DREAMS

As the night wears on, your dreams escalate in weirdness, finds a small new study published in the journal Dreaming.

For two nights, the researchers outfitted 16 people with a sleep-monitoring eyelid sensor and head sensor, then proceeded to wake each person up at four different times in the night. Sleepers were asked to say what they’d been dreaming, and in the morning, they listened to their dreams and answered questions about them, like how related the dreams were to their waking life.

“We found that dreams were increasing in bizarreness from the early to late night,” says study author Dr. Josie Malinowski, a lecturer in cognitive psychology at the University of Bedfordshire in the U.K. The later dreams were more fantastical, impossible, and completely unlikely to ever happen in real life, “like a wild animal tearing up your back garden,” she says. Dreams also tend to become more emotional—in equal ways positive and negative—as the night progresses.

In the early stages of sleep, people dream more about media they’d consumed during the day, like a movie they’d watched or book they’d read. Dreams about events (as opposed to external stimuli) that happened during waking life, however, were more robust later in the night.

Some dream researchers, including Dr. Malinowski, believe you can prime the brain to dream about a particular topic through “dream incubation,” and that dreams might be able to help us problem-solve. Exploring these dreams can help people understand their own behavior, thoughts and feelings, Dr. Malinowski says.

And through her research, she’s trying to get people to take dream therapy more seriously. “People really enjoy it,” she told TIME. “Dreams are like a safe space. People feel like they haven’t generated them because they’re often so bizarre. [But] they’re a safe way to explore the self.”

http://time.com/3398931/bizarre-dreams/?xid=newsletter-brief#3398931/bizarre-dreams/

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

scientist

Ian Glomski thought he was going to make a difference in the fight to protect people from deadly anthrax germs. He had done everything right — attended one top university, landed an assistant professorship at another.

But Glomski ran head-on into an unpleasant reality: These days, the scramble for money to conduct research has become stultifying.

So, he’s giving up on science.

And he’s not alone. Federal funding for biomedical research has declined by more than 20 percent in the past decade. There are far more scientists competing for grants than there is money to support them.

That crunch is forcing some people out of science altogether, either because they can’t get research funding at all or, in Glomski’s case, because the rat race has simply become too unpleasant.

“My lab was well-funded until, basically, the moment I decided I wasn’t going to work there anymore,” he says during an interview on the porch swing of his home in Charlottesville, Va. “And I probably could have scraped through there for the rest of my career, as I had been doing, but I would have had regrets.”

Glomski’s problem was that he could only get funding to do very predictable, unexciting research. When money gets tight, often only the most risk-averse ideas get funded, he and others say.

“You’re focusing basically on one idea you already have and making it as presentable as possible,” he says. “You’re not spending time making new ideas. And it’s making new ideas, for me personally, that I found rewarding. That’s what my passion was about.”

At his lab at the University of Virginia, Glomski had a new idea about how to study an anthrax infection as it spread through an animal — and doing this with scans, rather than having to cut the animal open.

But it was not a surefire idea. Like a lot of science, it might not have worked at all. Glomski never found out. His repeated grant applications to the National Institutes of Health never made the cut. Funding is so competitive that reviewers shy away from ideas that might not pan out.

“You actually have to be much more conservative these days than you used to,” Glomski says, “and being that conservative I think ultimately hurts the scientific enterprise.” Society, he says, is “losing out on the cutting-edge research that really is what pushes science forward.”

Historically, payoffs in science come from out of the blue — oddball ideas or unexpected byways. Glomski says that’s what research was like for him as he was getting his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. His lab leader there got funding to probe the frontiers. But Glomski sees that farsighted approach disappearing today.

“That ultimately squashed my passion for what I was doing,” he says. So two years ago, at the age of 41, he quit.

Instead of helping society improve its defenses against deadly anthrax, he’s starting a liquor distillery, Vitae Spirits. He’s actually excited about that. It’s a big challenge, and it allows him to pursue an idea with passion, rather than with resignation.

Meanwhile, Randen Patterson is not passionate about his post-science career as a grocery store proprietor. He recently bought the Corner Store in the tiny town of Guinda, Calif.

Patterson, 43, once worked for Dr. Solomon Snyder at Johns Hopkins University in one of the top neuroscience laboratories in the world. His research is published in some of the most prestigious journals.

And Patterson got there against the odds. He was raised in a trailer park in Pennsylvania by a single parent, he says, and stumbled into science quite by accident. Mentors realized his potential and encouraged him to make a career of it.

He landed a tenure-track assistant professorship at Penn State University, and then moved on to a similar job at University of California, Davis (a 45-minute drive from his new “hometown” of Guinda).

But Patterson struggled his entire career to get grants to fund his research, which uses computer simulations to probe the complex chemistry that goes on inside living cells. And he chose an arcane corner of this field to focus his intellectual energy.

“When I was a very young scientist, I told myself I would only work on the hardest questions because those were the ones that were worth working on,” he says. “And it has been to my advantage and my detriment.”

Over the years, he has written a blizzard of grant proposals, but he couldn’t convince his peers that his edgy ideas were worth taking a risk on. So, as the last of his funding dried up, he quit his academic job.

“I shouldn’t be a grocer right now,” he says with a note of anger in his voice. “I should be training students. I should be doing deeper research. And I can’t. I don’t have an outlet for it.”

When the writing was on the wall a few years ago, Patterson says he bought his own souped-up computer so he could continue dabbling in research on the side. But those ideas aren’t adding to the world’s body of knowledge about biology.

“The country has invested, in me alone, $5 million or $6 million, easily,” Patterson says, thinking back on the funding he received for his education and his research. And he’s just one of many feeling the brunt of the funding crunch.

There are no national statistics about how many people are giving up on academic science, but an NPR analysis of NIH data found that 3,400 scientists lost their sustaining grants between 2012 and 2013. Some will eventually get new funding, others will retire; but others, like Glomski and Patterson, will just give up.

“We’re taking all this money as a country we’ve invested … and we’re saying we don’t care about it,” Patterson says.

He watches with some trepidation as his daughter, a fresh college graduate, hopes to launch her own career in science.

The funding squeeze could persist for his daughter’s generation as well. So Patterson is hoping she will settle on a field other than biomedical research — one where money isn’t quite so tight.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/09/09/345289127/when-scientists-give-up?&refresh=true

archer fish
Footage captured by two high-speed cameras shows the fish’s ability in detail

The jets of water that archer fish use to shoot down prey are “tuned” to arrive with maximum impact over a range of distances, according to a study.

By Jonathan Webb
Science reporter, BBC News

High-speed cameras were used to analyse fishes’ spitting performance in detail.

As they create each jet, the fish tweak the flow of water over time, causing a focussed blob of water to gather just in front of the target, wherever it is.

The ability comes from precise changes to the animal’s mouth opening, which may prove useful in designing nozzles.

Senior author Prof Stefan Schuster, from the University of Bayreuth in Germany, explained that jets of water and other fluids are used to cut or shape materials in industries ranging from mining to medicine.

He believes his new fish-based findings could improve the technology.

Patience and precision
“I’ve never seen anything in which they use a nozzle that changes its diameter,” he told the BBC. “The most standard approach is adjusting the pressure.”

But pressure, which the archer fish apply by squeezing their gill covers together, is not the secret to their ballistic precision.

Prof Schuster and his PhD student Peggy Gerullis found no evidence for pressure adjustments, nor for chemical additives or flicking movements in the water, which might account for the fishes’ ability to control the stability of the water jet, and focus the accelerating blob at its tip.

“The fish add nothing – they only shoot water, and they keep absolutely still during release of the jet,” Prof Schuster said.

“They just do it with the mouth opening diameter. It is not a simple manoeuvre… The diameter is continuously changing.”

That makes the new study, published in Current Biology, the first evidence of an animal actively manipulating the dynamics of a water jet.

Prof Schuster and Ms Gerullis trained two archer fish to hit targets at distances from 20cm to 60cm, under bright lights to help with filming.

The targets were small spheres, which allowed the team to calculate the forces involved.

Accuracy, of course, was rewarded – usually with a small fly. “You can easily train a fish to shoot at anything you want,” said Prof Schuster. “They are perfectly happy as long as something edible falls down.”

The tricky part was organising the angles.

“To be ready to monitor to the right spots with reasonable spatial resolution, you have to convince the fish somehow to fire from a defined position. That was the hardest part of the study, actually.”

With patience, the researchers collected enough measurements to reveal that the all-important blob of water at the jet’s tip, which allows archer fish to dislodge their prey, forms just before impact – no matter the target distance.

To accomplish this, the animals fine-tune not just the speed, but the stability of the water jet.

“It means that the physics the fish is using is much more complicated than previously thought,” Prof Schuster explained.

Cognitive evolution?

Dynamic jet control must now be added to an already impressive list of this fish’s abilities.

Other research has explored questions ranging from how archer fish compensate for the distortion of their vision by the water surface, to how they learn to hit moving targets by copying their companions, to exactly how they produce a water jet that catches up on itself to form their distinctive, watery missile.

Prof Schuster believes that their spitting accuracy may have evolved in a similar way to human throwing, which some theorists argue sparked an accompanying expansion of our cognitive abilities.

His team has also done fieldwork in Thailand, where they observed that the fish hunt in daylight, when their insect targets are few and far between. So having a good range, and not missing, are a big advantage for survival.

That power and precision requires brain power.

“People have calculated that to double [throwing] range requires roughly an 8-fold increase in the number of neurons involved in throwing,” Prof Schuster said.

So are these fish evolving into the cleverest animals under water?

“I don’t think they will develop into humans. [But] they have many strange abilities that you wouldn’t expect from fish.

“Maybe we can show by looking more closely at the brain, that shooting might have played a similar, prominent role in driving these abilities, as it’s thought that throwing played in human evolution.

“That’s just a crazy idea of mine.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29046018

Thank to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

by Richard Knox

It’s only a matter of time, some researchers are warning, before isolated cases of Ebola start turning up in developed nations, as well as hitherto-unaffected African countries.

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more people than all previous outbreaks combined, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. The official count includes about 3,600 cases and 1,800 deaths across four countries.

Meanwhile, the authors of a new analysis say many countries — including the U.S. — should gear up to recognize, isolate and treat imported cases of Ebola.

The probability of seeing at least one imported case of Ebola in the U.S. is as high as 18 percent by late September, researchers reported Tuesday in the journal PLOS Currents: Outbreaks. That’s compared with less than 5 percent right now.

These predictions are based on the flow of airline passengers from West Africa and the difficulty of preventing an infected passenger from boarding a flight.

As with any such analysis, there’s some uncertainty. The range of a probable U.S. importation of Ebola by Sept. 22 runs from 1 percent to 18 percent. But with time — and a continuing intense outbreak in West Africa — importation is almost inevitable, the researchers told NPR.

“What is happening in West Africa is going to get here. We can’t escape that at this point,” says physicist Alessandro Vespignani, the senior author on the study, who analyzes the spread of infectious diseases at Northeastern University.

To be clear, the projection is for at least one imported case of Ebola — not for the kind of viral mayhem afflicting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“What we could expect, if there is an importation, would be very small clusters of cases, between one and three,” Vespignani says.

But the probability increases as long as the West African epidemics keep growing. And that means U.S. hospitals, doctors and public health officials need to heighten their vigilance.

The same is true for a roster of 16 other nations, from the U.K. to South Africa, which are connected to West Africa through air traffic, Vespignani and his colleagues say.

There’s a 25 to 28 percent chance that an Ebola case will turn up in the U.K. by late September. Belgium, France and Germany will have lower risk. “But it’s not negligible,” Vespignani says. “Sooner or later, they will arrive.”

The probability of imported cases in Africa is higher, not surprisingly. There’s more than a 50 percent probability Ebola will show up in the West African nation of Ghana by late September, according to the study. Gambia, Ivory Coast, Morocco, South Africa and Kenya are among 11 African countries where Ebola could pop up.

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a presentation on the numbers on Tuesday. The CDC has deployed teams of personnel in West Africa to help bring Ebola under control. And here at home, the agency is charged with preparing both the U.S. medical system and the American public for the possibility that the deadly virus could sneak into this country.

Biostatistician Ira Longini from the University of Florida agrees that Ebola doesn’t pose a public health threat in the U.S. and other developed nations. But that doesn’t mean that preparation isn’t urgent.

“We certainly need to make sure that staff and leadership of American medical centers understand the implications of Ebola,” says Longini, who also worked on the study. “We need to have diagnostics in place to identify Ebola quickly. We need quite a few local labs to do this and not just rely on sending samples to the CDC. And we need to make sure isolation and quarantine of contacts takes place. If it doesn’t, we could have a small cluster of cases.”

The analysis by Longini, Vespignani and their colleagues takes into account the number of airline passengers coming from West Africa to various countries. For instance, more than 6,000 a week arrive in Britain from Nigeria, many of them originating in other African countries.

Hundreds to several thousands travel every week from West Africa to France, Germany, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, China and other countries.

The researchers calculated the impact of severe restrictions on flights from Ebola-affected regions. An 80 percent reduction in air travelers would do no more than delay the impact of Ebola by a few weeks. (A 100 percent choke-off of air travel is considered impossible.)

“Unless you can completely shut down the transportation systems, these kinds of efforts will, at best, buy you a little time,” Longini says. “And they can be quite counterproductive because you’re interrupting the flow of help, goods and services. It can make the epidemic worse in the country that’s being quarantined.”

The basic problem with confining Ebola is that, like any infectious disease, people can be infected without showing symptoms. In Ebola’s case, the average incubation period is 7 days, though it can be longer. That’s more than enough time for an infected traveler to land on the other side of the world.

Fortunately, an Ebola-infected person can’t infect others unless he’s obviously sick. At that stage, the virus can spread by direct contact with the infected person or bodily fluids. On average, each case of Ebola infects about two other people. That spread rate is similar to that of the flu, and roughly half the rate of smallpox.

Vespignani, from Northeastern University, says screening airline passengers is not going to prevent Ebola from traveling across the globe. “I don’t trust screening too much,” he says. “It’s difficult. Intercepting passengers that are really not sick is not easy.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/09/04/345767439/a-few-ebola-cases-likely-in-u-s-air-traffic-analysis-shows

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Lac de Gafsa

by Kim Willsher

The lake appeared in the Tunisian desert like a mirage; one minute there was nothing but scorching sand, the next a large expanse of turquoise water.

For locals, roasting in the 40C heat, the temptation to cool off in the inviting water quickly overcame any fears about the mysterious pool.

Hundreds flocked to what quickly became known as the Lac de Gafsa or Gafsa beach to splash, paddle, dive, and fling themselves from rocks into the lake, ignoring warnings that the water could be contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals, riddled with disease or possibly radioactive. Even after the water turned a murky green, they arrived in droves, undeterred.

“Some say it is a miracle, while others are calling it a curse,” Lakhdar Souid, a Tunisian journalist, told France 24 television.

“In the first few days, the water was crystal clear; a turquoise blue. Now it’s green and full of algae, which means it’s not being replenished.”

Mehdi Bilel was returning from a marriage in the north of the country when he spotted the lake in the desert canyon 25km from the city of Gafsa on the road from Om Larayes.

“After several long hours on the road without a break, I honestly thought I was hallucinating,” he told journalists. “I don’t know much about science and thought it was magic, something supernatural.”

Gafsa became the centre of the country’s mining industry after phosphate was discovered in the southern Tunisian region in 1886. Tunisia is now the world’s fifth largest exporter of phosphate, which is used in industry.

Shepherds discovered the lake, thought to be up to 18 meters deep and covering one hectare, three weeks ago. Local geologists suspect seismic activity may have ruptured the rock above the water table sending the liquid to the surface.

Other theories have suggested the canyon has simply collected rain water.

“News of the lake’s appearance has spread like wildfire and now hundreds of people, eager to escape a heatwave, go there to swim,” Souid wrote in the Tunisia Daily newspaper.

“This region is overflowing with large deposits of phosphate, which can leave behind radioactive residue so there is a real risk that the water is contaminated and carcinogenic. There’s no security of any kind.

“The site is certainly stunning and there are many large rocks perfect for diving, but it has become infested with green algae, meaning the water is stagnant and conducive to diseases.”

Ten days ago Hatef Ouigi, of Gafsa’s office of public safety, warned that the lake is dangerous and not fit for swimming in. He said this was a cautionary measure while scientists take samples and verify the water. “Depending on the results, we will take measures,” Ouigi said.

Since then, there has been no further official news, though experts have warned that if the lake has indeed formed because of a rupture in the water table, the cracks from which the water came could cause the water to flow the other way and drag swimmers to the bottom.

“There’s no security, no lifeguards and civil protection people only turned up in the first few days,” journalist Souid added.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/01/mysterious-lake-tunisian-desert-turquoise-green-sludge

Brain, artwork

Even if we cannot consciously see a person’s face, our brain is able to make a snap decision about how trustworthy they are.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the brain immediately determines how trustworthy a face is before it’s fully perceived, which supports the fact that we make very fast judgments about people.

Researchers at Dartmouth College and New York University showed a group of participants photos of real people’s faces, as well as computer-generated faces that were meant to look either trustworthy or untrustworthy. It’s been shown in the past that people generally think that faces with high inner eyebrows and prominent cheekbones are more trustworthy, and the opposite features are untrustworthy, which the researchers were able to confirm.

In a second part of their experiment, the researchers showed a separate group of participants the same images but for only about 30 milliseconds while they were in a brain scanner. They then did something called “backward masking,” which consists of showing a participant an irrelevant image or “mask” immediately after quickly showing them a face. The procedure makes the brain incapable of processing the face.

Even though the patients were not able to process the faces, their brains did. The researchers focused on activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for social and emotional behavior, and found that specific areas of the amygdala were activated based on judgments of trustworthiness or non-trustworthiness. This, the researchers conclude, is evidence that our brains make judgments of people before we even process who they are or what they look like.

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://time.com/?xid=newsletter-brief#3083667/brain-trustworthiness/

Because Kent Brantly is a physician who has watched people die of Ebola, there was an especially chilling prescience to his assessment last week, between labored breaths: “I am going to die.”

His condition was grave. But then on Saturday, we saw images of Brantly’s heroic return to U.S. soil, walking with minimal assistance from an ambulance into an isolation unit at Emory University Hospital.

“One of the doctors called it ‘miraculous,'” Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported from Emory this morning, of Brantly’s turnaround within hours of receiving a treatment delivered from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. “Not a term we scientists like to throw around.”

“The outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” Dr. Margaret Chan, director of the World Health Organization, said on Friday in a plea for international help containing the virus. “If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives, but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”

In that light, and because Ebola is notoriously incurable (and the strain at large its most lethal), it is overwhelming to hear that “Secret Serum Likely Saved Ebola Patients,” as we do this morning from Gupta’s every-20-minute CNN reports. He writes:

Three top secret, experimental vials stored at subzero temperatures were flown into Liberia last week in a last-ditch effort to save two American missionary workers [Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol] who had contracted Ebola, according to a source familiar with details of the treatment.

Brantly had been working for the Christian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse as medical director of the Ebola Consolidation Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia. The group yesterday confirmed that he received a dose of an experimental serum before leaving the country.

In Gupta’s optimistic assessment, Brantly’s “near complete recovery” began within hours of receiving the treatment that “likely saved his life.” Writebol is also reportedly improved since receiving the treatment, known as zMapp. But to say that it was a secret implies a frigid American exceptionalism; that the people of West Africa are dying in droves while a classified cure lies in wait.

The “top-secret serum” is a monoclonal antibody. Administration of monoclonal antibodies is an increasingly common but time-tested approach to eradicating interlopers in the human body. In a basic monoclonal antibody paradigm, scientists infect animals (in this case mice) with a disease, the mice mount an immune response (antibodies to fight the disease), and then the scientists harvest those antibodies and give them to infected humans. It’s an especially promising area in cancer treatment.

In this case, the proprietary blend of three monoclonal antibodies known as zMapp had never been tested in humans. It had previously been tested in eight monkeys with Ebola who survived—though all received treatment within 48 hours of being infected. A monkey treated outside of that exposure window did not survive. That means very little is known about the safety and effectiveness of this treatment—so little that outside of extreme circumstances like this, it would not be legal to use. Gupta speculates that the FDA may have allowed it under the compassionate use exemption.

A small 2012 study of monoclonal antibody therapy against Ebola found that it was only effective when administered before or just after exposure to the virus. A 2013 study found that rhesus macaques given an antibody mix called MB-003 within the 48-hour window had a 43 percent chance of surviving—as opposed to their untreated counterparts, whose survival rate was zero.

This Ebola outbreak is the largest in the history of the disease, in terms of both cases and deaths, 729 887 known so far. As Chan warned in her call for urgent international action, the outbreak is geographically the largest, already in four countries with fluid population movement across porous borders and a demonstrated ability to spread by air travel. The outbreak will be stopped by strategic quarantines and preventive education, primarily proper handling of corpses. More than 60 aid workers have become infected, but many more will be needed to stem the tide.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), is encouraged by the antibody treatment.

“Obviously there are plans and enthusiasm to expand this,” Fauci told me. “The limiting factor is the extraordinary paucity of treatment regimens.” Right now the total amount available, to Fauci’s knowledge, is three treatment courses (in addition to what was given to Brantly and Writebol).

NIAID did some of the original research that led to the development, but this is owned by Mapp Biopharmaceuticals. “They are certainly trying to scale up,” Fauci said, “but I’ve heard that their capability is such that it’s going to be months before they have a substantial number of doses, and even then they’re going to be limited.”

“We’re hearing that the administration of this cocktail of antibodies improved both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol, but you know, we don’t know that,” Fauci said, noting the sample size (two) of this small, ad hoc study. Proving effectiveness would require a much larger group of patients being compared to an untreated group. “And we don’t know that they weren’t getting better anyway.”

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

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/the-secret-ebola-treatment/375525/