On the savannas of Kenya, a battle has been waged for centuries. The landscape hints at how this battle has shaped the entire ecosystem, but it must be viewed from far above. From just a few meters above ground level, the telltale signs are still invisible. However, from the vantage point offered by drone photography or satellite imagery, a clear pattern emerges. Patches of vegetation are spotted across the savanna, in a regular hexagonal layout. This kind of order in the natural world fascinates biologists and begs for an explanation. Researchers at Princeton have been investigating how warring termite colonies (or insect colonies in general), and the underlying resource distribution can drive the emergence of order in the savanna landscape.
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.
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.
There is much consensus that negative stressful early life experiences impact the development of an individual. Numerous studies in humans have linked childhood adversity (e.g., loss of a caregiver, abuse, natural disaster, etc.) to an increased risk for depression and other psychiatric disorders in adulthood. In other words, the more an individual has experienced negative stressors in childhood, the more likely that individual is to develop depression or anxiety when they experience mild stressors in adulthood. This heightened sensitization and increased risk of mood disorders in humans has a parallel observation in rodents, specifically mice, which are used as model organisms in the discussed study. Principal Investigator Catherine Jensen Peña and colleagues at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai were interested in exploring the epigenetic effects of such early life stressors on reward circuitry in the brain. Throughout this work the authors posit, as does much of the early life stress (ELS) field, that there could be epigenetic mechanisms at work leading to the aforementioned risk of mood disorder development.