Controlling behavior, remotely

first_imgIn the quest to understand how the brain turns sensory input into behavior, Harvard scientists have crossed a major threshold. Using precisely targeted lasers, researchers have been able to take over a tiny animal’s brain, instruct it to turn in any direction they wish, and even implant false sensory information, fooling the animal into thinking food was nearby.As described in a Sept. 23 paper published in the journal Nature, a team made up of Sharad Ramanathan, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and of applied physics; Askin Kocabas, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular and cellular biology; Ching-Han Shen, a graduate student in molecular and cellular biology; and Zengcai V. Guo, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, were able to take control of Caenorhabditis elegans — tiny, transparent worms — by manipulating neurons in the worms’ brain.The work, Ramanathan said, is important because, by taking control of complex behaviors in a relatively simple animal — C. elegans have just 302 neurons ­— researchers can understand how its nervous system functions. “If we can understand simple nervous systems to the point of completely controlling them, then it may be a possibility that we can gain a comprehensive understanding of more complex systems,” Ramanathan said. “This gives us a framework to think about neural circuits, how to manipulate them, which circuit to manipulate, and what activity patterns to produce in them.”“Extremely important work in the literature has focused on ablating neurons, or studying mutants that affect neuronal function, and mapping out the connectivity of the entire nervous system,” he added. “Most of these approaches have discovered neurons necessary for specific behavior by destroying them. The question we were trying to answer was: Instead of breaking the system to understand it, can we essentially hijack the key neurons that are sufficient to control behavior and use these neurons to force the animal to do what we want?”Before Ramanathan and his team could begin to answer that question, however, they needed to overcome a number of technical challenges.Using genetic tools, researchers engineered worms whose neurons gave off fluorescent light, allowing them to be tracked during experiments. Researchers also altered genes in the worms that made neurons sensitive to light, meaning they could be activated with pulses of laser light.The largest challenges, though, came in developing the hardware necessary to track the worms and target the correct neuron in a fraction of a second.“The goal is to activate only one neuron,” Ramanathan explained. “That’s challenging because the animal is moving, and the neurons are densely packed near its head, so the challenge is to acquire an image of the animal, process that image, identify the neuron, track the animal, position your laser, and shoot the particular neuron — and do it all in 20 milliseconds, or about 50 times a second. The engineering challenges involved seemed insurmountable when we started. Askin Kocabas found ways to overcome these challenges.”The system that researchers eventually developed uses a movable table to keep the crawling worm centered beneath a camera and laser. The researchers also custom-built computer hardware and software, Ramanathan said, to ensure that the system works at the split-second speeds needed.The result, he said, was a system capable of controlling not only the worms’ behavior, but their senses as well. In one test described in the paper, researchers were able to use the system to trick a worm’s brain into believing food was nearby, causing it to make a beeline toward the imaginary meal.Sharad Ramanathan: “This gives us a framework to think about neural circuits, how to manipulate them, which circuit to manipulate, and what activity patterns to produce in them.” File photo by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff PhotographerGoing forward, Ramanathan and his team plan to explore what other behaviors the system can control in C. elegans. Other efforts include designing new cameras and computer hardware, with the goal of speeding up the system from 20 milliseconds to one. The increased speed would allow them to test the system in more complex animals, like zebrafish.“By manipulating the neural system of this animal, we can make it turn left, we can make it turn right, we can make it go in a loop, we can make it think there is food nearby,” Ramanathan said. “We want to understand the brain of this animal, which has only a few hundred neurons, completely, and essentially turn it into a video game, where we can control all of its behaviors.”Funding for the research was provided by the Human Frontier Science Program, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pioneer Award, and the National Science Foundation.last_img read more

Students prepare for final round of Baraka Bouts

first_imgTags: Baraka Bouts To add some variety to a usual workout or just for a rare adrenaline rush, the Women’s Boxing Club of Notre Dame recommends getting punched in the face.Each fall, the Women’s Boxing Club hosts Baraka Bouts, a boxing tournament open to all women on campus. The tournament’s final round takes place tonight.Junior Maeve Donovan, one of the club’s seven captains, said the club serves a dual purpose — teaching the sport of boxing and also serving a philanthropic purpose.“We’re a club sport which allows women from Notre Dame to be able to learn the sport of boxing while raising money for Lakeview Secondary School in Jinja, Uganda,” Donovan said. “This involves coming to practice at least four times a week for two hours each. … After over a month of practice, we begin our spars during practice, which are essentially coach-regulated practice fights. Then the season culminates in the tournament, two nights of bouts in which each girl fighting must fundraise at least $350 before being eligible.”Junior captain Casey Gelchion said boxers join for a variety of reasons and with varying levels of experience, but many stay with it through the course of their time at Notre Dame. “I joined because I was looking for something that would challenge me and help me grow. It’s an extremely demanding and mentally exhausting sport, and it’s taught me a lot about my own physical and mental strength,” Gelchion said. Gelchion said her family’s ties to the program factored into her decision to stick with the sport. “My older brother Matt is one of our coaches for Baraka Bouts. Before one of my bouts, he told me that I would not be alone in the ring. He said I couldn’t be alone, because he would be with me through it all. Being able to have my older brother in my corner both literally and figuratively is a blessing I really can’t quite put into words,” Gelchion said. Beyond her brother, Gelchion relies on the rest of her family as part of her pre-fight traditions. “My pre-bout traditions are largely impacted by my family. I read a list of quotes that my mom compiled for me before my first ever fight: They motivate me to step into the ring and give each round all that I have. Right before the bout begins, my brother Matt and I do our ‘secret handshake,’ and from there, I know I am ready to go,” Gelchion said.Junior Maddie McGovern was a two-sport varsity athlete in high school and said was looking for something to keep challenging her in the same capacity that organized sports did before coming to college. “I went to watch my ‘big sister’ in [Pasquerilla East], Liz Zolper, fight, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” McGovern said. “Now boxing season is my favorite part of the year. I love being able to train with a purpose — one that’s even higher than winning on fight night, supporting Lakeview Secondary School.”McGovern suffered a concussion in an interhall flag football game earlier this fall and is unable to compete in the Bouts this year. Still, she found a way to participate in the tournament. “My favorite memory actually was from the semifinals on Sunday. One of my best friends, Emmy Popovich, asked me to corner her for her fights. It meant so much to me that I got to have some part in the competition. She won on Sunday, so it’ll be fun to work with her on [today],” McGovern said. Senior captain Kiley Cox said she joined entirely on a whim when she transferred to Notre Dame but ended up falling in love with the program.“I figured Baraka Bouts was an incredibly unique experience that I didn’t want to pass up, and then I stayed because I loved the people and the community that Baraka Bouts has created,” Cox said. Though she is a captain of the boxing club now, she said she still remembers her first ever spar.“Every time I got hit, I would laugh because I couldn’t believe what happening. One of our coaches, Nate Walker, had to stop the spar on several occasions to try to get me to stop laughing. Boxing for the first time just such a surreal experience,” Cox said. McGovern said there a number of exciting fights slated for tonight’s final bouts. “Maeve Donovan versus Joy Choe will hopefully be even more beautiful of a fight than when they sparred each other a few weeks ago. The two are such crisp and calculated fighters. Emmy Popovich versus Ali Gibson will also be another can’t-miss fight,” she said. Cox also recommended tuning in for the Donovan-Choe bout.“Maeve and Joy are two of the most skilled boxers to ever participate in Baraka Bouts. Definitely the fight to see this Wednesday,” Cox said. Regardless of the outcome, Gelchion said she is excited with all the boxers accomplished this year, in addition to the funds raised. “These boxers have worked tirelessly for months to get to this point, and win or lose, they have accomplished great things. I feel honored to be able to serve them in their corner and help them to give the bout everything they have until the bell rings,” she said. last_img read more

UFC 239: Thiago Santos fought through torn ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus

first_imgSantos, 35, claimed he injured his knee in the first round of Saturday’s fight at T-Mobile Arena.”The first round wasn’t anything Jon Jones did to me,” Santos told reporters through an interpreter, via USA Today. “I felt the knee go out and it really bothered my fight. Everyone saw I did everything I could fighting on a bum knee and I fought the whole fight like that.” Sem chora e sem lamentações, deixei tudo lá dentro, fiz tudo que podia nas condições que eu estava. Honra e glória a Deus e muito obrigado a todos!. . No complaints and no dwelling on the past, I left it all in the octagon and did everything I could in the condition that I was in. All glory to god and thank you all very much!.A post shared by Thiago “Marreta” Santos (@tmarretamma) on Jul 6, 2019 at 11:27pm PDTSantos (21-7) had won four straight fights entering Saturday’s bout with three of those victories coming by TKO or knockout. Thiago Santos is one tough dude.The Brazilian tore his ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus in his left knee during the UFC 239 main event Saturday in Las Vegas, but still fought through his light heavyweight title bout with Jon Jones, his manager Alex Davis confirmed to ESPN. Adding insult to injury, Santos’ coach Phillip Lima told ESPN Brazil that the fighter also has a partial ligament tear in his right knee, which had previously been operated on.Davis added Santos will likely be out for the rest of 2019 and beyond. View this post on Instagramlast_img read more

Three Reasons to Visit Dimeh

first_imgDimeh, a town twenty minutes away from Duala, is not that big. Anyone can tour the entire town in about fifteen minutes. But it is a haven of amazing secrets that have lasted for more than a century – secrets whose veracity is left with hearers to determine. Some may not believe; yet Dimeh’s citizens claim these secrets have worked for them very well, and for generations. Located on the outskirts of Bomi County highway, the town is built on both sides of the road is the perfect weekend destination to hear fascinating cultural stories. But remember – there is no supermarket or hotel.Nonetheless, there are certain amazing aspects of the town that render it enchanted. It has an amazing history, and its people hold on to its cultural values and age-old traditions that are still being practiced. 1.) A Creek that Gives Life: The creek and its secret date as far back as 1898 when the town was founded. The area possesses a natural, aesthetic serenity; but the most enchanted part is that the creek is said to possess a supernatural power, which answers prayers for people who want children, as well as many other heart-strung desires, without any ritual sacrifice. For this reason, although it is shallow and clear, its water is not used for drinking or any other domestic purposes.During a visit to the town, Ma Jenneh Rogers, who is the women’s chairlady, once told us that: “Women from this town and other people from different areas visit the creek when they cannot give birth. It is our tradition and has been working for us from the days of our ancestors. You do not need to make any ritual sacrifice, but just offer a prayer.”2.) A Tree in Dimeh ‘Heals Broken Love’: Another strange secret that many will find difficult to believe, but which town dwellers say has worked for them. The tree offers a sweet story, but also sober reflection from the sagely pages of Liberia’s cultural heritage – and a place to heal broken romances.The tree is not pretty and flowery, flaunting its branches like a peacock. In fact the Love Tree stands tall but unassuming among a number of imposing reed bushes in a very quiet corner of the town. It begets its name from stories told of many couples whose relationships had gone through severe tests and trials and, through the prayers of at least one person in each relationship, found healing.In an interview a few months ago, the Town Chief of Dimeh, Ansumana Varney, told the LIB Life crew on a travel tour that the Love Tree “does not work for simple boyfriend and girlfriend disputes”. It only works for couples who have made a tangible commitment to each other; “either engaged or married,” he said. The protocol would be to go to the Love Tree accompanied by a citizen of Dimeh, and say a prayer for the rekindling of the strained or broken relationship. In due time, the prayer would be answered. Ma Jenneh Rogers, niece of the late Bai T. Moore, recounted her firsthand experience. “I can remember at one point when my husband left me for years. Even though he had gone to another woman, I still loved him and wanted him to come home. So my parents took me to the Love Tree and I offered a prayer. That same year my husband returned. “We have now spent forty seven years together and our love has grown stronger since that prayer was offered. You don’t have to necessarily come with your partner if you people are in dispute.”Offering the second lesson from the Love Tree, Ma Jenneh says, “Just come with a clear heart and good intentions, and your problem will be solved.”3.) Culture values, history and home to two Liberian cultural icons: Dimeh is not only the haven of amazing secrets, but it is an area where the women preserve and uphold their cultural practices in a modern and fast changing Liberia. Women in that area believe that it is their responsibility to make sure their ancestors’ cultural practices are not forgotten. Culture, the life of the people, is expressed through dancing and the passing down of the ways of life and cultural values to their children before they reach adulthood. In the center of the town lies one of the cannons used by Matilda Newport during the war between indigenous and the settlers.Atop the hill on the left coming from Monrovia, is the grave of Bai T. Moore himself, Liberia’s late-great literary icon, who wrote many novels, the most famous of them being “Murder in the Cassava Patch”. And then one might hear the name, Peter Ballah, another great practitioner of Liberian culture – an actor, comedian and a protégé of the late Moore. Both are buried side by side, in majestically designed tombs.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)last_img read more