The first atlas of the surface of the human brain based upon genetic information has been produced by a national team of scientists, led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the VA San Diego Healthcare System. The work is published in the March 30 issue of the journal Science.
The atlas reveals that the cerebral cortex – the sheet of neural tissue enveloping the brain – is roughly divided into genetic divisions that differ from other brain maps based on physiology or function. The genetic atlas provides scientists with a new tool for studying and explaining how the brain works, particularly the involvement of genes.
“Genetics are important to understanding all kinds of biological phenomena,” said William S. Kremen, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and co-senior author with Anders M. Dale, PhD, professor of radiology, neurosciences, and psychiatry, also at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.
According to Chi-Hua Chen, PhD, first author and a postdoctoral fellow in the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry, “If we can understand the genetic underpinnings of the brain, we can get a better idea of how it develops and works, information we can then use to ultimately improve treatments for diseases and disorders.”
The human cerebral cortex, characterized by distinctive twisting folds and fissures called sulci, is just 0.08 to 0.16 inches thick, but contains multiple layers of interconnected neurons with key roles in memory, attention, language, cognition and consciousness.
Other atlases have mapped the brain by cytoarchitecture – differences in tissues or function. The new map is based entirely upon genetic information derived from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of 406 adult twins participating in the Vietnam Era Twin Registry (VETSA), an ongoing longitudinal study of cognitive aging supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It follows a related study published last year by Kremen, Dale and colleagues that affirmed the human cortical regionalization is similar to and consistent with patterns found in other mammals, evidence of a common conservation mechanism in evolution.
Horsetail Fall flows over the eastern edge of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. It’s a small waterfall that many people don’t notice, but it has gained popularity as more and more people have noticed it can glow orange during sunset in mid to late February.
The most popular place to see Horsetail Fall seemingly afire is El Capitan picnic area, west of Yosemite Lodge and east of El Capitan. The “firefall” effect generally happens during the second half of February. A clear sky is necessary for the waterfall to glow orange.
Interested in visiting Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park? Click here to learn more.
Photo: Bethany Gediman - National Park Service
When astronaut Dan Burbank and Robonaut shook hands last month, the ‘bot didn’t crush every bone in Burbank’s hand. That’s because NASA and GM designed Robonaut to be able to work in a human environment. One handy byproduct of that research: the Human Grasp Assist device, or Robo-Glove.
The joint research around Robonaut’s manipulators led to an “unprecedented level of hand dexterity,” according to NASA. A critical part of Robonaut’s design was to be able to “operate tools designed for humans, alongside astronauts in outer space and factory workers on Earth.”
With that goal in mind, the two companies worked to implement technology that mimicked the human hand, using “leading-edge sensors, actuators and tendons comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand.” By turning the focus of the project back on humanity, the Human Grasp Assist device (also called the Robo-Glove or K-Glove) was created, and, in a sense, it would let humans work more effectively in a robot-tailored environment.
Wearing a Robo-Glove won’t let you punch through a wall or anything, but it does sense when the user goes to grip something. That’s when the glove’s tech kicks in, exerting some helpful force that not only increases the force of a wearer’s grip, but also means that any hand-labor-heavy takes less effort and causes less fatigue over time.
Four years in the making, the Discovery Channel/BBC co-production Frozen Planet ranks among the channels’ most ambitious undertakings. Here, producers walk us through the making of the series and how they captured those unbelievable scenes.
Physicians grow retinas from human blood-derived stem cells
Among the primary causes of adult-onset blindness are degenerative diseases of the retina, such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. While some treatments have been developed that slow down the rate of degeneration, the clinical situation is still generally unsatisfactory. But if you could grow a new retina, transplant might be a possible cure. Now new hope is springing up from a research project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in which scientists have succeeded in growing human retinal tissue from stem cells.
Pluripotent stem cells are capable of forming nearly any tissue in the body including retinal tissue. There has been great controversy about using pluripotent stem cells for human research or treatment, as historically the only source was to harvest them from early stage human embryos. Instead, for this work the researchers were able to regress mature body cells back into the pluripotent stem cells from which they originally grew. The process is called reprogramming, and is accomplished by inserting a set of proteins into the cell.
To produce the pluripotent stem cells, a white blood cell was taken from a simple blood sample. Genes which code for the reprogramming proteins are inserted into a plasmid, a nonliving ring of DNA. The cell is then infected with the plasmid, rather as a virus infects a cell, with the difference that the plasmid’s genes do not become part of the cell’s genetic structure. As the reprogramming proteins are formed within the cell by the plasmid DNA, the cell has a good chance of being reprogrammed into a pluripotent stem cell. This stem cell can then be encouraged to grow and differentiate into retinal tissue rather than make more blood cells.
Laboratory-grown human retinal tissue will certainly be used in testing drugs and to study degenerative diseases of the retina, and may eventually make available a new transplantable retina, or a new retina that is grown in place within the eye.
“We don’t know how far this technology will take us, but the fact that we are able to grow a rudimentary retina structure from a patient’s blood cells is encouraging, not only because it confirms our earlier work using human skin cells, but also because blood as a starting source is convenient to obtain,” says Dr. David Gamm, pediatric ophthalmologist and senior author of the study. “This is a solid step forward.” Further steps are eagerly awaited by those living in the dark.
Off Switch for Pain? Chemists Build Light-Controlled Neural Inhibitor
Pain? Just turn it off! It may sound like science fiction, but researchers based in Munich, Berkeley and Bordeaux have now succeeded in inhibiting pain-sensitive neurons on demand, in the laboratory. The crucial element in their strategy is a chemical sensor that acts as a light-sensitive switch.