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    Read up on solar eclipses before this year’s big event

    Three new books chronicle the science, history and cultural significance of total solar eclipses.

    in Science News on April 30, 2017 12:00 PM.

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    Weekend reads: New calls for retraction; more on fake peer review; how long does peer review take?

    The week at Retraction Watch featured a look at how long journals take to respond to retraction requests, and news of a $10 million settlement for research misconduct allegations. Here’s what was happening elsewhere: “In view of these problems, we believe that the only reasonable course of action in this case is to retract the […]

    The post Weekend reads: New calls for retraction; more on fake peer review; how long does peer review take? appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 29, 2017 02:57 PM.

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    Fox experiment is replaying domestication in fast-forward

    How to Tame a Fox recounts a nearly 60-year experiment in Russia to domesticate silver foxes.

    in Science News on April 29, 2017 12:00 PM.

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    New Human Rights for the Age of Neuroscience?

    Do we have a human right to the privacy of our brain activity? Is "cognitive liberty" the foundation of all freedom? An interesting new paper by Swiss researchers Marcello Ienca and Roberto Andorno explores such questions: Towards new human rights in the age of neuroscience and neurotechnology Ienca and Andorno begin by noting that it has long been held that the mind is "a kind of last refuge of personal freedom and self-determination". In other words, no matter what restrictions might

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on April 29, 2017 11:55 AM.

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    Lungs enlist immune cells to fight infections in capillaries

    Immune cells in the lungs provide a rapid counterattack to bloodstream infections, a new study in mice finds.

    in Science News on April 28, 2017 07:01 PM.

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    Nerve cell miswiring linked to depression

    A gene helps nerve cell axons extend to parts of the brain to deliver serotonin, a brain chemical associated with depression.

    in Science News on April 28, 2017 05:30 PM.

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    Ocean acidification may hamper food web’s nitrogen-fixing heroes

    A new look at marine Trichodesmium microbes suggests trouble for nitrogen fixation in an acidifying ocean.

    in Science News on April 28, 2017 05:00 PM.

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    HPV vaccine as cancer prevention is a message that needs to catch on

    Vaccination against HPV is cancer prevention, but low vaccination rates suggest that message isn’t clear.

    in Science News on April 28, 2017 04:00 PM.

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    Former rising star found guilty of misconduct issues 2nd retraction

    A once-lauded researcher in the field of infectious disease — who has since been found guilty of misconduct — has retracted a second paper. Last year, the University of Dundee in Scotland investigated and ultimately concluded that Robert Ryan — whose work focused on infections that can be deadly in people with lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis […]

    The post Former rising star found guilty of misconduct issues 2nd retraction appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 28, 2017 03:40 PM.

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    $200M research misconduct case against Duke moving forward, as judge denies motion to dismiss

    A Federal U.S. court in North Carolina has denied a motion to dismiss a major lawsuit filed against Duke University and two former employees, allowing the case to go forward. Last year, the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Virginia unsealed a whistleblower lawsuit filed by another former employee at Duke against the […]

    The post $200M research misconduct case against Duke moving forward, as judge denies motion to dismiss appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 28, 2017 01:35 PM.

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    Key Einstein principle survives quantum test

    Particles in quantum superposition adhere to the equivalence principle in atomic test.

    in Science News on April 28, 2017 11:28 AM.

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    Our “human” destiny in the post-antibiotic era

    Flickr, cosmoflash

    New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) is a metallo-beta-lactamase enzyme, which displays the least homology with other beta-lactamase enzymes. It was first identified in Klebsiella pneumoniae isolated from a Swedish patient who had returned from India with a urinary tract infection in 2009. It has become more prevalent in the community and in hospital settings and its markers have been identified in almost all members of the enterobacteriacae family.

    Physicians are facing grave challenges in controlling infections caused by these newly evolved NDM-1 producing bacterial strains, as all available antibiotics are becoming ineffective due to the evolution of antibiotic resistant markers. As a result, the emergence of NDM-1 and its new variants are becoming a threat to public health. In fact, many cases of mortality and morbidity have been reported worldwide due to this problem of resistance against a wide range of antibiotics.

    In the current global setting of antibiotic resistance, particularly following the discovery of NDM-1 and its variants, it has become challenging for physicians to handle infections. NDM-1 producing bacteria are not killed by any beta-lactam antibiotic and even the last resort of antibiotics, carbapenems, are becoming ineffective. NDM-1 is more dangerous because it is present on the plasmid and can hence be easily transferred among the gut microbiota, leading to resistance among the entire population of gut cells.  To add to this complexity, even the ultimate measure to control such infections, the use of colistin/polymyxin, is now facing limitations, following the discovery of the mcr-1 colistin resistant gene.

    The continuous fight between human and bacteria is persistent and ever-evolving. It has global implications, not only in terms of public health, but also in terms of the tremendous economic burden due to the ineffectiveness of antibiotics against common infections. Not only are pharmaceutical companies struggling to develop new molecules as drug candidates, but within a few years of their development, bacteria are rapidly developing resistance. Currently, a few inhibitors against b-lactamases are available in the market, which may work against b-lactamase producing “bugs”, but no inhibitor has yet been successfully developed against metallo-b-lactamases, especially for NDM-1 and its variants.

    Many studies have been performed to design novel inhibitors as lead molecules in order to develop future drug candidates, but overall success has yet to be attained. Researchers are exploring a range of possible molecules as better alternatives to inhibit NDM-1 producing bacteria.  Another novel approach from the realm of material science, involves the combination of nanoparticles and nano-conjugates with drug molecules, resulting in an alternative approach classified as nano-medicine. In fact, several research groups have proposed a nano-particle induced photodynamic therapy, wherein singlet oxygen production from a photosensitizer may lead to a cascade of cytotoxic reactive oxygen species generation. This strategy has been proven to be effective against multidrug resistant bacterial strains, irrespective of type of resistant markers present, but it has not yet reached clinical trials. I presume that due to the nontoxic effect on the human cell line, this therapy can be approved and if so, it has to be brought to the awareness of physicians and clinicians for potential trials. Nevertheless, further improvements are necessary and effectiveness against systemic infections should become the next focus, since so far, only topical infections can be treated satisfactorily.

    In this current scenario of emerging trends of resistance among the bacteria, what would be the destiny of human endurance on Earth?  Besides these approaches to not only control the infection, but also to regulate the spread of these markers among the population of bacteria, “infection control” could be one of the more appealing approaches. More specifically, hospital infection control needs to be strengthened in order to streamline the proper management of infections in the hospital settings, especially within neonatal intensive care units (ICU) and other ICUs. Furthermore, it is pivotal that proper hygiene and hand wash awareness are launched in the communities.

    As a matter of fact, I firmly believe that any emerging resistance problem may have a solution if the research community works collaboratively and in a structured manner. There is no need to panic over the current situation of multidrug resistance spread, rather take it as challenge at all fronts.

    The post Our “human” destiny in the post-antibiotic era appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on April 28, 2017 10:16 AM.

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    Experienced meditators have enhanced control over their eye movements

    Young Woman Profile Close upBy Alex Fradera

    Mindfulness meditation seems to improve the control we have over our eyes, probably because of its known beneficial effects on attentional systems in the brain. That’s according to research published recently in Consciousness and Cognition.

    Veena Kumari and her colleagues tested 29 regular Buddhist mindfulness practitioners (they meditated at least six times per week, and had been doing this for two years or more) and 30 non-meditators on a pair of gaze control tasks.

    One involved an onscreen dot jumping from a central spot to another location, and participants had to respond by instantly shifting their gaze, not to the new location, but to a point on the screen exactly opposite that location. This is a demanding task because it requires inhibitory control to suppress the reflexive urge to glance at the target’s new location. Meditators were more consistent at making these “anti-saccades”, showing fewer sudden drops in accuracy that indicate a lapse in control.

    Another task required following a dot’s smooth movement across a screen, and meditators made fewer sudden jerky eye movements (saccades) during their tracking of this target, suggesting their eyes were locked onto it more effectively.

    As this was a cross-sectional study design, we should beware inferring that meditation causes greater eye movement control. It’s also conceivable there were other relevant differences between the groups besides their levels of meditative practice. But the results do align with other research suggesting that cultivating mindfulness enhances the brain’s attentional systems.

    The research also showed that simply being “a mindful kind of person” isn’t sufficient to deliver these benefits: non-meditator scores on a trait measure of mindfulness (measured by agreement with questionnaire items like “‘I watch my feelings without getting lost in them”) weren’t associated with ability on the gaze control tasks. However, the meditators’ scores on trait mindfulness did have some ability to predict their gaze control.

    One interpretation of this last finding is that meditation alters an unmeasured variable that contributes both to attentional control and to trait-like mindfulness tendencies like being non-judgmental and non-reactive. Kumari and her colleagues speculated that this variable could relate to emotional regulation or to calming of the brain’s “Default Mode Network” – a system that is more active when we’re resting and that’s associated with mind-wandering.

    Whatever the precise mechanisms at play, the study provides yet more evidence that mindfulness meditators are on the road to more focus, rather than spacing-out.

    The mindful eye: Smooth pursuit and saccadic eye movements in meditators and non-meditators

    Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Contributing Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on April 28, 2017 08:36 AM.

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    Controversial UK research reform crosses finish line

    Snap general election triggers compromises in legislation overhauling how Britain’s science is funded.

    Nature News doi: 10.1038/nature.2017.21919

    in Nature News & Comment on April 28, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Psychedelic compound in ecstasy moves closer to approval to treat PTSD

    A promising treatment that uses MDMA could help people suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Nature News doi: 10.1038/nature.2017.21917

    in Nature News & Comment on April 28, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Golden neurons, river piracy and bright nights

    April’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature ’s photo team.

    Nature News doi: 10.1038/nature.2017.21912

    in Nature News & Comment on April 28, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Huge Arctic report ups estimates of sea-level rise

    Report prompts warnings that the polar region is 'unravelling'.

    Nature News doi: 10.1038/nature.2017.21911

    in Nature News & Comment on April 28, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Trump’s empty chairs rob science of a voice in government

    Delay in making presidential appointments harms research and the broader public.

    Nature 545 5 doi: 10.1038/545005a

    in Nature News & Comment on April 28, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Cassini’s ring dive offers first close-up of Saturn’s cloud tops

    Cassini has completed its first dive between Saturn and its rings. Along the way, it snapped stunning pics of the planet’s atmosphere.

    in Science News on April 27, 2017 09:49 PM.

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    Ancient DNA bucks tale of how the horse was tamed

    DNA from ancient horses reveals early domestication involved plenty of stallions.

    in Science News on April 27, 2017 06:00 PM.

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    Harvard teaching hospital to pay $10 million to settle research misconduct allegations

    Brigham and Women’s Hospital and its parent healthcare network have agreed to pay $10 million to the U.S. government to resolve allegations it fraudulently obtained federal funding. The case, which involves three former Harvard stem cell researchers, dates back several years. In 2014, Circulation retracted a paper by Piero Anversa, Annarosa Leri, and Jan Kajstura, […]

    The post Harvard teaching hospital to pay $10 million to settle research misconduct allegations appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 27, 2017 04:12 PM.

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    Zika hides out in body’s hard-to-reach spots

    Zika virus sticks around in the central nervous system and lymph nodes of monkeys.

    in Science News on April 27, 2017 04:00 PM.

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    Public health journal’s editorial board tells publisher they have “grave concerns” over new editor

    First, an occupational health journal appointed a new editor with industry ties without consulting the editorial board. Then, with no explanation, it withdrew a paper by the previous editor that was critical of corporate-sponsored research — again, without consulting the editorial board. At that point, they’d had enough. Yesterday, the editorial board of the International Journal […]

    The post Public health journal’s editorial board tells publisher they have “grave concerns” over new editor appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 27, 2017 01:30 PM.

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    How a mushroom gets its glow

    For the first time, biologists have pinpointed the compound that lights up in fungal bioluminescence.

    in Science News on April 27, 2017 01:00 PM.

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    Study finds 4-year-olds are considerably better than adults at remembering rhyming verse

    Child having smile in a studioBy Christian Jarrett

    Many parents will attest to their young children’s remarkable knack for remembering rhymes, often claiming that their children’s abilities exceed their own. Can this really be true? In nearly all other contexts, adult memory is known to be superior to that of children, for obvious reasons, including the immaturity of children’s brain development and their lack of sophisticated mnemonic strategies.

    A small study in Developmental Science has put pre-literate four-year-olds’ memory abilities to the test, finding that they outperformed their parents, and a comparison group of young adults, in their ability to recall a previously unfamiliar short rhyme: “The Radish-nosed King”.

    “We argue that children are better than adults at recalling verse because they exercise the skill more in order to participate in the transmission of their culture through songs and stories, poems and taunts,” the researchers said.

    Psychologists have, before now, largely neglected to study children’s verbatim memory for rhymes. They’ve been more interested in whether rhyming verse can act as a memory booster for content – that is, the meaning and story conveyed by the words – rather than the words themselves.  These studies have found that rhyme tends to be a hindrance compared with straightforward prose. This might be because kids love rhymes and so focus more on the rhyming words and sounds, at the expense of the overall meaning.

    Ildikó Király and her colleauges at Central European University recruited 13 parents and their 14 four-year-old children and asked the parents to read the 167-word Radish-nosed King poem and picture book to the children each night before bed for ten nights. The poem, previously unfamiliar to all participants, has the AABB rhyming scheme and was age-appropriate for the children.

    The parents were told that they would be tested on their memory for the poem, the children weren’t. A comparison group of 13 university students also listened to a reading of the poem each night before bed, while looking through a version of the picture book with the text removed. They too were told that their memory of the poem would tested after the final tenth night.

    On the day after the last reading of the poem, the researchers asked the parents, children and the young adults to recall as much of the poem as they could, verbatim. On average, the children remembered nearly twice as many correct words as the adults, and made far fewer errors. The researchers also tested all the participants on the story events in the poem, and here there was no difference between the groups.

    Also, there was a further detail: the researchers had inserted one extra line at the beginning or end of the poem, consisting of a list of nonsense and irrelevant (non-rhyming) words, supposedly shouted by the king when he’s angry. This was to test the participants’ memory for non-verse content, and here again the children and adults’ performance was matched, which argues against the idea that the children’s superior memory for the verse itself was due to the adults not paying attention (if so, they should have underperformed on the random word list too).

    Instead, Király and her team think that young children have a superior memory for rhyming verse because rhymes aid the oral transmission of stories and songs that form such an important part of their preliterate sub-culture.

    Digging a little deeper into their results, the researchers found that the children’s memory advantage over adults was especially in evidence for the rhyming words that appeared toward the end of each of the poem’s lines. It seems children, more than adults, are particularly attuned to the way that the constraints of a rhyme can act as a memory prompt, perhaps through their extensive practise with recalling rhymes.

    Reflecting on this last finding, Király and her colleagues said the promise of verse as an educational tool might yet be restored: “if to-be-learned material is coded verbatim in a verse, with the help of rhyme as a constraining literary device, as in the alphabet song or when, say, introducing new vocabulary for animal names, children should readily retain it, perhaps better than their teachers.”

    Preschoolers have better long-term memory for rhyming text than adults

    Image via gettyimages under licence.

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on April 27, 2017 11:48 AM.

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    The scales of the ocellated lizard are surprisingly coordinated

    The mazelike patterns of the ocellated lizard’s skin follow a set of rules from computer science.

    in Science News on April 27, 2017 10:00 AM.

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    In Taiwan, a shrinking youth population sparks competition among universities

    Taiwanese universities must demonstrate the impact of their research, recruit international faculty, and support global collaboration

    in Elsevier Connect on April 27, 2017 09:46 AM.

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    Flash card app for chemistry gamifies learning

    ReactionFlash, which drills students on 550+ named reactions, was developed in collaboration with renowned research group

    in Elsevier Connect on April 27, 2017 09:05 AM.

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    Ancient-human genomes plucked from cave dirt

    For the first time, researchers have identified DNA of human relatives without the need to find their bones, opening new window into the past.

    Nature News doi: 10.1038/nature.2017.21910

    in Nature News & Comment on April 27, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Structural basis of CRISPR–SpyCas9 inhibition by an anti-CRISPR protein

    The CRISPR-Cas9 systems are bacterial encoded adaptive immune systems to defend against phages infection, through RNA-guided endonuclease activity of Cas9 to degrade double-stranded DNA bearing a protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) and complementary sequences to the guide RNA1,2,3,4,5. Recently, two anti-CRISPR proteins AcrIIA2 and AcrIIA4 from Listeria monocytogenes (Lmo) prophages have been identified, both of which potently inhibit Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9 (SpyCas9) and LmoCas9 activity in bacteria and human cells6. However, the mechanism of AcrIIA2- or AcrIIA4-mediated Cas9 inhibition remains unknown. Here we report a crystal structure of SpyCas9 in complex with a single guide RNA (sgRNA) and AcrIIA4. Our data show that AcrIIA2 and AcrIIA4 interact with SpyCas9 in a sgRNA-dependent manner. The structure reveals that AcrIIA4 inhibits SpyCas9 activity through structurally mimicking PAM to occupy the PAM-interacting site in PI domain, thereby blocking SpyCas9 recognition of dsDNA substrates. AcrIIA4 further inhibits the endonuclease activity of SpyCas9 by shielding its RuvC active site. Structural comparison reveals that formation of the AcrIIA4 binding site of SpyCas9 is induced by sgRNA binding. Our study reveals the mechanism of SpyCas9 inhibition by AcrIIA4, laying a structural basis for developing "off-switch" tools of SpyCas9 to avoid unwanted genome edits within cells and tissues.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22377

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 27, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    First settlers reached Americas 130,000 years ago, study claims

    Mastodon site suggests first Americans arrived unexpectedly early.

    in Science News on April 26, 2017 05:00 PM.

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    A university asked for numerous retractions. Eight months later, three journals have done nothing.

    When journals learn papers are problematic, how long does it take them to act? We recently had a chance to find out as part of our continuing coverage of the case of Anil Jaiswal at the University of Maryland, who’s retracted 15 papers (including two new ones we recently identified), and has transitioned out of […]

    The post A university asked for numerous retractions. Eight months later, three journals have done nothing. appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 26, 2017 04:10 PM.

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    Dog DNA study maps breeds across the world

    Here are five findings from a massive study of dog breed genomes.

    in Science News on April 26, 2017 03:30 PM.

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    The Fake "War Between Neuroscience and Psychiatry"

    Neuroscientists have launched an assault on the American Psychiatric Association headquarters and are engaged in bitter, boardroom-to-boardroom fighting. Psychiatrists have captured the leader of a militant pro-brain faction. A ceasefire, brokered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is due to come into effect at midnight. Yes, indeed. A blog post by Daniel Barron in Scientific American yesterday claimed that there is a War between Neuroscience and Psychiatry

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on April 26, 2017 02:15 PM.

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    A troubling new way to evade plagiarism detection software. (And how to tell if it’s been used.)

    Recently, at the end of a tutorial, a student asked Ann Rogerson a question she’d never heard before: Was it okay to use paraphrasing tools to write up assignments? Rogerson, a senior lecturer in the faculty of business at the University of Wollongong in Australia, was stumped — she’d never heard of these tools before. It turns […]

    The post A troubling new way to evade plagiarism detection software. (And how to tell if it’s been used.) appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 26, 2017 01:30 PM.

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    Long naps lead to less night sleep for toddlers

    Daytime naps can steal sleep from the night, a small study of toddlers suggests.

    in Science News on April 26, 2017 11:00 AM.

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    Germany is a driver of research – let’s keep it that way

    Germany is still one of the world's most research-intensive countries, but hurdles must be overcome to maintain this position

    in Elsevier Connect on April 26, 2017 09:47 AM.

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    Heads in the sand: Most of us would prefer not to know whether bad things are going to happen

    Business men hiding head in sandBy Alex Fradera

    Humans are infovores, hungry to discover, and nothing holds more fascination than the future. Once we looked for answers through divination, now science can forecast significant events such as the onset of certain hereditary disease. But the fact that some people choose not to know – even when information is accessible, and has a bearing on their lives – has encouraged scientists, including Gerd Gigerenzer and Rocio Garcia-Retamero, to try to map out the limits of our appetite for knowledge. Their recent study in Psychological Review suggests that it is a fear of what we might discover – and wishing that we’d never known – that often drives us to deliberate ignorance.

    Gigerenzer, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and Garcia-Retamero at the University of Granada, asked nationally representative samples of participants in Germany and Spain whether they would be willing to know the date or cause of their own or their partner’s death; whether their marriage would end in divorce; as well as information relating to positive future events like knowing the gender of their unborn child, or what was in store for them under the Christmas wrapping paper.

    Whereas previous research with people at heightened risk of specific diseases found rates of deliberate ignorance of between 10 and 30 per cent, the rates here were far higher. Close to 90 per cent of participants said they’d prefer not to know about future negative events (this tended to generalise: a person who didn’t want to know about one negative outcome usually said they didn’t want to know about any others). Rates of deliberate ignorance were also high for positive events, but more variable – only a third of participants said they did not want to know their child’s gender, for instance, compared with three quarters preferring not to know the outcome of a football match they were watching. So wilful ignorance is commonplace, but what’s driving it?

    Gigerenzer and Garcia-Retamero’s suspicion is that it’s about anticipated regret: people’s fear that they may regret hearing what’s going to happen; after all, you can’t “unknow” an unwelcome fact. People susceptible to fearing regret also tend to be risk-averse: taking risks often involves seeing the repercussions of your decision, whereas ducking a gamble simply leaves you in the dark – you’ll never know what might have been.

    To test whether anticipated regret was driving deliberate ignorance, Gigerenzer and Garcia-Retamero asked their participants to complete classic measures of risk aversion, like choosing between the option of different sized cash sums now versus a 50 per cent chance to win 100 Euros, with preference for guaranteed lower sums corresponding to more risk aversion. Supporting their explanation, the researchers found that the participants who’d been keener to stay in deliberate ignorance were also more risk averse. This was true for positive events too, where the regret is related to the possibility of spoiling enjoyable suspense – such as asking to know the football results because the game seems lifeless but then discovering that it turned into a 3-2 nailbiter.

    Also consistent with the anticipated regret hypothesis was the finding that participants were more in favour of ignorance when events were imminent. So 13 per cent of under-35s said they would want to know about the date their partner would die, for example, but only 8 per cent of over-50s (similarly 54 per cent of the younger group said they’d want to know about life after death compared with 46 per cent of the older group).

    This seems surprising, because information about an imminent outcome is usually considered more relevant, and we tend to think of the young as uninterested in the future and living for today. But if it is regret that’s driving things, it makes more sense: a youngster discovering that they will die in their 60s, not the more typical 70s, is unlikely to be devastated by the bad news, but for a 60-year-old, this is too ugly a fact to risk knowing. The researchers also found that participants who bought more insurance policies – a real-world measure of risk avoidance – were also slightly more likely to choose deliberate ignorance for the future events.

    From a purely rational perspective, it seems surprising that so many people shy away from potentially useful information. Knowing the timing of your future demise could shape how you save for old age, for example, while learning whether an infinite existence lies beyond death would likely shape how you approach this life. But it seems many of us prefer ignorance, driven by the fear that we might regret discovering something better left unknown.

    Cassandra’s regret: The psychology of not wanting to know

    Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Contributing Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on April 26, 2017 09:37 AM.

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    From acclimation to adaptation: the plastic life of a Caribbean soft coral


    A recent study published in BMC Evolutionary Biology demonstrated that a transplanted soft coral from the Caribbean Sea (Antillogorgia bipinnata) changed its shape consistently as the corals living in the new environment. This type of manipulation known as “common garden experiments” allowed the authors to determine the adaptive value of that change that means life or death for a species across a depth gradient.


    This individual capacity is called phenotypic plasticity when the same genotype can exhibit several phenotypes due to environmental influences, and it is the equivalent of a person getting a tan after some holidays on a sunny beach.

    Of course, there are many different types of skin and some people can hardly get any tan whereas others can be unrecognizable. The coral studied by Iván Calixto-Botía and Juan Sánchez from the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, is the kind that changes dramatically its tree-like shape to an extent that the extremes have even been considered as different species.

    That observation was also published in BMC Evolutionary Biology by Sánchez and collaborators ten years ago. Antillogorgia bipinnata changed the size of its branches up to ten times from shallow-water down to 40 m at the Belize barrier reef but no genetic differentiation was found.


    The authors since then were wondering what was the limit of such plasticity, the adaptive canvas and if that such shape transformation can lead to an isolated population at the extremes.

    Marine scientists studying biodiversity in the tropics are always amazed by the great number of species living in the same environments. It is difficult to image a process leading to species diversification without geographic barriers.

    Scientists like Calixto and Sánchez are betting on plasticity as the first step to speciation without geographic barriers only with some type of selective effects at the extremes. They are now tracking the footsteps of selection in the genome of the species and the effects of depth on the coral reproductive synchronization.

    Both authors work at La Universidad de los Andes, Colombia

    The post From acclimation to adaptation: the plastic life of a Caribbean soft coral appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on April 26, 2017 08:46 AM.

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    BioRxiv preprint server gets cash boost from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

    Money will be used to develop open-source platform and help put articles in web-friendly formats.

    Nature News doi: 10.1038/nature.2017.21894

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Controversial study claims humans reached Americas 100,000 years earlier than thought

    Broken mastodon bones hint that Homo sapiens wasn’t the first hominin to get to the New World.

    Nature News doi: 10.1038/nature.2017.21886

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Announcement: Nature journals support the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment

    Nature 544 394 doi: 10.1038/nature.2017.21882

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Reviewers are blinkered by bibliometrics

    Science panels still rely on poor proxies to judge quality and impact. That results in risk-averse research, say Paula Stephan, Reinhilde Veugelers and Jian Wang.

    Nature 544 411 doi: 10.1038/544411a

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    The next big hit in molecule Hollywood

    Superfast imaging techniques are giving researchers their best views yet of what happens in the atomic world.

    Nature 544 408 doi: 10.1038/544408a

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    California’s $3-billion bet on stem cells faces final test

    Major investment in regenerative medicine enters its last stage — and the money might run out before treatments are ready.

    Nature 544 401 doi: 10.1038/544401a

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    March for Science, climate engineering and China's space station

    The week in science: 21–27 April 2017

    Nature 544 398 doi: 10.1038/544398a

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Liquid-biopsies success highlights power of combining basic and clinical research

    Using free-floating DNA to detect lung cancer brings benefits to researchers and patients alike.

    Nature 544 393 doi: 10.1038/544393a

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Stem cells: Subclone wars

    Pluripotent stem cells, which give rise to every cell type, can acquire cancer-causing genetic mutations when grown in vitro . This finding has implications for the use of pluripotent cells in basic research and in the clinic.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22490

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Neurodegeneration: Role of repeats in protein clearance

    Mutant proteins that contain stretches called polyQ repeats can misfold or form aggregates linked to neurodegeneration. It emerges that some polyQ-containing proteins regulate a process that degrades misfolded proteins.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22489

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Molecular biology: The long and short of a DNA-damage response

    Ultraviolet light can damage DNA, triggering a general shutdown of gene transcription — yet some genes are activated by UV light. An investigation of this counter-intuitive behaviour reveals a surprising gene-regulation mechanism.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22488

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Phylogenetic ctDNA analysis depicts early stage lung cancer evolution

    The early detection of relapse following primary surgery for non-small cell lung cancer and the characterization of emerging subclones seeding metastatic sites might offer new therapeutic approaches to limit tumor recurrence. The potential to non-invasively track tumor evolutionary dynamics in ctDNA of early-stage lung cancer is not established. Here we conduct a tumour-specific phylogenetic approach to ctDNA profiling in the first 100 TRACERx (TRAcking non-small cell lung Cancer Evolution through therapy (Rx)) study participants, including one patient co-recruited to the PEACE (Posthumous Evaluation of Advanced Cancer Environment) post-mortem study. We identify independent predictors of ctDNA release and perform tumor volume limit of detection analyses. Through blinded profiling of post-operative plasma, we observe evidence of adjuvant chemotherapy resistance and identify patients destined to experience recurrence of their lung cancer. Finally, we show that phylogenetic ctDNA profiling tracks the subclonal nature of lung cancer relapse and metastases, providing a new approach for ctDNA driven therapeutic studies

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22364

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Floor-plate-derived netrin-1 is dispensable for commissural axon guidance

    Netrin-1 is an evolutionarily conserved, secreted extracellular matrix protein involved in axon guidance at the central nervous system midline. Netrin-1 is expressed by cells localized at the central nervous system midline, such as those of the floor plate in vertebrate embryos. Growth cone turning assays and three-dimensional gel diffusion assays have shown that netrin-1 can attract commissural axons. Loss-of-function experiments further demonstrated that commissural axon extension to the midline is severely impaired in the absence of netrin-1 (refs 3, 7, 8, 9). Together, these data have long supported a model in which commissural axons are attracted by a netrin-1 gradient diffusing from the midline. Here we selectively ablate netrin-1 expression in floor-plate cells using a Ntn1 conditional knockout mouse line. We find that hindbrain and spinal cord commissural axons develop normally in the absence of floor-plate-derived netrin-1. Furthermore, we show that netrin-1 is highly expressed by cells in the ventricular zone, which can release netrin-1 at the pial surface where it binds to commissural axons. Notably, Ntn1 deletion from the ventricular zone phenocopies commissural axon guidance defects previously described in Ntn1-knockout mice. These results show that the classical view that attraction of commissural axons is mediated by a gradient of floor-plate-derived netrin-1 is inaccurate and that netrin-1 primarily acts locally by promoting growth cone adhesion.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22331

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Assembly of functionally integrated human forebrain spheroids

    The development of the nervous system involves a coordinated succession of events including the migration of GABAergic (γ-aminobutyric-acid-releasing) neurons from ventral to dorsal forebrain and their integration into cortical circuits. However, these interregional interactions have not yet been modelled with human cells. Here we generate three-dimensional spheroids from human pluripotent stem cells that resemble either the dorsal or ventral forebrain and contain cortical glutamatergic or GABAergic neurons. These subdomain-specific forebrain spheroids can be assembled in vitro to recapitulate the saltatory migration of interneurons observed in the fetal forebrain. Using this system, we find that in Timothy syndrome—a neurodevelopmental disorder that is caused by mutations in the CaV1.2 calcium channel—interneurons display abnormal migratory saltations. We also show that after migration, interneurons functionally integrate with glutamatergic neurons to form a microphysiological system. We anticipate that this approach will be useful for studying neural development and disease, and for deriving spheroids that resemble other brain regions to assemble circuits in vitro.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22330

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Human pluripotent stem cells recurrently acquire and expand dominant negative P53 mutations

    Human pluripotent stem cells (hPS cells) can self-renew indefinitely, making them an attractive source for regenerative therapies. This expansion potential has been linked with the acquisition of large copy number variants that provide mutated cells with a growth advantage in culture. The nature, extent and functional effects of other acquired genome sequence mutations in cultured hPS cells are not known. Here we sequence the protein-coding genes (exomes) of 140 independent human embryonic stem cell (hES cell) lines, including 26 lines prepared for potential clinical use. We then apply computational strategies for identifying mutations present in a subset of cells in each hES cell line. Although such mosaic mutations were generally rare, we identified five unrelated hES cell lines that carried six mutations in the TP53 gene that encodes the tumour suppressor P53. The TP53 mutations we observed are dominant negative and are the mutations most commonly seen in human cancers. We found that the TP53 mutant allelic fraction increased with passage number under standard culture conditions, suggesting that the P53 mutations confer selective advantage. We then mined published RNA sequencing data from 117 hPS cell lines, and observed another nine TP53 mutations, all resulting in coding changes in the DNA-binding domain of P53. In three lines, the allelic fraction exceeded 50%, suggesting additional selective advantage resulting from the loss of heterozygosity at the TP53 locus. As the acquisition and expansion of cancer-associated mutations in hPS cells may go unnoticed during most applications, we suggest that careful genetic characterization of hPS cells and their differentiated derivatives be carried out before clinical use.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22312

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Tumour ischaemia by interferon-γ resembles physiological blood vessel regression

    The relative contribution of the effector molecules produced by T cells to tumour rejection is unclear, but interferon-γ (IFNγ) is critical in most of the analysed models. Although IFNγ can impede tumour growth by acting directly on cancer cells, it must also act on the tumour stroma for effective rejection of large, established tumours. However, which stroma cells respond to IFNγ and by which mechanism IFNγ contributes to tumour rejection through stromal targeting have remained unknown. Here we use a model of IFNγ induction and an IFNγ–GFP fusion protein in large, vascularized tumours growing in mice that express the IFNγ receptor exclusively in defined cell types. Responsiveness to IFNγ by myeloid cells and other haematopoietic cells, including T cells or fibroblasts, was not sufficient for IFNγ-induced tumour regression, whereas responsiveness of endothelial cells to IFNγ was necessary and sufficient. Intravital microscopy revealed IFNγ-induced regression of the tumour vasculature, resulting in arrest of blood flow and subsequent collapse of tumours, similar to non-haemorrhagic necrosis in ischaemia and unlike haemorrhagic necrosis induced by tumour necrosis factor. The early events of IFNγ-induced tumour ischaemia resemble non-apoptotic blood vessel regression during development, wound healing or IFNγ-mediated, pregnancy-induced remodelling of uterine arteries. A better mechanistic understanding of how solid tumours are rejected may aid the design of more effective protocols for adoptive T-cell therapy.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22311

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Structural insight into allosteric modulation of protease-activated receptor 2

    Protease-activated receptors (PARs) are a family of G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that are irreversibly activated by proteolytic cleavage of the N terminus, which unmasks a tethered peptide ligand that binds and activates the transmembrane receptor domain, eliciting a cellular cascade in response to inflammatory signals and other stimuli. PARs are implicated in a wide range of diseases, such as cancer and inflammation. PARs have been the subject of major pharmaceutical research efforts but the discovery of small-molecule antagonists that effectively bind them has proved challenging. The only marketed drug targeting a PAR is vorapaxar, a selective antagonist of PAR1 used to prevent thrombosis. The structure of PAR1 in complex with vorapaxar has been reported previously. Despite sequence homology across the PAR isoforms, discovery of PAR2 antagonists has been less successful, although GB88 has been described as a weak antagonist. Here we report crystal structures of PAR2 in complex with two distinct antagonists and a blocking antibody. The antagonist AZ8838 binds in a fully occluded pocket near the extracellular surface. Functional and binding studies reveal that AZ8838 exhibits slow binding kinetics, which is an attractive feature for a PAR2 antagonist competing against a tethered ligand. Antagonist AZ3451 binds to a remote allosteric site outside the helical bundle. We propose that antagonist binding prevents structural rearrangements required for receptor activation and signalling. We also show that a blocking antibody antigen-binding fragment binds to the extracellular surface of PAR2, preventing access of the tethered ligand to the peptide-binding site. These structures provide a basis for the development of selective PAR2 antagonists for a range of therapeutic uses.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22309

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    The mitochondrial Na+/Ca2+ exchanger is essential for Ca2+ homeostasis and viability

    Mitochondrial calcium (mCa2+) has a central role in both metabolic regulation and cell death signalling, however its role in homeostatic function and disease is controversial. Slc8b1 encodes the mitochondrial Na+/Ca2+ exchanger (NCLX), which is proposed to be the primary mechanism for mCa2+ extrusion in excitable cells. Here we show that tamoxifen-induced deletion of Slc8b1 in adult mouse hearts causes sudden death, with less than 13% of affected mice surviving after 14 days. Lethality correlated with severe myocardial dysfunction and fulminant heart failure. Mechanistically, cardiac pathology was attributed to mCa2+ overload driving increased generation of superoxide and necrotic cell death, which was rescued by genetic inhibition of mitochondrial permeability transition pore activation. Corroborating these findings, overexpression of NCLX in the mouse heart by conditional transgenesis had the beneficial effect of augmenting mCa2+ clearance, preventing permeability transition and protecting against ischaemia-induced cardiomyocyte necrosis and heart failure. These results demonstrate the essential nature of mCa2+ efflux in cellular function and suggest that augmenting mCa2+ efflux may be a viable therapeutic strategy in disease.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22082

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Burgess Shale fossils illustrate the origin of the mandibulate body plan

    Retracing the evolutionary history of arthropods has been one of the greatest challenges in biology. During the past decade, phylogenetic analyses of morphological and molecular data have coalesced towards the conclusion that Mandibulata, the most diverse and abundant group of animals, is a distinct clade from Chelicerata, in that its members possess post-oral head appendages specialized for food processing, notably the mandible. The origin of the mandibulate body plan, however, which encompasses myriapods, crustaceans and hexapods, has remained poorly documented. Here we show that Tokummia katalepsis gen. et sp. nov., a large bivalved arthropod from the 508 million-year-old Marble Canyon fossil deposit (Burgess Shale, British Columbia), has unequivocal mandibulate synapomorphies, including mandibles and maxillipeds, as well as characters typically found in crustaceans, such as enditic, subdivided basipods and ring-shaped trunk segments. Tokummia and its closest relative, Branchiocaris (in Protocarididae, emended), also have an anteriormost structure housing a probable bilobed organ, which could support the appendicular origin of the labrum. Protocaridids are retrieved with Canadaspis and Odaraia (in Hymenocarina, emended) as part of an expanded mandibulate clade, refuting the idea that these problematic bivalved taxa, as well as other related forms, are representatives of the basalmost euarthropods. Hymenocarines now illustrate that the subdivision of the basipod and the presence of proximal endites are likely to have been ancestral conditions critical for the evolution of coxal and pre-coxal features in mandibulates. The presence of crustaceomorph traits in the Cambrian larvae of various clades basal to Mandibulata is reinterpreted as evidence for the existence of distinct ontogenetic niches among stem arthropods. Larvae would therefore have constituted an important source of morphological novelty during the Cambrian period, and, through heterochronic processes, may have contributed to the rapid acquisition of crown-group characters and thus to greater evolutionary rates during the early radiation of euarthropods.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22080

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Polyglutamine tracts regulate beclin 1-dependent autophagy

    Nine neurodegenerative diseases are caused by expanded polyglutamine (polyQ) tracts in different proteins, such as huntingtin in Huntington’s disease and ataxin 3 in spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (SCA3). Age at onset of disease decreases with increasing polyglutamine length in these proteins and the normal length also varies. PolyQ expansions drive pathogenesis in these diseases, as isolated polyQ tracts are toxic, and an N-terminal huntingtin fragment comprising exon 1, which occurs in vivo as a result of alternative splicing, causes toxicity. Although such mutant proteins are prone to aggregation, toxicity is also associated with soluble forms of the proteins. The function of the polyQ tracts in many normal cytoplasmic proteins is unclear. One such protein is the deubiquitinating enzyme ataxin 3 (refs 7, 8), which is widely expressed in the brain. Here we show that the polyQ domain enables wild-type ataxin 3 to interact with beclin 1, a key initiator of autophagy. This interaction allows the deubiquitinase activity of ataxin 3 to protect beclin 1 from proteasome-mediated degradation and thereby enables autophagy. Starvation-induced autophagy, which is regulated by beclin 1, was particularly inhibited in ataxin-3-depleted human cell lines and mouse primary neurons, and in vivo in mice. This activity of ataxin 3 and its polyQ-mediated interaction with beclin 1 was competed for by other soluble proteins with polyQ tracts in a length-dependent fashion. This competition resulted in impairment of starvation-induced autophagy in cells expressing mutant huntingtin exon 1, and this impairment was recapitulated in the brains of a mouse model of Huntington’s disease and in cells from patients. A similar phenomenon was also seen with other polyQ disease proteins, including mutant ataxin 3 itself. Our data thus describe a specific function for a wild-type polyQ tract that is abrogated by a competing longer polyQ mutation in a disease protein, and identify a deleterious function of such mutations distinct from their propensity to aggregate.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22078

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    A 130,000-year-old archaeological site in southern California, USA

    The earliest dispersal of humans into North America is a contentious subject, and proposed early sites are required to meet the following criteria for acceptance: (1) archaeological evidence is found in a clearly defined and undisturbed geologic context; (2) age is determined by reliable radiometric dating; (3) multiple lines of evidence from interdisciplinary studies provide consistent results; and (4) unquestionable artefacts are found in primary context. Here we describe the Cerutti Mastodon (CM) site, an archaeological site from the early late Pleistocene epoch, where in situ hammerstones and stone anvils occur in spatio-temporal association with fragmentary remains of a single mastodon (Mammut americanum). The CM site contains spiral-fractured bone and molar fragments, indicating that breakage occured while fresh. Several of these fragments also preserve evidence of percussion. The occurrence and distribution of bone, molar and stone refits suggest that breakage occurred at the site of burial. Five large cobbles (hammerstones and anvils) in the CM bone bed display use-wear and impact marks, and are hydraulically anomalous relative to the low-energy context of the enclosing sandy silt stratum. 230Th/U radiometric analysis of multiple bone specimens using diffusion–adsorption–decay dating models indicates a burial date of 130.7 ± 9.4 thousand years ago. These findings confirm the presence of an unidentified species of Homo at the CM site during the last interglacial period (MIS 5e; early late Pleistocene), indicating that humans with manual dexterity and the experiential knowledge to use hammerstones and anvils processed mastodon limb bones for marrow extraction and/or raw material for tool production. Systematic proboscidean bone reduction, evident at the CM site, fits within a broader pattern of Palaeolithic bone percussion technology in Africa, Eurasia and North America. The CM site is, to our knowledge, the oldest in situ, well-documented archaeological site in North America and, as such, substantially revises the timing of arrival of Homo into the Americas.

    Nature 544 479 doi: 10.1038/nature22065

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Cell diversity and network dynamics in photosensitive human brain organoids

    In vitro models of the developing brain such as three-dimensional brain organoids offer an unprecedented opportunity to study aspects of human brain development and disease. However, the cells generated within organoids and the extent to which they recapitulate the regional complexity, cellular diversity and circuit functionality of the brain remain undefined. Here we analyse gene expression in over 80,000 individual cells isolated from 31 human brain organoids. We find that organoids can generate a broad diversity of cells, which are related to endogenous classes, including cells from the cerebral cortex and the retina. Organoids could be developed over extended periods (more than 9 months), allowing for the establishment of relatively mature features, including the formation of dendritic spines and spontaneously active neuronal networks. Finally, neuronal activity within organoids could be controlled using light stimulation of photosensitive cells, which may offer a way to probe the functionality of human neuronal circuits using physiological sensory stimuli.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22047

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    A chromosome conformation capture ordered sequence of the barley genome

    Cereal grasses of the Triticeae tribe have been the major food source in temperate regions since the dawn of agriculture. Their large genomes are characterized by a high content of repetitive elements and large pericentromeric regions that are virtually devoid of meiotic recombination. Here we present a high-quality reference genome assembly for barley (Hordeum vulgare L.). We use chromosome conformation capture mapping to derive the linear order of sequences across the pericentromeric space and to investigate the spatial organization of chromatin in the nucleus at megabase resolution. The composition of genes and repetitive elements differs between distal and proximal regions. Gene family analyses reveal lineage-specific duplications of genes involved in the transport of nutrients to developing seeds and the mobilization of carbohydrates in grains. We demonstrate the importance of the barley reference sequence for breeding by inspecting the genomic partitioning of sequence variation in modern elite germplasm, highlighting regions vulnerable to genetic erosion.

    Nature 544 427 doi: 10.1038/nature22043

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Query, Queue, Repeat

    Digital dilemma.

    Nature 544 514 doi: 10.1038/544514a

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Plant science: Genomic compartments in barley

    A high-quality barley genome reveals a surprising compartmentalization of genes and repetitive sequences in chromosomes. This advance paves the way for improved genetic optimization of cereals. See Article p.427

    Nature 544 424 doi: 10.1038/544424a

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Microscopy: A larger palette for biological imaging

    Biological molecules are often imaged by attaching fluorescent labels — but only a few label types can be used at a time. A method that could smash the record for the number of labels that can be used together is now reported. See Letter p.465

    Nature 544 423 doi: 10.1038/544423a

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Environment: An old clue to the secret of longevity

    Nature 544 416 doi: 10.1038/544416e

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Commerce: Help bigger palm oil yields to save land

    Nature 544 416 doi: 10.1038/544416d

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Neurosurgery: Gentler alternatives to chips in the brain

    Nature 544 416 doi: 10.1038/544416c

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Predatory journals: Beall's List is missed

    Nature 544 416 doi: 10.1038/544416b

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Predatory journals: fortify the defences

    Nature 544 416 doi: 10.1038/544416a

    in Nature News & Comment on April 26, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    ‘Fossil’ groundwater is not immune to modern-day pollution

    Ancient groundwater that is thousands of years old is still susceptible to modern pollution, new research suggests.

    in Science News on April 25, 2017 08:12 PM.

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    How access to knowledge can help stop malaria

    Top research on causes, vaccines and treatment for #WorldMalariaDay

    in Elsevier Connect on April 25, 2017 06:40 PM.

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    New studies suggest liberals are as blinkered and biased as conservatives

    The march for science in RomeBy Christian Jarrett

    Officially at least, last week’s global March for Science was politically neutral. However, there’s a massive over-representation of people with liberal, left-leaning views in science, and much of the science community is unhappy, to put it mildly, with the way politics is going, such as the Trump administration’s proposed deep cuts to science funding, and here in the UK, the impact of Brexit on British science.

    Against the backdrop of these anxieties, many of the banners on display – such as “Alternative hypotheses, not alternative facts” and “Science reveals the truth” – conveyed a barely concealed message: if only right-wing conservatives could be a little more objective, less biased, more open-minded – you might say a little more “scientific” – then the world would be a better place.

    Plenty of past psychology research lends some credence to this perspective: for instance conservatives tend to score lower on the trait of open-mindedness than liberals, and of course conservatives, more often than liberals, are sceptical toward the scientific consensus that human activity has had a significant impact on climate change. But it’s also easy to find psychological evidence of liberals’ bias, and liberals too are often in denial of unwelcome scientific theory, such as evolutionary accounts of sex differences in behaviour.

    Now two new articles, published at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) and in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, respectively, provide further compelling evidence that liberals, as much as conservatives, are prone to partisan bias – that is, showing rapid, easy acceptance of evidence that supports their existing beliefs – and that they are just as motivated to avoid hearing viewpoints that differ from their own. Whether we’re liberal or conservative, a first step toward combating our political prejudices, the paper in SSRN concludes, is “to recognize our collective vulnerability to perceiving the world in ways that validate our political beliefs”.

    That paper in SSRN is a meta-analysis that combined the results of 41 previous experimental studies into partisan bias, collectively involving over 12,000 participants self-categorized as either liberal or conservative.

    Each of the included studies followed a similar format: participants rated the credibility of evidence, such as a survey, experiment or op-ed, which either supported or contradicted their existing beliefs, such as on gun ownership or affirmative action. By holding the quality of the evidence and methods the same, but altering whether it supposedly came up with data supporting or contradicting participants’ viewpoints, this kind of research is able to reveal partisan bias – that is, whether participants’ are less sceptical and discerning when confronted with evidence that backs their own views.

    Looking at the combined data from all these studies, Peter Ditto at University of California, Irvine, and his colleagues, found that liberals were as prone to partisan bias as conservatives. What’s more, partisan bias on all sides was especially on display when participants were presented with scientific data, perhaps undermining the chants of the science march: that it might be easier to reach political consensus if we could all agree to just stick to the facts. As Ditto and his team put it, “the prognosis for eradicating partisan bias with harder data and better education does not seem particularly rosy.”

    The other new paper, led by Jeremy Frimer at the University of Winnipeg, used five studies to test American and Canadian participants’ motivation to encounter viewpoints different from their own. For instance, the first study offered participants more money to read an essay that contradicted their own views on same-sex marriage. The researchers found that equally among liberals and conservatives, a majority of participants preferred to forego cash if that meant avoiding opposing views.

    Other studies involving other topics, such as gun control, abortion and climate change, led to similar results: liberals as much as conservatives were disinclined to hear the perspective of the other side. And the reasons they gave were similar: they thought hearing opposing views would make them feel uncomfortable or angry and harm their relationship with the source of the opposing views.

    “The result of this desire to avoid ideological incongruous views is that liberals and conservatives live in ideological information bubbles, and what could ultimately be a contest of ideas is being replaced by two, non-interacting monopolies,” Frimer and his colleagues concluded.

    This new research has some short-comings and shouldn’t be seen as the last word. It’s obviously North-American centric, and it’s not clear how much the results would apply in other parts of the world. It’s also extremely difficult to separate the moral dimension from psychology research into politics: for instance, how to deal with the potential argument that avoiding exposure to some opinions actually is more justified than avoiding exposure to others?

    So of course more careful research is required, into ways that liberals and conservatives are similar and different. But if these new studies help us recognise that we all, no matter our political colours, could work harder to be more open-minded of opposing viewpoints, then this is surely constructive. As Sean Blanda put it in a Medium essay last year “The other side is not dumb“; well, probably no more than your side anyway.

    At Least Bias Is Bipartisan: A Meta-Analytic Comparison of Partisan Bias in Liberals and Conservatives
    Liberals and conservatives are similarly motivated to avoid exposure to one another’s opinions

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on April 25, 2017 05:16 PM.

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    How a dolphin eats an octopus without dying

    An octopus’s tentacles can kill a dolphin — or a human — when eaten alive. But wily dolphins in Australia have figured out how to do this safely.

    in Science News on April 25, 2017 05:00 PM.

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    Faux womb keeps preemie lambs alive

    A device can keep premature lambs alive for a month in womblike conditions.

    in Science News on April 25, 2017 04:30 PM.

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    Open Position: Postdoc in neuromorphic pattern recognition

    Applications are invited for a postdoc position in the Biocomputation group at the University of Hertfordshire, UK. The appointment is due to start as soon as possible, with an initial fixed duration until 31st March 2018, with a possibility to extend, pending funding decisions.

    The successful candidate will join our efforts to advance neuromorphic pattern recognition on the SpiNNaker and BrainScaleS hardware systems that are built within the Human Brain Project (HBP). We are looking for a candidate with a keen tenacity in pushing forward the boundaries of future computing off the well-trodden path.

    The Biocomputation group provides a rich and inspiring interdisciplinary research environment that connects Computer Science with Neuroscience and branches out into Machine Learning and Robotics.

    HBP membership provides excellent opportunities to connect to world-leading scientists in all aspects of neuroscience, high-performance computing, neurorobotics and neuromorphic engineering. We enjoy first-class access to the latest neuromorphic technologies developed in HBP, and we work in tight interaction with the groups developing the hardware systems, SpiNNaker and BrainScaleS.

    Research in Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire has been recognized as excellent in the REF 2014, with 50% of the research submitted rated as internationally excellent or world leading. The University is situated in Hatfield, in the green belt just north of London.

    Candidates should have a PhD in neuromorphic computing, machine learning, computational neuroscience, computer science, physics or another relevant subject area. In addition, the successful candidate should have demonstrable experience in either:

    • Machine learning and pattern recognition, ideally deep and recurrent neural networks, self-organisation, or
    • Neuromorphic computing, ideally with hands-on experience with SpiNNaker, BrainScaleS, or other neuromorphic hardware systems, or GPU-accelerated simulations.

    Further desired skills:

    • Ability to conduct original research, as evidenced by high-quality, peer-reviewed papers,
    • Excellent programming skills, as evidenced e.g. by a link to a github account that shows work on relevant projects,
    • Ability to work and communicate in a multidisciplinary team.

    Informal inquiries about this post are warmly welcome and should be directed to Dr Michael Schmuker, m.schmuker AT herts DOT ac DOT uk.

    Please apply online via http://jobs.herts.ac.uk, vacancy reference 014592, until 22nd May, 2017 at the latest.

    in UH Biocomputation group on April 25, 2017 04:08 PM.

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    Homo naledi’s brain shows humanlike features

    South African Homo species had small but humanlike brain, scientists say.

    in Science News on April 25, 2017 04:08 PM.

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    A shadow was cast on a bone researcher’s work. What are journals doing about his papers?

    Last year, a researcher cast doubt on a bone scientist’s clinical trials, suggesting some of the findings may not be legitimate. So what’s happened since? Since 2015, journals have retracted 14 papers by bone researcher Yoshihiro Sato, based at Mitate Hospital in Japan, for issues ranging from self-plagiarism, to problems with data, to including co-authors without their consent. […]

    The post A shadow was cast on a bone researcher’s work. What are journals doing about his papers? appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 25, 2017 03:30 PM.

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    Understanding rats’ invasion of Madagascar

    Black rat

    Many ecosystems today are threatened by invasive species. These newcomers prey on or compete with native species, they carry new parasites and diseases, and even cause extinctions of long-established residents. But why are some species such successful invaders while the advances of other species in foreign territory remain unrecognized?

    To answer this question, we focused on one of the most pervasive examples of invasive species: rats. These rodents are found nearly everywhere on the planet and are known for having detrimental effects on native ecological communities, particularly on islands. As part of his PhD thesis Toky Randriamoria from the University of Antananarivo spent many months in central eastern Madagascar to catch small mammals. Rats were what he mainly found in his traps, in agricultural fields, close to villages, and in natural forests alike. Originally introduced by Seafarers from the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle Ages, black and Norway rats have overrun Madagascar. Today, they occur in virtually all natural and anthropogenic habitats on the island, representing >95% of rodent captures in certain areas.

    Capturing black rats –a trap in a rice field
    Capturing black rats –a trap in a rice field
    Toky M. Randriamoria

    Toky collected nearly 600 hair samples of black and Norway rats, which I used to encipher the diet and habitat use of these individuals by stable isotope analysis. Stable isotopes are “one of nature’s ecological recorders” and integrate information on what and where an individual fed during the period of hair growth. We found that rats mixed animal and plant matter and had an extremely broad dietary niche. Indeed, rats covered a dietary niche that was larger than a whole community of around 20 native species! Moreover, rats were opportunistic foragers and changed their diet according to what was available.

    But we learnt even more from stable isotope analysis: the signature of some individuals did not match to their habitat. This can only mean that certain individuals move between agricultural fields near villages and natural forests; and with them their parasites and diseases.

    Thus overall, our results suggest that due to their flexible and generalist diet and potential movement between natural forest and anthropogenic habitats, rats might affect native forest-dependent Malagasy rodents as competitors, predators, and disease vectors. The combination of these effects helps explain the invasion success of rats and the detrimental effects of this genus on the endemic fauna.


    To learn more about the research of Melanie and her co-authors, please explore these links:

    Association Vahatra

    Chicago Field Museum

    University of Potsdam Animal Ecology Group



    The post Understanding rats’ invasion of Madagascar appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on April 25, 2017 01:50 PM.

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    Oliver Sacks: the patient-focused polymath

    How his unique way of viewing the world – and his patients – changed lives and careers

    in Elsevier Connect on April 25, 2017 01:36 PM.

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    Harvard diabetes researcher retracts third paper

    A prominent diabetes researcher based at Harvard Medical School has retracted a third paper, citing manipulation of multiple figures. Late last year, Carl Ronald Kahn—also chief academic officer at Joslin Diabetes Center—retracted two papers for similar reasons. In November, Kahn pulled a 2005 paper from The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) and a month later, he retracted a 2003 paper from The […]

    The post Harvard diabetes researcher retracts third paper appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 25, 2017 01:30 PM.

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    Oldest evidence of patterned silk loom found in China

    Chinese finds offer earliest look at game-changing weaving machine.

    in Science News on April 25, 2017 11:00 AM.

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    Introducing the Invisibility Cloak Illusion: We think we’re more observant (and less observed) than everyone else

    Agent icon. Spy sunglasses. Hat and glassesBy guest blogger Juliet Hodges

    Most of us tend to think we’re better than average: more competent, honest, talented and compassionate. The latest example of this kind of optimistic self-perception is the “invisibility cloak illusion”. In research published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Erica Boothby and her colleagues show how we have a tendency to believe that we are incredibly socially observant ourselves, while those around us are less so. These assumptions combine to create the illusion that we observe others more than they observe us.

    As a first step, the researchers asked participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk survey website how much they usually observe other people. Participants indicated that they were more observant of others than they expected the average person to be, whilst they believed they were observed less than other people.

    Next the researchers asked students about their experience immediately after lunch in a university canteen. Participants rated themselves almost twice as observant of strangers in the canteen, as these other people were of them. When participants had been dining with friends, they said they had noticed more about their friends than their friends had of them. They also indicated that, when accidentally making eye contact with someone, they felt it was because they were already watching that person – not because they themselves were being watched.

    While this provides initial support for the invisibility cloak bias, the researchers also wanted to test this experimentally. They set up a waiting room, where two student participants of the same sex believed they were waiting for the experiment to begin. The participants sat opposite each other for seven minutes, giving them the opportunity to watch one another. They were then taken to separate rooms and given the role of either observer or target (unbeknown to them, whichever role they were given, the other participant was allocated the other role) . The observer’s task was to write down everything they had noticed about the target, while the target’s task was to write down everything they believed the other person would have noticed about them. This process was repeated with multiple pairs of participants and there was a consistent mismatch, showing the invisibility cloak illusion in action: the observers tended to produce far more detailed notes about their fellow participant than the targets expected.

    This illusion seems at odds with the “spotlight effect”, which you may recall from a particularly cruel experiment published in 2000: participants were asked to wear a Barry Manilow t-shirt in public, and were convinced more people noticed it than actually had. To understand how the spotlight effect and the invisibility cloak illusion could coexist, the Boothby and her colleagues repeated the waiting room experiment. The only difference was some of the targets wore a t-shirt with a large image of the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar on it. Targets wearing the t-shirt overestimated how noticeable it was to the observer, replicating the spotlight effect. However, this did not generalise beyond the t-shirt, as they didn’t suspect observers had noticed anything else about them. This shows that the two biases are not incompatible; one can be self-conscious about a particular aspect of themselves, while still believing they go less noticed on the whole.

    The mechanisms behind the invisibility cloak illusion seem fairly straightforward. We know we have lots of private thoughts about what we’ve noticed of other people, but we mistakenly overlook that most other people have these kind of private thoughts too. This is compounded by the fact that, when observing others, most of us are careful to be discreet –  looking away or pretending to be engrossed in something else – with the result that we rarely notice when other people are watching us. The researchers suggest that this illusion could even be beneficial as it helps us feel a sense of control, a theory that needs to be investigated further.

    We need more research to test the robustness of this illusion, especially with older participants. If it does replicate, it may have important implications for our social interactions. For example, it suggests we are likely to underestimate the impact our actions have on others. Take emergency situations: we may look to others to see how they are reacting, while not realising that they in turn are taking their cues from us. It’s worth remembering that we are just as present, and visible, as everyone else.

    At the same time, these new findings may be disconcerting for anyone who suffers from painful self-consciousness. But it’s worth remembering that people typically aren’t paying attention to what we’re self-conscious about. Moreover, being observed is not the same thing as being judged. Our own observations of others typically drift through our minds without us paying them much attention – in that regard, the part of the new research in which participants wrote down what they noticed about each other was a rather unnatural task. In real life, it’s likely these details would be forgotten quickly. Earlier, more comforting studies have also shown that other people tend to judge us far less harshly and with more empathy, even when we think we’ve embarrassed ourselves, than we expect.

    The invisibility cloak illusion: People (incorrectly) believe they observe others more than others observe them

    Juliet Hodges photo

    Post written for the BPS Research Digest by Juliet Hodges. Juliet has a background in psychology and behavioural economics, and has applied this in advertising and now healthcare. Follow @hulietjodges on TwitterLinkedIn or read her posts for the Bupa Newsroom here.

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on April 25, 2017 07:59 AM.

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    Beetles have been mooching off insect colonies for millions of years

    The behavior, called social parasitism, has been going on for about 100 million years.

    in Science News on April 24, 2017 08:00 PM.

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    “Existence and motive to retaliate:” Judge hands victory to whistleblower scientist

    A Michigan researcher whose accusations of misconduct against his former employers led to years of legal battles has won a judge’s ruling that could earn him one of his jobs back. Over the past few years, Christian Kreipke has been embroiled in legal battles with the Detroit VA Medical Center and Wayne State University, where […]

    The post “Existence and motive to retaliate:” Judge hands victory to whistleblower scientist appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 24, 2017 07:01 PM.

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    Targeting Alzheimer’s: New Unorthodox Approaches

    Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 5 million individuals in the US and causes a devastating loss of cognitive function due to the buildup of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the brain. Previous efforts to combat this disease have focused on developing drugs that target beta-amyloid, but such treatments have been unsuccessful in patients so far. Several exciting new approaches for treating Alzheimer’s are currently being tested in clinical trials in the US and Europe. These trials will assess the efficacy of an anti-viral drug that is normally used to treat herpes, and a new vaccine that generates antibodies against tau protein.

    Alzheimer’s disease was first identified in 1906 and is the most common cause of dementia, responsible for an estimated 60–70 percent of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s predominantly affects the elderly, but approximately 5 percent of cases involve early-onset disease (prior to the age of 65). The predominant symptoms of Alzheimer’s are a loss of memory and other intellectual capacities, which must be severe enough to interfere with everyday functioning. Mood swings and behavioral difficulties are also predominant symptoms. As the disease progresses, motor functions can also be impacted, inhibiting the ability of patients to speak, swallow, and even walk. Affected individuals typically survive between 4–20 years beyond the time that their symptoms become noticeable to others, with an average survival time of 8 years.

    Research into the causes of Alzheimer’s has revealed that two proteins, beta-amyloid and tau, play a key role in disrupting the neural processes that underlie memory and other cognitive abilities. Beta-amyloid normally acts to combat oxidative stress, regulate cholesterol transport, and fight off bacteria in the brain. In Alzheimer’s, however, beta-amyloid is overproduced. The excess protein forms clumps, or plaques, around neurons that can interfere with the transmission of nerve impulses. Tau is found in abundance in neurons and normally acts to stabilize cell proteins called microtubules in neuronal axons. In Alzheimer’s disease, defective forms of tau are produced, often containing large numbers of attached phosphate groups, termed hyperphosphorylated tau. Defective tau fails to stabilize microtubules, and instead binds together into insoluble aggregates or “tangles” of protein. The buildup of these neurofibrillary tangles inside of neurons, combined with amyloid plaques surrounding neurons, disrupts cell-to-cell communication in the brain.

    Current therapies for Alzheimer’s include drugs that treat the symptoms of dementia by regulating neurotransmitter levels; however, none of these treatments directly addresses the cause of the disease. Research efforts have focused on finding a drug that can prevent the buildup of plaques by interfering with beta amyloid synthesis and aggregation. Unfortunately, despite promising preclinical data from animal studies, these drugs failed to produce results in humans or had devastating side effects. For example, one anti-beta-amyloid vaccine caused meningoencephalitis or inflammation of the brain tissue and surrounding membranes. This side effect may have resulted from the reaction of the vaccine with beta-amyloid normally present in the walls of blood vessels. Such serious side effects were cause for cessation of the trial, and researchers have subsequently turned their attention to other possible treatments.

    A research team led by Hugo Lövheim from the Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation and the Unit of Geriatric Medicine at Umeå University in Sweden is piloting the first clinical study to address the effect of a herpes virus drug on Alzheimer’s disease. Lövheim’s group previously showed that infection with herpes virus was correlated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. People who tested positive for antibodies associated with the reactivated form of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1 anti-IgM) had double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Thus, the researchers surmised that brain signaling pathways activated by the virus might trigger the disease, and conversely, that anti-viral drugs might reverse disease symptoms.

    The VALZ-Pilot study is currently recruiting participants with Alzheimer’s to investigate the effects of Valaciclovir, sold by the brand name Valtrex, a drug typically prescribed to treat genital herpes, cold sores, and shingles. Thirty-six participants will receive four weeks of drug treatment. Markers in the spinal fluid will be examined to assess the effect of the drug on several Alzheimer’s disease parameters, including levels of tau protein. A subset of subjects will also undergo positive emission tomography (PET) brain imaging analysis. By using a tracer that accumulates in cells with active herpes infection, this methodology can potentially detect this infection in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

    A second new approach for treating Alzheimer’s, spearheaded by Petr Novak and colleagues at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, is the generation of a vaccine that targets the tau protein. Previous vaccine treatments for Alzheimer’s, which have thus far proven unsuccessful, focused only on beta-amyloid. The new vaccine, AADvac1, will prompt the body to generate antibodies against tau. The production of anti-tau antibodies will hopefully direct the immune system to clear tau protein from inside brain cells, similar to the way it fights off viruses and bacteria.

    Developing a tau vaccine wasn’t easy; tau is a protein also found in healthy brains, and thus the removal of “healthy tau” by a vaccine could have negative side effects. The researchers compared differences in the structure of the healthy and pathological tau proteins, and identified what they call the “Achilles heel” of the abnormal protein. They were then able to create a vaccine that recognizes this feature of the abnormal protein, yielding treatment specificity for the disease-causing tau.

    So far the AADvac1 vaccine is in phase 1 of clinical trials, which involves administration of the drug to healthy volunteers to assess side effects, but does not address efficacy. No serious side effects have been observed thus far, and volunteers have experienced only minor reactions at the injection site, similar to other types of vaccines. The lack of side effects is a promising first step. Moreover, the trial has also demonstrated the effectiveness of the drug to elicit an immune response, which is a critical factor for its success. These promising preliminary data provide much-needed hope for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.


    Hippius H, Neundörfer G. (2003) The discovery of Alzheimer’s disease. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 5(1):101-8. PMID: 22034141.

    Marciani D. (2016) A retrospective analysis of the Alzheimer’s disease vaccine progress – The critical need for new development strategies. J Neurochem. 137(5):687-700. doi: 10.1111/jnc.13608.

    Novak P, RSchmidt R, Kontsekova E, Zilka N, Kovacech B, Skrabana R, Vince-Kazmerova Z, Katina S, Fialova L, Prcina M, Parrak V, Dal-Bianco P, Brunner M, Staffen W, Rainer M, Ondrus M, Ropele S, Smisek M, Sivak R, Winblad B, Novak M. (2016) Safety and immunogenicity of the tau vaccine AADvac1 in patients with Alzheimer’s disease: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 1 trial. The Lancet Neurology. S1474-4422(16)30331-3. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(16)30331-3.

    Lövheim H, Gilthorpe J, Adolfsson R, Nilsson L, Elgh F. (2014) Reactivated herpes simplex infection increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 11(6):593-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.04.522.

    Image via sasint / Pixabay.

    in Brain Blogger on April 24, 2017 03:30 PM.

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    No long, twisted tail trails the solar system

    The bubble that envelops the planets and other material in the solar system does not have a tail, new observations show.

    in Science News on April 24, 2017 03:00 PM.

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    Plant biologist earns string of retractions, bringing total to 9

    A pair of plant biologists has lost a string of papers over concerns about image manipulation. One author has added eight new retractions to his CV; the other has added five. Last summer, a journal retracted another paper by the pair, also citing suspicions of image manipulation. The latest batch of retractions — issued by seven […]

    The post Plant biologist earns string of retractions, bringing total to 9 appeared first on Retraction Watch.

    in Retraction watch on April 24, 2017 01:30 PM.

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    Gamma-ray evidence for dark matter weakens

    Excess gamma rays are still unexplained, but they might not come from dark matter.

    in Science News on April 24, 2017 01:00 PM.

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    Loss of sensory input causes rapid structural changes of inhibitory neurons in adult mouse visual cortex

    Ankur Sinha's journal club session where he discusses the paper, "Loss of sensory input causes rapid structural changes of inhibitory neurons in adult mouse visual cortex (Keck et al. (2011))".

    A fundamental property of neuronal circuits is the ability to adapt to altered sensory inputs. It is well established that the functional synaptic changes underlying this adaptation are reflected by structural modifications in excitatory neurons. In contrast, the degree to which structural plasticity in inhibitory neurons accompanies functional changes is less clear. Here, we use two-photon imaging to monitor the fine structure of inhibitory neurons in mouse visual cortex after deprivation induced by retinal lesions. We find that a subset of inhibitory neurons carry dendritic spines, which form glutamatergic synapses. Removal of visual input correlates with a rapid and lasting reduction in the number of inhibitory cell spines. Similar to the effects seen for dendritic spines, the number of inhibitory neuron boutons dropped sharply after retinal lesions. Together, these data suggest that structural changes in inhibitory neurons may precede structural changes in excitatory circuitry, which ultimately result in functional adaptation following sensory deprivation.

    Date: 28/04/2017
    Time: 16:00
    Location: LB252

    in UH Biocomputation group on April 24, 2017 10:17 AM.

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    Progress and Challenges for Neglected Tropical Diseases: An Anniversary Assessment

    This year PLOS celebrates the 10th anniversary of PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases (PLOS NTDs). The festivities are off to an impressive start with a strong presence at the 2017 NTD Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, a 10th Anniversary Collection, a blog post outlining anniversary launch activities and a PLOS NTDS 10th Anniversary landing page that will be updated throughout the celebration.

    But what, exactly, are NTDs? They are a diverse group of communicable diseases that flourish in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries, costing developing economies billions of dollars every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). NTDs mainly affect populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors, domestic animals and livestock. In addition to causing mortality, NTDs remain an impediment to poverty reduction and socioeconomic development (WHO). Approximately 1.2 billion people globally have their quality of life and economic productivity diminished by NTDs.

    In this context, however, there has been tremendous progress in the past five years. “For some diseases we’re ahead of our 2020 targets,” says Dirk Engels, Director, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. WHO, Uniting to Combat NTDs and the NTD community collaborated to host the recent 2017 NTD Summit celebrating the 5th year since the signing of the London Declaration, a collaborative disease eradication program inspired by the WHO 2020 roadmap to eradicate or negate transmission for at least ten NTDs.

    Partnering with summit organizers and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PLOS NTDs – on the occasion of its 10th anniversary – co-hosted a panel at the summit with PLOS NTDs co-Editor-in-Chief Peter Hotez and PLOS Executive Editor Veronique Kiermer as moderators. The panel brought together experts on lymphatic filariasis, soil-transmitted helminth infection and schistosomiasis, all who have been involved with the journal either as frequent contributors or editors. These leading scientists from the WHO Regional Director’s Office of Africa (drawing on expertise gained in Tanzania); the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka; and the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, People’s Republic of China participated in an engaging discussion of how providing access to publication – as a reader, author and editor – can help build capacity for research in disease-endemic countries.

    Published in parallel with the panel, the Symposium article “Partnering to Promote Research Where It Matters” focuses on capacity-building efforts and the positive impact of Open Access scientific literature for those working in disease-endemic countries. In China, “We work together on issues like health education, behavior change, and communication skills,” says panelist Xiao-Nong Zhou, Director of the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Our university could only afford a very restricted number of titles,” says Nilanthi de Silva, parasitologist at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka. PLOS NTDs (and other Open Access journals publishing NTD-related research) offers an essential venue for researchers in low- and middle-income countries. Of the papers published to date, 25% have at least one author from Africa and 23% have an author from South America.

    It is possible that nearly half of the current NTDs could be eliminated, eradicated or show significant gains in these directions within the decade. That would take continued dedication, and funding. “The last decade has seen a mixed picture when it comes to success stories in the progress to control or eliminate the world’s NTDs,” acknowledge PLOS NTDs Editors-in-Chief Serap Aksoy and Peter Hotez. According to David Molyneux, Emeritus Professor Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and lead of their overarching Neglected Tropical Diseases program, “The future is going to be about building capacity for NTDs and recognizing that we’re talking about a broader problem of sustainable development.” Molyneux is a long-term editorial advisor for PLOS NTDs.

    In the 10th Anniversary Collection, Editorial Board members and other experts examine this progress in 20 of the major NTDs over the last decade. Those familiar with these diseases, those wanting a comprehensive overview or those wanting to focus on a specific disease will find in the collection reflections on significant lessons and successes as well as remaining challenges. The collection lays out a roadmap for future research priorities and identifies key opportunities for further progress in disease elimination. The Editorial by Aksoy and Hotez, “PLOS NTDS: Ten Years of Progress in Neglected Tropical Disease Control and Elimination…More or Less, provides an excellent introduction to the PLOS NTDs Tenth Anniversary Collection.

    With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation PLOS NTDs was founded to represent the needs of a community of scientists, public health experts and global advocates working on diseases of the poor and simultaneously to be a capacity-building tool for disease experts living and working in Africa and other disease-endemic regions of the world. Since founding, the journal has published over 4,700 articles (Research Articles, Editorials, Viewpoints, Policy Platforms, From Innovation to Application articles and more) written by more than 8,000 authors. Currently 40% of the journal’s 255 editorial board members are from disease-endemic countries. For more details of the journal’s history and impact over the past ten years, see the Editorial, “The PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases Decade.”

    Journal editors and staff have worked diligently on its dual mission to build capacity and encourage the submission and publication of the work of authors living and conducting research in disease-endemic countries. Editors have hosted 26 writing workshops in affected countries around the globe and provide training on best practices to ensure robust peer review, avoid plagiarism, handle data management and address other issues of research integrity. They also cover tips on crafting comments to authors and editing decision letters. These activities build a strong NTDs community to ensure ongoing success of the journal and scientific endeavors related to NTDs research.

    So bookmark the 10th Anniversary landing page, browse the 10th Anniversary Collection and celebrate 10 years of advancing research, policy and progress in combatting NTDs. There’s more work to be done!


    Image Credit:

    Emma Burns, A Ray of Hope

    in The Official PLOS Blog on April 24, 2017 05:02 AM.

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    Phase-plate cryo-EM structure of a class B GPCR–G-protein complex

    Class B G-protein-coupled receptors are major targets for the treatment of chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis, diabetes and obesity. Here we report the structure of a full-length class B receptor, the calcitonin receptor, in complex with peptide ligand and heterotrimeric Gαsβγ protein determined by Volta phase-plate single-particle cryo-electron microscopy. The peptide agonist engages the receptor by binding to an extended hydrophobic pocket facilitated by the large outward movement of the extracellular ends of transmembrane helices 6 and 7. This conformation is accompanied by a 60° kink in helix 6 and a large outward movement of the intracellular end of this helix, opening the bundle to accommodate interactions with the α5-helix of Gαs. Also observed is an extended intracellular helix 8 that contributes to both receptor stability and functional G-protein coupling via an interaction with the Gβ subunit. This structure provides a new framework for understanding G-protein-coupled receptor function.

    Nature doi: 10.1038/nature22327

    in Nature Biological Sciences Research on April 24, 2017 12:00 AM.

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    Dopamine control of prolactin secretion: hierarchy is the key! (by Cleyde Helena)

    In women, a major role of prolactin is to initiate and sustain pregnancy and lactation. During pregnancy, prolactin secretion from the pituitary gland is important for pregnancy maintenance and prolactin levels are correlated with miscarriage occurrence. When prolactin levels fail to increase properly, there is a higher risk of miscarriage1. But prolactin levels are also important during the female reproductive cycle – as increased prolactin secretion can cause infertility by inhibiting the release of hormones that trigger ovulation. So prolactin levels cannot be too high to allow ovulation and pregnancy to occur, but also have to increase at a proper rate during early pregnancy to ensure pregnancy success. But how the body carefully regulates prolactin in real time has been a mystery – until now.

    Regulation of prolactin secretion

    The body controls its hormonal release by means of positive and negative feedback. In a general way, hormones secreted in the hypothalamus (area of the brain that controls the body’s homeostasis) stimulate the pituitary gland to secrete several hormones. These hormones enter the blood stream and act in peripheral target glands, stimulating further hormonal release (positive feedback). Subsequently, those hormones secreted by the target glands reach back to where the process started, suppressing hormonal secretion in both hypothalamus and pituitary (negative feedback). Like your home thermostat, sensing when your house is getting too warm, and turning on the air conditioner. Once the optimal temperature is reached, the air conditioner is turned back off.

    But prolactin is different. It lacks a target peripheral gland, and therefore is not regulated through the standard negative feedback mechanisms that resemble your thermostat. Unlike other pituitary hormones that are stimulated by the hypothalamus, prolactin secretion is controlled by inhibitory dopaminergic inputs, produced in the tuberoinfundibular region of the hypothalamus (TIDA). We know that dopamine inhibits prolactin (and prolactin in turn, stimulates dopamine), but we do not know the temporal relationship among these players. The activity of dopaminergic neurons is very fast, firing in bursts of spikes happening at 20 seconds intervals2. Prolactin response, in turn, occurs in a much slower way. So how does all this rapid activity of dopaminergic neurons translate into dopamine release at the median eminence and subsequent (slower) prolactin secretion?

    In a recent study published in PNAS, Romano and colleagues used an innovative new approach to investigate real time interaction between dopamine and prolactin. The researchers were able to measure dopaminergic release from TIDA neurons, correlating it to prolactin levels in freely moving mice, in real time, for several days! They implanted several miniaturized carbon fibers directly into the median eminence of female mice. This area is the part of the hypothalamus where the hormones are released, being the connection between brain and pituitary gland.

    This figure show how TIDA neurons release dopamine at the level of the median eminence.

    There is a hierarchical relationship between different dopaminergic neurons

    By analyzing dopaminergic secretion over several days, the authors found that dopamine release was more frequent during the night, and that periods of intense dopaminergic activity were always followed by periods of silence. This makes sense within the feedback nature of the neuroendocrinology system, where hormones are released in pulses, to prevent down-regulation of target receptors. Elevated constant hormonal levels results in a decrease in the quantity of the hormone receptor, resulting in decreased sensitivity (down-regulation).

    Analyzing dopaminergic currents on the basis of their shape, the authors realized that the dopaminergic neurons are stereotypically organized in distinct groups, with different and specific firing rates. These stereotypical features of the dopaminergic neurons were consistent between different animals and different days of recording.  When dual-carbon fiber recordings were performed in two distinct dopaminergic neurons 500 μm from each other, the authors discovered that dopaminergic firing events were coordinated within minutes during most of the recordings. Therefore, the activity from all those different TIDA groups is somehow coordinated over a range of minutes before dopaminergic release in the median eminence.

    Novel integrated view of how dopamine controls prolactin secretion

    Although all TIDA neurons release dopamine in the median eminence, there are different subsets of TIDA neurons, with similar firing patterns among the members of the same group, but not coordinated with other groups (those different TIDA groups are shown in the figure as green, orange, and magenta). Each one of those groups of TIDA neurons follows a stereotyped sequence of events. Meaning that locally, there is an organization of frequencies and the firing events occur as sequences (Short-term interaction). Those local dopaminergic patterns are fine-tuned within pre-established time windows, being totally integrated in the median eminence, before actual dopaminergic release (Long-term interaction).

    This type of hierarchical organization of rhythmic activity has been previously seen in several other brain regions, and evolutionarily preserved among several species3. This repetitive rhythmic neural activity generates neural oscillations, which can vary in magnitude and/or frequency. In brain regions with hierarchical organization, several different neuronal oscillators form a linear progression, with slower oscillations regulating the amplitude (size) of the faster ones. This serves as a mechanism to transfer information from large-scale brain networks to the fast, and local cortical, integrating functional systems across multiple spatial and time scales.

    This is the first time that a study has been capable to show that the median eminence is capable of integrating hierarchical neuronal oscillating networks, in a specific spatio-temporal pattern. This study opens a whole new path to investigate how hormonal rhythms can occur on multiple time-scales, ranging from minutes and days to seasons, helping to explain slow endocrine events such as reproduction, growth, metabolism, and stress.


    1. Douglas AJ. (2010). Baby on board: Do responses to stress in the maternal brain mediate adverse pregnancy outcome? Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 31(3): 359-376. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2010.05.002.
    2. Lyons DJ, Horjales-Araujo E, Broberger C. (2010). Synchronized network oscillations in rat tuberoinfundibular dopamine neurons: switch to tonic discharge by thyrotropin-releasing hormone. Neuron, 65(2): 217-29. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.12.024.
    3. Buzsáki G, Logothetis N, Singer W (2013). Scaling brain size, keeping timing: evolutionary preservation of brain rhythms. Neuron. 80(3): 751-64. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.10.002.

    Any views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of PLOS. 

    Cleyde Helena received her Ph.D. in Physiology at University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2005 and in 2008 she moved to the US to do a postdoc in Florida, focusing in the neuroendocrine control of female reproduction. On July of 2015, she left academia to start a new life as an account manager, selling laboratory analytical equipment. You can follow her on twitter @Doctor_PMS


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