Andrew M. Seaman, Reuters Dec. 30, 2013, 6:03 PM
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - For people at high risk of depression because of a family history, spirituality may offer some protection for the brain, a new study hints. Parts of the brain's outer layer, the cortex, were thicker in high-risk study participants who said religion or spirituality was "important" to them versus those who cared less about religion.
"Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this,"Myrna Weissman told Reuters Health. "The brain is an extraordinary organ. It not only controls, but is controlled by our moods."
Weissman, who worked on the new study, is a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia Universityand chief of the Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology department at New York State Psychiatric institute.
While the new study suggests a link between brain thickness and religiosity or spirituality, it cannot say that thicker brain regions cause people to be religious or spiritual, Weissman and her colleagues note in JAMA Psychiatry.
Previously, the researchers had found that people who said they were religious or spiritual were at lower risk of depression. They also found that people at higher risk for depression had thinning cortices, compared to those with lower depression risk.
The cerebral cortex is the brain's outermost layer made of gray matter that forms the organ's characteristic folds. Certain areas of the cortex are important hubs of neural activity for processes such as sensory perception, language and emotion.
For the new study, the researchers twice asked 103 adults between the ages of 18 and 54 how important religion or spirituality was to them and how often they attended religious services over a five-year period.
In addition to being asked about spirituality, the participants' brains were imaged once to see how thick their cortices were.
All the participants were the children or grandchildren of people who participated in an earlier study about depression. Some had a family history of depression, so they were considered to be at high risk for the disorder. Others with no history served as a comparison group.
Overall, the researchers found that the importance of religion or spirituality to an individual - but not church attendance - was tied to having a thicker cortex. The link was strongest among those at high risk of depression.
"What we're doing now is looking at the stability of it," Weissman said.
Her team is taking more images of the participants' brains to see whether the size of the cortex changes with their religiosity or spirituality.
"This is a way of replicating and validating the findings," she said. "That work is in process now."
Dr. Dan Blazer, the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, said the study is very interesting but is still exploratory.
"I think this tells us it's an area to look at," Blazer, who was not involved in the new study, said. "It's an area of interest but we have to be careful."
For example, he said there could be other areas of the brain linked to religion and spirituality. Also, spirituality may be a marker of something else, such as socioeconomic status.
Blazer added that it's an exciting time, because researchers are actively looking at links between the brain, religion and risk of depression.
"We've seen this field move from a time when there were virtually no studies done at all," he said.
Weissman said the mind and body are intimately connected.
"What this means therapeutically is hard to say," she added.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1jYo6ro JAMA Psychiatry, online December 25, 2013.
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/spirituality-could-help-your-brain-2013-12#ixzz2p4CfZgUA
At some point, a radical shift in the forces of the universe will cause every tiny particle in it to become very heavy.
By Max Sonnenberg, The Space Reporter
Saturday, December 14, 2013
According to a news release from the University of Southern Denmark, physicists have long predicted that the universe may one day collapse, and that everything in it will be compressed to a tiny hard ball. Now, physicists have confirmed this prediction and concluded that the risk of a collapse is ever greater than previously believed.
At some point, a radical shift in the forces of the universe will cause every tiny particle in it to become very heavy. The new weight will compress all material into a tiny, extremely hot and very heavy ball.
This violent process is known as a phase transition and is similar to what takes place when water transitions to steam. The phase transition in the universe will take place if a bubble is generated where the Higgs-field associated with the Higgs-particle achieves a different value than the rest of the universe. If this new value leads to lower energy and if this bubble is big enough, the bubble will enlarge at the speed of light in all directions. All particles inside the bubble will achieve a mass, that is much heavier than if they were outside the bubble, and thus they will be yanked together and develop supermassive centers.
“Many theories and calculations predict such a phase transition– but there have been some uncertainties in the previous calculations. Now we have performed more precise calculations, and we see two things: Yes, the universe will probably collapse, and: A collapse is even more likely than the old calculations predicted,” noted co-author Jens Frederik Colding Krog, PhD student at the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics Phenomenology (CP3) at the University of Southern Denmark, in a statement.
Jens and his colleagues examined three of the primary equations that dominate the prediction of a phase alteration. Physicists from CP3 have revealed that the three equations can be worked with together and that they interface with each other. When applying all three equations together the physicists concluded that the chances of a collapse as a result of a phase alteration are even greater than when applying only one of the equations.
The Big Crunch theory also predicts a collapse of the universe. Following the Big Bang all material was discharged into the universe from one tiny area, and this augmentation is still taking place. Eventually, the expansion will come to an end and all the material will again start to attract each other and merge into a tiny area again. This is known as the Big Crunch.
According to astronomers, it is also possible that a collapse will not take place at all. It is a requirement for the phase alteration that the universe consists of the elementary particles that we know today, like the Higgs particle. If the universe consists of undetected particles, the entire basis for the prediction of phase alteration vanishes.
“Then the collapse will be canceled,” according to Jens Frederik Colding Krog.
The study’s findings are described in greater detail in the Journal of High Energy Physics.
Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code UW Health Sciences and UW Medicine
Scientists have discovered a second code hiding within DNA. This second code contains information that changes how scientists read the instructions contained in DNA and interpret mutations to make sense of health and disease.
Genome scientist Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos led a team that discovered a second code hidden in DNA.
A research team led by Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, University of Washington associate professor of genome sciences and of medicine, made the discovery. The findings are reported in the Dec. 13 issue of Science.
Read the research paper. Also see commentary in Science, “The Hidden Codes that Shape Protein Evolution.”
The work is part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, also known as ENCODE. The National Human Genome Research Institute funded the multi-year, international effort. ENCODE aims to discover where and how the directions for biological functions are stored in the human genome.
Since the genetic code was deciphered in the 1960s, scientists have assumed that it was used exclusively to write information about proteins. UW scientists were stunned to discover that genomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.
“For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impact how proteins are made,” said Stamatoyannopoulos. “Now we know that this basic assumption about reading the human genome missed half of the picture. These new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways.”
The discovery of duons has major implications for how scientists and physicians interpret a patient’s genome and will open new doors to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
“The fact that the genetic code can simultaneously write two kinds of information means that many DNA changes that appear to alter protein sequences may actually cause disease by disrupting gene control programs or even both mechanisms simultaneously,” said Stamatoyannopoulos.
Grants from the National Institutes of Health U54HG004592, U54HG007010, and UO1E51156 and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases FDK095678A funded the research.
In addition to Stamatoyannopoulos, the research team included Andrew B. Stergachis, Eric Haugen, Anthony Shafer, Wenqing Fu, Benjamin Vernot, Alex Reynolds, and Joshua M. Akey, all from the UW Department of Genome Sciences, Anthony Raubitschek of the UW Department of Immunology and Benaroya Research Institute, Steven Ziegler of Benaroya Research Institute, and Emily M. LeProust, formerly of Agilent Technologists and now with Twist Bioscience.