Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.
Brains are complex things. Man’s quest to understand this lump of gray mass has become something of an obsession. In this edition, we learn about two new studies that could help oil the wheels of this cerebral journey. That, and some clever ants. This is alt-week.
To study the microscopic structures of the brain researchers have typically had to dissect the organ into amazingly thin slices that can then be viewed on a microscope. Without doing this, any structures more than a couple millimeters deep would be impossible to see. But besides being a pain-staking process, slicing the brain into thin slices can mess with the structure and make it difficult to follow the long paths of axons from one slice to the next.
ananyo writes “Researchers have imaged an entire vertebrate brain at the level of single neurons for the first time. A team of scientists based at the Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, were able to record activity across the whole brain of a fish embryo almost every second, detecting 80% of its 100,000 neurons. The work is a first step towards mapping the activity of a whole human brain — which contains about 85,000 times more neurons than the zebrafish brain. The imaging system relies on a genetically engineered zebrafish (Danio rerio). The fish’s neurons make a protein that fluoresces in response to fluctuations in the concentration of calcium ions, which occur when nerve cells fire. A microscope sends sheets of light rather than a conventional beam through the fish’s brain, and a detector captures the signals like a viewer watching a cinema screen. The system records activity from the full brain every 1.3 seconds.”
Hugh Pickens writes writes “Alex Knapp reports that research by a team at the Rochester Medical Center suggests that exposure to the radiation of outer space could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in astronauts. ‘Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts… Exposure to … equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease’ says M. Kerry O’Banio. Researchers exposed mice with known timeframes for developing Alzheimer’s to the type of low-level radiation that astronauts would be exposed to over time on a long space journey. The mice were then put through tests that measured their memory and cognitive ability and the mice exposed to radiation showed significant cognitive impairment. It’s not going to be an easy problem to solve, either. The radiation the researchers used in their testing is composed of highly charged iron particles, which are relatively common in space. ‘Because iron particles pack a bigger wallop it is extremely difficult from an engineering perspective to effectively shield against them,’ says O’Banion. ‘One would have to essentially wrap a spacecraft in a six-foot block of lead or concrete.’”
Incredibly detailed scenes of larva brains, butterfly scales and mini-crustacean claws — all captured through light microscopes — took some of the top prizes in the 2012 Olympus BioScapes competition, officials announced this week.
If, like us, you spend most of your time wondering exactly what’s going on in other people’s heads, then this video is for you. Okay, so it might not reveal the reason why that jerk cut you off at the junction, or why that co-worder didn’t show up to your date exactly, rather, it’s a little more literal than that. This is video footage of proteins moving within a single neuron. The USC researchers were able to capture this video by using bioluminescent proteins from a jellyfish to visually track their movement. Not only is this mind-boggling to the layperson (just think how small these things are) it’s also mind-revealing. By that, we mean it gives scientists an opportunity to observe how these tiny, yet vital, cerebral elements restore themselves. Which, when you’re constantly worried about the amount of grey matter you were blessed with in the first place, can only be a good thing.
It’s been a while since ARM announced its next generation of Mali GPUs, the T604 and T658, but in the semiconductor business silence should never be confused with inactivity. Behind the scenes, the chip designers have been working with Khronos — that great keeper of open standards — to ensure the new graphics processors are fully compliant with OpenCL and are therefore able to use their silicon for general compute tasks (AR, photo manipulation, video rendering etc.) as well as for producing pretty visuals.
Importantly, ARM isn’t settling for the Embedded Profile version of OpenCL that has been “relaxed” for mobile devices, but is instead aiming for the same Full Profile OpenCL 1.1 found in compliant laptop and desktop GPUs. A tall order for a low-power processor, perhaps, but we have a strong feeling that Khronos’s certification is just a formality at this point, and that today’s news is a harbinger of real, commercial T6xx-powered devices coming before the end of the year. Even the souped-up Mali 400 in the European Galaxy S III can only reign for so long.
An anonymous reader writes “Researchers reporting online on July 26 in Current Biology have for the first time shown that they can control the behavior of monkeys by using pulses of blue light to very specifically activate particular brain cells (abstract). The findings represent a key advance for optogenetics, a state-of-the-art method for making causal connections between brain activity and behavior. Based on the discovery, the researchers say that similar light-based mind control could likely also be made to work in humans for therapeutic ends.”
The new study, the first to demonstrate optogenetics in primate behavior, inches the technology closer to the clinic.
For the first time, scientists have been able to affect the behavior of a primate using optogenetics—a technique by which genetically modified neurons are made to fire with light. The study, published today in the journal Current Biology, sets the stage for using this powerful new tool to study how the brain enables complex primate cognition and, more distantly, for using the technique to treat disease.
An anonymous reader writes “In the next decade, our brains are going to become optimized for information browsing, says best-selling author Nicholas Carr. According to Carr, while the genetic nature of our brains isn’t being changed by the Internet at all, our brains are adapting ‘at a cellular level’ and are weakening modes of thinking we no longer exercise. Therefore, in 10 years, if human beings are using the Internet even more than they do today, says Carr, “our brains will be even more optimized for information browsing, skimming and scanning, and multitasking — fast, scattered modes of thought — and even less capable of the kinds of more attentive, contemplative thinking that the net discourages.”" While Carr isn’t making a case for Lamarckian evolution, the argument here seems weak to me; the same kind of brain change could be attributed to books, or television, or the automobile, couldn’t it?
Go figure — Microsoft’s Courier project lives again… as an exclusive app on Apple’s iPad. FiftyThree, a company that features folks who previously worked on the aforesaid Courier initiative, has just put forth a monumental effort dubbed Paper. The app, which is available for free in the App Store, is a sophisticated sketchbook with a highly unique user interface that’s seemingly designed with the budding artist in mind. Put simply, the company feels that this app is “where ideas begin,” enabling users to capture mental light bulbs as sketches, diagrams, illustrations, notes or drawings before sharing them across the web.
Of course, “free” only gets you in the door; in-app purchases ($ 2 per brush, for example) keeps the creators in business, but it’s unclear at this point if a paid edition will be offered for those who aren’t much on cherry-picking what they do and don’t want to pony up for. Not surprisingly, the app ships with native support for the new iPad’s Retina display, and while fingers are welcome, a capacitive stylus is recommended. Eager to see more? Peek the video just after the break, and get your download on in the source link.
Researchers in China have been conducting research on a group of men and women ranging in age from 14-21. All 17 of the people in the study are classified as internet addicts. The researchers scanned their brains and looked for differences in the brain of the alleged addicts and those of normal people that aren’t [...] SlashGear
Collision avoidance systems aren’t exactly exciting new news any more. But most of these systems, even the ones that jerk the wheel out of your hands, simply detect obstacles — they don’t talk to each other. GM’s new prototype uses Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) to share data with other vehicles. The cars not only detect other motorists, but construction zones, police activity, and slowed or stopped traffic. Unlike a similar concept from Ford, GM doesn’t just talk to cars in the immediate area, but can detect trouble up to a quarter mile down the road, offering plenty of warning time for you to change course or hit those breaks. We think the company’s estimate that such a system could avoid 81-percent of crashes in the US is a tad optimistic though — clearly they don’t realize how big of jerks most drivers are.
This is your brain. And now this is your brain on YouTube. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) software, researchers at UC Berkeley created a visual representation of what our brains see when we watch a TV or movie. It works as such: scientists show subjects random clips and measure the corresponding cerebral activity. After the computer “learns” what vids evoke what brain activity, scientists feed 18 million seconds of random YouTube videos into the computer program where it reconstructs a movie representation of neural happenings based on the hundred clips most similar to what it sees. Although the method currently only works with images actually viewed, the future goal is to recreate what people see in their dreams and memories — which could give doctors major insight to the minds of the mentally impaired, stroke victims or those with neurological disorders. Inception in real life isn’t exactly around the corner, but the implications of this new technology are pretty mind-blowing. See for yourself in the video after the break — no totem required.