MySci Roundup, Nov. 22: Real Life Megaminds

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Here’s something that will blow your mind. Researchers at UCLA and the California Institute of Technology have proven that the humans can 
actually regulate the activity of specific neurons in the brain, increasing the firing rate of some while decreasing the rate of others. According to this recent UCLA news release, by employing this ability, study subjects were able to manipulate an image on a computer screen using only their thoughts.

The experiment involved 12 epilepsy patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who had been implanted with intracranial depth electrodes as part of their treatment. the patients also agreed to let researchers use the electrodes to record the activity of individual neurons in the medial temporal lobe, a part of the brain significantly involved in memory and emotion. The researchers than showed patients various computer images of things they liked–such as pictures of Marilyn Monroe , the Boston Red Sox, and the rock group Guns N’Roses–and asked them to think about the images, as the researchers noted which neurons were fired by the them. Then, additional images were added to the screen as a distraction, and the subjects were asked to focus on their favorite to increase its brightness and cause the others to fade. About 70 percent of the time, the subjects were able to accomplish that, by triggering the specific neurons related to their favorite images.
“The goal was to get patients to control things with their minds,” Caltech researcher Moran Cerf explained. 

More importantly, the experiment also showed that subjects could be trained to control the firing rate of neurons in the MTL, exciting one set of neurons associated with, say, Marilyn Monroe, while suppressing another connected to actor Josh Brolin. (BTW, we’re sure this is no reflection upon his excellent performance in “No Country for Old Men.”)

Now for the rest of the news.

Are USB ports Satanic? Several Brazilian news web sites report that a religious group in their country thinks the USB symbol evokes the Devil’s pitchfork. We’re suspecting this is a Snopesian hoax, but you never know.

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle sets limits on Einstein’s “spooky actions at a distance” concept, scientists discover.  Apparently, this explains why the behavior of particles at the quantum level is weird, but not quite as weird as it might be. Or something like that. 

Is iPad 2 already on the horizon? We’re sticking with our old reliable Etch-a-Sketch until this gets sorted out.

Scientists use gene manipulation to boost plant root growth, as a way to sequester carbon emissions.  This might give us a new weapon in the fight against climate change, one that won’t require us to buy funny-looking new light bulbs. Bjorn Lomborg probably will like that.

For the first time, astronomers discover a planet orbiting around star from another galaxy.  And it’s not that far away, either. The star in question, HIP 13044, is a survivor of a small, defunct galaxy, which is believed to have been torn apart by the Milky Way six billion or so years ago.