developmental changes

Growing New Neurons

Neurons are specialized cells whose job is to send and receive information in the brain and nervous system. As they grow, neurons extend a single transmission cable — called an axon — from one side of the cell. At the same time, they deploy a set of antennae — called dendrites — on the other side, which allow electrical signals to pass from one neuron to another. 

Using molecular spies that report on biochemical processes inside of living cells, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine were able to observe how the spatial distribution of a key molecule, cyclic AMP, changes during axon growth. Their study is published February 13 by Nature Chemical Biology.

“Our study is the first to show that developmental changes in cyclic AMP gradients determine how rapidly a neuron grows its axon,” said senior author Jin Zhang, PhD, professor of pharmacology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “By perturbing these gradients, we were even able to make younger neurons grow longer axons and look more like mature neurons, which may help in developing treatments to regenerate injured or damaged nerves.”

Pictured: False-color image of a developing neuron grown in culture for five days, showing a single axon extending downward from the left side of the cell and numerous dendrites protruding from the cell body

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“A pilot created by Julia Vickerman.
One of three new pilots released on Cartoon Network’s website.”

Ok this is VERY cool. While the plot of the pilot is rather goofy, I love love love this premise. We have a preteen-aged girl who absolutely refuses to let herself fall victim to the expectations that tend to arise for girls of this age group. It’s around age twelve when girls tend to start going through developmental changes, and the way these changes are treated in society is something I’ve always found a little off-putting. Because males tend to go through these changes a bit later, it’s during this particular age that girls are expected to be more mature than boys. (It’s funny how something so arbitrary as physical development can change things huh?) However, in Twelve Forever, the main character does not let herself “become mature” just because society wants her too. It’s her best friend, Sean, a boy, who is the more mature one of the pair, but still is as fun-loving and childish as her at times. I really hope that this show gets green-lighted. I truly believe that Twelve’s attitude will have a good impression on young girls who feel as though they HAVE to become mature, telling them that no, they don’t have to be.  (This is not too say that there is anything wrong with maturity, only that I believe that there is too much of a pressure to become mature placed on young girls.)

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Heading to the beach this month? So are some of the Museum’s graduate students, who are studying for their Ph.D.s in comparative biology at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School. As they get ready to head out on their vacations, three students recently shared their favorite science books—for a light read, for a deep-dive into a topic, and for kids.

Meet the recommenders! 

Aki Watanabe (pictured left) is a paleontologist who investigates the evolutionary and developmental changes in the anatomy of archosaurs, a group that includes crocodilians, dinosaurs, and birds.

Allison Bronson (center) studies fossil fishes. Her current research focuses on the anatomy of ancient sharks.

Zac Calamari (right) studies the evolution and diversity of horns, antlers, and the other strange bony crests that even-toed hoofed mammals (antelopes, deer, giraffes, and so forth) grow out of their heads.

Check out their reading lists: