ScienceBlogs - Where the world discusses science en Fork-Tailed Flycatchers Make Sounds With Their Feathers in Different Accents <span>Fork-Tailed Flycatchers Make Sounds With Their Feathers in Different Accents</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>(Inside Science) -- The fork-tailed flycatcher whistles with its wings in two different accents, potentially more evidence this bird is splitting into two species, a new study finds.</p> <p>Birds are known for the songs they can sing, but dozens of species also use their feathers to generate sounds. For instance, peacocks can rattle their quills together, and <a href="">the crested pigeon's wings whistle when they fly</a>.</p> <p>In the new study, researchers investigated fork-tailed flycatchers -- 1-ounce birds found throughout the Americas that resemble black-and-gray swallows. The males sport foot-long scissor-shaped tails as ornaments to help attract mates, and they also spread these giant feathers to help turn sharply while hunting by using the plumes as air brakes, said study lead author Valentina Gómez-Bahamón, an evolutionary biologist at the Field Museum in Chicago.</p> <p>When these birds fly -- sometimes as fast as 65 miles per hour -- they produce a high-pitched trill. Males often fly quickly when they fight each other during mating season, Gómez-Bahamón noted. The birds also fly quickly when fighting off intruders near their nests.</p> <p>The scientists studied two known subspecies of fork-tailed flycatchers: a migratory one that breeds in the southern part of South America but spends winter closer to the equator, and a nonmigratory one that spends the whole year in the northern part of the continent.</p> <p>The scientists first captured the birds with "mist nets" -- fine webbing stretched between two poles like a volleyball net -- and recorded audio and video of them as they flew away after they were released. The researchers also set up a taxidermy hawk in a field with a hidden camera, and when the fork-tailed flycatchers swooped in to attack, the researchers recorded how the flycatchers’ feathers moved and what sounds they made. The whole project took three years.</p> <p>"Recording a fast-flying fighting bird is really hard," Gómez-Bahamón said. "It took many attempts."</p> <p>The audio and video footage, as well as experiments with fork-tailed flycatcher plumes in a wind tunnel, revealed the birds create these trills with fluttering feathers. Airflow causes these plumes to vibrate with short repetitive whistles, much like the sounds <a href="">one can whistle using a blade of grass</a>.</p> <p>Gómez-Bahamón and her colleagues discovered the migratory subspecies made higher-pitched trills with their feathers than their nonmigratory cousins.</p> <p>The migrating males possess wing feathers with skinnier tips than those of their homebody brethren. These may have evolved to make it easier to fly longer distances. The researchers suggested a group of migratory fork-tailed flycatchers ceased to be migratory, and as their wing feathers thickened because they no longer made long journeys, they ended up sounding different from those of their migratory relatives.</p> <p>"This is super-challenging work -- these birds are really aerial, and they're not tame," said evolutionary ornithologist Richard Prum at Yale University, who did not take part in this research. "I was amazed at the detail of the analysis they were capable of doing."</p> <p>Aside from escapes and fights, males of both subspecies trill with their wings in the early morning when it is still dark, likely as displays to females, Gómez-Bahamón said. The birds sing songs, are quiet for a moment, and then perform a short flight where one can hear the fluttering.</p> <p>Since wing fluttering may help the birds communicate during mating season, Gómez-Bahamón and her colleagues suggest the feather “accents” they found may help further drive the subspecies apart. Eventually, the two types of flycatchers may evolve into fully separate species that cannot interbreed with one another. "Differences in migratory behavior can cascade to other behavioral traits," Gómez-Bahamón said.</p> <p>Future research will investigate whether related species display similar behavior. The scientists will also explore whether female fork-tailed flycatchers prefer sounds from males of their subspecies, Gómez-Bahamón said. Ornithologist Juan Ignacio Areta at the Institute of Bio and Geosciences of Northwest Argentina, who did not participate in this study, wonders how preventing the birds from making feather trills might influence mate choice. "Answering these exciting questions is difficult, and requires a lot of carefully designed field experiments," he said.</p> <p>The scientists detailed <a href="">their findings</a> Sept. 22 in the journal <em>Integrative and Comparative Biology</em>.</p> <p>Charles Q. Choi is a science reporter who has written for Scientific American, The New York Times, Wired, Science, Nature, and National Geographic News, among others. Reprinted with permission from <a href="">Inside Science</a>, an editorially independent news product of the American Institute of Physics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and serving the physical sciences.</p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/sb-admin" lang="" about="/author/sb-admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">sb admin</a></span> <span>Thu, 09/24/2020 - 10:46</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/education" hreflang="en">Education</a></div> </div> </div> Thu, 24 Sep 2020 14:46:18 +0000 sb admin 151453 at Should A Doctor Prescribe A Walk In The Park? <span>Should A Doctor Prescribe A Walk In The Park?</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Has your doctor recommended you go for regular jogs in the park, countryside walks, community food growing sessions, or some other nature-based activity? These so-called “green prescriptions” are typically given alongside conventional therapies and have existed in various forms for a number of years.</p> <p>In recognition of the potential health benefits of green prescriptions, the UK government has <a href="">just announced</a> a £4 million investment in a two-year pilot as part of its post-COVID-19 recovery plan, with plans to scale up in the future.</p> <p>There is increasing evidence of the benefits of contact with nature, and the World Health Organization has identified ten ways in which nature impacts positively on <a href="">our physical and mental health</a>. When parks and other greenspaces are accessible and inclusive they can promote physical activity, psychological relaxation and social cohesion.</p> <p>There is even evidence to suggest that contact with microbes in the environment can <a href="">“train” our immune systems</a> and reinforce the microbial communities on our skin, and in our airways and guts. These “microbiomes” could play a role in how our bodies respond to infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and to secondary infections. Microbes from the environment could also potentially supplement our bodies with <a href="">fatty acids such as butyrate</a>, which are linked to reduced inflammation and may promote mental health.</p> <p>Green prescriptions therefore have huge potential. But if they are to work, they need to be seen as the start of a much more holistic mode of health and social care delivery: part of a post-COVID “new normal”. This would chime strongly both with the renewed appreciation of nature and the surge in community mobilization and action we saw under the lockdown.</p> <p>This needs to go beyond simply substituting green for conventional prescriptions. Instead we should provide greener, more natural settings and practices for health, social care, education, transport and active travel. A good example is the GoGoGreen project at a primary school we have worked with in Sheffield. There, greening a school playground not only created a barrier against air pollution from vehicle emissions but also provided multiple other benefits to the school community and started a conversation about cleaner modes of travel.</p> <p>Green prescribing cannot be seen as a low-cost alternative to conventional treatments. To be effective it still demands investment and resources. The two year pilot is welcome, but if it is to be successful in the long-run the government must make a firm commitment to scaling-up while also addressing systemic issues such as social inequality. All this will take time, and if this holistic approach is not adopted then people in crisis with more immediate priorities will be less likely to go on that prescribed walk in the woods.</p> <p>Our own research on <a href="">improving wellbeing through urban nature</a> in Sheffield confirms that people in more deprived communities, with <a href="">poorer health and shorter life expectancies</a>, don’t have the same levels of access to high quality, <a href="">well-maintained greenspaces</a>. These are the people that arguably most need green prescriptions, but if they don’t have the basic access then those prescriptions are unlikely to be effective. What’s more, many <a href="">doctors are not aware of green prescribing</a>, nor do they have a firm understanding of the benefits or know how to get involved.</p> <p>Our research also reveals that context is critical and green prescriptions need to be <a href="">rooted in their</a> local area and closely related to the people and places who are going to use them. A wealthy white pensioner in a rural area is likely to have very different experience of and access to nature compared with a young working class person of color in an inner city. A formulaic top-down approach is unlikely to work for both these people.</p> <h2>Recommendations</h2> <p>To sum up, this is what we need to make green prescriptions a success.</p> <p>They have to be part of a systemic approach to incorporating nature-based interventions and <a href="">nature-based thinking</a> in urban infrastructure and service provision.</p> <p>The prescribing process needs to be made easy, for doctors, social care professionals and patients. GPs often lack time and resources, while patients may lack motivation and confidence, or have little previous positive experiences of nature.</p> <p>Green prescribing also needs to be seen as one part of a holistic health-promotion strategy based on a planetary health perspective. In order to care for ourselves, we also need to care for our environments.</p> <p>Finally, we need new ways of working with local organisations and communities to understand what’s needed in local contexts, and to build skills and capacity.</p> <p><span>By <a href="">Anna Jorgensen</a>, Chair in Urban Natural Environments, Health and Wellbeing, University of Sheffield and <a href="">Jake M. Robinson</a>, PhD Researcher, Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield. Jorgensen receives funding from the British Academy and the European Commission. Robinson receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). He is affiliated with inVIVO Planetary Health, the Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative and Greener Practice. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>. <img alt="The Conversation" height="1" src="" width="1" /></span></p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/sb-admin" lang="" about="/author/sb-admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">sb admin</a></span> <span>Fri, 07/24/2020 - 15:39</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/medicine" hreflang="en">Medicine</a></div> </div> </div> Fri, 24 Jul 2020 19:39:42 +0000 sb admin 151452 at Opportunity Costs And Why Fireworks Complaints Are Up This Year <span>Opportunity Costs And Why Fireworks Complaints Are Up This Year</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>The number of fireworks being lit off at night is <a href="">out of control this year</a>.</p> <p>While people often light off fireworks close to the Fourth of July, this year fireworks have been lit in large numbers starting weeks earlier. <a href="">New York City had a 4,000% increase</a> in fireworks complaints in the first two weeks of June compared with last year. This prompted <a href="">Mayor Bill de Blasio to vow a crackdown</a> on illegal fireworks.</p> <p>Complaints about fireworks are not confined to just New York City, but in cities across the country like <a href="">San Francisco</a>, <a href="">Denver</a>, <a href="">Harrisburg</a>, <a href="">Albuquerque</a>, <a href="">Providence</a> and many <a href="">other places</a>. This has led to a <a href="">rise in conspiracy theories</a>, including one that the nightly noise is an <a href="">elaborate government plot to create confusion</a> in neighborhoods.</p> <p>I <a href="">am an economist</a> who has <a href="">spoken</a> and <a href="">written</a> <a href="">about</a> <a href="">fireworks</a> for years. After hearing a constant barrage nightly for weeks, I began wondering why so many people are lighting off fireworks this year.</p> <h2>It isn’t economics</h2> <p>There are two possible economic reasons behind an increase in fireworks usage: falling prices or increased supply. However, neither of these is the culprit behind the increase in fireworks usage this year.</p> <p>The vast majority of the fireworks individuals shoot off in the U.S. are manufactured <a href="">overseas, mainly in China</a>. Each <a href="">shipment of fireworks brought into the U.S.</a> includes a detailed invoice that shows the quantity and price the importer paid.</p> <p><a href="">Price data</a> for the first four months of 2020 show importers paid an average of US$2.63 per kilogram for fireworks from China. A year earlier, importers paid an average of $2.60 per kilogram. This means prices rose slightly from 2019 to 2020, eliminating the falling price argument.</p> <p>Increased supply is also not the reason. In a typical year there are two holidays with widespread firework usage; New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.</p> <p>Deliveries in 2020 are an exception to this pattern. Because of the coronavirus, the U.S. imported very few fireworks in March. During the first four months of 2020 the U.S. imported 9 million kilograms of fireworks from China. While this seems like a large number, it is <a href="">one-third less than a year earlier</a>.</p> <p><img alt="Fireworks in Manhattan New Years Eve" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="da8c9d4e-8dcd-4d87-918e-9b96264c0b5e" src="/files/inline-images/fireworks%20new%20years.jpg" /></p> <p><em><span>Fireworks are much more common around holidays like New Year’s Eve.</span> <span><a href="">Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images</a></span></em></p> <h2>Nor is it legal reform</h2> <p>Another potential reason could be changes in laws.</p> <p>Most major dense cities like <a href="">New York</a>, <a href="">Chicago</a> and <a href="">San Francisco ban</a> fireworks.</p> <p>However, if neighboring jurisdictions have loosened their rules, then people can easily drive outside the city to purchase fireworks.</p> <p>There has been a steady reduction in <a href=",%25201976-2018.pdf">state prohibitions against</a> individuals using fireworks. <a href="">Today only one state, Massachusetts</a>, completely prohibits individuals from owning and using any type of fireworks. <a href="">All the rest allow</a> them in some form.</p> <p>However, the most recent two states to allow consumers to shoot off fireworks are <a href="">New Jersey</a> in 2017 and <a href="">Delaware</a> in 2018. Since most states relaxed prohibitions against fireworks more than two years ago, recent rule changes also cannot be behind the increase.</p> <h2>The most likely culprit</h2> <p>To find the real reason, it helps to consider that millions of Americans have been locked down in their homes and apartments for months. As an employee at a fireworks store in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, <a href="">put it</a>, “People are bored. They just want to blow stuff up.”</p> <p>While this argument is understandable, I think the most likely reason is even simpler. And it has a lot to do with <a href="">opportunity costs</a>, something economists spend a lot of time thinking about.</p> <p>Opportunity costs put a dollar value on what else a person could do with their time. For example, before the pandemic, I had many choices at night. I could work, go out with friends, watch television or see a movie in the theater.</p> <p>By shutting down restaurants, theaters, bars and other venues, COVID-19 has dramatically reduced my choices.</p> <p>The pandemic has also <a href="">thrown millions out of work</a>. Many people who would normally be working at night are not. This means the opportunity cost for using fireworks is exceptionally low compared with before, since there are so few opportunities to socialize, be entertained or work.</p> <p>Beyond lower opportunity costs for fireworks users, there are many unemployed people who are now looking for opportunities to earn money. Buying fireworks in a rural area like northern Pennsylvania and selling them at higher prices in a city that bans their sale, such as New York City, can be <a href="">easy and profitable</a>.</p> <p>So few arrests are made for fireworks that the FBI, which tracks problems like moonshining and polygamy on its <a href="">detailed list of offenses</a>, does not give it a category.</p> <h2>Idle hands</h2> <p>Fireworks are dangerous. While <a href="">few people die each year</a> from using them, the <a href="">latest figures for 2019</a> show that fireworks hurt about 10,000 people per year in the U.S.</p> <p>However, massive <a href="">unemployment caused by COVID-19 is also dangerous</a>.</p> <p>There is an old quote that idle hands lead to mischief. In this case, idle people lead to large amounts of illegal firework usage.</p> <p>My belief is that once the millions of unemployed people in the U.S. go back to work, the number of illegal fireworks shot off will rapidly decrease and will once again be limited to the times around New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.</p> <p><em>Top image: Fireworks light up the sky over New York City in 2019. <a href="">Gary Hershorn/Getty Images</a></em></p> <p><span>By <a href="">Jay L. Zagorsky</a>, Senior Lecturer, Questrom School of Business, <a href="">Boston University</a>. This article is republished from <a href="">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>.<img alt="The Conversation" height="1" src="" width="1" /></span></p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/sb-admin" lang="" about="/author/sb-admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">sb admin</a></span> <span>Tue, 06/30/2020 - 12:17</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 30 Jun 2020 16:17:46 +0000 sb admin 151451 at NVX-CoV2373: Here's How The Coronavirus Vaccine Based On A Flu Shot Works <span>NVX-CoV2373: Here&#039;s How The Coronavirus Vaccine Based On A Flu Shot Works</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>A new trial has begun in Victoria <a href="">this week</a> to evaluate a potential vaccine against COVID-19.</p> <p>The vaccine is called NVX-CoV2373 and is from a US biotech company, Novavax.</p> <p>The trial will be carried out across Melbourne and Brisbane, and is the first human trial of a vaccine specifically for COVID-19 to take place in Australia.</p> <p>This vaccine is actually based on a vaccine that was already in development for influenza. But how might it work against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?</p> <h2>What’s in the mix?</h2> <p>Vaccines trigger an immune response by introducing the cells of our immune system to a virus in a safe way, without any exposure to the pathogen itself.</p> <p>All vaccines have to do two things. The first is make our immune cells bind to and “eat up” the vaccine. The second is to activate these immune cells so they’re prepared to fight the current and any subsequent threats from the virus in question.</p> <p>We often add molecules called adjuvants to vaccines to deliver a danger signal to the immune system, activate immune cells and trigger a strong immune response.</p> <p>The Novavax vaccine is what we call a “subunit” vaccine because, instead of delivering the whole virus, it delivers only part of it. The element of SARS-CoV-2 in this vaccine is the spike protein, which is found on the surface of the virus.</p> <p>By targeting a particular protein, a subunit vaccine is a great way to focus the immune response.</p> <p>However, protein by itself is not very good at binding to and activating the cells of our immune system. Proteins are generally soluble, which doesn’t appeal to immune cells. They like something <a href="">they can chew on</a>.</p> <p>So instead of soluble protein, Novavax has assembled the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into very small particles, called nanoparticles. To immune cells, these nanoparticles look like little viruses, so immune cells can bind to these pre-packaged chunks of protein, rapidly engulfing them and becoming activated.</p> <p>The Novavax vaccine also contains an <a href="">adjuvant called Matrix-M</a>. While the nanoparticles deliver a modest danger signal, Matrix-M can be added to deliver a much stronger danger signal and really wake up the immune system.</p> <p><img alt="The spike protein is formed into nanoparticles to attract immune cells, and Matrix-M is added as an adjuvant to further activate immune cells." data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="c42655cf-72d9-44e4-a4b0-2408e941ada9" src="/files/inline-images/coronavirus%20protein%20spike_0.jpg" /></p> <p><span>The spike protein is formed into nanoparticles to attract immune cells, and Matrix-M is added as an adjuvant to further activate immune cells.</span> <span><span>Author provided</span></span></p> <h2>Rethinking an influenza vaccine</h2> <p>The Novavax vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 is based on a vaccine the company was already developing for influenza, called NanoFlu.</p> <p>The NanoFlu vaccine contains similar parts – nanoparticles with the Matrix-M adjuvant. But it uses a different protein in the nanoparticle (hemagglutinin, which is on the outside of the influenza virus).</p> <p>In October last year, Novavax started testing NanoFlu in a <a href="">phase III clinical trial</a>, the last level of clinical testing before a vaccine can be licensed. This trial had 2,650 volunteers and researchers were comparing whether NanoFlu performed as well as Fluzone, a standard influenza vaccine.</p> <p>An important feature of this trial is participants were over the age of 65. Older people tend to have <a href="">poorer responses</a> to vaccines, because immune cells become more difficult to activate as we age.</p> <p>This trial is ongoing, with volunteers to be followed until the end of the year. However, <a href="">early results</a> suggest NanoFlu can generate significantly higher levels of antibodies than Fluzone – even given the older people in the trial.</p> <p>Antibodies are small proteins made by our immune cells which bind strongly to viruses and can stop them from infecting cells in the nose and lungs. So increased antibodies with NanoFlu should result in lower rates of infection with influenza.</p> <p>These results were similar to those released after the <a href="">phase I trial</a> of NanoFlu, and suggest NanoFlu would be the superior vaccine for influenza.</p> <p>So the big question is – will the same strategy work for SARS-CoV-2?</p> <p><img alt="The Novavax vaccine is one of several potential COVID-19 vaccines being trialled around the world." data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="65bfbd37-4f72-4ee2-bef0-d5d70dd1e74c" height="263" src="/files/inline-images/coronavirus%20vaccines%20worldwide.jpg" width="394" /></p> <p><em><span>The Novavax vaccine is one of several potential COVID-19 vaccines being trialed around the world.</span> <span><span>Shutterstock</span></span></em></p> <h2>The Australian clinical trial</h2> <p>The <a href=";recrs=ab&amp;draw=2&amp;rank=1&amp;view=record">new phase I/II trial</a> will enrol around 131 healthy volunteers aged between 18 and 59 to assess the vaccine’s safety and measure how it affects the body’s immune response.</p> <p>Some volunteers will not receive the vaccine, as a placebo control. The rest will receive the vaccine, in a few different forms.</p> <p>The trial will test two doses of protein nanoparticles – a low (5 microgram) or a high (25 microgram) dose. Both doses will be delivered with Matrix-M adjuvant but the higher dose will also be tested without Matrix-M.</p> <p>All groups will receive two shots of the vaccine 21 days apart, except one group that will just get one shot.</p> <p>This design enables researchers to ask four important questions:</p> <ol><li> <p>can the vaccine induce an immune response?</p> </li> <li> <p>if so, what dose of nanoparticle is best?</p> </li> <li> <p>do you need adjuvant or are nanoparticles enough?</p> </li> <li> <p>do you need two shots or is one enough?</p> </li> </ol><p>While it’s not yet clear how the vaccine will perform for SARS-CoV-2, Novavax has <a href="">reported</a> it generated strong immune responses in animals.</p> <p>And we know NanoFlu performed well and had a good safety profile for influenza. NanoFlu also seemed to work well in older adults, which would be essential for a vaccine for COVID-19.</p> <p>We eagerly await the first set of results, expected in a <a href="">couple of months</a> – an impressive turnaround time for a clinical trial. If this initial study is successful, the phase II portion of the trial will begin, with more participants.</p> <p>The Novavax vaccine joins <a href="">at least nine other vaccine candidates</a> for SARS-CoV-2 currently in clinical testing around the world.</p> <p><span>By <a href="">Kylie Quinn</a>, Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow, School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University and <a href="">Kirsty Wilson</a>, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, RMIT University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>.<img alt="The Conversation" height="1" src="" width="1" /></span></p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/sb-admin" lang="" about="/author/sb-admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">sb admin</a></span> <span>Wed, 05/27/2020 - 10:18</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/medicine" hreflang="en">Medicine</a></div> </div> </div> Wed, 27 May 2020 14:18:04 +0000 sb admin 151450 at The 'Uplift of the Tibetan Plateau' Myth <span>The &#039;Uplift of the Tibetan Plateau&#039; Myth</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>'The uplift of the Tibetan Plateau' is invoked to explain various phenomena, from monsoon dynamics to biodiversity evolution and everything in between. It's not accurate, finds<a href=""> a new paper</a>.</p> <p>The orogeny of the Tibetan region (Tibet, The Himalaya and the Hengduan Mountains) dates back approximately 200 million years, long before the arrival of India, and was the product of earlier Gondwanan tectonic block collisions that produced a complex of mountain chains and valleys. The review finds that the concept of an extensive low-relief Tibet, rising in its entirety as a result of the India-Eurasia collision, is false, and the product of overly simplistic modeling.</p> <p>Previous stable isotope and fossil-based estimates of past surface heights were often contradictory; isotopes tend to record the height of mountain crests, while the fossils are more indicative of where sediments accumulate in valley bottoms. The isotopic bias towards uplands means that even valleys appear as uplands at the height of the bounding mountains and so appear as an elevated plateau, a result confirmed by isotope-enabled climate modelling. By combining well-dated multiple paleoaltimetric methods a better understanding of past topography emerges.</p> <p>The formation of a complex topography, and in places thickened crust, before the arrival of India suggests that the formation of the Tibetan Plateau was not only due to the India-Eurasia collision and this has important implications for the amount of crustal shortening and the size of 'greater India' before collision.</p> <p><img src="" width="700" /><br /><em>Tibet was assembled by a succession of Gondwanan tectonic blocks (terranes) colliding with Eurasia over a period of about 200 million years.</em></p> <p>Previous work pointed to a rise of eastern Tibet and the Hengduan Mountains in the Miocene, but recent radiometric re-dating of key sites shows the region was elevated before plateau formation and the rise of the Himalaya. Uplift began in the Eocene in large part due to extrusion of parts of Tibet beginning as early as ~ 52 million years ago and extended into the early Oligocene, with landscape dissection through the expansion of river drainages taking place in the Miocene (subject to the dating being correct) as the monsoons strengthened.</p> <p>The Himalaya began to rise in the Eocene, but only crested the pre-existing Gangdese mountains that already formed a 4-5 km high 'wall' along southern Tibet after the mid Miocene. North of the Gangdese, along the Bangong-Nujiang Suture south of the Tangula mountains, a deep ancient east-west aligned great central valley existed until early in the Neogene (approximately 23 million years ago) and later in its history was internally-drained. Numerous fossil finds show lakeside sub-tropical vegetation in this valley remained below 2.3 km above sea level for much of its history, the valley floor only rising in the Neogene to form today's flat plateau through ongoing tectonic compression from India and sediment infilling.</p> <p>'Uplift' in geology relates to the rise of rocks and work done against gravity, so the infilling of basins by sediment to contribute to the formation of a low-relief surface means that Tibet was never 'uplifted' as a plateau, nor was that rise solely a consequence of the India-Eurasia collision.</p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/sb-admin" lang="" about="/author/sb-admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">sb admin</a></span> <span>Tue, 05/12/2020 - 10:40</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/environment" hreflang="en">Environment</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 12 May 2020 14:40:03 +0000 sb admin 151449 at The Yeast All Around Us <span>The Yeast All Around Us</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>With people confined to their homes, there is more interest in home-baked bread than ever before. And that means a lot of people are making friends with yeast for the first time. I am a <a href="">professor of hospitality management and a former chef, and I teach in my university’s fermentation science program</a>.</p> <p>As friends and colleagues struggle for success in using yeast in their baking – and occasionally brewing – I’m getting bombarded with questions about this interesting little microorganism.</p> <h2>A little cell with a lot of power</h2> <p>Yeasts are single-celled organisms in the fungus family. There are <a href="">more than 1,500 species of them on Earth</a>. While each individual yeast is only one cell, they are surprisingly complex and contain a nucleus, DNA and many other cellular parts found in more complicated organisms.</p> <p>Yeasts break down complex molecules into simpler molecules to produce the energy they live on. They can be found on most plants, floating around in the air and in soils across the globe. There are 250 or so of these yeast species that can <a href="">convert sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol</a> – valuable skills that humans have used for millennia. Twenty-four of these make foods that actually taste good.</p> <p>Among these 24 species is one called <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>, which means “sugar-eating fungus.” This is bread yeast, the yeast we humans know and love most dearly for the food and drinks it helps us make.</p> <p><img alt="&lt;p&gt;An invisible organism with worldwide influence. &lt;span&gt;&lt;a href=&quot;;&gt; KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images via The Conversation&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/span&gt;&lt;/p&gt;" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="a0737260-12f7-4f4b-9f1f-9ffca3bd3375" src="/files/inline-images/yeast%20cell.jpg" width="700" /></p> <p><em>An invisible organism with worldwide influence. <span><a href=""> KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images via The Conversation</a></span></em></p> <p>The process starts out the same whether you are making bread or beer. Enzymes in the yeast convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. With bread, a baker wants to <a href="">capture the carbon dioxide to leaven the bread</a> and make it rise. With beer, a brewer wants to capture the alcohol.</p> <p>Bread has been “the staff of life” for <a href="">thousands of years</a>. The first loaf of bread was probably a <a href="">happy accident</a> that occurred when some yeast living on grains began to ferment while some dough for flatbreads – think matzo or crackers – was being made. The first purposely made leavened bread was likely made by <a href="">Egyptians about 3,000 years ago</a>. Leavened bread is now a staple in almost every culture on Earth. Bread is inexpensive, nutritious, delicious, portable and easy to share. Anywhere wheat, rye or barley could be grown in sufficient quantities, bread became the basic food in most people’s diet.</p> <p> </p> <p><a href=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img alt="" src=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" /></a></p> <p><em><span>Yeast makes bread fluffy and flavorful.</span> <span><a href=";uiloc=thumbnail_same_series_adp">Poh Kim Yeoh/EyeEm via Getty Images via The Conversation</a></span></em></p> <h2> </h2> <h2>No yeast, no bread</h2> <p> </p> <p>When you mix yeast with a bit of water and flour, the yeast begins to eat the long chains of carbohydrates found in the flour called starches. This does two important things for baking: It changes the chemical structure of the carbohydrates, and it makes bread rise.</p> <p>When yeast breaks down starch, it produces carbon dioxide gas and ethyl alcohol. This CO2 is trapped in the dough by stringy protein strands called gluten and causes the dough to rise. After baking, those little air pockets are locked into place and result in airy, fluffy bread.</p> <p>But soft bread is not the only result. When yeast break down the starches in flour, it turns them into flavorful sugars. The longer you let the dough rise, the <a href="">stronger these good flavors will be</a>, and some of the <a href="">most popular bread recipes</a> use this to their advantage.</p> <p> </p> <h2>The supermarket’s out of yeast; now what?</h2> <p> </p> <p>Baking bread at home is fun and easy, but what if your store doesn’t have any yeast? Then it’s sourdough to the rescue!</p> <p>Yeast is everywhere, and it’s really easy to collect yeast at home that you can use for baking. These wild yeast collections tend to gather yeasts as well as bacteria – usually <em>Lactobacillus brevis</em> that is used in cheese and yogurt production – that add the complex sour flavors of sourdough. Sourdough starters have been made from fruits, vegetables or even dead wasps. Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist and philosopher, was the first to suggest the dead wasp recipe, and it works because <a href="">wasps get coated in yeasts</a> as they eat fruit. But please don’t do this at home! You don’t need a wasp or a murder hornet to make bread. All you really need to make sourdough starter is wheat or rye flour and water; the yeast and bacteria floating around your home will do the rest.</p> <p>To make your own sourdough starter, mix a half-cup of distilled water with a half-cup of whole wheat flour or rye flour. Cover the top of your jar or bowl loosely with a cloth, and let it sit somewhere warm for 24 hours. After 24 hours, stir in another quarter-cup of distilled water and a half-cup of all-purpose flour. Let it sit another 24 hours. Throw out about half of your doughy mass and stir in another quarter-cup of water and another half-cup of all-purpose flour.</p> <p>Keep doing this every day until your mixture begins to bubble and smells like rising bread dough. Once you have your starter going, you can use it to make bread, pancakes, <a href="">even pizza crust</a>, and you will never have to buy yeast again.</p> <p> </p> <p><a href="/files/inline-images/yeast%20lab.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img alt="Lab yeast" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="069b4dc6-b893-4afc-afed-fdb0428810a8" src="/files/inline-images/yeast%20lab.jpg" /></a></p> <p><em><span>Yeast is used in laboratories and factories as well as kitchens.</span> <span><a href="">borzywoj/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images via The Conversation</a></span></em></p> <h2> </h2> <h2>More than just bread and booze</h2> <p> </p> <p>Because of their similarity to complicated organisms, large size and ease of use, yeasts have been central to scientific progress for hundreds of years. Study of yeasts played a huge role in <a href="">kick-starting the field of microbiology</a> in the early 1800s. More than 150 years later, one species of yeast was the first organism with a nucleus to have <a href="">its entire genome sequenced</a>. Today, scientists use yeast in <a href="">drug discovery</a> and as tools to study <a href="">cell growth in mammals</a> and are exploring ways to use yeast to make biofuel <a href="">from waste products like cornstalks</a>.</p> <p>Yeast is a remarkable little creature. It has provided delicious food and beverages for millennia, and to this day is a huge part of human life around the world. So the next time you have a glass of beer, toast our little friends that make these foods part of our enjoyment of life.</p> <p><span>By <a href="">Jeffrey Miller</a>, Associate Professor, Hospitality Management, Colorado State University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>.</span></p> <p><img alt="The Conversation" height="1" src="" width="1" /></p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/sb-admin" lang="" about="/author/sb-admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">sb admin</a></span> <span>Mon, 05/11/2020 - 11:54</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/life-sciences" hreflang="en">Life Sciences</a></div> </div> </div> Mon, 11 May 2020 15:54:57 +0000 sb admin 151448 at The Biology Of Why Coronavirus Is So Deadly <span>The Biology Of Why Coronavirus Is So Deadly</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses belong to a group of viruses that infect animals, from peacocks to whales. They’re named for the bulb-tipped spikes that project from the virus’s surface and give the appearance of a corona surrounding it.</p> <p>A coronavirus infection usually plays out one of two ways: as an infection in the lungs that includes some cases of what people would call the common cold, or as an infection in the gut that causes diarrhea. COVID-19 starts out in the lungs like the common cold coronaviruses, but then causes havoc with the immune system that can lead to long-term lung damage or death.</p> <p>SARS-CoV-2 is genetically very similar to other human respiratory coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. However, the subtle genetic differences translate to significant differences in how readily a coronavirus infects people and how it makes them sick.</p> <p> </p> <figure role="group"><img alt="coronavirus dying cell" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="f3b7eb12-81ba-4ff9-b519-463a5715ac0a" src="/files/inline-images/coronavirus%20biology.jpg" width="700" /><figcaption><em>SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (pink dots) on a dying cell. <a href="">National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH</a></em></figcaption></figure><p> </p> <p>SARS-CoV-2 has all the <a href=";VirusLineage_ss=SARS-CoV-2,%20taxid:2697049">same genetic equipment</a> as <a href=";VirusLineage_ss=Severe%20acute%20respiratory%20syndrome-related%20coronavirus,%20taxid:694009&amp;CollectionDate_dr=2002-01-01T06:00:00.000Z%20TO%202019-03-28T05:00:00.000Z">the original SARS-CoV</a>, which caused a global outbreak in 2003, but with around 6,000 mutations sprinkled around in the usual places where coronaviruses change. Think whole milk versus skim milk.</p> <p>Compared to other human coronaviruses like <a href=";VirusLineage_ss=Middle%20East%20respiratory%20syndrome-related%20coronavirus%20(MERS-CoV),%20taxid:1335626&amp;CollectionDate_dr=2002-01-01T06:00:00.000Z%20TO%202019-03-28T05:00:00.000Z">MERS-CoV</a>, which emerged in the Middle East in 2012, the new virus has customized versions of the same general equipment for invading cells and copying itself. However, SARS-CoV-2 has a totally different set of genes called accessories, which give this new virus a little advantage in specific situations. For example, MERS has a particular protein that shuts down a cell’s ability to sound the alarm about a viral intruder. SARS-CoV-2 has an unrelated gene with an as-yet unknown function in that position in its genome. Think cow milk versus almond milk.</p> <p> </p> <h2>How the virus infects</h2> <p> </p> <p>Every coronavirus infection starts with a virus particle, <a href="">a spherical shell that protects a single long string of genetic material</a> and inserts it into a human cell. The genetic material instructs the cell to make around 30 different parts of the virus, allowing the virus to reproduce. The <a href="">cells that SARS-CoV-2 prefers to infect</a> have a protein called ACE2 on the outside that is important for regulating blood pressure.</p> <p>The infection begins when the long spike proteins that protrude from the virus particle <a href="">latch on to the cell’s ACE2 protein</a>. From that point, the spike transforms, unfolding and refolding itself using coiled spring-like parts that start out buried at the core of the spike. The reconfigured spike hooks into the cell and crashes the virus particle and cell together. This forms a channel where the string of viral genetic material can snake its way into the unsuspecting cell.</p> <p><img alt="" src="" width="700" /></p> <p><em><span>An illustration of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein shown from the side (left) and top. The protein latches onto human lung cells.</span> </em><span><a href=""><em>5-HT2AR/Wikimed</em>ia</a></span></p> <p>SARS-CoV-2 spreads from person to person by close contact. The <a href="">Shincheonji Church outbreak in South Korea</a> in February provides a good demonstration of how and how quickly SARS-CoV-2 spreads. It seems one or two people with the virus sat face to face very close to uninfected people for several minutes at a time in a crowded room. Within two weeks, several thousand people in the country were infected, and more than half of the infections at that point were attributable to the church. The outbreak got to a fast start because public health authorities were unaware of the potential outbreak and were not testing widely at that stage. Since then, authorities have worked hard and the number of <a href="">new cases in South Korea has been falling steadily</a>.</p> <p> </p> <h2>How the virus makes people sick</h2> <p> </p> <p>SARS-CoV-2 grows in type II lung cells, which secrete a soap-like substance that helps air slip deep into the lungs, and in cells lining the throat. As with SARS, most of the damage in COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, is caused by the immune system carrying out a scorched earth defense to stop the virus from spreading. Millions of cells from the immune system invade the infected lung tissue and <a href="">cause massive amounts of damage</a> in the process of cleaning out the virus and any infected cells.</p> <p>Each COVID-19 lesion ranges from the size of a grape to the size of a grapefruit. The challenge for health care workers treating patients is to support the body and keep the blood oxygenated while the lung is repairing itself.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="260" src=";start=0" width="440"></iframe></p> <p> </p> <p><strong><span>How SARS-CoV-2 infects, sickens and kills people</span></strong></p> <p> </p> <p>SARS-CoV-2 has a sliding scale of severity. Patients under age 10 seem to clear the virus easily, most people under 40 seem to bounce back quickly, but <a href="">older people suffer from increasingly severe COVID-19</a>. The ACE2 protein that SARS-CoV-2 uses as a door to enter cells is also important for regulating blood pressure, and it does not do its job when the virus gets there first. This is one reason COVID-19 is more severe in people with high blood pressure.</p> <p>SARS-CoV-2 is <a href="">more severe than seasonal influenza</a> in part because it has many more ways to stop cells from calling out to the immune system for help. For example, one way that cells try to respond to infection is by making interferon, the alarm signaling protein. SARS-CoV-2 blocks this by a combination of camouflage, snipping off protein markers from the cell that serve as distress beacons and finally shredding any anti-viral instructions that the cell makes before they can be used. As a result, COVID-19 can fester for a month, causing a little damage each day, while most people get over a case of the flu in less than a week.</p> <p>At present, the transmission rate of SARS-CoV-2 is <a href="">a little higher than that of the pandemic 2009 H1N1</a> influenza virus, but SARS-CoV-2 is <a href="">at least 10 times as deadly</a>. From the data that is available now, COVID-19 seems a lot like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), though it’s less likely than SARS to be severe.</p> <p> </p> <h2>What isn’t known</h2> <p> </p> <p>There are still many mysteries about this virus and coronaviruses in general – the nuances of how they cause disease, the way they interact with proteins inside the cell, the structure of the proteins that form new viruses and how some of the basic virus-copying machinery works.</p> <p>Another unknown is how COVID-19 will respond to changes in the seasons. The <a href="">flu tends to follow cold weather</a>, both in the northern and southern hemispheres. Some other human coronaviruses spread at a low level year-round, but then <a href="">seem to peak in the spring</a>. But <a href="">nobody really knows for sure</a> why these viruses vary with the seasons.</p> <p>What is amazing so far in this outbreak is all the good science that has come out so quickly. The research community learned about <a href="">structures of the virus spike protein and the ACE2 protein</a> with part of the spike protein attached just a little over a month after the genetic sequence became available. I spent my first 20 or so years working on coronaviruses without the benefit of either. This bodes well for better understanding, preventing and treating COVID-19.</p> <p><span>By <a href="">Benjamin Neuman</a>, Professor of Biology, <em><a href="">Texas A&amp;M University-Texarkana</a>. This article is republished from <a href="">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>.</em></span></p> <p><em><img alt="The Conversation" height="1" src="" width="1" /></em></p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/conversation" lang="" about="/author/conversation" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">The Conversation</a></span> <span>Thu, 04/02/2020 - 14:02</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/life-sciences" hreflang="en">Life Sciences</a></div> </div> </div> Thu, 02 Apr 2020 18:02:27 +0000 The Conversation 151447 at COVID-19: The Downside To More Testing Could Be Overflowing Hospitals <span>COVID-19: The Downside To More Testing Could Be Overflowing Hospitals</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>"You can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is."</p> <p>These were the words of Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at his <a href="">briefing</a> on the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March.</p> <p>He made the statement in a bid to underscore the need to test many more people as key to containing the spread of the disease.</p> <p>Ordinarily, that makes sense and I would agree with it. It is the right thing to do in the face of a disease which would show mild to no symptoms in the majority of those that are infected but does not inhibit their ability to infect others.</p> <p>Countries that follow the <a href="">WHO view</a> have sought to buy test kits and increase the number of tests conducted daily. Others have been more cautious and have set up guidelines to ensure that they only test people with significant history of risk for COVID-19 or symptoms of the disease.</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Lagos treatment camp" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="c675c966-9ea7-44bd-a11f-971063782f61" src="/files/inline-images/Lagos%20treatment.JPG" /><figcaption><em>An aerial view of a new isolation and treatment centre established by the Lagos State government at the main bowl of the state-owned Stadium. Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images via The Conversation</em></figcaption></figure><p> </p> <p>Looking at the various models and the progression of the pandemic, I wish to offer some views on testing and the attendant issues and challenges.</p> <p>I believe that there are a myriad of factors to consider and that, particularly in Africa, countries have to take them all on board when making their decisions to curtail the spread of the virus.</p> <p>The factors include the dangers posed by false test results, the fact that testing data is being badly communicated leading to a rise in panic levels and the fact that testing capacity is limited in many countries.</p> <h2>The fear factor</h2> <p>It is quite clear that the world is now dealing with two pandemics instead of one. The first is the virus. The second is fear and, in many cases, outright panic. That is why landlords are <a href="">kicking out</a> health workers from their houses. That is why we get reports of <a href="">chloroquine toxicity</a> within 24 hours of US President Donald Trump saying that might be the treatment for COVID-19.</p> <p>What has panic got to do with testing? Panic is being driven by the way in which the outcome of testing is being communicated. For example, most countries are releasing data about how many more cases there are. But they are not telling their citizens how many of these people have no symptoms at all, or have mild ones.</p> <p>Knowing how many of those who tested positive were not considered to be in a critical state would be helpful.</p> <p>The other area in which data is being badly handled, and adding to panic levels, is that countries are reporting new cases on a daily basis. These aren’t necessarily new infections but, rather, new <em>detections</em>. Most are people who already had it and (for whatever reason were able to get tested) were found to be positive. They are people who, just the day before, did not know they had the virus and therefore weren’t provoking fear in others. Also, the number of new confirmed cases alone may not be the best indicator for the challenge the disease poses in a country or community.</p> <p>Knowing their status now should not cause panic. It should simply inform about the importance of the preventive measures, including testing, to prevent spread of the disease.</p> <h2>Limited resources</h2> <p>Countries are being urged to test as many people as possible in the face of limited test resources. The mainstay polymerase chain reaction test is quite limited and relatively slow. It is also expensive given the requirements even of staff and laboratories.</p> <p>Enter rapid test kits to the rescue. But there aren’t enough. Even the US <a href="">doesn’t</a> have enough test kits to meet the demand.</p> <p>In addition, not all the kits in use have been tested properly. For example, there are reports that thousands of test kits imported by the Spanish health authorities were found to be <a href="">faulty</a>.</p> <p>The challenge of a test kit giving false negatives is that the people are told, erroneously, that they do not have the virus. They go away and continue to infect others freely. In the event that they have any symptoms, they are likely to ignore these, and some may become severely ill before seeking care. If they do seek care early, the health care workers may be exposed to COVID-19 thinking that this person had tested negative and could only have some other disease.</p> <p>A false positive, on the other hand, means that the number of cases reported continues to rise along with the panic created and attendant socio-economic disruption.</p> <p>The Jack Ma Foundation has donated 20,000 <a href="">test kits </a>to Nigeria. But what are these among so many? Consider two statistics alongside this number. The <a href="">population</a> of the country – about 200 million people. And the fact that with 65 confirmed cases (as at the time of writing this), Nigeria is tracking over <a href="">4,000 contacts</a> already.</p> <p>A further complication in Nigeria is that the allocation of available tests kits could become subject to social and political whims. Government officials are scrambling to get tested along with their families and wealthy friends. Unfortunately, the guidelines for determining who to test won’t apply to this category of people. This means that limited resources will be used up.</p> <p> </p> <h2>Overwhelming hospitals</h2> <p> </p> <p>The fatality rate for COVID-19 has not yet been <a href="">definitively established</a>. Nevertheless, the fatality rate – particularly among older people – has been one of the major factors stoking fear. It is also one of the reasons hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 positive cases.</p> <p>This is why the decision to increase testing needs to be made along with ensuring that the facilities are in place to manage the increase in numbers of people identified with COVID-19. Without additional measures, hospitals will simply become overwhelmed, as has <a href="">happened in the US</a>.</p> <p><a href="">In China,</a> for example, several new health facilities were built in just a few weeks along with the deployment of thousands of health workers to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak in that country. For its part the <a href="">UK recalled</a> about 10,000 retired health workers and the US is <a href="">offering visas</a> to health workers who might want to come and work there.</p> <p>In Nigeria, the approach being taken is similar to that of China. <a href="">New facilities </a>are being established and equipped to handle COVID-19 cases.</p> <p>But the strain on the health system must not be underestimated. Admission of a case of a highly infectious disease, like COVID-19, stretches the health system many times over and increases the risk of health care workers being infected. Of course, as the numbers rise, the health care workers are soon <a href="">overwhelmed </a>and the fatalities could rise along.</p> <p> </p> <h2>What needs to be done</h2> <p> </p> <p>I would argue that we should not just follow the admonition of the WHO to “test, test, test” without examining it in the context of our local peculiarities. Testing is important but countries should adapt guidelines for testing that work for them, knowing also the dangers of having asymptomatic disease spreaders – that is those who have the virus but aren’t showing any symptoms.</p> <p>They should also consider reporting confirmed cases along with their clinical status as well as recoveries and discharges (all to encourage reporting of possible cases). The bigger worry is the fatalities and that is what countries must work to avoid.</p> <p>Lastly, lock downs must be considered – the socio-economic challenges weighed into it – as a means to minimise the spread in the face of limited facilities. This would allow those who might require hospital admissions to show up, while those who don’t will stop spreading the disease while they recover on their own.</p> <p><span>By <a href="">Doyin Odubanjo</a>, Executive Secretary, <a href="">Nigerian Academy of Science</a>. This article is republished from <a href="">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>.</span></p> <p><img alt="The Conversation" height="1" src="" width="1" /></p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/conversation" lang="" about="/author/conversation" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">The Conversation</a></span> <span>Mon, 03/30/2020 - 22:25</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/medicine" hreflang="en">Medicine</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 31 Mar 2020 02:25:10 +0000 The Conversation 151446 at 'Virtual' Communication During Social Distancing: How We Change When We Know We're Being Seen <span>&#039;Virtual&#039; Communication During Social Distancing: How We Change When We Know We&#039;re Being Seen</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Social distancing due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the threat of COVID-19 has meant online communication is more popular than ever, with even casual parenting groups discovering the previous enterprise video conferencing tool Zoom.</p> <p>But how will that affect communications? Have you ever met someone who is stiff in person but great on camera or the other way around? Neuroscientists study brain and behavior and in <a href="">a recent study</a> found that a person's gaze is altered during tele-communication if they think that the person on the other end of the conversation can see them.</p> <p>People are very sensitive to the gaze direction of others and even two-day-old infants prefer faces where the eyes are looking directly back at them. The phenomenon known as "gaze cueing," a powerful signal for orienting attention, is a mechanism that likely plays a role in the developmentally and socially important wonder of "shared" or "joint" attention where a number of people attend to the same object or location. The ability to do this is what makes humans unique among primates.</p> <p>Throughout almost all of human history, conversations were generally conducted face-to-face, so people knew where their conversational partner was looking and vice versa. Now, with virtual communication, that assumption no longer holds - sometimes people communicate with both cameras on while other times only the speaker may be visible. The researchers set out to determine whether being observed affects people's behavior during online communication. </p> <p>Co-authors Elan Barenholtz, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, and Michael H. Kleiman, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher, compared fixation behavior in 173 participants under two conditions: one in which the participants believed they were engaging in a real-time interaction and one in which they knew they were watching a pre-recorded video. </p> <p>The researchers wanted to know if face fixation would increase in the real-time condition based on the social expectation of facing one's speaker in order to get attention or if it would lead to greater face avoidance, based on social norms as well as the cognitive demands of encoding the conversation. </p> <p>Similarly, they wanted to know where participants would fixate on the face. Would it be the eyes more in the real-time condition because of social demands to make eye contact with one's speaker? Or, in the pre-recorded condition, where the social demands to make eye contact are eliminated, would participants spend more time looking at the mouth in order to encode the conversation, which is consistent with previous studies showing greater mouth fixations during an encoding task. </p> <figure role="group"><img alt="Three areas of interest for fixation analyses: full face (purple), eyes (red) and mouth (blue). Credit: Florida Atlantic University" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="f6794c27-9fe1-4ff8-9e2b-722d912c95bf" src="/files/inline-images/fixation%20analyses.jpg" /><figcaption><em>Three areas of interest for fixation analyses: full face (purple), eyes (red) and mouth (blue). Credit:  Florida Atlantic University</em></figcaption></figure><p> </p> <p>Results of the study showed that participants fixated on the whole face in the real-time condition and significantly less in the pre-recorded condition. In the pre-recorded condition, time spent fixating on the mouth was significantly greater compared to the real-time condition. </p> <p>There were no significant differences in time spent fixating on the eyes between the real-time and the pre-recorded conditions. These findings may suggest that participants are more comfortable looking directly at the mouth of a speaker - which has previously been found to be optimal for encoding speech - when they think that no one is watching them. </p> <p>To simulate a live interaction, the researchers convinced participants that they were engaging in a real-time, two-way video interaction (it was actually pre-recorded) where they could been seen and heard by the speaker, as well as a pre-recorded interaction where they knew the video was previously recorded and therefore the speaker could not see their behavior. </p> <p>"Because gaze direction conveys so much socially relevant information, one's own gaze behavior is likely to be affected by whether one's eyes are visible to a speaker," <a href="">said Barenholtz</a>. "For example, people may intend to signal that they are paying more attention to a speaker by fixating their face or eyes during a conversation. Conversely, extended eye contact also can be perceived as aggressive and therefore noticing one's eyes could lead to reduced direct fixation of another's face or eyes. Indeed, people engage in avoidant eye movements by periodically breaking and reforming eye contact during conversations."</p> <p>There was a highly significant tendency for participants engaging in perceived real-time interaction to display greater avoidant fixation behavior, which supports the idea that social contexts draw fixations away from the face compared to when social context is not a factor. When the face was fixated, attention was directed toward the mouth for the greater percentage of time in the pre-recorded condition versus the real-time condition. The lack of difference in time spent fixating the eyes suggests that the additional mouth fixations in the pre-recorded condition did not come at the cost of reduced eye fixation and must have derived from reduced fixations elsewhere on the face. </p> <p>Comparisons between total fixation durations of the eyes versus the mouth were calculated for both the real-time and pre-recorded conditions, with the eyes of both conditions being significantly more fixated than the mouth. Gender, age, cultural background, and native language did not have an influence on fixation behavior across conditions. </p> <p>"Regardless of the specific mechanisms underlying the observed differences in fixation patterns, results from our study suggest participants were taking social and attentional considerations into account in the real-time condition," said Barenholtz. "Given that encoding and memory have been found to be optimized by fixating the mouth, which was reduced overall in the real-time condition, this suggests that people do not fully optimize for speech encoding in a live interaction."</p> <p> </p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/sb-admin" lang="" about="/author/sb-admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">sb admin</a></span> <span>Mon, 03/30/2020 - 17:25</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Mon, 30 Mar 2020 21:25:13 +0000 sb admin 151445 at How To Spot Coronavirus Fake News <span>How To Spot Coronavirus Fake News</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>The proliferation of fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been labelled a dangerous “<a href="">infodemic</a>”. Fake news spreads faster and more easily today through the internet, social media and instant messaging. These messages may contain useless, incorrect or even harmful information and advice, which can hamper the public health response and add to social disorder and division.</p> <p>Confusingly some fake news also contains a mixture of correct information, which makes it difficult to spot what is true and accurate. Fake news may also be shared by trusted friends and family, including those who are doctors and nurses. They might not have read the full story before sharing or just glanced over it. Before you decide to share, make sure to read stories properly and follow some checks to determine the accuracy.</p> <p>If the story appears to claim a much higher level of certainty in its advice and arguments than other stories, this is questionable. People will be seeking certainty in a time of high uncertainty, anxiety and panic. So it is only natural to more readily accept information that resolves, reassures and provides easy solutions – unfortunately, often in a false way.</p> <p>Similarly, if a story is more <a href="">surprising or upsetting</a> than other stories it is worth double-checking, as fake news will try to grab your attention by being more exaggerated than real stories.</p> <h2>What to look out for</h2> <ul><li> <p><strong>Source.</strong> Question the source. References have been made to “Taiwanese experts” or “Japanese doctors” or “Stanford University” during the outbreak. Check on official websites if stories are repeated there. If a source is “a friend of a friend”, this is a rumour unless you also know the person directly.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Logo:</strong> Check whether any organisation’s logo used in the message looks the same as on the official website.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Bad English:</strong> Credible journalists and organisations are less likely to make repeated spelling and grammar mistakes. Also, anything written entirely in capital letters or containing a lot of exclamation marks should raise your suspicions.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Pretend social media accounts:</strong> Some fake accounts mimic the real thing. For example, the unofficial Twitter handle @BBCNewsTonight, which was made to look like the legitimate @BBCNews account, shared a fake story about the actor <a href="">Daniel Radcliffe testing positive for coronavirus</a>. Media platforms try to remove or flag fake accounts and stories as well as verify real ones. Look out for what their policies are to try to do this.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Over-encouragement to share:</strong> Be wary if the message presses you to share – this is how viral messaging works.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Use fact-checking websites:</strong> Websites such as <a href="">APFactCheck</a> and <a href="">Full Fact</a> highlight common fake news stories. You can also use a search engine to look up the title of the article to see if it has been identified as fake news by the mainstream media.</p> </li> </ul><h2>Who to trust</h2> <p>The best sources to go to for health information about COVID-19 are your government health websites and the <a href="">World Health Organization website</a>. Primary sources are generally better than news articles.</p> <p>Even government messaging and the mainstream media can get things wrong, but they are more trustworthy than unverified sources on social media and viral messaging. For instance, <a href="">The Conversation</a> is a more trusted source because all content is written by academics who are experts in their fields.</p> <figure role="group"><img alt="A time of high uncertainty. How Hwee Young/EPA" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="b77ef8c6-7e95-44ac-93d4-e8a8398fb4e1" src="/files/inline-images/uncertainty.jpg" /><figcaption>A time of high uncertainty. How Hwee Young/EPA</figcaption></figure><p>Charlatans have been promoting false preventions and cures for people to spend their money on. For example, the New York attorney general has had to send cease and desist notices for claims that <a href="">toothpaste, dietary supplements and creams will prevent and cure COVID-19</a>.</p> <p>The effects can also be more serious than losing some cash. Iran has reported at least <a href="">44 people died from alcohol poisoning</a> after drinking bootleg alcohol in a misguided attempt to cure COVID-19.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the most basic and correct advice given so far does not offer a miracle or special insight. Wash your hands often (use hand sanitisers if you cannot), avoid touching your face, and sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow or a tissue (and throw it away in a bag-lined bin). Avoid crowds and public places, keep a sensible distance from people, and do not travel unless absolutely necessary. Now many governments are introducing measures including travel bans and quarantines that need to be followed to protect the health of everyone, especially the most vulnerable.</p> <p>We can all get caught out. Think twice about the messages currently circulating and help guide your family and friends to decide what to trust.</p> <p><span>By <a href="">Samantha Vanderslott</a>, Postdoctoral Researcher in Social Sciences, <em><a href="">University of Oxford</a></em></span>. This article is republished from <a href="">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>.</p> <p><img alt="The Conversation" height="1" src="" width="1" /></p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/sb-admin" lang="" about="/author/sb-admin" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">sb admin</a></span> <span>Fri, 03/20/2020 - 12:16</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/social-sciences" hreflang="en">Social Sciences</a></div> </div> </div> Fri, 20 Mar 2020 16:16:25 +0000 sb admin 151444 at