ewenc writes: Mercenary computer coders are helping scientists cope with the deluge of data pouring out of research labs. A contest to write software to analyse immune-system genes garnered more than 100 entries, including many that vastly outperformed existing programs. The US$6,000 contest was launched by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School, both in Boston, Massachusetts. TopCoder.com, a community of more than 400,000 coders who compete in programming competitions, hosted the contest. The results are described in a letter published this week in Nature Biotechnology.
ewenc writes: Brian Butterworth is on a crusade to understand the number deficit called dyscalculia — and to help those who have it with computer games. Researchers estimate that as much as 7% of the population has dyscalculia, which is marked by severe difficulties in dealing with numbers despite otherwise normal intelligence.
That combination has attracted neuroscientists such as Butterworth, who believe that the disorder illuminates the inner workings of the brain's number sense — the ability to understand and manipulate quantities. This sense is every bit as innate as vision or hearing, yet scientists disagree over its cognitive and neural basis, a debate that dyscalculics may help to settle.
ewenc writes: A superbug outbreak that plagued a special-care neonatal unit in Cambridge, UK, for several months was brought to an end by insights gained from genome sequencing. The case, reported today in Lancet Infectious Disease, marks the first time that scientists have sequenced pathogen genomes to actively control an ongoing outbreak. Sharon Peacock, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, and her team became involved in the outbreak after three infants at nearby Rosie Hospital’s 24-cot special-care baby unit tested positive for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) within a couple days of each other.
ewenc writes: Sigmund Freud thought dreams were a window into our unfulfilled sexual desires. But the dreams of video game players suggest they have a more practical role: helping us to learn new skills, according to a story in New Scientist.
The studies don't prove that dreaming about games makes players better. But they strongly suggest that dreaming and learning are intertwined.
That sleep can help with learning and memory is well established. What's more, the more people dream during the light sleep characterised by rapid eye movements (REM), the better they recall memories. But whether the specific content of dreams plays a role in this sleep-learning process wasn't clear.
To find out, Sidarta Ribeiro and André Pantoja of the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil turned to the visceral, monster-filled, first-person shoot-'em-up game Doom.
ewenc writes: In the last few years, patterns in brain activity have been used to successfully predict what pictures people are looking at, their location in a virtual environment or a decision they are poised to make. The most recent results show that researchers can now recreate moving images that volunteers are viewing — and even make educated guesses at which event they are remembering.
Last week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago, Jack Gallant, at the University of California, Berkeley, presented one of the field's most impressive results yet. He and colleague Shinji Nishimoto showed that they could create a crude reproduction of a movie clip that someone was watching just by viewing their brain activity. Others at the same meeting claimed that such neural decoding could be used to read memories and future plans — and even to diagnose eating disorders
ewenc writes: It's not often that bacteria make water more drinkable, but a new microbial desalination cell does precisely that, according to a story in New Scientist. The proof-of-principle system removed 90 per cent of the salt from a seawater-like solution.Microbial desalination could offer big advantages over the methods currently used to purify seawater, which require enormous pressure to operate, and gobble up huge amounts of energy. The experimental microbial desalination cell could eventually run on waste water, scientists say.
Full disclosure: I work for New Scientist.
ewenc writes: A series of tattoos belonging to Otzi the 5300 year-old Tyrolean Iceman are made of soot, reports New Scientist. Mountain climbers discovered Otzi's mummified body in the Austrian-Italian alps in 1991. What's left of his skin was littered with simple cross and line markings.
Electron microscopy and spectroscopy now show that Otzi's tats are made of double-bonded carbon indicative of soot, as well as silicate crystals that probably came from rocks surrounding a fire pit. Full disclosure: I work for New Scientist.
ewenc writes: A computer technique can tell the difference between ancient Greek inscriptions created by different artisans, a feat that ordinarily consumes years of human scholarship, reports New Scientist.
A team of Greek computer scientists created the program after a scholar challenged them to attribute 24 inscriptions to their rightful cutter. The researchers scanned the tablets and constructed an average shape for several Greek letters in every tablet. After comparing the average letters between different tablets, they correctly attributed the inscriptions to six stone-cutters.
ewenc writes: Some of the same South Korean scientists who cloned the first dog — an Afghan hound named Snuppy — have now achieved another canine first: a transgenic dog, named Ruppy. New Scientist has the story. Ruppy and four other beagles express the gene for a red fluorescent sea anemone protein. The researchers who created her say transgenic dogs will be useful for understanding human disease and biology, but one researcher says transgenic dogs are "not on my horizon as a dog geneticist at all."
ewenc writes: Video games have been shown to alter mood, hone certain skills and even help treat PTSD. Now neuroscientists have used a video game to condition real-world decision-making. From the story:
Volunteers who played a simple cycling game learned to favour one team's jersey and avoid another's. Days later, most subjects subconsciously avoided the same jersey in a real-world test.
As video games become more immersive and realistic, all involved ought to realise the potential, says Paul Fletcher, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, UK, who led the study
"I don't think this is evidence that video games are bad," says Fletcher, a former gamer. "We just need to be aware that associations formed within the game transfer to the real world — for good or bad."
ewenc writes "A psychology study of hundreds of people waiting for front-row access to U2 concerts points to the best ways to cut in line and not get caught. 'Super-fans' are most irked by queue-jumpers. People were equally peeved whether someone cut in front or behind, and cutters who jumped beside a friend were less likely to attract scorn."