How Canadian scientists are communicating with vegetative patients

His father takes him to the movies even though doctors assume the patient has been unresponsive and in a vegetative state for the past 16 years. But when Canadian scientists tested his brain functioning while watching a short film, they realized the patient understood the plot of the movie – and, in turn, probably understands what’s happening in his daily life.

Using what they’re calling a “game-changing” brain scanning technique, Canadian researchers say they can detect consciousness in patients thought to be in a vegetative state.

The breakthrough research out of the University of Western Ontario is another piece in a series of findings on communicating with patients thought to be completely unresponsive.

Last year, the researchers worked with three brain injury victims – one who had been in a vegetative state for 12 years following a car accident, knew his name, his identity and that he was in hospital.

This time around, a father reached out to the scientists led by Dr. Adrian Owen in hopes of learning how aware his 34-year-old son is. Turns out, he’s much more cognizant than his “unresponsive” state suggests.

The researchers handpicked an Alfred Hitchcock short movie – about eight minutes long – for their study. In it, a little boy finds a loaded gun and waves it around, even pointing it at people, thinking it isn’t real.

A group of healthy participants watched the film as the scientists documented their brain activity during suspenseful, scary moments. Then Owen and his team showed the film to the patient in a vegetative state.

“[This] patient responded to the particular events exactly the same way as healthy participants did when it came to particularly gripping parts,” Owen, the study’s co-author, told Global News. He’s a neuroscientist who’s spent the last 25 years working in brain imaging. He’s also the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging.

“On this basis, we were able to conclude the patient was actually following the plot of the movie, he wasn’t just in a vegetative state. He understood when the plot changed directions, and he was responding to particular events that were scary or offered relief. This is very important…we can deduce that this happens to him during real life events too.”

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Watch live online as specialists in squid biology from Te Papa and Auckland University of Technology undertake research on this rare find. This colossal squid and the specimen already on display at Te Papa are the only two of their kind caught intact – ever! Large colossal squid specimens in good condition are rarely available to scientists, so this latest example has caused great excitement. 


Emperor tamarin (Saguinus imperator)

The emperor tamarin is a species of tamarin allegedly named for its resemblance to the German emperor Wilhelm II. It lives in the southwest Amazon Basin, in east Peru, north Bolivia and in the west Brazilian states of Acre and Amazonas. The animal reaches a length of 23–26 centimetres, plus a 35–41.5 cm long tail. There are two subspecies of the emperor tamarin, the Back-chinned emperor tamarin and the Bearded emperor tamarin. Emperor tamarins consume a wide range of specimens in their daily dietary routine. They eat fruits and flowers, many of which are readily available due to their flourishing vegetational habitats. The average size of the group tamarins live in is two to eight individuals, but it can range from four to eighteen. They reside in the form of an extended family group, usually with only one breeding female. Emperor tamarin society is based on a dominance hierarchy lead by a dominant female and her mate. Emperor tamarins behave actively, rapidly, gracefully, friendly, and playful in the wild.

photo credits: wiki, a-z-animals, edu, yuku



What is actually in one drop of blood?

Asked by bugs2015


Quite a lot, it turns out!

In each drop of blood, roughly 60% is plasma, a liquid containing proteins, nutrients, hormones, and waste products— you know, all the things that blood is so famous for carrying around— dissolved in water.

The other 40% of your blood is made of cells. The most abundant are oxygen-bearing red blood cells (or erythrocytes, if you can pronounce that). Each drop of blood contains around 5 million red blood cells!

But red blood cells aren’t the only cells in that drop of blood. You’ll also find 7,000 to 24,000 white blood cells, or leukocytes, which play a key role in your immune system’s ability to protect your body from infection and fight off disease.  There are also around 250,000 platelets, or thrombocytes, which promote blood clotting. should you be bleeding anywhere in your body.

Want to learn more? Try this video from Khan Academy, or check out this site. Thanks for your question!

Answered by Claire R., Expert Leader.

Edited by Dylan S.

Wild Chinese sturgeon on brink of extinction: state media

The wild Chinese sturgeon is at risk of extinction, state media reported, after none of the rare fish were detected reproducing naturally in the polluted and crowded Yangtze river last year.

One of the world’s oldest living species, the wild Chinese sturgeon are thought to have existed for more than 140 million years but have seen their numbers crash as China’s economic boom brings with it pollution, dams and boat traffic along the world’s third-longest river.

For the first time since researchers began keeping records 32 years ago, there was no natural reproduction of wild Chinese sturgeon in 2013, according to a report published by the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences.

No eggs were found to have been laid by wild sturgeons in an area in central China’s Hubei province, and no young sturgeons were found swimming along the Yangtze toward the sea in August, the month when they typically do so.

"No natural reproduction means that the sturgeons would not expand its population and without protection, they might risk extinction," Wei Qiwei, an investigator with the academy, told China’s official Xinhua news agency on Saturday.

The fish is classed as “critically endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s “Red List” of threatened species, just one level ahead of “extinct in the wild”.

Only around 100 of the sturgeon remain, Wei said, compared with several thousand in the 1980s.

Chinese authorities have built dozens of dams—including the world’s largest, the Three Gorges—along the Yangtze river, which campaigners say have led to environmental degradation and disrupted the habitats of a range of endangered species.

Many sturgeon have also been killed, injured by ship propellers or after becoming tangled in fishermen’s nets.

Animal populations in many of China’s ecosystems have plummeted during the country’s decades of development and urbanisation, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a 2012 study.

According to findings compiled by WWF from various sources, the Yangtze river dolphin population crashed by 99.4 percent from 1980 to 2006, while that of the Chinese alligator fell by 97 percent from 1955 to 2010.

Penn Study Finds Genetic Mutations Linked With Ethnic Disparities in Cancer

One of the goals of genome sequencing is to identify genetic mutations associated with increased susceptibility to disease. Yet by and large these discoveries have been made in people of European or Asian ancestry, resulting in an incomplete picture of global genetic variation in disease vulnerability.

In a new study published in the journal BMC Medical Genomics, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have addressed this omission. Their investigation identified more than 30 previously undescribed mutations in important regulatory molecules called microRNAs. Many of these mutations influence whether a person develops cancer or the severity of the disease.

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Funding: The study was supported by a National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award to Tishkoff and a National Institute of Health postdoctoral fellowship to Rawlings-Goss.

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Deep Sea Camera Spots a Strange and Stunning Jelly

Earlier this year, researchers sending robots and cameras down to the deepest depths stumbled upon what they are calling an incredibly rare and “stunning” sighting. A vibrantly purple siphonophore danced for the camera as it made its away just above the ocean floor.

The video footage, collected as part of the Nautilus Live expedition, was shot by the expedition’s Heculesediving craft during a live broadcast, and you can even hear the expedition teams’ stunned reactions as they realize what they thought was a floating piece of trash was actually an incredibly unusual creature of the deep.

"Oh how cool!" and "I can’t believe that’s a living thing!" were just some of the lines coming from experts who have been studying deep sea creatures for a good portion of their lives.

Siphonophores, intriguing relatives of the jellyfish, are organisms that function as collective communities. The stunning creature featured in the video above, for example, is not just one organism, but many (called zooids), collectively making up the whole and serving various functions such as locomotion and even predatory action. Many siphonophores comb the water around them, catching tiny organisms to consume, but they can also engulf and digest larger creatures - as best seen with the infamous siphonophore, the Portuguese man o’ war.

This specific siphonophore may be an exceptionally successful hunter, according to Jellywatch’s Steve Haddock, who is one of the few people in the world that is given the opportunity to study these animals on a regular basis.

He told Deep Sea News that many species in this group (Erenna spp.) are a dark color, possibly from all the fish they eat, where digested pigments do not immediately fade into the highly transparent predator.

You can check out more stunning images of this unusual creature here.



The answer is, the emerald cockroach wasp, or jewel wasp (Ampulex compressa), which is a colorful solitary wasp who uses cockroaches as hosts for its larvae, because why lay your eggs in a hole in the ground when you can lay them right on top of their food source?

The female wasp stings the cockroach, often six times bigger than herself. The first dose of venom paralyzes the front legs. The second dose of venom, however, is when it gets interesting. While the roach is paralyzed and defenseless, the wasp injects her venom into the brain.

When all this is done, she bites off the roach’s antennae, drinks its hemolymph (insect blood, simply put), and leads the still alive, zombified cockroach to her burrow.

At the burrow, she lays an egg on top of the cockroach and buries them both. When the egg hatches, the larva eats its way into the cockroach’s abdomen, living off the sugar-rich hemolymph. After that, the larva will kill the cockroach (yes, it was alive during this whole process) and proceed to pupate inside the body.

Isn’t nature beautiful?

Classification: Animalia - Arthropoda - Insecta - Hymenoptera - Apocrita - Apoidae - Ampulicidae - Ampulex

Image credit: Enio Branco, Gudrun Herzner, Ram Gal.


Found these hellbender eggs while surveying for adult hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) yesterday. Hellbender nests typically consist of a few hundred eggs, which are deposited under large rocks. Unfortunately, if a nest rock is lifted, it is unlikely the eggs will survive. In order to avoid destroying nests, large rocks are first “probed” and if eggs are detected (i.e. a small clump is pulled out, as pictured) the rock is left in place.

©Zachary A. Cava

FOR a field biologist stuck in the city, the wildlife dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History are among New York’s best offerings. One recent Saturday, I paused by the display for elk, an animal I study. Like all the dioramas, this one is a great tribute. I have observed elk behavior until my face froze and stared at the data results until my eyes stung, but this scene brought back to me the graceful beauty of a tawny elk cow, grazing the autumn grasses.

As I lingered, I noticed a mother reading an interpretive panel to her daughter. It recounted how the reintroduction of wolves in the mid-1990s returned the Yellowstone ecosystem to health by limiting the grazing of elk, which are sometimes known as “wapiti” by Native Americans. “With wolves hunting and scaring wapiti from aspen groves, trees were able to grow tall enough to escape wapiti damage. And tree seedlings actually had a chance.” The songbirds came back, and so did the beavers. “Got it?” the mother asked. The enchanted little girl nodded, and they wandered on.

This story — that wolves fixed a broken Yellowstone by killing and frightening elk — is one of ecology’s most famous. It’s the classic example of what’s called a “trophic cascade,” and has appeared in textbooks, on National Geographic centerfolds and in this newspaper. Americans may know this story better than any other from ecology, and its grip on our imagination is one of the field’s proudest contributions to wildlife conservation. But there is a problem with the story: It’s not true.

Read the rest here.