Post List

  • October 8, 2010
  • 12:46 AM

Measuring resilience to climate-change driven crop failure

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

A number of news outlets have picked up on a new article in Environmental Research Letters by Andy Challinor and a team at the University at Leeds.  The standard headline is "Crop Failures to Increase With Climate Change," but I think the much more interesting part of the research is the author's creation of a vulnerability index based on the historical crop data in China.  Essentially, they looked at periods of drought in the past, and examined how well farmers were able to mitigate the drought's effects through additional labor or technology:

A high vulnerability index identifies years and/or regions where the yield loss was large relative to the size of the drought. A low value of VI indicates that the efficacy of the socio-economic adaptation to drought is high, for example due to good water management, increasing fertilizer, per capita investments in agriculture, and falling numbers of rural households.

The authors point out that investment in resilience and adaptation is most important in areas where high vulnerabilities were found and where crop failures are most likely.  Also, interestingly, they note that while vulnerability generally goes down with increasing GDP, this doesn't apply in all cases.  Investments specific to adaptive capacity may be more effective than an indiscriminate focus on economic growth.
Challinor, A., Simelton, E., Fraser, E., Hemming, D., & Collins, M. (2010). Increased crop failure due to climate change: assessing adaptation options using models and socio-economic data for wheat in China Environmental Research Letters, 5 (3) DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/5/3/034012... Read more »

  • October 8, 2010
  • 12:15 AM

The world we live in: Risk society

by Jan Husdal in

We live in a world that is full of risk, risks that we to a large degree have created ourselves, and where naturally occuring risk hardly exists anymore. That is a risk society.... Read more »

  • October 7, 2010
  • 11:28 PM

Is Obesity like Drug Addiction? Maybe… The Role of BDNF

by neurobites in Neurobites

As a general rule, the cells of your body ought only grow, survive and proliferate when so directed by upstream messages, hormonal or otherwise.  In light of the supreme importance of proper and well-timed growth, it is these messaging systems that have recently become the stars of the show.  One area of particular importance is [...]... Read more »

  • October 7, 2010
  • 09:45 PM

Unique Strains of Yersinia pestis Caused the Black Death

by Michael Long in Phased

Barbara Bramanti (Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany) and coworkers present conclusive biochemical (DNA and protein) evidence that Yersinia pestis, of multiple and possibly extinct lineages, was responsible for the Black Death of medieval Europe. This news feature was written on October 7, 2010.... Read more »

Haensch, S., Bianucci, R., Signoli, M., Rajerison, M., Schultz, M., Kacki, S., Vermunt, M., Weston, D. A., Hurst, D., Achtman, M.... (2010) Distinct Clones of Yersinia pestis Caused the Black Death. PLoS Pathogens, 6(10). DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1001134  

  • October 7, 2010
  • 08:34 PM

Internal forward models -- New insight or just hype?

by Greg Hickok in Talking Brains

In case you haven't noticed, the concept of internal forward models -- an internal prediction about a future event or state -- are all the rage. The concept comes out of the motor control literature where one can find pretty solid evidence that motor control makes use of forward predictions of the sensory consequences of motor commands (e.g., check out the seminal paper by Wolpert, Ghahramani, & Jordan, 1995). These concepts have been extended to speech (e.g., Tourville et al. 2008; van Wassenhove et al., 2005) and there has been a ton of work trying to establish the neural correlates of these networks (e.g., see Golfinopoulos et al. 2009; Shadmehr & Krakauer, 2008), recent work suggesting an association with clinical conditions such as aspects of schizophrenia (Heinks-Maldonado, et al. 2007) and stuttering (Max et al. 2004), and even applications of the concept of high-level cognition such as "thought" (Ito, 2008), as well as applications to social cognition (Wolpert et al. 2003) with links to the mirror system (Miall, 2003).I'm a big fan of control theory in general and I think there is a lot to be gained by thinking about speech processes in these terms. At the same time, I'm a little uncomfortable with the widespread application of these models. It kind of reminds me of the mirror neuron situation in that a framework for thinking about one problem is generalized to all kinds of situations. I'm also a bit uncomfortable about the assumed tethering between forward models and the motor system. A forward model is just a prediction. In the context of motor control, it makes sense to make predictions (e.g., sensory predictions) based on the likely outcomes of motor commands. But more generally, predictions can come from lots of sources. Perceptual fill-in processes are a kind of forward model: the visual system for example makes predictions about the color and texture of a given portion of the visual scene based on the color and texture around that region. One can predict the consequences of an ocean wave hitting a rock based on past perceptual experiences. So forward models don't have to come from the motor system and there are probably lots of systems and mechanisms that generate predictions (forward models). It is worth having a look at Karniel's (2002) short comment, "Three creatures named 'forward model'" for some cautionary discussion.So is the internal forward model concept just hype? No, I don't think so. It has already demonstrated its utility in the motor control literature and there are systems in the brain that appear to support motor-related forward models (cerebellum is one, posterior parietal cortex is another). There are some real insights to be gained from this framework in the speech domain as well, but I think there is the danger of over-application of the concept and we need to proceed cautiously. ReferencesGolfinopoulos, E., Tourville, J.A., and Guenther, F.H. (2009). The integration of large-scale neural network modeling and functional brain imaging in speech motor control. Neuroimage 52, 862-874.Heinks-Maldonado, T.H., Mathalon, D.H., Houde, J.F., Gray, M., Faustman, W.O., and Ford, J.M. (2007). Relationship of imprecise corollary discharge in schizophrenia to auditory hallucinations. Arch Gen Psychiatry 64, 286-296.Ito, M. (2008). Control of mental activities by internal models in the cerebellum. Nat Rev Neurosci 9, 304-313.Karniel, A. (2002). Three creatures named 'forward model'. Neural Networks 15, 305-307.Max, L., Guenther, F.H., Gracco, V.L., Ghosh, S.S., and Wallace, M.E. (2004). Unstable or insufficiently activated internal models and feedback-biased motor control as sournces of dysfluency: A theoretical model of stuttering. Contemporary Issue in Communication Science and Disorders 31, 105-122.Miall, R.C. (2003). Connecting mirror neurons and forward models. Neuroreport 14, 2135-2137.Shadmehr, R., and Krakauer, J.W. (2008). A computational neuroanatomy for motor control. Exp Brain Res 185, 359-381.Tourville, J.A., Reilly, K.J., and Guenther, F.H. (2008). Neural mechanisms underlying auditory feedback control of speech. Neuroimage 39, 1429-1443.van Wassenhove, V., Grant, K.W., and Poeppel, D. (2005). Visual speech speeds up the neural processing of auditory speech. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 102, 1181-1186.Wolpert, D., Ghahramani, Z., & Jordan, M. (1995). An internal model for sensorimotor integration Science, 269 (5232), 1880-1882 DOI: 10.1126/science.7569931Wolpert, D.M., Doya, K., and Kawato, M. (2003). A unifying computational framework for motor control and social interaction. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 358, 593-602.... Read more »

Wolpert, D., Ghahramani, Z., & Jordan, M. (1995) An internal model for sensorimotor integration. Science, 269(5232), 1880-1882. DOI: 10.1126/science.7569931  

  • October 7, 2010
  • 08:02 PM

More on genetically modified (Bt) corn: Is it an economic boon to all corn farmers?

by Phil Camill in Global Change: Intersection of Nature and Culture

There’s a new paper in this week’s issue of Science that suggests that growing a landscape mixed with genetically modified (GM) Bt corn and non-GM hybrid varieties of corn can be mutually beneficial to all corn farmers.
Why?  They argue that the populations of GM corn knock down the populations of insect herbivores enough that, on [...]... Read more »

Hutchison, W., Burkness, E., Mitchell, P., Moon, R., Leslie, T., Fleischer, S., Abrahamson, M., Hamilton, K., Steffey, K., Gray, M.... (2010) Areawide Suppression of European Corn Borer with Bt Maize Reaps Savings to Non-Bt Maize Growers. Science, 330(6001), 222-225. DOI: 10.1126/science.1190242  

  • October 7, 2010
  • 06:44 PM

Walking Bacteria – And some weighty researcher cahones

by Kevin in We Beasties

Now the damn biofilms let the bacteria get up and walk. We're doomed!... Read more »

Gibiansky, M., Conrad, J., Jin, F., Gordon, V., Motto, D., Mathewson, M., Stopka, W., Zelasko, D., Shrout, J., & Wong, G. (2010) Bacteria Use Type IV Pili to Walk Upright and Detach from Surfaces. Science, 330(6001), 197-197. DOI: 10.1126/science.1194238  

  • October 7, 2010
  • 06:34 PM

Psycasm - Siesta - It sounds like Fiesta, but isn't.

by Rift in Psycasm

[Wherein our hero, sleepy from all his blogging, decides to take a nap. But is a siesta such a good idea?]
Here in Australia it's just getting into Summer. And the trick with 'getting into summer' is enduring the brief but painful transition from cool to hot. It usually only last a few weeks, but it's a few weeks characterised by sleeplessness, crankiness and trying to get u; (read more)

Source: Rift - Discipline: Psychology... Read more »

  • October 7, 2010
  • 04:47 PM

White Matter and Reading Ability

by Livia in Reading and Word Recognition Research

Accessibility:  Intermediate-Advanced

Hello folks.  Things are pretty busy over here and I might be having to review a lot of papers soon, so there's a possibility that entries here will get shorter and a bit more technical.  But we'll...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

... Read more »

  • October 7, 2010
  • 04:39 PM

Do you have low T?

by PalMD in White Coat Underground

This post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine. If you google “low testosterone” you’ll see lots of ads for testosterone replacement.  Some are from pharmaceutical companies that sell testosterone, others from obvious snake-oil salesmen. Both types of ads list vague sets of symptoms, encourage you to believe that they are pathologic, and want to sell [...]... Read more »

Bhasin S, Cunningham GR, Hayes FJ, Matsumoto AM, Snyder PJ, Swerdloff RS, Montori VM, & Task Force, Endocrine Society. (2010) Testosterone therapy in men with androgen deficiency syndromes: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 95(6), 2536-59. PMID: 20525905  

Araujo, A., Esche, G., Kupelian, V., O'Donnell, A., Travison, T., Williams, R., Clark, R., & McKinlay, J. (2007) Prevalence of Symptomatic Androgen Deficiency in Men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology , 92(11), 4241-4247. DOI: 10.1210/jc.2007-1245  

  • October 7, 2010
  • 04:29 PM

Examining blocking lesions in ancient DNA

by epibio in EpiCentral

The characteristics of ancient DNA remain poorly understood. This is particularly true for blocking lesions (chemical alterations that cannot be bypassed by DNA polymerases). Blocking lesions prevent amplification and sequencing of affected molecules, thus limiting the analysis of DNA derived from ancient samples. Heyn et al. recently developed a new method--polymerase extension profiling (PEP)--that reveals occurrences of polymerase stalling on DNA templates. This sequencing-based technology allows detection of damage on a single-molecule level. The technique used CircLigase™ ssDNA Ligase for high-efficiency ligation of single-stranded adaptors (containing the Roche 454 A sequence) to the 3’ ends of primer-extension products.

The authors found evidence of blocking lesions in three out of four ancient samples, but no more than 40% of the molecules were affected, indicating that such modifications are far less frequent than previously thought.

Heyn, P. et al. (2010). Road blocks on paleogenomes--polymerase extension profiling reveals the frequency of blocking lesions in ancient DNA Nucleic Acids Research, 38 (16) DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkq572... Read more »

  • October 7, 2010
  • 01:59 PM

Cannabis Use and Psychosis

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

There is growing interest in the relationship between cannabis use and psychosis.  Epidemiologic studies support higher rates of cannabis use in those that develop psychosis, but this could just be an association finding rather than a causal effect.  For example, a genetic factor that increases risk for psychosis could also increase risk for cannabis use.   Alternatively, subtle pre-psychosis onset symptoms may increase risk for the use of cannabis—cannabis may be used to treat some premorbid symptoms of psychosis.  Additionally, epidemiologic studies can be confounded by unmeasured variables. I have to admit that I started out in the skeptical camp for a significant link between cannabis use and psychosis.  But recent evidence is making me re-think this issue and the complexity of the relationship.  Two research studies have recently added important understanding to the issue.McGrath and colleagues in Australia used a sibling pair analysis to examine the effect of cannabis use on later psychotic symptoms.  Sibling pairs provide a strategy to attempt to minimize the potential for unmeasured confounding variables.Three thousand eight hundred and one young adults born between 1981 and 1984 were followed and assessed.  Cannabis use was assessed and psychosis was measured in three domains:Presence of a non-affective psychosis (i.e. schizophrenia)Presence of hallucinationsScore on a inventory of delusions (Delusions Inventory score) Subjects with six years or more since cannabis use were examined for the key psychosis domains with the following results:Odds ratios elevated for all three domains in the sample as a whole (non-affective psychosis odds ratio 2.2, presence of hallucinations odds ratio 2.8 and scoring highest quartile of delusion odds ratio 4.2)When only the sib pairs were examined the relationship between duration since first use and delusions inventory remained significant—this supports a true relationship not confounded by unmeasured variablesAnother study from the Netherlands adds insight into the relationship between cannabis and psychosis.  The study used two designs a sibling-non-sibling control and a cross sibling comparison.  Cannabis use in this study was assessed by urinalysis and a lifetime frequency of use instrument.  Psychosis in this study included a structured interview for schizotypy and the Community Assessment of Psychic Experiences.   The key findings from this study included:Siblings currently using cannabis  were much more likely than controls to  show sensitivity to positive symptoms of psychosis (i.e. hallucinations/delusions)Siblings using cannabis with a relative with psychosis showed increased positive psychotic symptomatology compared to siblings not using cannabis The authors note the double design study supports a interpretation that “genetic risk for psychotic disorder may be expressed in part as sensitivity to the psychotomimetic effect of cannabis”.  In other words, familial psychosis risk is moderated through a sensitivity to psychotic symptoms with cannabis.  Their findings are less supportive of a role for familial psychotic risk to increase the use of cannabis (mediation).I interpret these studies to indicate that for the population as a whole, cannabis use may have a very limited effect on risk of psychosis.  However, if you carry a familial (genetic) risk for psychosis, cannabis use may potentiate that risk.  This potentiation may depend in part on the quantity and duration of use as well as which brain developmental period use begins.  Heavy adolescent onset use may be the most concerning period of vulnerability in those with a genetic risk for psychosis.  Experiencing psychotic symptoms with cannabis use may be a marker for increased risk for a later persistent psychotic disorders.   The take home messages for clinicians—1.) patients with a family history of psychosis should not use cannabis, 2.) patients experiencing psychotic symptoms with cannabis use should be educated that this is not a good sign and they may be most vulnerable to psychosis with continued heavy use.Photo of Signage on San Antonio Riverwalk Courtesy of Yates PhotographyMcGrath J, Welham J, Scott J, Varghese D, Degenhardt L, Hayatbakhsh MR, Alati R, Williams GM, Bor W, & Najman JM (2010). Association between cannabis use and psychosis-related outcomes using sibling pair analysis in a cohort of young adults. Archives of general psychiatry, 67 (5), 440-7 PMID: 20194820Genetic Risk and Outcome in Psychosis (GROUP) Investigators (2010). Evidence That Familial Liability for Psychosis Is Expressed as Differential Sensitivity to Cannabis: An Analysis of Patient-Sibling and Sibling-Control Pairs. Archives of general psychiatry PMID: 20921112... Read more »

  • October 7, 2010
  • 12:46 PM

Do you have low T?

by Peter Lipson in Science-Based Medicine

If you google “low testosterone” you’ll see lots of ads for testosterone replacement.  Some are from pharmaceutical companies that sell testosterone, others from obvious snake-oil salesmen.
Both types of ads list vague sets of symptoms, encourage you to believe that they are pathologic, and want to sell you something to make you better.  For example, the [...]... Read more »

Bhasin S, Cunningham GR, Hayes FJ, Matsumoto AM, Snyder PJ, Swerdloff RS, Montori VM, & Task Force, Endocrine Society. (2010) Testosterone therapy in men with androgen deficiency syndromes: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 95(6), 2536-59. PMID: 20525905  

Araujo, A., Esche, G., Kupelian, V., O'Donnell, A., Travison, T., Williams, R., Clark, R., & McKinlay, J. (2007) Prevalence of Symptomatic Androgen Deficiency in Men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology , 92(11), 4241-4247. DOI: 10.1210/jc.2007-1245  

  • October 7, 2010
  • 12:35 PM

Novel DNA repair mechanism described

by Rogue in Into Oblivion

DNA repair is a very interesting field to me even if I didn’t go into for my PhD. I’m still following the news from it though. Here is a summary from a study published in Nature several days ago which describes a novel mechanism for DNA repair.... Read more »

Emily H. Rubinson, A. S. Prakasha Gowda, Thomas E. Spratt, Barry Gold . (2010) An unprecedented nucleic acid capture mechanism for excision of DNA damage. Nature. info:/doi:10.1038/nature09428

  • October 7, 2010
  • 12:07 PM

In honeybee collapse, cure the patient, not just the disease.

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

My first published article examined implications of the massive collapse of honeybee populations on business, so I feel compelled to comment on the latest development in the hunt for the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD).
There is a new article out on the subject by a team led by University of Montana researchers and the US Army Chemical Biological center.  Using proteomic sequencing, they found two culprits in the bodies of dead bees: invertebrate iridescent virus (IIV), a long-stranded DNA virus, and Nosema, a fungal spore.  Both had been detected in bees found dead of CCD before, but here they showed that affected bees were most likely to have both pathogens working in concert.
It's an encouraging development.  However, I'd like to point out that news coverage that emphasizes the "we found it!" narrative misses the important lessons that have come out of the CCD experience.  Previous researchers had predicted that the cause of CCD would not likely be a new pathogen but a combination of interacting effects, and pointed out that the rise of highly technical, industrialized monoculture beekeeping in the U.S. had left bee-pollinated agriculture vulnerable to new combinations such as these.   The effects of pesticides, stress, and the mass trucking of bee populations around the country are still unknown but likely exacerbate the effects of pests, new and old.
If we can protect bees from IIV and Nosema, great.  However, it is just as important to build resilience and diversity into our agricultural system so as to reduce the risks associated with unknown future diseases.  Otherwise we will be unprepared for the next CCD that will inevitably come.
Bromenshenk, J., Henderson, C., Wick, C., Stanford, M., Zulich, A., Jabbour, R., Deshpande, S., McCubbin, P., Seccomb, R., Welch, P., Williams, T., Firth, D., Skowronski, E., Lehmann, M., Bilimoria, S., Gress, J., Wanner, K., & Cramer, R. (2010). Iridovirus and Microsporidian Linked to Honey Bee Colony Decline PLoS ONE, 5 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013181... Read more »

Bromenshenk, J., Henderson, C., Wick, C., Stanford, M., Zulich, A., Jabbour, R., Deshpande, S., McCubbin, P., Seccomb, R., Welch, P.... (2010) Iridovirus and Microsporidian Linked to Honey Bee Colony Decline. PLoS ONE, 5(10). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013181  

  • October 7, 2010
  • 12:03 PM

Power Posing

by APS Daily Observations in Daily Observations

A simple posture change transforms hormone levels in a matter of minutes – and literally makes people more powerful. Previous research has shown that humans and other animals express ... Read more »

Carney, D.R., Cuddy, A.J., & Yap, A.J. (2010) Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance. Psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science/ APS. PMID: 20855902  

  • October 7, 2010
  • 10:52 AM

It's a Micro World after all - RB: Waste Not, Want Not.

by Thomas Joseph in It's a Micro World after all (LabSpaces Edition)

Welcome to my first Research Blogging post here at LabSpaces! I'm not sure if this is a first for LabsSpaces, or simply a first for It's a Micro World after all, but regardless ... you're here now and you may as well stay for the fun! I grabbed a paper which caught my eye, and certainly generated a fair amount of buzz in the news, probably because it highl; (read more)

Source: Thomas Joseph - Discipline: Research... Read more »

  • October 7, 2010
  • 10:00 AM

Should Children with Autism Play Video Games? (VG Series Part 6/10)

by Richard Landers in NeoAcademic

Part 6 of my series examining research evidence for the value of video games. This time: video games and children with developmental disorders.... Read more »

  • October 7, 2010
  • 09:50 AM

Around the web: the dark side of behavioral biology

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

A link round-up on evolutionary psychology, rape, infanticide, and other nasty stuff.... Read more »

Thornhill, R, & Thornhill, NW. (1992) The evolutionary psychology of men's coercive sexuality. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 363-421. info:/

  • October 7, 2010
  • 09:00 AM

Video: Cow Farts

by Torah Kachur, Rheanna Sand and Brit Trogen in Science in Seconds

For iPad/iPod users, click here.

Note:  Adult Language.

Cows are pretty harmless animals - they chew their cud, wait to get slaughtered or tipped and generally are inoffensive creatures. 

Until you smell their farts.

Cow farts are one of the most toxic things on the planet, the amount of methane they produce makes the oil industry look like angels.  So why is that people are flocking to their hybrid cars on the way to the steakhouse?  New research is suggesting that the global population has to reduce our meat consumption by up to 40% just to maintain the current state of the environment.  With countries like China increasing their demand for beef at alarming rates and North Americans unwilling to give up their 72 ounce steak-eating contests, our ability to decrease meat consumption seems all but impossible.

That is, until Science in Seconds tells you that you have to.  Put down the hot dog (oh..nevermind, that's not meat).

Host:  Torah Kachur

Photo credits:  All images are from Wikimedia and are copyright free.

Pelletier, N., & Tyedmers, P. (2010). Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000-2050 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1004659107
... Read more »

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