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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotty Mind

Meet Hobbie-J, the world’s smartest rat. He can’t do your taxes, or solve a Rubik’s cube while blindfolded, but he can remember three times more than the average rat, and solve mazes quicker than them, too.

While Hobbie-J was but a wee embryo, researchers from the Medical College of Georgia manipulated it, causing an overexpression of the gene NR2B. NR2B is correlated with the rate at which brain cells communicate and the alteration of this single gene has caused Hobbie-J’s brain cells to communicate longer than those of normal rats.

This research was conducted in hopes that the experiments could eventually lead to cures for brain disorders in humans, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

According to one of the researchers, Joe Tsien, “The research is all very exciting, because it raises the possibility for us to potentially enhance memory in humans, and that is exactly where my lab is going.” However, since researchers aren’t allowed to genetically alter human embryos, manipulation of the NR2B gene will have to be achieved through drugs. Secondly, uber-memory may not be all its cracked up to be.

According to neuroscientist, Guosong Liu, “There is a reason we forget. We are supposed to leave our bad experiences behind, so they do not haunt us. The danger of extending memory in healthy people could be considerable.”

Source: National Geographic

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Hobbits Are a New Species of Human

So, hobbits did exist. Not in the hairy-toed, ring-toting way of Frodo and the gang, but as a smaller variation of the human species. Homo floresiensis, dubbed “the hobbit” because of its small size, was discovered in 2003, and was hailed as a possible new species in the long chain of Homo.

However, shortly after its discovery, another scientist made the claim that it was not a new species at all, but just a regular ol’ modern human suffering from microcephaly, a disorder where the head is much smaller than average for someone of a similar age. It was believed that all of the specimens were dwarfed by this genetic disease, and they did not constitute a new species. However, recent studies have shown that this species are not genetically flawed, but instead, genuine specimens of our hobbit friends.

Researchers William Jungers and Karen Baab researched another specimen of the species, nicknamed “Flo,” trying to confirm the evolutionary path of the hobbit species. They found that the cranium of Flo was more similar to chimpanzees in South Africa. Analyses of the skull shapes show that microcephalic humans were one set of species, and Flo was part of an entire separate lineage of a hobbit species. The hobbit species also showed thigh and shin bones that are shorter than any other modern human species. Researchers believe that this is a result of “island dwarfing,” an evolutionary path that results in a reduction of animal size due to a limited gene pool in small environments.

According to Dr. Baab, “Attempts to dismiss the hobbits as pathological people have failed repeatedly because the medical diagnoses of dwarfing syndromes and microcephaly bear no resemblance to the unique anatomy of Homo floresiensis.

Source: Science Daily

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Nathan Drake didn’t discover the lost, ancient city of Shambhala, Broughton Coburn and Pete Athans did. Their team first scaled the sheer cliff walls in 2007 to explore ancient caves carved into the sheer cliff walls by Tibetan Buddhists. Only 1000 travelers a year are permitted into the highly secluded and protected area, due to outbreaks of looting of the ancient caves. The caves were man-made, carved into the sheer cliff walls by Tibetan Buddhists trying to preserve their history and treasures. The caves are part of an ancient region called Mustang – now an area of Nepal.

Many of the caves were shrines, with exquisite murals adorning their walls, including a 55 panel depiction of the Buddha’s life. The researchers found a treasure trove in one of the caves – pages and pages of ancient Tibetan manuscripts that had been preserved by the cool and arid climate. When they first found the manuscripts, they were not allowed to remove them from the area since they did not have the appropriate permissions. Two years later, and with the necessary go ahead’s, the researchers returned to collect and transfer the manuscripts to a museum. The manuscripts they found are a mix of writings from Buddhism and Bön, the latter being an earlier Tibetan faith.

The researchers have two theories as to why the manuscripts were abandoned in the cave. One theory suggests that the Bön manuscripts were left there as an alternative to destroying them, after Buddhism gained popularity. The other theory is that they were placed there in order to protect them during the times when Buddhism was being threatened. The treasures found by the researchers have led them to believe that the Mustang caves may be linked to Shambhala.

Source: National Geographic

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Therapy > Money

Ever hear the phrase: “Money can’t buy you love?” Well, it also can’t buy you happiness. Researchers from the Universities of Warwick and Manchester have found that a decent round of therapy can increase your happiness 32 fold more than just winning the lottery.

This conclusion comes from the reports of 1000s of people surveyed on their general well-being, along with other factors such as therapy courses or pay raises. They found that a mere four month session of therapy largely increased a person’s well-being; whereas a person would need to receive a pay-raise the equivalent of $41,000 in order to receive the same effect.

Further research shows that despite increases in the money bags of developed countries, there have not been any significant, corresponding increases in happiness. However, mental health has taken a hard-nosed plummet; a fact most can attest to, given the wanton over-prescriptions of anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications that are given out every year. Researchers argue that governments should be concerned about increasing access to mental health care facilities for the populace, instead of being overly concerned about income growth.

Researchers also suggest that instead of financial compensation for “pain and suffering” cases in courts, the victims should also be rewarded with access to therapy in order to overcome traumatizing life events.

According to researcher Chris Boyce, “Often the importance of money for improving our well-being and bringing greater happiness is vastly over-valued in our societies. The benefits of having good mental health, on the other hand, are often not fully appreciated and people do not realise the powerful effect that psychological therapy, such as non-directive counselling, can have on improving our well-being.”

Source:Science Daily

Lauren Admire wonders when she will be able to purchase a Smart Rat.

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