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Even on land, crocodiles are no fish out of water. While these reptiles might look lazy and slow sunning on the bank, they can easily pick up speed when necessary, and a scary number can gallop or bound like a horse or a dog.

Bounding is when an animal’s forelimbs hit the ground at the same time, with the back legs pushing off soon after; meanwhile, a gallop is a four-beat sequence whereby the fore and hindlimbs take turns landing.

Freshwater crocodiles from Australia (Crocodylus johnstoni) were historically thought to be the only species capable of doing both. But that’s not actually true. Not even close.

It turns out even scientists have underestimated these creatures. Past research suggested only a handful of croc species were able to gallop, but a new study now adds five more to the mix, suggesting it’s a whole lot more common than we ever thought.

Setting up video cameras around a zoological park in Florida, veterinary scientists analysed the gaits and speeds of 42 individuals from 15 species of crocodylia, which includes true crocodiles (family Crocodylidae), alligators and caimans.

While alligators and caimans were only able to trot on land, the team noticed eight species of crocodile capable of galloping or bounding.

They claim their study is the first to properly document galloping in the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis), the Cuban crocodile (C. rhombifer), the American crocodile (C. acutus), the West-African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) and the dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis).

Judging by how common this skill appears to be, there might even be more species that can do the same. There have already been anecdotal reports of galloping in species such as the marsh crocodile (C. palustris) and the New Guinea crocodile (C. novaeguineae).

“We were really surprised at one major thing – despite the different gaits crocodiles and alligators use, they all can run about as fast,” John Hutchinson, a specialist in evolutionary biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), told PA.

No matter what their size, almost every species studied was able to reach nearly 18 kilometres per hour (11 mph), whether it be through trotting, galloping or bounding.

Only crocodiles, however, could use their legs asymmetrically, providing longer stride frequencies, especially among those with smaller body sizes. Why alligators cannot do this remains uncertain, but the researchers think this skill is probably ancestral and has less to do with speed than we thought.

“We suspect that bounding and galloping give small crocodiles better acceleration and manoeuvrability, especially useful for escaping from danger,” explains Hutchinson

“It seems like alligators and caiman stand their ground rather than run away with an extreme gait.”

Similar to other studies, the researchers think the crocodile’s unusual asymmetrical gait came from a long-lost ancestor that lived on the land and had longer legs.

If this is right, it could mean that the ancestors of the alligators somehow lost this ability or no longer express it.

But there’s also another possibility that is rarely acknowledged: the common ancestor of today’s 20 crocodile species may have actually evolved this asymmetrical gait as opposed to inheriting it.

Looking at related species could clear up some of the confusion – the gharial is an Asian fish-eating crocodile that lies outside the Crocodyloidea  and Alligatoroidea ancestry, so if they can be shown to have asymmetrical gaits, it could shed light on how this skill appeared.

But similar to crocodiles and alligators, the gaits of the gharial’s are not well documented, so there’s clearly a lot more research that needs to be done.

“Together, our new observations of asymmetrical gaits and our broader dataset on locomotor kinematics spanning the clade Crocodylia considerably expand our knowledge of their behaviours and natural history,” the authors conclude.

“Importantly, this combined evidence strongly refutes the popular notion that only a few crocodiles use asymmetrical gaits.”

The study was published in Scientific Reports.

https://www.sciencealert.com/approach-with-caution-more-crocodile-species-than-we-thought-can-reach-a-gallop

By Scottie Andrew

Baba Ram Dass, psychedelic research pioneer, best-selling author and New Age guru who extolled the virtues of mindfulness and grace, has died. He was 88.

Dass’ official Instagram confirmed his death Monday.

Born Richard Alpert, the future spiritual teacher met experimental psychologist Timothy Leary while the two taught at Harvard University. They founded the Harvard Psilocybin Project and shared psychedelic drugs with volunteer graduate students to explore their mind-altering effects.

The unorthodox pair were fired from Harvard in 1963 after faculty found out Alpert shared the drugs with undergraduates. They became “counter-culture icons” in their dismissal, per the Ram Dass website, taking more drugs to learn how psychedelics expanded their consciousness.

But he didn’t become Ram Dass until a fateful trip to India in 1967. There he met Neem Karoli Baba, his guru, who gave Alpert the name Baba (or “father”) Ram Dass, which means “servant of God,” per Dass’s website.

The spiritual enlightenment he experienced there prompted him in 1971 to write “Be Here Now,” a best-seller his website describes as a “Western articulation of Eastern philosophy.” The book became a New Age treatise on mindfulness and positivity.

He never feared death

A severe stroke in 1997 left Dass unable to speak or move part of his body. He relearned to speak and continued to teach online and host retreats from Maui, Hawaii.
“The stroke itself was not grace, but my reaction to the stroke was grace,” he told the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. “I was positive from it, I was fascinated by it. And it was changing my philosophy on life.”

In September, Dass told the New York Times Magazine he’d accepted his death.

“Soul doesn’t have a fear of dying,” he said. “Ego has very pronounced fear of dying. The ego, this incarnation, is life and dying. The soul is infinite.”
He died at home in Maui, surrounded by loved ones, according to his Instagram. The post didn’t list a cause of death.

Ram Dass’ fans mourn his death

Supporters mourned his death on Twitter.

“‘Be Here Now’ shifted my world when I was young, as it did for millions of others,” Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson tweeted. “Praise & thanks to a huge & radiant soul. May he be forever blessed.”

Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax shared images of Dass, whom she called her close friend, during their final visit.

“The last time I saw him, sensing it might be so,” she wrote. “Loving awareness…our Ram Dass.”

https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/23/us/baba-ram-dass-death-trnd/index.html

The FDA has approved Caplyta for the treatment of schizophrenia in adults, according to a press release from the agent’s manufacturer.

“We believe Caplyta provides health care providers a new, safe and effective treatment option to help the millions of adult patients with schizophrenia,” Sharon Mates, PhD, chairman and CEO of Intra-Cellular Therapies, said in the release. “This approval represents the culmination of years of scientific research. We are especially grateful to the patients, their caregivers and the health care professionals who have contributed to the development of Caplyta.”

Caplyta (lumateperone, Intra-Cellular Therapies Inc.) demonstrated efficacy in two placebo-controlled trials that showed a statistically significant separation from placebo on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale total score. In these trials, the most common adverse reactions for the recommended dose (42 mg) of Caplyta vs. placebo were somnolence/sedation (24% vs. 10%) and dry mouth (6% vs. 2%).

Pooled data from short-term studies revealed similar outcomes between Caplyta and placebo for fasting glucose, mean changes from baseline in weight gain, triglycerides and total cholesterol. Further, the incidence of extrapyramidal symptoms was 6.7% for Caplyta vs. 6.3% for placebo.

Although the mechanism of action for Caplyta is currently unknown, its efficacy may be mediated through a combination of antagonist activity at central serotonin 5-HT2A receptors and postsynaptic antagonist activity at central dopamine D2 receptors, according to the release. Intra-Cellular Therapies expects to initiate the commercial launch of Caplyta in the first quarter of 2020.

The drug is being further developed to treat disorders beyond schizophrenia, including bipolar depression, behavioral disturbances in patients with dementia, depression and other neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.

“Schizophrenia is a complex disease that severely impacts patients and their families,” Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD, Lawrence C. Kolb Professor and Chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, said in the release. “Effective treatment provided in a timely fashion can be game-changing for people living with schizophrenia. The efficacy and safety profile of Caplyta approved by the FDA offers health care providers an important new option for treating people living with schizophrenia.”

Reference:

Intra-Cellular Therapies. FDA approves Intra-Cellular Therapies’ novel antipsychotic, Caplyta (lumateperone) for the treatment of schizophrenia in adults. https://ir.intracellulartherapies.com/news-releases/news-release-details/fda-approves-intra-cellular-therapies-novel-antipsychotic. Accessed Dec. 23, 2019.

https://www.healio.com/psychiatry/schizophrenia/news/online/%7B4188a88c-3511-497d-ad8a-1d39cf9a4e47%7D/fda-approves-caplyta-for-schizophrenia

White House officials are working on an executive order that would boost public access to federally funded research, prompting publishers to panic about the future of their business models, according to people familiar with the plan.

Ostensibly, the order would follow longtime bipartisan interest in improving public access to research that is paid for by taxpayers.

It is expected to require that publicly funded science be obtainable for free immediately, building on an Obama initiative, multiple sources said.

A memo adopted in 2013 mandated that the results of such research be made available within one year of publication.

Though there is generally broad support for public access, publishing groups like the Association of American Publishers worry that a tougher order would upend their subscription-based business model.

Once it caught wind of the effort, AAP began drafting a sharply worded letter of concern to the White House, multiple sources said. The letter could be sent as early as tomorrow.

About a dozen sources told E&E News that they were aware the White House has been considering an executive order but the details remain murky. A senior administration official declined to comment on “internal deliberative processes that may or may not be happening.”

“President Trump’s Administration continues to be focused on scientific discovery and economic expansion,” the official added via email.

Michael Stebbins, who helped draft the Obama-era memo, generally expressed support for public access and noted that it could spur innovation. “But the devil is definitely in the details,” he said.

Many academic journals are funded by subscription fees collected in the first year of publication. The Trump mandate could force publishers to shift their model so authors pay hefty article processing charges, or APCs.

“Here’s the challenge: A world in which there is immediate open access will result in serious pain to a scientific society or small publisher who relies on subscription revenue,” Stebbins added. “That revenue will have to be made up somehow for them to survive.”

Some scientific experts, who are generally skeptical of the Trump team, are worried that the initiative parallels what they call the administration’s incessant attack on science and, by extension, provides favors to industry.

“What problem are we trying to solve?” asked Andrew Rosenberg, an advocate with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Others noted that the order would give international competitors like China access to American research, which has been a concern of the Trump administration.

It’s also unusual, sources noted, that a Republican administration would adopt policies that could seriously affect business models.

Impacts to publishers could vary. A spokeswoman for the American Association for the Advancement of Science had no direct comment on the administration’s reported plans but obliquely expressed concerns about the potential financial impact.

The nonprofit association publishes a half-dozen journals. One offers immediate free access to its articles, and the other five allow open access to peer-reviewed articles after a year for registered users, the spokeswoman, Tiffany Lohwater, said in an email this week. Articles in those five journals are also available for free as soon as they are posted in university archives technically known as “institutional repositories.”

“High-quality scientific publishing, as AAAS does, requires considerable resource investment, including to identify the papers that have the potential to significantly impact the pace of science,” she said.

George Allen, chief scientist with Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a Boston-based consortium of air pollution agencies, did not doubt the Trump order would get huge pushback from publishers.

“If you completely take away their business model, then they have no incentive to exist,” he said. He thought allowing free access after a year would be “a reasonable compromise

https://www.eenews.net/stories/1061836761

In women, midlife obesity is associated with increased risk for dementia later in life, while no clear associations are apparent for low body mass index (BMI), low caloric intake, or inactivity at baseline, according to a study published online Dec. 18 in Neurology.

Sarah Floud, Ph.D., from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, and colleagues recruited 1,136,846 U.K. women (mean age, 56 years) in 1996 to 2001 and asked them about height, weight, caloric intake, and inactivity. The women were followed until 2017 by electronic linkage to National Health Service records.

Fifteen years after the baseline survey, 89 percent of participants remained alive with no detected dementia, 18,695 of whom had dementia detected later (mean age, 77 years). The researchers observed an association between dementia detection during years 15+ and baseline obesity (BMI, 30+ versus 20 to 24 kg/m² rate ratio, 1.21); no clear associations were seen with low BMI, low caloric intake, or inactivity at baseline. These three factors correlated with increased dementia rates during the first decade; over time, these correlations weakened considerably, approaching null after 15 years.

“In this population, midlife obesity is the only factor examined that is likely to be causally related to dementia, perhaps chiefly through its effects on vascular disease,” the authors write.

https://www.physiciansbriefing.com/neurology-9/dementia-news-738/midlife-obesity-in-women-may-increase-risk-for-dementia-later-753066.html


Ever since humans domesticated the dog, the faithful, obedient and protective animal has provided its owner with companionship and emotional well-being. Now, a study suggests that being around ‘man’s best friend’ from an early age may have a health benefit as well — lessening the chance of developing schizophrenia as an adult.

And while Fido may help prevent that condition, the jury is still out on whether or not there’s any link, positive or negative, between being raised with Fluffy the cat and later developing either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

“Serious psychiatric disorders have been associated with alterations in the immune system linked to environmental exposures in early life, and since household pets are often among the first things with which children have close contact, it was logical for us to explore the possibilities of a connection between the two,” says Robert Yolken, M.D., chair of the Stanley Division of Pediatric Neurovirology and professor of neurovirology in pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, and lead author of a research paper recently posted online in the journal PLOS One.

In the study, Yolken and colleagues at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore investigated the relationship between exposure to a household pet cat or dog during the first 12 years of life and a later diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. For schizophrenia, the researchers were surprised to see a statistically significant decrease in the risk of a person developing the disorder if exposed to a dog early in life. Across the entire age range studied, there was no significant link between dogs and bipolar disorder, or between cats and either psychiatric disorder.

The researchers caution that more studies are needed to confirm these findings, to search for the factors behind any strongly supported links, and to more precisely define the actual risks of developing psychiatric disorders from exposing infants and children under age 13 to pet cats and dogs.

According to the American Pet Products Association’s most recent National Pet Owners Survey, there are 94 million pet cats and 90 million pet dogs in the United States. Previous studies have identified early life exposures to pet cats and dogs as environmental factors that may alter the immune system through various means, including allergic responses, contact with zoonotic (animal) bacteria and viruses, changes in a home’s microbiome, and pet-induced stress reduction effects on human brain chemistry.

Some investigators, Yolken notes, suspect that this “immune modulation” may alter the risk of developing psychiatric disorders to which a person is genetically or otherwise predisposed.

In their current study, Yolken and colleagues looked at a population of 1,371 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65 that consisted of 396 people with schizophrenia, 381 with bipolar disorder and 594 controls. Information documented about each person included age, gender, race/ethnicity, place of birth and highest level of parental education (as a measure of socioeconomic status). Patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were recruited from inpatient, day hospital and rehabilitation programs of Sheppard Pratt Health System. Control group members were recruited from the Baltimore area and were screened to rule out any current or past psychiatric disorders.

All study participants were asked if they had a household pet cat or dog or both during their first 12 years of life. Those who reported that a pet cat or dog was in their house when they were born were considered to be exposed to that animal since birth.

The relationship between the age of first household pet exposure and psychiatric diagnosis was defined using a statistical model that produces a hazard ratio — a measure over time of how often specific events (in this case, exposure to a household pet and development of a psychiatric disorder) happen in a study group compared to their frequency in a control group. A hazard ratio of 1 suggests no difference between groups, while a ratio greater than 1 indicates an increased likelihood of developing schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Likewise, a ratio less than 1 shows a decreased chance.

Analyses were conducted for four age ranges: birth to 3, 4 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 12.

Surprisingly, Yolken says, the findings suggests that people who are exposed to a pet dog before their 13th birthday are significantly less likely — as much as 24% — to be diagnosed later with schizophrenia.

“The largest apparent protective effect was found for children who had a household pet dog at birth or were first exposed after birth but before age 3,” he says.

Yolken adds that if it is assumed that the hazard ratio is an accurate reflection of relative risk, then some 840,000 cases of schizophrenia (24% of the 3.5 million people diagnosed with the disorder in the United States) might be prevented by pet dog exposure or other factors associated with pet dog exposure.

“There are several plausible explanations for this possible ‘protective’ effect from contact with dogs — perhaps something in the canine microbiome that gets passed to humans and bolsters the immune system against or subdues a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia,” Yolken says.

For bipolar disorder, the study results suggest there is no risk association, either positive or negative, with being around dogs as an infant or young child.

Overall for all ages examined, early exposure to pet cats was neutral as the study could not link felines with either an increased or decreased risk of developing schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

“However, we did find a slightly increased risk of developing both disorders for those who were first in contact with cats between the ages of 9 and 12,” Yolken says. “This indicates that the time of exposure may be critical to whether or not it alters the risk.”

One example of a suspected pet-borne trigger for schizophrenia is the disease toxoplasmosis, a condition in which cats are the primary hosts of a parasite transmitted to humans via the animals’ feces. Pregnant women have been advised for years not to change cat litter boxes to eliminate the risk of the illness passing through the placenta to their fetuses and causing a miscarriage, stillbirth, or potentially, psychiatric disorders in a child born with the infection.

In a 2003 review paper, Yolken and colleague E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., associate director of research at the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, provided evidence from multiple epidemiological studies conducted since 1953 that showed there also is a statistical connection between a person exposed to the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis and an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. The researchers found that a large number of people in those studies who were diagnosed with serious psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, also had high levels of antibodies to the toxoplasmosis parasite.

Because of this finding and others like it, most research has focused on investigating a potential link between early exposure to cats and psychiatric disorder development. Yolken says the most recent study is among the first to consider contact with dogs as well.

“A better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the associations between pet exposure and psychiatric disorders would allow us to develop appropriate prevention and treatment strategies,” Yolken says.

Working with Yolken on the research team are the following members from Sheppard Pratt Health System: Cassie Stallings, Andrea Origoni, Emily Katsafanas, Kevin Sweeney, Amalia Squire, and Faith Dickerson, Ph.D., M.P.H.

The study was largely supported by grants from the Stanley Medical Research Institute.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Robert Yolken, Cassie Stallings, Andrea Origoni, Emily Katsafanas, Kevin Sweeney, Amalia Squire, Faith Dickerson. Exposure to household pet cats and dogs in childhood and risk of subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. PLOS ONE, 2019; 14 (12): e0225320 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225320

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191218153448.htm

On a single summer day in 1990, Mahmoud Ghannoum’s life changed completely.

The research scientist was speaking at a conference in Washington, D.C., while his wife and children continued their family vacation in England.

But then, on Aug. 2, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. And Ghannoum, a professor at Kuwait University, suddenly lost his job, his home, and any way to access his bank accounts.

The conference was not the kind where he might land a job in the U.S. Another meeting, the following week, would be full of interview opportunities.

Problem was, Ghannoum had no money to stay—much less to pay to change his flight.

But then he met Jimmy Dorsey, a travel agent based in a local hotel. Dorsey not only changed his flight, but also arranged for a side trip to Milwaukee, where Ghannoum had a friend who could host him for a few days. Deeply grateful, Ghannoum began to leave. The agent stopped him, pulling $80 out of his wallet to give Ghannoum some spending money.

This past Sunday, Ghannoum was back in the greater D.C. area. Nearly 30 years later, he is globally recognized as the scientist who named the mycobiome—perhaps best known today in connection with gut health. He’s published hundreds of journal articles, been cited by other scientists thousands of times and, this summer, won a $3 million federal grant to build on earlier breakthroughs that hold promise for helping people with Crohn’s disease.

Ghannoum often told the story of his gratitude to the stranger whose kindness so profoundly affected his life—and, by extension, so many others. Because the travel agency had closed the following year, he’d never had the chance to thank him in person. It wasn’t until this fall, when Ghannoum’s son, Afif, put the story on Facebook, that the mystery was finally solved.

The Washington Post published a follow-up on Afif’s social media post, and soon after a reader wrote that the stranger sounded a lot like her boss at the time—Jimmy Dorsey, a Cleveland native, Vietnam veteran and volunteer firefighter. Sadly, cancer had taken his life the previous February, but Afif and the Post reporter eventually connected with his widow, Elaine.

Sure enough, she remembered Jimmy telling the very same story. The final proof came when she sent a photo of Dorsey as a young man. Ghannoum immediately recognized his rescuer, and the two families made plans to meet.

“He [gave] me the passion and the optimism that the world is good,” the elder Ghannoum said, “because people like him are out there.”

This weekend, the families came together for the first time. Ghannoum and his son decided they needed to do more than simply thank Elaine and her son Aaron. They came bearing gifts, specifically a plaque in Jimmy’s honor—and news that they had committed $25,000 to a scholarship fund at Case Western Reserve in his name.

“He was an outstanding man,” Elaine said of her late husband. “He was my knight in shining armor.”

On Monday, the Post recounted Sunday’s gathering, including mention of the new scholarship fund. People quickly began inquiring about how they too could give. Here’s the answer:

Visit the online giving site (https://tinyurl.com/z6xooba), choose “other area,” and in the “Special Instructions” box, write “Jimmy Dorsey Scholarship Fund.”
Mail: Checks should be made payable to “Case Western Reserve University” with a note “Jimmy Dorsey Scholarship Fund.” They should be sent to Case Western Reserve University, 11000 Cedar Avenue, #300, Cleveland, OH 44106-7035. Case Western Reserve University, Advancement Services

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