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Research suggests OCD may be treatable, caused by immune system

Key to psychological disorder may lie in the immune system : Nature News
A type of cell that is known to protect the brain against infection could be involved in a form of psychological disorder, a new study reveals. What's more, restoring normal populations of these cells by transplantation can cure abnormal behaviour in mice. Microglia are highly branched immune cells that constantly move around and scavenge the brain for debris and pathogens. Researchers have now shown that a genetic defect that reduces the number of these cells causes excessive grooming in mice. The behaviour is similar to that observed in trichotillomania in humans — an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder that compels people to pull out their hair. "No connection had ever been made between microglia and behaviour," says Mario Capecchi at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, whose team published the findings today in Cell1. Scientists had presumed that abnormal behaviour stems from impaired neural function or brain development, says Christopher Pittenger, who studies the neural basis of psychiatric conditions at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. "To find that it has to do with microglia is a big surprise," says Pittenger, who was not involved in the new study.

June 01, 2010

We can use worm spit to double potato harvests

To double spud production, just add a little spit
The secret is in the spit, write the researchers online in the journal Ecological Applications (April 28). They found that the saliva of the Guatemalan potato moth larvae (Tecia solanivora) -- a major pest that forces farmers to spray plants with pesticides every two weeks -- contains compounds from the insect's foregut that elicits a systemwide response in the Colombian Andes commercial potato plant (Solanum tuberosum) to produce larger tubers. When the larvae infested fewer than 10 percent of the tubers, the plant produced marketable yields (after infested tubers were removed) that weighed 2.5 times more than undamaged plants, according to the study. When up to 20 percent of the potatoes were damaged, marketable yields still doubled. And when as many as half of the potatoes were infested, yields equaled those of plants with no infestation. The findings have implications for potato farmers, as the compound, once isolated, could lead to considerably higher yields in some varieties of potatoes. "Initially, I wanted to show how much these pests reduce potato yields, but we actually found they increase the yield" in this potato, said Katja Poveda, the study's principal investigator and a postdoctoral researcher at the Agroecology Institute of the University of Goettingen, Germany, and the Cornell entomology department.

May 31, 2010

Sinkhole in Guatemala City

Dot Shot: Sinkhole in Guatemala City - Dot Earth Blog - NYTimes.com sinkhole.jpg

May 28, 2010

Using the internet can rewire your brain

This probably explains LOLcats. Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains | Magazine
The most remarkable result of the experiment emerged when Small repeated the tests six days later. In the interim, the novices had agreed to spend an hour a day online, searching the Internet. The new scans revealed that their brain activity had changed dramatically; it now resembled that of the veteran surfers. “Five hours on the Internet and the naive subjects had already rewired their brains,” Small wrote. He later repeated all the tests with 18 more volunteers and got the same results. When first publicized, the findings were greeted with cheers. By keeping lots of brain cells buzzing, Google seemed to be making people smarter. But as Small was careful to point out, more brain activity is not necessarily better brain activity. The real revelation was how quickly and extensively Internet use reroutes people’s neural pathways. “The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate,” Small concluded, “but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains.” What kind of brain is the Web giving us? That question will no doubt be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise—and the news is quite disturbing. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.

May 25, 2010

Great, now we have invisible sharks

Sharks Can Become Invisible : Discovery News
In open water, there is often no place to hide. Some sharks have overcome this problem by making themselves invisible to both prey and predators, according to a new study. Light trickery permits the optical illusion, described in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. The findings represent the first experimental tests of shark luminescence. Lead author Julien Claes explained to Discovery News that about 50 different shark species, or more than 10 percent of all known sharks, are luminous. This means they can produce and emit light from their bodies.