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Showing posts from August, 2018

Compulsive alcohol consumption wired differently in the brain

Is compulsive alcohol consumption wired differently in the brain?  Social drinking can be defined by the level of choice and the nature of the choice to drink alcohol.    Social drinkers drink with others.  It involves parts of the brain that underpin habits, but allow us to make free choices.

But what about compulsive drinking?  Are different areas of the brain activated in compulsive drinkers?  The answer it seems is yes.

Visual alcohol cues for heavy drinkers activate an area of the brain called the dorsal striatum.  In social drinkers it is the ventral striatum that is activated.  This suggests different brain circuits are at work in heavy, compulsive alcohol drinkers.

Heavy alcohol drinkers attempt to acquire alcohol despite the threat of a negative consequence more so than light drinkers, a study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging has found, and this behaviour is associated with unique activation of brain circuitry in heavy d…

Clear blue lakes turning murky in USA

New research reveals that many lakes in the continental United States are becoming murkier, with potentially negative consequences for water quality and aquatic life. These are the findings of a study published in Limnology and Oceanography.

From blue, clear lakes to greenish brown In the 5 years between 2007 and 2012, the dominant lake type in the United States shifted from clear, blue lakes to greenish-brown, murky lakes. Blue lakes declined by 18% while murky lakes increased by 12%. 



Overall, “blue” lakes decreased by ~ 18% (46% of lakes in 2007 to 28% in 2012) while “murky” lakes increased by almost 12% (24% of lakes in 2007 to 35.4% in 2012).  So, the majority of lakes are now murky.

Regionally, murky lakes significantly increased in the Northern Appalachian, Southern Plains, and Xeric ecoregions.

In the Northern Appalachians, blue lakes decreased by 41.4%, brown lakes increased by 17.8%, and murky lakes increased by 26.8%. In the Northern Plains, green lakes significantly increas…

Maternal depression can impact child mental and physical health

Maternal depression has been repeatedly linked with negative childhood outcomes, including increased psychopathology.  Now, a new study shows that depression in mothers may impact on their children's stress levels,  as well as their physical and mental well-being throughout life.

In the study, published in the journal  Depression & Anxiety,  the researchers followed 125 children from birth to 10 years.

At 10 years old, the mothers’ and children’s cortisol (CT) and secretory immunoglobulin (s-IgA)—markers of stress and the immune system (see below)—were measured, and mother-child interaction were observed.
Psychiatric assessment  The mothers and children also had psychiatric diagnoses, and the children's externalising and internalising symptoms were reported.



Internalising disorders include depression, withdrawal, anxiety, and loneliness. They are often how we 'feel inside', such as  anger, pain, fear or hurt, but may not show it.  In contrast, externalising symptom…

Are e-cigarettes more harmful than we think?

E-cigarettes have effects similar to those seen in regular smokers and patients with chronic lung disease.  This is the conclusion of authors of a new report published online in the journal Thorax.

E-cigarette vapour boosts the production of inflammatory chemicals and disables key protective cells in the lung that keep the air spaces clear of potentially harmful particles.
Impaired lung defences The vapour impairs the activity of vital protective cells in the tiny air sacs of the lung,  the alveolar (air sac) macrophages.

These macrophages are the 'big eaters',  or the scavengers,  of the respiratory tract. They are  cells of the immune system whose role is to engulf debris, removing dust particles, bacteria, and allergens that get through the mechanical defences of the respiratory tract.  They are a crucial line of defence.

Without them, our respiratory systems would become choked with detritus and pathogens, and our lungs would be more readily infected.
E-cigarettes may be mor…

Stress in pregnancy can increase anxiety in female babies

High maternal levels of the stress hormone cortisol during pregnancy increase prevalence of anxious and depressive-like behaviour in female offspring assessed at the age of two.  This is the finding of a new study in the journal Biological Psychiatry.


Effects of cortisol on the developing brain The effect of elevated maternal cortisol appeared to result from stronger communication between brain regions involved in sensory and emotion processing.  But this effect was seen only in female offspring and not in boys.

Over the last two decades studies have demonstrated the importance of the environment in the womb in health and disease in later life.  Programming of the brain is not gene-centred but critically dependent on conditions during pregnancy and in early postnatal life.  
The findings of this new study show again the role of prenatal conditions in developing later susceptibility to mental health problems in offspring.   It also demonstrates a specific risk factor for females.

John K…

Nicotine exposure in pregnancy linked to cot death

Nicotine exposure during pregnancy, whether from smoking cigarettes, or nicotine patches and e-cigarettes, increases risk of sudden infant death syndrome – sometimes known as “cot death” – according to new research published in The Journal of Physiology.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexpected death of an infant under 12 months of age occuring typically while sleeping. Failure of auto resuscitation, the ability to recover normal heart rate and breathing following gasping caused by lack of oxygen in the brain, has been recorded in human SIDS cases.



Smoking increases risk for SIDS Over the last decade, use of cigarettes has declined significantly, however, over 10% of pregnant women still smoke during pregnancy. Over recent years nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine patches or e-cigarettes, have been prescribed to women who wish to quit smoking during their pregnancy. However, nicotine replacement therapies may not protect infants from SIDS. 
With inc…

Maternal DDT exposure associated with autism?

A new study suggests exposure to residues persisting in the environment from pesticides banned fifty years ago is associated with autism.

The new study provides the first biomarker-based evidence in humans that maternal exposure to DDT residues in the food chain may increase the risk of autism in their children.

DDTs (organochlorines) were widely banned as pesticides from the late 1970s,  but residues persist in the food chain.



These persistent organic pollutants can be transferred from the mother across the placenta to the fetus, resulting in fetal blood concentrations ranging from 30% to 50% of levels found in maternal blood.  
The investigation,  published online in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was derived from the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism, a large national birth cohort with maternal serum specimens from early pregnancy tested for levels of the organochlorine DDT (dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane) and its metabolite DDE (dichlorodiphenyl-dichloroethylene).
Low birthwe…

British mammals at risk of extinction

Almost one in five of British mammal species face a high risk of extinction, according to the first comprehensive review of their populations for more than 20 years launched this week by The Mammal Society and Natural England.

The red squirrel, wildcat and the grey long-eared bat are all facing severe threats to their survival.

Other mammals such as the hedgehog and water vole have seen their populations decline by up to 66% over the past 20 years.

Climate change and pesticides Climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and road deaths are all putting pressure on some of the best loved and most recognisable of Britain’s 58 terrestrial mammals.  
Prof Fiona Mathews, Mammal Society Chair and professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Sussex, says This is happening on our own doorstep so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores forever.Urgent need f…

Dame Emma Thompson leads charge against rainforest destruction

Dame Emma Thompson, backed by a host of other famous names, has taken aim at big brands including Unilever, Nestle and Mondelez today, as Greenpeace releases a powerful new 90-second animation that highlights how orangutans are being pushed to the brink of extinction because of deforestation for palm oil.



Launched globally today, just ahead of International Orangutan Day (on August 19), the film, voiced by Emma Thompson, will also be shown across UK cinemas with thousands of screenings throughout August and September. It has been made by creative agency Mother (directed by award-winning Salon Alpin) and produced by Oscar-winning Passion Animation Studios.

Celebrities taking to social media to share it include Stephen Fry, Bryan Adams, Jodie Kidd, Alesha Dixon, Andy Serkis, Geri Horner (née Halliwell), Gregg Wallace and Sharon Osbourne.

The film tells the story of baby Rang-tan as she causes mischief in a little girl’s bedroom. Just as the girl is about to banish her, she asks Rang-tan…

From peregrines to european starlings

A federal court has ordered the US Environmental Protection Agency to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos because it is harmful to human health.   This is good news for the environment as much as it is for human safety.
From peregrine falcons to european starlings Just as peregrine falcons help alert us to the harmful effects of organochlorine pesticides,  european starlings alert us to the harmful effects of organophosphates.   The studies of these birds demonstrate the harmful effects on wildlife.



In 1973 I was a student of Zoology at Manchester University.   For my very first assignment, my tutor gave me the name of a species,  the peregrine falcon, Falco perigranus, and a set of dates, and asked me to do some research in the library and write a short report.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Derrick Ratcliff of the British Nature Conservancy noted a sharp decline in peregrine falcons across Europe. Soon after this observation correlations between eggshell thickness and reproductive failure i…

Bottlenose dolphins come out to play

New research shows young bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) learn and develop through play, just like human children.

Anyone who has a dog or a cat will know that they play, particularly when they are young.  Play is an important way of testing and understanding the world about them.


Problem solving skills Play also creates scenarios, and tests positions and possibilities.  It develops prowess and agility.  It rehearses action,  and with different behavioural strategies and methods, individuals can develop a variety of problem-solving skills that can be applied across different contexts. It enhances stimulation and sensory experience, but above all,  play is by its nature 'enjoyable'.
Cultural learning Like humans, dolphins have big brains.  Play is also vital for  developing the complex neural circuitry of a dolphin's  brain, a great deal of which will be forming after birth and in early life.

Previous research suggests that complex social and cultural characteristics…

Childhood trauma and later life cancer

Events in childhood influence profoundly how we cope with poor health as adults.  Now, a new study shows that those who experienced childhood trauma are more likely to have advanced cancer in later life.

Among individuals with head and neck cancer, those who experienced childhood trauma were more likely to have advanced cancer, to have higher alcohol consumption, and to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings indicate that childhood trauma history should be considered during treatment for head and neck cancers.

Stress, anxiety and depression Individuals may experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression during and after cancer diagnosis and treatment.  Because human social interaction and emotional expression depend largely on the structural and functional integrity of the head and neck region, the diagnosis and treatment of HNC have a significant psychological impac…

Tiger farming threat to wild tigers

The demand for 'traditional medicine'  is driving tigers to extinction.  Tiger farming feeding this demand fosters the market for poaching, increasing the threat to tigers in the wild. 
The rising demand for tiger parts and rapid increase in price of tiger bone continues to be an irresistible incentive to poachers.


According to the World Wildlife Fund, the number of tigers on tiger farms has escalated rapidly in recent years, with 7,000-8,000 tigers reportedly held in a large number of facilities throughout East and Southeast Asia – most notably in China, Thailand, Lao PDR and Vietnam.

This captive population is estimated to be much higher than the remaining tigers in the wild, which are found across eleven countries. Each of these last remaining wild tigers is threatened by the illegal trade in their body parts – from their skins down to their bones – which are traded by criminals for profit on the black market. Breeding tigers for profit You might think tiger farming would b…

The invasion of the ladybirds

Aliens are invading the United Kingdom and the consequences may be far reaching.

The non-native harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis has rapidly spread throughout Europe and is now displacing native species in the UK.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge have been tracking the invasion.   They examined changes in ladybird communities at four sites (two lime tree sites, one pine tree site and one nettle site) in East Anglia, England, over an 11-year period (2006–2016).


Harlequin Ladybirds displacing native species Their study, published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity shows that overall Harlequins represented 41.5% of all ladybirds sampled in 2006 to a high of 70.7%  and was over three times more abundant than the second commonest species, Coccinella septempunctata.

The proportion of native ladybirds declined from 99.8%  in 2006 to 30.7%  in 2016, although Halequins were dominant only at the lime tree sites and not at the pine or nettle sites.
In an e…