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  • June 2, 2015
  • 05:50 PM
  • 13 views

Prototheca are shoddy algae that eat oil, sewage, tree gunk, and people

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

The natural world tends to defy easy categorization. Take algae, for example. A seemingly encompassing definition of this group would be small, simply structured green creatures that use the sun's energy to make food. So, things like seaweed and the vibrant goo that covers lakes and ponds polluted with nutrients. But of course it's not that simple, since kelp are freakin' huge and the colour palette of algae includes red, brown, and gold.Then there's the genus Prototheca. They're spherical&........ Read more »

McMullan B, Muthiah K, Stark D, Lee L, & Marriott D. (2011) Prototheca wickerhamii mimicking yeast: A cautionary tale. Journal of clinical microbiology, 49(8), 3078-81. PMID: 21653770  

  • June 2, 2015
  • 10:55 AM
  • 18 views

Tool-Using Crows Overcome Their Lack of Pockets

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



Let's say you're clever enough to build and use tools, but your species hasn't learned how to manufacture pants. So you can't store your hard-won tools in your pocket, or in a belt or box. What to do? One species of crow is showing scientists how it answers that question—and how it changes its strategy based on how likely its tools are to go missing.

New Caledonian crows, native to islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, are renowned tool makers and users. They prey on bugs that live ........ Read more »

Klump BC, van der Wal JE, St Clair JJ, & Rutz C. (2015) Context-dependent 'safekeeping' of foraging tools in New Caledonian crows. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 282(1808). PMID: 25994674  

  • June 2, 2015
  • 04:52 AM
  • 19 views

Yokukansan and treatment-resistant schizophrenia?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I'll freely admit that I'm no expert on yokukansan (YKS), the "traditional Asian herbal medicine" that comprises Atractylodis lanceae Rhizoma, Poria, Cnidii Rhizoma, Uncariae Uncis cum Ramulus, Angelicae Radix, Bupleuri Radix and Glycyrrhizae Radix. Yokukansan, in some circles also known as TJ-54, has however cropped up on my autism research radar before as per the very preliminary findings reported by Miyaoka and colleagues [1] (open-access) a few years back suggesting that the h........ Read more »

Miyaoka T, Furuya M, Horiguchi J, Wake R, Hashioka S, Thoyama M, Murotani K, Mori N, Minabe Y, Iyo M.... (2015) Efficacy and safety of yokukansan in treatment-resistant schizophrenia: a randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 201592. PMID: 25954314  

  • June 1, 2015
  • 11:34 PM
  • 23 views

Poisons once used as medicines

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

The difference between a poison and a medicine is often not clear. Side effects are essentially ways in which a medicine can harm us but it's alright because the effects usually aren't too bad and we otherwise get healed. Antibiotics often cause an upset stomach, but they also prevent us from dying of an infected paper cut. A more extreme example is cancer drugs, which are often highly toxic but are deemed necessary in order to defeat a greater evil. Even still, there are substances for which th........ Read more »

  • June 1, 2015
  • 04:50 AM
  • 32 views

The physical maltreatment of children with autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

As dramatic as the title of this post might seem, it is taken from the title of the paper by Guiqin Duan and colleagues [1] who reported that: "CPM [child physical maltreatment] is widespread in families of children with autism in Central China and more knowledge should be provided to parents of children with autism."Given the subject matter of the Duan paper I will at this point affirm that this is a blog about science (peer-reviewed science in the most part) and my discussions o........ Read more »

  • June 1, 2015
  • 04:20 AM
  • 22 views

How to live with a killer. Part I: Watch for AT-ATs

by Humeandroid in The Art of World-Making

The idea of the “selfish gene,” made famous by Richard Dawkins nearly 40 years ago, was instantaneously controversial. It invigorated a sometimes-rancorous discussion of the focus of natural selection, with Dawkins and others arguing that the gene is the thing on which natural selection ultimately acts. The debate is ongoing and always entertaining. I think […]... Read more »

  • May 31, 2015
  • 03:05 PM
  • 46 views

A patient’s budding cortex — in a dish?

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

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…... Read more »

Paşca, A., Sloan, S., Clarke, L., Tian, Y., Makinson, C., Huber, N., Kim, C., Park, J., O'Rourke, N., Nguyen, K.... (2015) Functional cortical neurons and astrocytes from human pluripotent stem cells in 3D culture. Nature Methods. DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.3415  

  • May 31, 2015
  • 08:39 AM
  • 44 views

The Search For Reward Prediction Errors in the Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new paper examines how the brain keeps track of positive and negative outcomes: No unified reward prediction error in local field potentials from the human nucleus accumbens



The authors, London-based neuroscientists Max-Philipp Stenner and colleagues, recorded electrical local field potentials (LFP) using electrodes implanted into the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) in six patients. The patients all suffered from epilepsy and the electrodes were being implanted to treat the disease. The author... Read more »

  • May 30, 2015
  • 03:07 AM
  • 56 views

Autism and altered levels of essential fatty acids

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Brigandi et al. 2015. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 16: 10061-10076.A quote to begin this post is taken from the paper by Sarah Brigandi and colleagues [1] (open-access available here): "Our study demonstrates an alteration in the PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acids] profile and increased production of a PUFA-derived metabolite in autistic patients, supporting the hypothesis that abnormal lipid metabolism is implicated in autism."The Brigandi results were based on the analysis of blood samples for fatty ........ Read more »

Brigandi SA, Shao H, Qian SY, Shen Y, Wu BL, & Kang JX. (2015) Autistic Children Exhibit Decreased Levels of Essential Fatty Acids in Red Blood Cells. International journal of molecular sciences, 16(5), 10061-10076. PMID: 25946342  

  • May 29, 2015
  • 03:45 AM
  • 73 views

Reduced rumination and aggressive thoughts from a probiotic?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I've taken my time to come to discussing the findings from Laura Steenbergen and colleagues [1] (open-access) providing "the first evidence that the intake of probiotics may help reduce negative thoughts associated with sad mood." It's not that I didn't find such results to be really interesting and having potential for quite a few different areas of psychiatry, but rather that other blogging topics have popped up in the meantime. No mind, we're here now.Based on a growing evidence base sug........ Read more »

  • May 28, 2015
  • 11:31 AM
  • 81 views

Butterflies Have an Extra Stomach Attached to Their Vaginas

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



One thing you won't find in the story of the Very Hungry Caterpillar is the part where after transforming into a butterfly, he mates with a female who has a Very Hungry Reproductive Tract waiting to devour his sperm. She has a special digestive organ just for this purpose. It's so powerful that it could even compete with the gut that let the caterpillar, in his more innocent days, chew through those five oranges.

This sperm-hungry organ is called the bursa copulatrix. In female butterflie... Read more »

Plakke, M., Deutsch, A., Meslin, C., Clark, N., & Morehouse, N. (2015) Dynamic digestive physiology of a female reproductive organ in a polyandrous butterfly. Journal of Experimental Biology, 218(10), 1548-1555. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.118323  

  • May 28, 2015
  • 08:47 AM
  • 73 views

From Herb Garden To Medicine Cabinet: Developing A New Drug for Malaria

by Bill Sullivan in The 'Scope

A new study has identified how the herb Dichroa febrifuga treats malaria, which is helping in the design of better therapies.... Read more »

Herman JD, Pepper LR, Cortese JF, Estiu G, Galinsky K, Zuzarte-Luis V, Derbyshire ER, Ribacke U, Lukens AK, Santos SA.... (2015) The cytoplasmic prolyl-tRNA synthetase of the malaria parasite is a dual-stage target of febrifugine and its analogs. Science translational medicine, 7(288). PMID: 25995223  

  • May 28, 2015
  • 04:44 AM
  • 94 views

How The Bird Got Its Beak

by Abzhanov in the Node

Nature’s most interesting secrets can sometimes be found in our own backyards. One such secret is related to all birds, those pigeons, thrushes and sparrows that we see everyday. This familiarity means that we do not think too much of birds passing them by on our way to work or school. However, if the birds […]... Read more »

Bhullar, B., Marugán-Lobón, J., Racimo, F., Bever, G., Rowe, T., Norell, M., & Abzhanov, A. (2012) Birds have paedomorphic dinosaur skulls. Nature, 487(7406), 223-226. DOI: 10.1038/nature11146  

Alberch,P., Gould,S.J., Oster,G.F., & Wake,D.B. (1979) Size and shape in ontogeny and phylogeny. Paleobiology , 296-317. info:/

Hodges, S., & Arnold, M. (1995) Spurring Plant Diversification: Are Floral Nectar Spurs a Key Innovation?. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 262(1365), 343-348. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.1995.0215  

  • May 28, 2015
  • 03:28 AM
  • 93 views

The autisms, case reports and two 'intervention' options

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I'm looking at two papers today which I'd like to think cover the title of this post pretty well dealing with the plurality of autism - the autisms - and the idea that intervention or management-wise, there is no 'one size fits all' when it comes to the autisms.First up are the findings reported by Ziats and colleagues [1] who presented results for a child - "A 4-year-old male with autism and two episodes of neurodevelopmental regression" - who was also found to have a "mutation in the TMLHE gen........ Read more »

  • May 27, 2015
  • 08:47 PM
  • 81 views

Evolution of Darwin’s finches and their beaks revealed by genome sequencing

by Andrea Vucicevic in genome ecology evolution etc

Introduction Darwin’s finches from Galapagos and Cocos Island are classic example of young adaptive radiation, entirely intact because none of the species having become extinct as a result of human activity. They have diversified in beak sizes and shapes, feeding … Continue reading →... Read more »

Lamichhaney, S., Berglund, J., Almén, M., Maqbool, K., Grabherr, M., Martinez-Barrio, A., Promerová, M., Rubin, C., Wang, C., Zamani, N.... (2015) Evolution of Darwin’s finches and their beaks revealed by genome sequencing. Nature, 518(7539), 371-375. DOI: 10.1038/nature14181  

  • May 27, 2015
  • 03:52 PM
  • 92 views

Expanding the code of life with new ‘letters’

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

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.... Read more »

Georgiadis, M., Singh, I., Kellett, W., Hoshika, S., Benner, S., & Richards, N. (2015) Structural Basis for a Six Nucleotide Genetic Alphabet. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2147483647. DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b03482  

Zhang, L., Yang, Z., Sefah, K., Bradley, K., Hoshika, S., Kim, M., Kim, H., Zhu, G., Jiménez, E., Cansiz, S.... (2015) Evolution of Functional Six-Nucleotide DNA. Journal of the American Chemical Society. DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b02251  

  • May 27, 2015
  • 09:40 AM
  • 72 views

Video Tip of the Week: PANDA (Pathway AND Annotation) Explorer for lists of genes

by Mary in OpenHelix

This week’s Video Tip of the Week demonstrates PANDA, a tool for generating and examining annotations that are available for a list of genes, and evaluating them in the context of pathways. Two great tastes that taste great together, you know? So have a look at how PANDA can help you and your team to […]... Read more »

  • May 27, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 65 views

Hermit Houses And Fiddler Claws

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Fiddler crabs are an evolutionary marvel. Their major claw is huge, it plays a role in mate selection, but not just in the way you’d think.
Some species are right-clawed and some can have the major claw on either side, but if they lose one and grow it back, the major claw might switch sides! The new major claw isn’t as good for fighting, so he fakes being strong and tries to win without fighting.
... Read more »

Backwell, P., Matsumasa, M., Double, M., Roberts, A., Murai, M., Keogh, J., & Jennions, M. (2007) What are the consequences of being left-clawed in a predominantly right-clawed fiddler crab?. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 274(1626), 2723-2729. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2007.0666  

  • May 27, 2015
  • 03:08 AM
  • 59 views

Predicting the onset of schizophrenia?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"A lower level of inflammatory response indicated by PTX3 [pentraxin-3] might be implicated in developing schizophrenia."That was the primary conclusion reported by Natalya Weber and colleagues [1] (open-access here) who "tested preonset serum specimens from 160 US military service members who were later diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and 160 matched controls without psychiatric disorders."PTX-3 by the way, is a compound of some note when it comes to the concept of in........ Read more »

Weber NS, Larsen RA, Yolken RH, Cowan DN, Boivin MR, & Niebuhr DW. (2015) Predictors of the Onset of Schizophrenia in US Military Personnel. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 203(5), 319-24. PMID: 25919381  

  • May 26, 2015
  • 01:38 PM
  • 69 views

Babies can think before they can speak

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

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.... Read more »

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