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Wed, 26 Apr 2017
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Computational model of the brain shows what triggers Tourette 'tics'

© Image credit: Beste Ozcan
The new model shows that Tourette 'tics' are triggered by the interplay between key brain areas.
Tourette syndrome is a neurological disease in which patients make a series of repetitive, involuntary movements and sounds that are commonly referred to as 'tics'. A new study uses a computational model to simulate the neurological basis for the illness, which could help researchers to design new therapies in the future.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that in the United States, 1 in 360 children aged between 6 and 17 years receive a Tourette syndrome diagnosis. However, the CDC also suggest that the numbers may be higher than this, as the disease often goes undiagnosed.

The tics that accompany the disease vary in complexity. Some of them can be fairly simple - such as blinking, for instance - while others may involve touching objects, repeating the same words, or making obscene gestures.

Some of the motor tics that occur in the disease - such as sniffing, blinking, grimacing, or shrugging - were, until now, thought to occur in a single area of the brain called the basal ganglia.

Light Saber

The US military cozies up to laser weapons

© AFP Photo/John F. Williams
The Navy has since 2014 been testing a 30-kilowatt laser on one of its warships, the USS Ponce.
A sci-fi staple for decades, laser weapons are finally becoming reality in the US military, albeit with capabilities a little less dramatic than at the movies.

Lightsabers -- the favored weapon of the Jedi in "Star Wars" films -- will remain in the fictional realm for now, but after decades of development, laser weapons are now here and are being deployed on military vehicles and planes.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon -- all the big defense players -- are developing prototypes for the Pentagon.

The Navy has since 2014 been testing a 30-kilowatt laser on one of its warships, the USS Ponce.

Lockheed Martin has just announced a 60-kilowatt laser weapon that soon will be installed on an Army truck for operational testing against mortars and small drones.

The weapon can take out a drone from a distance of about 500 yards (meters) by keeping its beam locked onto the target for a few seconds, Jim Murdoch, an international business development director at Lockheed, told reporters this week.

But unlike in the movies, the laser beam is invisible to the naked eye.

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Temple Grandin on the kinds of minds science desperately needs

Renowned animal scientist and autism advocate talks about "turning on young students" to science - and not just the obvious candidates

© Photo by Alison Bert
Dr. Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University, poses in her livestock handling system after teaching a class at the university.
On the opening day of her livestock handling class at Colorado State University, Prof. Temple Grandin opens the gates of the steel maze that would guide the cattle, in single file, to a squeeze chute for examination. Used by livestock facilities around the world, her system is designed to keep the animals calm and prevent accidents.

As the students gather around, Dr. Grandin asks her first question:

"Who here has never touched a cow?"



Tiny little bee brains: How do they do so much?

© USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab
Bombus affinis, the rusty patched bumblebee, is shown here.
Recently, researchers at Queen Mary University of London trained a group of buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) to get little balls into goals — in a soccer-like game — in exchange for sweet treats.

It's not the first time bees have flexed their mental muscle in the lab. In addition to learning games, bees can also recognize human faces in photographs, count to four, and solve computer science's famous "traveling salesman" problem.

"All too often, people will assume that because a bee's brain is little, which it undoubtedly is — it's no larger than perhaps a pinhead — that it might, therefore, be simple or not complex," says Lars Chittka, a professor of sensory and behavioral ecology at Queen Mary University of London, and one of the soccer study's co-authors. (He also co-authored the "traveling salesman" study.)

But he explains that while bees pack just a million neurons into their tiny brains, each one may be as complex in structure as a fully grown oak tree. What's more, bee neurons are extraordinarily networked:
"A single one of these nerve cells might make contact with perhaps 10,000 or 100,000 other cells in that same brain."
"So, it's a long way from being a simple brain, but perhaps it's simpler than obviously a human brain with its 85 billion neurons," he says. "And so, therefore, we're hoping that we can use bees as a shortcut to understand integrative brain function and multitasking."


Japanese scientists plan on using giant undersea drill to reach Earth's mantle

© Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology / Reuters
Earth's elusive mantle is too much to resist for a team of Japanese scientists who plan to be the first to reach it. The team will use a giant drill to reach the molten rock, located six kilometers (3.7 miles) beneath the planet's surface.

"If we dig into the mantle we will know the whole Earth history, that's our motivation to search," researcher Natsue Abe, who is involved in the project, told CNN.

Japan's Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) are undertaking the massive project that will see a drill dropped four kilometers into the ocean, before drilling through six kilometers of the planet's crust to reach its destination.

"We don't know the exact (composition) of the mantle yet. We have only seen some mantle materials -- the rock is very beautiful, it's kind of a yellowish green," Abe said.


Jonathan Latham: The meaning of life (Part I)

Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. DNA stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid and ribo stands for Rockefeller Institute of Biochemistry (now Rockefeller University) where the chemical composition of DNA was first discovered in the 1920s. The Rockefeller Foundation had become interested in DNA because its trustees feared a Bolshevik-style revolution. Intense public resentment had already compelled the break-up of their Standard oil Company in 1911; so the Foundation sought ways, said trustee Harry Pratt Judson in 1913, to "reinforce the police power of the state". They intended to find the ultimate key to human behaviour which would allow the resentful and envious mobs to be effectively managed.

The Foundation had two strategies for management that were distinct but complementary: to control human behaviour at the level of social structures: family, work and emotions, which the Foundation referred to by names such as "psychobiology"; and to control human behaviour at the level of molecules.


Twinkle, twinkle little star: Epic star birth captured in stunning images

© eso.org
The explosion occurred 1,350 light years away.
Explosions don't just mean the end of a life cycle - they can also signal stellar birth. Spectacular images released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) show the fireworks display that marks the start of a star's life cycle.

Captured 1,350 light years away in the Orion constellation, the images show an active star formation known as Orion Molecular Cloud 1 (OMC-1) which occurred roughly 500 years ago, according to ESO.

What appears on first glance to be the death of a star is revealed to be gravity pulling together newly-ignited stars, resulting in a violent collision reminiscent of a Fourth of July fireworks display.

The explosion, which ultimately leads to the birth of a new star, released as much energy as the Sun emits over 10 million years.


Baseball-sized spider discovered down a mine in Baja California, Mexico

© San Diego Natural History Museum
Researchers at the San Diego Natural History museum recently discovered a new species and genus of spider in the hills of Baja California, called Califorctenus cacahilensis.
While traipsing through the a mine in the hills of Baja California, Michael Wall and Jim Berrian struck gold. Skittering across the abandoned mine shaft was a beast that would send most people running.

The entomologists instead ran toward the creature - a whopping spider the size of a baseball - and captured it for analysis. With juicy fangs, a hairy yellow abdomen and legs for miles, the arachnid was certainly a looker, but neither of the scientists could classify it.

Back in their lab at the San Diego Natural History Museum, the researchers had a eureka moment. Upon corroborating with Mexican entomologist and southern spider expert Maria Jimenez, the scientists confirmed that they had discovered a new species and genus. They named it Califorctenus cacahilensis, after the Sierra Cacahilas mountain ranges where it was first found.


Ancient literature can help predict future solar storms

© Philip McErlean/Flickr
Ancient Japanese and Chinese literature describing space weather phenomena in centuries past could help us prepare for the major solar storms of the future, scientists have found.

While solar flares from the Sun have the potential to cause widespread disruption on Earth, they don't leave much of a physical trace for scientists to study, which is why historical texts could be invaluable in uncovering their past existence.

Wondering if writers hundreds of years ago had noted events now beyond the reach of our scientific instruments, Japanese researchers studied two historical volumes - Meigetsuki ("The Record of the Clear Moon") and Song Shi ("History of Song") - covering the period from the 10th to the 14th centuries.

"Combining literature, tree ring dating, and space observation, we have uncovered clear patterns in solar activity and astronomical events," says one of the team, space scientist Hiroaki Isobe from Kyoto University in Japan.


I-Ternal: Interactive tombstones with video, photo content now available

© Info i-ternal/YouTube
A Slovenian company has created a virtual way to grieve, with digital interactive tombstones that play video and other digital content to mourners.

A prototype of the weatherproof and vandal-proof digital tombstone is set up at the Pobrezje cemetery on the outskirts of Maribor, Slovenia's second largest city. Created by Bioenergija, the 48-inch interactive screens can show pictures, video and other digital content of the deceased.

The tombstones look ordinary until someone stands in front of them for a few seconds. As soon as the sensor detects someone, the tombstone comes to life.

"The tombstone has a sensor so that when nobody is around it only shows the person's name and the years of their birth and death... This saves energy and the screen itself, and helps extend the tombstone's lifetime," Bioenergija's Saso Radovanovic said.