Saturday, April 13, 2013

Science Saturday 4.4: Brains, Bird Flu & More

Earlier this month, the White House announced the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies).  This project is a "bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury."  Watch the video introduction by NIH director, Dr. Francis Collins.


Speaking of brains, new research suggests that MRI scans can reveal images people are seeing when they are sleeping - this "dream reading" is reported up to 60% accuracy.  Volunteers were scanned as they began to fall asleep, and were promptly woken up (before reaching deep sleep) to recount what they were beginning to dream about.  Researchers compiled scan data with answers to create a database of visual categories.  Therefore, specific patterns of brain activity correlated with certain images.  It is noted that this technology is "idiosyncratic to the individual," so you would not be able to use a single machine to read other peoples thoughts/dreams.


China is currently dealing with a bird flu outbreak - involving a novel strain of influenza, H7N9.  While this strain has been around in birds, this is the first time ever that scientists have recorded the virus infecting humans.  As of April 12th, a total of 43 patients have been laboratory confirmed with influenza A(H7N9) virus in China; including 11 deaths (via WHO).  Currently, it does not appear that the virus can be passed via human-to-human transmission, but government health agency's are taking precautions to prevent a global pandemic.

Have questions about influenza virus? What exactly are those H's and N's you see in the media?  How do you know what type of influenza strain can infect humans?  Check out this lovely infographic has the answers!


Exactly how far is it to Mars?  Check out this amazing interactive web graphic to find out!


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