Humans are not the only ones to count from left to right. Researchers in Italy found that mental number lines, where numbers rise from the smallest on the left to the largest on the right, come naturally to newborn chicks too.
In experiments at the University of Padua, three-day old chicks were trained to find food behind a panel bearing five bright spots. Once they had become familiar with that, they were confronted with two panels bearing different numbers of spots.
Footage of the chicks showed that when faced with panels that had only two spots, the birds consistently looked behind the left of the two panels. But when faced with eight spots on each panel, they went poking around the righthand panel.
The researchers repeated the experiment with a different set of numbers and found that the chicks again went right for higher numbers and left for lower ones.
Rosa Rugani, who led the study, said the findings suggest that newborn chicks might share the human tendency to map numbers in space, from the lowest on the left, to the highest on the right.
Writing in the journal Science, she argues that the ability probably evolved millions of years ago, before human ancestors split from those of modern birds. “During evolution, the direction of mapping from left to right rather than vice versa, although in principle arbitrary, may have been imposed by brain asymmetry, a common and ancient trait in vertebrates, prompted by a right hemisphere dominance in attending visuo-spatial and/or numerical information.”
The embryoscope allows IVF specialists to monitor every moment of the embryo’s development before it is implanted
Fertility specialists are constantly providing more opportunities to couples disappointed with repeated failed pregnancies.
The success rate for the usual in-vitro fertilisation method is only about 40 per cent and it has certain limitations.
But specialists now aim to improve the quality of the embryo before it is implanted into the uterus, thus increasing chances of a successful pregnancy.
An embryoscope allows the specialist to select the best embryos for implantation. In traditional incubators, an embryologist ran the risk of disturbing the embryo’s environment every time she had to check its development, experts note.
In contrast, embryoscopes allow the IVF specialist to monitor every moment of the embryo’s development, check for abnormalities and also for developmental milestones such as cell division, says D. Dakshayani, clinical director, Nova IVI Fertility, which recently installed an embryoscope.
The use of an embryoscope increases the chances of parenthood significantly – from one in three couples, successful pregnancy is possible for one in every two couples, she claims.
The embryoscope is said to be an improvement over the incubator as it provides the embryo “a closed system, which mimics the mother’s womb” and comes with an in-built camera that records the development of the embryo every 20 minutes.
C. Geetha Haripriya of Prashant Multispeciality Hospital, who has been using an embryoscope for the past 18 months, says it has improved the pregnancy rate by 12 per cent.
The possibilities of an embryoscope are exciting as it allows specialists to study cell development and eliminate multinucleated embryos or those with irregular cell division. But, it cannot help identify genetic or chromosomal abnormalities, she adds.
Sports for holistic wellness
How healthy is your child? Is her Body Mass Index in the normal range? Does your child have the requisite upper and lower body strength, or endurance?
A recent survey indicates that two out of five children in the city are either under or overweight, and less than half of them have sufficient lower body strength.
The survey was conducted by EduSport, an organisation working to encourage children to take up sport. As part of the survey, the organisation measured aerobic and anaerobic capacity, flexibility, lower body strength, upper body strength, abdominal strength and the BMI of children from schools across the city.
While Chennai scored slightly higher than the national average, much needs to be done, according to Saumil Majumdar, founder of EduSport.
Sports, in some form or the other, helps in the overall development of the child, George Selleck, sports and medical doctor who is sport consultant with EduSport, says.
“In terms of psychological and holistic wellness, I have seen a huge difference in children who take up sports. Whether it is yoga, tennis or aerobics, some kind of structured physical activity is needed for the overall health of children,” Dr. Selleck says.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are produced by virtually all metabolic processes of the body. As such, they have potential to serve as noninvasive metabolic biomarkers. Since exhaled VOCs are either derived from the respiratory tract itself or have passed the lungs from the circulation, they are candidate biomarkers in the diagnosis and monitoring of pulmonary diseases in particular. Good examples of the possibilities of exhaled volatiles in pulmonary medicine are provided by the potential use of VOCs to discriminate between patients with lung cancer and healthy control subjects and to noninvasively diagnose infectious diseases and the association between VOCs and markers of disease activity that has been established in obstructive lung diseases. Several steps are, however, required prior to implementation of breath-based diagnostics in daily clinical practice. First, VOCs should be studied in the intention-to-diagnose population, because biomarkers are likely to be affected by multiple (comorbid) conditions. Second, breath collection and analysis procedures need to be standardized to allow pooling of data. Finally, apart from probabilistic analysis for diagnostic purposes, detailed examination of the nature of volatile biomarkers not only will improve our understanding of the pathophysiologic origins of these markers and the nature of potential confounders but also can enable the development of sensors that exhibit maximum sensitivity and specificity toward specific applications. By adhering to such an approach, exhaled biomarkers can be validated in the diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of patients in pulmonary medicine and contribute to the development of personalized medicine.
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is used both in the diagnosis and treatment of many pancreatic and biliary diseases. It was first used in the 1970s at which point its main use was in diagnosis. Now, its use is mostly as a therapeutic tool.
It provides detailed and accurate information of the pancreaticobiliary system in cases which cannot be diagnosed by endoscopic ultrasound. It also provides a less invasive option than open surgery for the management of several pancreatic conditions.
Choledocholithiasis (eg, gallstones in the common bile duct (CBD) and microlithiasis).
Acute pancreatitis due to biliary obstruction, sphincter of Oddi dysfunction or idiopathic, recurrent cases.
Detection of pancreatic divisum (more common in patients who develop pancreatitis but may not necessarily be causal).
Diagnosis of pancreatic and biliary malignancy. Endoscopic ultrasound provides an acceptable option in many cases and can be used as a triage procedure to determine which patients should proceed to ERCP (see below).
Palliative therapy for inoperable pancreaticobiliary malignancies – eg, drainage procedures.
Dilatation of benign strictures – eg, following orthoptic liver transplantation.
Chronic pancreatitis – very controversial but there may be a role for dilatation of strictures or stent insertion.
Manometry measures in sphincter of Oddi dysfunction.
One method for determining who should have an ERCP is to classify patients into low-risk, intermediate-risk or high-risk.
Low-risk patients should proceed to laparoscopic cholecystectomy without further intervention or imaging procedures.
Intermediate-risk patients include those with features, such as previous history ofcholangitis or pancreatitis, slightly abnormal LFTs (eg, raised ALP but less than twice normal), dilated CBD between 8-10 mm. This group of patients should have further tests (eg, endoscopic ultrasound) before deciding on further intervention.
High-risk patients include those with recent cholangitis, recent acute pancreatitis,jaundice, abnormal LFTs (ALP more than twice normal) and dilated CBD >10 mm. This group will benefit most from ERCP. However, even a third of these patients will fail to have a stone on ERCP and further investigation may be needed.
Acute pancreatitis with evidence of biliary tract obstruction should have urgent ERCP.
At ERCP, sphincterotomy may be performed to remove duct obstruction – eg, gallstone.
However, there is a risk that pancreatitis may be worsened.
A meta-analysis of studies looking at the role of ERCP in acute biliary pancreatitis has confirmed that early ERCP reduces both complications and mortality rates.
Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction can lead to pancreatitis, usually in women following cholecystectomy, and responds to isolated biliary sphincterotomy.
ERCP is performed on an outpatient or inpatient basis.
Patients have to fast overnight.
Patients are usually sedated for the procedure (eg, using midazolam) and analgesia is also given.
Patients usually lie on their left side.
The back of throat is sprayed with a local anaesthetic.
The endoscope is passed down through to the stomach and then to the duodenum (where the ducts of the pancreaticobiliary system open, called Vater’s ampulla).
Air may be pumped into the duodenum to allow better visualisation.
Using a wire passed through the endoscope, contrast is injected through Vater’s ampulla and X-rays obtained.
These images will indicate areas of obstruction.
Further intervention can be performed down the endoscope if necessary – eg, stone removal, stent insertion, biopsies.
Pancreatitis – 2-9% of patients will develop pancreatitis and it is seen especially in endoscopic sphincterotomy for sphincter of Oddi dysfunction. The majority of cases are mild but 10% of cases are moderate-to-severe and may lead to multi-organ failure and even death. The chances of pancreatitis post-ERCP can be reduced by avoiding excessive cannulation trauma and stent insertion – the latter being the most effective method. Stent insertion allows pancreatic secretions to pass freely.
There is evidence that peri-operative indometacin or diclofenac helps to reduce the incidence of pancreatitis.
Infection may occur – although rates are low.
Bleeding may occur – although severe haemorrhage is rare.
Perforation of the duodenum with development of an acute abdomen.
Failure of gallstone retrieval – may need to revert to open or more invasive procedures.
Prolonged pancreatic stenting is associated with stent occlusion, pancreatic duct obstruction and pseudocyst formation.
Is ERCP being superseded by endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)?
EUS is ultrasonography via an endoscope. It is used in many pancreatic and biliary disorders, especially choledocholithiasis and pancreatic lesions – eg, neoplasms or cysts.
It was originally used solely for imaging purposes but, with improved techniques, it can now be combined with fine-needle aspiration (FNA).
Some interventional techniques can also be performed with EUS – eg, injection of bupivacaine into the coeliac ganglia for analgesia in irresectable pancreatic carcinoma.
EUS has a greater specificity than MRCP in detecting gallstones in the ducts (sensitivity is the same) – however, some stones can be missed by EUS.
In pancreatitis, EUS will provide additional features (eg, peripancreatic collections) and it is also more informative in chronic pancreatitis, especially when abdominal CT and ultrasound scanning fail to find an underlying cause.
MRCP, on the other hand, uses selective magnetic resonance imaging to look at the biliary and pancreatic tree in greater detail and is used to diagnose disease in the pancreaticobiliary region; it does not offer any therapeutic options.
MRCP, due to its non-invasive nature, does not have the same mortality or morbidity rates as ERCP.
The main downside is that some patients will need to go on and have an ERCP anyway.
MRCP is, by and large, comparable to ERCP for diagnostic purposes, especially in choledocholithiasis. However, its sensitivity might decrease in the evaluation of microlithiasis. One study found that EUS allowed the diagnosis of lithiasis in approximately one third of patients with intermediate suspicion of choledocholithiasis and normal MRCP.
MRCP is reportedly as sensitive as ERCP in detecting pancreatic cancers and unlike conventional ERCP, does not require the use of contrast material, lessening the chance of complications.
In summary, ERCP has its role to play in pancreaticobiliary disorders. These are mainly therapeutic in nature. However, in cases where there is doubt regarding the diagnosis or presence of biliary obstruction, further imaging should be performed first. This may include MRCP if biliary obstruction alone is suspected or EUS in other conditions.
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Wadhawan M, Kumar A, Gupta S, et al; Post-transplant biliary complications: An analysis from a predominantly living donor liver transplant center. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013 Jun;28(6):1056-60. doi: 10.1111/jgh.12169.
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Andriulli A, Forlano R, Napolitano G, et al; Pancreatic duct stents in the prophylaxis of pancreatic damage after endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography: a systematic analysis of benefits and associated risks. Digestion. 2007;75(2-3):156-63. Epub 2007 Aug 6.
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Moon SH, Kim MH; Prophecy about post-endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography pancreatitis: from divination to science. World J Gastroenterol. 2013 Feb 7;19(5):631-7. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v19.i5.631.
Last year we heard the exciting news that NASA intends to build a fully-operational warp drive in order to achieve faster-than-light (FTL) travel. At the time we saw some snazzy pieces of concept art and were told thattheoretically warp drive is possible.
Of course, theoretically is very different from practically, and although NASA may be able to solve some equations on a whiteboard, it doesn’t mean we can necessarily build a vehicle that can travel faster than light.
How Far Along Is the NASA Warp Drive?
Currently, NASA considers warp drives, hyperspace drives and any other potential forms of faster-than-light travel as in the ‘speculation’ stage of development. In NASA development cycles, this is extremely early. In fact, it is only the next stage on from the first stage of development, ‘conjecture.’
NASA Development Stages
Basically, we’re a long way away from this:
Unfortunately, NASA now knows enough about FTL travel to deduce that it is essentially impossible, at least for now. It simply does not seem compatible with Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity – although others have suggested there may be ways around this, including using tachyons, wormholes, inflationary universe technology, spacetime warping, quantum paradoxes and a whole host of other methods I will not pretend to understand. More on these later.
Indeed, one of the major issues with FTL travel is that in some theories it is synonymous with time travel, which most scientists believe is ultimately farmore impossible. This also opens up other issues such as creating time paradoxes, and causality violations. Those things really suck.
But Don’t We Just Need To Go Really, Really Fast?
Some see breaking the speed of light as the next logical step after breaking the speed of sound – which is something humanity does pretty regularly. However, the difference of scale between these two achievements is astronomical. The speed of sound is a measly 343.2 meters a second (768 mph) and can be broken by various jet powered vehicles. Indeed, the experimental X-15 plane achieved the record-breaking speed of 4,520 mph, which is over 6 times the speed of sound and it achieved that in the 1960s.
Breaking the speed of light is very different. The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters a second, and its not simply something you can power through with a big-ass engine – even in the vacuum of space.
Furthermore, the sound barrier was broken by an object made of matter, not one made of sound. Matter consists of atoms and molecules which are connected to each other via electromagnetic fields, which is the very same stuff that light is made of.
So, in reality, breaking the speed of light requires breaking a barrier with the very same things that the barrier is made of. The real question is, how can an object travel faster than that which links its atoms?
Breaking The Theory of Relativity
The much vaunted Theory of Relativity consists of three major elements:
Measurements of various quantities are relative to the velocities of observers. In particular, space contracts and time dilates.
Spacetime: space and time should be considered together and in relation to each other.
The speed of light is nonetheless invariant, the same for all observers.
In laymen’s terms, the theory of relativity simple explains what one traveler “sees” relative to another who is travelling a different speed. NASA explains it like this:
Imagine you are standing with your eyes closed by some train tracks. The only information you are receiving is based on sound. When a train passes by at speed tooting its horn, it sounds like the pitch and tone of the horn changes. In reality it doesn’t. The horn merely sounds different due to the Doppler shift affect. To someone on board the train, the horn would have sounded different, as the tone would have been constant. This is similar to the theory of relativity.
However, the special theory of relativity also explains that the speed of light will always stay the same, regardless of the speed of the person observing it. Since we receive ALL of our information through light and electromagnetic forces, approaching and then breaking the constant speed of light would result in a major distortion of the information we receive which would affect our perception and how matter is held together.
Another consequence of Special Relativity is the amount of energy needed to break this barrier. Energy is needed to impart movement on an object, and to move faster you need more energy. When we start to approach the speed of light, the amount of energy we need explodes to levels essentially approaching infinity.
Ultimately, all this means we can’t simply power through the speed of light.
But Is There Still A Way To Achieve Interstellar Travel?
Clearly, therefore, the way to travel the vast expanses of the universe is not to simply go faster. Instead, we need to figure out some way around the laws of Special Relativity.
Firstly, there is wormhole travel. Simply speaking, wormholes are short cuts in spacetime. Although the laws of physics prevent an object moving as fast as light within spacetime, theoretically we could distort and alter spacetime, bending it and connecting two points that used to be separated. In this sense, we don’t take our ship out to a point in space, but bring that point in space to us by bending it.
However, the understanding of wormholes is still in its infancy and some scientists are not sure if its a viable option. Even if it was, we would need massive amounts of energy to bend space, while we also come up against those same old pesky time paradoxes. Furthermore, making a wormhole requires energy at both ends, meaning we’d still need to somehow previously reach the further point in space.
The other option involves Alcubierre’s warp-drive, which is the theoretical warp drive NASA discussed last year. This works by wrapping a ship in two rings, which distort spacetime both in front and to the rear of the vessel. In theory this will create a “hotdog shaped warp bubble,” with empty space in front and behind the ship. The space behind the ship is then expanded, which will push the vessel forward at phenomenal ‘speed.’
NASA cite it is analogous with walking on a moving sidewalk that is moving faster than you are. The walkway has a definite start and end in spacetime, but you will travel between those two points quicker than if you merely walked on your own. The warp engine essentially makes a very fast moving sidewalk in space.
Unfortunately, to create this effect you will need negative energy, and it is still debated in physics if such a thing even exists. Most say ‘no,’ with some quantum physicists saying ‘maybe.’ Furthermore, they’re not even sure if the warp would actually move faster than light, while there are still issues with time paradoxes.
Ultimately, NASA concludes by asking: “Is there any work being done to search for these breakthroughs?”
Take a look at the hottest and coldest temperatures ever measured, on our planet, and elsewhere in the Universe. .
How cold is the coldest place in the Universe, that we know of? What’s the lowest man-made temperature ever achieved? And just how many zeroes are needed to express ‘absolute hot’, after which the fundamentals of conventional physics start to break down in all kinds of strange ways? All is revealed by in this awesome infographic by the guys at BBC Future.
Most people are pretty familiar with absolute zero, it’s -273.15 degrees Celsius, and it’s the lowest possible temperature that can ever be achieved, according to the laws of physics as we know them. This is because it’s the coldest an entity can get when every single skerrick of heat energy has been sucked right out of it. Even the coldest known place in the Universe – the creepy-looking Boomerang Nebula – isn’t as cold as absolute zero. Just look at that thing, I last like three seconds before I have to look away for fear of having my soul ripped out of me just like how Evil Pan tries to tear everyone’s shadows from their bodies in Once Upon a Time.
But what about ‘absolute hot’? It’s the highest possible temperature that matter can attain, according to conventional physics, and well, it’s been measured to be exactly 1,420,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 degrees Celsius. Which, of course, is ridiculous. The only thing that we know of that’s ever come close to absolute hot is the temperature of the Universe, at 104 seconds old.
Way back up on the infographic is our biggest achievement in the heat stakes – 5,500,000,000,000 degrees Celsius, which scientists were able to achieve by crashing lead ions against each other in Sweden’s Large Hadron Collider.
There’s so much more fascinating stuff on this infographic, you can find out the temperature of the clouds on Jupiter, the average January temperature in the coldest place on Earth, and the temperature inside a conventional chemical bomb. Thank you, science.
Drugs to treat H.I.V. and AIDS are being priced out of reach for many patients enrolled in insurance plans through the new health care exchanges, despite warnings that such practices are illegal under the Obama administration’s health care law, according to a new analysis by Harvard researchers.
The study, to be published on Wednesday in an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, looked at 48 health plans in 12 states and found that a quarter of the plans showed evidence of what researchers called “adverse tiering,” or placing all of the drugs used to treat H.I.V. in a specialty tier where consumers are required to pay at least 30 percent of the cost of the drug.
The financial impact can be drastic, the researchers found: A patient taking a common H.I.V. treatment, Atripla, would pay about $3,000 more a year in a restrictive plan compared with someone enrolled in a more generous plan, even after accounting for the fact that the more restrictive plans tended to charge lower monthly premiums.
“That’s really a large cost difference, and really is a very significant financial constraint for those with chronic conditions, particularly H.I.V.,” said Douglas B. Jacobs, the lead author of the study, who is pursuing degrees in public health at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
The study, which did not name the insurers whose plans it analyzed, looked only at the midlevel, or silver, plans offered in the marketplaces because they are the most popular plans among consumers. More comprehensive plans, known as gold and platinum plans, are often more generous in coverage but carry higher premiums. Insurers have said that these may be a better choice for people who have serious medical conditions.
Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, said that a crucial component of the marketplace was consumer choice, and that the study should have included an analysis of the gold and platinum plans. “Individuals have diverse health and financial needs, and health plans have designed a wide range of coverage options, including those with lower cost-sharing, so individuals can pick the policy that is best for them,” she said.
Health insurers are prohibited from discriminating against people with specific medical conditions under the new federal health care law, and the law contains some provisions that help prevent such practices. Patient advocates and others, however, have said that some companies appear to be skirting the law by restricting access to all drugs that treat certain conditions.
In May, two consumer groups filed a federal complaint asserting that four insurers in Florida had discriminated against people with H.I.V. by making their drugs more costly and difficult to obtain. All of the companies have since agreed to make changes that would lower the cost of the drugs in 2015, although the federal complaint is still pending.
The latest study is “more confirmation that this is happening, not only in Florida, but in other states as well,” said Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, one of the groups that filed the federal complaint.
In December, the Obama administration said that it would investigate insurers’ prescription drug coverage, and told insurers that companies that place most or all drugs that treat a condition on the highest-cost tiers are effectively discriminating against people with those conditions.
In an effort to contain the rising cost of prescription drugs, many insurers are requiring extra steps for people who need the drugs or raising out-of-pocket amounts that patients must pay. The insurers say such practices are necessary to keep premiums low and to encourage patients and their doctors to make cost-effective decisions, like choosing a cheaper generic over an expensive brand-name drug.
But what makes these cases different, the researchers said, is that the insurers restricted access to all drugs that treat H.I.V., even less costly generics, leaving patients who have the virus with few options.
Limiting access to H.I.V. drugs could benefit insurers because it might discourage people with such conditions from signing up for coverage. But the study’s authors warned that if left unchecked, a small number of insurers — those offering the most generous coverage — could end up shouldering the burden of caring for the sickest patients.
If the more generous plans end up with a disproportionate share of sicker members, they could, in turn, adopt more restrictive practices. “It could, in essence, be a race to the bottom on drug benefit designs,” Mr. Jacobs said.
The video details things that might happen — from shortly after our disappearance to thousands of years after the fact. Cities would be wiped out by fire or other natural disasters, and even the sturdiest buildings and other man-made structures would eventually crumble.
Our pets probably wouldn’t fare so well either, having a hard time holding their own against wolves and other predators. On the positive side, other remaining species — even those whose populations have been decimated by human activity — might bounce back.
The atmosphere might bounce back too, although certain pollutants would stick around for a very long time.
It’s a sobering thought, indeed.
Watch the video. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?x-yt-cl=85114404&v=guh7i7tHeZk&x-yt-ts=1422579428&feature=player_embedded
Building graphene from carefully-modified superbenzene segments has been proposed as a way to help graphene overcome a major stumbling block limiting its application in electronic devices – by opening its bandgap to make it a true semiconductor.
A bottom-up synthetic approach toward boron nitride-doped graphenes should enable precise control over their structure
Now, rather than making graphene sheets and then doping them, Jian Pei of Peking University in China and colleagues intend to exert control at an earlier stage with jigsaw pieces made from coronene, the smallest graphene-type molecule with a zigzag periphery, which is also known as superbenzene. Each piece has three boron nitride groups.
Synthetic route to the boron nitride-doped heterocoronene
The team has not yet assembled these pieces into a larger graphene sheet, but suggests that because they exhibit C3-symmetry and an enlarged bandgap, compared to their carbon analogue, they are promising candidates for extension into a 2D network with tunable electronic properties.
The Qijianglong has a neck that’s half the length of its body
Paleontologists in Qijiang city, China have discovered a new species of dinosaur whose physical characteristics bear resemblance to a dragon. The creature likely lived 160 million years ago and stretched 50 feet long, with an elongated neck.
Local farmers who saw the fossils noticed the similarity and gave the dinosaur its name: Qijianglong, or the “dragon of Qijiang.”
The Qijianglong belongs to the mamenchisaurids group of dinosaurs, found only in Asia and known for necks that can make up half the length of their bodies. By comparison, the sauropoda family that includes better-known dinosaurs like the brontosaurus have necks that span only a third of their bodies.
The research team found the vertebrae, skull and tail (but not the hand or leg bones) in a site where a fish pond was being dug. The skeleton is temporarily on display in a local museum, but will move to a dinosaur museum in the city that is still under construction.