Monthly Archives: July 2016

Human Connectome Project Revolutionizes What We Know About the Brain

For centuries, doctors and neuroscientists have hypothesized and (literally) dissected the brain to learn more about it and how it works. Years of attempts at “brain-mapping” and scribbling in lab notebooks has led the scientific community to a series of answers, as well as controversy. Now, thanks to Matthew F. Glasser and his team at the Washington University School of Medicine, the former is coming much more than the latter.

Human Connectome Project

Due to individual variants and small subject groups, mapping the brain has only been partially successful. In 1909, scientist Korbinian Brodmann made a name for himself by becoming one of the first people to attempt to draw out the human cortex using only the cellular architecture that he observed in his microscope.

For over a hundred years, neuroanatomists have used his diagrams as a functional blueprint of the human mind. Even though his original research has been improved and supplemented throughout the years, a more stable foundation on which to build for the future has been long overdue.

Enter Dr. Glasser’s Human Connectome Project, which aspires to digitize the brain’s structures and functions on a large-scale map. Although this had been attempted before, criticism was drawn due to the relatively small sample size and the high variability in human brain structures.

Research notebook

This time, however, two hundred and ten healthy adults had their brains observed by a machine that had been programmed to recognize the multi-modal “fingerprint” of each part of the brain. Essentially, instead of just mapping each specific flap and fold, the researchers were looking for distinct combinations of myelin – a fatty neuron insulator – and brain activity while test subjects performed a number of different activities. The aim was to identify regions of the brain that “light up” when engaged.

For instance, one popularized area of the brain, Broca’s area, has long been known to be responsible for speech. Not surprisingly, this was confirmed in Dr. Glasser’s research, as were the 83 other known areas of the brain. However, the study also confirmed the existence of almost one hundred other regions. This hypothesis was then confirmed when they tested the map on two hundred and ten brand-new subjects and were able to identify their brain regions, give or take some level of individual variability.

Some of these new brain regions are still mysteries to even the scientists who discovered them. Like islands that have been discovered but not named yet, many of these areas have only been identified, not fully explored. For instance, a small patch of the brain (near Broca’s area) that is not rich in myelin has been discovered to become “unusually active” when people listen to stories. For the time being, it has been designated in research notebooks as 55b, an extension of Broca’s area.

human brain

In addition, several areas previously designated as one zone (like the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – also known as the front of the brain), have been identified as smaller portions that add up to a larger whole. For instance, even though the whole prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher modes of thought, individual patches may light up depending on whether or not you’re solving a puzzle or trying to deceive someone.

Besides the obvious implications for neuroscientists and brain surgeons around the world, this change in the basic understanding of how our brains work will be immeasurably helpful in the development of new treatments for brain-based illnesses like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.

Sources:

1 – http://www.nature.com/articles/nature18933.epdf

2 – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/21/science/human-connectome-brain-map.html?_r=1

The 7 Biggest Problems Facing Science, According to 270 Scientists

In recent years, the public has turned an interested eye to science like never before. In part this is due to a few movies that have made the public more aware of how interesting science really is, but each scientist may look at his or her lab notebook in frustration more often than not. That is because there are some huge problems in the way of scientific advancement.

Scientific notebook

  1. Negative Results Are Not Encouraged. The true process of science involves learning from negative results as much as positive ones. In fact, it’s the negative results that tend to raise the most questions. However, scientists who turn up these results are often left without funding or encouragement, and, negative results or not, replication is almost never done.
  2. Funding Is Limited. One scientist says that about ¾ of the funding used to pay faculty is gained through grant distribution. Grant distribution is often done based on publication. This means scientists who have not been published may not be approved for new projects. They might also be looked over if the review team does not find the project to be edgy enough.
  3. There Is Often a Conflict of Interest. Though most grants come from the government, others come from industry leaders. When those leaders fund their own projects, they are looking for results that reflect well on their particular industry, which can limit the true science involved.
  4. Publication Is Key. Scientists need to get published in order to continue to receive funding, but not all studies are accepted for publication. On top of the limited amount of room for published studies is the fact that organizations want to publish things that are statistically significant. Even key research is sometimes overlooked in favor of something that does more for statistics. Peer review is also an issue that impacts publication.
  5. Study Designs Are of Poor Quality. When you are in a hurry to get your work published, some accurate study designs get overlooked in favor of faster designs. Some scientists are so worried about funding and results that they are afraid to review their own work.
  6. Access Is Limited. Part of the issue is the fact that even when studies are published, they are too expensive to access. The average reader does not want to pay the high prices that are attached to the publications which carry studies.
  7. Hype Science Is Not Helpful. Though the interest in science has increased because of movies and television shows, it is not helpful to science when the public bases their view on those of celebrities. In fact, that just pushes science toward uncovering what is popular, rather than what is most helpful or meaningful. There are very few studies that are groundbreaking, but the public wants a steady flow of them.

Some of this might explain why a scientist would clench his laboratory notebook in frustration. With less money, more hype, and so many problems in between, it is getting more difficult to focus on some of the studies that might have the most important results for mankind as a whole. For more information on science and science supplies such as laboratory notebooks, visit SNCO today.

Lab notebooks

Cloud Patterns Are Shifting Skyward and Poleward, Adding to Global Warming

If you were to look in any laboratory research notebook belonging to someone studying the greenhouse effect or climate change in general, you would find a lot of notes concerning the clouds. While most of the world is trying to figure out which shape a cloud represents as they enjoy a picnic at the park, scientists are trying to determine the future of the world based on things like cloud patterns.

So far, all they have predicted concerning cloud shifts and patterns has been correct. Now it is time to look at the clouds, not to make shapes, but to see the future and what can be done about it.

Cloud Patterns

What Clouds Do

Most people realize that clouds play a significant role in evaporation. They understand that cloudy days bring rain and release the water that created the cloud in the first place. What they don’t realize is the significance of clouds when it comes to temperature, greenhouse gases, and so forth.

It is thought that clouds act both as reflectors and as blankets. They reflect the sunlight aimed at the Earth so that the Earth doesn’t receive all of it. Yet they also act as a sort of insulator, absorbing heat from the Earth and returning it, just as a blanket absorbs body heat and returns it to the individual under the blanket.

Cloud Predictions

There were three things predicted after decades of data was reviewed. These three things not only have a significant impact on the planet, but also act as predictors for what the world has to look forward to in the future.

  • The tops of the very highest clouds will only get higher or taller.
  • There will be a shift toward the north and south poles. This shift involves the storm path, or the path traveled by cyclones in the northern and southern hemispheres.
  • There will be an expansion of subtropical dry regions.

All of this is already happening, and it follows a course of common sense. As the clouds move closer to the poles and further from subtropical dry regions, they take their rainfall with them, and increase areas in which they have access to more liquid for evaporation. As a result, the subtropical dry regions only get drier because the clouds are not there to provide that rainfall. With the clouds moving away, these regions expand.

Applied to Global Warming

With the clouds’ movement, the protection that they provide is taken away from some areas. The thermal effect is moving to areas that are naturally cold, causing ice caps to melt at an alarming rate. The areas that used to have cloud cover are now exposed to full sunlight and less humidity.

In short, the movement of the clouds does not simply mean a change in levels of rainfall, but levels of radiation, humidity, and temperature, as well. Politicians may fight over whether or not global warming exists, but that’s not what scientists are doing. Instead, each one is taking notes in a laboratory research notebook in an effort to better understand how clouds can be tracked in a more detailed manner, and what the world can do with the results of the tracking.

Visit SNCO today to learn more about this and other scientific discoveries from our constantly updated blog.

Cloud Predictions

Science Says This Plant May Have Better Judgment Than You

Hold on to your bound notebooks, because you may be about to lose a bet … to a plant. That’s right. Science has recently proven not only that plants can make smart decisions and take action when it come to their survival, but they might even make better gambling choices than people do. You might even say that this recent experiment and its conclusions go with comparative human behavior analysis like two peas in a pod.

Plant-Have-Better-Judgment

Risk and Gambling

Have you ever sat next to someone at a casino and wondered why they continued to make the choices they did? Sometimes they risk everything when the potential for loss clearly outweighs the potential for gain. In such cases, you might consider that there is either a gambling addiction or something more to lose that you can’t see. For instance, someone who wins $500 when they were just enjoying the game might walk away with that win. However, someone who has a $700 car repair bill waiting for them might stay just a little longer and take the risk.

Plants and Loss

One of the biggest differences between plants and humans is that plant behavior would indicate that they care about survival more than anything, while humans tend to care more about the details of the quality of life they live. Hence, humans might gamble when plants wouldn’t, but plants do gamble for survival.

Peas in a Pot

Recently, a candidate for a Master degree, Efrat Dener, conducted an experiment to see how peas would respond. Plants are known for making movements toward sunlight, but there is not a lot of evidence to demonstrate higher thinking skills. This experiment may have changed all that, as plants demonstrated that they were willing to play the long odds rather than risk death.

Pea roots of the same plants were placed in different pots. On one side, there were pots that had a consistent flow of nutrients that the plants needed, though the flows varied in quantity. On the other side, the pots were subject to random doses of nutrients with no visible consistency. When it came to plants that had high level of nutrients in the consistent pots, the plants made the choice and took action to put most of the roots in the pots with a consistent flow of nutrients.

Another set of plants was offered the option of a consistent flow of nutrients on one side. The only problem was that even though the levels were consistent, they were consistently low—too low for the plant to thrive. On the other side, the pots experienced random amounts of nutrients ranging from high to low. In those cases, the plants chose to take a chance with the pots that had random levels.

This experiment is one for the bound notebooks not only because it demonstrated that plants take direct action on choices that they can and do make, but that those choices indicate an intelligent response to stimuli, a response that on some level is able to calculate the risk put before it. To learn more about advances in science and how they might best be recorded, continue to follow our blog at the Scientific Notebook Company.

Plant-tree