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Amputation Injury Is Communicated To Opposing Limbs

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In research that extends knowledge about the physiology of regeneration and wound repair, Tufts University biologists have discovered that amputation of one limb is immediately reflected in the bioelectric properties of the contralateral, or opposing, un-damaged limb of developing frogs. The pattern of bioelectric depolarization in the un-injured leg is directly correlated to the position and type of injury, indicating that information about damage to tissues is available to their symmetrical counterparts within about 30 seconds of injury. The newly discovered phenomenon, dubbed “bioelectric injury mirroring” or BIM, is described in detail in a paper to be published in the journal Development.

Bioelectric phenomena are caused by cells that produce a voltage potential across their membrane by actively pumping or passively diffusing charged ions into or out of the cell. Most cells are capable of doing this, and patterns of high and low voltage potentials help direct the proliferation and differentiation of cells, as well as the patterning of tissues and organs, during embryonic development. Bioelectric states have also been implicated in regeneration — researchers have been able to alter bioelectric state to induce the regeneration of tails on tadpoles that had already matured beyond the capability of regeneration.

Studies of the bioelectric contribution to regeneration have largely focused on the region around the wound.

“However, we wanted to look a little further,” said Sera Busse, the study’s first author who conducted the research as an undergraduate student before graduating with a degree in biology from Tufts in May 2018.

“We know that bioelectric potentials can exhibit symmetrical patterns. We asked whether it was possible that the patterns resulting from injury might also be reflected symmetrically, at a distance.”

Busse, post-doctoral scholar Patrick McMillen, Ph.D., and Michael Levin, Ph.D., the Vannevar Bush Professor of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences and Director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts, devised experiments using a fluorescent dye that can reveal the pattern of electrical depolarization in the upper layer of skin.

When Busse amputated the limbs of froglets still in regeneration stage, the dye revealed a remarkable phenomenon: The un-injured leg exhibited bioelectric states that mirrored the location and type of injury occurring on the opposite side, and the effect was immediate, occurring within 5 seconds.

“What was amazing about this result was that not only did the depolarization in the un-injured leg detect the presence of injury on the other side, it also reflected information about the position of the cut,” said Levin.

The researchers considered whether such information was conveyed by typical neural communication through the central nervous system or spinal cord, but the BIM signal was undiminished when the central nervous system communication was interrupted. The result suggests that the distant communication between limbs occurs by a cell-to-cell mechanism which may be an evolutionary precursor to the more familiar neural signaling.

“Looking ahead, we will be employing more precise genetically-encoded voltage sensing tools, which can provide more quantitative and deeper tissue information than dyes, and machine learning methods to extract signatures of different types of damage from the bioelectric signal, to provide a more highly resolved understanding of the BIM phenomenon,” said Levin.

Next steps involve understanding the mechanism and information content of such long-range signaling in the body, and potentially developing surrogate-site diagnostics for many different disease conditions.

In addition to conducting leading research during her time as a Tufts undergraduate, Busse is a nationally competitive rower, a 10-time U.S. rock climbing team member and a U.S. national champion in the sport. The other two authors, McMillen and Levin, also are former undergraduates of Tufts University.

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Do You Know The Carbon Footprint Of Your Food Choices?

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Shoppers greatly underestimate the difference their food choices can make to climate change, but they’ll favour items with a lower carbon footprint if they’re given clear information on the label, according to new research from the University of Technology Sydney and Duke University.

Between 19% and 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food production, with beef and lamb the biggest contributors, so shifting diets towards greater fruit and vegetable intake is a promising strategy for reducing climate change.

Lead author Dr Adrian Camilleri wanted to know how well consumers understood the carbon consequences of their food choices, as previous research had shown people significantly underestimate the carbon emissions from electrical appliances.

“With an appliance such as a heater you can feel the energy used and see an electricity bill at the end of the month, so the impact is quite salient, whereas the impact of food production is largely invisible,” says Dr Camilleri.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, asked more than 1000 people to estimate the energy embedded in 19 foods and 18 appliances, and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with those appliances and foods.

The researchers found participants significantly underestimated energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for both electrical appliances and foods – but food was more severely underestimated.

“If you ask people to guess the difference between items such as beef and vegetable soup on the environment they assume there is not much difference, but beef soup creates more than 10 times the amount of greenhouse gases than vegetable soup,” says Dr Camilleri.

“This is a bit of a blind spot because if someone wants to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, they might think to turn off the heater, drive less or fly less. Very few people think to eat less beef.”

The researchers also looked at whether they could improve people’s perception of the environmental impact of their food choices through the use of labelling, in the same way that a five-star rating system for electrical appliances conveys energy use.

They presented 120 participants with a choice of soups to buy. When the soups had a carbon footprint label, participants bought fewer beef soups and more vegetable soups than when there was no label provided.

The research suggests that the introduction of carbon footprint labels on food items could be a simple intervention to increase understanding of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from food production, and so reduce environmental impacts.

Greenhouse gases emerging from beef and lamb production include those created in the production of fertiliser for feed, methane emitted from the animals, livestock transportation and the loss of trees to clear land for pasture.

A vegan diet based on fruits, vegetables and grains has the least impact on the environment, with pork, chicken and fish creating a moderate impact, and beef and lamb the greatest impact.

“The choices we make at the dinner table can have a significant impact on global challenges such as climate change, and our research shows consumers are keen to make that choice,” says Dr Camilleri.g

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How A Personality Trait Puts You At Risk For Cybercrime

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Impulse online shopping, downloading music and compulsive email use are all signs of a certain personality trait that make you a target for malware attacks. New research from Michigan State University examines the behaviors – both obvious and subtle – that lead someone to fall victim to cybercrime involving Trojans, viruses and malware.

“People who show signs of low self-control are the ones we found more susceptible to malware attacks,” said Tomas Holt, professor of criminal justice and lead author of the research.

“An individual’s characteristics are critical in studying how cybercrime perseveres, particularly the person’s impulsiveness and the activities that they engage in while online that have the greatest impact on their risk.”

Low self-control, Holt explained, comes in many forms. This type of person shows signs of short-sightedness, negligence, physical versus verbal behavior and an inability to delay gratification.

“Self-control is an idea that’s been looked at heavily in criminology in terms of its connection to committing crimes,” Holt said.

“But we find a correlation between low self-control and victimization; people with this trait put themselves in situations where they are near others who are motivated to break the law.”

The research, published in Social Science Computer Review, assessed the self-control of nearly 6,000 survey participants, as well as their computers’ behavior that could indicate malware and infection. To measure victimization, Holt and his team asked participants a series of questions about how they might react in certain situations. For computer behavior, they asked about their computer having slower processing, crashing, unexpected pop-ups and the homepage changing on their web browser.

“The internet has omnipresent risks,” Holt said.

“In an online space, there is constant opportunity for people with low self-control to get what they want, whether that is pirated movies or deals on consumer goods.”

As Holt explained, hackers and cybercriminals know that people with low self-control are the ones who will be scouring the internet for what they want – or think they want – which is how they know what sites, files or methods to attack.

Understanding the psychological side of self-control and the types of people whose computers become infected with malware – and who likely spread it to others – is critical in fighting cybercrime, Holt said. What people do online matters, and the behavioral factors at play are entirely related to risks.

Computer scientists, Holt said, approach malware prevention and education from a technical standpoint; they look for new software solutions to block infections or messaging about the infections themselves. This is important, but it is also essential to address the psychological side of messaging to those with low self-control and impulsive behaviors.

“There are human aspects of cybercrime that we don’t touch because we focus on the technical side to fix it,” he said.

“But if we can understand the human side, we might find solutions that are more effective for policy and intervention.”

Looking ahead, Holt hopes to help break the silos between computer and social sciences to think holistically about fighting cybercrime.

“If we can identify risk factors, we can work in tandem with technical fields to develop strategies that then reduce the risk factors for infection,” Holt said.

“It’s a pernicious issue we’re facing, so if we can attack from both fronts, we can pinpoint the risk factors and technical strategies to find solutions that improve protection for everyone.”

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Unrelated Events Are Linked in Memory When They Happen Close Together

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When two events occur within a brief window of time they become linked in memory, such that calling forth memory of one helps retrieve memory for the other event, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. This happens even when temporal proximity is the only feature that the two events share.

“Our research shows that people are constantly recording information about the order in which events happen, even if those events are unrelated. They can then use the order to help search memory,” explains psychological scientist M. Karl Healey of Michigan State University.

Memory scientists have long been interested in determining whether temporal proximity acts as a tether of sorts that connects memories for different events. In most studies, researchers have tried to examine the phenomenon by asking people to memorize lists of words in the lab, but it is unclear how well this lab-based approach translates to memory for real-world events.

“In the fall of 2016, I was obsessing over US election coverage and it occurred to me that many other people probably were, too. This provided the opportunity for a more naturalistic test—we could ask people to remember news stories rather than word lists,” Healey explains.

In one online study, Healey and coauthor Mitchell G.Uitvlugt collected and analyzed data following Election Day in 2016. The study participants had 7 minutes to recall as many election-related news stories as they could – for each story, they also drafted a short newspaper-style headline.

Healey and Uitvlugt identified actual news stories that corresponded with the headlines generated by the participants, noting the date that the stories appeared. For their analyses, the researchers did not include stories that were not associated with specific election-related events. This process yielded 7,759 headlines from 855 participants.

The researchers then calculated a lag score that measured the transition, in days, from one headline in a participant’s story sequence to the next.

The results showed that participants tended to recall stories in time-based clusters: Short transitions between stories (0 to 10 days) were much more common than would be expected according to chance. Furthermore, long transitions of more than 50 days were less frequent than one would expect by chance. The analyses showed that what participants remembered wasn’t due to news events naturally clustering close together in time but rather the clustering of stories together in memory.

This pattern held even after the researchers accounted for similarity between events. And a second online study, in which a separate group of 561 participants recalled news stories from the previous 4 months, showed similar results.

“I was surprised at how well these real-world data agreed with lab data,” says Healey.

“Although remembering world events you’ve read about over the course of months seems different than memorizing a list of random words presented over the course of minutes, at a fundamental level it seems both are governed by the same principles.”

Uitvlugt and Healey point out that the participants could not have prepared for the memory task, which rules out the possibility that participants used specific strategies when the events occurred to aid subsequent recall. Instead, the findings suggest that our memories are tagged with time-correlated information as we encode them, and that this information can be used when we search memory later on.

“This research tells us something about memory in general. It suggests we all have a tendency to bind events together in memory when they occur near together in time,” Healey says.

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