Study identifies potential genes associated with most common form of liver damage

In a first-of-its-kind exploratory study, researchers identified a potential gene associated with the initiation of the most common cause of liver damage. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common cause of liver damage. In this study, the scientists sequenced microRNAs from liver biopsies, spelling out their biochemical molecules to identify several potential gene targets associated with NAFLD-related liver damage. —> Read More

Burning Soviet Space Junk Lights Up Skies Over Hawaii

People across the Aloha State gazed up in wonder Sunday as a cluster of fireballs illuminated the night sky — the result of a decades-old Russian satellite re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The Cosmos 1315 satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1981, broke up over Hawaii at 11:02 p.m. local time. The Keck Observatory on Hawaii’s Big Island caught a glimpse of the satellite streaking across the night sky.

Alien sighting? The Keck Cosmic Cam caught a Russian satellite burning up upon re-entry, called Cosmos 1315. pic.twitter.com/m3YTFt4wfw

— Keck Observatory (@keckobservatory) August 31, 2015

Gary Cobb, a resident of Arizona, was walking along Waikiki Beach when the mysterious lights streaked overhead. He told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper that the event lasted less than seven seconds.

“It looked like a big shooting star or an airplane, and then it started breaking up and had a long tail behind it,” Cobb said. “If you watch an airplane flying over you, I’d say it was going seven to eight times faster.”

Richard Wainscoat, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, told Hawaii News Now that when objects start to re-enter the atmosphere, they are moving at about 18,000 miles per hour.

“A lot of it is going to get vaporized but if there are really big pieces then some of them may make it down to the earth’s surface,” he said.

The Cosmos 1315 was a Soviet surveillance satellite launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome on Aug. 14, 1981.

According to NASA, there are more than 20,000 pieces of orbital debris — man-made objects in orbit that no longer serve a useful function. Over the past 50 years, <a target="_blank" —> Read More

Yes, You Can Teach Yourself Synesthesia (And Here’s Why You Should)

Brit Brogaard has had synesthesia, a neurological condition in which different senses combine in unusual ways, for as long as she can remember.

We often think of synesthesia as “seeing” sounds in different colors (also known as chromesthesia). But Brogaard experiences a more uncommon form of the condition, in which fearful thoughts cause an image of a creepy landscape to appear before her eyes.

“The fear-induced synesthetic images look something like a landscape that’s projected out into the world about 20 or 30 centimeters from my eyes,” Brogaard writes in The Superhuman Mind: Free The Genius in Your Brain. “When the fear is strongest the images are extremely vivid.”

Now a professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of Miami, Brogaard has studied many cases of synesthesia and other unusual cognitive and perceptual abilities at the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research.

As Brogaard and other scientists have observed, synesthesia can lead to remarkable cognitive abilities, including heightened creativity and memory. Famous synesthete Daniel Tammet — who sees numbers and words in shapes and colors — used this gift to set a world record, reciting the first 22,514 digits of pi from memory.

Brogaard herself knows well how synesthesia can be both a blessing and a curse. As a child, she was distraught by the recurring fear image — which she describes as “bluish green with spiky mountain peaks” — and her parents were concerned that she was having hallucinations. In high school, Brogaard finally figured out what was happening to her when she first came across the term synesthesia while researching a project on the science of color.

In adulthood, Brogaard’s synesthesia actually saved her life. One day, she was hiking along a trail in the Australian desert when the image blazed bright in front of her —> Read More

Ingroup/Outgroup Biases at Play in Police-Community Relations

Our ancestors evolved in a world where all travel was on foot. This sharply curtailed the geographical radius of their social universe, and meant that virtually all of their social encounters were with people who looked like they did. Thus, there was little opportunity or need to distinguish individuals based on race. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that the mind evolved perceptual mechanisms that encode for race per se. Yet from Staten Island to Ferguson to Prairie View, we see evidence to the contrary. Why such a mismatch between theory and experience?

The answer was broadcast across movie screens this summer, in The Stanford Prison Experiment. Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 study is infamous for its disturbing demonstration of the alacrity and vigor with which biases in person perception are activated. With little encouragement, subjects assigned to be guards rapidly began dehumanizing and abusing subjects assigned to be prisoners. Prisoners who complained about civil rights violations were accused of insubordination, which was used to justify further abuse. The guards could inflict torture with impunity because they were armed with wooden batons (although instructed not to use them) and the authority of Dr. Zimbardo. The dynamic that emerged between guards and prisoners is similar to that infecting police-community relations in many U.S. cities, with one critical difference: nearly all the study participants were white. Clearly, the enmity between guards and prisoners was not racially motivated.

Biases in person perception–a.k.a. ingroup/outgroup psychology–refers to the universal human tendency to classify people according to whether or not they are a “member of my group.” The criterion for inclusion can be a shared experience, interest, or attribute. Race is but one potential marker of group membership; each of us belongs to many social groups, some of which overlap in a Venn-diagram-like manner. For example, —> Read More

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