Ants ‘better than Google’ at processing information

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Ants ‘better than Google’ at processing

Worker ants have been found to be more effective in processing information than Google. Ants are capable of complex problem-solving strategies that could be widely applied as optimization techniques. The collective foraging behaviour of ants goes well beyond individual efforts, a mathematical study has revealed The animal movements at a certain point change from chaos to order. This happens in a surprisingly efficient self-organized way. Understanding the ants could help analyze similar phenomena for instance how humans roam in the internet. “Ants have a nest so they need something like a strategy to bring home the food they find,” says lead-author Lixiang Li from the Beijing University of Posts and Communications and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “We argue that this is a factor, largely underestimated so far, that actually determines their behaviour”. The Chinese-German research team put almost everything that is known about the foraging of ants into equations and algorithms and fed this into their computers. They assume that there are three stages of the complex feed-search movements of an ant colony: Initially, scout ants indeed circle around in a seemingly chaotic way. When exhausted, they go back to the nest to eat and rest. However, when one of them finds some food in the vicinity of the colony, it takes a tiny piece of it to the nest, leaving a trail of a scent-emanating substance called pheromones. Other ants will follow that trail to find the food and bring some of it home. Their orchestration is still weak because there is so little pheromone on the trail. Due to their large number, the ants go lots of different ways to the food source and back to the nest, leaving again trails of scent. This eventually leads to an optimization of the path: Since pheromones are evaporative, the scent is the stronger the shorter the trail is – so more ants follow the shortest trail, again leaving scent marks. This generates a self-reinforcing effect of efficiency – the ants waste a lot less time and energy than they would in continued chaotic foraging.

Answer to why childhood memories fade

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childhood memories

If you could not make sense of a childhood story that your parents and neighbours related, you are not alone; childhood memories do fade and researchers have found that growth of new cells in brain could erase old memories to make way for new ones.
Newly-formed neurons in the hippocampus (an area of the brain involved in memory formation) could dislodge previously learned information, said the study.
“Memory is based on a circuit, so if you add to this circuit, it makes sense that it would disrupt it,” said Sheena Josselyn, a neuroscientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada.
For the study, researchers tested newborn and adult mice on a conditioning task, training the animals to fear an environment in which they received repeated electric shocks.

Fasting test not required for gestational diabetes screening

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Diagnosing gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) in pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries with high diabetes burden, like India, has become easy thanks to the revised 2013 WHO guidelines. Any intervention that can prevent many more becoming diabetic therefore becomes important. The revised guidelines address the concerns faced by pregnant women with gestational diabetes in developing countries with a non-Caucasian population.
The revision comes 15 years after the world health body came up with its guidelines for diagnosing GDM. Meeting the requirements laid out in the 1999 guidelines was particularly challenging for pregnant women.
Diabetes that develops during pregnancy is called gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Though GDM most often resolves after delivery, the effects of elevated glucose levels in a pregnant woman tend to affect the foetus. Foetuses exposed to elevated maternal glucose tend to become big babies before birth (macrosomia). Such babies are at higher risk of becoming diabetic later in life much like the women who had GDM.
A simple solution to prevent this is to go in for universal screening of pregnant women for gestational diabetes and to keep the glucose level within desired levels  fasting plasma glucose 90 mg/dl and two hours after meal  120 mg/dl. “But it was difficult to follow the 1999 WHO guidelines to diagnose GDM,” said Dr. V. Seshiah, Chairman of the Diabetes in Pregnancy Study Group India (DIPSI) and WHO expert committee member on GDM. He is also the Chairman of Dr. V. Seshiah Diabetes Research Institute and Dr. Balaji Diabetes care Centre, Chennai.
The 1999 WHO guidelines required a pregnant woman to come fasting for testing. The plasma glucose level was tested two hours after 75 mg of glucose was given to a woman. If the value was between 140 mg/dl and 199 mg/dl, the pregnant woman was diagnosed as having gestational diabetes. “The revised WHO guidelines retain the same value but the biggest difference is [that] women need not come fasting for testing,” Dr. Seshiah underlined. “A pregnant woman can come for testing irrespective of her last meal timing.”
The rest of the procedure remains the same. The non-fasting plasma glucose level is tested two hours after 75 gm of glucose is given to the woman. “If the two-hour plasma glucose measurement is between 140 [mg/dl] and 199 [mg/dl], she is diagnosed as GDM,” he said. “The 140-199 range for diagnosing GDM in pregnant women is the same as the one used for diagnosing impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) in non-pregnant adults.”
WHO’s non-fasting plasma glucose testing recommendation makes testing easy for pregnant women. The non-fasting test is patient-friendly and causes the least inconvenience to pregnant woman. The single-step procedure is easy to follow, economical, simple and evidence-based. “Women develop nausea or tend to vomit if they are given 75 gm glucose in a fasting stage,” Dr. Seshiah said.
Several studies done by a team led by Dr. Seshiah have found that the non-fasting test two hours after 75 gm glucose challenge had no statistically significant difference from the fasting test. The single-step procedure is followed in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Screening for gestational diabetes should be done in the first trimester (at least by 12-16 weeks). Earlier, the screening was done at 24-28 weeks. The reason why WHO does not recommend the late screening (24-28 weeks) is because by the 12 week, the beta cells develop in the foetal pancreas. And these foetal cells respond to the elevated maternal glucose levels. As a result, when the foetus gets more than the required amount of nutrition (glucose), it gets converted into foetal fat; the foetus thereby gains weight and becomes big. So, the earlier the screening of pregnant women, the better the foetal outcome.
Often, a modified meal plan (staggered, small portion meals) is sufficient to control the elevated maternal glucose level. “In our study, over 90 per cent of GDM women responded to a meal plan. Only 10 per cent required a very low dose of insulin,” he said.

Scientists develop bacteria-killing fabric

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Scientists develop bacteria

An antibacterial fabric with an ability to kill off two of the most infectious and lethal pathogens  E.coli and Staphylococcus aureus  has been developed by researchers in Australia.
Both the pathogens were shown to die off within 10 minutes of contact with this newly created fabric, which utilises the antibacterial properties of silver, according to media reports. The study was conducted by the Australia-based university RMIT in collaboration with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and a paper on the new material was recently published in the prestigious journal Advanced Functional Materials.
“It has been known for the last hundred years that silver is anti-bacterial,” said Vipul Bansal, Associate Professor from RMIT University’s School of Applied Sciences.
“Silver metal, when it comes into contact with body fluids, releases silver ions and these ions are actually toxic and have anti-microbial and antibacterial properties,” Bansal said.
“Instead of using silver metals, we developed a new material called silver TCNQ which releases these silver ions quite slowly so the antibacterial effect is long term,” he said.
Potential applications of this fabric include bandaids and wound dressings, surgical gowns and bed sheets as means to reduce hospital-acquired infections.

Been there, drone that: Pizza air-delivery in Mumbai

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Pizza air-delivery in Mumbai

Would you like your pizza home-delivered by an unmanned drone? That may not be impossible in future, for a little-known pizza chain in Mumbai  succeeded in making a test-delivery less than 3km away from its outlet in Lower Parel by using a remote-controlled, GPS-enabled drone.
The ‘customer’ was actually a friend of the chain’s CEO, so it was technically not a sale, as commercial deliveries by drones are not allowed in India. Yet, in a way, it was a first for a product delivery Amazon has only planned. On May 11, the drone took off from the Lower Parel outlet and, flying at a speed of 30km an hour, manoeuvred its way atop the city’s mill district to reach its destination, a high-rise in Worli, in nearly 10 minutes.
The drone dropped the 13-inch plain margherita pizza, weighing half a kilo, on the 21st floor rooftop (where it was collected by the ‘customer’) before taking off again for the return journey. The speed with which the delivery was made thus beat the record for most leading pizza chains, which manually deliver pizzas within 30 minutes.
The drone used in the operation was custom-made, said an official from the pizza chain, adding that an auto engineer friend of his had helped him make the flight possible. The official said the chain had carried out the test-delivery as an experiment because it wants to be ready when regulations in India allow for such methods of product delivery.
Drones are mainly used in India by film-makers for shooting movies. But the regulations are clear that they can fly only at an altitude of between 200 to 400 feet. Drones are also barred from flying over security establishments, and there are technical difficulties like a limited operating radius of 8 km, after which their batteries go dry.
The official from the pizza chain claimed that the company had operated within the ambit of the law and added that they were hopeful of a change in regulations in the next 4-5 years. “While the technology exists, we cannot use it commercially at present,” the official said.

Genetic match! People choose partners with similar DNA

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Stop the fight and tell your spouse that you both are more than a perfect match – an ideal genetic match!
According to research, people are more likely to pick mates who have similar DNA – a strong reason for tying the knots other than religion, age, race, income, body type and education.
“It is well known that people marry folks who are like them. But there has been a question about whether we mate at random with respect to genetics,” said Benjamin Domingue, a research associate at University of Colorado Boulder’s institute of behavioural science.
Individuals actually are more genetically similar to their spouses than they are to randomly selected individuals from the same population.
To prove their point, Domingue and his colleagues examined the genomes of 825 non-Hispanic white American couples. They looked specifically at single-nucleotide polymorphisms, which are places in their DNA that are known to commonly differ among humans.
The researchers found that there were fewer differences in the DNA between married people than between two randomly selected individuals.
In all, the researchers estimated genetic similarity between individuals using 1.7 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms in each person’s genome. The researchers compared this with the phenomenon of people with similar educations marrying – known as “educational assortative mating”.
They found that the preference for a genetically similar spouse, known as “genetic assortative mating”, is about a third of the strength of “educational assortative mating”.
“We could further explore whether similar results are found between married people of other races or whether people also choose genetically similar friends,” Domingue noted.

IQ-boosting gene found

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People who have a variant of a longevity gene have improved brain skills such as thinking, learning and memory. Researchers found that increasing levels of the gene, called KLOTHO, in mice made them smarter, possibly by increasing the strength of connections between nerve cells in the brain.
The study was published in Cell Reports. Those who have one copy of a variant of the KLOTHO gene, called KL-VS, tend to live longer and have lower chances of suffering a stroke whereas those who have two copies may live shorter lives and have a higher risk of stroke. The study also found that those with one copy performed better on cognitive tests regardless of age, sex or the presence of the apolipoprotein 4 gene, the main genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Cockroaches major reason behind nasal allergy in urban population, says study

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Cockroaches major reason

Strange but true, one of the main causes behind a large number of people suffering from nasal allergy in Bhopal is cockroach. A study conducted by chest specialist Dr Lokendra Dave of Hamidia Hospital blames cockroaches to be the cause of nasal allergy among around 60-70% patients in urban population who underwent immunotherapy Hamidia Hospital.
The allergens produced from cockroaches aggravate asthma and cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to those substances.
“In past four years I analysed the reasons behind the causes of nasal allergy. It was found that around 60-70% patients of urban population were suffering from allergy due to cockroaches. Mostly female cockroaches were responsible for the allergy”, said Dr Dave.
He said, “Almost every week, one or two patients suffering from nasal allergy were tested at Hamidia Hospital. The animal protein found in the body of cockroaches, specifically in their wings and nails, mixes with the dust present in home. This dust when inhaled leads to nasal allergy and further leads to asthma,” he added.
Dr Dave said people were not aware that the uncontrolled population of cockroaches in their residences can recurrent asthma attack. After dust mites, fecal material of cockroaches was one of the major indoor allergen causing nasal allergy.
Cockroach allergens behave like dust mite allergens and stick to heavier particles that quickly settle. These allergens do not remain airborne for long. Activities like vacuuming may stir up allergens that have settled in dust or fabrics. The most common way to inhale cockroach allergen is to breathe in dust or allergens that have collected in pillows, bedding or other dust-trapping fabrics.
Pulmonologist, Dr PN Agarwal said cockroaches may be one of the reasons for aggravating asthma. Some studies done in this regard in foreign universities shows that waste of cockroaches when mixes up with dust and inhaled by asthma patient can lead to asthma attack but it cannot cause asthma.

Pill to switch off hunger possible as ‘anti-appetite’ molecule discovered

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Pill to switch off

Apill that switches off hunger is on the horizon after scientists discovered an ‘anti-appetite’ molecule which tells the body to stop eating.
Researchers at Imperial College discovered that people feel full when eating fruit and vegetables because fibre releases acetate into the gut.
They believe that a pill derived from acetate could be created to help people cut down on food without experiencing any cravings.
One in four adults in England is obese and that figure is set to climb to 60 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women by 2050.
Obesity and diabetes already costs the UK over £5billion every year which is likely to rise to £50 billion in the next 36 years.
Large amounts of acetate are released when plants and vegetables are digested by bacteria in the colon. The scientists tracked the molecule and found that it eventually ended up in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which controls hunger.
The new study suggests obesity has become an epidemic because we have replaced the healthy diet of the past with processed food, which does not react with gut bacteria to produce acetate. So the brain does not receive a signal telling it to stop eating.
The average diet in Europe today contains about 15 g of fibre per day. In Stone Age times it was around 100g per day.
“Unfortunately our digestive system has not yet evolved to deal with this modern diet and this mismatch contributes to the current obesity epidemic,” said Professor Gary Frost, of Imperial College.
Although scientists say their research should encourage more people to eat more fruit and vegetables, they also believe it could pave the way for new drugs to help dieters.
Prof Frost added: “Our research has shown the release of acetate is central to how fibre suppresses our appetite and this could help scientists tackle overeating.
“The major challenge is to develop an approach that will deliver the amount of acetate needed to suppress appetite but in a form that is acceptable and safe for humans.
“Developing these approaches will be difficult but it is a good challenge to have and we are looking forward to researching possible ways of using acetate to address health issues around weight gain.”
The study analysed the effects of a form of dietary fibre called inulin which comes from chicory and sugar beets and is also added to cereal bars.
Experiments on mice found those fed on a high fat diet with added inulin ate less and gained less weight than animals given a lot of fat diet with no inulin.
They also noticed that the acetate acculmulates in the hypothalamus of the brain where it triggers a series of chemical events which fire neurons and suppress hunger.
The research also showed when acetate was injected into the bloodstream, the colon or the brain it reduced the amount of food eaten by the mice.
Prof Jimmy Bell, of the Medical Research Council, Cambridge, who collaborated in the research, said: “It is exciting we have started to really understand what lies behind fibre’s natural ability to suppress our appetite and identified acetate as essential to the process.
“In the context of the growing rates of obesity in western countries, the findings of the research could inform potential methods to prevent weight gain.”
Acetate is only active for a short amount of time in the body so an ‘acetate pill’ would need to be able to mimic the chemical’s slow release into the gut.
Prof David Lomas, chair of the MRC’s population and systems medicine board, said it is becoming increasingly clear the interaction between the gut and the brain plays a key role in controlling how much food we eat.
He added: “Being able to influence this relationship, for example using acetate to suppress appetite, may in future lead to new, non surgical treatments for obesity.”

Soon, blood-test to detect depression

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Ablood test to detect depression may soon become a possibility, researchers say.  While blood tests for mental illnesses have until recently been regarded as impossible, a study by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna indicates that, in principle, depression can in fact be diagnosed in this way and this could become reality in the not too distant future.
Researchers explained that serotonin transporter (SERT) is a protein in the cell membrane that facilitates the transport of the neurotransmitter serotonin (popularly known as the “happiness hormone”) into the cell.
In the brain, serotonin transporter regulates neural depression networks. Depressive conditions can frequently be caused by a lack of serotonin.  As a result, the serotonin transporter is also the point of action for the major antidepressant drugs.The serotonin transporter, however, also occurs in large quantities in numerous other organs such as the intestines or blood.
Recent studies have shown that the serotonin transporter in the blood works in exactly the same way as in the brain. In the blood, it ensures that blood platelets maintain the appropriate concentration of serotonin in the blood plasma.     Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and pharmacological investigations to demonstrate that there is a close relationship between the speed of the serotonin uptake in blood platelets and the function of a depression network in the brain.
This network is termed the “default mode network” because it is primarily active at rest and processes content with strong self-reference.
Findings from recent years have also demonstrated that it is actively suppressed during complex thought processes, which is essential for adequate levels of concentration.
Interestingly, patients with depression find it difficult to suppress this network during thought processes, leading to negative thoughts and ruminations as well as poor concentration, researchers said.
“This is the first study that has been able to predict the activity of a major depression network in the brain using a blood test,” said study leader Lukas Pezawas from the Department of Biological Psychiatry at the University Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy within the MedUni Vienna.