A powerful new tool lights up the brains of worms, and may soon help draw maps of other animals brains.
- A new tool called NeuroPal allows scientists to map the brain in more detail than ever before.
- By using the same color highlight for similar neurons, it allows researchers to more fully understand what areas of the brain do what.
- It has already been made available to other researchers who are publishing new brain studies.
I’ve heard of a vibrant imagination, but this is ridiculous.<p> <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/676312v2.full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NeuroPAL </a>(Neuronal Polychromatic Atlas of Landmarks)<strong> </strong>is a genetic engineering technique that lights up neurons in fluorescent, easily discerned colors. Neurons expressing the same genetic information will be the same color under a microscope, allowing scientists to produce an easily readable map showing which neurons have similar genetic details and functions. This provides much more information than previous <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brainbow" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">methods</a>. When combined with other techniques that record the communications between cells, it can provide previously impossible insights into neural network dynamics.</p><p>In this study, published in <a href="https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(20)31682-2?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0092867420316822%3Fshowall%3Dtrue" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cell</a>, the scientists used NeuroPal on <em>Caenorhabditis elegans</em> (<em>C. elegans</em>) worms and on computer screens. </p><p><em>C. elegans</em> is commonly used in biological science for experimentation. A tiny creature, they have a comparatively simple and well-mapped nervous <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caenorhabditis_elegans#Research_use" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">system</a>. Previous studies using electron microscopes have mapped the connections in the worm's brain but have faced difficulties identifying every neuron in the system. As mentioned, NeuroPal can identify every neuron that expresses certain genetic features. </p><p>Using this tool, the study found that the connections in this animal's brain are much more complicated than previously <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/676312v2.full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">known</a>. </p><p>The researchers also created a computer program that provides optimal color schemes for using NeuroPal in other, more complicated <a href="https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-01/cu-sp010721.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">animals</a>. </p>
What use is a mapped brain, exactly?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/hg6XUYWj-pk" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> By providing a way to reliably identify different types of neuron cells and visibly present them for observation, NeuroPal will make creating comprehensive brain maps much simpler. In the discussion section of the recent study, the authors explain the potential uses of this tool in expanding our understanding of neural networks, including those not belonging to small <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/676312v2.full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">worms</a>: </p><p> "To date, functional networks have been investigated by recording the activity of small subsets of labeled neurons. More recent work has inaugurated whole-brain activity imaging with cellular resolution. However, the inability to reliably identify all neurons within whole-brain recordings has precluded a full picture with circuit-level details […] Coupling NeuroPAL with whole-brain activity imaging methods permits a unified view of network dynamics, across animals, without sacrificing circuit-level details."</p><p>The<strong></strong> lead author of the new study, Dr. Eviatar Yemini, shared another potential use with <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/news/scientists-paint-multi-color-atlas-neurons-brain" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia </a><a href="https://news.columbia.edu/news/scientists-paint-multi-color-atlas-neurons-brain" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">News</a>:</p><p> "Being able to identify neurons, or other types of cells, using color can help scientists visually understand the role of each part of a biological system. That means when something goes wrong with the system, it may help pinpoint where the breakdown occurred."</p><p>NeuroPal has already been given to other researchers, and published studies utilizing it are beginning to trickle out. It is only a matter of time before this tool provides us with a much-improved understanding of the brain and its functions.</p>
A new study provides validation for the recently identified phenomenon.
- Aphantasia, a recently identified psychological phenomenon, describes when people can't conjure visualizations in their mind's eye.
- A new study published in Cortex compared the visual memories of aphantasic participants with a group of controls.
- Its results found experimental validation for the condition.
Changing our understanding of the mind's eye<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTI2NjM0Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODM2ODE5NX0.SWkNBfgO1uLsAMsetcmmwOHvJqzK1UsPMxc6tL6Je9k/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C228%2C0%2C228&height=700" id="609a9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="121c211fd751fb11eba0e9aa4ec53ef0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Francis Galton was the first to describe a condition that would today be recognized as aphantasia.
Visualizing the difference<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTI2NjMzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjAyMDk3M30.EYfZH3v5DRhu4ImOjpuuXdHiXbPkgTUCOxJsTQmDYA8/img.png?width=980" id="fed74" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eb2d7c7f78e780fe09bc6d1635cdaad5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="598" data-height="245" />
On the left, an aphantastic participant's recreation of a photo from memory. On the right, the participant's recreation when the photo was available for reference.
Discovering a new reality in aphantasia?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cc502388d1b548118d6e587ad785fe34"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/zNHDTvqbUm4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>And Bainbridge's study has joined an ever-growing panoply. A <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0010945217303581" target="_blank">2018 study, also published in Cortex</a>, measured the binocular rivalry—the visual phenomenon in which awareness fluctuates when different images are presented to each eye—of participants with and without aphantasia. When primed beforehand, control participants choose the primed stimuli more often than not. Meanwhile, aphantastic participants showed no such favoritism, whether primed or not. Like Bainbridge's study, these results suggest a physiological underpinning for aphantasia.</p><p>Another critical factor is growing awareness. As more studies and stories are published, more and more people are realizing they aren't alone. Such a realization can empower others to come forward and share their experiences, which in turn spurs researchers with new questions and experiences to study and hypothesize over.</p><p>Yet, there's still much work to be done. Because this psychological phenomenon has only recently been identified—Galton's observation notwithstanding—there has been sparingly little research on the condition and what research has been done has relied on participants who self-report as having aphantasia. While researchers have used the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vividness_of_Visual_Imagery_Questionnaire" target="_blank">Vividness of Visual Imagery Quiz</a> to test for aphantasia, there is currently no universal method for diagnosing the condition. And, of course, there is the ever-vexing question of how one can assess one mind's experiences from another.</p><p>"Skeptics could claim that aphantasia is itself a mere fantasy: describing our inner lives is difficult and undoubtedly liable to error," Zeman and his co-authors wrote in <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/bitstream/handle/10871/17613/Lives%20without%20imagery%20Letter%20version%20FINAL%2017.5.15%20.pdf?sequence=7&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">their 2015 case study</a>. "We suspect, however, that aphantasia will prove to be a variant of neuropsychological functioning akin to synesthesia [a neurological condition in which one sense is experienced as another] and to congenital prosopagnosia [the inability to recognize faces or learn new ones]."</p><p>Time and further research will tell. But scientists need phenomenon to test and questions to experiment on. Thanks to researchers like Zeman and Bainbridge, alongside the many people who came forward to discuss their experiences, they now have both when it comes to aphantasia.</p><p>* Zeman also coined the term "<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0010945220301404" target="_blank">hyperphantasia</a>" to describe the condition in which people's psychological imagery is incredibly vivid and well-defined.</p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
Positive, romantic thoughts could produce positive, romantic outcomes while dating.
- Fear of rejection, self-doubt, and anxiety are just some of the obstacles humans need to overcome to make a meaningful, romantic connection with another person.
- According to a 2020 project by a group of psychologists at the University of Rochester (and the Israeli-based Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya), humans see possible romantic partners as a lot more attractive if they go into the interaction with a "sexy mindset."
- Across three separate studies, this team discovered that this sexual activation helps people initiate relationships by inducing them to project their desires onto prospective partners.
Being in a frisky mood improves your chances with potential romantic partners<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNzk0OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mjc3MDA5NH0.lwJquRq9_gTYX5c_2sRzCBfkyWldjMqCJig_kGCL1uA/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C6%2C0%2C6&height=700" id="d0453" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a29ad6b50ff3868c867fd2d0a64b8aa" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="man and woman on date woman" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
The right mood could land you the right date, according to a new study.
Credit: BlueSkyImage on Shutterstock<p><a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/uor-ffm092320.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to a 2020 study</a> by a group of psychologists at the University of Rochester (and the Israeli-based Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya), humans see possible romantic partners as a lot more attractive if they go into the interaction with a "sexy mindset."</p><p><a href="https://www.sas.rochester.edu/psy/people/faculty/reis_harry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Harry Reis</a>, professor of psychology and the Dean's Professor in Arts, Sciences & Engineering at Rochester, and <a href="https://www.idc.ac.il/en/pages/faculty.aspx?username=birnbag" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gurit Birnbaum</a>, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the IDC (Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya) have dedicated decades of their lives to studying the intricate dynamics of sexual attraction and human sexual behavior. </p><p>In <a href="https://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/relationships-uncertainty-are-you-really-in-to-me-323512/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a previous study,</a> the pair discovered that when people feel greater certainty about a romantic partner's interest, they put more effort into seeing that person again. Additionally, this study found people will rate the possible partner as more "sexually attractive" if they knew the person was interested in seeing them again.</p><p><a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/uor-ffm092320.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For this project</a>, Reis and Birnbaum, along with their team, examined what would happen if a person's sexual system is activated by exposing them to brief sexual cues that induced a thought process that included the potential for sex or heightened attraction. </p><p>Across three separate studies, the team discovered that this sexual activation helps people initiate relationships by inducing them to project their desires onto prospective partners. </p><p><strong>Study one: Immediacy</strong></p><p>In the first study, 112 heterosexual participants (between the ages of 20-32) who were not in a romantic relationship were randomly paired with an unacquainted participant of the opposite sex. Participants introduced themselves to each other (speaking about their hobbies, positive traits, career plans, etc.), all while being recorded. </p><p>The team then coded the recorded interactions and searched for nonverbal expressions of immediacy (such as close proximity, frequent eye contact, smiles, etc.) that could indicate interest in starting a romantic relationship. </p><p>In the study, the team determined that the participants exposed to a sexual stimulus before the meeting (versus those exposed to a neutral stimulus) exhibited more immediacy behaviors towards their potential partners and also perceived the partners as more attractive and/or more interested in them. </p><p><strong>Study two: Interest</strong></p><p>In the second study, 150 heterosexual participants (between the ages of 19-30) who were not in a romantic relationship served as a control for the potential partner's attractiveness and reactions. All participants in study two watched the same pre-recorded video introduction of a potential partner of the opposite sex. They then introduced themselves to the partner while being filmed themselves. </p><p>The researchers found that the activation of the sexual system led to participants viewing the potential partner as more attractive as well as more interested in them. </p><p><strong>Study three: How it all ties together</strong></p><p>In the third and final study, the team investigated whether a partner's romantic interest could explain why sexual activation impacts how we view other people's romantic interest in ourselves. </p><p>In this study, 120 single heterosexual participants (between the ages of 21-31) interacted online with another participant who was actually an attractive opposite-sex member of the research team. This was a casual "get-to-know-you" kind of interaction. The participants rated their romantic interest in the other person as well as that person's attractiveness and interest in them.</p><p>Again, the team found that sexual activation increased a person's romantic interest in the other person, which, in turn, predicted that the other person would then be more interested in a romantic partnership as well. </p><p><strong>The takeaway: Positive, romantic thoughts could produce positive, romantic outcomes. </strong></p><p>The basis of this multi-study theory is simple: Having active sexual thoughts arouses romantic interest in a prospective partner and often leads to an optimistic outlook on dating. </p><p>"Sexual feelings do more than just motivate us to seek out partners. It also leads us to project our feelings onto the other person," <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/uor-ffm092320.php" target="_blank">said Reis to Eurekalert</a>. </p><p>Reis goes on to explain, "...the sexual feelings need not come from the other person; they can be aroused in any number of ways that have nothing to do with the other person."</p>
The neurodevelopmental disorder has long baffled researchers.
- Dyslexia affects up to 10 percent of the world's population.
- Though first identified in 1881, no cause has ever been discovered.
- A new study at the University of Geneva found positive results using transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS).
Credit: Billion Photos / Shutterstock<p>When 30 Hz was applied, dyslexic volunteers saw the greatest improvement in phonological processing. Interestingly, the reading abilities of those in the control group were slightly disrupted by these oscillations. The researchers speculate fast readers may have developed strategies that skip phonological processing.</p><p>The beneficial effect wasn't noticed when 60 Hz was applied. </p><p>The authors believe this research demonstrates a causal role of low-gamma oscillatory activity in the brains of dyslexics. More importantly, their work could lead to non-invasive therapeutic interventions for treating (and perhaps curing) the disorder. </p><p>Co-lead author Silvia Marchesotti, in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Geneva, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/09/200908142934.htm" target="_blank">says</a>, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The next steps for us are to investigate whether normalizing oscillatory function in very young children could have a long-lasting effect on the organization of the reading system, but also to explore even less invasive means of correcting oscillatory activity, for instance using neurofeedback training."</p><p>One session of tCAS lasts for hours or even days—not long enough to ensure long-term change. The authors suggest multiple sessions might inspire long-term potentiation in dyslexics, however. </p><p>They also point out that tACS improved reading accuracy but not reading speed. Future studies could include multiple sessions to discover if reading speeds can be increased.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>