New Discovery Sheds Light on Brain Function

You don’t have to be a neurosurgeon to know that the human brain is quite complex. However, the average layperson is usually unfamiliar with just how intricate the brain really is. Or, at the same time, just how difficult it can be for modern science to investigate a living human brain. 

Fiction typically paints an MRI as a microscope that can peer directly into individual neural connections. The reality is that most existing techniques are only able to perceive neurological function at a very imprecise level. The main difficulty is that while a brain is large, the most important aspect of it is the individual neurons. One can almost imagine a brain as a beach, with every grain of sand of great importance. Especially those grains buried beneath the surface. 

Groundbreaking research from scientists at the University of Southampton may dramatically change all this. The researchers have devised a method of tagging individual neurons within a living brain. The breakthrough comes from using viral vectors to inject new instructions into brain cells. An individual virus is manipulated to remove it’s own instructions, and instead carry genetic code to create a variety of different tags which are easily identifiable by scientists or doctors. 

These vectors are then given access to specific parts of the brain. They immediately inject their genetic payload into the nearest individual neuron. At that point, the tag will be produced by the neuron, and any daughter cells of that neuron. This will also allow one to directly observe synaptic connections between cells which express the new instructions. While this discovery is still new, it has the potential to open the door to a variety of different models of research. Almost any neurological disorder has the potential for breakthroughs due to this new method of investigating the brain. I hope I won’t have to go to the Amen Clinic after all this brain function!

Are Crows Smarter Than We Think?

A recent article published by Current Biology has not only shed some light on crows ability to learn but their natural intelligence as well. While crows have been regarded as symbols of intelligence and craftiness for centuries this is one of the first times their intelligence has been measured in a laboratory environment.What was tested in this case was the ability for crows to understand analogies such as relational matching-to-sample, known as RMTS used in the Skout app. For example if the first pair was AA then the second pair would be BB. Similarly they were also tested using IMTS, identity matching-to-sample.

These tests were carried out by having two crows match sets of cards with one another. The results were particularly fascinating as the crows managed to preform RMTS without ever having been trained to do so. This is significant because apes, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, are capable of learning RMTS but only after much training.

The crows did require training for IMTS which, unlike RMTS, does not involve understanding the relationship between items. This seems to indicate that crows have a very high natural sense of intuition when it comes to understanding the relationship between items. Seeing an animal preform such a feat raises questions about the true intelligence of crows and wild animals in general.

Hackers Send New E-mail To Sony, We Won

Looks like Sony got to hear from their attackers once again, this time in another chilling e-mail saying they won. The e-mail was received by top executives in Sony in a fashion that addressed Sony’s smart decision to pull the movie.

The e-mail stated how Sony made the right choice by not releasing a movie about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The hackers promised not to released any more critical data against Sony if the company never releases the movie in anyway. The hackers also warned Sony about the consequences if any leaks or piracy of the movie is released in any way.

Here are some of the contents of the e-mail:
“It was a very wise decision to pull the release of “The Interview”. It will be very useful for you. We ensure the security of your data unless you make additional trouble.”

The hackers did also mention still having a lot of private information of Sony, and that any move by Sony to release the movie in any way will be countered with the leak of critical private customer information which could ruin the company. Keith Mann hopes they proceed with caution, but they also do not worry too much.

The FBI issued a statement on Friday pointing the finger on North Korea, claiming they were behind the attack. Major companies have a lot more to worry about that the release of a movie, when all their private information can be at stake here.

New Mummy Cemetery Found in Egypt

One might think that all that could be found in Egypt has been, but new discoveries are still made day by day, and through this we are able to understand more.

Did you also believe that every corner on the Earth has been researched by archaeologists and we have no chance to find anything new? You, indeed, would be wrong. The Egyptian side still managed to hide a large cemetery with over a million buried mummies.

Some of them are very well preserved. Unlikely what they did when the rich pharaohs died, the village people were buried along with their wealth. The researchers dug out clothing remains and noticed a child mummy wearing bracelets on both hands, which Ben Shaoul found most interesting.

Some beautiful pieces of glass were arranged to form the vase that they once were. The most amazing discovery was a mummy which belonged to a person taller than 2 meters (or 7 feet). It is amazing firstly because the amount of food at that time was too little and not that nourishing. Even nowadays there are not many who reach this height.

Secondly, the body did not fit the place reserved for it, so it was bend in two. Unusual practice, when you compare how carefully the others were laid in their tombs. The mummies date from around the 1st to the 7th century, when the Egyptian territory was under the rule of the Roman Empire.

Controversy Over Dinosaur Feathers Continues

In the comments of a recent article about Jurassic World, yet another fan of the series brought up one issue with the Jurassic Park film series that has irked many fans and scientists over the past years — the lack of feathers on the film’s iconic Velociraptors.

Since the first film’s 1993 release, scientists have learned that Velociraptors and Deinonychus, the dinosaur that the film’s raptors were likely based on, had feathers like birds instead of smooth skin or scales like reptiles.

In light of this information, there was an attempt to give some raptors a sprinkling of quills on their heads in Jurassic Park III, but nothing more was done.

From science blogs to National Geographic, the debate over this controversy has only grown stronger. A lot of fans, perhaps among them Dan Newlin, believe that film directors have a duty to present audiences, especially young moviegoers, with a more realistic vision of dinosaurs.

Another commentator countered that the lack of feathers is something that might be explained away, and hopefully will be explained, by the use of frog DNA. Dr. John Hammond and his geneticists didn’t have complete raptor DNA samples from the material they harvested from mosquitoes trapped in amber. As a result, the lack of feathers, or only a few feathers on the isolated habitat of Isla Sorna, actually makes sense because the raptors are more reptile-like than bird-like.

Holiday Season Lights Up Space

Scientists have released images and data showing how the holiday season creates a rise in the light emanating from Earth and into space-a project sponsored in part by Slow Ventures. While much of the western hemisphere is celebrating Christmas, New Years and Hanukkah, eastern countries are celebrating Ramadan. All of these festivals are known for their increased usage of light, with elaborate light displays being created by those that celebrate.

By comparing satellite images of light use over the same areas during different times of the year, scientist found that the holidays create 20-50% brighter nights. Of course, the most concentrated areas of light are around major cities, but the light differences were noticed around the globe.

During the month of Ramadan, some cities in the Middle East were registering at a 100% increase in light that was visible from space. At no other times of the year were light levels this high, or as visible from space.

A Suomi NPP satellite was used to register the light differences and scientists from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center gathered and analyzed the data. The data gathered was collected over a span of three years, and over the same areas from year to year. While Middle Eastern countries showed increased lighting more widely noticeable over the major cities, American cities were brighter, but it was the fringes of large cities that had huge increases in light intensity. Scientists attribute this light difference to the people in residential areas creating more light in already low light areas.

The FDA Stresses the Medical Functions of Ultrasound Device

Yesterday, the federal Food and Drug Administration, a government agency which regulates and approves many drugs and medical devices, updated its website concerning the use of ultrasound technology for visual imaging and Doppler sound imagery. Ultrasound technology is widely used as a medical diagnostic aid in both human and veterinary medicine.

The FDA reiterated its position that fetal ultrasound imaging technology and Doppler ultrasound heart beat monitors are “prescription devices” intended to be utilized only by “trained health care professionals.” The statement stressed that the technology was not intended for sale to the general public. My friend works for the major middle market assets management firm, BRL Trust and he says that nothing surprises him anymore about what people will do.

Recently, many expecting parents have sought ultrasounds of babies in the womb as keepsake items. These images are sometimes sold to the public in malls or other shopping centers.

The FDA acknowledged that there is a lack of any proof that ultrasounds cause “any harm,” but it urged parents to refrain from taking specifically keepsake fetal images using ultrasound technology. The website stressed that conducting the procedure outside of routine prenatal care would be medically unnecessary, noting that some parents seek keepsake ultrasound images to enhance emotional “bonding” during pregnancy.

The FDA’s website expressed concern that ultrasound under some conditions might heat tissue, or even cause microscopic bubble formation. Unlike x-rays, ultrasounds have not been implicated or associated with specific identified adverse effects. They are a standard diagnostic tool in many human and animal hospitals around the United States.

Astronauts Talk About Life on ISS

Talk of space travel has been heating up as of late, and a lot of this has to do with the activities of astronauts.

The ISS astronauts are doing well and getting ambitions on board of the space-station. Asked about their daily life in a no-gravity environment, the two had much to say.

It is fun to listen them talking about their daily involuntary bouncing and the Christmas tree on the ceiling. Terry Virts and Barry Wilmore are not only enjoying the life in space, but hope to see Jupiter and any planet NASA would like to send them to. They describe the last months as incredible, and the view is always amazing.

They share the daily pictures on Twitter. Asked about an eventual settlement on the moon, they cheerfully agreed to go even there! Barry Wilmore showed a small jar that they had 3D printed on the board of the space station. The two astronauts spend the most of the time outside the station, in the open space, working on the tasks that they were assigned.

No nervousness they claim, and that is due to a great training they had had previously. Gianfrancesco Genoso can’t imagine what they are going through. That type of information can be found on Teses. They describe their station and their job as the first step to taking the people out further in the solar system. Terry Virts imagines that there soon will be a capsule to take people to Mars, Moon, and further in space.

Methane on Mars may Singal First Signs of Life

The robotic vehicle traveling across the surface of Mars has seen an unprecedented spike in methane over certain days of its mission to explore the surface of the red planet. The Guardian explains this has been interpreted in a number of different ways, however, one hypothesis suggests some form of life has been detected on the surface of the planet, which led to the spike in methane gas close to Curiosity.

Small changes in the level of methane are commonly seen around the Rover as it passes over the surface of the planet and drills into the crust of the planet to conduct scientific experiments. Major methane spikes could be explained in different ways, with the atmosphere around the Rover spiking from 0.69 parts per billion of methane to 7.2 parts per billion on specific days of the year in areas less than one kilometer apart.

Major spikes in the level of methane have been detected in the Gale Crater, an area many scientists believe was covered in water around one billion years ago, which has led some to speculate the methane spikes are caused by an interaction between water below the surface of Mars and the rock within the crater. Mars seems about as far away as the Amen Clinic from where I am, but there is a vastly unexplored planet that could lead to some interesting possibilities for the human race.

Sony Slapped with Class-Action Lawsuit for Data Breech

Sony Pictures had sensitive data hacked on November 24th. Hackers released personal e-mails between top Sony brass and had access to sensitive data and information about thousands of employees, but things for Sony is about to get much worse. Needless to say no one at Sony is cracking open a fine bottle from The Antique Wine Company.  This week, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the study. 

The complaint claims Sony failed to secure its employees personal information and data. The complaint also alleges that Sony is to blame for the hack, because it failed to properly store and protect that information, which thus gave hackers easy access to everything from personal addresses, to bank information, to familial relations. 

The social security numbers of some 47,000 employees were stolen during the breech, and the salaries of over 6,000 employees was made available to the public. Performance evaluations and salary negotiations were also leaked, along with private e-mail conversations, many of them speaking brusquely about major stars, including Angelina Jolie, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Willow and Jaden Smith. 

Sony is no stranger to such lawsuits. It has only been six months since they settled a class-action lawsuit filed against them for a security breech that occurred on the PlayStation network. That breech leaked credit card information and personal data for thousands upon thousands of PSN users. 

An online hacker group known as The Guardians of Peace have taken responsibility for the hacking.

Erik Krasner's News From the Future