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We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for April, 2016

Salts in the brain control our sleep-wake cycle

Brain salt

Brain salt

Insomnia, fun fact those of us who have served or are serving in the military have a much higher incidence of sleep problems. So if you are like me and have ever been prescribed something to help you sleep, you know that there are some unwanted side effects. For instance the time I lost memory of a whole day of interacting with people to the ambien I had taken the night before, not fun. Thankfully Danish researchers found that the level of salts in the brain plays a critical role in whether we are asleep or awake.

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Don’t retweet if you want to remember

oprah retweet

oprah retweet

The whole of human intelligence, right at your fingertips. Sure it might not make the layman an engineer or physicist, but if we want to learn about a particular topic the internet can give us that information. But you better hold on tight before you lose it. New research finds retweeting or otherwise sharing information creates a “cognitive overload” that interferes with learning and retaining what you’ve just seen.

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Measuring happiness on social media

Twitter

Twitter

Happiness. It’s something we all strive for, but how do we measure it — as a country? A global community? Not so surprisingly, researchers are turning to social media to answer these questions and more. In a newly published study, computer scientists used two years of Twitter data to measure users’ life satisfaction, a component of happiness.

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Addiction, it’s in your genes… maybe

cyanide and happiness - http://explosm.net/comics/

Image credit goes to: Cyanide and Happiness

Why does one person who tries cocaine get addicted, while another might use it and then leave it alone? Why do some people who kick a drug habit manage to stay clean, while others relapse? And why do some families seem more prone to addiction than others? According to a new study, the road to answering these questions may have a lot to do with specific genetic factors that vary from individual to individual.

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What scientists know — and don’t know — about sexual orientation

Love makes a family

Love makes a family

Over the last 50 years, political rights for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals have significantly broadened in some countries, while they have narrowed in others. In many parts of the world, political and popular support for LGB rights hinges on questions about the prevalence, causes, and consequences of non-heterosexual orientations.

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Finding sleep’s sweet spot

link between adequate sleep, earlier bedtimes and heart-healthy behavior.
 link between adequate sleep, earlier bedtimes and heart-healthy behavior.

Image credit goes to: University of Delaware

No one is telling you what time to go to bed with this, but researchers are making a strong case that the duration and timing of your sleep are closely associated with whether your behavior is heart-healthy. Night owls should take special note of a new study that found the early-to-bed, early-to-rise approach aligns much better with cardiovascular health.

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Sleep loss detrimental to blood vessels

Sleep deprived

Sleep deprived

We all know lack of sleep is bad for the brain, but lack of sleep has even been found to impact the activation of the immune system, inflammation, carbohydrate metabolism and the hormones that regulate appetite. Worse still, researchers in a new study have found that sleep loss also influences cholesterol metabolism.

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Bad news, fructose alters hundreds of brain genes

high sugar milkshake

high sugar milkshake

Got a sweet tooth? Maybe you even have some sugary goodness with you right now… as you are reading this. Well you may want to put that down.We know a range of diseases — from diabetes to cardiovascular disease, and from Alzheimer’s disease to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — are linked to changes to genes in the brain. Unfortunately for those who love their pop tarts, a new study  has found that hundreds of those genes can be damaged by fructose, a sugar that’s common in the Western diet, in a way that could lead to those diseases.

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Transfer of gut bacteria affects brain function and nerve fiber insulation

Brain stomach connection

Brain stomach connection

Quick hide, shut your windows and lock your doors, are you alone? No, you aren’t that’s the problem and what’s worse, you are being controlled. This isn’t a plot for the latest thriller, this is the findings of a new study and adds to growing number of studies showing that our bacteria is more of us than we realize. In fact, the study found that specific combinations of gut bacteria produce substances that affect myelin content and cause social avoidance behaviors in mice.

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Neural stem cell transplants aid traumatic brain injury recovery

Traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury

No one knows Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) quite like veterans. Unfortunately, it is a major cause of mortality and morbidity, often causing lifelong disability for those who survive. There is simply no treatment, jut care, but a new study might change that. Stem cell therapy has recently been receiving attention as a way to promote recovery for injuries to the central nervous system (CNS) which opens the door for treatment of a TBI.

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Bigger brains led to bigger bodies in our ancestors

brain sizes

brain sizes

New research suggests that humans became the large-brained, large-bodied animals we are today because of natural selection to increase brain size. The work contradicts previous models that treat brain size and body size as independent traits responding to separate evolutionary pressures. Instead, the study shows that brain size and body size are genetically linked and that selection to increase brain size will “pull along” body size.

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How the brain consolidates memory during deep sleep

little girl sleeping

little girl sleeping

Research strongly suggests that sleep, which constitutes about a third of our lives, is crucial for learning and forming long-term memories. But exactly how such memory is formed is not well understood and remains, a central question of inquiry in neuroscience. Neuroscientists say they now may have an answer to this question in a new study that provides for the first time a mechanistic explanation for how deep sleep (also called slow-wave sleep) may be promoting the consolidation of recent memories.

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Scientific evidence of sexual transmission of the Zika virus

zika virus

zika virus

Well, we know now that ZIKA causes microcephaly, at least that is the latest findings. Things don’t look so good on other ZIKA fronts either, a new study confirms that the virus can be transmitted sexually. The analyses have shown 100% genetic correlation between the form of the virus present in a man who contracted the virus in Brazil and that of a woman who had never travelled in the epidemic area, but who had sexual relations with him.

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Too much cellular ‘noise’ can affect brain development

music pregnancy

Wrong kind of noise…

Using cutting-edge imaging technology, biologists have determined that uncontrolled fluctuations (known at “noise) in the concentration of the vitamin A derivative Retinoic acid (RA) can lead to disruptions in brain organization during development. Identifying how a cell responds to a signal made by another cell, despite the level of noise present, may improve our understanding of developmental disorders.

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Are humans the new supercomputer?

supercomputer intelligence

supercomputer intelligence

As a society we have become incredibly reliant on technology, from spell check to GPS, we are slowly being replaced by computers. Need more proof, a computer can routinely beat us at chess, an AI wrote portions of a book that went on to almost win a writing contest, and if you want scary robotics enter Boston dynamics spot.  So the question is,  have we outlived our place in the world? Not quite. Welcome to the front line of research in cognitive skills, quantum computers and gaming.

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The scientific brain: How the brain repurposes itself to learn scientific concepts

learning brain

learning brain

The human brain was initially used for basic survival tasks, such as staying safe and hunting and gathering. Yet, 200,000 years later, the same human brain is able to learn abstract concepts, like momentum, energy, and gravity, which have only been formally defined in the last few centuries. New research has now uncovered how the brain is able to acquire brand new types of ideas.

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Imagery enhances memory and reduces false memories

memory palace

memory palace

Using imagery is an effective way to improve memory and decrease certain types of false memories. The study examined how creating images affected the ability to accurately recall conceptually related word lists as well as rhyming word lists. People who were instructed to create images of the list words in their head were able to recall more words than people who didn’t create images, and they didn’t recall false memories as often. False memories occur when a person recalls something that didn’t happen or remembers something inaccurately.

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A newly discovered way for cells to die

huntingtons disease

huntingtons disease

Some cells are meant to live, and some are meant to die. For example, the linker cell of C. Elegans, a favored model organism for biologists, is among those destined for termination. This cell helps determine the shape of the gonad in male worms–and then it dies, after two days, just as the worms are transitioning from larvae into adults. This programmed cell death is a normal part of the animal’s development, yet the genetic and molecular mechanisms underpinning it have not been worked out.

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Could a popular painkiller hamper our ability to notice erors?

pain relief

pain relief

Pain, it’s a pain, it always seems to find ways to pop up when you least expect it, enter non-aspirin! Better known as acetaminophen, it has been known for centuries that is an effective painkiller. Since it is over the counter most people don’t give it a second thought, but according to a new study, it could also be impeding error-detection in the brain.

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Celiac disease: ‘Junk’ DNA not quite junk

celiac disease

celiac disease

Despite the fad to go ‘gluten free,’ the only people who actually suffer from consumption of gluten are those with coeliac disease — so if you don’t have the disease and like to limit yourself to gluten-free foods, you are missing out, and no gluten intolerance is not a real thing. The problem comes from the immune system and is manifested as intolerance to gluten — tasty proteins present in wheat, rye, and barley that help give baked goods their fluff. The intolerance leads to an inflammatory reaction in the small intestine that hampers the absorption of nutrients.

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Manufacturing human tissue from textiles

Tissue engineering

Tissue engineering

Until we can figure out our lack of regenerating our bodies, or can convince more people to donate organs, we are at mercy of either luck or technology. Bio 3-D printing offers hope that we can print personalized organs as need and rejection free. But the technology relies almost solely with tissue engineers, there job is to find processes using  novel bio-materials seeded with stem cells to grow and replace missing tissues.

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Uncovering the genetic elements that drive regeneration

deadpool tiny hand
deadpool tiny hand

It’s still growing, but it’s already bigger than Trumps….

Lose a hand or a leg? It will grow back… oh wait, it won’t, but why not? Trace our evolution — long before the shedding of gills or the development of opposable thumbs — and you will likely find a common ancestor with the amazing ability to regenerate lost body parts. There is theoretically no reason why we shouldn’t be able to regenerate, not quite like in the movie Deadpool, but come on, would you really complain at that point?

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Suicidal thinking and US veterans

Military sucide
Military sucide

Nearly 14 percent of Veterans reported suicidal thinking at one or both phases of a two-year VA study.
Image credit goes to: Michael Escalante

Something very personal about me, the thought of suicide is never too far behind. It is to the point that I need to qualify it to my counselor when I am asked if I have thoughts of suicide, I always do. A new study shows that I am far from alone Nearly 14 percent of military veterans reported suicidal thinking at one or both phases of a two-year Veterans Affairs (VA) study.

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Your brain has an altered response to desirable foods

Chocolate peanut butter sundae

Hungry? Well, let’s face it, that pizza looks much better than the salad. Don’t deny it salad lovers, we all know behind closed doors you look at plenty of food porn to satiate your desires. Understanding the motivations that drive us to eat is important when we talk about weight loss and how we attempt to structure diets. Now a new study shows that for overweight individuals, the brain responses differently to desirable foods., but hold that thought, because there is hope.

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Early detection of dementia in Parkinson’s disease might be key to treatment

old age

old age

If Parkinson’s disease wasn’t bad enough for families to have to learn to deal with, about 80% of patients also develop dementia. That’s the problem with the brain; while it has the amazing ability to adapt to just about anything, it can’t fix everything. There are no particularly good solutions to Parkinson’s or dementia, however, early detection of dementia is key to keeping it at bay and a new study may have a way to do just that.

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Born to run? Love of exercise may start in the womb

netflix cat

netflix cat

If you see me on the street and I am running, there is a good chance you should be running as well, because something dangerous is coming. I don’t run, I hate to run, I loathe running, did I mention I don’t like to run? Maybe it’s all the running I did in the military, or if a new study is correct, it may have to do with my mother. Which is good, because now I can blame someone else for my hatred of running.

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Stopping organ rejection: An end to the medication

organ transplant medicaitons

organ transplant medicaitons

If you’re a transplant recipient you know that transplant organs are a veritable ticking time bomb waiting to be rejected by your well-meaning (but stupid) body. Not only can you do everything right and still have the organs rejected, you have to take a steady stream of expensive pills to inhibit the immune system and stop the body from launching its attack. Don’t throw your pill organizers away just yet, but soon.

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