A few of us have started a Decision Theory journal club where we plan on reading papers from a variety of fields that examine how decisions are made. We have people from neuroscience, economics, and cognitive science participating (so far), including people participating through Google+ hangouts!, which will hopefully make lead to some productive discussions. […]... Read more »
Brunton, B., Botvinick, M., & Brody, C. (2013) Rats and Humans Can Optimally Accumulate Evidence for Decision-Making. Science, 340(6128), 95-98. DOI: 10.1126/science.1233912
Znamenskiy, P., & Zador, A. (2013) Corticostriatal neurons in auditory cortex drive decisions during auditory discrimination. Nature, 497(7450), 482-485. DOI: 10.1038/nature12077
Scientists have found that the complex biochemical changes through RNA may have been occurred in the start of the life on early Earth.
RNA (full form: ribonucleic acid) is a nucleic acid that has the sugar ribose, is found in all living cells, and is essential for the manufacture of proteins according to the instructions carried by genes. RNA also acts instead of DNA as the genetic material in certain viruses.
RNA is thought to play an important role in the start of life on Earth more than 3 billion years ago, when environment had less oxygen and a huge amount of soluble iron, and the complex biochemical transformations were thought to be rare.
Researchers worked on the 23S ribosomal RNA and transfer RNA, two most important and plentiful types of RNA, and found their ability to catalyze electron transfer in the presence of iron and lack of oxygen.
“Our study shows that when RNA teams up with iron in an oxygen-free environment, RNA displays the powerful ability to catalyze single electron transfer, a process involved in the most sophisticated biochemistry, yet previously uncharacterized for RNA,” said Loren Williams, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Based on these findings researchers noted that RNA may have some yet-to-be-discovered abilities in the living beings on ancient Earth.
“Our findings suggest that the catalytic competence of RNA may have been greater in early Earth conditions than in present conditions, and our experiments may have revived a latent function of RNA,” added Williams, who is also director of the Ribo Evo Center.
Hsiao, C., Chou, I., Okafor, C., Bowman, J., O'Neill, E., Athavale, S., Petrov, A., Hud, N., Wartell, R., Harvey, S., & Williams, L. (2013). RNA with iron(II) as a cofactor catalyses electron transfer Nature Chemistry, 5 (6), 525-528 DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1649... Read more »
Hsiao, C., Chou, I., Okafor, C., Bowman, J., O'Neill, E., Athavale, S., Petrov, A., Hud, N., Wartell, R., Harvey, S.... (2013) RNA with iron(II) as a cofactor catalyses electron transfer. Nature Chemistry, 5(6), 525-528. DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1649
Recently we attended the Medical Library Association conference (#MLAnet13). Librarians are working so hard to wrangle information into usable forms, and to generate new connections among data types to reveal new information and leads for further studies. I ♥ librarians. In one of the sessions I attended on Medical Informatics, I heard several great talks. One [...]... Read more »
Rabinowitz, P., Scotch, M., & Conti, L. (2010) Animals as Sentinels: Using Comparative Medicine To Move Beyond the Laboratory. ILAR Journal, 51(3), 262-267. DOI: 10.1093/ilar.51.3.262
Rabinowitz, P., Gordon, Z., Holmes, R., Taylor, B., Wilcox, M., Chudnov, D., Nadkarni, P., & Dein, F. (2005) Animals as Sentinels of Human Environmental Health Hazards: An Evidence-Based Analysis. EcoHealth, 2(1), 26-37. DOI: 10.1007/s10393-004-0151-1
Rabinowitz, P., Cullen, M., & Lake, H. (1999) Wildlife as sentinels for human health hazards: a review of study designs. Journal of Environmental Medicine, 1(4), 217-223. DOI: 10.1002/jem.33
Canine cognition is a hot topic these days, using experiments and brain imaging as research tools. The trouble with brain imaging work is that it is invasive, to the extent that animals may have to be sedated or anaesthetized for the study. All that changed with the amazing work of Gregory Berns et al and the first-ever fMRI study on awake, unrestrained dogs last year. Now Miiamaaria Kujala et al in Finland have shown that it is also possible to do a non-invasive EEG with dogs.An EEG measures brain activity by placing electrodes across the scalp. These pick up oscillations in electrical activity, which can be measured for changes. One common use of EEG is in assessing epilepsy in dogs (and people). We aren’t talking about veterinary EEGs here, however, but those designed to learn something about how a healthy brain works.If animals have to be anaesthetized for an EEG to occur, it’s a problem because a drowsy brain does not function in the same way as an alert brain. Awake animals are typically restrained. For example, Hanlu Ma et al (2013) anaesthetized cats and surgically implanted metal tubes through which electrodes could be inserted. After the cats were given a couple of weeks to recover from surgery, the electrodes were used to test the cats’ responses to meows and to human voices making vowel sounds. The cat’s body was wrapped in a cotton bag and its head was immobilized while the sounds were played. The cats were trained for this (though the paper doesn't say how) and monitored for signs of distress. The results showed which parts of the brain were activated, and found no significant difference in response to meows and vowels. In this study, the cats were awake. But it is still invasive, since they had to be operated on and were restrained for several hours at a time. Could there be another way?Since dogs are easily trainable using operant conditioning, Kujala et al in Finland thought it might be possible to train dogs for EEG. Using positive reinforcement, they trained eight beagles to take part in their study. The beagles were purpose-bred for laboratory work and live in a group kennel environment. First of all they took part in training. For the study, their heads had to be shaved, cleaned and prepped so that electrodes could be applied. They wore seven electrodes on the head, one in each ear, and a ground electrode on the back. Then they had to lie still and look at a TV screen while measurements were taken. At the same time, they also wore eye-tracking equipment. A beagle in the study. Source: PLoS OneThe experiment itself took place in twenty-minute sessions over four days for each dog, so that they did not get too tired. Of course, it took much longer to train the dogs to get used to the laboratory and the equipment in the first place, with twice-weekly training sessions over one and a half years.The dogs were shown photographs of human and dog faces, mostly the right way up but with some upside-down. They were shown a batch of photos, then had a short break in which they were rewarded with some food, then led to settle down and watch another batch. The authors point out that the experimental set-up is very similar to that used in human studies. The results showed a change in a type of electrical activity called the beta range (15-30Hz); oscillations in this band were suppressed when the dog was looking at a face, compared to the rest period. This probably reflects the activity of a part of the brain called the occipital cortex. In addition, the researchers found a suppression of activity at the 2-6Hz range. This coincided with the beginning of looking at an image, and was noticed most in the sensors at the front of the head. The authors say this may relate to eye movements as the dog looks at an image that has just appeared on the TV.There were individual differences between the dogs which is not surprising, as this is also the case for humans. The authors conclude that “the study opens the possibility to implement cognitive neuroscience studies with dogs and to examine the evolutionary background and divergence of brain function associated with cognition.”This is similar to the study by Gregory Berns et al that was published last year. They trained two dogs – Callie the rescue feist and McKenzie the agility-loving border collie – to take part in an fMRI. They began training the dogs using a mock-up of the equipment before moving on to the real version. After two months, they were able to take part in the fMRI study. Each dog had to keep absolutely still; if they moved by as little as 3mm, it would make the data useless. Source: PLoS OneThe picture shows Callie during a training session (A) and McKenzie during the study itself (B). The study found that the reward centre of the brain lit up when the dog saw a hand signal that meant a treat would soon be forthcoming. These EEG and fMRI studies are a tremendous achievement on the part of both the humans and dogs that took part. So how were the dogs trained? They did not use electric shocks or ‘corrections’ or punishment. Instead they relied on positive reinforcement. (You will have noticed ongoing positive reinforcement in the EEG study, with pauses in which the dog was given a treat before returning to the experiment).These two studies were designed to find out about the canine brain, but they also show the effectiveness of training using positive reinforcement.Some people (even some dog trainers) try to argue that positive reinforcement is not the right way to train a dog. And yet, it has been used to train dogs to take part in an EEG study and in fMRI without the need for sedation or restraint. Isn’t that amazing?! ReferencesBerns, G., Brooks, A., & Spivak, M. (2012). Functional MRI in Awake Unrestrained Dogs ... Read more »
Kujala, M., Törnqvist, H., Somppi, S., Hänninen, L., Krause, C., Vainio, O., & Kujala, J. (2013) Reactivity of Dogs' Brain Oscillations to Visual Stimuli Measured with Non-Invasive Electroencephalography. PLoS ONE, 8(5). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061818
Ma, H., Qin, L., Dong, C., Zhong, R., & Sato, Y. (2013) Comparison of Neural Responses to Cat Meows and Human Vowels in the Anterior and Posterior Auditory Field of Awake Cats. PLoS ONE, 8(1). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052942
A great deal of Twitter content has been described as "pointless babble." However, an experimental study found that Twitter usage can ward off existential anxiety, at least in extraverts. Even banal tweets might serve a deeper psychological purpose.... Read more »
Qiu L, Leung AK, Ho JH, Yeung QM, Francis KJ, & Chua PF. (2010) Understanding the psychological motives behind microblogging. Studies in health technology and informatics, 140-4. PMID: 20543286
It’s no secret that carnivorous plants are just way cool. Yet despite all the attention, there is still a lot we don’t know about them. Recent studies have expanded the view we have of these plants so that we now recognize more and more of them – like tomatoes and potatoes. Yes, our vegetables are insectivores!
New research has show that pitcher plants possess anti-microbial peptides in their pitchers, that some sundews can catapult insects into their traps in just a few milliseconds, and that underwater carnivorous plants use a vacuum-packed trap door to suck prey into a trap. Or how about that pitcher plant that hopes a tree shrew will use it for a toilet?!
... Read more »
Poppinga, S., Hartmeyer, S., Seidel, R., Masselter, T., Hartmeyer, I., & Speck, T. (2012) Catapulting Tentacles in a Sticky Carnivorous Plant. PLoS ONE, 7(9). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045735
Buch, F., Rott, M., Rottloff, S., Paetz, C., Hilke, I., Raessler, M., & Mithofer, A. (2012) Secreted pitfall-trap fluid of carnivorous Nepenthes plants is unsuitable for microbial growth. Annals of Botany, 111(3), 375-383. DOI: 10.1093/aob/mcs287
Schulze, W., Sanggaard, K., Kreuzer, I., Knudsen, A., Bemm, F., Thogersen, I., Brautigam, A., Thomsen, L., Schliesky, S., Dyrlund, T.... (2012) The Protein Composition of the Digestive Fluid from the Venus Flytrap Sheds Light on Prey Digestion Mechanisms. Molecular , 11(11), 1306-1319. DOI: 10.1074/mcp.M112.021006
When animals live caves full time, their descendents often lose their eyes. It has happened over and over and over and over again, in all different kinds of animals. But how this happens is not obvious. Stephen Jay Gould wrote that some people would use cave fish as an argument that “Lamarck must have been on to something” with his idea that acquired characteristics can be inherited. Well, no, that’s not that case, but it is a good example of how tricky thinking about losses can be.
The latest paper to try to sort out eye loss uses small amphipod crustaceans (Gammarus minus). An advantage of working with this particular species is that some populations live out in the sunshine with us, but several populations have gone down in the underground. In this case, Carlini and colleagues have three separate populations that went into caves, and they have their closest relatives, which are not cave dwellers. Each pair of populations acts as a natural experiment.
The eyes do change with the habita, as expected. The amphipods that live “above” in springs have eyes with about 40 facets (ommatidia), while the cave dwellers’eyes have about 5 ommatidia.
Using genetic tests, the team found that the genes for making visual pigments, the opsins, were still intact. They had not turned into non-working genes (“pseudogenes”). The genes for the opsins were extremely similar, and in no way as different as the eyes of these little guys were.
What they did find was that the expression of these genes was dialed way down compared to their surface dwelling relatives:
Carlini and colleagues note that this could be related to the overall reduction of the eye, but they attempted to control for this by scaling expression to the size of the eyes.
Carlini and colleagues suggest that the opsin genes are under some sort of pressure to stay “intact” in this species (contrary to suggestion here that there is an advantage to blindness in caves). But the team doesn’t have a suggestion for what the opsin genes might be needed for, although they suggest it might be a non-visual function.
This doesn’t solve the matter of how the animals are reducing the amount of opsins they make. Presumably there is some mutation in a regulatory gene, perhaps even a gene one specific to the visual system.
They should keep an eye out for that.
Carlini DB, Satish S, Fong DW. 2013. Parallel reduction in expression, but no loss of functional constraint, in two opsin paralogs within cave populations of Gammarus minus (Crustacea: Amphipoda). BMC Evolutionary Biology 13(1): 89. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-13-89
“What big eyes you have!”
Turning light and going blind: A tale of caves and genes
Once more into the cave
Better off blind
Picture from here.... Read more »
Carlini David B, Satish Suma, & Fong Daniel W. (2013) Parallel reduction in expression, but no loss of functional constraint, in two opsin paralogs within cave populations of Gammarus minus (Crustacea: Amphipoda). BMC Evolutionary Biology, 13(1), 89. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-13-89
Individuals who learn two languages at an early age seem to switch back and forth between separate “sound systems” for each language, according to new research conducted at the University of Arizona.... Read more »
Anna Mikulak. (2013) Study Shows How Bilinguals Switch Between Languages. Association for Psychological Science. info:/
If you’ve seen March of the Penguins, you probably understand the question. Many penguins live a shitty life, walking miles and miles without any food and spending months apart from their families. This would be over with if they just flew from one place to the other. So why did they stop doing that?... Read more »
Elliott, K., Ricklefs, R., Gaston, A., Hatch, S., Speakman, J., & Davoren, G. (2013) High flight costs, but low dive costs, in auks support the biomechanical hypothesis for flightlessness in penguins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1304838110
Shuki. Soukias. Raheem. Samir. Jamal. Lakisha. Atholl. Tyronne. Magestic. Did you know that something as simple as a first name makes the difference between whether you even get the interview? Last weekend we were doing a focus group and one of the mock jurors had a very unique first name. One of a kind. She [...]
Is there a relationship between age and ethnic prejudice?
Attractiveness and being fired for poor performance
Everyday racism: A comparison of African American and Asian American Women
... Read more »
Cotton, J., O'Neill, B., & Griffin, A. (2008) The “name game”: affective and hiring reactions to first names. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23(1), 18-39. DOI: 10.1108/02683940810849648
Scientists must ensure that they take the lead in the ethical debate surrounding the therapeutic use of stem cells derived from human clones.... Read more »
Mr. Lonely 1Does Smoking Pot Offer Relief to the Lonely? A new paper by the original Tylenol and social pain researchers claims that it does (Deckman et al., 2013). Let's take a closer look.Comfortably Numb: Marijuana Use Reduces Social Pain, Research FindsMarijuana use buffers people from experiencing social pain, according to research published online on May 14 in Social Psychological and Personality Science."Prior work has shown that the analgesic acetaminophen, which acts indirectly through CB1 receptors, reduces the pain of social exclusion," Timothy Deckman of the University of Kentucky and his colleagues wrote in the study. "The current research provides the first evidence that marijuana also dampens the negative emotional consequences of social exclusion on negative emotional outcomes."You could be forgiven if you thought, as I initially did, that the University of Kentucky IRB must hold a liberal view on the administration of controlled substances to undergrads participating in psychology experiments. But that's not what happened here... the data are entirely correlational, based on self-report, and largely problematic (in my view).Marijuana Lowers Self-Worth and Worsens Mental Health in Those Who Are Not LonelyThat's my interpretation of the article, which is SO clunky compared to the fun and breezy query, Can Marijuana Reduce Social Pain? 2The paper begins with the premise that "Social and physical pain share common overlap at linguistic, behavioral, and neural levels" (Deckman et al., 2013). So let's give a pain reliever to reduce the sting of rejection! A critique of the original work asked why the authors chose Tylenol, as opposed to an NSAID like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. In the current study they tried to develop a mechanistic account of why acetaminophen might reduce social pain:Prior research has shown that acetaminophen—an analgesic medication that acts indirectly through cannabinoid 1 receptors—reduces the social pain associated with exclusion. Yet, no work has examined if other drugs that act on similar receptors, such as marijuana, also reduce social pain.The problem is that acetaminophen's mechanism of action is surprisingly unclear (Toussaint et al., 2010). One prominent hypothesis claims that Tylenol might exert its analgesic effects through descending serotonergic pathways at the level of the spinal cord. In fact, the paper that Deckman et al. cited in favor of cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors describes a very complex pathway that includes indirect involvement of CB1, with actual pain suppression occurring in the spinal cord. 3An even more basic question: if acetaminophen acts through CB1 receptors, then why isn't it a potential drug of abuse, or known by experienced pharmanauts for its psychoactive properties? The drug experience vault Erowid says:Acetaminophen is a non-salicylate analgesic and antipyretic (pain killer and fever reducer). It is a common over-the-counter pain medication found in hundreds of products around the world. At higher doses it is known to cause liver-damage and has a low therapeutic index (ratio of effective dose to toxic dose), making it dangerous when included in recreationally used pharmaceuticals [e.g., Tylenol with codeine]. It is not known to be psychoactive.On the other hand, we all know that cannabis is psychoactive. The design of the cannabis study included cross-sectional national survey data, a two year longitudinal survey of 400 high school students, and a Mechanical Turk-implemented version of cyberball, an online game to simulate social exclusion. In all cases, participants reported their marijuana use, and this was related to the variables of interest.I'll focus on the national survey data in this post, which comprised Study 1 (Marijuana Use Buffers Lonely People From Lower Self-Worth and Self-Rated Mental Health) and Study 2 (Marijuana Use Predicts Fewer Major Depressive Episodes Among the Lonely).Study 1 used data from the National Comorbidity Survey: Baseline (NCS-1), 1990-1992 (ICPSR 6693), which you can download for yourself. The survey recruited 8,098 individuals from the ages of 15 to 54 living in the U.S., and included over 4,000 variables. Only four variables were chosen for the present study: self-reported loneliness (1= often, 4 = never), marijuana use (0 = none, 1 = daily, 8 = once or twice a year), self-worth (1 = high, 4 = low), and overall mental health (1 = excellent, 5 = poor).Loneliness was used as a proxy for social pain. Contrary to what the headlines suggested, the impact of pot smoking on social pain was not directly examined. Instead, the study assessed the effects of loneliness (high, low), marijuana use (high, low) and their interaction on self-worth and mental health.Loneliness and pot smoking interacted to predict feelings of self-worth [B = 0.03, t(5609) = 2.20, p = .03]. Given the huge number of participants, this level of statistical significance is not very impressive.Fig. 1 (modified from Deckman et al., 2013). Study 1: Marijuana use moderates the relationship between loneliness and self-reported feelings of self-worth. [NOTE: items were reverse-scored for display purposes.]For lonely people, the amount of pot smoked didn't make too much of a difference in their self-worth (see red arrow above). For socially connected people, greater marijuana use resulted in lower self-worth, although it's not clear this was significant (pairwise statistical tests were not reported).I also question how the High Marijuana Use and Low Marijuana Use groups were determined, because over 5,000 participants did not smoke pot at all in the last 12 months. Does the heavy use group combine those who smoke 6 joints a year with those who smoke daily?... Read more »
It’s something you learn in high school – there are two basic approaches to cellular life – prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) and eukaryotes (the rest of us – aardvarks, amoebae, apricots, etc.). Prokaryotes have an open-plan office, with all biological …... Read more »
Santarella-Mellwig, R., Pruggnaller, S., Roos, N., Mattaj, I., & Devos, D. (2013) Three-Dimensional Reconstruction of Bacteria with a Complex Endomembrane System. PLoS Biology, 11(5). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001565
In a recent research conducted by two scientists from Brock University in Canada, the authors have proposed and tested several mediation models. With such models they have proven that lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups.... Read more »
Hodson, G., & Busseri, M. (2012) Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact. Psychological Science, 23(2), 187-195. DOI: 10.1177/0956797611421206
Take Home Message: High adherence to a neuromuscular injury prevention program like the FIFA 11 decreases the risk of injury.
Injury prevention programs typically are multifaceted warm-up programs that focus on neuromuscular recruitment. Although various programs aim to improve performance and decrease injury risk no investigation has shown a link between improved physical performance and the quality and adherence of neuromuscular injury prevention training. Therefore, Steffen and colleagues completed a cluster-randomized trial to assess the influence of player adherence and delivery method of the FIFA 11 injury prevention program (approximately 20 minutes, 15 exercises) on injury risk among females.... Read more »
Steffen K, Emery CA, Romiti M, Kang J, Bizzini M, Dvorak J, Finch CF, & Meeuwisse WH. (2013) High adherence to a neuromuscular injury prevention programme (FIFA 11 ) improves functional balance and reduces injury risk in Canadian youth female football players: a cluster randomised trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine. PMID: 23559666
“LET THERE BE LIGHT!” said the microscopist. Light plays a crucial role in microscopy and cell biology, and a recent paper describes the use of light to understand protein secretion.Light is used in microscopy in countless ways—to illuminate a sample, excite a fluorophore, and signal the localization or dynamics of a protein. Light can also be used to manipulate cellular events through the use of “caged” compounds that become active after illumination by certain wavelengths of light. This technology gives biologists the ability to spatially and temporally control cellular events in order to understand them better. Recent advances in this technology use illumination of plant photoreceptors to control protein-protein interactions, but some cellular processes such as protein secretion have been difficult to manipulate. A recent paper describes the use of the plant photoreceptor UVR8 in the first light-triggered protein secretion system developed. Chen and colleagues have shown that the recently described UVR8 can conditionally sequester proteins bound for secretion in the ER, and then upon illumination with UV light releases these proteins to the plasma membrane. In the images above, a neuron before (left) and after (right) UV illumination with this UVR8 system shows the movement of proteins known to be secreted from the soma and dendritic processes (arrowheads), where the ER is distributed, and into the Golgi (arrow), a necessary step in protein secretion.Chen, D., Gibson, E., & Kennedy, M. (2013). A light-triggered protein secretion system originally published in the Journal of Cell Biology, 201 (4), 631-640 DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201210119... Read more »
Newly discovered papers have shed light on a fascinating episode in the history of neuroscience: Weighing brain activity with the balance The story of the early Italian neuroscientist Dr Angelo Mosso and his ‘human circulation balance’ is an old one – I remember reading about it as a student, in the introductory bit of a [...]... Read more »
Sandrone S, Bacigaluppi M, Galloni MR, Cappa SF, Moro A, Catani M, Filippi M, Monti MM, Perani D, & Martino G. (2013) Weighing brain activity with the balance: Angelo Mosso's original manuscripts come to light. Brain : a journal of neurology. PMID: 23687118
There is actually no such thing as a "pain sensor" or "pain fiber" - but there is the fascinating system of nociception! An important concept in understanding pain.... Read more »
Devices for artificial photosynthesis are often called “artificial leaves”. This leaves, however, are of no use unless you can create an “artificial forest” from them. Now, scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have reported the first fully integrated nanosystem for artificial photosynthesis.... Read more »
Liu, C., Tang, J., Chen, H., Liu, B., & Yang, P. (2013) A Fully Integrated Nanosystem of Semiconductor Nanowires for Direct Solar Water Splitting. Nano Letters, 2147483647. DOI: 10.1021/nl401615t
CrossFit Woman, Depression, Female Hormones and Anti-Depressants A CrossFit woman usually take good care of herself. We do CrossFit. We lift weights. Eat well. Get lots of exercise. All theseThe post CrossFit Woman: How Hormone Replacement Therapy May Protect You From Depression. appeared first on WODMasters Stiff Competition.... Read more »
Michopoulos V, Berga SL, & Wilson ME. (2011) Estradiol and progesterone modify the effects of the serotonin reuptake transporter polymorphism on serotonergic responsivity to citalopram. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, 19(6), 401-8. PMID: 21843009
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