Elephants are known to be highly intelligent animals. But new research by Dr. Josh Plotnik has found that elephants cooperate with each other in tasks that require coordination. Dr. Plotnik, who is currently at the University of Cambridge in England, conducted this research as a member of the Department of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta. In an experiment that required two elephants to simultaneously pull on both ends of a rope, in order to achieve a food reward, the elephants were successful. In a follow-up experiment, one elephant was required to wait up to 45 seconds for the other to arrive. In this case, they also succeeded in reaching the food. This demonstrates that elephants understand how to cooperate, but more significantly, why it is required, or how to cooperate deliberately.
Zombie ant with fungus, courtesy D. Hughes/PLoS One
Be glad you're not an ant - otherwise, you risk getting infected with a parasitic fungus that turns its victims into zombies. Zombie ant fungi control their victims' minds, forcing them to travel to certain places, at specific times, to help the fungus spread. The fungus then kills the ant and sprouts out of its head, scattering spores that can infect other victims. Dr. David Hughes has just discovered four new species of zombie ant fungi in the rainforests of Brazil. Dr. Hughes, an Assistant Professor of Entomology and Biology at Penn State University, found that each species of fungus is specially adapted to spread, using a particular species of ant. He says researchers aren't sure exactly how zombie ant fungi control their victims, but he notes that zombie ant fungi are closely related to the fungus that the hallucinogenic drug LSD is derived from.
New research by PhD student Arvid Guterstam at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm has found that it is possible to trick the brain into experiencing a third arm. In an experiment where the subject sits with both arms on a table, a prosthetic right arm is placed beside the real right arm. Both right arms - real and fake - are stroked in the same place simultaneously with a small brush. This creates a conflict for the brain concerning which arms is real, based on visual perception. The brain resolves the conflict by accepting both right arms as part of the body. The subject feels both brush strokes and therefore experiences having a third arm. This research could be applied to helping stroke victims, who have become paralyzed on one side, make use of a prosthetic arm as their own.
Algae create box-like structures in ice, courtesy Christopher Krembs/U of Washington
Tiny one-celled algae have found a way to build a comfortable home in the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. Dr. Jody Deming, Professor in the School of Oceanography and the Astrobiology Program at the University of Washington, has discovered that sea ice algae ooze puddles of mucus that act as an antifreeze. The mucus changes the way the ice forms, creating bigger, more elaborate living spaces that hold liquid water, even when the temperature dips down to -35C. It also makes the ice melt more slowly, and could help the sea ice hang on a little longer as the Arctic climate warms.
Bats exhibit one of two different echolocation strategies. Some species, like ones in Canada, emit a single call, then wait for the echo to return before calling again. They do this to avoid deafening themselves with their own calls. This is "low duty cycle" echolocation. The other is called "high duty cycle" echolocation. This is common among bats in Europe and Asia. These bats lower the frequency of the call they emit, in order to hear the weaker echoes coming back. This enables them to broadcast and receive at the same time and is more effective in high vegetation environments. Dr. Brock Fenton, from the Department of Biology at the University of Western Ontario, tested the efficiency of this approach in the wild in a very creative way. He invented a mechanical moth - nicknamed Robomoth - in order to replicate the movement and wing speed of the real thing. The experiment worked, as Robomoth attracted significantly more high duty cycle echolocators than those of the low duty approach.
Neuroscientists have been working for decades to understand the biological roots of long-term memory. Now, new work by Dr. Todd Sacktor, Professor of Physiology, Pharmacology, and Neurology at State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, and colleagues in Israel, may help crack memory wide open. They've been studying the function of an enzyme found in the brain, called PKMzeta. In experiments three years ago in rats, they found that if they can inactivate PKMzeta, long-term memory is erased. In their most recent work, they've now found that adding PKMzeta can strengthen older memories. They suggest that a constant and renewed supply of the enzyme is responsible for maintaining the synaptic connections between neurons that store long-term memory. This suggests that memory requires constant chemical care and maintenance, and represents a new model for how memory works.
CBC's Rewind takes a look at space travel predictions since 1946. Listen to great clips from the CBC Radio Archives, with new commentary from Bob McDonald, about where space exploration should have taken us by now.