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We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for May, 2015

A patient’s budding cortex — in a dish?

cortex in a dish
cortex in a dish

Neurons and supporting cells in the spheroids form layers and organize themselves according to the architecture of the developing human brain and network with each other.
Image credit goes to: Sergiu Pasca, M.D., Stanford University

A patient tormented by suicidal thoughts gives his psychiatrist a few strands of his hair. She derives stem cells from them to grow budding brain tissue harboring the secrets of his unique illness in a petri dish. She uses the information to genetically engineer a personalized treatment to correct his brain circuit functioning. Just Sci-fi? Yes, but…

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How racial stereotypes impact the way we communicate

racist stereotype

Racial stereotypes and expectations can impact the way we communicate and understand others, according to new research. The new study highlights how non-verbal “social cues” – such as photographs of Chinese Canadians – can affect how we comprehend speech.

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Health factors influence ex-prisoners’ chances of returning to jail

prison overcrowding

Ex-prisoners with a history of risky drug use, mental illness or poverty are more likely to end up back behind bars. Those who are obese, are chronically ill or have attempted suicide are more likely to remain in the community. These are some of the findings from an exploratory study into health-related factors that could be used to predict whether a person released from prison will end up in custody again.

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The new normal? Addressing gun violence in America

don't shoot I want to grow up

Mass shootings have a significant impact on our individual and collective psyche, especially when they happen at schools. Despite the fact that children die every day from gun violence, school shootings upset us in ways that are difficult to comprehend. In our minds, schools serve as safe havens for children. When that image is shattered, the unpredictability and randomness of such heinous acts leave us wondering if anywhere is safe anymore. Thus, the shock and horror expressed following these events is not surprising.

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Restricting firearms access for people who misuse alcohol may prevent violence

gun control

Restricting access to firearms for people who misuse alcohol could prevent firearm violence, but policies that more clearly define alcohol misuse should be developed to facilitate enforcement, according to a review of existing research and public policies by the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.

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Expanding the code of life with new ‘letters’

Science has added to the genetic alphabet

Not anymore…

The DNA encoding all life on Earth is made of four building blocks called nucleotides, commonly known as “letters,” that line up in pairs and twist into a double helix. Now, two groups of scientists are reporting for the first time that two new nucleotides can do the same thing — raising the possibility that entirely new proteins could be created for medical uses.

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A Lunatic Laboratories project “semi” reveal

the big unveil

This isn’t a science blog.

Okay, this isn’t just a science blog.

In the just shy of a year that the official Lunatic Laboratories website was set up we have yet to give you, the readers, an update. Some of you are following for the science, some for the conversation (which I must say is top notch thanks to all of you who take the time to leave us here a note), and some of you — we are not sure how many — are here specifically for new, exciting, and innovative… well inventions.

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Babies can think before they can speak

Baby crawling and playing with toys

Two pennies can be considered the same — both are pennies, just as two elephants can be considered the same, as both are elephants. Despite the vast difference between pennies and elephants, we easily notice the common relation of sameness that holds for both pairs. Analogical ability — the ability to see common relations between objects, events or ideas — is a key skill that underlies human intelligence and differentiates humans from other apes.

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Researchers find essential fats for brain growth

researchers find essential fat for brain growth

The difference between a brain with a normal Mfsd2a gene and a brain with a mutated Mfsd2a gene.
Image credit goes to: Guemez-Gamboa et al./ Nature Genetics

New research has proved that certain special fats found in blood are essential for human brain growth and function. The two studies showed that mutations in the protein Mfsd2a causes impaired brain development in humans. Mfsd2a is the transporter in the brain for a special type of fat called lysophosphatidylcholines (LPCs) — composed of essential fatty acids like omega-3. These studies show, for the first time, the crucial role of these fats in human brain growth and function.

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This is your brain, on video games

Kids playing video games

A new study shows that while video game players (VGPs) exhibit more efficient visual attention abilities, they are also much more likely to use navigation strategies that rely on the brain’s reward system (the caudate nucleus) and not the brain’s spatial memory system (the hippocampus). Past research has shown that people who use caudate nucleus-dependent navigation strategies have decreased grey matter and lower functional brain activity in the hippocampus.

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Omega-3 as an intervention for childhood behavioral problems

bad children

We don’t usually think of a child’s behavior as a diet issue, but if new findings hold true, then that might be the very case. In a new study, researchers suggest that omega-3, a fatty acid commonly found in fish oil, may have long-term neurodevelopmental effects that ultimately reduce antisocial and aggressive behavior problems in children.

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Air pollution is causing your baby problems, but breastfeeding can help

New mother holding her baby

Aitana Lertxundi has conducted her research work within the framework of the INma (Childhood and Environment) programme led by Jesús Ibarluzea of the Department of Health of the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community (region). The aim is to assess how exposure to environmental pollution during pregnancy affects health and also to examine the role of diet in physical and neurobehavioural development in infancy. The study focusses on the repercussions on motor and mental development during the first years of life caused by exposure to the PM2.5 and NO2 atmospheric pollutants.

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Are infections making you stupid?

Taking an exam

New research shows that infections can impair your cognitive ability measured on an IQ scale. The study is the largest of its kind to date, and it shows a clear correlation between infection levels and impaired cognition. Anyone can suffer from an infection, for example in their stomach, urinary tract or skin. However, a new Danish study shows that a patient’s distress does not necessarily end once the infection has been treated.

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Tiny grains of lithium dramatically improve performance of fusion plasma

tokamak fusion reactor

While fusion might still be a far off dream, a new discovery may help bring that dream closer to reality. Scientists have discovered a phenomenon that helps them to improve fusion plasmas, a finding that could quicken the development of large scale fusion energy. The scientists found that when they injected tiny grains of lithium into a plasma undergoing a particular kind of turbulence then, under the right conditions, the temperature and pressure rose dramatically.

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Suicide and skin color, or how being black is killing you

Racism, it takes many forms

The great racial divide, despite all the evidence showing that racism, hate and frankly plain stupidity is alive and well, there are people who cannot accept it. This probably will not change anything for those people, but for the first time a new study shows that while suicide rates in children younger than 12 have remained steady for the past 20 years, there are significantly higher suicide rates among black children.

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Girls suck at science, and other depressing stereotypes

The stereotype is still alive, girls suck at math and science

Image credit goes to: xkcd.com

The Netherlands had the strongest stereotypes associating science with men more than women, according to a new Northwestern University study that included data from nearly 350,000 people in 66 nations. These stereotypes are prevalent across the world — even in nations such as Argentina and Bulgaria where women are roughly half of science majors in colleges and universities and employed researchers, according to the study, the largest ever of its kind.

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Which is most valuable: Gold, cocaine or rhino horn?

These are elephants in Botswana

These are elephants in Botswana. Image credit goes to: Blaire Van Valkenburgh

Many of the world’s largest herbivores — including several species of elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and gorillas — are in danger of becoming extinct. And if current trends continue, the loss of these animals would have drastic implications not only for the species themselves, but also for other animals and the environments and ecosystems in which they live, according to a new report by an international team of scientists.

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The relationship between CEO greed and company performance

Throwing lots of money around

That gut feeling many workers, laborers and other underlings have about their CEOs is spot on, according to three recent studies which all suggest that CEO greed is bad for business.But how do you define greed? Are compassionate CEOs better for business? How do you know if the leader is doing more harm than good? And can anybody rein in the I-Me-Mine type leader anyway?

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The fingerprint drug test

fingerprints on a glass

Researchers have demonstrated a new, noninvasive test that can detect cocaine use through a simple fingerprint. For the first time, this new fingerprint method can determine whether cocaine has been ingested, rather than just touched.

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Educating the immune system: A vaccine for allergies

Allergies and allergy sufferers

With the arrival of spring, millions of people have begun their annual ritual of sneezing and wheezing due to seasonal allergies. However, a Canadian research team  is bringing them hope with a potential vaccine that nudges the immune response away from developing allergies. The findings have major clinical implications since allergies and asthma are lifelong conditions that often start in childhood and for which there is presently no cure.

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Can drinking alcohol harm the child before the mother knows she is pregnant?

chalkboard newborn

Photo credit goes to: Cute moments photography

These days pregnant “moms to be” have lots of things to worry about, from second hand smoke to the chemicals in their make-up. Well they can unfortunately add one more thing to that list, a new study finds that alcohol drunk by a mouse in early pregnancy changes the way genes function in the brains of the offspring. The early exposure was also later apparent in the brain structure of the adult offspring. The timing of the exposure corresponds to the human gestational weeks 3-6 in terms of fetal development.

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Rethinking the rebound: The unexpected effects of rejection

Break ups can be rough ... and funny

Image credit goes to: Cyanide and happiness … I think?

It’s portrayed in movies again and again – a character gets rejected by someone attractive and then falls willingly into the arms of someone perhaps less attractive. According to a new study, it’s not so simple: Rejection by an attractive man actually led women to socially distance themselves from an unattractive man, even when he offered acceptance.

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GMO beef with the heart benefits of fish, why not?

Double bacon cheeseburger

Sometimes you just want beef, but beef is high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in the omega-3 type. Conversely, different types of fish are high in omega-3, but we all know they don’t compare to that tasty burger flavor. So what’s a beef lover to do, well if you’re in China you might have some options! Chinese scientists have reared beef rich in the beneficial fatty acids associated with fish oils.

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Research shows more sex does not mean more happiness

Married couple sleeping in different beds

Countless research and self-help books claim that having more sex will lead to increased happiness, based on the common finding that those having more sex are also happier. However, there are many reasons why one might observe this positive relationship between sex and happiness. Being happy in the first place, for example, might lead someone to have more sex (what researchers call ‘reverse causality’), or being healthy might result in being both happier and having more sex.

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What would Optimus Prime do? A business leadership model

Transformers gif haters gonna hate

According to new research, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the impact of Saturday morning cartoons. The researchers examine how fantasy-based stories, in particular the popular 1980s cartoon series The Transformers, can shape children’s perceptions of what behaviors are associated with effective leadership. It also could provide a basis for workplace-training programs.

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(More) bad news for Vets: PTSD linked to accelerated aging

Veterans suffer from PTSD

Vietnam Vet: A Hero’s Welcome
Image credit goes to: Mike Cherim via Getty Images

Before PTSD had a name there was shellshock. It was mysterious and much like today, not everyone showed symptoms so — for the most part — it was written off. In recent years however, public health concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have risen significantly, driven in part by affected military veterans returning home. While this has opened the door for better care for people suffering from PTSD, it has also lead to some startling revelations about the extent of damage. New research that was just released, sad to say, doesn’t bode well for people with PTSD either.

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Nanoparticles in products can significantly alter normal gut microbiome

Nanoparticles in cosmetics

Nanoparticles, it’s the new buzzword that cosmetics and even consumer “anti-aging” products use to promote their brand. As the word suggests, nanoparticles are small and it shouldn’t be too surprising that these nanoparticles are causing problems in nature because of their prevalence. In that light, it might not be a surprise that there could also be some serious health issues associated with these nanoparticles.

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Researchers find new clues in treating chronic pain

Treating chronic pain

A chemical in the brain typically associated with cognition, movement and reward-motivation behavior — among others — may also play a role in promoting chronic pain, according to new research. The chemical, dopamine, sets the stage for many important brain functions, but the mechanisms that cause it to contribute to chronic pain are less well understood.

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Mind reading: Researchers observe moment a mind is changed

mind reading

Researchers studying how the brain makes decisions have, for the first time, recorded the moment-by-moment fluctuations in brain signals that occur when a monkey making free choices has a change of mind. The findings result from experiments led by electrical engineering Professor Krishna Shenoy, whose Stanford lab focuses on movement control and neural prostheses – such as artificial arms – controlled by the user’s brain.

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Fracked, shale-drilling additives in drinking-water taps near leak

fracking additives in drinking water

Shale oil has helped the US see lower gas prices and even an opportunity to start exporting. However, it isn’t as great as it might sound, hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — has been scrutinized by environmentalists since it’s inception. As it turns out, for good reason, substances commonly used for drilling or extracting Marcellus shale gas foamed from the drinking water taps of three Pennsylvania homes near a reported well-pad leak, according to new analysis from a team of scientists.

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Procrastinate much? Science offers a way to stop

procrastination Cyanide and happiness

See more comics at explosm.net

Procrastination is the thief of time that derails New Year’s resolutions and delays saving for college or retirement, but researchers have found a way to collar it.

The trick? Think of the future as now.

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Walking an extra two minutes each hour may offset hazards of sitting too long

Sitting behind a desk all day can be tough

Eat less, workout more, these are the messages we are being sent almost on a daily basis. But how do we quantify “more” and who really should listen to that advice? Well a new study suggests that engaging in low intensity activities such as standing may not be enough to offset the health hazards of sitting for long periods of time. On the bright side, adding two minutes of walking each hour to your routine just might do the trick.

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US clinics avoiding government oversight of ‘stem cell’ treatments

The pitfalls of stem cell therapy

Clinics across the United States are advertising stem cell treatments that attempt to take advantage of what they perceive as exceptions in FDA regulations.The therapies in question are adipose-derived autologous stem cell treatments, in which fat cells are removed from a patient, broken down to separate components that purportedly contain stem cells, and are then reinjected into the same patient.

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