There’s been a long-standing belief among dog owners that our furry little friends “get” what we’re saying, and are particularly adept at gauging our emotions. It will therefore come as no surprise to some, but science has finally confirmed that dogs understand human language a lot more than was previously thought. A recent study from Hungary, published in the journal Science, has shown that pooches use the same mechanism and brain parts to process speech as we do. Furthermore, they can actually distinguish what you’re saying, as well as how you say it.
The results were described as “very exciting and very surprising” by lead researcher Attila Andics from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, whose team worked with 13 dogs over a period of several months. Using fMRI scans, the researchers tracked brain activity in the animals as they listened to recordings of their respective trainers’ voices. They found that, like humans, the dogs processed words with the left hemisphere of the brain and intonation with the right.
“It is actually the very same part of the brain in this right auditory brain region that we found in dogs and also humans in an earlier study that responds to the emotional content of a sound,” says Andics. “It is not a mechanism that is only there for language stimuli, it is the same mechanism dogs use for processing emotional sounds in general.”
The study also proved that dogs understand positive words, and can distinguish them from neutral ones. For example, they exhibited heightened brain activity when they heard praise words like “well done” or “good boy” versus neutral terms like “however” or “nevertheless,” even when delivered in exactly the same tone of voice. “From this research, we can quite confidently say if they only hear you then it is not only how you say things but also what you say that matters to them,” says Andics.
The research raises important questions about how humans came to use language. It may have previously been assumed that the way we process speech, including the meaning and intonation of words, is down to a unique mechanism that we developed at some point in our evolution. But, as Andics notes, this mechanism appears to be present in other species as well, suggesting that our use of words was simply a new idea that humans ran with. “It is not the result of a special new neural mechanism but the result of an innovation,” he says. “We invented words as we invented the wheel.”
Getting back to the pooches, it’s extraordinary to think that we are not unique in our ability to separately analyze language and intonation, and that dogs can actually recognize words. While they may be incapable of replicating our speech or deciphering exactly what we’re saying, owners know that dogs understand us more than well enough to get by. But then again, maybe that’s no surprise — we’ve been socializing with them for thousands of years, after all.
Q: How well does your pet understand you? Let us know in the comments below.
Scientists Develop New Type of Cell That Could Revolutionize the Treatment of Heart Disease
THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.
Heart disease has consistently been one of the biggest killers of both men and women, with hundreds of thousands of families losing loved ones to the condition every year. But now a new study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell has identified a possible breakthrough in the treatment of heart disease, offering hope to anyone suffering from a dodgy ticker. The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Gladstones Institutes, who have discovered a way to make a remarkable new type of cell that could help damaged hearts repair themselves.
Heart failure occurs when the heart is overworked or the supply of oxygen is too low. A sudden attack can cause the loss of huge amounts of important muscle cells known as cardiomyocytes (CMs). These CMs cannot regenerate by themselves, nor can they be replaced because transplanted heart cells tend not to survive in the patient’s body. As you can imagine, this makes the treatment of heart disease quite tricky; since heart cells can’t regenerate or be replaced, the damage is usually irreversible. “Scientists have tried for decades to treat heart failure by transplanting adult heart cells, but these cells cannot reproduce themselves, and so they do not survive in the damaged heart,” said Yu Zhang, MD, PhD, one of the lead authors of the study.
To overcome this dilemma, the team investigated the possibility of regenerating the heart using progenitors—stem cells that have already been programmed to develop into a specific type of cell. In this case, they targeted cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs), which are produced as the heart begins to form within the embryo. Using a revolutionary technique, the team were able to produce CPCs in the lab and halt their development so the cells remained effectively “frozen” until use. They called these lab-grown cells “induced expandable CPCs,” or ieCPCs.
Unlike adult heart cells, ieCPCs have the ability to replicate. If transplanted successfully, they could replace a patient’s damaged heart cells and possibly continue to self-repair. “Our generated ieCPCs can prolifically replicate and reliably mature into the three types of cells in the heart, which makes them a very promising potential treatment for heart failure,” said Zhang. To test this theory, the team injected some of the cells into a mouse that had suffered a heart attack. Remarkably, most of the cells transformed into functioning heart cells, generating new muscle tissue and blood vessels and improving the mouse’s overall heart function.
So what does all this mean for the treatment of heart disease? Well, it’s definitely big news. The cells used to treat the mouse were derived from skin cells, which means a patient’s own cells could potentially be used to treat their heart disease. The next step is to try and form human ieCPCs in the lab, and then follow up with human trials to see if the method is as effective. All going well, this could be a viable treatment for heart disease patients within the next few years.
Q: Is this the most important breakthrough yet in the field of heart disease research? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Copyright 2016 David Carroll
How Li-Fi Technology Is Going to Change the Internet Game Forever
THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.
Are you sick of slow Internet connections and weak Wi-Fi signals? I know we’re talking First World problems here, but it still gets under my skin. Luckily, all that could be about to change soon, as there’s a new kid on the block. See, our old buddy Wi-Fi looks set to be surpassed by Li-Fi technology—a new method of data transmission that uses visible light communication instead of radio waves.
It’s been around for a while, and we already know the new tech can achieve staggering speeds of up to 224 Gbps in a laboratory setting. But now an Estonian startup called Velmenni has tested Li-Fi in an office environment, and they’ve managed a healthy 1 Gbps (about 100 times faster than current average Wi-Fi speeds). So we’re definitely getting closer to actually implementing Li-Fi technology in the real world, but what exactly is it? Let’s find out:
How Does Li-Fi Technology Work?
The term “Li-Fi” was first coined by its inventor Harald Haas, who unveiled the technology at a TED conference back in 2011. It’s basically a method of transmitting binary data across the visible light spectrum by quickly flicking a bulb on and off, just like Morse code. While that sounds like a recipe for blindness and seizures, the flickering happens so fast that it’s imperceptible to the human eye. It’s not a difficult technology to implement, either—with just a simple modification, virtually any bulb can be converted into a Li-Fi transmitter/receiver, from the lamp on your desk to the overhead light in a car or airplane.
How Is It Going to Change the Way We Connect?
Well, there’s the enormous jump in connection speeds for a start. But aside from that, Li-Fi technology offers a number of tangible benefits. It’s highly efficient, because we already use bulbs everywhere for the purposes of illumination. Piggybacking data over the same waves would reduce our energy costs right off the bat. It’s also highly secure, because light waves can’t penetrate walls. Then you have all the potential applications of the technology. Imagine cars that can transmit data back and forth to prevent accidents, or street lamps that function as free data access points. Pretty cool, no?
When Will We Get to Use It?
Given the successful field test in Estonia, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to see Li-Fi making its way to our homes and workplaces within the next couple of years. But before you get too excited, you should know that Li-Fi technology has its limitations. For example, the fact that light waves can’t pass through walls is great for security, but it’s problematic from a practical standpoint. Also, Li-Fi sort of falls apart once you move outdoors because of pollution and interference from natural light sources.
In all likelihood, it will supplement Wi-Fi technology rather than replace it altogether (at least in the early stages of its rollout), so don’t throw away your existing router just yet. With that said, it’s definitely got some serious potential to revolutionise the Internet. But here’s the million-dollar question: does Li-Fi mean the end of that annoying “buffering” symbol? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Q: Any other tech developments you’re pumped about seeing? Tell us about them in the comments below.
David Carroll is a freelance writer, self-published author, and chief health-nut at thepaleotoolkit.com. Outside of work, he loves hurling (an amazing Irish sport), playing video games and hanging out with his dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidAshCarroll) and Google+.
If climate change is real, then why is Antarctic ice cover growing?
The North Pole has been losing ice cover at an alarming rate in recent years as the Arctic region steadily warms up. For those not in denial about climate change, it’s a constant and potent reminder that something needs to be done, and done quickly. But if the planet really is getting warmer, how is it possible that Antarctic ice cover has not only remained stable, but actually grown in recent years? It’s a question that has proven difficult to answer and provided interesting fodder for the climate change debate, but now a team of researchers from NASA believe they may have put the issue to bed.
In a study published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment, the authors show that the reason the Antarctic is not melting like the Arctic is due to differences in topography, climate and ocean levels between the two regions. “Our study provides strong evidence that the behavior of Antarctic sea ice is entirely consistent with the geophysical characteristics found in the southern polar region, which differ sharply from those present in the Arctic,” explained lead researcher Son Nghiem.
Every year, Antarctic ice expands and shrinks according to seasonal cycles in the Southern Hemisphere. The NASA team used satellite radar, sea temperature, ocean levels and other data to track this ice formation and identify any contributing factors. They found that as new ice forms in the Antarctic, it is pushed northwards by winds and forms a kind of “protective shield” around the continent. The winds continue to pack ice up against the shield, increasing its thickness up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) in parts. As the ice shield continues to drift away from the continent, it leaves behind an area of open water where new ice can form, protected from waves.
All of this occurs in a region where the sea surface temperature remains below freezing at -1 degrees celsius (30F). This “temperature boundary” is dictated by ocean currents which are particular to the surrounding area, and are influenced by sea floor creatures the researchers identified in their study. So far from being a paradox, the behaviour of the surrounding ocean and wind patterns influenced by the topography of the Antarctic create an environment that’s well-suited to the formation and persistence of ice. The same factors are not present in the Arctic, which leaves the region more vulnerable to the effects of global warming.
NASA’s study has given us the most cohesive explanation to date for the disparate behaviour of Arctic and Antarctic ice cover. The growth of sea ice in the southern region might appear to contradict everything we know about global warming, but in fact, it’s simply a product of differences in climate and topography between the two poles. Despite their obvious similarities, the Arctic and Antarctic are quite different. So if you encounter anyone who cites the ice cover paradox as evidence against climate change, point them to this study and explain they’re comparing apples and oranges.
Q: What’s the number one obstacle getting in the way of tackling climate change? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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