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Photo: lunar caustic (flickr)

Science Snippets

This issue’s round-up of science news

By Iskra Pollak Dorocic & Irina Pader

 

IMPLANTING HAPPY MEMORIES

Photo: Eric May (flickr)

Photo: Eric May (flickr)

A bit reminiscent of the movie Inception, scientists have managed to enter the brain of a mouse while it is sleeping and implant new memories. The extraordinary feat was accomplished by recording the animal’s brain activity during sleep and associating a specific activation pattern with a pleasant feeling. The scientists linked a particular place cell activation in the hippocampus with a stimulation of the pleasure center of the brain. Once the mice woke up, they headed straight to the location which was coded for by the stimulated place cells – suggesting that the implanted memory was a conscious one. (de Lavilléon et al., Nature Neuroscience, 2015)

PAINKILLERS ALSO KILL PLEASURE

Paracetamol is one of the most popular over-the-counter painkillers in the world. Recent research found a new surprising side-effect: the drug not only dulls physical pain, buy might also dull pleasure and other emotional reactions. Participants in a study took either paracetamol or a placebo, and were then exposed to emotionally-charged images, either very disturbing or pleasant. The participants who took paracetamol had less intense reactions to the images, both happy and sad. The research suggests that the painkiller may have effects on more than just relieving pain, but also more broadly dull our emotional responses. (Durso et al., Psychological Science, 2015)

MAN’S BEST FRIEND

Photo: latteda (flickr)

Photo: latteda (flickr)

As anyone with a pet dog can attest, there is a special bond between an owner and their dog. New research suggest that it’s all in the gaze. A Japanese team has shown that when dogs spend a lot of time making eye contact with their owner, their levels of oxytocin increase. The owner’s levels also increased. Oxytocin is a brain hormone involved in the parent-child bond, as well as other types of social behavior. The researchers also artificially increased oxytocin levels in the dogs with a nasal spray, resulting in longer eye-contact in females dogs (but not males). This is the first study to show oxytocin can facilitate social gaze interaction between two different species, and suggests dogs evolved this during domestication. (Nagasawa et al., Science, April 2015)

PROMISING ANTIBODY AGAINST HIV

For the first time a broadly neutralizing antibody against HIV-1 infection (3BNC117) has successfully been tested in a phase 1 clinical trial in humans. In contrast to earlier developed antibodies, this new type can neutralize multiple HIV strains and has now shown to be effective in human immunotherapy. Intravenous administration to 29 individuals, of which 17 were HIV positive, resulted in a significant reduction of the virus levels for 28 days. The study gives hope for combinatory antibody-drug treatments in the future. (Caskey et al., Nature, March 2015)

FIRST HUMAN EMBRYO ENGNEERING

Photo: lunar caustic (flickr)

Photo: lunar caustic (flickr)

For the first time ever, scientists claim to have edited the genomes of human embryos. The experiment took place in China, and used ‘non-viable’ embryos from fertility clinics, which were at the single cell stage. The researchers used a technique called CRISPR/Cas9 to attempt to modify the gene responsible for β-thalassemia, a severe and often fatal blood disorder. 86 embryos were injected, out of which 54 were then genetically tested. Only 28 showed successfully editing, and only a fraction of those had the replacement genetic material. These early experiments raise huge ethical issues and calls for restrictions on this type of research. (Liang et al., Protein & Cell, 2015)

 

FIRST LOOK AT HUNTER-GATHERER MICROBIOME

A recent study has analyzed the gut microbiota of a modern hunter-gatherer community, the Hadza of Tanzania, and gives a snapshot on how the pre-industrial gut microbiome must have looked like. Compared to Italian urban controls, the Hadza microbiome has a surprisingly unique microbial profile and higher biodiversity, which is well adapted to break down the fibrous plant-based food of the Hadza. Interestingly, females and males differed significantly in their microbiota depending on their lifestyle, as women collect plant foods while men mostly hunt. (Schnorr et al., Nature Communications, 2015)

 

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