Post List

  • October 5, 2011
  • 03:59 AM

The Psychology of Unusual Handshakes

by David Lurie in Setsights

I’m currently in a hotel outside of London, and in the bar tonight was a group of executive coaches. I knew they were executive coaches as one of them said so when I said hello: which inevitably led me to … Continue reading

Related posts:The Power of Confidence
Networking for the Nervous (Part 2) – The Cheatsheet
Why you need to fix your attitudes before you fix your job
Breaking the First Commandment of Going Solo
Setsights Mailbag: “Can I bend the truth on my CV? – ‘AJ’”
... Read more »

Chaplin, W., Phillips, J., Brown, J., Clanton, N., & Stein, J. (2000) Handshaking, gender, personality, and first impressions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(1), 110-117. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.79.1.110  

Stewart, G., Dustin, S., Barrick, M., & Darnold, T. (2008) Exploring the handshake in employment interviews. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(5), 1139-1146. DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.93.5.1139  

  • October 5, 2011
  • 03:18 AM

To Catch A Predator... With A Brain Scanner?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

With the help of an MRI scanner and some child pornography, a new study claims to be able to tell whether someone is a paedophile: Assessment of Pedophilia Using Hemodynamic Brain Response to Sexual Stimuli.It was an fMRI study of 24 self-identified paedophiles (recruited through a clinic offering anonymous treatment) and 32 male controls. Everyone was shown a series of images of naked men, women, boys and girls. The neural response to child vs. adult images was the main outcome measure.Respect to the authors for getting that past the ethics committee.The blob-o-grams above show that the paedophile's brains reacted differently to the control brains, when shown images of naked children, which is not surprising because the brain is what makes you a paedophile (and everything else.)However, what's more interesting is that by comparing each individual's brain activity to the average activity of the paedophile group and the control group, it was possible to diagnose people as paedophiles or not with high accuracy (90 %).Plotting the "typical paedophile"-ness of the neural response to girls vs women and boys vs men, the paedophiles (triangles) form a clear cluster. There were also some differences between homosexual and heterosexuals in both groups.The statistics seem kosher: they used leave-one-out cross-validation to avoid the error of double dipping.What's not clear is whether this was measuring sexual attraction as such. All it's measuring is how much each person's activity correlated with the paedophile group average. Maybe it's picking up on the shame paedophiles feel over being reminded of what they've done. Maybe the controls were just averting their eyes when the child porn came on.However, you could say that if you're just interested in the practical business of catching paedophiles, that's academic. More concerning is the question of whether it would be possible to fool the technique. A recent study showed that it's easy to fool a brain scan designed to detect lying.But let's suppose it does work out. Would that be a good thing? What is "a paedophile", anyway? Is it someone's who's attracted to children, or someone who acts on that attraction?For example, there are people who are caught with child porn, and who admit they downloaded it, but who deny being attracted to children. The Who shredder Pete Townsend and comedian Chris Langham being two British examples. Both admit downloading illegal images, but say it was for 'research purposes'.Now it might be possible, using fMRI, to find out if they're telling the truth. Let's suppose it was doable.So what? Downloading child pornography is a crime - whatever your motivation. Being attracted to children is legal, in itself. So from a legal perspective it should make no difference at all in cases like this.Of course, we don't in fact go around seeing things from a purely legal perspective. We care whether someone is attracted to children or not. But should we care? Is that fair? You don't choose your sexual orientation. What you choose is whether to break the law by commiting the crime.There are surely people out there - no-one knows how many - who are attracted the children, and never act on it. Do we want to be able to "catch" them?Edit: The original version of this post linked to the wrong paper, an older paper by the same authors. This has been fixed now.Ponseti, J., Granert, O., Jansen, O., Wolff, S., Beier, K., Neutze, J., Deuschl, G., Mehdorn, H., Siebner, H., & Bosinski, H. (2011). Assessment of Pedophilia Using Hemodynamic Brain Response to Sexual Stimuli Archives of General Psychiatry DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.130... Read more »

Ponseti, J., Granert, O., Jansen, O., Wolff, S., Beier, K., Neutze, J., Deuschl, G., Mehdorn, H., Siebner, H., & Bosinski, H. (2011) Assessment of Pedophilia Using Hemodynamic Brain Response to Sexual Stimuli. Archives of General Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.130  

  • October 5, 2011
  • 01:14 AM

Using Google Body to teach undergraduate anatomy

by Dr Shock in Dr Shock MD PhD

Buffer Google Body is a novel open education resources interface (). It is simple to operate and its intuitive user interface allows even inexperienced computer users to make good use of it. The med students first had classical lectures on anatomy. Next they were presented simulations of complex anatomical structures. They had to search and [...]

No related posts.... Read more »

  • October 5, 2011
  • 12:03 AM

Clinical Rotation Tests for Evaluating ACL Insufficiency

by Nicole Cattano in Sports Medicine Research (SMR): In the Lab & In the Field

Evaluations of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears include a battery of clinical tests, including Lachman’s, anterior drawer, and pivot shift test. The pivot shift test is often cited as being able to assess the integrity of the ACL due to its ability to test both the anterior translation and rotational stability of the knee, as well as its ability to reproduce the common symptoms of “giving way.” However, it is difficult to objectively measure the results of this test. The purpose of this study was to compare knee kinematics of 3 clinical evaluation tests (i.e., pivot shift test and internal/external rotation stress test) among ACL deficient knees and ACL intact contralateral knees.... Read more »

Hoshino Y, Kuroda R, Nagamune K, Araki D, Kubo S, Yamaguchi M, & Kurosaka M. (2011) Optimal measurement of clinical rotational test for evaluating anterior cruciate ligament insufficiency. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy. PMID: 21850429  

  • October 5, 2011
  • 12:03 AM

Assessing Concussions with Functional MR Imaging

by Jane McDevitt in Sports Medicine Research (SMR): In the Lab & In the Field

There are a number of symptoms that are associated with a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI); however, neuropsychological testing and conventional neuroimaging techniques (e.g., standard magnetic resonance [MR] imaging, computed tomography [CT] scans) are not sensitive enough to detect subtle changes. There have been advances in the neuroimaging field that allow a more sensitive and specific detection of mTBI using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This study used resting-state fMRI (rs-fMRI; resting state = individual lying quietly with eyes closed) to assess the connectivity between brain regions in the default mode network (DMN; portions of the brain that continue to work when the body is still awake but resting) of athletes with and without a history of mTBI.... Read more »

  • October 4, 2011
  • 09:45 PM

The Millet-Eaters of the Roman Empire

by Kristina Killgrove in Powered By Osteons

Just a few days ago, only the second isotope study of millet consumption in the Roman Empire was published, by Pollard and colleagues in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.  In a small Romano-British cemetery in Kent (late 3rd-early 4th century AD), a salvage archaeology project uncovered a dozen burials that were simple in nature: only coffin nails and hobnails from boots were found in most graves.  Among these simple farmers, though, was an individual with a surprisingly high carbon isotope value, so Pollard and colleagues undertook a dietary (C/N) and migration (Sr/O) study of the individuals.

The anomalous partially complete skeleton was that of a male over the age of 45 buried wearing hobnail boots. The individual's nitrogen isotope ratio was a bit high (11.2 permil), indicating aquatic resource consumption, but was not higher than average for Roman Britain.  His carbon isotope ratio from collagen, however, came in at -15.2 permil, in stark comparison to the average of the other individuals of -19.8 permil (see below).  This difference may not seem dramatic until you factor in the standard deviation - variation within the d13C ratios of the others from the site was only 0.3!  This person was therefore eating a whole bunch of C4 resources - millet, sorghum, or animals foddered on those grains.

Figure 3 from Pollard et al. showing the anomalous individual (SK12671)
compared with other Romano-British sites and the two anomalous individuals
published in Muldner et al. 2011.

Evidence of C4 plant consumption is surprisingly absent from the archaeological record of the Roman world, even though authors like Pliny note that millet and beans were frequently eaten together by people in rural Italy.  As far as I know, only one bioarchaeological study has been done on skeletons from Italy looking at C4 resource use (Tafuri et al. 2009).  Researchers found evidence of millet consumption in the elevated d13C ratios of people from northern Italy in the Bronze Age compared with people in southern Italy.  Another Romano-British cemetery yielded two individuals with a mixed C3-C4 diet, where carbon isotope values ranged from -16.8 permil to -15.8 permil.  So this new person from Kent provides the highest d13C ratio obtained so far from bone collagen in the Roman period.  Below is a graph of the Bronze Age millet-eaters and the Romano-British people from Pollard and colleagues' study:

Figure 4 from Pollard et al. 2011 comparing Romano-British
samples with Bronze Age north Italian samples

Curiously, Pollard and colleagues didn't look at carbon values from bone apatite, but they did look at the carbon isotope ratio of the dental apatite, which in this individual was -7.2 permil, also significantly higher than the values from the others, which range from -13.8 to -11.5 permil.  This likely means that his C4 resource use was in the form of direct consumption of millet rather than from consuming protein from animals that were foddered on millet.
Finally, they investigated the individual's strontium and oxygen isotope ratios to see if he perhaps immigrated to Britain from an area with more evidence of millet production and consumption, like Italy.  This is where the paper gets interesting - the strontium ratio is .708826 and the oxygen (from carbonate) is 26.1 permil.  These values are within the range of expectation for someone from southern Britain, so the authors could not rule out a local origin for the man.  However, my dissertation work (Killgrove 2010) showed that those values are equally likely to occur in or near Rome - my local strontium range for Rome is .7079-.7102, and the local oxygen range (drawn from Prowse et al. 2007) is 24.9-27.1 permil.  Pollard and colleagues suggest that this man may have come from northern Italy, where growing millet was common, but I am not convinced because his strontium isotope ratio of .7088 is far too low for the older geology of northern Italy, unless he was located near the east coast (and then his oxygen ratio should be lower).  Rome itself is around .7090, and .7088 - if we assume a western Italian origin - is more like Naples.  Granted, it is extraordinarily difficult to pinpoint homeland, and part of this article addresses the problems with identifying immigrants through just Sr and O isotope analyses.  As I have started to write up my Sr/O study for publication, it's something I'm keeping in mind.  Interestingly, the authors suggest that the inclusion of hobnailed boots in this man's burial may signify that he was "walking back" from Britain to his true homeland.
But the publication of this article - in AJPA no less - makes me excited because I'm sending off my C/N isotope article tomorrow to the Journal of Archaeological Science.  And in that article, I have a section on individual ET20, a male in his 30s from the site of Castellaccio Europarco, in the Roman suburbs.  ET20 has an astoundingly high d13C ratio: -12.5 permil.  This is on par with the isotope ratio of millet itself, and carbon ratios this high tend only to be found in populations that ate maize (corn).  However, the d13C ratio from ET20's bone apatite is only -8.6 permil, which is not dramatically higher than the rest of the population, suggesting that this individual was consuming his C4 resources in the form of animals who were foddered on millet.  His d15N ratio is 8.3 permil, which is a bit lower than expected from the population, so perhaps he was eating beans along with his millet or millet-fed animals like Pliny suggests.  I did do Sr/O on this individual, and they came back at .709631 and 25.3 permil, respectively.  Both of these are within my admittedly broad "local" range of Rome, but no one else among the locals has such a high d13C ratio.  I suggest in my dissertation (Killgrove 2010) that he may have come from northern Italy - the strontium ratio is higher than expected from Rome, indicating a childhood spent on slightly older geology.  I also found with ET20 that his d13C ratio from enamel apatite was -4.0 permil - so he changed his diet between the time he was born and the time he died at Rome.  Here's a quick graph from the forthcoming paper showing just how far to the right (C4 use) ET20 is in comparison with others from Castellaccio and Casal Bertone (compare with the graphs above, where no one reaches the high carbon value that ET20 does):

From Killgrove & Tykot, n.d.

At any rate, the person that Pollard and colleagues found (and the two people found by Muldner et al. 2011) show that we have a lot left to learn about C4 resource use in the Roman Empire.  Millet may have been considered a substandard grain by many authors, the kind of food that rural or poor people eat, but there is growing evidence that many people were consuming at least a C3-C4 mixed diet and several people were eating quite a bit of millet or animals foddered on the grain.  Isotopes are letting us tease out differences in diet at the levels of the individual and the population - especially in Rome, as I've blogged about before here.  Although the overall diet mostly tracks with historical and artistic records from the Roman world, the diversity in the lower-class diet is surprising and intriguing, and I think will eventually be able to tell us more about things like status.  Watch this space for more on the diet of my Romans as I work through the process of submitting and revising my C/N isotope article this week!


Killgrove, K. (2010).  Migration and mobility in Imperial Rome.  PhD dissertation, University of North Carolina at Cha... Read more »

Muldner, G, Chenery, C, & Eckardt, H. (2011) The "headless Romans": multi-isotope investigations of an unusual burial ground from Roman Britain. Journal of Archaeological Science, 280-290. info:/

Pollard AM, Ditchfield P, McCullagh JS, Allen TG, Gibson M, Boston C, Clough S, Marquez-Grant N, & Nicholson RA. (2011) "These boots were made for walking": The isotopic analysis of a C(4) Roman inhumation from Gravesend, Kent, UK. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. PMID: 21959970  

Prowse TL, Schwarcz HP, Garnsey P, Knyf M, Macchiarelli R, & Bondioli L. (2007) Isotopic evidence for age-related immigration to imperial Rome. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 132(4), 510-9. PMID: 17205550  

  • October 4, 2011
  • 06:07 PM

What can flies tell us about #virusevolution?

by Connor Bamford in The Rule of 6ix

Some of the fly species used in this study (thanks to Ben Longdon).

 What influences whether a parasite - for example a virus - will infect a new host and jump species? Is it more to do with the virus, or the host? Maybe something entirely different, like whether the two hosts will ever meet. Investigating these factors may allow us to predict how viruses will behave in their natural environment and aid us in determining the likelihood of transmission and spread into - and throughout - a new species, like us, humans. Imagine if we had had this knowledge earlier, we may have been able to prevent such epidemics HIV, SARS or the recurring ebola outbreaks. 

 Well, this is exactly what one group - joint between Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities in the UK - are doing. Get the PLoS Pathogens paper here. Using perhaps the only experimentally amenable model system for animals - which consisted of flies and their viruses - they recently provide evidence that the likelihood of a virus replicating within a new host has a lot to do with how genetically related it is to the original host species. And, surprisingly, in some cases it has not much at all to with it - further compounding the complexities of virus emergence. But how did they do it?


Pathogens switching to new hosts can result in the emergence of new
infectious diseases, and determining which species are likely to be
sources of such host shifts is essential to understanding disease
threats to both humans and wildlife. However, the factors that determine
whether a pathogen can infect a novel host are poorly understood. We
have examined the ability of three host-specific RNA-viruses (Drosophila sigma viruses from the family Rhabdoviridae)
to persist and replicate in 51 different species of Drosophilidae.
Using a novel analytical approach we found that the host phylogeny could
explain most of the variation in viral replication and persistence
between different host species. This effect is partly driven by viruses
reaching a higher titre in those novel hosts most closely related to the
original host. However, there is also a strong effect of host phylogeny
that is independent of the distance from the original host, with viral
titres being similar in groups of related hosts. Most of this effect
could be explained by variation in general susceptibility to all three
sigma viruses, as there is a strong phylogenetic correlation in the
titres of the three viruses. These results suggest that the source of
new emerging diseases may often be predictable from the host phylogeny,
but that the effect may be more complex than simply causing most host
shifts to occur between closely related hosts.

 This work largely follows on from studies where they originally discovered a number of new fly viruses (RNA viruses related to the mammalian rabies virus to be specific) that interestingly, weren't horizontally transmitted but were passed on from infected to non-infected vertically, that is via sperm or eggs. Horizontal transmission is what we see with influenza for example. But, when they examined how these viruses evolved when compared to their host species, they found something rather unexpected: despite being passed on from parent to offspring, these viruses were found to have changed host's rather often - something you'd expect more from viruses like avian influenza, SARS or HIV. The reasons why - and how - they did so is what this paper is about.

How can we test it?

 What the group did was inject three of these newly uncovered RNA viruses directly into a wide range of different Drosophila flies taken from the wild and measured how well each virus grew and persisted - something I can assure you is no easy job. The extent of virus growth was then compared to how distantly related the new host species was in relation to the original one and they tried to determine whether the genetic relatedness could explain observed differences in replication. Simple enough, so see the data below:

Their data - host fly phylogeny on the left and viral growth titres on the right in blue for each of the 3 viruses - red indicates the original host species of the virus. How does growth change in more genetically related hosts?

 When they employed their rather complex statistical analyses they discovered that two factors were explaining how well each virus grew in a new host, one's they termed: phylogenetic and distance effects. On one hand, the more closely related the new species was to the natural host, the better the virus grew (which you may think is pretty much expected) yet what was surprising was that this 'distance' effect didn't explain everything. After accounting for this 'distance effect' the relationships between species explained almost all the remaining variation in viral growth.  This effect was independent of genetic relatedness and resulted from a
more general level of susceptibility to all viruses examined. This resulted in some species that were more distantly related (in fact, even the most distantly related) having the higher levels of growth.

They explain it a bit better here:

We call this first effect – where the change does not have a predictable
sign – a phylogenetic effect, and the second effect - where change does
have a predictable sign – a distance effect.

What explains these effects?

 So why do we see these effects at all, and can we use them to predict virus species jumps - even given the inherently unpredictable nature of the 'phylogenetic' effect? Well the distance effect is pretty intuitive with a large amount of virology literature detailing the intimate virus/host relationship: being obligate intracellular parasites, these microbes require host machinery for nearly all of their replication, think ribosomes, nucleotide synthesis, receptor entry, virus release. This is especially true for viruses with limited coding capacity and high rates of evolution like these RNA ones. So you could imagine there exists a very nice fit between a virus and it's host, you mess with this by taking a highly adapted virus and sticking it into a host it hasn't adapted to, you'll impact growth.

 But what about the phylogenetic effect? How come some groups of hosts allow the virus to grow to a similar extent independent of genetic distance? This, they state, could have much to do with the particular receptor being expressed or whether those hosts have a generally better immune system but the nature of this makes it near-impossible to predict the actual cause without further characterization of the viruses and the hosts, something that should be addressed in the future.

... Read more »

  • October 4, 2011
  • 04:37 PM

Knowledge is power for the sun spot owners

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

Even as the butterfly season comes to an end, Speckled Wood butterflies, Pararge aegeria, are still going strong in my local overgrown cemetery. The hundred year old trees, shade the ground and sunny clearings are highly prized by Speckled Wood males. Yesterday, I watched them squabbling incessantly in a patch of grassy area amongst the trees. At some point, the resident male chased two other individuals, the three butterflies flying around in tight circles away from the prized spot. Another individual comes by oblivious to the ownership contest and takes possession of a sunny dock leaf in prime position (above). By the time the initial "owner" comes back victorious from the skirmish, the newly arrived one believes this is his spot and the subsequent squabble ensues. It is really never ending in this warm autumnal morning with the sunspot owners. What determines how is the fight settled? In the late 1970s Davies work suggested that prior ownership is a very strong predictor of success in a fight: residents always won. Later work by Christer Wiklund and collaborators have expanded and refined Davies' findings, indicating that although a good predictor, ownership is not the only factor involved in territorial fights. Age and size are factors that are known to be predictors of fight outcome, but in the Speckled Wood these have little importance. Martin Bergman, Martin Olofsson and Christer Wiklund investigated the effect of motivation on territorial fight outcome. Residents might be more motivated to fight because they have more information on the value of the resource they are fighting for: the resident male might have prior mating experience in that spot, or knows how prized the spot is for other males. The intruder, most of the time lacks such information. This creates an asymmetry in which the resident is more determined to fight than an intruder. To test this hypothesis, the researchers set up experiments in large outdoor cages with a prime large sun-spot, and smaller, suboptimal sunspots. They released two males in each cage and waited until there was a clear dominant male that took possession of the large sunspot. They they removed the dominant male and divided the subordinate males in two groups, half of the males repeatedly encountered a female during a 30 min residency period (female encounter group), while the other half (the control group) did not have any female encounters. Then they tested the effect of this prior experience - motivated vs unmotivated males - on contest outcome when they introduced the original dominant individual back in the cage. The results were very clear.Outcome of contests between Speckled Wood males during the second contest period when the original winner had been reintroduced, and after the original losers had either interacted with a female during 30 min (female encounter group, n = 30) or been alone for 30 min (control group, n = 30); ‘reversal’ (open bars) denotes that the male that lost the contest during the first contest period reversed the outcome and won the contest against the original winner in the second contest period, and ‘no reversal’ (filled bars) denotes that the same male won in both contest periods (from Bergman et al 2010).Half of the originally subordinate males won their fight with the original dominant in the "female encounter group". In contrast, most of the dominant males won their fight for the prime sunspot when no females had been present. Also, the fights in the treatment group were more intense and took longer to resolve, while the control group the fights were settled quickly. In conclusion, these experiments showed that male experience in a sun spot increase his persistence in a fight, and therefore increase the chances of winning it, even if he was initially a subordinate male, indicating that motivation is an important factor for contest resolution in the Speckled Wood.ReferencesBergman, M., Olofsson, M., & Wiklund, C. (2010). Contest outcome in a territorial butterfly: the role of motivation Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277 (1696), 3027-3033 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0646Davies, N. (1978). Territorial defence in the speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria): The resident always wins Animal Behaviour, 26, 138-147 DOI: 10.1016/0003-3472(78)90013-1... Read more »

  • October 4, 2011
  • 03:25 PM

The Course of Mood Disorders

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Dr. William Coryell presented the October, 2011 Warren Frontiers in Neuroscience lecture at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Dr. Coryell has been key investigator in the NIMH Collaborative Depression Study or CDS.  The CDS is one of the largest prospective studies of mood disorder,  documenting the outcome of 950 subjects enrolled following an episode of depression or mania.Dr. Coryell's lecture covered a summary of results for the CDS from a number of manuscripts.  Below are my notes and links to three manuscripts related to topics in the presentation.One key outcome variable in the CDS was percent of time in an episode.  Each subject was interviewed every six to twelve months and the percent of time with clinically significant mood disorder symptoms present.  Overall, in the entire sample, the percent of time ill during follow up of approximately 30 years was 32%.  The presentation focused on what factors relate to poorer prognosis--spending a greater percentage of time ill during follow up.Anxiety Symptoms: Subjects completed an index of anxiety symptoms at baseline.  For subjects with bipolar disorder and unipolar disorder, presence of obsessions/compulsion signs/symptoms at baseline was linked to poor prognosis.... Read more »

Solomon DA, Leon AC, Coryell WH, Endicott J, Li C, Fiedorowicz JG, Boyken L, & Keller MB. (2010) Longitudinal course of bipolar I disorder: duration of mood episodes. Archives of general psychiatry, 67(4), 339-47. PMID: 20368510  

Fiedorowicz JG, Endicott J, Leon AC, Solomon DA, Keller MB, & Coryell WH. (2011) Subthreshold hypomanic symptoms in progression from unipolar major depression to bipolar disorder. The American journal of psychiatry, 168(1), 40-8. PMID: 21078709  

Fiedorowicz JG, Leon AC, Keller MB, Solomon DA, Rice JP, & Coryell WH. (2009) Do risk factors for suicidal behavior differ by affective disorder polarity?. Psychological medicine, 39(5), 763-71. PMID: 18667100  

  • October 4, 2011
  • 02:28 PM

One last flu shot?

by Brooke N in Smaller Questions

I was inspired by a mix of watching Contagion and listening to a talk from Rafi Ahmed, the Director of the Emory Vaccine Center, to look into current vaccine literature and I stumbled upon a new, extremely interesting idea: the possibility of pan-influenza vaccine, or a vaccine that can promote immunity against multiple flu viruses.... Read more »

Wrammert J, Koutsonanos D, Li GM, Edupuganti S, Sui J, Morrissey M, McCausland M, Skountzou I, Hornig M, Lipkin WI, Mehta A, Razavi B, Del Rio C, Zheng NY, Lee JH, Huang M, Ali Z, Kaur K, Andrews S, Amara RR, Wang Y, Das SR, O'Donnell CD, Yewdell JW, Subb. (2011) Broadly cross-reactive antibodies dominate the human B cell response against 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus infection. J Exp Med. 2011 Feb 14;208(2):411, 208(1), 183-191. info:/

  • October 4, 2011
  • 01:04 PM

The Scary New Computer Program that spots Born Leaders and Predicts Election Results!

by Stuart Farrimond in Dr Stu's Science Blog

Have you ever done a ‘leadership’ exercise? I’m sure you know the sort of thing – You’re on a corporate “training day” and after being placed into arbitrary groups in a stuffy meeting room, you are given a handful of straws, paperclips and plastic cups and told to build a tower that reaches the ceiling. … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • October 4, 2011
  • 12:25 PM

The need to pee and its effect on decision-making (and other Ig Nobel-worthy research)

by NerdyOne in Try Nerdy

WUrinary urgencyith Nobel Prize winners being announced this week, I couldn’t think of a better time to put a spotlight on the Ig Nobel Prizes. What are the Ig Nobel Prizes? Put best on their website, they are awards given for research achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

The categories for these awards closely mirror those of the Nobel Prizes, and my favorite Ig Nobel award this year was given in the category of Medicine, “for demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things — but worse decisions about other kinds of things‚ when they have a strong urge to urinate.”

I implore you to read on about how everything can change when you really, really need to pee, and about the joy that is Ig Nobel.... Read more »

  • October 4, 2011
  • 11:28 AM

The Nanny and Aural Sexual Selection

by Samuel Arbesman in

Sexual selection, like many evolutionary concepts, was first anticipated by Charles Darwin and has since been elaborated in great detail. It is a powerful concept, explaining everything from the unwieldy nature of the peacock to the changing curves of Playboy centerfolds over the years. But this is all selection at the visual level. Just as [...]... Read more »

Apicella, C., & Feinberg, D. (2009) Voice pitch alters mate-choice-relevant perception in hunter–gatherers. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1659), 1077-1082. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1542  

  • October 4, 2011
  • 10:59 AM

Do you feel better in Nature?

by Farid Pazhoohi in Epistemophil

Where do you go when you’re tired of modern society? Do you like to go on picnic and spend your time in nature? It seems natural environment has fundamental effects on our feelings. This paper showed that different environments elicit different affective responses and one might feel happier when is in direct contact with natural environment. This study suggests that this feeling might be due to our evolutionary past in Savannahs. Study presents that “some environments (e.g., mountains) may be associated with particular experiential states (e.g., indicating Eudemonia), and others (e.g., parks) seem to elicit other positive experiential states (e.g., fun and relaxation)”.
So it seems that spending time in nature might be vital for our psychological well-being. Let’s enjoy our animal inside in contact with natural environments!

Hinds, J., and Sparks, P. (2011). The affective quality of human-natural environment relationships Evolutionary Psychology, 9 (3), 451-469
... Read more »

Hinds, J., and Sparks, P. (2011) The affective quality of human-natural environment relationships. Evolutionary Psychology, 9(3), 451-469. info:/

  • October 4, 2011
  • 08:00 AM

Motivation Key to Internet-based Therapy

by Jennifer Gibson, PharmD in Brain Blogger

The Internet has become a place to do almost everything — work, play, organize, and communicate. In recent years, the Internet has also become a place where people can obtain cognitive behavioral therapy for a variety of mental health conditions. According to new research, motivation is essential to engaging in effective Internet-based treatment. A recent [...]... Read more »

Beattie A, Shaw A, Kaur S, & Kessler D. (2009) Primary-care patients' expectations and experiences of online cognitive behavioural therapy for depression: a qualitative study. Health expectations : an international journal of public participation in health care and health policy, 12(1), 45-59. PMID: 19250152  

Kessler D, Lewis G, Kaur S, Wiles N, King M, Weich S, Sharp DJ, Araya R, Hollinghurst S, & Peters TJ. (2009) Therapist-delivered Internet psychotherapy for depression in primary care: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet, 374(9690), 628-34. PMID: 19700005  

  • October 4, 2011
  • 06:51 AM

Gene therapy makes sense. And antisense, too!

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

Genes code proteins. When a gene carries a defective mutation, it will either stop coding the protein or it will code a defective one. This is, unfortunately, the basis of many genetic diseases. In principle, if we could substitute the defective gene with a healthy one, the problem would be solved. That's what gene therapy boils down to. In fact, there are ways to deliver the genes to the affected cells. For example, you can take a virus that targets the cells where the defective gene is expressed, keep the virus's ability to inject its genome into the target cell, but modify its genetic content so that now it contains the healthy genes. The virus will "attack" the target cell in its usual manner and inject its genetic content inside. But now, because the virus has been artificially modified, the new genetic content won't be the usual viral genes that cause infections. Instead, they will be the new, healthy genes, which will be integrated in the cell's DNA and start coding the healthy protein.Gene therapy has been used successfully to treat various genetic diseases (see the studies listed here) and there have been very encouraging results when used to treat cancer in mouse models (see, for example, [1]) as well as in humans [2]. However, there are situations where the "simple" scenario I described above will not work.  We are diploid organisms, which means we carry two copies of each chromosome, and hence two copies of each gene. The two copies may or may not be identical. When they differ, we say that the individual is heterozygous at that particular locus. Now, it so happens that in some heterozygous individuals one of the two copies of the gene is dominant negative. What that means is that even if the other copy is healthy, and it codes a healthy protein, the defective protein (produced by the defective gene) interacts with it and alters its function. Basically, the mutated protein dominates over the non-mutated one and overrides its ability to function properly.When this happens, "delivering" the healthy gene will not solve the problem because the defective gene will continue to produce the defective protein, which, in turn, will override the effect of the healthy one. Does this mean we can't use gene therapy to fix the defective gene? Of course we can! We just have to use a different kind of gene therapy, namely antisense gene therapy.This is how it works.I've used the expression "genes produce proteins." Well, it's a little more complicated than that. Each strand of DNA gets first transcribed in RNA and then the RNA (which is single stranded) is translated into the protein. The idea behind antisense gene therapy is to prevent the defective RNA strand to be translated into the defective protein. How? By binding the defective RNA before it can be used by the cell to make the defective protein.DNA is made of two strands that are complementary to each other. The same principle works for RNA, even if RNA is usually found in single strands. So, if you make its complementary (the antisense strand), it will bind to it like opposite magnets do. And that's exactly what antisense gene therapy does: instead of delivering pieces of DNA, it delivers pieces of antisense RNA made to complement exactly the defective RNA.The figure below is from this website:As you can see from the figure, the defective RNA is "plugged" by its antisense complement and at that point is no longer able to make the defective protein. The healthy protein, produced by the unmutated copy of the gene, completely takes over thus eliminating the source of the disease.References [3] and [4] below show examples of antisense gene therapy used in treating brain and cervical cancers.  [1]  Suto, R., Tominaga, K., Mizuguchi, H., Sasaki, E., Higuchi, K., Kim, S., Iwao, H., & Arakawa, T. (2004). Dominant-negative mutant of c-Jun gene transfer: a novel therapeutic strategy for colorectal cancer Gene Therapy, 11 (2), 187-193 DOI: 10.1038/ [2] Morgan RA, Dudley ME, Wunderlich JR, Hughes MS, Yang JC, Sherry RM, Royal RE, Topalian SL, Kammula US, Restifo NP, Zheng Z, Nahvi A, de Vries CR, Rogers-Freezer LJ, Mavroukakis SA, & Rosenberg SA (2006). Cancer regression in patients after transfer of genetically engineered lymphocytes. Science (New York, N.Y.), 314 (5796), 126-9 PMID: 16946036[3] Zhang Y, Zhu C, & Pardridge WM (2002). Antisense gene therapy of brain cancer with an artificial virus gene delivery system. Molecular therapy : the journal of the American Society of Gene Therapy, 6 (1), 67-72 PMID: 12095305[4] Yatabe, N., Kyo, S., Kondo, S., Kanaya, T., Wang, Z., Maida, Y., Takakura, M., Nakamura, M., Tanaka, M., & Inoue, M. (2002). 2-5A antisense therapy directed against human telomerase RNA inhibits telomerase activity and induces apoptosis without telomere impairment in cervical cancer cells Cancer Gene Therapy, 9 (7), 624-630 DOI: 10.1038/sj.cgt.7700479... Read more »

Suto, R., Tominaga, K., Mizuguchi, H., Sasaki, E., Higuchi, K., Kim, S., Iwao, H., & Arakawa, T. (2004) Dominant-negative mutant of c-Jun gene transfer: a novel therapeutic strategy for colorectal cancer. Gene Therapy, 11(2), 187-193. DOI: 10.1038/  

Morgan RA, Dudley ME, Wunderlich JR, Hughes MS, Yang JC, Sherry RM, Royal RE, Topalian SL, Kammula US, Restifo NP.... (2006) Cancer regression in patients after transfer of genetically engineered lymphocytes. Science (New York, N.Y.), 314(5796), 126-9. PMID: 16946036  

Zhang Y, Zhu C, & Pardridge WM. (2002) Antisense gene therapy of brain cancer with an artificial virus gene delivery system. Molecular therapy : the journal of the American Society of Gene Therapy, 6(1), 67-72. PMID: 12095305  

  • October 4, 2011
  • 05:59 AM

Sexual Strategies Underlie Religious Inclinations

by Psychothalamus in Psychothalamus

The positively correlated associations between religiosity and low levels of promiscuity and high levels of abstinence and marriage-centricity are generally quite clear enough. We often see that religion seeks to suppress sexual promiscuity through its doctrines that promote a monogamous sexual reproductive strategy characterized by low promiscuity, exclusive heterosexuality and high premiums on marriage and fertility.Intuitively, we might guess that our sexual inclinations owe to how much exposure we have towards our adopted religion. Thus, we might, quite reasonably, suppose that someone who regularly attends Sunday school and comes from a religiously devoted family with staunch practices in the home would more likely be shaped into a long-term mating, marriage-inclined and sexually abstinent person, than someone who does not observe those traditions and customs. Indeed, it was found that treating premarital sex as sinful creates incentives to marry earlier, and condemning abortion and birth control as sin makes people have children.However, when we look at the US, which is considered the most religious nation compared to its other western counterparts, what is fascinating is that it is remarkably evenly divided - approximately 42% of adults never attend religious services, 18% attend intermittently, and 40% attend services regularly (information from the 2006 US General Social Survey).This suggests that, while a country may adopt non-secular values to predominantly guide its affairs and inform its citizens, not everyone may agree or be inclined to go along with those values. In the case of the US, this divide is exemplified by the emergence of the Religious Right and the Liberal Left.As evolutionary psychologist Kenrick (2011) colloquially and aptly states it, "the prototypical member of the Liberal Left ... may wait until at least the end of college before marrying and beginning to have children and then may delay even a few years longer to go to graduate school, law school or medical school. Because the human ability to resist sexual urges has a hard time outlasting all that postponement, these folks do not like the Religious Right's attempts to impose rules against premarital sex [or] tools of family planning. ... [The Liberal Left pose a problem for the Religious Right] because a large number of sexually loose young people playing the field threatens to disrupt the strict system that religious folks have set up to enforce and reinforce family bonds."Working on that insight, Weeden, Cohen and Kenrick (2008) proposed the reproductive religiosity model - instead of religiosity affecting our mating strategy (whether we can be promiscuous short term maters, or should be committed, abstinent long term maters), it is instead our mating strategy that makes us calculate the costs and benefits of adopting a religion, or remaining devoted to our current religion. If I am unable to bear the cost of abstinence from premarital sex and I do not want to marry early, my exit strategy is to drop my impeding religion.By analyzing data from two large sources - 21,131 respondents in the 2006 US General Social Survey and 902 undergraduate students who were probed about their family plans, sexual attitudes, religious attendance, and moral feelings about issues ranging from lying to stealing - it was found that the strongest predictors of religiosity were factors related to sexual and family values. While there were other typical variables that predicted for religiosity, such as being female, older, or a non-drinker, and being high in conscientiousness and low in sensation-seeking, statistically controlling for sexual and family value items made the links between these other typical variables with religiosity disappear. In other words, everything we might have assumed to be associated with religiosity can be boiled down to sexual and family values. The study by Weeden, Cohen and Kenrick (2008) thus provide evidence that, on average, whether we are religious or not in the first place depends on how promiscuous we want to be.If that causal link is true, could it be possible to manipulate people's mating strategy and thus alter their religiosity, in the psychology laboratory no less?A study by Li, Cohen, Weeden and Kenrick (2010) sought to test that idea. A cleverly deceptive cover story and elaborate experimental design was used, but in brief, participants were ultimately made to look at either desirable members of their own sex or desirable opposite sex members (such a priming method has been found to be effective in conjuring either a mating motivation state - when we check out attractive opposite sex persons - or a mating threat state - when we are made to look at attractive same sex persons). Participants were also made to fill out a survey on the pretext of finding out their attitudes; embedded in the survey were questions pertaining to religiosity.The results showed that when the men looked at attractive ladies and when the women looked at attractive guys, there was no discernable effect of mating motivation on religiosity. Interestingly, the laboratory setting was unable to capture any desire to give up religion when participants were made to feel more motivated to mate. However, what was more interesting was that, instead, participants who looked at attractive members of one's own sex expressed greater belief in religion. Being primed with mating insecurity leads people to become more religious.We see support here for the classic antagonism played out between the Religious Right and Liberal Left. Once again, Kenrick (2011) states it best, so he will be quoted here: "When you become aware that there are a lot of highly attractive mating competitors out there, it reduces the perceived benefits of playing a fast and loose mating strategy ... For women, a lot of attractive competitors means less attention from the attractive men who might provide good genes, and fewer fellows vying to support your offspring. For men, on the other hand, an abundance of especially handsome and available guys means that if you are playing the field, you may be playing with yourself for most of the game. Under circumstances of limited opportunities, any normal person - who does not look like a fashion model - could benefit from the religion-based supports for monogamy."This is not to say that religious practices do not reduce sexual promiscuity - all other things equal between two people who are subjected to different levels of religious piety, we would expect the one who has been told that things like premarital sex are sinful would be less inclined to do the deed. However, these studies highlight another crucial direction in the causation, that sometimes people may choose how religious they want to be based on the perceived cost of carrying out sexual "transgressions" under the religion they are affiliated to. And at the heart of the differing values the Religious Right and the Liberal Left promote, each camp is sustainable because they encourage and reinforce different mating patterns; there is antagonism only because a clash of these value systems is highly disruptive to each side's foundations for their own reproductive status quo.Weeden, J., Cohen, A., & Kenrick, D. (2008). Religious attendance as reproductive support Evolution and Human Behavior, 29 (5), 327-334 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2008.03.004Li YJ, Cohen AB, Weeden J, & Kenrick DT (2010). Mating Competitors Increase Religious Beliefs. Journal of experimental social psychology, 46 (2), 428-431 PMID: 20368752... Read more »

Weeden, J., Cohen, A., & Kenrick, D. (2008) Religious attendance as reproductive support. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29(5), 327-334. DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2008.03.004  

Li YJ, Cohen AB, Weeden J, & Kenrick DT. (2010) Mating Competitors Increase Religious Beliefs. Journal of experimental social psychology, 46(2), 428-431. PMID: 20368752  

  • October 4, 2011
  • 05:47 AM

Ketogenic diet and STZ-induced diabetes

by Lucas Tafur in Lucas Tafur

A ketogenic diet prevents diabetes in STZ-treated rats. ... Read more »

Al-Khalifa A, Mathew TC, Al-Zaid NS, Mathew E, & Dashti H. (2011) Low carbohydrate ketogenic diet prevents the induction of diabetes using streptozotocin in rats. Experimental and toxicologic pathology : official journal of the Gesellschaft fur Toxikologische Pathologie, 63(7-8), 663-9. PMID: 21943927  

  • October 4, 2011
  • 01:54 AM

Social Media in Medical Education

by Dr Shock in Dr Shock MD PhD

Buffer This animation film was submitted by a med student to YouTube for the instructor of a course about ‘Narratives of Ageing:Exploring Creative Approaches to Dementia Care’. Students visited a locked unit at a care facility for people with Alzheimer’s disease. They used YouTube to watch streamed video made by Alzheimer’s disease advocacy groups, twitter [...]

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  • October 3, 2011
  • 11:49 PM

Evolutionary Treasures Locked in the Teeth of Early Whales

by Laelaps in Laelaps

Whales are highly-modified, once-hoofed mammals which are entirely aquatic. This is arguably one of the greatest of evolutionary punchlines. We just didn’t get the joke until relatively recently.
Upon viewing a whale skeleton, the fact that the animal once had terrestrial ancestors is not too difficult to detect – hints that their forerunners walked the prehistoric [...]... Read more »

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