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Bring on the #cyborg #rats! The idea that we might be able to augment our senses with a #neuroprosthesis is tantalizing for an obvious reason, it seems to offer the possibility that we can be more than what we are. The authors of this study wanted to know if rats could learn to make use of an externally provided directional signal in the absence of visual information for #navigation. To ask this question, they implanted a device with stimulating #electrodes contacting the left and right primary visual #corticies of blind adult rats. This device stimulated left visual #cortex when the animal was facing north, and the right when it was facing south. They then compared performance in a classic “T-maze”, in which food is placed consistently in one arm of a “T”, and the animal must choose which arm of the T to go down to get the food reward. Impressively, after just one day of practice with the device powered on, the rats’ performance lept up from chance levels to a high rate of success. It is important to recognize that the success of this work may be due to the fact that the external sensor supplied information that the animal makes use of naturally. It was a spatially structured signal helping the animal do something that it is already “wired” to do (navigate an environment based on cues about which direction it’s heading). Would it have worked if the rats had to use an external sensor of barometric pressure to try and predict tomorrow’s weather instead? Who knows… #science #neuroscience #cell #currbiol http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(15)00265-1

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If you’re a #plant, what control do you have over #reproduction? You can’t choose another plant to be pollinated by. A bird or an insect deposits the #pollen and the rest just happens, right? Apparently not. For the first time, it has been shown that a plant can discriminate amongst visiting potential pollinators, and can invest more or less in reproduction based on that discrimination. This work examined the reproduction of the plant Heliconia tortuosa: researchers artificially pollinated the plant, then controlled visits by various natural pollinators, and finally measured how the visit affected reproduction. They found that these tropical plants showed more vigorous signs of reproductive activity after visits from birds that extract the most #nectar, and also those that tend to travel daily over a wider area. The authors hypothesize that the capacity for nectar extraction is the means by which the plants recognize the visitors, and that the tendency to favor those who travel more serves to help maximize the diversity conspecific pollen received. #science #botany #ecology #pnas http://www.pnas.org/content/112/11/3433.full

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Why do so many animals have #eyelashes? Yes, they help keep things out of one’s eyes. However, the authors of this work measured the eyelashes of 22 different #mammalian species, and performed painstaking experiments in a #windtunnel which suggest that eyelash length is optimized, relative to eye size, to divert airflow away from the eye. Not only does this “eyelash length reduces both deposition of airborne particles and evaporation of the tear film by a factor of two.” #science #ethology #jrsocinterface http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2014.1294

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If you’re a glowing #mushroom, how do you decide when to shine? If you’re Neonothopanus gardneri, you just listen to your internal clock, apparently. Recent work shows that the #bioluminescence of this #fungus is regulated by a #circadian rhythm, which is useful because “insects that disperse fungal #spores are attracted to light at night”. #science #biology #currbiol #cell http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(15)00160-8

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The #gut communicates with the #brain, thus we know when we’re hungry or full, for example. Nutrients and #bacteria are both able to stimulate “#enteroendocrine cells” in the lining of the digestive tract. However, it was thought that these cells only communicated indirectly with neurons through #hormone secretion, rather than directly through #synaptic transmission. This work shows that in fact, enteroendocrine cells in #mice extend processes called #neuropods which directly contact neurons in certain parts of the digestive system. This provides the first evidence for direct sensing of the goings-on inside the gut by the brain, meaning the brain may gather information regarding nutrient and bacterial content. #science #neuroscience #JClinInvest http://www.jci.org/articles/view/78361

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Because #bats are successful in #acrobatic #aerial maneuvering, it seems likely that their #brains have dedicated #3D #navigation #circuits. One component would be #neurons representing the orientation of the head in space. Researchers have found such neurons, which is technically impressive (because it requires concurrently recording from bat neurons while they fly freely in space, and tracking the bats’ position and orientation), and illuminating, because the researchers find that the neurons probably encode heading direction on a #toroidal #manifold (a #donut) rather than a #spherical one (a ball). The difference between the two is that the toroidal #representation allows for independent encoding of #pitch and #azimuth, while a spherical representation requires that they’re tied together. The authors of this work cleverly dissociated between the two by comparing neuronal activity when the bats were inverted versus upright, a key body transformation that would necessarily shift the activity of neurons encoding head azimuth in toroidal but not in spherical #coordinates. #science #neuroscience #nature http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v517/n7533/full/nature14031.html

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What makes a #Pop song tops? #USC Marketing Professor Joseph Nunes and collaborators have found a couple strong reasons by analyzing #data from many past hits. As reported by #NPR and others, Nunes found that “a greater number of #instruments increased the chances of being a number 1 song during mid-1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, while fewer instruments increased the chances during the 1960s and in the late 2000s.” More recently, he found that a greater number of #chorus repetitions increased the likelihood of a song debuting in the “Top 40”. However, the popularity enhancing effect of chorus repetition was mitigated by word repetition, as shown in this graph. As word repetition goes up, the effect of chorus repetition is nullified, and continues to decrease, though it never quite becomes statistically significantly hurtful to a song’s chances of being a Top 40 hit. #science #datascience #music #jcps http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1057740814001260

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When he was teaching me to play baseball, to throw and to hit the ball, my father always said: “follow through.” It was undoubtedly helpful, and led to consistent results, but why is #FollowThrough important? How can a portion of the movement that occurs after striking or releasing a ball influence the portion of the movement that came before that strike or release? In this work, #MotorLearning researchers show that consistent follow-through facilitates learning and the consistency of the portion of the movement that happened before the follow-through portion. In essence, their hypothesis is that consistent follow through means a single unified performance, which is easier to learn and reproduce. Put another way: let’s say you follow through 10 different ways after hitting a ball, this means that in essence, you’re trying to learn 10 different motions, 1 stereotypes pre-hit portion portion paired with each of those 10 post-hit follow-throughs. It’s no surprise to learn that dad was right, he usually is, but now he’s got science on his side! #science #neuroscience #currbiol #cell http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(14)01640-6

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#Anaological reasoning, the ability to reason by analogy, is a fundamental component of human thought. Are we the only animals that are capable of comprehending analogy? No, other #apes besides humans seem to have this faculty as well, and now it seems that perhaps #crows do as well. Analogical reasoning is tested with the “relational matching-to-sample” (RTMS) test. In RTMS, a subject is presented with a visual sample pair and they must choose a test pair that shares the same relationship as the sample. For example, given a sample pair “AA”, with two test pairs: “BB” and “CD”, the test pair “BB” captures the relationship present in the “AA” sample; given sample pair “EF” and tests “GG” and “HJ”, “HJ” recapitulates the sample’s relationship content. The images here show examples of the types of RTMS stimuli used to test crows’ ability to reason analogically by (1) size, (2) shape, and (3) color (I’ve added the yellow boxes to indicate the correct test pair in each example stimulus set). Impressively, the crows were able to perform this task successfully on average 72% of the time. This result adds to a large repertoire of abilities displayed by crows, but is this skill used by these animals naturally, or are they very good at learning tasks when rewarded with delicious mealworms? In either case, understanding what sorts of #brains might or might not support the use of analogy regardless of naturalistic or lab context is informative. #CurrentBiology http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(14)01557-7