Nervous Arm, Vibrating Mice, Ventriloquism and the Brain, Fossil Body Prints, The Primate's Closest Cousin, Auklets and Aphrodisiacs

 

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Nervous Arm

proto2.jpg Courtesy Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

The robotic and mechanical systems in prosthetic arms for amputees are becoming more and more sophisticated. A more difficult problem is finding good ways for those who use the limbs to control them. Dr. Kevin Englehart, associate director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, is part of a team that is using the remains of the original nerves, which once controlled the real arm, to control a replacement. His work has been integrated into a new artificial arm called Proto 2, which promises to give amputees more functional replacement limbs than they've ever had before. This gives the amputees the ability to control the prosthesis with their brains.

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Vibrating Mice

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Dr. Clinton Rubin, a professor of bioengineering and director of the Center for Biotechnology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, likes his mice shaken, not stirred. Dr. Rubin and his colleagues have been trying to understand bone growth and how it's related to mechanical stress from vibration. In an experiment, they found that mice, gently vibrated for fifteen minutes a day, grew stronger bones but also stayed far leaner than other mice. Dr. Rubin thinks the small vibration is stimulating stem cells to form bone instead of fat cells, but cautions that this doesn't mean vibration can lead to weight loss

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Ventriloquism and the Brain

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The ventriloquist's illusion is a very compelling one. If the puppeteer is good, you'll really believe the dummy is speaking. In fact, our brains are wired in a way that makes it very difficult for us not to believe. That's the conclusion of a study by Dr. Jennifer Groh, from Duke University. She's found that sight and sound both get processed by the same area of the brain, an area that's part of the brain stem, and one we don't normally associate with complex thoughts. She thinks this is an evolutionary adaptation to helped us rapidly make sense of the ancient world, and one that leaves us easily fooled by the modern one.

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Fossil body prints

impressions.jpg Fossil and artist's rendering of what the animals looked like. Courtesy New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science

Palaeontologists rely on fossilised bones or footprints to learn about the past. But while these prehistoric leftovers offer us amazing insights into the animals that walked the Earth millions of years ago, they also leave a lot out. That is why Dr. Spencer Lucas, the curator of palaeontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, was so excited when he came across a very rare rock that offers some unexpected insight. These rocks show several full body impressions and might just have captured a snapshot of how some creatures lived more than 300 million years ago.

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The Primate's Closest Cousin

colugo.jpg Malayan colugo (Galeopterus variegatus).Courtesy of Norman Lim, National University of Singapore

One of the long-standing mysteries in biology is the detailed picture of the mammalian family tree. And one specific question has been which group of animals is the closest in relation to the primates. For years there have been two candidates, the tree shrew and the flying lemur (a cat-sized animal that neither flies, nor is a lemur). Dr. William Murphy, a researcher at Texas A&M, has used genetics to sort out the answer. He says the flying lemurs are more closely related to primates. This is important, since it will help biologists figure out the steps that led to the evolution of primates, and ultimately ourselves.

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Auklets and Aphrodisiacs

auklet.jpg Pair of Crested Auklets, Courtesy Hector Douglas

Insect repellent isn't what most people would apply before going on a date, but for the Crested Auklet, it may be just the ticket to attract a potential mate. This Arctic bird produces a citrus-like scent that's able to slow down one of its major parasites, the tick. The scent is emitted from wick-like feathers on the back of the bird's neck, and spreading the chemical is an integral part of the courtship ritual. Dr. Hector Douglas, from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, made the connection between pest control and romance, and says the scent is irresistible to the birds.





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Theme music copyright Raphaël Gluckstein. Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0
Musical stings courtesy of Beatsuite.com Music Library.