Yes, we do smell in stereo. So are you left-nostriled or right-nostriled?
According to the findings of a new study, humans (along with a lot of other mammals) compare the scents that come into their nose through each nostril to make more refined decisions as to what they’re smelling. And the research conducted on the study sounds like it would have been a lot of fun to participate in.
College students were blindfolded and asked to crawl through grassy fields, using their noses to find a chocolate-scented trail.
Their task was to follow a 30-foot-long path of twine that had been scented with chocolate. The students were blindfolded, gloved and geared up with knee and elbow pads so that they could not feel the twine as they sniffed their way for the chocolate course. They also had ear plugs to shut of that sense as well.
Before hitting the grass, they were shown a quick video of proper sniffing technique of putting their nose to the ground. Evidently most humans are adverse to poking their nose into the ground.
An amazing two-thirds of the participants were able to smell their way through the dog-legged course. But with one of their nostrils plugged, nobody was able to find their way to the end of the chocolate twine.
Armed with these findings, researchers are now figuring that our brain compares the information it gets from each nostril to decipher where and from what the smell is coming. That’s very similar to what our ears and eyes do in processing information about sound and sight.
But for a long time, it was considered that the nose worked as a single sense researcher since the nostrils are located so close together on a nose. Could there really be that much difference in the smells going in one nostril compared to the other?
The findings of the nostril research are published on the website of the journal Nature Neuroscience and will be expanded on in the January issue of that journal.
The chocolate in the grass experiment was just one of five tests done on the nostril theory. Another experiment tracked the paths that tiny bits of theatrical fog took as they were breathed in by study participants.
Armed with this new data, researchers will be fine-tuning their next experiments to get even more specific on how our noses actually work. They’ll be taking a look at questions like does our brain actually detect two separate aromas from our nostrils. Or does having two nostrils taking in a smell give us a stronger concentration of the smell to be able to process more detailed information about the smell.
Smells like some more fun experiments on the horizon. What kind of experiment would you design to figure out more about how our noses work?
Did Neanderthals, the stocky, muscular human relatives that dominated Europe until 30,000 years ago, have the ability to communicate through language? And if so, did any of their chat sessions ever lead to dating and possibly mating with us, their not-so-distant cousins?
DNA extracted from the thigh bone of a caveman who lived 38,000 years ago in Croatia may supply scientists with the answers to these and other questions.
Two studies, one in Germany, the other in California, have reported new and exciting techniques for compiling the entire genome for Neanderthals, modern humans closest and most recent evolutionary link. Their research results, reported in the journals Nature and Science, respectively, convey they have demonstrated independently that it is now possible to recover the Neanderthal genome. Just a few years ago, the idea of doing this kind of sequencing was considered hopeless.
Dr. Svante Paabo who led one project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany said that one million units of the estimated 3.2 billion units of Neanderthal DNA have already been mapped.
What has made this possible is a new DNA sequencing machine developed by a Branford, Connecticut company called 454 Life Sciences. The new sampler uses firefly light to sort through and catalogue vast amounts of fragmented DNA.
Dr. Paabo also shared some of his precious sample of Neanderthal DNA with Edward M. Rubin of the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California. Using a different method, Rubin’s team identified 62,250 units of Neanderthal DNA.
Richard G. Klein, a Stanford University paleoanthropologist not involved in the studies, found the results “monumental.” He added that the full Neanderthal genome would resolve many longstanding questions about Neanderthals and their connection to modern humans, including physical and behavioral differences.
Of particular interest is whether Neanderthals could speak and had developed a language. The FOXP2 gene is thought to be one of the last evolving components leading to language development and has shown significant change since human-chimpanzee split occurred about six million years ago. If the Neanderthal genome is fully retrieved, and the FOXP2 gene more resembles the chimp version, then the thinking is that language development is less likely.
Dr. Paabo’s team has estimated the establishing Neanderthal population size to be about 3,000 individuals, while Dr. Rubin’s team reports that human and Neanderthal genomes are at least 99.5 percent identical. However, both research teams think it unlikely the two species interbred but the idea cannot be completely ruled out.
The extraction of readable DNA poses problems for scientists. The samples are often contaminated by bacterial DNA that attacked the remains when they were fresh or other human DNA left from curators or scientists handling the specimens.
On top of that, DNA begins to quickly degrade into short fragments after death making it tricky to locate a sample that has somehow survived. Dr. Paabo searched through museum collections all across Europe before finally finding one that satisfied his stringent criteria. It was a small bone from a cave in Croatia that had languished in a box of insignificant and relatively little-handled fossils. Only about 6 percent of the DNA present was Neanderthal, but with the new sequencing machine it should be more than enough to retrieve the specie’s gene sequence.
With 1 million units of Neanderthal DNA already mapped, Dr. Paabo estimates the rest should be completed in about two years.
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In northern India, particularly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the polio virus persists, despite good vaccination coverage, due to overcrowded living conditions and poor sanitation. Researchers at the Imperial College in London say that the three polio strains in the trivalent vaccine can interfere with each other inside the body, producing immunity to one strain but not another. So switching from a vaccine that protects against three strains of polio to a vaccine that protects only against the dominant one, along with stepped up vaccination efforts, could help eliminate the virus from its few remaining reservoirs.
More polio stories on the Buzz:
Scientists in Japan have developed a robot that can identify different types of food by "taste." Actually, the robot shoots infrared light at the food item and analyzes how the light bounces back. Each food has a different infrared "signature," allowing the robot to tell a sweet apple from a sour one without taking a bite, or even to identify a wine still in the bottle.
The researchers didn't set out to create a wine-sniffing robot. They just wanted to see if they could create a machine that can identify food. Companies in the food industry will soon be able to use this technology for a variety of useful purposes.
A reporter offered his hand for the robot to sense, and learned that human being taste like bacon. Which just goes to show, if you don't want to get eaten by a robot, don't make a pig of yourself.
In the early 19th century, American writer John Lloyd Stephens and English illustrator Frederick Catherwood brought to light the long forgotten Maya civilization that had once populated much of Mexico and Central America.
In Copan, Honduras, the first city they visited, the two explorers uncovered a wide plaza dotted with many strange stone statues, called stelae, dating back to the Classic Maya period (AD 250-900). These large and highly detailed monoliths portraying Mayan rulers in full ceremonial headdress and ornamental robes must have caused Stephens and Catherwood to pause in wonderment. What could be their purpose? It’s a question that has puzzled archeologists ever since.
But now a new explanation has been developed. According to Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona, the extensive plazas were crucial to Maya city planning and state theater may have played a large role in Maya political organization.
Decked out in showy headdresses and elaborate costumes, the Maya kings danced in front of huge audiences, made up of most if not all of the kingdom’s population. The spectacles served a number of purposes.
"Large-scale theatrical events gave physical reality to a community and helped to ground unstable community identities in tangible forms through the use of symbolic acts and objects," Inomata wrote recently in the journal Current Anthropology.
"The centrality of rulers in communal events suggests that the identities of a Maya community revolved around the images of supreme political leaders. ... Large gatherings also gave the elite an opportunity to impose their ideologies and cultural values on the rest of society through performances."
Researchers have discovered a set of human footprints in northeastern Mexico, near the city of Monterrey. Tentatively dated between 10 and 15 thousand years old, they could be the oldest fossil footprints in the Americas.
If the footprints turn out to be close to 15,000 years old, they could have a tremendous impact on our understanding of human history. Scientists have long believed that the first Indians came to America around 13,500 years ago. There is very little evidence of earlier habitation—just a handful of sites, which are hotly debated. Older footprints would force scientist to, at the very least, revise their timeline, and perhaps re-think their theories of how Indians populated the Americas.
A new study has shown that examining patients with CAT scanners can drastically improve their chances for surviving lung cancer. Cancer is easier to treat when doctors catch it early, and CAT scans can detect cancerous growths much smaller than normal x-rays.
Lung cancer is the #1 killer in America. If caught early, a patient normally has about a 70% chance of living another ten years. In this study, that 10-year survival rate climbed to about 90%. Unfortunately, in most cases lung cancer is not detected until it has already started to spread, at which point the survival rate drops to 5%. The great advantage of this procedure is that it catches the cancer at a much earlier, more treatable stage.
Some researchers question the methods used in the study. A second, larger study is now underway to confirm the benefit of this procedure.
Autism is a serious concern in our country today, with 1 out of every 166 children diagnosed with some form of the disorder. But could the sharp rise in Autism (it was only 1 in 2500 30 years ago) be linked to the increased prevalence of TV in our homes? Economists from Cornell University say that the data shows a pretty strong correlation.
Michael Waldman and Sean Nicholson looked at populations in California, Oregon, and Washington using the Department of Labor's American Time Use Survey. They compared this information with clinical autism data and found a statistically significant correlation between and increase in early childhood hours spent watching TV and autism rates.
Well, the authors of the study will be the first to say that this isn't definitive proof that TV causes autism (or that autism causes TV...sorry, bad joke). And these guys are economists looking at population data not medical scientists studying individuals with autism. But that doesn't mean this study is without merit. Something in our environment causes autism and we don't really know what it is. I support any unique thought on the subject that gives us new research questions to evaluate.
Do you have a story or thought on autism? Have you heard of other possible causes of autism?
The use of color symbolism by prehistoric man in Africa may have occurred more than 200,000 years ago, according to a British archeologist whose findings were announced at the annual festival for the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Lawrence Barham, a researcher from Liverpool University, has been studying ancient human artifacts at a cave site known as Twin Rivers in southern Zambia.
A range of mineral pigments, or ochres, have been found at the site, leading Barham to hypothesize that they may have been used ritualistically by early man, in much the same way some cultures today use color to mark passages of childhood into adulthood or of a warrior becoming an elder.
If his theory is correct, it would mean abstract thinking by early humans would have developed far earlier than previously thought.
"As an archaeologist I am interested to find out where color symbolism first appears because for color symbolism to work it must be attached to language," Barham said.
"Color symbolism is an abstraction and we cannot work this abstraction without language; so this is a proxy for trying to find in the archaeological record real echoes for the emergence of language."
Evidence found at the Twin Rivers site suggests tools were becoming more complex, blades attached to handles rather than just simple handaxes. At the same time ochres of a wide range of colors were being used.
Ochres are derived from scraping rocks and mixing the resulting powder with another substance, such as animal fat, to create paint or dye. The ochres found at the Twins Rivers’ site include red, yellow, brown, pink, black and even purple. The type of humans using them is not known, although a bone fragment points to Homo heidelbergensis, a large-brained ancestor of modern man.
Still, skeptics say the ochres could be merely functional, used for such things as preserving hides, or as glue to fasten stone blades to shafts or handles. But Barham disagrees.
"If you were to argue that these oxides were purely functional and have no symbolic value, you have to explain away the range of colors that are being selected from different places in the landscape. Because if it was just for the iron element, any of them would do - the red, or the yellow. Some are closer to the site than others, so it seems that people were deliberately selecting the material for the color property. That's my argument anyway", Barham said.
I don't know about you but I think I would be pretty much last on the list to volunteer for surgery on a plane. Especially if that that plane is flying up and down, up and down, thousands of feet each minute to simulate zero gravity.
But that's just what Philippe Sanchot signed up for. Doctors removed a benign tumor from his arm as part of an experiment to see how surgery in space might work. They flew aboard the specially designed plane, Zero-G, which climbs very high and then dives quickly to simulate weightlessness.
The main surgeon on the team said:
"Now we know that a human being can be operated on in space without too many difficulties."
These techniques might be used in the future to remotely preform surgery abroad the space station or other futuristic space craft.