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The secret sex of cheese | Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

The secret sex of cheese | Molecular Love (and other facts of life) | Weird Science | Scoop.it
Are you grossed out by blue cheese? Does that blue-green marbling of delicious fungus kind of make you gag? Well, this little factoid probably won’t help: there may be sex going on in that cheese.

Until pretty recently, a big chunk of fungal species were thought to reproduce without sex–until people really started to look. It turns out, there’s a lot more sex going on in the fungal world (on the down-low) than people thought. And that includes fungi that are used to make delicious blue cheese. Jeanne Ropars and colleagues in France, the home of Roquefort cheese, looked at the genomes of the mold species used in this particular cheese to see what kind of funny business was going on in their snack of choice. They found much more diversity than could be explained by asexual reproduction. And even more telling, the genes used by fungi to find mating partners have been kept intact and functional by evolution, meaning there’s probably some sex going on.

Besides providing people with a lovely conversation starter at wine and cheese parties, why did these scientists want to know about the sex lives of their cheeses? Well, whether you like it or not, people love moldy cheese. It’s a huge industry; as pointed out by the authors of this study, France alone produces 56,865 tons of blue cheese every year. But with an asexually producing mold, there isn’t much room for innovation. Producing new strains of mold (in this case, Penicillium roqueforti) relies on luck. Cheese makers have to wait for random mutations to occur and then select for strains that have qualities they like.
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Watch the first 21 days of a bee’s life in 60 seconds (video)

Watch the first 21 days of a bee’s life in 60 seconds (video) | Weird Science | Scoop.it

When National Geographic asked photographer Anand Varma to shoot photos of bees for a story, he did what any photographer wouldn’t do: He started keeping bees in his backyard to better acquaint himself with the creatures. Kind of like a photographer’s version of method acting.

But by the looks of things, Varma became pretty taken with his apian muses, going beyond the call of duty to try and really figure out the mysteries of the hive. And in particular, what’s going on with Varroa destructor, the bee-decimating parasitic mite with a name like a Harry Potter spell.

We are reliant on bees for our food – they pollinate one-third of our crops – but between pesticides, disease, habitat loss and the biggest threat of all, according to Varma, the Varroa mite – they are disappearing at an alarming rate.

With this in mind, Varma teamed up with the bee people from UC Davis to figure out a way to film life in the hive, and what they’ve come up with is a miraculous glimpse of the bees’ first 21 days. From egg to squiggling larvae to bona fide buzzing bees; mites included.

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Sea Slug has Taken Genes from the Algae it Eats, Allowing it to Photosynthesize Like a Plant

Sea Slug has Taken Genes from the Algae it Eats, Allowing it to Photosynthesize Like a Plant | Weird Science | Scoop.it
How a brilliant-green sea slug manages to live for months at a time “feeding” on sunlight, like a plant, is clarified in a recent study published in The Biological Bulletin.

The authors present the first direct evidence that the emerald green sea slug’s chromosomes have some genes that come from the algae it eats.

These genes help sustain photosynthetic processes inside the slug that provide it with all the food it needs.

Importantly, this is one of the only known examples of functional gene transfer from one multicellular species to another, which is the goal of gene therapy to correct genetically based diseases in humans.
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This Bizarre Organism Builds Itself a New Genome Every Time It Has Sex

This Bizarre Organism Builds Itself a New Genome Every Time It Has Sex | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Oxytricha trifallax lives in ponds all over the world. Under an electron microscope it looks like a football adorned with tassels. The tiny fringes are the cilia it uses to move around and gobble up algae. What makes Oxytricha unusual, however, is the crazy things it does with its DNA.

 

Unlike humans and most other organisms on Earth, Oxytricha doesn’t have sex to increase its numbers. It has sex to reinvent itself.

When its food is plentiful, Oxytricha reproduces by making imperfect clones of itself, much like a new plant can grow from a cutting. “If they’re well fed, they won’t mate,” said Laura Landweber, a molecular biologist at Princeton University and lead author of a recent study on Oxytricha genetics. But when Oxytricha gets hungry or stressed, it goes looking for sex.

 

When two cells come together (as in the image above), the ultimate result is: two cells. “They’ve perfected the art of sex without reproduction,” Landweber said. The exterior of the two cells remains, but each cell swaps half of its genome with the other. “They’re entering into this pact where each one is going to be 50 percent transformed,” Landweber said. “They emerge with a rejuvenated genome.”

 

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3D footage from inside a flying insect

3D footage from inside a flying insect | Weird Science | Scoop.it

A team of scientists from Oxford University, Imperial College, and the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland have used very intense X-rays to film inside an insect as it flies.

 

The footage is a 3D reconstruction, made up of several X-ray images, and shows a blowfly's flight motor - the anatomy that powers its flight.

The researchers say the videos offer a glimpse into the inner workings of one of nature's most complex mechanisms.

 

Dr Simon Walker from Oxford's animal flight group told the BBC: "We hope that this research will [prove] useful towards the design of micro-mechanical systems, including micro air vehicles that aim to replicate insect flight."

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An Ocean of Viruses

An Ocean of Viruses | Weird Science | Scoop.it

here are an estimated 1031viruses on Earth. That is to say: there may be a hundred million times more viruses on Earth than there are stars in the universe. The majority of these viruses infect microbes, including bacteria, archaea, and microeukaryotes, all of which are vital players in the global fixation and cycling of key elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. These two facts combined—the sheer number of viruses and their intimate relationship with microbial life—suggest that viruses, too, play a critical role in the planet’s biosphere.

Of all the Earth’s biomes, the ocean has emerged as the source for major discoveries on the interaction of viruses with their microbial hosts.Ocean viruses were the inspiration for early hypotheses of the so-called “viral shunt,” by which viral killing of microbial hosts redirects carbon and nutrients away from larger organisms and back toward other microorganisms.Furthermore, researchers analyzing oceanic life have discovered many novel viruses that defy much of the conventional wisdom about what a virus is and what a virus does.

Among these discoveries are “giant” marine viruses, with capsid cross-sections that can exceed 500 nm, an order of magnitude larger than prototypical viruses. Giant viruses infect eukaryotic hosts, including the protist Cafeteria and unicellular green algae.These viruses also carry genomes larger than nearly all previously identified viral types, in some cases upwards of 1 million base pairs. In both marine and nonmarine contexts, researchers have even identified viruses that can infect giant viruses, the so-called virophages, a modern biological example of Jonathan Swift’s 17th-century aphorism: “a flea/ Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;/ And these have smaller fleas to bite ’em;/ And so proceed ad infinitum.”

It is apparent that we still have much to learn about the rich and dynamic world of ocean microbes and viruses. For example, a liter of seawater collected in marine surface waters typically contains at least 10 billion microbes and 100 billion viruses—the vast majority of which remain unidentified and uncharacterized. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of high-throughput tools that facilitate the study of bacteriophages and other microbe-infecting viruses that cannot yet be cultured in the laboratory. Indeed, studying viruses in natural environments has recently gone mainstream with the advent of viral metagenomics, pioneered by Forest Rohwer and colleagues at San Diego State University in California.

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Gene activity and transcript patterns visualized for the first time in thousands of single cells

Gene activity and transcript patterns visualized for the first time in thousands of single cells | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Biologists of the University of Zurich have developed a method to visualize the activity of genes in single cells. The method is so efficient that, for the first time, a thousand genes can be studied in parallel in ten thousand single human cells. Applications lie in fields of basic research and medical diagnostics. The new method shows that the activity of genes, and the spatial organization of the resulting transcript molecules, strongly vary between single cells.

Whenever cells activate a gene, they produce gene specific transcript molecules, which make the function of the gene available to the cell. The measurement of gene activity is a routine activity in medical diagnostics, especially in cancer medicine. Today's technologies determine the activity of genes by measuring the amount of transcript molecules. However, these technologies can neither measure the amount of transcript molecules of one thousand genes in ten thousand single cells, nor the spatial organization of transcript molecules within a single cell. The fully automated procedure, developed by biologists of the University of Zurich under the supervision of Prof. Lucas Pelkmans, allows, for the first time, a parallel measurement of the amount and spatial organization of single transcript molecules in ten thousands single cells. The results, which were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Methods, provide completely novel insights into the variability of gene activity of single cells.

 

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Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Bee-Holder

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Bee-Holder | Weird Science | Scoop.it

For a lot of people, the sight of a bee or wasp is enough to illicit some kind of visceral reaction. But a bee at 1:1 magnification becomes something a little more awe-inspiring.

 

"We know the average American reaction to insects," says Sam Droege, Head of the U.S. Geological Survey Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab. But, he says, "At this scale none of them are ugly."

 

Droege's job is to develop large scale surveys of plants and animals and to monitor individual species. For the past 10 years, his lab has been trying to track the decline of bees, but ran into a problem: most people can't identify different species of bees. According to Droege, there are approximately 4000 bee species in North America, and around 400-500 have never been described.

"We needed some good pictures," he said. "We [needed] really high definition pictures that people can drill into and say 'You know the pattern of the crosshatching between the pits on the skin of the upper part of the bee is really different than this one.'"

 

So Droege fine-tuned a system of photography that was originally designed by the military. He shoots with a high-quality 60mm macro lens that fills the entire area of a full-frame sensor camera. He then uses what is called a to incrementally move the camera and take a series of images that he later pieces together to create one image entirely in focus.

 

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50 unbelievable facts about Earth: Awesome Infographic

50 unbelievable facts about Earth: Awesome Infographic | Weird Science | Scoop.it

The longest amount a time a Tardigrade, the hardiest animal in existence, can exist in a vacuum is 10 days. If you love facts like this, then you'll love 49 others in the "unbelievable facts about Earth

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The Most Amazing Map You’ll See Today (No Matter What Day It Is) : Out There

The Most Amazing Map You’ll See Today (No Matter What Day It Is) : Out There | Weird Science | Scoop.it

There are many way to celebrate your 70th birthday. You could sit down in front of a cake packed tight with flaming candles. You could go bowling with your buds wearing a T-shirt that says, “Over the hill–and picking up speed.” Or you could help put together the most amazing, three-dimensional map of the universe ever created.



Brent Tully opted for door #3.

 

Tully, a cosmologist at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, has probably done more than any other single living scientist to help uncover what the universe looks like in three dimensions. That’s no small challenge. As anyone knows from looking up a the night sky, appearances alone tell you almost nothing about which stars are near and which are  far. The same goes for galaxies. Measuring their distances is so difficult that less than a century many astronomers doubted that other galaxies even existed. At the time, some of the leading researchers thought that what we now call galaxies were actually “spiral nebulae”–small, nearby clouds of gas that were turning into individual stars. That is the kind of challenge that Tully has taken on, with staggering results.

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Scientists Invent Oxygen Particle That If Injected, Allows You To Live Without Breathing

Scientists Invent Oxygen Particle That If Injected, Allows You To Live Without Breathing | Weird Science | Scoop.it

A team of scientists at the Boston Children’s Hospital have invented what is being considered one the greatest medical breakthroughs in recent years. They have designed a microparticle that can be injected into a person’s bloodstream that can quickly oxygenate their blood. This will even work if the ability to breathe has been restricted, or even cut off entirely.

 

This finding has the potential to save millions of lives every year. The microparticles can keep an object alive for up to 30 min after respiratory failure. This is accomplished through an injection into the patients’ veins. Once injected, the microparticles can oxygenate the blood to near normal levels. This has countless potential uses as it allows life to continue when oxygen is needed but unavailable. For medical personnel, this is just enough time to avoid risking a heart attack or permanent brain injury when oxygen is restricted or cut off to patients.

 

Dr. John Kheir, who first began the study, works in the Boston Children’s Hospital Department of Cardiology. He found inspiration for the drug in 2006, when he was treating a girl in the ICU who had a sever case of pneumonia. At the time, the girl didn’t have a breathing tube, when at the time she suffered from a pulmonary hemorrhage. This means her lungs had begin to fill up with blood, and she finally went into cardiac arrest. It took doctors about 25 minutes to remove enough blood from her lungs to allow her to breath. Though, the girl’s brain was severely injured due to being deprived of oxygen for that long and she eventually died.

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The extraordinary courtship dance of Australia's peacock spider

The extraordinary courtship dance of Australia's peacock spider | Weird Science | Scoop.it

One of the most common phobias in the world is arachnophobia, the irrational fear of spiders. But there is one sort of spider out there that is so cute that even arachnophobes may like them.

I am talking about those diminutive jumping spiders (Family: Salticidae). Not only are these spiders very small, but they are generally colourful and they have keen eyesight -- essential for stalking and quickly jumping upon their prey since they do not spin webs to ensnare insects.

It's possible that I may be projecting just a wee bit, but jumping spiders seem to have personalities and, as one zoology professor told me when I was a grad student, they even learn to recognize their human care-givers.

But to my eyes, the most remarkable of all jumping spiders are those in the genus Maratus. Although only eight species have been formally described so far, at least 20 species are known, and all of them are found only in Australia.


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Scientists Decode Dreams With Brain Scans

Scientists Decode Dreams With Brain Scans | Weird Science | Scoop.it

It used to be that what happened in your dreams was your own little secret. But today scientists report for the first time that they’ve successfully decoded details of people’s dreams using brain scans.

 

Before you reach for your tin hat, you should know that the scientists managed this feat only with the full cooperation of their research subjects, and they only decoded dreams after the fact, not in real time. The thought police won’t be busting you for renting bowling shoes from Saddam Hussein or whatever else you’ve been up to in your dreams.

 

All the same, the work is yet another impressive step for researchers interested in decoding mental states from brain activity, and it opens the door to a new way of studying dreaming, one of the most mysterious and fascinating aspects of the human experience.

 

In the first part of the new study, neuroscientist Yukiyasu Kamitani and colleagues at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto, Japan monitored three young men as they tried to get some sleep inside an fMRI scanner while the machine monitored their brain activity. The researchers also monitored each volunteer’s brain activity with EEG electrodes, and when they saw an EEG signature indicative of dreaming, they woke him up to ask what he’d been dreaming about.

 

Technically speaking, this is what researchers call ”hypnagogic imagery,” the dream-like state that occurs as people fall asleep. In the interest of saving time, Kamitani and colleagues chose to study this type of imagery rather than the dreams that tend to occur during REM sleep later in the night. They woke up each subject at least 200 times over the course of several days to build up a database of dream reports.

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Brain Map: President Obama Proposes First Detailed Guide of Human Brain Function

Brain Map: President Obama Proposes First Detailed Guide of Human Brain Function | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Researchers have learned an enormous amount about how we think, what drives our behaviors, and why we feel the way we do since President George H.W. Bush proclaimed the 1990s the “decade of the brain,” but many fundamental questions about the three-pound universe remain unanswered.  So President Obama has proposed a Brain Activity Map (BAM) project to reveal some of these remaining secrets, using the Human Genome Project as a model. Not all scientists, however, are on board.

 

In his state of the union speech, the President noted that every dollar invested in the human genome project “returned $140 to our economy.” With some $3.8 billion spent over 13 years, the resulting gene-based boon turned out to be $796 billion in new jobs, medical treatments, increased salaries and other benefits, according to a 2011 analysis conducted for the federal government.  Although medical care has not advanced as much as initially expected because — surprise — the science of genetics is more complex than scientists had anticipated, the data is continuing to yield fruit and promises to provide more value in years to come.

 

The BAM project hopes to offer returns of equal or greater value, although the amount of funding has not yet been determined.  The New York Times reports that scientists hope for at least as much money as was devoted to the genome project— $300 million a year for at least ten years— but what the administration will seek as part of the proposed budget and where the money will come from is not yet clear.

The goal is to produce the first map of brain function to explore every signal sent by every cell and track how the resulting data flows through neural networks and is ultimately translated into thoughts, feelings and actions.  While work is already underway to understand the wiring diagram of the whole brain— known as the connectome— this project would go beyond that to try to understand what this circuitry actually does.

 

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Upside down and inside out

Upside down and inside out | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have captured the first three-dimensional images of a live embryo turning itself inside out. The images, of embryos of a green alga called Volvox, make an ideal test case to understand how a remarkably similar process works in early animal development.

Using fluorescence microscopy to observe the Volvox embryos, the researchers were able to test a mathematical model of morphogenesis - the origin and development of an organism's structure and form - and understand how the shape of cells drives the process of inversion, when the embryo turns itself from a sphere to a mushroom shape and back again.

The processes observed in the Volvox embryo are similar to the process of gastrulation in animal embryos - which biologist Lewis Wolpert called "the most important event in your life." During gastrulation, the embryo folds inwards into a cup-like shape, forming the primary germ layers which give rise to all the organs in the body. Volvox embryos undergo a similar process, but with an additional twist: the embryos literally turn themselves right-side out during the process.

 

 

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Stunning, psychedelic images where art and science collide

Stunning, psychedelic images where art and science collide | Weird Science | Scoop.it

In his TEDGlobal 2013 talk, Fabian Oefner shares breathtaking images at the nexus of art and science, which beautifully capture unique moments of physical and chemical drama.

 

Formally trained in art and design, Oefner says that he has always been interested in science. Though he can’t pinpoint the exact moment when he became interested in pairing his two loves, he views both pursuits as inextricably linked by a crucial bond: “The most important quality of science or art is curiosity,” Oefner tells TED. “That’s what keeps me going and always finding something new.”

 

Daniel House's insight:

Loving this

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Brand New Look at the Face of Mars

Brand New Look at the Face of Mars | Weird Science | Scoop.it

What really lies across the surface of Mars? Rovers have scurried about the red planet for years, drilling, scooping and analyzing for signs of life, past or present. But to really understand the Martian landscape, scientists need to look at the entire surface. What they have needed is a global geologic map.

 

The red planet is long overdue for a new one. The last major effort in Martian cartography was published in 1987, scraped together from the early Viking probes’ scant images and datasets. Since then, four additional orbiters with superior imaging capabilities have journeyed into Martian orbit, collected data and transmitted their findings back to Earth.

 

Now, scientists at the United States Geological Survey have used that data to create an updated map of the entire Martian surface. The new map shows that ancient rock — dating back billions of years ago, when Mars’s environmental conditions might have closely resembled Earth’s— exists in many more locations than previously thought. Because the map highlights the location of the oldest rocks on Mars, it could help future missions chart a course for these areas.

 

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Watch a crab climb out of its old shell [VIDEO]

Watch a crab climb out of its old shell [VIDEO] | Weird Science | Scoop.it

The process (called molting) is a complicated, multi-day process, according to NOAA:

 

Crabs (and other crustaceans) cannot grow in a linear fashion like most animals. Because they have a hard outer shell (the exoskeleton) that does not grow, they must shed their shells, a process called molting. Just as we outgrow our clothing, crabs outgrow their shells. Prior to molting, a crab reabsorbs some of the calcium carbonate from the old exoskeleton, then secretes enzymes to separate the old shell from the underlying skin (or epidermis). Then, the epidermis secretes a new, soft, paper-like shell beneath the old one. This process can take several weeks.

 

A day before molting, the crab starts to absorb seawater, and begins to swell up like a balloon. This helps to expand the old shell and causes it to come apart at a special seam that runs around the body. The carapace then opens up like a lid. The crab extracts itself from its old shell by pushing and compressing all of its appendages repeatedly. First it backs out, then pulls out its hind legs, then its front legs, and finally comes completely out of the old shell. This process takes about 15 minutes.

 

Female Red King Crab preparing to molt Over the next few weeks, the crab gradually retracts all of its body parts from the outer shell by a few millimeters, while it begins to secrete a new shell beneath the old one. If we pull off one of the small mouthparts from the crab, and place it under a microscope, you can see the new shell beginning to retract from the old one. When a crab molts, it removes all its legs, its eyestalks, its antennae, all its mouthparts, and its gills. It leaves behind the old shell, the esophagus, its entire stomach lining, and even the last half inch of its intestine. Quite often, many crabs in a population molt at the same time of year, and their old shells wash up on the beach. If you find something on the beach that looks like a dead crab, pick it up, open the lid, and look closely inside.

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Money does grow on trees: Gold found in tree leaves, leads to vast hidden underground deposits

Money does grow on trees: Gold found in tree leaves, leads to vast hidden underground deposits | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Forget everything your parents ever taught you about managing your finances: Down under in Australia, scientists have found money growing on trees. Not paper money, of course, but eucalyptus leaves that are imbued with small amounts of pure gold. These gilded leaves can help gold exploration companies discover new, underground gold deposits in difficult-to-reach locations.

The research, carried out by Melvyn Lintern at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and friends, discovered that trees in Australia and elsewhere in the world can be used to locate gold deposits that are more than 30 meters (100 feet) below the surface. Small amounts of gold are dissolved in water, which is then sucked up by tree roots.

 

 

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Alien frontier: see the haunting, beautiful weirdness of Mars

Alien frontier: see the haunting, beautiful weirdness of Mars | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Mounted to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as it floats high above the red planet is the HiRISE telescope, an imaging device capable of taking incredibly high-resolution photos of the martian landscape. It's sent back nearly 30,000 photos during its time above the planet, which have been used by NASA to find clear landing spots for rovers, and by researchers to learn more about the features of Mars' surface.

 

The stunning views captured by HiRISE have inspired a book from the publisher Aperture, called This is Mars, which includes 150 of its finest looks at the planet. The entire collection is in black and white, however, as that's how HiRISE's images naturally turn out.

 

But by combining different color filters on the telescope, NASA is able to produce colored versions of most images too. They're known as "false color" images, since they won't perfectly match up with what the human eye would see. False color images are still useful, however, in helping researchers distinguish between different elements of Mars' landscape. They're also downright gorgeous to look through. Below, we've collected our own series of some of the most incredible sights taken by HiRISE throughout 2013.

 

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Neurologists report unique form of musical hallucinations

Neurologists report unique form of musical hallucinations | Weird Science | Scoop.it

One night when she was trying to fall asleep, a 60-year-old woman suddenly began hearing music, as if a radio were playing at the back of her head.

 

The songs were popular tunes her husband recognized when she sang or hummed them. But she herself could not identify them.

 

This is the first known case of a patient hallucinating music that was familiar to people around her, but that she herself did not recognize, according to Dr. Danilo Vitorovic and Dr. José Biller of Loyola University Medical Center. The neurologists describe the unique case in the journal Frontiers in Neurology.

 

The case raises "intriguing questions regarding memory, forgetting and access to lost memories," the authors write.

 

Musical hallucinations are a form of auditory hallucinations, in which patients hear songs, instrumental music or tunes, even though no such music is actually playing. Most patients realize they are hallucinating, and find the music intrusive and occasionally unpleasant. There is no cure.

 

Musical hallucinations usually occur in older people. Several conditions are possible causes or predisposing factors, including hearing impairment, brain damage, epilepsy, intoxications and psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hearing impairment is the most common predisposing condition, but is not by itself sufficient to cause hallucinations.

 

Daniel House's insight:

I've been having musical hallucinations since I was a kid. I've always loved it...except what I hear is new music originating from my own neural pathways.

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Scientists Think Cavemen Painted While High on Hallucinogenic Drugs

Scientists Think Cavemen Painted While High on Hallucinogenic Drugs | Weird Science | Scoop.it

There's something undeniably surreal about early cave paintings, something otherworldly or even psychedelic. And according to a team of international scientists, that's because the cave painters were doing mind-bending drugs while painting them.

 

Researchers Tom Froese, Alexander Woodward and Takashi Ikegami from Tokyo recently published a comprehensive study of over 40,000 years worth of cave paintings and found some pretty telling patterns. The spiral-like and labyrinthian designs that pop up in paintings from locations that are thousands of miles away from each other didn't just pop up by coincidence. Since these patterns are consistent with those that many humans see after taking hallucinogenic drugs, the scientists think that ancient cavemen had more in common than previously thought. They all loved to get high.

 

Specifically known as "Turing instabilities," these hallucinations are common after ingesting a number of different plants with psychoactive properties. The patterns resemble "neural patterns" that mimic the structural makeup of the brain and are as meaningful as those that initially experienced them perceived them to be. "'When these visual patterns are seen during altered states of consciousness they are directly experienced as highly charged with significance," the researchers suggest. "In other words, the patterns are directly perceived as somehow meaningful and thereby offer themselves as salient motifs for use in rituals."

 

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The $1.3B Quest to Build a Supercomputer Replica of a Human Brain

The $1.3B Quest to Build a Supercomputer Replica of a Human Brain | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Even by the standards of the TED conference, Henry Markram’s 2009 TEDGlobal talk was a mind-bender. He took the stage of the Oxford Playhouse, clad in the requisite dress shirt and blue jeans, and announced a plan that—if it panned out—would deliver a fully sentient hologram within a decade. He dedicated himself to wiping out all mental disorders and creating a self-aware artificial intelligence. And the South African–born neuroscientist pronounced that he would accomplish all this through an insanely ambitious attempt to build a complete model of a human brain—from synapses to hemispheres—and simulate it on a supercomputer. Markram was proposing a project that has bedeviled AI researchers for decades, that most had presumed was impossible. He wanted to build a working mind from the ground up.

 

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Psychedelic Portuguese Man-of-War Photos Prove God Is a Stoner

Psychedelic Portuguese Man-of-War Photos Prove God Is a Stoner | Weird Science | Scoop.it

The sting from a Portuguese man-of-war hurts like hell, so most people avoid the jellyfish-like creatures. Not Aaron Ansarov — he and his wife don rubber gloves and collect them when they wash up on the beach near their home in Delray Beach, Florida.

They take the creatures back to their house and Ansarov photographs them on a makeshift light table and then mirrors the image in Photoshop. He shot dozens of them this past winter and the result is a unique, psychedelic portfolio.

“It’s kind of like nature’s Rorschach test,” he says.

Portugese man-of-wars are not jellyfish, they’re siphonophores, which mean’s they’re actually a group of organisms, called zooids, that depend on each other to live. The creature gets its name from the upper-most organism which people say looks like the man-of-war warships that were first built by England in the 16th century. A different organism forms the tentacles, which usually hang 30 feet below the surface and have venom-filled nematocysts that are used to kill small fish. Man-of-wars are most commonly found in warm water and sting thousands of humans each year.

Ansarov shoots the creatures on a light table because they’re translucent and the light coming from underneath helps illuminate their insides.

“Whenever I show the photos everyone sees something different,” he says. “One person will say ‘I see a person’s face’ and other people will see vaginas and other crazy sexual organs.”

The man-of-wars are usually alive when Ansarov and his wife find them on the beach, so the couple use a beer cooler filled with seawater to transport them home. The creatures are still alive when Ansarov photographs them and then he puts them back on the beach where he found them.

Man-of-wars have no way to move independently so they’re at the whim of tides and currents. They wash up on the beach naturally and Ansarov says he doesn’t want to interfere with the natural process. If they wash back into the sea when he’s done it was meant to be. If they don’t, they die.

 

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Why Your Brain Craves Music

Why Your Brain Craves Music | Weird Science | Scoop.it

If making music isn’t the most ancient of human activities, it’s got to be pretty close. Melody and rhythm can trigger feelings from sadness to serenity to joy to awe; they can bring memories from childhood vividly back to life. The taste of a tiny cake may have inspired Marcel Proust to pen the seven-volume novel Remembrance of Things Past, but fire up the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction and you’ll throw the entire Baby Boom generation into a Woodstock-era reverie.

 

From an evolutionary point of view, however, music doesn’t seem to make sense. Unlike sex, say, or food, it did nothing to help our distant ancestors survive and reproduce. Yet music and its effects are in powerful evidence across virtually all cultures, so it must satisfy some sort of universal need—often in ways we can’t begin to fathom. A few years ago, a single composition lifted Valerie Salimpoor almost instantaneously out of a deep funk (it was Brahms’ Hungarian Dance # 5, to be precise), and from that moment, she decided it would be her life’s work to figure out music’s mysteries.

 

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Music Increases Killer Cell Counts And Lowers Levels of Stress Hormone Cortisol

Music Increases Killer Cell Counts And Lowers Levels of Stress Hormone Cortisol | Weird Science | Scoop.it

Listening to music has direct effects on our body chemistry, it can lower the level of the stress hormone cortisol, while immunoglobulin A and killer cell counts increase, strengthening our immune system. These are some of the highlights found by researchers conducting a large-scale review of 400 research papers about the neurochemistry of music. While it is generally known that music has benefits for both mental and physical health, it is interesting how direct the neurochemical mechanisms of listening impact our body, strengthening the immune system and reducing levels of cortisol to decrease stress.

 

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