Our brains are wondrous, incredible machines. They're slower than the earliest personal computers in terms of raw processing power, yet capable of leaps of intuition and able to store a lifetime of memories that are cross-referenced and instantly-accessible at the slightest prompting. We know so very little about how they do these things, however. But imagine for a moment if we could build a complete wiring diagram of a human brain – to map in detail every one of the hundred trillion or so synapses and roughly hundred billion neurons together with all the tiniest supporting mechanisms. What might that mean, and would it even be possible?
Where and when you form new memories affects where they are stored in the brain's hippocampus, which is the memory center in our brain, researchers at Ohio State University found in a new study. They saw evidence that a particular part of the hippocampus stores memories relative to time over durations of at least a month and space over distances of up to 30 km (18.6 mi).
"Ignorance is bliss," so the old saying goes, but who wouldn't give their brainpower a boost if they had the chance? By altering a single gene to inhibit the activity of an enzyme called phosphodiesterase (PDE4B), researchers have given mice the opportunity to see what an increase in intelligence is like. While many people would welcome such a treatment, the scientists say their research could lead to new treatments for those with cognitive disorders and age-related cognitive decline.
A head trauma can be difficult to diagnose and destroy a life years after the event. Being able to tell immediately if the force someone has suffered is sufficient to result in a traumatic brain injury can make all the difference in limiting the damage. A team from the University of Pennsylvania has developed a material that could one day be incorporated into headgear to instantly gauge the severity of blows and provide a clearly visible indication of injury.
If you offer someone "a penny for their thoughts," how good a deal might you be getting? A study conducted at the University of Leicester has sought to shed some light on the value of our brainpower, finding a single penny to be worth to precisely three hours, seven minutes and 30 seconds worth of thinking.
New research suggests that sleeping on your side could help cut the chances of developing some neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Compared to sleeping on one's back or stomach, sleeping on one's side appears to allow the brain to more efficiently remove waste chemicals that may contribute to the development of such conditions.
Nicotine replacement therapy, such as pills, gum and patches, can make the road to quitting smoking a little less rocky, but these aren't always effective and a tremendous amount of discipline still plays the major role. A team of US-based researchers has now uncovered an enzyme found in nature they say could greatly improve on the effectiveness of smoking cessation aids, by devouring nicotine in smokers before it can deliver its "reward" to the brain.
Even after a lengthy period of abstinence, putting lingering memories of methamphetamine use to rest is a difficult and often impossible task for former users. Therapies are available to help people stay clean, but for many the lure remains irresistible with incredibly high relapse rates of more than 90 percent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. But a research team is hoping to help addicts stay away from the devastating drug for good by developing a way to safely erase drug-associated memories.
The human brain contains more synapses than there are galaxies in the observable universe (to put a number on it, there are perhaps 100 trillion synapses versus 100 billion galaxies), and now scientists can see them all – individually. A new imaging tool promises to open the door to all sorts of new insights about the brain and how it works. The tool can generate images at a nanoscale resolution, which is small enough to see all cellular objects and many of their sub-cellular components (so for the biology-literate, that's stuff like neurons and the synapses that permit them to fire, plus axons, dendrites, glia, mitochondria, blood vessel cells, and so on).
Most "new" products we see are really just minor evolutions of gadgets that have been around for years. But here's one that's completely unlike anything we've used before. Meet Thync, a wearable that zaps your brain to change your mood – like a drug that replaces chemicals with technology.