A computational model for automated tracking of socially-interacting animals

Review written by Andy Jones (COS, GS)

Understanding the link between neural activity and behavior is one of the long-running goals of neuroscience. In the information age, it is becoming more and more common for neuroscientists to take a data-driven approach to studying animal behavior in order to gain insight into the brain. Under this approach, scientists collect hours’ or days’ worth of video recordings of an animal, relying on modern machine learning (ML) systems to automatically identify exact locations of body parts and classify behavior types. These methods have opened the door for more expansive studies of the relationship between brain activity and behavior, without relying on laborious manual annotations of animal movements. 

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Stories of immigrant achievement could combat xenophobia

Review written by Leon Mait (PSY, G2)

This country has a complicated relationship with its immigrants. On the one hand, we pride ourselves on theoretically being the “land of opportunity,” a “melting pot” where people from all backgrounds can come to try their hand at socioeconomic success. On the other hand, we often vilify the actual individuals attempting to come to this country, likening them to criminals, viruses, pests, and resource thieves. 

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New (inter-)vistas of protein interactions

Review written by Laura A. Murray-Nerger (Molecular Biology, G6)

As primary and secondary school students, we learn that cellular organelles have specific functions. For example, the mitochondria is often called the “powerhouse” of the cell because it makes energy that drives other cellular processes. However, we often don’t learn about the multifaceted functions of these well-known organelles or learn about some of the less-well studied organelles, including the peroxisome. Moreover, as we learn about the functions of these organelles, it is easy to forget that they are filled with many proteins, each of which participates in a variety of functions. Importantly, these proteins do not work in isolation, but rather by interacting with each other, which creates a complex network of protein-protein associations that ultimately determine cellular fate. In their recent paper, the Cristea lab has built a computational platform that can be broadly used to assess the changes in protein-protein interactions in any biological context. They employ this newly developed tool to understand the protein-protein interactions that underlie alterations in mitochondrial and peroxisomal function during viral infection.

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Worms decipher a bacterial code to drive multigenerational change in behavior

Review written by Olivia Duddy (MOL)

Segments of DNA, called genes, encode the expression of an organism’s traits. Genes are heritable, meaning that they are transmitted from the parent to their progeny. Additionally, scientists have uncovered mechanisms that enable changes in gene function, independent of changes in DNA sequence, that are also heritable. The study of these mechanisms, collectively known as epigenetics, has revealed ways in which the environment shapes our biology in the context of health and disease.

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Surprising events create event boundaries in memories

Review written by Paula Brooks (PNI)

Imagine that you are binge-watching Netflix. In spite of the algorithm’s calculations, you are getting bored by the show that was suggested and you are thinking about stopping before the end of the season. However, to your great surprise, a new character enters halfway through the season and you are hooked. The plot has gotten more interesting and the acting has suddenly improved. What just happened?

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Why some mosquitoes prefer biting us

Review written by Jessi Hennacy (MOL)

There are about 3500 mosquito species worldwide, but only a handful of them are responsible for the transmission of mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. Whereas most mosquito species are generalists that lack a preference for a particular animal, the specialist mosquito species that prefer biting humans over other animals are also the species that most widely spread human diseases. Understanding the environmental factors that are driving these mosquitoes to prefer humans could help uncover strategies for mitigating the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses. It is therefore vital for public health to ask why and how certain mosquitoes have evolved to target humans.

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Can people accurately predict emotions in others?

emotions study

Review written by Rohini Majumdar (PSY)

People tend to transition between emotional states in predictable patterns. We use what we know about how others are feeling in the moment to predict how they might feel in the future. Specifically, we make these predictions based on our knowledge of emotional state transition patterns from observing ourselves and others. Research has shown that benefits of social perception and prediction include positive real-world social outcomes such as stronger relationships with friends, higher satisfaction in romantic relationships, greater acceptance from peers, and more success within one’s community. 

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A C. elegans model reveals mechanisms behind reproductive aging

Written by Ashley Chang (MOL, 2021) and Rebekah Rashford (PNI, G3)

Physiological decline is a natural component of human aging. One of the biological processes perhaps most rapidly affected by this decline is that of reproduction in women. The quantity and quality of a woman’s eggs decreases as she ages, thereby reducing the likelihood of a successful pregnancy as she approaches her late 30s to early 40s. Pregnancy in humans at all is relatively impossible after menopause, which typically occurs in the late 40s and beyond. Because of these biological restrictions, doctors and researchers have developed treatments to help women who want to have children later in life, such as freezing their eggs or in vitro fertilization followed by freezing of the embryos. While these treatments have undoubtedly changed the landscape of modern conception and fertility, they do not directly combat the deleterious effects of reproductive aging. Instead of creating systems that circumvent the inevitable, what if we could challenge the issue head-on by preventing deterioration in the quality of the egg precursor, the oocyte, and extending the reproductive age-span? 

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The false duality of habitual versus goal-directed behavior

Written by Anika Maskara ‘23 & Thiago Tarraf Varella (PSY GS)

It is common in popular culture to imagine human decision making as a clash of two distinct choices. There is a “good option” and a “bad option,” an angel or a devil sitting on our shoulders. Like many dichotomies, though, that view of decision making is misleading. It is true that research suggests we have two different decision-making systems that sometimes disagree about which action to take, but neither is better or worse than the other; they simply use different algorithms to help us decide what to do.

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Parents are encouraged to read to their children when they're young, but is this really so important?

Written by Munisa Said (PSY, 2022) & Crystal Lee (PSY, G2)

Why is it so important for parents to read to their children? Previous research has found that when parents read to their infants (also called “shared reading”), there are significant improvements in early language development (Mol & Bus, 2011). However, not all children broadly benefit from shared reading. The advantages of shared reading vary quite widely among children. A recent paper led by researchers from Princeton and Rutgers Universities endeavored to explain this variability by considering genetic factors that may impact this development of language acquisition. In previous studies, individual differences in dopaminergic and serotonergic systems (the neural pathways that deliver dopamine and serotonin throughout the brain) have been implicated in different outcomes for learning, attention, and behavior.  Thus, Jiminez et al. examined the genetic characteristics of these systems of almost 2,000 children in order to see if this variable also explained the diverse effects of shared reading.

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