Health

Humans wired for grammar at birth

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 13, 2011   View Article

“Blueberry!” I tell my 15-month-old son as I hand him one, hoping that he makes the connection between the piece of fruit and its name as I daydream about the glorious day when he says, “Please, Dad, can I have another blueberry?”

For now, he points at the bowl full of tasty morsels and babbles something incomprehensible. His pediatrician, family and friends all assure me that he’s on the right track. Before I know it, he’ll be rattling off the request for another blueberry and much, much more.

Caterpillar Fungus Making Tibetan Herders Rich

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: April 27, 2011   View Article

Harvesting of a parasitic fungus that grows high on the Tibetan Plateau in China is infusing hordes of cash into rural communities, scientists say.

The fungus, Ophiocordyceps sinensis, takes over the bodies of caterpillar larvae then shoots up like finger-size blades of grass out of the dead insects’ heads.

Known as yartsa gunbu—or “summer grass winter worm”—by Chinese consumers, the nutty-tasting fungus is highly valued for its purported medicinal benefits, for instance, as a treatment for cancer and aging and as a libido booster. Far away in the booming cities of Beijing and Shanghai, demand for the fungus has soared.

Virtual whiskers have the touch

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 8, 2011   View Article

A virtual model of rat whiskers may help scientists unlock the mystery of how our brains turn the mechanics of touch into perceptions.

“Our sense of touch is very mysterious. You can reach into your pocket or your purse and without even looking, you can identify your keys, a coin, or a paperclip,” Mirta Hartmann, who studies sensory and neural systems engineering at Northwestern University, explained to me today.

‘Humanized mouse’ among student science prizes

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: March 9, 2011   View Article

A “humanized mouse” is among four innovations honored this year with the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, an annual invention contest that comes with a $30,000 check.

The mouse has been outfitted with a liver that was engineered to be human-like, a step that could improve the safety and efficiency of the drug discovery process.

Play a game and engineer real RNA

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: January 11, 2011   View Article

A new online game allows non-scientists to design molecules of RNA and then see how well the best of their virtual creations perform in a real-life lab.

The game, called EteRNA, breaks down a barrier that has long kept the virtual reality of video games separate from the real world and in the process may help scientists build ever more sophisticated RNA machines, according to the game’s creators.

The real science of dream research

Publication: MSNBC.com   Date: July 16, 2010   View Article

Movie director Chris Nolan is famous for his unorthodox spin on thrillers ranging from “Memento” and “The Prestige” to “The Dark Knight.” Nolan’s latest movie, “Inception,” takes viewers on a sci-fi trip to a novel frontier: the visions of the sleeping mind.

The cerebral adventure introduces the concept of “extraction,” where corporate thieves enter people’s dreams and steal their ideas. Master extractor Dom Cobb – played by Leonardo DiCaprio, – is given the task of planting a dream instead.

Are our dreams really vulnerable to manipulation? Click ahead for a reality check on these ideas and more in the world of dream research

Mouse Tears Are Aphrodisiacs

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: July 1, 2010   View Article

A guy who can shed a tear really can drive females wild—among mice, at least.

According to a new study, male mouse tears contain a sex pheromone called ESP1, which makes female mice more receptive to mounting.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach