Discovered: Cooking helped humans evolve large brains; beluga vocalizations strikingly similar to human speech; how the dung beetle keeps its cool; measuring consciousness.
Raw food diets evolutionarily inferior. Celebrities like Amanda Seyfried might tout the slimming benefits of a raw food diet, but neuroscientists aren't impressed by raw food's evolutionary effects on the human brain. Humans evolved to form such big brains thanks in part to cooking, says Brazilian researcher Suzana Herculano-Houzel. She found that humans would have to spend upwards of 9 hours per day eating raw unprocessed raw food if they wanted to boost brainpower for future generations of humans. Our brains have three times as many neurons as our closest cousins in the primate kingdom, thanks to our cooking ancestors who discovered that roasting meat and vegetables pre-digested food for us, speeding up digestion and making efficient use of calories. Herculano-Houzel put this theory to the test by studying primate diets and their relationship to fueling the brain. "If you eat only raw food, there are not enough hours in the day to get enough calories to build such a large brain," Herculano-Houzel concludes. "We can afford more neurons, thanks to cooking." [Science Now]
Whale sounds very similar to humans. Whale song has long fascinated scientists, and now researchers from California's National Marine Mammal Foundation have found a beluga whale that who can vocalize sounds strikingly similar to human speech. The adorably named NOC is impressing scientists, because no one even tried to train him to mimic the human voice. Normally belugas deliver a high-pitched chirp, but NOC was speaking at frequencies octaves below normal, and with durations and spaces of silence similar to a human uttering a sentence. "Our observations suggest that the whale had to modify its vocal mechanics in order to make the speech-like sounds," says lead author Sam Ridgway. "The sounds we heard were clearly an example of vocal learning by the white whale." Belugas have also been scientifically proven to be the cutest type of whale, we're guessing. You can hear a bit of NOC imitating a human, via io9, below. [BBC News]
The resourceful, self-cooling dung beetle. Dung beetles are gross, but at least their grossness is useful. The insects feed on feces, which they prepare for consumption by rolling through the desert sand. In the savanna, that sand can be pretty hot—hot enough to scorch a human foot. So how do the beetles keep cool? The Scarabaeus (kheper) lamarcki solves this dilemma by riding atop the food they're rolling up for themselves, Swedish and South African researchers have found. They reached this conclusion by outfitting the bugs with silicone boots for an experiment about how the beetles resist heat. Those wearing the booties mounted their dung heap meals 35 percent less often than their barefoot peers. Check out the beetles resourceful heat evasion below: [Scientific American]
Measuring consciousness through EEG. When someone receives massive brain damage, how can you tell if they're still conscious or not? The line between awareness and unconsciousness is very fuzzy, but Belgian researchers believe that they can distinguish the vegetative from the conscious by measuring brain waves through EEG readouts. Researchers led by Melanie Boly revealed their findings at the Society for Neuroscience conference, outlining a process for measuring consciousness more objectively. By jolting 32 awake patients with a small electrical jolt, then measuring the complexity of their neural responses, the scientists were able to sort conscious patients from unconscious patients. Of course, the call still remains subjective as to whether or not massively brain damaged patients are conscious or not, but Boly and her colleagues believe their criteria is the most objective diagnostic test to date. [Discover]
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.