Sunday, December 9, 2007

Is Generosity Genetically Programmed?

Main Category: Genetics News
Article Date: 09 Dec 2007 - 10:00 PST

Are those inclined towards generosity genetically programmed to behave that way? A team of researchers, including Dr. Ariel Knafo of the Psychology Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, believes that this could very well be the case.

Through an online task involving making a choice whether or not to give away money, the researchers found that those who chose to give away some or all of their money differed genetically from those involved in the exercise who chose not to give their money away.

The scientists conducted the experiment with 203 online "players". Each player could choose to keep the equivalent of $12 he was allocated, or to give all or part of it to an anonymous other player.

Those involved also provided DNA samples which were analyzed and compared to their reactions. It was found that those who had certain variants of a gene called AVPR1a gave on average nearly 50 percent more money than those not displaying that variant. The results of the study were published online recently in the research journal Genes, Brain and Behavior.

"The experiment provided the first evidence, to my knowledge, for a relationship between DNA variability and real human altruism," said Knafo, who conducted the research along with other researchers, including Prof. R. P. Ebstein, Prof. Gary Bornstein, and Salomon Israel of the Psychology Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The gene AVPR1a codes for the production of a receptor that enables a hormone, arginine vasopressin, to act on brain cells. Vasopressin, in turn, has been implicated in social bonding. The researchers found greater altruism in players in which a key section of the AVPR1a gene, called its promoter, was longer. The promoter is the region of a gene that allows cellular machinery to bind to it and determine how much gene product is made. In the case of this gene, a longer promoter can result in greater activity.

The findings could help biologists sort out altruism's evolutionary history, according to the scientists. They noted that a version of AVPR1a also exists in rodents called voles, where it also promotes social bonding. This suggests that altruism has a long rooted genetic history, which may have taken on a new role during human evolution.

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.

Subliminal Smells Bias Preception About A Person's Likeability

ScienceDaily (Dec. 8, 2007) — Anyone who has bonded with a puppy madly sniffing with affection gets an idea of how scents, most not apparent to humans, are critical to a dog's appreciation of her two-legged friends. Now new research from Northwestern University suggests that humans also pick up infinitesimal scents that affect whether or not we like somebody. "We evaluate people every day and make judgments about who we like or don't like," said Wen Li, a post-doctoral fellow in the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "We may think our judgments are based only on various conscious bits of information, but our senses also may provide subliminal perceptual information that affects our behavior."
Minute amounts of odors elicited salient psychological and physiological changes that suggest that humans get much more information from barely perceptible scents than previously realized.To test whether subliminal odors alter social preferences, participants were asked to sniff bottles with three different scents: lemon (good), sweat (bad) and ethereal (neutral). The scents ranged from levels that could be consciously smelled to those that were barely perceptible. Study participants were informed that an odor would be present in 75 percent of the trials.
Most participants were not aware of the barely perceptible odors. After sniffing from each of the bottles, they were shown a face with a neutral expression and asked to evaluate it using one of six different rankings, ranging from extremely likeable to extremely unlikeable.
People who were slightly better than average at figuring out whether the minimal smell was present didn't seem to be biased by the subliminal scents.
"The study suggests that people conscious of the barely noticeable scents were able to discount that sensory information and just evaluate the faces," Li said. "It only was when smell sneaked in without being noticed that judgments about likeability were biased."
The conclusions fit with recent studies using visual stimuli that suggest that top-down control mechanisms in the brain can be exerted on unconscious processing even though individuals have no awareness of what is being controlled.
Besides Li, the study's co-investigators include Isabel Moallem, Loyola University; Ken Paller, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern; and Jay Gottfried, assistant professor of neurology at Feinberg and senior author of the paper.*
"When sensory input is insufficient to provoke a conscious olfactory experience, subliminal processing prevails and biases perception," Paller said. "But as the awareness of a scent increases, greater executive control in the brain is engaged to counteract unconscious olfaction."
The acute sensitivity of human olfaction tends to be underappreciated. "In general, people tend to be dismissive of human olfaction and discount the role that smell plays in our everyday life," said Gottfried. "Our study offers direct evidence that human social behavior is under the influence of miniscule amounts of odor, at concentrations too low to be consciously perceived, indicating that the human sense of smell is much keener than commonly thought."
The study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that subliminal sensory information -- whether from scents, vision or hearing -- affects perception. "We are beginning to understand more about how perception and memory function," Paller said, "by taking into account various types of influences that operate without our explicit knowledge."
*The paper "Subliminal Smells Can Guide Social Preferences" was published in the December issue of Psychological Science.
Adapted from materials provided by Northwestern University.

Sickle Save: Skin cells fix anemia in mice

Sickle Save: Skin cells fix anemia in mice

Brian Vastag

Using a new technique to turn skin cells into stem cells, scientists have corrected sickle cell anemia in mice. The advance provides proof of principle that stem cells made without embryos can treat disease, at least in lab animals, says Rudolf Jaenisch, the biologist who led the work at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Jaenisch and his team caution, however, that the technique is not yet suitable for use in humans because it may cause tumors.

Still, Jaenisch says that embryofree stem cells now "have the same potential for therapy as embryonic stem cells, without the ethical and practical issues." Embryonic stem cells are difficult to obtain, and some people oppose such research because it destroys discarded embryos.

In the new work, the scientists turned skin cells into embryonic-like cells. Researchers at Kyoto University in Japan first developed the technique in mice and published the protocol last year. Last month, two teams repeated the feat with human cells (SN: 11/24/07, p. 323). All of these protocols deploy viruses carrying four master genes that turn back the clock on skin cells, making them look and act embryonic. Researchers call these new cells induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells because they can form any tissue in the body.

The Whitehead researchers obtained mice engineered to carry a defective version of the human hemoglobin gene. That flaw distorts red blood cells into the characteristic sickle shape. To fix the flaw, the researchers induced skin cells plucked from the tails of the mice to become iPS cells, and corrected the genetic defect.

Next, the Whitehead team prodded the corrected cells into becoming blood stem cells, which can produce red and white blood cells. The team used a recipe originally developed for embryonic stem cells and found that it also made iPS cells grow into blood stem cells, the researchers report online Dec. 6 and in an upcoming Science.

"We wanted to compare the embryonic stem cells versus the iPS cells," says Whitehead researcher Jacob Hanna. "They behaved similarly."

Finally, the researchers performed a procedure akin to a bone marrow transplant. They transfused a million of the corrected blood stem cells into each of three mice whose bone marrow—which harbored the mice's original defective blood stem cells—had been obliterated by radiation. The corrected blood stem cells soon began producing healthy red blood cells. Because the same animal was both donor and recipient, the infused cells were not rejected, as commonly occurs in human bone marrow transplants.

After this treatment, the formerly lethargic mice made swift recoveries. "The improvement was profound," says Hanna. "There was a clear sign of reduction of destruction of red blood cells, which is actually the main problem in sickle cell anemia."

Mark Walters, a bone marrow transplant specialist at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif., says the procedure surmounts the biggest obstacle in performing such transplants in children—finding a genetically matched donor. Worldwide, only 300 to 400 children with sickle cell anemia have received bone marrow transplants because matched siblings are rare. "But the results are outstanding, with a cure rate between 85 and 90 percent," Walters says.

Before the procedure can advance to human trials, though, researchers must find a more benign way to make iPS cells, because the viruses currently used can trigger cancer. "We'd have to have some information that these are not preleukemic or premalignant cells, that they're safe in the long term," says Walters.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Attention Art Students!: "Beauty" found in the Brain

"Is The Beauty Of A Sculpture In The Brain Of The Beholder?'
Brain activations in the contrasts “judged-as-beautiful vs. judged-as-ugly” and “judged-as-ugly vs. judged-as-beautiful” stimuli. Statistical parametric maps rendered onto the MNI brain template showing activity within left somatomotor cortex in the contrast of ugly vs. beautiful stimuli averaged across the three conditions. (Credit: Di Dio C, Macaluso E, Rizzolatti G,Image courtesy of PLoS One)


"ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2007) — Is there an objective biological basis for the experience of beauty in art? Or is aesthetic experience entirely subjective? This question has been addressed in a new article by Cinzia Di Dio, Emiliano Macaluso and Giacomo Rizzolatti. The researchers used fMRI scans to study the neural activity in subjects with no knowledge of art criticism, who were shown images of Classical and Renaissance sculptures.

The 'objective' perspective was examined by contrasting images of Classical and Renaissance sculptures of canonical proportions, with images of the same sculptures whose proportions were altered to create a comparable degraded aesthetic value. In terms of brain activations, this comparison showed that the presence of the "golden ratio" in the original material activated specific sets of cortical neurons as well as (crucially) the insula, a structure mediating emotions. This response was particularly apparent when participants were only required to observe the stimuli; that is, when the brain reacted most spontaneously to the images presented.

The 'subjective' perspective was evaluated by contrasting beautiful vs. ugly sculptures, this time as judged by each participant who decided whether or not the sculpture was aesthetic. The images judged to be beautiful selectively activated the right amygdala, a structure that responds to learned incoming information laden with emotional value.

These results indicate that, in observers naïve to art criticism, the sense of beauty is mediated by two non-mutually exclusive processes: one is based on a joint activation of sets of cortical neurons, triggered by parameters intrinsic to the stimuli, and the insula (objective beauty); the other is based on the activation of the amygdala, driven by one's own emotional experiences (subjective beauty). The researchers conclude that both objective and subjective factors intervene in determining our appreciation of an artwork."

for the full article, go HERE

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Stress on the Brain

Got a boss hounding you to get more done in less time? Running short of cash? Trying to do math with an academic psycho-nerd badgering you to work faster?

You may not know it, but your levels of stress hormones are probably rising. Ditto for your heart rate. In animals, stress can stunt growth, slow learning, or fluster the immune system. In people, chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, among other
problems. The extreme stress of war or personal assault can cause the life-changing condition called post-traumatic stress disorder.

The ventral part of the right prefrontal cortex (red), had extra blood flow during a moderately stressful lab test. This area is just behind the right eye.
Brain (plus all images below) courtesy Jiongjiong Wang, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

The ventral part of the right prefrontal cortex (red), had extra blood flow during a moderately stressful lab test. This area is just behind the right eye. Brain (plus all images below) courtesy Jiongjiong Wang, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

But how do the minor stresses of daily life affect your brain?

To find out, a team led by Jiongjiong Wang and John Detre of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine looked at blood flow in the brain -- an indicator of how hard any particular part of the brain is working. The study, they say, was the first actual picture of how the human brain responds to stress.


Double Jeopardy

PTSD, Brain Injury Put Veterans in 'Double Jeopardy'

Aaron Levin
More intensive clinical diagnoses and development of biological markers for PTSD could lead to better evaluation of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although one in four veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who visit a Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center receives a diagnosis involving mental health, better diagnostic tools are still needed to evaluate these troops, a prominent researcher told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in Washington, D.C., in January.

"Thirteen percent of the 100,000 first visits were diagnosed with PTSD," said Charles Marmar, M.D., vice chair and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and associate chief of staff for mental health at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. "Those diagnoses were made by clinicians in face-to-face diagnostic interviews, usually in primary care."

Marmar noted that on this occasion, he was not speaking on behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs since his remarks had not been cleared by the department.

Marmar was the main psychiatric witness before the committee. He reported on a study (in press with Archives of Internal Medicine) of more than 100,000 veterans of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The committee room was so crowded that Capitol police turned away latecomers.

Rates of PTSD in this group were roughly similar to those of veterans of the Vietnam War, but there was one "striking" difference, he said. The present wars have seen a marked rise in traumatic brain injuries, largely due to roadside bomb explosions and motor vehicle accidents, along with gunshot wounds.

"Unfortunately, these closed head injuries are the same kind of events in the same settings that are likely to lead to terror and horror, which trigger posttraumatic stress," he said. "So the two occur together, creating a kind of double jeopardy."

To read the whole article, go here

Breast Cancer Sells

Breast Cancer Sells

by Lucinda Marshall; Alternet; October 29, 2007

October means falling leaves, ghosts and goblins, and pink, lots of Pepto-Pink as we observe National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). From Campbell's Soup to Breast Cancer Barbie, it seems as if just about everyone has jumped on the pinkified bandwagon. And although October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), we'd much rather be aware of breasts, even sick ones, than talk about black eyes and things that aren't supposed to go on behind closed doors. That point is reflected in women's magazines, which devote much more space in their October issues to breast cancer than they do to domestic violence.

Of nine publications that I recently found on a grocery store magazine rack, all of which advertised breast cancer articles on the covers of their October issues, only two also contained coverage of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (and mentioned that on their covers).* And, what's worse, of the coverage dedicated to breast cancer, much of it was offensive, superficial, misleading, or flat-out wrong.

This year there is even called Beyond Breast Cancer that cheerfully proclaims that there are "10 Good Things About Breast Cancer." Who knew? And just what are the pluses of getting this dreaded disease? According to the bubblegum-colored magazine, one perk is a pair of new boobs that "will face the horizon, not the South Pole.” Better yet, they will be paid for by insurance. Oh, and you get lots of cards and flowers.

Meanwhile, both Good Housekeeping and Woman's Day give incorrect information about mammograms. Good Housekeeping claims that "[N]o one disputes that all women 50 and over should be screened annually." Yet physicians in different countries disagree on how often women over 50 should be screened. While doctors in the United States recommend annual mammograms, those in Europe say every two to three years. In Australia, where a study out last year shed significant doubt on the extent to which mammograms save lives, the recommendation is every two years. Interestingly, in some of these countries, the incidence and death rates for breast cancer are actually lower or comparable to the United States.

When they're not spewing misinformation, the October issues of the traditional women's magazines are offering overly simplistic information about breast cancer risk factors and tips for preventing it. Woman's World (not to be confused with Good Housekeeping discuss factors you can change, such as smoking, and those you can't, like genetics. Missing is any mention about the purported connection between breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy. Also absent is information on parabens, phthalates and other carcinogenic chemicals, which are disturbingly common in consumer goods from lipstick to lotion.

The silence on these subjects mirrors the focus that both the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure place on the profitable business of curing cancer rather than preventing it, which likely would hurt the bottom line of many of their biggest donors. Consumers are told that shopping will help find a cure -- a message that is not lost on advertisers......

To read the full story , go here

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Imaging Neurons

From Wired:
Masses of Neurons Coordinating Movement

Understanding neuronal connections could shed light on psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia that scientists believe arise from "wiring" problems.

"Our ultimate goal is to create automated systems that will take a sample of brain tissue as input and generate its 'circuit diagram,' a list of all its neurons and their synaptic connections, said Sebastian Seung, an MIT professor.

Left:The cerebellum is the central command for the mouse's movements. If a mouse could learn to ride a bike, these are the cells that would make it happen. The cells pictured are bringing information to the cerebellum, telling it what's going on with the muscles.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dissecting a 53 million year old Spider - Virtually

Found in some French amber, this fossil spider could be seen with the eye, but details through the golden blurry sap were more than a little hard to make out. Now through the use of a method called ‘Very High Resolution X-Ray Computed Tomography’ (VHR-CT) the researchers were able to "digitally dissect" it, revealing details at a previously unattainable level of resolution. First developed for medical applications, these new visualization techniques are finding all sort of uses as powerful tools in other fields of inquiry...

The article:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Smart Bras" & Breast Cancer

breast cancer bra

Self-breast exam? MRI? Mammogram? what about ultrasound? The debate over breast cancer screening and the best techniques of detection is by no means settled, but now a new scheme just came to town! The "Smart Bra" relies on microwave antennae in the bra you are wearing to detect changes in temperature within the breast, which may correlate with increased blood flow and thus potentially a growing cancer - that is the reasoning of the researchers at least. Using this form of "thermography" is neat, but would it really be effective? Can you just throw this thing in the wash or is it a knits/delicates or would it be a Dry Clean Only kind of thing?

Seeing your Sleepless Brain Angry

sleeping man
Wonder why you are feeling so on edge these days? Weel the scientists do as well: your lack of sleep.

one of the techniques you are reading about this week - fMRI - has been used to show people's amygdala (a part of the brain thought to be important in emotional response - is more active when shown images designed to make them angry or sad.

Is this "readings sgins" but just internally now?
What do you think??
hey! don't be so touchy! - friend, I think you need a nap.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Included is a recent article in ArtNews Magazine Art Talk On Our Beast Behavior, October Issue 2007

NOTES from Saul's perspective-- It is interesting how all the different artists are part of this phenomena. One can include the images of the early painter Peiter Bruegel the Elder shown above Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) c. 1562 (200 Kb); Oil on panel, 117.4 x 162 cm; Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp.
Looking at the painting we can find characteristics in several personalities around the painting that can realate to the response of Cesare Lombroso about people and animals likeness.
Several of the images included in this painting can be described as the continuous reflection on how people saw the world with the expectations and asimilations of animals. Nowdays humanity still have the tendencies to relate other people as animal likeness for their looks, this can be vizualize as mockery and prefferences of perspectives towards other people.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

.::::: This Synthetic Life :::::.

Biologist Craig Venter, known for his work on the Human Gnome Project, is believed to have created synthetic life. It is suspected that he will report his findings soon on this major step in science.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Look of fear sparks fast reaction

This week American scientists demonstrate that humans repsond faster to fearful expressions than any others, including a smile.

Research much apropos to are recent discussions of physiognomy, facial cues, and the evolution of expressions this work looks clearly to evolution to help explain this phenomenon about our attention and what we react to:

Dr David Zald, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee said: "We believe that the brain can detect certain cues even before we are aware of them, so that we can direct our attention to potentially threatening situations in our environment."

Read the whole article here fresh fron the BBC

Sunday, October 7, 2007

"Quantifying Laughter" Technology

Technology is the Cutting Edge. There is no doubt about it, we are in the midst o fa revolution, as this item taken from the September 7th , 2007 edition of the Chicago Shimpo, the city's Japanese community paper .

Apparently this company has perfected to percentile accuracy the degree of your smile, as the screen shot below shows (that lady has a "100%" smile! On the other hand the fellow is only clocking in at a 32% smile - hmm, perhaps he woke up on the wrong side of bed?

Omron says that this device can "help take a picture of your best smile, and can also check your smile if you work in the service industry."

No sense leaving something this importance to your intuition nor experience folks, not when science has the numbers to back it all up!

One thing that strikes me as odd is that "laughing" and smiling" seem to be used synonymously here - but really is anything as benign as a smile behind every laugh, or vice versa? Laughing at your clients might not got you the commission nor the date you were hoping for...