Swedish Study: Cognitive Speed Declines First

a flickr image.

A new study by Swedish researchers asserts that cognitive speed declines much earlier and more rapidly than previously had been understood by most scientists, and faster than perceptual acuity and vocabulary.

The Gothenburg University study led by Valgeir Thorvaldsson followed the subjects over a 30 year period. Of three topical areas - cognitive speed, perceptual ability, and verbal ability - cognitive speed was the mental factor that was impacted the earliest.

In Jensen's estimation, this was defined as 'nerve conduction velocity.' One might conclude based on the plentiful supporting results that this ability is the most reliable indicator of impending cognitive impairment.

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More Mars Data: Was Mars a Blue Marble in the Sky?

According to the story published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and covered in Space.com, it appears that some of the landforms in dry valleys on Mars are the result of glaciation...advancing and retreating of glaciers, formed from the accumulation of snow into compacted ice over tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

There is no return to the perchlorate discussion yet. However, this implies that the climate was far more earth-like than it is now, since it supported H-2-0 precipitation, which mean atmospheric pressure was much higher than it is now, and temperatures must have been in the narrow band (relatively speaking) when snow falls.

The thicker atmosphere would have deflected ultraviolet radiation.

If it's too hot, there will only be water vapor and maybe liquid water, if it's too cold - it won't snow. On earth, snow does not fall below temperatures of -40 C. Heaviest accumulations of snow occur when there is significant atmospheric mixing of low and high temperatures and surface temperatures may be anywhere from around 0 C (32 F) to -30 C or so. Glaciers form from yearly accumulation of snow that doesn't melt completely. On earth the glacier accumulation range at present is sea level in the arctic to 6000 meters high at the equator.

This has varied in the past. So, possibly Mars would have been habitable by forms of organisms recognizable on the earth today. With all the ice and snow, water - and cloud cover - Mars would have been much brighter in the sky than it's present iron-rich desert appearance and would have looked more like earth, an azure marble, through a small telescope.

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Boost Your Brain, Watch Thirsty Cat

The state of prime-slot Internet media...the Thirsty Cat Video.

How about a cat on a skateboard? Great for brand-building.

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APOEe4 Test Subjects Exhibit Lack of Brain Connectivity

Low Bandwidth gets a new meaning.

One of the studies presented at the International Alzheimer's Association Conference was fascinating - asymptomatic APOEe4 positive people - the most reliable genetic indicator of Alzheimer's susceptibility yet identified - seem to have connectivity issues between the hippocampus and posterior cingulated cortex, according to researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

A new MRI technique being developed by Shi Jiang Li and colleagues and tested on 28 subjects, 12 APOEe4 positive, showed that the non APOEe4 group exhibited 65% better connectivity than the APOEe4 group by measuring response across the brain from a resting state.

This correlates rather well with Dr. O'Hara's paper involving the Cognitive Labs tests/games, where APOEe4 individuals were found overall to have lower scales of performance. Fortunately, it's much easier to take our test than to get an MRI. Can you imagine how expensive it would be for 7.4 million MRI sessions to be administered? With no paperwork and bureaucracy allowance (this is an unreal assumption) the cost would be at least $7 billion, and possibly $15-$20 billion, fully allocated.

Now you can take self-assessment in your own hands by putting this sensitive technology on your own website, if you want - it's still free, for now. The upside - a public good, is potentially in the billions per year.

Learning about your own body and mind - before problems and accumulated wear and tear impair performance, can lead to being proactive about your lifestyle, which at present is the best way to stay healthy physically and cognitively.

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Beijing Olympics in Lego

It's not the double helix or a brain, but it does lego proud - better than the engineered works at Legoland, to be sure.

see all the pics

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Fallen Arch not the Most Famous

The arch that fell was not the famous arch of the license plate...

known as Delicate Arch, which is the biggest attraction at Arches NP.

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UC Berkeley Scientists Develop Invisibility Cloak

Another possible Nobel prize for the trophy case?

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have developed a material that can bend light around 3D objects making them "disappear".

The materials do not occur naturally but have been created on a nano scale. The material could one day be scaled to make invisibility cloaks large enough to hide people.

The findings, by scientists led by Xiang Zhang and Ortwin Hess in the UK were published in the journals Nature and Science.

Add it to the list of achievements of the honored faculty.

Atom-smashing, Maser, Laser, Sudden death of Dinos, extrasolar planetary astronomy, Polish literature, the dismal science, Sealey's reinvention of the world of marketing as we know it, elements including Lawrencium, Californium and Bezerkelium (just check the periodic table).

If the theory is turned into practice(see article), this is a Star Wars-caliber breakthrough.

It could be rolled out in the Big Game with Stanford in the form of "the invisible ballcarrier" - more exciting than plays such as the fumblerooski to say nothing of vast commercialization opportunities.

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Wall Arch Collapses Near Moab, Utah

A famed arch in Arches National Park collapsed today. Here is the before pic:

and here is the after pic.


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Coglabs jumps to 548,000 visitors, Ashford speaks

Not Thebes or Memphis, but a mausoleum at Stanford

Cognitive Labs jumped to 548,000 visitors last month (july) an all-time high. To our knowledge, this makes us the largest brain training network. This is reflected in the charts on brain.com and our affiliates page. In case you're wondering, which you probably aren't, cognitivelabs.com has more traffic than brain.com by a significant margin, though brain.com is growing fast. In addition, we're on a host of partnering sites. So far, we've been in stealth mode like an F-22 raptor.

Dr. Ashford gave a well-regarded talk to 100+ Stanford alumni yesterday in Palo Alto on the issue of early Alzheimer's detection. The whole focus of the 'industry' is moving towards early identification - not just mild cognitive impairment but actually pre-impairment. This ties in well with other problems like aging. There is a growing realization that treating symptoms or cases where amyloid and tau proteins are already in place is not going to be the ultimate solution because by that point, irrevocable damage has occurred.

Detection and prevention needs to be earlier, simultaneously with concern for cardiopulmonary fitness, which should be in the 30's onward and really a lifelong practice.

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The End of Aging?

A signal tower

Stanford scientists have concluded that the predominant theory of aging may be incorrect, or at best, incomplete.

Aging presently is understood as comprehensive and cumulative tissue damage due to oxidation, toxin absorption, disease and stress. We degrade like the rusting hull of an old ship.

However, a new study involving the roundworm c elegans  conducted by biologist Stuart Kim has found that changes in genetic transcription herald the stages of aging. Since the nematode has a life span of only 2-3 weeks, it is easy to observe the entire life cycle.

Using microarrays - silicon chips that detect changes in gene expression - the scientists hunted for genes that were turned on differently in young and old worms. They found hundreds of age-regulated genes switched on and off by a single transcription factor called elt-3, which becomes more abundant with age. Two other transcription factors that regulate elt-3 also changed with age.

To determine whether these signal molecules were part of a wear-and-tear aging mechanism, the researchers exposed worms to stresses thought to cause aging, such as heat (a known stressor for nematode worms), free-radical oxidation, radiation and disease. But none of the stresses affected the genes that make the worms get old.

It appears that worm aging wasn't due to chemical damage. Instead, Kim said, key regulatory pathways optimized for youth have drifted off track in older animals. Natural selection can't fix problems that arise late in the animals' life spans, so the genetic pathways for aging become entrenched by mistake. Kim's team refers to this slide as "developmental drift."

"We found a normal developmental program that works in young animals, but becomes unbalanced as the worm gets older," he said. "It accounts for the bulk of the molecular differences between young and old worms."

While the complexity of the human organism may point to additional longevity factors outside of possible genetic drift, scientists can begin searching for this new aging mechanism in humans now that it has been discovered in a model organism.

"Everyone has assumed we age by rust," Kim said. "But then how do you explain animals that don't age?"

Some tortoises lay eggs at the age of 100, he points out. There are whales that live to be 200, and clams that make it past 400. Those species use the same building blocks for their DNA, proteins and fats as humans, mice and nematode worms. The chemistry of the wear-and-tear process, including damage from oxygen free-radicals, should be the same in all cells, which makes it hard to explain why species have dramatically different life spans.

"A free radical doesn't care if it's in a human cell or a worm cell," Kim said.

If aging is not a cost of unavoidable chemistry but is instead driven by changes in regulatory genes, the aging process may not be inevitable. It is at least theoretically possible to slow down or stop developmental drift.

"The take-home message is that aging can be slowed and managed by manipulating signaling circuits within cells," said Marc Tatar, PhD, a professor of biology and medicine at Brown University who was not involved in the research. "This is a new and potentially powerful circuit that has just been discovered for doing that."

Kim added, "It's a new way to think about how to slow the aging process."

Humans evolved so that energies are focused on certainty of growth to reproduction age rather than longevity. Once the initial mission of the organism in its environment is carried out, breakdowns in communication between genetic signal towers introduce gaps into the replicating code of life - and hence more errors as cells die and are replaced by new cells that draw information from the increasingly flawed codebase that is scattershot with lacunae. Up until now, natural selection would have been weighted heavily towards effective reproductive ability rather than lifespan. However, the environment no longer demands this tradeoff. It's straightforward to see how, with continuing research, we'll be living much longer by maintaining signal transcription integrity across the generations of replacement (or replicant) cells that are created every second in virtually every area of our bodies.

Source: Stanford University

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Nasa: Mars Soil Contains Rocket-Fuel like Substance

While one test showed soil on Mars contained some of the minerals seen on earth, such as magnesium, potassium, and sodium, in addition to the repeat confirmation of frozen water on the surface of Mars - a later test found a substance called perchlorate, which can be naturally formed or artificially distilled but is an ingredient in rocket fuel. While it is indicated as non-supportive of life, perchlorate exists on earth.

Speculation amongst other scientists and science journalists is that the sample could have been contaminated by the rocket thrusters of the descending probe. It appears that any additional announcements on this topic will have to wait until some point in the future.



Red Alert 4 Alzheimer's-Victim James Doohan's Astral Funeral

James Doohan, "Scotty" of Star Trek fame was well-known as a character actor and also as a victim of Alzheimer's Disease.

Lesser known was his heroics on D-Day in 1944, when he landed on Juno Beach, as a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery. Crossing a mine field, he and his unit were targeted by German MG-42 machine guns. He was hit six or seven times - four bullets to the leg, the middle finger of his right hand was shot off, and a bullet struck his chest. His life was saved when it hit a silver cigarette case which had been given to him by his brother.

Both Doohan and former astronaut Gordon Cooper's ashes were destined for earth orbit aboard the aborted Space-X launch that ran into a technical glitch on Saturday, according to Boing Boing.

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Last Ice Age Onset in a Geological Millisecond

Artist rendering of a supernova in the night sky

After analyzing layers of deposits in both Europe and North America, Scientists are speculating that the last ice age occurred in the blink of an eye: less than one year.

According to a recent study, the catalyst may have been a comet impact in the Northeast of America which caused massive forest fires, melting of northern ice sheets, and an influx of fresh water into the Artic seas which caused the moderating effect of the North Atlantic current to breakdown. The massive heating, curiously, caused Northern hemisphere cooling to occur due to the huge quantities of smoke and dust emanated into the atmosphere.

In addition to a comet impact, other causes include potential supernovae (cosmic rays), the catastrophic collapse of a distant galaxy (cosmic radiation/microwaves), or heavy remnants of the Taurid meteor shower impacting on Earth.

Once the cooling trend started, there was no moderating factor that could reverse it, so a warming trend took several millennia to develop.

It is speculated that this event may be responsible for the elimination of large mammal species in North America and Europe (mammoth, large cats, horses, sloths, camels) in the geological record, and the end of the human "Clovis" culture.

Sudden cooling was demonstrated in the film The Day After Tomorrow.

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Rumors Multiply for Possibility of Mars to Support Life

The Wired science blog (via Google news) is reporting right now that a major announcement relating to Mars is imminent.

The content is speculated to range from the ability of soil on Mars to sustain life to the possible announcement of the evidence of present or past life on Mars. The Amerian Association for the Advancement of Science's Science will likely be the journal publishing the findings.

This certainly will be a major story when announced.

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Biomarkers Offer Potential for Early Detection

Scientists believe that utilizing biomarkers will offer potential for early detection of Alzheimer's.

One study being presented at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (ICAD) in Chicago found that differences in levels of CD-69, a protein involved in white blood cell growth and production, allowed researchers to distinguish between people with Alzheimer's, people with Parkinson's-related dementia and those who were cognitively normal.

The study, from researchers at the University of Leipzig in Germany, was based on a theory that Alzheimer's occurs when neurons get a false signal to divide. The more popular theory holds that a build-up of amyloid plaque (made up mostly of beta amyloid protein) in the brain causes Alzheimer's.

"The alternative theory about Alzheimer's is that the [cell] replication process gets triggered pathologically, and then the cells are programmed to die, and that's what's killing the nerve cells, not the amyloid," Kennedy explained. "[This study] all hinges on the theory that it's a false signal to replicate that starts these neurons down the path to killing themselves."

But investigators still have a long way to go. "It's one thing to distinguish the sick group from the healthy group and another to see if you can predict from the healthy group who gets the disease," Kennedy said. "That's the real proof of the pudding."

A second study, from researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, confirmed previous findings: that the more amyloid there is in the brain (as measured by PET scans), the less beta amyloid 42 there is in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Beta amyloid 42 is an extra-"sticky" type of amyloid protein which accumulates and forms plaques. The theory is that measurements of beta amyloid 42 in spinal fluid could serve as a marker for Alzheimer's disease.

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