SciTech Briefs

Region in the brain gives dogs ability to detect emotions

Researchers from Hungary may have uncovered part of the reason dogs seem so attuned to our feelings. Specifically, scientists have identified particular regions of the dog brain that may help dogs identify different emotions in our voices. This region works very similarly to the voice-detection device in human brains. For the experiments, dogs had their brains scanned by an MRI while listening to over 200 human voices and dog sounds.

Training dogs to sit still in a scanner for 10 minutes was an immense task in itself. Researchers used typical training methods such as treats and praise, but also used more experienced dogs to serve as models for younger dogs. Once inside the MRI, the dogs had headphones that emitted noises from humans, dogs, and other objects like a phone. The findings were published in Current Biology.

Source: NPR

Deadly virus is spreading among British bumblebees

Honey bees may be the culprit in the alarming rate of viral infections in Britain’s bumblebee population, according to a recent study published in Nature by Mark Brown and Matthias Fürst of the University of London.

Deformed wing virus (DWV) can be transmitted to bumblebees by two methods. Although DWV can be transmitted between worker bees without issue, a mite can serve as a carrier and infect bee pupae. Infection can result in young bees with severe deformities, including bloated abdomens and crumpled wings.

Researchers believe the virus originally started in honey bee populations and then moved on to wild bumblebees; genetic analysis of the virus inside both species indicate that the virus is the same. The study found that the virus was found in 11 percent of wild bumblebees.

Source: ScienceInsider

Solar DNA tests detect cancer without electricity

Engineers at Cornell University have developed a device that needs only sunlight, a smartphone, and a DNA sample to diagnose Kaposi’s sarcoma, a common AIDS-related cancer. The device, called KS-Detect, is currently being tested in Uganda. Kaposi’s sarcoma is caused by a herpes virus and is tested in laboratories using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which detects the presence of the virus. PCR requires precise temperature conditions to work properly.

KS-Detect uses a special lens that captures the sun’s ray in a small disc of light where the edges are cooler than the center. The DNA sample moves through an etched channel in the devices and alternates between different temperatures. A special dye glows blue if there is detection of the herpes virus in the sample, and the attached smartphone is able to read the results.

Source: New Scientist

Elephants observed to show empathy toward each other

Although elephants have long been observed to show care toward each other, a recent study confirms the notion that elephants can express empathy and even console each other. Researchers from Thailand and the United States compared elephants’ behavior during times of stress to times when little upset them. The researchers observed Asian elephants in a large, 80-acre reserve in Thailand. They found that if an elephant was stressed by some outside cause — such as an angry elephant or a loud dog walking by — other elephants would come over and soothe the worried elephant. These helper elephants would display similar emotions and caress the worried elephant with their trunks. Comparing these stressful situations to a control, the researchers deduced that elephants can recognize distress in fellow elephants.

Source: ScienceInsider

Iron deficiency may be linked to higher chance of stroke

Recent findings by scientists from Imperial College London indicate that an iron deficiency — a condition which two billion people worldwide have — may increase stroke risk by making the blood “stickier.” Scientists looked at blood samples of patients and found a correlation between iron deficiency and increased risk of stroke. Upon further examination of the platelets, they found that the platelets from low-iron individuals were much more likely to clump together under certain triggers.

The researchers believe this predisposition to clumping may be one of the reasons for increased stroke risk, although further research is required to confirm this link.

In the future, these researchers hope to study whether the platelets will become less sticky when the iron deficiency is treated.

Source: ScienceDaily

Europe to launch hunt for Earth-like exoplanets in 2024

The European Space Agency has recently announced the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission, which is intended to discover more Earthlike exoplanets.

PLATO will begin in 2024 and will endeavor to find hundreds of rocky planets in habitable zones. PLATO will utilize the transmit method, which looks at the dimming light of a star once a planet is in front of it. This process can be time consuming because it requires the observation of many stars. To bypass this issue, PLATO will use 34 smaller telescopes in order to have a large field of view.

The mission will be launched from French Guiana and will operate approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.

Source: Science Insider