Find out what’s happening in Science & Society around the world. Discover changes to science policy and law, new scientific study results, Supreme Court rulings, debates about nature versus nurture, and news about the sharing of genetic information.
Earlier this year, Steve McCarroll announced that his team had discovered the gene that most powerfully drives our risk of schizophrenia. Known as C4, it was previously viewed as an immune-system gene, but clearly, it also does something in the brain. To work out what, McCarroll first needed to know which cells in the brain activate C4.
Easier said than done: “There’s no place for looking that up,” he says. Instead, his team had to examine slices from over 700 postmortem brains, and stain them with a dozen different-colored antibodies that recognize C4. “The slices were variable in quality. The antibodies were variable in quality. It took us almost a year to get satisfying answers. It was a slog.”
When Microsoft envisioned the medical world embracing HoloLens in the future, it wasn’t kidding around. Duke University is testing the augmented reality headset as an assistive tool for difficult brain surgeries like extraventricular drain placement, which relieves potentially fatal pressure. Instead of relying on CT scans and markers to insert a catheter into the skull during the draining procedure, Duke’s doctors would use HoloLens to overlay a reconstructed CT scan on the patient’s head. The virtual approach should not only be more accurate than conventional markers (the target is frequently too small or shifts around), but faster and simpler.
An ambitious $23-million (Rs 153.5 crore), award-winning five-year-old programme funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to arrest childhood diarrhoea and pneumonia in Bihar–a state with India’s sixth highest mortality rate of children under five–has had little impact on disease prevalence or treatment, according to an evaluation by researchers from Duke and Stanford universities in the USA and the University College of London.
Researchers and users of kratom or Mitragyna speciosa were stunned by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s abrupt withdrawal last week of its stated plan to place the Southeast Asian plant under an emergency ban in the United States. One reason for the famously tough federal agency’s unusual move was “a large volume of phone calls from the American public” as well as messages from the scientific community and letters from members of Congress, says DEA spokesperson Russ Baer.
As a species, humans are incredibly smart. We tell stories, create magnificent art and astounding technology, build cities, and explore space. We haven’t been around nearly as long as many other species, but in many respects we’ve accomplished more than any have before us. We eat them and they don’t eat us. We even run scientific studies on them—and are thinking about re-creating some of those that have gone extinct. But our intelligence comes with a curious caveat: our babies are among the dumbest—or, rather, the most helpless—that exist. A baby giraffe can stand within an hour of birth, and can even potentially flee predators on its first day of life. A monkey can grasp its mother and hang on for protection and nourishment. A human infant can’t even hold up its own head.