Archive for: February, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall...

Feb 28 2011 Published by under Basic Science Posts, Uncategorized

...who is the fairest/funniest/raises the most for charity/has the cutest child/dog/cat/hamster/is best foodie/goes to the coolest places/the most popular of ALL?

Duh! ME!

(Hat tip to DNLee, who introduced me to this song. I LOVE this song.)

Gonzales and Hancock. "Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem" CYBERPSYCHOLOGY, BEHAVIOR, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING, 2011

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Friday Weird Science: Killin' Prey With My Super Scary...Glue Gun!

Feb 25 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Today is my second synchro-blogging of the week! When Laelaps showed me the video that went with this paper, and explained the concept...I was HOOKED. We had to blog it. It's too good. It's too GROSS. Just you wait.  So we HAVE blogged it, and when you're done reading this, go over to Laelaps and read his take on this...this grossness.

We've all got different ways of tracking down our food and making sure it sits in one place while we eat it. Some take the slightly easier route and eat plants (only slightly, they may not be able to move, but they've got other methods to make sure you don't eat them). Some species run their food down, some bite and poison, some descend on it from above. Some snag it in a web. And then there are those that use their glue guns.

May I introduce you to the VELVET WORM.

Sci has to say those things give me the crawling heebie-jeebies. All those little LEGS, and the crawling, and...ewwwww.

Velvet worms (Onychophora) are OLD. They were one of the first groups of animals to come on land, and have been crawling in that super creepy way over the ground for the past 500 MILLION YEARS. Must be a pretty effective model. They're not insects, really, when they are placed in evolutionary trees, they are often wedged between the arthopods (insects), and the annelids (worms). And well, that's basically what they look like, right?

But what's really interesting about these dudes is that they are carnivores. And they have a REALLY weird way of capturing prey.

Haritos et al "Harnessing disorder: onychophorans use highly unstructured proteins, not silks, for prey capture" Proceedings of the royal society B, 2010.

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Cell phones: coming for your brain cells since...well, maybe not.

Feb 23 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Neuroscience

After however long Sci has been in the blogsphere, I think I've become inured to the near constant babble of breathless science reporting.  Oral contraceptives CHANGE YOUR BRAIN!!  You are yourself...ON HORMONES.  Cell phones cause brain cancer!  TIDAL WAVES of hormones. TSUNAMIS of brain activity!  A veritable STORM SURGE  of wave metaphors have invaded our science reporting, folks.  But then I think, meh, you know, it's just another report from someone who just read an already breathlessly written press release, it'll all work itself out, and I just can't get worked up anymore...I need another latte...

And then I see this kind of thing:

Power-talkers with cell phones glued to their ears may be getting more than conversation.


Do cell phones cause cancer?

We'd all like to know, but unfortunately there's no clear answer — yet.


And then it's coupled with things like "brain metabolism", "brain activity", and my current favorite (emphasis mine):

higher rates of glucose metabolism in the brain can mean a number of things. Yes, tumor cells may gobble up more glucose to fuel their relentless growth, but healthy brain cells need constant replenishment too, to keep up the intricate network of messages and connections that help us think, eat, move and stay alive.


Yeah, it COULD be your greedy TUMOR CELLS gobbling up your BRAIN ENERGY!!!  Or it could be something else!

I feel comforted now. You?

Luckily, most of the reporting was really pretty even handed, but I don't think it's for lack of trying.  Rather it's because...well...the study had very little to report.

But just in case...


Volkow et al. "Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism" JAMA, 2011.

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26 responses so far

The cerebellum and premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Feb 21 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Neuroscience, Uncategorized

Today's post is actually a TANDEM post. I'm sharing posting on this piece today with the brilliant and totally cool Kate Clancy of Context and Variation. So once you've finished here, head over THERE for her half of the take on this paper.

Kate showed me this paper, and I was immediately interested by the title and by the concept. And then she showed me the media coverage.

Is it that time of the month? These are the words no man should ever utter. How about this for a diplomatic alternative: "Are your GABA receptors playing up?"

You may be spot on. It seems that these brain cells are to blame for some women's monthly mood swings.

Heh. You watch out. Those GABA receptor...brain cells...are about to make your mood swing. I generally expect better from New Scientist, but it was pretty clear that this was based on the press release, and if so (I don't have the press release), the press release seems more than a little misleading. My "orly" cells are pinging.

On the other hand, I would like to note that I LOVE that New Scientist includes journal references to what papers they are talking about at the bottom of their articles. SEE?!?! It's not so hard!!!

It's time to look at this paper.

Rapkin et al. "Neuroimaging Evidence of Cerebellar Involvement in Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder" Biological Psychiatry, 2011.

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12 responses so far

Scientopia Guest Blog(ge)

Feb 19 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

As you all might have noticed, Scientopia has a brand new Guest Blog(ge) (the "ge" makes it more official or something?). I mentioned before that Paolo of Zygoma is up first and has written some great posts already, including a really nice on on Museum Collections.

But did I mention we also have FrauTech?! She's one of my favorite engineering bloggers, and she's also here to start on the guest blog for the next few weeks. So go and check out her posts on the "E in STEM" and an interesting thought provoking post on marketing in NASA.

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Friday Weird Science: Rats in PANTS

Feb 18 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Today’s Friday Weird Science comes to us courtesy of ProfLike Substance, who passed on this truly GLORIOUS paper to Sci many weeks ago. I’ve been dying to blog it for ages, but other things (like whale penises) seemed to always come up (you see what I did there) and required immediate blogging before someone else got to it. But finally, FINALLY I get to sit down with what may be the most adorable paper, from the weirdest laboratory ever.

So men, have you ever really THOUGHT about your pants choices and the effect they could have on your sperm? Boxes vs briefs? Wool vs denim vs polyester? Why haven’t you!??! Cause this guy has.

Behold: rats wearing pants.

Shafik. “Effects of different types of textiles on sexual activity” European Urology, 1993.

From the actual paper! How cute is that?!!?

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22 responses so far

The power of learning a second language: look to the caudate

Feb 16 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Neuroscience, Uncategorized

Sci's terrible at languages. TERRIBLE. In my time, I've successfully mastered English, and attempted to master four other languages (five if you count a brief foray into Elvish when I was 15, but that doesn't really count) in my time. I have failed at ALL of them. Every once in a while I would achieve some semblance of competency, but there's no doubt that either I didn't start early enough, didn't try hard enough (two semesters of immersion definitely weren't enough), or there's only one language for this geek.

But what about people who DO learn more than one language? For those who learn as adults, it's often an extremely hard won skill. For those who learn from early childhood to mid adolescence, it's often a little easier. But no matter when it happens, it's an impressive skill. Those learning a second language will master additional tens of THOUSANDS of words along with the ones from their first language.

Two languages, but you've only got one brain. And that brain only have one major language circuit. Right now, scientists think that people who are bilingual use processing in their major language circuit to monitor and to control their FIRST language, so it doesn't butt in on their second (or third, or fourth). We know that some people are better at learning a second language than others. But what makes them different? Is it a different in your anatomy (which could depend on several factors, including genes, environment, development, etc), or is it just training? And then, can training influence your anatomy?

Tan et al. "Activity levels in the left hemisphere caudate–fusiform circuit predict how well a second
language will be learned" PNAS, 2011.

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27 responses so far


Feb 15 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

No it's nothing that you all might consider major.

But it IS the day after Valentine's day!!!!!

Now, many of you might celebrate Valentine's Day, and if you do, that's fine. Sci considers the holiday to be lame, designed to make couples feel like they need to buy something and to make people who aren't in a couple feel bad. As for telling someone you love them and making them feel special...well you have 364 other days to do that, and on most of them your making someone feel special would probably be a lot more fun and surprising.

But Valentine's Day is very important to Sci for one, very specific reason.

It's because 24 hours later, ALL THE CHOCOLATE GOES ON SALE.

Oh yes.

So if you need me, I'll be buried under a huge pile of discount chocolate, and cheerfully eating my way out.

Happy Day After Valentine's!!!

7 responses so far

Eating, Stress, Reward, and Obesity

Feb 14 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci recently covered a mouse paper on dieting and subsequent high fat eating in mice, and then she found THIS paper, on stress reactions in overweight humans! And I like how the two link up. So let’s take a look at this one, and then go back to the OTHER one, and see how they fit together.

We are told all the time that obesity is a public health concern, and we’re often told that causes include close proximity to McDonald’s, and the fact that no one plays outdoors anymore. But there’s also a correlation between obesity and stress. High levels of stress are associated with increased body weight, and in times of stress, we tend to go for high fat foods (aka comfort foods).

Comfort foods are thought to ACTUALLY comfort you and relieve your stress, by reducing stress hormone levels like those of corticotropin releasing factor. And stress is also an indicator for FUTURE weight gain, the more you’re stressed, the more you’re probably GOING to be stressed, and the more weight you may end up gaining (grad students around the world are DOOMED).

So how can we change this? Well, one way is by changing the food, but diets don’t work, and may wonk out your stress system. What we COULD do is change the way we respond to stress.

And that might start with changing the reaction of our ventral striatum.

Jastreboff et al. “Body mass index, metabolic factors, and striatal activation during stressful and neutral-relaxing stated: an fMRI study” Neuropsychopharmacology, 2011.

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7 responses so far

Behold! The Scientopia Guest Blog!!!

Feb 13 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Scientopia is proud to announce the launch of our brand new Guest Blog, where we recruit other bloggers to hang out for about two weeks at a time. The first post, by Paolo Viscardi of the Zygoma blog, is already up, and is a great tribute to Darwin Day! Go and check it out! We've got a great slate of bloggers lined up from now til May, and who knows who could be next?!?!

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