Anti-inflammatory drug can prevent neuron loss in Parkinson’s model

An experimental anti-inflammatory drug can protect vulnerable neurons and reduce motor deficits in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease, researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have shown.The results were published Thursday, July 24 in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.The findings demonstrate that the drug, called XPro1595, can reach the brain at sufficient levels and have beneficial effects when administered by subcutaneous injection, like an insulin shot. Previous studies of XPro1595 in animals tested more invasive modes of delivery, such as direct injection into the brain.”This is an important step forward for anti-inflammatory therapies for Parkinson’s disease,” says Malu Tansey, PhD, associate professor of physiology at Emory University School of Medicine. “Our results provide a compelling rationale for moving toward a clinical trial in early Parkinson’s disease patients.”The new research on subcutaneous administration of XPro1595 was funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF). XPro1595 is licensed by FPRT Bio, and is seeking funding for a clinical trial to test its efficacy in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.”We are proud to have supported this work and glad to see positive pre-clinical results,” said Marco Baptista, PhD, MJFF associate director of research programs. “A therapy that could slow Parkinson’s progression would be a game changer for the millions living with this disease, and this study is a step in that direction.”In addition, Tansey and Yoland Smith, PhD, from Yerkes National Primate Research Center, were awarded a grant this week from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation to test XPro1595 in a non-human primate model of Parkinson’s.Evidence has been piling up that inflammation is an important mechanism driving the progression of Parkinson’s disease. XPro1595 targets tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a critical inflammatory signaling molecule, and is specific to the soluble form of TNF. This specificity would avoid compromising immunity to infections, a known side effect of existing anti-TNF drugs used to treat disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.”Inflammation is probably not the initiating event in Parkinson’s disease, but it is important for the neurodegeneration that follows,” Tansey says. “That’s why we believe that an anti-inflammatory agent, such as one that counteracts soluble TNF, could substantially slow the progression of the disease.”Postdoctoral fellow Christopher Barnum, PhD and colleagues used a model of Parkinson’s disease in rats in which the neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) is injected into only one side of the brain. This reproduces some aspects of Parkinson’s disease: neurons that produce dopamine in the injected side of the brain die, leading to impaired movement on the opposite side of the body.When XPro1595 is given to the animals 3 days after 6-OHDA injection, just 15 percent of the dopamine-producing neurons were lost five weeks later. …

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Caffeine intake may worsen menopausal hot flashes, night sweats

A new Mayo Clinic study, published online by the journal Menopause, found an association between caffeine intake and more bothersome hot flashes and night sweats in postmenopausal women. The study also showed an association between caffeine intake and fewer problems with mood, memory and concentration in perimenopausal women, possibly because caffeine is known to enhance arousal, mood and attention. The findings of this largest study to date on caffeine and menopausal symptoms are published on the Menopause website and will also be printed in a future issue of the journal.For the study, researchers conducted a survey using the Menopause Health Questionnaire, a comprehensive assessment of menopause-related health information that includes personal habits and ratings of menopausal symptom presence and severity. Questionnaires were completed by 2,507 consecutive women who presented with menopausal concerns at the Women’s Health Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester between July 25, 2005, and July 25, 2011. Data from 1,806 women who met all inclusion criteria were analyzed. Menopausal symptom ratings were compared between caffeine users and nonusers.Approximately 85 percent of the U.S. population consumes some form of caffeine-containing beverage daily. Vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats) are the most commonly reported menopausal symptoms, occurring in 79 percent of perimenopausal women and 65 percent of postmenopausal women. Although it has long been believed that caffeine intake exacerbates menopausal vasomotor symptoms, research has challenged this assumption, as caffeine has been both positively and negatively linked to hot flashes.”While these findings are preliminary, our study suggests that limiting caffeine intake may be useful for those postmenopausal women who have bothersome hot flashes and night sweats,” says Stephanie Faubion, M.D., director of the Women’s Health Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “Menopause symptoms can be challenging but there are many management strategies to try.”Other strategies Dr. …

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Carbon loss from soil accelerating climate change

Research published in Science today found that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause soil microbes to produce more carbon dioxide, accelerating climate change.Two Northern Arizona University researchers led the study, which challenges previous understanding about how carbon accumulates in soil. Increased levels of CO2 accelerate plant growth, which causes more absorption of CO2 through photosynthesis.Until now, the accepted belief was that carbon is then stored in wood and soil for a long time, slowing climate change. Yet this new research suggests that the extra carbon provides fuel to microorganisms in the soil whose byproducts (such as CO2) are released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.”Our findings mean that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought,” said Kees Jan van Groenigen, research fellow at the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and lead author of the study. “By overlooking this effect of increased CO2 on soil microbes, models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have overestimated the potential of soil to store carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect.”In order to better understand how soil microbes respond to the changing atmosphere, the study’s authors utilized statistical techniques that compare data to models and test for general patterns across studies. They analyzed published results from 53 different experiments in forests, grasslands and agricultural fields around the world. These experiments all measured how extra CO2 in the atmosphere affects plant growth, microbial production of carbon dioxide, and the total amount of soil carbon at the end of the experiment.”We’ve long thought soils to be a stable, safe place to store carbon, but our results show soil carbon is not as stable as we previously thought,” said Bruce Hungate, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and study author. “We should not be complacent about continued subsidies from nature in slowing climate change.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Northern Arizona University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Neurotics don’t just avoid action: They dislike it, study finds

That person we all seem to know who we say is neurotic and unable to take action? Turns out he or she isn’t unable to act but simply doesn’t want to.A study of nearly 4,000 college students in 19 countries has uncovered new details about why neurotic people may avoid making decisions and moving forward with life. Turns out that when they are asked if action is positive, favorable, good, they just don’t like it as much as non-neurotics. Therefore persuasive communications and other interventions may be useful if they simply alter neurotics’ attitudes toward inaction.These findings come the study “Neuroticism and Attitudes Toward Action in 19 Countries.” It is published in the Journal of Personality and was written by Molly E. Ireland, Texas Tech University; Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Hong Li, Battelle Center for Analytics and Public Health; and Dolores Albarracn -the principal investigator of the study– from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.”You’re so neurotic!” It’s a phrase that’s tossed about casually, but what exactly is neuroticism? It is a personality trait defined by the experience of chronic negative affect — including sadness, anxiety, irritability, and self-consciousness — that is easily triggered and difficult to control. Neurotic people tend to avoid acting when confronted with major and minor life stressors, leading to negative life consequences.The researchers sought to determine whether and under what conditions neuroticism is associated with favorable or unfavorable representations of action and inaction. They investigated whether depression and anxiety would decrease proactive behavior among neurotic individuals, and whether a person’s collectivistic tendencies — considering the social consequences of one’s behavior before acting — would moderate the negative associations between neuroticism and action/inaction. The study found neurotics look at action less favorably and inaction more favorably than emotionally stable people do.”People who are less emotionally stable have less positive attitudes towards action and more positive attitudes toward inaction,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, anxiety was primarily responsible for neurotic individuals’ less positive attitudes toward action. …

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Biochar stimulates more plant growth but less plant defense, research shows

In the first study of its kind, research undertaken at the University of Southampton has cast significant doubt over the use of biochar to alleviate climate change.Biochar is produced when wood is combusted at high temperatures to make bio-oil and has been proposed as a method of geoengineering. When buried in the soil, this carbon rich substance could potentially lock-up carbon and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The global potential of biochar is considered to be large, with up to 12 percent of emissions reduced by biochar soil application.Many previous reports have shown that biochar can also stimulate crop growth and yield, providing a valuable co-benefit when the soil is treated with biochar, but the mechanism enabling this to happen is unknown.Professor Gail Taylor, Director of Research at the University’s Centre for Biological Sciences and research colleagues, in collaboration with National Research Council (CNR) scientists in Italy and The James Hutton Institute in Scotland, have provided an explanation why biochar has this impact. They have published their findings in the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy.They found that when thale cress and lettuce plants were subjected to increasing amounts of biochar mixed with soil, using the equivalent of up to 50 tonnes per hectare per year, if applied in the field, plant growth was stimulated by over 100 percent. For the first time, the response of more than 10,000 genes was followed simultaneously, which identified brassinosteroids and auxins and their signalling molecules as key to the growth stimulation observed in biochar. Brassinosteroids and auxins are two growth promoting plant hormones and the study goes further in showing that their signalling molecules were also stimulated by biochar application.However, the positive impacts of biochar were coupled with negative findings for a suite of genes that are known to determine the ability of a plant to withstand attack from pests and pathogens. These defence genes were consistently reduced following biochar application to the soil, for example jasmonic and salcyclic acid and ethylene, suggesting that crops grown on biochar may be more susceptible to attack by pests and pathogens.This was a surprising finding and suggests that if reproduced in the field at larger scales, could have wide implications for the use of biochar on commercial crops.Professor Taylor, who co-ordinated the research, says: “Our findings provide the very first insight into how biochar stimulates plant growth — we now know that cell expansion is stimulated in roots and leaves alike and this appears to be the consequence of a complex signalling network that is focussed around two plant growth hormones. However, the finding for plant defence genes was entirely unpredicted and could have serious consequences for the commercial development and deployment of biochar in future. Any risk to agriculture is likely to prevent wide scale use of biochar and we now need to see which pest and pathogens are sensitive to the gene expression changes..”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southampton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Self-healing engineered muscle grown in the laboratory

Biomedical engineers have grown living skeletal muscle that looks a lot like the real thing. It contracts powerfully and rapidly, integrates into mice quickly, and for the first time, demonstrates the ability to heal itself both inside the laboratory and inside an animal.The study conducted at Duke University tested the bioengineered muscle by literally watching it through a window on the back of living mouse. The novel technique allowed for real-time monitoring of the muscle’s integration and maturation inside a living, walking animal.Both the lab-grown muscle and experimental techniques are important steps toward growing viable muscle for studying diseases and treating injuries, said Nenad Bursac, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke.The results appear the week of March 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.”The muscle we have made represents an important advance for the field,” Bursac said. “It’s the first time engineered muscle has been created that contracts as strongly as native neonatal skeletal muscle.”Through years of perfecting their techniques, a team led by Bursac and graduate student Mark Juhas discovered that preparing better muscle requires two things — well-developed contractile muscle fibers and a pool of muscle stem cells, known as satellite cells.Every muscle has satellite cells on reserve, ready to activate upon injury and begin the regeneration process. The key to the team’s success was successfully creating the microenvironments — called niches — where these stem cells await their call to duty.”Simply implanting satellite cells or less-developed muscle doesn’t work as well,” said Juhas. “The well-developed muscle we made provides niches for satellite cells to live in, and, when needed, to restore the robust musculature and its function.”To put their muscle to the test, the engineers ran it through a gauntlet of trials in the laboratory. By stimulating it with electric pulses, they measured its contractile strength, showing that it was more than 10 times stronger than any previous engineered muscles. They damaged it with a toxin found in snake venom to prove that the satellite cells could activate, multiply and successfully heal the injured muscle fibers.Then they moved it out of a dish and into a mouse.With the help of Greg Palmer, an assistant professor of radiation oncology in the Duke University School of Medicine, the team inserted their lab-grown muscle into a small chamber placed on the backs of live mice. The chamber was then covered by a glass panel. Every two days for two weeks, Juhas imaged the implanted muscles through the window to check on their progress.By genetically modifying the muscle fibers to produce fluorescent flashes during calcium spikes — which cause muscle to contract — the researchers could watch the flashes become brighter as the muscle grew stronger.”We could see and measure in real time how blood vessels grew into the implanted muscle fibers, maturing toward equaling the strength of its native counterpart,” said Juhas.The engineers are now beginning work to see if their biomimetic muscle can be used to repair actual muscle injuries and disease.”Can it vascularize, innervate and repair the damaged muscle’s function?” asked Bursac. …

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Migraine attacks increase following stress ‘let-down’

Migraine sufferers who experienced reduced stress from one day to the next are at significantly increased risk of migraine onset on the subsequent day, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Montefiore Headache Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. Stress has long been believed to be a common headache trigger. In this study, researchers found that relaxation following heightened stress was an even more significant trigger for migraine attacks. Findings may aid in recommending preventive treatments and behavioral interventions. The study was published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.Migraine is a chronic condition that affects approximately 38 million Americans. To examine headache triggers, investigators at the Montefiore Headache Center and Einstein conducted a three month electronic daily diary study which captured 2,011 diary records and 110 eligible migraine attacks in 17 participants. The study compared levels of stress and reduction in stress as predictors of headache.”This study demonstrates a striking association between reduction in perceived stress and the occurrence of migraine headaches,” said study lead author Richard B. Lipton, M.D., director, Montefiore Headache Center, professor and vice chair of neurology and the Edwin S. Lowe Chair in Neurology, Einstein. “Results were strongest during the first six hours where decline in stress was associated with a nearly five-fold increased risk of migraine onset. …

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Good bacteria that protects against HIV identified

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston by growing vaginal skin cells outside the body and studying the way they interact with “good and bad” bacteria, think they may be able to better identify the good bacteria that protect women from HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections.The health of the human vagina depends on a symbiotic/mutually beneficial relationship with “good” bacteria that live on its surface feeding on products produced by vaginal skin cells. These good bacteria, in turn, create a physical and chemical barrier to bad bacteria and viruses including HIV.A publication released today from a team of scientists representing multiple disciplines at UTMB and the Oak Crest Institute of Science in Pasadena, Calif., reports a new method for studying the relationship between the skin cells and the “good” bacteria.The researchers are the first to grow human vaginal skin cells in a dish in a manner that creates surfaces that support colonization by the complex good and bad communities of bacteria collected from women during routine gynecological exams. The bacteria communities have never before been successfully grown outside a human.The research group led by Richard Pyles at UTMB reports in the journal PLOS One that by using this model of the human vagina, they discovered that certain bacterial communities alter the way HIV infects and replicates. Their laboratory model will allow careful and controlled evaluation of the complex community of bacteria to ultimately identify those species that weaken the defenses against HIV. Pyles also indicated that this model “will provide the opportunity to study the way that these mixed species bacterial communities change the activity of vaginal applicants including over-the-counter products like douches and prescription medications and contraceptives. These types of studies are very difficult or even impossible to complete in women who are participating in clinical trials.”In fact, the team’s report documented the potential for their system to better evaluate current and future antimicrobial drugs in terms of how they interact with “good and bad” bacteria. In their current studies a bacterial community associated with a symptomatic condition called bacterial vaginosis substantially reduced the antiviral activity of one of the leading anti-HIV medicines.Conversely, vaginal surfaces occupied by healthy bacteria and treated with the antiviral produced significantly less HIV than those vaginal surfaces without bacteria treated with the same antiviral. Dr. Marc Baum, the lead scientist at Oak Crest and co-author of the work, stated “this model is unique as it faithfully recreates the vaginal environment ex vivo, both in terms of the host cellular physiology and the associated complex vaginal microbiomes that could not previously be cultured. I believe it will be of immense value in the study of sexually transmitted infections.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. …

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Plant growth enhanced through promotion of pore opening

By inducing the pore opening of leaves, researchers at Nagoya University’s ITbM developed a strategy for enhancing photosynthesis and plant growth, which may be applied to crops and fuel plants to support global food production and a sustainable low-carbon society.By determining the key factor in regulating photosynthesis and plant growth, Professor Toshinori Kinoshita, Dr. Yin Wang and co-workers at Nagoya University’s Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (WPI-ITbM) have succeeded in developing a method to increase photosynthesis (carbon dioxide uptake) and plant growth through the promotion of stomatal opening. The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is expected to contribute to the promotion of plant production and towards the development of a sustainable low-carbon society.Stomata are small pores located on the surface of leaves that control gas exchange with the external environment, and are the primary inlet for the uptake of carbon dioxide. “Stomatal resistance, which suppresses gas exchange through the stomata, is considered to be the major limiting factor for carbon dioxide uptake by plants during photosynthesis,” explains Professor Kinoshita, “very few reports have existed focusing on the induction of stomatal opening. Therefore, we decided to develop a method to manipulate stomatal opening in view of increasing photosynthesis (carbon dioxide uptake) and plant production.”Kinoshita’s group has already revealed some of the key factors that mediate stomatal opening. The plasma membrane proton (H+)-ATPase or proton pump, an enzyme creating electrochemical gradients in the cell membranes of plants, has been identified as one of the key components. “An increase in photosynthesis (carbon dioxide uptake) by approximately 15% and a 1.4~1.6 times increase in plant growth of Arabidopsis plants was observed by enhanced stomatal opening achieved through overexpression of the proton pump in guard cells that surround the stomata pore,” elaborates Professor Kinoshita.Professor Kinoshita and his co-workers envisage that application of this method will contribute to the increase in the production of crops and fuel plants as well as towards the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Professor Kinoshita states, “Identifying that the manipulation of stomatal opening is the key limiting factor in photosynthesis and plant growth enables us to consider strategies to solve current issues in food production and carbon emissions.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (WPI-ITbM), Nagoya University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Strictly limiting hours surgical residents can work has not improved patient safety

Strictly limiting the number of hours surgical residents can work has not improved patient outcomes but may have increased complications for some patients and led to higher failure rates on certification exams, a research paper concludes.Traditionally, doctors in the residency phase of their training spent very long hours in a hospital — often around-the-clock — so they could see a wide variety and high volume of patients. In the last 10 years, health authorities started limiting those hours in the hopes of improving patient safety and the education and well-being of doctors.In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in the United States limited residents’ hours to 80 per week. In 2011, the council prohibited first-year residents from working 24 shifts.In Canada, on-call shifts were limited to 16 hours in Quebec after a provincial arbitrator ruled that in 2011 that a 24-hour on-call shift posed a danger to residents’ health and violated the Charter of Rights. Last year a National Steering Committee on Resident Duty Hours said the status quo was unacceptable and that shifts of 24 hours or longer without sleep should be avoided. It urged all provinces and health care institutions to develop comprehensive strategies to minimize fatigue and fatigue-related risks during residency.Dr. Najma Ahmad, a trauma surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital who was a member of the national group, published a paper today in the Annals of Surgery that found the too-restricted hours may work for some residents, but not for surgical residents.”A one-size fits all approach to resident duty hours may not be appropriate for all specialties,” said Dr. Ahmed, noting that the American College of Surgeons Division of education has stated that mastery in surgery requires “extensive and immersive experiences.”She said the emphasis should be on reducing the amount of non-educational work residents do and to find ways to manage fatigue such as making sure they get enough uninterrupted sleep. Dr. Ahmed, who is also director of the University of Toronto’s General Surgery Program, conducted a meta-analysis of 135 articles on the impact of resident duty hours on clinical and educational outcomes in surgery.”In surgery, recent changes in hours for residents are not consistently associated with improved resident well-being and may have negative impacts on patient outcomes and performance on certification exams,” she said.Dr. …

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Workplace flexibility still a myth for most

Workplace flexibility — it’s a phrase that might be appealing to job seekers or make a company look good, but a new study by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College shows flexible work options are out of reach for most employees and that when they are offered, arrangements are limited in size and scope.”While large percentages of employers report that they have at least some workplace flexibility, the number of options is usually limited and they are typically not available to the entire workforce,” says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Ph.D., Director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College and one of the researchers of the study. “We’re trying to help employers understand that flexible work initiatives work best if their organizations offer a comprehensive set of options. Employers who implement limited programs might become frustrated if they don’t see the outcomes they had hoped for saying, ‘Gosh, this didn’t help us at all’ or, ‘it didn’t help us with recruitment’ or ‘it didn’t help us with retention.’ In fact, it may not be that the flexible work options didn’t work. Rather, that the companies didn’t offer a sufficient range of options to the employees.”The study, published in the journal, Community, Work, and Family, examined the flexible work arrangements of 545 U.S. employers and found most arrangements center around allowing employees to move where they work and when they report in, but didn’t include reduction of work or temporary leaves from jobs. Additionally, any flexibility options that are available aren’t being made to the majority of a company’s employees.”We should probably set our standards and expectations a little higher,” says Dr. Pitt-Catsouphes. “Business leaders as well as academics have been trying to promote the adoption of quality flexible work initiatives for the past three decades. We have come to realize how important it is for employers to offer different types of flexibilities so that employees and their supervisors have some choice and control over when, where and how much they work. Employers and employees are better able to reap the benefits of workplace flexibility when the initiatives are comprehensive and well aligned with business priorities.”The study, co-authored by Stephen Sweet of Ithaca College, Elyssa Besen of the Center for Disability Research, Lonnie Golden of Penn State Abington along with Boston College’s Pitt-Catsouphes, found only one in five companies offered more than one approach to workplace flexibility, despite the fact that different employees need different options.”What we’re saying is flexibility can work if you make a commitment to making it work,” says Pitt-Catsouphes. …

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Ban Asbestos in Unity – a very powerful message in the sands of Greens Beach Tasmania

A few days ago while I was walking along the beautiful and peaceful beach at a little cove/seaside town in Tasmania called Greens Beach, as there was no one else on the beach I decided spur of the moment to draw this heart in the sand with this powerful message as I felt it reaches out worldwide with a very important message.I stood back and went to take a photograph when all of a sudden a couple appeared from ‘no where’ and asked if they could ‘take a look at my artwork’! I showed them, they looked at each other and went a pale shade of grey and said ”a friend of ours was recently diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and he lives in Launceston’! (Launceston …

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Computers see through faked expressions of pain better than people

A joint study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Toronto has found that a computer system spots real or faked expressions of pain more accurately than people can.The work, titled “Automatic Decoding of Deceptive Pain Expressions,” is published in the latest issue of Current Biology.”The computer system managed to detect distinctive dynamic features of facial expressions that people missed,” said Marian Bartlett, research professor at UC San Diego’s Institute for Neural Computation and lead author of the study. “Human observers just aren’t very good at telling real from faked expressions of pain.”Senior author Kang Lee, professor at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto, said “humans can simulate facial expressions and fake emotions well enough to deceive most observers. The computer’s pattern-recognition abilities prove better at telling whether pain is real or faked.”The research team found that humans could not discriminate real from faked expressions of pain better than random chance — and, even after training, only improved accuracy to a modest 55 percent. The computer system attains an 85 percent accuracy.”In highly social species such as humans,” said Lee, “faces have evolved to convey rich information, including expressions of emotion and pain. And, because of the way our brains are built, people can simulate emotions they’re not actually experiencing — so successfully that they fool other people. The computer is much better at spotting the subtle differences between involuntary and voluntary facial movements.””By revealing the dynamics of facial action through machine vision systems,” said Bartlett, “our approach has the potential to elucidate ‘behavioral fingerprints’ of the neural-control systems involved in emotional signaling.”The single most predictive feature of falsified expressions, the study shows, is the mouth, and how and when it opens. Fakers’ mouths open with less variation and too regularly.”Further investigations,” said the researchers, “will explore whether over-regularity is a general feature of fake expressions.”In addition to detecting pain malingering, the computer-vision system might be used to detect other real-world deceptive actions in the realms of homeland security, psychopathology, job screening, medicine, and law, said Bartlett.”As with causes of pain, these scenarios also generate strong emotions, along with attempts to minimize, mask, and fake such emotions, which may involve ‘dual control’ of the face,” she said. “In addition, our computer-vision system can be applied to detect states in which the human face may provide important clues as to health, physiology, emotion, or thought, such as drivers’ expressions of sleepiness, students’ expressions of attention and comprehension of lectures, or responses to treatment of affective disorders.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – San Diego. The original article was written by Paul K. …

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Ancient food webs developed modern structure soon after mass extinction

Researchers from the Santa Fe Institute and the Smithsonian Institution have pieced together a highly detailed picture of feeding relationships among 700 mammal, bird, reptile, fish, insect, and plant species from a 48 million year old lake and forest ecosystem.Their analysis of fossilized remains from the Messel deposit near Frankfurt, Germany, provides the most compelling evidence to date that ancient food webs were organized much like modern food webs. Their paper describing the research appears online and open access this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.The researchers first compiled data about the more than 6,500 feeding relationships among 700 species found in the deposit, which dates to the Eocene epoch. Then they constructed two networks of feeding interactions — one for the lake and one for the surrounding forest.Next, they mathematically compared each food web’s structural features with those of modern-day food web datasets — matching up such indicators as fractions of cannibals, herbivores, and omnivores; the distributions of generalist and specialist feeders; the mean lengths of feeding chains connecting pairs of taxa; and so on.”What we found is that the Messel lake food web, with 94 taxa and 517 links, looks very much like a modern food web,” says SFI Professor Jennifer Dunne. “This is despite the fact that 48 million years of species turnover and evolution separate the Messel lake ecosystem from modern ecosystems.”Analysis of the Messel forest food web’s structure was more challenging due to the high degree of species diversity represented in the Messel dataset — 630 taxa and 5,534 feeding links — far more than what datasets for modern webs include.”Basically, we don’t yet have examples of comprehensive modern terrestrial food web datasets that have the high resolution of plants, insects, and their interactions that we included in the Messel forest dataset,” says Dunne.Nevertheless, the researchers were able to show that the Messel forest web is likely comparable in structure to modern webs, by using models to account for differences in structure that would result from the many more taxa and interactions in the Messel data.The results are significant because they show that the Messel ecosystem developed a modern ecological structure, along with a modern biota, in a relatively brief 18 million year period following Earth’s most recent die-off, the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, which disrupted ecosystem dynamics on a massive scale and served as a species diversity bottleneck.Dunne says that beyond the ecological and evolutionary significance of the study, the work resulted in the most highly resolved, detailed, and comprehensive terrestrial food web ever compiled.”We want our data to serve as a challenge to ecologists to compile more highly and evenly resolved food web data for extant systems,” she says.Ancient food webs are particularly difficult to reconstruct because data about them is usually limited and of low quality. But the Messel shale deposit is unique. Scientists hypothesize that releases of toxic volcanic gases rendered the area’s air and water lethal to most life in a short time. Animals in and near the lake were overwhelmed, and, along with plants, sunk to the low-oxygen depths of the lake where they were smothered in mud and fossilized, soft tissue and all.The Messel includes outstanding evidence of feeding interactions, including stomach contents and bite marks in soft tissues that can be traced back to particular species’ mouth parts, Dunne says.”Compiling such a highly resolved food web was possible for the Messel because of the exquisite preservation of soft body parts and ecological traces in the deposit,” she says, “and because my co-author, Conrad Labandeira, is one of the world’s foremost experts on fossil plant-insect interactions.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Santa Fe Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Bees capable of learning feats with tasty prize in sight

They may have tiny brains, but bumblebees are capable of some remarkable learning feats, especially when they might get a tasty reward, according to two studies by University of Guelph researchers.PhD student Hamida Mirwan and Prof. Peter Kevan, School of Environmental Sciences, are studying bees’ ability to learn by themselves and from each other.In the first study, published in February in Animal Cognition, the researchers found bees capable of learning to solve increasingly complex problems.The researchers presented bees with a series of artificial flowers that required ever-more challenging strategies, such as moving objects aside or upwards, to gain a sugar syrup reward.When inexperienced bees encountered the most complex flower first, they were unable to access the syrup reward and stopped trying. Bees allowed to progress through increasingly complex flowers were able to navigate the most difficult ones.”Bees with experience are able to solve new problems that they encounter, while bees with no experience just give up,” said Mirwan.She and Kevan consider the study an example of scaffold learning, a concept normally restricted to human psychology in which learners move through increasingly complex steps.In a second study recently published in Psyche,the researchers found bees learned by watching and communicating with other bees, a process called social learning.Mirwan made artificial flowers requiring the bees to walk on the underside of a disk to get a sugar syrup reward. These experienced bees foraged on the artificial flowers for several days until they became accustomed to feeding at them.To see whether other bees could learn from the experienced foragers, Mirwan confined inexperienced bees in a mesh container near the artificial flowers where they could observe the experienced bees. When the nave bees were allowed to forage on the artificial flowers, they took just 70 seconds to get the reward.Control bees that had not observed the experienced bees could not access the syrup.”Social learning in animals usually involves one individual observing and imitating another, although other kinds of communication can also be involved,” said Mirwan.”They could try for up to 30 minutes, but most gave up before then.”In a final test, Mirwan placed experienced bees in a hive with naive bees. When the naive bees were allowed to forage on the artificial flowers, they gained the syrup in just 3.5 minutes.Behavioural scientists usually assume that observation and imitation are at the heart of social learning, but social insects such as bees can also transmit information through touch, vibration and smell.The researchers said the communication method used by the bees is still a mystery.”We can’t quite explain how bees that had never even seen an artificial flower were able to become adept so quickly at foraging on them, but clearly some in-hive communication took place,” said Kevan.”It suggests that social learning in bumblebees is even more complex than we first expected.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Guelph. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Do elephants call ‘human!’? Low rumble alarm call in response to the sound of human voices

African elephants make a specific alarm call in response to the danger of humans, according to a new study of wild elephants in Kenya.Researchers from Oxford University, Save the Elephants, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom carried out a series of audio experiments in which recordings of the voices of the Samburu, a local tribe from North Kenya, were played to resting elephants. The elephants quickly reacted, becoming more vigilant and running away from the sound whilst emitting a distinctive low rumble.When the team, having recorded this rumble, played it back to a group of elephants they reacted in a similar way to the sound of the Samburu voices; running away and becoming very vigilant, perhaps searching for the potentially lethal threat of human hunters.The new research, recently reported in PLOS ONE, builds on previous Oxford University research showing that elephants call ‘bee-ware’ and run away from the sound of angry bees. Whilst the ‘bee’ and ‘human’ rumbling alarm calls might sound similar to our ears there are important differences at low (infrasonic) frequencies that elephants can hear but humans can’t.’Elephants appear to be able to manipulate their vocal tract (mouth, tongue, trunk and so on) to shape the sounds of their rumbles to make different alarm calls,’ said Dr Lucy King of Save the Elephants and Oxford University who led the study with Dr Joseph Soltis, a bioacoustics expert from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and colleagues.’We concede the possibility that these alarm calls are simply a by-product of elephants running away, that is, just an emotional response to the threat that other elephants pick up on,’ Lucy tells me. ‘On the other hand, we think it is also possible that the rumble alarms are akin to words in human language, and that elephants voluntarily and purposefully make those alarm calls to warn others about specific threats. Our research results here show that African elephant alarm calls can differentiate between two types of threat and reflect the level of urgency of that threat.’Elephant ‘human’ alarm call rumbleSignificantly, the reaction to the human alarm call included none of the head-shaking behaviour displayed by elephants hearing the bee alarm. When threatened by bees elephants shake their heads in an effort to knock the insects away as well as running — despite their thick hides adult elephants can be stung around their eyes or up their trunks, whilst calves could potentially be killed by a swarm of stinging bees as they have yet to develop a thick protective skin.Lucy explains: ‘Interestingly, the acoustic analysis done by Joseph Soltis at his Disney laboratory showed that the difference between the ”bee alarm rumble” and the ”human alarm rumble” is the same as a vowel-change in human language, which can change the meaning of words (think of ”boo” and ”bee”). Elephants use similar vowel-like changes in their rumbles to differentiate the type of threat they experience, and so give specific warnings to other elephants who can decipher the sounds.’This collaborative research on how elephants react to and communicate about honeybees and humans is being used to reduce human-elephant conflict in Kenya. Armed with the knowledge that elephants are afraid of bees, Lucy and Save the Elephants have built scores of ‘beehive fences’ around local farms that protect precious fields from crop-raiding elephants.’In this way, local farmers can protect their families and livelihoods without direct conflict with elephants, and they can harvest the honey too for extra income,’ says Lucy. ‘Learning more about how elephants react to threats such as bees and humans will help us design strategies to reduce human-elephant conflict and protect people and elephants.’Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. The original article was written by Pete Wilton. …

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Young athletes with knee pain may turn to meniscus transplant

Patients undergoing meniscal allograft transplantation (MAT) surgery require an additional operation approximately 32% of the time, but overall see a 95% success rate after an average five-year follow-up, according to new research released today at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s (AOSSM) Specialty Day.”Our research shows a positive mid to long-term outcome for patients who require MAT surgery,” commented lead author Dr. Frank McCormick from Holy Cross Orthopedic Institute in Fort Lauderdale Florida, and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “While 64 patients out of the 172 we followed needed additional surgery, the overall survival of transplanted grafts suggests we can confidently recommend this procedure moving forward.”The study took place from January 2003 to April 2011, with patients receiving the same surgical technique as well as the same 4-6 week rehab. Follow-up surgeries included removal of tissue, equipment, and in some cases a revision of the original surgery.”A healthy meniscus is critical to a fully functioning knee, and so also key to leading an active lifestyle,” noted McCormick. “Our latest data shows that patients with damaged knees can certainly recover and return to form with the right kinds of treatment.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Little Foot is oldest complete Australopithecus, new stratigraphic research shows

After 13 years of meticulous excavation of the nearly complete skeleton of the Australopithecus fossil named Little Foot, South African and French scientists have now convincingly shown that it is probably around 3 million years old.In a paper published March 14, 2014 in the Journal of Human Evolution, the latest findings by Professor Ron Clarke from the University of the Witwatersrand and his colleagues refute previous dating claims that suggested Little Foot is younger.The paper is titled: “Stratigraphic analysis of the Sterkfontein StW 573 Australopithecus skeleton and implications for its age,” and is the result of a detailed study of the stratigraphy, micro-stratigraphy, and geochemistry around the skeleton.Little Foot’s StoryThe Sterkfontein caves of Gauteng, South Africa have been world famous since 1936 for producing large numbers of fossils of the ape-man Australopithecus. However, for sixty years, these fossils consisted only of partial skulls and jaws, isolated teeth and fragments of limb bones. These were obtained by blasting or drilling and breaking of the calcified ancient cave infill or by pick and shovel excavation of the softer decalcified infills.Questions arose about the age of these fossils, of how they came to be in the caves, and also of how a complete skeleton would appear. Then in 1997 Ron Clarke, Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe of the University of the Witwatersrand discovered an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton with skull embedded in hard, calcified sediment in an underground chamber of the caves. They began to carefully excavate this skeleton in order to expose it in place in the cave and to understand the ancient processes that contributed to its burial and preservation.This was the first time that such an excavation of an Australopithecus has taken place in an ancient calcified deposit. During the course of this excavation, it became clear that the skeleton had been subjected to ancient disturbance and breakage through partial collapse into a lower cavity and that calcareous flowstone had subsequently filled voids formed around the displaced bones.Despite this fact being published, some other researchers dated the flowstones and claimed that such dates represent the age of the skeleton. This has created a false impression that the skeleton is much younger than it actually is.A French team of specialists in the study of limestone caves, Laurent Bruxelles, Richard Maire and Richard Ortega, together with Clarke and Dominic Stratford of Wits University, have now, with this research published in the Journal of Human Evolution today, shown that the dated flowstones filled voids formed by ancient erosion and collapse and that the skeleton is therefore older, probably considerably older, than the dated flowstones.Little Foot is probably around 3 million years old, and not the 2.2 million years that has been wrongly claimed by other researchers. The skeleton has been entirely excavated from the cave and the skull, arms, legs, pelvis and other bones have been largely cleaned of encasing rock.Professor Clarke has concluded from study of the skull that it belongs to Australopithecus prometheus, a species named by Professor Raymond Dart in 1948 on fragmentary ape-man fossils from Makapansgat in what is now Limpopo Province.Thus at Sterkfontein, there existed two species of ape-man, Australopithecus africanus (for example, Mrs Ples) and Australopithecus prometheus, many specimens of which have been identified by Clarke from two deposits at Sterkfontein.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of the Witwatersrand. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Human brains ‘hard-wired’ to link what we see with what we do

Your brain’s ability to instantly link what you see with what you do is down to a dedicated information ‘highway’, suggests new UCL-led research.For the first time, researchers from UCL (University College London) and Cambridge University have found evidence of a specialized mechanism for spatial self-awareness that combines visual cues with body motion.Standard visual processing is prone to distractions, as it requires us to pay attention to objects of interest and filter out others. The new study has shown that our brains have separate ‘hard-wired’ systems to visually track our own bodies, even if we are not paying attention to them. In fact, the newly-discovered network triggers reactions even before the conscious brain has time to process them.The researchers discovered the new mechanism by testing 52 healthy adults in a series of three experiments. In all experiments, participants used robotic arms to control cursors on two-dimensional displays, where cursor motion was directly linked to hand movement. Their eyes were kept fixed on a mark at the centre of the screen, confirmed with eye tracking.In the first experiment, participants controlled two separate cursors with their left and right hands, both equally close to the centre. The goal was to guide each cursor to a corresponding target at the top of the screen. Occasionally the cursor or target on one side would jump left or right, requiring participants to take corrective action. Each jump was ‘cued’ with a flash on one side, but this was random so did not always correspond to the side about to change.Unsurprisingly, people reacted faster to target jumps when their attention was drawn to the ‘correct’ side by the cue. However, reactions to cursor jumps were fast regardless of cuing, suggesting that a separate mechanism independent of attention is responsible for tracking our own movements.”The first experiment showed us that we react very quickly to changes relating to objects directly under our own control, even when we are not paying attention to them,” explains Dr Alexandra Reichenbach of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, lead author of the study. “This provides strong evidence for a dedicated neural pathway linking motor control to visual information, independently of the standard visual systems that are dependent on attention.”The second experiment was similar to the first, but also introduced changes in brightness to demonstrate the attention effect on the visual perception system. …

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