SciTech Briefs

Study looks at the brain to determine music preferences

A recent study explained what processes in the brain shape people’s taste in music, and also helped predict what types of music they will buy. Participants of the study underwent Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while they listened to 60 new pieces of music and reported how much they would be willing to pay for each. The results of the study revealed that the nucleus accumbens, the region of the brain that forms expectations as to what may be pleasing to an individual, determines whether a piece of music is pleasing or not.

Depending on how pleasing the listener deems the music, the nucleus accumbens interacts with the auditory cortex, the area of the brain that stores information on the sounds an individual hears. Though everyone experiences the same brain processes when choosing music, each person has different musical tastes because everyone has a uniquely shaped auditory cortex. The researchers also said that musical preferences are partially shaped by an individual’s past experiences.

Source: Science Daily

Researchers study addictiveness of potato chips

A research team at University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany performed a study on rats that revealed likely causes as to why potato chips seem to be more addictive than other foods. In the study, rats were given choices between their standard animal chow and three other types of food, including potato chips. Although they ate relatively equal amounts of each, they pursued the potato chips more enthusiastically. Manganese-Enhanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MEMRI), which was used to map the rats’ brains, showed that the reward and addiction centers of the brain were most active when eating the potato chips.

These results showed that while fat and carbohydrates were a partial explanation for this, there had to have been another factor, as the rats’ animal chow also contained these ingredients. If scientists can find the molecular ingredient that makes chips so pleasing, healthy but less desirable foods could be injected with this ingredient to make them more appealing. However, there has been no proof yet as to how this can be done.

Source: Science Daily

Magic mushrooms might help treat depressed patients

David Nutt, Professor at Imperial College London and president of the British neuroscience association, has recently been given £500,000 to conduct a clinical trial regarding the uses of psychedelic mushrooms — commonly known as “magic mushrooms” or “ ’shrooms” — to cure depression. Nutt claims that psilocybin, an ingredient in nearly 200 species of psychedelic mushrooms, can turn down areas of the brain that are overactive in depressed individuals.

A depressed individual would need an amount of psilocybin equivalent to five psychedelic mushrooms. Nutt’s study would involve 60 patients and would use a synthetically manufactured version of the ingredient. At this time, however, current drug laws and restrictions make it difficult for Nutt to gain access to psychedelic mushrooms. In addition, very few hospitals are licensed to use the drug, so even if the study were to be successful in showing that psychedelic mushrooms assisted depressed individuals, it would be difficult to bring about widespread use of the treatment.

Source: The Telegraph

Archaeologists find remains of dinosaur embryos

An international research team lead by Robert Reisz of the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada recently discovered some of the oldest dinosaur embryo fossils ever found. The fossils, roughly 190 million years old, were discovered in southwest China. The remains belonged to the Lufengosaurus, a species of dinosaur that would have grown to 30 feet in height. The fossils were preserved at different stages in the development process. Analysis of the remains, along with information about fully-developed dinosaurs of the same species, revealed that this species developed quickly in the embryo stage and after hatching, and that the embryos discovered were killed by a flood.

Source: BBC

Amputee receives iPhone-controlled bionic hand

Jason Koger, a 34-year-old man who has been living with amputated hands for five years, is the first recipient of a bionic hand controlled by an iPhone app. The i-limb ultra revolution, created by U.K. company Touch Bionics, is said to be the closest product to an actual human hand. It offers unparalleled flexibility and has individually powered fingers.

The iPhone control app includes auto-grip features, preset grip patterns for specific objects, and individually customized grip patterns, that allow for more functionality than traditional prosthetic devices.

Source: CNN

Scientists make transparent brains for easier study

Scientists at Stanford University have created an innovative method to study the brain: By replacing the fatty lipid membranes surrounding cells with an acrylamide mesh, they effectively developed a way to make brain tissue transparent. While lipids scatter light, acrylamide mesh does not — yet it still keeps the molecules in place. This method allows researchers to study the inside of the brain without cutting it into slices. This is a valuable advancement because it does not require chopping up axons, which scientists were unable to study before. While the method was developed in mouse brains, the team has also tested it on post-mortem human brain tissue.

Source: Wired