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  • September 9, 2013
  • 06:15 PM

Robo-WOOF! What's happening in dog-human communication technology?

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

(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  

  • September 9, 2013
  • 04:14 AM

Explainer: What is Dreaming?

by Drew Dawson in United Academics

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 »

  • September 6, 2013
  • 07:10 AM

Not Too Much Perfume, Please

by Dyani Lewis in United Academics

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  

  • September 4, 2013
  • 08:55 AM

Being Obese Doesn’t Always Cause Cardiovascular Diseases

by Patrícia Fonseca Pedro in United Academics

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:/

  • September 4, 2013
  • 06:32 AM

Why Are We So Slow to Recover From a Jet Lag?

by Alex Reis in United Academics

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  

  • September 3, 2013
  • 10:30 AM

Moderate Alcohol Consumption May Reduce Incident Depression

by Guillaume Cote-Maurais in United Academics

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  

  • September 3, 2013
  • 04:16 AM

Why Ex-smokers Gain Weight: Blame the Bugs in Your Bowel

by Elisabeth Buhl Thubron in United Academics

It may have been more than 2000 years ago, but Hippocrates was not far from the truth when he wrote “all disease begins in the gut”. Gut health is critical to overall health. Colonies of benevolent bacteria reside in your entire digestive tract, predominantly the large intestine. In fact, you are made up of more microbes than human cells. This live-in colony of microbes is your digestion powerhouse, breaking down food into its building blocks so it can absorb the nutrients.... Read more »

Biedermann L, Zeitz J, Mwinyi J, Sutter-Minder E, Rehman A, Ott SJ, Steurer-Stey C, Frei A, Frei P, Scharl M.... (2013) Smoking cessation induces profound changes in the composition of the intestinal microbiota in humans. PloS one, 8(3). PMID: 23516617  

  • September 2, 2013
  • 07:25 AM

Sip on This: Do Diet Drinks Make You Fatter?

by Joseph Proietto in United Academics

Diet drinks are no help in the fight against obesity and may actually encourage over-eating, according to a US academic who recently argued this point in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Susan Swithers reviewed studies that suggest normal or mildly overweight people who consumed artificially-sweetened drinks were more likely to gain weight when compared to those who did not.

The studies showed that, in two separate groups of adolescents, drinking artificially-sweetened drinks was associated with increased body mass index and body fat.... Read more »

  • September 2, 2013
  • 05:35 AM

Five Edible Insects You Really Should Try

by Joost van Itterbeeck in United Academics

Edible insects are great alternatives to conventional sources of meat as they’re cheap, plentiful and excellent sources of protein and fat, as well as vitamins and minerals.

In many countries, eating insects doesn’t raise eyebrows. How palatable they appear to a person is largely determined by culture.

Analyses of insects also show huge variation in nutritional value and composition – between species, their stages of development and even due to the insects’ diet.

With around 2000 edible insect species worldwide, the below are some of the better alternatives to eat... Read more »

  • August 30, 2013
  • 08:27 AM

Unfriend: Facebook Oversharers Lose Out in Real Relationships

by Josephine Lethbridge. in United Academics

We all have that Facebook contact (if not, in the old sense of the word, friend) who is subject to oversharing. Incessant updates about relationships, jobs, holidays; very public demonstrations of affection; insistent “liking”: the site is full of serial offenders. But for most, this generally amounts to a minor annoyance or something to laugh about. A recent study, however, has argued that sharing photographs on Facebook can, and does, have a direct impact on our personal relationships offline too.... Read more »

David Houghton, Adam Joinson,, & Nigel Caldwell and Ben Marder. (2013) Tagger's Delight? Disclosure and liking behaviour in Facebook: The effects of sharing photographs amongst multiple known social circles. Birmingham Business School. info:/

  • August 29, 2013
  • 11:14 AM

Understanding the Basis of Human Intelligence

by Sedeer El-Showk in United Academics

From Siri answering our questions and Watson advising nurses to smart apps that aggregate information to help us out (or spy on us), artificial intelligence is transforming our world. Despite incredible advances, somehow these amazingly “intelligent” systems sometimes seem profoundly stupid. Hector Levesque, a professor of computer science at the University of Toronto, likens them to savants. He was recently awarded the Research Excellence Award at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Beijing; he used his acceptance speech to highlight important questions about our approach to artificial intelligence and what it can tell us about ourselves.... Read more »

Rahman, Altaf and Ng, Vincent. (2013) Resolving Complex Cases of Definite Pronouns: The Winograd Schema Challenge. Proceedings of the 2012 Joint Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and Computational Natural Language Learning. info:/

  • August 29, 2013
  • 10:58 AM

Human Gut Micro Flora Gives an Index of Obesity

by Geetanjali Yadav in United Academics

With easy access to energy-rich junk food and modern living with a sedentary lifestyle, more and more people are becoming slaves to excessive fat consumption. Yet being a couch potato is dangerous for our health. Studies on the human genome variation show there are significant differences in the genome of bacteria that live in our intestine. A latest research published in Nature reveals that the bacterial population in the intestine varies significantly from obese to thin bodies. This indicates that people with fewer bacterial species in their intestine are more likely to develop complications, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.... Read more »

Emmanuelle Le Chatelier, Trine Nielsen, Junjie Qin, Edi Prifti, Falk Hildebrand, Gwen Falony, Mathieu Almeida, Manimozhiyan Arumugam, Jean-Michel Batto, Sean Kennedy, Pierre Leonard, Junhua Li, Kristoffer Burgdorf, Niels Grarup, Torben Jørgensen, Ivan Br. (2013) Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature12506  

  • August 28, 2013
  • 05:26 AM

Why Is the Mediterranean Diet Good for You?

by Samantha Gardener in United Academics

A recent study published by Italian researchers shows that adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet can offer protection against type 2 diabetes. The paper is just the latest in a long line of research pointing out the wonders of this diet – so what are we to take from these latest findings?... Read more »

  • August 27, 2013
  • 08:00 AM

How do students figure out whom to trust in a scientific controversy?

by Marie-Claire Shanahan in Boundary Vision

So what do high school students do when they want to trust researchers but those researchers disagree with each other?... Read more »

  • August 27, 2013
  • 04:41 AM

Language Learning Begins in the Womb

by Josephine Lethbridge in United Academics

New research from the University of Helsinki suggests that humans begin to distinguish between sounds before they are even born. Eino Partanen and colleagues explored how prenatal experiences influence learning. “We wanted to find out what kind of material foetuses can learn in the womb, what kind of neural representations they form,” he said.... Read more »

Eino Partanen et al. (2013) Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1302159110  

  • August 26, 2013
  • 05:23 AM

Five Misconceptions About the Benefits of Antioxidants

by Guillaume Cote-Maurais in United Academics

Antioxidants are part of our daily diet in fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs, and their intake is the focus of increasing attention. More recently, designer foods have been enriched with antioxidants, and antioxidants are commonly taken as supplements. Here is five misconceptions about the benefits of antioxidants.... Read more »

Bast, A. . (2013) Ten misconceptions about antioxidants. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences . DOI: 10.1016/  

  • August 22, 2013
  • 07:22 PM

I'm a scientist, (don't!) get me out of here!

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

Julie Julie Julie!How awesome was Heather's guest post about her black dog syndrome research in shelters? There's something extra fun about hearing about the latest research, straight from the researchers own fingers (well, mouth seemed wrong seeing she typed it?!).I'm keeping myself busy this week, organising everything ahead of the Working Dog Alliance's website going live (any day now, annnnny daaaaaay!). I'll be sure to put a link up on Facebook and Twitter when it does go live, or you can keep an eye out over at Here's a sneaky peek: There will be some exciting reveals about the first Australian working dog industry conference (4-5 November in Sydney if you want to come over?) once the website is up - fun times! Australia's National Science Week 2013 just wrapped up - there were so many things happening and going on - YAY SCIENCE! You should take a look over the website. Being a fan of citizen science, I think you'll really like Explore the Sea Floor - it's like Google Maps for the ocean floor all around Australia and you can help identify everything you see as a citizen scientist.  Totally amazing! I'm getting my competitive scientist metaphorical lab coat on next week for Australia's I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here! Which is kind of a weird title, because I quite like being a scientist and think I'd like to stay here, actually. It's a science engagement activity with school children aged 10-18, who chat online with a bunch of scientists from different areas and ask questions, then get to vote us out one by one in an idol-style competition. The winning scientist will receive $1000 to use for science outreach - if I win, I'm thinking of a global citizen science project that students everywhere can participate in - of course, it will also involve DOGS! Only students from the registered schools can vote, so don't bother trying to stack the odds my way... I'm in a Zone with mixed scientific disciplines (there's also a Brain Zone and a Micro Zone in my competition). So I'm up against a wine chemist, an explosive chemist, a computer architect and an instrument scientist who builds bits for telescopes - it's going to be fun! I'm the only female scientist in my zone, so that's interesting - I think I also feel a little bit extra competitive, just because of that! So wish me luck!Here's a neat 60 sec video about #IAS from the UK version: I hope you had a fabulous birthday and look forward to hearing about your Summer break - what have you been up to? Mia Further reading:Laursen S., Liston C., Thiry H. & Graf J. (2007). What Good Is a Scientist in the Classroom? Participant Outcomes and Program Design Features for a Short-Duration Science Outreach Intervention in K-12 Classrooms, Cell Biology Education, 6 (1) 49-64. DOI: 10.1187/cbe.06-05-0165... Read more »

  • August 21, 2013
  • 11:21 AM

How Plants Smell Smoke

by Sedeer El-Showk in United Academics

n response to my recent post about the dynamic life of plants, reader tmso asked about whether plants can sense and respond to smoke. I still haven’t found anything about an immediate response to smoke, but I’ve learned quite a bit about how smoke and fire affect germination. ... Read more »

Flematti GR, Ghisalberti EL, Dixon KW, . (2004) A compound from smoke that promotes seed germination. . Science (New York, N.Y.), 305(5686). DOI: 10.3410/f.1020027.228427  

Chiwoca, Sheila DS, Dixon, Kingsly W, Flematti, Gavin R, Ghisablerti, Emilio L, Merritt, David J, Nelson, David C, Riseborough, Julie-Anne M, Smith, Steven M, . (2009) Karrikins: A new family of plant growth regulators in smoke. Plant Science. DOI: 10.1016/j.plantsci.2009.06.007  

Guo Y, Zheng Z, La Clair JJ, Chory J, & Noel JP. (2013) Smoke-derived karrikin perception by the α/β-hydrolase KAI2 from Arabidopsis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(20), 8284-9. PMID: 23613584  

  • August 21, 2013
  • 03:55 AM

New Carnivore Species Discovered in Ecuador

by Alex Reis in United Academics

It’s been seen in the wild and presented in zoos around the world, but yet, a mysterious creature has been victim of mistaken identity for over 100 years!... Read more »

Kristofer M. Helgen, C. Miguel Pinto , Roland Kays, Lauren E. Helgen, Mirian T. N. Tsuchiya, Aleta Quinn, Don E. Wilson . (2013) Taxonomic revision of the olingos (Bassaricyon), with description of a new species, the Olinguito. . Zoo Keys, 1-83. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.324.5827  

  • August 20, 2013
  • 10:41 AM

Facebook May Reduce Happiness

by Guillaume Cote-Maurais in United Academics

Online social networks are rapidly changing the way human beings interact. Over a billion people have a Facebook account, and over half of them log in daily. Yet, no research has examined how interacting with Facebook influences subjective well-being over time.... Read more »

Kross E., Verduyn P., Demiralp E., Park J., Lee D.S., Lin N., Shablack H., Jonides J. . (2013) Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. Plos One, 8(8). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069841  

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