A New Swine Flu; Rethinking a Once Wet Mars

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Discovered: Evidence ancient Mars was dry; short kids depress moms; swine flu mutation; creating artificial memories in rat brain tissue is still a long way off from Total Recall.

Total Recall? Like something out of Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale," scientists can now plant memories in our brains! Ah! At least that's how Gizmodo wrote up a study by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine professor Ben Strowbridge and Ph.D student Robert A. Hyde. The actual findings are less ripe for Hollywood sci-fi epics, but still fascinating. Hyde and Strowbridge were able to store artificial short-term memories in isolated bits of rodent brain tissue for about 10 seconds, marking "the first time anyone has found a way to store information over seconds about both temporal sequences and stimulus patterns directly in brain tissue," says Strowbridge, who published the findings in the upcoming issue of Nature Neuroscience. Sorry to anyone who expected this research would allow them to purchase vivd, immersive memories of traveling to Mars. But those interested in the neurological formation of memories should be excited. "This paves the way for future research to identify the specific brain circuits that allow us to form short-term memories," says Strowbridge. [Science Daily]

A new swine flu could come after humans. Last month, the Centers of Disease Control announced 12 newly discovered human cases of the H3N2 swine flu virus. Scientists have since found that flu strains found in commercial pig lots may be mutating into a strains able to infect and spread among humans. Clinical trials showed a swine flu mutation culled from pig slaughterhouses catching on in a ferret population and killing them swiftly. That's bad news because ferrets are commonly used to model human flu responses. But don't panic! "This is not a 'We're all going to die' type of virus," says study co-author and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital virologist Richard Webby, reassuringly. "It's more that we need to be vigilant and maintain surveillance of influenza in pigs." [Los Angeles Times]

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Less evidence for water on ancient Mars. The theory that water was once abundant on Mars is being called into question by a new study led by French astronomer Alain Meunier of the University of Poitiers. Clay-rich rocks have long been interpreted as a sign that water flowed on ancient Mars, but after examining the clay deposits, Meunier found that they could just as easily have been formed by lava. The study doesn't preclude the existence of a small amount of water, but it challenges the dominant theories about Mars' H2O history. Meunier isn't the final word on Mars water, of course, but it testifies to the fact that "Mars is a diverse place, and all of these processes happened at different points on the planet," according to Cal Tech's Bethany Ehlmann. [The Christian Science Monitor]

Mothers of short children more prone to depression. A study from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health shows that children of mothers who experienced symptoms of depression within the first year after giving birth are likely to be shorter in their early years. The 6,500 pre-school to kindergarten aged children Pamela Surkan and her colleagues studied were 40 percent more likely to be shorter than average for their age if their mothers had exhibited signs of postpartum depression. "There's already very good reasons that mothers who are depressed should seek treatment," says Surkan. "This is one more additional piece of evidence confirming that this is important." But those children aren't necessarily doomed to be short forever; the height disparity between children of depressed mothers and those of non-depressed mothers disappeared for many children after age 5. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of mothers experience postpartum depression. [ABC News]

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