Saturday, July 30, 2005

Blink and you'll miss it...

So when you blink, you don't notice it getting dark, do you? New research at University College London has found out why - your visual cortex automatically shuts down every time you blink [1].

They got some volunteers to wear light-proof goggles and put a fibre optic cable in their mouth which shone light on to their retinas by making their whole head glow, while lying in an fMRI scanner. The fibre optic was to make sure that it was the blinking, rather than the lack of light, that made the brain do what it did. Whenever the volunteers blinked, brain activity in the visual cortex was suppressed.

So that's why you don't notice yourself blinking. Though I bet you're noticing it now you've read this eh?

1. Bristow D, Haynes JD, Sylvester R, Frith CD, Rees G: Blinking suppresses the neural response to unchanging retinal stimulation. Curr Biol. 2005 26;15(14):1296-300.

Deep sea cannibalism

The giant squid (Architeuthis dux) may be a cannibal according to analysis of its stomach contents by Bruce Deagle at the University of Tasmania [1].

Little is known about giant squid - sightings have been few and far between. Early human sightings fostered myths of sea monsters (such as the Kraken) perhaps understably. They are the largest invertebrate at up to 18m (that's the length of a bendy bus), have the largest eye of the animal kingdom (25cm diameter) and weigh nearly a ton. No one really knows what they eat, as their stomach contents are usually pulverised to such a soup that no body parts can be recognised.

The cannibal squid in question was caught by fisherman and Deagle and his team analysed the DNA in the 'amorphous slurry' from the squid's gut. The DNA turned out to be that of A. dux (along with the blue grenadier fish). They also found among the slurry some pieces of giant squid tentacle and possible squid beaks.

They don't know however whether the tentacles belonged to a rival squid or whether they were this squid's own - like us biting our nails when nervous, giant squid have been known to chew off their own tentacles when stressed.

1. Deagle BE, Jarman SN, Pemberton D, Gales NJ: Genetic Screening for Prey in the Gut Contents from a Giant Squid (Architeuthis sp.). J Hered. 2005 96(4):417-23

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Odd science from the news 1

Well, this is quite funny at first read.

Basically, the Chinese space programme is sending 50g of pig semen up on their next manned mission. Now i don't know off hand how much the average pig ejaculates, but I do know about human (again, off hand, as it were) and it's about 5ml. I'm assuming that semen is a little denser than water, so that's going to be no more than 10g at the very most, so 50g will be probably around 50ml, if not more. (That's a double). This will then be used to fertilise a female pig back on eart to study the effects of space travel on fertility and I suppose sperm storage....

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Voices in my head....

Those clever people at the University of Sheffield have recently
pubilished a paper in NeuroImage [1] to try and explain why auditory
verbal hallucinations, or voices in the head experienced commonly in
schizophrenia, are nearly always male.
Basically they played male, female and "gender ambiguous" voices to
male Sheffield uni students whist there brains were in a functional
magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and looked how the brain
reacted to each stimulus.
The long and short of their finding is that the male student brain (and
I suppose by inference the male bran in general) process male and
female voices in distinct ways. The female voice activates regions of a
brain specialising in "hearing" human voices (the right anterior
superior temporal gyrus, near the superior temporal sulcus), rather
than the general "minds ear" that the male brain activates. (the
mesio-parietal precuneus area). So this may explain why female voices
are more engaging to listen to. I'll let you insert your own quip

Does this mean that we, humans, have evolved to pay more attention to
female voices? Or just that males have evolved to pay more attention to
female voices? I suppose they'd have to do a similar set of fMRIs on an
equivalent female group.

[1]Dilraj S. Sokhi, Michael D. Hunter, Iain D. Wilkinson and Peter W.R.
Woodruff, Male and female voices activate distinct regions in the male
brain, NeuroImage, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 22 June
2005, .

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Science, not Science

This is a new blog all about the wonderful world of sceince.
No, not Science, the guy currently in channel 4's Big Brother 6 house. This is not a space to big him up. But perhaps we should since his very name is promoting the public awareness of science, especially amongst the brain dead who tune in to BB6 (I don't watch it, honest, though it is often on when I put the tv on, and I find myself looking and listening in the general direction of the box..........)

So, lets get going with the SCIENCE!!!!