Brain: ‘Lightning bolts’ show learning in action

Rendering of dendrites in brain (stock image). "We believe our study provides important insights into how the brain deals with vast amounts of information continuously as the brain learns new tasks," says senior study investigator and neuroscientist Wen-Biao Gan, PhD. Credit: © Sergey Nivens / Fotolia
Rendering of dendrites in brain (stock image). “We believe our study provides important insights into how the brain deals with vast amounts of information continuously as the brain learns new tasks,” says senior study investigator and neuroscientist Wen-Biao Gan, PhD.
Credit: © Sergey Nivens / Fotolia

 

 

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]esearchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have captured images of the underlying biological activity within brain cells and their tree-like extensions, or dendrites, in mice that show how their brains sort, store and make sense out of information during learning.

n a study to be published in the journal Nature online March 30, the NYU Langone neuroscientists tracked neuronal activity in dendritic nerve branches as the mice learned motor tasks such as how to run forward and backward on a small treadmill. They concluded that the generation of calcium ion spikes — which appeared in screen images as tiny “lightning bolts” in these dendrites — was tied to the strengthening or weakening of connections between neurons, hallmarks of learning new information.

“We believe our study provides important insights into how the brain deals with vast amounts of information continuously as the brain learns new tasks,” says senior study investigator and neuroscientist Wen-Biao Gan, PhD.

Gan, a professor at NYU Langone and its Skirball Institute for Biomolecular Medicine, says, “we have long wondered how the brain can store new information continuously throughout life without disrupting previously acquired memories. We now know that the generation of calcium spikes in separate branches of nerve cells is critical for the brain to encode and store large quantities of information without interfering with each other.”

Lead study investigator Joseph Cichon, a neuroscience doctoral candidate at NYU Langone, says their discoveries could have important implications for explaining the underlying neural circuit problems in disorders like autism and schizophrenia. Cichon says the team’s next steps are to see if calcium ion spikes are malfunctioning in animal models of these brain disorders.

Among the study’s key findings was that learning motor tasks such as running forward and backward induced completely separate patterns of lightning bolt-like activity in the dendrites of brain cells. These lightning bolts triggered a chain-like reaction, which changed the strength of connections between neurons.

The study also identified a unique cell type in the brain that controlled where the lightning bolts were generated. When these cells were turned off, lightning bolt patterns in the brain were disrupted, and as a result, the animal lost the information it had just learned.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NYU Langone Medical Center.Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Joseph Cichon, Wen-Biao Gan. Branch-specific dendritic Ca2 spikes cause persistent synaptic plasticity. Nature, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nature14251

A lick and a promise – Idiom Thaatha

A lick and a promise

The meaning of the idiom a lick and a promise is to wash or clean something swiftly and carelessly.

Examples:

1. The man at the water service centre did a lick and a promise of my motorcycle and spent his time watching the cricket match.

2. The maid in the manor was relieved of her duties since she continued to do a lick and a promise of the dishes after lunch, despite repeated warnings.

Play ducks and drakes – Idiom Thaatha

Play ducks and drakes

 

The meaning of the idiom to play ducks and drakes is to be frivolous with something.

Examples:

1. The sales of the company plummeted when the manager of operations started playing ducks and drakes with the sales team.

2. To play ducks and drakes with studies at the final year of studies is considered a serious issue.

Consuming a WebService using LINQ

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his article demonstrates how to query a Web Service’s public API using LINQ. For this article, I am using the Web Service located at GeoNames. Our code will query the CountryInfo webservice which accepts a Country Code and returns information like the country’s capital, population, currency and so on.
Check out the XML document returned from this service over here http://ws.geonames.org/countryInfo?
Let us get started:

 

Step 1: Create a Console Application. To this application, add a class named ‘Country’ and ‘CountryInfo’. The CountryInfo class has the following definition:
class CountryInfo
{
    public string CountryName { get; set; }
    public long Population { get; set; }
    public string Capital { get; set; }
    public string CurrencyCode { get; set; }
    public float AreaSqKm { get; set; }
}
Step 2: The Country class contains a SearchCountry method that returns an IEnumerable<CountryInfo> as shown below:

 

class Country
{
    public IEnumerable<CountryInfo> SearchCountry(string countryCode)
    {
        string uri = Uri.EscapeUriString(countryCode);
        string url = FormatUrl(uri);
        XDocument xdoc = XDocument.Load(url);
        IEnumerable<CountryInfo> results =
        from cntry in xdoc.Descendants(“country”)
        select new CountryInfo
        {
            CountryName = cntry.Element(“countryName”).Value,
            Capital = cntry.Element(“capital”).Value,
            AreaSqKm = Convert.ToSingle(cntry.Element(“areaInSqKm”).Value),
            Population = Convert.ToInt64(cntry.Element(“population”).Value),
            CurrencyCode = cntry.Element(“currencyCode”).Value
        };
        return results;
    }
    string FormatUrl(string cCode)
    {
        return “http://ws.geonames.org/countryInfo?” +
            “country=” + cCode +
            “&username=christlin”;
    }
}
The code is pretty straightforward. We first create the url with the search string using our FormatUrlmethod. We then use the XDocument.Load to create an XML document from the url. The last step is to loop through the XML document, populate the CountryInfo object and return the results.

 

Step 3: The final step is to code the Main() method to retrieve and display the results from the WebService. Here’s how the Main() method looks
static void Main(string[] args)
{
    Country country = new Country();
    string cntryCode = “IN”;
    IEnumerable<CountryInfo> cntryInfo = country.SearchCountry(cntryCode);
    foreach (var c in cntryInfo)
    {
        Console.WriteLine(“You searched for {0}. “ +
                        “The population of {0} is {1} and its capital is {2}. “ +
                        “The CurrencyCode for {0} is {3} and it’s area in Sq. Km is {4}”,
            c.CountryName, c.Population, c.Capital,
            c.CurrencyCode, c.AreaSqKm);
    }
    Console.ReadLine();
}

 

In the example above, we are passing in the country code ‘IN’ for India. We then loop through an object of IEnumberable<CountryInfo> and print the result on the console. The output looks similar to the following:

 

00130032015 Console Output

 

Well that was a simple example of how to query a webservice using LINQ. I hope you liked this article and I thank you for viewing it. The entire source code of this article can be downloaded here

[wpfilebase tag=file id=1 tpl=download-button /]

Malleable – Vocabwagon

Malleable

The meaning of the word Malleable is to be easily led astray, influenced and to be pliable.

The word Malleable is an adjective.

Examples:

1. The young chap in the group was vulnerable and malleable – easily falling prey to the wily schemes of the seductress.

2. Youngsters are malleable and can easily be guided with ease towards both the good and the bad ways.

Listening to classical music modulates genes

A Finnish study group has investigated how listening to classical music affected the gene expression profiles of both musically experienced and inexperienced participants. All the participants listened to W.A. Mozart's violin concert Nr 3, G-major, K.216 that lasts 20 minutes. Credit: © rubchikova / Fotolia
A Finnish study group has investigated how listening to classical music affected the gene expression profiles of both musically experienced and inexperienced participants. All the participants listened to W.A. Mozart’s violin concert Nr 3, G-major, K.216 that lasts 20 minutes.
Credit: © rubchikova / Fotolia

Although listening to music is common in all societies, the biological determinants of listening to music are largely unknown. According to a new study, listening to classical music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic neurotransmission, learning and memory, and down-regulated the genes mediating neurodegeneration. Several of the up-regulated genes were known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds, suggesting a common evolutionary background of sound perception across species.

Listening to music represents a complex cognitive function of the human brain, which is known to induce several neuronal and physiological changes. However, the molecular background underlying the effects of listening to music is largely unknown. A Finnish study group has investigated how listening to classical music affected the gene expression profiles of both musically experienced and inexperienced participants. All the participants listened to W.A. Mozart’s violin concert Nr 3, G-major, K.216 that lasts 20 minutes.

Listening to music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic function, learning and memory. One of the most up-regulated genes, synuclein-alpha (SNCA) is a known risk gene for Parkinson’s disease that is located in the strongest linkage region of musical aptitude. SNCA is also known to contribute to song learning in songbirds.

“The up-regulation of several genes that are known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds suggest a shared evolutionary background of sound perception between vocalizing birds and humans,” says Dr. Irma Järvelä, the leader of the study.

In contrast, listening to music down-regulated genes that are associated with neurodegeneration, referring to a neuroprotective role of music.

“The effect was only detectable in musically experienced participants, suggesting the importance of familiarity and experience in mediating music-induced effects,” researchers remark.

The findings give new information about the molecular genetic background of music perception and evolution, and may give further insights about the molecular mechanisms underlying music therapy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Chakravarthi Kanduri, Pirre Raijas, Minna Ahvenainen, Anju K. Philips, Liisa Ukkola-Vuoti, Harri Lähdesmäki, Irma Järvelä. The effect of listening to music on human transcriptome. PeerJ, 2015; 3: e830 DOI: 

Fast-moving unbound star has broken the galactic speed record

Pictorial representation of a fast-moving unbound star.  Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA
Pictorial representation of a fast-moving unbound star.
Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA

A fast-moving unbound star discovered by astronomers at Queen’s University Belfast has broken the galactic speed record.

The unbound star, named US708, is traveling at 1,200 kilometers per second — the fastest speed ever recorded for such an object in our galaxy — meaning it is not held back by gravity and will eventually leave the Milky Way.

US708 is believed to have once been part of a double-star solar system, which also included a massive white dwarf star. The white dwarf is thought to have turned into a ‘thermonuclear supernovae’ and exploded, kicking US708 and sending it hurtling across space.

The discovery of US708 sheds light on the mysterious double-star systems that give rise to thermonuclear explosions. Thermonuclear, or ‘type Ia’, supernovae have long been used to calculate the distances to faraway galaxies — a measurement which helps to determine how the universe is changing and expanding.

Dr Rubina Kotak and Ken Smith, from the Astrophysics Centre at Queen’s University, were part of a team of scientists from countries across the world who made the ground-breaking discovery using data gathered by the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on Mount Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Using a range of data gathered over the last 59 years the team were able to determine the full 3-D motion of the star and measure how quickly it is moving across the plane of the sky.

Dr Rubina Kotak, from the Astrophysics Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “It is very exciting to have contributed to this important discovery which is a great example of Queen’s commitment to achieving excellence and advancing knowledge for the benefit of society. It brings us a step closer to solving the type Ia puzzle.”

European Southern Observatory fellow, Stephan Geier, who led the study, said: “Several types of stars have been suspected of causing the explosion of a white dwarf as supernova of type Ia. Until now, none of them could be confirmed. Now we have found a delinquent on the run bearing traces from the crime scene.”

Queen’s University Belfast is a full member of the PS1 science consortium, which carried out this research involving astronomers from ten other institutes dotted across the world. The research was led by Dr Stephan Geier, European Southern Observatory fellow, and comprised contributions from scientists from a number of countries including Germany, USA, the Netherlands, China and the UK.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Queen’s University, Belfast.Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. Geier, F. Furst, E. Ziegerer, T. Kupfer, U. Heber, A. Irrgang, B. Wang, Z. Liu, Z. Han, B. Sesar, D. Levitan, R. Kotak, E. Magnier, K. Smith, W. S. Burgett, K. Chambers, H. Flewelling, N. Kaiser, R. Wainscoat, C. Waters. The fastest unbound star in our Galaxy ejected by a thermonuclear supernova. Science, 2015; 347 (6226): 1126 DOI: 10.1126/science.1259063

Hit the nail on the head – Idiom Thaatha

Hit the nail

The meaning of the idiom to hit the nail on the head is to describe exactly the cause of a problem or a situation.

Examples:

1. The porter hit the nail on the head when he pointed out the cause of the wet baggage as a broken bottle.

2. The mechanic hit the nail on the head as soon as he opened the bonnet of the car.

Intrepid – Vocabwagon

Intrepid

The meaning of the word Intrepid is to be fearless and adventurous.

The word Intrepid is an adjective.

Examples:

1. Peter’s intrepid nature made him the natural  choice amongst all for the post of the local sheriff in the thieving town of Lowdale.

2. Intrepid people often find that adventures come in search of them rather than their bold nature making them seek reckless excitement.

 

The Horizon

Horizon

The flicker of a candle on a dark night, the blinking star on the seemingly never – ending carpet of darkness floating and threatening to bring the sky down on our heads, the beam of light that goads a sailor on a yacht to be unmindful of the screams of the waves crashing around him, the sudden increase in the heartbeat of the patient who has been without a sign of recovery in the ICU – well… there is a similar feeling. There seems to be a sign of life. A flower has blossomed in a dry plant. The parched land is a home to one lone patch of greenery. How was that possible? What made it possible? Would this continue? Contrary to popular belief, this has worked out. The previous assumption was that the work would continue in the same vein. What was not realized was that there is now a determination where there was previously only a desire. Ambition has quelled want and has taken the driver’s seat. May be now, may be from now on, things would be different. The solitary soldier is perhaps the symbol of what is to follow. This feeling is akin to the confidence that sweeps and spreads into the hearts of soldiers from the actions or words of a charismatic general or a brave monarch. It has begun its influence. The minds of those in and around are not what they used to be. Where there was a resignation, there now is a glimmer of a distant paradise. A land of magic and enchantment beckons everyone and the journey towards the land of dreams has begun. The land though does not promise a bed of roses as the footpath. There are streams to ford, wild animals to ward off, thorns to be avoided or crushed and above all, the necessity of going on till the summit is reached. That my niceties, is the most important and the toughest thing to do. What makes one tick now is the small burp that made the Kangaroos hear the Whos. I am sure that there is the same thing here too. There are Kangaroos to lead the banner against us and there are monkeys filled with greed and thoughts of gluttony and birds of prey embittered and full of vengeance seeking to thwart every single move made b us. Yet, the silver lining is that there are also Hortons here who will strive hard despite all setbacks and who will not settle back for anything less than the best, for anything less than the very best. Isn’t this a sure sign that the wheels are turning in the right direction? Let us hope so. There then is the Source guiding us toward the ultimate goal. The Source cannot fail. It has never failed. It is not in the nature of the Source to fail or to abandon anyone who trusted in the Source. So, wait, you Magical Land, the Land of Enchantment, the Land throbbing and pulsating with life; the Land waiting for me, for us, ha ha… here we come…