer Electronics Show interview [link]
The potential for this technology, should it pan out, is reminiscent of the movie Brainstorm.
For more about the vagus nerve see Nervy facts about the vagus nerve and check out the Éiriú Eolas stress relief breathing and meditation program, where you can learn to stimulate your own vagus nerve quickly, simply, and effectively.


Moscow physicists develop cooling system for optoelectronic processors of the future

© Marina Lystseva/TASS
Scientists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have found a solution to the problem of overheating of optoelectronic microprocessors, the institute said in a press release.

"These processors will be able to function tens of thousands time faster than the ones used today", MIPT said.

The speed of multicore and manycore microprocessors, which are already used in high-performance computer systems, depends not so much on the speed of an individual core, but rather on the time it takes for data to be transferred between the cores. The electrical copper interconnects used in microprocessors today are fundamentally limited in bandwidth, and they cannot be used to maintain the continuing growth of the processor performance. In other words, doubling the number of cores will not double the processing power.


Scientists create renewable and biodegradable wood-based material to replace styrofoam

© Cellutech
This prototype bicycle helmet will protect your head with a biodegradable and renewable alternative to hazardous Styrofoam. The shock-absorbing foam material inside was developed at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and it is one of the key features of an entirely wood-sourced helmet.
Maybe soon we can say goodbye to polystyrene, the petroleum-based material that is used to make Styrofoam. In what looks like an ordinary bicycle helmet, Swedish designers have replaced Styrofoam with a new shock-absorbing material made with renewable and biodegradable wood-based material.

Researcher Lars Wågberg, a professor in Fibre Technology at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology, says the wood-based foam material offers comparable properties to Styrofoam.

"But even better, it is from a totally renewable resource—something that we can produce from the forest," Wågberg says.

That's a big plus for a country where forests are planted and harvested continuously, much like any other cash crop.

Trademarked under the name, Cellufoam, the material was developed by Wågberg together with Lennart Bergström, professor in Material Chemistry at Stockholm University, and Nicholas Tchang Cervin, a former PhD student at KTH, in theWallenberg Wood Science Center (WWSC).