Posts from the ‘research’ Category

CEDAR center encourages evidence-based evaluations, training

Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a $25 million, 5-year grant to University of Florida researchers for the Collaboration for Educator Development, Accountability and Reform (CEDAR) Center. The Center hopes to use current research to improve training and evaluation practices for special education teachers.

The third center of its kind for UF, the CEDAR Center works with the education systems of 5 states and a number of non-profit groups (especially the American Institutes for Research) to develop standards that agree with up-to-date research on special education. It also provides technical assistance and supplies for the teachers involved.

“Our goal is to ensure that all teachers entering the classroom can meet standards and are receiving the right support,” said Dr. Mary Brownell, a  lead researcher for the CEDAR Center and a professor of special education in UF’s College of Education.

Brownell also said that while the focus is on special educators, general education teachers will also benefit from it.

At a time when our education system is under fire for poor performance levels, it’s important that the most recent research be applied to all levels of of our schools. Not only to improve scores, but also to genuinely educate a section of our populace that is often ignored.

Scientists are learning how to grow custom-made body parts so they can be ready when you—and your vital organs—start falling apart. At the University of Minnesota, Doris Taylor and her colleagues strip organs of their cells, reseed the organ “skeletons” with living cells, and watch as the organs start working right in front of their eyes. more here


Retinal Fireworks

Retinal ganglion cells transmit signals from the rods and cones in the eye to the brain. The retinal ganglion cells shown here have the extraordinary property that their dendrites all point in a single direction. Remarkably, these neurons respond best to objects moving in the direction that the cells “point.”

In this particular image, a mouse retina is seen with “J” retinal ganglion cells marked by the expression of a fluorescent protein. Of course, in real eyes it’s not that simple – the millions of other neurons that these are entangled with are not marked, and thus appear invisible. The image was obtained with a confocal scanning microscope, and pseudocoloured.

Part of the Cell Picture Show’s amazing Brainbow series.

Researcher’s at Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University have stated that they have created a generation of fruit flies that can “count.” Populations were exposed to two, three or four flashes of light, with their container being shaken at Flash 2 and 4. Soon after, they were put into the same situation. 39 generations showed no response to the flashes, but the 40th had a number of flies who braced themselves after Flash 2 in expectation of a shake. 

A fascinating study, one demonstrating the ancient roots of numbering. The fact that it only took 40 generations (an astonishingly small number for such a specific ability) to find flies capable of recognizing numbers implies that it might not be terribly uncommon an occurrence. 

It should be noted that while it is possibly evolution (the changing of genetic material over time), it is not a case of natural selection. The scientists did not take out flies from previous generations who might have had some counting ability and breed specifically from them.


Meet Phineas Gage, more commonly known as neuroscience’s most intriguing case.

On September 18th, 1848, the unfortunate 25-year-old railroad worker was using an iron rod to tamp down blasting powder when it exploded, sending the 43-inch-long, 13-pound cylinder through his left cheek and out the top of his head.

While the accident was certainly ghastly, what baffled scientists was both Gage’s survival, and, even stranger, his profound personality changes following the incident. John Harlow, a doctor who treated the once-affable Gage, wrote that he “could not stick to plans, uttered ‘the grossest profanity’ and showed ‘little deference for his fellows,’” as reported by Smithsonian magazine in 2010. Through the remainder of his life, Gage worked at a stable in New Hampshire and then as a stagecoach driver in Chile before moving to San Francisco. He died there after a series of seizures 12 years after the accident.

Even now, 152 years after Gage’s death, he still remains intriguing to neuroscientists – so intriguing, in fact, that his head is prompting a new wave of research. In a new study, published in the May 16 issue of the journal PLoS One, scientists at UCLA used brain-mapping data from computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to determine the specific damage inflicted on the neurological “pathways” in Gage’s brain.

“What we found was a significant loss of white matter connecting the left frontal regions and the rest of the brain,” said study co-author Jack Van Horn, an assistant professor of neurology at UCLA. “We suggest that the disruption of the brain’s ‘network’ considerably compromised it [the white matter]. This may have had an even greater impact on Mr. Gage than the damage to the cortex alone in terms of his purported personality change.”

Only about 4% of Gage’s cerebral cortex was directly affected by the rod, the study showed. But more than 10 percent of the white matter was damaged. The white matter is the fatty tissue within the brain that coordinates communication between its different regions.

In addition to helping explain Gage’s deterioration, the study showcases the power of brain mapping – a technology that neurologists believe will lead eventually to an understanding of the links between the brain’s “wiring” and specific mental disorders. Even more intriguingly, the study managed to draw parallels between Gage’s case and several modern neurological traumas, including Alzheimer’s disease.

He may have died in 1860, but I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of Phineas Gage – or his ghastly accident’s lasting contributions to modern neuroscience.

For more information on Gage and the study, check out the PopSci article here.

Upper image: A computer-generated 3D rendering of the iron rod through Gage’s brain as estimated from his skull (which is on display at Warren Anatomical Museum in Boston, along with the tamping rod).

Lower Images: Left, a circular representation of cortical anatomy and WM connectivity in a normal 25 to 36-year-old male. Right, the mean connectivity affected by the presence of the tamping iron combined across subjects. (And an estimate of Gage’s neural connectivity).

The things we can do with neuroscience these days is incredible. The possibilities even more so! 

Plus those neuroscientists put out some pretty cool images, and who doesn’t love that?


Massive underground reserves of water found in Africa

Huge reserves of underground water in some of the driest parts of Africa could provide a buffer against the effects of climate change for years to come, scientists said.

Researchers from the British Geological Survey and University College London have for the first time mapped the aquifers, or groundwater, across the continent and the amount they hold.

‘The largest groundwater volumes are found in the large sedimentary aquifers in the North African countries Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan,’ the scientists said in their paper.

They estimate that reserves of groundwater across the continent are 100 times the amount found on its surface, or 0.66 million cubic kilometres.

» via Daily Mail

As the rest of the world starts running out of water, I think a new land grab by developed countries is going to start in Africa. Between its potential for solar energy and these water reservoirs plus the oodles of timber, labor, gems, and who knows what else, it’s only a matter of time. I wonder if I can find any similar maps of other continents to compare it too. Is it strange that largely desert Africa has such little low (< 0.1) aquifer productivity or does that just not happen often at all?