The U's site licence with Nature appears to be on the fritz at the moment, so discussion of the article mentioned in the previous post will have to wait until I can get a copy of it. Apologies.
Adventures in Neuroscience could never be more exciting. Well, maybe a little.
The U's site licence with Nature appears to be on the fritz at the moment, so discussion of the article mentioned in the previous post will have to wait until I can get a copy of it. Apologies.
Well, that's interesting:
Some habits are hard to break. Others become addictions. The latter group could be a figment of the past thanks to a new universal addiction-blocking substance developed by an international research effort led by the University of Saskatchewan.
The team created a peptide, a short chain of amino acids, from PTEN, a natural enzyme that acts on the ventral tegmental area, the reward center of the brain, where most drugs take effect. The peptide blocks the natural rewards that an addict experiences from an increase in serotonin—a neurotransmitter associated with learning, sleep and mood—when taking his or her substance of choice. The regulation of serotonin then modulates the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter active in the brain’s pleasure system...
...The study published in the March issue of Nature Medicine found that rats given large doses of both nicotine and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, for eight days straight would show no signs of addiction or withdrawal when treated with the peptide after their course of the illicit substance ran out...
...The chemicals that wash over a human brain while under the influence of a drug are more complex than those that are active in a rat brain, and the peptide only blocks out serotonin receptors right now. Also, it’s more difficult to inject the peptide directly into a human brain.
A nice little quote from our lab meeting this morning:
BBC: Animal lab supporters go on march:
Students, academic staff and members of the public gathered near the lab site, being built under strict security.
Anti-vivisection activists, who believe animal testing "belongs in the past", want to stop the centre opening.
Supporters of the centre argue it is essential for research into treatments for human medical conditions.
Physiology professor John Stein said: "Imagine yourself with a drowsy, whimpering three-year-old with meningitis.
"Fifty years ago, that child would have died. Now, due to the discovery and isolation of penicillin in this university, we can stop that child dying."
Sorry I've been missing all week... I think weeks in the lab are just gonna be like that, given the complete lack of free time.
On the one hand, leave it to the right to jump all over the racist card on this game. The Arabic race-baiting I've seen over the last few days is rather getting under my skin.
Postgenomic aggregates posts from life science blogs and then does useful and interesting things with that data.
So Randy Olson, director of Flock of Dodos (warning: loud, potentially annoying), was recently given a guest post by Carl Zimmer so he could present some suggestions on how to present science to the nonscientific public more effectively.
6) Understanding - intellectuals are handicapped as mass communicators. I had this line in my film, but took it out because it sounded too insulting. But its true. Mass audiences do not follow people who think, they follow people who act. Intellectuals are trained to think, not act. Its one of their charming traits, but it's also a handicap. Try taking an acting class and you'll get to know about this intimately. And it's not that you necessarily need to do something about this right now, it's just that you need to start developing some awareness of it.
It may be enough for an actor to get the audience to feel something. However, the scientist usually aims to get the audience to think. Successful scientific communication doesn't just dump a bunch of facts at the audience's feet. Rather, it leads the audience through a thought process -- what could these facts mean, what are the most consistent ways to fit them together, and how are these conclusions more reasonable than the alternatives? Just as artists, novelists, and yes, even the makers of your better films and television programs make the audience do some work, so should scientists and populizers of science. Audience participation (at least in the sense of an audience actively engaging the message rather than having it poured into their skulls) is not an unreasonable thing to ask.
According to a paper in this week's issue of Science, Greenland's glaciers are flowing melting much faster than predicted by any current global warming models. This is rather bad, for a couple reasons:
Thanks to Neurodudes for pointing out this amazing article from MIT's Technology Review. What's so awesome about it, you ask? Here you go:
Bill Newsome, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA, has spent the last twenty years studying how neurons encode information and how they use it to make decisions about the world. In the 1990s, he and collaborators were able to change the way a monkey responded to its environment by sending electric jolts to certain parts of its brain. The findings gave neuroscientists enormous insight into the inner workings of the brain.
But Newsome is obsessed with a lingering question: How does consciousness arise from brain function? He feels the best way to answer that question is by implanting an electrode into his own brain -- and seeing how the electric current changes his perception of the world.
The most recent issue of Seed (I think) has an article online by Dr. Alain Bussard, titled The Prion Anomaly.
More recently, prions were found to have a role in another sacred domain of biology: the transfer of hereditary information in a non-Mendellian fashion from parents to offspring. It was in yeast that researchers first found evidence that prions could alter the expression of enzymes from one cell to another. Far from being pathologic, this form of protein-based information flow was an adaptive mechanism, conferring evolutionary advantages onto recipients. And recently, Susan Lindquist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, MA (who has been working on prions with her group since 1993) has found a notable example: a molecular chaperone, the prion Hsp90, that strengthens the hereditary evolution of drug resistance in diverse fungi. But it is the evidence that prions play an important role in the formation and maintenance of long-term memory—discovered by Eric Kandel at Columbia University in New York—that seems to me of greatest importance.
Scientific revolutions concern the replacement of an old paradigm by a new, incommensurable one. However, the conflict of paradigms often does not end with the death of the old one. Rather, the new theory is incorporated into the older framework so as to make it more universal. Physicists have become quite used to this and have been quick to adapt their common views to new theories. But I wonder if we are not, today, in a new epistemological situation in which two apparently incompatible paradigms can exist simultaneously: in this case, the classical (molecular biology) paradigm and the prion paradigm. After all, is it not the case in physics that Albert Einstein attempted for 40 years to reconcile the relativity and quantum paradigms, with no success?
Everybody else is already talking about this Richard Cohen column for The Washington Post. Aye, I verily expect the blogosphere to soon split in half and erupt in civil war over the topic. Much like last week.
Time Magazine: Looking for a Lab-Coat Idol:
A teacher must feel confident in the subject to veer from the rote learning that turns so many students off. At Frick Middle School in Oakland, Calif., science teacher Caleb Cheung turned seventh-graders into inquisitive crime-scene investigators when he introduced a unit last fall on cells and microscopes. Students arrived in class to find an empty birdcage and a ransom note--someone had apparently kidnapped Cheung's pet doves, Herbert and Angel. For the next six weeks, the young detectives analyzed fingerprints, interviewed witnesses and compared hair and fabric samples under microscopes to find the perpetrator.
BONE WARS: The Game of Ruthless Paleontology
Out in the field, fossil hunters must survive natural disasters and attempts by other players to steal and destroy dinosaur bones.
Back at the museum, the conflict continues when the scientists carry their battle to the newspapers and scientific journals as they race to achieve scientific immortality!
I talked about how my own experience as a science writer certainly meshed with some of Olson's own experiences. I can remember getting into discussions with biologists five or six years ago about the rise of intelligent design, and they would just give me blank stares. When I explained what was happening beyond their lab, most of them seemed to assume that I could only be talking about ten or eleven people very far away. Once intelligent design began popping up in newspapers and magazines and education standards, the biologists did perk up and take notice. But their responses were not quite up to the challenge. I recounted how a bunch of representatives from a lot of scientific societies gathered for a meeting on challenges to evolution and came away a clarion call to action: each society would post a statement in support of evolution on their society's web site. Other biologists didn't even think it was their place to get involved. If not them, I wondered, who?
The growing acceptance of the "open access" scientific publishing model has made possible further experiments in the world of academic literatures. Open access publication makes scientific work available at no cost, in order to further the spread of knowledge and ideas among communities -- such as scientists in the developing world -- often locked out of cutting-edge science due to limited resources. The non-profit Public Library of Science (PLoS) journals are perhaps the best-known open access effort, but now BioMed Central -- which had sought to combine open access with commercial publication -- has embarked on an arguably even more radical experiment. Biology Direct, a newly-launched series of biology journals, combines the open access model with a new, and very open, system of peer review (PDF): the reviews are published alongside the articles, with no anonymity -- and no rejection, even if the reviews are uniformly negative. (The author may choose to pull his or her article in such a case, of course.)
I'm an unabashed fan of the CBC show Quirks and Quarks, although I often don't have the time to set aside to listen to it each week. But when I have a particularly long night ahead of me at the lab, I'll often find an interesting recent episode to listen to while I'm cleaning up. Tonight I discovered that I'd somehow missed this great episode over break.
New Scientist: Play it again, brain, but in reverse:
While the rats ran and then paused after reaching the food, the neurobiologists directly measured the animals’ brain cell activity using carefully placed electrodes. They focused on the hippocampus, a region of the brain believed to handle learning and memory.
The recordings revealed that, as the rats ran along each track, the cells in their hippocampus would fire in a particular sequence. But when the animals stopped for food at end of the new track, the same cells would also fire in the opposite order. This reverse-replay did not occur as often when they rested on either end of the familiar track.
The researchers suggest that the reverse signalling etches information into the brains of the rats as part of the learning process.
We here at Neurophile would like to wish a Happy 197th Birthday to Mr. Charles Darwin:
DIFFICULTIES ON THEORY
He who believes in separate and innumerable acts of creation will say, that in these cases it has pleased the Creator to cause a being of one type to take the place of one of another type; but this seems to me only restating the fact in dignified language. He who believes in the struggle for existence and in the principle of natural selection, will acknowledge that every organic being is constantly endeavouring to increase in numbers; and that if any one being vary ever so little, either in habits or structure, and thus gain an advantage over some other inhabitant of the country, it will seize on the place of that inhabitant, however different it may be from its own place. Hence it will cause him no surprise that there should be geese and frigate-birds with webbed feet, either living on the dry land or most rarely alighting on the water; that there should be long-toed corncrakes living in meadows instead of in swamps; that there should be woodpeckers where not a tree grows; that there should be diving thrushes, and petrels with the habits of auks.
Organs of extreme perfection and complication.—To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound.
In looking for the gradations by which an organ in any species has been perfected, we ought to look exclusively to its lineal ancestors; but this is scarcely ever possible, and we are forced in each case to look to species of the same group, that is to the collateral descendants from the same original parent-form, in order to see what gradations are possible, and for the chance of some gradations having been transmitted from the earlier stages of descent, in an unaltered or little altered condition. Amongst existing Vertebrata, we find but a small amount of gradation in the structure of the eye, and from fossil species we can learn nothing on this head. In this great class we should probably have to descend far beneath the lowest known fossiliferous stratum to discover the earlier stages, by which the eye has been perfected.
In the Articulata we can commence a series with an optic nerve merely coated with pigment, and without any other mechanism; and from this low stage, numerous gradations of structure, branching off in two fundamentally different lines, can be shown to exist, until we reach a moderately high stage of perfection. In certain crustaceans, for instance, there is a double cornea, the inner one divided into facets, within each of which there is a lens-shaped swelling. In other crustaceans the transparent cones which are coated by pigment, and which properly act only by excluding lateral pencils of light, are convex at their upper ends and must act by convergence; and at their lower ends there seems to be an imperfect vitreous substance. With these facts, here far too briefly and imperfectly given, which show that there is much graduated diversity in the eyes of living crustaceans, and bearing in mind how small the number of living animals is in proportion to those which have become extinct, I can see no very great difficulty (not more than in the case of many other structures) in believing that natural selection has converted the simple apparatus of an optic nerve merely coated with pigment and invested by transparent membrane, into an optical instrument as perfect as is possessed by any member of the great Articulate class.
He who will go thus far, if he find on finishing this treatise that large bodies of facts, otherwise inexplicable, can be explained by the theory of descent, ought not to hesitate to go further, and to admit that a structure even as perfect as the eye of an eagle might be formed by natural selection, although in this case he does not know any of the transitional grades. His reason ought to conquer his imagination; though I have felt the difficulty far too keenly to be surprised at any degree of hesitation in extending the principle of natural selection to such startling lengths.
It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye to a telescope. We know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued efforts of the highest human intellects; and we naturally infer that the eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man? If we must compare the eye to an optical instrument, we ought in imagination to take a thick layer of transparent tissue, with a nerve sensitive to light beneath, and then suppose every part of this layer to be continually changing slowly in density, so as to separate into layers of different densities and thicknesses, placed at different distances from each other, and with the surfaces of each layer slowly changing in form. Further we must suppose that there is a power always intently watching each slight accidental alteration in the transparent layers; and carefully selecting each alteration which, under varied circumstances, may in any way, or in any degree, tend to produce a distincter image. We must suppose each new state of the instrument to be multiplied by the million; and each to be preserved till a better be produced, and then the old ones to be destroyed. In living bodies, variation will cause the slight alterations, generation will multiply them almost infinitely, and natural selection will pick out with unerring skill each improvement. Let this process go on for millions on millions of years; and during each year on millions of individuals of many kinds; and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man?
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, round which, according to my theory, there has been much extinction. Or again, if we look to an organ common to all the members of a large class, for in this latter case the organ must have been first formed at an extremely remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms, long since become extinct.
So you remember this post? So you may have wondered--as I did--how one could argue that there's no AIDS epidemic in Africa. So Aetiology has tackled that very question, and it turns out that the answer is simple:
I'm not sure which part of this article is weirder for me:
So I'm grabbing some glorious caffeine at the corner store, and it occurs to me: how is it that no one has released an energy drink called Gibb's Free Energy? I mean, come on: your brand, your logo, and your marketing are all pretty much taken care of in advance, so all that's really left is to run some taste tests and sit back and collect profit. I'll take London, you take New York, and then we'll hit the Cayman Islands once a year to visit our MONEY.
You can tell when I've left my computer on for a few days, because loading up my entire TV collection and then randomizing it makes my computer wanna kill.
Posting's been way too sparse this week. Sorry.
Describing a "Lost World" — apparently never visited by humans — members of the team said Tuesday they also saw large mammals that have been hunted to near-extinction elsewhere and discovered dozens of exotic new species of frogs, butterflies and palms.
"We've only scratched the surface," said Bruce Beehler, a co-leader of the monthlong trip to the Foja Mountains, an area in the eastern province of Papua with roughly 2 million acres of pristine tropical forest.
I think just walking up to someone and being able to say off the top of my head that I'm working with alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylsoxazole-4-propionic acid or N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate receptors would be pretty cool.
These thoughts are inspired by going over this article from Peter W Kalivas' lab (Neuropsychopharmacology, sub. appears to not be required) in preparation for my lab meeting tomorrow. However, this should not be considered a critique of the article or the persons involved--it may not, in fact, apply to this paper at all--they just happened to be the people who inspired these ruminations. This post gets prefaced by pointing out that I have not studied experimental design or the philosophy underlying said in any big fashion, and that my approach to both is probably fairly simple at best. Nevertheless...
Sorry blogspot's been down so much lately, thus preventing you from reading posts and me from writing them. I'd do something about it, but... ah... I can't. C'est la vie.
#1. Carl Zimmer continues to try to convince me to study neurally-acting parasites in grad school:
The wasp slips her stinger through the roach's exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently use ssensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach's brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.
From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach's antennae and leads it--in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex--like a dog on a leash.
Scholars have long debated whether our native language affects how we perceive reality — and whether speakers of different languages might therefore see the world differently. The idea that language affects perception is controversial, and results have conflicted. A paper published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences supports the idea — but with a twist. The paper suggests that language affects perception in the right half of the visual field, but much less, if at all, in the left half.
I would like to give a hearty recommendation to read Chris Mooney's new Seed column, and I supposed I pretty much just did.
Thanks again to Washington Monthly for pointing out this choice quote:
"I believe in a relatively quick period of time, within my lifetime, we'll be able to reduce if not end dependence on Middle Eastern oil by this new technology" of converting corn, wood, grasses and other products into ethanol, he said.
Today's a Thursday, so you probably won't be seeing me again today.
As a special present for being such good guests, you get a picture of an abdominal ganglion from Manduca sexta, the sphinx moth. Although it was a caterpillar at the time.
Thanks to Knight Ridder's Kevin J. Hall:
WASHINGTON - One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.
What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.
But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are.
We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. (Applause.)
Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. (Applause.) By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past. (Applause.)
"This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.
Through the first 11 months of 2005, the United States imported nearly 2.2 million barrels per day of oil from the Middle East nations of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. That's less than 20 percent of the total U.S. daily imports of 10.062 million barrels.
So two of the big domestic policy announcements last nite were a dedication to research for alternative fuels, and some proposals to increase funding for scientific research.
Yahoo: Women Sue Wal-Mart Over Contraception:
BOSTON - Backed by abortion rights groups, three Massachusetts women sued Wal-Mart on Wednesday, accusing the retail giant of violating a state regulation by failing to stock emergency contraception pills in its pharmacies...
...The plaintiffs argued that state policy requires pharmacies to provide all "commonly prescribed medicines."
I am having a hard time not using strong words right now.
A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator -- and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.
Well worth reading: Michael Berube's presentation on academic freedom.
Researchers from the Mayo Clinic, Toronto, and Baltimore report today that infant heart transplant patients can fight off infections despite having a T-cell count comparable to full-blown AIDS patients.
For cardiac transplantation in infants, T cells are depleted and the thymus is removed. These manipulations should cause profound defects in the T cell compartment. To test this concept, 20 subjects who underwent cardiac transplantation in infancy and healthy age-matched subjects were studied. The number of T cells in the blood was nearly normal in all subjects 1–10 years after surgery. However, newly generated T cells were undetectable in 10 recipients and 10-fold less than controls in 10, suggesting absence of thymic function. TCRbeta chain diversity, measured by a novel technique, was ~100-fold lower than controls. T cell function, deduced from levels of human herpesvirus 7 and response to hepatitis B immunization, were notably impaired. Yet cardiac transplant recipients were generally free of opportunistic infections. Our findings demonstrate a novel approach to measuring lymphocyte diversity and suggest that understanding how these subjects resist infection could yield important insights into immune fitness.