Biology

Between SleepStephanie Hegarty reports in BBC News:

We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.

In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month.

It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.

Though sleep scientists were impressed by the study, among the general public the idea that we must sleep for eight consecutive hours persists …







MouseVia New Scientist:

A contender for the elusive fountain of youth: an enzyme found in humans appears to lengthen the life of mice. Researchers hoping to slow the march of age were dealt a blow in 2010, when signs that an enzyme called sirtuin 2 extended the life of worms were shown to be false due to flawed experimental design.

Mammals have seven types of sirtuin, so Haim Cohen and Yariv Kanfi at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, turned to sirtuin 6 instead. They compared mice genetically engineered to have increased levels of SIRT6 with normal mice, engineering the mice in two different ways to control for genetic influences.

Male mice from both strains lived 15 per cent longer than normal mice or females. Older modified male mice metabolised sugar faster than normal mice and females, suggesting that SIRT6 might extend life by protecting against metabolic disorders such as diabetes …


In UteroVia ScienceDaily:

It’s hard to think of a baby being violent or destructive, but the seeds of violence may be planted before a child is born, according to research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Attention to health factors as early as the prenatal stage could prevent violence in later life, reports Penn Nursing Assistant Professor Jianghong Liu, PhD, RN, in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior.

Recent research demonstrates a biological basis of crime, says Dr. Liu. “‘Biological’ does not mean only genetic factors,” she explains, “but also health factors, such as nutritional deficiency and lead exposure, which influence biological processes.” Dr. Liu’s study emphasizes the prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal periods, which are critical times for both a child’s neuro-development and for environmental modifications …




Via ScienceDaily:

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, absorbing information, weighing it carefully, and making thoughtful decisions. But, as it turns out, we’re kidding ourselves. Over the past few decades, scientists have shown there are many different internal and external factors influencing how we think, feel, communicate, and make decisions at any given moment.

One particularly powerful influence may be our own bodies, according to new research reviewed in the December issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Casasanto, of The New School for Social Research, has shown that quirks of our bodies affect our thinking in predictable ways, across many different areas of life, from language to mental imagery to emotion …


Is a microscopic, mind-altering parasite spread by cats responsible for car accidents, hoarding behaviors, and schizophrenia? Respected scientists are now saying that “crazy cat lady” disease is real and millions of people…


Is he a “starchild”? Part-alien DNA seems like the most rational explanation for this:

A boy has stunned medics with his ability to see in pitch black with eyes that glow in the dark. Doctors have studied Nong Youhui’s amazing eyesight since his dad took him to hospital in Dahua, southern China, concerned over his bright blue eyes.

Dad Ling said: “They told me he would grow out of it and that his eyes would stop glowing and turn black like most Chinese people but they never did.” Medical tests conducted in complete darkness show Youhui can read perfectly without any light and sees as clearly as most people do during the day.


White Nose BatmanHoly Fungus, Batman! Reports David Wrights and Jonann Brady of ABC NEWS:

A mysterious fungus is killing off thousands of bats around the country. Scientists are calling it white-nose syndrome, because of the distinctive white smudges on the noses and wings of infected bats.

White-nose itself doesn’t kill bats, but it disturbs their sleep so that they end their hibernation early. During the winter there are no insects to eat, so the bats literally starve to death.

Bats may be one of Mother Nature’s least cuddly creatures, but they are ecologically important, keeping mosquitos and insects that attack crops in check.

Researchers say the syndrome has killed upward of half a million bats from New England to Virginia.


Who can think? Who can feel? Via Orion, the revelation that octopi — boneless creatures with brains the size of a walnut — seem to have immense intelligence, feelings, and personalities is…


Via ScienceDaily: Contrary to what many psychological scientists think, people do not all have the same set of biologically “basic” emotions, and those emotions are not automatically expressed on the faces of…


SRSRob Pavey reports in the Augusta Chronicle:

Savannah River Site scientists are working to identify a strange growth found on racks of spent nuclear fuel collected from foreign governments.

The “white, string-like” material was found among thousands of spent fuel assemblies submerged in deep pools within the site’s L Area, according to a report filed by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a federal oversight panel.

“The growth, which resembles a spider web, has yet to be characterized, but may be biological in nature,” the report said. Savannah River National Laboratory collected a small sample in hopes of identifying the mystery lint — and determining whether it is alive …




Destroy SpermReports Reuters via Yahoo News:

The digital age has left men’s nether parts in a squeeze, if you believe the latest science on semen, laptops and wireless connections. In a report in the venerable medical journal Fertility and Sterility, Argentinian scientists describe how they got semen samples from 29 healthy men, placed a few drops under a laptop connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi and then hit download.

Four hours later, the semen was, eh, well-done. A quarter of the sperm were no longer swimming around, for instance, compared to just 14 percent from semen samples stored at the same temperature away from the computer.

And nine percent of the sperm showed DNA damage, three-fold more than the comparison samples. The culprit? Electromagnetic radiation generated during wireless communication, say Conrado Avendano of Nascentis Medicina Reproductiva in Cordoba and colleagues.




Via PhysOrg: Male nursery web spiders (Pisaura mirabilis) prepare silk-wrapped gifts to give to potential mates. Most gifts contain insects, but some gifts are inedible plant seeds or empty exoskeletons left after…