16 posts tagged research
A 10-year, billion pound neuroscience project which aims to revolutionise our understanding of the human brain has begun.
Scientists from 135 institutions, mostly in Europe, are participating in the The Human Brain Project (HBP). Co-funded by the EU, it aims to develop the technology needed to create a computer simulation of the brain. It will also build a database of brain research from the tens of thousands of neuroscience papers published annually. Cognition “The Human Brain Project is an attempt to build completely new computer science technology that will enable us to collect all the information we have built up about the brain over the years,” said Prof Henry Markram, Director of the HBP at EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), in Switzerland. “We should begin to understand what makes the human brain unique, the basic mechanisms behind cognition and behaviour, how to objectively diagnose brain diseases, and to build new technologies inspired by how the brain computes.” The scientists involved accept that current computer technology is insufficient to simulate complex brain function. But within a decade, supercomputers should be sufficiently powerful to begin the first draft simulation of the human brain. Another hurdle is the huge amount of data that will be produced, which will mean massively expanding computing memory.
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)
This image, spreading over the Internet, suggests that frequent ejaculation lowers the risk of prostate cancer with one third.
But is it also true? We checked the original research paper to find out. The researchers studied men under 70 with (n=1079) and without (n=1259) prostate cancer.
The subjects were asked to report the average number of times that they had ejaculated per week in their most sexually active year in each of three decades of age: their 20’s, 30s and 40s.
The researchers found a significant negative relationship between risk on prostate cancer and number of ejaculations for men in their 20s (and not in their 30s and 40s). The results suggest that men who have on average five or more ejaculations per week in their 20s have a lower risk on developing prostate cancer than those who ejaculate less often in their 20s.
“Ejaculatory frequency, especially in early adult life, is negatively associated with the risk of prostate cancer, and thus the molecular biological consequences of suppressed or diminished ejaculation are worthy of further research,” the researchers conclude.
So gentleman, when you’re still in your 20s it seems beneficial to ejaculate at least 5 times a week. But if it reduces the risk of prostate cancer by a third is not confirmed by this research.
Source: Giles, G., Severi, G., English, D., McCredie, M., Borland, R., Boyle, P., & Hopper, J. (2003). Sexual factors and prostate cancer BJU International, 92 (3), 211-216 DOI: 10.1046/j.1464-410X.2003.04319.x
Researchers led by biomedical engineering Professor Shy Shoham of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology are testing the power of holography to artificially stimulate cells in the eye, with hopes of developing a new strategy for bionic vision restoration.
Computer-generated holography, they say, could be used in conjunction with a technique called optogenetics, which uses gene therapy to deliver light-sensitive proteins to damaged retinal nerve cells. In conditions such as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) - a condition affecting about one in 4000 people in the United States - these light-sensing cells degenerate and lead to blindness.
"The basic idea of optogenetics is to take a light-sensitive protein from another organism, typically from algae or bacteria, and insert it into a target cell, and that photosensitizes the cell," Shoham explained.
Intense pulses of light can activate nerve cells newly sensitized by this gene therapy approach. But Shoham said researchers around the world are still searching for the best way to deliver the light patterns so that the retina “sees” or responds in a nearly normal way.
The plan is to someday develop a prosthetic headset or eyepiece that a person could wear to translate visual scenes into patterns of light that stimulate the genetically altered cells.
In their paper in the February 26 issue of Nature Communications, the Technion researchers show how light from computer-generated holography could be used to stimulate these repaired cells in mouse retinas. The key, they say, is to use a light stimulus that is intense, precise, and can trigger activity across a variety of cells all at once.
"Holography, what we’re using, has the advantage of being relatively precise and intense," Shoham said. "And you need those two things to see."
The researchers turned to holography after exploring other options, including laser deflectors and digital displays used in many portable projectors to stimulate these cells. Both methods had their drawbacks, Shoham said.
In many ways the Internet is the ultimate virtual laboratory. Social media and news sites tell the casual observer much about our priorities and interests, whether it’s the grave prognosis of the U.S.’s ongoing “fiscal cliff” political negotiations or elation over England’s royal pregnancy. Social scientists believe that, beyond such superficial revelations, the Internet can also be a tool for conducting expansive, yet inexpensive research experiments at unprecedented speed. Duncan Watts has been studying the Internet’s impact on social behavior, and vice versa, for more than a decade. In 2001 Watts and fellow Columbia University sociologists published the results of their Small World Project, an e-mail version of sociologist Stanley Milgram’s famous 1967 “six degrees of separation” experiment that used snail mail to test the theory that every person on the planet is separated from everyone else by a chain of about six people. In 2006 Watts worked with a team of researchers on Music Lab, an online experiment that illustrated the difficulty of predicting a song’s popularity among a diverse group of listeners.
Sir Richard Branson wants his tourist spaceship also to become a high-altitude science platform. The billionaire’s rocket plane will carry six fare-paying passengers just above the atmosphere to experience a few minutes of weightlessness. But the vehicle has been designed so that its seats can be removed easily and the space filled with science gear. Passenger flights should begin in 18 months or so; research sorties could start soon after. The US space agency (Nasa) has already chartered the rocket plane. “It’s likely we might do some science flights quite early in the programme,” explained Will Pomerantz from Virgin Galactic. “Nasa is certainly eager to get their flights conducted; the ones they have already purchased. “It may also give us some additional time to show off the reliability and the operations of the vehicle, which would give our tourism customers even more confidence. “I think that if they see a Nasa flight has gone up and gone well, that will make them feel better about their purchase,” he told BBC News. (via BBC News - Virgin spaceship aims to be science lab)
We hear a lot about energy research and development. Perhaps that’s because it’s the one sort of policy that Republicans and Democrats generally agree on. But there’s a different kind of research that I’d like to see get a lot more attention and funding. I’m talking about research into what various kinds of energy policies actually *do* to shape the technical possibilities open to humanity. In my time researching energy, most of the people who actually care about where we get our energy from have committed to an energy source, be it oil, gas, traditional nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, or thorium. Then, they go looking for policies that would benefit their technology. I’ve also run into a lot of people who believe in inexorable laws of change in energy, whether that’s decarbonization or the inevitable rise of natural gas or nuclear power. And I’ve run into a lot of energy experts who believe in a fairly simple relationship between research money going in and technologies coming out. Unfortunately, none of these three groups of people is likely to produce very good energy policy. To put it in more mainstream terms, we’ve got a lot of energy pundits and very few energy Nate Silvers, who put reality (i.e. good data) ahead of ideology and intuition. Don’t get me wrong: everyone in energy loves them some data, but few people are interested in using it the way Silver does. Let me introduce you to a scholar who I think embodies the kind of research we need more of. His name is Gregory Nemet. He did his PhD at Berkeley and now teaches at the University of Madison, Wisconsin. I first discovered his work through a 2006 paper in Energy Policy, “Beyond the Learning Curve: factors influencing cost reductions in photovoltaics.” Now, you’re probably familiar with the neat story that learning curves tell. They say that as you do something, you get better at it, and because it’s a curve, the assumption is that this happens at a fairly consistent (and therefore predictable) rate. This is part of the rationale for supporting photovoltaics after all. They’ve gotten so much cheaper (orders of magnitude) over the last few decades that proponents suggest they’re inevitably going to get cheaper than grid electricity some time in the near future.
Recent study by connectome researchers, published in the journal Science, revealed that the brain’s neurons are not the haphazard tangle that some had thought, but are arranged in a tidy grid that resembles a city street map.
And if you have ever wondered what makes you, you, thensome of the world’s top neuroscientists might say: “You are your connectome.”
The connectome refers to the exquisitely interconnected network of neurons (nerve cells) in your brain. Like the genome, the microbiome, and other exciting “ome” fields, the effort to map the connectome and decipher the electrical signals that zap through it to generate your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors has become possible through development of powerful new tools and technologies.