2013 May 30 Thursday
3 Genetic Variants For Educational Attainment Found

Genetic variants that influences intellectual ability each make very small contributions. One reason for this is that the brain is very complex. To boost performance by a large amount it is not enough to tweak just one gene. Many different genes must be tweaked. This makes the job of finding genetic variants for IQ differences much harder to find. But the cost of genetic testing has gotten low enough that the search for IQ genes is starting to turn up useful results. Here's another report, this time from the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC): A few genetic variants that are associated with differences in educational attainment have been found by genetically testing about 125,000 people.

A multi-national team of researchers has identified genetic markers that predict educational attainment by pooling data from more than 125,000 individuals in the United States, Australia, and 13 western European countries.

The study, which appears in the journal Science, was conducted by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (SSGAC), which includes researchers at NYU, Erasmus University, Cornell University, Harvard University, the University of Bristol, and the University of Queensland, among other institutions.

The SSGAC conducted what is called a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to explore the link between genetic variation and educational attainment—the number of years of schooling completed by an individual and whether he or she graduated college. In a GWAS, researchers test hundreds of thousands of genetic markers for association with some characteristics such as a disease, trait or life outcome.

I am impressed that that the SSGAC exists. Social scientists looking for genetic evidence. It says something about the difficulty of the search that 125,000 people were needed to find genetic markers associated with a pretty small portion of the differences in educational attainment. Much larger data sets are needed.

A key claim from the abstract: "Three independent SNPs are genome-wide significant (rs9320913, rs11584700, rs4851266), and all three replicate."

The single nucleotide polymorphisms examined only account for 2% of differences in educational attainment.

Combining the 2 million examined SNPs, the SSGAC researchers were able to explain about 2 percent of the variation in educational attainment across individuals, and they anticipate that this figure will rise as larger samples become available.

We need larger data sets, perhaps a few million people. Plus, we need more genetic variants to test, including much lower frequency genetic variants.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 30 10:44 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
2013 May 26 Sunday
Will Social Networks Make Psychopath Cheating Harder?

Will psychopaths find it harder to use and abuse people because computer social networks will label them?

Even further: if there are genetic causes of psychopathy (which seems very likely) will people surreptitiously get genetic samples from each other, get the samples tested, and get confirmation that, yes, the abuser is a psychopath? Will people then become adept at publishing the DNA testing results in a way that can't be traced back to them?

Granted, governments get emails and track down who said what and who went to what web site. But there are ways to make emails very hard to trace to their origins. So given a web site in another country where DNA testing results could get published any one government's attempt to protect DNA privacy seems defeatable.

These stray thoughts came to me while reading Adrian Raine's The Anatomy Of Violence: The Biological Roots Of Crime. He talks about how psychopaths can take advantage of the reciprocal altruist majority by moving on from one group of victims to another. But I think this is going to get harder to do.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 26 10:26 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(8)
2013 May 25 Saturday
Amazon Deforestation To Cut Rain, Crop Production

Continued deforestation will actually cut total agricultural production in the Amazon area of Brazil.

The researchers used model simulations to assess how the agricultural yield of the Amazon would be affected under two different land-use scenarios: a business-as-usual scenario where recent deforestation trends continue and new protected areas are not created; and a governance scenario which assumes Brazilian environmental legislation is implemented.

The massive global tragedy of the commons is going to cause some big problems in the 21st century.

They predict that by 2050, a decrease in precipitation caused by deforestation in the Amazon will reduce pasture productivity by 30 percent in the governance scenario and by 34 percent in the business-as-usual scenario.

Furthermore, increasing temperatures could cause a reduction in soybean yield by 24 percent in a governance scenario and by 28 percent under a business-as-usual scenario.

Water evaporates from trees, goes up into the sky, comes back down again into the forests and keeps cycling.

Asian industrialization is raising living standards of billions of people and increasing the buying power for beef. The rising demand for beef drives rising demand for soy which drives deforestation to plant soy. Plus, land is cleared to provide cattle grazing areas.

Agricultural scientists helped lay the ground work for rain forest destruction. Brazilian scientists developed soy strains that can grow in warmer weather (warmer than the northern plains soy growing regions in the United States). The warm weather soy increased the returns on rain forest destruction. I am currently reading Ramez Naam's The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. A very informative book. But only a quarter thru the book I'm not sold yet. Reports like the one above show how technological advances often speed bad trends and make me less optimistic.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 25 09:30 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
Intense World War II Combat Increased Long Term Religiosity

Scared into believing?

After the battle, the moral and mortality stresses of combat influence different people in different ways. Using two large-scale surveys of World War II veterans, this research investigates the role of combat and long-term religiosity. Study 1 shows that as combat became more frightening, the percentage of soldiers who reported praying rose from 42% to 72%. Study 2 shows that 50 years after combat, many soldiers still exhibited religious behavior, but it varied by their war experience. Heavy combat (versus no combat) was associated with a 21% increase in church attendance for those who claimed their war experience was negative, but a 26% decrease for those who claimed it was positive. The more a veteran disliked the war, the more religious they were 50 years later.

So World War III will cause a revival of religious faith if anyone survives. If not, perhaps the robots will become religious.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 25 09:21 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(7)
Anticholinergic Drugs Cause Cognitive Impairment In 60 Days

Hey, can I get your attention? If I can't get your attention you might just be on an anticholinergic drug.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Research from the Regenstrief Institute, the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and Wishard-Eskenazi Health on medications commonly taken by older adults has found that drugs with strong anticholinergic effects cause cognitive impairment when taken continuously for as few as 60 days. A similar impact can be seen with 90 days of continuous use when taking multiple drugs with weak anticholinergic effect.

Using a sleeping pill or antihistamine?

The Regenstrief Institute, IU Center for Aging Research and Wishard-Eskenazi Health researchers reported that continuously taking strong anticholinergics, like many sleeping pills or antihistamines, for only 60 days caused memory problems and other indicators of mild cognitive impairment. Taking multiple drugs with weaker anticholinergic effects, such as many common over-the-counter digestive aids, had a negative impact on cognition in 90 days.

On any of these long term? Benadryl, Sominex, Advil PM, Dramamine, Zyban, Wellbutrin and other anti-cholinergics listed on that page.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 25 09:14 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Medial Temporal Lobe Aging Reduces New Memory Segmenting

As your medial temporal lobe (MTL) shrinks you lose the ability to break the day up into a series of events.

The study suggests that problems processing everyday events may be the result of age-related atrophy to a part of the brain called the medial temporal lobe (MTL).

“When you think back on what you did yesterday, you don’t just press ‘play’ and watch a continuous stream of 24 hours,” says psychological scientist Heather Bailey of Washington University in St. Louis, who led the study. “Your brain naturally chunks the events in your day into discrete parts.”

We should develop the biotechnologies needed to stop and reverse brain aging.

In the study, older adults — some of whom had Alzheimer’s type dementia — watched short movies of people doing everyday tasks, such as a woman making breakfast or a man building a Lego ship. They were told to separate the movie into chunks by pressing a button whenever they thought one part of the activity in the movie was ending and a new part was beginning.

Afterward, the researchers asked the older adults to recall what happened in the movie. They also measured the size of the older adults’ MTL using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Old folks with MTL atrophy can't remember sequences of events.

“The older adults who showed atrophy in the MTL weren’t as good at remembering the everyday activities, and they weren’t as good at segmenting and chunking the events as they were happening,” says Bailey. “MTL size accounted for a huge portion of the relationship that we saw between participants’ ability to segment and their memory for the events.”

We need the ability to slow, stop, and reverse brain shrinkage.

Brain rejuvenation isn't just about the neurons. Youthful stem cell therapies to repair and expand vasculature would improve blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Also, immune system rejuvenation would improve the ability of the immune cells to drag away the trash (extracellular waste) that accumulates in the brain.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 25 01:34 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
2013 May 21 Tuesday
Asteroid Impact Caused Younger Dryas Cooling Period?

Earth climate coming out of the last ice age suddenly reversed course in one year about 12,8000 years ago.

(Santa Barbara, California) –– About 12,800 years ago when the Earth was warming and emerging from the last ice age, a dramatic and anomalous event occurred that abruptly reversed climatic conditions back to near-glacial state. According to James Kennett, UC Santa Barbara emeritus professor in earth sciences, this climate switch fundamentally –– and remarkably –– occurred in only one year, heralding the onset of the Younger Dryas cool episode.

The cause of this cooling has been much debated, especially because it closely coincided with the abrupt extinction of the majority of the large animals then inhabiting the Americas, as well as the disappearance of the prehistoric Clovis culture, known for its big game hunting.

Big game hunters were majorly bummed out. The mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, American camel and horse, and saber- toothed cats all got snuffed out. I for one miss them.

"What then did cause the extinction of most of these big animals, including mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, American camel and horse, and saber- toothed cats?" asked Kennett, pointing to Charles Darwin's 1845 assessment of the significance of climate change. "Did these extinctions result from human overkill, climatic change or some catastrophic event?" The long debate that has followed, Kennett noted, has recently been stimulated by a growing body of evidence in support of a theory that a major cosmic impact event was involved, a theory proposed by the scientific team that includes Kennett himself.

Widely distributed microspherules, nanodiamonds, and fullerenes all point toward a cosmic cause.

Now, in one of the most comprehensive related investigations ever, the group has documented a wide distribution of microspherules widely distributed in a layer over 50 million square kilometers on four continents, including North America, including Arlington Canyon on Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands. This layer –– the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) layer –– also contains peak abundances of other exotic materials, including nanodiamonds and other unusual forms of carbon such as fullerenes, as well as melt-glass and iridium. This new evidence in support of the cosmic impact theory appeared recently in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

Continent-wide wildfires.

This cosmic impact, said Kennett, caused major environmental degradation over wide areas through numerous processes that include continent-wide wildfires and a major increase in atmospheric dust load that blocked the sun long enough to cause starvation of larger animals.

As long time readers know, I think we should build an excellent asteroid defense network rather than do, say, a Mars trip. We should defend ourselves from extinction. I do not expect we will do that. So I'd like to win a really big lottery and use part of the money to build a large underground facility for me and my hundred most valued friends to sneak off to in event of an imminent asteroid impact.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 21 09:23 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
The Tissue Engineered $325,000 Burger

Still too expensive for mass consumption. But burgers grown in a vat seems like a question of when rather than if. The problem is that the vat needs all the support pieces that the rest of the cow now provides very cheaply. Those support pieces include an immune system to keep out lots of microorganisms.

I argued the really kinky twisted application for this technology over 10 years ago in my post Home Steak Incubator To Make Self-Cannibalism Possible. It opens up interesting obvious possibilities in romantic relationships as well.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 21 08:57 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(4)
Endangered Javan Leopards Caught On Camera

Check out this Wired piece on cameras planted in a Java rainforest which caught a few beautiful and endangered leopards.

I would like to see a greater effort made to get many DNA samples of these leopards and other endangered species. As they shrink in numbers valuable genetic diversity is lost. The information we could get from many DNA samples would allow eventual identification of harmful mutations that will make it difficult for smaller populations to survive. It seems unlikely most endangered will survive in the wild. But perhaps in some future century they could be reintroduced if human population sizes ever go down.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 21 08:11 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2013 May 18 Saturday
Hannu Rajaniemi And Malthusian Catastrophe In Cyberspace

Hannu Rajaniemi's science fiction books The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince make me wonder whether Malthusian Trap conditions will return sooner than I'd otherwise expected. Will mind upload (transferring one's thoughts into a computer simulation of your mind) and artificial intelligence lead to massive wars fought by biological, silicon, and quantum minds? Will natural selection be hugely accelerated in cyberspace?

Intelligences in cyberspace, given autonomy, will hit resource limits very quickly because replication can happen so incredibly fast. So cyberspace will create a Malthusian catastrophe with absolutely brutal competition for resources. Anyone see an argument for why this would not happen given AIs with autonomy? Would they just choose not to replicate? I can see them creating simpler versions of themselves to send to subsets of nodes to do compute work. Plus, the motive to replicate will get selected for.

Competition for resources might be organized around rival systems of ethical beliefs (said rival systems not mapping to our own innate moral differences). If cyber beings have moral beliefs their moral differences will be characterized by rationalizations just like humans. Their moral beliefs will evolve just as human moral faculties have evolved in response to selective pressure. But their moral beliefs will probably be hard or impossible to understand.

Since the denizens of cyberspace will have a great deal of control over what happens in physical reality the wars in cyberspace will manifest in physical space too. Biological intelligences (assuming they still exist) will die in such wars.

Update: Before we get to Hannu Rajaniemi's future human minds might end up in a Borg consciousness. Ramez Naam ends his very excellent (go read it!) Nexus novel about human-to-human mind links right before humans are going to link up mind-to-mind on an enormous scale. He provides descriptions of shorter mind linking experiences that are more akin to a shrooming or ecstasy party. He also throws in some mind-to-mind battles over machinery and interrogations using something akin to mind melds. I am left wondering what would happen at the next step of what he describes. We do not know. Would smaller groups of minds take over much larger groups of minds?

The potential for Ramez Naam's mind-meld Earth will come much sooner than Hannu Rajaniemi solar system-scale enormous competition between enhanced humans, uplifted humans, and cyber armies of their clones.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 18 08:15 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
2013 May 15 Wednesday
Mars Colony: Asteroid Threat

No atmosphere to burn up the asteroids. A couple hundred per year.

Recent images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggest that Mars is bombarded with hundreds of cosmic impacts a year, forming craters that measure up at an average size of 12.8 feet.

A fairly low risk. But it points to the need for a human colony to have a design that would continue to work even if a 20 foot crater got blasted into the middle or edge of it.

An article from space.com claims farming on Mars will have to be labor intensive. No, we should not create a Mars colony until it can be highly automated.

To establish a sustainable settlement on Earth's solar system neighbor, space travelers will have to learn how to grow food on Mars — a job that could turn out to be one of the most vital, challenging and labor-intensive tasks at hand, experts say.

We need lots of robots to go ahead and build parts of a Mars colony. To survive there we also need genetically engineered plants for food, fiber, drugs, and structures. We do not yet have the technological base needed to create a viable Mas colony. One problem I see: the Mars colony couldn't be self sustaining if it relied on robots because creating a wafer fab to make replacement computer chips would be too hard. Maybe nanotech assemblers will eventually make a Mars colony viable.

A permanent Mars colony ought to be built partly underground. The radiation level on Mars is similar to that in low Earth orbit (LEO). But during a solar storm the levels can go much higher. Plus, a colony would have full life exposure as compared to International Space Station crew who go up for several months.

Update: Without building a full atmosphere for Mars how could we radically reduce surface radiation levels? Anyone know enough physics to say whether this is even possible? For example, how deep an enclosed water pool built above a surface colony would be needed to cut surface radiation in half?

Update II: A friend tells me we would need 10 meters of a water layer above a Mars colony to provide the same radiation filtering mass that Earth atmosphere provides. Could such a pool of water be contained by a transparent but very durable and strong material? Otherwise, no way to allow in sunlight.

Of course, a layer thick enough to filter out lots of radiation will also filter out some sunlight. Mars is already much further away from the Sun than Earth is. Can we create surface colonies that get some sunlight yet which have low radiation levels? If not, what's the point of going? We can build underground much more easily on Earth.

Another idea: How about reflectors that capture sunlight over a large area and aim the sunlight at the side of a hillside or mountain where humans would build into? We'd get sunlight with less of the damaging high radiation particles.

I'd like to see a serious proposal for how to make radiation levels low in a Mars colony.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 15 10:29 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(13)
Anyone Else Want Metallic Skin?

In the comments of my previous post on how people will use biotechnology to look like aliens Brett Bellmore comments he's like to look like his favorite comic book character:

Oh, I might be willing to indulge in some cosmetic changes once they became common enough to be unremarkable. (I wouldn't mind having metallic skin and hair like my favorite comic book character, Adam Warlock. Especially if it were more UV resistant!)

Come the time when human reshaping biotechnologies allow radical and highly precise alterations in appearances what will you do about it, if anything? Will you opt to become fiendishly good-looking or make yourself your favorite comic book or science fiction movie character? Any guys want to look like Chewbacca? Or Farscape's Ka D'Argo? How about any women up for getting reshaped to look like Jolene Blalock as Vulcan Tpol? Or look like Virginia Hey as Farscape's Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan? Or Gigi Edgley as Farscape's Chiana? Name your character. Who do you want to look like?

Want to go for very sexy, very alien, or extremely sexy alien?

By Randall Parker 2013 May 15 06:45 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(15)
2013 May 12 Sunday
Adrian Raine On The Criminal Mind

In a Wall Street Journal essay Raine surveys recent findings on the biological causes of criminal behavior.

In a 2013 study, Kent Kiehl of the University of New Mexico, looking at a population of 96 male offenders in the state's prison system, found that in the four years after their release, those with low activity in the anterior cingulate cortex—a brain area involved in regulating behavior—were twice as likely to commit another offense as those who had high activity in this region. Research soon to be published by Dustin Pardini of the University of Pittsburgh shows that men with a smaller amygdala are three times more likely to commit violence three years later.

Once we can predict certain people to have an over 50% chance of being criminals what do you think we should do about it?

Long time readers might recall previous FuturePundit posts on Raine's research into biological causes of crime. Raine is the author of a new book, The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime. I just bought it and have begun reading it.

Update: Once someone has crossed over into criminality do you think it is acceptable to tell them they can only get parole if they get their brain modified to make them less criminally inclined?

By Randall Parker 2013 May 12 11:13 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
2013 May 09 Thursday
Better Cellular Trash Removal Can Extend Lives?

One of Aubrey de Grey's Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) aims to improve the ability of cells to remove accumulated intracellular trash. Accumulation of damaged proteins and other cellular components is one of the causes of aging. With this thought it mind it is interesting to look at research research where by turning up the parkin protein (whose malfunction is implicated in Parkinson's Disease) UCLA scientists were able to extend the lives of fruit flies.

UCLA life scientists have identified a gene previously implicated in Parkinson's disease that can delay the onset of aging and extend the healthy life span of fruit flies. The research, they say, could have important implications for aging and disease in humans.

The gene, called parkin, serves at least two vital functions: It marks damaged proteins so that cells can discard them before they become toxic, and it is believed to play a key role in the removal of damaged mitochondria from cells.

"Aging is a major risk factor for the development and progression of many neurodegenerative diseases," said David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA and senior author of the research. "We think that our findings shed light on the molecular mechanisms that connect these processes."

In the research, published today in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Walker and his colleagues show that parkin can modulate the aging process in fruit flies, which typically live less than two months. The researchers increased parkin levels in the cells of the flies and found that this extended their life span by more than 25 percent, compared with a control group that did not receive additional parkin.

"In the control group, the flies are all dead by Day 50," Walker said. "In the group with parkin overexpressed, almost half of the population is still alive after 50 days. We have manipulated only one of their roughly 15,000 genes, and yet the consequences for the organism are profound."

Engineering mice and other organisms to turn up their parkin seems like an obvious next step. But achieving such a large benefit might be harder for humans. Some of our accumulated intracellular trash not not be removable by the proteins we have in our cells. We accumulate so many kinds of trash over many years that the ones left in our cells might have characteristics that make them hard to remove. Hence Aubrey's interest in finding enzymes from other organisms that can cut up and remove intracellular trash.

We most need intracellular trash removal in our brains because we need to preserve our neurons. By contrast, we will eventually be able to grow replacements for most other organs.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 09 10:35 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
2013 May 05 Sunday
Humans To Become Space Aliens

Is it really going to be necessary for people from another planet to show up for us to see people who look like they are from another species? My answer: No. Future advances in plastic surgery and genetic engineering will do it for us. As technologies for radical body alterations enable cheaper, easier, and more reliable how far will people go?

A search on what Google Images returns for "plastic surgery" returns pictures heavily weighted toward really botched and, in some cases, bizaare intended outcomes. The search "plastic surgery transformation" yields more of a mix of successful and unsuccessful changes. Justin Jedlica's many plastic surgeries demonstrate how far someone can go to create a male doll-like appearance. Other alterations are pleasing but involve large alterations in looks: Japanese girl comes out looking like a French doll. Imagine the variety of cool things Japanese girls will get done to themselves 20 years from now with advances in tissue engineering.

Imagine a woman who is a big fan of the Defiance TV show deciding to get altered to look like the Irathient warrior Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) (or Stahma Tarr for elegance). Or Trekkies could get altered to look like a Vulcan or a Klingon. Someone who (perhaps quite correctly) thinks their natural appearance is plain and uninteresting could get altered to let them pretend to be some fantasy character they identify with.

What's the most radical plastic surgery alteration you've come across? How far do you think people will take body alterations?

By Randall Parker 2013 May 05 11:55 AM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(11)
2013 May 04 Saturday
Nanoparticles Control Insulin Release For Days

At least in mice a single injection of nanoparticles containing insulin was able to regulate blood sugar for 10 days.

In a promising development for diabetes treatment, researchers have developed a network of nanoscale particles that can be injected into the body and release insulin when blood-sugar levels rise, maintaining normal blood sugar levels for more than a week in animal-based laboratory tests. The work was done by researchers at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Children’s Hospital Boston.

“We’ve created a ‘smart’ system that is injected into the body and responds to changes in blood sugar by releasing insulin, effectively controlling blood-sugar levels,” says Dr. Zhen Gu, lead author of a paper describing the work and an assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and UNC Chapel Hill. “We’ve tested the technology in mice, and one injection was able to maintain blood sugar levels in the normal range for up to 10 days.”

Great strides have been made to improve life expectancy for those with type 1 diabetes. However, type 1 diabetes still cuts life expectancy by about 4 years. Plus, it is a great constraint on how diabetics live their lives. They need the insulin every day, need to test every day, and need to control their diets carefully. A method to automate the regulation of blood sugar would boost diabetic life expectancy further and reduce the burden of living as a diabetic.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 04 09:22 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Debate On Self-Driving Cars

The Economist has an interesting debate between Paul Saffo and Andrew Bergbaum on whether self-driving cars will move into normal use in the foreseeable future.

One problem I see: once we reach the point where, say, driverless cars are half as dangerous as humans they'll still cause accidents. So then who is to blame? If the accident occurs in a situation would normally result in criminal charges against a human driver then who gets charged? People are legally responsible agents. They can be jailed or sentenced to death or put on probation.

Another problem: How to tell when the cars are safe enough? Hard to do that in anything besides real world driving conditions.

To maximize lives saved it would make sense to switch the most dangerous drivers to driverless cars first. The youngest, the oldest, and those with assorted disabilities and bad driving records will be more dangerous than self-driving cars before the most skilled drivers. Also, self-driving is more dangerous for the tired, distracted, drunk, or sick. So it would make sense to require some people to give up the wheel before others.

Another consideration: self-driving vehicles have a higher hurdle to beat because they aren't going to be competing with purely human-driven cars. They'll be competing with computer-assisted human drivers. Electronic stability control, adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance systems, and other systems that warn drivers and selectively take over control to make human drivers less dangerous. These computer-assisted systems will get better every year.

I would especially like to see faster development and deployment of collision avoidance technologies for long haul truckers. Their vehicles are harder to control and more dangerous once out of control. Plus, the drivers are often tired from very long hours behind the wheel.

Note that aircraft auto-pilot systems have been around for decades and yet human pilots still land the aircraft. We should see fully automated landing and take-off of aircraft before fully automated cars because the road environment in neighborhoods and cities is much more complex. Bicyclists, kids, dogs, oblivious pedestrians, and other vehicles and road navigation and control a much tougher problem.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 04 07:03 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(12)
2013 May 03 Friday
Grapes Up-Regulate Genes To Make Glutathione Antixoidant

While fruits and vegetables have been extolled for years as heart-healthy antioxidants the direct antioxidant benefits of their chemicals have been exaggerated. Lots of healthy foods deliver much of their benefit by causing alterations in metabolism. To do that they must cause changes in genetic regulation. Here is some research that shows grapes turn on genes that boost an internally synthesized antioxidant called glutathione.

A study appearing in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry¹ demonstrates that grapes are able to reduce heart failure associated with chronic high blood pressure (hypertension) by increasing the activity of several genes responsible for antioxidant defense in the heart tissue. Grapes are a known natural source of antioxidants and other polyphenols, which researchers believe to be responsible for the beneficial effects observed with grape consumption. This study, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and conducted at the University of Michigan Health System, uncovered a novel way that grapes exert beneficial effects in the heart: influencing gene activities and metabolic pathways that improve the levels of glutathione, the most abundant cellular antioxidant in the heart.

Some foods slow the rate of aging by appearing to be toxic while not really being toxic. By activating certain forms of cellular defenses they can cause cells to behave in ways that will reduce the vulnerability of cells to real toxins (e.g. to internally generated free radicals or toxins coming in from the environment). For example, some foods turn up activity of enzymes in the liver that break down toxins.

An estimated 1 billion people worldwide have hypertension, which increases the risk of heart failure by 2 to 3-fold. Heart failure resulting from chronic hypertension can result in an enlarged heart muscle that becomes thick and rigid (fibrosis), and unable to fill with blood properly (diastolic dysfunction) or pump blood effectively. Oxidative stress is strongly correlated with heart failure, and deficiency of glutathione is regularly observed in both human and animal models of heart failure. Antioxidant-rich diets, containing lots of fruits and vegetables, consistently correlate with reduced hypertension.

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables in order to alter your genetic regulation in ways that might add 5 or 10 years to your life. At the same time, be very supportive of stem cell and gene therapy research because you will still get old and develop diseases of old age no matter what you eat.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 03 11:21 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2013 May 02 Thursday
Daily Affirmations For Problem-Solving Under Stress

Just tell yourself you are great and you can handle it.

If chronic stress is weighing down your problem-solving skills, self-affirmation may give your skills a boost, according to research published May 1 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by David Creswell and colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University.

Previous studies have shown that self-affirmation exercises can reduce acute stress, but the link between these improvements and chronic stress-related effects was unknown. In the current research, a group of students rated their levels of stress over the last month, and half the group then performed a self-affirmation exercise. Students who had completed this exercise scored significantly higher on a subsequent problem-solving task under pressure than those who had not performed the self-affirmation.

The authors conclude, "A brief self-affirmation activity is sufficient to buffer the negative effects of chronic stress on task performance and can improve the ability to solve problems in a flexible manner during high stress periods. Our study suggests that self-affirmation may increase creativity and insight in stressed individuals."

Stuart Smalley had the right idea.

And it might even be true that people like you. Anyone want to admit to being very unlikeable and preferring it that way? Or how about very unlikeable and not preferring in that way?

By Randall Parker 2013 May 02 07:05 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2013 May 01 Wednesday
Brain Scans Predict Math Tutoring Success In Children

3rd graders with a larger hippocampus in their brains learned math much faster when tutored.

Why do some children learn math more easily than others? Research from the Stanford University School of Medicine has yielded an unexpected new answer.

In a study of third-graders' responses to math tutoring, Stanford scientists found that the size and wiring of specific brain structures predicted how much an individual child would benefit from math tutoring. However, traditional intelligence measures, such as children's IQs and their scores on tests of mathematical ability, did not predict improvements from tutoring.

The research is the first to use brain scans to look for a link between math-learning abilities and brain structure or function, and also the first to compare neural and cognitive predictors of kids' responses to tutoring. In addition, it provides information on the differences between how children and adults learn math, and could help researchers understand the origins of math-learning disabilities.

I am expecting smarter and more ambitious parents to jump on the opportunity to use genetic testing for embryo selection to produce babies better able to learn math. The larger hippocampal regions of fast learners must be caused by genetic variants for faster memorization.

Adult math learning performance is tied to other parts of the brain. This could be explained by the different nature of what is being learned as an adult.

The brain systems highlighted by this study - including the hippocampus, basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex - are different from those previously implicated for math learning in adults, the researchers noted. When solving math problems, adults rely on brain regions that are specialized for representing complex visual objects and processing spatial information.

And the findings suggest that the tutoring approach used, which was tailored to each child's level of understanding and included lots of repetitive, high-speed arithmetic practice to help cement facts in children's heads, works because it is compatible with the way their brains encode facts. "Memory resources provided by the hippocampal system create a scaffold for learning math in the developing brain," Menon said. "Our findings suggest that, while conceptual knowledge about numbers is necessary for math learning, repeated, speeded practice and testing of simple number combinations is also needed to encode facts and encourage children's reliance on retrieval - the most efficient strategy for answering simple arithmetic problems." Once kids are able to pull up answers to basic arithmetic problems automatically from memory, their brains can tackle more complex problems.

What I wonder: do slow learning 3rd grade kids have a greater capacity to learn basic math than poorly performing adults do to learn advanced math? The spatial reasoning that adults use can't be replaced with memorization. Whereas I would expect at least some slow learning kids can eventually memorize, say, multiplication tables given enough repetition.

Update: Math anxiety can be seen in brain scans as heightened activity in the amygdala.

By Randall Parker 2013 May 01 10:01 PM 
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Site Traffic Info
Site Copyright
The contents of this site are copyright ©