I'm an aspiring scientist, hoping to be a neuroendocrinologist, and going to Boston University for neuroscience with pre-med. I love science and mathematics, and both never fail to fascinate me. Here, I share that which I find particularly interesting.

 

the-star-stuff:

Protein-Template Typos Confront Core Idea of Genetics
RNA molecules aren’t always faithful reproductions of the genetic instructions contained within DNA, a new study shows. The finding seems to violate a tenet of genetics so fundamental that scientists call it the central dogma: DNA letters encode information, and RNA is made in DNA’s likeness. The RNA then serves as a template to build proteins.
But a study of RNA in white blood cells from 27 different people shows that, on average, each person has nearly 4,000 genes in which the RNA copies contain misspellings not found in DNA.
Scientists already knew that every now and then RNA letters can be chemically modified or edited — sort of the molecular equivalent of adding an umlaut to some letters. But those RNA editing events are not common.
RNA molecules contained misspellings at 20,000 different places in the genome, with about 10,000 different misspellings occurring in two or more of the people studied. The most common of the 12 different types of misspellings was when an A in the DNA was changed to G in the RNA. That change accounted for about a third of the misspellings.
The researchers don’t yet know how the RNA misspellings happen. They could be substitutions made while the RNA copy is being made, or the changes could happen later. The consequences of the misspellings are also unknown. For instance, misspellings might cause the RNA to be degraded faster or interfere with the molecule’s ability to make proteins.
Image: RNA polymerase II (large colored blob), an enzyme that transcribes DNA into messenger RNA (which specifies the order of amino acids in proteins)./NIGMS (hi-res)

the-star-stuff:

Protein-Template Typos Confront Core Idea of Genetics

RNA molecules aren’t always faithful reproductions of the genetic instructions contained within DNA, a new study shows. The finding seems to violate a tenet of genetics so fundamental that scientists call it the central dogma: DNA letters encode information, and RNA is made in DNA’s likeness. The RNA then serves as a template to build proteins.

But a study of RNA in white blood cells from 27 different people shows that, on average, each person has nearly 4,000 genes in which the RNA copies contain misspellings not found in DNA.

Scientists already knew that every now and then RNA letters can be chemically modified or edited — sort of the molecular equivalent of adding an umlaut to some letters. But those RNA editing events are not common.

RNA molecules contained misspellings at 20,000 different places in the genome, with about 10,000 different misspellings occurring in two or more of the people studied. The most common of the 12 different types of misspellings was when an A in the DNA was changed to G in the RNA. That change accounted for about a third of the misspellings.

The researchers don’t yet know how the RNA misspellings happen. They could be substitutions made while the RNA copy is being made, or the changes could happen later. The consequences of the misspellings are also unknown. For instance, misspellings might cause the RNA to be degraded faster or interfere with the molecule’s ability to make proteins.

Image: RNA polymerase II (large colored blob), an enzyme that transcribes DNA into messenger RNA (which specifies the order of amino acids in proteins)./NIGMS (hi-res)

HowStuffWorks “Can our brains see the fourth dimension?”:
The success of 2009’s “Avatar” demonstrates that moviegoers appreciate the difference between 2-D and 3-D, and they’re willing to pay a little more for an upgrade. Most of us are accustomed to watching 2-D; even though characters on the screen appear to have depth and texture, the image is actually flat. But when we put on those 3-D glasses, we see a world that has shape, a world that we could walk in. We can imagine existing in such a world because we live in one. The things in our daily life have height, width and length. But for someone who’s only known life in two dimensions, 3-D would be impossible to comprehend. And that, according to many researchers, is the reason we can’t see the fourth dimension, or any other dimension beyond that. Physicists work under the assumption that there are at least 10 dimensions, but the majority of us will never “see” them. Because we only know life in 3-D, our brains don’t understand how to look for anything more.
In 1884, Edwin A. Abbot published a novel that depicts the problem of seeing dimensions beyond your own. In “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions,” Abbot describes the life of a square in a two-dimensional world. Living in 2-D means that the square is surrounded by circles, triangles and rectangles, but all the square sees are other lines. One day, the square is visited by a sphere. On first glance, the sphere just looks like a circle to the square, and the square can’t comprehend what the sphere means when he explains 3-D objects. Eventually, the sphere takes the square to the 3-D world, and the square understands. He sees not just lines, but entire shapes that have depth. Emboldened, the square asks the sphere what exists beyond the 3-D world; the sphere is appalled. The sphere can’t comprehend a world beyond this, and in this way, stands in for the reader. Our brains aren’t trained to see anything other than our world, and it will likely take something from another dimension to make us understand.
But what is this other dimension? Mystics used to see it as a place where spirits lived, since they weren’t bound by our earthly rules. In his theory of special relativity, Einstein called the fourth dimension time, but noted that time is inseparable from space. Science fiction aficionados may recognize that union as space-time, and indeed, the idea of a space-time continuum has been popularized by science fiction writers for centuries [source: Overbye]. Einstein described gravity as a bend in space-time. Today, some physicists describe the fourth dimension as any space that’s perpendicular to a cube — the problem being that most of us can’t visualize something that is perpendicular to a cube [source: Cole].
Researchers have used Einstein’s ideas to determine whether we can travel through time. While we can move in any direction in our 3-D world, we can only move forward in time. Thus, traveling to the past has been deemed near-impossible, though some researchers still hold out hope for finding wormholes that connect to different sections of space-time [source: Goudarzi].
If we can’t use the fourth dimension to time travel, and if we can’t even see the fourth dimension, then what’s the point of knowing about it? Understanding these higher dimensions is of importance to mathematicians and physicists because it helps them understand the world. String theory, for example, relies upon at least 10 dimensions to remain viable [source: Groleau]. For these researchers, the answers to complex problems in the 3-D world may be found in the next dimension — and beyond.

HowStuffWorks “Can our brains see the fourth dimension?”:

The success of 2009’s “Avatar” demonstrates that moviegoers appreciate the difference between 2-D and 3-D, and they’re willing to pay a little more for an upgrade. Most of us are accustomed to watching 2-D; even though characters on the screen appear to have depth and texture, the image is actually flat. But when we put on those 3-D glasses, we see a world that has shape, a world that we could walk in. We can imagine existing in such a world because we live in one. The things in our daily life have height, width and length. But for someone who’s only known life in two dimensions, 3-D would be impossible to comprehend. And that, according to many researchers, is the reason we can’t see the fourth dimension, or any other dimension beyond that. Physicists work under the assumption that there are at least 10 dimensions, but the majority of us will never “see” them. Because we only know life in 3-D, our brains don’t understand how to look for anything more.

In 1884, Edwin A. Abbot published a novel that depicts the problem of seeing dimensions beyond your own. In “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions,” Abbot describes the life of a square in a two-dimensional world. Living in 2-D means that the square is surrounded by circles, triangles and rectangles, but all the square sees are other lines. One day, the square is visited by a sphere. On first glance, the sphere just looks like a circle to the square, and the square can’t comprehend what the sphere means when he explains 3-D objects. Eventually, the sphere takes the square to the 3-D world, and the square understands. He sees not just lines, but entire shapes that have depth. Emboldened, the square asks the sphere what exists beyond the 3-D world; the sphere is appalled. The sphere can’t comprehend a world beyond this, and in this way, stands in for the reader. Our brains aren’t trained to see anything other than our world, and it will likely take something from another dimension to make us understand.

But what is this other dimension? Mystics used to see it as a place where spirits lived, since they weren’t bound by our earthly rules. In his theory of special relativity, Einstein called the fourth dimension time, but noted that time is inseparable from space. Science fiction aficionados may recognize that union as space-time, and indeed, the idea of a space-time continuum has been popularized by science fiction writers for centuries [source: Overbye]. Einstein described gravity as a bend in space-time. Today, some physicists describe the fourth dimension as any space that’s perpendicular to a cube — the problem being that most of us can’t visualize something that is perpendicular to a cube [source: Cole].

Researchers have used Einstein’s ideas to determine whether we can travel through time. While we can move in any direction in our 3-D world, we can only move forward in time. Thus, traveling to the past has been deemed near-impossible, though some researchers still hold out hope for finding wormholes that connect to different sections of space-time [source: Goudarzi].

If we can’t use the fourth dimension to time travel, and if we can’t even see the fourth dimension, then what’s the point of knowing about it? Understanding these higher dimensions is of importance to mathematicians and physicists because it helps them understand the world. String theory, for example, relies upon at least 10 dimensions to remain viable [source: Groleau]. For these researchers, the answers to complex problems in the 3-D world may be found in the next dimension — and beyond.

HowStuffWorks “Dreams: Stages of Sleep”:
Dreaming and the Brain
When we sleep, we go through five sleep stages. The first stage is a very light sleep from which it is easy to wake up. The second stage moves into a slightly deeper sleep, and stages three and four represent our deepest sleep. Our brain activity throughout these stages is gradually slowing down so that by deep sleep, we experience nothing but delta brain waves — the slowest brain waves (see “Brain Waves” sidebar). About 90 minutes after we go to sleep and after the fourth sleep stage, we begin REM sleep.
Rapid eye movement (REM) was discovered in 1953 by University of Chicago researchers Eugene Aserinsky, a graduate student in physiology, and Nathaniel Kleitman, Ph.D., chair of physiology. REM sleep is primarily characterized by movements of the eyes and is the fifth stage of sleep.
During REM sleep, several physiological changes also take place. The heart rate and breathing quickens, the blood pressure rises, we can’t regulate our body temperature as well and our brain activity increases to the same level (alpha) as when we are awake, or even higher. The rest of the body, however, is essentiallyparalyzed until we leave REM sleep. This paralysis is caused by the release of glycine, an amino acid, from the brain stem onto the motoneurons (neurons that conduct impulses outward from the brain or spinal cord). Because REM sleep is the sleep stage at which most dreaming takes place, this paralysis could be nature’s way of making sure we don’t act out our dreams. Otherwise, if you’re sleeping next to someone who is dreaming about playing kickball, you might get kicked repeatedly while you sleep.
The four stages outside of REM sleep are called non-REM sleep (NREM). Although most dreams do take place during REM sleep, more recent research has shown that dreams can occur during any of the sleep stages. Tore A. Nielsen, Ph.D., of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory in Montreal, refers to this as “covert REM sleep” making an appearance during NREM sleep. Most NREM dreams, however, don’t have the intensity of REM dreams.
Throughout the night, we go through these five stages several times. Each subsequent cycle, however, includes more REM sleep and less deep sleep (stage three and four). By morning, we’re having almost all stage one, two and five (REM) sleep.

HowStuffWorks “Dreams: Stages of Sleep”:

Dreaming and the Brain

When we sleep, we go through five sleep stages. The first stage is a very light sleep from which it is easy to wake up. The second stage moves into a slightly deeper sleep, and stages three and four represent our deepest sleep. Our brain activity throughout these stages is gradually slowing down so that by deep sleep, we experience nothing but delta brain waves — the slowest brain waves (see “Brain Waves” sidebar). About 90 minutes after we go to sleep and after the fourth sleep stage, we begin REM sleep.

Rapid eye movement (REM) was discovered in 1953 by University of Chicago researchers Eugene Aserinsky, a graduate student in physiology, and Nathaniel Kleitman, Ph.D., chair of physiology. REM sleep is primarily characterized by movements of the eyes and is the fifth stage of sleep.

During REM sleep, several physiological changes also take place. The heart rate and breathing quickens, the blood pressure rises, we can’t regulate our body temperature as well and our brain activity increases to the same level (alpha) as when we are awake, or even higher. The rest of the body, however, is essentiallyparalyzed until we leave REM sleep. This paralysis is caused by the release of glycine, an amino acid, from the brain stem onto the motoneurons (neurons that conduct impulses outward from the brain or spinal cord). Because REM sleep is the sleep stage at which most dreaming takes place, this paralysis could be nature’s way of making sure we don’t act out our dreams. Otherwise, if you’re sleeping next to someone who is dreaming about playing kickball, you might get kicked repeatedly while you sleep.

The four stages outside of REM sleep are called non-REM sleep (NREM). Although most dreams do take place during REM sleep, more recent research has shown that dreams can occur during any of the sleep stages. Tore A. Nielsen, Ph.D., of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory in Montreal, refers to this as “covert REM sleep” making an appearance during NREM sleep. Most NREM dreams, however, don’t have the intensity of REM dreams.

Throughout the night, we go through these five stages several times. Each subsequent cycle, however, includes more REM sleep and less deep sleep (stage three and four). By morning, we’re having almost all stage one, two and five (REM) sleep.

HowStuffWorks “The Science of Flirting”:
The Science of Flirting
There’s a lot going on under the surface when we flirt. Yes, we’re sending the message that we’re interested, but why do those specific gestures say “I’m interested in you,” and what do they really say about us? According to scientists, it all comes down to our inherent desire to reproduce. When we flirt, we’re giving off information about how fit we are to procreate as well as our health. There are also specific aspects of our appearance that make us more attractive to others.
Some of the “female” signs of flirting, such as angling her body and sticking out her hips, are attempts to draw attention to her pelvis and its suitability for carrying a child. In addition, men tend to be more attracted to women with a certain hip-to-waist ratio (specifically, the waist must be no more than 60 to 80 percent of the hip circumference) [source: Psychology Today]. This is also an indication of fertility.
When a man makes intense eye contact and smiles often, he attempts to show that he is both virile and dependable. Women are attracted to prominent, square jaws, which are indicative of a man’s power a­nd strength. Scientists point out that features like square jaws in human males have a connection to prominent features in the animal kingdom. Male peacocks attract females with their elaborate plumage, male cardinals are bright red and stags have large horns. Because these features require additional biological resources and also tend to make these animals more visible to their predators, an impressive display shows that these animals are strong.
When we’re flirting with someone who fits the bill for us, the limbic system takes over (the same system responsible for our flight-or-fight response). We operate on emotion and instinct. If we only governed flirting with the most rational part of our brains, we might not ever flirt — or get a date — at all. In fact, according to biologist Dr. Antonio Damasio, there’s a connection between brain damage and flirting. He states that “people with damage to the connection between their limbic structures and the higher brain are smart and rational — but unable to make decisions” [source: Psychology Today].
Still, we’re not just animalistic in our flirting behavior. The ability to carry a conversation and engage in the joking back-and-forth of flirting also indicates our intelligence, which is always attractive. In the next section, we’ll look at how flirting has changed over the years and how technology has led to new ways of flirting.

HowStuffWorks “The Science of Flirting”:

The Science of Flirting

There’s a lot going on under the surface when we flirt. Yes, we’re sending the message that we’re interested, but why do those specific gestures say “I’m interested in you,” and what do they really say about us? According to scientists, it all comes down to our inherent desire to reproduce. When we flirt, we’re giving off information about how fit we are to procreate as well as our health. There are also specific aspects of our appearance that make us more attractive to others.

Some of the “female” signs of flirting, such as angling her body and sticking out her hips, are attempts to draw attention to her pelvis and its suitability for carrying a child. In addition, men tend to be more attracted to women with a certain hip-to-waist ratio (specifically, the waist must be no more than 60 to 80 percent of the hip circumference) [source: Psychology Today]. This is also an indication of fertility.

When a man makes intense eye contact and smiles often, he attempts to show that he is both virile and dependable. Women are attracted to prominent, square jaws, which are indicative of a man’s power a­nd strength. Scientists point out that features like square jaws in human males have a connection to prominent features in the animal kingdom. Male peacocks attract females with their elaborate plumage, male cardinals are bright red and stags have large horns. Because these features require additional biological resources and also tend to make these animals more visible to their predators, an impressive display shows that these animals are strong.

When we’re flirting with someone who fits the bill for us, the limbic system takes over (the same system responsible for our flight-or-fight response). We operate on emotion and instinct. If we only governed flirting with the most rational part of our brains, we might not ever flirt — or get a date — at all. In fact, according to biologist Dr. Antonio Damasio, there’s a connection between brain damage and flirting. He states that “people with damage to the connection between their limbic structures and the higher brain are smart and rational — but unable to make decisions” [source: Psychology Today].

Still, we’re not just animalistic in our flirting behavior. The ability to carry a conversation and engage in the joking back-and-forth of flirting also indicates our intelligence, which is always attractive. In the next section, we’ll look at how flirting has changed over the years and how technology has led to new ways of flirting.

gjmueller:

Continuing Education, at the Bar

Whether it’s credentialed neuroscientists delivering a solid happy hour  on the mysteries of the brain or tag teams of amateurs competing to give  the best 15-minute PowerPoint on cephalopod sex or fake alphabets,  never has New York (or Brooklyn, anyway) offered so many opportunities  to get smart while also getting a bit stupid. Here’s a survey of some  offbeat lecture series that let the intellectually curious go back to  school, without the homework. 

Secret Science Club
Nerd Nite
Moonlighter Presents
Brooklyn Brainery
Open City Dialogue Series
Proteus Gowanus
The Public School

gjmueller:

Continuing Education, at the Bar

Whether it’s credentialed neuroscientists delivering a solid happy hour on the mysteries of the brain or tag teams of amateurs competing to give the best 15-minute PowerPoint on cephalopod sex or fake alphabets, never has New York (or Brooklyn, anyway) offered so many opportunities to get smart while also getting a bit stupid. Here’s a survey of some offbeat lecture series that let the intellectually curious go back to school, without the homework.

scinerds:

This Is Your Brain In Love
Men and women can now thank a dozen brain regions for their romantic fervor.

Researchers have revealed the fonts of desire by comparing functional MRI studies of people who indicated they were experiencing passionate love, maternal love or unconditional love. Together, the regions release neuro­transmitters and other chemicals in the brain and blood that prompt greater euphoric sensations such as attraction and pleasure. Conversely, psychiatrists might someday help individuals who become dan­gerously depressed after a heartbreak by adjusting those chemicals.
Passion also heightens several cognitive functions, as the brain regions and chemicals surge. “It’s all about how that network interacts,” says Stephanie Ortigue, an assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University, who led the study. The cognitive functions, in turn, “are triggers that fully activate the love network.” Tell that to your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.

Graphics by: James W. Lewis, West Virginia University (brain), and Jen Christiansen.

scinerds:

This Is Your Brain In Love

Men and women can now thank a dozen brain regions for their romantic fervor.

Researchers have revealed the fonts of desire by comparing functional MRI studies of people who indicated they were experiencing passionate love, maternal love or unconditional love. Together, the regions release neuro­transmitters and other chemicals in the brain and blood that prompt greater euphoric sensations such as attraction and pleasure. Conversely, psychiatrists might someday help individuals who become dan­gerously depressed after a heartbreak by adjusting those chemicals.

Passion also heightens several cognitive functions, as the brain regions and chemicals surge. “It’s all about how that network interacts,” says Stephanie Ortigue, an assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University, who led the study. The cognitive functions, in turn, “are triggers that fully activate the love network.” Tell that to your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.

Graphics by: James W. Lewis, West Virginia University (brain), and Jen Christiansen.

sciencecenter:

Sticklers for punctuality, prepare yourself for the upcoming leap second
Surely everyone has heard of the leap year, in which every fourth year is extended by a day to compensate for Earth’s slightly irregular orbit around the sun. But you probably haven’t heard of the leap second. Mark Brown of Wired UK has the scoop:

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) in Paris — the grand arbiters of time on our big blue marble — has declared that a leap second will be introduced on 30 June, 2012. […]
We used to use the Earth’s dutiful rotation as a way of measuring time. It pirouettes on its axis once every 24 hours, which can then be divided into minutes and seconds. But the Earth’s rotation is annoyingly irregular, with some days ending up being a tiny bit longer or shorter than others.
There’s nothing science hates more than unpredictability, so in the 1950s atomic clocks were introduced to keep time.
By measuring the regular atomic vibration in the element cesium (which oscillates exactly 9,192,631,770 times a second), we ended up with a clock that can be used to score off seconds with remarkable accuracy. Multiple atomic clocks work in unison to precisely calculate world time.
But that leaves a problem. If we lived on atomic time it’d very slowly gravitate away from the Earth’s actual time. In a few years we’d be a second out of sync, in hundreds of years we’d be a minute out and after several hundred thousand years we could be eating lunch in the middle of the night.
So time-keepers introduced the leap second. As the atomic clock’s perfect accuracy (known as International Atomic Time, or TAI, from the French name Temps Atomique International) veers farther and farther away from the Earth’s clumsy rotation (called Solar Time), the IERS introduces a leap second to bring them back into perfect parity (known as Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC).

Click here to read the rest.

sciencecenter:

Sticklers for punctuality, prepare yourself for the upcoming leap second

Surely everyone has heard of the leap year, in which every fourth year is extended by a day to compensate for Earth’s slightly irregular orbit around the sun. But you probably haven’t heard of the leap second. Mark Brown of Wired UK has the scoop:

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) in Paris — the grand arbiters of time on our big blue marble — has declared that a leap second will be introduced on 30 June, 2012. […]

We used to use the Earth’s dutiful rotation as a way of measuring time. It pirouettes on its axis once every 24 hours, which can then be divided into minutes and seconds. But the Earth’s rotation is annoyingly irregular, with some days ending up being a tiny bit longer or shorter than others.

There’s nothing science hates more than unpredictability, so in the 1950s atomic clocks were introduced to keep time.

By measuring the regular atomic vibration in the element cesium (which oscillates exactly 9,192,631,770 times a second), we ended up with a clock that can be used to score off seconds with remarkable accuracy. Multiple atomic clocks work in unison to precisely calculate world time.

But that leaves a problem. If we lived on atomic time it’d very slowly gravitate away from the Earth’s actual time. In a few years we’d be a second out of sync, in hundreds of years we’d be a minute out and after several hundred thousand years we could be eating lunch in the middle of the night.

So time-keepers introduced the leap second. As the atomic clock’s perfect accuracy (known as International Atomic Time, or TAI, from the French name Temps Atomique International) veers farther and farther away from the Earth’s clumsy rotation (called Solar Time), the IERS introduces a leap second to bring them back into perfect parity (known as Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC).

Click here to read the rest.

The Psychology Behind Blushing

psychology2010:

In this synopsis, I talk about what In this synopsis, I talk about what blushing is, the physiological causes, situations in which we might blush and theories on the adaptive values of blushing.

When was the last time that you blushed? Was it when you said something you felt like you shouldn’t have said? Was it when you got somebody winking at you? Or was it when someone complimented you? 

Blushing, a reddening of the face often the cheeks is an emotion unique to humans. Only humans have shown to blush. 

What causes blushing? 

Blushing is triggered by an external situation that either makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed. The special hormone adrenaline activates the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the flight or fight response. This hormone thus speeds up breathing and heart rate, and causes the pupils to dilate. The reddening often of the cheek area occurs as a result of vasodilation, which is caused by adrenaline and allows blood vessels to dilate. When the blood vessels dilate, blood flow improves and allows oxygen to flow. When the cheek becomes red, vasodilation occcurs with the veins in that region. 

When do we blush in? 

Blushing can occur across a various range of situations that causes one to feel embarrassed. For instance, when somebody asks you out. 

What are the theories on blushing?

The most prominent theory comes from psychoanalysis who claims the following: 

1. Blushing is a sudden displacement from below upwards of a genital excitement which was repressed by fear of castration 

2. Blushing in women is also a sign of castration fear 

3. Men are ashamed and blush because they feel that they are castrated. 

In other words, psychoanalytic perspectives assert that blushing occurs as a result of castration fear. Castration fear is the idea that the male child fears having his penis removed by his father. In addition, the theory intends that females experience this castration fear as well. 

But as we should note is that the psychoanalysis perspective in psychology is never well supported. That is there are no objective data for its points. Hence, there may be no validity. 

Another theory on blushing comes from the evolutionary and social perspective. The theories states that we blush because blushing conveys to others that we have misstepped socially. For example, if we say something we should not have said. This is an adaptive value, because it allows other to read us and it serves as a nonverbal apology for our mistake. 

In summary, blushing is the result of activation of the special hormone adrenaline which activates the sympathetic nervous system causing veins in the cheek to increase blood and oxygen flow. This creates a pink-reddish appearance. Only humans blush. Blushing occurs across diverse situations; the most common being ones that forge embarrassments. For instance, when someone compliments you. The two prominent theories on blushing are from the psychoanalytic and social-evolutionary perspectives. The psychoanalysts affirm that blushing is result of castration fear, and this is the fear of having penis removed. The social-evolutionary theory combined argues that blushing facilitates survival by conveying to others that we are apologetic for or recognize what we said or did.