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Tagged ‘cool‘

Learning Through the Matrix

What would you do if you could download information directly into your brain? What skills would you want to learn? What would you want to learn how to do if that information was at the tip of your fingers with just a press of a button?

Sounds sci-fi, doesn’t it? Granted, this article is old, but, scientists at the National Science Foundation believes that it may be possible. Apparently it’s a Matrix way of learning. Now, I didn’t like the first movie and didn’t pay attention to it, or see the sequels, so I’m sure if it is like that or not, but it’s still a pretty cool concept.

They found through experiments at Boston University and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto that researchers can decode functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to induce brain activity patterns to match a previously known target state. This would improve performance on visual tasks.

It’s like a person watching a computer screen the having their brain patterns modified to match those of someone who has already learned that activity. Not only that, but it may be able to modify the person’s brain patterns to recuperate from an accident or disease. It would allow knowledge to be inserted directly into the person’s brain through their visual cortex, bypassing learning curves and months of practicing.

The method could be used to more or less insert knowledge directly into a subject’s brain through the visual cortex, bypassing all of the months of practice and learning curves.

Neuroscientists have found that pictures gradually build up inside a person’s brain, appearing first as lines, edges, shapes, colors and motion in early visual areas. The brain then fills in greater detail to make a red ball appear as a red ball, for example.

They induced an activation pattern in the targeted early visual areas that corresponded to a pattern evoked by a specific visual feature in a brain region. After,  they repeated it, wanting to see if the activation of this pattern caused improvement in the visual performance. What they found was that it was sufficient enough to cause long-lasting improvement in tasks. They also found that it worked even when the individuals weren’t aware of what they were learning.

Right now, scientists believe that this method of learning might be good for memory-, motor-based learning and rehabilitation.

What do you think about learning through this way? Would you be pro learning new skills like this?

Bacteria Art

Ever thought to yourself “hey, I think I’m going to make art out of bacteria and have it grow on petri dishes and glow in the dark’? Most likely not, but this is exactly what former microbiologist Zachary Copfer has done.

To bring the idea of art and science together, he developed a new photographic printing technique he calls bacteriography.

First, he genetically alters his medium (the bacteria) by giving it a sequenceof genes that is originally found in jellyfish, coding it for a fluorescent protein called GFP or green fluorescent protein. Under ultraviolet light this protein emits light at a longer wavelength that is visible to the human eye.

After spreading the genetically modified microbes in a Petri dish, he then exposes them to a short-wavelength ultraviolet radiation. By doing this, it kills off microbes living in certain patches that will become the dark spots in the images. Time is needed for the bacteria to grow and spread and when he wants to stop the growing, he refrigerates the dish and gives it another radiation treatment, then covers the bacteria up with a layer of acrylic.– Live Science

What particularly caught my attention was the portraits Copfer created of artists and scientists who inspired him. To do this, he uses a variation on the technique above but uses red-coloured bacterium, Serratia marcescens.

“Picasso and Einstein were working with the same idea, looking at three-dimensional space from different perspectives, Einstein from the Theory of Relativity and Picasso with cubism,” –Copfer

You can find more on Zachary Copfer and his awesome work here.

A Permian Pompeii- Reconstructing a 300 Million Year Old Forest

Because last week I’d talked about what if we could re-create Jurassic Park, I thought this week I’d talk about how scientists have re-constructed an ancient ecosystem from plants preserved in volcanic eruption, much like the eruption at Pompeii.

Entombed in a layer of volcanic ash, scientists have found well preserved fossils in an ancient 300-million year old swampy forest full of long-extinct plant species in what is now inner Mongolia. Although many of the species were already known, the eruption created a “time capsule” that revealed the extraordinary level of detail, something paleoecologists usually can only infer by piecing together fossils of plant fragments of varying ages. And even then, floods often covered wide swathes of landscape with sediment and organisms from other areas. For the most reliable preservation, you’d need a smothering layer of volcanic ash, such as this case.

By analyzing the positions of individual plants across three sites that cover more than 1,000 square meters, scientists reported species from six plant groups that lived there– other than a broad, low canopy of tree ferns, there was a peat forest that contained trees that looked like feather dusters with trucks twice the height of telephone poles, vines, and three species of small spore-bearing trees that scientists think are close relatives of the earliest ferns.

“It’s marvelously preserved,” Pfefferkorn said. “We can stand there and find a branch with the leaves attached, and then we find the next branch and the next branch and the next branch. And then we find the stump from the same tree. That’s really exciting.”

The ash layer dated to about 298 million years ago, early in the Permian Period, when the supercontinent Pangea was coming together. The Permian Period lasted from 300 million years ago to about 250 million years ago, a time before the first dinosaurs when large mammal-like reptiles ruled Pangea and the vast global ocean. The Permian ended 250 million years ago with the greatest mass extinction in the fossil record. Some estimate that over 90% of all living species passed away.

What do you think of the artistic image above?

Could Jurassic Park be around the corner?

Although it comes to no surprise, last week, Russia and South Korea have officially signed a deal to team up to recreate  a woolly mammoth (extinct about 11,000 years ago due to the rapidly changing environment and increasing human predation, although some were found to be in Siberia up to 4,500 years ago). They’ll be using stem cells from mammoth remains found in thawed permafrost in Siberia.

By replacing the nuclei of egg cells from an elephant with those taken from the mammoth’s somatic cells, embryos with mammoth DNA could be produced and planted into elephant wombs for delivery, AFP cited him as saying.

Plans of bringing back the mammoth isn’t new. In 2011 a Japanese professor also claimed to be able to bring back a mammoth by 2015. According to this article, he’d attempted in the past but the genetic material had been too damaged.

S. Yashina et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA

Something from the past, however, has been successfully brought back. After 30,000 years of being on ice, scientists have resurrected a wildflower (an ancient form of S. stenophylla) that bloomed during the Ice Age with the mammoths. The plant was grown from a “trove” of fruits and seeds that’d been buried by ground squirrels and preserved in the permafrost. These squirrel burrows were found in the lower Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, 20-40 metres below the current surface of the tundra and surrounded by the bones of mammoths and other creatures.

Scientists had also tried some of the other seeds found but though the seeds did begin to germinate, they then died. David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physiochemical and Biochemical Problems in Soil Science in Pushchino tried a different approach. He and his colleagues took samples of placental tissue from modern S. stenophylla fruits. This tissue then produced shoots when it was cultivated in vitro, and the scientists used these to propagate more plants. The plants have already blossomed to produce fertile seeds, which then were grown into a second generation of fertile plants.

If you could bring back anything from the past, what would it be?