Linky and the Brain - Jan 27, 2014

Here are a few items that have caught my (and NeuWrite member Sammy Katta's) eye on the interwebs in the last week and a half. 

To start us off, the bright world of ethology-based science.

The Sloth's Busy Inner Life

Over at the NY Times, an article covering recent research on why sloth's come down from their trees to defecate. Previously, the proposed reason was because they were attempting to fertilize the tree they live in. The new hypothesis: so that the hundreds of moths that live in their fur can lay their eggs. Having a large resident moth population is critical for the sloth, because when the moths die, their bodies (and the nitrogen byproduct of decomposition) feed the algae that also inhabit the sloths fur. And the sloths eat the algae, to supplement their nutrition-poor leaf diet. 

So sloths = algae farmers. Awesome. 

The NY Times article: The Sloth's Busy Inner Life, by Nicholas Wade. 

The original article, A Syndrome of Mutualism Reinforces the Lifestyle of a Sloth. By Pauli et al. Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Second, from the always entertaining Ed Yong, a story of 2 Southern Pacific rattlesnake populations. These groups, located 2 hours away from each other, use radically different venom strategies: one population uses haemotoxic venom, and the other uses neurotoxic venom. 

Read all about the research of Bryan Fry and colleagues over at Ed's blog: Rattlesnakes Two Hours Apart Pack Totally Different Venoms. 

Now that I've cheered you up, something depressing.

A wild misogynist is spotted ... writing a Nature Editorial 

For the story, I'll leave you in the capable hands of Kelly Hills (@rocza):

And for a follow-up, Hope Jahren (@HopeJahren) discusses her decision to turn down a scheduled Q&A with Nature Magazine, following the publication of the editorial in question. 

On a less unimaginably frustrating note...

Egg shells - stronger than you think.

Via Gizmodo, a video demonstration of what happens when you balance a red-hot metal ball on top three whole eggs. Spoilers: not a whole lot. Source: Gizmodo 

Sammy, seeing this post in draft form sent in a series of links that I've shared below

A nicely written series on why drug discovery is hard

Written by Ashutosh Jogalekar over at Scientific American's The Curious Wavefunction blog.

Part 1: Why drugs are expensive: It's the science, stupid.

Part 2: Easter Island, Pit Vipers: Where do drugs come from?

Part 3: Vacuum cleaners that make Sir James Dyson weep. 

Science Magazine's Breakthrough of the Year 2013

A video of the winner (spoiler: its Cancer Immunotherapy), plus all the awesome runners-up (including CLARITY).

The GMO Debate

Panic-Free GMOs, over at

Sammy writes:

[A] really excellent series covering the sources of disconnects between the various sides of the GMO debate. There's a whole lot of articles, but I recommend reading at least a few (regardless of which side you fall on) to get some insight into why the other side might think as they do.

The most recent post, as of last week, does a good job of capturing the heart of the reason this controversy continues to turn people against each other. It's actually very applicable to people on both sides of most of these kinds of controversies, and if you take a moment to think about it, you might find it applies to you too.

What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters. By Nathanael Johnson. 




Astra Bryant

Astra Bryant is a graduate of the Stanford Neuroscience PhD program in the labs of Drs. Eric Knudsen and John Huguenard. She used in vitro slice electrophysiology to study the cellular and synaptic mechanisms linking cholinergic signaling and gamma oscillations – two processes critical for the control of gaze and attention, which are disrupted in many psychiatric disorders. She is a senior editor and the webmaster of the NeuWrite West Neuroblog