Primates had a very small brain, but a very accurate smelling sense, according to new findings.
A recently discovered 15-million-year-old monkey skull reveals primates’ brain complexity after scientists studied its bone structure with X-rays. They have, thus discovered that the Victoriapithecus species of primates were much cleverer than it was initially believed and their smell sense was highly developed.
Scientists at Department of Evolutionary Anthropology from the Max Plank Institute have recently subjected a 15-million-year-old monkey skull to a series of tests. The skull was first discovered in 1997, but scientists believed there were still many useful pieces of information they could withdraw if they used the proper means of investigation.
As a consequence, researchers used an X-ray based program to reproduce the brain of the primates. The computer-generated images indicated that monkeys belonging to the Victoriapithecus species had a very small brain. Its volume was estimated at approximately 36 cubic centimeters, that is, a lot smaller than the brain of other primates.
Fred Spoor, co-author of the study, has used the comparison between a plum and an orange to better illustrate the size difference between the two brains. Nevertheless, the scientist has concluded that the Victoriapithecus brain was incredibly complex in spite of its reduced size.
Further 3D representations of the brain have also suggested that brain presented many wrinkles and folds. Moreover, the olfactory bulb, which is responsible for smell perception and interpretation was almost three times bigger than scientists initially believed.
Based on this new finding, researchers were able to conclude that Victoriapithecus exemplars had a highly developed smell sense. By comparing the 15-million-year-old skull to the brain structure of modern apes, Spoor and colleagues have noticed that living apes have a much bigger brain.
Modern day apes are said to have grown their brains larger as their vision got better. In turn, their olfactory bulb is now much smaller, showing that primates can no longer smell as well as they did in their ancient times.
Even though monkeys belonging to modern species traded their smelling sense for an improved vision, Spoor believes Victoriapithecus are different. He is convinced that these exemplars have maintained both an accurate vision and smelling sense, based on the information he has obtained through X-ray analyses.
The new study proves that brains don’t necessarily have to be big in order to be complex. Previous studies conducted on an 18,000-year-old human skull have strengthened this belief because in spite of their small brains, Homo floresiensis were still capable of carrying out many complex activities such as lightening fire and procuring food.
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Seattle has joined the group of U.S. cities which have banned smoking in parks.
Following in the footsteps of other U.S. cities, Seattle has banned smoking in parks in an attempt to protect the environment. The decision pleased non-smokers, but some citizens claim the new rule will not be observed by all inhabitants, especially by those who do not have a home.
Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco have all banned smoking years ago. This time, it was Seattle’s Parks and Recreation Administration that issued the smoking ban, claiming that citizens are entitled to breath fresh air, at least when they stay in the parks.
Under the motto “Smell flowers, not smoke”, the campaign aims to preserve the natural environment and to provide a healthy playground for children.
The spokesperson of the administration, David Takami, told the press that initially, visitors were not allowed to smoke within the 25-feet range of other park visitors. The present rule has been expanded and visitors are no longer allowed to smoke when in parks, regardless of whether alone or in the company of other people.
The campaign will first be made public through signs prohibiting visitors to light up cigarettes. Park rangers will also take care that the new regulation is being observed.
If people are found smoking cigarettes while in parks, they will be first notified by park rangers that they did not act according to the law. Should smokers continue to neglect police officers’ suggestions, they will receive a trespassing notice, which might prevent them from entering the park on a year-long period.
Takami reassured the press that smokers will not get fined or arrested if they refuse to observe the law. However, park rangers are entitled to arrest a person, if the latter becomes violent or aggressive upon authorities’ reprimands.
The Parks and Recreation Administration described the current campaign as an attempt to educate people on how to keep the natural environment clean. Moreover, they hope the ban will make people conscious to the potential health problems that may arise from smoking.
Some citizens and homeless people have been highly disturbed by the new rule. In their opinion, the new smoke-ban is absurd and it is bound to fail because the administration will not be able to keep an eye on the visitors.
They claim homeless people will be the most affected as they will not be able to carry on with their regular activities. To that the administration has argued that homeless people will be able to carry out their regular activities except for smoking.
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Are you bothered by the pictures and statuses that show up on your Facebook’s News Feed? Do you find yourself constantly reaching for the “Hide this post” option? Thanks to a Brazilian company who created an alternative “sin-free” social network, you might not have to anymore.
Feeling they are being led into sin by the social media they are surfing, an Evangelical Christian organization has decided to take matter into its own hands. The end product is a social network called Facegloria, where people can surf online profiles without fear of temptation.
One of the creators, Atilla Barros, web designer, gave a statement explaining that Facegloria is an alternative to the violence and explicit content that is nowadays flooding everyone’s Facebook account, whether they like it or not. He added that the new social network’s aim is to create an environment where people “could talk about God, love and spread His word.”
With its light-blue hues, Facegloria share a certain resemblance to Facebook, but differences are not difficult to spot. People no longer “like” pictures or statuses, but instead are offered the possibility of clicking “Amen.”
There’s a 600-word list of swear words that are forbidden on Facegloria besides sexual or violent content of any kind, as creators hope to offer users a better social experience. A group of 20 volunteers are currently in charge of monitoring activity on the website.
Barros is positive about the popularity of his network he has described to be “morally and technically better than Facebook.” He might be right to dream of greatness as a staggering 100,000 people have already signed up in just one month.
He added that he hopes all Evangelical Christians will eventually switch to Facegloria, and reach 10 million users in Brazil in a matter of two years. Facegloria also has a mobile phone app that has helped ease access to the younger demographic.
In the future, the app will become available outside Brazil’s borders, as the creators have bought the Facegloria domain in “all possible languages”. The population of Brazil is still predominantly Catholic, but Evangelical Christians has definitely gained some traction with an estimated 42 million followers of the 202 million total population.
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Like all prehistoric animals, Woolly Mammoths have been fascinating the scientific community as well as the general public pretty much ever since their discovery.
These animals lived comfortably in freezing temperatures, adapted to dark winters, didn’t mind arid environments and could even fight off Saber-Tooth Tigers. They died off roughly 10.000 years ago, but are they going to stay dead?
A team of researchers from the University of Chicago and from Penn State recently conducted a study and found the answers to several long asked questions, among which there are two standouts – “How did the Woolly Mammoth survive such extreme temperatures?” and “Could they be brought back from extinction?”. The answer to the last one is yes, of course.
For their study, published earlier this week, on Thursday (July 2, 2015), in the journal Cell Reports, the team of experts looked at DNA samples from the Ice Age creature, as well as DNA samples from their close, modern-day relatives, African Elephants and Asian Elephants.
The genetic samples for the Woolly Mammoth were taken from two specimens discovered in northeastern Siberia, one fossil being 18.500 years old, while the other is 60.000 years old.
The results showed that unlike Elephants, the prehistoric animals benefited from genes that aided them in gaining fat, developing skin and hair, tolerating harsh temperatures and evolve insulin biology.
Vincent Lynch, co-author and evolutionary biologist associated with the University of Chicago, gave a statement saying that these changes make sense because of what the researchers already knew about the species – they had long, thick hair, large fat deposits, and used to live in really cold environments. Insulin signaling played a very important role in their fat biology as insulin is responsible for regulating the amount of sugar in the blood that is converted into energy and fat.
Overall, the researchers found that there are roughly 1.600 genes which have changed their function completely when transitioning from the Woolly Mammoth to the modern-day elephant, and 26 that have lost function completely.
Then the team moved on to more pressing, innovative matters, such as resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth equivalent of the gene known as TRPV3. They transplanted it into human cells and noticed that it produced a protein which favored cold weather to warm weather.
What the most remarkable part of the project is, is that the researches have admitted it would be very easy to clone the Woolly Mammoth thanks to their comprehensive genome sequencing. They say the process should be very similar to that seen in the blockbuster Jurassic World, and that the technology is not far at all from being developed.
Webb Miller, a biologist from Penn State University, gave a statement of his own, informing that “If you want to build a woolly mammoth, we’re showing some places to start. But that had nothing to do with why we studied mammoths”.
The Woolly Mammoth fossils discovered so far in Europe, Asia and North America suggest that the animal was still roaming the Earth as early as 4.000 years ago. To this day it is unknown whether the creature died off to not being able to adapt to adapt to the warming climate, or if human hunting is what drove it into the ground.
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Mother-to-child HIV transmission is one of the most tragic ways of contracting the disease, which is why Cuba must be that much more appreciated for its achievement of becoming the first country to completely eradicate it.
International public health officials hope that their accomplishment will encourage and inspire other governments to invest more in campaigns or policies that would lead them closer to the same goal.
It was once only a pipe dream to eradicate the virus, but the idea had increasingly gained traction among world leaders, which eventually led to Cuba achieving the feat.
Margaret Chan, director-general of World Health Organization, is the one to have announced its accomplishment, calling it a “major victory” and a key milestone in the fight against HIV and STDs. She added that an AIDS-free generation is now officially possible, encouraging other nations to follow through.
Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS’s executive director, gave a statement saying that Cuba has restored the world’s faith in the possibility of ending the AIDS epidemic. When the outbreak started, health officials were affected the most by the sheer number of HIV-positive babies who were born to HIV-positive women.
Nowadays, administering antiretrovirals to both the mother and the child has helped doctors to curb the risk of transmission to just over 1 percent. That’s how the number of HIV-positive babies born every year has seen such a dramatic drop; in 2009, there were 400,000 confirmed cases, while in 2013, that number was cut almost in half, reaching 240,000.
Unfortunately, a lot of the babies being born with HIV come from mothers who live in low-income countries, where treatments and basic medical services are often out of reach for the common women.
In 2010, Cuba joined a project conducted by the Pan American Health Organization in collaboration with WHO, whose efforts were focused on eliminating mother-to-child transmission of syphilis and HIV.
The initiative intended for all the countries involved to increase access to prenatal care, by making it more widely available. At the same time, both mothers and babies were offered testing for the diseases and treatment, when it was needed.
The Cuban government implemented these services as a part of the population’s health system. Therefore, the country’s efforts paid off when WHO declared that in 2013, only two children were born HIV-positive.
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A morbid report has recently been published offering detailed information on the global impact of sugar-sweetened beverages. Researchers’ focus was on the estimated number of cases where sugary drinks caused disabilities and deaths, mostly due to diabetes, cancers, and heart disease in 2010.
Senior author Gitanjali Singh, an assistant professor at Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Tufts University, pointed out the fact that eight of the 20 countries with the highest number of deaths related to sweetened beverages were located in Latin America and the Caribbean – showing just how high the intake is in this part of the world.
Mexico occupied the infamous number one spot on the list, attributed an estimated 24,000 total deaths due to sugar-sweetened beverages. Unsurprisingly, the United States came in a close second, having a lower rate (126 deaths per million adults compared to 405 deaths per million adults in Mexico), but a higher estimated total deaths of 25,000.
For a drink to be considered in the category of sugar-sweetened beverages it has to contain at least 50 kcal per 8oz serving; this included fruit sodas, sweetened iced teas, energy/sports drinks, or homemade sugary drinks (who doesn’t love a delicious fresca?).
This is the first international study to centralize such massive data; the estimates are the results of combining 62 dietary surveys conducted between 1980 and 2010, where around 612,000 people from 51 countries took part.
Even though the impact of sweetened beverages varies greatly from one country to another, the total death toll each year is shocking. Researchers estimate that consuming such drinks in excess has led to roughly 133,000 deaths related to diabetes, 45,000 deaths to cardiovascular disease, and 6,450 deaths to cancer. And these numbers are estimated for the year of 2010 alone.
In order to illustrate the difference, researchers pointed to the fact that deaths of Japanese over 65-years-old covered less than one percent of the global death toll, while Mexican adults younger than 45 accounted for 30 percent of deaths.
The harsh reality is that around 76 percent of the international death toll related to sweetened beverages happens in countries ranging from middle- to low -income. What’s the most important is monitoring the health impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on the younger population, because they make up the larger sector of the workforce in the majority of countries.
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After thousands of man-hours invested in the feature of facial recognizing, both Google and Facebook have gotten really good at it. Their algorithms have become so advanced that your face doesn’t even have to show up in the picture; the back of your head will soon be enough for Facebook to know it’s you.
When it comes to facial-recognition algorithms, Facebook has become a leading organization, with such innovative technology that it can now identify people in pictures as well as humans can.
With an astonishing 97 percent accuracy, Facebook’s algorithm dubbed DeepFace (really, Facebook?) can tell if it’s you in two different pictures, without any other source than the pictures themselves. Not even FBI’s identification system has such good scoring in accuracy.
DeepFace has received its training on one of the largest facial databases which incorporates more than 4 million facial pictures of roughly 4,000 individuals. Therefore, it’s gotten really good at analyzing faces by turning them into 3D models: this step is important, because it allows the algorithm to recognize the same face from different angles and under various lighting conditions.
According to an article on Facebook’s research, more than 120 million parameters are involved in this kind of facial recognition algorithms. But Facebook wants to take things to the next level: identifying people even when their faces are visible. In order to do this, the algorithm is trained to focus on body shape, hairstyle, clothing and posture.
With this upgraded algorithm, Facebook reported that the accuracy has reached 83 percent in cases of pictures of people whose faces aren’t showing. So the public wouldn’t freak out hearing the news, the giant tech company researched and developed the tool by using Flickr shots and not actual Facebook photos.
While Facebook’s algorithm is definitely impressive, Google has not been idle either. A new feature for Google Photos was announced last month and it has left people with their mouths wide open.
It is absolutely crazy what Google Photos’ search engine can do; not only can it differentiate between pictures of cats and dogs, but also search based on dog breeds. And this is the least of its capabilities.
Photos can also be searched and categorized based on a key word or an adjective that can describe the images you’re looking for. A demo showed that typing in “delicious” in the search bar promptly returns results of pictures of food and beverages.
Recognizing cats, dogs and food is all fun and games, but even when it comes to people Google Photos delivers. The search engine makes it clear that your searches can include “People, Places and Things,” and when you click the More link on the People option, you’ll have a list of all the people you’ve ever taken a photo of.
Such news advancing the recognition capabilities are becoming increasingly worrying – even for people who think nothing of the NSA’s blatant privacy invasion. There are plenty of applications for Facebook’s and Google’s algorithms outside identifying people in pictures, and the government would certainly be delighted to get its hands on either of them.
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Researchers have long known that rats have a very similar physiology to that of humans and thus make good test subjects for various cures and drugs meant to help the medical community better understand a condition and hopefully spark some advancements in the field.
But a recent study has shown that they’re much more similar to human beings than just that. In fact, Pixar might have been closer to reality than anyone ever thought when they made Ratatouille. It turns out that fictional rat Remy is not the only member of the species to dream about the things he wants to do and the places he wants to visit. Real life rats do that too.
Researchers at the University College London reveal that, during their tests, rats who were shown a treat that they were unable to physically reach, later dreamed about how they could reach it after falling asleep. Essentially their hopes and dreams of reaching the snack manifested in their sleep.
The process is not only similar to what the human brain does while we’re asleep, but it can also help better explain the phenomenon.
Hugo Spiers, lead researcher and neuroscientist from University College London (UCL), gave a statement explaining what exactly a rat’s brain does: “It’s like looking at a holiday brochure for Greece the day before you go – that night you might dream about the pictures”.
For their study, published in the journal eLife, Spiers and his team placed four (4) rats on a track that had a T-shaped structure with some food at the end of one of the arms. Access to the snacks was prevented with the aid of a transparent barrier that allowed the animals to see the tasty treats as well as the rout to them, but also kept them from getting to it.
After trying and failing to reach the food, the subjects were moved in a sleeping chamber for about an hour. The researchers then removed the transparent barrier and returned the rodents to the track.
What they noticed was that the rats quickly formed a map of the surrounding environment in their hippocampus while exploring the track and the T-shaped structure. The lead researcher explained that while the animals were asleep, the hippocampus areas in their brains replayed journey though this map, which in turn is believed to help strengthen their memories of the place.
Neurons known as “place cells” are responsible for storing memories about locations and forming mental maps. Monitoring rats in their sleep has revealed that these place cells linked to the arm with food still remained active even while the animals were asleep, while the cells linked to the empty arm were inactive while the animals were asleep.
When moved back into the maze, their cells light up in the exact same pattern as they did while the creatures were asleep.
But rats are more impressive that that. Spiers informs that while the frats are resting, their hippocampus areas also build bits and pieces of a future that’s yet to come.
And in a remarkable turn of events, he explains that because of the similarity between the rat hippocampus and the human hippocampus, this could very well explain why patients who have suffered damage to their hippocampus area have trouble imagining future event.
The team plans to conduct further research into how rats use sleep to think a problem through and figure out which approach is the most likely to get them to their desired destination. They want to establish a stronger link between the two processes.
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Nutritionists have been encouraging people who want to lose weight to just eat less and do a bit more physical exercises. However, recent studies seem to be pointing to another important factor that could be key to a successful dieting program: the timing of your meals.
With the excessive emphasis that was put on the number of calories and on carbohydrates have taken the focus off of the significance of when we eat, as explained by Ruth Patterson, professor at the University of California teaching public health and family medicine.
A recent trend that challenges the traditional three-meals-a-day routine is intermittent fasting. Recent studies have commended the benefits brought by avoiding food for 12 or 15 hours a day, some of which are reduced weight gain in the long-term and better control over the levels of sugar in the blood.
However, the disadvantages are clear, as well: starving yourself for longer periods usually leads to headaches, lack of concentration and a general state of weakness. Moreover, the fasting diet was only tried on mice, and human benefits are still unclear.
According to Patterson, fasting should be done under the direct supervision of a GP, who can guide the patient so they don’t overdo it. When done properly, intermittent fasting can lead to modest weight loss in the long run and improve metabolic health overall.
Patterson’s team is the first to try and see whether or not fasting has the same benefits for humans as it has been found to have in rodents. So far, a large number of women taking part in the study reported that avoiding food for longer hours during night-time resulted in lower and healthier blood sugar levels.
Because the study is still on-going and these are only preliminary conclusions, Patterson is still cautious in pronouncing fasting a sure way to go for weight loss. But his guess is that keeping away from food from 8 at night to 8 at morning would surely improve one’s chances of becoming slimmer.
Patterson is interested in testing this hypothesis because it seems more feasible to avoid food altogether according to a nighttime schedule than following a diet – at least for the majority of people.
Other ways of fasting, such as the 5:2 fasting, which refers to drastically cutting calories two days a week, might not be as easy to implement, as people still need energy for their daily activities.
Patterson also offered good news to people who want to try nighttime fasting, as she explained that cheating once in a while is allowed and would probably not cancel out all your efforts, so a late-dinner with your girlfriends is not a no-no.
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Fasting on a regular basis might have more health benefits than helping you lose some weight; researchers suggest based on a recent study that it also improves longevity and reduces risk of chronic diseases.
A team of researchers from the United States and Italy has tested a new type of diet which contained low levels of calories and proteins – similar to what fasting does to the body – and found that following it for at least 5 days a month, 3 months in a row, had done wonders.
At the end of the study, participants showed a significant decrease in risk of developing heart disease, cancer or type-2 diabetes.
Intermittent fasting is a well-known concept in the dietary circles; it means the amount of energy that you consume gets significantly reduced on one or two days each week, in an attempt of helping the organism dig into those fat storages and lose weight.
Before now, advocates were basing their conclusions on this type of fasting diet on mice studies, claiming that it can have the same effects on people: living longer and keeping chronic diseases at bay.
But the study published in the journal Cell Metabolism has come to offer some good news for humans. Researchers monitored 34 people, 19 of whom tested the FMD Diet – Fasting Mimicking Diet – while the others kept on eating their regular diet.
However, even if it works, researchers didn’t present it as “magic formula” that can help anyone instantly lose weight and live longer. At the three-month follow-up, participants in the FMD group had become slimmer, their blood sugar levels lowered significantly, and risk factors for heart disease had also been reduced.
Fasting diets are appreciated in the medical community for their ability to keep feeding the organism with plenty of necessary calories, while avoiding the pro-aging triggers, as explained by one of the study’s authors, Professor Valter Longo.
Not all researchers are on board with FMD or diets that encourage followers to drastically change their diet every few days. Shocking the metabolism like that on a regular basis can only mess it up, as well as with sleep patterns.
In spite of the advantages of supporting cell regeneration and weight loss, FMD also has several disadvantages; calorie restriction is even stricter and there are plenty of cancer and ageing markers that remain unaffected.
Professor Longo urges anyone who is interested in taking up an intermittent fasting-type diet to visit their doctor beforehand, as it is not suitable for everyone. Even though the diet has proven successful in mice and small insect studies, the verdict is still pending for its benefits in humans.
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