Study Reveals the Wonderful Depth of Intelligence Crows Have for Creating Tools

Crows are surprisingly intelligent and amazing creatures.

New Caledonian crows are the only species besides humans known to manufacture hooked tools in the wild. Birds produce these remarkable tools from the side branches of certain plants, carefully ‘crafting’ a crochet-like hook that can be used for snagging insect prey.

The study, published in Current Biology today (7 December), reveals how crows manage to fashion particularly efficient tools, with well-defined ‘deep’ hooks.

The hook is widely regarded as one of humankind’s most important innovations, with skilful reshaping, a useless piece of raw material is transformed into a powerful tool. While our ancestors started making stone tools over 3 million years ago, hooks are a surprisingly recent advance — the oldest known fish hooks are just 23,000 years old.

Project leader Professor Christian Rutz, from the School of Biology, has conducted field research on New Caledonian crows for over a decade. His team recently noticed that crows’ hooked tools vary considerably in size and shape. While some tools only exhibit a small extension at the tip, others have immaculate hooks.

Professor Rutz explains: “We suspected that tools with pronounced hooks are more efficient, and were able to confirm this in controlled experiments with wild-caught crows. The deeper the hook, the faster birds winkled bait from holes in wooden logs.”

This finding raised the intriguing question of what it takes to make such well-formed hooks. The researchers started planning their study by imagining how humans would approach a comparable task. “When a craftsperson carves a tool from a piece of wood, two things ensure a quality product: good raw materials and skill,” Professor Rutz said.

Crow-displacement

Vital Part for Quantum Computers Invented

Universal quantum computers are still somewhere around a decade or two away from being developed, but they will be significant when they arrive. Important new problems will be solved, but new problems will also be created. Much of the cryptography that the world replies upon today will be rendered ineffective (and will need to be replaced) when faced against quantum computers… For example, the asymmetric RSA regularly used to protect online banking will need to be phased out due to what quantum computers will do to today’s asymmetric ciphers. The symmetric cipher AES-256 will have its strength cut in half when faced against a quantum computer, downgrading it to an adequate but less strong AES-128. This is of course only one example.

A team at the University of Sydney and Microsoft, in collaboration with Stanford University in the US, has miniaturised a component that is essential for the scale-up of quantum computing. The work constitutes the first practical application of a new phase of matter, first discovered in 2006, the so-called topological insulators.

Beyond the familiar phases of matter — solid, liquid, or gas — topological insulators are materials that operate as insulators in the bulk of their structures but have surfaces that act as conductors. Manipulation of these materials provide a pathway to construct the circuitry needed for the interaction between quantum and classical systems, vital for building a practical quantum computer.

Theoretical work underpinning the discovery of this new phase of matter was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Scientists Discover Flies Carry More Diseases Than Suspected

The diseases linked to the several hundred bacteria flies were found to carry include pneumonia and stomach bugs. Be careful clicking the link if you’d rather not look at closer images of flies.

An important point here though is to remember this when there are flies buzzing around someone precious to you with fragile health. Losing someone close to you can truly be a very unfortunate experience.

The house fly and the blowfly together harbour more than 600 different bacteria, according to a DNA analysis.

Many are linked with human infections, including stomach bugs, blood poisoning and pneumonia.

Flies can spread bacteria from place-to-place on their legs, feet and wings, experiments show. In fact, every step taken by a fly can transfer live bacteria, researchers said.

”People had some notion that there were pathogens that were carried by flies but had no idea of the extent to which this is true and the extent to which they are transferred,” Prof Donald Bryant of Penn State University, a co-researcher on the study, told BBC News.

DNA sequencing techniques were used to study the collection of microbes found in and on the bodies of the house fly (Musca domestica) and the blowfly (Chrysomya megacephala).

The house fly, which is ubiquitous around the world, was found to harbour 351 types of bacteria. The blowfly, which is found in warmer climates, carried 316. A large number of these bacteria were carried by both types of fly.

The researchers, who published their study in the journal Scientific Reports, say flies may have been overlooked by public health officials as a source of disease outbreaks.

“We believe that this may show a mechanism for pathogen transmission that has been overlooked by public health officials, and flies may contribute to the rapid transmission of pathogens in outbreak situations,” said Prof Bryant.

Study: Smart People Have Well-Connected Brains

Intelligence can be difficult to measure well. I do know from my own experience how creativity is often based in linking concepts though.

Differences in intelligence have so far mostly been attributed to differences in specific brain regions. However, are smart people’s brains also wired differently to those of less intelligent persons? A new study supports this assumption. In intelligent persons, certain brain regions are more strongly involved in the flow of information between brain regions, while other brain regions are less engaged.

[…]

Earlier this year, the research team reported that in more intelligent persons two brain regions involved in the cognitive processing of task-relevant information (i.e., the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex) are connected more efficiently to the rest of the brain (2017, Intelligence). Another brain region, the junction area between temporal and parietal cortex that has been related to the shielding of thoughts against irrelevant information, is less strongly connected to the rest of the brain network. “The different topological embedding of these regions into the brain network could make it easier for smarter persons to differentiate between important and irrelevant information — which would be advantageous for many cognitive challenges,” proposes Ulrike Basten, the study’s principle investigator.

[…]

The study shows that in more intelligent persons certain brain regions are clearly more strongly involved in the exchange of information between different sub-networks of the brain in order for important information to be communicated quickly and efficiently. On the other hand, the research team also identified brain regions that are more strongly ‘de-coupled’ from the rest of the network in more intelligent people. This may result in better protection against distracting and irrelevant inputs. “We assume that network properties we have found in more intelligent persons help us to focus mentally and to ignore or suppress irrelevant, potentially distracting inputs,” says Basten. The causes of these associations remain an open question at present. “It is possible that due to their biological predispositions, some individuals develop brain networks that favor intelligent behaviors or more challenging cognitive tasks. However, it is equally as likely that the frequent use of the brain for cognitively challenging tasks may positively influence the development of brain networks. Given what we currently know about intelligence, an interplay of both processes seems most likely.”

Scientific Cures and Breakthroughs Happen Through Collaboration, Study Finds

Science tends to advance fastest when the research is open, and this is one of many studies that confirm that there is too much competition and too little cooperation in society today. The study is also evidence against the pharmaceutical research financing failure that is drug patent monopolies. Corporations have an incentive to share as little of their research as possible to be granted their drug patent monopolies because doing otherwise would risk threats to their profit margins.

Basic research can lead to cures, drugs and other scientific breakthroughs through collaboration, confirms a new study in Heliyon. Understanding the extent of the collaboration that leads to breakthroughs could help research institutions plan and evaluate their own collaborative efforts.

The authors of the new study, from NET ESOLUTIONS Corporation (NETE), Gladstone Institutes, UCSF, and Elsevier, combined data mining with old-fashioned detective techniques to understand what led to the development of five major anti-cancer drugs. Their results reveal how research collaboration, grants and publications combined to make the drugs possible.

“I think our work serves as a reminder that basic science preceded and influenced these translational breakthroughs through collaboration,” said corresponding author Dr. George Chacko of NETE. “Public funding of basic research has many translational benefits; the inherently collaborative nature of scientific discovery leads to breakthroughs.”

In the study, the researchers used anti-cancer drugs as case studies for their methodology. They data mined public and commercial data sources, including: clinical trials; Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documents; patent applications; grant applications; and peer-reviewed papers on Scopus and PubMed.

To map the history of the development of five drugs — Imatinib, Sunitinib, Nelarabine, Ramucirumab and Alemtuzumab (Campath) — the team identified more than 235 researchers in five large networks, who collectively produced 106,000 peer-reviewed papers. They analyzed citations to identify a core set of publications that were cited in all the networks, including 14 publications that were common to all five networks.

“We were surprised (and delighted) by the small number of cited publications that were common to the collaboration networks, and surprised to discover how influential they were in shaping future thought,” commented Dr. Chacko.

The researchers say their new approach can be easily modified and extended to other areas. It can be used to document the very large scientific collaborations that occur over many years and span basic to translational research, revealing how collaboration results in discovery and innovation that benefits the public.

Study: First Brain Training Exercise Linked to Dementia Prevention Found

A related and thought provoking quote: “Our mind is all we’ve got. Not that it won’t lead us astray sometimes, but we still have to analyze things out within ourselves.” — Bobby Fischer

Aging research specialists have identified, for the first time, a form of mental exercise that can reduce the risk of dementia.

The cognitive training, called speed of processing, showed benefits up to 10 years after study participants underwent the mental exercise program, said Frederick W. Unverzagt, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine.

The proportion of participants who underwent the training and later developed dementia was significantly smaller than among those who received no cognitive training, the researchers said.

There were measurable benefits even though the amount of training was small and spread out over time: 10 one-hour sessions over six weeks initially and up to eight booster sessions after that.

New Research into Sleep’s Benefits to Memory

The research says that adequate sleep is helpful for using what’s learned from memories more efficiently.

Researchers at the University of York have shed new light on sleep’s vital role in helping us make the most of our memory.

Sleep, they show, helps us to use our memory in the most flexible and adaptable manner possible by strengthening new and old versions of the same memory to similar extents.

The researchers also demonstrate that when a memory is retrieved — when we remember something — it is updated with new information present at the time of remembering. The brain appears not to ‘overwrite’ the old version of the memory, but instead generates and stores multiple (new and old) versions of the same experience.

The results of the research, carried out at York’s Sleep, Language and Memory (SLAM) Laboratory, are presented in the journal Cortex today.

Lead researcher Dr Scott Cairney of York’s Department of Psychology said: “Previous studies have shown sleep’s importance for memory. Our research takes this a step further by demonstrating that sleep strengthens both old and new versions of an experience, helping us to use our memories adaptively.

“In this way, sleep is allowing us to use our memory in the most efficient way possible, enabling us to update our knowledge of the world and to adapt our memories for future experiences.”

[…]

Corresponding author Professor Gareth Gaskell of York’s Department of Psychology said: “Our study reveals that sleep has a protective effect on memory and facilitates the adaptive updating of memories.

“For the sleep group, we found that sleep strengthened both their memory of the original location as well as the new location. In this way, we were able to demonstrate that sleep benefits all the multiple representations of the same experience in our brain.”

The researchers point out that although this process helps us by allowing our memories to adapt to changes in the world around us, it can also hinder us by incorporating incorrect information into our memory stores.