The eternal sunshine of a spotless mind has come one step closer, say researchers working on methods to erase memories of fear.
The latest study, carried out in mice, unpicks why certain sounds can stir alarming memories, and reveals a new approach to wiping such memories from the brain.
The researchers say the findings could be used to either weaken or strengthen particular memories while leaving others unchanged. That, they say, could potentially be used to help those with cognitive decline or post-traumatic stress disorder by removing fearful memories while retaining useful ones, such as the sound of a dog’s bark.
“We can use same approach to selectively manipulate only the pathological fear memory while preserving all other adaptive fear memories which are necessary for our daily lives,” said Jun-Hyeong Cho, co-author of the research from the University of California, Riverside.
The research is the latest in a string of studies looking at ways to erase unpleasant memories, with previous work by scientists exploring techniques ranging from brain scans and AI to the use of drugs.
Published in the journal Neuron by Cho and his colleague Woong Bin Kim, the research reveals how the team used genetically modified mice to examine the pathways between the area of the brain involved in processing a particular sound and the area involved in emotional memories, known as the amygdala.
“These mice are special in that we can label or tag specific pathways that convey certain signals to the amygdala, so that we can identify which pathways are really modified as the mice learn to fear a particular sound,” said Cho. “It is like a bundle of phone lines,” he added. “Each phone line conveys certain auditory information to the amygdala.”
In the first part of the experiment the team played both a high pitched and low-pitched tone to mice. But, when the high-pitched sound was played, the researchers also gave the mice a small electric shock to their feet.
When the high-pitched tone was subsequently played on its own, the mice froze in fear; no such response was seen when the alternative, low-pitched, tone was played.
The team then looked to see if there were differences between the high-pitch and low-pitch tone pathways in the brains of the mice, revealing that, among the mice exposed electric shocks, the connections within the “high-pitched” pathway had become stronger, while the other pathway remained unchanged.
Magneto-thermal stimulation enables researchers to use heated, magnetic nanoparticles to activate individual neurons inside the brain.
Here’s how it works: First, scientists use genetic engineering to introduce a special strand of DNA into targeted neurons, causing these cells to produce a heat-activated ion channel. Then, researchers inject specially crafted magnetic nanoparticles into the same area of the brain. These nanoparticles latch onto the surface of the targeted neurons, forming a thin covering like the skin of an onion.
When an alternating magnetic field is applied to the brain, it causes the nanoparticles’ magnetization to flip rapidly, generating heat that warms the targeted cells. This forces the temperature-sensitive ion channels to open, spurring the neurons to fire.
The particles the researchers used in the new eLife study consisted of a cobalt-ferrite core surrounded by a manganese-ferrite shell.
An advance over other methods, like optogenetics
Pralle has been working to advance magneto-thermal stimulation for about a decade. He previously demonstrated the technique’s utility in activating neurons in a petri dish, and then in controlling the behaviour of C. elegans, a tiny nematode.
Pralle says magneto-thermal stimulation has some benefits over other methods of deep-brain stimulation.
One of the best-known techniques, optogenetics, uses light instead of magnetism and heat to activate cells. But optogenetics typically requires implantation of tiny fibre optic cables in the brain, whereas magneto-thermal stimulation is done remotely, which is less invasive, Pralle says. He adds that even after the brains of mice were stimulated several times, targeted neurons showed no signs of damage.
The next step in the research is to use magneto-thermal stimulation to activate — and silence — multiple regions of the brain at the same time in mice. Pralle is working on this project with Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Dr. Polina Anikeeva, and Harvard Medical School.
Over investment is part of capitalism. Remember global Crossing? Remember when they were laying fiber everywhere? The boom-bust cycle of capitalism is inevitable and ultimately accures benefit to the middle class
An estimate by Bloomberg Intelligence says that battery factories on the drawing boards and under construction by in China could have a production capacity of more than 120 GWh annually by 2021 — enough to power 1.5-2 million electric vehicles.
Elon Musk has estimated that the world will require the equivalent battery production capacity of 100 Gigafactories.
In Euorpe a consortium of companies headed by the German company TerraE Holding GmbH has plans to build a 34 GWh lithium-ion battery factory in response to Tesla’s Gigafactory.
“There’s a kind of arms race on batteries around the world. We know that Elon Musk with Tesla has got this Gigafactory. The Chinese are racing to overtake him; they’ll have three times the capacity.” Giles Keating, chairman of the Werthstein Institute, told CNBC.
Giles Keating believes that the major automakers have been “in denial” about the future of electric cars.
“I think Tesla was always all about electric cars, whereas I think the conventional auto manufacturers, they were in denial. They just kind of almost wanted batteries to be weak so that they wouldn’t have to go that route so that their existing route of business can continue, if I’m brutal about it,” Keating told CNBC.
The accidental discovery of a novel aluminium alloy that reacts with water in a highly unusual way may be the first step to reviving the struggling hydrogen economy. It could offer a convenient and portable source of hydrogen for fuel cells and other applications, potentially transforming the energy market and providing an alternative to batteries and liquid fuels.
“The important aspect of the approach is that it lets you make very compact systems,” says Anthony Kucernak, who studies fuel cells at Imperial College London and wasn’t involved with the research. “That would be very useful for systems which need to be very light or operate for long periods on hydrogen, where the use of hydrogen stored in a cylinder is prohibitive.”
The discovery came in January, when researchers at the US Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, were working on a new, high-strength alloy, says physicist Anit Giri. When they poured water on it during routine testing, it started bubbling as it gave off hydrogen.
That doesn’t normally happen to aluminium. Usually, when exposed to water, it quickly oxidises, forming a protective barrier that puts a stop to any further reaction. But this alloy just kept reacting. The team had stumbled across the solution to a decades-old problem.
Hydrogen has long been touted as a clean, green fuel, but it is difficult to store and move around because of its bulk. “The problem with hydrogen is always transportation and pressurisation,” says Giri.
If aluminium could be made to effectively react with water, it would mean hydrogen on demand. Unlike hydrogen, aluminium and water are easy to carry – and both are stable. But previous attempts to drive the reaction required high temperatures or catalysts, and were slow: obtaining the hydrogen took hours and was around 50 per cent efficient.
The new alloy, which the team is in the process of patenting, is made of a dense powder of micron-scale grains of aluminum and one or more other metals arranged in a particular nanostructure. Adding water to the mix produces aluminium oxide or hydroxide and hydrogen – lots of it. “Ours does it to nearly 100 per cent efficiency in less than 3 minutes,” says team leader Scott Grendahl. Moreover, the new material offers at least an order of magnitude more energy than lithium batteries of the same weight. And unlike batteries, it can remain stable and ready for use indefinitely.
The army team has used the material to power a small, radio-controlled tank. Grendahl doesn’t see any practical issues with scaling up production to produce hundreds of tonnes of the stuff as it can be made from scrap aluminium, which is relatively cheap. The new material could power everything from laptops to buses and cars.
“In principle, the process should work,” says Robert Steinberger-Wilckens, who directs a fuel cell programme at the University of Birmingham, UK.
But he cautions that a repeat experiment is needed to show that the reaction works the way it should. “There’s a lot of stuff that works in the laboratory but not in the field.”
If it does pan out, the powder could also be used as the raw material for 3D printing. The researchers have put forward proposals – now being considered by the army – for small air or ground robots that use their own structure as fuel. These self-cannibalising machines would be useful for one-way intelligence-gathering missions, burning themselves up at the end to leave no trace.
Neuroprostheses show promise in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and for the creation of brain-machine interfaces such as the neural lace, but a major stumbling block for researchers has been the propensity of these implants to induce an immune response, inflammation and scaring in the brain, severely limiting their potential use.
The Harvard team’s new neuromorphic mesh is delivered to specific brain regions via syringe injection and overcomes the problem of immune response in the brain. Their observations of the brain’s of the injected mice showed little to no immune response and they found the neuromorphic mesh had merged with the brain tissue.
…someday a book will be written about what it felt like to have lived in a scientific revolution like the one we are all of us living in right now. Do not let the freak show off our current politics blind you to history…
There’s a good reason why the powerful CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool has earned the moniker of being ‘revolutionary’.
The relatively easy technique for cutting and pasting genes has exploded onto the scientific scene, and over the past years there’s been no shortage of spectacular results delivered thanks to this amazing tool. Just this year alone, researchers have made advances in fighting diseases, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, mosquitoes and much more.
1. For the first time, scientists have used gene editing to successfully remove HIV from a living organism, and they did this in three different animal models. Using CRISPR, the team got rid of the virus DNA and cleared up both acute and latent infections.
2. The first ever semi-synthetic organisms have been developed by breeding E. coli bacteria with an unusual six-letter genetic code instead of the typical one with just four bases. The researchers used gene editing to make sure bacteria would not register the new DNA molecules as invaders.
3. CRISPR has been used to successfully target the ‘command centre’ of cancer – the hybrid fusion genes that often trigger abnormal tumour growths. By cutting and pasting, researchers created a cancer-busting gene that actually shrunk tumours in mice carrying human prostate and liver cancer cells.
4. With the help of CRISPR, scientists also recently managed to slow the growth of cancer cells. They targeted a protein called Tudor-SN that helps cell division, and think this technique could help inhibit fast-growing cancer cells.
5. Gene editing has been used to make viruses force superbugs to kill themselves. By arming bacteriophage viruses with genetic sequences that contain antibiotic resistance genes, researchers have been able to trigger self-destructing mechanisms in bacteria that naturally try to protect themselves from phages.
6. Mosquito-borne diseases could become a thing of the past thanks to gene editing. Scientists have found a new way to limit the spread of mosquitoes by hacking their fertility genes, and they attribute the success to the efficient way CRISPR can make several genetic code changes at once.
7. Researchers have managed to edit out Huntington’s disease genes in mice, efficiently reversing signs of the fatal condition. It’s entirely likely that this brilliant technique could one day be used on humans as well, after demonstrating this promising first step.
8. Apart from medical breakthroughs, CRISPR could also give us the gift of more abundant, sustainable biofuels. Scientists recently used a combination of gene editing tools to engineer algae that produce twice as much biofuel material as their wild counterparts.
9. If you’ve watched the first-ever movie encoded in DNA code, you have CRISPR to thank for this advance, too. Just recently, scientists finally managed to turn cells into a ‘molecular recorder’ as they used gene editing to embed sequences of information into the genome of E. coli.
As all amazing technology, CRISPR has also sparked concerns, especially as we’re getting ever-so closer to routinely using it in humans. But scientists have also discovered an ‘off switch’ for the process, which allows to stop the mechanism in its tracks.
And if you’ve heard that CRISPR can cause hundreds of unwanted mutations, that study was probably wrong anyway. We can’t wait to see what incredible advances this tool will bring next.
The results the team has achieved are the most in-depth neural map of fruit fly behavior yet. The project involved studying 2,204 populations of flies to find the neurons involved with 14 different behaviors, ranging from wing-flicking to attempted copulation. Were humans to have had to do the project’s “behavior labeling” work instead of machine learning algorithms, the task would apparently have taken 3,800 years. Even in the field of long-term research projects, that’s considered excessive!
“We have mapped the regions of the fly brain that are involved in a variety of locomotion and social behaviors,” Branson continued. “We have done this at the resolution of individual neurons across the entire brain. We hope that the behavior-anatomy maps resulting from our study will enable other biologists to understand the precise computations that the brain performs to produce these behaviors.”
The researcher’s work isn’t just limited to fruit flies, however. “As we start to decipher the ways that the fruit fly brain implements behavior, we hope to find common principles and motifs of neural computation that generalize beyond fruit flies,” she noted. “Understanding circuit computations does involve simulating our models of those circuits in the computer to prove to ourselves that we understand the system, and may enable us to understand why that particular implementation of behavior is advantageous.”
While currently artificial neural networks are only an approximation of how the brain works, hopefully research like what has been conducted by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will help brain-inspired computation advance to the next level. A paper on the research was published in the journal Cell.