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We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for March, 2016

Limitless: How long-term memories are erased and how to stop it

limitless remembering everything

limitless remembering everything

Currently, neuroscientists think our brain has about enough storage space to hold the entire internet. That’s a lot of space, about a petabyte in fact — if we are to believe this estimate. So, what did you read in the news this day 5 years ago? Don’t worry, I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning and my long-term memory doesn’t fair much better. However, vital information about how the brain erases long-term memories has been uncovered by researchers.

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What is a good death?

life and death quote

life and death quote

Food for the worms, a dirt nap, kicking the bucket, maybe there are so many euphemisms for death because it is still a taboo in certain cultures. Not so fun fact, my Uncle committed suicide some years back. I’m not going to go into details, but because suicide is looked down on, was his death still considered a “good death”? Trying to qualitatively and quantitatively define a good death, researchers have published a new paper offering help in defining the idea of a good death and have ultimately identified 11 core themes associated with dying well.

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Carb-loading and your heart, you may want to put the pasta down…

carb loading cat

carb loading cat

So if you are one of the bodybuilders, powerlifters, marathon runners, or just people who like to binge-eat every now and then — no judgment all you can eat pizza day is a thing I’m told telling myself — there is some bad news. If you like to preload carbs like they are the magic bullet to your workout woes, you may want to rethink it because according to a new study, it can have an acute and detrimental effect on heart function.

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Spoiler alert: Water bears do not have extensive foreign DNA

apocalypse champion

apocalypse champion

Tardigrades, they are cute and cuddly — okay maybe not cuddly — but they have earned their nicknames, such as moss piglets or water bears. Mostly because they look like, well bears (although I don’t see a piglet personally). These guys are eight-legged microscopic animals that have long fascinated scientists for their ability to survive extremes of temperature, pressure, lack of oxygen, and even radiation exposure. Talk about a thrill seeker they can even survive in space, without a suit, where were humans when they were handing out those genes?

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Modified maggots could help human wound healing

open wounds

open wounds

When most of us think maggots, we probably don’t think anything good, but maybe we should start. In a proof-of-concept study, researchers have shown that genetically engineered green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) larvae can produce and secrete a human growth factor – a molecule that helps promote cell growth and wound healing.

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Organic nanowires destroy the competition

nanowires

nanowires

Last month, we spoke of our vision of the future of humanity here at the lab. It makes sense that humanity would one-day step away from the static, non-living computer constructs we have designed. Moving us instead towards an organic alternative, one that can be readily repaired, replaced, or changed. While we cannot pretend to know what the future may hold, a new discovery helps bolster the stance we presented.

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Mental illness, that’s a funny term isn’t it?

It's dangerous out there, take this.
It's dangerous out there, take this.

If you suffer from depression, PTSD, or anything else please visit: Take this

In today’s lexicon, the term mental illness is used pretty widely. It can be used to describe someone suffering from depression, to PTSD, to even someone suicidal. In fact, today it is sort of a catch all term for anyone who is involved in a mass shooting here in the US. We are getting off point however, why are we (myself included) labeled as mentally ill? You don’t call an amputee someone suffering from body illness, nor would you call someone with cancer “cellularly ill”.

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Study finds vast diversity among bacteriophages

bacteriophage

bacteriophage

Viruses that infect bacteria are among the most abundant life forms on Earth. Indeed, our oceans, soils and potentially even our bodies would be overrun with bacteria were it not for bacteria-eating viruses, called bacteriophages, that keep the microbial balance of ecological niches in check. Now, a new study suggests that bacteriophages made of RNA — a close chemical cousin of DNA — likely play a much larger role in shaping the bacterial makeup of worldwide habitats than previously recognized.

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Road rage and toxoplasmosis: Return of the parasite

road rage

road rage

It was a clear case of a false alarm, toxoplasmosis, a parasite that infects mice and cats was thought to have an effect on humans. However, after a thorough review of the data it was off the hook, or so we thought.  Individuals with a psychiatric disorder involving recurrent bouts of extreme, impulsive anger–road rage, for example–are more than twice as likely to have been exposed to a common parasite than healthy individuals with no psychiatric diagnosis.

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Ancient viruses lurk in our DNA

ancient viral DNA

ancient viral DNA

Think your DNA is all human? Think again. And a new discovery suggests it’s even less human than scientists previously thought. Nineteen new pieces of non-human DNA — left by viruses that first infected our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago — have just been found, lurking between our own genes.

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Sleep suppresses brain rebalancing

sleeping

sleeping

Why humans and other animals sleep is one of the remaining deep mysteries of physiology. One prominent theory in neuroscience is that sleep is when the brain replays memories “offline” to better encode them (“memory consolidation“). A prominent and competing theory is that sleep is important for rebalancing activity in brain networks that have been perturbed during learning while awake.

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A link between nightmares and suicidal behavior

Nightmare bed
Nightmare bed

Image credit goes to: Joshua Hoffine

A new study is the first to report that the relationship between nightmares and suicidal behaviors is partially mediated by a multi-step pathway via defeat, entrapment, and hopelessness. Results show that suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts were present in 62 percent of participants who experienced nightmares and only 20 percent of those without nightmares.

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Forgetting, to learn

rememberable

rememberable

They say that once you’ve learned to ride a bicycle, you never forget how to do it. Unfortunately for students who hope this applies to studying, they might not like new research suggesting that while learning, the brain is actively trying to forget. While this may at first blush seem like a bad thing, it actually may be useful for those suffering from PTSD.

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Using precision medicine to define the genetics of autoimmune disease

Genetics based medicine

Genetics based medicine

Demonstrating the potential of precision medicine, an international study used next-generation DNA sequencing technology to identify more than 1,000 gene variants that affect susceptibility to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Precision medicine is an emerging field that aims to deliver highly personalized health care by understanding how individual differences in genetics, environment, and lifestyle impact health and disease.

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Preventing Alzheimer’s, with an implant

alzheimer's disease

alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer’s has been a losing battle, sure we can fight back with drugs, but that still just prolongs the inevitable. With that said we can all hope this research pans out, to something meaningful. In a cutting-edge treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, EPFL scientists have developed an implantable capsule that can turn the patient’s immune system against the disease. Even better, the implant is subdural, not intracranial.

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Viruses ‘piggyback’ on hosts success

bacteriophages

bacteriophages

In the microscopic life that thrives around coral reefs, researchers have discovered an interplay between viruses and microbes that defies conventional wisdom. As the density of microbes rises in an ecosystem, the number of viruses infecting those microbes rises with it. It has generally been assumed that this growing population of viruses, in turn, kills more and more microbes, keeping the microbial population in check. It’s a model known as “kill-the-winner” — the winners being the blooming microbial cells and the killers being the viruses (mostly bacteria-killing viruses known as bacteriophages) that infect them.

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Where aging memories get stored in the brain

aging memories

aging memories

Think back to when you were a child. Now instead, try to think of something that happened just a few minutes ago; would you believe that you are using different portions of the brain? When we remember events which occurred recently, the hippocampus is activated. This area in the temporal lobe of the brain is a hub for learning and memory. But what happens, if we try to remember things that took place years or decades ago?

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Decrypting a collagen’s role in schizophrenia

Decrypting a collagen's role in schizophrenia

Decrypting a collagen's role in schizophrenia

What would be worse than having bad joints? How about schizophrenia and bad joints? To be fair that isn’t what is suggested, but they may, in fact, be linked.  A small peptide generated from a collagen protein may protect the brain from schizophrenia by promoting the formation of neuronal synapses and study may lead to new approaches to treating the mental disorder.

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New learning procedure for neural networks

neural network

neural network

Rustling leaves, a creaking branch: To a mouse, these sensory impressions may, at first, seem harmless — but not if a cat suddenly bursts out of the bush. If so, they were clues of impending life-threatening danger. Researcher Robert Gütig has now found how the brain can link sensory perceptions to events occurring after a delay.

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People with anxiety show fundamental differences in perception

anxiety disorder

anxiety disorder

People suffering from anxiety perceive the world in a fundamentally different way than others, according to a new study. The research may help explain why certain people are more prone to anxiety. The study shows that people diagnosed with anxiety are less able to distinguish between a neutral, “safe” stimulus (in this case, the sound of a tone) and one that had earlier been associated with gaining or losing money.

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Finding the circuit for experience-informed decision-making

decision making

decision making

How is the brain able to use past experiences to guide decision-making? A few years ago, researchers discovered in rats that awake mental replay of past experiences is critical for learning and making informed choices. Now, the team has discovered key secrets of the underlying brain circuitry — including a unique system that encodes location during inactive periods.

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Alzheimer’s on and now Alzheimer’s off?

labyrinth of the mind

labyrinth of the mind

Alzheimer’s disease, is anything more frustrating than seeing someone — who otherwise looks healthy — start to forget who you are? Worse than that, we don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease, or how to stop it. Well actually that might be changing. Don’t get too excited, because we’ve had false starts before, but an international group of scientists have succeeded in sorting out the mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease development and possibly distinguished its key trigger.

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Want a younger brain? Stay in school — and take the stairs

aging brain

aging brain

Taking the stairs is normally associated with keeping your body strong and healthy. But new research shows that it improves your brain’s health too — and that education also has a positive effect. Researchers found that the more flights of stairs a person climbs, and the more years of school a person completes, the “younger” their brain physically appears.

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Frankenstein’s E. Coli: How an artificial protein rescues dying cells

it's alive!

it's alive!

It’s alive, ALIVE! No really and it could one day have big implications for you and me. So it is not quite Frankenstein’s monster… yet. However, a new study has revealed how a synthetic protein revives E. coli cells that lack a life-sustaining gene, offering insight into how life can adapt to survive and potentially be reinvented.

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Preemies’ gut bacteria reveal vast scope of antibiotic resistance

premature baby

premature baby

Yesterday we blogged about the emergent and increasing antibiotic resistance problem, which was good — or bad timing — depending on how you look at it. A new study of gut bacteria in premature infants reveals the vast scope of the problem of antibiotic resistance and gives new insight into the extreme vulnerability of these young patients, according to researchers.

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Antibiotic resistance, evolution, and our future

Human genetic engineering

Human genetic engineering

Without the discovery of antibiotics we could not — and most certainly would not — be living in the world we do today. It was a discovery that would save countless lives, while simultaneously compromising our future. From the use (and unfortunate misuse)  of antibiotics, we gave rise to more virulent bacteria that have become resistant to more and more types of antibiotics.

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Testing the evolution of resistance by experiment

antibiotic resistance in bacteria

antibiotic resistance in bacteria

When the first antibiotics became available 70 years ago, they were often described as miracles of human ingenuity, rather like plastics or bright permanent dyes, which were discovered at roughly the same time. Packaged in vials or pills, they seemed like our inventions rather a chance gift of evolution and one that evolution might also rescind.

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Brain connectivity reveals your hidden motivations

neurons firing in the brain
neurons firing in the brain

Animation from Glass Brain

To understand human behaviors, it is crucial to understand the motives behind them. So far, there was no direct way to identify motives. Simply observing behavior or eliciting explanations from individuals for their actions will not give reliable results as motives are considered to be private and people can be unwilling to unveil – or even be unaware of – their own motives.

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Zika virus infects human neural stem cells, but…

zika virus

The Zika virus infects a type of neural stem cell that gives rise to the brain’s cerebral cortex, Johns Hopkins and Florida State researchers have found. On laboratory dishes, these stem cells were found to be havens for viral reproduction, resulting in cell death and/or disruption of cell growth. While this study does not prove the direct link between Zika and microcephaly, it does pinpoint where the virus may be doing the most damage.

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Your brain and the ‘neuronal big bang’

Human brain

Human brain

Our brain is home to different types of neurons, each with their own genetic signature that defines their function. These neurons are derived from progenitor cells, which are specialized stem cells that have the ability to divide to give rise to neurons. Neuroscientists have shed light on the mechanisms that allow progenitors to generate neurons.

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Some bacterial CRISPRs can snip RNA, too

gene editing

gene editing

You’ve probably seen news stories about the highly lauded, much-discussed genome editing system CRISPR/Cas9. But did you know the system was actually derived from bacteria, which use it to fight off foreign invaders such as viruses? It allows many bacteria to snip and store segments of DNA from an invading virus, which they can then use to “remember” and destroy DNA from similar invaders if they are encountered again. Recent work from a team of researchers including Carnegie’s Devaki Bhaya demonstrates that some bacteria also use the CRISPR/Cas system to snip and recognize segments of RNA, not just DNA.

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Brain connectivity disruptions may explain cognitive deficits in people with brain injury

brain damage art

brain damage art

Cognitive impairment following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is common, often adversely affecting quality of life for those 1.7 million Americans who experience a TBI each year. Researchers have identified complex brain connectivity patterns in individuals with chronic phases of traumatic brain injury which may explain long term higher order cognitive function deficits.

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