News Article | February 22, 2017
LUND, Sweden, Feb. 22, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- NeuroVive Pharmaceutical AB (Nasdaq Stockholm: NVP, OTCQX: NEVPF), the mitochondrial medicine company, today announced two new research agreements and the appointment of Professor Philippe Gallay, PhD, and Professor Massimo Pinzani, MD, PhD, FRCP, as scientific advisors. The aim of the agreements is to further explore NeuroVive's new drug compounds in development for the treatment of NASH and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In the new collaboration with Philippe Gallay, the research teams will explore the mechanisms of action of the potent anti-cancer effects of NeuroVive's novel sanglifehrin-based compounds. These studies will be an important part in NeuroVive's HCC lead candidate selection process. "I am enthusiastic about continuing the fruitful collaboration with the NeuroVive research team. NeuroVive's potent drug compounds have unique and promising features that I am really excited in continuing to explore" said Prof. Philippe Gallay. In the collaboration with Massimo Pinzani, the research groups at Engitix Ltd and NeuroVive will assess the anti-fibrotic properties of NV556 by using Engitix' human liver 3D models. The models offer an important opportunity to evaluate and validate effects in appropriate pathophysiological conditions. "Fibrosis is a critical part of the progression of several liver diseases including NASH, and I look forward to further study the anti-fibrotic effects of NeuroVive's new drug compounds and how they may contribute to fill the unmet medical need in this area", said Prof. Massimo Pinzani. "I am very pleased that Philippe Gallay and Massimo Pinzani have joined our efforts in advancing the research and development of our NASH and HCC treatment opportunities" said Magnus Hansson, Chief Medical Officer at NeuroVive. "Their scientific guidance as experts in the field of liver disease mechanisms and clinical management will be most valuable in the continued development of our project pipeline, as well as in the ultimate positioning of our candidate drugs in the future treatment landscape." Philippe Gallay is Professor of Immunology at the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the well esteemed Scripps Research Institute in California, US. Phillipe Gallay and NeuroVive has previously worked together with the company's cyclophilin inhibitor platform, a research effort that focused on the most potent cyclophilin inhibitor so far developed, NV556. Massimo Pinzani is Professor of Medicine, clinical hepatologist and Director of the University College London (UCL) Institute for Liver and Digestive Health, UK. He also holds the prestigious chair of the Sheila Sherlock Liver Centre at the Royal Free Hospital in London and he is the Chairman of Engitix Ltd. Engitix Ltd is a spin-out from the UCL Institute for Liver and Digestive Health, based at the Royal Free Hospital, London. Engitix is using its proprietary human organ decellularization technology to develop tissue engineered products for application in regenerative medicine and drug target research. Engitix' core expertise is human whole-liver and tissue-specific and disease specific ECM (extra cellular matrix) scaffolds for treatment and research of liver disease. Liver cancer includes two major types: hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and intrahepatic bile duct cancer. HCC is the sixth most-common type of cancer and the third most-common cause of death worldwide. HCC patients have a high medical need for new and effective treatment alternatives. NeuroVive's NVP024 project is focused on the company's new generation of sanglifehrin-based compounds which have shown potent inhibitory effects on HCC cells and anti-cancer activity in an experimental model of HCC. About NASH and NeuroVive's projects NV556 and NVP022 Fatty liver, fibrosis and inflammation are hallmarks of NASH, a condition that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. There is a strong link between NASH and other metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and obesity. About 3-5% of all Americans (about 15 million people) suffer from NASH and there are currently no registered treatments. NV556 is a potent cyclophilin inhibitor in NeuroVive's Sangamide class of compounds. NV556 has shown an inhibitory effect on fibrosis development in an experimental model of NASH. NVP022 is a novel class of compounds that has a completely different mode of action than NV556 that may complement NV556 in the treatment of NASH. NVP022 is targeting mitochondrial metabolic pathways in NASH. NeuroVive Pharmaceutical AB is a leader in mitochondrial medicine. The company is committed to the discovery and development of medicines that preserve mitochondrial integrity and function in areas of unmet medical need. The company's strategy is to take drugs for rare diseases through clinical development and into the market. The strategy for projects within larger indications outside the core focus area is out-licensing in the preclinical phase. NeuroVive enhances the value of its projects in an organization that includes strong international partnerships and a network of mitochondrial research institutions, as well as expertise with capacities within drug development and production. NeuroVive has a project in early clinical phase II development for the prevention of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (NeuroSTAT®). NeuroSTAT has orphan drug designation in Europe and in the US. The R&D portfolio consists of several late stage research programs in areas ranging from genetic mitochondrial disorders to cancer and metabolic diseases such as NASH. NeuroVive is listed on Nasdaq Stockholm, Sweden (ticker: NVP). The share is also traded on the OTCQX Best Market in the US (OTC: NEVPF). For investor relations and media questions, please contact: Cecilia Hofvander NeuroVive Tel: +46 (0)46-275-62-21 or email@example.com Charles Athle Nelson NeuroVive US representative Tel +1 212-961-6277 or firstname.lastname@example.org This information is information that NeuroVive Pharmaceutical AB (publ) is obliged to make public pursuant to the EU Market Abuse Regulation. The information was submitted for publication, through the agency of the contact person set out above, at 10:30 a.m. CET on February 22, 2017. This information was brought to you by Cision http://news.cision.com http://news.cision.com/neurovive-pharmaceutical/r/neurovive-appoints-recognized-scientific-advisors-and-enters-research-agreements-in-nash-and-hepatoc,c2195673 The following files are available for download:
News Article | February 3, 2017
While many of us may find the sounds of chewing or breathing off-putting, for some they're unbearable - and new research has shown their brains are going into overdrive. The team led from Newcastle University, report new findings of the physical basis for people suffering from a condition called misophonia, a disorder where they have a hatred of sounds such as eating, chewing or repeated pen clicking. Called "trigger sounds" by the misophonia community, the response can be an immediate and intense fight or flight feeling. Publishing in Current Biology, the researchers report the first evidence of clear changes in the structure of the brain's frontal lobe in sufferers of misophonia and also report changes in the brain activity. Brain imaging revealed that people with the condition have an abnormality in the emotional control mechanism which causes their brains to go into overdrive on hearing trigger sounds. Researchers also found brain activity originated from a different connectivity pattern to the frontal lobe. This is normally responsible for suppressing the abnormal reaction to sounds. The researchers also found that trigger sounds evoked a heightened physiological response with increased heart rate and sweating in people with misophonia. Dr Sukhbinder Kumar from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University and the Wellcome Centre for NeuroImaging at University College London (UCL) led the research which was supported by Wellcome. He said: "For many people with misophonia, this will come as welcome news as for the first time we have demonstrated a difference in brain structure and function in sufferers. "Patients with misophonia had strikingly similar clinical features and yet the syndrome is not recognised in any of the current clinical diagnostic schemes. This study demonstrates the critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a sceptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder." See how people reacted to the sounds and find out more from Dr Kumar at https://youtu.be/HoD1-2AFje8 Using brain scans carried out with Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) the team revealed a physical difference in the frontal lobe between the cerebral hemispheres of people with misophonia - with higher myelination in the grey matter of ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). The study also used functional MRI to measure the brain activity of people with and without misophonia while they were listening to a range of sounds such as; This showed abnormal connections between this frontal-lobe area and an area called the anterior insular cortex (AIC). This area is in the grey matter of the brain but buried in a deep fold at the side of the brain and is known to be involved in processing emotions and integrating signals both from the body and outside world. When presented with trigger sounds activity goes up in both areas in misophonic subjects, whilst in normal subjects the activity goes up in the AIC but down in the frontal area. The team think that this reflects an abnormality of a control mechanism between the frontal lobe and AIC. Tim Griffiths, Professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University and UCL adds: "I hope this will reassure sufferers. I was part of the sceptical community myself until we saw patients in the clinic and understood how strikingly similar the features are. "We now have evidence to establish the basis for the disorder through the differences in brain control mechanism in misophonia. This will suggest therapeutic manipulations and encourage a search for similar mechanisms in other conditions associated with abnormal emotional reactions." And for Dr Kumar this research opens up future possibilities for therapy: "My hope is to identify the brain signature of the trigger sounds - those signatures can be used for treatment such as for neuro-feedback for example, where people can self-regulate their reactions by looking at what kind of brain activity is being produced." Olana Tansley-Hancock, 29, from Ashford in Kent was just 8 when family meals became unbearable for her as she explains: "The noise of my family eating forced me to retreat to my own bedroom for meals. I can only describe it as a feeling of wanting to punch people in the face when I heard the noise of them eating - and anyone who knows me will say that doesn't sound like me. "My family were supportive and it was only at University that I found it becoming more of an issue. I found it spread to my housemates and to other noises and it all came to a head on a train journey when I had changed carriages 7 times as the noise of people eating or rustling papers was unbearable. "When I saw my GP at the time, he laughed at me. Then I tried a counsellor but in my case, that made it worse as it made me even more sensitive to sound. "It was only after I searched on the internet for 'hearing people eat makes me want to punch them' that I heard of misophonia - and through the misophonia UK website got involved with the research. "Now, I'm a lot better probably through a combination of better bodily awareness and changes I've made to my lifestyle. I mediate and have reduced my caffeine and alcohol intake and I am always prepared - so take earplugs on a journey so I can watch a film and ask for headphones at the cinema so block out the sound of people rustling and eating. These steps have helped me manage and understand my condition better. "This research is a huge relief as it shows there is a physical basis for misophonia which should help others understand the condition. It also opens up the opportunity for better management."
News Article | March 1, 2017
Scientists have discovered what they say could be fossils of some of the earliest living organisms on Earth. They are represented by tiny filaments, knobs and tubes in Canadian rocks dated to be up to 4.28 billion years old. That is a time not long after the planet's formation and hundreds of millions of years before what is currently accepted as evidence for the most ancient life yet found on Earth. The researchers report their investigation in the journal Nature. As with all such claims about ancient life, the study is contentious. But the team believes it can answer any doubts. The scientists' putative microbes from Quebec are one-tenth the width of a human hair and contain significant quantities of haematite - a form of iron oxide or "rust". Matthew Dodd, who analysed the structures at University College London, UK, claimed the discovery would shed new light on the origins of life. "This discovery answers the biggest questions mankind has asked itself - which are: where do we come from and why we are here? "It is very humbling to have the oldest known lifeforms in your hands and being able to look at them and analyse them," he told BBC News. The fossil structures were encased in quartz layers in the so-called Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB). The NSB is a chunk of ancient ocean floor. It contains some of the oldest volcanic and sedimentary rocks known to science. The team looked at sections of rock that were likely laid down in a system of hydrothermal vents - fissures on the seabed from which heated, mineral-rich waters spew up from below. Today, such vents are known to be important habitats for microbes. And Dr Dominic Papineau, also from UCL, who discovered the fossils in Quebec, thinks this kind of setting was very probably also the cradle for lifeforms between 3.77 and 4.28 billion years ago (the upper and lower age estimates for the NSB rocks). He described how he felt when he realised the significance of the material on which he was working: "I thought to myself 'we've got it, we've got the oldest fossils on the planet'. "It relates to our origins. For intelligent life to evolve to a level of consciousness, to a point where it traces back its history to understand its own origin - that's inspirational." Any claim for the earliest life on Earth attracts scepticism. That is understandable. It is often hard to prove that certain structures could not also have been produced by non-biological processes. In addition, analysis is complicated because the rocks in question have often undergone alteration. The NSB, for example, has been squeezed and heated through geological time At present, perhaps the oldest acknowledged evidence of life on the planet is found in 3.48-billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia. This material is said to show remnants of stromatolites - mounds of sediment formed of mineral grains glued together by ancient bacteria. An even older claim for stromatolite traces was made in August last year. The team behind that finding said their fossil evidence was 3.70 billion years old. Nonetheless, the UCL researchers and their colleagues say they have worked extremely hard to demonstrate the greater antiquity for their structures. Dr Papineau does concede though that the idea of metabolising micro-organisms using oxygen so soon after the Earth's formation will surprise many geologists. "They would not consider that there were organisms breathing oxygen at this time. It brings back the production of oxygen on the Earth's surface, albeit by tiny amounts, to the beginning of the sedimentary record," he said. Prof Nicola McLoughlin from Rhodes University, South Africa, was not connected with the research. She commended the scholarship but felt the data presented by the UCL-led team fell short. "The morphology of these argued iron-oxidising filaments from Northern Canada is not convincing," she told BBC News. "In recent deposits we see spectacular twisted stalks, often arranged in layers, but in the highly metamorphosed rocks of the Nuvvuagittuq belt the filaments are much simpler in shape. "The associated textural and geochemical evidence of graphite in carbonate rosettes and magnetite-haematite granules is careful work, but provides only suggestive evidence for microbial activity; it does not strengthen the case for the biogenicity of the filaments." She also said the maximum age of the rocks had proven to be very controversial, and that the true age was more likely to be closer to the 3.77-billion-year age. Part of the interest in ancient life is in the implication it has for organisms elsewhere in the Solar System. "These (NTB) organisms come from a time when we believe Mars had liquid water on its surface and a similar atmosphere to Earth at that time," said Mr Dodd. "So, if we have lifeforms originating and evolving on Earth at this time then we may very well have had life beginning on Mars." If that is the case then, according to Dr Papineau, recent Nasa rover missions to the Martian surface may have been looking for signs of life in the wrong places. He said that the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), Spirit and Opportunity, and the more recent Curiosity robot mission had overlooked areas that might have had rocks produced by hydrothermal vents. "On the surface of Mars there have been missed opportunities. The MER Opportunity in 2003 found promising formations but there was no analysis. And the Spirit rover went straight past another near the Comanche outcrop in Gusev crater." The suggestion that life had already arisen "just" a few hundred million years after the Earth had formed is intriguing in light of debates about whether life on Earth was a rare accident or whether biology is a common outcome given the right conditions.
News Article | March 1, 2017
Cats are known to carry a parasite linked to symptoms of psychosis in humans, and past studies have suggested that kids who grow up with a feline pet are more likely to have mental health issues. But now a new study casts doubt on that link, finding no such connection between cat ownership and an increased risk of psychosis. "The message for cat owners is clear: There is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health," study lead author Francesca Solmi, a researcher in the Division of Psychiatry at University College London (UCL), said in a statement. Some researchers have hypothesized that owning a cat could increase a person's risk of psychosis, because cats can carry a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Infection with this parasite has been linked with the development of schizophrenia and symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations. Several earlier studies, including research published in June 2015 in the journal Schizophrenia Research, have also found a link between owning a cat in childhood and developing schizophrenia or other serious mental illnesses. However, these cat studies were limited because they were small, were not rigorously designed and did not properly account for factors that could affect the link, the UCL researchers said. [7 Strange Facts about the 'Mind-Control' Parasite Toxoplasma Gondii] In the new study, the researchers analyzed information from nearly 5,000 children who were born in England in 1991 and 1992, and followed them until they were 18 years old. The researchers looked at whether the kids' mothers owned a cat while pregnant, and whether the family owned a cat when the children were 4 and 10 years old. The researchers also interviewed the children at ages 13 and 18, to assess whether they had experienced psychosis symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations and intrusive thoughts. Overall, there was no link between cat ownership and symptoms of psychosis at ages 13 and 18. Initially, the researchers did find a link between cat ownership at ages 4 and 10 and symptoms of psychosis at age 13, but this link went away once the researchers took into account other factors that could influence the results, such as the family's social class, the number of times the family moved before the child was 4 years old and the age of the child's parents. "Previous studies reporting links between cat ownership and psychosis simply failed to adequately control for other possible explanations" for the link, Solmi said. [10 Facts for Cat Lovers] Another strength of the new study is that it followed participants forward in time, whereas some previous studies have asked adults to think back to details about their childhood. The latter method is a less reliable way of collecting data, because people may not accurately remember such details, the researchers said. The new study did not directly measure T. gondii exposure, but the researchers say their results suggest that if the parasite does cause psychiatric problems, their study suggests that cat ownership doesn't significantly increase the risk of exposure to the parasite. Still, the researchers say that there is good evidence that exposure to this parasite during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects or other health problems. For this reason, pregnant women should follow the public health recommendation to avoid changing cat litter (because the parasite can be present in cat feces), the researchers said. The study is published online today (Feb. 22) in the journal Psychological Medicine.
News Article | February 15, 2017
The number of alien species is increasing globally, and does not show any sign of saturation, finds an international team involving UCL researchers. Led by scientists from Senckenberg, Germany, and the University of Vienna, Austria, the team found that during the last 200 years, the number of new established alien species has grown continuously worldwide, with more than a third of all first introductions recorded between 1970 and 2014. The study, published today in Nature Communications, shows that individual trends differ among taxonomic groups, which can be attributed to human activities, but overall, alien species numbers are increasing for all groups of organisms. "We observe distinct increases in first record rates of vascular plants, birds and mammals in the 19th century, probably as a result of the spread of horticulture and attempts at supposedly beneficial introductions during the period of European colonial expansion. The rates of new introductions of other organisms such as algae, molluscs or insects increased steeply after 1950, most likely because of the ongoing globalization of trade," explained study co-author Tim Blackburn, professor of genetics, evolution & environment at UCL. Although it was already known that the number of alien species has increased during the last 50 years, it remained unclear whether or not the accumulation of alien species has already reached a point of slow-down. "For all groups of organisms on all continents, the number of alien species has increased continuously during the last 200 years. For most groups, the rate of introduction is highest in recent years. Barring mammals and fishes, there are no signs of a slow-down in the arrival of aliens, and we have to expect more new invasions in the near future," said Hanno Seebens, first author of the study. This conclusion results from of a large collaborative effort by 45 scientists from all over the world, who established a database of the date an alien species was first detected in a region outside the species' native range. Using more than 45,000 of these first records of more than 16,000 alien species, they analyzed the accumulation of alien species over the last few centuries. The scientists found that 37 percent of all recorded alien species were introduced between 1970-2014 and thus recently. The peak came in 1996, when 585 new alien species were recorded worldwide, or more than 1.5 new alien species per day. "As the date of first record is not available for most alien species, these numbers are clearly underestimating the full extent of alien species introductions," said senior study author Franz Essl, of the University of Vienna, Austria. The team say the unprecedented increase in alien species numbers can lead to an increase in regional species richness but also lead to a variety of negative impacts on native ecosystems, including the global homogenization of floras and faunas, and the global extinction of native species. For this reason, various laws are currently in force globally attempting to mitigate the introduction of new alien species. "However our results show that the past efforts have not been effective enough to keep up with ongoing globalization. There is an urgent need to implement more effective prevention policies at all scales," concluded Essl.
News Article | February 22, 2017
A simple rule can accurately predict when Earth's climate warms out of an ice age, according to new research led by UCL. In a new study published today in Nature, researchers from UCL (University College London), University of Cambridge and University of Louvain have combined existing ideas to solve the problem of which solar energy peaks in the last 2.6 million years led to the melting of the ice sheets and the start of a warm period. During this interval, Earth's climate has alternated between cold (glacial) and warm (interglacial) periods. In the cold times, ice sheets advanced over large parts of North America and northern Europe. In the warm periods like today, the ice sheets retreated completely. It has long been realised that these cycles were paced by astronomical changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun and in the tilt of its axis, which change the amount of solar energy available to melt ice at high northern latitudes in summer. However, of the 110 incoming solar energy peaks (about every 21,000 years) only 50 led to complete melting of the ice sheets. Finding a way to translate the astronomical changes into the sequence of interglacials has previously proved elusive. Professor Chronis Tzedakis (UCL Geography) said: "The basic idea is that there is a threshold for the amount of energy reaching high northern latitudes in summer. Above that threshold, the ice retreats completely and we enter an interglacial." From 2.6 to 1 million years ago, the threshold was reached roughly every 41,000 years, and this predicts almost perfectly when interglacials started and the ice sheets disappeared. Professor Eric Wolff (University of Cambridge) said: "Simply put, every second solar energy peak occurs when the Earth's axis is more inclined, boosting the total energy at high latitudes above the threshold." Somewhere around a million years ago, the threshold rose, so that the ice sheets kept growing for longer than 41,000 years. However, as a glacial period lengthens, ice sheets become larger, but also more unstable. The researchers combined these observations into a simple model, using only solar energy and waiting time since the previous interglacial, that was able to predict all the interglacial onsets of the last million years, occurring roughly every 100,000 years. Dr Takahito Mitsui (University of Louvain) said: "The next step is to understand why the energy threshold rose around a million years ago - one idea is that this was due to a decline in the concentration of CO2, and this needs to be tested." The results explain why we have been in a warm period for the last 11,000 years: despite the weak increase in solar energy, ice sheets retreated completely during our current interglacial because of the very long waiting time since the previous interglacial and the accumulated instability of ice sheets. Intriguingly, the researchers found that sometimes the amount of energy was very close to the threshold, so that some interglacials were just aborted, while others just made it. "The threshold was only just missed 50,000 years ago. If it hadn't been missed, then we wouldn't have had an interglacial in the last 11,000 years" added Professor Michel Crucifix (University of Louvain). However, statistical analysis shows that the succession of interglacials is not chaotic: the sequence that has occurred is one among a very small set of possibilities. "Finding order among what can look like unpredictable swings in climate is aesthetically rather pleasing" said Professor Tzedakis. 1.) For more information, copies of the paper, or interview requests please contact Ruth Howells in UCL Media Relations on mob: +44 (0)7990 675 947, email: email@example.com 2.) The research paper 'A simple rule to determine which insolation cycles lead to interglacials' by P.C Tzedakis, M. Crucifix, T. Mitsui and E.W. Wolff, is published in Nature embargoed until Wednesday 22 February 2017, 1800 UK time (1300 US Eastern) doi: 10.1038/nature21364
News Article | March 1, 2017
Scientists have discovered microfossils believed to be older than any others found to date. So old, in fact, they come from a time when both Mars and Earth would have had liquid water on their surfaces. When life was first getting started on our planet, the original "hot spot" for a bit of microbial chillin' may have been around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean. Evidence for one ancient, microscopic gathering place has been found in rocks from northeastern Canada that contain what are believed to be the oldest fossils ever found. An international team led by University College London scientists found tiny filaments and tubes formed by ancient bacteria encased in quartz layers from Quebec's Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB), home to some of the oldest sedimentary rocks on Earth. The rocks are likely what remains of a pre-prehistoric deep-sea hydrothermal vent system that was rich in iron, providing sustenance for the world's first life forms between 3.7 and 4.3 billion years ago. "These discoveries demonstrate life developed on Earth at a time when Mars and Earth had liquid water at their surfaces, posing exciting questions for extra-terrestrial life," said UCL Ph.D. student Matthew Dodd in a press release. Dodd is the lead author on a study detailing the findings in this week's issue of the journal Nature. "Therefore, we expect to find evidence for past life on Mars 4 billion years ago, or if not, Earth may have been a special exception." Before this new discovery, the oldest known microfossils were from western Australia and dated back 3.46 billion years, although there was some question whether or not they were of truly biological origin. The researchers behind the new discovery say they tried to eliminate possible non-biological means that could have formed the tubes and filaments. They say the structures they found are frequently associated with fossils formed by bacteria oxidizing iron for energy. "The fact we unearthed them from one of the oldest known rock formations, suggests we've found direct evidence of one of Earth's oldest life forms," said lead researcher Dr. Dominic Papineau from UCL. "This discovery helps us piece together the history of our planet and the remarkable life on it, and will help to identify traces of life elsewhere in the universe." NASA, Elon Musk and other space explorers and astrobiologists may want to take note, as the researchers believe their findings could be handy to anyone looking for evidence of past life on Mars or perhaps even organisms currently hanging out in similar hydrothermal vent systems on worlds like Europa. Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."
News Article | February 21, 2017
The amount of effort required to do something influences what we think we see, finds a new UCL study suggesting we're biased towards perceiving anything challenging to be less appealing. "Our brain tricks us into believing the low-hanging fruit really is the ripest," says Nobuhiro Hagura, who led the UCL team before moving to NICT in Japan. "We found that not only does the cost to act influence people's behavior, but it even changes what we think we see." For the study, published in eLife, a total of 52 participants took part in a series of tests where they had to judge whether a cloud of dots on a screen was moving to the left or to the right. They expressed their decisions by moving a handle held in the left or right hand respectively. When the researchers gradually added a load to one of the handles, making it more difficult to move, the volunteers' judgements about what they saw became biased, and they started to avoid the effortful response. If weight was added to the left handle, participants were more likely to judge the dots to be moving rightwards as that decision was slightly easier for them to express. Crucially, the participants did not become aware of the increasing load on the handle: their motor system automatically adapted, triggering a change in their perception. "The tendency to avoid the effortful decision remained even when we asked people to switch to expressing their decision verbally, instead of pushing on the handles," Hagura said. "The gradual change in the effort of responding caused a change in how the brain interpreted the visual input. Importantly, this change happened automatically, without any awareness or deliberate strategy." "Traditionally, scientists have assumed the visual system gives us perceptual information, and the motor system is a mere downstream output channel, which expresses our decision based on what we saw, without actually influencing the decision itself. Our experiments suggest an alternative view: the motor response that we use to report our decisions can actually influence the decision about what we have seen," he said. The researchers believe that our daily decisions could be modified not just through deliberate cognitive strategies, but also by designing the environment to make these decisions slightly more effortful. "The idea of 'implicit nudge' is currently popular with governments and advertisers," said co-author Patrick Haggard (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience). "Our results suggest these methods could go beyond changing how people behave, and actually change the way the world looks. Most behavior change focuses on promoting a desired behavior, but our results suggest you could also make it less likely that people see the world a certain way, by making a behavior more or less effortful. Perhaps the parent who places the jar of biscuits on a high shelf actually makes them look less tasty to the toddler playing on the floor."
News Article | March 1, 2017
About 35 kilometers south of Inukjuak, an Inuit village in the far North of Quebec, lies an unusual rocky outcrop. Known as the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt, it's mostly made up of grey-green rock, laced with veins of red. If you took the arduous trip there, and weren't a geologist, you might not realize what you were standing on. These rocks are thought to have formed billions of years ago under a prehistoric ocean, near ancient hydrothermal vents. And now they've yielded signs of extraordinarily ancient life, rewriting our planet's history. In a new paper in Nature, an international team of researchers say these rocks are between 3.8 and 4.3 billion years old—the oldest rocks ever found on the planet. But that's not all. Their bizarre structures are signs of the presence of ancient microorganisms, making them the oldest "microfossils" ever found, and the oldest record of life on Earth. Our planet is just over 4.5 billion years old. Back in the era when these rocks were formed, not much more than a few hundred million years after Earth cooled and the oceans formed, it had a mostly toxic atmosphere and conditions that wouldn't be considered suitable for pretty much any sort of life we know of today. (Our planet's earliest time period, the Hadean Eon, which dated from about 4.5 to 4 billion years ago, was so hellish that it's literally named after Hades.) That's one reason discoveries like this are important: If life could spring up on our primitive planet, chances look better that it might have emerged on other planets, too. Geochemist Dominic Papineau, who is from Quebec, made a field expedition to the northern part of the province in 2011. It took three flights in small "propeller planes" to get to the site, he told Motherboard in an interview, as well as a three-hour boat ride. Papineau wasn't expecting to find fossils, mostly because the rocks were all heavily metamorphosed (meaning they had undergone changes under immense pressure and heat beneath the Earth's crust, a process thought likely to destroy any possible signs of life). So it was curious, he said, that bright red-banded iron formations were spattered among the grey-green landscape. "One hypothesis about these rocks is that there was biological involvement in their formation," said Papineau, who is a professor at University College London (UCL). Certain types of bacteria that exist today are able to harvest nutrients from iron through a chemical reaction. Papineau began to wonder if similar organisms existed some 4 billion years ago. "I was intrigued by the occurrence of these rocks, so I sampled them," said Papineau. "But what really gave me a hint that something important might be preserved in there is that I found concretions [mineral deposits formed by microbes] of jasper in the field." Read More: Why Is This Weird Glacier Yellow? The Answer Could Help Find Alien Life Deposits of hematite (an iron mineral) found embedded in the quartz-like jasper formed a wide variety of structures resembling tubes and filaments, granules and rosettes. Although this implied a possible biological origin, it still wasn't a slam dunk. There are ways the structures could be created through non-biological interactions, so Papineau and the other scientists had to look further. One interesting characteristic of the formations were the layers of other minerals around them. "The rosettes that we documented are composed of carbonate along with apatite and graphitic carbon," he said. "Carbonate with apatite is really the stuff of bones." In other words, here was more organic matter that could have originated from microfossils. At UCL, he and lead author Matthew Dodd used microscopy and spectroscopy to continue to investigate these rocks. Eventually, they concluded there was evidence for microfossils of ancient iron-oxidizing organisms. There are only a few other places around the world where you can find rocks of this age. One is the stromatolites of Greenland. In 2016, scientists announced they'd discovered fossils there dating back 3.7 billion years. At that point, they were the oldest known. These were produced within the same geological period as those described in the new study in Quebec, and were made by oxygen-producing microorganisms. That means that not only was there life in the very early stages of the planet—it was relatively diverse. "If there were oxygen producing microbes then, [as well as] microbes that were oxidizing iron near hydrothermal vents, we have quite a significant diversity, because these are somewhat distantly related microorganisms today," said Papineau. The implications of finding two distinct branches of life so early in the planet's history has implications for finding life on other planets. If two separate species of bacteria were able to evolve this early on Earth, could they also be found near hydrothermal vents in Mars' ancient seas, or within Europa's possible subsurface ocean? Scientists have already found hematite concretions on Mars, in the form of "blueberries" discovered by the Opportunity rover. Papineau choose Quebec as his target because, after learning about the work in Greenland, he knew similar samples could be found closer to home. "This is my home province. This is my home country," he said. Now, by exploring the ancient rocks of its northernmost reaches, he and his collaborators have rewritten the history of life on Earth. Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.
News Article | February 23, 2017
People who suffer long-term stress may also be more prone to obesity People who suffer long-term stress may also be more prone to obesity, according to research by scientists at UCL which involved examining hair samples for levels of cortisol, a hormone which regulates the body's response to stress. The paper, published in the journal Obesity, showed that exposure to higher levels of cortisol over several months is associated with people being more heavily, and more persistently, overweight. Chronic stress has long been hypothesised to be implicated in obesity - people tend to report overeating and 'comfort eating' foods high in fat, sugar and calories in times of stress, and the stress hormone cortisol plays an important role in metabolism and determining where fat is stored. Previous studies looking at the link between cortisol and obesity relied mainly on measurements of the hormone in blood, saliva or urine which may vary according to the time of day and other situational factors. These studies failed to capture long-term cortisol levels. This research involved 2,527 men and women aged 54 and older taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, taking data over a four-year period. In the research, the scientists took a lock of hair 2cm long from each participant which was cut as close possible to a person's scalp - this represented approximately two months' hair growth with associated accumulated levels of cortisol. They also examined the participants' weight, body mass index and waist circumference and how hair cortisol related to the persistence of obesity over time. They found that people who had higher levels of cortisol present in their hair tended to have larger waist circumference measurements, were heavier, and had a higher body mass index (BMI). Individuals classified as obese on the basis of their BMI (?30) or waist circumference (?102cm in men, ?88cm in women) had particularly high levels of hair cortisol. "These results provide consistent evidence that chronic stress is associated with higher levels of obesity," said Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Epidemiology and Public Health) who led the research. "People who had higher hair cortisol levels also tended to have larger waist measurements, which is important because carrying excess fat around the abdomen is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and premature death." "Hair cortisol is a relatively new measure which offers a suitable and easily obtainable method for assessing chronically high levels of cortisol concentrations in weight research and may therefore aid in further advancing understanding in this area." There were limitations to the study, which included the fact the data was from an older population in which levels of cortisol may differ relative to younger adults and the sample was almost exclusively white. It is not currently known whether chronically elevated cortisol levels are a cause or a consequence of obesity. More research is needed and if causation is proved, then targeting cortisol levels may offer a new method for treating obesity.