SciTech Briefs

Dogs understand and respond to facial expressions

Cognitive scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna have shown that dogs can distinguish between happy and angry human faces. This is the first study to date that credibly demonstrates a dog’s ability to differentiate human expressions, and the results of this study will be published in Current Biology.

Photos of happy and angry women’s faces were presented on a touch screen to 20 dogs. Some of the dogs had been trained to touch the happy faces, while others were trained to touch the angry faces. To ensure that the dogs were making their decisions based on facial expressions and not obvious features, such as teeth or frown lines, the images were split in half during the training phase so that the dogs only saw either the bottom half or the top half of a face at once.

Interestingly, the dogs trained to recognize happy faces were able to learn more quickly than the dogs trained to recognize angry faces.

Source: Science Daily

User names found to be the secret to online dating

Sameer Chaudhry, an internist at the University of North Texas, and Khalid Khan, professor of women’s health and clinical epidemiology at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, conducted a study regarding the factors that garner success in the world of online dating. By poring through 86 studies on the relationship between computer-mediated interactions and in-person dates, Chaudhry and Khan discovered that the key to online dating is picking the right user name. Chaudhry and Kahn have concluded that men are attracted to usernames related to physical traits, such as “Cutie,” and women are attracted to usernames that suggest intelligence, such as “Cultured.” They also found that all users respond positively to playful names, such as “Fun2bwith,” and precedence goes to names that begin with the first half of the alphabet. These findings have been published in the journal Evidence Based Medicine.

Source: The New York Times

Munchies from marijuana stem from neuroscience

Scientists at Yale University have uncovered the science behind why marijuana users have food cravings. The researchers focused on molecules called receptors that bind to cannabinoids, the active ingredient in marijuana. They were expecting to find that, after binding to cannabinoids, the receptors would send out a signal to subdue appetite-suppressing neurons. Instead, in an experiment conducted on mice, they found that the receptors actually increased the activity of these neurons. The appetite-suppressing neurons began to emit different kinds of neurochemicals that promote appetite instead, thereby causing the munchies. In other words, marijuana reverses the function of the appetite-suppressing part of the brain.

This study has medical applications as well, such as increasing appetite in cancer patients or patients with other illnesses that cause the patient to lose their appetite.

Source: Reuters

U.S. approves new genetically modified apples

Despite criticism from opponents of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recently approved two genetically engineered apple varieties. These apples, which were developed by the Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., will be marketed as Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden and were designed to resist browning. These apples will become available to the public in 2016 in small quantities, although it will be several years before they become widely distributed.

Meanwhile, groups such as the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) are pressuring food companies not to sell the fruit. Although Okanagan claims the apples have been rigorously tested, the OCA is still skeptical about their effects on humans as well as ecosystems. The OCA also believes that genetic manipulation will allow for more pesticide treatment than normal.

Source: Reuters

Scientists create drug as possible vaccine for HIV

Scientists from the Jupiter, Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) recently announced the creation of a new drug candidate that could be used as an HIV vaccine. While the HIV usually fuses with the CD4 lymphocyte, an important cell in the immune system, the novel drug candidate developed at TSRI binds to two sites on the surface of the HIV, preventing it from entering a host cell.

The drug has potential as a vaccine namely due to its universiality. The drug was shown to be effective against every strain of HIV-1, HIV-2, and SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) that has been isolated from humans and rhesus macaques, a species of monkey. The drug also appears to work for at least eight months after injection.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, and the study was published last Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Source: Science Daily

Telescopic contact lenses improve modern ocular care

Swedish optics researchers recently presented a new type of contact lens at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting.

These novel contact lenses have the capability to zoom in on objects, magnifying them up to 2.8 times. The lenses are paired with electronic glasses that respond to winks from the user. Winking one eye causes a polarized filter in the glasses to direct light into the zooming section of the contact lens; winking the other eye causes light to pass through regularly, returning vision back to normal. Eye irritation is reduced by air channels that allow oxygen to reach the underside of the contact lens.

These contacts lenses have the potential to help patients with macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness and visual impairment from old age. These contacts have currently only been tested on mechanical models.

Source: Discover