Online gaming augments players’ social lives, study shows

New research finds that online social behavior isn’t replacing offline social behavior in the gaming community. Instead, online gaming is expanding players’ social lives. The study was done by researchers at North Carolina State University, York University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.”Gamers aren’t the antisocial basement-dwellers we see in pop culture stereotypes, they’re highly social people,” says Dr. Nick Taylor, an assistant professor of communication at NC State and lead author of a paper on the study. “This won’t be a surprise to the gaming community, but it’s worth telling everyone else. Loners are the outliers in gaming, not the norm.”Researchers traveled to more than 20 public gaming events in Canada and the United Kingdom, from 2,500-player events held in convention centers to 20-player events held in bars. The researchers observed the behavior of thousands of players, and had 378 players take an in-depth survey, with a focus on players of massively multiplayer role-playing games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft.The researchers were interested in tracking the online and offline behavior of gamers, focusing on how they communicated with each other. They found that gaming was only one aspect of social behavior at the gaming events.”We found that gamers were often exhibiting many social behaviors at once: watching games, talking, drinking, and chatting online,” Taylor says. “Gaming didn’t eliminate social interaction, it supplemented it.”This was true regardless of which games players were playing, and whether a player’s behavior in the online game was altruistic. For example, a player could be utterly ruthless in the game and still socialize normally offline.”The researchers also found that gamers didn’t distinguish between the time they spent playing games and the time they spent watching other people play games.”It all fell under the category of gaming, which they view as a social activity,” Taylor says.Taylor notes that this work focused on Western gaming communities, and he’s interested in studying the relationship between social behaviors and gaming in other cultures.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by North Carolina State University. …

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Zebrafish discovery may shed light on human kidney function

Researchers say the discovery of how sodium ions pass through the gill of a zebrafish may be a clue to understanding a key function in the human kidney. The findings from a collaboration between Mayo Clinic and the Tokyo Institute of Technology appear in the online issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.The researchers discovered a protein responsible for gas exchanges in the fish gill structure. Specifically they studied and characterized the Na+/H+ (sodium/hydrogen) exchanger named NHE3, responsible for controlling sodium and hydrogen ions across the gill. The researchers also directly demonstrated that NHE3 can function as a Na+/NH4+ (sodium/ammonium) exchanger.”This is significant because the fish tends to mimic the process in humans,” says Michael Romero, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic physiologist who works in nephrology. “This is the true beauty of comparative physiology– a lot of the organs function by very similar processes, down to ionic transfer.”In this case the protein allows the sodium ions to be absorbed from the forming urine while at the same time discarding waste from normally functioning cells, thus keeping the body in balance and serving as an energy saving system. The researchers say the same NHE3 protein performs a similar function in the intestine, pancreas, liver, lungs and reproductive system.The gill is used in the fish as a transport system: sodium ions are nutrients and ammonium carries away waste. It’s a key process allowing zebrafish to extract sodium ions from fresh water. In humans, NHE3 is involved in the acid-waste control system in the kidney, but there hasn’t been a good analysis of that process in humans. Part of this acid-control process in the human kidney is “ammoniagenesis” which requires the initial part of the kidney tubule (proximal tubule) to export ammonia/ammonium. Physiologically, it has been assumed that NHE3 can perform a Na+/NH4+ exchange, but this has never been experimentally demonstrated.Ammoniagenesis and increased renal sodium bicarbonate absorption are partly under the control of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS), which means that this work enhances understanding of human hypertension. …

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Quality problems in America’s nursing homes tied to turnover

Two studies examining the relationship between turnover of nursing staff and quality problems in nursing homes have found adverse outcomes. This comes at a time of greater demand for care by the growing numbers of elderly Americans.The studies, both published in December, were based on data from the 2004 National Nursing Home Survey, which generated a sample of 1,174 nursing homes representing more than 16,000 nursing homes in the United States. These data were linked by facility to quality outcomes from contemporaneous databases used to monitor standards of nursing home care. The linkages were to Quality Indicators from Nursing Home Compare and to data on deficiencies of care from the Online Survey, Certification and Reporting (OSCAR).Staff turnover is of concern for nursing homes, as high turnover has been associated with increased adverse outcomes. These studies suggest that preventing staff turnover should be given greater emphasis.In the first study, “Are Nursing Home Survey Deficiencies Higher in Facilities with Greater Staff Turnover,” published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, Nancy B. Lerner, DNP ’10, RN, BSN ’66, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON), and colleagues including UMSON Professor Alison M. Trinkoff, ScD, MPH, RN, FAAN, found that turnover for both licensed nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) was associated with quality problems as measured by deficiencies considered to be closely related to nursing care (qualify of care, qualify of life, and resident behavior deficiencies reported by OSCAR).In the second study, “Turnover Staffing, Skill Mix, and Resident Outcomes in a National Sample of U.S. Nursing Homes,” published in the Journal of Nursing Administration, Trinkoff and colleagues found that adverse resident outcomes such as pressure ulcers and pain are related to high turnover among CNAs. The study, even after controlling for factors including skill mix, bed size, and ownership, found nursing homes with high CNA turnover had significantly higher odds of pressure ulcers, pain, and urinary tract infections.”Changes are needed to improve the retention of care providers and reduce staff vacancies in nursing homes to ensure high quality of care for older Americans,” Lerner states. Further the study by Lerner and colleagues suggests the need for continued research using deficiencies as a measure of quality in addition to the quality indicators used by others.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Maryland, Baltimore. …

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Social or stinky? New study reveals how animal defenses evolve

When people see a skunk, the reaction usually is “Eww,” but when they see a group of meerkats peering around, they often think “Aww.”Why some animals use noxious scents while others live in social groups to defend themselves against predators is the question that biologists Tim Caro of the University of California, Davis and Theodore Stankowich of California State University, Long Beach and sought to answer through a comprehensive analysis of predator-prey interactions among carnivorous mammals and birds of prey.Their findings appear in the online edition of the journal Evolution.”The idea is that we’re trying to explain why certain antipredator traits evolved in some species but not others,” said Stankowich, who noted that this study not only explains why skunks are stinky and why banded mongooses live in groups but also breaks new ground in the methodology of estimating predation risks.Caro, Stankowich and Paul Haverkamp, a geographer who recently completed his Ph.D. at UC Davis, collected data on 181 species of carnivores, a group in which many species are small and under threat from other animals. They ran a comparison of every possible predator-prey combination, correcting for a variety of natural history factors, to create a potential risk value that estimates the strength of natural selection due to predation from birds and other mammals.They found that noxious spraying was favored by animals that were nocturnal and mostly at risk from other animals, while sociality was favored by animals that were active during the day and potentially vulnerable to birds of prey.”Spraying is a good close-range defense in case you get surprised by a predator, so at night when you can’t detect things far away, you might be more likely to stumble upon a predator,” Stankowich said.Conversely, small carnivores like mongooses and meerkats usually are active during the day which puts them at risk from birds of prey. Living in a large social group means “more eyes on the sky” in daytime, when threats can be detected further away.The social animals also use other defenses such as calling out a warning to other members of their group or even mobbing together to bite and scratch an intruder to drive it away.The project was a major information technology undertaking involving plotting the geographic range overlap of hundreds of mammal and bird species, but will have long-term benefits for ongoing studies. The researchers plan to make their database, nicknamed the “Geography of Fear,” available to other researchers.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Tricks of the trade: How freelancers can land more jobs

According to Elance.com, the online workplace lists more than three million registered freelancers worldwide, and each month it posts 100,000+ freelance jobs ranging from computer programming and web design to finance and engineering. As an increasing number of freelancers depend on the virtual workplace, how can they make themselves more attractive to potential employers?New research suggests freelancers who demonstrate work commitment through an incremental career path, by moving between similar — but not identical — types of jobs, are the most likely to be hired. The findings also conclude that competitors who work on only one type of job or on too many disparate types of jobs are disadvantaged when it comes to winning assignments.The study, “Dilettante or Renaissance Person? How the Order of Job Experiences Affects Hiring in an External Labor Market” by Ming D. Leung, assistant professor, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, appears in the February issue of the American Sociological Review.”Previous findings would suggest that freelancers should specialize in a particular type of work so prospective employers know what they’re good at,” says Leung, “But I was curious about how freelancers can demonstrate their skills and commitment in an online world to acquire more jobs. My research suggests that employers on Elance.com appear to value freelancers who demonstrate their commitment by making incremental moves between jobs.”Leung observes that nuances in the online workplace will continue to affect hiring trends in the future. For workers, direct competition with other freelancers searching for online work presents new challenges. And in the virtual workplace, Leung says employers are often concerned with how engaged and committed a virtual, non-local worker will be despite the availability of information, such as a freelancer’s job history and ratings/feedback from prior employers.To understand how employers navigate the uncertainty of not meeting a potential hire in person, Leung analyzed millions of job applications and more than 100,000 worker profiles around the world from a 2007 Elance.com data set. Leung began by calculating how similar jobs on Elance were to one another. He then looked at the jobs each freelancer completed and found that those who exhibited some movement in their past history — by taking jobs that were similar to one another but not the same — were more likely to get hired through the website than those freelancers who accumulated experiences from dissimilar jobs or from jobs that were identical.An adviser to Elance.com, Leung says the rise in contract and temporary employment is leading employers to increasingly embrace such a virtual workforce for specific skills and flexible employment arrangements. …

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Foot and mouth disease in sub-Saharan Africa moves over short distances; wild buffalo a problem

Oct. 22, 2013 — New research shows that in sub-Saharan Africa the virus responsible for foot and mouth disease (FMD) moves over relatively short distances and the African buffalo are important natural reservoirs for the infection. The study, published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, sheds light on how the type of FMD virus called SAT 2 emerged in sub-Saharan Africa and identifies patterns of spread in countries where SAT 2 is endemic.”The data suggest that the common ancestor of all SAT 2 was in [African] buffalo. It’s very clear that historically infections have moved from buffalo to cattle,” says corresponding author Matthew Hall of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is devastating to livestock all over the world, but it’s a particular problem in Africa, where wildlife that harbor the virus are thought to pass it on to their domesticated cousins.FMD strikes cloven-hoofed animals, presenting as a high fever, blistering in the mouth and feet, decline in milk production in females, and weight loss. Although most animals recover over the course of months, some die of complications from the disease. In wild buffalo, the disease is very rarely symptomatic and animals can be persistently infected for a period of several years. The SAT 2 serotype of the virus is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, but it has crossed the Sahara and caused outbreaks in North Africa and the Middle East between 1990 and 2012.In the hopes they could eventually predict future outbreaks, Hall and his colleagues wanted a better picture of the diversity of SAT 2 viruses in sub-Saharan Africa and how they move around from one location to another. They used 250 genetic sequences of the VP1 section of the genome from SAT 2 isolates taken from all over sub-Saharan Africa and tracked the appearance of the various unique ‘topotypes’ over the region.Hall says the patterns in which the topotypes appear in different places gives strong support to the idea that the virus is spread by infected hosts in land movements over relatively short distances. What’s more, African buffalo are an important “maintenance host,” meaning they maintain a reservoir of the virus that can re-infect domesticated animals after time and culling has ended an outbreak among livestock. The relationships between the 250 sequences also indicate that it’s possible the original source of the SAT 2 viruses that are now found in wild and domesticated animals was African buffalo.To Hall, these results indicate that genetic tracking of viruses has a lot of potential for making inferences about viral spread and heading off future outbreaks.”We showed that we can demonstrate [virus movement] using genetic data. …

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Parents want e-mail consults with doctors, but don’t want to pay for them

Oct. 21, 2013 — Most parents would love to get an e-mail response from their kids’ health care provider for a minor illness rather than making an office visit, but about half say that online consultation should be free, according to a new University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.In the poll this month, 77 percent of parents said they would be likely to seek email advice for their children’s minor illness if that service were available. Only 6 percent of parents said they could currently get that e-mail advice from their child’s health care provider.Parents in the poll reported a range of co-pays charged for office visits, from nothing to $30 per visit. But about half of those polled felt any charge for an e-mail consultation should be less than that of an office visit. And 48 percent of those polled felt an online consultation should be free.The poll surveyed 1,420 parents with a child aged 0 to 17 years old.”Most parents know it can be inconvenient to schedule and get to an office visit for a sick child. An email consultation would prevent the hassles of scheduling and allow sick children to remain at home. Email also could be available after hours when their caregiver’s office is closed, says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H. , associate director of the National Poll on Children’s Health and associate research scientist in the University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics.”But many health care providers don’t have co-pays established for this kind of consultation, so we decided to ask parents what they think.”Clark says the results of this poll mirror concerns that health care providers have expressed about email consultation. …

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Veterans With Mesothelioma

United States veterans have sacrificed a great deal so that the citizens of our country could continue to have the quality of life we often take for granted. The collective heroism, bravery, risk and sacrifice of this group are extraordinary. Sadly, it is this group that are also most affected by mesothelioma. That’s because for many years, the U.S. Military used asbestos widely in many applications. Likely as a result of this high level of exposure, veterans make up roughly 30% of all mesothelioma patients.From the 1930′s to the 1970′s, the U. S. Military used over 300 products containing asbestos, some of them mandated for use because of their fire-retardant properties. In the Air Force, these mesothelioma-linked materials were used with brakes, heat shields, …

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The role of ‘master regulators’ in gene mutations and disease

Oct. 13, 2013 — Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have developed a new way to parse and understand how special proteins called “master regulators” read the genome, and consequently turn genes on and off.Writing in the October 13, 2013 Advance Online Publication of Nature, the scientists say their approach could make it quicker and easier to identify specific gene mutations associated with increased disease risk — an essential step toward developing future targeted treatments, preventions and cures for conditions ranging from diabetes to neurodegenerative disease.”Given the emerging ability to sequence the genomes of individual patients, a major goal is to be able to interpret that DNA sequence with respect to disease risk. What diseases is a person genetically predisposed to?” said principal investigator Christopher Glass, MD, PhD, a professor in the departments of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UC San Diego.”Mutations that occur in protein-coding regions of the genome are relatively straight forward, but most mutations associated with disease risk actually occur in regions of the genome that do not code for proteins,” said Glass. “A central challenge has been developing a strategy that assesses the potential functional impact of these non-coding mutations. This paper lays the foundation for doing so by examining how natural genetic variation alters the function of genomic regions controlling gene expression in a cell specific-manner.”Cells use hundreds of different proteins called transcription factors to “read” the genome, employing those instructions to turn genes on and off. These factors tend to be bound close together on the genome, forming functional units called “enhancers.” Glass and colleagues hypothesized that while each cell has tens of thousands of enhancers consisting of myriad combinations of factors, most enhancers are established by just a handful of special transcription factors called “master regulators.” These master regulators play crucial, even disproportional, roles in defining each cell’s identity and function, such as whether it will be a muscle, skin or heart cell.”Our main idea was that the binding of these master regulators is necessary for the co-binding of the other transcription factors that together enable enhancers to regulate the expression of nearby genes,” Glass said.The scientists tested and validated their hypothesis by looking at the effects of approximately 4 million DNA sequence differences affecting master regulators in macrophage cells in two strains of mice. Macrophages are a type of immune response cell. They found that DNA sequence mutations deciphered by master regulators not only affected how they bound to the genome, but also impacted neighboring transcription factors needed to make functional enhancers.The findings have practical importance for scientists and doctors investigating the genetic underpinnings of disease, said Glass. “Without actual knowledge of where the master regulator binds, there is relatively little predictive value of the DNA sequence for non-coding variants. Our work shows that by collecting a focused set of data for the master regulators of a particular cell type, one can greatly reduce the ‘search space’ of the genome in a particular cell type that would be susceptible to the effects of mutations. …

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Genes outside nucleus have disproportionate effect

Oct. 12, 2013 — New research from the University of California, Davis, shows that the tiny proportion of a cell’s DNA that is located outside the cell nucleus has a disproportionately large effect on a cell’s metabolism. The work, with the model plant Arabidopsis, may have implications for future treatments for inherited diseases in humans.Plant and animal cells carry most of their genes on chromosomes in the nucleus, separated from the rest of the cell. However, they also contain a small number of genes in organelles that lie outside the nucleus. These are the mitochondria, which generate energy for animal and plant cells, and chloroplasts, which carry out photosynthesis in plant cells.The influence of genes outside the nucleus was known to an earlier generation of field ecologists and crop breeders, said Dan Kliebenstein, professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and Genome Center and senior author on the paper published Oct. 8 in the online journal eLife. This is the first time that the effect has been quantified with a genomic approach, he said.Bindu Joseph, a postdoctoral researcher in Kliebenstein’s lab, and Kliebenstein studied how variation in 25,000 nuclear genes and 200 organellar genes affected the levels of thousands of individual chemicals, or metabolites, in leaf tissue from 316 individual Arabidopsis plants.They found that 80 percent of the metabolites measured were directly affected by variation in the organellar genes — about the same proportion that were affected by variation among the much larger number of nuclear genes. There were also indirect effects, where organellar genes regulated the activity of nuclear genes that in turn affected metabolism.”At first it’s surprising, but at another level you almost expect it,” Kliebenstein said. “These organelles produce energy and sugar for cells, so they are very important.”Similar effects could also occur in mammalian cells, Kliebenstein said. That has implications for in vitro fertilization therapies aimed at preventing diseases caused by faulty mitochondria being passed from mother to child. …

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Study provides insights on protecting world’s poor from climate change

Sep. 11, 2013 — The worst impacts of climate change on the world’s poorest fishing communities can likely be avoided by careful management of the local environment and investing in the diversification of options for local people, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society and James Cook University.Climate change is already putting pressure on fishers who depend on nature for their livelihoods. In a new study, scientists found large differences in the potential to adapt based on the local mixture of social and environmental characteristics, requiring a variety of management approaches for each situation.The paper appears today in the online journal PLOS ONE. The authors include: Joshua E. Cinner, Cindy Huchery, Nicholas Graham, and Christina Hicks of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; Emily Darling of Simon Fraser University and Austin Humphries of Rhodes University; Nadine Marshall of CSIRO; and Tim McClanahan of the Wildlife Conservation Society.The study undertaken by an international team of scientists, focused on 12 poor fishing communities along the coast of Kenya — a poor country that has been identified as one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The scientists found that, even among the poor, there were considerable differences in how climate change was likely to affect the communities based on the existing social conditions and how each community cared for its marine resources.”Despite the fact that all of the communities we studied were geographically close, they were vulnerable in very different ways,” said lead author Dr. Joshua Cinner. “Some communities really lacked the assets to invest in new opportunities; others lacked the diversity of livelihood opportunities and skills to make a change, while some lacked the social networks and connections that people can rely on in times of need.”The team also looked at how the local coral reefs were holding up to a changing climate. “There are a number of studies that look at how climate change will affect either ecosystems or society, but in this study we really brought both of these together to get a more complete picture” says co-author Dr. Tim McClanahan, a Senior Conservation Zoologist from the Wildlife Conservation Society. …

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Strain of MERS coronavirus engineered for use in a vaccine

Sep. 10, 2013 — Scientists have developed a strain of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that could be used as a vaccine against the disease, according to a study to be published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The mutant MERS virus, rMERS-CoV-ΔE, has a mutation in its envelope protein that makes it capable of infecting a cell and replicating its genetic material, but deprives it of the ability to spread to other tissues and cause disease. The authors say once additional safe guards are engineered into the virus, it could be used as the basis of a safe and effective live-attenuated vaccine against MERS.”Our achievement was a combination of synthetic biology and genetic engineering,” says co-author Luis Enjuanes of The Autonomous University of Madrid (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid).”The injected vaccine will only replicate in a reduced number of cells and produce enough antigen to immunize the host,” he says, and it cannot infect other people, even those in close contact with a vaccinated person.Since MERS was first identified in June 2012, the World Health Organization has been notified of 108 cases of infection, including 50 deaths. Although the total number of cases is still relatively small, the case fatality rate and the spread of the virus to countries beyond the Middle East is alarming to public health officials. If the virus evolves the ability to transmit easily from person to person, a much more widespread epidemic is possible. Diagnostic assays and antiviral therapies for MERS have been described, but reliable vaccines have not yet been developed.Enjuanes and his team applied what they had learned from 30 years of research on the molecular biology of coronaviruses to synthesize an infectious cDNA clone of the MERS-CoV genome based on a published sequence. They inserted the viral cDNA chromosome into a bacterial artificial chromosome, and mutated several of its genes, one by one, to study the effects on the virus’ ability to infect, replicate, and re-infect cultured human cells.Mutations that disabled accessory genes 3, 4a, 4b and 5 did not seem to hinder the virus: mutant viruses had similar growth rates as the wild-type virus, indicating that the mutations do not disable the virus enough to deploy the mutants in a vaccine. Mutations in the envelope protein (E protein), on the other hand, enabled the virus to replicate its genetic material, but prevented the virus from propagating, or infecting nearby cells.A large amount of the rMERS-CoV-ΔE virus would be needed for a live attenuated MERS vaccine. A virus that can’t propagate itself would be unable to grow the volume needed without help. …

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A swarm on every desktop: Robotics experts learn from public

Sep. 9, 2013 — The next experiment from Rice University’s Multi-Robot Systems Laboratory (MRSL) could happen on your desktop. The lab’s researchers are refining their control algorithms for robotic swarms based upon data from five free online games that anyone can play.”What we learn from the game and our lab experiments applies directly to real-world challenges,” said Aaron Becker, a postdoctoral researcher at MRSL. “For example, if a doctor had a swarm of several thousand microscopic robots, each carrying a tiny payload of anti-cancer drugs, might it be possible to have them all converge on a tumor using magnetic signals from an MRI machine?”In the games, which are available at http://www.swarmcontrol.net, players use simple commands to move groups of robots through mazes and around obstacles. Sometimes the goal is to push a larger object to a particular spot. Other times the goal is to move the collective to a target or to have it assume a specific shape. Each time a game is played, the website collects information about how the task was completed. Becker said the data will be used to develop new control algorithms for robot swarms.”The data from these games will help us better understand how to use multi-robot systems with massive populations to perform coordinated, complex tasks,” said lab director James McLurkin, assistant professor of computer science at Rice.To demonstrate the kind of complex behaviors that can be achieved with simple commands, Becker videotaped an experiment over the Labor Day weekend in which a swarm of a dozen randomly scattered r-one robots were directed to form a complex shape — a capital R. To direct the robots, Becker used a basic controller — a simple one-button, ’80s-era videogame joystick that was capable of giving only two commands: rotate and roll forward.”The robots are all connected to the same joystick, so each robot received exactly the same commands,” Becker said.The experiments were the latest to use the r-one, an inexpensive yet sophisticated multi-robot system that McLurkin began designing in 2009. Each bagel-sized r-one has a radio, a motor, two wheels, dozens of sensors and onboard electronics. …

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Ability to delay gratification may be linked to social trust

Sep. 4, 2013 — A person’s ability to delay gratification — forgoing a smaller reward now for a larger reward in the future — may depend on how trustworthy the person perceives the reward-giver to be, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.A body of research that stretches back more than a half-century has shown that the ability to delay gratification is linked to a number of better life outcomes. On average, people who were able to delay gratification as children go on to have higher SAT scores, for example. They also tend to be more socially conscious as adolescents, less obese as adults, and less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.But despite the long history of studying delayed gratification, little research has focused on the role of social trust in a person’s ability to wait for a larger payoff in the future.”Most of the time, when people talk about delaying gratification, they talk about basic processes of evaluation and self-control,” said Laura Michaelson, a CU-Boulder doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and co-lead author of the new study appearing in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology.In general, people who choose not to delay gratification have often been characterized as irrational and as having poor impulse control. But if the role of social trust is considered, it introduces the possibility that the person who is choosing not to delay gratification may be acting rationally after all, the researchers said.”If you don’t trust someone, it’s rational not to wait for them to give you $20 in a month instead of $15 now,” said study co-lead author Alejandro de la Vega, also a doctoral student in CU-Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.To determine the role of social trust, the research team — which also included Christopher Chatham, a former CU-Boulder doctoral student now at Brown University, and psychology and neuroscience Professor Yuko Munakata — recruited participants using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online tool that can be used by scientists to quickly connect with a large number of people from a broad range of backgrounds.The researchers paid participants up to $1 to participate in an experiment in which they were asked to read the profiles of three fictional characters and then rate them on their trustworthiness. Participants were then asked whether they would opt to take a smaller amount of money offered immediately from each character or a larger amount of money that they would have to wait to collect.The results showed that the participants were less likely to delay gratification when they distrusted the person who was offering the reward. A second experiment — which relied on a larger group but asked each participant to read the profile of only one character — had similar results. The second study also paired one of three sketches of a face with each character.”This offers an alternative explanation for why certain populations might be notoriously bad at delaying gratification or notoriously impulsive, like criminals and addicts,” Michaelson said. “It had been chalked up to a lack of self-control. But it may be the case that they are poor at delaying gratification because they have low social trust.”The findings could have implications for determining the best intervention strategies to use with children who find it difficult to delay gratification. …

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Half of all UK 7 year olds not exercising for recommended minimum

Aug. 22, 2013 — Half of all UK seven year olds are sedentary for six to seven hours every day, and only half clock up the recommended daily minimum of moderate to vigorous physical activity, indicates research published in the online journal BMJ Open.Girls, children of Indian ethnic origin, and those living in Northern Ireland are the least physically active of all seven year olds, the findings show.The authors base their findings on a representative population sample of almost 7000 UK primary school children who were all part of the Millennium Cohort Study. This is tracking the long term health of around 19,000 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002.The duration and intensity of children’s daily physical activity levels were captured for a full week between May 2008 and August 2009, using a gadget called an accelerometer, worn on an elasticated belt. The children only took this off when they bathed or went to bed.UK guidelines on daily physical activity levels across the life course were revised in 2011. These recommend that children engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least an hour every day, and that they spend less time sitting down, although no maximum has been specified for this.The analysis showed that on average, across the entire sample, children managed 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, and that they took an average of 10,299 steps.But the accelerometer readings also showed that half the children were sedentary for six or more hours every day, and that half of them didn’t reach the daily recommended exercise target.Girls fared worse than boys, in terms of total physical activity, moderate to vigorous physical activity, and in the number of steps they took every day.They were also more sedentary and less likely to meet their recommended daily exercise target than the boys. Just 38% of girls achieved this compared with almost two thirds of the boys (63%).And children of Indian ethnic origin spent the least time in moderate to vigorous exercise, and took the fewest steps each day, while only one in three (33%) children of Bangladeshi origin met the recommended daily exercise minimum.Among the four UK countries, children in Northern Ireland were the least active, with just 43% managing 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, while children in Scotland were most likely (52.5%) to achieve the minimum daily target.And while around 52% of children in England managed 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day, there were regional differences, with children living in the North West (58%) the most likely, and those in the Midlands (46%), the least likely, to do so.In an accompanying podcast, senior author Professor Carol Dezateux describes the gender differences in exercise levels as “striking” and calls for policies to promote more exercise among girls, including dancing, playground activities, and ball games.The authors refer back to the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games, which promised to inspire a generation to take part in sport.”The results of our study provide a useful baseline and strongly suggest that contemporary UK children are insufficiently active, implying that effort is needed to boost [physical activity] among young people to the level appropriate for good health,” they write.This is likely to require population wide interventions, they say, including policies to make it easier for kids to walk to school, in a bid to increase physical activity and curb the amount of time they are sedentary.”Investing in this area is a vital component to deliver the Olympic legacy and improve the short and long term health of our children,” they conclude.

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Food source for whales, seals and penguins at risk: Warming Antarctic seas likely to impact on krill habitats

Aug. 22, 2013 — Antarctic krill are usually less than 6 cm in length but their size belies the major role they play in sustaining much of the life in the Southern Ocean. They are the primary food source for many species of whales, seals, penguins and fish.Krill are known to be sensitive to sea temperature, especially in the areas where they grow as adults. This has prompted scientists to try to understand how they might respond to the effects of further climate change.Using statistical models, a team of researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and Plymouth Marine Laboratory assessed the likely impact of projected temperature increases on the Weddell Sea, Scotia Sea and Southern Drake Passage, which is known for its abundance of krill. This region has experienced sea surface warming of as much as 1°C over fifty years. Projections suggest this could rise by another 1°C by the end of the 21st century.The models are based on equations which link krill growth, sea surface temperature, and food availability. An analysis of the results, published this week in the online journal PLOS ONE, suggests warming, if continued, could reduce the area of growth habitat by up to 20%.In the early life stages krill require deep water with low acidity and a narrow range of temperatures for their eggs to successfully hatch and develop. The larvae then feed on algae on the underside of sea ice.The adults require suitable temperatures and enough of the right type of food (larger phytoplankton) to successfully grow and reproduce. Many of these critical environmental features (temperature, acidity, sea ice and food availability) could be affected by climate change.The projected effects of warming are not evenly spread. The island of South Georgia is located within the area likely to be worst affected. …

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Communicating nightingales: Older males trill better

Aug. 12, 2013 — Older male nightingales perform faster and more demanding trills than their younger rivals. These findings were published by researchers at the University of Basel and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in the online edition of Journal of Avian Biology. With up to 100 trill elements a second, nightingales belong to the fastest singers.Share This:Nightingales are famous for their large song repertoire: Each male can perform around 200 different song types. Facing this great variety, how can a female listener assess correctly if the male counterpart is a suitable mating partner? It is unlikely that the size of the repertoire is used as a performance indicator, since it would take about one hour for a male nightingale to sing through its whole song list. Thus, it is more likely that the quality of certain elements or song types are attended to for quick assessment.Around 20 percent of nightingale songs contain rapid broadband trills that are characterized by particularly large frequency bandwidths. Since the performance of these sounds is very demanding, the rate at which they can be repeated is limited: “Trying to sing rapidly increasing sounds in fast repetition is very hard for us humans as well,” says PD Dr. Valentin Amrhein, Zoologist at the University of Basel and head of the research station Petite Camargue Alsacienne in which the data was collected. Singing rapid broadband trills comes at a certain price for the male nightingale. …

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Immune system molecule promotes tumor resistance to anti-angiogenic therapy

Aug. 5, 2013 — A team of scientists, led by Napoleone Ferrara, MD, has shown for the first time that a signaling protein involved in inflammation also promotes tumor resistance to anti-angiogenic therapy.The findings by Ferrara — professor of pathology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and senior deputy director for basic science at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center — and colleagues at Genentech, a biotechnology firm based in South San Francisco, are published in the August 4 Advance Online Publication of the journal Nature Medicine.Angiogenesis is a physiological process in which new blood vessels form from existing vessels. It is fundamental to early development and wound healing, but some cancer tumors exploit angiogenesis to promote blood vessel growth and fuel a tumor’s transition from a benign to a malignant state.In the late 1980s, Ferrara led efforts to identify a key gene (VEGF) involved in angiogenesis and subsequent development of the first drugs to block VEGF-mediated growth in a variety of cancers, among them lung, kidney, brain and colorectal. Researchers discovered, however, that similar to other therapies, VEGF-targeting drugs may lose effectiveness as tumors develop resistance, allowing cancers to recur.The latest research highlights the role of interleukin-17 or IL-17, one of a family of signaling molecules called cytokines that are involved in the body’s immune response. Ferrara and colleagues discovered that IL-17 signaling in tumor-infiltrating T cells, part of the body’s adaptive immune response, encourages resistance to the VEGF-blockade in mouse models.”Our work has the potential to have major translational and therapeutic relevance,” said Ferrara. “By inhibiting the effects of IL-17 with monoclonal antibodies or other blockers, we can potentially improve the clinical efficacy of VEGF-targeting drugs.”Co-authors include Alicia S. Chung, Xiumin Wu, Guanglei Zhuang, Hai Ngu, Ian Kasman, Jianhuan Zhang, Jean-Michel Vernes, Zhaoshi Jiang, Y. Gloria Meng, Franklin V. Peale and Wenjun Ouyang, all at Genentech, Inc.

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Adenoviruses may pose risk for monkey-to-human leap

July 25, 2013 — Adenoviruses commonly infect humans, causing colds, flu-like symptoms and sometimes even death, but now UC San Francisco researchers have discovered that a new species of adenovirus can spread from primate to primate, and potentially from monkey to human.UCSF researchers previously identified a new adenovirus in New World titi monkeys that killed most of the monkeys infected during an outbreak in a closed monkey colony in California in 2009. At the time, a research scientist who worked closely with the monkeys and a family member, both of whom were found to have antibodies to the virus, also became ill.In a new study, which appears July 24 in the online journal PLOS One, UCSF scientists exposed three marmoset monkeys to the same virus. All three developed a mild, “cold-like” respiratory illness and an antibody response to the infection, but were able to eliminate the virus within twelve days.The results conclusively demonstrate that the new virus is capable of infecting and causing disease across primate species, according to Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, director of the UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center, and the lead scientist of the new study.”This study raises more concerns about the potential of unknown viruses to spread from animals to humans,” said Chiu, who is an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF. “We still don’t understand the full extent of viruses that exist in the world and their potential to cause outbreaks in human populations.”Last year, Chiu and colleagues also identified another new adenovirus, named simian adenovirus C, which sickened four of nine captive baboons and killed two of them at a primate facility in 1997. Several staff members at the facility also complained of upper respiratory symptoms at the time of the outbreak. Re-examining the samples many years later, Chiu and his colleagues found antibodies targeted to simian adenovirus C in the human samples.Chiu concluded that staff members had been exposed to the new virus, and that the virus may have jumped from baboon to human, an idea also supported by follow-up experiments in which laboratory strains of simian adenovirus C efficiently infected both human and baboon cells.”Adenoviruses to date have not generally been linked to cross-species infections between monkeys and humans,” Chiu said.In light of these findings, however, he said the normal vigilance in tracking animal viruses that might also infect humans should extend beyond influenza and coronaviruses to include adenoviruses. Chiu is working on new computational techniques to more rapidly identify novel, disease-causing viruses.Viruses with RNA genes, including influenza viruses, make many errors in replicating their genetic material, and are thereby likely to generate new, mutated forms that alter their pathogenic nature, occasionally allowing them to infect new hosts.In contrast, viruses that use DNA as their genetic material, such as adenoviruses, are thought to have less chance of spreading between species because they replicate with fewer mutations that could serve as the basis for infection-enhancing changes.However, beyond mutation during replication, the mixing of genes though recombination of distinct virus species or strains also can give rise to new viruses that are more pathogenic or that infect across mammalian species. This applies to DNA viruses as well as RNA viruses, according to Chiu.In 2009, scientists demonstrated that a more virulent strain of human adenovirus arose from recombination with other distinct strains of milder human adenoviruses.”We believe that’s similar to what happened with the simian adenovirus C outbreak in Texas,” Chiu said. “This new virus likely formed when an existing adenovirus recombined with another, generating a new strain that was highly virulent to baboons.”

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Common agricultural chemicals shown to impair honey bees’ health

July 24, 2013 — Commercial honey bees used to pollinate crops are exposed to a wide variety of agricultural chemicals, including common fungicides which impair the bees’ ability to fight off a potentially lethal parasite, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.The study, published July 24 in the online journal PLOS ONE, is the first analysis of real-world conditions encountered by honey bees as their hives pollinate a wide range of crops, from apples to watermelons.The researchers collected pollen from honey bee hives in fields from Delaware to Maine. They analyzed the samples to find out which flowering plants were the bees’ main pollen sources and what agricultural chemicals were commingled with the pollen. The researchers fed the pesticide-laden pollen samples to healthy bees, which were then tested for their ability to resist infection with Nosema ceranae — a parasite of adult honey bees that has been linked to a lethal phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.On average, the pollen samples contained 9 different agricultural chemicals, including fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and miticides. Sublethal levels of multiple agricultural chemicals were present in every sample, with one sample containing 21 different pesticides. Pesticides found most frequently in the bees’ pollen were the fungicide chlorothalonil, used on apples and other crops, and the insecticide fluvalinate, used by beekeepers to control Varroa mites, common honey bee pests.In the study’s most surprising result, bees that were fed the collected pollen samples containing chlorothonatil were nearly three times more likely to be infected by Nosema than bees that were not exposed to these chemicals, said Jeff Pettis, research leader of the USDA’s Bee Research Laboratory and the study’s lead author. The miticides used to control Varroa mites also harmed the bees’ ability to withstand parasitic infection.Beekeepers know they are making a trade-off when they use miticides, said University of Maryland researcher Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s senior author. The chemicals compromise bees’ immune systems, but the damage is less than it would be if mites were left unchecked. But the study’s finding that common fungicides can be harmful at real world dosages is new, and points to a gap in existing regulations, he said.”We don’t think of fungicides as having a negative effect on bees, because they’re not designed to kill insects,” vanEngelsdorp said. Federal regulations restrict the use of insecticides while pollinating insects are foraging, he said, “but there are no such restrictions on fungicides, so you’ll often see fungicide applications going on while bees are foraging on the crop. …

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