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Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

Researchers at Boston University have demonstrated a prototype system that wirelessly transmits neural signals from an implanted electrode to a speech synthesizer with a latency of only 50 milliseconds. The electrodes were implanted into a locked-in patient 5 years ago and after 5 months the neurites had grown onto the electrode so that signal patterns could be detected. The volunteer was only able to produce three vowel sounds because only a single three-wire electrode was used, but he was able to reproduce those vowel sounds with up to 89% accuracy. Future implants would access 10 times as many neurons from multiple sites in the ventral premotor cortex  where intended speech patterns are believed to originate.
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Expert Advice Shuts Your Brain Down - ABC News

Brains scans of people making financial decisions seems to indicate that  the decision-making parts of their brains shut down when the person is presented with the advice of experts.
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Cognitive Ability Peaks At 22 And Declines After - Maybe

A study by psychologists at the University of Virginia found that cognitive performance peaked at age 22, after which a cognitive decline became detectable at age 27. The study's lead researcher, however, warns that these results should be interpreted carefully because there was a lot of variation among individuals. As well, things like a decline in memory may be offset by improved general knowledge which tends to increase at least until people are into their 60s. The long-term study hopes to identify how cognition patterns change over a person's lifetime.
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ABC News: Brain Pacemaker Helps Parkinson's, but With Risks

A major study has determined that deep-brain stimulation is more effective for controlling muscle tremors and rigidity than taking only medication for muscle control. The study also revealed a hidden risk associated with deep-brain stimulation: patients feel so good that they put themselves into situations that result in injury. In short, they forget they have the disease until they are reminded in unpleasant ways that they still have the disorder.

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New Photoreceptor Discovery - Melanopsin Helps Control Biological Clock

Neuroscientists at John Hopkins report that they have identified a set of photoreceptors in the eye that monitor light levels to adjust the body clock rather than perceiving images. Unlike rods and cones, these melanopsin-containing cells are relatively insensitive to light when taken together, but individually are far more sensitive. They are, however, 5,000 times sparser than rods or cones, and respond very slowly so detect slow changes in light.

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A recent study showed that boys, but not girls, diagnosed with ADHD had smaller (by volume) and differently shaped basal ganglia than those not similarly diagnosed. They hope that these results will eventually lead to better diagnosis and treatment methods.

Moving from the brains of the young to the brains of the elderly, a recent study compared "super aged", people who display sharp mental faculties into their 80s and beyond, and "regular" elderly. They discovered that the super-aged had fewer fibrous tangles caused by tau proteins but roughly the same number of plaques. Previous research had linked increased tangles and plaques with the onset of Alzheimers.

Somali pirates have attacked and seized a Saudi-owned supertanker, the largest ship ever taken by pirates, and are now escorting it to a Somali port.

USA Today posted an article about students at Rice University who are using genetically engineered yeast to create beer containing Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine that is associated with a reduction in risk of cancer and heart disease, at least in mice. So far they haven't managed to produce anything drinkable, which puts them on par with many US and Canadian commercial brewers. Meanwhile, in Canada a researcher at the NRC has discovered that beer already contains a cancer-fighting compound called xanthohumol, albeit at barely useful levels. They hope to use the research to selectively breed for hop varieties high in the compound.

Chinese researchers have developed a flexible paper-thin speaker, opening the door to speakers that can be applied to clothing or walls.

A Scottish first has developed a grenade that, instead of exploding, gives soldiers a 360-degree view of a room. The grenade contains a wireless camera and is launched into a room using a standard grenade-launcher.

Slashdot has a review of Orson Scott Card's recently-published sequel to Ender's Game, entitled "Ender in Exile.

Finally, India has succeeded in planting a flag on the moon. (Edit: thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wetdryvac for catching the embarassing wording error.)

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Physics Org
Sun's in the clear over global warming, says study - Scientists on Wednesday said that the rise in global temperatures that has been detected over the past two decades cannot be blamed on the Sun, a theory espoused by climate-change sceptics.
Happy, sad, angry or astonished? - How do people respond when they walk past an advertising poster? Do they stop and turn around to look at it with interest or march angrily past? A new system of detailed facial analysis can recognize a person’s mood in an instant.

New Scientist Tech - Weapons Technology
Plague of bioweapons accidents afflicts the US - Plague, anthrax, Rocky Mountain spotted fever - these are among the bioweapons some experts fear could be used in a germ warfare attack against the US. But the public has had near-misses with those diseases and others over the past five years, ironically because of accidents in labs that were working to defend against bioterrorists. Even worse, they may be only the tip of an iceberg.

Technology Review Feed - Biotech Top Stories
The Secrets to Living Past 100 - A new project to partially sequence the genomes of 100 people age 100 or older could shed light on the genetic variations that allow some people to stay healthy decades beyond the average life expectancy. Dubbed the Methuselah Project, the endeavor will serve as a test bed for a new approach to sequencing developed at the Rothberg Institute a non-profit research center in Guilford, CT. About 1 in 7,000 people live to be 100, many of them spry well into their 90s, but the reasons for their good health remain largely unknown.

BBC News | Science/Nature | World Edition
Fat 'can grow new breasts' - Fat from the tummy or bottom could be used to grow new breasts in a treatment which could be carried out in an hour - or a lunch break.
Antibiotic resistance blocked - US scientists believe they may have found a way to stop the growing problem of bacteria becoming resistant to current drug treatments.

ABC News: Technology
Sheeps Being Trained to Weed Vineyards - University researchers are training sheep to clean up vineyard weeds but stay off the grapes. Enthusiastic and unpicky eaters, sheep are already being used in some vineyards as a green alternative to tractors. They don't use gasoline and keep down weeds a necessary task to deter pests and keep vines healthy sans herbicides.
Joke Comprehension May Decrease With Age - a new study suggests older adults have a harder time getting jokes as they age. The research indicates that because older adults may have greater difficulty with cognitive flexibility, abstract reasoning and short-term memory, they also have greater difficulty with tests of humor comprehension.

Reuters: Science

Women drawn to men with muscles - Muscular young men are likely to have more sex partners than their less-chiseled peers, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles said on Monday. Their study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, suggests muscles in men are akin to elaborate tail feathers in male peacocks: They attract females looking for a virile mate.
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Source: National Geographic
Snagged from [livejournal.com profile] fugaciouslover. Prototaxites stood more than 8 metres tall, and flourished between 420 and 370 million years ago with fossils being found around the world. A recent study may have finally identified what this organism was... a giant fungus.

Source: National Geographic
New simulations have led scientists to the conclusion that global warming may reduce, rather than increase, the strength of hurricanes. The key is that a rise in ocean temperature will also increase wind shear which inhibits hurricane formation. What they have yet to discover his how wind shear and hurricane formation interact to generate the storms we observe. Without this knowledge, it is impossible to accurately predict the rate of hurricane formation as the Earth's temperature rises.

Source: msnbc.com
An interesting article found by [livejournal.com profile] _luaineach. When the average person makes a mistake, the anterior cingulate cortex generates a pulse a few milliseconds after the mistake is recognized. This pulse, called the ERN (Error-Related Negativity) is noticeably subdued in people impulsive and antisocial disorders. It should be noted that all the participants in the study were average, healthy university students; however, those with subdued ERNs were more impulse than average, just not to a degree that reduced their ability to function within society. The researchers theorize that reduced ERN generation may be at the heart of pathologies related to poor impulse control.

Source: CBC News
Another story noticed by the ever-vigilant [livejournal.com profile] ancalagon_tb. NeuroSky has developed a toy that allows users to control certain video games with their minds. The company demonstrated a game in which users must concentrate to keep a light sabre active. The device reads the EEG signals they generate while performing the task and compare them to baseline EEG levels related to concentration, relaxation, and anxiety.

Source: New Scientist
DARPA researchers, recognizing the problems of depending solely on GPS to obtain accurate position information, are looking at using other "signals of opportunity" to help soldiers find their position. They are looking at using television signals to augment GPS in situations where the position of the television transmitter and time of transmission is known.
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Raising Consciousness: Part I
Raising Consciousness: Part II

Some seemingly unconscious patients have startlingly complex brain activity. What does that mean about their potential for recovery? And what can it tell us about the nature of consciousness?

A series of articles presented by Technology Review on the neurology of consciousness, and how its study could lead to a better understanding of, and potentially treatment for, coma and related medical conditions. I haven't had a chance to read them yet, but I'm putting them here in case others might find them interesting.

January 2010

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