SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Rob Dunn and his team of ecologists aren't your average navel gazers. They're professional navel gazers, thank you very much, and their new study details the microbial contents of 60 volunteers' belly buttons.
The upshot? Belly buttons, it turns out, are a lot like rain forests.
The whole thing started about two years ago. An undergrad's only-in-a-biology-lab idea—sampling colleague's navel bacteria for a holiday card—struck a chord with the North Carolina State University team, which had adopted a new focus on citizen science.
What better way to get the public interested in science than by showing them their skin's own thriving ecosystems? "And belly buttons are just ridiculous enough to appeal to almost everyone," Dunn added.
What's more, given the belly button's status as one of the body's most rarely scrubbed crannies, it offered researchers a chance to study as close to a pristine microbial landscape as is possible on the modern human.
So in early 2011 the team set up shop at the ScienceOnline science communicators' conference and at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The researchers handed out swabs to 60 intrigued, if grossed out, volunteers. Back to the lab, the scientists examined the genetic makeup of their bacterial loot.
The Belly Button Biodiversity project had officially begun.
Welcome to the Jungle
From 60 belly buttons, the team found 2,368 bacterial species, 1,458 of which may be new to science.
Some belly buttons harbored as few as 29 species and some as many as 107, although most had around 67. Ninety-two percent of the bacteria types showed up on fewer than 10 percent of subjects—in fact, most of the time, they appeared in only a single subject.
One science writer, for instance, apparently harbored a bacterium that had previously been found only in soil from Japan—where he has never been.
Another, more fragrant individual, who hadn't washed in several years, hosted two species of so-called extremophile bacteria that typically thrive in ice caps and thermal vents.
Despite the diversity, themes emerged.
Even though not a single strain showed up in each subject, eight species were present on more than 70 percent of the subjects. And whenever these species appeared, they did so in huge numbers.
"That makes the belly button a lot like rain forests," Dunn said. In any given forest, he explained, the spectrum of flora might vary, but an ecologist can count on a certain few dominant tree types.
"The idea that some aspects of our bodies are like a rain forest—to me it's quite beautiful," he added. "And it makes sense to me as an ecologist. I understand what steps to take next; I can see how that works."
Method to the Madness?
But predicting which species might like to call the human body home is only the first step. To make the knowledge useful, scientists need to know why these bacteria show up.
"We're all like the guys before Darwin who went out and brought this stuff on the ship and said, Check out this bird that's totally weird—this has got to be important!
"They were still so far from understanding the big picture," Dunn said. "That's where we are."
Hoping to answer those broader questions, Dunn's team is already working on several hundred more navels—soon to be 600. They'll use those new samples to start testing the correlation of the navel dwellers with everything from subjects' places of birth to the makeups of their immune systems.
Making connections such as these could help shed light on the ties between our bacterial hosts and their effects on health. Researchers believe that microbes—not just in the belly button but in every nook and cranny of the human body—are involved in everything from immune function to acne to skin softness. The potential boon to medicine is enormous but out of reach until scientists can clarify what the microbes are doing in the first place, and why they're there.
In the meantime, the lab has kicked off pilot studies for their next citizen-science spectacular: Armpit-pa-looza.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: National geographic
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – If you’re getting in the mood for the holiday season, A Charlie Brown Christmas is one app that both kids and nostalgic parents are sure to enjoy. And while you’re sharing, why not stretch your brain and see if you remember those isosceles triangles and quadrilaterals as well as your kids do. Those are just some of the apps in store for you this week!
SEE ALSO: What Do You Do With Tech-Obsessed Kids When The Lights Go Out?
The folks at Children’s Technology Review shared with us these five top apps from their comprehensive monthly database of kid-tested reviews. The site covers everything from math and counting to reading and phonics..— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Why your kids will be poorer than you
It’s the low productivity growth in the Canadian economy, a top executive at Deloitte Canada says in this Q&A. The result is weak income growth for all but the wealthiest Canadians.
How good is your mutual fund company?
The investment analysis firm Morningstar has issued its 2012 stewardship grades, which measure how investor-friendly fund firms are in the way they do business.
The $26,000 lemon
CBC’s Marketplace TV show looks at how hard it can be to find help from dealers and manufacturers when your new car or truck turns out to be a lemon. Featured in this segment is a family with a Dodge Journey that began randomly stalling one month after purchase.
Rich dad, bankrupt dad
A company associated with Robert Kiyosaki, author of the widely read personal finance book Rich Dad Poor Dad, has declared bankruptcy after losing a court case.
Join the 17,000+ people who subscribe to my Facebook personal finance community for talk about investing, retirement, real estate, banking and other financial matters. I’m also on Twitter.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: The Globe and Mail
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Sitting for long periods increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and death, researchers suggest.
The scientists from Leicester and Loughborough Universities say harm is done even if people also exercise.
The study, published in Diabetologia, analysed 18 existing studies involving almost 800,000 people.
Diabetes UK said anyone who spent a lot of time sitting or lying down would "obviously benefit" from moving more.
The researchers say the opportunities for sedentary behaviour in modern society such as watching TV, sitting in a car or using a computer are "ubiquitous".
Of course, in modern society many people head to the gym for a burst of exercise to redress the balance.
But the research team, led by Dr Emma Wilmot from the Diabetes Group at the University of Leicester, says while going to the gym or pool after work is better than heading straight for the sofa, spending a long time sitting down remains bad for you.
Each of the studies they assessed used different measures - for example more or less than 14 hours a week watching TV, or self-reported sitting time of less than three hours a day to more than eight.
The researchers say this means it is not possible to give an absolute limit for how much sedentary time is bad for you.
But Dr Emma Wilmot, who led the study, said it was clear that those who sat the most had a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and death than those who sat the least.
She said: "If a worker sits at their desk all day then goes to the gym, while their colleague heads home to watch TV, then the gym-goer will have better health outcomes.
"But there is still a health risk because of the amount of sitting they do.
"Comparatively, the risk for a waiter who is on their feet all day is going to be a lot lower."
She added: "People convince themselves they are living a healthy lifestyle, doing their 30 minutes of exercise a day.
"But they need to think about the other 23.5 hours."
The strongest associations in the analysis were between prolonged sitting and diabetes.
There is evidence that being sedentary negatively affects glucose levels and increases insulin resistance - but scientists do not yet know how.
Dr Wilmot said the study's message could help those at high risk of diabetes, such as obese people or those of South Asian ethnic origin, because it was an easy lifestyle change to make.
Prof Stuart Biddle, of Loughborough University, who also worked on the study, said: "There are many ways we can reduce our sitting time, such as breaking up long periods at the computer at work by placing our laptop on a filing cabinet.
"We can have standing meetings, we can walk during the lunch break, and we can look to reduce TV viewing in the evenings by seeking out less sedentary behaviours."
Dr Matthew Hobbs, head of research at Diabetes UK, said people should not be discouraged from exercising.
He added: "What is clear is that anyone who spends lots of time sitting or lying down would benefit from replacing some of that time by standing or walking.
"Aside from any direct effect reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down may have, getting more physical activity is a great way of helping maintain a healthy weight, which is the best way of minimising your risk of Type 2 diabetes."— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) —If matching socks is a daily problem a new app that sorts them into pairs and even lets users know when it is time to buy a new pair may help.
The free iPhone app called Blacksocks is the brainchild of the Swiss luxury sock company of the same name to help their customers match socks embedded with a chip.
It tells users which two socks are a pair, the date they were purchased and how many times they have been washed throughout their lifetime.
Although some critics may dismiss it as a useless waste of technology, Blacksocks founder and CEO Samy Liechti said it serves a purpose and is fun.
“It’s a gadget and a lot of people, especially men, like gadgets,” he explained. “Most of the buyers are tech-savvy early adopters.”
Black socks, which are prone to fading more than lighter colors, make up 80 percent of the men’s global sock market, according to Liechti.
“Socks wash out after a while. If customers have several socks from us washed out in different degrees, we thought we should help them sort socks more precisely,” he said.
A wireless device call the Sock Sorter scans each sock, matches it to its pair and indicates if it is for right or left foot.
Users scan their socks until the app notifies them that a match has been found. The device also identifies lone socks and can tell owners when it is time to buy a new pair.
The app has been tested on 2,000 pairs of socks, according to Liechti.
“We did a lot of testing and worked together with guys who usually evaluate satellite pictures where there are also several degrees of gray. They helped us a lot in analyzing the data we get out of the camera,” he said.
So far, the company has sold about 500 starter kits, which include the Sock Sorter and 10 pairs of smart socks and costs $189.
In addition to being useful, Liechti said it is also fun.
“There’s this expression, gamification, everything becomes more playful, and so we thought why should sorting socks not be playful as well.”— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Does the severe weather of the past several years have you looking up at your trees in fear?
It's an understandable concern. A big storm could destroy the plants' majesty in a flash -- and send a quarter-ton branch crashing down onto your roof.
Still, before you preemptively chip a favorite tree into mulch, consider this: It may be contributing 8% to 10% to your home's value, according to Scott Cullen of the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers.
Here's how to keep your leafy assets from becoming a liability.
Schedule regular upkeep
Have your trees inspected every five years or so -- a free service offered by tree-care companies. An arborist will look for branches that are weak or hanging within 10 feet of a building, and send workers to remove them.
If necessary, they'll also buttress the tree against high winds by cabling limbs together. All this work costs about $200 to $400 a tree and is typically needed only once a decade.
Related: Tips on homeowners insurance
In many cases the tree will more than cover the cost of its maintenance over a few years; a big shade tree will knock nearly $70 off annual air conditioning bills, says David Nowak of the U.S. Forest Service, and a large evergreen that blocks winter winds will reduce heating costs by around $60 a year.
Bonus: Trees also provide protection from road noise and basement flooding.
Get removal right
When a tree becomes diseased or dangerously overgrown given its proximity to a house, your arborist will recommend taking it down.
Removing a substantial tree could cost $2,000 to $5,000, depending on its size and whether it is accessible by truck or requires climbing -- and what's underneath that the crew must protect.
Related: 4 ways to save on landscaping
You can have the stump ground down to just below grass or mulch height for $50 to $200 more. Or carve a trough in the top, drill some drainage holes, and use it as a planter.
Invest in new growth
To replace an unsafe tree or propagate a bare lot, look for varieties that grow quickly and have compact spreads to minimize pruning headaches, says Charlotte, N.C., landscape architect J'Nell Bryson.
Send the Help Desk your questions
She favors versatile deciduous species like pyramidal European hornbeam, Brandywine red maple, and serviceberry, as well as evergreens Japanese cedar and Little Gem magnolia -- but you'll need to check what's best for your climate and terrain.
A local nursery can suggest good options and plant eight-footers for $250 to $500 each. In about a decade they could add tens of thousands to your property value, probably the best investment return you'll ever make. — www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Ever wonder why your resolve to hit the gym weakens after you’ve slogged through a soul-sapping day at work? It’s because willpower isn’t just some storybook concept; it’s a measurable form of mental energy that runs out as you use it, much like the gas in your car.
Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University, calls this “ego depletion,” and he proved its existence by sitting students next to a plate of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies. Some were allowed to snack away, others ordered to abstain. Afterward, both groups were asked to complete difficult puzzles. The students who’d been forced to resist the cookies had so depleted their reserves of self-control that when faced with this new task, they quickly threw in the towel. The cookie eaters, on the other hand, had conserved their willpower and worked on the puzzles longer.
Further studies have suggested that willpower is fueled by glucose—which helps explain why our determination crumbles when we try to lose weight. When we don’t eat, our glucose drops, and our willpower along with it. “We call it the dieter’s catch-22: In order to not eat, you need willpower. But in order to have willpower you need to eat,” says John Tierney, coauthor with Baumeister of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
But there are ways to wield what scientists know about willpower to our advantage. Since it’s a finite resource, don’t spread yourself thin: Make one resolution rather than many. And if you manage to stick with it by, say, not smoking for a week, give your willpower a rest by indulging in a nice dinner. Another tactic is to outsource self-control. Get a gym buddy. Use Mint.com to regulate your spending or RescueTime.com to avoid distracting websites. As Tierney explains, “People with the best self-control aren’t the ones who use it all day long. They’re people who structure their lives so they conserve it.” That way, you’ll be able to stockpile vast reserves for when you really need it, like hauling your lazy ass to the gym.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — A recent study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania identified key molecules involved in forming long-term memories. Experts discuss how this is the latest in a growing field of research on how our bodies regulate our genes, and how this process affects our memories.
A recent study has pinpointed key molecules involved in the formation of long-term memories. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania studied patterns of gene expression in mice to determine how the brain stores information that can be recalled months or even years later.
And the results of the study, the results are part of a growing body of research that looks at how so-called epigenetic mechanisms where the body's way of regulating genes may influence our ability to form memories. Ted Abel is professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He oversaw the study of mice and long-term memory formation. Welcome to the program.
TED ABEL: Hi, Ira, thanks for having me on today.
FLATOW: What were you looking for for the study on memory? What were you looking for in these mice?
ABEL: So we were looking to identify the key proteins that would store long-term memories in a brain region called the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that's responsible for memories of places and contexts in rodents, and in humans it's memory for episodes of our lives, for people, places and things.
FLATOW: And how do they - how does memory storage work? What's the ABCs involved here?
ABEL: Well, so the ABCs are that the initial storage of memory, the short-term memory, involves the connections between neurons and the synapses and the activation of neurotransmitter receptors and protein molecules at the synapse.
But very long-term memory for days, weeks, months and years involves the activation of genes in the nucleus and turning on gene expression, reading out DNA into RNA, and that RNA then encodes proteins that go out into the cell and modify the function and structure of neurons.
FLATOW: So something must tell the DNA to make these proteins.
ABEL: Right, so that's the critical process that we studied, and what researchers have found, my lab as well as labs elsewhere at Columbia and at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and at the University of California in San Diego, what they found is that the mechanisms of regulation of gene expression involves the processes of epigenetics, and that's been a very exciting field that has studied how DNA and how the proteins that DNA wraps around the histones are modified to regulate the expression of genes.
And what's exciting about that field is that these biochemical marks, these epigenetic marks, they respond to experience, to neuronal activation, and then they can be long-lasting and change gene expression for days, weeks, months and to mark particular genes in the nucleus so that when we're re-exposed to a stimulus or an event, the gene expression is reactivated, and that memory is reactivated.
FLATOW: Fascinating, so by stimulating the genes, you create the memories.
ABEL: Yes, and so what we did, though, is to try to block the genes and then block the memories, but we are able to stimulate memories by giving drugs, which are called histone deacetylase inhibitors. And these HDAC inhibitors, as they're called, they increase the levels of a particular epigenetic mark, which is called histone acetylation.
And what this study particularly did, Josh Hawk, who at the time was a grad student in my lab, he's now a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University, what he did was to make a mutant mice in a gene that we thought was the target of histone acetylation, and that gene was a transcription factor that regulates gene expression.
FLATOW: All right, we're going to take a break, come back and talk more with Ted Abel about this work with the mice. So stay with us. We'll be right back after this break. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.
FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about how long-term memories are stored in the brain. My guest is Ted Abel, professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
And so just to sum up from where we left off, you're saying that when we want to remember something, we stimulate part of our genes in our brains, and that stimulates our brain to create proteins that store the memory. Would that be correct?
ABEL: Yes, that's correct, and that process is regulated at each of the steps, and I think what's exciting firstly beyond understanding the molecular working of how something as complex as memory would function, we also can identify drugs that can particularly modify each stage of the process and hopefully treat the kinds of cognitive deficits that accompany disorders like Alzheimer's disease or schizophrenia.
FLATOW: Would these drugs stimulate you to create new memories or block the loss of the memories?
ABEL: So in this case - that's a good question. One can think about doing them both ways. You can think about modulating memories in each way. And what the drugs we're talking about would probably act to enhance the formation of new memories. That's certainly what they do in mice when we study them.
FLATOW: And you found - and you've identified the genes that do this?
ABEL: Yes, and so that's what's exciting about this is that we think we have the, you know, beginnings of the molecular circuitry for how this goes into - how this is all set into motion. And the challenge now is to really identify - what we've done is identified a process within the nucleus, the part of the cell where the DNA is stored that sets this process in motion.
The challenge is to identify really how these factors in the nucleus, what their target genes are that then are affecter genes that come - code proteins that come out to the synapse to change the function there. We think we have some ideas of that, and we discuss that in this study, but they involve these genes that are called neurotrophic factors, what's called brain-derived neurotrophic factor of BDNF and that that is regulated by this process, these epigenetic processes and then can go and modify synapses.
But we need to do future experiments to really show that that's functionally the case.
FLATOW: I should say this study is part of a relatively new era and area of research known as epigenetics, which looks at, among other things, how the regulation of genes influences memory. David Sweatt is chair of the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and he's also studying epigenetics. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
DAVID SWEATT: Hi, Ira, thanks for having me on.
FLATOW: Did you ever think - I mean, did people believe that genes could regulate memory?
SWEATT: Certainly, it's been one of the most exciting developments in the last couple of decades in the whole memory field. It is a paradigm shift, though, from the kind of old style of thinking. You know, we're kind of used to thinking about genes and environment, you know, nature versus nurture and that old debate.
And what these kinds of studies are making very clear now is that's really a false dichotomy, that there's a constant interplay between your experiences, your sensory inputs and the genes in your brain. And that part of how you learn and remember is your experiences dynamically regulate the output of the genes in your brain in order for you to be able to store information.
FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number if you'd like to talk about this. Also you can tweet us @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I. This is something called epigenetics, right? What are we - can you define that for us, because it sounds very interesting.
SWEATT: Yeah, I'll take a stab at it. All those scientists, like everything, argue about what the precise definition is. But there's - we know that there are genes, and that's a unit of information storage that's encoded in your DNA, and people are very familiar with that.
But there's another layer of regulatory mechanisms that sit above the layer of the genes, so epigenetic mechanisms. And these are information storage mechanisms, as well, that operate in a different fashion that the information storage in the gene, but they're mechanisms that are extremely potent regulators of gene output, so readout of the gene products from the DNA.
And so these epigenetic mechanisms are, kind of, master regulatory mechanisms that control gene readout. And part of the discoveries in this area have been that these epigenetic regulatory mechanisms are how, part of how your experiences get translated into alterations in gene output that allow you to lay down new memories.
FLATOW: So you're not - you're not saying that the genes themselves are changed?
SWEATT: No, no, it's the - it's these regulatory mechanisms that sit above the layer of the gene that are controlling the extent to which that particular gene product is read out and made in the cell.
FLATOW: So any change that's made there, is that passed on to the next generation?
SWEATT: It's theoretically possible, and there's a little bit of data that certain types of acquired attributes like that can be heritable, but that's a very rare phenomenon. And it's certainly not something that is going to be the way that people might typically think about, you know, remembering something that -an experience that your grandmother had or something like that. It's not going to operate at that level.
FLATOW: So this sort of explains a chemical or neuronal basis of the nature versus nurture question.
SWEATT: Exactly. It's the epigenetic mechanisms - and I'm being a little hyperbolic here, but, you know, that's the interface between nature and nurture. That's the mechanism that evolution has put in place to allow those two things to dynamically interact with each other.
FLATOW: And Dave - Ted Abel, how did this paradigm shift influence your approach to studying memory?
ABEL: Hi, Dave, how are you doing? It's great to speak with you over the distances here. It's - so I think it's really had a dramatic influence on how we think about memory and really how the field thinks about memory because firstly it's provided, as Dave said, the connection between experience and the neuron. And it's really given us a set of biochemical mechanisms that really are the critical switches for how memories are stored.
But what's interesting about them is it's not just the biochemical switches, they're also storage mechanisms. So, you know, Ira, you mentioned that these could be, in some cases, heritable; and that's true in other systems and I think not probably true from these behavioral experiences, or researchers are still studying that.
But what's important about these is that they're long-lasting and that there's this complex code of modifications. I mentioned histone acetylation, but there's a number of these epigenetic modifications. And it could be that these modifications form a biochemical code that could actually be the storage of memory, could be information storage.
And that would be - we haven't really - we haven't shown that directly yet, but that would be the sort of real revolution that you could store memories in your nucleus and that it's these biochemical tags that could be that information.
FLATOW: Let's go to the phones, 1-800-989-8255. I have Dr. Kenneth Fish(ph) from Gaithersburg, Maryland. Hi.
KENNETH FISH: Hi, I was educated, apparently, before dirt, so I need to get an update. My understanding of the way memory works is more holographic, that it's the function of major organs in the brain, the hippocampus, the thalamus, the transfer of information, globally, throughout the brain.
And my question is: Is there some way to relate that to what we're talking about here, which is at the very micro-structure and its effects on the macro-structure?
FLATOW: Ted, David, who would like to take a whack at that?
SWEATT: Go ahead, Ted.
ABEL: Go ahead, David.
SWEATT: I'll take a whack at it. Yeah, the kind of systems neurobiology I think is what you're referring to, is certainly the case, where there is, you know, constant interactions between various brain regions that allow us to cogitate, basically, and learn and remember in that fashion.
Ted and I are operating - I mean, we study learning and memory in behaving animals in the laboratory, but we're really trying to understand things at a much more minute molecular and cellular level. And it's clear that those types of mechanisms contribute, as well.
And then there's a big black box between, kind of, the molecular level and the cognitive level in terms of how the interplay between the molecules and the systems contributes to learning and memory, and it's - you know, most of that is mysterious at this point.
ABEL: You know, maybe if I could just chime in, as well. The one - sort of two comments. I think the first comment is that what's clear at the systems level is that there are distinct memory systems. So there - I mentioned this earlier that there are some memory systems for our episodic memory, which is mediated by the hippocampus. There's memory systems for more emotional memories, which are mediated by another brain region called the amygdala. There's more procedural and motor memories in the striatum and cerebellum. So you have this kind of partitioning of memory in general, and then within each of these brain regions, like the hippocampus, Dave is right, that really the interface of how you then get down to the molecules and come back up to systems is really one of the major challenges.
But one way that - one thing that's quite interesting is that researchers, in particular Mark Mayford has done experiments like this in California, and he studied the activation of genes in particular sets of cells in the hippocampus. And you can argue, and another researcher Carol Barnes has studied similar kinds of problems, that each experience might turn on a gene in a set of neurons. And then there's another experience that would turn on genes in another set of neurons.
And it's that constellation of neurons for experience A that is that - involved in that memory, and another constellation of neurons for experience B that are involved in that memory. But within those constellation of neurons A and B for the two different experiences, the molecular events may be similar, but they're wired in such a way that they're activated more readily by one particular experience than another. So that would begin to get to your kind of holographic idea in a sense. But I would see it as the lighting up of gene expression in a set of neurons potentially as being the circuitry that would mediate that memory.
FLATOW: And it's the whole integration of it together that creates consciousness or thought, things like that.
ABEL: That's right.
FLATOW: Yeah. Let's go to a - let's get to the phones. So let's go to Melissa(ph) in Boise. Hi, Melissa.
MELISSA: Hi. Thank you so much for taking my call.
FLATOW: We enjoyed our stay in Boise. Thank you for being such a good host.
MELISSA: Oh, I'm glad. It's cold now. So it may not be as pleasant.
MELISSA: I was calling - I'm curious to know, what could this mean for patients that are suffering from Alzheimer's? Does this help with the creation of new memories, or could this actually help with the retrieval of, well, previously forgotten memories in their case?
SWEATT: This is David. I think I'll comment on that, and, of course, would love to hear Ted's thoughts as well. But that's one of the things that a lot of us are working - who work in this area are really very serious about, trying to translate these discoveries about the basic neurobiology of learning and memory into new treatments. The - we've done some studies with genetically engineered mouse models of Alzheimer's disease and have found that these histone deacetylase inhibitors that Ted and our group and others have been looking at in these mouse models can help restore the animals' capacity for learning when it has Alzheimer's-like dysfunction, memory dysfunction.
So in the studies that we and most other people have done so far these histone deacetylase inhibitors take an animal that has a learning and memory deficit, so it's unable to store new memories, and restores its function so that it can apparently store those new memories normally. So if that hopefully translates into the human condition, then it would alleviate some of the problems that we see with Alzheimer's patients in terms of them being able to - unable to recall recent events and events over the last couple of days, for example.
FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow. Do these involve drugs that have to be developed? Or are they compounds we already know about and could be tested?
SWEATT: There are compounds that we can use in animals in the laboratory that are not really safe to use in humans to be frank about it at this point. It's a very robust area of drug development right now, though. There are a couple of problems with the drugs we have. They don't get into the brain very well, the ones that we have right now. And they have selectivity issues, that is they're not as selective for one versus another type of enzyme that may be involved. And so a number of biotech companies, pharmaceuticals, these are developing HDAC inhibitors that are alleviating or trying to alleviate some of these problems.
ABEL: What's exciting about - one thing that's exciting about the drugs is that in animal studies at least they can be given after animals have began to show memory loss and have began to even show some neuronal loss. So the really encouraging thing from the animal studies on the clinical side is that the drugs have the promise of being able to treat patients, you know, in - that are into the really - into the disorder, and they don't have to treat them sort of before it occurs.
The other thing that's kind of interesting is that we're finding that some other drugs, one example is folic acid, that have been around and used for other targets and other disorders, for example, for epilepsy with that drug that they have an activity that changes histone acetylation, and it's partially an HDAC inhibitor. So the other avenue is to look at existing drugs and to see what, you know, in what ways they change these epigenetic marks and if that might actually be the mechanism that they work and that we haven't previously identified that.
FLATOW: What do these drugs do for all the plaques and entanglements and things like that we see in Alzheimer's? Do they even mention those things? Or if they're going to restore memory in some of these mice, I mean, are they working in that mechanism or a totally different mechanism?
SWEATT: It looks like it's a different mechanism from that. That is the kind of traditional neuropathological...
SWEATT: ...markers are not affected by these drugs, at least in the kind of shorter-term studies that have been largely done so far.
ABEL: And maybe that they - that these drugs would support the kind of resilience of neurons to that insult of having these deposits. But most of the studies, as David pointed out, have been relatively short term in animals.
FLATOW: So we're looking about - no one should think that we have something new around the corner here?
SWEATT: No. That's for sure. But it is - like I said, it is a very active area of development. Ira, I would like to make kind of a comment on this as well because it's relevant to this exciting paper that Ted just published, Ted and Josh. It's been well established for a number of years now that these HDAC inhibitors are very powerful enhancers of memory formation in laboratory animals. But it's been completely a black box as to how it is that they work. It's quite a striking phenomenon that they can affect memory capacity in the behaving animal. But we really had very little insight into what the underlying mechanisms, biochemical infrastructure was.
And I think Josh and Ted, with this new paper they published, have kind of cracked open the lid on that box, so to speak, and given us really the first insight into what the molecular sequence of events maybe that's being triggered by these HDAC inhibiters. And, of course, the better that we can understand that, the better we're going to be able to refine the drug development, and that's one of the things that's really quite exciting about Ted and Josh's new paper.
FLATOW: Good way to wrap it up. Thank you very much. David Sweatt is chair of the Department of Neurobiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham. Ted Abel, professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Good luck with you, gentlemen.
SWEATT: Thank you, Ira.
ABEL: Thanks, Ira. Thank you.
FLATOW: Thanks for taking time to be with us.
ABEL: Good to speak with you. Bye.
FLATOW: We'll be right back after this short break, so stay with us. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) —As the iPhone 5 hit stores on Sept. 21, North America went bananas over Apple: days-long lines in front of Apple stores, and pre-orders reaching more than 2 million in just two days. This time around, the iPhone 5 boasts a bigger screen, faster network, and a longer battery life, among other things.
Without a doubt, cell phones have dramatically changed the way we live our lives and communicate with others. According to a recent report from the World Bank, about 75 per cent of the world's population now has access to a mobile device. That's more than 6 billion people around the globe.
Cell Phones and Your Brain:
Major cell phone releases guarantee a debate over technological superiority. And in the health community, the debate over cell phones' link to cancer is re-ignited. In a Clean Technica blog questioning the environmental friendliness of the iPhone 5, commenter vetxcl outright rejected the idea: "Smart phones emit more cancer causing radiation than other phones. This is a smart phone. Since it causes cancer, it is not green. It's that simple folks."
But is it really "that simple?" The cell phone-cancer debate continues on with no conclusion in sight. In May 2011, experts classified cell phones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" in a report to the World Health Organization (WHO). But less than five months later, another set of researchers from the Danish Cancer Society declared that cell phone usage was in fact safe in an online report published in BMJ
More recently, country music superstar Sheryl Crow blamed her brain tumor diagnosis on her frequent cell phone use, but a new report by the Norwegian Expert Committee determined that mobile phones and wireless network pose no health risk.
Confused much? Luckily, a definitive statement may be on the way. In June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it was revisiting its position on mobile phones and radiation.
Reduce the risk: Play it safe and try these smart strategies with your smart phone.
Cell Phones and Emotional Health:
Does the thought of losing your cell phone make you panic? If so, join the club. In June, the digital security company Lookout surveyed 2,097 people, and revealed that 94 per cent feared going without their mobile devices. (73 per cent felt “panicked” when it happened.)
Called “nomophobia,” this separation anxiety indicates a psychological dependence on cell phones because the devices are a convenient way for us to meet a basic human need. “Humans are social animals. We like staying connected,” says Gary Small, MD, professor of psychiatry at UCLA and co-author of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. But he’s concerned that cell phones, while essential in our fast-paced lives, can destroy vital skills if they become the only way we communicate. “People are not talking face to face. They’re losing their contact skills.”
These contact skills, such as eye contact, hand gestures, and body language help us develop — and maintain — meaningful social ties. And according to Dr. Small, a sense of creativity and individualism is lost when we try to replace face-to-face time with a quick text: “Ever try sending a joke through email?”
Reduce the risk: Unplug from technology occasionally and turn your phone off.
Cell Phones and Eye Health:
The iPhone 5 is a multi-tasker’s dream. More like a pocket-sized computer, you can listen to music, review documents, and even analyze your facial attractiveness with a finger scroll.
But unlike a computer, this device is smaller than the size of your hand. Those tiny fonts in bright screens can make you squint and strain your eyes, a problem that affects almost 70 per cent of American adults according to a new survey by the Vision Council, an organization that represents manufacturers of optical supplies. This can lead to computer vision syndrome, an eye condition that can lead to dry eyes, difficulty focusing, and even double vision.
Reduce the risk: Taking a break from your device can give your eyes a much needed rest. Try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at an object 20 feet away.
Cell Phones and Chronic Pain:
Two-time U.S. texting champion Austin Wierschke, 17, can type up to six characters per second, but one expert says that those fast fingers may lead to chronic pain later on in life.
"When you're typing on a device with speed and repetition, you may cause pain and inflammation," says Dr. Dean Fishman, chiropractic physician and owner/operator of the Text Neck Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He originally coined the phrase "text neck" to describe the stress and pressure that can be triggered by mobile browsing and sending text messages.
Dr. Fishman regularly sees patients with head, neck, shoulder, elbow, and hand pain – including a 3-year-old girl who visited his office complaining of headaches. After doing an X-ray, he realized that she was spending hours bending her neck forward to play games and practicing her alphabet on her mother's phone. "When you spend long hours in a forward flexed position, it creates postural changes over time," he says. The pressure can lead to arthritis condition of the bones and pressure on the spine.
Reduce the risk: Dr. Fishman conducted a study and found that simply holding the device with proper posture can alleviate pain, and developed this Android App to help you use your phone better.
Cell Phones and Germs:
Your cell phone follows you everywhere — and for 75 per cent of Americans that includes the toilet – but are you keeping it clean? One study found fecal matter on 1-in-6 cell phones in Britain.
That ick factor might make you cringe, but it can get you sick, too. Fecal matter can spread E. coli bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and even kidney failure, which can be deadly. Bacteria can also spread to your skin and trigger breakouts.
Reduce the risk: Washing your hands is one of the best ways to stay healthy and minimize the germs on your phone. It's also important to wipe your phone down at least once a week. A slightly damp (not wet) cloth will do the trick, but you can also purchase Wireless Wipes.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — One of the most controversial issues in child rearing, spanking for many parents continues to be an acceptable form of discipline. But could that little slap be damaging your child long term? Two mums argue it out
Louisa Wilkins, mother of two, aged six and three
As surprising as it may seem, I could fill this column with studies and statistics defending the point that smacking children is OK. Such as the one from Calvin College in the US, which found that children who were smacked when they were young grew up to be more successful than those who weren’t smacked. Or the poll reported on CNN, which found that 74 per cent of parents think that smacking is OK for children aged one to three.
Or I could give you countless quotes from adults who, like me, were smacked as children and who grew up to be fine, fully functioning adults who do not go through their lives punching anybody who gets in their way (as anti-smackers would suggest), who can use words to communicate, and who – despite the smacking – have wonderful, loving, respectful relationships with their parents.
But I won’t do either of those. Instead, I will simply suggest that how a person parents their child is their own business. Obviously, we all agree that a child must not be hurt, scared, neglected, disrespected or abused by their parent, or by anyone. But trusting in the belief that most parents do not want to harm their child in any way, who are we to judge anyone else’s parenting? Raising my children is my job. My department. How I do it is my decision. And vice versa.
I’m not going to come into your house and tell you not to shout at your child, even though a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that yelling, and other forms of emotional abuse, were a more significant predictor of mental illness than sexual and physical abuse. I’m not going to start a witch-hunt if your child is overweight, even though the entire world knows that it means your child is more likely to get heart disease, diabetes and dementia, as well as being bullied, depressed and lonely.
I won’t judge you if you let your child watch TV or play computer games for more than two hours a day, even though it is linked to high blood pressure, lower grades, obesity, behavioural and social problems, twice the risk of dying from practically anything, and severe mental and emotional impact.No. All I will say is, you do it your way, and I’ll do it mine.
I don’t beat my children – in my world, a beating and a smack on the rump are not two versions of the same action. As psychologist Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, said, “The idea that smacking and violence are on a continuum is a bizarre and fetished view of what punishment is for most parents. If it’s done judiciously by a parent who is normally affectionate and sensitive to their child, our society should not be up in arms about that. People should be taught to distinguish this from a punch in the face.” He later said, “I’m far more worried about the effects of coldness. The psychic damage is far worse.”
The truth is, I rarely smack my children but I have been known to. I’m not proud of it. It is what it is. I don’t think they hate me for it. They certainly don’t seem to. My children feel loved, witnessed and cherished every single day. I think, as long as a parent is getting that bit right, I’m not worried about whether they decide to smack their child, to give them sweets, or let them watch TV. I’m only concerned about how I’m doing with my own kids. Maybe you should be too.
Kate Birch, mother of three, aged 15, 13 and six
Anyone who has read The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas will be aware of many of the arguments for and against smacking, and of people’s different views based on their age, background and childhood experiences. But I don’t think personal experience should come into it. The blinkered mantra that ‘it never did me any harm’ is not a sufficient argument.
I was occasionally slapped as a child, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s OK, that it did any good or that it didn’t do me any lasting harm. But I’m not preaching to parents, I speak from bitter experience. A few years ago I smacked my then four-year-old after he walked out into a busy road in the UK. It was an instant reaction born of fear... the only time I have done it and the guilt and tears (my own) haunted me for days. I felt dreadful, only justified by the understanding that I was doing it for the right reasons even though the actual method was at fault.
The fact is, and I feel this even more strongly after that day, I don’t believe smacking is an effective form of discipline, and it can have lasting effects on your child. Even if, like me, you were brought up with the occasional spank, times and attitudes have changed and so, therefore, should behaviours. “Parents have access to more information about managing children’s behaviour now,” says Therese Sequeira, parenting educator at KidsFIRST. “There has been a lot of research into the effects of spanking children.
In short, hurting children in any way, physical or emotional, damages relationships between children and their parents and has an effect on how children learn to manage their own emotions with others. “In terms of decreasing misbehaviour long term, spanking is ineffective.
It can distract children from a misbehaviour but it doesn’t teach them positive strategies for handling conflict,” says Therese. “Spanking children does not encourage positive relationships between parents and kids as it brings out strong negative emotions in children, including anger, shame and fear.” And what about the kind of messages smacking sends out to the child? Isn’t it saying that using force is an acceptable way to express feelings and solve problems?
“Yes,” says Therese. “When parents use aggressive behaviour they are teaching their children how to handle conflict and frustration, which can make aggressive behaviour acceptable. Such children are likely to get into trouble at school.” For me, one of the main negatives resulting from smacking is the fear that a child has of the parent. This can destroy the child’s most important relationship, which should be loving and trusting.
Worryingly, it is not only this bond that can suffer. Kids who experience smacking can be mentally scarred for life. A study published in July by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that children who are spanked have an increased risk of mental problems in adulthood, including mood, anxiety disorders and drug abuse. The study claimed that up to 7 per cent of adult disorders can be traced back to physical punishment in childhood. Astonishingly, the risk of mania was 93 per cent higher and risk of alcohol abuse 59 per cent higher.
“I think parents who smack their children do so because they think it is helping their child, or they just don’t know any alternatives,” says Therese. “I encourage parents to use positive parenting strategies, which are easy and quick to implement.” I agree. When you consider the short-term pain and long-term damage, smacking should not be an option.
What you say
“Just because it’s done by a lot of parents, doesn’t mean hitting your child improves their behaviour. The strongest single predictor of violence is having experienced violence.”
— Aquarius fan Sarah Zine
“You smack them when you’re angry, they will smack when angry. Simple as that.”
— Aquarius fan Simi Rajesh
“Smacking is degrading to adults... imagine how a child feels when he is smacked. I’m not against punishment but this approach is wrong.”
— Aquarius fan Greta Yvonne
“Smacking is bad – it’s better to explain what he/she did wrong.”
— Aquarius fan Renita D’Souza
“I gave my two sons, now adults, an occasional slap when little and they’ve grown into balanced, happy individuals. Nothing wrong with it.”
— Aquarius fan Moira White —www.shafaqna.com/English