If you’re longing for immortality, you’re in luck. An AI-powered avatar of yourself may not be too far off. Says the CEO of a company developing “Live Forever” avatars based on personal data, “The AI is progressing extremely fast.” While you live on, let’s read on about python tracking, spinosaur brains, and psychopaths.
Researchers have found a novel way to find and eliminate invasive Burmese pythons. Raccoons and possums outfitted with radio collars can be tracked to python stomachs, often of large females with eggs who are hungry enough to eat big meals. (At least the mammals’ deaths serve a good cause.)
Scientists take a peek inside spinosaur brains
Like the iconic T. rex, spinosaurs were theropod predators with jaws full of sharp, cone-shaped teeth. But, spinosaurs specialized in riparian hunting, i.e., hunting along waterways and grabbing fish with their long, crocodile-like jaws. So, you’d think they’d have special brain adaptations for their semi-aquatic lifestyle.
However, a new study shows their brains to be surprisingly similar to their terrestrial theropod ancestors’ brains. Researchers micro-CT scanned fossil braincases to reconstruct the brains of two spinosaurs — Baryonyx walkeri and Ceratosuchops inferodios dating to 125 million years ago. The scans showed unexceptional sense of smell, basic low-frequency hearing, and limited gaze stabilization.
"Despite their unusual ecology, it seems the brains and senses of these early spinosaurs retained many aspects in common with other large-bodied theropods," says study author Chris Barker.
So, it apparently didn’t take much adaptation for them to make the leap from a terrestrial to a streamside life other than the extra-long specialized fish-snatching snouts.
How unique fingerprint patterns develop in utero
Fingerprints are useful and weird. Whether they help with grip, enhance touch, or serve some other biological function is a matter of debate. Regardless, experts agree that the tiny ridges on each person’s fingertip are in a unique pattern, making them indispensable in forensic fingerprint analysis. But why are they different, even in identical twins?
There’s no obvious biological value to distinctive fingerprints, prompting researchers to analyze how they form. A recent study finds that the ridges making up our fingerprints develop along the same track as hair follicles, but more superficially on the skin surface. Starting at three points on the fetal fingertip, ridges expand outward in waves via what’s called a Turing pattern.
The fingerprint stripes results from some cells growing and others resisting growth, mediated by signaling molecules identified in the new research. The arches, loops, or whorls depend on the balance of signaling molecules as well as fingers getting randomly mushed together in the womb as their ridges are developing.
Graphene conducts electricity with no loss of energy
People have been playing with graphite for a while as the original pencil lead. Since the chance discovery in 2004 of a way to isolate a single layer, graphene has proved to be light, flexible, stronger than steel, and more conductive than copper.
But that’s not all. In 2018, physicists found that two sheets of graphene offset at a magic angle of 1.1 degrees became both an insulator (no electron flow) and a superconductor (unbridled electron flow). And by 2021, scientists lauded unconventional superconductivity in twisted bilayer graphene, recognizing that it might employ novel mechanisms of superconductivity.
Now, a new study unpacks the magic further by explaining how this twisted graphene conducts electricity with no loss of energy along the way. Its electrons move so slowly as to practically stop, which seems counter to conductivity. But the researchers found that the phenomenon could be described using quantum geometry to take into account its wavelike behavior.
Says study author Jeanie Lau, "Conventional equations could explain maybe 10% of the superconductivity signal...Our experimental measurements suggest quantum geometry is 90% of what makes this a superconductor."
Do you find yourself staring at stranger’s faces in a crowd or homing in on facial expressions in a magazine spread? If so, give yourself a reassuring pat on the back for mental health. In a new study, researchers displayed photographs of groups of people and assessed how much attention study participants paid to faces. The 120 study participants were also evaluated for mental health indicators and the Big Five personality traits.
The results showed that more attention to faces correlated with openness, extraversion, agreeableness, and empathy while less attention to faces aligned with depression, social anxiety, and alexithymia (not an obsession with the name “Alex,” but rather a disorder where people can’t distinguish their own emotions, see HERE).
Say study authors, "Pictures of human faces attract most people's attention, but the phenomenon is weaker in people with higher levels of social anxiety, depression and other forms of psychopathology."
What does that say about Narcissus, who loved to stare at his own face and would have been pleased to have a personality disorder named after him. Narcissistic personality disorder has classically referred to people with an unreasonably high sense of their own importance derived from low self-esteem. Narcissistic behavior is interpreted as seeking a self-esteem boost through admiration and approval.
But a recent study provides a more nuanced view of the disorder. Participants took surveys to assess their narcissistic characteristics, while also reporting about their feelings. The results showed that, “The ways in which narcissistic people are experiencing their social world are probably more important than their self-esteem,” says study author Virgil Zeigler-Hill, which calls out at least two types of narcissism. “Narcissistic admiration,” comes along with people feeling admired and included, but wanting to climb higher on the social strata (think Mean Girls). “Narcissistic rivalry” accompanies low self-esteem, feeling excluded, and jealousy when others get praised (think No Good Deed).
A narcissist of the admiration type could be mistaken for someone with psychopathy — both end up in leadership positions where they show a lack of empathy. Says forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks, “successful psychopaths” often land in the upper tier of corporate business. But, unlike narcissists, psychopaths are likely to stir up trouble because of their poor behavioral controls, which means after the board room they may land in prison.
Researchers have asked how psychopathy — if there’s a genetic basis — remains in populations when it ultimately leads to maladaptive behaviors. Writes human evolution researcher Jonathan Goodman,
“There’s evidence that the tendencies are, at least in some contexts, an evolutionary benefit.” He argues that the most successful people are those viewed as trustworthy, and that psychopaths have a talent for deceiving others into trusting them. They are pros at “Fake it till you make it.” (Think Inventing Anna.)
Next time, we’ll take a fresh look at smoking and e-cigarettes.
Written by Devin Reese, Edited by Jake Currie
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