Researchers Find Missing Link Between the Brain and Immune System
“ In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist. That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis.
“Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?’ now we can approach this mechanistically. Because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels,” said Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, professor in the UVA Department of Neuroscience and director of UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). “It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions.” The discovery was made possible by the work of Antoine Louveau, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Kipnis’ lab. The vessels were detected after Louveau developed a method to mount a mouse’s meninges – the membranes covering the brain – on a single slide so that they could be examined as a whole. “It was fairly easy, actually,” he said. “There was one trick: We fixed the meninges within the skullcap, so that the tissue is secured in its physiological condition, and then we dissected it. If we had done it the other way around, it wouldn’t have worked.” After noticing vessel-like patterns in the distribution of immune cells on his slides, he tested for lymphatic vessels and there they were. The impossible existed. The soft-spoken Louveau recalled the moment: “I called Jony [Kipnis] to the microscope and I said, ‘I think we have something.’” Neuroscience Journal
Silicon Valley Has Failed to Protect Our Data
“Over and over in the last 20 years we’ve watched low-cost or free internet communications platforms spring from the good intentions or social curiosity of tech folk. We’ve watched as these platforms expanded in power and significance, selling their influence to advertisers. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google : they grew so fast. One day they’re a lovable new way to see kid pix, next thing you know they’re reconfiguring democracy, governance, and business. Facebook’s recent debacle is illustrative. It turns out that the company let a researcher spider through its social network to gather information on 50 million people. Then the Steve Bannon-affiliated, Robert Mercer-backed U.K. data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica used that data to target voters. Facebook responded that, no, this was not a “breach.”
OK, sure, let’s not call it a breach. It’s how things were designed to work. That’s the problem.For years we’ve been talking and thinking about social networks as interesting tools to model and understand human dynamics. But it’s no longer academic—Facebook has reached a scale where it’s not a model of society as much as an engine of culture. A researcher gained legitimate access to the platform and then just … kept going, and Cambridge Analytica ended up with those 50 million profiles. The “hack” was a true judo move that used the very nature of the platform against itself.
What’s been unfolding for a while now is a rolling catastrophe so obvious we forget it’s happening. Private data are spilling out of banks, credit rating providers, email providers and social networks and ending up everywhere.
So this is an era of breaches and violations and stolen identities. Big companies can react nimbly when they fear regulation is actually on the horizon—for example, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have agreed to share data with researchers who are tracking disinformation, the result of a European Union commission on fake news. But for the most part we’re dealing with global entities that own the means whereby politicians garner votes, have vast access to capital to fund lobbying efforts, and are constitutionally certain of their own moral cause.“ Bloomberg
A city has banned cryptocurrency mining
“The city of Plattsburgh, New York announced on Thursday that it is temporarily banning the commercial mining of cryptocurrency for 18 months. The official reasoning for the moratorium is to “protect and enhance the City’s natural, historic, cultural and electrical resources.”
Plattsburgh residents have seen skyrocketing electrical bills — as much as $100 to $200 increases — as a result of commercial cryptomining operations that mine for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, according to Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read, who spoke with Motherboard. The city is taking action to protect its citizens from those rising electrical bills that the city of Plattsburgh says is caused by cryptomining operations. It turns out that commercial cryptocurrency mining operations used up so much electricity that the city of Plattsburgh exceeded its allotted monthly budget of electricity. One single cryptocurrency mining operation called Coinmint used up around 10% of the city’s allotted power supply alone in January and February, according to Motherboard. When its electrical budget was exceeded in January, the city had to buy electricity from the open market at a higher cost, which was distributed among its residents.
Mining for cryptocurrency involves powerful computer components that use a large amount of electricity in order to solve complex computational problems. The problems being solved are used to verify the transfer of cryptocurrencies independently of a central bank. Those components are usually dedicated cryptocurrency-mining components called “ASIC” cards. Some operations use graphics cards that are normally used to run high-resolution PC games. Plattsburgh was a particularly attractive place to set up a large-scale commercial cryptocurrency mining operation due to its low electricity costs compared to the national average. The city charged 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) when the national average is about 10 cents per kWh. “ Business Insider
Harvard-MIT’s Broad Institute Powers Genomic Research in the Cloud
“The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard continues to shift its genomic research to the cloud, where CIO William Mayo says a more scalable and accessible computing infrastructure better serves researchers and spurs advances in the field. Broad began building high-performance computing capabilities in the cloud about four years ago after realizing that traditional on-premise computer systems wouldn’t be able to keep up with research demands. Genome sequencing, gene editing and other advances are spawning an explosion of insights into the roots of disease. Cloud computing allows for large-scale data processing, and makes it easier for researchers to share data securely. Broad aims to use genomics to advance the understanding and treatment of human disease and lay the groundwork for new therapies. It spans over 100 private and public institutions worldwide. It has worked to analyze cancer genomes and serves as a center for the genetic analysis of common diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
One cloud effort is the Genomic Analysis ToolKit, an open-source software package used by about 55,000 people that is used to help hunt for genome variants and perform genome analytics. The fourth version, released this year, uses machine learning and neural networks to improve accuracy and works across multiple clouds.
To properly analyze the massive amounts of genomic data, “you need to build a scale-out infrastructure, and it doesn’t make sense to do it yourself,” Mayo said in a phone interview.“And you need to partner with others because you’re not going to have all the data you need at your fingertips.” Partnerships have been important as the research initiatives grow, he said. Broad works with companies including Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc.’s Amazon Web Services, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s AliCloud, International Business Machines Corp. and Cloudera Inc. on infrastructure, algorithm and data projects. Broad uses Google Cloud Platform most heavily for compute and storage, but not exclusively. “The goal is full multi-cloud as we know not everyone will ever agree on a single platform,” Mr. Mayo said. In the research arena, Broad manages about 70 petabytes of scientific data, including genomic information. About half of that data is in the public cloud, while the other half is on-premise. It has roughly 100 million compute hours in the cloud, about half of its compute footprint. Mayo expects that on-premise needs will continue, but they won’t be the majority of the work. Before moving to cloud, researchers would build high-performance computing “islands” on-premise that could add costs, unnecessarily duplicate data or introduce possible technical differences based on how each computing environment was assembled, Mayo said.
Cloud computing allows researchers to share data in a more cost effective way that benefits scientific progress, Mayo said. It also frees up the IT team from building high-performance computing infrastructure so it instead can support scientists by migrating old workflows, providing training on public cloud and tools to control spending. Broad has reduced the cost of processing on the cloud from about $45 per genome when the cloud move started to $5 now, and has a target of $3 based on some work currently in progress, Mr. Mayo said. Security has been a priority for Mayo’s team as well. Broad has worked closely with the National Institutes of Health and a number of technology partners to develop security tools that can help researchers work with data while maintaining subjects’ privacy.”
The Wall Street Journal
Birth of New Neurons in the Human Hippocampus Ends in Childhood
“One of the liveliest debates in neuroscience over the past half century surrounds whether the human brain renews itself by producing new neurons throughout life, and whether it may be possible to rejuvenate the brain by boosting its innate regenerative capacity. Now UC San Francisco scientists have shown that in the human hippocampus — a region essential for learning and memory and one of the key places where researchers have been seeking evidence that new neurons continue to be born throughout the lifespan — neurogenesis declines throughout childhood and is undetectable in adults.
It was once neuroscientific dogma that the brain stops producing new neurons before birth. In the 1960s, experiments in rodents by Joseph Altman, PhD, at MIT first suggested that new neurons could be born in the adult mammalian brain, but these results remained highly controversial until the 1980s, when Fernando Nottebohm, PhD, at Rockefeller University, conclusively showed that new neurons are born and put to use throughout life in several parts of the songbird brain. As a graduate student in the Nottebohm lab at the time, Alvarez-Buylla contributed to understanding the mechanism of adult neurogenesis in songbirds.
These findings launched a whole field of research aimed at understanding how new neurons contribute to brain function in other animals and exploring the potential therapeutic effects of boosting brain regeneration in humans. Much work has focused on a region of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus (DG), where rodents produce newborn neurons throughout life that are thought to help them form distinct new memories, among other cognitive functions. Rodent studies have shown that DG neurogenesis declines with age, but is otherwise quite malleable — increasing with exercise, but decreasing with stress, for example — leading to popular claims that we can boost brain regeneration by living a healthy lifestyle. Animal experiments have also suggested that neurogenesis-boosting therapies could treat brain disorders of aging such as Alzheimer’s disease, and leading researchers have proposed that antidepressant medications like fluoxetine (Prozac) may work by increasing DG neurogenesis. Beginning in the late ’90s, a handful of studies reported evidence of adult neurogenesis in the human brain, either by estimating the birth dates of cells present in postmortem brain specimens or by labeling telltale molecular markers of newborn neurons or dividing neural stem cells. However, these findings, some of which were based on small numbers of brain samples, have remained controversial. In particular, researchers have questioned whether the limited number of markers used in each study were truly specific to newborn neurons, and have suggested alternative explanations, such as the inadvertent labeling of dividing non-neuronal cells called glia (which are well known to continue regenerating through life). “ Neuroscience Journal
Inside the war between Spotify and Apple
“When Spotify launched in 2008, Ken Parks heard one question again and again from journalists and investors: Why wouldn’t Apple just kill this thing while it’s still in the cradle? Parks, the chief content officer at Spotify from its founding until 2015, had a simple answer: Because Apple probably didn’t think it needed to. At the time, Apple’s iTunes store had a dominant position in the music industry — but for downloads, not streaming. Spotify was competing less against giants like Apple than streaming services like Pandora , MOG, Grooveshark and Rdio, all of which except Pandora have since shut down. And Apple didn’t appear too worried about streaming or this latest upstart doing it.
“Companies that have a very successful business model typically hew to that model unless forced to pivot,” Parks, now the executive chairman at Pluto TV, told CNN in an interview last week. It would be years before Apple, Google and Amazon launched streaming products of their own. Each were framed in the press as “Spotify killers.” None lived up to that title.
Ten years after it launched, Spotify filed paperwork last week to go public on the New York Stock Exchange. The move marks a major milestone for the company and could further boost its profile as it continues to take on the biggest names in tech, Apple chief among them.
Apple was mentioned more than a dozen times in Spotify’s IPO paperwork, starting with a victory lap of sorts on page one. The company notes that its user base is “nearly double the scale of our closest competitor, Apple Music.” Spotify survived thanks to its early mover advantage, a war chest of funding and the luxury of being able to focus on one core product rather than the vast range of pursuits at a company like Apple, company insiders and industry watchers told CNN after the IPO news.In particular, Spotify took issue with Apple taking a 30% cut of subscription revenue from apps operating in Apple’s App Store. The cut required Spotify to charge more to make the same amount of money, effectively cutting into its ability to compete with Apple Music directly on price.” CNN
Ultra Wealthy Are Being Lured to Italy by Low Tax Rates
“Millionaires from Russia to Norway and the U.S. are seeking to take advantage of Italy’s low tax rates for the super rich. In an effort to attract capital, Italy unveiled a measure last year allowing ultra-wealthy individuals taking up residency to pay a flat tax of 100,000 euros ($123,000) a year, regardless of their income. Around 150 people, including some with wealth of above the “hundreds of millions,” inquired about the measure, Fabrizio Pagani, head of the office of the Minister of Economy and Finance said in an interview in London. We have people from U.K., Switzerland, Russia, from U.S., the usual suspects,” Pagani said. “But we have also Norwegians and some Dutch and not necessarily in finance. Some of those people are art collectors. We are talking about very, very rich people.”
Italy, which is struggling to accelerate the recovery after years of recession, is racing to attract wealthy foreigners to boost the economy with investments, consumption and fresh capital. Countries such as Portugal have already been successful in luring high-net-worth individuals, offering tax benefits in a effort to shore up public finances. Italy is facing political uncertainty at the election on March 4 where no clear winner is expected to emerge. Under the tax measure, individuals are expected to move their residencies to Italy. Pagani said Milan, Venice and the glamorous area around the lakes at the foot of the Alps may become even wealthier. The number expected to take up the offer will grow “exponentially” as was the case in Portugal, he said.The figure of “150 is a very good number for the first year,” Pagani said.” Bloomberg
Fifteen New Genes Identified that Shape the Face
“Researchers from KU Leuven and the universities of Pittsburgh, Stanford, and Penn State (US) have identified fifteen genes that determine our facial features. The findings were published in Nature Genetics.
Our DNA determines what we look like, including our facial features. That appeals to the popular imagination, as the potential applications are obvious. Doctors could use DNA for skull and facial reconstructive surgery, forensic examiners could sketch a perpetrator’s face on the basis of DNA retrieved from a crime scene, and historians would be able to reconstruct facial features using DNA from days long gone.
But first, researchers need to figure out which genes in our DNA are responsible for specific characteristics of our face. “We’re basically looking for needles in a haystack,” says Seth Weinberg (Pittsburgh). “In the past, scientists selected specific features, including the distance between the eyes or the width of the mouth. They would then look for a connection between this feature and many genes. This has already led to the identification of a number of genes but, of course, the results are limited because only a small set of features are selected and tested.”
In a new study conducted by KU Leuven in collaboration with the universities of Pittsburgh, Stanford and Penn State, the researchers adopted a different approach. “Our search doesn’t focus on specific traits,” lead author Peter Claes (KU Leuven) explains. “My colleagues from Pittsburgh and Penn State each provided a database with 3D images of faces and the corresponding DNA of these people. Each face was automatically subdivided into smaller modules. Next, we examined whether any locations in the DNA matched these modules. This modular division technique made it possible for the first time to check for an unprecedented number of facial features.”
The scientists were able to identify fifteen locations in our DNA. The Stanford team found out that genomic loci linked to these modular facial features are active when our face develops in the womb. “Furthermore, we also discovered that different genetic variants identified in the study are associated with regions of the genome that influence when, where and how much genes are expressed,” says Joanna Wysocka (Stanford). Seven of the fifteen identified genes are linked to the nose, and that’s good news, Peter Claes (KU Leuven) continues. “A skull doesn’t contain any traces of the nose, which only consists of soft tissue and cartilage. Therefore, when forensic scientists want to reconstruct a face on the basis of a skull, the nose is the main obstacle. If the skull also yields DNA, it would become much easier in the future to determine the shape of the nose.” In any case, the four universities will continue their research using even bigger databases.
But we must not get ahead of ourselves, says Mark Shriver (Penn State): “We won’t be able to predict a correct and complete face on the basis of DNA tomorrow. We’re not even close to knowing all the genes that give shape to our face. Furthermore, our age, environment, and lifestyle have an impact on what our face looks like as well.” Peter Claes (KU Leuven), who specialises in computational image analysis, points out that there are other potential applications as well: “With the same novel technology used in this study, we can also link other medical images – such as brain scans – to genes. In the long term, this could provide genetic insight into the shape and functioning of our brain, as well as in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
Neuroscience News Journal
Tech Startups Aren’t the Hottest in America Anymore. Here’s What Replaced Them
“Just 29 percent of fast-growth companies are in traditional high-tech industries, such as IT services, software, and computer hardware, the study found. Of course, 29 percent is nothing to sneeze at, and high-tech businesses are much more likely than those in other industries to be fast-growth. (Across the economy, they account for just 5 percent of firms overall.) Still, more than 70 percent of the most successful entrepreneurial companies are in fields like retail, construction, and government services. Recognition of the diversity of business types may encourage more people to consider pursuing high-growth, says Ian Hathaway, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings who wrote the report. “Someone who has a small local business that does something amazing might start to think about bigger markets,” he says. “The idea of becoming a high-growth business becomes accessible to a wider set of business owners.”
If industry variety influences the proliferation of growth companies, the outsize presence of high tech may affect where they launch. Companies in industries like marketing and business services sell into the high-tech sector, “and if I am a supplier it is good to be where my customers are,” says Hathaway. So while entrepreneurs build companies all over the country, they tend to join ecosystems fed by tech.
Ninety-eight percent of fast-growth companies are in metropolitan areas, with the majority in cities of one million or more residents. The top five metropolitan areas for fast-growth density are Boulder, Col., Provo, Utah, Washington D.C., Huntsville, Ala., and Austin, Tex. Some smaller regions also made the list, including Columbia, S.C., Charlottesville, Va., and Fargo, N.C. The study found four factors positively associated with high-growth company density: a large college-educated workforce, a substantial number of people employed in high-tech, a significant share of the population at the prime age for entrepreneurship (35 to 44), and high business formation rates overall.” Source: Inc.
Cryptocurrencies Come to Campus
“Several top schools have added or are rushing to add classes about Bitcoin and the record-keeping technology that it introduced, known as the blockchain. Graduate-level classes this semester at Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Duke, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland, among other places, illustrate the fascination with the technology across several academic fields, and the assumption that it will outlast the current speculative price bubble.
“There was some gentle ribbing from my colleagues when I began giving talks on Bitcoin,” said David Yermack, a business and law professor at New York University who offered one of the first for-credit courses on the topic back in 2014. “But within a few months, I was being invited to Basel to talk with central bankers, and the joking from my colleagues stopped after that.”
For lawyers, virtual currency projects have challenged traditional legal categories and definitions of what constitutes a security or a commodity.
Regulators have been caught flat-footed as entrepreneurs have raised billions of dollars by selling virtual currencies without going through the traditional fund-raising channels, taking advantage of the legal fuzziness surrounding them. For economists and business school professors, Bitcoin and other digital tokens have raised questions about the nature of money. The first lecture in the Berkeley class, for example, considered the development of Bitcoin against the history of money. Several business school classes are also focusing on the decentralized methods of record keeping and decision making introduced by Bitcoin.Bitcoin is given credit for creating the first blockchain, a ledger of transactions that is updated by a network of computers without relying on any central company or government.”
Bitcoin Selloff Accelerates as Credit-Card Issuers Extend Ban
“Bitcoin declined for a fifth day, breaking below $7,500 and leading other digital tokens lower, as Lloyds Banking Group Plc joined a growing number of big credit-card issuers halting purchases of cryptocurrencies on their cards. The biggest digital currency sank as much as 16 percent to $7,175 as of 10:28 a.m. in New York, according to composite Bloomberg pricing. It has erased more than 60 percent of its value from a record high $19,511 in December. Rival coins also retreated on Monday, with Ripple losing as much as 14 percent and Ethereum and Litecoin also weaker. Bitcoin’s longest run of losses since Christmas day has coincided with investors exiting risky assets across the board, with stocks globally retreating in the wake of a slump in U.S. markets Friday. Bitcoin so far seems to be struggling to live up to any comparison with gold as a store of value, which is an argument made by some of its supporters. Bullion edged higher as other safe havens — the yen, Swiss franc and European bonds — also gained. Weeks of negative news and commercial setbacks have buffeted digital tokens. A growing number of big credit-card issuers have said they’re halting purchases of cryptocurrencies on their cards, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. Several cited risk aversion and a desire to protect their customers.
Meanwhile, North Korea is trying to hack South Korea’s cryptocurrency-related programs to steal digital currencies and has already stolen tens of billions of won worth, Yonhap News reported. And authorities in digital-coin powerhouse South Korea and other countries are weighing increased regulatory scrutiny of the industry, news which helped spark the ongoing selloff.” Bloomberg
U.S. Probes Apple Over Updates That Slow Older iPhones
“The U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating whether Apple violated securities laws concerning its disclosures about a software update that slowed some handsets, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News on Tuesday. The U.S. government has requested information from the company, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the probe is private. The inquiry is in early stages, they cautioned, and it’s too soon to conclude any enforcement will follow. Investigators are looking into public statements made by Apple on the situation, they added. While the slowdown has frustrated consumers, investigators are concerned the company may have misled investors about the performance of older phones.
“We have received questions from some government agencies and we are responding to them,” an Apple spokeswoman said. She reiterated an earlier statement that the company “never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.” A spokesman for the SEC declined to comment. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. Shares of the company rose less than 1 percent to $167.71 in New York trading Wednesday. Apple’s stock has been under pressure amid reports of weaker-than-expected iPhone X sales ahead of its earnings report Thursday.” Bloomberg
European Commission Issues Formal Objections to $66 Billion Bayer-Monsanto Mega Merger
“The European Commission issued formal objections Friday to Bayer’s planned $66 billion takeover of Monsanto, according to two people briefed on the case, signaling the deal may be blocked unless the German company makes more significant concessions. The objections from Brussels represent a stark ultimatum for the agrichemical giant, which has spent at least 12 months trying to bring around EU regulators on the politically charged mega-merger.” Organic Food Magazine
Fast food makes the immune system more aggressive in the long term
Study shows that even after a change to a healthy diet, the body’s defenses remain hyperactive
“The immune system reacts similarly to a high fat and high calorie diet as to a bacterial infection. Unhealthy food seems to make the body’s defenses more aggressive in the long term. Even long after switching to a healthy diet, inflammation towards innate immune stimulation is more pronounced. These changes may be involved in the development of arteriosclerosis and diabetes.
The immune system reacts similarly to a high fat and high calorie diet as to a bacterial infection. This is shown by a recent study led by the University of Bonn. Particularly disturbing: Unhealthy food seems to make the body’s defenses more aggressive in the long term. Even long after switching to a healthy diet, inflammation towards innate immune stimulation is more pronounced. These long-term changes may be involved in the development of arteriosclerosis and diabetes, diseases linked to Western diet consumption. The results will be published in the journal Cell.”
Asthma costs the U.S. economy more than $80 billion annually
“According to American Thoracic Society, Asthma costs the U.S. economy more than $80 billion annually in medical expenses, missed work and school days and deaths, according to new research published online. Current researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the most comprehensive source of data on health care use, expenditures, payment source and health insurance coverage in the U.S.
“The cost of asthma is one of the most important measures of the burden of the disease,” said Nurmagambetov, PhD, lead study author and health economist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cost studies can influence health policy decisions and help decision makers understand the scale, seriousness and implications of asthma, so that resources can be identified to improve disease management and reduce the burden of asthma.” Of 213,994 respondents to the survey over a six-year period, the study identified 10,237 people with treated asthma.“
ATS Press Release
Activists’ Campaign: Curbing Smartphone Addiction among Children
“Jana Partners’ Barry Rosenstein and public pension fund California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which together own $2 billion of Apple Inc. stock, launched a new kind of activist campaign over the weekend, urging the iPhone maker to take action to curb growing smartphone and iPad addiction among children.
Rosenstein, who typically launches campaigns to drive share price improvement through M&A or operational improvements at target companies, released word of the campaign at the same time he announced that he was starting a new impact investing fund. Rather than pushing for M&A or other changes, the impact investing fund will focus on socially responsible investing. The combined Jana-CalSTRS stake is miniscule considering Apple’s $900 billion market capitalization. However, Rosenstein and CalSTRS’ Anne Sheehan hope to make a long-term impact through the fund and investment. The two funds issued a letter Saturday full of statistics and data about child overuse of iPhones and their impact on sleep, depression and risk of suicide.” The Street
New Brain Mapping Technique Highlights Relationship Between Connectivity and IQ
“A new and relatively simple technique for mapping the wiring of the brain has shown a correlation between how well connected an individual’s brain regions are and their intelligence, say researchers at the University of Cambridge.
In recent years, there has been a concerted effort among scientists to map the connections in the brain – the so-called ‘connectome’ – and to understand how this relates to human behaviours, such as intelligence and mental health disorders.
Now, in research published in the journal Neuron, an international team led by scientists at the University of Cambridge and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA, has shown that it is possible to build up a map of the connectome by analysing conventional brain scans taken using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. The team compared the brains of 296 typically-developing adolescent volunteers. Their results were then validated in a cohort of a further 124 volunteers. The team used a conventional 3T MRI scanner, where 3T represents the strength of the magnetic field; however, Cambridge has recently installed a much more powerful Siemens 7T Terra MRI scanner, which should allow this technique to give an even more precise mapping of the human brain.
A typical MRI scan will provide a single image of the brain, from which it is possible to calculate multiple structural features of the brain. This means that every region of the brain can be described using as many as ten different characteristics. The researchers showed that if two regions have similar profiles, then they are described as having ‘morphometric similarity’ and it can be assumed that they are a connected network. They verified this assumption using publically-available MRI data on a cohort of 31 juvenile rhesus macaque monkeys to compare to ‘gold-standard’ connectivity estimates in that species.”
Email Open Tracking Taking Over the Web
“There are some 269 billion emails sent and received daily. That’s roughly 35 emails for every person on the planet, every day. Over 40 percent of those emails are tracked, according to a study published last June by OMC, an “email intelligence” company that also builds anti-tracking tools.
The tech is pretty simple. Tracking clients embed a line of code in the body of an email—usually in a 1×1 pixel image, so tiny it’s invisible, but also in elements like hyperlinks and custom fonts. When a recipient opens the email, the tracking client recognizes that pixel has been downloaded, as well as where and on what device. Newsletter services, marketers, and advertisers have used the technique for years, to collect data about their open rates; major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter followed suit in their ongoing quest to profile and predict our behavior online.
Both Amazon and Facebook “deeplink all of the clickable links within the email to trigger actions on their app running on your device,” Seroussi says. “Depending on permissions set by the user, Facebook will have access to almost everything from Camera Roll, location, and many other logs that are hidden. But even if a user has disabled location permission on his device, email tracking will bypass this restriction and still provide Facebook with the user’s location.”
Look, everybody opens emails, even if they don’t respond to them,” Seroussi says. “If you can learn where a celebrity is—or anyone—just by emailing them, it’s a security threat.” It could be used as a tool for stalkers, harassers, even thieves who might be sending you spam emails just to see if you’re home.
This is what worries Bitdefender’s Afloarei about malicious spammers who use trackers, too. “As for the dangers of being tracked in spam, one must keep in mind the kind of people that do the tracking, and the fact that they can find out your IP address and therefore your location or workplace,” he says. Just by watching you open your email, Afloarei says spammers can learn your schedule (“based on the time you check your email”), your itinerary (based on how you check mail at home, on the bus, or so on), and personal preferences (based on where they harvested the email; say, a sports forum, or a music fansite). One out of six people that emails you is sending a tracker, and it’s real life”—not marketing, not spammers.
A host of anti-tracking services have sprung up to combat the rising tide of inbox tracers—from Ugly Mail, to PixelBlock, to Senders. Ugly Mail notifies you when an email is carrying a tracking pixel, and PixelBlock prevents it from opening. Senders makes use of a similar product formerly known as Trackbuster, as part of service that displays info (Twitter, LinkedIn account, etc) about the sender of the email you’re reading. To prevent third-parties from leaking your email, meanwhile, Princeton’s Englehart says “the only surefire solution right now is to block images by default.” That is, turn on image-blocking in your email client, so you can’t receive any images at all.” Wired