ruth williams, science writer & journalist
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Why Sharing is Tough for Tots.
July 13 2012.    abstract.  web site.
If a child you know refuses to share his toys, chances are he knows he is doing wrong but cannot help it. New research published in March in Neuron reveals that underdevelopment of an impulse control center in the brain is, at least in part, the reason children who fully understand the concept of fairness fail to act accordingly.
Marijuana Reveals Memory Mechanism.
July 13 2012.    abstract.  web site.
Until recently, most scientists believed that neurons were the all-important brain cells controlling mental functions and that the surrounding glial cells were little more than neuron supporters and “glue.” Now research published in March in Cell reveals that astrocytes, a type of glia, have a principal role in working memory. And the scientists made the discovery by getting mice stoned.

A trip to the gym alters DNA.
6 March 2012.    abstract.  web site.
It is not just pounds you stand to lose when you hit the gym — your DNA also loses chemical modifications in the form of methyl groups, according to a paper published online today in Cell Metabolism. Moreover, a similar effect is seen in cells given a high dose of caffeine, hinting at a possible trigger for the process.

Scanning the Psychedelic Brain.
23 January 2012    abstract.  web site.
The geometric visuals and vivid imaginings experienced by those tripping on mushrooms are not, as scientists had suspected, the result of increased brain activity, according to a report out today (23 January) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Instead, under the influence of psilocybin—the psychedelic component of magic mushrooms—brain activity and connectivity decrease. The reduced connectivity might be what frees people’s minds from normal constraints, the researchers propose.
Iron Builds a Better Brain.
9 January 2012    abstract.  web site.
Iron deficiency is a well-known cause of impaired cognitive, language, and motor development, but a report out today (January 9) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that even in apparently healthy young adults, variations in iron levels correlate with variations in brain structure integrity.
Why People Lost Their Fur.
12 December 2011    abstract.  web site.
Bipedalism didn’t evolve as a way for ancient humans to keep cool during the heat of the day, according to a new model published today (December 12) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But once hominins did start walking on two feet, it ignited another change that allowed them to stay cool—the loss of body hair. The new model explains why similarly sized mammals that walk on all fours and that may tend to overheat have not given up their coats.
Reversing Cocaine's Effect with Light.
8 December 2011    abstract.  web site.
Thanks to the power of optogenetics, researchers in Switzerland have not only established the first causal link between cocaine-induced changes to brain cells and altered physical behavior, they have also reversed these changes. The report appears today (December 8th) in Nature.
Human ES Cells Evolve in Culture.
28 November 2011    abstract.  web site.
A worldwide effort to screen the genomes of more than a hundred human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines has revealed a number of consistent genetic differences that appear after the cells are cultured for a period of time. About 20 percent of the lines, for example, contained an amplification of a short region on chromosome 20, which appears to confer a growth advantage to the cells. The report was published online yesterday (November 27) in Nature Biotechnology.
Success with Stem Cell Neurons.
21 November 2011    abstract.  web site.
Neurons made from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) can both send and receive nerve impulses when transplanted into the mouse brain, according to a report published today (November 21) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The discovery provides some of the strongest evidence that hESC-derived neurons, which could be used to treat a variety of neurological disorders such as epilepsy, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease, can fully integrate and behave like regular neurons when transplanted into the brain.
Radiation Maps for Japan.
14 November 2011    abstract.  web site.
Scientists have constructed local and nation-wide maps of the radioactive particles that rained down when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant failed after a massive earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan last March. The fallout maps, published today (November 14) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will help direct decontamination efforts to the worst affected areas.
Infection Selection.
13 November 2011    abstract.  web site.
Genomic sequencing of samples from multiple patients during a bacterial epidemic has revealed gene mutations that give the bugs a selective advantage. The large-scale sequencing approach, which is reported today (November 13) in Nature Genetics, should help researchers find chinks in the armor of a wide range of human pathogens.
How Skin Tells Time.
9 November 2011    abstract.  web site.
Stem cells in the skin, which are responsible for replacing dead skins cells that are continuously sloughed off, follow a daily rhythm that is under the control of a 24-hour circadian cycle, according to a study published today (November 9) in Nature.
Blood Protein from Rice.
31 October 2011    abstract.  web site.
The highly sought-after plasma protein, human serum albumin (HSA), can now be produced at high yield and purity in rice, according to a report published today (October 31) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Using the rice-derived protein in place of its blood-derived counterpart will not only ease demand but also eliminate the risk of spreading diseases.

Babies’ placenta could help repair mothers’ injured heart.
14 November 2011    abstract.  web site.
Stem cells from the placenta can travel to injured tissues in a mother’s heart during pregnancy and create new cardiac cells, according to a late-breaking basic science abstract presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2011.
Poor countries have disproportionately higher burden of disease from stroke than from heart disease.
July 5 2011    abstract.  web site.
Countries with lower national income have disproportionately higher rates of death and disability associated with stroke compared with ischemic heart disease, according to a study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

In This Issue.
All Issues: 14 May 2010 - Present.    web site.

Assorted news articles: June 2006 – June 2009.    web site.

Assorted news articles: June 2006 – June 2009.    web site.

Assorted Research Highlights: Jan 2006 – December 2006.    web site.

Division of DC labour in the gut.
November 2009.    abstract.  pdf.  web site.
As far as the immune system is concerned, the gut is full of bacterial friends and foes: commensal microorganisms must be tolerated, whereas pathogens must be expelled. At the front line, maintaining this balance, are dendritic cells (DCs). Two groups reporting in Immunity have now investigated the origins and functions of lamina propria DC subsets to more fully understand how such an immune balance is achieved.
One SIGN, different paths.
October 2009.    abstract.  pdf.  web site.
When an invading pathogen meets a dendritic cell (DC) it is greeted by several cell surface receptors that work together to tailor a fitting immune response. A new report published in Nature Immunology reveals how one receptor creates further specificity by altering cytokine production levels in response to binding particular pathogen carbohydrates.

Bar Flies: What our insect relatives can teach us about alcohol tolerance.
June 2005.    abstract.  pdf.  web site.
The life of a laboratory animal is not generally an enviable one. However, Ulrike Heberlein and her colleagues at the University of San Francisco study the effects of alcohol on fruitflies and so for these little insects it must be pretty pleasant work - as long as they can handle the hangovers! The problem for one particular strain, however, is that they can't. Unlike normal flies, the newly identified mutant strain, aptly named hangover, is unable to develop normal tolerance to alcohol.