The Brain That Changes Itself

“The brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature has gone very far to help us perceive and take in the world around us. It has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself.”
Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.

The book The Brain that Changes Itself has not only affected the influentials of neuroscience but also has created the turning point for the laypeople to be informed about the complexity of our cognitive organ: the brain.

Until the late 19th centuries, people had believed that neuron cells were not capable of presenting any resilient activities; thus, people thought that once the brain cell has been damaged, the cell is permanently gone. The researchers struggled to understand even the basic 10% of the infrastructures/faculties of the brain, and even in that small percentage had errors.

However, as the emergence of the 21 century, scholars of the field has developed neuroscience technology to “observe” the pattern of brain activities. Well, renown Canadian psychiatrist Norman Doidge was also one of the vanguards of such. His book-The Brain That Changes Itself- is still renown as a prominent opus that amazes the readers within its context dealing with the basics of the functions, to a clear explanation of the answer to the title.

Contrary to the original belief that after childhood the brain begins a gradual process of decline, he shows us that our brains have the remarkable power to grow, change, learn, recover, and has latent effects to the human nature.

The huge leap in the study of neuroscience explained in the book occurs as Doidge explains the “brain’s plasticity”. Long before, scientists believed that each part of the brain takes charge of given function. In the 1860s, with Paul Broca’s discovery that damage to a specific part of the brain—the left frontal lobe which was associated with speech impairment— bolstered the “locational theory”. With further evidence created by other eminent scientists, such as Carl Wernicke, Gustav Fritsch, and J. L. Hitzig, brain locational theory seemed to be the only answer to the unsolvable conundrum that troubled the clique of neuroscience for ages. However, a new theory is given as a novel key to unlock the latch of the mystery.

Plasticity theory, further elaborated in the book, states that now scholars embrace the recognition that the brain is plastic and can actually change itself with exercise and understanding. Although a newbie theory compared to the former one with the paucity of empirical evidence, the theory now pervades the area, flipping every corner of the sects of neuroscience.


Read more: Localization (Brain Function) – Functions, Theories, Damage, and Mental – JRank Articles



The world full of clones of mutant crayfish


In the world full of concern about endangered animals, the mutant crayfish are in the totally opposite state. These mutant crayfish, called marmorkrebs (or marbled crayfish), are spreading all over the world – from a stream in Florida to Madagascar.

Then, why are the people calling them the “mutant” crayfish? The reason is that the number of the marmorkrebs with the same copies of chromosomes is increasing. In other words, they are being “clones” for each other!!!

Indeed, there is one distinct feature of marmorkrebs which let them make their offspring as their clones. It is “PARTHENOGENESIS”. In parthenogenesis,  the female marmorkrebs are able to fertilize themselves and lay their eggs without the assist of male marmorkrebs. Despite the fact that common animals’ chromosomes are comprised of the chromosomes both from their mom and dad, marmorkrebs, which show parthenogenesis, does not. To be specific, common animals has two sets of chromosomes, one from their mom and the other from dad. However, marmorkrebs get all of those two from their mom!! Then, does it mean that males do not have any role?

No, it’s not. Here is the case. If a female produces an egg with two sets of chromosomes and a male fertilize it, a third chromosome is added to it, making these offspring to have three sets of chromosomes. Then, what makes these offspring special is that an extra copy of the gene can remove damaged genes from the marmorkrebs’ genomes!

However, as these species are becoming popular as pets, they lack the chance to make three chromosomes. The female-produced eggs hatch without the males’ fertilization. If one of the female marmorkrebs escapes from one’s house and enters a stream, then the result will be awful – a stream full of clones. One final problem is that they are going to invade the native species in the new environment.

For this problem of rapidly spreading species, ecologists are still working hard for the remedy.

Bacterium is receiving signals?

Caltech, one of the most competitive and educative schools in the States, discovered new, creative methods to communicate with bacteria from inside to outside of the body. Yes, it might be complicated; however, the mechanism that was implemented in this experiment was really simple. Mikhail Shapiro, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Schlinger Scholar, and Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator illustrated as “We are engineering the bacterial cells so  that they can bounce sound waves back to us and let us know their location the way a ship or submarine scatters sonar when another ship is looking for it.”

Apparently, making a new medicine or treatment method that involves bacteria is not new. It is an ordinary method that was used even back in 1900’s when the antibiotics were invented. It still shares the common feature-using bacteria. However, this method is directly communicating with bacteria for the purpose of both to gather intel on what’s happening in the body and give the bacteria instructions about what to do next. Apparently, this was an impossible task. But, one of the eminent scientists found out the type of bacteria that receives an ultrasound signal and reflect back when it receives it. Luckily, ultrasound is able to penetrate into human’s body, thus making it valid to utilize the bacteria in order to communicate with it.

But, that was not it. The team faced on another impediment that bacteria needs buoyancy in order to receive it. At that moment, Shapiro had a eureka moment about six years ago when he learned about gas-filled protein structures in water-dwelling bacteria that help regulate the organisms’ buoyancy. The problem was solved, they were huddling each other, and the only goal was to make it happen in real life. They decided to utilize Escherichia coli, which is commonly used in microbial therapeutics, such as probiotics. After the numerous times struggling to make E-coli produce gas vesicles by themselves, the team finally made it happen.

This wonderful, astonishing discovery needs to be tested further and may be used in humans in short future.



Which is smarter?

People are wondering which is smarter, cat or dog. They can get the clear answer from neuroscientists. The intelligence is concerned with the number of neuron in the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is a group of neurons where each of its section has different ability. The cerebral cortex charges memory, concentration, and thought. Herculano-Houzel wanted to find the relationship between the number of neuron in the brain and size of the brain in his research. The researchers compared dogs and cats and discovered that the number of neuron in a dog’s brain is bigger than that of a cat’s brain. They concluded that it is not required for smarter animals to have bigger brains than less intelligent animals do. According to the research, “dogs have about 530million cortical neurons while cats have about 250 million.” Herculano-Houzel and her companies studied the brain of eight carnivore species-ferret, mongoose, raccoon, cat, dog, hyena, lion, and brown bear. They thought the carnivores would have more neurons in their brain than herbivores’ brains do because the hunting is a challenging job. However, the consequence was different from their hypothesis. Compared to herbivores, the ratio of neurons to brain size for the carnivores was similar to herbivores or lower than herbivores. For instance, a bear has 10 times larger brain than that of a cat, but the bear has almost the same number of neurons.

The hunting is challenging and demanding work, so it requires a lot of energy. The brain also demands a great deal of energy as its neurons increases. If the carnivores have a great number of neurons, it would consume too much energy, making them harder to survive. That is why the carnivore has a smaller number of the neuron, but it is not always applicable to all cases. An example is a raccoon. Although the raccoon has a small brain, it has as many nerve cells as we suppose finding in a primate. According to the neuroscientist, “Not every species is made the same way. Yes, there are recognizable patterns, but there are multiple ways that nature has found of putting brains together-and we’re trying to figure out what difference that makes.”

The Role of Genetics in the Development of Sleep Disorders

Scientists have identified some genes that may cause the development of sleep problems. They have also revealed a genetic link between psychiatric disorders and insomnia. Led by Murray Stein of the University of California San Diego, the study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
About 20% of Americans are said to have trouble sleeping. Insomnia has negative effects on person’s health and places a strain on the healthcare system. In many cases, chronic insomnia goes hand in hand with health issues such as diabetes, heart diseases, as well as mental diseases such as suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the past, twin studies have shown that some sleep-related traits are genetic. Based on these findings, scientists have started to find out the specific gene variants involved. According to Stein, such studies are important because there are many reasons why people have insomnia.
In the study, the researchers carried out genome-wide association studies. They obtained DNA samples from over 33,000 soldiers and analyzed them. Data from soldiers of African, Latino and European descent were grouped separately in an attempt to identify the effect of specific ancestral lineages. Overall, the study confirms that sleeping problems have a partially heritable basis.

What You Should Know About the Evolution of Human Skin Color

Most people believe that all Africans have dark skin. But people in Africa have almost every skin color in the world, from beige in the San of South Africa to deepest black in the Dinka of South Sudan. Now, scientists have discovered some gene variants that are responsible for this palette of tones.

Published last year in Science, the study traces these genes evolution and how they moved around the world. The dark skin of some Pacific Islanders originated from Africa and gene variants from Eurasia seem to have traveled to Africa. Interestingly, some of the mutations that are responsible for European’s light skin turn out to have come from Africa.

According to geneticist Greg Barsh of the Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama, the study is a breakthrough study of skin color diversity.

Scientists agree that our early ancestors in Africa perhaps had light skin beneath their hair. Sarah Tishkoff, the lead author of the new study and evolutionary geneticist in the University of Pennsylvania, chimpanzee’s skin, is light.

The researchers found that skin color evolution is not about being black or white. The team used a light meter to measure skin reflectance in over 2000 people in Tanzania, Botswana, and Ethiopia. They found the lightest skin in the San of southern Africa and the darkest skin in the Nilo-Saharan populations of eastern Africa.


Genetics Makes Europeans and Asians Vulnerable to Dengue Shock Syndrome

As climate change and globalization spread tropical diseases, not all people are susceptible to infection. For instance, gene variants common in Europeans and Asians make them more prone than Africans to developing dengue shock syndrome.

Dengue fever is prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions of Americas and East Asia, but the dengue viruses have recently been noticed in in North America and Europe. Normally, dengue leads to various illnesses, ranging from classic dengue fever to dengue shock syndrome. For a long time, people have been considering ethnic diversity as one of the factors that explain why severe forms of dengue are common in Southeast Asia than elsewhere.

In the new work, Anavaj Sakuntabhai of Institut Pasteur-Paris, Luisa Pereira of the Institute for Research and Innovation in Health-University of Porto and colleagues researched the genetics of 411 people admitted in three hospitals with dengue virus infection in Thailand between 2000 and 2003. Healthy individuals, approximately 290, admitted to the same hospitals during the specified period were used as controls.

According to a new study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the researchers were able to show that variations in the genes cause observable changes in cellular dynamics. The findings showed that Northeast and Southeast Asians are highly vulnerable to Dengue Shock Syndrome.