From mountains to moons: discoveries from Pluto mission

New close-up images of a region near Pluto's equator reveal a giant surprise -- a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body. Credit: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI
New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise — a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.
Credit: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI

Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced Wednesday by the NASA’s New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft’s first ever Pluto flyby.

“Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations.”

“Home run!” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “New Horizons is returning amazing results already. The data look absolutely gorgeous, and Pluto and Charon are just mind blowing.”

A new close-up image of an equatorial region near the base of Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature shows a mountain range with peaks jutting as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

The mountains on Pluto likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system. This suggests the close-up region, which covers about one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.

“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” said Jeff Moore of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.

“This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,” says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer at SwRI.

The new view of Charon reveals a youthful and varied terrain. Scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters. A swath of cliffs and troughs stretching about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) suggests widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely the result of internal geological processes. The image also shows a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep. In Charon’s north polar region, the dark surface markings have a diffuse boundary, suggesting a thin deposit or stain on the surface.

New Horizons also observed the smaller members of the Pluto system, which includes four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos. A new sneak-peak image of Hydra is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 27 by 20 miles (43 by 33 kilometers).

The observations also indicate Hydra’s surface is probably coated with water ice. Future images will reveal more clues about the formation of this and the other moon billions of years ago. Spectroscopic data from New Horizons’ Ralph instruments reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences among regions across the frozen surface of Pluto.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and all the new images, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

and

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm


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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by NASA. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Do you really think you’re a foodie?

Think you’re a foodie? Adventurous eaters, known as “foodies,” are often associated with indulgence and excess. However, a new Cornell Food and Brand Lab study shows just the opposite -adventurous eaters weigh less and may be healthier than their less-adventurous counterparts.

The nationwide U.S. survey of 502 women showed that those who had eaten the widest variety of uncommon foods — including seitan, beef tongue, Kimchi, rabbit, and polenta– also rated themselves as healthier eaters, more physically active, and more concerned with the healthfulness of their food when compared with non-adventurous eaters. “They also reported being much more likely to have friends over for dinner,” said lead author Lara Latimer, PhD, formerly at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and now at the University of Texas.

“These findings are important to dieters because they show that promoting adventurous eating may provide a way for people -especially women — to lose or maintain weight without feeling restricted by a strict diet,” said coauthor Brian Wansink, (author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life). He advises, “Instead of sticking with the same boring salad, start by adding something new. It could kick start a more novel, fun and healthy life of food adventure.”

The article is published in the journal Obesity. It is authored by former Cornell researchers, Lara Latimer, PhD, (currently a Lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin) and Lizzy Pope, PhD, RD (currently Assistant Professor at the University of Vermont), and Brian Wansink, (Professor and Director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Cornell Food & Brand Lab. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Latimer, Lara; Lizzy Pope, and Brian Wansink. Food Neophiles: Profiling the Adventurous Eater. Obesity, 2015

How a newborn baby sees you

This is how a newborn infant percieves expressions at different distances. Credit: Illustration by Professor Bruno Laeng/ UiO.
This is how a newborn infant percieves expressions at different distances.
Credit: Illustration by Professor Bruno Laeng/ UiO.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] newborn infant can see its parents’ expressions at a distance of 30 cm. For the first time researchers have managed to reconstruct infants visual perception of the world.

By combining technology, mathematics and previous knowledge of the visual perception of infants, researchers have finally succeeded in showing to an adult audience how much of its environment a newborn baby can actually see. The results tell us that an infant of 2 to 3 days old can perceive faces, and perhaps also emotional facial expressions, at a distance of 30 centimeters — which corresponds to the distance between a mother and her nursing baby. If the distance is increased to 60 centimeters, the visual image gets too blurred for the baby to perceive faces and expressions.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Institute of psychology at The University of Oslo in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Uppsala and Eclipse Optics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Live pictures

The study plugs a gap in our knowledge about infants’ visual world, which was left open for several decades. It may also help explain claims that newborn babies can imitate facial expressions in adults during the first days and weeks of their lives, long before their vision is sufficiently developed to perceive details in their environments. The key word is motion.

“Previously, when researchers have tried to estimate exactly what a newborn baby sees, they have invariably used still photos. But the real world is dynamic. Our idea was to use images in motion,” says professor emeritus Svein Magnussen from the Institute of Psychology.

Testing an old idea

Early in his career, Magnussen conducted research into the visual perception of humans. One day, about 15 years ago, he found himself discussing with colleagues the problem of testing whether newborn infants are really able to perceive facial expressions in people around them. The researchers agreed that if it were true that babies could see and imitate facial expressions, the reason might be that the faces were moving.

“Back then we had neither the equipment nor the technical competence to test our idea. We dug it out again only a year ago. So, our results are based on an old idea which nobody had tested in the meantime,” he says.

What makes facial expressions intelligible? In order to carry out the test, the researchers had to combine modern simulation techniques with previous insight into how infants’ vision works. We have a great deal of information about young infants’ contrast sensitivity and spatial resolution from behavioural studies conducted, for the most part, in the 80s. At that time, it was discovered that presenting an infant with a figure against a uniformly grey background, caused the infant to direct its gaze towards the figure.

“Figures made up of black and white stripes were used. By choosing a certain stripe width and frequency, the field would appear uniformly grey, and the child would not direct its gaze towards it. Changing the width and frequency to make up figures, made it possible to determine the exact level of contrast and spatial resolution needed to make the infant direct its gaze towards the figure,” Magnussen says.

In other words, the researchers had access to quite accurate information about newborn infants’ vision. What was unknown to them, was the practical consequences of this information. Does it, for instance, mean that a newborn baby can see the expression in the face of an adult bending over the baby?

Movement is easier to see

It’s easier to recognise something that moves, than a blurry still photo. The researchers made video recordings of faces that changed between several emotional expressions, and subsequently filtered out the information which we know is unavailable to newborn infants. Then they let adult participants see the videos. The idea was that if the adults were unable to identify a facial expression, then we can certainly assume that a newborn would also be unable to do so.

The adult participants correctly identified facial expressions in three out of four cases when viewing the video at a distance of 30 centimeters. When the distance was increased to 120 centimeters, the participants’ rate of identification were about what one could expect from random responding. This means that the ability to identify facial expressions based on the visual information available to a newborn baby, reaches its limit at a distance of about 30 centimeters.

Filling a gap in the foundation wall

“It’s important to remember that we have only investigated what the newborn infant can actually see, not whether they are able to make sense of it,” Magnussen points out.

Previous attempts to recreate the newborn baby’s visual reality, for instance in students’ textbooks, have usually relied on taking a normal photograph and blur it. Magnussen confesses himself surprised that nobody before them have made use of the detailed information we possess about infants’ visual perception. Hence this is the first time that we have a concrete estimate of the visual information available to the newborn baby.

Magnussen and his colleagues are happy to finally have been able to carry out an idea that had been on the back burner for fifteen years. But as for developing their results further, they will leave that to others.

“All of us behind this study are really involved in different fields of research now. Our position is: Now a piece of the foundation is in place. If anyone else wants to follow up, that’s up to them,” says Magnussen.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Oslo. The original item was written by Kjerstin Gjengedal. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. O. von Hofsten, C. von Hofsten, U. Sulutvedt, B. Laeng, T. Brennen, S. Magnussen. Simulating newborn face perception. Journal of Vision, 2014; 14 (13): 16 DOI: 10.1167/14.13.16

Trees are source for high-capacity, soft batteries

A closeup of the soft battery, created with wood pulp nanocellulose. Credit: Courtesy of Max Hamedi and Wallenberg Wood Science Center
A closeup of the soft battery, created with wood pulp nanocellulose.
Credit: Courtesy of Max Hamedi and Wallenberg Wood Science Center

A method for making elastic high-capacity batteries from wood pulp was unveiled by researchers in Sweden and the US. Using nanocellulose broken down from tree fibres, a team from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stanford University produced an elastic, foam-like battery material that can withstand shock and stress.

“It is possible to make incredible materials from trees and cellulose,” says Max Hamedi, who is a researcher at KTH and Harvard University. One benefit of the new wood-based aerogel material is that it can be used for three-dimensional structures.

“There are limits to how thin a battery can be, but that becomes less relevant in 3D, ” Hamedi says. “We are no longer restricted to two dimensions. We can build in three dimensions, enabling us to fit more electronics in a smaller space.”

A 3D structure enables storage of significantly more power in less space than is possible with conventional batteries, he says.

“Three-dimensional, porous materials have been regarded as an obstacle to building electrodes. But we have proven that this is not a problem. In fact, this type of structure and material architecture allows flexibility and freedom in the design of batteries,” Hamedi says.

The process for creating the material begins with breaking down tree fibres, making them roughly one million times thinner. The nanocellulose is dissolved, frozen and then freeze-dried so that the moisture evaporates without passing through a liquid state.

Then the material goes through a process in which the molecules are stabilised so that the material does not collapse.

“The result is a material that is both strong, light and soft,” Hamedi says. “The material resembles foam in a mattress, though it is a little harder, lighter and more porous. You can touch it without it breaking.”

The finished aerogel can then be treated with electronic properties. “We use a very precise technique, verging on the atomic level, which adds ink that conducts electricity within the aerogel. You can coat the entire surface within.”

In terms of surface area, Hamedi compares the material to a pair of human lungs, which if unfurled could be spread over a football field. Similarly, a single cubic decimeter of the battery material would cover most of a football pitch, he says.

“You can press it as much as you want. While flexible and stretchable electronics already exist, the insensitivity to shock and impact are somewhat new.”

Hamedi says the aerogel batteries could be used in electric car bodies, as well as in clothing, providing the garment has a lining.

The research has been carried out at the Wallenberg Wood Science Center at KTH. KTH Professor Lars Wågberg also has been involved, and his work on aerogels is in the basis for the invention of soft electronics. Another partner is leading battery researcher, Professor Yi Cui from Stanford University.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by KTH The Royal Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Gustav Nyström, Andrew Marais, Erdem Karabulut, Lars Wågberg, Yi Cui & Mahiar M. Hamedi. Self-Assembled Three-Dimensional And Compressible Interdigitated Thin Film Supercapacitors And Batteries. Nature Communications, May 29, 2015 DOI:10.1038/ncomms8259

Synthetic spider silk strong enough for a superhero

Spider silk web Winged Post

Spider silk of fantastical, superhero strength is finally speeding toward commercial reality — at least a synthetic version of it is. The material, which is five times stronger than steel, could be used in products from bulletproof vests to medical implants, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News(C&EN).

Alex Scott, a senior editor at C&EN, notes that spider silk’s impressive strength has been studied for years, and scientists have been trying to make a synthetic version of the super-strong protein in the lab. For other simpler proteins, scientists have been able to insert relevant genes into bacterial DNA, essentially turning the microorganisms into protein factories. But spider silk has not been so easy to churn out. In fact, the challenge has caused big name companies including DuPont and BASF to bow out after several years of investment.

Now, small firms just might have found the right genetic tricks, the article states. They are coaxing not just genetically engineered bacteria but also goats, transgenic silkworms and even alfalfa to produce multiple different versions of synthetic spider and spider-silkworm silks. One company has even taken their iteration to the market — though theirs is a non-fiber kind of spider silk for use in cosmetics. So far, commercialization has been on a modest scale. But the research pipeline for synthetic spider silk is very active, and scientists expect that production is right on the verge of scaling up.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Alex Scott. Spider Silk Poised For Commercial Entry. Chemical & Engineering News, 2014; 92 (9): 24-27 [link]

Sports: ‘Performance enhancing’ drugs decrease performance

Comparisons were made between pre-1932 records (when steroids became available) and post, and it was found that the times, distances and other results did not improve as expected in the doping era. Credit: © berc / Fotolia
Comparisons were made between pre-1932 records (when steroids became available) and post, and it was found that the times, distances and other results did not improve as expected in the doping era.
Credit: © berc / Fotolia

Doping is damaging the image of sport without benefiting athletes’ results, according to University of Adelaide research.

Researchers from the University’s School of Medical Sciences collated sporting records (including Olympic and world records) of male and female athletes across 26 sports, between 1886 and 2012. Comparisons were made between pre-1932 records (when steroids became available) and post, and it was found that the times, distances and other results did not improve as expected in the doping era.

The findings were published in the Journal of Human Sport and Exercise.

“The effects of doping in modern sports are far and widespread, encompassing not only the athletes and sporting teams involved, but also sponsors and fans,” says Dr Aaron Hermann, lead author on the paper.

“This research looked at 26 of the most controlled and some of the most popular sports, including various track and field events like 100m sprints, hurdles, high jump, long jump and shot-put, as well as some winter sports like speed skating and ski jumping.

“The average best life records for ‘doped’ top athletes did not differ significantly from those considered not to have doped. Even assuming that not all cases of doping were discovered during this time, the practice of doping did not improve sporting results as commonly believed,” he says.

Dr Hermann says these results not only demonstrate the negative impact of doping on sports results but may also show that doping is more widespread than initially thought.

“The 2000 Olympics gold medal result for the women’s 100m sprint was even poorer than the gold medal obtained in the 1968 Olympics, the first year of doping testing in the Olympics,” Dr Hermann says.

“This research demonstrates that doping practices are not improving results and in fact, may be harming them — seemingly indicating that ‘natural’ human abilities would outperform the potentially doping ‘enhanced’ athletes — and that in some sports, doping may be highly prevalent,” he says.

Dr Hermann hopes these findings will change elite athletes’ and junior sports participants’ perceptions on doping.

“The success rate of doping tests may be as little as 4% and some anti-doping initiatives to date have been very ineffective,” says Dr Hermann.

“Doping may produce a minor improvement in one aspect of performance but in other areas, it may have a detrimental effect, which outweighs the positive.

“In many sports, there are perceptions that an athlete needs to dope in order to remain competitive and I hope these findings will confront those ill-informed views, and help stamp out doping in sport,” he says.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Adelaide.Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Aaron Hermann, Maciej Henneberg. Long term effects of doping in sporting records: 1886-2012. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise, 2014; 9 (3): 727 DOI: 10.14198/jhse.2014.93.05

Just like humans, dolphins have complex social networks

Through intensive photo-ID surveys conducted along the Indian River Lagoon, which were carried out over a six- and-a-half year period, researchers from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University were able to learn about the association patterns as well as movement behavior and habitat preferences of some 200 individual dolphins.

They may not be on Facebook or Twitter, but dolphins do, in fact, form highly complex and dynamic networks of friends, according to a recent study by scientists at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at Florida Atlantic University. Dolphins are known for being highly social animals, and a team of researchers at HBOI took a closer look at the interactions between bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) and discovered how they mingle and with whom they spend their time.

Through intensive photo-ID surveys conducted along the IRL, which were carried out over a six- and-a-half year period, the researchers were able to learn about the association patterns as well as movement behavior and habitat preferences of some 200 individual dolphins.

In a paper recently published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, the team found that individual dolphins exhibited both preference and avoidance behavior — so just like humans, they have dolphins they like and associate with and ones they avoid. The study also found that IRL dolphins clustered into groups of associated animals, or “communities,” that tended to occupy discrete core areas along the north-south axis of the lagoon system.

“One of the more unique aspects of our study was the discovery that the physical dimensions of the habitat, the long, narrow lagoon system itself, influenced the spatial and temporal dynamics of dolphin association patterns,” said Elizabeth Murdoch Titcomb, research biologist at HBOI who worked on the study with Greg O’Corry-Crowe, Ph.D., associate research professor at HBOI; Marilyn Mazzoil, senior research associate at HBOI, and Elizabeth Hartel. “For example, communities that occupy the narrowest stretches of the Indian River Lagoon have the most compact social networks, similar to humans who live in small towns and have fewer people with whom to interact.”

In addition to providing a unique glimpse into dolphin societies, this novel study provides important insight and knowledge on how dolphins organize themselves, who they interact with and who they avoid, as well as when and where. It also gives scientists and resource managers the roadmap needed to understand how dolphin populations perceive and use their environment, and how social networks will influence information transfer and potentially breeding behavior and disease transmission.

The IRL is a 156-mile long estuary located on Florida’s east coast. The lagoon is long and narrow and composed of three distinct water bodies; Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River, and the Indian River. There are five inlets and one lock (Cape Canaveral lock) connecting the IRL to the Atlantic Ocean. The estuary ranges in width from a few meters to 9 kilometers and averages in depth at approximately 1.5 meters with maximum depths at around 4 meters. In 1990, the United States Environmental Protection Agency designated the IRL as an “Estuary of National Significance” to help preserve one of the most biodiverse estuaries in North America. Researchers from HBOI have been conducting photo identification studies of IRL bottlenose dolphins since 1996, identifying more than 1,700 individual dolphins. Among the findings enabled by this data is identification of a distinct IRL stock now breeding its third generation since the study began, and insights into breeding and social behavior.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Florida Atlantic University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Elizabeth Murdoch Titcomb, Greg O’Corry-Crowe, Elizabeth F. Hartel, Marilyn S. Mazzoil. Social communities and spatiotemporal dynamics of association patterns in estuarine bottlenose dolphins. Marine Mammal Science, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/mms.12222

Academic Achievement Vs. Family Income

 

In middle-schoolers, neuroscientists find differences in brain structures where knowledge is stored. Credit: Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT
In middle-schoolers, neuroscientists find differences in brain structures where knowledge is stored.
Credit: Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

 

Many years of research have shown that for students from lower-income families, standardized test scores and other measures of academic success tend to lag behind those of wealthier students.

A new study led by researchers at MIT and Harvard University offers another dimension to this so-called “achievement gap”: After imaging the brains of high- and low-income students, they found that the higher-income students had thicker brain cortex in areas associated with visual perception and knowledge accumulation. Furthermore, these differences also correlated with one measure of academic achievement — performance on standardized tests.

“Just as you would expect, there’s a real cost to not living in a supportive environment. We can see it not only in test scores, in educational attainment, but within the brains of these children,” says MIT’s John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and one of the study’s authors. “To me, it’s a call to action. You want to boost the opportunities for those for whom it doesn’t come easily in their environment.”

This study did not explore possible reasons for these differences in brain anatomy. However, previous studies have shown that lower-income students are more likely to suffer from stress in early childhood, have more limited access to educational resources, and receive less exposure to spoken language early in life. These factors have all been linked to lower academic achievement.

In recent years, the achievement gap in the United States between high- and low-income students has widened, even as gaps along lines of race and ethnicity have narrowed, says Martin West, an associate professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an author of the new study.

“The gap in student achievement, as measured by test scores between low-income and high-income students, is a pervasive and longstanding phenomenon in American education, and indeed in education systems around the world,” he says. “There’s a lot of interest among educators and policymakers in trying to understand the sources of those achievement gaps, but even more interest in possible strategies to address them.”

Allyson Mackey, a postdoc at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, is the lead author of the paper, which appears the journal Psychological Science. Other authors are postdoc Amy Finn; graduate student Julia Leonard; Drew Jacoby-Senghor, a postdoc at Columbia Business School; and Christopher Gabrieli, chair of the nonprofit Transforming Education.

Explaining the gap

The study included 58 students — 23 from lower-income families and 35 from higher-income families, all aged 12 or 13. Low-income students were defined as those who qualify for a free or reduced-price school lunch.

The researchers compared students’ scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) with brain scans of a region known as the cortex, which is key to functions such as thought, language, sensory perception, and motor command.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they discovered differences in the thickness of parts of the cortex in the temporal and occipital lobes, whose primary roles are in vision and storing knowledge. Those differences correlated to differences in both test scores and family income. In fact, differences in cortical thickness in these brain regions could explain as much as 44 percent of the income achievement gap found in this study.

Previous studies have also shown brain anatomy differences associated with income, but did not link those differences to academic achievement.

In most other measures of brain anatomy, the researchers found no significant differences. The amount of white matter — the bundles of axons that connect different parts of the brain — did not differ, nor did the overall surface area of the brain cortex.

The researchers point out that the structural differences they did find are not necessarily permanent. “There’s so much strong evidence that brains are highly plastic,” says Gabrieli, who is also a member of the McGovern Institute. “Our findings don’t mean that further educational support, home support, all those things, couldn’t make big differences.”

In a follow-up study, the researchers hope to learn more about what types of educational programs might help to close the achievement gap, and if possible, investigate whether these interventions also influence brain anatomy.

“Over the past decade we’ve been able to identify a growing number of educational interventions that have managed to have notable impacts on students’ academic achievement as measured by standardized tests,” West says. “What we don’t know anything about is the extent to which those interventions — whether it be attending a very high-performing charter school, or being assigned to a particularly effective teacher, or being exposed to a high-quality curricular program — improves test scores by altering some of the differences in brain structure that we’ve documented, or whether they had those effects by other means.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original article was written by Anne Trafton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

ActiveGuard mattress liners reduce bed bugs

This is a bed bug, Cimex lectularius. Ohio State University entomologists found that ActiveGuard mattress liners reduce feeding and egg laying, even in bed bug populations that are resistant to pyrethroids. Credit: Gary Alpert, Harvard University, Bugwood.org, CC BY-NC 3.0 US
This is a bed bug, Cimex lectularius. Ohio State University entomologists found that ActiveGuard mattress liners reduce feeding and egg laying, even in bed bug populations that are resistant to pyrethroids.
Credit: Gary Alpert, Harvard University, Bugwood.org, CC BY-NC 3.0 US

 

Products that claim to control bed bugs have been on the market for years. Some work, and some don’t.

Dr. Susan Jones, a professor of entomology at Ohio State University, knows this as well as anyone, after having tested many such products for years. While there have been some flops in the past, she and her colleagues have found one that looks promising as a new tool for bed bug control programs. The results of their research are published in an article in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Mattress liners sold under the trade name ActiveGuard are impregnated with an insecticide called permethrin, which is considered safe for humans and other mammals. Permethrin — which belongs to a class of pesticides called pyrethroids — is found in medical creams to treat scabies, shampoos for head lice, and it’s the active ingredient in some flea-control products for dogs and cats.

In recent years, however, some bed bug populations have developed resistance to some pyrethroids and related pesticides, making them less lethal. But for Jones and her team, killing bed bugs is only one part in the effort to control them.

“Death doesn’t have to be the end-point that we measure in studies,” Dr. Jones said. “Physical or behavioral changes can significantly affect the impact of bed bugs before death even occurs.”

One of these things is fecundity — the bed bugs’ ability to lay eggs and reproduce. In order to lay eggs, female bed bugs must first have a bloodmeal, so the Ohio researchers set out to test ActiveGuard’s effects on bed bug feeding.

“Feeding in bed bugs and fecundity are very tightly coupled,” Jones said. “If a female bed bug doesn’t feed, then she is unlikely to lay eggs, and if she doesn’t lay eggs, then the life cycle is interrupted.”

Surprisingly, they found the ActiveGuard fabric to be extremely effective, even in bed bug populations that were resistant to pyrethroids. Bed bugs that were exposed to the fabric for ten minutes were significantly less likely to even attempt feeding compared to those on untreated fabric, and the majority were unable to feed successfully. Even when they were successful, their bloodmeals were only half the size of bed bugs that were not exposed to the fabric.

Even more surprising, out of 52 females tested, only one laid a single egg.

“We were totally shocked, and we were also shocked by how quickly we started seeing these sublethal effects,” Jones said. “After just one minute of being on the fabric, their probing behavior was reduced, and by ten minutes they just weren’t feeding much. If a female bed bug doesn’t feed, she doesn’t lay eggs.”

The researchers do not yet know how or why the ActiveGuard fabric affects female bed bug feeding and fecundity — it may disorient or irritate them, but at this point that is only speculation.

“We are still trying to figure out what is going on,” Jones said. “That will be a future paper.”

Previous research by Dr. Jones showed that ActiveGuard was very effective at killing some bed bug populations, but was less so with ones that were resistant to pyrethroids. The results of this study suggest that even sublethal exposure can have far-reaching consequences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Entomological Society of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Susan C. Jones , Joshua L. Bryant , Frances S. Sivakoff. Sublethal Effects of ActiveGuard Exposure on Feeding Behavior and Fecundity of the Bed Bug (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Journal of Medical Entomology, March 2015 DOI:10.1093/jme/tjv008

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