Quick – can you tell where north is? Animals as diverse as sea turtles, birds, worms, butterflies and wolves can, thanks to sensing Earth’s magnetic field.

But the magnet-sensing structures inside their cells that allow them to do this have evaded scientists – until now.

A team led by Can Xie’s at Peking University in China has now found a protein in fruit flies, butterflies and pigeons that they believe to be responsible for this magnetic sense.

“It’s provocative and potentially groundbreaking,” says neurobiologist Steven Reppert of the University of Massachusetts who was not involved in the work. “It took my breath away.”

There used to be two competing theories about magnetic sense: some thought it came from iron-binding molecules, others thought it came from a protein called cryptochrome, which senses light and has been linked to magnetic sense in birds.

Xie’s group was the first to guess these two were part of the same system, and has now figured out how they fit together.

“This was a very creative approach,” says Reppert. “Everyone thought they were two separate systems.”

Xie’s team first screened the fruit fly genome for a protein that would fit a very specific bill.

The molecule had to bind iron, it had to be expressed inside a cell instead of on the cell membrane and do so in the animal’s head – where animals tend to sense magnetic fields – and it also had to interact with cryptochrome.

“We found one [gene] fit all of our predictions,” says Xie. They called it MagR and then used techniques including electron microscopy and computer modelling to figure out the protein’s structure.

They found that MagR and cryptochrome proteins formed a cylinder, with an inside filling of 20 MagR molecules surrounded by 10 cryptochromes.

The researchers then identified and isolated this protein complex from pigeons and monarch butterflies.

In the lab, the proteins snapped into alignment in response to a magnetic field. They were so strongly magnetic that they flew up and stuck to the researchers’ tools, which contained iron. So the team had to use custom tools made of plastic.

The team hasn’t yet tried to remove the MagR protein from an animal like a fruit fly to see if it loses its magnetic sense, but Xie believes the proteins work the same way in a living animal.

Although this protein complex seems to form the basis of magnetic sense, the exact mechanism is still to be figured out.

One idea is that when an animal changes direction, the proteins may swing around to point north, “just like a compass needle,” says Xie. Perhaps the proteins’ movement could trigger a connected molecule, which would send a signal to the nervous system.

Journal reference: Nature Materials, DOI: 10.1038/nmat4484


Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

The Scots are renowned for their whisky but, for the second year in a row, whisky from another country has been named the best in the world.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, a Canadian malt whisky, was awarded 97.5 marks out of 100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, earning it the title of world whisky of the year.

Despite its stellar reputation in the whisky world, not a single Scottish whisky made the top five.

Jim Murray’s 2016 World Whiskies of the Year
1. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye (Canada) – £47 a bottle
2. Pikesville Straight Rye (USA) – £33 a bottle
3. Midleton Dair Ghaelach (Ireland) – £180 a bottle
4. William Larue Weller Bourbon (Bot.2014) (USA) – £65 a bottle
5. Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara (Bot.2014) (Japan) – £45 a bottle

Editor of Scotchwhisky.com Becky Paskin said: “While it’s disappointing that Scotch has been omitted from Murray’s top five again, it’s heartening to see that he’s included a real mix of whiskies from around the world that aren’t all selected from the luxury sphere.

“The absence of Scotch, however puzzling, has no bearing at all on the quality of whisky coming from Scotland. Interest in world whisky is increasing and drinkers are likely to want to experiment with the medley of styles and flavours available.

“It’s important to remember that, whether you agree with Murray’s top five or not, this is just one man’s opinion. My advice would be to go out and taste these whiskies for yourself.”

Despite not winning the coveted whisky of the year award, Scotland’s Glenfarclas 1957 Family Cask 2110 did win the single cask of the year award.

Whisky expert Murray tasted more than 1000 whiskies before deciding on the Crown Royal and called it a masterpiece: “Rye, that most eloquent of grains, not just turning up to charm and enthral but to also take us through a routine which reaches new heights of beauty and complexity.

“To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.”

Tom Sandham, one half of the Thinking Drinkers, said: “The news of a Canadian winner might surprise some, but it shouldn’t.

“The country has extraordinary whisky heritage. And rye is one of the original grains in North American whiskey production, it has long been re-asserting itself with connoisseurs and leading bartenders who use it in classic cocktails. So to see it break through here is evidence of the grains’s resurgent popularity.

“But remember this is only one view, and a nice bit of publicity for man, brand and whisky as a whole, but the only way you’ll determine what you like is if you try things. Lots of different things. The great thing about whisky is that a wider demographic is now engaging, which is excellent because there are hundreds of stunning whiskies being made all around the world right now.”

Yvonne Briese, Vice President of Crown Royal said: “Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye showcases the rye whisky that has been such an integral component of the Crown Royal Deluxe blend since 1939. This is a testament to the unbelievable blending and distilling that’s been taking place in Gimli for over 75 years.

“We are thrilled that Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye has been named World Whisky of the Year.”

Some whisky connoisseurs were sceptical of the win, with specialist whisky author Charles MacLean telling The Times the success of foreign winners was a marketing ploy: “You should compare like with like. These whiskies from around the world are all made to be different. Canadian whisky allows for all sorts of additives, such as prune juice to sweeten it.

“This is forbidden in Scotch, which has strictly defined terms of how it can be made. It must have the flavour derived only from the raw materials: barley, water and yeast. Nothing may be added.”

However, Murray defended his choice robustly: “Last year people were shocked when I gave [Japanese whisky] Yamazaki the award – until they tasted it. Then they saw it was not the affront to Scotch they first thought and something truly extraordinary.

“This year, doubtless there will be many more eyebrows raised because rarely is Canada mentioned when it comes to the world’s top whiskies. But, again, I have no doubt people finding the bottling I tasted will be blown away with this whisky’s uncompromising and unique beauty. It certainly puts the rye into Canadian rye.”

Coffee lovers may live longer than those who don’t imbibe — with lower risks of early death from heart disease and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, a large U.S. study finds.

Researchers said the study, published online Nov. 16 in Circulation, adds to a large body of evidence on the good side of coffee.

People often think of coffee-drinking as a bad habit that they need to break, said study leader Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

But, Hu said, many studies have linked moderate coffee intake to lower risks of developing various diseases — from heart disease and diabetes, to liver cancer, to neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.

His team’s study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, adds another layer of evidence. It found that coffee drinkers were not only less likely to develop certain diseases — they also tended to live longer.

Over 30 years, nonsmokers who drank three to five cups of coffee a day were 15 percent less likely to die of any cause, versus nondrinkers. Specifically, they had lower rates of death from heart disease, stroke, neurological conditions and suicide.

Both regular coffee and decaf were linked to longer survival, the study found.

None of that proves coffee, itself, extends people’s lives or directly protects against certain diseases, Hu said. Other factors might explain the connection.

But, Hu added, his team did account for many of those factors. And the coffee benefit remained.

The findings are based on more than 200,000 U.S. doctors, nurses and other health professionals who were surveyed repeatedly over almost three decades. During that time, almost 32,000 study participants died.

It turned out that people who drank one to five cups of coffee at the outset had lower odds of dying during the study period when other lifestyle habits and certain health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, were taken into account.

The relationship grew stronger when the researchers looked only at nonsmokers: Those who drank three to five cups of coffee a day were 15 percent less likely to die during the study period, compared with adults who didn’t drink coffee. Lower risks were even seen among the heaviest coffee drinkers (more than five cups a day), who had a 12 percent lower death risk than nondrinkers.

“The body of evidence does suggest coffee can fit into a healthy lifestyle,” Hu said.

That evidence, Hu noted, has already been incorporated into the latest U.S. dietary guidelines, which say that a healthy diet can include up to three to five cups of coffee a day.

But overall lifestyle is key, Hu said. That is, there’s a difference between a person who gets little sleep, then uses coffee to function during the day, and a person who sleeps well, exercises, and eats a balanced diet that includes some coffee.

Alice Lichtenstein, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, agreed.

“This doesn’t mean you should start drinking coffee in the hopes of getting health benefits,” said Lichtenstein, who is also a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University in Boston.

But, she added, the new findings build on years of evidence that coffee is not the bad guy many believe it is. “There’s this lingering idea that coffee must be bad for you because it’s enjoyable,” Lichtenstein said. “It’s almost like we’ve been trying to find something wrong with it.”

There are caveats, though. “You do need to be careful about what you’re putting in your coffee,” Lichtenstein pointed out. Some milk is fine, she said, but watch the sugar and heavy cream.

And why would coffee be related to health benefits? It’s not clear from this study, Hu said, but other research has suggested that compounds in coffee can reduce inflammation, act as antioxidants, and improve blood sugar regulation, among other things.

Also, when it comes to some neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, Hu said, there’s evidence that caffeine offers benefits.

SOURCES: Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D., professor, nutrition and epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., professor, nutrition science and policy, Tufts University, Boston; Nov. 16, 2015, Circulation, online

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/health/HealthDay705311_20151116_Coffee_Drinkers_May_Live_Longer.html#rPogcDb2tVXwEFwz.99

by Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC

As the search continues for effective drug treatments for dementia, patients and caregivers may find some measure of relief from a common, non-pharmaceutical source. Researchers have found that music-related memory appears to be exempt from the extent of memory impairment generally associated with dementia, and several studies report promising results for several different types of musical experiences across a variety of settings and formats.

“We can say that perception of music can be intact, even when explicit judgments and overt recognition have been lost,” Manuela Kerer, PhD, told Psychiatry Advisor. “We are convinced that there is a specialized memory system for music, which is distinct from other domains, like verbal or visual memory, and may be very resilient against Alzheimer’s disease.”

Kerer is a full-time musical composer with a doctoral degree in psychology who co-authored a study on the topic while working at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. She and her colleagues investigated explicit memory for music among ten patients with early-state Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and ten patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and compared their performance to that of 23 healthy participants. Not surprisingly, the patient group demonstrated worse performance on tasks involving verbal memory, but they did significantly better than controls on the music-perceptional tasks of detecting distorted tunes and judging timbre.

“The temporal brain structures necessary for verbal musical memory were mildly affected in our clinical patients, therefore attention might have shifted to the discrimination tasks which led to better results in this area,” she said. “Our results enhance the notion of an explicit memory for music that can be distinguished from other types of explicit memory — that means that memory for music could be spared in this patient group.”

Other findings suggest that music might even improve certain aspects of memory among people with dementia. In a randomized controlled trial published in last month in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, music coaching interventions improved multiple outcomes for both patients with dementia and their caregivers. The researchers divided 89 pairs of patients with dementia and their caregivers into three groups: two groups were assigned to caregiver-led interventions that involved either singing or listening to music, while a third group received standard care. Before and after the 10-week intervention, and six months after the intervention, participants were assessed on measures of mood, quality of life and neuropsychological functioning.

Results showed that the singing intervention improved working memory among patients with mild dementia and helped to preserve executive function and orientation among younger patients, and it also improved the well-being of caregivers. The listening intervention was found to have a positive impact on general cognition, working memory and quality of life, particularly among patients in institutional care with moderate dementia not caused by AD. Both interventions led to reductions in depression.

The findings suggest that “music has the power to improve mood and stimulate cognitive functions in dementia, most likely by engaging limbic and medial prefrontal brain regions, which are often preserved in the early stages of the illness,” study co-author Teppo Särkämö, PhD, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, Finland, told Psychiatry Advisor. “The results indicate that when used regularly, caregiver-implemented musical activities can be an important and easily applicable way to maintain the emotional and cognitive well-being of persons with dementia and also to reduce the psychological burden of family caregivers.”

Singing has also been shown to increase learning and retention of new verbal material in patients with AD, according to research published this year in the Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology, and findings published in 2013 show that listening to familiar music improves the verbal narration of autobiographical memories in such patients. Another study found that a music intervention delivered in a group format reduced depression and delayed the deterioration of cognitive functions, especially short-term recall, in patients with mild and moderate dementia. Group-based music therapy appears to also decrease agitation among patients in all stages of dementia, as described in a systematic review published in 2014 in Nursing Times.

n addition to the effects of singing and listening to music on patients who already have dementia, playing a musical instrument may also offer some protection against the condition, according to a population-based twin study reported in 2014 in the International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Researchers at the University of Southern California found that older adults who played an instrument were 64% less likely than their non-musician twin to develop dementia or cognitive impairment.

“Playing an instrument is a unique activity in that it requires a wide array of brain regions and cognitive functions to work together simultaneously, throughout both the right and left hemispheres,” co-author Alison Balbag, PhD, told Psychiatry Advisor. While the study did not examine causal mechanisms, “playing an instrument may be a very effective and efficient way to engage the brain, possibly granting older musicians better maintained cognitive reserve and possibly providing compensatory abilities to mitigate age-related cognitive declines.”

She notes that clinicians might consider suggesting that patients incorporate music-making into their lives as a preventive activity, or encouraging them to keep it up if they already play an instrument.
Further research, particularly neuroimaging studies, is needed to elucidate the mechanisms behind the effects of music on dementia, but in the meantime it could be a helpful supplement to patients’ treatment plans. “Music has considerable potential and it should be introduced much more in rehabilitation and neuropsychological assessment,” Kerer said.



Kerer M, Marksteiner J, Hinterhuber H, et al. Explicit (semantic) memory for music in patients with mild cognitive impairment and early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Experimental Aging Research; 2013; 39(5):536-64.

Särkämö T, Laitinen S, Numminen A, et al. Clinical and Demographic Factors Associated with the Cognitive and Emotional Efficacy of Regular Musical Activities in Dementia. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease; 2015; published online ahead of print.

Palisson J, Roussel-Baclet C, Maillet D, et al. Music enhances verbal episodic memory in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology; 2015; 37(5):503-17.

El Haj M, Sylvain Clément, Luciano Fasotti, Philippe Allain. Effects of music on autobiographical verbal narration in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neurolinguistics; 2013; 26(6): 691–700.

Chu H, Yang CY, Lin Y, et al. The impact of group music therapy on depression and cognition in elderly persons with dementia: a randomized controlled study. Biological Research for Nursing; 2014; 16(2):209-17.

Craig J. Music therapy to reduce agitation in dementia. Nursing Times; 2014; 110(32-33):12-5.
Balbag MA, Pedersen NL, Gatz M. Playing a Musical Instrument as a Protective Factor against Dementia and Cognitive Impairment: A Population-Based Twin Study. International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease; 2014; 2014: 836748.

A Vietnamese man has taken the unusual step of posting a picture of his passport on social media after being repeatedly blocked by Facebook.

The unfortunately named Phuc Dat Bich – whose name is actually pronounced Phoo Da Bic – posted the image after the tech giant banned him several times.

The picture, and its accompanying message, has been shared more than 123,000 times.

“I find it highly irritating the fact that nobody seems to believe me when I say that my full legal name is how you see it,” he said.

“I’ve been accused of using a false and misleading name of which I find very offensive.”

He went on to explain that his frustration was due to what he suggested was a lack of understanding in the West for names which appear amusing to some.

“Is it because I’m Asian? Is it?” he asked in the post.

“Having my [Facebook] shut down multiple times and forced to change my name to my ‘real’ name, so just to put it out there. My name.

“Yours sincerely, Phuc Dat Bich”.

It is not the first time Facebook has blocked users from their profile accounts as a result of their name.

Recently, a woman whose first name is Isis said Facebook would not let her sign in – tweeting that the social media site thought she was “a terrorist”.

Isis Anchalee

A man who changed his name to Something Long and Complicated – from William Wood – was blocked in October this year by the site.

Members of the Native American community have also reported having their accounts suspended, as well as members of the drag queen community.

Facebook’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, issued an apology on the site after the latest incident.

The social media giant has an authentic name policy in place to make its users accountable for what they say.


Constance Carpenito won $1 million by playing the Massachusetts Lottery at the same Stop & Shop in Stoneham, Mass., where she also won $1 million back in 1996.

“She plans on using her winnings to make this Christmas an especially good one for her family,” said the Massachusetts Lottery, which released a photo of Carpenito with her husband Ed toasting champagne in front of a stretch limousine.

That’s not all. According to the Massachusetts Lottery, she’s actually won three times at that Boston-area grocery store. In addition to her two million dollar jackpots, she once won $20,000 there.

For her most recent win, she was playing a $20 instant game called $10,000,000 Diamond Millionaire. She bet $20 every week.


by Robbie Gonzalez

Here’s a question you’ve probably asked at some point in your life. Most likely you’ve asked it in passing, while parked in seat 22A on a flight to… wherever: What’s with that little hole in the airplane window?

The purpose of this tiny hole is the topic of countless online message boards. Most of these forums read like this 2006 discussion on airliners.net, where user Gh123 inquires about the hole and its function. “Is it for pressurization purposes?” they ask. Another user named Pygmalion responds: “The hole is there to equalize pressure between the inside of the cabin and the actual window which is the outer pane. The inner pane is just to keep you crazy pax from scratching the outer one which could make it crack.” Other users elaborate on Pygmalion’s explanation. They, too, reference pressure, outer panes, and pax (an abbreviation for “passengers”), along with other terms like “primary panes,” “failsafe,” and “crazing.” Many of the answers are correct, or partially correct, but for anyone unfamiliar with aircraft design or terminology, the explanations can be a little opaque.

To clear things up, I spoke with Marlowe Moncur, Director of Technology for GKN Aerospace, the world leader in passenger cabin window design development and manufacturing. I also tracked down a copy of a maintenance manual for the Boeing 737 (the most widely produced jet airliner in aviation history), which includes some illustrations that are helpful in understanding the purpose of the “breather hole”—for this is the little window-hole’s official name—in the context of the cabin window as a whole.

The passenger cabin windows on most commercial aircraft consist of outer, middle, and inner panes. As you might expect, these designations reference where the panes are positioned relative to the external and internal portions of the aircraft. All three of these panes are made of acrylic, a synthetic resin prized for its transparency and resiliency, but only two of them—the outer and middle panes—are said to be structural. These structural panes are installed in a rubber perimeter seal and housed in the plane’s fuselage. The internal pane, which Moncur calls a “scratch pane,” lives on the passenger-side of the window assembly, and is mounted in the sidewall lining of the cabin.

The combined seal/spacer, which is labeled as such in the above diagram, puts a little distance between the outer pane and the middle pane. It is a key component in what Marlowe calls the “two-pane air-gap design,” in which “the outer pane is the primary structural window, and carries the cabin pressure during flight.”

Primary structural window—what does that mean? At cruising altitudes of around 35,000 feet, atmospheric pressure (i.e. the pressure outside the aircraft) is about 3.4 pounds per square inch. That’s way too low for bodily functions important at such altitudes, e.g. consciousness; so, inside the cabin, pressure is artificially maintained at roughly 11 pounds per square inch—about what you’d experience at an elevation of 7,000 feet. The bigger the pressure differential between air outside the plane and air inside the plane, the bigger the strain placed on the plane’s various cabin structures, including its windows.

“The outer pane is the primary structural window” simply means that, under normal conditions, the outer pane bears all of the stress of cabin pressurization. The inner pane is redundant, says Moncur, a failsafe “designed to hold the cabin pressure in the event that the outer [pane] is fractured,” which he says is “an extremely rare event.” (According to the 737 maintenance manual, the middle pane is designed to maintain 1.5 times the normal operating pressure at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Moncur adds that the “effectiveness of the two pane design is rigorously tested during window qualification.”)

Equipped with this understanding, the purpose of the breather hole, which is located near the bottom of the middle pane, becomes clear: it serves as a bleed valve, allowing pressure between the air in the passenger cabin and the air between the outer and middle panes to equilibrate. This tiny little hole ensures that cabin pressure during flight is applied only to the outer pane, says Moncur, thus preserving the middle pane for emergency situations.