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Category: Biology


Sleeping bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps).
Behavioural sleep is ubiquitous among animals, from insects to man. In humans, sleep is also characterized by brain activity: periods of slow-wave activity are each followed by short phases of Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep (REM sleep). These electrical features of brain sleep, whose functions are not well understood, have so far been described only in mammals and birds, but not in reptiles, amphibians or fish. Yet, birds are reptiles--they are the feathered descendants of the now extinct dinosaurs. How then did brain sleep evolve? Gilles Laurent and members of his laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, describe for the first time REM and slow-wave sleep in a reptile, the Australian dragon Pogona vitticeps. This suggests that brain sleep dates back at least to the evolution of the amniotes, that is, to the beginning of the colonization of terrestrial landmass by vertebrate animals.


A juvenile lace coral (Pocillopora damicornis), with coral tissue and algal symbionts (brown dots within the tissue) covering the newly grown skeleton.
In a study published today, researchers from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa (UHM), Rutgers University, and the University of Haifa identified key and novel components of the molecular "toolkit" that allow corals to build their skeletons (called biomineralization) and described when -- in the transformation from floating larvae to coral skeleton -- these components are used.

Scientists have been studying how visual space is mapped in the cerebral cortex for many decades under the assumption that the map is equal for lights and darks. Surprisingly, recent work demonstrates that visual brain maps are dark-centric and that, just as stars rotate around black holes in the Universe, lights rotate around darks in the brain representation of visual space. The work was done by Jens Kremkow and collaborators in the laboratories of Jose Manuel Alonso at the State University of New York College of Optometry and will be published in the May 5, 2016 issue of Nature (advance online publication and press embargo lifted on April 27, 2016 at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern Time). A similar result will be reported in the same issue of Nature by Kuo-Sheng Lee et al. in the laboratories of David Fitzpatrick at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience.

The work of University of Adelaide researchers is shedding new light on the evolution of what are believed to be the largest bears that ever walked the Earth.

Using cutting-edge imaging technology, University of California, Irvine biologists have determined that uncontrolled fluctuations (known at "noise) in the concentration of the vitamin A derivative Retinoic acid (RA) can lead to disruptions in brain organization during development.

Studies in a group of tropical birds have revealed one of the fastest limb muscles on record for any animal with a backbone. The muscle, which can move the wing at more than twice the speeds required for flying, has evolved in association with extravagant courtship displays that involve rapid limb movements, according to a paper to be published in the journal eLife.

EPFL scientists propose a new way of understanding of how the brain processes unconscious information into our consciousness. According to the model, consciousness arises only in time intervals of up to 400 milliseconds, with gaps of unconsciousness in between.


Found throughout the Caribbean, the bananaquit has smaller flight muscles and longer legs on islands with fewer predators.
In groundbreaking new work, Natalie Wright, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Montana, has discovered a predictable trend in the evolution of bird shape.


This image shows ants tending to some leave hoppers.
University of Melbourne scientists have shone a new light into the complexities of ant communication, with the discovery that ants not only pick up information through their antennae, but also use them to convey social signals.

An international team of scientists, from three Brazilian universities and one UK university, have discovered a new fossil reptile that lived 250 million years ago in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, southernmost Brazil. The species has been identified from a mostly complete and well preserved fossil skull that the team has named Teyujagua paradoxa.

In the first study to use new methods to track antibiotic resistance through the process of intensively farming and slaughtering cattle, scientists have discovered a "startling" lack of resistance genes in meat.

People are intuitive physicists, knowing from birth how objects under the influence of gravity are likely to fall, topple or roll. In a new study, scientists have found the brain cells apparently responsible for this innate wisdom.


Here is an artist's drawing of the abelisaur.
An unidentified fossilised bone in a museum has revealed the size of a fearsome abelisaur and may have solved a hundred-year old puzzle.

Sometimes evolution proceeds much more rapidly than we might think. Genetic analysis makes it possible to detect the earliest stages of species formation and to gain a better understanding of speciation processes. For example, a study just published in PLOS Genetics by researchers from Eawag and the University of Bern - investigating rapid speciation in threespine stickleback in and around Lake Constance - shows that a species can begin to diverge very rapidly, even when the two daughter species breed alongside one another simultaneously.

In a surprise result, James Cook University scientists have found female blacktip reef sharks and their young stay close to shore over long time periods, with adult males only appearing during the breeding season.


Black-headed flying fox amongst a grey-headed colony.
For the first time researchers have uncovered a unique ability in bats which allows them to carry but remain unaffected by lethal diseases.

The mechanism used by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to allocate government research funds to scientists whose grants receive its top scores works essentially no better than distributing those dollars at random, new research suggests.


Recurrent DSB clusters in neural stem/progenitor cells are shown.
The genome of developing brain cells harbors 27 clusters or hotspots where its DNA is much more likely to break in some places than others, researchers from the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine (PCMM) at Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute report in the journal Cell. Those hotspots appear in genes associated with brain tumors and a number of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric conditions, raising new questions about these conditions' origins, as well as how the brain generates a diversity of circuitry during development.


Biologists have found genetic mechanisms that let the Atlantic molly live in toxic, acidic water.
A Washington State University biologist has found the genetic mechanisms that lets a fish live in toxic, acidic water. The discovery opens the door to new insights into the functioning of other "extremophiles" and how they adapt to their challenging environments.

In the brain, the visual cortex processes visual information and passes it from lower to higher areas of the brain. However, information also flows in the opposite direction, e.g. to direct attention to particular stimuli. But how does the brain know which path the information should take? Researchers at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute (ESI) for Neuroscience in Frankfurt in Cooperation with Max Planck Society have now demonstrated that the visual cortex of human subjects uses different frequency channels depending on the direction in which information is being transported. Their findings were only possible thanks to previous research with macaque monkeys. They might help to understand the cause of psychiatric illnesses in which the two channels appear to be mixed up.


Aegean wall lizard resting on rock
Resting out in the open on rocks can be a risky business for Aegean wall lizards. Out in these habitats they have nowhere to hide and their backs, which show varying shades of green and brown between individuals, are dangerously exposed to birds hunting in the skies above.


Mold growth initially grew on the plant in pillow E in the bottom left corner of the plant mat.
When Scott Kelly tweeted a picture of moldy leaves on the current crop of zinnia flowers aboard the International Space Station, it could have looked like the science was doomed. In fact, science was blooming stronger than ever. What may seem like a failure in systems is actually an exceptional opportunity for scientists back on Earth to better understand how plants grow in microgravity, and for astronauts to practice doing what they'll be tasked with on a deep space mission: autonomous gardening.


This image shows a range of wing pattern combinations in various Heliconius butterfly species. Clockwise from top left: elevatus; contigua; rosina; meriana; malleti.
New research on butterfly genomes has revealed that the genetic components that produce different splotches of colour on wings can be mixed up between species by interbreeding to create new patterns, like a "genetic paint-box".


Two chimpanzees interact in Gombe National Park, Tanzania.
Spending time in close contact with others often means risking catching germs and getting sick. But being sociable may also help transmit beneficial microbes, finds a multi-institutional study of gut microbiomes in chimpanzees.


In addition to their natural beauty, the shells of two deceased specimens of Hawksbill sea turtles hold clues to the growth rates and sexual maturity of the endangered species.
Radiocarbon dating of atomic bomb fallout found in sea turtle shells can be used to reliably estimate the ages, growth rates and reproductive maturity of sea turtle populations in the wild, a new study led by Duke University and NOAA researchers finds.

Widespread failure to reproduce research results has triggered a crisis of confidence in research findings, eroding public trust in scientific methodology. In response, PLOS Biology is launching on January 4th, 2016, a new Meta-Research Section devoted to research on research.

Chameleons are known for sticking their tongues out at the world fast and far, but until a new study by Brown University biologist Christopher Anderson, the true extent of this awesome capability had been largely overlooked. That's because the smallest species hadn't been measured.


This is a photograph of a Tasmanian Devil with facial tumor.
Transmissible cancers -- cancers which can spread between individuals by the transfer of living cancer cells -- are believed to arise extremely rarely in nature. One of the few known transmissible cancers causes facial tumours in Tasmanian devils, and is threatening this species with extinction. Today, scientists report the discovery of a second transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils. The discovery, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, calls into question our current understanding of the processes that drive cancers to become transmissible.

The diversity of mammals on Earth exploded straight after the dinosaur extinction event, according to UCL researchers. New analysis of the fossil record shows that placental mammals, the group that today includes nearly 5000 species including humans, became more varied in anatomy during the Paleocene epoch - the 10 million years immediately following the event.


These are specimens collected in Rwanda in 2013 by The Cleveland Museum of Natural History during the first formal praying mantis survey conducted in the African country.
A college student working at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History was lead author on the first formal survey of praying mantises in Rwanda, which revealed a 155 percent increase in praying mantis species diversity for the African country. Riley Tedrow, a Case Western Reserve University graduate student pursuing field research for the Museum, participated in two surveys across four locations in Rwanda, including three national parks. The survey was published Oct. 1, 2015 in the journal Zootaxa.

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