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This molecular model shows the parts of the Ebola virus scientists are studying in the hopes of finding drugs that will slow the spread of the disease. -a creepy disease by the way-

Source: Why Ebola is so dangerous (BBC)

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Geometrical Geology | Mario Gutiérrez Photographer

A flysch is a sequence of sedimentary rocks that is deposited in a deep marine facies in the foreland basin of a developing orogen. Flysch is typically deposited during an early stage of the orogenesis. When the orogen evolves the foreland basin becomes shallower and molasse is deposited on top of the flysch. It is therefore called a syn-orogenic sediment (deposited contemporaneously with mountain building).


In the town of Zumaia along the Basque coast, northern Spain, are two beaches that contain a geologic treasure that contains millions of years of the Earth’s history.

The Itzurun and Santiago beaches are hotspots for geologists because it houses one of the longest continuous rock strata in the world called a ‘flysch.” This flysch in Zumaia was found to have formed over a period of over 100 million years by the crashing of the waves against the cliffs. The result is an abrasion platform with alternate hard layers (limestone and sandstone) and soft layers (clay and loam). The flysch extends eastward and westward from Zumaia, stretching a total of 8 kilometers to the towns of Deba and Getaria.

Apart from the impressive rock formations, Zumaia also harbors important fossil evidences. The Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, a rock layer that marks the end of the Mesozoic era and the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, is found in Itzurun beach. Fossils of ammonites, ancient molluscs resemblant of the nautilus, are also found in the rock layer.

[Read more]

(via afro-dominicano)


Scientists Uncover a Surprising World of Microbes in Cheese Rind

The rind of good cheese is a thriving microbial community. A single gram—a tiny crumb—contains 10 billion microbial cells, a mix of bacteria and fungi thatcontribute delicious and sometimes funky flavors. But even though humans have been making cheese for thousands of years, we know very little about what all those bugs are and how they interact.

Benjamin Wolfe and Rachel Dutton want to change that. The two scientists recently brought 137 cheeses from 10 countries into Dutton’s lab at Harvard University for genetic analysis. In a paper published July 17 in Cell, they and colleagues describe their findings, which include a few surprises—like the presence of bacteria commonly found in marine environments on cheeses made nowhere near an ocean.”

Learn more from wired.


The Next Mars Rover Will Have Better Lasers and X-Ray Vision

NASA announced today that its next Mars rover will have advanced cameras, more sophisticated lasers, and the ability to see underground as it explores the Red Planet starting in 2020.”

Find out more from wired.




If anyone ever tells you you’re a Debbie Downer, just tell them you have a healthy habenula. 

I wonder if there are any disorders that could later be associated with this part of the brain, and if so what implications would it have on people’s sense of danger.

Going over the article a second time and this stood out a lot especially after some the replies from you guys:

The habenula has been linked to depression, and this study shows how it could play a part in symptoms such low motivation, focusing on negative experiences and pessimism in general. Researchers said that understanding the habenula could potentially help them develop new ways of treating depression.

Interesting, so maybe this isn’t news to other people, and I had an idea that things like positivity and being negative are results of the way our brains are hardwired but I had no idea that this hardwiring was so crucial that it requires it own section in the brain.

What does this kind of research and info say about people who tend to be negative and pessimistic? That they want to be that way or that’s how their habenula is? and are there ways to mold this part of the brain to some how regulate our positivity and negativity towards events?

Is it healthy for one person to insist another person simply think their way out of their negativity when there’s a whole part of brain that may be pushing you towards these negative states that lead to depression or maybe suicidal tendencies if left untreated? Idk but I think this kind of data shows how careful we need to be when treating people with mental disorders such as anxiety and depression or even how we approach our own friends who are shrouded by pessimism.

(via afro-dominicano)

Earth May Be in Early Days of 6th Mass Extinction

Earth may be in the early stages of a sixth mass extinction, an international team of scientists says.

Image: Neil deGrasse Tyson walks over to ‘The Halls of Extinction’ - Cosmos: A Space time Odyssey

Animals and plants are threatened. More than 320 land vertebrates have gone extinct since 1500, the researchers said. The world’s remaining animals with backbones are 25 percent less abundant than in 1500— a trend also seen in invertebrate animals, such as crustaceans, worms and butterflies, the scientists reported.

The previous mass extinction, which wiped out the dinosaurs, happened about 65 million years ago, likely from a catastrophic asteroid that collided with Earth. In contrast, the looming sixth mass extinction is linked to human activity, Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford University in California, said in a statement. Dirzo is the lead author of the new review of past research on the topic, which suggests Earth is in the early days of this sixth mass extinction.

A past study, which involved data from the fossil record and modern-day conservation biology, suggested Earth could enter such a mass extinction within the next 300 to 2,000 years. That study was detailed in the March 2, 2011, issue of the journal Nature.

Up to one-third of all vertebrates are threatened or endangered, the researchers said. Large animals — such as elephants, rhinoceroses and polar bears — have the highest rates of decline, which is a trend shared by other mass extinctions. These large animals are at particular risk because they tend to have few offspring and low population growth rates. Hunters and poachers, however, find their fur, meat, tusks or horns attractive targets.

Losing a species of large animal can have unexpected effects on the ecosystem and nearby human developments, a process known as defaunation. In one study, researchers isolated patches of land from animals, including zebra, giraffes and elephants. Without the animals, the grass and shrubs grew tall, and the soil became looser. Rodents quickly took over and doubled in numbers, eating the seeds from the plants and living in the patchy soil that was relatively predator-free.

Rodents can carry diseases and parasites that infect people, the researchers said.

"Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission," Dirzo said. "Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a vicious circle."

The decline of big animals affects not only vegetation, but also invertebrates. In the past 50 years, the human population has doubled, and the number of invertebrate animals has dropped by 45 percent, the researchers said. Much of the loss is a result of habitat destruction and global climate disruption, the researchers said.

It is a striking idea that one of the keys to good health may turn out to involve managing our internal fermentation. Having recently learned to manage several external fermentations — of bread and kimchi and beer — I know a little about the vagaries of that process. You depend on the microbes, and you do your best to align their interests with yours, mainly by feeding them the kinds of things they like to eat — good “substrate.” But absolute control of the process is too much to hope for. It’s a lot more like gardening than governing.

The successful gardener has always known you don’t need to master the science of the soil, which is yet another hotbed of microbial fermentation, in order to nourish and nurture it. You just need to know what it likes to eat — basically, organic matter — and how, in a general way, to align your interests with the interests of the microbes and the plants. The gardener also discovers that, when pathogens or pests appear, chemical interventions “work,” that is, solve the immediate problem, but at a cost to the long-term health of the soil and the whole garden. The drive for absolute control leads to unanticipated forms of disorder.

This, it seems to me, is pretty much where we stand today with respect to our microbiomes — our teeming, quasi-wilderness. We don’t know a lot, but we probably know enough to begin taking better care of it. We have a pretty good idea of what it likes to eat, and what strong chemicals do to it. We know all we need to know, in other words, to begin, with modesty, to tend the unruly garden within.

  • If you went to the movie theater this weekend, you might've caught the latest Scarlett Johansson action movie called "Lucy." It's about a woman who develops superpowers by harnessing the full potential of her brain.
  • SCARLETT JOHANSSON: I'm able to do things I've never done before. I feel everything and I can control the elements around me.
  • UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's amazing.
  • WESTERVELT: You've probably heard this idea before. Most people only use 10% of their brains. The other 90% of the basically dormant. Well, in the movie "Lucy," Morgan Freeman gives us this what-if scenario?
  • MORGAN FREEMAN: What if there was a way of accessing 100% of our brain? What might we be capable of?
  • DAVID EAGLEMAN: We would be capable of exactly what we're doing now, which is to say, we do use a hundred percent of our brain.
  • WESTERVELT: That is David Eagleman.
  • EAGLEMAN: I'm a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine.
  • WESTERVELT: And he says, basically, all of us are like Lucy. We use all of our brains, all of time.
  • EAGLEMAN: Even when you're just sitting around doing nothing your brain is screaming with activity all the time, around the clock; even when you're asleep it's screaming with activity.
  • WESTERVELT: In other words, this is a total myth. Very wrong, but still very popular. Take this clip from an Ellen DeGeneres stand-up special.
  • ELLEN DEGENERES: It's true, they say we use ten percent of our brain. Ten percent of our brain. And I think, imagine what we could accomplish if we used the other 60 percent? Do you know what I'm saying?
  • DAVID SPADE: Let's say the average person uses ten percent of their brain.
  • WESTERVELT: It's even in the movie "Tommy Boy."
  • SPADE: How much do you use? One and a half percent. The rest is clogged with malted hops and bong residue.
  • WESTERVELT: Ariana Anderson is a researcher at UCLA. She looks at brain scans all day long. And she says, if someone were actually using just ten percent of their brain capacity...
  • ARIANA ANDERSON: Well, they would probably be declared brain-dead.
  • WESTERVELT: Sorry, "Tommy Boy." No one knows exactly where this myth came from but it's been around since at least the early 1900's. So why is this wrong idea still so popular?
  • ANDERSON: Probably gives us some sort of hope that if we are doing things we shouldn't do, such as watching too much TV, alcohol abuse, well, it might be damaging our brain but it's probably damaging the 90 percent that we don't use. And that's not true. Whenever you're doing something that damages your brain, it's damaging something that's being used, and it's going to leave some sort of deficit behind.
  • EAGLEMAN: For a long time I've wondered, why is this such a sticky myth?
  • WESTERVELT: Again, David Eagleman.
  • EAGLEMAN: And I think it's because it gives us a sense that there's something there to be unlocked, that we could be so much better than we could. And really, this has the same appeal as any fairytale or superhero story. I mean, it's the neural equivalent to Peter Parker becoming Spiderman.
  • WESTERVELT: In other words, it's an idea that belongs in Hollywood.

Most of what we know — or think we know — about how kids learn comes from classroom practice and behavioral psychology. Now, neuroscientists are adding to and qualifying that store of knowledge by studying the brain itself. The latest example: new research in the journal suggests a famous phenomenon known as the “fourth-grade shift” isn’t so clear-cut.

"The theory of the fourth-grade shift had been based on behavioral data," says the lead author of the study, Donna Coch. She heads the Reading Brains Lab at Dartmouth College.

The assumption teachers make: “In a nutshell,” Coch says, “by fourth grade you stop learning to read and start reading to learn. We’re done teaching the basic skills in third grade, and you go use them starting in the fourth.”

But, Coch’s team found, that assumption may not be true. The study involved 96 participants, divided among third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders as well as college students. All average readers, the subjects wore noninvasive electrode caps that could swiftly pick up electrical activity in the brain.

They were shown strings of letters/symbols that fell into four different categories: words (“bed”); pseudo-words (“bem”); strings of letters (“mbe”) and finally, strings of meaningless symbols (@#*). The researchers then observed the subjects’ brains as they reacted, within milliseconds, to each kind of stimulus.

The children in the study handled the first three categories roughly as well as the college students, meaning their brains responded at a speed that suggested their word processing was automatic. The difference came with the fourth category, meaningless symbols. As late as fifth grade, children needed to use their conscious minds to decide whether the symbols were a word.

The study suggests there is nothing so neat as a fourth-grade shift. It found that third-graders exhibit some signs of automatic word processing while fifth-graders are still processing words differently from adults.

Why is this important? “From my perspective, this concept of automaticity is key to learning to read,” says Coch. “If you’re not automatic, you’re using a lot of effort to decode and understand individual words, meaning you have fewer resources for comprehension.”

Coch’s team also administered a written test, covering the same set of real words, fake words, and symbol strings. This task was designed to test the participants’ conscious word processing, a much slower procedure.

Interestingly, most of the 96 participants got a nearly perfect score on the written test, showing that their conscious brains knew the difference between words and non-words. Future research will no doubt try to pinpoint when that process becomes automatic … research that could change the way we teach reading in the higher grades.

The interplay between these new theoretical ideas and new high‐quality observational data has catapulted cosmology from the purely theoretical domain and into the field of rigorous experimental science. This process began at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the work of Albert Einstein.
Free chapter from Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction on the history of cosmology and how it extends from myth to science. This chapter is free until 25 September on Very Short Introductions Online. (via oupacademic)


Watch 80,000 Neurons Fire in the Brain of a Fish

The video above shows 80 percent of the neurons in the brain of a baby zebrafish firing as the animal responds to what it sees. The scientists who made the video say their new technique, called light-sheet imaging, will allow them to study the neural mechanisms of behavior in unprecedented detail.

“There must be fundamental principles about how large populations of neurons represent information and guide behavior,” says neuroscientist Jeremy Freeman of Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. “In this system where we record from the whole brain, we might start to understand what those rules are.”

Trying to figure out how an animal moves and perceives the world around it from the action of a few neurons is like trying to figure out the plot of a movie from the flashing of a dozen random pixels. But that’s analogous to what neuroscientists have been doing for decades: using thin wire electrodes, or grids of them, to pick up signals from (at best) a few hundred neurons out of millions, or even billions.

In a paper in Nature Methods, Freeman and colleagues describe how they used a combination of genetic engineering and optics to capture the activity of about 80,000 neurons in the brains of zebrafish larvae. The scientists used zebrafish genetically engineered to have a chemical indicator in each neuron. In the tenth of a second after a neuron fires, the indicator becomes fluorescent. By swiftly sweeping laser beams through the fish, the scientists make the recently activated neurons glow. Since zebrafish are entirely transparent, the light from each neuron can be captured with an overhead camera.

At the beginning of the movie, the fish is resting and the forebrain region on the far-right is flashing away. That may represent whatever the fish is thinking about when it’s just hanging out.

Scientists then created the illusion that the fish was drifting backwards by sliding bars in front of its eyes. Its intent to swim to catch up was measured with electrodes on its muscles. When the bars start sliding, a few neurons sitting just behind the eyes light up followed by a huge cascade of activity, including massive pulses initiating swimming.

Previous studies by this lab and others have looked at the zebrafish brain in high resolution, but this study marks the first time a complete brain was imaged while the fish was seeing and behaving. Every frame of the movie shows a half-second snapshot of the brain’s activity. The temporal resolution is fast enough to identify which neurons are involved in a given behavior but too slow to count how many times they fire.

The experiment provides a remarkable view of a well-known phenomenon called directional selectivity, present in humans, monkeys, frogs, and fish. For each spatial direction, there are a few neurons tuned to respond to motion in that direction. For example, when an object moves from left to right across the field of vision, a few neurons light up and pass that information to the rest of the brain. This study paints a picture of directional selectivity in the whole zebrafish brain.

The kaleidoscopic colors at the top and bottom of the image show neurons in the optic tectum, which are the first to process signals from the eye. At this stage, all the colors are present. But as directional information moves through the brain, different colors get concentrated in different regions. For example, the purple and green regions in the middle light up when sideways sliding is detected.

A slightly-crooked course can be corrected by leftward or rightward, corresponding to yellow or pink. Indeed, the two sides of the hindbrain, active in initiating swimming, are banded with those colors.

In the forebrain, where fishy versions of thoughts and memories may happen, the meaning of the colors remains a mystery. To help elucidate the role of those neurons, the researchers plan to dynamically modify the fish’s environment in response to its brain activity.



Streptococcus gordonii invading host cells

The non-pathogenic non-invasive Streptococcus gordonii (red) is a common and harmless commensal bacterium of the oral human mucosa. By membrane-bound expression of the pathogenicity factor SfbI (Streptococci Fibronectin-binding Protein I) S. goordonii becomes an invasive bacterium.

Courtesy of Prof. Dr. Rohde, HZI Braunschweig



27 July 2014

Kettling Proteins

Prions are infectious proteins that can cause deadly diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. They also infect yeast cells and this simple fungus has been found to produce a protein, Btn2, that targets prions and kettles them into a small area inside the cell, rather like the way riot police control an unruly crowd. When the cell divides, one of the two offspring is free from prions and can thrive. Intriguingly, Btn2 has similarities to human hook proteins, which play an important role in positioning components inside human cells so they can divide correctly. Pictured are three yeast colonies, the top right producing Btn2 and with mainly healthy cells (stained red) and some infected by prions (white). The lower colony is producing Cur1, a protein allied to Btn2 and has some healthy cells, while the top left colony is producing neither protein and is heavily infected.

Written by Mick Warwicker

Image by Reed Wickner and colleagues
National Institutes of Health, USA
Originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)
Research published in PNAS, June 2014

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Mapping the Mass of an Enormous Galaxy Cluster

You are looking at the most precise gravity map ever made of a distant galaxy cluster. Using the map, astronomers have determined that the cluster is roughly 650,000 light-years across and contains enough matter to make 160 trillion suns.

Image: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields Acknowledgement: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK and Astrophysics & Cosmology Research Unit, South Africa) and Jean-Paul Kneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland)

The cluster, known as MCS J0416.1–2403, is located about 4 billion light-years away and consists of hundreds of galaxies all orbiting one another. Newton’s gravitational equations can tell you the mass of two objects orbiting one another, provided you already know the mass of one of them. However, because these galaxies are all so distant, there is no way for scientists to determine any of their individual masses.

But there is another way. Einstein’s theory of general relativity tells us that heavy objects warp the fabric of space-time around them. As light travels through these warped regions it will become distorted, and we see that as smeared out rings and arcs in our telescopes, an effect known as gravitational lensing. Using the Hubble space telescope, astronomers identified smudges in the light seen around MCS J0416.1–2403. These distortions are images of even more distant galaxies sitting behind the cluster; their light has been lensed by its enormous mass. By carefully determining just how much the light is smeared out, researchers can calculate the amount of matter sitting within the galaxy cluster.

The 160 trillion solar masses includes both visible matter and dark matter, which gives off no light but makes up the bulk of the cluster’s mass. By studying the dynamics of all the galaxies within the cluster, astronomers can better understand this mysterious substance. Researchers will also continue mapping the smeared out images to increase the precision of their mass calculations, learning about the cluster’s finer details to figure out its history and evolution.