Science & Technology
Map


Key

The unexpected reward of making mistakes

© Your Therapy Source
Making a mistake can be rewarding, study finds MRI study shows failure is a rewarding experience when the brain has a chance to learn from its mistakes

The human brain learns two ways - either through avoidance learning, which trains the brain to avoid committing a mistake, or through reward-based learning, a reinforcing process that occurs when someone gets the right answer. Scientists have found that making a mistake can feel rewarding, though, if the brain is given the opportunity to learn from its mistakes and assess its options.

The human brain learns two ways -- either through avoidance learning, which trains the brain to avoid committing a mistake, or through reward-based learning, a reinforcing process that occurs when someone gets the right answer. Scientists have found that making a mistake can feel rewarding, though, if the brain is given the opportunity to learn from its mistakes and assess its options.

Many political leaders, scientists, educators and parents believe that failure is the best teacher.

Scientists have long understood that the brain has two ways of learning. One is avoidance learning, which is a punishing, negative experience that trains the brain to avoid repeating mistakes. The other is reward-based learning, a positive, reinforcing experience in which the brain feels rewarded for reaching the right answer.

A new MRI study by USC and a group of international researchers has found that having the opportunity to learn from failure can turn it into a positive experience -- if the brain has a chance to learn from its mistakes.

Comment: Other interesting articles:


Info

New math could reveal hidden sources of chaos

© Kobol75/Shutterstock
Chaotic systems are sometimes described using fractal patterns. A new theory tries to come up with a single, mathematical definition of chaos that could identify seemingly smooth situations with the potential for chaos.
It's that point when a smooth river turns into a tumultuous swirl of white water, the tornado that unpredictably changes course on a dime or the wild interactions of three planets under one another's gravitational pull.

It's chaos.

Although most people instinctively know chaos when they see it, there hasn't been one, single, universally agreed-upon mathematical definition of the term. Now, scientists have tried to come up with a mathematical way to describe such chaotic systems.

The new definition, which was described in a paper published in July in the journal Chaos, could help identify seemingly smooth situations where the potential for chaos lurks, said study co-author Brian Hunt, a mathematician at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Arrow Down

Cosmetic and cleaning products contain huge quantities of plastic particles posing serious risk to marine life

© Thompson/Bakir/Plymouth University
This image captured by an electron microscope shows polyethylene microbeads widely used in shower gel.
Everyday cosmetic and cleaning products contain huge quantities of plastic particles, which are released to the environment and could be harmful to marine life, according to a new study.

Research at Plymouth University has shown almost 100,000 tiny 'microbeads' -- each a fraction of a millimetre in diameter -- could be released in every single application of certain products, such as facial scrubs.

The particles are incorporated as bulking agents and abrasives, and because of their small size it is expected many will not be intercepted by conventional sewage treatment, and are so released into rivers and oceans.

Researchers, writing in Marine Pollution Bulletin, estimate this could result in up to 80 tonnes of unnecessary microplastic waste entering the sea every year from use of these cosmetics in the UK alone.

Comment: Microbeads are highly potent concentrators of toxins. Tiny marine creatures often mistake these particles for food, and these plankton are eaten in large numbers by other fish. These chemicals then biomagnify up the food chain, meaning that top predators such as tuna and swordfish, which are consumed by humans, have high concentrations.


Arrow Down

Startup in biotech adds two base pairs to genetic code — and life on earth may never be the same

© Extreme Tech
Amidst the staggering diversity that is life on earth, there is a surprising thread of commonality. That shared ground is the language of genetics. Prior to the discovery of DNA, few suspected that a single molecular code could underpin such a panoply of biological forms - everything from viruses to talking apes.

Even more startling was the discovery that this code consisted of a molecular language only four base pairs in length. It took evolution a billion years to devise this four-letter chemical code. Now for the first time in recorded history, organisms with a new, expanded, genetic code are taking shape in the laboratory. It's no exaggeration to say that life on earth will never be the same.

While the playboy of biology, Craig Venter, has stolen many of the recent headlines in regards to synthetic biology, the more interesting advances in the field are occurring with surprisingly little fanfare. And not without good reason: many of the corporate labs pursuing synthetic biology have little cause to draw excess attention to themselves.

They've learned all too well from the disastrous backlash against genetically modified foods that the public is not necessarily the wisest arbiter of scientific advancement. If we were to ban GMO crops tomorrow, half the population of the world would starve in short order. Yet this seems to be precisely what a large percentage of the "well-fed" in places like the United States are angling for. But I digress.

In a development sure to have far reaching repercussions, scientists working at the drug discovery company called Synthorx quietly announced that it is using an expanded version of the genetic alphabet, one that includes two novel base pairs dubbed X and Y, to create a type of E. coli bacteria never before seen on the face of the earth.

While the potential for using these new, hybrid life forms to create wonder drugs is indeed enormous, that is merely the tip of the iceberg. The addition of two base pairs to the four letter DNA code effectively raises the number of possible amino acids an organism could use to build proteins from 20 to 172.

Info

Ants are able to 'self-medicate' by changing diet when they are unwell

© The Independent, UK
Findings of study raise questions over how ants 'know' they are sick.
It appears that ants, usually seen as the ultimate self-sacrificing workers, are also not bad at saving their own skins.

Scientists have shown that ants with a life-threatening fungus are able to "self-medicate", eating a normally harmful substance that treats the condition.

This form of "self-medication" in insects has been suspected in research circles but has never been proven until now, raising questions about how the ant "knows" it is sick.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland showed that ants infected with the fungus Beauveria bassiana would choose to eat small doses of hydrogen peroxide, which had been proven to reduce their deaths by at least 15 per cent.

The fact that most healthy ants gave the poison a wide berth - since it usually caused a 20 per cent mortality rate - appeared to show that sick ants knew the poison would help them recover.

Depending on how strong the toxic solution was, the infected ants would also either choose to eat the poison as often as normal food, or only a quarter of the time, showing they were "careful" about their selecting their doses.

Nick Bos, one of the researchers, said ants close to death in the wild also seem to know because they often leave the nest to die in isolation.

Beaker

Urban river beds store pharmaceuticals that endanger aquatic organisms

© UF/IFAS
Pharmaceuticals pose a danger to aquatic organisms in urban-area riverbeds, according to two UF/IFAS scientists. The scientists say the chemicals in the riverbed in Hillsborough County are representative of chemicals in riverbeds in urban areas globally.
River beds in urban areas worldwide store pharmaceuticals, and University of Florida scientists warn they can pose a potential environmental danger to aquatic organisms.

UF/IFAS Post-Doctoral Researcher Yun-Ya Yang conducted a study along rural and urban areas of the Alafia River, which runs through parts of Hillsborough County and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. In her study, Yang collected sediment samples at several sites along the river and found 17 pharmaceuticals.

Yang found a lower amount of pharmaceuticals than in previous similar studies because river beds in Florida do not contain enough silt and clay, but they can still present an environmental concern.

Comment: The exposure to these drugs not only poses a potential risk to the health of wildlife but may be changing behaviour and physiology. Pharmaceuticals are designed to alter physiology at low doses and can be particularly potent contaminants. It is also now emerging that pharmaceuticals and their bio-transformation products are present in a range of habitats, some can bio-accumulate and may have significant, but largely unstudied, consequences for individuals, populations and ecosystems.


Magnify

Scientists create completely new type of glass by accident

© Wokandapix
University of Chicago scientists accidentally created an entirely new type of glass - one with unusual peaks that indicate a molecular order in a material previously thought to be entirely amorphous and random.

"This is a big surprise," said Juan de Pablo, a molecular engineering professor at the University of Chicago. "Randomness is almost the defining feature of glasses. At least we used to think so."

"What we have done is to demonstrate that one can create glasses where there is some well-defined organization. And now that we understand the origin of such effects, we can try to control that organization by manipulating the way we prepare these glasses."

Bug

Unexpected Trojan horse strategy found in pathogenic bacteria

© Peter Allen
Bacteria switch between antibiotic susceptible-to-resistant states during infection using a Trojan horse strategy.
Bacteria are pretty wily creatures. Take for example, an organism such as Salmonella, which which are killed by antibiotics in lab tests, but can become highly resistant in the body.

It is an example of what UC Santa Barbara biologist Michael Mahan refers to as the Trojan horse strategy. Identified through new research conducted by Mahan and his colleagues, the Trojan horse strategy may explain why antibiotics are ineffective in some patients despite lab tests that predict otherwise. The research findings appear in the journal EBioMedicine.

"We are not petri plates, and we need to revisit the way antibiotics are developed, tested and prescribed," said Mahan, a professor in UCSB's Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Current methods for testing resistance to antibiotics do not reflect the actual and varying environments in the body, where bacteria fight to survive. Mahan noted that this difference can render antibiotic susceptibility testing inaccurate.

Beaker

Human orphan genes: A challenge to evolutionary theory?

What makes us human? Some would say it's our genes. I don't want to argue the case that we are more than our genes, which we are. I simply want to point out that interesting new research indicates we have a number of new genes - genes that are specifically human - in our genome.

These new genes are few in number, some would say, but there is a current bias in genome annotation against classifying sequences as novel genes. Estimates range from 3 to 60 to 300 human-specific protein-coding genes. In fact, one genetic analysis came up with 1177 human-specific genes, and then proceeded to systematically eliminate them all as non-coding for a variety of reasons, reasons that may or may not be valid. Why does this matter? 1177 genes is nearly 6% of our genome. 300 is about 1.5%. Those numbers are not something to trifle with, given that our reported base pair difference with chimps is about 1.3%.

Comment: So if humans - and all other species - possess totally unique genes, with no similar genes in any other species or evolutionary history, where do they come from? How does evolution 'find' these needles in the cosmic haystack? Clearly there is more to the molecular biology picture than mainstream science has assumed until now. Perhaps we live in a 'purpose-driven' universe?


Attention

Fukushima contaminants in sediment uncovered by typhoons, carried offshore by currents

© Makio Honda, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology
Researchers deployed time-series sediment traps 115 kilometers (approximately 70 miles) southeast of the nuclear power plant at depths of 500 meters (1,640 feet) and 1,000 meters (3,280 feet). The two traps began collecting samples on July 19, 2011 -- 130 days after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami -- and were recovered and reset annually.
An international research team reports results of a three-year study of sediment samples collected offshore from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in a new paper published August 18, 2015, in the American Chemical Society's journal, Environmental Science and Technology.

The research aids in understanding what happens to Fukushima contaminants after they are buried on the seafloor off coastal Japan.

Led by Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist and marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the team found that a small fraction of contaminated seafloor sediments off Fukushima are moved offshore by typhoons that resuspend radioactive particles in the water, which then travel laterally with southeasterly currents into the Pacific Ocean.

Comment: The authors seem to downplay the risks associate with these buried contaminates while ignoring the ongoing serious environmental and health consequences from this disaster.