We’re all familiar with the idea of an IQ test, and we might know where we stand on the IQ scale – but what about the rest of the animal world? And how smart are machines becoming? At present, it’s hard to tell.... Read more »
David L. Dowe. (2005) A computer program capable of passing I.Q. tests. School of Computer Science and Software Engineering. info:/
Farewell to ElkeAh, Julie...I’m not even really sure where to start. "On Sunday I sat outside in the sun, stroking Elke's so-soft ears, while my husband patted her long, sleek back, and we farewelled our first girl. We learned on Friday that her liver and spleen were full of cancer. We are so grateful to have shared 12.5yrs with her and will miss her dearly." is what my Facebook status update said.But let's start at the beginning...Little Elke-Moo and her cow hips, at RSPCAI met Elke (pronounced Ell-kee) when I was in my third week of employment in the RSPCA shelter. What a sucker I was! She was seized as part of a cruelty case from a property where an elderly man with dementia had over forty dogs. Because of the dementia, the dogs weren’t receiving proper care and he sometimes fed them chicken pellets. Of her litter, Elke was the only survivor. She looked like a 5 week old puppy but she was actually 12 weeks old. She was always small. Our ‘bonsai pointer’, we called her. We joked that she was little, but could lay a good egg. My boyfriend at the time and I had been speaking about getting a dog, and pointers had come up as a breed we were interested in – he wanted a dog to run with him. After three weeks of rehabilitation at RSPCA, she came home with me. I was 23 years old. Since then, she has been a fixture in the landscape of our lives - through house moves, our engagement and marriage, the death of my father, the arrival of our daughter, the comings and goings of oh-so-many other dogs (occupational hazard!).Elke and my daughter - a fantastic introduction to dogsElke was energetic, excitable and hilarious. She wasn't perfect, but neither were we. We were a perfect match. She realised, as a young dog, that she could redirect attention to herself if visitors were over, by trawling our dirty clothes basket for recent underwear and then parading it through the lounge room for everyone to see. Post-beach snooze with our other dog, CalebShe didn’t like thunderstorms or fireworks. She loved running off lead at the park, the beach or through the bush and she adored retrieving. She would regularly throw herself into water without stopping to check for a way out. One time I had to walk along a river back for about 500m while she swam and we looked for a place where she could scramble up the riverbank to get out again! We took Elke to obedience training and she taught us so much. Elke was also more than our pet. She helped as a friendly adult dog at puppy preschool classes, she posed as a jaunty model as Australia legislated for the end of tail docking, she tried to distract trainee guide dogs and she visited nursing homes as a certified visiting therapy dog. They were all things we did together, my spotty dog and I.Elke loved playing swim-retrieve in the water She and our other dog Caleb were very close. They had a silly play ritual they indulged in every day. Twice a day. A close-quarters mouthing and growling game that ended in howling calamity. It was sometimes annoying (working from home, it wasn’t always compatible with work-related phone calls!), but always made me smile. But now our house is very quiet.We all loved time at the beachWe didn’t know Elke was sick until a week before she was euthanased. We took her to the vet, her temperature was up, a blood sample was taken, antibiotics were commenced. We didn’t know just how si... Read more »
Podrazik Donna, Shackford Shane, Becker Louis, & Heckert Troy. (2000) The Death of a Pet: Implications for Loss and Bereavement Across the Lifespan. Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss, 5(4), 361-395. DOI: 10.1080/10811440008407852
Crossley Michelle. (2013) Pet Loss and Human Bereavement: A Phenomenological Study of Attachment and the Grieving Process. PhD Thesis. info:other/http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/8451
Small numbers can imply big things. Global sea level rose by a little less than 0.2 metres during the 20th century – mainly in response to the 0.8 °C of warming humans have caused through greenhouse gas emissions. That might not look like something to worry about. But there is no doubt that for the next century, sea level will continue to rise substantially. The multi-billion-dollar question is: by how much?... Read more »
Levermann A, Clark PU, Marzeion B, Milne GA, Pollard D, Radic V, & Robinson A. (2013) The multimillennial sea-level commitment of global warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(34), 13745-50. PMID: 23858443
As a junk food lover, I found this news really depressing. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published an article on a study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington. The study followed a large group of subjects (about 2,000) for an average of almost seven years to look at the effects of blood glucose levels on the chance of developing dementia.... Read more »
The specific vulnerability of the immune system to recent environmental changes is reflected in the dramatic increase in virtually all inflammatory disorders, such as allergy and autoimmunity. Furthermore, clinical expression of allergy within the first months of life and detectable immune dysregulation at birth provide clear evidence of very early environmental effects. Already, approximately 30% to 40% of the world’s population is affected by one or more allergic conditio... Read more »
Prescott SL. (2013) Early-life environmental determinants of allergic diseases and the wider pandemic of inflammatory noncommunicable diseases. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 131(1), 23-30. PMID: 23265694
How do you get to know one of Earth’s most mysterious creatures? By looking at its earwax, according to a group of US researchers. Analysing the contents of blue whales’ ears, through a process similar to analysis of tree rings, led the team to construct a chemical timeline of the its life. This technique, they say, should allow significant further research both into how blue whales develop and how they respond to environmental concerns.... Read more »
Stephen J. Trumble et al. (2013) Blue whale earplug reveals lifetime contaminant exposure and hormone profiles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1311418110
You’ve probably heard that human beings and chimpanzees share almost 99% of their DNA. But is this enough to explain the many differences we see between ourselves and our evolutionary cousins?*
Enter DNA methylation. When a methyl group (CH3) binds to DNA, this can alter the expression of the gene that that specific DNA sequence represents. So, two genes, identical in sequence, can be expressed differently depending on the methyl groups bound to it.
A new study, published in PLOS Genetics, has investigated the methylation patterns in the DNA of humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans**. And indeed, the researchers found several differences in their comparative analysis.... Read more »
Rodriguez RM, Suarez-Alvarez B, Salvanés R, Muro M, Martínez-Camblor P, Colado E, Sánchez MA, Díaz MG, Fernandez AF, Fraga MF.... (2013) DNA methylation dynamics in blood after hematopoietic cell transplant. PloS one, 8(2). PMID: 23451113
Chronic lack of sleep has serious public health implications... Read more »
Alvaro PK, Roberts RM, & Harris JK. (2013) A Systematic Review Assessing Bidirectionality between Sleep Disturbances, Anxiety, and Depression. Sleep, 36(7), 1059-1068. PMID: 23814343
Suffering a miscarriage can be a very distressing experience but for many women their next pregnancy is a normal one. For women, however, who suffer recurrent miscarriage, where they have three or more in a row, it can be utterly devastating.
More frustrating still is that in many cases – more than half – doctors are unable to find an underlying cause or offer more than just a handful of options for treatment... Read more »
Kuroda K, Venkatakrishnan R, James S, Sucurovic S, Mulac-Jericevic B, Lucas ES, Takeda S, Shmygol A, Brosens JJ, & Quenby S. (2013) Elevated Periimplantation Uterine Natural Killer Cell Density in Human Endometrium Is Associated With Impaired Corticosteroid Signaling in Decidualizing Stromal Cells. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism. PMID: 24025400
Prince Charming and the boy accused of the Boston bombings may not seem to have much in common. But thousands of teenage American girls appear to be falling in love with 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the explanation may lie in a very awkward place indeed – somewhere between the shining armour and the poisoned apple.
Tsarnaev has become the focal point for a number of fan clubs on social media, largely comprising teenage girls protesting his innocence and professing undying love. Two Facebook groups have 8,400 and 13,500 members respectively.... Read more »
Peter Glick, Susan T. Fiske. (1996) The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Hostile and Benevolent Sexism . Journal of Psrsonality and Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1037//0022-35126.96.36.1991
On the same day that the of the Jurassic Park film series has been confirmed, a study published in the journal PLOS One has detailed experiments that seem to prove once and for all that dinosaurs will never again walk the Earth.
The 1993 film, based on a book by Michael Crichton, depicts a theme park island filled with dinosaurs, resurrected from ancient DNA extracted from fossilised mosquitoes trapped in amber.
In the early 1990s, several scientists announced they had extracted DNA from insects fossilised amber as long as 130 million years ago. Insects from this time in Earth’s history, the early Cretaceous period, would have flown among dinosaurs such as flying pterosaurs, swimming plesiosaurs, giant, long-necked sauropods, among the largest creatures ever on land, feathered birds and mammals.... Read more »
David Penney et al. (2013) Absence of Ancient DNA in Sub-Fossil Insect Inclusions Preserved in ‘Anthropocene’ Colombian Copal. PLoS ONE. info:/
Many children and teenagers see themselves as immune to the risk of accidents and injury.
Now, new research suggests that pointing out the positive aspects of avoiding risky behaviour may be a more effective way to modify young people’s behaviour than repeated warnings about all the bad things that could happen.
The study, conducted by researchers from University College London and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today, involved a study of 52 volunteers aged nine to 26.... Read more »
Christina Moutsiana et al. (2013) Human development of the ability to learn from bad news. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. info:/
The majority of cellular proteins are rapidly degraded and replaced with newly synthesized copies, minimizing accumulation of potentially toxic damage and ensuring a functional proteome throughout a cell’s lifetime. Several studies have measured global protein turnover rates in yeast and mammals and reported an average protein half-life of 1.5 hr to 1–2 days, respectively.... Read more »
Toyama BH, Savas JN, Park SK, Harris MS, Ingolia NT, Yates JR 3rd, & Hetzer MW. (2013) Identification of long-lived proteins reveals exceptional stability of essential cellular structures. Cell, 154(5), 971-82. PMID: 23993091
Father’s involvement in raising a child, on average, brings good news. It leads to lower child mortality and better social, psychological and educational outcomes. So why do some men choose not to invest in their children? According to a new study, at least part of the reason may be related to testicle size and testosterone levels.... Read more »
Jennifer S. Mascaro et al. (2013) Testicular volume is inversely correlated with nurturing-related brain activity in human fathers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. info:/
(Source)Hey Julie,Thank you for the gorgeous congratulations for winning I'm a Scientist, get me out of here! - what an amazing experience! So many students engaged in science and asking questions that made my head spin - fabulous, fabulous stuff! I learned so much!One of the questions that came up a few times during the live chat sessions with student classes was about communication between dogs and people. I was asked "Do you think dogs will ever be able to talk to humans?" and "Why don't dogs talk? Why do they only bark?", as well as "Do dogs understand us? How?" and "Could we use technology to communicate with dogs?" - you see? They kept me on my toes!My initial reactions were to say, "Dogs DO talk to us! They use their body language and their vocalisations extremely well, it's just that people aren't always fluent in listening to what they're telling us!" I also told them all about Chaser and her 1,200+ words, about the fact dogs' senses are different to ours (a much less visual, much more sniffy kind of a world). Then one student said, "But what about this?": Now Julie, I don't know about YOU, but somehow, I missed out on this 'BowLingual' device when it was launched in the early noughties. It's a: "computer-based dog-to-human language translation device developed by Japanese toy company Takara and first sold in Japan in 2002. Versions for South Korea and the United States were launched in 2003. The device was named by Time Magazine as a "Best Invention of 2002." The inventors of BowLingual, Keita Satoh, Dr. Matsumi Suzuki and Dr. Norio Kogure were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for "promoting peace and harmony between the species.The device is presented as a "translator" but has been called an "emotion analyzer". It is said to use technology to categorize dog barks into one of six standardized emotional categories. BowLingual also provides a phrase which is representative of that emotion. The product instructions clearly state that these phrases "are for entertainment purposes only" and are not meant to be accurate translations of each bark."I totally endorse all those disclaimers, especially after reading this review by Dr Sophia Yin, but also can't help thinking if this 'toy' device can register a dog's bark and then categorize the dog's mood as happy, sad, on guard, assertive, frustrated or needy - couldn't we just listen and do the same ourselves? I mean, you know that, right? You recently covered the latest scientific findings regarding what dogs' barks are telling us, over at Scientific American and The Bark (ha!). So why can't we just listen? Learn? I certainly know the difference between my dogs' barks as to whether there's someone strange approaching our front door versus a family member or if they're just playing when I'm down the other end of our house. I'm teaching my daughter to tell the difference too. She's learning and she's just turned three. So is it really that hard? Or are people just lazy? On the definitely-not-a-toy side of things, a Google Glass researcher has teamed up with a Georgia Institute of Technology professor to create FIDO (Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations) as wearable technology for working dogs to enable better communication with handlers. FIDO works by giving a service or detection dog a special sensor that can attach to its collar of a vest. The dog can interact with the sensor by biting, tugging or touching it with their nose and the handler will receive a corresponding signal ("bomb ahead", "hurricane alarm sounding" or "you have pancreatic cancer" ar... Read more »
Kerepesi A., Jonsson G.K., Miklósi Á., Topál J., Csányi V., & Magnusson M.S. (2005) Detection of temporal patterns in dog–human interaction. Behavioural Processes, 70(1), 69-79. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2005.04.006
For most of human history, dreaming has been seen as a second “reality” in which altered forms of perception provide insights into ourselves and others, our fears, fantasies and motivations or even the future.
What Freud referred to as the “royal road to the unconscious” served as a source of wonderment and prophecy. So what do we think about it now?
What is dreaming? What does science say? And what mysteries remain?... Read more »
Forget elaborate dances, sweet serenades or complicated foreplay. And throw away the Spanish fly and oysters. If you’re a female silkmoth, chances are that your would-be mate is already drunk on your very own elixir of love if he’s within whiffing distance. It takes just 170 molecules of the sex pheromone bombykol to put a male silkmoth in the mood.
Farmers have been using bombykol for years to bamboozle love-sick moths in their fields. But how so few molecules elicit such a strong behavioural response has been somewhat of a mystery to scientists. But in a new study, a team of Japanese researchers have cleverly deciphered the neural circuitry of the Bombyx mori olfactory system as it responds to the sex pheromone.... Read more »
Tabuchi M, Sakurai T, Mitsuno H, Namiki S, Minegishi R, Shiotsuki T, Uchino K, Sezutsu H, Tamura T, Haupt SS.... (2013) Pheromone responsiveness threshold depends on temporal integration by antennal lobe projection neurons. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 24006366
New research shows that metabolically healthy women have the same cardiovascular disease risk regardless of their BMI, according to research presented at the ESC Congress by Dr Søren Skøtt Andersen and Dr Michelle Schmiegelow from Denmark. The findings in more than 260,000 subjects suggest that obese women have a window of opportunity to lose weight and avoid developing a metabolic disorder, which would increase their CVD risk.... Read more »
Søren Skøtt Andersen, Michelle Schmiegelow. (2013) Metabolically healthy women have same CVD risk regardless of BMI. 2013 ESC Congress – Amsterdam. info:/
Almost all animals have an internal body clock, keeping several functions, including sleeping and eating, synchronised with the light/dark cycle around a 24-hour day. Humans are no exception. If we have to travel across the globe to a new time zone, our body clock takes about a day to adjust to the new time for every hour the clock moves.
This may result in several days of feeling tired and ‘out-of-tune’, known as jet-lag. Not surprisingly, it’s considered a nuisance, but how much do we really understand about this phenomenon?... Read more »
Jagannath A, Butler R, Godinho SI, Couch Y, Brown LA, Vasudevan SR, Flanagan KC, Anthony D, Churchill GC, Wood MJ.... (2013) The CRTC1-SIK1 Pathway Regulates Entrainment of the Circadian Clock. Cell, 154(5), 1100-11. PMID: 23993098
Most cultures include alcoholic beverages as part of their usual diet. Alcohol intake is different over world regions regarding the habitual type of beverage and the frequency and average intake. In general terms, the consumption of alcoholic beverages is increasing worldwide. Unipolar depression is the most prevalent mental disorder in the world and it is increasing steadily.... Read more »
Gea A, Beunza JJ, Estruch R, Sánchez-Villegas A, Salas-Salvadó J, Buil-Cosiales P, Gómez-Gracia E, Covas MI, Corella D, Fiol M.... (2013) Alcohol intake, wine consumption and the development of depression: the PREDIMED study. BMC medicine, 11(1), 192. PMID: 23988010
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