Drumroll, please! Its time for another edition of Science Sunday!
This week, we’re talking about prenatal digit and brain development, Google Maps for the body, along with top mistakes made while reading scientific studies. As important as it is to read studies, it is more important to read them correctly to prevent misunderstanding and the spread of misinformation. And a bonus tutorial for those of you who celebrate Easter: How to Make Galaxy-Inspired Easter Eggs.
Sex of Brain Changed in Rat; Immune System Discovered as Contributor to Brain’s Sex Characteristics
This study is two parts awesome: It was previously thought that during prenatal brain development there was a window where, specifically, the sex of the offspring’s brain was decided; Once this window closed, the brain’s sex choice was permanent. But, Professor McCarthy and Dr. Nugent, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, successfully developed a female rat’s brain into a male rat brain, after this window closed. Not only was the sex of the rat’s brain changed, as observed by sex-specific mating behavior, but it is the first study to show a link between the immune system and the process of determining sex differences in the brain. ScienceDaily writes: “Intriguingly, the latest study also found that inflammatory immune cells known as microglia appear to play a role in masculinization, in part through their production of prostaglandins, a neurochemical normally associated with illness. In recent years, scientists have increasingly realized that the immune system is integral to the development of the brain.” At this time, Professor McCarthy plans to continue research into the immune system and sex differences in the brain. I am very impressed by this new line of research and look forward to future findings in the area of prenatal brain sex choice and the immune system. Check out the ScienceDaily write-up here that will also link to the research article.
Other things of interest I came along this week:
Google Maps for the Body? Researchers in Australia have developed software that allows the user to explore down into a single cell. Check out the work and a short video on the project here. Cue music and Angus Young voice: I’m on the hiiiiiighway of cells…
Finger Length Predicts Health and Behavior? Okay, sounds a little bit like science woo-woo, right? Spoiler: Its not. Prenatal digit development can reflect all kind of different changes that occurred in the womb. Discover Magazine describes a great example in their writeup; In prenatal male development, there is a spike of testosterone during the middle of the second trimester which can be observed by the length of ring finger in relation to the index finger. So scientists are now gathering information on how these hormonal influences during pregnancy, along with diet and nutrition can effect someone for life. Check out some of the correlations that their research has already found! PS: This writeup is about 2 years old, but I still find it to be a fun read.
10 Mistakes We All Make When Interpreting Research? What? Even me? Noooo! Check out the top mistakes in the writeup from Science Alert here and be prepared to humble yourself a little. In my opinion, it is very important to be science literate, not just a fan of all things science (although the latter is super-fun too). Without understanding how to interpret data, we can fall prey to assumptions more easily and misunderstand what the findings truly mean. And much of the terminology is very specific. It is like knowing the difference between and using the words “hazard” and “risk”. They seem like the same, but are not; A hazard is the presence of something dangerous that could cause potential harm and the risk is the likelihood of this potentially dangerous situation happening. IE: A small lego piece hidden in a shag rug is a hazard, but dancing around like crazy on said shag rug with hidden lego pieces inside of it is a risk.
Easter Weekend Bonus!
For those of you who celebrate Easter this weekend, check out how to dye your Easter Eggs to match the galaxy here.