Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A new trick for dieting, a Cosmic Mystery and how we think

Some weeks, it's worth reading Nature Alerts, the pre-print email that Nature magazine drops in my letterbox. I can read the abstracts for free - and then it's a quick dork to follow up interesting discoveries and controversies. This week - it must be Xmas - three stories take my fancy.

It seems that the bacteria in our guts changes as we put on or lose weight and it may be possible to use this knowledge to help dieters. It certainly opens up interesting ideas for further research. It's worth pausing to consider how much living things like bacteria matter when compared to non living things like calories in our calculations - consider the now discounted corrosive affects of alcohol on our stomach's and duodenum's.

The Cosmic Mystery is in the form of a Gamma Ray Burst, to be precise, GRB 060614. According to Wikipedia,
"the study of GRBs is one of the most dynamic in all of science. " and "Additional discoveries are being made constantly".
These are bursts of serious firepower, that occur over a few seconds to a few minutes at random times and places in the sky. It wasn't until 1997, that it was realized how serious was the firepower when it was confirmed by the Beppo(love that name, love those Italians) Satellite that the GRB''s came from a long way away, extra-galactic away to be precise. Up until GRB 060614 it was reckoned that there were two kinds. Short ones, when neutron stars fell into a black hole (an unfortunate accident) and long ones when stars went hyper nova - that is collapsed on themselves. Like supernovas but bigger. Our latest candidate is a long one and a relatively close one but there's no trace of even a teensy nova. Oooh - spooky!

But that's OK - I know how to think this through. Only the Japanese would consider the following to be ethical treatment of subjects!
If subjects are required to remember a large number of complex motor sequences and plan to execute each of them individually, categorization of the sequences according to the specific temporal structure inherent in each subset of sequences serves to facilitate higher-order planning based on memory.
Go that - where going to teach you a 100 complex physical exercises and you have to remember how to do them and then ...where going to measure

cells in the lateral prefrontal cortex [to show that they] selectively exhibit activity for a specific category of behavioural sequences, and that categories of behaviours, embodied by different types of movement sequences, are represented in prefrontal cells during the process of planning.
What I want to know is how they did that. Poisoned their subjects with radioactive dye and put them through a quick MRI - now another quick 100 kung fu exercises! But now we know

the development of macro-structured action knowledge[occurs] in the lateral prefrontal cortex.
So now you know, the prefrontal cortex, right, it helps with the kung fu, right, so look after it.
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