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103 Evolution News Articles
for November 2017
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11-30-17 Jackpot of fossilized pterosaur eggs unearthed in China
The find far outstrips previous discoveries of the flying reptile’s offspring. Hundreds of eggs belonging to a species of flying reptile that lived alongside dinosaurs are giving scientists a peek into the earliest development of the animals. The find includes at least 16 partial embryos, several still preserved in 3-D. Those embryos suggest that the animals were able to walk, but not fly, soon after hatching, researchers report in the Dec. 1 Science. Led by vertebrate paleontologist Xiaolin Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, the scientists uncovered at least 215 eggs in a block of sandstone about 3 meters square. All of the eggs belonged to one species of pterosaur, Hamipterus tianshanensis, which lived in the early Cretaceous Period about 120 million years ago in what is now northwestern China. Previously, researchers have found only a handful of eggs belonging to the winged reptiles, including five eggs from the same site in China (SN: 7/12/14, p. 20) and two more found in Argentina. One of the Argentinian eggs also contained a flattened but well-preserved embryo.

11-30-17 Baby pterosaurs were cute, defenceless and unable to fly
Over 200 pterosaur eggs have been found at a site in China, the largest such discovery on record, and the embryos inside reveal what newly-hatched pterosaurs were like. The largest ever collection of pterosaur eggs and embryos has been found in north-west China. It includes 215 eggs, some with intact embryos. The “Pterosaur Park” is evidence that these pterosaur babies were born flightless and needed looking after, and that their parents nested in huge shared colonies. The first flying vertebrates and the biggest animals to ever get off the ground, pterosaurs evolved some 220 million years ago from a group of reptiles that gave rise to crocodiles, dinosaurs, and later birds. The species studied, Hamipterus tianshanensis, lived in the early Cretaceous nearly 120 million years ago. They likely ate fish and other small animals. To date scientists have only found a handful of pterosaur bone beds. Their eggs and embryos are even more rare, so we know little about how they lived and reproduced. In 2004, the first fossilised pterosaur embryo was found in north-east China. But it was flattened “like Cretaceous roadkill”, says Alexander Kellner at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, making it hard to get useful data. Ten years later, five more eggs were unearthed in north-west China, and another in Argentina. So when Kellner’s colleague Xiaolin Wang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing called him in to say he had found over 200, he reacted with disbelief. The H. tianshanensis eggs are each the size of a small chicken egg, but with a soft shell like a snake’s egg instead of a hard, brittle one. They were found in a sandstone block just 3.28 square metres in size.

11-30-17 Fossilised eggs shed light on reign of pterosaurs
The largest clutch of pterosaurs eggs ever discovered suggests that the extinct flying reptiles may have gathered together in vast colonies to lay their eggs. More than 200 eggs were discovered at one location in China. Little is known about how the pterosaurs reproduced. The find suggests that hatchlings were probably incapable of flight when they emerged from the egg, and needed some parental care. Pterosaur experts Xiaolin Wang of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and Alexander Kellner of the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro discovered the fossils. The 215-plus eggs could not have been laid by the same female, said Dr Kellner. An almost complete skeleton of a hatchling shows that bones related to flight were less developed than bones of the hind limb, indicating that newborns might have been able to walk but not fly. ''That implies some parental help was needed for the hatchlings,'' he told BBC News. (Webmaster's comment: Evolutionary forces would drive these flying creatures to develope the same survival mechanisms as birds have today. Large breeding colonies would be one of those survival mechanisms.)

11-30-17 Addicted to tech? A brain chemical imbalance may be to blame
A study of Korean teenagers suggests a brain chemical imbalance can be a sign of tech addiction. But is it really possible to be addicted to your smartphone? Glued to your phone? A chemical imbalance in your brain may be to blame – a finding that may lead to new treatments for people who believe they are addicted to technology. A study of teenagers who are “addicted” to their smartphones or the internet has found that people who struggle with so-called tech addiction seem to have more of a chemical that slows down brain signals, and less of a chemical that makes neurons more active. Those who were addicted had more of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is thought to help regulate anxiety, but less of the chemical glutamate, which causes neurons to become electrically excited. Hyung Suk Seo at Korea University and his team discovered this by scanning the brains of 19 people who answered in surveys that their tech usage is detrimental to their lives, and comparing the results with 19 people of similar age who don’t have problems with tech. Of the 19 tech addicts, 12 were given brain scans capable of detecting neurotransmitter levels before and after a course of cognitive behavioural therapy designed to reduce the amount of time a person spends using technology. The remaining seven just had one initial scan. The team found that the relative levels of GABA and glutamate converged towards more normal levels in those that underwent the therapy. These results were presented at the Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago today.

11-30-17 Migraine drug makes people have fewer ‘migraine days’
A large trial has found that a drug can halve the amount of time that people are laid low by migraines, and reduce the number of ‘migraine days’ a person has. A drug can halve the amount of time that people are laid low by migraines. Erenumab is an antibody that blocks a brain pathway involving a molecule called CGRP, which becomes more abundant during migraine attacks. In a trial of nearly 1,000 people, the drug was found to typically reduce the number of “migraine days” a person had by three or four days a month. The trial involved taking the drug – or a placebo – for six months. The drug halved the duration of migraines in around half of those who took it. The study is a step forward for understanding and treating migraine, says Peter Goadsby, from King’s College Hospital, London, who led the trial. “Migraine can be a debilitating, chronic condition that can destroy lives,” says Simon Evans, of the charity Migraine Action. “We hope this marks the start of real change in how this condition is treated.” It’s estimated that more than 8.5 million people in the UK experience migraines every year. Attacks can last as long as three days, and the condition has been linked to depression.

11-30-17 Podcast: Are we heading towards a male fertility disaster?
It’s a disaster of titanic proportions, according to Hagai Levine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. A study he published this year found a 50 per cent decline in sperm counts among Western men from 1973 to 2011. On top of that, sperm production declines with age, and more men are leaving it later to have kids. “I am very worried,” he says. “We cannot escape from it.” In this exclusive subscriber-only podcast, presented by Geoff Marsh, we hear from journalist Moya Sarner, who wrote a feature story for New Scientist about the looming crisis. Geoff speaks to Levine and Allan Pacey at the University of Sheffield, UK, a self-confessed “grumpy sceptic” about declining sperm. Marine ecologist Jon Copley tells us about another male fertility crisis affecting our oceans. And Geoff visits a clinic to find out how his own sperm are holding up.

11-29-17 Hidden history of prehistoric women's work revealed
Grinding grain for hours a day gave prehistoric women stronger arms than today's elite female rowers, a study suggests. The discovery points to a ''hidden history'' of gruelling manual labour performed by women over millennia, say University of Cambridge researchers. The physical demands on prehistoric women may have been underestimated in the past, the study shows. In fact, women's work was a crucial driver of early farming economies. "This is the first study to actually compare prehistoric female bones to those of living women," said lead researcher, Dr Alison Macintosh. "By interpreting women's bones in a female-specific context we can start to see how intensive, variable and laborious their behaviours were, hinting at a hidden history of women's work over thousands of years." The researchers used a CT scanner to analyse the arm (humerus) and leg (tibia) bones of modern women: from runners, rowers and footballers to those with more sedentary lifestyles. The rowers belonged to the Women's Boat Club at Cambridge, and won last year's Boat Race. These elite modern athletes clocked up more than 100 km a week on the river. The bones strengths of athletes were compared to those of women from early Neolithic agricultural eras through to farming communities of the Middle Ages. The Neolithic women analysed in the study (living around 7,000 years ago) had similar leg bone strength to living women but their arm bones were 11-16% stronger for their size than the rowers. The arms of Bronze Age women were stronger still. The scientists think that prehistoric women may have used stones to grind grains such as spelt and wheat into flour, which would have loaded women's arm bones in a similar way to the back-and-forth motion of rowing. In the days before the invention of the plough, farming would have involved planting, tilling and harvesting all crops by hand, and women likely carried out many of these tasks. "Women were also likely to have been fetching food and water for domestic livestock, processing milk and meat, and converting hides and wool into textiles,'' said Dr Macintosh. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, suggests women's labour was key to the rise of agriculture.

11-29-17 'Unnatural' microbe can make proteins
An altered microbe with an "unnatural" genetic code has been shown to assemble proteins - a key step towards designing new drugs and materials. Scientists modified the bacterium's DNA to incorporate six "letters" rather than the four found in nature. They previously found the E. coli bug could hold on to the synthetic code but was slow to grow. And it had been unclear whether the lifeforms could be used to encode proteins like normal DNA. The blueprint for all forms of life on Earth is written in a code consisting of four "letters": A, T, C and G, which pair up in the DNA double helix. The lab organism has been modified to use an additional two, giving it a genetic code of six letters. Transcription and translation are key steps in the process by which cells use the instructions in the genetic code to manufacture proteins - the vital functional molecules in biology. Writing in Nature journal, Floyd Romesberg from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, US, and colleagues, show that the bacterium can both transcribe and translate tinkered-with biological building blocks. It resulted in proteins containing "unnatural" constituents (amino acids) and occurred with no loss of efficiency compared with natural protein synthesis. Organisms that can produce proteins not found in nature could be incredibly useful. They could form the basis of new treatments for disease, as well as new types of plastic - and other novel materials.

11-29-17 A bacterium has been engineered to make ‘unnatural’ proteins
A microorganism with two extra letters in its genetic code, can create proteins far more complex and versatile than anything found in nature. THE genetic alphabet just got 50 per cent bigger. A bacterium has been engineered not only to have two more “letters” in its DNA, but to use them to make new proteins that have never existed in nature. The genes carried on DNA are instruction manuals for making proteins, which do essential jobs like digesting food and fighting infection. The letters that make up the genetic code are molecules called bases. All known living things use the same four letters: A, C, G and T. The new bacterium has two more synthetically engineered bases, called “X” and “Y”. Floyd Romesberg at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and his team have been working on X and Y for 13 years. In 2014, they moved them from a test tube into an E. coli bacterium. The cell was able to copy the DNA with X and Y in it, and pass that DNA to its daughter cells. Now they have gone a step further and used the altered DNA to make new proteins (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature24659). “Every protein ever translated has been decoded using a four-letter alphabet, but now we’ve decoded proteins using a six-letter one,” says Romesberg.

11-29-17 Exercise hormone protects against bad complications in surgery
A hormone released by muscles during exercise has been found to protect mice from complications during surgery caused by restricted blood flow. A hormone released by muscles during exercise can be used to prevent complications from surgery, research in mice suggests. Surgical procedures often need to restrict blood flow to organs to make them easier to operate on. But this can cause long-lasting organ damage because it cuts off oxygen and nutrients. One way to limit this damage is to place a blood pressure cuff around the patient’s arm before the operation and repeatedly squeeze and release it. Cutting off blood supply to the periphery of the body seems to train it to cope better when the same is done during surgery to the central organs, although the reasons for this have been unclear until now. Chunyu Zeng at the Third Military Medical University in China and his colleagues have found that this preconditioning process works by stimulating muscles to release a hormone called irisin. This hormone seems to counteract oxidative stress caused by low blood flow, travelling in the blood to areas of need. Zeng’s team found that irisin levels tripled in the bloodstreams of mice when their thigh circulation was temporarily cut off. This reduced damage to their lungs when they subsequently underwent surgery that disrupted their lungs’ blood supply.

11-29-17 Scientists are seeking new strategies to fight mutiple sclerosis
To find clues to origins of MS, researchers look beyond the immune system. James Davis used to be an avid outdoorsman. He surfed, hiked, skateboarded and rock climbed. Today, the 48-year-old from Albuquerque barely gets out of bed. He has the most severe form of multiple sclerosis, known as primary progressive MS, a worsening disease that destroys the central nervous system. Diagnosed in May 2011, Davis relied on a wheelchair within six months. He can no longer get up to go to the bathroom or grab a snack from the fridge. Davis hoped life might improve when he was chosen in 2012 to participate in a clinical trial of a drug called ocrelizumab. The drug offered a first sliver of hope for patients waiting for a cure, or at least something to slow down the disease’s staggering march. Early research suggested the drug could help some of the roughly 60,000 people in the United States, like Davis, suffering from primary progressive MS. The drug also held promise for patients with the other major form of the disease, relapsing-remitting MS, which afflicts about 340,000 people nationwide. For some people, ocrelizumab seemed to work. Brain scans of patients with primary progressive MS showed fewer signs of damage and the patients’ ability to walk deteriorated more slowly than in individuals who received a placebo, researchers reported in January in the New England Journal of Medicine. The drug also helped people with relapsing-remitting MS, which, as the name implies, includes shifts between disability and wellness. Over a year’s time, these patients experienced about half as many flare-ups as those taking another commonly prescribed drug, a different research group reported in the same issue of the journal.

11-29-17 Does it matter if my child is not genetically related to me?
Egg and sperm donation bring a sharper edge to an age-old debate: whether nature or nurture is more important to a child’s development. SOMEWHERE out there is a wonderful woman who has donated 10 of her eggs to help me create a family. If I decide to use them, I could give birth to a child with whom I do not share a genetic history. This inevitably makes me wonder: how much does that genetic bond matter? We’ve all heard stories of twins who were separated at birth and reunited as adults, only to find their personalities bear uncanny resemblances. Over 20 years of looking at such stories, the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart came to a remarkable conclusion: the personalities of identical twins raised separately are just as similar as if they had been raised together. A suite of genetic studies supports this finding, showing that our DNA helps shape all aspects of our identities from intelligence to risk-taking and even our political beliefs. “The genetic influence on individual differences in psychological traits is so widespread that we are unable to name an exception,” says Robert Plomin, a behavioural geneticist at King’s College London. That isn’t to say that biology is destiny, says Laura Baker, who studies human behaviour at the University of Southern California. We know, for example, that warm and supportive parents are more likely to raise better-adjusted adolescents, and that children who experience early trauma are more likely to develop depression or anxiety, or show antisocial behaviour. Studies consistently attribute around half of the differences in our personalities to genetic effects. Plomin, for instance, recently found that genes account for 52 per cent of the differences between children’s exam scores. But it’s not that simple.

11-29-17 Strong-armed women helped power Europe’s ancient farming revolution
Bone studies show that a low-tech agricultural life sculpted powerful arms that female rowers today would envy. Ancient farm women in Central Europe labored so vigorously at grinding grain, tilling soil and other daily tasks that the women’s average upper-arm strength surpassed that of top female rowers today, a new study finds. In the early stages of farming more than 7,000 years ago, women engaged in a wide array of physically intense activities that were crucial to village life but have gone largely unnoticed by scientists, conclude biological anthropologist Alison Macintosh of the University of Cambridge and colleagues. “Women’s labor provided the driving force behind the expansion of agricultural economies in the past,” Macintosh says. Previous investigations underestimated the intensity of ancient farm women’s manual labor, the researchers contend online November 29 in Science Advances. Those studies compared women’s bones with those of male contemporaries and men today. But due to hormonal and other biological factors, male bones generally undergo faster and more beneficial shape changes in response to regular physical exertion than female bones do. To better gauge how women’s skeletal strength has changed over time, Macintosh’s team compared bones of ancient farm women with those of living women, including different types of athletes.

11-29-17 Married people are much less likely to get dementia
People who are single for life are 42 per cent more likely to get dementia, but marriage isn’t always good for your health – especially if you’re a woman. An analysis of more than 800,000 people has concluded that people who remain single for life are 42 per cent more likely to get dementia than married couples. The study also found that people who have been widowed are 20 per cent more likely to develop the condition, but that divorcees don’t have an elevated risk. Previous research has suggested that married people may have healthier lifestyles, which may help explain the findings. Another hypothesis is that married people are more socially engaged, and that this may protect against developing the condition. The stress of bereavement might be behind the increased risk in those who have been widowed. But marriage isn’t always good for the health. While men are more likely to survive a heart attack if they are married, single women recover better than those who are married.

11-29-17 Weird ‘underground’ flower has evolved to look like a mushroom
The cast-iron plant's flowers bloom just above the surface of the soil and are often buried. They may mimic mushrooms and serve to attract a surprising pollinator. THERE is a plant whose flowers bloom almost underground – and that might be how it lures in its favourite pollinators, mushroom-eating flies. The cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior ) has drab flowers that are often buried in leaf litter. Biologists have long been puzzled about how these subterranean flowers are pollinated. Slugs, small crustaceans and insect-like springtails have all been named as possible candidates. To find out, Kenji Suetsugu at Kobe University and Masahiro Sueyoshi at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Tsukuba studied wild cast-iron plants. “No one had conducted direct observations in the natural habitat,” says Suetsugu. The pair went to Japan’s Kuroshima Island, where the plants are common. Over two years, they noted the visitors to flowers, and counted how many became fruit each autumn. While many species visited, fungus gnats were the best pollinators. These small, mushroom-eating flies adeptly navigated the flower’s petals and the flowers they visited made the most fruit (Ecology, doi.org/cgp7). “The gnats were observed on multiple occasions departing from Aspidistra flowers with a lot of pollen grains on their bodies,” says Suetsugu.

11-29-17 Malaria is no longer in decline and that should worry us all
The fight to end malaria is stalling after more than a decade of progress. We need to wake up and reinvigorate attempts to eradicate it, says Azra Ghani. Malaria – one of the world’s oldest killers – continues to plague large parts of the globe despite decades of effort to wipe it out. Sadly, as the World Malaria Report published by the World Health Organization today makes clear, progress on eliminating it has stagnated, with the number of cases and deaths unchanged for the past three years. This is a disease that still results in the death of a child every 2 minutes, despite effective treatment costing roughly the same as a cup of coffee in London. During the 20th century, several attempts were made to eliminate malaria. In some parts of the world, notably Europe and the US, they worked. But in other areas progress stalled as the tools available to tackle it began to fail and financial and political commitment wavered. One of the most effective means to combat infection has been the use of bed nets. These protect those sleeping under them from being bitten, while at the same time a coating of chemical insecticide kills malaria-carrying mosquitoes that touch them. The development of simple finger-prick tests that can immediately detect whether a child has malaria parasites in their blood has allowed quick diagnosis. Coupled with an increased supply of the cheap but highly effective drugs needed to cure it, these have reduced the complications associated with infection. So why has progress stalled?

11-28-17 Teenage brains 'not wired for high stakes'
Brain immaturity during adolescence could explain why some teenagers fail to respond to incentives such as cash rewards. Adults are good at putting maximum mental effort into the things that matter most. But, brain circuits are still developing in teenagers, making it harder for them to tackle meeting their goals, say US psychologists. Attempts to improve student grades with money have had mixed success. The research, published in the journal, Nature Communications, shows that brain connectivity continues to develop throughout adolescence, affecting teenagers' ability to perform when the stakes are high. In the study, researchers at Harvard University used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures brain activity by detecting changes linked to blood flow. Lead researcher Katie Insel said older adolescents were able to boost their performance when the stakes were high. However, younger adolescents performed similarly for low and high stakes outcomes. ''These findings demonstrate that brain connectivity continues to develop across adolescence,'' she told BBC News. ''This means that as teens age, they become better at adjusting brain connectivity across motivational contexts, which in turn allows them to do better when working towards a high-value goal.'' Past studies have shown that connections between different parts of the growing brain take years to develop. The last bit of the brain to reach full maturity is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for things like planning, controlling emotions and empathy. (Webmaster's comment: Killing a living, thinking creature for sport. What a sick idea!)

11-28-17 Testosterone may be one reason why men don’t get asthma as much as women
The male sex hormone keeps immune cells in mice lungs from revving up an allergic reaction. Testosterone may tamp down asthma caused by inhaling pollen, dust or other airborne allergens. That’s partly why more women suffer from the lung disease than men, new research suggests. The male sex hormone acts on a group of immune cells that are part of the first line of the body’s defense against invaders. These cells are thought to kick-start inflammation in the lungs, which causes airways to narrow during an asthma attack. In mice exposed to an allergen, testosterone reduced the inflammatory response, researchers report in the Nov. 28 Cell Reports. “How male and female sex hormones can affect the immune system is important for understanding the molecular and cellular basis of sex differences in diseases like asthma,” says Nicola Heller, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine not involved in the study. Such findings may lead to new treatments and ways to manage symptoms, she says. Nationally, more than 18 million adults and 6 million children have asthma, according to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One clue that sex hormones play a role in the disease — which causes wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing — comes from asthma rates. As children, boys are more likely than girls to have asthma. But around puberty, when sex hormones shift into high gear, the balance begins to change. By midlife, women are more likely to suffer from asthma than men.

11-28-17 River departed 'before Indus civilisation emergence'
Further light has been shed on the emergence and demise of one of the earliest urban civilisations. The Indus society came to prominence in what is now northwest India and Pakistan some 5,300 years ago thanks in large part to the sustenance of a long-lost Himalayan river. Or so it was thought. New evidence now indicates this great water course had actually changed its path and disappeared before the Indus people had even settled in the region. That they lacked the resource offered by a big, actively flowing river will come as a surprise to many; the other early urban societies of the time, in Egypt and Mesopotamia, certainly benefitted in this way. The new research was led from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and from Imperial College London.

11-28-17 Madagascar’s lemurs close to extinction after population crash
Ring-tailed lemurs have experienced a precipitous decline over the last two decades and are now one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world. Cute they may be, but ring-tailed lemurs are in deep trouble in Madagascar, according to a report listing the world’s 25 most endangered primates. According to rough estimates two decades ago, ring-tailed lemurs once numbered “several hundred thousand” throughout the island. But according to a recent census included in the report, numbers have now crashed to between 2500 and 3000. “It’s so dramatic we felt we had to highlight it,” says lead author Christoph Schwitzer, director of conservation at Bristol Zoological Society. “They are the most abundant primate in zoos, but they’re being hammered in their natural habitat.” The report, published today, is titled Primates in Peril: The world’s 25 most endangered primates 2016-2018. Schwitzer says there are three major factors driving the rapid decline. One is the desperate poverty that drives citizens to kill lemurs for food: 69 per cent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. This poverty is aggravated by long-standing political instability and corruption, which has led to the withdrawal of donor aid on which the country depends for 75 per cent of its revenue. Poverty has forced people to turn to small-scale, subsistence rice farming, which is eating into the lemurs’ habitat. “We’re seeing very high rates of habitat loss exacerbated by the political instability,” says Schwitzer. “There’s almost no environmental law enforcement and poverty levels have shot up, so people poach lemurs, and it’s reaching unprecedented levels.” A third factor is the local pet trade. Baby ring-tailed lemurs are often captured in the wild and sold to hotels and restaurants for the amusement of guests.

11-28-17 Bird pulled from brink of extinction facing poisoning threat
The red kite has become more common in the past 30 years in the UK, thanks to conservation schemes. But, while numbers of the birds of prey are on the rise, scientists say human factors threaten to derail progress. Post-mortem tests on wild red kites show many have been poisoned by lead shot, rat poison or pesticides. The study, published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, suggests poisoning of red kites may be slowing their rate of recovery in England. Dr Jenny Jaffe of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), who worked on the study, said birds of prey, and especially scavengers, eat animals that contain lead shot, leading to lead poisoning. ''That can be changed by changing the shot gun cartridges to non lead, which a lot of countries do,'' she told BBC News. ''And, there is some legislation already in the UK, but it is very limited.'' Another threat - pesticide poisoning - is ''mostly deliberate'', she said, caused by baiting of bird or rabbit carcasses. ''You'll find red kites that are in good body condition that have died very suddenly and where toxicology shows that they have high levels of pesticides,'' said Dr Jaffe. ''It might not per se be focussed on red kites specifically, but the people who put out these poisons are focussed on killing predators of their, for example, game birds or livestock.'' (Webmaster's comment: In the long run the animals haven't got a chance!)

11-27-17 How bats keep an ear on their prey
A structure that allows sound information to be processed extremely fast has been identified in bats' brains. Researchers were able to analyse the echo-locating animals' neurones as they caught their insect prey in darkness. But the bats have to process a lot of sound information. "The vocalisations are insanely fast. It is a heavy processing load to perform this behaviour," said Dr Melville Wohlgemuth, who led the study. The research is published in the journal JNeurosci. The scientists wanted to find out whether this need to process over 120 sound clicks per second had resulted in the evolution of a more efficient brain structure. Dr Wohlgemuth located the "superior colliculus" structure in the bats' brain. This is the area of the brain that lets the bat know where things are in relation to themselves. He found that in the bats, this structure is uniquely adapted to analyse auditory data quickly and enable quick and accurate corrections of the body in response. In order to catch the insects, bats have to know where their body is, and put that in the context of where their prey is. And they need to do this fast. The neurones that help them process spatial and motor information were found to be very close together. This close proximity is likely to be what allows them to quickly process the echoes bouncing back from their prey. In most mammals, the brain structure identified in these bats is more closely associated with vision. When you move your eyes across the page, the precision with which you find the next word is dictated by this structure in the centre of your own brain.

11-27-17 Rough lessons can lessen the pull of human scent on a mosquito
Bursts of shaking teach the bloodsuckers to be indifferent to the odor of people's skin. After unpleasant lessons in the lab, mosquitoes can learn some restraint in their zest for pursuing the scent of human skin. The test, a kind of aversion therapy for mosquitoes to see if they can associate smells with bad experiences, was reported at the annual Entomological Society of America meeting. “Mosquitoes have this very challenging task of finding food that’s hidden under the skin of mobile and defensive hosts,” said Clément Vinauger of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. He’s investigating whether repeated scares such as near misses of a slapping hand might change mosquito reactions to odors. Female mosquitoes go about their dangerous blood quest by tracking a mix of cues: plumes of carbon dioxide, the sight of looming objects, up-close body heat and body scent (SN: 8/22/15, p. 15). The final targeting can be annoyingly picky. Even within the same target species, such as humans, some individuals turn out to be mosquito magnets, while others aren’t so alluring.

11-26-17 3 research-backed ways to make happy memories that last a lifetime
There is a way to engineer your best moments. ur first kiss. Graduation. Your first job. Your wedding day. The birth of your first child. These are the big memories that we all cherish. But there are other little memories that stick out because they had such a powerful emotional impact on you. Moments that enriched your life, bonded you with others and helped you define who you are. Well, the latter are just "magic," right? Serendipity. Can't engineer that. They just "happen"… Yeah, and sometimes they don't. More often than not, one day rolls into the next, one month rolls into the next, you blink your eyes, and you're staring down the barrel of another New Year's Day saying: Where the heck did the time go? Serendipity can be a bus that never arrives. So why do we leave special moments to chance? And why do we not do more to create those special memories for others — the way we'd like them to make some for us? We get tired. We get lazy. And then boom — suddenly CVS is loaded with Christmas ornaments and it signals the end of another year. No good. If we want great memories we have to make them. But how do you do that? What makes some little moments so powerful? And others the epitome of "meh"? Chip and Dan Heath have a new book that lays out the science you need to know — The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. Time to learn how to construct more events that will restock your reminiscence reservoir. Boost your nostalgia number. Fill your flashback fund.

This is how to create happy memories that will last a lifetime:

  1. Create moments of elevation: Boost sensory appeal (light some fireworks.) Break the script (don't wait for the 4th of July.) Raise the stakes (hope you don't get arrested.)
  2. Celebrate moments of pride: If your first book comes out and someone insists you go someplace special that night, do it. Otherwise you wouldn't have a vivid memory. You wouldn't have photos. All you would have is some random date to remember like in 8th grade history class.
  3. Build moments of connection: Struggle. Working together on something, especially something meaningful, bonds us together. So just help Gary move this weekend and stop whining.

11-23-17 Morning sickness in pregnancy blamed on protein in the placenta
High levels of the protein have been linked with nausea in pregnant women – a discovery that might lead to new anti-sickness drugs. Morning sickness. It has been blamed on all sorts of things – from carrying girls to multiple pregnancies. But a UK study of nearly 800 pregnant women suggests that a protein called GDF15 might be the real culprit. It appears to trigger sickness by acting in the brain, most likely to protect the foetus from circulating toxins or infections. Targeting the protein could provide a new and more precise way to combat morning sickness, which affects 70 to 90 per cent of pregnant women. It has long been known that pregnant women produce high amounts of GDF15 in their liver and placental tissue. The protein is normally involved in inflammatory processes associated with tissue injury. Recently, it was discovered that it is also associated with food aversion after researchers showed that high levels of GDF15 put mice off their meals. To find out if GDF15 is linked to sickness and nausea in pregnant women, Stephen O’Rahilly at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues measured blood concentrations of the protein in 791 women attending a maternity hospital in Cambridge, between 2001 and 2009. After delivery, the women filled in questionnaires about their level of morning sickness at different stages of the pregnancy, and whether they had taken any anti-sickness medication.

11-24-17 Fish Have Emotions
Fish, who can experience human-like emotions, including depression, marine biologists say. “Depressed people are withdrawn,” said biologist Culum Brown. “The same is true of fish.”

11-24-17 Exercise stops brain shrinkage
After people turn 40, their brain shrinks by about 5 percent every 10 years. But new research suggests aerobic exercise could have a protective effect, slowing this age-related deterioration and keeping the mind sharp over time. To investigate the effects of exercise on the hippocampus, a brain region essential for creating and storing memories, an international team of researchers analyzed 14 previous studies, involving 737 people between ages 24 and 76. Some of the participants were healthy; others suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, depression, or schizophrenia. The researchers split the subjects into two groups—people who engaged in various fitness regimens for up to two years and those who didn’t exercise—and compared scans of their brains. They found that aerobic activity appeared to dramatically increase the size of the left region of the hippocampus. “When you exercise, you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” lead author Joseph Firth from Western Sydney University tells ScienceDaily.com. “[That] may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain.”

11-24-17 Blood clots from watching TV
People who spend a lot of time in front of the television may be at greater risk for dangerous blood clots that form in deep veins—even if they exercise regularly, new research shows. “Watching TV itself isn’t likely bad,” explains study author Mary Cushman from the University of Vermont. “But we tend to snack and sit still for prolonged periods while watching.” Sitting without moving slows blood circulation, which increases the risk for a blood clot in a vein, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These clots can become dislodged and get trapped in the lungs, reports MedicalNewsToday?.com. When Cushman and her colleagues examined the TV habits of 15,158 middle-aged adults, they found that those who watched TV “very often” were at 1.7 times higher risk for blood clots than those who did so rarely or never. Among those who exercised, DVT risk was slightly higher among the people who watched TV “very often” but still managed the recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity—suggesting that bouts of physical activity aren’t enough to offset the harmful effects of sedentary TV binge-watching.

11-24-17 Avatar therapy 'reduces power of schizophrenia voices'
Confronting an avatar on a computer screen helped patients hearing voices to cope better with hallucinations, a UK trial has found. Patients who received this therapy became less distressed and heard voices less often compared with those who had counselling instead. Experts said the therapy could add an important new approach to treating schizophrenia hallucinations. The trial, on 150 people, is published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal. It follows a much smaller pilot study in 2013. Hallucinations are common in people with schizophrenia and can be threatening and insulting. One in four patients continues to experience voices despite being treated with drugs and cognitive behavioural therapy. In this study, run by King's College London and University College London, 75 patients who had continued to hear voices for more than a year, were given six sessions of avatar therapy while another 75 received the same amount of counselling. In the avatar sessions, patients created a computer simulation to represent the voice they heard and wanted to control, including how it sounded and how it might look. The therapist then voiced the avatar while also speaking as themselves in a three-way conversation to help the patient gain the upper hand.

11-23-17 Three cups of coffee a day 'may have health benefits'
Moderate coffee drinking is safe, and three to four cups a day may have some health benefits, according to a large review of studies, in the BMJ. It found a lower risk of liver disease and some cancers in coffee drinkers, and a lower risk of dying from stroke - but researchers could not prove coffee was the cause. Too much coffee during pregnancy could be harmful, the review confirmed. Experts said people should not start drinking coffee for health reasons. The University of Southampton researchers collected data on the impact of coffee on all aspects of the human body, taking into account more than 200 studies - most of which were observational. Compared with non-coffee drinkers, those who drank about three cups of coffee a day appeared to reduce their risk of getting heart problems or dying from them. The strongest benefits of coffee consumption were seen in reduced risks of liver disease, including cancer. But Prof Paul Roderick, co-author of the study, from the faculty of medicine at University of Southampton, said the review could not say if coffee intake had made the difference. "Factors such as age, whether people smoked or not and how much exercise they took could all have had an effect," he said. The findings back up other recent reviews and studies of coffee drinking so, overall, his message on coffee was reassuring. "There is a balance of risks in life, and the benefits of moderate consumption of coffee seem to outweigh the risks," he said.

11-23-17 Putting a face on hallucinations aids symptoms of schizophrenia
Interacting with a digital representation of a hallucinated voice can reduce the power it has over people with schizophrenia, and the distress it causes. For people who hear voices, interacting with a virtual avatar that embodies that voice might be key to a speedy reduction in the power it has over them and the distress it causes. That’s according to the first large trial of avatar therapy – the creation of a computerised avatar that is voiced by a therapist. Between 5 and 28 per cent of people will hear voices that no one else hears at some point. While not everyone is distressed by them, or has a mental health condition, 70 per cent of people with a schizophrenia spectrum diagnosis experience auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH). Persistent voices can be detrimental to quality of life as they are often derogatory or threatening, leading to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Anti-psychotic drugs only work in about 75 per cent of cases. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be helpful, but time-consuming – taking several months to have a significant effect. A team led by Tom Craig and Philippa Garety at Kings College London have tested an alternative option. They allocated 150 people who had experienced persistent AVH despite drug treatment to either six sessions of avatar therapy or six sessions of emotional counselling. On average the participants had experienced voices for 20 years. The avatar group built a digital representation of the entity they believed was the source of their main voice, choosing its gender, vocal characteristics and facial features. The therapist, from another room, could choose to speak to the participant in their own voice or via the avatar.

11-23-17 Huge dose of brain chemical dopamine may have made us smart
Two “thinking” regions of human brains are much richer in a neurotransmitter called dopamine than the equivalent brain regions in apes and monkeys. We may owe some of our unique intelligence to a generous supply of a signalling chemical called dopamine in brain regions that help us think and plan. Our brains produce far more dopamine in these regions than the brains of other primates like apes. Dopamine is a brain signalling chemical that is vital for our control of movement. It is depleted in people with Parkinson’s disease, leading to mobility problems, tremors and speech impairments. But it also plays a pivotal role in many cognitive abilities at which humans excel, including learning, concentrating, pleasure-seeking and planning ahead. Nenad Sestan and André Sousa of the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut and their colleagues measured the activity of individual genes in tissue samples from 16 brain regions, taken from six humans, five chimpanzees and five macaque monkeys. They found elevated activities of two enzymes that make dopamine – tyrosine hydroxylase and DOPA decarboxylase – in two parts of the human brain, both vital for higher-level thought. One was the striatum, which is involved in planning ahead, making decisions, perceiving rewards and feeling motivation. The other was the outer layer of our brain, the neocortex. This region is involved in storing and processing memories, experiencing conscious thought and processing language.

11-23-17 Galapagos finches caught in act of becoming new species
A population of finches on the Galapagos has been discovered in the process of becoming a new species. This is the first example of speciation that scientists have been able to observe directly in the field. Researchers followed the entire population of finches on a tiny Galapagos island called Daphne Major, for many years, and so they were able to watch the speciation in progress. The research was published in the journal Science. The group of finch species to which the Big Bird population belongs are collectively known as Darwin's finches and helped Charles Darwin to uncover the process of evolution by natural selection. In 1981, the researchers noticed the arrival of a male of a non-native species, the large cactus finch. Professors Rosemary and Peter Grant noticed that this male proceeded to mate with a female of one of the local species, a medium ground finch, producing fertile young. Almost 40 years later, the progeny of that original mating are still being observed, and number around 30 individuals. "It's an extreme case of something we're coming to realise more generally over the years. Evolution in general can happen very quickly," said Prof Roger Butlin, a speciation expert who wasn't involved in the study. This new finch population is sufficiently different in form and habits to the native birds, as to be marked out as a new species, and individuals from the different populations don't interbreed.

11-23-17 Strong bones may be vital for maintaining memory in old age
A hormone secreted by bone reverses age-related memory loss in mice, hinting that strengthening your bones may protect you from some of the ravages of old age. A hormone released by bones seems to reverse age-related memory loss. The hormone can be boosted by exercise, suggesting that lifting weights might protect the brain from the ravages of old age. Eric Kandel of Columbia University in New York and colleagues were interested in understanding the mechanisms behind normal age-related memory loss. To investigate, they measured mRNA levels associated with the expression of 23,000 genes in human brain tissue. Genes use mRNA to tell cells to make products such as proteins – mRNA levels therefore reflect how active a gene was before death. The team focused their analysis on the dentate gyrus, a brain region particularly affected by memory loss as we grow older. The brain tissue came from eight healthy people aged between 33 and 88. Across these people, one gene – called RbAp48 – became steadily less active with age. This gene is known to be involved in the process by which we turn short-term memories into long-term memories. Kandel’s team went on to show that a relationship exists between RbAp48 and osteocalcin, a hormone secreted by bone. Osteocalcin has many functions, one of which seems to be involved in cognition – mice who carry a mutation that makes them deficient in the hormone have memory deficits. Replacing this hormone improves their memory.

11-22-17 Making your brain cells longer could help ward off Alzheimer’s
People who die with plaques and tangles in their brain but no signs of dementia may have changed the shape of connections between neurons to withstand the disease. RESISTANCE isn’t futile, especially when it comes to Alzheimer’s. Some people’s brains can withstand the ravages of the disease by elongating the connections between brain cells – a process that seems to counter mental decline. Now we need to understand why some brains can respond to the disease in this way and to see if the effect can be enhanced with medicines or lifestyle changes. Alzheimer’s disease, which causes memory loss and confusion, is the most common form of dementia. The condition is characterised by a build-up of a protein called beta-amyloid, which forms plaques between brain cells, and tangles of another protein called tau inside the cells. A long-standing mystery is why some people have plaques and tangles in their brain at autopsy, yet were mentally sharp when they were alive. This resistance to Alzheimer’s, seen in about a third of people who die without cognitive problems, is more common in those who stayed longer in education and had mentally demanding jobs. One idea is that intellectual stimulation builds a “cognitive reserve” – but it is unclear what physical form this takes. “It’s possible that the spines are reaching out to maintain the synaptic connections” To investigate further, Jeremy Herskowitz at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his colleagues studied brain samples from 41 people. They had either beta-amyloid plaques but no symptoms, plaques and symptoms, or no plaques or symptoms.

11-22-17 Mind menders: how psychedelic drugs rebuild broken brains
The healing powers of illegal drugs like MDMA and psilocybin are finally living up to the hype – and they are already transforming our view of mental illness. HE WASN’T the first person to say it, and he probably won’t be the last, but Tom Insel’s accusation carried extra weight thanks to his job title: director of the US National Institute of Mental Health. Towards the end of his 13-year tenure, Insel began publicly criticising his own organisation, and psychiatry in general, for its failure to help people with mental illness. “There are great examples in other areas of medicine where we’ve seen innovation really make a difference,” says Insel. “Not so much for patients with schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.” It’s hard to argue. Mental illness has reached crisis proportions, yet we still have no clear links between psychiatric diagnoses and what’s going on in the brain – and no effective new classes of drugs. There is one group of compounds that shows promise. They seem to be capable of alleviating symptoms for long periods, in some cases with just a single dose. The catch is that these substances, known as psychedelics, have been outlawed for decades. A psychedelic renaissance has been feted many times, without ever delivering on the high hopes. But this time feels different. Now there is a growing band of respected scientists whose rigorous work is finally bearing fruit – not only in terms of benefits for patients, but also unprecedented insights into how psychedelics reset the brain. If the latest results stand up to closer scrutiny, they will transform the way we understand and treat mental illnesses.

11-22-17 Step away from the cookie dough. E. coli outbreaks traced to raw flour
One recent outbreak of foodborne illness was tied to bacteria in flour from a single facility. Eggs, long condemned for making raw cookie dough a forbidden pleasure, can stop taking all the blame. There’s another reason to resist the sweet uncooked temptation: flour. The seemingly innocuous pantry staple can harbor strains of E. coli bacteria that make people sick. And, while not a particularly common source of foodborne illness, flour has been implicated in two E. coli outbreaks in the United States and Canada in the last two years. Pinning down tainted flour as the source of the U.S. outbreak, which sickened 63 people between December 2015 and September 2016, was trickier than the average food poisoning investigation, researchers recount November 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Usually, state health departments rely on standard questionnaires to find a common culprit for a cluster of reported illnesses, says Samuel Crowe, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who led the study. But flour isn’t usually tracked on these surveys. So when the initial investigation yielded inconclusive results, public health researchers turned to in-depth personal interviews with 10 people who had fallen ill.

11-22-17 Plague reached Europe by Stone Age
Plague was present in Europe during the late Stone Age, according to a study of ancient remains. Writing in Current Biology journal, researchers suggest the deadly bacterium entered Europe with a mass migration of people from further east. They screened more than 500 ancient skeletal samples and recovered the full genomes of plague bacteria from six individuals. These six variously date to between Late Neolithic and Bronze Age times. The plague-positive samples come from Russia, Germany, Lithuania, Estonia and Croatia. "The two samples from Russia and Croatia are among the oldest plague-positive samples published. They are contemporary with [a] previously published sample from the Altai region [in Siberia]," co-author Alexander Herbig from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, told BBC News. The plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, was responsible for several major historic pandemics, including the infamous Black Death in the 14th Century, which is estimated to have killed between 30% and 60% of Europe's population. Analysis of the ancient plague DNA shows that Y. pestis genomes from the Neolithic and Bronze Age were all fairly closely related. This is intriguing because the individuals from which they were recovered come from such a wide geographic area. "This suggests that the plague either entered Europe multiple times during this period from the same reservoir, or entered once in the Stone Age and remained there," said co-author Aida Andrades Valtueña, also from the Max Planck Institute in Jena. In order to clarify which scenario was most likely, the researchers looked for clues from archaeology and from the analysis of ancient human DNA.

11-22-17 Elongating your brain cells could ward off Alzheimer’s
People who die with plaques and tangles in their brain but no signs of dementia may have changed the shape of connections between neurons to withstand the disease. RESISTANCE isn’t futile, especially when it comes to Alzheimer’s. Some people’s brains can withstand the ravages of the disease by elongating the connections between brain cells – a process that seems to counter mental decline. Now we need to understand why some brains can respond to the disease in this way and to see if the effect can be enhanced with medicines or lifestyle changes. Alzheimer’s disease, which causes memory loss and confusion, is the most common form of dementia. The condition is characterised by a build-up of a protein called beta-amyloid, which forms plaques between brain cells, and tangles of another protein called tau inside the cells. A long-standing mystery is why some people have plaques and tangles in their brain at autopsy, yet were mentally sharp when they were alive. This resistance to Alzheimer’s, seen in about a third of people who die without cognitive problems, is more common in those who stayed longer in education and had mentally demanding jobs. One idea is that intellectual stimulation builds a “cognitive reserve” – but it is unclear what physical form this takes. “It’s possible that the spines are reaching out to maintain the synaptic connections” To investigate further, Jeremy Herskowitz at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his colleagues studied brain samples from 41 people. They had either beta-amyloid plaques but no symptoms, plaques and symptoms, or no plaques or symptoms.

11-22-17 How dinosaur scales became bird feathers
The genes that caused scales to become feathers in the early ancestors of birds have been found by US scientists. By expressing these genes in embryo alligator skin, the researchers caused the reptiles' scales to change in a way that may be similar to how the earliest feathers evolved. Feathers are highly complex natural structures and they're key to the success of birds. But they initially evolved in dinosaurs, birds' extinct ancestors. Leading the study, Professor Cheng-Ming Choung told the BBC that this discovery links important recent palaeontological finds with modern biology, in understanding feather evolution. Birds have had feathers for as long as they have existed as a group and Professor Choung couldn't study primitive examples of feathers in any living animals. "In today's existing reptiles, the one more similar to dinosaurs is actually the alligator, belonging to the Archosaur group," said Prof Choung from the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Dinosaurs and birds also belong to this wider group of "Archosaur reptiles"; Prof Cheung wanted to investigate whether the feather-forming genes he had identified in birds could change those scales into feathers. So he set out to turn on these genes in the skin of alligator embryos. "You can see we can indeed induce them to form appendages, although it is not beautiful feathers, they really try to elongate" he explained of the outcome. They are likely similar to the structures on those feather-pioneering dinosaurs 150 million years ago. The reason the gene doesn't cause the development of a fully feathered alligator is that unlike birds, alligators don't have the underlying genetic architecture evolved to support these central feather-making genes, or hold the structures in place on the skin.

11-20-17 Six-month-old babies know words for common things, but struggle with similar nouns
Six-month-old babies can tell a bottle from a nose, but struggle to distinguish a bottle from a spoon, results that give researchers clues to how early babies learn nouns. Around the six-month mark, babies start to get really fun. They’re not walking or talking, but they are probably babbling, grabbing and gumming, and teaching us about their likes and dislikes. I remember this as the time when my girls’ personalities really started making themselves known, which, really, is one of the best parts of raising a kid. After months of staring at those beautiful, bald heads, you start to get a glimpse of what’s going on inside them. When it comes to learning language, it turns out that a lot has already happened inside those baby domes by age 6 months. A new study finds that babies this age understand quite a bit about words — in particular, the relationships between nouns. Work in toddlers, and even adults, reveals that people can struggle with word meanings under difficult circumstances. We might briefly falter with “shoe” when an image of a shoe is shown next to a boot, for instance, but not when the shoe appears next to a hat. But researchers wanted to know how early these sorts of word relationships form. Psychologists Elika Bergelson of Duke University and Richard Aslin, formerly of the University of Rochester in New York and now at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Conn., put 51 6-month-olds to a similar test. Outfitted with eye-tracking gear, the babies sat on a parent’s lap and looked at a video screen that showed pairs of common objects. Sometimes the images were closely related: mouth and nose, for instance, or bottle and spoon. Other pairs were unrelated: blanket and dog, or juice and car.

11-20-17 Your music tastes can be changed by using magnets on your brain
Around three minutes of brain stimulation is all it takes to change people’s love of music, and even how much money they’re willing to spend on it. Can’t stand the new Taylor Swift track? A quick jolt to the brain might change your mind. Just a few minutes of magnetic stimulation to the front of the brain was all it took for researchers to increase or decrease people’s love of music. They even managed to influence how much of their hard-earned cash they’re willing to spend on it. Robert Zatorre of McGill University, Canada and colleagues asked 17 people to listen to pieces of music – some chosen by the volunteers, and some chosen by the experimenters – and rate how much the music gave them pleasure. On two occasions, they used a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation to stimulate part of the brain. In the third trial, participants received a sham treatment in which the brain was not stimulated. The participants were also offered the chance to buy songs with their own money. Using different forms of stimulation, the researchers were able to excite or inhibit the target brain region, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. When this region was excited the participants liked the music more, and were willing to spend about 10 per cent more money to buy songs they hadn’t chosen themselves, compared with the sham session. When the region was inhibited, they liked the music less and parted with 15 per cent less cash. Previous studies have shown that applying TMS to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex can modulate dopamine release in the striatum, a deeper part of the brain involved in reward processing. The striatum is active when we anticipate pleasure from music, and during the peak experience of musical pleasure.

11-17-17 Common condition endometriosis reprograms brain for depression
Endometriosis causes symptoms of mental health problems in mice, and the one in ten women who have the condition are more likely to have depression or anxiety. Endometriosis can reprogram the brain, causing anxiety and depression – according to research in mice. The findings suggest the common disorder may put the one in ten women who have it at risk of mental health problems. Endometriosis is caused by uterus lining (endometrium) cells moving elsewhere in the body where they can compress nerves and bleed in time with a woman’s menstrual cycle. It affects 176 million women worldwide and can cause severe pain as well as infertility. But despite being a common disorder among women of reproductive age, we know very little about it. What causes bits of a women’s uterine lining to turn up elsewhere in the body remains mysterious, but one theory is that menstrual blood somehow moves up through the pelvis, carrying tiny bits of tissue into other organs as it travels. This can cause excruciating pain, which probably partly explains why women who have endometriosis are also at risk of depression and anxiety. But Hugh Taylor, of Yale University, and his team have been investigating if some women develop mood disorders directly as a result of uterus cells migrating elsewhere. Signs of endometriosis have been found in organs all over the body, including the lungs, throat and brain. To see what effect this might have, Taylor’s team had to mimic this in mice. These animals don’t menstruate like people, so to get the process started, the team removed some of the mice’s endometrial cells and implanted them into their abdominal cavities.

11-17-17 The alcohol-cancer link
Even light drinking can increase the risk for several forms of cancer, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The cancer specialists say their review of existing evidence finds that alcohol is linked with malignancies of the head and neck, breast, liver, esophagus, colon, and rectum, The New York Times reports. In fact, the organization says, drinking is directly responsible for 5.5 percent of all new cancers and nearly 6 percent of all cancer deaths worldwide. The more people drink, the higher their risk. Smoking and sun exposure are well-known cancer risk factors, but 70 percent of Americans aren’t aware of the association between the disease and alcohol. In the body, alcohol is metabolized into acetaldehyde, which can cause mutations in DNA that lead to cancer. ASCO recommends that adults limit their alcohol intake. “The message is not, ‘Don’t drink,’” says the lead author of the statement, Dr. Noelle LoConte. “It’s, ‘If you want to reduce your cancer risk, drink less.’” But if you don’t already drink, she adds, don’t start.

11-16-17 First gene-editing in human body attempt
Gene-editing has been attempted on cells inside a patient, in a world first by doctors in California. Brian Madeux, 44 from Arizona, was given the experimental treatment to try to correct a defect in his DNA that causes Hunter's syndrome. Mr Madeux says he was prepared to take part in the trial as he is "in pain every second of the day". It is too soon to know whether or not the gene-editing has worked in Mr Madeux's case. Hunter's syndrome is rare. Patients are born without the genetic instructions for an enzyme that breaks down long sugary molecules called mucopolysaccharides. Instead, they build up in the body and damage the brain and other organs. Severe cases are often fatal. "I actually thought I wouldn't live past my early 20s," said Mr Madeux. Patients need regular enzyme replacement therapy to break down the mucopolysaccharides. But Mr Madeux has been given an experimental treatment to rewrite his DNA to give him the instructions for making the enzyme. The therapy was infused into his bloodstream on Monday at Oakland's UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital. The therapy contains two molecular scissors - called zinc finger nucleases - that cut the DNA at two precise spots. This creates an opening for a new piece of DNA, containing the desired instructions, to be inserted into the patient's genetic code. The genetic therapy has been designed so it becomes active only once it gets inside Mr Madeux's liver cells. Dr Chester Whitley, one of the doctors working on the trial, told the BBC: "If works as well as it does in mice, this has huge ramifications.

11-16-17 Brain training game linked to lower dementia risk a decade later
Could just ten sessions of brain training be enough to lower your risk of dementia by 29 per cent a decade later? A study suggests so, but some are sceptical. Could a computer brain-training program be the first effective tool for preventing dementia? The results from a decade-long study of over a thousand people suggests it might be. Approximately 47 million people have dementia worldwide, but there are no known interventions that can be used to reduce the risk of a person developing the condition. Now a study of 2,800 people over the age of 65 has found that those who did a type of brain-training intended to boost a person’s brain processing speed were 29 per cent less likely to develop dementia over a ten-year period. Brain-training is a controversial area. There’s a booming market in computer games designed to improve a person’s memory, attention, or multitasking skills, for example, but evidence on whether they work any better than other types of computer game has been mixed. Jerri Edwards, of the University of South Florida, and her team have been testing three brain-training programs to see if any might protect against dementia. These programs are designed to target memory, reasoning, or processing speed. “These are very basic abilities that tend to decline with age,” says Edwards. The participants did one of the three types of training at the start of the study. This consisted ten trials of training, each lasting around 65 minutes, spread across roughly six weeks. The participants were then reassessed by the team at various intervals afterwards, up to ten years later.

11-16-17 Study casts doubt on whether adult brain’s memory-forming region makes new cells
Adults may stop making neurons in the hippocampus, early findings from 54 human brains suggest. In stark contrast to earlier findings, adults do not produce new nerve cells in a brain area important to memory and navigation, scientists conclude after scrutinizing 54 human brains spanning the age spectrum. The finding is preliminary. But if confirmed, it would overturn the widely accepted and potentially powerful idea that in people, the memory-related hippocampus constantly churns out new neurons in adulthood. Adult brains showed no signs of such turnover in that region, researchers reported November 13 at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C. Previous studies in animals have hinted that boosting the birthrate of new neurons, a process called neurogenesis, in the hippocampus might enhance memory or learning abilities, combat depression and even stave off the mental decline that comes with dementia and old age (SN: 9/27/08, p. 5). In rodents, exercise, enriched environments and other tweaks can boost hippocampal neurogenesis — and more excitingly, memory performance. But the new study may temper those ambitions, at least for people.

11-16-17 Why a female fly will ruin your drink, but a male is fine
We’re able to sense even tiny quantities of a female fruit fly pheromone, meaning one can ruin your wine no matter how quickly you remove it from your glass. A single fly falling into your glass of wine may be enough to ruin it. We’re able to sense tiny quantities of a pheromone released by female fruit flies, and just one nanogram is enough to give a drink an unpleasant smell and taste. Drosophila melanogaster females produce a pheromone to attract males, releasing about 2.4 nanograms of the chemical an hour. When Peter Witzgall and Paul Becher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, in Uppsala, first identified and isolated this pheromone, they wondered if it explained an anecdote they’d heard about a fly flying into a glass of wine and changing how it tastes. To find out, the team enlisted the help of a panel of eight experienced wine tasters from the Baden wine region in Germany. They asked the tasters to examine various glasses of wine. Some of these glasses had previously contained a female fly for five minutes, while others had contained a male fly, and some had had no contact with flies at all. The experts all rated the glasses that had had female flies in them as having a stronger and more intense smell than the others.

11-15-17 Biohackers are using CRISPR on their DNA and we can’t stop it
People are starting to alter their own DNA with cheap, easy gene-editing technology. Is it time to regulate CRISPR? GENE editing is entering the mainstream. CRISPR, a cheap and easy technique for making precise changes to DNA, has got researchers around the world racing to trial its use in treating a host of human diseases. But this race is not confined to the lab. Last month, Josiah Zayner, a biochemist who once worked for NASA, became the first person known to have edited his own genes with CRISPR. During a lecture about human genetic engineering that was streamed live on Facebook, Zayner whipped out a vial and a syringe, then injected himself. Now, following in his footsteps, other biohackers are getting ready to take the plunge and tinker with their own genes. Away from the strict controls of formal science, this self-experimentation might seem dangerously reckless. But if people are allowed to modify their own body through cosmetic surgery, tattoos and other augmentations, should a person’s own genome really be off limits? Zayner’s experiment was intended to boost his strength by removing the gene for myostatin, which regulates muscle growth. A similar experiment in 2015 showed that this works in beagles whose genomes were edited at the embryo stage. He injected himself with the CRISPR system to remove the gene. Robin Lovell-Badge, a leading CRISPR researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in London, says Zayner’s experiment was “foolish” and could have unintended consequences, including tissue damage, cell death, or an immune response that attacks his own muscles.

11-15-17 Amish gene can make them live 10 years longer and avoid diabetes
A gene variant that arose six generations ago in an Amish group seems to make people carrying the gene live ten years longer, and protect them from diabetes. A gene variant that arose decades ago in an Amish group seems to be enough to make people live ten years longer, as well as making them less likely to develop diabetes. The gene is called SERPINE1, and is known to make a protein that promotes ageing, known as PAI-1. But a faulty variant of this gene arose six generations ago in an Amish group, causing the people who carry one copy of the variant to produce half as much of the age-promoting protein. Researchers wondered if this might be linked to a longer lifespan in those who carry it. Douglas Vaughan of Northwestern University, Chicago, and his team have now studied the gene in 177 members of the Old Order Amish community in Berne, Indiana, to find out. Of these, 43 people carried at least one copy of the gene variant. The team analysed their DNA, as well as other signs of ageing, such as insulin resistance – which is linked to diabetes – and the length of the caps on the ends of their chromosomes, called telomeres. They also worked out which of 221 dead relatives would have carried the gene variant, and analysed how long each of these lived. They found that people who carried at least one copy of the gene variant lived, on average, 10 years longer, dying at the median age of 85. People with the gene variant also had 30 per cent lower levels of insulin when fasting – a sign of slower ageing. None of the carriers of the variant developed diabetes, while 7 per cent of those without the variant did. “The carriers appear to be completely protected from diabetes,” says Vaughan.

11-15-17 The brain’s helper cells have a hand in learning fear
Astrocytes in the hippocampus may send signals that promote memories of trauma. Helper cells in the brain just got tagged with a new job — forming traumatic memories. When rats experience trauma, cells in the hippocampus — an area important for learning — produce signals for inflammation, helping to create a potent memory. But most of those signals aren’t coming from the nerve cells, researchers reported November 15 at the Society for Neuroscience meeting. Instead, more than 90 percent of a key inflammation protein comes from astrocytes. This role in memory formation adds to the repertoire of these starburst-shaped cells, once believed to be responsible for only providing food and support to more important brain cells (SN Online: 8/4/15). The work could provide new insight into how the brain creates negative memories that contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder, said Meghan Jones, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

11-15-17 How dad’s stress changes his sperm
RNA-packed vesicles that glom on to the germ cells can be altered by a stress hormone, a mouse study suggests. Sperm from stressed-out dads can carry that stress from one generation to another. “But one question that really hasn’t been addressed is, ‘How do dad’s experiences actually change his germ cell?’” said Jennifer Chan, a neuroendocrinologist at the University of Pennsylvania, on November 13 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Now, from a study in mice, Chan and her colleagues have some answers, and even hints at ways to stop this stress inheritance. The researchers focused on the part of the male reproductive tract called the caput epididymis, a place where sperm cells mature. Getting rid of a stress-hormone sensor there called the glucocorticoid receptor stopped the transmission of stress, the researchers found. When faced with an alarming predator odor, offspring of chronically stressed mice dads overproduce the stress hormone corticosterone. But mice dads that lacked this receptor in the epididymis had offspring with normal hormonal responses.

11-15-17 We’re heading for a male fertility crisis and we’re not prepared
Fertility has been considered a woman's problem for so long, but sperm counts are dropping and men have a ticking clock too. It's time to redress the balance. MY FATHER was 50 when I was conceived. My mother, at 39, was called an elderly primigravida, a term used to describe a woman who becomes pregnant for the first time at 35 or older. There is no name for the male equivalent, though my father was delighted to call himself an “elderly primigravidad”. Jokes aside, we are used to thinking of fertility and healthy pregnancy as predominantly the domain of women, who are warned all too frequently of the dangers of leaving it too late to start a family. This hasn’t been the case for men. But it might be time for a reality check. In recent months, a number of studies have been building a picture of a looming male fertility crisis. Sperm counts are dropping, and it turns out that for men – far from having all the time in the world to become dads – the clock is ticking too. In a society where couples are choosing to conceive later in life, we are heading towards a perfect storm. “If the decline in sperm counts is real, then the combination of this and our general desire to have our children later in life is a total disaster,” says Allan Pacey at the University of Sheffield, UK. The fact that women, but not men, are so regularly harangued about their fertility perhaps isn’t surprising when you consider that women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, which dwindle and age with time, while men produce sperm throughout adulthood. (Webmaster's comment: The yearly decline in men’s sperm count in the West is 1.6%. A man's ego prevents him from ever admitting his sperm isn't perfect. He just knows he's the most virile man alive!)

11-15-17 The unspoken truth about counseling
Despite its popularity and longevity, counseling doesn't appear to make people better in the long term. Person-centered counseling is one of the most popular treatments for mental health problems. Often just shortened to "counseling," the approach focuses on how patients view themselves in the here and now, rather than how a therapist interprets their unconscious thoughts. And the patient takes the lead in finding solutions to their own problems. This "humanistic" form of therapy was developed by Carl Rogers in the 1940s and is now one of three main mental health treatments, alongside cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy. However, despite its popularity and longevity, counseling doesn't appear to make people better in the long term. Mental health issues are a huge global problem. The World Health Organization estimates that between 35 percent and 50 percent of people in developed countries suffer from anxiety or depression in any given year. And the cost of treating these conditions is enormous — about £1.6 trillion, or $2.1 trillion — so knowing what works and what doesn't is critical. In 2003, a review of clinical trials showed that counseling provides short-term, modest improvements in reducing anxiety and depression, compared with "usual care" (routine visits to a doctor, cognitive behavioral therapy, and antidepressant drugs), but no long-term improvements. A more recent review, by the highly respected Cochrane organization, investigated whether counseling was effective for mental health and "psychosocial" problems or "problems in living." The analysis of nine trials showed that counseling was more effective than routine visits to the doctor, in the short term (one to six months). In the long term (seven to 36 months), though, it was no longer as effective. Counseling also failed to have an impact on patients' short or long-term social functioning, such as work, leisure activities, and family relationships.

11-15-17 How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age cultures
In wagons and on horses, Yamnaya pastoralists left their genetic mark from Ireland to China. Nomadic herders living on western Asia’s hilly grasslands made a couple of big moves east and west around 5,000 years ago. These were not typical, back-and-forth treks from one seasonal grazing spot to another. These people blazed new trails. A technological revolution had transformed travel for ancient herders around that time. Of course they couldn’t make online hotel reservations. Trip planners would have searched in vain for a Steppe Depot stocked with essential tools and supplies. The closest thing to a traveler’s pit stop was a mountain stream and a decent grazing spot for cattle. Yet, unlike anyone before, these hardy people had the means to move — wheels, wagons and horses. Here’s how the journeys may have played out: At a time when rainfall dwindled and grasslands in western Asia turned brown, oxen-pulled wagons loaded with personal belongings rolled west, following greener pastures into central and northern Europe. Other carts rumbled east as far as Siberia’s Altai Mountains, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan meet today. Families of men, women and children may have piled on board. Or travelers may have been mostly men, who married women from farming villages along the way. Cattle, sheep and goats undoubtedly trailed along with whoever made these trips, under the watchful guidance of horse riders. Wagons served as mobile homes while on the move and during periodic stops to let animals graze. These journeys, by people now known as the Yamnaya, transformed human genes and cultures across a huge swath of Europe and Asia. Yamnaya people left their mark from Ireland to China’s western border, across roughly 4,000 kilometers.

11-14-17 How long should you let a pregnancy run before being induced?
If your pregnancy runs past its due date, how long should you wait for a natural birth? It may be safer to induce at 40 weeks, for older mums at least. If your pregnancy runs past its due date, how long should you wait before being induced? Evidence is building that, at least for older women, it’s safer to get the baby out on time, at 40 weeks. This seems to be the case for first-time mums, according to a review of 80,000 women in England. Gordon Smith of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues found that when women aged 35 or older are induced at 40 weeks, only 0.08 per cent of their babies died. But in women who waited until they gave birth naturally, or who were induced at 41 to 42 weeks, this rose to 0.26 per cent. This means that, for every 562 women who were induced at 40 weeks, one stillbirth was avoided. After a certain point, the longer a pregnancy continues, the more likely it is that a baby will die unexpectedly in the womb – probably because it gets too big to be supported by a deteriorating placenta. By 40 weeks, the placenta is beginning to fail, says Smith.

11-14-17 Ancient skull from China may rewrite the origins of our species
The 260,000-year-old Dali skull was found in China, but it looks a lot like the earliest known members of our species – which were found in Africa. The origins of our species might need a rethink. An analysis of an ancient skull from China suggests it is eerily similar to the earliest known fossils of our species –found in Morocco, some 10,000 kilometres to the west. The skull hints that modern humans aren’t solely descended from African ancestors, as is generally thought. Most anthropologists believe, based on fossil evidence, that our species arose in Africa around 200,000 years ago. What’s more, genetic studies of modern humans indicate that we are all descended from a single population that left Africa within the last 120,000 years and spread around the world. This African group is the source of all modern human genes, barring a few gained by interbreeding with other species like Neanderthals. However, the Dali skull may not fit this story. Discovered in China’s Shaanxi Province in 1978, it is remarkably complete, preserving both the face and the brain case. A study published in April concluded the skull is about 260,000 years old. When researchers first described the Dali skull in 1979, they assumed it belonged to Homo erectus. This hominin species arrived in South-East Asia 1.8 million years ago and probably disappeared from the region by about 140,000 years ago. That fits with the standard story. But by 1981, Xinzhi Wu at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing had noticed that the Dali skull’s face had many features in common with our species, Homo sapiens. This suggested that H. erectus in east Asia might have contributed to the origin of H. sapiens. In other words, at least some of the DNA in living humans might have come from Asian H. erectus.

11-14-17 The dinosaur that had stripes
Scientists recently discovered this dinosaur had a unique color pattern — and that told them a lot about how it lived. Working out what color dinosaurs were was once thought impossible. But recent discoveries about how color-producing pigments are preserved in fossils has allowed paleontologists to reconstruct some dinosaurs' color patterns. And by better understanding what dinosaurs looked like, we can learn more about their behavior and the environments they lived in. My colleagues and I have been studying the color patterns of a small, feathered, meat-eating dinosaur known as Sinosauropteryx from the Early Cretaceous period in what is now China. By mapping out the dark pigmented plumage across the body, we found evidence of color patterns associated with camouflage in living animals today. This included countershading (a dark back and light underside), a striped tail, and a "bandit mask" stripe running across its eyes. It's a good reminder that we need to rethink the popular image of dinosaurs as solid green or brown giant scaly lizards. What's more, this evidence could encourage us to change our view of the environment Sinosauropteryx was living in almost 130 million years ago. The only elements of a feather preserved in most fossils are the structures that originally contained pigment, known as melanosomes, while the keratin that forms the structure of the feather decays. By identifying the types of melanosomes, you can work out the possible original color of the feathers. Previous work on the melanosomes of Sinosauropteryx suggested the dark areas of the fossil were a rusty brown or ginger color when the animal was alive. In other cases, scientists have shown that some avian (bird ancestor) dinosaurs had mottled and even iridescent plumage.

11-13-17 Coffee and plant-based diets linked to lower heart failure risk
Drinking coffee, and diets consisting mostly of vegetables, fruit, beans and whole grains, have both been linked to a lower risk of developing heart failure. Less meat, more coffee. That’s the secret to reducing your risk of heart failure, according to two studies. Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart cannot pump as much blood as the body needs. This results in less oxygen and nutrients being delivered to the rest of the body, and can lead to death. Kyla Lara at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and her team have analysed data on diet and heart health from more than 15,000 people over the age of 45. They found that people who had been previously diagnosed with heart disease or heart failure were 28 per cent less likely to be subsequently hospitalised for heart failure if they ate a diet consisting mostly of fruit, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and some fish, when compared with people who ate mainly meat and processed foods. The findings, presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Anaheim, California, today, were observational, and couldn’t show cause-and-effect, but they fit with other research, says Lara. “People who eat more plant-based foods eat less processed foods and therefore have less sodium intake, which has been shown to increase risk for high blood pressure and heart failure,” she says. The meeting today also heard that drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of heart failure.

11-13-17 How social stress makes your brain vulnerable to depression
Bullying and other social stresses may make it easier for inflammatory substances to enter your brain, altering your mood and leaving you susceptible to depression. Social stress can trigger changes in the brain that open the door to depression. Experiments in human brains and mice suggest that experiences such as bullying make the blood-brain barrier leaky, letting inflammation into the brain and altering mood. Anything that threatens your sense of worth is a type of social stress – be it bullying, body-image issues, social anxiety or extreme shyness. To see how such stresses might affect mood, Scott Russo of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and his team exposed 24 small, subordinate mice to larger, dominant mice for 10 minutes every day, for 10 days. Ten of the mice coped well with this, but 14 became socially withdrawn and more timid. Comparing blood, DNA and tissue samples from the stressed small mice, nine control mice and mice that were more relaxed in the presence of big bruisers suggests that there are three stages in the process of social stress leading to an altered mood. First, the stress kicks off inflammation in the bloodstream. This then weakens the blood-brain barrier, which normally protects the brain, making it leaky and more likely to let substances through into the brain. This enables large molecules like inflammatory substance interleukin-6 and aggressive white blood cells called monocytes to pass into the brain. Here they seem to disrupt signalling in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain that helps evaluate threats and rewards. This is the first study to link social stress to blood-brain barrier dysfunction and depression-related behaviour, says Russo.

11-13-17 New blood pressure guidelines put half of U.S. adults in unhealthy range
First major update since 2003 aims to spur heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Nearly half of U.S. adults now have high blood pressure, thanks to a new definition of what constitutes high: 130/80 is the new 140/90. That means that 103 million people — about 14 percent more than under the old definition — need to make diet and exercise changes and, in some cases, take medication to lower their risk of heart attack or stroke. These new blood pressure guidelines, the first major update since 2003, were announced November 13 at the American Heart Association’s annual scientific sessions and published in Hypertension and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. “It’s very clear that lower is better,” said Paul Whelton of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, lead author of the guidelines, at a news conference. Previous studies have linked low blood pressure with low risk of cardiovascular disease (SN: 10/17/15, p. 6). The updated recommendations “will improve the cardiovascular health of our adult community in the United States,” Whelton said. A blood pressure reading measures the systolic pressure, or how much force the blood places on the walls of the arteries when the heart beats, and the diastolic pressure, the same force but when the heart rests between beats.

11-13-17 'World's oldest wine' found in 8,000-year-old jars in Georgia (the country of Georgia in eastern Europe)
Scientists say 8,000-year-old pottery fragments have revealed the earliest evidence of grape wine-making. The earthenware jars containing residual wine compounds were found in two sites south of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, researchers said. Some of the jars bore images of grape clusters and a man dancing. Previously, the earliest evidence of wine-making was from pottery dating from about 7,000 years ago found in north-western Iran. The latest finds were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). "We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine," said co-author Stephen Batiuk, a senior researcher at the University of Toronto. "Wine is central to civilisation as we know it in the West. As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopoeias, cuisines, economies and society in the ancient Near East." The pottery jars were discovered in two Neolithic villages, called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, about 50km (30 miles) south of Tbilisi, researchers said. Telltale chemical signs of wine were discovered in eight jars, the oldest one dating from about 5,980 BC.

11-13-17 Exclusive: Brain implant boosts human memory for the first time
A device that zaps the brain with electricity has improved people’s scores on memory tests. It may have the power to help dementia, or boost other brain skills. A “memory prosthesis” brain implant has enhanced human memory for the first time. The device is comprised of electrodes implanted in the brain, and is designed to mimic the way we naturally process memories, and can boost performance on memory tests by up to 30 per cent. A similar approach may work for enhancing other brain skills, such as vision or movement, says the team behind the work. “We are writing the neural code to enhance memory function,” says Dong Song of the University of Southern California, who presented the findings at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington DC over the weekend. “This has never been done before.” The team’s implant gives small electric shocks to the hippocampus, a brain region vital for learning and memory. By releasing bursts of electricity in a pattern that mimics normal, healthy brain activity patterns, it is hoped that the device will help with disorders involving memory problems, such as dementia, and even be adapted for other brain areas, to boost other types of brain function.

11-13-17 Cholera pandemics are fueled by globe-trotting bacterial strains
Insight into how the bug spreads could help stop it. Cholera strains behind worldwide outbreaks of the deadly disease over the last five decades are jet-setters rather than homebodies. It had been proposed that these cholera epidemics were homegrown, driven by local strains of Vibrio cholerae living in aquatic ecosystems. But DNA fingerprints of the V. cholerae strains behind recent large outbreaks in Africa and Latin America were more closely related to South Asian strains than local ones, according to two papers published in the Nov. 10 Science. This evidence that the guilty strains traveled from abroad could guide public health efforts, the researchers say. “If you don’t understand how the bug spreads, then it’s very difficult to try to stop the bug,” says François-Xavier Weill, a clinical microbiologist at the Institut Pasteur in Paris who coauthored both papers. People are exposed to V. cholerae by consuming water or food contaminated by the bacteria. Poor sanitation and drinking water treatment can fuel an epidemic, as seen in Yemen (SN: 8/19/17, p. 4), where nearly a million people are suspected to have been infected and more than 2,000 have died in the world’s largest recorded cholera outbreak. A cholera infection can produce mild or no symptoms. But about one in 10 people will rapidly develop severe diarrhea and dehydration that, without treatment, can kill within hours. Although underreported, cholera cases worldwide each year are estimated to range from 1.4 million to four million, and 21,000 to 143,000 people die from the disease, according to the World Health Organization’s Global Health Observatory.

11-11-17 Five research-backed ways to deal with narcissists
It's a real mental disorder, and it's not always as simple as avoiding them. Is that difficult someone driving you up the wall? What's the best way to handle impossible people? I've broken down the research on how to handle narcissists, borderlines, psychopaths, and other "cluster B" troublemakers, and the primary answer is always the same: Run. Get outta there. No contact. Personality disorders are notoriously difficult to treat, cluster Bs are notoriously difficult to deal with, and you're not a therapist. (Though at this point you probably feel like a very frazzled one.) But I received a lot of responses from readers basically saying: What do I do if I can't leave? Is there any way to make them change? It's their boss and they need this job. It's their spouse and they have kids together. It's their best friend and they can't in good conscience abandon them. So how do you deal with a narcissist when saying "MEEP-MEEP" and sprinting away Road-Runner-style isn't an option? Dr. Craig Malkin is a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and his new book Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — and Surprising Good — About Feeling Special offers some hope. A lot of what you know about narcissists is wrong and there are proven ways to not only deal with them but to help them get better. (Not that narcissists need to get better — hey, they're "perfect," right?)

  1. In your personal life, use "empathy prompts": Music doesn't soothe the savage beast, but reminding them about relationships and your feelings can.
  2. Use "we": It's just one word but it's effective with narcissists. (If you can't manage to do this you're not paying attention to me. You should pay attention to me. I'm really important.)
  3. Reward good behavior: When the puppy behaves, give it a treat.
  4. Contrast good and bad behavior: "Normally when Jim turns in a report late you kick him down a flight of stairs. I thought it was wonderful today when you chose to throw a stapler at him instead."
  5. Teach them their ABC's: Mention your affect, their bad behavior, and the correction you'd like to see. This is an advanced Jedi move. Build to this with your Sith Lord, young Padawan.

11-10-17 Gluten-sensitive? It may actually be a carb making you ill
Rather than gluten, fructan molecules seem to be to blame for sensitive guts. If true, gluten-free people could eat soy sauce and sourdough bread again. Gluten might not be the bad guy after all. Evidence suggests it may be the fructan molecules in wheat that cause stomach problems in people with an intolerance. About 1 per cent of people have coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder that makes them react badly to gluten proteins in wheat. But a further 12 per cent feel ill after eating wheat-based foods like bread and pasta, despite not having coeliac disorder. Now it looks like it may not actually be gluten that causes problems for these people with “gluten sensitivity”. In 2013, a study of non-coeliacs who ate gluten-free to relieve gut issues found no difference in symptoms when these people ate identical meals that either lacked gluten, or were full of it. This suggested gluten has no effect, prompting Jane Muir and Peter Gibson at Monash University in Australia and their team to wonder if there might be an alternative culprit. They suspected fructans, which are a type of sugar chain found in wheat, barley and rye, as well as onions, garlic, chickpeas, cabbage, and artichokes. To test this, they recruited 59 non-coeliac adults currently following gluten-free diets for gut sensitivities. They gave these volunteers three types of cereal bars containing gluten, fructans, or neither, and the participants ate one of these every day for seven days, with week-long spaces in-between each type of bar. The bars all looked and tasted the same, and the participants did not know which ones they were eating.

11-10-17 The health risks of solo dining
Eating alone may be bad for your health—especially if you’re a man. Researchers in Seoul compared the health records and eating habits of 7,725 South Korean adults, reports NBCNews.com. After considering variables such as the participants’ age, education, and whether they smoked, they found that the men who frequently ate alone were 45 percent more likely to be obese and 64 percent more likely to develop metabolic syndrome—a cluster of risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. The women who often ate solo had a 29 percent greater risk for the condition. One possible explanation: loneliness. Those who ate alone tended to be single and live on their own. “Who wants to cook a whole meal for one?” says Andrew Abeyta, a psychology professor at Rutgers. “People who eat alone are more likely to eat unhealthy fast food or foods that, like frozen or boxed foods, are quick to prepare.” Social isolation also exacerbates the effects of stress, which increases the risk for heart disease and other health issues.

11-10-17 A ‘magic number’ of people walking across a bridge makes it sway
We thought walking in lock step made bridges sway, like London’s Millennium Bridge when it opened. But it turns out crowd size matters more than rhythm. When we cross a bridge, we expect it to remain level, but a big enough group of pedestrians can cause a bridge to sway. This happened in 2000 when London’s Millennium Bridge first opened. The sleek suspension footbridge wobbled dangerously underfoot as thousands of pedestrians crossed the river Thames, forcing a shutdown and millions of pounds in alterations. Igor Belykh at Georgia State University in Atlanta says the Millennium Bridge’s swaying steel was a result of the footfalls of pedestrians lining up with the bridge’s natural frequency, the rate at which it must be subjected to force to start moving. Every bridge has a natural frequency based on its length, width, and the material it is made of, and Belykh has created a model that shows just how many people would need to cross any bridge to send it wobbling. Imagine you’re swaying on a swing, trying to get it to rise by moving your body back and forth. If you rock too quickly or too slowly nothing happens. But moving your legs at the right interval gets you swinging. The same is true for people stepping left and right on a bridge at a certain pace. If a crowd’s footfalls match the bridge’s frequency, it’ll start to sway, too. It used to be believed that the bigger the crowd, the bigger the wobble. But Belykh’s model shows that it isn’t just synchronised steps that start the swaying. Instead, it’s a numbers game. Once the crowd reaches a critical size, the bridge beneath them will wobble.

11-10-17 Why the wiggle in a crowd’s walk can put a wobble in a bridge
Pedestrians tend to sync their steps, resulting in the structure’s big swings. Some bridges could really put a swing in your step. Crowds walking on a bridge can cause it to sway — sometimes dangerously. Using improved simulations to represent how people walk, scientists have now devised a better way to calculate under what conditions this swaying may arise, researchers report November 10 online in Science Advances. When a bridge — typically a suspension bridge — is loaded with strolling pedestrians, their gaits can sync, causing the structure to shimmy from side to side. The new study “allows us to better predict the crowd size at which significant wobbling can appear abruptly,” says mathematician Igor Belykh of Georgia State University in Atlanta. Engineers might eventually use the researchers’ results to avoid debacles like the one that befell the Millennium Bridge in London. This suspension bridge temporarily shut down just days after it opened in 2000 due to the large wobble that occurred when many people tromped across it at once (SN: 11/24/07, p. 331), necessitating costly repairs to fix the problem. Pedestrians crossing a bridge can cause slight sideways motion of the bridge as they push with their feet. This swaying may lead to the crowd unintentionally falling into lockstep because it’s easier to go with the flow of the swinging bridge than fight it. That synchronization, in turn, creates larger and larger oscillations. “It’s a dangerous phenomenon that could cause a bridge to collapse if it went unchecked,” says applied mathematician Daniel Abrams of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who was not involved with the research.

11-10-17 Ancient European farmers and foragers hooked up big time
Genetic evidence shows interbreeding after agriculture arrived from what’s now Turkey. Thousands of years ago, hunter-gatherers native to Europe and incoming farmers from what’s now Turkey got up close and personal for a surprisingly long time, researchers say. This mixing reshaped the continent’s genetic profile differently from one region to another. Ancient DNA from foragers and farmers in eastern, central and western Europe indicates that they increasingly mated with each other from around 8,000 to nearly 4,000 years ago, a team led by geneticist Mark Lipson of Harvard Medical School in Boston reports online November 8 in Nature. That time range covers much of Europe’s Neolithic period, which was characterized by the spread of farming, animal domestication and polished stone tools. The new findings lend support to the idea that Europe and western Asia witnessed substantial human population growth and migrations during the Neolithic, says archaeologist Peter Bellwood of Australian National University in Canberra. So much mating occurred over such a long time that “geneticists can no longer assume that living people across Europe are a precise reflection of European genetic history,” he says.

11-10-17 Human arrivals wiped out the Caribbean’s giant ground sloths
Many giant mammals in the Americas have died out but it has been hard to say whether humans or natural events were responsible. Now, in the Caribbean at least, we know. Who killed the giant ground sloth? Or the mammoth and sabre-toothed cat, come to that. Was it humans or a natural event, like the end of the last ice age? The question is endlessly debated. But the answer, at least in the Caribbean, now seems certain: it was humans. It is hard to distinguish the effects of humans and natural climatic shifts on wildlife. The trouble is that changes in climate impact on where and how humans live. So if many species die off at the same time, we are none the wiser about the culprit. In most of North America, humans arrived around the end of the last ice age, and a menagerie of large mammals disappeared in short order. The casualties included dire wolves, short-faced bears, the American lion and ground sloths. Attributing blame is near-impossible. But the Caribbean islands are different, say Siobhán Cooke at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The ice age ended 12,000 years ago, but archaeological evidence shows humans only made it to most of the islands around 5000 years ago. Cooke and her colleagues have performed a detailed analysis of the chronology of extinction and human occupation. Their data shows it was the arrival of humans that saw off the giant ground sloths, plus the region’s enigmatic monkeys, giant rodents and much else.

11-9-17 See these first-of-a-kind views of living human nerve cells
New database could shed light on how people’s brains tick. The human brain is teeming with diversity. By plucking out delicate, live tissue during neurosurgery and then studying the resident cells, researchers have revealed a partial cast of neural characters that give rise to our thoughts, dreams and memories. So far, researchers with the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle have described the intricate shapes and electrical properties of about 100 nerve cells, or neurons, taken from the brains of 36 patients as they underwent surgery for conditions such as brain tumors or epilepsy. To reach the right spot, surgeons had to remove a small hunk of brain tissue, which is usually discarded as medical waste. In this case, the brain tissue was promptly packed up and sent — alive — to the researchers. Once there, the human tissue was kept on life support for several days as researchers analyzed the cells’ shape and function. Some neurons underwent detailed microscopy, which revealed intricate branching structures and a wide array of shapes. The cells also underwent tiny zaps of electricity, which allowed researchers to see how the neurons might have communicated with other nerve cells in the brain. The Allen Institute released the first publicly available database of these neurons on October 25.

11-8-17 Daytime injuries heal twice as fast as wounds sustained at night
Burn injuries sustained during the day take an average of 11 days less to heal than night-time burns. If you’re going to get injured, try to do it during the day. Wounds seem to heal twice as fast if sustained during daytime hours rather than at night. Nathaniel Hoyle of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, and his team have been investigating how the time of day affects wound healing, after they discovered that genes in a type of skin cell switch on and off during day-night cycles. These cells, called fibroblasts, help close up a wound after the skin has been cut, and some of the genes whose activity varied throughout the day were ones that help control this process. Surprised by these day-night changes in gene activity, the team decided to analyse data collected by a specialist burn injuries unit at the University of Manchester, UK. They found that, on average, daytime wounds healed much faster – in only 17 days, compared with 28 days for similar burns sustained at night. “We found that how well you heal depends on what time of the day you’re injured,” says Hoyle. “Healing in the day can occur 60-per-cent faster.” Following a cut to the skin, fibroblast cells rush to the wound and secrete a matrix that helps skin cells move into place, grow, and heal the injury. Before turning to the burns data, the team first discovered in experiments with mouse tissue that fibroblasts arrive at the site of a new wound twice as quickly during a mouse’s usual waking period than during its sleep period. This seems to be because a group of around 30 genes are more active during waking hours. These genes all help control actin, a protein used by fibroblast cells to move.

11-8-17 State of unrest: Can fidgeting really help you concentrate?
Once seen as a sign of boredom, fidgeting is now touted as a way to boost focus, help kids with ADHD or even lose weight. Should we believe the hype? I WONDER whether you will stay completely still until you reach the end of this article. If you do, then perhaps I have done a good job – fidgeting, as you might expect, is a pretty reliable indicator of waning attention. But is there more to it? For those incessant pen-clickers, hair-twirlers and foot-tappers among us, the urge to fidget is irresistible. The popularity of the fidget spinner is a case in point: earlier this year, variants of it made up every one of the top 10 bestselling toys on Amazon. Many of these gadgets come with claims they can help children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), anxiety or autism. Some people say fidgeting aids focus, or could even boost efforts to lose weight. So should we all harness the powers of restlessness? Our interest in the subject has a long history. In 1885, the polymath Francis Galton – a cousin of Darwin – found himself in such a tedious meeting that he measured the amount of fidgeting in the audience, publishing his findings in Nature. Freud ascribed deeper meaning to fidgeting, interpreting it as a manifestation of sexual problems. And then in the 1950s, when “hyperkinetic disorder” – later ADHD – came to prominence, fidgeting began to be seen as a pathological symptom.

11-8-17 Boy with a genetic disease has had almost all his skin replaced
Gene therapy has saved the life of a boy with a rare skin-peeling disease. The boy received grafts of sheets of genetically-altered skin grown in the lab. A BOY’S life has been saved by a gene therapy. The treatment replaced most of the 9-year-old’s skin, correcting a mutation that causes a severe skin-blistering condition. Epidermolysis bullosa is a rare disease in which the slightest touch – even dressing, for instance – can cause blisters and ulcers. Those with severe forms of the condition live in constant pain and tend to die young from infections or skin cancer. The disease is caused by any one of several genetic mutations that lead to the outer layer of skin, the epidermis, lifting off from the layer beneath, sometimes in large patches. Now Michele De Luca at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy has used gene therapy to help a boy with the condition who was close to death. The then 7-year-old, from Syria, was admitted to a hospital in Germany in 2015 with widespread skin infections. Soon after, most of his skin came away. “The prognosis was very poor,” says De Luca. “You simply can’t live without your epidermis.” He and his team took a 4-centimetre-square patch of remaining skin and genetically altered the cells in a dish, correcting the mutation. They then grew the cells into sheets of skin, which were grafted onto the boy’s body, covering around 80 per cent of him (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature24487). Two years since treatment, the boy is now living a normal life, says De Luca. “I believe that the regenerated epidermis will last for a very long time, probably forever.”

11-8-17 Scientists replaced 80 percent of a ‘butterfly’ boy’s skin
Combination of stem cells and gene therapy essentially cures a genetic skin disease. In a last-ditch effort to save a dying 7-year-old boy, scientists have used stem cells and gene therapy to replace about 80 percent of his skin. This procedure’s success demonstrates that the combination therapy may be effective against some rare genetic skin disorders. The study also sheds light on how the skin replenishes itself, researchers report October 8 in Nature. In 2015, a boy with a rare genetic skin condition, called junctional epidermolysis bullosa, had lost most of his skin and was close to death. Children with the condition have mutations in one of three genes — LAMA3, LAMB3 or LAMC2. Those genes produce parts of the laminin 332 protein, which helps attach the top layer of skin, the epidermis, to deeper layers. People with the condition are sometimes called “butterfly children” because their skin is as fragile as the insect’s wings. Even mild friction or bumps can cause severe blistering. The blistering can also affect mucus membranes inside the body, making breathing, swallowing and digesting food difficult. About 1 in every 20,000 babies in the United States are born with the condition, so roughly 200 children each year. More than 40 percent die before adolescence.

11-8-17 'Butterfly child' given life-saving skin
A child has been given a new genetically modified skin that covers 80% of his body, in a series of lifesaving operations. Hassan, who lives in Germany, has a genetic disease - junctional epidermolysis bullosa - that leaves his skin as fragile as a butterfly's wings. A piece of his skin was taken, its DNA was repaired in the laboratory and the modified skin grafted back on. After nearly two years, the new skin appears completely normal. The family's full details have not been released to protect their privacy, but Hassan's father said the transformation was "like a dream". "Hassan feels like a normal person now, he plays, he's being active, he's enjoying his life and he's not the way he was before," he said. (Webmaster's comment: A revolution in the genetic engineering of humans has begun.)

11-8-17 Breast cancer rates in China are skyrocketing
What's behind the trend? Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in China, according to the latest data from China's national cancer registry. An analysis of the data reveals that the cancer has increased at a rate of around 3.5 percent a year from 2000 to 2013, compared with a drop of 0.4 percent a year over the same period in the U.S. The analysis also reveals that breast cancer rates are higher in urban areas of China than in rural areas. And the higher the population density, the higher the rate. For small cities (population below 500,000), the incidence of breast cancer is 30 per 100,000. For medium-sized cities (population between 500,000 to 1,000,000), it is 40 in 100,000. And for large cities (population above 1 million), the incidence rate is 60 per 100,000 women. With the rapid development of China's economy, more and more people have moved from rural areas and towns to large cities. As a result, many "megacities" have sprung up. By 2014, China had six megacities with populations above 10 million. It is very likely that urbanization is having a big impact on breast cancer incidence in China. Here is a list of some of the factors that may be behind the rise in breast cancer incidence in China:

  1. Childbearing: Having more than one child lowers breast-cancer risk.
  2. Stress: Stress — which is more likely to be experienced in large cities — has been linked to increased risk of developing cancer.
  3. Lifestyle: In modern China, women are generally less physically active than they were in previous generations.
  4. Aging: Aging is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer.

11-7-17 Let most babies eat food containing peanuts. Really.
At the beginning of 2017, parents and pediatricians got new peanut guidelines that, for most kids, are very pro-peanut. My colleague and fellow mom Meghan Rosen wrote about the recommendations, issued from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. This “let them eat nuts” advice is based in part on a large and unusually clear dataset from a study that looked at babies at high risk of developing an allergy to peanuts. In the study, some of the children were regularly fed peanut-containing foods until their fifth birthdays. The others avoided any food with peanuts. By the end of the study, the kids who regularly ate peanut-containing food were way less likely to have a peanut allergy than the kids who had avoided the nut, the researchers found. In a nutshell, parents of low-risk babies (infants without an egg allergy or severe eczema) should feel free to put peanut-containing food in the rotation as soon as their babies are ready for solid foods, around 4 to 6 months of age. Whole peanuts and peanut butter are both choking hazards and shouldn’t be fed to babies. Instead, peanut butter (or peanut flour or peanut butter powder) can be mixed into breast milk, formula, fruit, yogurt or purees. Babies with severe eczema or who are allergic to eggs ought to be seen by an allergist who can help guide the introduction of peanuts to the diet. Those appointments may reveal that some babies are in fact already allergic to peanuts. For those kids, peanuts may need to be avoided altogether.

11-7-17 Human study supports theory on why dengue can be worse the next time around
Amount of antibodies left over from first infection may boost chances of severe reaction the second time. Et tu, antibody? In humans, dengue can be more severe the second time around. Now, a study implicates an immune system treachery as the culprit. The study suggests that the amount of anti-dengue antibodies a person has matters. In a 12-year study of Nicaraguan children, low levels of dengue antibodies left over in the blood from a prior infection increased the risk of getting a life-threatening form of the disease the next time around, researchers report online November 2 in Science. Four related viruses cause dengue. The theory that antibodies protective against one type of dengue can collude with a different type of the virus to make a second infection worse was proposed in the 1960s. Such antibody-dependent enhancement has been shown in cells and lab animals. But “there’s been this controversy for five decades about, does this antibody-dependent enhancement really happen in dengue” in humans, says coauthor Eva Harris, a viral immunologist at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “And this says, yes, it does.” About 2.5 billion people live where there is a risk of dengue infection. The virus infects 50 million to 100 million people every year, the World Health Organization estimates, but many cases go unreported. Infection with the mosquito-transmitted virus often leads to no symptoms, but can cause fever, joint and muscle pain and other flulike symptoms. The most severe form, which affects about half a million people annually, can include internal bleeding, respiratory distress or organ failure, and may be fatal.

11-7-17 Fossil of 'our earliest ancestors' found in Dorset
Fossils of the oldest-known ancestors of most living mammals, including human beings, have been unearthed in southern England. Teeth belonging to the extinct shrew-like creatures, which scampered at the feet of dinosaurs, were discovered in cliffs on the Dorset coast. Scientists who identified the specimens say they are the earliest undisputed fossils of mammals belonging to the line that led to humans. They date back 145 million years. ''Here we have discovered from the Jurassic coast a couple of shrew-like things that are to date unequivocally our earliest ancestors,'' said Dr Steve Sweetman of Portsmouth University, who examined the ancient teeth. The mammals were tiny, furry creatures that probably emerged under the cover of night. One, a possible burrower, dined on insects, while the larger may have eaten plants as well. Their teeth were highly advanced, of a type that can pierce, cut and crush food. ''They are also very worn which suggests the animals to which they belonged lived to a good age for their species,'' said Dr Sweetman. ''No mean feat when you're sharing your habitat with predatory dinosaurs." The fossils were discovered by Grant Smith, then an undergraduate student. He was sifting through rock samples collected at Durlston Bay near Swanage for his dissertation when he found teeth of a type never before seen in rocks of this age.

11-6-17 Dinosaur mass-extinction let mammals come out in the day
The extinction of the dinosaurs allowed our distant mammalian ancestors to start foraging during the day for the first time – and shaped our early evolution. A long-standing suspicion seems to have been confirmed: mammals like us spent their first hundred million years in the dark, and only came out in daytime when the dinosaurs disappeared. It is the first time we have had a firm date for this change. The first mammals to truly embrace the daytime were simians: our ancestors. The first mammals evolved over 100 million years ago, but most remained small while dinosaurs ruled. Many palaeontologists think early mammals were “nocturnal”, only coming out at night. Nowadays many mammals are active in the day – “diurnal” – yet most have eyes and ears adapted to darkness. For instance, most mammals have a thin reflective layer at the back of the eye that helps them see in the dark, and which causes the “eyeshine” of cats caught in car headlights. This is thought to be a hangover from nocturnal ancestors. However, this idea is hard to test, because eyes don’t fossilise. Roi Maor at Tel Aviv University in Israel and his colleagues compiled data on the activity habits of 2415 living mammals. They then aligned this with the mammal family tree and reconstructed the likely activity patterns of modern species’ extinct ancestors. For instance, if two closely-related mammals are nocturnal, their common ancestor probably was too. Moar found daytime activity only appeared 65.8 million years ago – within a few hundred thousand years of the mass extinction 66 million years ago that killed all the dinosaurs, barring birds. That supports the “nocturnal bottleneck hypothesis”: the dinosaur extinction opened up new opportunities for mammals, particularly daytime foraging.

11-6-17 Your brain signals weaken and slow down when you’re really tired
We’ve seen how sleep deprivation disrupts the way neurons communicate with each other, and it may explain why a bad night’s sleep makes it hard to concentrate. Sleep deprivation disrupts the way brain cells communicate with each other, which may explain why a bad night’s sleep can cause memory lapses and poor concentration. Itzhak Fried, of the University of California at Los Angeles, and his team discovered this by studying the brains of 12 people with epilepsy. Each of these people had electrodes implanted in their brains to treat their epilepsy, but these electrodes also enabled the researchers to see how their brain cells behaved when they were very tired. The participants repeatedly performed a test in which they had to categorise a variety of images as fast as possible, and then did the test again after they had stayed awake all night. Analysing data from the electrodes revealed that lack of sleep caused the neurons to respond less quickly to visual information. These brain cells also fired less strongly, and their transmissions lingered for longer than usual. “We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” says Fried. He says not getting enough sleep has a similar effect on the brain as drinking too much. “Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying over-tired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers,” he says.

11-6-17 Crocs take a bite out of claims of ancient stone-tool use
Scars left on bones could have come from hungry reptiles instead of Stone Age butchery, researchers say. Recent reports of African and North American animal fossils bearing stone-tool marks from being butchered a remarkably long time ago may be a crock. Make that a croc. Crocodile bites damage animal bones in virtually the same ways that stone tools do, say paleoanthropologist Yonatan Sahle of the University of Tübingen in Germany and his colleagues. Animal bones allegedly cut up for meat around 3.4 million years ago in East Africa (SN: 9/11/10, p. 8) and around 130,000 years ago in what’s now California (SN: 5/27/17, p. 7) come from lakeside and coastal areas. Those are places where crocodiles could have wreaked damage now mistaken for butchery, the scientists report online the week of November 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Larger samples of animal fossils, including complete bones from various parts of the body, are needed to begin to tease apart the types of damage caused by stone tools, crocodile bites and trampling of bones by living animals, Sahle’s team concludes. “More experimental work on bone damage caused by big, hungry crocs is also critical,” says coauthor Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

11-6-17 Alzheimer’s protein can travel from blood to build up in the brain
Movement of amyloid-beta could suggest new ways to treat the disease. An Alzheimer’s-related protein can move from the blood to the brain and accumulate there, experiments on mice show for the first time. The results, published online October 31 in Molecular Psychiatry, suggest that the protein amyloid-beta outside the brain may contribute to the Alzheimer’s disease inside it, says Mathias Jucker, a neurobiologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany. This more expansive view of the disease may lead scientists to develop treatments that target parts of the body that are easier than the brain to access. The experiments don’t suggest that people could contract Alzheimer’s from another person’s blood. “The bottom line is that this study is thought-provoking but shouldn’t cause alarm,” says neurologist John Collinge of University College London. “There really isn’t any evidence that you can transmit Alzheimer’s disease by blood transfusion.” But researchers wondered whether, over time, A-beta might build up in the brain by moving there from the blood, where it’s normally found in small quantities. Earlier animal studies have shown that A-beta can move into the brain if it’s injected into the bloodstream, but scientists didn’t know whether A-beta from the blood can be plentiful enough to form plaques in the brain.

11-3-17 Artificial insulin-releasing cells may make it easier to manage diabetes
Injecting the synthetic structures into mice regulated their blood sugar levels for several days. Artificial cells made from scratch in the lab could one day offer a more effective, patient-friendly diabetes treatment. Diabetes, which affects more than 400 million people around the world, is characterized by the loss or dysfunction of insulin-making beta cells in the pancreas. For the first time researchers have created synthetic cells that mimic how natural beta cells sense blood sugar concentration and secrete just the right amount of insulin. Experiments with mice show that these cells can regulate blood sugar for up to five days, researchers report online October 30 in Nature Chemical Biology. If the mouse results translate to humans, diabetics could inject these artificial beta cells to automatically regulate their blood sugar levels for days at a time. Fashioned from human-made materials and biological ingredients like proteins, these faux cells contain insulin-filled pouches much like the insulin-carrying compartments inside real beta cells. And, similar to a natural beta cell, when one of these artificial beta cells is surrounded by excess blood sugar, its insulin sacs fuse with its outer membrane and eject insulin into the bloodstream. As blood sugar levels drop, insulin packets stop fusing with the membrane, which stems the cell’s insulin secretion.

11-3-17 Blood cells in chronic fatigue syndrome are drained of energy
Cells from people with chronic fatigue syndrome fail to meet even modest energy demands, adding to evidence that the disease is physiological, not psychological. Thirteen years ago, Cara Tomas was rendered bedbound with chronic fatigue syndrome. It came on suddenly, she says, without warning signs. Even now she has good days and bad days due to the lingering effects of the disease. “A lot of people dismiss it as a psychological disease, which is a big frustration,” she says. Tomas knows more about CFS than most. A PhD student at Newcastle University in the UK, she has just published a paper demonstrating that white blood cells in people with the disease are as listless as the people themselves often feel. “Now we’ve shown there’s a physiological difference, it could explain the whole-body fatigue shown by patients,” she says. The finding adds to mounting evidence that the disorder has a biological explanation, and raises the prospects for new treatments and diagnostic tests. For many years, arguments have raged over whether CFS — also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME — has a physiological or psychological basis. But the latest research comparing samples of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from 52 people with the condition and 35 without has reinforced the case for a biological explanation. Across almost all measures of energy capacity, the cells from people with CFS were weaker compared with their healthy counterparts. If other cells are equally compromised, it could explain why people with the condition are often bed- or wheelchair-bound for months, and struggle with even modest physical exertion.

11-3-17 Anorexia films and documentaries must avoid being voyeuristic
At last, Louis Theroux's Talking to Anorexia documentary offered a rare, nuanced take on one of the deadliest mental illnesses, says Lara Williams. Despite the existence of media guidelines on how to dramatise or report on anorexia, it has often been mishandled in the past. But surely, in today’s climate of openness and responsibility on mental health, this has changed. A trawl through a recent crop of dramas and documentaries on the subject shows progress is slow, yet there is a glimmer of hope. More than 725,000 people in the UK are thought to be affected by an eating disorder. Although anorexia makes up just 10 per cent of those – much less than bulimia or binge eating disorder – there is perhaps something about the visual abjectness of anorexia that makes representations of it considerably more prevalent than those of the other conditions. This represents one of the problems with its portrayal. It is often characterised via lingering shots of jutting hip bones and there is a focus on the rhetoric of “wasting away” that, in turn, glamorises and trivialises the illness. Beat, a charity dealing with eating disorders, says people affected by anorexia feel under pressure to present images of themselves at their lowest weights and are compelled to legitimise the seriousness of their disorder. There is also a voyeuristic quality to the popular depiction of the condition, along with an emphasis on women and girls, reaffirming the female body as public and objectified – as exhibition or spectacle. There is also a voyeuristic quality to the popular depiction of the condition, along with an emphasis on women and girls, reaffirming the female body as public and objectified – as exhibition or spectacle.

11-3-17 Nerve gas in your dinner
The fruit and vegetables you and your kids eat may be contaminated with a nerve gas originally developed by Nazi Germany, said Nicholas Kristof. It’s a pesticide called chlorpyrifos, made by the Dow Chemical Co., and studies have found that it damages the brain, reduces IQs, and has been linked to lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease. The Environmental Protection Agency banned chlorpyrifos—or as I prefer to call it, the “Nerve Gas Pesticide”—for indoor residential use 17 years ago, and was finally preparing to ban it for agricultural and outdoor use this year. But after Dow donated $1 million to President Trump’s inauguration committee, the EPA reversed course. So chlorpyrifos will keep getting sprayed on the food we eat and on golf courses, so it trickles into the water we drink. Toxic chemicals already can be found in nearly all our bodies, and could be playing a role in the widening epidemic of lowered male sperm counts and infertility, developmental disorders, cancer, and other serious maladies. While everyone is “diverted by the daily White House fireworks,” this administration “is handing the keys of our regulatory apparatus” to the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups. It will be a lasting and toxic legacy.

11-2-17 Breathing pure oxygen could heal footballers with concussion
Up to 5 per cent people who are concussed suffer long-term health problems. Research suggests that bouts of hyperbaric oxygen therapy might help. Inhaling pure oxygen might be able to repair brain damage years after concussion. Concussions are common in contact sports and among soldiers. Most people recover after a short period of unconsciousness or amnesia, but up to 5 per cent experience long-term symptoms like headaches, mood changes, sleep disturbances and cognitive problems – known as post-concussion syndrome. Former NFL player Ryan Miller, for example, went public earlier this year with his battle with migraines, depression, memory loss and seizures that have continued two years after his retirement from the league. These neurological symptoms arise because impact to the head damages tiny blood vessels in the brain. This makes it harder for oxygen to reach and nourish brain cells. Shai Efrati at Tel-Aviv University in Israel and his colleagues have been investigating whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help. The treatment involves sitting in a pressurised chamber and breathing 100 per cent oxygen to increase the amount of oxygen dissolving in the blood and flowing into the brain. In a study published in 2013, the researchers found that 40 hyperbaric oxygen sessions lasting 1 hour each significantly improved cognitive functioning and quality of life in 56 people with post-concussion syndrome following car accidents, falls, assaults or other non-military injuries that occurred up to 6 years earlier. (Webmaster's comment: The best cure is not playing violent sports!)

11-2-17 People with face blindness are missing a ‘hub’ in their brains
People who can’t recognise faces have massive differences in how their brains are connected, which could be identified early in life to help kids circumvent the disorder. Do you find it difficult to spot a face in the crowd? Now we know why: people with face blindness seem to have a missing “hub” of brain connections. The discovery could be used to diagnose children with the condition, and teach them new ways to identify faces. People with prosopagnosia, which often runs in families, cannot easily tell faces apart. This can have a significant impact on people’s lives. People with the condition rely heavily on voice recognition, clothes, hairstyle and gait to identify people, but can still fail to recognise family and friends. It can lead to social anxiety and depression, and can often go undiagnosed for many years. Face processing isn’t a function of a single brain region, but involves the coordinated activity of several regions. To investigate what might be causing the problem, Galia Avidan at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and her colleagues scanned the brains of 10 adults who have reported life-long problems with face processing. They also scanned 10 adults without the condition. During the scan, participants were shown sets of images of emotional, neutral, famous and unfamiliar faces. During the task they were asked to press a button when two consecutive images were identical. Some of the images also included buildings, which people with face blindness do not have any trouble identifying – these acted as a control.

11-2-17 What male bias in the mammoth fossil record says about the animal’s social groups
Genomic analyses of 98 well-preserved mammoth fossils, such as tusks on Wrangel Island in the East Siberian Sea, revealed that a majority belonged to males. Male mammoths really had to watch their steps. More than two-thirds of woolly mammoth specimens recovered from several types of natural traps in Siberia came from males, researchers report November 2 in Current Biology. Paleogenomicist Patrícia Pecnerová of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm and her colleagues examined genomic data recovered from 98 mammoth bone, tooth, tusk and hair shaft specimens and found that 69 percent of their owners were male. Sex biases in fossil preservation are rare, and the sexes were almost certainly balanced at birth. So the researchers considered whether social and behavioral patterns might have meant that male mammoths more often died in such a way that their remains were buried and preserved, such as becoming trapped in a bog or falling through thin ice. In modern elephants, herds of females and young live together, led by an experienced female, whereas males are more likely to live in bachelor groups or alone. That could result in more risk-taking behavior for those males. Woolly mammoths, the distant cousins of modern elephants, may have had the same social structures, the researchers suggest.

11-2-17 Mystery void is discovered in the Great Pyramid of Giza
Particle physics reveals there is more to wonder about one of the Seven Wonders of the World. High-energy particles from outer space have helped uncover an enigmatic void deep inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. Using high-tech devices typically reserved for particle physics experiments, researchers peered through the thick stone of the largest pyramid in Egypt for traces of cosmic rays and spotted a previously unknown empty space. The mysterious cavity is the first major structure discovered inside the roughly 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid since the 19th century, researchers report online November 2 in Nature. “It’s a significant discovery,” says Peter Der Manuelian, an Egyptologist at Harvard University not involved in the work, “although precisely what it means is unclear.” The open space may comprise one or more rooms or corridors, but the particle-detector images reveal only the rough size of the void, not the details of its design. Eventually, though, this detail of the Great Pyramid’s architecture could offer new insights into one of the world’s largest, oldest and most famous monuments. The only one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World that’s still standing, the Great Pyramid was built as a burial tomb for Pharaoh Khufu.

11-2-17 Cosmic rays have revealed a new chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid
Particles from outer space have helped scientists uncover a hidden chamber within Egypt’s most famous pyramid, the first such finding in over a century. Cosmic rays may have just unveiled a hidden chamber within Egypt’s most famous pyramid. An international team led by Kunihiro Morishima at Nagoya University in Japan used muons, the high-energy particles generated when cosmic rays collide with our atmosphere, to explore inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid without moving a stone. Muons can penetrate deep into rock, and get absorbed at different rates depending on the density of the rock they encounter. By placing muon detectors within and around the pyramid, the team could see how much material the particles passed through. “If there is more mass, fewer muons get to that detector,” says Christopher Morris at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who uses similar techniques to image the internal structure of nuclear reactors. “When there is less mass, more muons get to the detector.” By looking at the number of muons that arrived at different locations within the pyramid and the angle at which they were travelling, Morishima and his team mapped out cavities within the ancient structure. This type of exploration – muon radiography – is perfect for sensitive historical sites as it uses naturally occurring radiation and causes no damage to the structure.

11-2-17 'Big void' identified in Khufu's Great Pyramid at Giza
The mysteries of the pyramids have deepened with the discovery of what appears to be a giant void within the Khufu, or Cheops, monument in Egypt. It is not known why the cavity exists or indeed if it holds anything of value because it is not obviously accessible. Japanese and French scientists made the announcement after two years of study at the famous pyramid complex. They have been using a technique called muography, which can sense density changes inside large rock structures. The Great Pyramid, or Khufu's Pyramid, was constructed during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu between 2509 and 2483 BC. At 140m (460 feet) in height, it is the largest of the Egyptian pyramids located at Giza on the outskirts of Cairo. Khufu famously contains three large interior chambers and a series of passageways, the most striking of which is the 47m-long, 8m-high Grand Gallery. The newly identified feature is said to sit directly above this and have similar dimensions. "We don't know whether this big void is horizontal or inclined; we don't know if this void is made by one structure or several successive structures," explained Mehdi Tayoubi from the HIP Institute, Paris. "What we are sure about is that this big void is there; that it is impressive; and that it was not expected as far as I know by any sort of theory."

11-2-17 Dino-dooming asteroid impact created a chilling sulfur cloud
New, more precise calculations help re-create how the collision affected Earth’s climate. The asteroid collision that may have doomed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago really stank. A new analysis of gases released from vaporized rocks at the impact site in modern-day Mexico suggests that the smashup released up to three times more smelly, climate-cooling sulfur than previously believed. The Chicxulub impact spewed about 325 billion tons of sulfur and 425 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air, researchers report October 31 in Geophysical Research Letters. This relatively modest release of CO2 might have contributed to long-term planetary warming. But the massive cloud of sulfurous gas would have more immediately blocked out the sun, the researchers suggest, plunging the planet into a dark Narnia-style winter that was colder and longer than previously thought. That could help explain why so many of Earth’s plants and animals went extinct around this time, even those living nowhere near the impact crater (SN: 2/4/17, p. 16). The new study suggests that the impact may have released around three times as much sulfur and much less carbon dioxide compared with previous estimates from 20 years ago. The new calculations incorporate a better understanding of the meteor’s angle of impact, the composition of the rocks and how much gas would make it high enough into the atmosphere to influence climate.

11-1-17 The very first living thing is still alive inside each one of us
A cellular machine so powerful that it gave rise to all of life and created our marble planet can tell us how it all began. SOME 4 billion years ago, somewhere in the mass of inert minerals and molecules that made up our wet, rocky planet, dead became alive. This was the most important chemical transformation ever to happen on Earth. Not only did it give rise to all the living things that have ever existed, it also altered the chemistry of the oceans, the land and the atmosphere above. If it hadn’t happened, there would be no blue marble. That first chemical step towards life may be a lot closer than we thought. Buried within every cell of every organism on the planet, from bacteria to barnacles to Britons, is a living, working version of the earliest life on Earth – a time machine that allows us to peel away those 4 billion years of history and work out how it all began. “We can stop bullshitting about the origin of life,” says Loren Williams, a biochemist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “We can see it.” What he and his colleagues are discovering is turning our view of life’s origins on its head. Until now, most efforts to understand how life began have attacked the problem from the bottom up. Broadly, they start with an experimental soup of primordial molecules and try to either recreate the building blocks of genes or get them to evolve key functions, like self-replication. Despite some promising results, these approaches can at best show a plausible path that life might have followed. They can never reveal what actually happened. The new approach starts with modern life and works backwards. Formed of a tangle of proteins and a relative of DNA called RNA, ribosomes are molecular machines found inside every living cell. They do just one thing and do it well: they read the genetic code contained in DNA and use it to construct proteins. In essence, they are cellular robots that build the stuff that makes our cells tick.

11-1-17 Is modern life making today’s teenagers more depressed?
The media is full of stories about a teenage mental health crisis, but the reality is more complex. The real problem is we don't do enough to help those who need it. IT’S a tough time to be a teen, with cyberbullying, exam stress and a selfie culture that piles on the pressure to always look good. Perhaps it is little wonder newspaper headlines talk about a burgeoning crisis in our children’s mental health. Self-harm and depression are reported to be soaring. A survey by the UK’s National Union of Students found eight out of 10 people in higher education say they have had problems with mental health in the past year. Similar fears are being voiced in other countries, including the US and Australia. This is surprising, considering that, by some measures, Western teenagers are living less turbulent lives than at any other time in history. They are less likely to take drugs and get drunk than they used to, and teen pregnancies have been falling for many decades. So is there an underlying rise in rates of depression in teens? Or is something more subtle at play? There are signs the rise is real, even if the size of the change is being overstated, says Simon Wessely, the past president of the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists. “Clearly, something is happening,” he says. “There is a change.”

11-1-17 First results from young blood Alzheimer’s trial are criticised
The results from the first trial of young blood as a treatment for Alzheimer’s have been announced, but how the study was done is coming under criticism. The long-awaited results of a trial involving the injection of blood from young people as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease have been met with criticism. In 2014, a team led by Tony Wyss-Coray at Stanford University received approval to inject young human blood plasma into older people with Alzheimer’s. Young mouse blood had improved the physical and cognitive function of older mice, prompting Wyss-Coray to found the firm Alkahest. Results were finally presented at a summit on clinical trials for Alzheimer’s in Boston this week. The trial suggests treatment with young plasma – mostly from people aged 18 to 25 – does have potential effects on Alzheimer’s symptoms, says Karoly Nikolich of Alkahest. He says improvements were seen in mental skills and the ability to do daily activities. “They had more awareness of self and their surroundings,” says Nikolich. Initially, the plan was to give one group the treatment and another a placebo of saline, and have them swap places after a number of weeks. However, several people dropped out, says Nikolich. So a new trial was begun that included no placebo group, just weekly injections of plasma for four weeks. To assess its effects, the team used placebo data from the original version of the trial, says Nikolich. This may make the results unusable, says Michael Conboy at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s like picking all the aces out of a deck of cards and then shuffling the deck.”

11-1-17 Can your time zone increase your risk of breast cancer?
The 2017 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was recently awarded to three researchers "for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm." The circadian rhythm is an innate, approximately 24-hour cycle in physiology found in almost all life on Earth. The prize adds a new prominence to the study of how disruption of circadian physiology might compromise human health. An innovative new approach is based on location within a time zone, which affects the clock time of sunrise, and thereby has circadian implications for residents. On this basis, Mikhail Borisenkov from the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Science predicted that risk of cancer would increase the farther west people lived in a time zone. Neil Caporaso and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute tested the same prediction within the United States in a paper published in August. In the absence of electric light, our transition to nighttime physiology begins at sunset, and to daytime physiology begins at sunrise. Electric light can disrupt this cycle when it occurs at the wrong time of day and thereby delays, truncates, or otherwise disrupts our nighttime physiology. We have some control of lighting in our home, but on a societal level, an unavoidable aspect of the timing of electric light is position in a time zone. That's because the position within a time zone affects how early a person must turn on the lights in the morning.

11-1-17 Australia to cut cervical cancer risk with less regular tests
From 1 December, instead of the 2-yearly Pap smear – also known as a Pap test or smear test – Australian women will have a 5-yearly human papillomavirus (HPV) test instead. So long, smear test. Australia is about to become one of the first countries to introduce a new cervical screening program that will reduce cancer rates and require fewer tests. From 1 December, Australian women will transition from a 2-yearly Pap smear – also known as a Pap test or smear test – to a 5-yearly human papillomavirus (HPV) test. The new test is expected to reduce cervical cancer risk by 22 per cent because it detects the disease at an earlier stage. The Netherlands was the first country to switch to the new test in January. The UK and New Zealand have announced they will follow shortly and Italy and Sweden are considering it. Women in the US can pay to have an HPV test but no organised screening program exists. Unlike the smear test, which looks for abnormal changes in cervical cells that can lead to cancer, the HPV test detects the sexually-transmitted papillomavirus that causes over 99 per cent of these abnormalities in the first place. The new test can be done every 5 years because it takes many years – usually 10 or more – for HPV infections to cause cancer. Like the smear test, HPV screening still requires a sample of cells to be collected from the cervix using a special brush. If the sample tests positive for HPV, the patient will be monitored for any abnormal cell changes that can be treated before they potentially turn cancerous. In most cases, the HPV infection will clear up on its own.

11-1-17 Want to boost your brain? Live near a forest.
As images of the recent Northern California wildfires confirm, living on the edge of a forest comes with considerable dangers. But new research from Germany suggests proximity to a wooded landscape may also have a huge benefit. In a study of older urban dwellers, it found living in close proximity to forest land is linked with strong, healthy functioning of a key part of the brain. This indicates that, compared with those who live in a mostly man-made environment, people who dwell on the border between city and forest may be better able to cope with stress. The findings suggest "forests in and around cities are a valuable resource that should be promoted," writes a research team led by Simone Kuehn of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Its research is published in the journal Scientific Reports. The researchers analyzed data on 341 participants in the Berlin Aging Study II, all of whom lived in the city and were between the ages of 61 and 82. They specifically looked at "three different indicators of brain structural integrity," each of which provided "distinct information" on several key brain regions. They also noted the amount of forest land within a one-kilometer radius of each participant's home address. (Many lived on the outskirts of the city, close to wooded areas.) "Our results reveal a significant positive association between the coverage of forest and amygdala integrity," the researchers report. The amygdala is the almond-shaped set of neurons that plays a key role in the processing of emotions, including fear and anxiety. Perhaps surprisingly, Kuehn and her colleagues found no such association from living close to urban green spaces such as parks, or near bodies of water. Only proximity to forest land had this apparent positive effect.

11-1-17 Malaria parasite makes mosquitoes more likely to suck your blood
The malaria parasite appears to alter mosquitoes’ feeding behaviour to steer the vector towards a human host. Mosquitoes seem to fancy human blood when they’re carrying malaria, in an apparent case of parasites directing their hosts’ behaviour. Nature abounds with stories of parasites manipulating the organisms they live in to suit their own ends. There are eye flukes that make fish swim close to the surface so they’ll get caught by birds. There are wasp larvae that live inside other wasps and turn them into zombies. And there’s the notorious Toxoplasma parasite that makes rodents fearless so they get eaten by cats – and may also steer humans towards risky behaviour. The malaria parasite, the single-celled organism Plasmodium falciparum, relies on mosquitoes for transmission, but it can only reproduce and develop in humans, and to a lesser extent other great apes. If the mosquito carries it into a cow or sheep, it reaches a dead end. So Plasmodium has tricks up its sleeve to facilitate its life cycle. Infected humans become more attractive to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes infected with the immature stage of the parasite feed less to stay out of danger, and those infected with the transmissible stage feed more. Amélie Vantaux at the Research Institute for Health Sciences in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso and colleagues wondered if the infectious-stage parasite might also drive mosquitoes to seek human hosts over other sources of food. They set up traps in three villages in Burkina Faso, some baited with human odour and some baited with calf odour. They analysed the blood in the mosquitoes’ guts to test for the presence of malaria parasites and determine what animals they had fed on.

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