Check them out here
The fantastic biology blog, ifitsgreenitsbiology, has made a comparison of all the new biology specs that are due to come in to force in September.
Check them out here
Original article appeared on the BBC website
Monkeys at the top and bottom of the social pecking order have physically different brains, research has found.
A particular network of brain areas was bigger in dominant animals, while other regions were bigger in subordinates.
The study suggests that primate brains, including ours, can be specialised for life at either end of the hierarchy.
The differences might reflect inherited tendencies toward leading or following, or the brain adapting to an animal's role in life - or a little of both.
Neuroscientists made the discovery, which appears in the journal Plos Biology, by comparing brain scans from 25 macaque monkeys that were already "on file" as part of ongoing research at the University of Oxford.
Dr MaryAnn NoonanUniversity of Oxford
"We were also looking at learning and memory and decision-making, and the changes that are going on in your brain when you're doing those things," explained Dr MaryAnn Noonan, the study's first author.
The decision to look at the animals' social status produced an unexpectedly clear result, Dr Noonan said.
"It was surprising. All our monkeys were of different ages and different genders - but with fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) you can control for all of that. And we were consistently seeing these same networks coming out."
The monkeys live in groups of up to five, so the team identified their social status by watching their behaviour, then compared it to different aspects of the brain data.
In monkeys at the top of their social group, three particular bits of the brain tended to be larger (specifically the amygdala, the hypothalamus and the raphe nucleus). In subordinate monkeys, the tendency was for a different cluster of regions to be bigger (all within the striatum).
Nature plus nurtureAt either end of the social ladder, compared to monkeys in the middle, the activity in all these different brain regions was more synchronised. The researchers believe these areas together constitute brain circuits that are crucial for negotiating social situations - interpreting social and emotional cues, learning the value of certain actions, and so on.
Dr Noonan said it was particularly interesting to see different brain regions expanded at the top and the bottom of the social ladder, indicating that dominance isn't simply about being physically stronger and having an altogether bigger brain.
"It suggests that at either end [of the hierarchy], you really need a specific set of skills to be successful, and those skills are making higher neural demands on those areas of the brain," she told the BBC.
"In the animal kingdom, you might think that being dominant is all about aggression - I'm the bigger monkey, bugger off the rest of you.
"But all of this put together means that dominance might actually depend not only on aggression and physical strength, but also on forming bonds and making coalitions - and being quite smart about placing your loyalties."
The results cannot distinguish whether the differences in these monkeys' brains were there from birth, predisposing them to a particular social lot in life, or whether they reflect ongoing changes in the brain's organisation based on the demands of living with a particular status. Dr Noonan thinks that a combination of both these effects is the most likely explanation.
"It probably is both, because they're both really important mechanisms to have on board. You can imagine if you've come from 'good stock' within the monkey world, and your dad was really strong and muscly, you'll inherit those genes, and that might set your brain up in a certain way.
"But of course you're going to have to be plastic, in order to succeed and survive. You'll have to be adapting your behaviour and therefore your brain has got to adapt too."
There is no reason to suspect that the correlations identified in the study would not apply to other primates, like apes and humans.
"The regions that we've found are all there in humans and they all do similar things," Dr Noonan said.
But in our society, social position can vary considerably in different situations - so it is might be difficult to define "dominance" for a human study.
"While we might be top-dog in one circle of friends, at work we might be more of a social climber. The fluidity of our social position and how our brains adapt our behaviour to succeed in each context is the next exciting direction for this area of research."
This article has been modified from a piece featured in the BBC News Magazine
You would have to be desperate to take a sample of your husband's excrement, liquidise it in a kitchen blender and then insert it into your body with an off-the-shelf enema kit. This article contains images and descriptions which some might find shocking.
In April 2012, Catherine Duff was ready to try anything. She was wasting away with crippling abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea so severe she was confined to the house. At 56, in the US state of Indiana, she had come down with her sixth Clostridium difficile infection in six years.
"My colorectal surgeon said: 'The easiest thing would be to just take your colon out.' And my question was: 'Easier for whom?'"
Appalled at the idea of losing her large intestine, Duff's family feverishly searched for alternative treatments on the internet. One of them turned up an article about a doctor in Australia, Thomas Borody, who had been treating C. diff with an unusual process known as faecal transplant, or faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).
Clostridium difficile is an obnoxious microbe, usually kept in check by other bacteria in our guts. Problems arise when antibiotics remove some of these "friendly" bacteria, allowing C. diff to take over. One doctor compares it to the hooligan on the bus who is prevented from doing any harm by the sheer number of people on board. A course of antibiotics is equivalent to some of these people getting off at a stop, allowing the hooligan to run wild. About 50% of a person's faeces is bacteria, and a faecal transplant is like a whole new busload of people - the friendly bacteria - being hustled on board.
It's an emerging, but not new treatment. Chinese medicine has recommended swallowing small doses of faecal matter for some ailments for 1,500 years. It's also a treatment option in veterinary medicine. In 1958, a Denver surgeon, Ben Eiseman, used faecal transplants to treat an inflammation of the colon. He wrote the procedure up in a journal article, which, years later, inspired Thomas Borody to try the radical treatment on patients with C. diff. Now the head of the Centre for Digestive Diseases in New South Wales, Borody has recorded some striking successes.
Duff showed the article about Borody to her gastroenterologist, her infectious diseases consultant and her colorectal surgeon. But none of them had performed a faecal transplant and none was willing to try. When Duff said that she intended to administer the treatment herself with her husband's faeces, the gastroenterologist agreed to send a sample away to be screened for disease.
After they received the all-clear to use the stool, it was Duff's husband John that donned plastic gloves and assiduously followed the instructions they found online. He was no doctor, but as a retired submarine commander Duff considered him equal to the task.
"He was in the habit of spending months at a time in a metal tube with over 100 men," Duff says. "As a result, nothing grosses him out. So he was the one that made the donation, and then mixed it in a blender with saline, and then he gave it to me in an enema.
"My husband kissed me after I lay down and told me not to worry, that everything was going to be OK, and that it was going to work."
Then he threw away the blender (Dr Rob: I would have kept it in case they needed to do it again!)
Duff lay on her back with her legs in the air, trying to hold the foreign material in her body. She lasted four hours before needing to go to the toilet. They started the process at 16:00 in the afternoon. By 22:00 that night she felt almost completely better. "And I had been literally dying the day before," she says. "I was going into renal failure - I was dying."
Lots of people die from Clostridium difficile. In the US, the figure is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be 14,000 per year, while in England and Wales, 1,646 deaths from C. diff were recorded in 2012.
I found this on the "Power of Poop" website!
Eavesdropping may be rude, but snooping on honeybee conversations could reveal a lot about the environment. Their unique mode of communication, the waggle dance, contains clues about the health of the landscape they live in. In effect, the bees are giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to different methods of conservation.
A worker honeybee performs the waggle dance to tell her hive mates where the best food is located. That suggests the dance can indicate areas of the landscape that are healthy, at least in terms of food for pollinators.
To test this, Margaret Couvillon and her colleagues from the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, videoed and decoded 5484 waggle dances from three laboratory-maintained honeybee colonies living in 94 square kilometres of rural and urban landscapes. They divided the area into various conservation schemes, regulated by the UK government, and mapped which areas were most frequented by the bees over two years.
"Using honeybee colonies as biomonitors for environmental health is an idea that researchers have been interested in," says James Nieh from the University of California, San Diego. "However, this study uses a far larger sample size and examines the data in a more sophisticated way."
Happy foraging Most honeybees cast their votes for Castle Hill, a nature reserve rich in wildflowers, 2 kilometres from the hives. The bees also preferred to feed on farms covered by Higher Level Stewardship schemes. Such farms are supposed to set aside part of their land for wildlife and wildflowers, which may explain why the bees liked them.
However the bees did not seem particularly enticed by farms covered by Organic Entry Level Stewardship. While organic farming may seem harmonious with healthy wildlife, these schemes involve regular cutting and mowing in the first few years. "What that probably means for honeybees is that there are no flowers at all, just short grass," says Couvillon.
Listening in on honeybee conversations could be a quick and cost-effective way of evaluating costly management schemes that aim to make lands more wildlife-friendly, Couvillon says. What's more, honeybees are generalists, so identifying areas that they prefer could help other pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies.
But honeybees may not tell us everything we need to know, says Lars Chittka of Queen Mary, University of London. He says they probably prefer whichever area offers the most nectar or pollen, regardless of whether it is a diverse wildflower meadow or a vast monoculture. "So what's good for the honeybee is not necessarily good for any other species."
Extract from New Scientist website
The amount of carbon lost from tropical forests is being significantly underestimated, a new study reports
In addition to loss of trees, the degradation of tropical forests by selective logging and fires causes large amounts of "hidden" emissions.
The slow moving process has remained almost invisible to satellite observations in the Amazon.
Researchers say degradation in Brazil causes additional emissions equivalent to 40% of those from deforestation.
The research is due to be published in the journal Global Change Biology.
The rapid removal of trees in the Amazon rainforest has been a significant source of global carbon emissions for many decades.
It is said to account for around 12% of human induced greenhouse gases, roughly the equivalent of both agriculture and transport.
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