The survival of the endangered snow leopard is looking promising thanks to Monash Univ. scientists who have, for the first time, produced embryonic stem-like cells from the tissue of an adult leopard. Never before have induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which share many of the useful properties of embryonic stem cells, been generated from a member of the cat family. The breakthrough raises the possibility of cryopreservation of genetic material for future cloning and other assisted reproduction techniques.
The technique of Optogenetics normally works by genetically altering certain cells to make them responsive to light, and then selectively stimulating them with a laser to either turn the cells on or off. This allows scientists to modify certain parts of the brain in mice, for example, then perform experiments on the mice with those parts of the brain switched on or off. While useful, it relies on the subject being positioned carefully under the laser.
Now a new technique developed by an American startup is using LEDs and laser diodes, which can be controlled via a tiny wireless device, plugged into an implant in the animal’s brain. The device weighs only 3 grams and is also powered wirelessly, by supercapacitors below the animal’s cage.
Using the system, researchers have already been able to start to understand how activating or inhibiting specific groups of neurons change the way mice eat, in a study on feeding behaviour. The wireless technology means researchers can leave the room, leaving the animals to behave normally without threat of humans nearby.
And in case you’re thinking the next step is human mind control, remember - the cells must have first been genetically altered to be light controlled, so you’re safe for now.
Having contributed in large part to the Internet’s very existence, DARPA is now setting out to make its secure networks more secure. But rather than relying upon the conventional notion of a password—a complex string of letters and numerals that an individual must remember—the agency is looking to create a “cognitive fingerprint” for individuals that constantly authenticates that person for the duration of the time he or she has access to a network.
DARPA’s approach relies on biometrics, but not the usual brand of biometrics we’re used to seeing, like iris or fingerprint scans. DARPA wants to employ what it calls software-based biometrics—biometrics that don’t require any extra equipment and can be deployed on any computer via a software package—to recognize individual humans.
That means identifying humans not by a physical characteristic, but via a blend of mental or behavioral traits that are inherent in the way the person interacts with the terminal and the network. These things could include analysis of patterns in a person’s keystrokes, use of a computer’s built-in camera to track eye-movement patterns, semantic analysis that evaluates how a user searches and selects information (how you structure search queries, for instance, or what verbs and predicates you tend to use), the structure and syntax of a user’s sentences, the speed with which an individual tends to read content—the list goes on.
Any lucid dreamers out there? Thanks to neural imaging and this very realistic state of dreaming, scientists have shown that the movements you dream about fire the same neurons as the real-life action.
Whether we’re falling or flying, dancing or driving, moving in our dreams feels very real to us at the time. And our brains, it seems, agree. By imaging the brains of sleeping subjects, researchers have found that when we move in our dreams, our brains fire in the same pattern as when we move in the real world.
Because we tend to forget our dreams as soon as we wake up, researchers know little about how our minds create them. Neuroscientists Martin Dresler and Michael Czisch, both of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, and their colleagues wanted to find a way to use brain-imaging techniques to watch what people were doing in their dreams. To interpret these images of the dreaming brain, however, they would first have to know how the brain looks when it is performing a certain task in the dream—a difficult challenge because most dreamers can’t control what they’re doing.
Very rarely, however, dreamers experience a phenomenon known as lucid dreaming, in which a sleeper is aware that he or she is dreaming and has some level of control over actions in the dream.
(via ScienceNOW; Painting: “The Sleeping Gypsy“ by Henri Rosseau)
The Euthanasia Coaster is a concept for a steel roller coaster designed to kill its passengers. In 2010, it was designed and made into a scale model by Julijonas Urbonas, a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art in London. Urbonas, who has worked at an amusement park, stated that the goal of his concept roller coaster is to take lives “with elegance and euphoria”. It is a ride to the death. The seven loops or ‘inversions’ put the human body under such stress that it causes the brain to be starved of oxygen, as the heart simply cannot push blood against the enormous g-forces. Even if it kills you, it is designed to still be a fun death. An honourable thought, if rather macabre.
Of all our human organs, skin is arguably one of the most abused — yet it’s also arguably the most reliable. It protects everything inside us, helping us avoid harm by sensing obstacles in our way, making sure we stay hydrated, and ensuring we keep ourselves at the right temperature. It constantly replenishes itself, sloughing off former layers that we’ve either burned or dried out or scraped or ignored, while new ones grow in their places.
Researchers trying to duplicate its beneficial properties are building teeny stretchable electronics that can give artificial limbs a real sense of touch.
Click for the full slideshow. Turning the skin into a tool for human-machine interactions.
The experiment helped to change John-Dylan Haynes’s outlook on life. In 2007, Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, put people into a brain scanner in which a display screen flashed a succession of random letters1. He told them to press a button with either their right or left index fingers whenever they felt the urge, and to remember the letter that was showing on the screen when they made the decision. The experiment used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reveal brain activity in real time as the volunteers chose to use their right or left hands. The results were quite a surprise.
“The first thought we had was ‘we have to check if this is real’,” says Haynes. “We came up with more sanity checks than I’ve ever seen in any other study before.”
The conscious decision to push the button was made about a second before the actual act, but the team discovered that a pattern of brain activity seemed to predict that decision by as many as seven seconds. Long before the subjects were even aware of making a choice, it seems, their brains had already decided.
As humans, we like to think that our decisions are under our conscious control — that we have free will. Philosophers have debated that concept for centuries, and now Haynes and other experimental neuroscientists are raising a new challenge. They argue that consciousness of a decision may be a mere biochemical afterthought, with no influence whatsoever on a person’s actions. According to this logic, they say, free will is an illusion. “We feel we choose, but we don’t,” says Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London.