Hyderabad, India
Hyderabad, India

The University of Hyderabad is a Central University located in the city of Hyderabad in Telangana, India. Founded in 1974, this public and largely residential university occupies about 2000 acres in the locality of Gachibowli on the outskirts of the city. The University came into existence as one of the points of the so-called Six-Point Formula of 1973, the political settlement arrived at after the protests during the 1960s and early 1970s in the region. The organic chemist and Professor of Chemistry at the Banaras Hindu University, Gurbakhsh Singh was the first Vice-Chancellor of the UoH, from 1974 to 1979. Shri B D Jatti was the first Chancellor of the University. The Governor of the state of Telangana is ex-officio the Chief Rector of the University, while the President of India is the Visitor to the University.In January 2015 University of Hyderabad has been selected for the Visitor’s Award for the Best Central University in India Wikipedia.


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News Article | May 19, 2017
Site: cerncourier.com

One of the most brilliant theorists of his time, Pierre Binétruy, passed away on 1 April. Binétruy received his doctorate on gauge theories in 1980 under the direction of Mary K Gaillard, and held several positions including a CERN fellowship and postdocs in the US. In 1986, he was recruited as a researcher at LAPP in Annecy-le-Vieux and, four years later, he moved to the University of Paris XI. Since 2003 he was a professor at Paris Diderot University. He helped to found the Astroparticle and Cosmology Laboratory (APC) in 2005 and was its director until 2013. We also owe to him the involvement of the APC in space sciences, Earth sciences, and the realisation of the importance of data science. Binétruy’s research interests evolved from high-energy physics (notably supersymmetry) to cosmology and gravitation, and in particular the intersection between the primordial universe and fundamental theories. His recent interests included inflation models, dark energy and gravitational-wave cosmological backgrounds. During his prolific career, he published seminal papers that approached 1000 citations each and received several awards, including the Thibaud Prize and the Paul Langevin Award. But he will also be remembered for his spirit and courage. He knew that it was necessary not only to seek scientific truth but also to have the courage to prepare the community for the scientific goals that this truth demands and to fight to defend them. Older members of IN2P3 remember the extraordinary intellectual atmosphere that animated the Supersymmetry Research Group, which he proposed and directed from 1997 to 2004, transforming it into an unprecedented crossroads for experimenters and theorists. By that time, when the detection of gravitational waves was for many a distant dream, he also had the intuition to involve France in the field of gravitational-wave detection via the LISA Pathfinder programme – a scientific choice to which he devoted great dynamism right up to his death. Binétruy was also an inspiration to hundreds of students. Through the MOOC Gravity project, which he developed in collaboration with George Smoot, his courses reached tens of thousands of students. He viewed MOOC not just as a simple way to improve the visibility of the university, but as a revolution in the way knowledge is diffused. In parallel with these activities, Binétruy found time to be president of the Fundamental Physics Advisory Group (2008–2010) and the Fundamental Physics Roadmap Committee (2009–2010) of ESA; the French consortium of the LISA space mission; the theory division of the French Physical Society (1995–2003); and the theory section of CNRS (2005–2008). He was also a member of the IN2P3 Scientific Committee (1996–2000) and numerous other panels. Alongside his scientific activities, which he pursued with enthusiasm and unfailing rigor, Binétruy had a deep appreciation and knowledge of broader culture. He had a profound knowledge of the arts, where he was the driving force behind several interactions between art and science. As one of his eminent colleagues said of him: “Pierre was one of those very exceptional people who was at the top of the game and, at the same time, a remarkably pleasant colleague.” Our mentor, colleague and close friend Gösta Ekspong passed away peacefully on 24 February at the age of 95. His life as a particle physicist covered the nuclear-emulsion epoch, the bubble-chamber years, experiments at CERN’s Large Electron–Positron (LEP) and Super Proton Synchrotron colliders. In his retirement he closely followed the results from the LHC, in particular the search for the Higgs boson. In 1950 Ekspong was working with Cecil Powell’s group in Bristol, UK, which had become a world-leading centre for cosmic-ray emulsion work. In a brilliant experiment with Hooper and King he identified the decay π0 → γγ. By observing e+e– pairs from the conversion of the photons close to cosmic-ray interactions, it was possible to determine the mass of the π0 and set an upper limit for its lifetime. Ekspong obtained his doctorate at Uppsala University, Sweden, in 1955, and immediately took up a postdoc position in Emilio Segré’s group at Berkeley where he was involved in the discovery of the antiproton at the Bevatron. Scanning emulsions one evening, he found the first evidence for an annihilation interaction in an emulsion, and on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the antiproton he was invited to Berkeley to talk about the discovery. Ekspong was appointed to the first chair in particle physics in Sweden, at Stockholm University, in 1960. There he founded a large particle-physics group that over the years made important contributions to many experiments with data mostly from CERN. He strongly supported the use of CERN, where he was a member and chair of the Emulsion Committee in the early 1960s and a member of the Scientific Policy Committee from 1969 to 1975. He was Swedish delegate to CERN Council for many years and was a catalyst for the development of Swedish particle physics. He was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1969 and was a member of its Nobel Committee for physics from 1975 to 1988, chairing the committee from 1987 to 1988. His deep knowledge of statistics allowed Ekspong to clarify general features of high-energy interactions. Data from CERN’s Proton Synchrotron and bubble chambers had suggested that the multiplicity distributions of charged particles obeyed so-called “KNO” scaling, but this relationship was found not to be valid in later collider data recorded at higher energies with the UA5 experiment. In a discovery reported and discussed by him at many conferences, Ekspong showed that the distributions instead followed a negative binomial distribution. In the early studies of physics possibilities at the planned LEP collider, Ekspong also made a convincing contribution to the search strategy for observing the Higgs boson by carefully examining the experimental mass resolution. This strategy was later employed by the LEP experiments to exclude the Higgs mass up to about 115 GeV. He also took part in the technical development of one of the LEP experiments, DELPHI. Gösta Ekspong inspired many with his lectures, discussions, and stories about Nobel-prize discoveries. In many articles in Swedish he made physics available and understandable for the general public. Gareth Hughes joined the high-energy physics group at Lancaster University in 1970, following his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Oxford University. He was born in Wales and was a proud supporter of the Welsh Rugby Union team, although he had never played the game. He used to say that he was among the few Welshmen who never played rugby, who could not sing and who did not like leeks. Ironically, he died on the feast day of St David, the patron saint of Wales. Following his appointment in Lancaster, Gareth played a central role in the work of the Manchester–Lancaster experiment (dubbed “Mancaster”) at Daresbury Laboratory to study the electro-production of nucleon resonances (by which the components of the nucleon are converted to more highly energetic states). He subsequently went on to work on the JADE experiment at DESY, the ALEPH and then ATLAS experiments at CERN – all of which have been key in establishing the Standard Model of particle physics. Gareth’s main strength was computing. In the 1990s, as well as being a member of the CERN Central Computing Committee, he was chairman of the committee that produced the policy on computing for UK particle physics. This was a very rapidly changing field at the time but a subject in which Gareth’s insight and guidance was to prove invaluable. He was also a prominent member of the Particle Physics Grants Committee and other bodies that manage funding for UK particle physics. He was an excellent teacher, his gentle sense of humour and infinite patience making him a much sought after member of staff by both undergraduate and postgraduate students. He eventually became director of undergraduate courses within the physics department at Lancaster. Gareth’s quick grasp of a situation and clear insight made him an extremely valuable colleague with whom to discuss problems. He was widely known and, in turn, seemed to know everyone. This proved to be a great help on numerous occasions. He retired from the physics department in 2007 but continued his involvement with the ATLAS experiment as an emeritus staff member until his death following a short illness. He will be sorely missed by us all but especially by his wife Jane, daughter Siân and son Owain, and his four grandchildren. Thomas Massam received his undergraduate degree in physics in 1956 at the Chadwick Laboratory, Cambridge, and his PhD at the University of Liverpool in 1960. Jovial but very serious and tireless at work, Tom devoted his life to experimental-physics research and to his family. I had the privilege of meeting Tom at the Fermi Summer School of Physics in Varenna, Italy, in 1962. The topics discussed at the school were the results of the Blackett group on the unexpected V particles, later called “strange” by Gell-Mann, and the effects of “virtual physics” in properties of the elementary particles and the experimental-plus-theoretical research needed. Tom was the most active student of the school, and soon afterwards he joined my group at Bologna University and remained there until his retirement in 2002. Together we performed experiments in all of the important laboratories in Europe, including CERN, DESY, ADONE and Gran Sasso. Tom had an extraordinary intelligence, work capacity and “scientific fidelity”. He is also one of the founders of the Ettore Majorana International Centre for Scientific Culture, established at CERN in the early 1960s with its headquarters in Erice, Sicily. In 1972, Tom initiated an International School of Theory Application of Computers. Tom played a major role, contributing with his extraordinary experimental talents, in experiments that established evidence for the Standard Model during the 1960s and afterwards. He helped to set up the first large-scale non-bubble-chamber facility at CERN, and was a close collaborator in our adoption of electromagnetic calorimeters as a tool to separate leptons from hadrons to allow searches for new particle states. Together, we started the first heavy-lepton search and developed a new technology to measure the time-of-flight of particles with a very high precision, leading to the first experimental observation of anti-deuteron production. Tom, research director in the INFN unit of Bologna, was also giving regular physics courses to the students at the ISSP International School of Subnuclear Physics in Erice, established in 1963. Tom is no longer with us. On 1 December 2016 he left his beloved family, Veronica with three children Peter, Steven, Paul, and his friends and colleagues with the unforgettable memory of his extraordinary life. Arthur H Rosenfeld, a long-time member of the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, and distinguished senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, passed away in Berkeley on 27 January at the age of 90. A student of Enrico Fermi, he was a leading participant in the revolutionary advances in particle physics in the 1950s and 1960s before striking out in a new direction, where he became legendary. A fitting tribute to Art was the award in 2006 of the Enrico Fermi Award of the US Department of Energy “for a lifetime of achievements ranging from pioneering scientific discoveries in experimental nuclear and particle physics to innovations in science, technology, and public policy for energy conservation that continue to benefit humanity. His vision not only underpins national policy but has helped launch an industry in energy efficiency”. Art’s first impact on the physics community was with Jay Orear and Robert Schluter, when the three of them produced the book Nuclear Physics consisting of the notes from Fermi’s course at the University of Chicago. Art came to Berkeley from Chicago and was part of Luis Alvarez’s team, which used bubble chambers to discover many of the meson and baryon resonances, including the omega meson and the Σ*(1385), which led to the recognition of SU(3) flavour symmetry. Art co-authored papers not only with experimenters, but also with Murray Gell-Mann, Shelly Glashow, and Sam Treiman. The 1957 Annual Review of Nuclear Science paper with Gell-Mann, “Hyperons and Heavy Mesons (Systematics and Decay)”, was the beginning of the Particle Data Group. Today’s Particle Data Group and the Review of Particle Physics are, 60 years later, Art’s legacy to the physics community. Much greater still is Art’s legacy to the US and international communities, which benefit today from his relentless pursuit of increased efficiency in the use of energy through both technological advances and political advocacy. The oil embargo of 1973 led Art to wonder why he saw so many obviously wasteful practices in the use of energy. He devoted the rest of his career to rectifying this. That per-capita usage of energy in California remained essentially constant from 1973 to 2006, while it rose by 50% elsewhere in the US, was given the name “The Rosenfeld Effect,” because of Art’s success in getting the state to adopt policies encouraging efficient use of energy. Art, together with a number of nuclear and particle physicists, and with the backing of Andrew Sessler, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in the mid-1970s, developed programmes in energy efficiency for buildings, appliances and lighting, which became a major part of the Laboratory’s programme. Art’s efforts extended beyond the laboratory. He was a founder of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a non-profit organisation that continues today to push for policies that increase energy efficiency. Art served in the Clinton administration from 1994 to 1999 as senior adviser to the DOE’s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and subsequently as commissioner at the California Energy Commission under two state administrations. Among the numerous honours Art received was the National Medal of Science and of Technology and Innovation presented by president Barack Obama in 2011 for “extraordinary leadership in the development of energy-efficient building technologies and related standards and policies”. Art showed that the analytical skills and pragmatism the physics community values could be put to use on practical problems facing humanity. The result of his dedication was profound and lasting contributions to energy efficiency. Despite Art’s ever growing fame, he remained an unassuming colleague, and we remember him as a friend whose achievements transcended the scope of our ordinary research endeavours. Durga Prasad Roy, or DP as he was popularly known, passed away on 17 March in Cuttack, India, after a brief illness. He was active until his last days, having posted a review on the arXiv preprint server in August 2016, participated in conferences in 2017 and having given a series of lectures on the Standard Model at the University of Hyderabad just a few days before he fell ill. DP completed his PhD in particle physics in 1966 at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California (1966–1968), CERN (1968–1969) and the University of Toronto (1969–1970). He moved to the Rutherford Laboratory in the UK (1970–1974), and was a reader at Visva Bharati University, India, from 1974 to 1976. He joined TIFR in 1976 and retired 30 years later in 2006. He then became a member of the Homi Bhabha Centre of Science Education. Scientifically, DP had an instinct for recognising what is important. He made pioneering contributions in particle- and astroparticle-physics phenomenology. His early research work was in the area of “Regge phenomenology and duality”, which addresses the dominant part of cross-sections for hadron–hadron collision processes. Using these ideas, DP predicted exotic mesons called baryonium (now termed tetraquarks) as well as exotic pentaquark baryons – robust predictions that continue to attract the attention of experimentalists and lattice-QCD experts. Along with his collaborators, he suggested to look for a hard isolated lepton and jets as a signature of the top quark, a methodology widely adopted at the CERN and Tevatron proton–antiproton colliders. He also worked extensively on many popular theories of physics beyond the Standard Model, such as supersymmetry. He suggested a promising signature with which to search for charged Higgs bosons using tau decays and the distinctive polarisation of these particles, which is currently being used in the ongoing search for charged Higgs boson at the LHC. Likewise, the missing transverse-momentum signature for supersymmetric particles suggested by DP is being widely used in the ongoing collider searches for these particles. DP and collaborators, and other groups, employed global fits of the solar-neutrino data, including the SNO neutral-current data from 2002, to pin down the large-mixing-angle (LMA) Mikheyev–Smiron–Wolfenstein (MSW) solution to the solar-neutrino problem. This was tested by two impressive sets of neutrino-spectrum results published by the KamLAND experiment in 2003 and 2004. Incorporating these data further in their analysis, and focussing on the LMA–MSW solution in the two-neutrino framework, DP and collaborators ruled out the high-mass-squared-difference LMA solution by more than three standard deviations and converged on the low-mass-squared difference LMA as the unique solution. His scientific achievements were recognised by the Meghnad Saha Award and the SN Bose Medal. He was elected fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Science Academy and National Academy of Sciences. Along with his colleague Probir Roy, DP started a series of workshops in high-energy physics phenomenology called WHEPP that still initiate a lot of collaborative work today. He was passionate about undergraduate teaching, but also had many interests outside science. He was a weightlifting champion of Orissa, an expert swimmer, and a connoisseur of Indian classical music and dance. His passion for adventure always showed up in the after-work evening activities at WHEPP workshops. He also had strong views on the lack of experimental investigations in ancient India, and published them in an article in the Indian Journal of History of Science in 2016.


News Article | May 25, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

Reading is such a new ability in human evolutionary history that the existence of a 'reading area' could not be specified in our genes. A kind of recycling process has to take place in the brain while learning to read: Areas evolved for the recognition of complex objects, such as faces, become engaged in translating letters into language. Some regions of our visual system thereby turn into interfaces between the visual and language systems. "Until now it was assumed that these changes are limited to the outer layer of the brain, the cortex, which is known to adapt quickly to new challenges," says project leader Falk Huettig from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. The Max Planck researchers together with Indian scientists from the Centre of Bio-Medical Research (CBMR) Lucknow and the University of Hyderabad have now discovered what changes occur in the adult brain when completely illiterate people learn to read and write. In contrast to previous assumptions, the learning process leads to a reorganisation that extends to deep brain structures in the thalamus and the brainstem. The relatively young phenomenon of human writing therefore changes brain regions that are very old in evolutionary terms and already core parts of mice and other mammalian brains. "We observed that the so-called colliculi superiores, a part of the brainstem, and the pulvinar, located in the thalamus, adapt the timing of their activity patterns to those of the visual cortex," says Michael Skeide, scientific researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and first author of the study, which has just been published in the magazine Science Advances. "These deep structures in the thalamus and brainstem help our visual cortex to filter important information from the flood of visual input even before we consciously perceive it." Interestingly, it seems that the more the signal timings between the two brain regions are aligned, the better the reading capabilities. "We, therefore, believe that these brain systems increasingly fine-tune their communication as learners become more and more proficient in reading," the neuroscientist explains further. "This could explain why experienced readers navigate more efficiently through a text." The interdisciplinary research team obtained these findings in India, a country with an illiteracy rate of about 39 percent. Poverty still limits access to education in some parts of India especially for women. Therefore, in this study nearly all participants were women in their thirties. At the beginning of the training, the majority of them could not decipher a single written word of their mother tongue Hindi. Hindi, one of the official languages of India, is based on Devanagari, a scripture with complex characters describing whole syllables or words rather than single letters. Participants reached a level comparable to a first-grader after only six months of reading training. "This growth of knowledge is remarkable," says project leader Huettig. "While it is quite difficult for us to learn a new language, it appears to be much easier for us to learn to read. The adult brain proves to be astonishingly flexible." In principle, this study could also have taken place in Europe. Yet illiteracy is regarded as such a taboo in the West that it would have been immensely difficult to find volunteers to take part. Nevertheless, even in India where the ability to read and write is strongly connected to social class, the project was a tremendous challenge. The scientists recruited volunteers from the same social class in two villages in Northern India to make sure that social factors could not influence the findings. Brain scans were performed in the city of Lucknow, a three hours taxi ride away from participants' homes. The impressive learning achievements of the volunteers do not only provide hope for adult illiterates, they also shed new light on the possible cause of reading disorders such as dyslexia. One possible cause for the basic deficits observed in people with dyslexia has previously been attributed to dysfunctions of the thalamus. "Since we found out that only a few months of reading training can modify the thalamus fundamentally, we have to scrutinise this hypothesis," neuroscientist Skeide explains. It could also be that affected people show different brain activity in the thalamus just because their visual system is less well trained than that of experienced readers. This means that these abnormalities can only be considered an innate cause of dyslexia if they show up prior to schooling. "That's why only studies that assess children before they start to learn to read and follow them up for several years can bring clarity about the origins of reading disorders," Huettig adds.


News Article | May 24, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Reading is such a new ability in human evolutionary history that the existence of a 'reading area' could not be specified in our genes. A kind of recycling process has to take place in the brain while learning to read: Areas evolved for the recognition of complex objects, such as faces, become engaged in translating letters into language. Some regions of our visual system thereby turn into interfaces between the visual and language systems. "Until now it was assumed that these changes are limited to the outer layer of the brain, the cortex, which is known to adapt quickly to new challenges", says project leader Falk Huettig from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. The Max Planck researchers together with Indian scientists from the Centre of Bio-Medical Research (CBMR) Lucknow and the University of Hyderabad have now discovered what changes occur in the adult brain when completely illiterate people learn to read and write. In contrast to previous assumptions, the learning process leads to a reorganisation that extends to deep brain structures in the thalamus and the brainstem. The relatively young phenomenon of human writing therefore changes brain regions that are very old in evolutionary terms and already core parts of mice and other mammalian brains. "We observed that the so-called colliculi superiores, a part of the brainstem, and the pulvinar, located in the thalamus, adapt the timing of their activity patterns to those of the visual cortex", says Michael Skeide, scientific researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and first author of the study, which has just been published in the renowned magazine Science Advances. "These deep structures in the thalamus and brainstem help our visual cortex to filter important information from the flood of visual input even before we consciously perceive it." Interestingly, it seems that the more the signal timings between the two brain regions are aligned, the better the reading capabilities. "We, therefore, believe that these brain systems increasingly fine-tune their communication as learners become more and more proficient in reading", the neuroscientist explains further. "This could explain why experienced readers navigate more efficiently through a text." The interdisciplinary research team obtained these findings in India, a country with an illiteracy rate of about 39 percent. Poverty still limits access to education in some parts of India especially for women. Therefore, in this study nearly all participants were women in their thirties. At the beginning of the training, the majority of them could not decipher a single written word of their mother tongue Hindi. Hindi, one of the official languages of India, is based on Devanagari, a scripture with complex characters describing whole syllables or words rather than single letters. Participants reached a level comparable to a first-grader after only six months of reading training. "This growth of knowledge is remarkable", says project leader Huettig. "While it is quite difficult for us to learn a new language, it appears to be much easier for us to learn to read. The adult brain proves to be astonishingly flexible." In principle, this study could also have taken place in Europe. Yet illiteracy is regarded as such a taboo in the West that it would have been immensely difficult to find volunteers to take part. Nevertheless, even in India where the ability to read and write is strongly connected to social class, the project was a tremendous challenge. The scientists recruited volunteers from the same social class in two villages in Northern India to make sure that social factors could not influence the findings. Brain scans were performed in the city of Lucknow, a three hours taxi ride away from participants' homes. The impressive learning achievements of the volunteers do not only provide hope for adult illiterates, they also shed new light on the possible cause of reading disorders such as dyslexia. One possible cause for the basic deficits observed in people with dyslexia has previously been attributed to dysfunctions of the thalamus. "Since we found out that only a few months of reading training can modify the thalamus fundamentally, we have to scrutinise this hypothesis", neuroscientist Skeide explains. It could also be that affected people show different brain activity in the thalamus just because their visual system is less well trained than that of experienced readers. This means that these abnormalities can only be considered an innate cause of dyslexia if they show up prior to schooling. "That's why only studies that assess children before they start to learn to read and follow them up for several years can bring clarity about the origins of reading disorders", Huettig adds.


News Article | May 24, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

The brain did not evolve to read. It uses the neural muscle of pre-existing visual and language processing areas to enable us to take in works by Tolstoy and Tom Clancy. Reading, of course, begins in the first years of schooling, a time when these brain regions are still in development. What happens, though, when an adult starts learning after the age of 30? A study published May 24 in Science Advances turned up a few unexpected findings. In the report, a broad-ranging group of researchers—from universities in Germany, India and the Netherlands—taught reading to 21 women, all about 30 years of age from near the city of Lucknow in northern India, comparing them to a placebo group of nine women. The majority of those who learned to read could not recognize a word of Hindi at the beginning of the study. After six months, the group had reached a first-grade proficiency level. When the researchers conducted brain scans—using functional magnetic resonance imaging—they were startled. Areas deep below the wrinkled surface, the cortex, in the brains of the new learners had changed. Their results surprised them because most reading-related brain activity was thought to involve the cortex. The new research may overturn this presumption and may pertain pertain to child learners as well. After being filtered through the eyes, visual information may move first to evolutionarily ancient brain regions before being relayed to the visual and language areas of the cortex typically associated with reading. Scientific American interviewed Falk Huettig of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, the study’s senior author, to find out more. [An edited transcript follows.] What impelled you to take up the question of what are the changes in the brain of an illiterate adult who acquires some degree of literacy? The social implications of this kind of research are huge.  Hundreds of millions of adults are completely illiterate across the world. But also in Western countries such as the United States there are millions of functional illiterates, that is people who struggle to read even very simple sentences. We need to understand how flexible the brains of adults are for acquiring a hugely complex skill such as reading later in life to be able to put together literacy programs that have the best chance of succeeding to help these people. From a basic research point of view, working with illiterate people is also very rewarding. Writing is a very recent cultural invention if we look at the evolutionary history of our species. The first proper scripts were invented less than 6000 years ago. That means there is no reading area or reading network that could be specified in our genes. Looking at how cultural inventions change brain function and structures helps us to understand how the brain works on a fundamental level. How did you set about organizing the study? We needed to find adults who could not read at all to answer our research questions. We also wanted to use the latest technology to observe the changes in the brain. India was about the only place in the world where it was feasible to get this research done. India has made a lot of progress in increasing literacy levels but there are still large numbers of adults who cannot read even a single word today. At the same time modern MRI scanners are available at least in the big cities. Thus we got in touch with Indian colleagues to carry out the study. Was it difficult to put together-if so, can you be  specific? The logistic challenges were quite immense.  Although there are many illiterates in India they tend to live in the remote countryside far away from the big cities where the MRI scanners are. Even in India illiteracy is to some extent stigmatized and the ability to read and write is strongly connected to social class. We had to make sure that social factors could not influence the findings. We were grateful that a group of Dalit people, the most disadvantaged social group in India, were happy to take part. Brain scans were performed in the city of Lucknow, a three-hour taxi ride away from participants' homes. What did you find, what did you expect to find and what surprised you about your ultimate results? We expected to replicate previous findings that changes are limited to the outer layer of the brain, the cortex, which is known to adapt quickly to new challenges. We found the expected changes in the cortex but we also observed that the learning process leads to a reorganization that extends to deep brain structures in the thalamus and the brainstem. The relatively young phenomenon of human literacy therefore changes brain regions that are very old in evolutionary terms and already core parts of mice and other mammalian brains. More precisely, we found that a part of the brainstem known as the superior colliculus, and the pulvinar, located in the thalamus, adapt the timing of their activity patterns to those of the visual cortex. These deep structures in the thalamus and brainstem help our visual cortex to filter important information from the flood of visual input even before we consciously perceive it. Interestingly, it seems that the more the signal timings between the two brain regions are aligned, the better the reading capabilities. It appears that these brain systems  increasingly fine-tune their communication as learners become more and more proficient in reading Do your results have any implications for disorders such as dyslexia? The findings do not only provide hope for adult illiterates, they also shed new light on the possible cause of reading disorders such as dyslexia. One possible cause for the basic deficits observed in people with dyslexia has previously been attributed to dysfunctions of the thalamus. Since we found out that only a few months of reading training can modify the thalamus fundamentally, we have to look more closely at this hypothesis. It could also be that affected people show different brain activity in the thalamus just because their visual system is less well trained than that of experienced readers. This means that these abnormalities can only be considered an innate cause of dyslexia if they show up prior to schooling. That's why only studies that assess children before they start to learn to read and follow them up for several years can bring clarity about the origins of reading disorders. Here is a full list of researchers: Michael A. Skeide, department of neuropsychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences;  Uttam Kumar, Centre of Biomedical Research, Uttar Pradesh, India; Ramesh K. Mishra, University of Hyderabad, India and Centre for Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences, University of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India; Viveka N. Tripathi, Centre for Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences, and department of psychology, University of Allahabad, Allahabad; Anupam Guleria, Centre of Biomedical Research, Uttar Pradesh, India; Jay P. Singh, Centre for Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences, University of Allahabad; Frank Eisner, Donders Institute, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands and Falk Huettig, psychology of language department, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands.


Grant
Agency: European Commission | Branch: FP7 | Program: CP-TP | Phase: KBBE.2013.3.6-01 | Award Amount: 11.70M | Year: 2013

The Nano3Bio project convenes a consortium of world renowned experts from 8 EU universities, 1 large company, and 14 SME, to develop biotechnological production systems for nanoformulated chitosans. Chitosans, chitin-derived polysaccharides varying in their degree of polymerisation (DP), degree of acetylation (DA), and pattern of acetylation (PA), are among the most versatile and most promising biopolymers, with excellent physico-chemical and material properties, and a wide range of biological functionalities, but their economic potential is far from being exploited due to i) problems with reproducibility of biological activities as todays chitosans are rather poorly defined mixtures, and ii) the threat of allergen contamination from their typical animal origin. The Nano3Bio project will overcome these hurdles to market entry and penetration by producing in vitro and in vivo defined oligo- and polymers with controlled, tailor-made DP, DA, and PA. Genes for chitin synthases, chitin deacetylases, and transglycosylating chitinases/chitosanases will be mined from different (meta)genomic sources and heterologously expressed, the recombinant enzymes characterized and optimized by protein engineering through rational design and molecular evolution, e.g. targeting engineered glycosynthases. These enzymes and genes will be used for in vitro and in vivo biosynthesis in microbial and microalgal systems, focusing on bacteria and diatoms. The bioinspired chitosans will be formulated into biomineralised hydrogels, nanoparticles, nanoscaffolds, etc., to impart novel properties, including by surface nano-imprinting, and will be bench-marked against their conventional counterparts in a variety of cell based assays and routine industrial tests for e.g. cosmetics and pharma markets. The process will be accompanied by comprehensive life cycle assessments including thorough legal landscaping, and by dissemination activities targeted to the scientific community and the general public.

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