Lucid dreams and metacognition: Awareness of thinking — awareness of dreaming

Neuroscientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry have compared brain structures of frequent lucid dreamers and participants who never or only rarely have lucid dreams. Accordingly, the anterior prefrontal cortex, i.e., the brain area controlling conscious cognitive processes and playing an important role in the capability of self-reflection, is larger in lucid dreamers.

The differences in volumes in the anterior prefrontal cortex between lucid dreamers and non-lucid dreamers suggest that lucid dreaming and metacognition are indeed closely connected. This theory is supported by brain images taken when test persons were solving metacognitive tests while being awake. Those images show that the brain activity in the prefrontal cortex was higher in lucid dreamers. “Our results indicate that self-reflection in everyday life is more pronounced in persons who can easily control their dreams,” states Elisa Filevich, post-doc in the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

The researchers further want to know whether metacognitive skills can be trained. In a follow-up study, they intend to train volunteers in lucid dreaming to examine whether this improves the capability of self-reflection.

Caption:In lucid dreamers, the prefrontal cortex enabling self-reflection is bigger in comparision to other people. Credit: MPI for Human Development

There are several aspects to the problem of antibiotic resistance. It’s very important to have highly specific targets, which kill the particular bacterium that’s causing the disease rather than using a spectrum of antibiotics that should only be used as a last resort when you don’t know what the disease is caused by and you don’t have time.
But there’s a larger problem—the problem of resistance is also due to an abuse of antibiotics.
Many people will go to a doctor and demand an antibiotic when they have a cold or a flu, for which these antibacterial compounds are useless. In many countries it is possible to buy antibiotics over the counter. Often, if people are poor, they will not take the full dose. In addition to also prescribing antibiotics for the flu the West uses antibiotics in feed to fatten up the cattle. That’s an abuse of antibiotics. This leads to the spread of resistant strains, rendering current antibiotics useless if resistance spreads too much.
In countries like India people will give you antibiotics prophylactically, as a way to prevent infection. This should only be done in very extreme cases because it’s again spreading resistance.
People now move all over the world, so if resistance emerges in one place it can very quickly spread to other places. So it needs a concerted attack… It is a broad social problem.

Fossilization is an extremely rare event.

To appreciate this point, consider that there are 10 specimens of the first bird to appear in the fossil record, Archaeopteryx.

All were found in the same site in Germany where limestone is quarried for printmaking (the bird species name is lithographica). If you accept an estimate that crow-sized birds native to wetland habitats in northern Europe would have a population of around 10,000 and a life span of 10 years, and if you accept the current estimate that the species existed for about two million years, then you can calculate that about two billion Archaeopteryx lived.

But as far as researchers currently know, only 1 out of every 200,000,000 individuals fossilized. For this species, the odds of becoming a fossil were almost 40 times worse than your odds are of winning the grand prize in a provincial lottery.

—  Biological Science, Second Canadian Edition (Textbook); Freeman, Harrington, Sharp


This is a close-up of an osteosarcoma cell, a cancerous cell of the bone. These rainbow-like strands are bundles of the cell skeleton protein actin, which helps cells crawl around or - in the case of cancer - metastasize.

Osteosarcoma is one of the most common forms of childhood cancer, and a third of those diagnosed die each year in the United States. Recently, researchers at St. Jude’s Hospital have identified a gene that normally suppresses tumor formation, called p53, is mutated in over 90% of osteosarcoma cases. This will help doctors design better treatments for patients, such as altering their course of radiation therapy or developing new drugs to fight bone cancer.

Image by Dr. Dylan T. Burnette/Vanderbilt University/Nikon Small World.

Neuroscientists: Quit Smoking Gradually

Researchers at the Univ. of Copenhagen have studied the immediate reaction in the brain after quitting smoking. At just 12 hours after kicking the habit, the oxygen uptake and blood flow in the brain decrease significantly compared to never-smokers. This could explain why it is so difficult to say goodbye to nicotine once and for all. The findings have been published in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism.

Smoking is harmful in almost every respect. Cancer, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are just a small part of a well-documented portfolio of serious consequences of smoking. Nicotine is what makes smoking addictive, but new Danish research suggests that smoking initially increases brain activity. However, the brain tissue quickly adapts and the effect will disappear.

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Record Number of Rhinos Die from Poaching in 2014

As the poaching crisis continues to run rampant across South Africa, a record number of rhinos consequentially died in 2014, highlighting the crucial need to step up efforts to tackle this illegal hunting and protect an iconic species.

Hopefully an international meeting in Botswana in March will decide on immediate action against illegal poaching. Otherwise, many say that the rhino could be extinct by the end of the decade.

Back in September, 2014 was on track to becoming the worst poaching year to date, and now our worst fears have been realized. Approximately 1,215 of these mammals were killed without a permit in 2014, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - that’s about 100 rhinos a month. This surpasses the previous record of 1,004 rhinos killed in 2013 by 21 percent, and represents a 93-fold (9,300 percent) increase from the mere 13 killed in 2007 in South Africa.

"We are fast reaching the tipping point for the future viability of rhinoceros," said Jason Bell, Southern Africa director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

(Photo : Flickr: Paul Baker)

New Safety Switch Built For Genetically Modified Bacteria

by Michael Keller

Engineers making a nip here and a tuck there to the genes of bacteria are domesticating the microbes to do our bidding. Over recent years, genetic modification has tallied successes from making electricity-eating bacteria produce liquid biofuels to altering gut microbes to battle metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity. Researchers are coaxing common species like E. coli and more exotic ones to convert harmful pollutants to benign compounds and to produce next-generation pharmaceuticals and chemical feedstock for industry.

Tangling with the blueprints of life is no simple task, though, and even successes in the lab demand serious considerations about unintended consequences in the field. What happens if a bacterium designed to work in an isolated system, say a drug-producing fermentation tank, gets out into the wild? And what is the impact when you employ bacteria modified to consume a cancer-causing pollutant that has leaked into a wetland?

Bioengineers looking to improve the safety of modified microbes are working on a number of routes. One of these reprograms a bacterial cell to need a certain nutrient to live; without it, the organism dies. Another buries a self-destruct sequence in the genes that stops them from making proteins when exposed to chemical signals.

Now, two papers published recently in the journal Nature take safety mechanisms built into altered bacteria a step further. Harvard and Yale researchers say they have successfully made organisms that can only survive when they have access to synthetic amino acids that don’t exist in nature. Their test bacteria were reprogrammed at multiple points along their genome to need the synthetic food, making them unable to mutate to live on naturally occurring amino acids.

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Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor)

The Boa constrictor is a species of large, heavy-bodied snake. It is a member of the family Boidae found in North, Central, and South America, as well as some islands in the Caribbean. Ten subspecies are currently recognized, although some of these are controversial. There is clear sexual dimorphism seen in the species, with females generally being larger in both length and girth than males. As such, the average size of a mature female boa is between 2.1–3.0 m, whilst it is 1.8–2.4 m for the males. The coloring of boa constrictors can vary greatly depending on the locality. Boa constrictors will generally live on their own, and not interact with any other snakes unless they want to mate. They are nocturnal; however, they may bask during the day when night-time temperatures are too low. Boa constrictors will strike when they perceive a threat. Their bite can be painful, especially from large snakes, but is rarely dangerous to humans. Its prey includes a wide variety of small to medium sized mammals and birds. The boa will first strike at the prey, grabbing it with its teeth; it then proceeds to constrict the prey until death before consuming it whole.

photo credits: Pavel Ševela, carnivoraforum, Joe MacDonald

28.01.15 @7:54pm

Going through Chapter 2 of my Biology textbook! It’s centred around membranes and organelles, which is quite honestly my favourite part of Bio. I’m slowly getting all the memories back from learning this last year, and I’m excited to further my knowledge of the cell :D I’ve also tried a new method of annotating a textbook and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. My only hope is that I figure out what a fluid mosaic model is!

Linhenykus monodactylus


NameLinhenykus monodactylus

Name Meaning: Linhe Claw

First Described: 2011

Described By: Xu et al

ClassificationDinosauria, Sauirschia, Theropoda, Neotheropoda, Averostra, Tetanurae, Orionides, Avetheropoda, Coelurosauria, Tyrannoraptora, Maniraptoriformes, Maniraptora, Alvarezsauria, Alvarezsauroidea, Alvarezsauridae, Parvicursorinae, Mononykini

Linhenykus was another alvarezsaur from the Wulanshuhai Formation in Bayan Mandahu Formation in Inner Mongolia, China. It lived in the Campanian age of the Late Cretaceous, about 84 to 75 million years ago. It was actually a unique member of the group because it only had one finger, rather than other fingers and one claw like other alvarezsaurs had. It did have a bone for a second finger, but this was a vestigial nub. It probably used these fingers to dig into termite mounds. However it actually had a less robust claw than other later forms, indicating that it had either regressed, or was more basal. It was about 90 centimeters long.


Shout out goes to notadeinonychus!