A Momentary Flow

Updating Worldviews one World at a time

Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses

Devoted dog owners often claim that their pets understand them. A new study suggests they could be right. By placing dogs in an MRI scanner, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does. Emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, also prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why dogs are attuned to human emotions. The work is published in the journal Current Biology. Lead author Attila Andics, from the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said: “We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information.” Eleven pet dogs took part in the study; training them took some time. “We used positive reinforcement strategies - lots of praise,” said Dr Andics. “There were 12 sessions of preparatory training, then seven sessions in the scanner room, then these dogs were able to lie motionless for as long as eight minutes. Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.” (via BBC News - Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses)

University of Vienna app uses your phone for research while you sleep
Our mobile phones generally lie dormant while we’re asleep, which means that millions of powerful processors are going unused for hours at a time. Samsung Austria and the University of Vienna’s Faculty of Life Sciences have teamed up to try and tap the potential of all that unused processing power. Power Sleep is a new Android app that allows mobile phone users to donate the processing power of their devices to scientific research while they are asleep. The Power Sleep app provides users with a simple alarm clock function. When the alarm is set and the user’s phone is plugged in, fully charged and connected to a Wi-Fi network, the app begins to process data sent from the Similarity Matrix of Proteins (SIMAP) database. The research is focused on deciphering protein sequences in order to help with medical advancements in disciplines such as genetics and heredity, biochemistry, molecular biology and cancer research. “In order to fight diseases like cancer and Alzheimers, we need to know how proteins are arranged,” says Thomas Rattei, professor of bioinformatics at the University of Vienna. “This requires trials that need a tremendous amount of processing power. Power Sleep is a bridge between science and society. It promotes not only our research, but allows people in Austria to become part of the project and, at the same time, to do good in their sleep.” (via University of Vienna app uses your phone for research while you sleep)

University of Vienna app uses your phone for research while you sleep

Our mobile phones generally lie dormant while we’re asleep, which means that millions of powerful processors are going unused for hours at a time. Samsung Austria and the University of Vienna’s Faculty of Life Sciences have teamed up to try and tap the potential of all that unused processing power. Power Sleep is a new Android app that allows mobile phone users to donate the processing power of their devices to scientific research while they are asleep. The Power Sleep app provides users with a simple alarm clock function. When the alarm is set and the user’s phone is plugged in, fully charged and connected to a Wi-Fi network, the app begins to process data sent from the Similarity Matrix of Proteins (SIMAP) database. The research is focused on deciphering protein sequences in order to help with medical advancements in disciplines such as genetics and heredity, biochemistry, molecular biology and cancer research. “In order to fight diseases like cancer and Alzheimers, we need to know how proteins are arranged,” says Thomas Rattei, professor of bioinformatics at the University of Vienna. “This requires trials that need a tremendous amount of processing power. Power Sleep is a bridge between science and society. It promotes not only our research, but allows people in Austria to become part of the project and, at the same time, to do good in their sleep.” (via University of Vienna app uses your phone for research while you sleep)

How Plants Secretly Talk to Each Other
Up in the northern Sierra Nevada, the ecologist Richard Karban is trying to learn an alien language. The sagebrush plants that dot these slopes speak to one another, using words no human knows. Karban, who teaches at the University of California, Davis, is listening in, and he’s beginning to understand what they say. The evidence for plant communication is only a few decades old, but in that short time it has leapfrogged from electrifying discovery to decisive debunking to resurrection. Two studies published in 1983 demonstrated that willow trees, poplars and sugar maples can warn each other about insect attacks: Intact, undamaged trees near ones that are infested with hungry bugs begin pumping out bug-repelling chemicals to ward off attack. They somehow know what their neighbors are experiencing, and react to it. The mind-bending implication was that brainless trees could send, receive and interpret messages. The first few “talking tree” papers quickly were shot down as statistically flawed or too artificial, irrelevant to the real-world war between plants and bugs. Research ground to a halt. But the science of plant communication is now staging a comeback. Rigorous, carefully controlled experiments are overcoming those early criticisms with repeated testing in labs, forests and fields. It’s now well established that when bugs chew leaves, plants respond by releasing volatile organic compounds into the air. By Karban’s last count, 40 out of 48 studies of plant communication confirm that other plants detect these airborne signals and ramp up their production of chemical weapons or other defense mechanisms in response. “The evidence that plants release volatiles when damaged by herbivores is as sure as something in science can be,” said Martin Heil, an ecologist at the Mexican research institute Cinvestav Irapuato. “The evidence that plants can somehow perceive these volatiles and respond with a defense response is also very good.” (via How Plants Secretly Talk to Each Other - Wired Science)

How Plants Secretly Talk to Each Other

Up in the northern Sierra Nevada, the ecologist Richard Karban is trying to learn an alien language. The sagebrush plants that dot these slopes speak to one another, using words no human knows. Karban, who teaches at the University of California, Davis, is listening in, and he’s beginning to understand what they say. The evidence for plant communication is only a few decades old, but in that short time it has leapfrogged from electrifying discovery to decisive debunking to resurrection. Two studies published in 1983 demonstrated that willow trees, poplars and sugar maples can warn each other about insect attacks: Intact, undamaged trees near ones that are infested with hungry bugs begin pumping out bug-repelling chemicals to ward off attack. They somehow know what their neighbors are experiencing, and react to it. The mind-bending implication was that brainless trees could send, receive and interpret messages. The first few “talking tree” papers quickly were shot down as statistically flawed or too artificial, irrelevant to the real-world war between plants and bugs. Research ground to a halt. But the science of plant communication is now staging a comeback. Rigorous, carefully controlled experiments are overcoming those early criticisms with repeated testing in labs, forests and fields. It’s now well established that when bugs chew leaves, plants respond by releasing volatile organic compounds into the air. By Karban’s last count, 40 out of 48 studies of plant communication confirm that other plants detect these airborne signals and ramp up their production of chemical weapons or other defense mechanisms in response. “The evidence that plants release volatiles when damaged by herbivores is as sure as something in science can be,” said Martin Heil, an ecologist at the Mexican research institute Cinvestav Irapuato. “The evidence that plants can somehow perceive these volatiles and respond with a defense response is also very good.” (via How Plants Secretly Talk to Each Other - Wired Science)

US scientists have performed a dramatic reversal of the ageing process in animal studies.
They used a chemical to rejuvenate muscle in mice and said it was the equivalent of transforming a 60-year-old’s muscle to that of a 20-year-old - but muscle strength did not improve. Their study, in the journal Cell, identified an entirely new mechanism of ageing and then reversed it. Other researchers said it was an “exciting finding”. Ageing is considered a one-way street, but now researchers at Harvard Medical School have shown that some aspects can be reversed. Their research focused on a chemical called NAD. Its levels naturally drop in all cells of the body with age. The team showed this disrupted the function of the cell’s in-built powerstations, mitochondria, leading to lower energy production and ageing. Experiments showed that boosting NAD levels, by giving mice a chemical which they naturally convert into NAD, could reverse the sands of time. One week of youth-medication in two-year-old mice meant their muscles became akin to those of a six-month-old in terms of mitochondrial function, muscle wastage, inflammation and insulin resistance. Dr Ana Gomes, from the department of genetics at Harvard Medical School, said: “We believe this is quite an important finding.” She argues muscle strength may return with a longer course of treatment (via BBC News - Youth-drug can ‘reverse’ ageing in animal studies)

US scientists have performed a dramatic reversal of the ageing process in animal studies.

They used a chemical to rejuvenate muscle in mice and said it was the equivalent of transforming a 60-year-old’s muscle to that of a 20-year-old - but muscle strength did not improve. Their study, in the journal Cell, identified an entirely new mechanism of ageing and then reversed it. Other researchers said it was an “exciting finding”. Ageing is considered a one-way street, but now researchers at Harvard Medical School have shown that some aspects can be reversed. Their research focused on a chemical called NAD. Its levels naturally drop in all cells of the body with age. The team showed this disrupted the function of the cell’s in-built powerstations, mitochondria, leading to lower energy production and ageing. Experiments showed that boosting NAD levels, by giving mice a chemical which they naturally convert into NAD, could reverse the sands of time. One week of youth-medication in two-year-old mice meant their muscles became akin to those of a six-month-old in terms of mitochondrial function, muscle wastage, inflammation and insulin resistance. Dr Ana Gomes, from the department of genetics at Harvard Medical School, said: “We believe this is quite an important finding.” She argues muscle strength may return with a longer course of treatment (via BBC News - Youth-drug can ‘reverse’ ageing in animal studies)

Genome search still can’t explain lefties
New research rules out a “strong genetic determinant” in influencing left- or right-handedness. The researchers conducted a twin study examining the whole genome—which contains hereditary information—of nearly 4,000 subjects from the London Twin Research Unit to compare left- and right-handed participants. Their findings are published in the journal Heredity. The study was unable to find a strong genetic factor in determining handedness. If there was a single major genetic determination of handedness, there should be a detectable shift between left- and right-handed people in the frequency of variants in that part of the genome—and this isn’t the caseStudy author John Armour, professor of human genetics at the University of Nottingham, says: “There should be a detectable shift between right- and left-handed people because modern methods for typing genetic variation cover nearly all of the genome. A survey that compared the whole-genome genotypes for right- and left-handed people should leave such a gene nowhere to hide.” (via Genome search still can’t explain lefties | Futurity)

Genome search still can’t explain lefties

New research rules out a “strong genetic determinant” in influencing left- or right-handedness. The researchers conducted a twin study examining the whole genome—which contains hereditary information—of nearly 4,000 subjects from the London Twin Research Unit to compare left- and right-handed participants. Their findings are published in the journal Heredity. The study was unable to find a strong genetic factor in determining handedness. If there was a single major genetic determination of handedness, there should be a detectable shift between left- and right-handed people in the frequency of variants in that part of the genome—and this isn’t the caseStudy author John Armour, professor of human genetics at the University of Nottingham, says: “There should be a detectable shift between right- and left-handed people because modern methods for typing genetic variation cover nearly all of the genome. A survey that compared the whole-genome genotypes for right- and left-handed people should leave such a gene nowhere to hide.” (via Genome search still can’t explain lefties | Futurity)

Mind wandering is a natural, transient state wherein our neurocognitive systems become temporarily decoupled from the external sensory environment as our thoughts drift away from the current task at hand. Yet despite the ubiquity of mind wandering in everyday human life, we rarely seem impaired in our ability to adaptively respond to the external environment when mind wandering. This suggests that despite widespread neurocognitive decoupling during mind wandering states, we may nevertheless retain some capacity to attentionally monitor external events. But what specific capacities? In Experiment 1, using traditional performance measures, we found that both volitional and automatic forms of visual–spatial attentional orienting were significantly attenuated when mind wandering. In Experiment 2, however, ERPs revealed that, during mind wandering states, there was a relative preservation of sensitivity to deviant or unexpected sensory events, as measured via the auditory N1 component. Taken together, our findings suggest that, although some selective attentional processes may be subject to down-regulation during mind wandering, we may adaptively compensate for these neurocognitively decoupled states by maintaining automatic deviance–detection functions.

MIT Press Journals - Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience - Early Access - Abstract