By Amielle Moreno
The following podcasts are a wonderful way to kill time during experiments. Enjoy!
By Amielle Moreno
The following podcasts are a wonderful way to kill time during experiments. Enjoy!
By Amielle Moreno
Buying the neuroscientist in your life a great present has been made easy this winter, with the following list of limbic system stimulating treasures.
Nothing makes anatomy glimmer like AKAFoil‘s vintage anatomical illustrations with real gold foil. Starting at $22 you can adorn your office wall with the beauty that is the brain and cranial nerves (above). Or, who likes the cerebellum? No one? … Really? Well, who needs it, but GABAergic Purkinje neurons are still things of beauty. Choose the image, background, frame and purchase today for the special scientist in your life.
Think Geek is serving it up right, by protecting the wood finish of every nerd’s coffee table. Each one of these Brain Section Coasters is another horizontal slice of the human brain.
These wall hangings available on Houzz boil down the chemistry of the brain with charming simplicity. Houzz offers: “Bliss”, Dopamine; “Love”, Norepinephrine; “Happiness”, Serotonin; as well as “Mary Jane” THC, Estrogen, and Prozac options.
This handmade stationary features vintage images of the brain’s gray matter and comes with brown kraft envelopes, a hand-stamped brain tag as well as brain and science stickers for $20. Or check out the other beautiful science themed cards on society 6 (Neuron stationary).
For the recently born, consider picking up the toddler proof “Baby’s First Neuroscience Book.” Although “Baby’s First Evolutionary Biology Book” might be more stimulating, featuring more child friendly pictures as well as covering material soon to be eliminated from highschool textbooks.
Consider picking up the book The Drunkard’s Walk, a book recently reviewed on this blog.
These notebooks starting at $12 for everything from creative writing or lab meeting notes. Above are Brain B&W, Brain Phantom, and Brain Control. The best part, if you fall in love with any of Society6’s hundreds of images, is that they’re available to cover your digital notebook as laptop skin stickers.
This stylish pillow features REM EEG recordings and is perfect for an afternoon lab nap.
A great way to ensure you eat well is to spread cooking knowledge across your friends and family. The Food Lab cookbook is an International Association of Culinary Professionals award winner which takes the reader through classic American dishes with scientific specifics and in full color.
Refine your culinary protocols! For the ultimate food nerd, pick up Cooking for Geeks, which ensures you never have a burn “practice” pancake and also explains why the perfect pancake needs certain portions of baking power and baking soda.
With this Floral Anatomy Brain small carry-all pouch you can organize your life for only $11.90. Available in three sizes with wraparound artwork, these pouches are perfect for toiletries, headphones, or your favorite lab supplies you secretly hoard. With a durable canvas-like exterior that’s machine-washable, so brain washing has never been easier.Brain freeze carry-all pouch.
Do you or some scientist you know love SciFi but doesn’t have time to read? Then the Nature Journal’s Futures collection is for you. This collection of short science fiction stories makes it easy to jump in and out of mind-expanding fiction. For a taste, give the loneliness of the long-distance panda story a glance. And for the wet scientist, consider purchasing the audio book version for bench work listening fuel.
A bold move by the iconic jewelry company, Tiffany’s & Co. has released a line of dendrito-dendrite inspired pieces for the winter season. The graphic angles and clean lines of every item of the new ‘Tiffany T‘ line has subtle hints of inhibitory intrigue. The color of these stones are sure to activate the dendro-dentric homologous gap junction in the alpha-Ganglion Cells of your special someone, when you surprise them with one of these dazzling diamond studded bracelets, rings or necklaces. The white gold bracelet with princess-cut diamonds featured above is available for only $45,000.
by Amielle Moreno
Recent studies have found evidence for the healing properties of blood from younger individuals, but the fascination with “young blood” has been a part of the human condition for centuries.
In ancient Greece, Hippocrates introduced the concept that our health and temperament were controlled by the four humors, proposing that blood was the one responsible for courage, playfulness as well as hope. From the 16th century story of Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed of Hungary, the idea of “blood baths” acquired decidedly more sinister connotations.
Hungarian children were told the legend of Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed. The “Blood Countess” holds the Guinness World Record as the most prolific female murderer.
With 80 confirmed kills, Báthory might have lured up to 650 peasant girls to her castle with the promise of work as maidservants or courtly training. Instead of etiquette lessons, they were burned, beaten, frozen or starved for the Countess’ sadistic pleasure. Folk stories told how she would bathe in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth and beauty.
Humors remained a staple of traditional western medicine until the 1800s when medical research and our modern concept of medicine emerged. In this new, enlightened age, people started sewing animals together to see what would happen. In the mid-1800s, a French zoologist named Paul Bert first experimented with the creation of parabionts: the surgical joining of two animals, usually two rodents of the same species, in order to study the effect of one’s blood on the other. The first manuscript looking at parabionts was published by Bert in 1864, titled ‘Expériences et Considérations Sur la Greffe Animale’, which when loosely translated means ‘I’m a sick bastard and IACUC hasn’t been invented yet’.
As if parabiosis were a great rainy day activity for the kids, Bert described how to attach two animals together through their skin in an attempt to determine if a common circulatory system capable of exchanging nutrients would form: “the process is one the simplest: a strip of skin is removed along the opposite flanks of the two experimental animals; stitches and others handling systems that I described in my memoirs, maintain the animals attached and prevent frictions.”
In autopsy, he showed that vascular channels developed connecting the attached animals and that fluid injected in one would pass to the other. He was awarded the prize in Experimental Physiology by the French Academy of Science in 1866 and his discovery was later memorialized in a Simpson’s Tree House of Horror’s episode featuring a “Pigeon Rat”.
Using parabionts wasn’t just grossly cool, it was the beginning of transplant research. Fifty years after Bert, around the turn of the century, a scientist named Dr. Alex Carrel was performing experiments studying the ability to sustain living tissue outside the body, eventually connecting it to other living bodies. His methods of blood vessel connection won him the Nobel Prize. Once immunosuppressant drugs were developed, this research paved the way for organ transplants.
Transplanting organs is all well and good, but can it guarantee the promise of everlasting life? While not the goal of the study, the first evidence that healthy blood could extend lifespan came from a parabiont muscular dystrophy study in the 50s (Hall et al., 1959).
Recent parabiont research has been proving what 17th century Hungarian villagers always knew, “dysfunctions associated with normal aging might likewise be rescued by parabiosis to a ‘healthy’, that is younger, partner and that lifespan itself might be amenable to prolongation by heterochronic parabiosis” (Conboy et al., 2013).
However, it isn’t a panacea. Quinn et al. found that there was no significant difference in post-surgery mortality between patients who received plasma from young versus old donors (Guinn et al., 2016). Being alive is wonderful, but the second best thing has got to be being alive and able to make and recall memories.
Even though young blood won’t rejuvenate your skin, recent research discovered young blood rejuvenates your synaptic plasticity (Villeda et al., 2014). Using heterochronic parabiont combinations of young and aged animals, neuroscientist Villeda and colleagues found that exposing an aged mouse to young blood reverses pre-existing brain aging by acting at the molecular, structural and cognitive level.
The hippocampus is an area of the brain associated with memory formation. In the older of the parabiont mice there was an increase in dendritic spine density and synaptic plasticity when their circulatory system was connected with that of a young mouse, a physiological marker associated with memory (Yang et al., 2009). Old animals connected with young ones also showed improvement in learning tasks like fear conditioning and spatial learning. While this means I’ll have to wait for advances in cosmetic surgery to reach Photoshop quality, having the cognitive capacity to remember to pluck that one mole hair on my cheek will have to do.
But what is so special about sweet, sweet virgin blood?
That question is yet to be completely answered, but there are some likely culprits. One difference between old and young blood could relate to immune function. The choroid plexus is the site where blood is filtered to make the cerebrospinal fluid bathing the brain. In the choroid plexus of older mice there were more signs of an inflammatory response than in younger mice (Baruch et al., 2014). When an immune signal called cytokine interferon-I was inhibited, cognitive functioned improved.
There’s also a really boring ‘anti-aging’ agent called “nuclear factor erythroid-derived 2-related factor” but his friends call him Nrf2. Nrf2 kicks in when cells are under oxidative stress and normally is involved with vascular smooth muscles. It’s also produced by neural stem/progenitor stem cells (NSPCs). These cells are present in the subventricular zone of your brain into adulthood and they depend on Nrf2 to maintain their function and survival. Upregulation of Nrf2 increased cognitive performance in elderly animals who have smaller NSPC populations (Corenblum et al., 2016). Now put it in a jar and sell it to me. Other pathways which are likely to be influenced by blood magic include the Wnt and TGF-B signaling pathways (Brack et al., 2007; Carlson et al., 2008).
From being one of the four humors to a source of rejuvenation, humans have always found blood fascinating. The identification of factors with ‘pro-aging’ or ‘anti-aging’ affects is a hot area of research because everybody sucks but no one wants to die.
Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to draw myself a Hungarian bath.
Reviewed by Rachel Cliburn
When I need a book that will force me into an existential crisis, my go-to authors are Rand or Kafka—you know, because I like to sound cool at parties. So it came as a surprise that despite my academic intentions in reading this book on the history and implications of probability, The Drunkard’s Walk blew my mind.
I’m fairly confident (95% confident, one might say) that Mlodinow didn’t set out to make people question their existence with this fun non-fiction. It’s full of human interest stories about the Greeks, gamblers, and gamers that made probability theory what it is today. Mlodinow lets the reader solve problems along with the historical figures, making math history more fun and interactive than I would have thought possible.
Mlodinow also has plenty to say to the “lay-statistician” about probability in daily life. Jury duty, medical diagnoses, sport predictions, even business decisions are victims to common misjudgments based on faulty understanding of probability. For that reason alone, this book is worthwhile.
More than that, though, The Drunkard’s Walk got under my skin. Near the beginning of the book, Mlodinow discusses the human tendency to favor stories over statistics. We have a natural, almost insurmountable tendency to find meaning and purpose in the events around us, even when (especially when?) those events are random. I started questioning my long-held life paradigms—was I just searching for patterns in a world void of order? In the later chapters, a discussion on chaos theory hammered the nail in the coffin of my sane state of mind. The sheer overwhelming permutations of possibilities that fractionate infinitely into the future…the crushing weight of chance that brought us to where we are in the world today…the endless array of paths forward, paths to which we don’t know the ending…I felt flattened by the enormity of it all. Why make choices? Why pretend that working hard has any real bearing on future happiness?
I found myself frustrated when my roommate, after I had blurted all these questions in an ever-more-feverish pitch, answered with what I saw as simple assurances and trite self-delusions. Doesn’t she see that we’re walking the lines of an infinite fractal, seemingly moving forward, but really only subjects to the whims of the chaotic law that rules our lives? It was only after talking to some other friends who had read the book that my perspective began to change. I had thought that all-pervasive chance stole every happiness from us, because we could never really work for it. They, instead, thought that chance stole every failure, because how can we be hard on ourselves if chance plays a part in our faults? This, at last, was a hopeful way to navigate life and its inherent randomness.
The Drunkard’s Walk has something in it for everyone—for the scientists who bemoan their lack of proper statistical training, for historians looking for the human side of science, for risk-takers who want to know if their next chance will pay off. For me, now, it has come to remind me to be hopeful and gracious, to not be too devastated when I fail and to not be too proud when I succeed. I recommend to everyone, and would love to hear if it sends you to the pit of despair and back like it did to me. We’ll discuss it and be super fun at parties.
Each year for the Neuroscience retreat weekend, the Central Sulcus produces a packet of articles and fun content for attendees. If you couldn’t attend the retreat last weekend, check out the packet here!
by Rachel Cliburn
Do androids dream of electric sheep? No, they don’t. At least, that’s the short answer. Did I just ruin one of science fiction’s hallmark novels for you? Again, the answer is no. This book is packed with just-out-there enough hypotheticals to keep you wondering what this world is coming to.
Though he met with little success during his lifetime, in the 60’s and 70’s Philip K. Dick masterfully led the pack in the emerging genre of science fiction writing. He had a knack for anticipating technologies decades before their time, and, even more important as a novelist, for anticipating the ethical and moral questions surrounding society and technology. The 1982 sci-fi film noir Blade Runner was very loosely based on Androids.
In Androids, the reader follows Rick Deckard, a wearied bounty hunter tasked with offing masterfully crafted humanoid robots that have escaped servitude in Mars by pretending to be real humans on the sparsely-inhabited post-apocalyptic Earth. This book creates a world replete with ethical questions that society struggles to answer today: How much should we lean on technology for our daily lives? How much should we shepherd the human genome? If we have the power to alter mood, in what ways should we use it? What is the role of humanity as caretakers of this earth?
All good questions. However, the ethical issue that kept popping out to me from this book was that of empathy. Deckard relies solely on tests of empathy to discern between true humans and all-too-believable androids (It’s worth mentioning that the ability to empathize is by no means uniquely human, but since James already wrote a Science article about that 🙂 ). Supposedly, androids cannot empathize. Pretty soon, though, Deckard realizes that sometimes humans themselves aren’t too great at empathizing. Furthermore, the subject of empathy becomes skewed. In this post-apocalyptic society, humans are supposed to empathize with each other, but end up increasingly placing value on dwindling live animals. Animal care becomes so venerated that owning a pet is a status symbol, but due to animal scarcity, most people get robotic replicas of animals in order to stay in good standing with their neighbors. Thus, both real and fake animals are valued far above humanoid androids, despite humans and androids being so identical it takes a series of involved tests to ever tell the difference. The ability to empathize becomes twisted in this topsy-turvy world.
In this novel, the androids have flesh and blood and whatnot, it’s just been manufactured in a plant rather than in a womb. It’s difficult to come up with a litmus test for ‘true’ humanity, but the ability to empathize is certainly a good place to start. Unfortunately, I—like Deckard—soon start to think of the many exceptions to this potential rule. Certainly, people on the autism spectrum or with a personality disorder may have trouble empathizing. But one need not turn to disease states to see that not all humans have an empathetic drive– all it takes is fifteen minutes of any given news channel. It’d be easy to point to various bombers, gunmen, or violent truck drivers to prove this point, but truly, one needn’t even look that far. On both sides of the aisle, the presidential race provides more than enough examples of people forgetting empathy for the sake of being heard.
Dick postulates that to be empathetic is to be human. Dick frames empathy as an inherently good thing, but something that is also difficult and can make daily living hard. Empathy is more difficult for people like Deckard whose daily job is to kill, but hey, that’s why this is a great story. What Dick doesn’t answer is how we can increase empathy in ourselves and in our society. As hatred-fueled violence continues to rock the US and the world, I don’t know how to answer that question on a personal or societal level.
I very much doubt we’re headed towards a post-apocalyptic radiation-filled ghosttown of a planet any time soon, but by using this setting, Philip K. Dick, with his usual cutting astuteness, illustrates the potential pitfalls of our present culture. Pick up Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and let me know what you think!
Written by Andrew Koob
Reviewed by Travis Rotterman
Review Edited by Amielle Moreno
This book? I don’t care for it much. The story is centered around the idea that astrocytes are the greatest, most powerful cell in all the nervous system! While astrocytes do have their importance, microglia are obviously the most important cells of the CNS. I mean this guy really goofed…
This is what I call a “classic mix-up.”