Signs of life

I’m sitting in a black beanbag chair, watching the projection of a record spin one of my favourite Vampire Weekend songs, and thinking about myself. The record is entitled Sounds For An Exhibit and is featured in a glass case next to the video installation. But when I close my eyes and lean back in the moderately comfortable bean bag chair, it’s easy to forget that I’m in an art gallery.

My narcissism is (kind of) justified. The most recent exhibit in the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Ron Terada: Who I Think I Am, is all about identity. Ron Terada is a 42-year-old Vancouver-based artist, known mainly for his appropriation of street signs and word-for-word recreations or representations of these found objects. This particular exhibit easily blurs the lines of the-shit-you-see-on-the-street-next-to-highways and “high” art.

The first room is filled with baffling signage: most notably, a poster for a previous exhibition, Universal Pictures, which features a photo of a “Welcome to Vancouver” sign. A glossy photo across from the video installation shows a large sign next to what looks like a construction site with the fluorescent words: “See Other Side of Sign.” In the adjoining room is a neon sign in the shape of a star. It says “BIG” in the middle of the star. The star isn’t big. It’s moderately-sized, at best.
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I’m starting to wonder about Ron Terada’s idea of self-conception. There is no explicit reference to the artist — but in the other room his favourite songs play next to a poster for his own exhibit — that either references his own confidence in his music taste and a celebration of the design team of whatever gallery put on his last exhibit, or it is an elusive reference to self-representation. The piece in the next room seems to be more explicitly autobiographical. A series of black canvases inscribed with white text narrates the tale of a New York artist’s haunting account of the nature of art, art-world snobbery, self-destruction, and crippling isolation.

“In a way, I ruined my life, but I did a body of work, and for that body of work it was worth ruining my life,” the piece concludes, leaving the last canvas a mass of black space with only a few lines of white text. It’s clear this isn’t Terada’s own autobiography. Everything about the exhibit exudes a sense of play, a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek in juxtaposing a piece called “Big Star” with a purportedly self-identifying exhibit. He listens to Vampire Weekend. He hardly seems like the self-destructive artist who wrote: “And the only way I can make art is by taking drugs to ease the pain of the emptiness in my stomach, the emptiness of my life.” Yet, here are the words, neatly configured against the white wall, in an exhibit entitled Who I Think I Am.

Reading the text-based piece is almost an uncanny experience. Reading is a familiar and comforting process for me, something I like to do in the fetal position, in bed, with a cat curled up beside me and maybe some hot chocolate. This exhibit requires you to stand, physically move across the room, crane your neck and hurt your eyes if you endeavour to read it. It’s physically demanding to read, and reading white on black text is difficult. After a while, it’s almost dizzying. You can’t just look at this piece; you have to engage with it for it to make any sense at all.
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I find out later that the excerpted text is a chapter from the biography of Jack Goldstein, a conceptual artist who achieved fame in the 1980s until secluding himself well beneath the poverty line in Southern California. In true artistic form, his works weren’t really included in any kind of artistic cannon until after his death in 2003. He is, as such, the quintessential tortured artist, who romantically sacrificed everything for his body of work, and never saw the fruits of his labour.

What Terada has assembled in this exhibit is a collection of signs. Deviating from his representation of street signs, he’s given us a collection of the kind of signs that we all use to represent our own identity. Terada chose an excerpt from the autobiography of a tortured artist, a tongue-in-cheek neon sign, an installation of his favourite music, and advertisements for his art exhibits. I would probably choose an excerpt from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and my Facebook profile pictures.

UC student cycles and freezes for Haiti

On January 29, U of T student Andreas Kloppenborg plans to cycle non-stop from Kingston to Toronto in a charity effort to sponsor schoolchildren in Haiti. Kloppenborg will attempt to complete the 280 km trek — a route usually completed in three days — in 24 hours. The Canadian winter, which will be Kloppenborg’s biggest obstacle, inspired his cause’s name: Frostbike.

Kloppenborg, who has volunteered in the past helping other charities such as UNICEF, was inspired by the struggles happening in Haiti since its tragic earthquake exactly one year ago. January marks a year since the catastrophic event, and Kloppenborg thinks it is important to remember the devastation and to continue with support for the struggling country.

“I’ve been following the Haitian story closely,” explained Kloppenborg, “and things don’t seem to be getting that much better. I figured that cycling would definitely raise some money, and cycling really long and in the freezing cold would make a lot of money.”

FrostBike is directly affiliated with the Starthrower Foundation, a larger Canadian charity organization based on providing education to Haitian youth. Kloppenborg’s goal is to raise $1,320 dollars, the exact amount needed to fund two students. Starthrower Foundation is a very humble charity with a little school that currently has hundreds of Haitian’s waitlisted to attend.

Kloppenborg chose to partner with Starthrower Foundation in part because of its small size. “A small charity would benefit the most,” said Kloppenborg. “It will mean the most.”

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Kloppenborg has always been a cycling enthusiast. He spent the entire summer clocking in miles across bike routes in Europe, but his training for his upcoming venture only hit high gear this winter break. During the holidays, Kloppenborg was cycling over 220 km every week, along with consistent weight training. His training has slowed since the start of term to avoid leg injury.

Balancing training and academics has worked out nicely for Kloppenborg. “This month school is just starting up which is nice in two ways, people are more willing to help when there’s less school work, and it’s easier for me to train.”

During the charity cycling mission, Kloppenborg will not be alone with only snow to keep him company. Two of his friends, Diane Ashbourne and Chris Frankowski, will be riding in a car behind him. The car will be prepared for any emergency, and will be packed with a first aid kit, multiple jackets and socks, cycling shoes, a toolbox, spare wheels, and more.

So far the charity has raised $1,000 dollars and has been receiving support from both students and other charities. Lance Armstrong’s charity, Live Strong, donated wrist bands and other paraphernalia, and is now an official associate of FrostBike. Students from both U of T and Queen’s university have helped support Kloppenborg’s noble cause. Most notably, the UC Lit and U of T UNICEF are hosting a pub night on January 27 at O Grady’s.

To donate or find out more about Frostbike, visit frostbike.ca.

It’s personal

As the era of gene-based medicine comes increasingly closer, current scientific research is focused on identifying genes linked with disease. A complete DNA sequence harbours many variations and differences, ranging from small changes in a single letter of code, to variations in the number of copies of a gene. These variations are the focus of extensive investigation, as researchers try to link each variation with the risk of developing certain diseases, disease prognosis, and even a prediction of patients’ responses to medications.

However, when it comes to genome sequencing, there are two limiting factors in implementing scientific findings from the bench to the clinic: the cost, and the time involved.

In response to these limitations, a research group at Imperial College London has ambitiously sought to tackle the obstacles in genomic research by patenting a technology that they propose can sequence an individual’s genome within minutes. What’s more, while current commercial sequencing costs at least a couple of thousand dollars, these researchers propose that their technology will cost a fraction of that.

“It should be significantly faster and more reliable, and would be easy to scale up to create a device with the capacity to read up to 10 million bases per second, versus the typical 10 bases per second you get with the present day single molecule real-time techniques,” stated Dr Joshua Edel, lead researcher in the study, in a press release,

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In their study, published this month in the journal Nano Letters, the researchers describe this new method of chemical sequencing. They demonstrate that DNA strands can be rapidly propelled through a 50-nanometre pore, or nanopore, using an electrical charge in a silicon chip base. A tunnelling electrode junction recognizes the coding sequence as the strand comes out from the opposite face of the chip. A computer algorithm is then used to interpret the signal and construct the genome sequence.

Dr Christian Marshall, interim facility manager of The Centre for Applied Genomics’ DNA Sequencing Facility at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, states that the technology appears promising. “I think the technology is really interesting, and represents an important, however minute, step towards the ultimate goal of sequencing a single DNA molecule.”

Marshall also outlines the present limitations. “Obviously there is a long way to go and many details that have to be worked out [such as computing power] in order for the technology to be feasible.”

In the next ten years, the researchers anticipate that their technology will eventually be applied to create tools yielding complete genome sequences in a single lab procedure.

“The next step,” says Dr Tim Albrecht, an author of the study, “will be to differentiate between different DNA samples and, ultimately, between individual bases within the DNA strand. […] I think we know the way forward, but it is a challenging project and we have to make many more incremental steps before our vision can be realized.”

According to Marshall, “The timeline of ten years does seem reasonable for commercial implementation, and it will be interesting to see if the technology comes to fruition and is viable in this timeframe.”

If this technology eventually makes it into the clinic, the implications for healthcare will be enormous. With rapid genome sequencing, DNA from any patient can be obtained, and a picture of their unique susceptibility to diseases can be painted, opening the door for personalized medicine.

While it’s unlikely that this technology will be readily available to patients themselves, it will be at the disposal of healthcare providers, and may be a potential tool to further guide clinical decision-making. Clinicians would be equipped to see, at the molecular level, factors contributing to a patient’s disease, and could look to current research in appropriate management.

With DNA information available for individual patients, two patients with the “same” disease may not be treated with an identical therapeutic strategy. That’s not to say that genetic information alone plays a role in elucidating disease and patient characteristics. Rather, this knowledge can be combined with current clinical and laboratory tests to provide a more robust strategy for managing disease.

If this technology proves successful, its applications span far beyond DNA sequencing. Sequence information from viral and bacterial DNA can play a role in diagnosing infectious diseases, which would bypass the culturing process currently in place. In addition, other nucleic acids such as microRNAs may be predictive of disease outcomes, and can also be sequenced through this technology.

The extent to which this technology can improve patient care is also dependent on federal and provincial healthcare models. Will the government fund or subsidize such tests? Will there be immediate barriers to implementation? In any case, the utility of such a technology cannot be ignored.

As Marshall puts it, “Beyond the low cost and speed, sequencing single molecules would help us understand somatic genomic changes and have a huge impact on personalized genomic medicine.”

The ‘N-word’

Mark Twain was a man who liked being talked about. After the release of his autobiography last fall he was discussed in many papers, due to the book’s overwhelming success. This holiday season brought more media attention to feed the ghost of Twain’s ego with the publication of new, censored versions of his two most famous works: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the case of Huckleberry Finn, the book has removed the N-word (a racial slur used 219 times over the course of the novel) and replaced it with the word “slave.” This upset the literary world.

The New York Times wrote an op-ed about the replacement of the n-word and showed how such censorship has resulted in the life being sucked out of art. The article displayed lines from Shakespeare, rendered to be politically correct; they became plain pieces of poetry, worlds away from Shakespeare’s masterful prose. And, while it’s understandable for the literary world and artists to be up in arms over the censorship of Twain’s classic book, I feel it’s a slight overreaction.

The newly censored version of Twain’s book was produced by Alan Gribben, a professor of English in Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama. Gribben produced this edition with the hope of seeing the book re-appear on school reading lists. Gribben believes that the book has been slowly disappearing from syllabi due to its harsh language. He wanted to present a more user-friendly version of the text, so that anyone who felt alienated or found the language too appalling could now read it. With these reasons in mind, I think it is absolutely fine to release a politically-correct version of the book. It would have been a larger issue if Gribben’s edition was going to replace the original. But the new version of Twain’s book should not be seen as some government “big brother” move that is attempting to destroy literature Fahrenheit 451-style. No, the edition has been produced by a professor of literature, who is attempting to widen the book’s readership. Is that not a virtuous goal?

Furthermore, it seems no different from musicians releasing cleaned-up versions of their songs. Censoring a song or an album opens up the artist’s work to a wider audience. For instance, rap tracks have for years been censored when played on the radio. In such songs the n-word has been used in such a way as to remove its original derogatory meaning, unlike Huckleberry Finn which only portrays the maliciousness of the word. But even with the empowering usage of the N-word in such songs, the term still gets censored along with other inappropriate phrases.

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Many may see the censorship of Huckleberry Finn not only as a violation of Twain’s original words, but something that undermines the central themes, tensions, and ironies of the novel. But while the removal of the n-word definitely weakens the overall harshness of the society that is being presented, the irony is not removed. African-Americans were horribly discriminated against and de-humanized, and while removing the racial slur used against blacks might make the world of that time seem less evil, the black characters are still being de-humanized — actions, and things said beyond the n-word in the novel, go so far as to present those very problems, to an even harsher degree than the use of the n-word. When a character asks Huck whether anyone got hurt in a boat explosion, does it really matter if Huck says “No Ma’am, a slave,” or “No Ma’am, a nigger”? The fact still remains, that the likeable child hero, Huck, after spending days on a raft with his runaway slave friend Jim, still doesn’t consider a black person a human being. It seems that the conflict and tensions of that time are in full effect, regardless of the N-word being there or not.

Unearthing the themes, ironies, and tensions of the novel (which I believe are the reasons why the original text should be studied at a post-secondary level): are those things somehow secondary to the literature itself? Can literature no longer be read and enjoyed for the sake of it? An artist doesn’t write something for its themes to be dissected by academics, so isn’t the argument that the censoring of the novel undermines the central themes of the book not itself undermining the very purpose of why the novel was written in the first place, which was to be read and enjoyed by readers?

While I fully support the study of English literature (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is, after all, an exhilarating tale of a boy running away from home) can we really expect children in grade five to understand the full impact of the N-word when reading the story? The word would probably fly over the child’s head, if anything, and would be detrimental to their vocabulary. It thus seems beneficial to have a child-friendly version of the novel, so our youth can engage with classic literature. Some would argue that children shouldn’t be engaging in such a complex text, but that seems counter-productive. It is beneficial for the youth of our society to read classic literature, and if reading altered texts, they can go on to study the original text and dissect it to their hearts’ content when they enter university.

While it can seem like society’s attempts to make everything politically correct might seem overbearing and sometimes unnecessary, the censored version of Huckleberry Finn seems more beneficial than detrimental. It should be remembered that this is a censored version. The original text is not being banned. But offering readers a more inclusive version of the story is a good thing. And what would Mr. Twain want? He’d probably want to sell more books and have more people talking about him. Censored or uncensored, at the very least, Twain is still grabbing our attention.

A historic vote

“You’ll be able to eat what you want and do what you want,” exclaimed Daniel Bior Garang, one of the millions who cast his vote for South Sudan’s independence. Feelings of jubilation and excitement abounded as scores of Sudanese citizens lined up to cast their vote for the secession of South Sudan on Sunday, January 9, 2011. Although final results will not be released until February, the week-long referendum could result in South Sudan becoming the world’s newest nation. According to recent reports, voter turnout exceeded 90 per cent in some areas. Observers from around the world, including the EU, the Carter Center (founded by former US president Jimmy Carter) and the Satellite Sentinel Project (a partnership between Google, Harvard University, the UN, and the Enough Project, an anti-genocide organization) have all praised the legitimacy and relative peacefulness of the referendum. However, the vote marks the beginning of a lengthy process to secure a new governing body in the south and it remains to be seen whether the region will be able to finally reap the benefits of their abundant natural resources to develop an economically thriving society.

As one of the world’s poorest countries, Sudan has long struggled to establish good governance and deliver basic social services. Following its independence in 1956 from joint Egyptian-British rule, the fragile nation was ravaged by decades of civil war rooted in deep economic, ethnic, and religious conflict. The war finally culminated in 2005 with the historic signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, in which Canada and the U.S. played key diplomatic roles. Darfur is arguably the most troubled region in Sudan. The area, in western Sudan, caught the world’s attention when a rebel group attacked the capital of Khartoum in 2004. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir reacted to this attack by sending out government militias to defeat the black African ethnic groups who protested neglect on the part of al-Bashir’s Islamic central government. Reports of brutal raids, mass killings, and widespread use of rape as a weapon of war began to surface. Although al-Bashir claimed the militias (known as “Janjaweed” or “devil on horseback”) were not government-sponsored, this prompted UN intervention and an outpouring of humanitarian assistance. According to the UN Secretary General, the number of internally displaced persons rose to over 2.2 million in 2007, and the death toll now sits at no less than 400,000. In 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, indicting him on five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes. Despite this, he won re-election the following year, when Sudan held its first multi-party election in 20 years. Massive development — schools, infrastructure, and hospitals — spurred by oil revenues may explain al- Bashir’s popularity with northern voters. Along with the establishment of a ceasefire between the rebel group Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement and the Sudanese government, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement would ultimately set South Sudan’s referendum in motion.
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Concerned citizens in Canada have responded to the call to action by supporting social justice organizations, such as STAND Canada, a student-led, anti-genocide advocacy group. Our members have worked to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur, but our mandate has recently expanded to encompass the greater socio-political circumstances of Sudan. As an advocacy organization, STAND engages directly with politicians, in an effort to bring this conflict to Canada’s foreign policy agenda. A number of policy proposals have been communicated to members of parliament, senators, and bureaucrats. One such proposal includes creating a Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes against Humanity, under the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

Going forward, there are a number of issues yet to be resolved. Abyei, an area rich in oil fields, will be having a separate election in the months ahead to decide whether it joins North or South Sudan. According to the New York Times, this contested region, which straddles the North-South border, has recently seen a spike in violence, with officials reporting that more than 40 people have been killed. Many also fear that violence may rise as both sides negotiate control over the country’s vast oil reserves. BBC News states that South Sudan produces more than 80 per cent of the country’s oil, but only receives 50 per cent of the revenue.

While U.S. President Barack Obama has appointed a senior diplomat to deal with Sudan’s North-South issues, Canada has yet to outline a strategy for on-the-ground presence following the referendum. A recent recommendation by the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development recommended that Canada send a high-level delegation to the area. STAND strongly urges Prime Minister Stephen Harper to implement this recommendation as soon as possible. Although the overall security of Sudan during the referendum is currently at the forefront in major news outlets worldwide, STAND considers the peace and security of the Darfur region to be an ongoing concern.

Aviva German and Shauna C. Keddy are Co-Presidents of STAND U of T.

What’s that in my food? — Malt syrup!

Malt syrup

From malt to corn to golden syrup, our food is loaded with syrups. While golden syrup comes from sugar cane, and corn syrup obviously comes from corn, malt syrup comes from barley — an unusual source for a not-so-sweet sweetener commonly found in baked goods and breakfast cereals.

Malt syrup is produced using a process called malting. This is the same process used to create many foods and food ingredients, the most famous being beer. In places like the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe, beer is not the only popular beverage produced from malting. Malta, a soft drink consumed in many countries, is also produced from malted barley.

Malting takes place when grains are allowed to germinate for only a short period of time. Before their germination is complete, the process is interrupted, allowing for enzymes within the grain to cut its starches into smaller compounds, such as maltose. Because maltose is part of the same family of simple sugars (monosaccharides) as glucose and fructose, malt syrup, which contains maltose, functions as a sweetener.

Nevertheless, malt syrup is less sweet than other sweeteners. This difference is due to the fact that malt syrup is primarily composed of maltose, as opposed to other monosaccharides. Thus it is unlike sucrose, which is 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent sucrose; or high fructose corn syrup, which can be as high as 90 per cent fructose but is most often 55 per cent fructose. Malt syrup is also unique because of its protein content, which is not found in other sweeteners.

Though many food additive syrups are currently the subject of much debate and criticism, malt syrup doesn’t fall into the same category. It is a safe ingredient, not to be feared on a food label.

Honduras: one year later

Since June 2009, Honduras has been hit with a wave of growing domestic violence. A report from Honduras released on March 31, 2010 from the head of the National Commission for Human Rights, Ramón Custodio, had noted that Honduras now has the highest murder rates in Central America, with 66.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. This is an increase from 2006 numbers, when Honduras had the third-highest murder rate in the region, trailing behind El Salvador and Guatemala. Today, it is ranked first. Hondurans are victims of criminal organizations and drug cartels. We must ask what has triggered the sudden spike in death tolls in this state. A sudden increase in murder rates is chilling to hear about, especially two decades after an era of civil wars and Latin American death squads. Even more chilling is the fact that these deaths come during the reign of a new government to power, led by right wing leader Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, who came in power five months after a coup d’état hit Honduras. High death tolls and a coup d’état? The socio-political map in Honduras is looking much like Central America from 1970s-1990s.

In June 2009, the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya was ousted from Honduras, and replaced by a temporary military regime led by Roberto Micheletti. The coup was answered by widespread popular mobilization from municipal and rural communities who demanded the return of their elected president. This movement was met by military forces who arrested, detained, killed, and beat down protestors and community organizers. Opposition to Pepe Lobo, which consists of rural farmers, workers, intellectuals, students, and journalists, boycotted and denounced the elections — which occurred during a de facto military regime — and declared them illegitimate. A general boycott of the elections was declared by all those following the Resistance movement. Five months later, in November 2009, a contested election brought the right-wing National Party into power, with candidate Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo as president.

Fast forward to 2011. Today, Hondurans around the Aguan region have mobilized and voiced their opposition to the new regime of Pepe Lobo, who they say has been putting the concerns of those who have backed the coup over the needs of the impoverished communities in the North. In response, community activists from groups such as the United Campesino Movement of Aguan, the Campesino Movement of Aguan and the National Movement of Popular Resistance have been attacked and threatened by paramilitary groups and police forces resembling the death squads which once haunted Latin America. Groups such as Rights Action have been documenting the human rights abuses occurring to those in opposition to the new government of Pepe Lobo, including unsolved killings of community activists, arrests, disappearances, and occupations of communities by the military.

The situation in Honduras is looking very much like the Central America from which many Latin American immigrants escaped; reliving a history that once haunted the region. The increased death tolls come from an illegitimate state ruled by those who ousted a democratically elected president through the use of military force, and silenced the opposition movement through the same brutal tactics used by death squads during the civil wars in Central America. Resistance against the coup and the new government has mounted since the initial ousting of president Zelaya, with thousands from both the rural and municipal population rallying throughout the capital, Tegucigalpa. From these communities, the National Resistance Movement took form, and continues to oppose the illegitimate government. The Honduran government has also gone to such lengths as censoring the media in the country. From the beginning of the coup, the state shut down media outlets that questioned its leaders, asking whether the coup was legitimate, and documenting the process of the resistance. The response to media questions was censorship, arrests, beatings, and threats from the military in power.

I have tried to shed light on the issues occurring in Honduras, and to condemn the illegitimate government by discussing the disgusting methods it is using to silence community organizers, beat them, and kill them in order to preserve itself. Arguments in favour of the coup state that, by law, the military had a “legal” (if you would like to call it that) right to act in opposition to the president. Manuel Zelaya wanted to push a constitutional reform that would allow the president to be elected on two consecutive instances in order to prolong the presidency. This bill was rendered unconstitutional by the senate, whose members were largely against the president. Manuel Zelaya tried to push the referendum, handing out ballots to the public. The senate and the courts ruled this to be illegal, and took decision to act in ousting the president. With this, the Honduran state now legitimizes its government.

But in the end, how is a state legitimate when it kills and oppresses its civilians using forces resembling death squads? Furthermore, Manuel Zelaya was an elected president, who was just ending his term prior to the coup. In calls to the UN, Zelaya pleaded to be reinstated in order to finish his term. The coup was essentially a halt to the democratic process replaced by a hostile regime which continues to silence opposition. Simply put, Honduras is following a path similar to the harmful methods of Central American oligarchies of the twentieth century through its illegitimate and oppressive government. If this instance sets a precedent for further actions by the military groups against elected governments, Latin America may very well continue living the past it will never forget.

Science in brief

Why women find macho men sexy

A chiseled chin, strong jaw, narrow eyes, and thick eyebrows are the quintessential features of a manly man’s face. A recent study in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour found that women have sexual fantasies about men with these facial qualities, particularly when they are ovulating, and when their partners do not meet mucho macho standards.

The researchers suggest that this preference is due to the fact that masculine features signal high testosterone levels, but testosterone comes at a price: it impedes immunity. This means that testosterone handicaps men, and only those with robust immune systems can afford to have high levels of the hormone. As such, masculinity may function as an indicator for “genetic quality.”

But what if your face is slightly feminine? Are you forever doomed to the ranks of the unattractive? Well, no. “Pretty boys” are generally even more attractive. They appear more trustworthy, caring, sensitive, and are preferable as long-term partners.— Tu-Vy Dinh-Le

Source: University of Colorado at Boulder

Hey, doll face! Determining what makes a face look alive

A recent study published in Psychological Science has found that in order for a face to appear alive, it must be similar to a human face.

In the study, conducted by Thalia Wheatley and Christine Looser of Dartmouth College, pictures of dolls’ faces were morphed with photos of similar-looking human face. The researchers created a continuum of intermediate pictures that were a blend of human and doll faces. Participants then viewed these pictures, and decided which faces were human and which were the faces of dolls.

Looser and Wheatly found that the distinction between the faces of dolls and humans was made about two-thirds of the way along the continuum towards the human side, with the eyes being the most important facial feature in determining life.

The results suggest that telling the difference between inert objects and living organisms allows humans to reserve social energies for faces that are capable of interacting with us and forming connections.— Sherine Ensan

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Curry derivative protects brain against stroke and traumatic brain injury

A synthetic compound developed by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies may have potential for treating neurological conditions such as ischemic stroke and traumatic brain injury.

While there is no available treatment for TBI, the current treatment for stroke, known as tissue plasminogen activator, or TPA, is only successful in approximately one fifth of cases. A novel drug to treat these conditions, CNB-001, was derived from the turmeric, a spice commonly used in curry. The compound initially proved effective in targeting several components of neuron damage in tissue culture models, and scientists subsequently moved on to testing in animal models.

CNB-001, which was tested in animal models of ischemic stroke and TBI, was found to prevent behavioural changes due to stroke, reverse the behavioural changes caused by TBI, and preserve the cell survival signaling pathways in both conditions.— Kimberly Shek

Source: Salk Institute