Gregor Mendel (1822-1884)

This photo is from a book published in 1913 by R.C. Punnett, of Punnett Square fame, on Mendelism. Private Collection, Jules T. Mitchel. ©Target Health Inc.



Gregor Johann Mendel was a scientist, Augustinian friar and abbot of St. Thomas’ Abbey in Brno, Margraviate of Moravia. He was born in a German-speaking family in the Silesian part of the Austrian Empire (today’s Czech Republic) and gained posthumous recognition as the founder of the modern science of genetics. Though farmers had known for millennia that crossbreeding of animals and plants could favor certain desirable traits, Mendel’s pea plant experiments conducted between 1856 and 1863 established many of the rules of heredity, now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance.


Mendel worked with seven characteristics of pea plants: plant height, pod shape and color, seed shape and color, and flower position and color. Taking seed color as an example, Mendel showed that when a true-breeding yellow pea and a true-breeding green pea were cross-bred their offspring always produced yellow seeds. However, in the next generation, the green peas reappeared at a ratio of 1 green to 3 yellow. To explain this phenomenon, Mendel coined the terms “recessive“ and “dominant“ in reference to certain traits. (In the preceding example, the green trait, which seems to have vanished in the first filial generation, is recessive and the yellow is dominant.) He published his work in 1866, demonstrating the actions of invisible “factors“ – now called genes – in predictably determining the traits of an organism. The profound significance of Mendel’s work was not recognized until the turn of the 20th century (more than three decades later) with the rediscovery of his laws. Erich von Tschermak, Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns, and William Jasper Spillman independently verified several of Mendel’s experimental findings, ushering in the modern age of genetics.


Mendel was the son of Anton and Rosine (Schwirtlich) Mendel, and had one older sister, Veronika, and one younger, Theresia. They lived and worked on a farm which had been owned by the Mendel family for at least 130 years. During his childhood, Mendel worked as a gardener and studied beekeeping. Later, as a young man, he attended gymnasium in Opava (called Troppau in German). He had to take four months off during his gymnasium studies due to illness. From 1840 to 1843, he studied practical and theoretical philosophy and physics at the Philosophical Institute of the University of Olomouc, taking another year off because of illness. He also struggled financially to pay for his studies, and Theresia gave him her dowry. Later he helped support her three sons, two of whom became doctors. He became a friar in part because it enabled him to obtain an education without having to pay for it himself. As the son of a struggling farmer, the monastic life, in his words, spared him the “perpetual anxiety about a means of livelihood.“


When Mendel entered the Faculty of Philosophy, the Department of Natural History and Agriculture was headed by Johann Karl Nestler who conducted extensive research of hereditary traits of plants and animals, especially sheep. Upon recommendation of his physics teacher Friedrich Franz, Mendel entered the Augustinian St Thomas’s Abbey in Brno (called Brunn in German) and began his training as a priest. Born Johann Mendel, he took the name Gregor upon entering religious life. Mendel worked as a substitute high school teacher. In 1850, he failed the oral part, the last of three parts, of his exams to become a certified high school teacher. In 1851, he was sent to the University of Vienna to study under the sponsorship of Abbot C. F. Napp so that he could get more formal education. At Vienna, his professor of physics was Christian Doppler. Mendel returned to his abbey in 1853 as a teacher, principally of physics. In 1856, he took the exam to become a certified teacher and again failed the oral part. In 1867, he replaced Napp as abbot of the monastery. After he was elevated as abbot in 1868, his scientific work largely ended, as Mendel became overburdened with administrative responsibilities, especially a dispute with the civil government over its attempt to impose special taxes on religious institutions. Mendel died on 6 January 1884, at the age of 61, in Brno, Moravia, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic), from chronic nephritis. Czech composer Leo? Jan?cek played the organ at his funeral. After his death, the succeeding abbot burned all papers in Mendel’s collection, to mark an end to the disputes over taxation.


Gregor Mendel, who is known as the “father of modern genetics“, was inspired by both his professors at the Palacky University, Olomouc (Friedrich Franz and Johann Karl Nestler), and his colleagues at the monastery (such as Franz Diebl) to study variation in plants. In 1854, Napp authorized Mendel to carry out a study in the monastery’s 2 hectares (4.9 acres) experimental garden, which was originally planted by Napp in 1830. Unlike Nestler, who studied hereditary traits in sheep, Mendel focused on plants. Mendel carried out his experiments with the common edible pea in his small garden plot in the monastery. These experiments were begun in 1856 and completed some eight years later. In 1865, he described his experiments in two lectures at a regional scientific conference. In the first lecture he described his observations and experimental results. In the second, which was given one month later, he explained them. After initial experiments with pea plants, Mendel settled on studying seven traits that seemed to be inherited independent of other traits: seed shape, flower color, seed coat tint, pod shape, unripe pod color, flower location, and plant height. He first focused on seed shape, which was either angular or round. Between 1856 and 1863 Mendel cultivated and tested some 28,000 plants, the majority of which were pea plants (Pisum sativum). This study showed that, when true-breeding different varieties were crossed to each other (e.g., tall plants fertilized by short plants), one in four pea plants had purebred recessive traits, two out of four were hybrids, and one out of four were purebred dominant. His experiments led him to make two generalizations, the Law of Segregation and the Law of Independent Assortment, which later came to be known as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance.


A specific illustration: Crossing tall and short plants clarifies some of Mendel’s key observations and deductions.


At the time, gardeners could obtain true-breeding pea varieties from commercial seed houses. For example, one variety was guaranteed to give only tall pea plants (2 meters or so); another, only short plants (about 1/3 of a meter in height). If a gardener crossed one tall plant to itself or to another tall plant, collected the resultant seeds some three months later, planted them, and observed the height of the progeny, he would observe that all would be tall. Likewise, only short plants would result from a cross between true-breeding short peas. However, when Mendel crossed tall plants to short plants, collected the seeds, and planted them, all the offspring were just as tall, on average, as their tall parents. This led Mendel to the conclusion that the tall characteristic was dominant, and the short recessive. Mendel then crossed these second-generation tall plants to each other. The actual results from this cross were: 787 plants among the next generation (“grandchildren“ of the original cross of true-breeding cross of tall and short plants) were tall, and 277 were short. Thus, the short characteristic – which disappeared from sight in the first filial generation – resurfaced in the second, suggesting that two factors (now known as genes) determined plant height. In other words, although the factor which caused short stature ceased to exert its influence in the first filial generation, it was still present. Note also that the ratio between tall and short plants was 787/277, or 2.84 to 1 (approximately 3 to 1), again suggesting that plant height is determined by two factors. Mendel obtained similar results for six other pea traits, suggesting that a general rule is at work here: That most given characteristics of pea plants are determined by a pair of factors (genes in contemporary biology) of which one is dominant and the other is recessive.


Mendel presented his paper, “Versuche uber Pflanzenhybriden“ (“Experiments on Plant Hybridization“), at two meetings of the Natural History Society of Brno in Moravia on 8 February and 8 March 1865. It generated a few favorable reports in local newspapers, but was ignored by the scientific community. When Mendel’s paper was published in 1866 in Verhandlungen des naturforschenden Vereins Brunn, it was seen as essentially about hybridization rather than inheritance, had little impact, and was only cited about three times over the next thirty-five years. His paper was criticized at the time, but is now considered a seminal work. Notably, Charles Darwin was unaware of Mendel’s paper, and it is envisaged that if he had, genetics as we know it now might have taken hold much earlier. Mendel’s scientific biography thus provides one more example of the failure of obscure, highly-original, innovators to receive the attention they deserve.


Mendel began his studies on heredity using mice. He was at St. Thomas’s Abbey but his bishop did not like one of his friars studying animals, so Mendel switched to plants. Mendel also bred bees in a bee house that was built for him, using bee hives that he designed. He also studied astronomy and meteorology, founding the ‘Austrian Meteorological Society’ in 1865. The majority of his published works were related to meteorology. Mendel also experimented with hawkweed (Hieracium) and honeybees. He published a report on his work with hawkweed, a group of plants of great interest to scientists at the time because of their diversity. However, the results of Mendel’s inheritance study in hawkweeds was unlike his results for peas; the first generation was very variable and many of their offspring were identical to the maternal parent. In his correspondence with Carl Nageli, he discussed his results but was unable to explain them. It was not appreciated until the end of the nineteen century that many hawkweed species were apomictic, producing most of their seeds through an asexual process. None of his results on bees survived, except for a passing mention in the reports of Moravian Apiculture Society. All that is known definitely is that he used Cyprian and Carniolan bees, which were particularly aggressive to the annoyance of other monks and visitors of the monastery, such that he was asked to get rid of them. Mendel, on the other hand, was fond of his bees, and referred to them as “my dearest little animals“.


During Mendel’s own lifetime, most biologists held the idea that all characteristics were passed to the next generation through blending inheritance, in which the traits from each parent are averaged. Instances of this phenomenon are now explained by the action of multiple genes with quantitative effects. Charles Darwin tried unsuccessfully to explain inheritance through a theory of pangenesis. It was not until the early twentieth century that the importance of Mendel’s ideas was realized. By 1900, research aimed at finding a successful theory of discontinuous inheritance rather than blending inheritance, led to independent duplication of his work by Hugo de Vries and Carl Correns, and the rediscovery of Mendel’s writings and laws. Both acknowledged Mendel’s priority, and it is thought probable that de Vries did not understand the results he had found until after reading Mendel. Though Erich von Tschermak was originally also credited with rediscovery, this is no longer accepted because he did not understand Mendel’s laws. Though de Vries later lost interest in Mendelism, other biologists started to establish modern genetics as a science. All three of these researchers, each from a different country, published their rediscovery of Mendel’s work within a two-month span in the Spring of 1900. Mendel’s results were quickly replicated, and genetic linkage quickly worked out. Biologists flocked to the theory; even though it was not yet applicable to many phenomena, it sought to give a genotypic understanding of heredity which they felt was lacking in previous studies of heredity which focused on phenotypic approaches. Most prominent of these previous approaches was the biometric school of Karl Pearson and W. F. R. Weldon, which was based heavily on statistical studies of phenotype variation. The strongest opposition to this school came from William Bateson, who perhaps did the most in the early days of publicizing the benefits of Mendel’s theory (the word “genetics“, and much of the discipline’s other terminology, originated with Bateson). This debate between the biometricians and the Mendelians was extremely vigorous in the first two decades of the twentieth century, with the biometricians claiming statistical and mathematical rigor, whereas the Mendelians claimed a better understanding of biology. (Modern genetics shows that Mendelian heredity is in fact an inherently biological process, though not all genes of Mendel’s experiments are yet understood.) In the end, the two approaches were combined, especially by work conducted by R. A. Fisher as early as 1918. The combination, in the 1930s and 1940s, of Mendelian genetics with Darwin’s theory of natural selection resulted in the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology.


In 1936, R.A. Fisher, a prominent statistician and population geneticist, reconstructed Mendel’s experiments, analyzed results from the F2 (second filial) generation and found the ratio of dominant to recessive phenotypes (e.g. green versus yellow peas; round versus wrinkled peas) to be implausibly and consistently too close to the expected ratio of 3 to 1. Fisher asserted that “the data of most, if not all, of the experiments have been falsified so as to agree closely with Mendel’s expectations,“ Mendel’s alleged observations, according to Fisher, were “abominable“, “shocking“, and “cooked“. Other scholars agree with Fisher that Mendel’s various observations come uncomfortably close to Mendel’s expectations. Dr. Edwards, for instance, remarks: “One can applaud the lucky gambler; but when he is lucky again tomorrow, and the next day, and the following day, one is entitled to become a little suspicious“. Three other lines of evidence likewise lend support to the assertion that Mendel’s results are indeed too good to be true. Fisher’s analysis gave rise to the Mendelian Paradox, a paradox that remains unsolved to this very day. Thus, on the one hand, Mendel’s reported data are, statistically speaking, too good to be true; on the other, “everything we know about Mendel suggests that he was unlikely to engage in either deliberate fraud or in unconscious adjustment of his observations.“ A number of writers have attempted to resolve this paradox. One attempted explanation invokes confirmation bias. Fisher accused Mendel’s experiments as “biased strongly in the direction of agreement with expectation to give the theory the benefit of doubt“. This might arise if he detected an approximate 3 to 1 ratio early in his experiments with a small sample size, and, in cases where the ratio appeared to deviate slightly from this, continued collecting more data until the results conformed more nearly to an exact ratio.


In his 2004, J.W. Porteous concluded that Mendel’s observations were indeed implausible. However, reproduction of the experiments has demonstrated that there is no real bias towards Mendel’s data. Another attempt to resolve the Mendelian Paradox notes that a conflict may sometimes arise between the moral imperative of a bias-free recounting of one’s factual observations and the even more important imperative of advancing scientific knowledge. Mendel might have felt compelled “to simplify his data in order to meet real, or feared, editorial objections.“ Such an action could be justified on moral grounds (and hence provide a resolution to the Mendelian Paradox), since the alternative – refusing to comply – might have retarded the growth of scientific knowledge. Similarly, like so many other obscure innovators of science, Mendel, a little known innovator of working class background, had to “break through the cognitive paradigms and social prejudices of his audience. If such a breakthrough “could be best achieved by deliberately omitting some observations from his report and adjusting others to make them more palatable to his audience, such actions could be justified on moral grounds.“


Daniel L. Hartl and Daniel J. Fairbanks reject outright Fisher’s statistical argument, suggesting that Fisher incorrectly interpreted Mendel’s experiments. They find it likely that Mendel scored more than 10 progeny, and that the results matched the expectation. They conclude: “Fisher’s allegation of deliberate falsification can finally be put to rest, because on closer analysis it has proved to be unsupported by convincing evidence.“ In 2008 Hartl and Fairbanks (with Allan Franklin and AWF Edwards) wrote a comprehensive book in which they concluded that there were no reasons to assert Mendel fabricated his results, nor that Fisher deliberately tried to diminish Mendel’s legacy. Reassessment of Fisher’s statistical analysis, according to these authors, also disprove the notion of confirmation bias in Mendel’s results.


Rare Genetic Susceptibility to the Common Cold


Colds contribute to more than 18 billion upper respiratory infections worldwide each year, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study. According to an article published online in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (12 June 2017), a rare genetic mutation has been identified that results in a markedly increased susceptibility to infection by human rhinoviruses (HRVs) — the main causes of the common cold. The rare mutation was identified in a young child with a history of severe HRV infections. Several weeks after birth, the child began experiencing life-threatening respiratory infections, including colds, influenza and bacterial pneumonia. Because her physicians suspected she might have a primary immune deficiency – a genetic abnormality affecting her immune system – they performed a genetic analysis. The analysis revealed that she had a mutation in the IFIH1 gene that caused her body to make dysfunctional MDA5 proteins in cells in her respiratory tract. Previously, it was found that laboratory mice lacking functional MDA5 could not detect genetic material from several viruses, making them unable to launch appropriate immune responses against them. Similarly, the authors found that mutant MDA5 in the girl’s respiratory tissues could not recognize HRVs, preventing her immune system from producing protective signaling proteins called interferons. HRV thus replicated unchecked in the girl’s respiratory tract, causing severe illness. These observations led the authors to conclude that functional MDA5 is critical to protecting people against HRV. Fortunately, with intensive care, the child survived numerous bouts of severe illness, and her health has improved as her immune system matured and formed protective antibodies against various infectious agents.


To explore whether other people experience poor health related to the IFIH1 gene, the authors analyzed a database of over 60,000 volunteers’ genomes. While rare, the team found multiple variations in IFIH1 that could lead to less effective MDA5. Interestingly, most people with these variations lived normal lifespans and had healthy children, leading the authors to suspect that other genetic factors may have compensated for the abnormality, or that people experienced frequent HRV infections but did not report them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the average healthy adult has about 2 to 3 colds per year, but the range varies widely based on lifestyle and environment. For most people, infection with HRVs leads to minor illness that does not require medical attention, but the viruses can cause serious complications in people with severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other health problems. However, no antiviral therapies exist for HRVs, so these patients — like the child in the study — receive supportive care and are advised to take steps to avoid exposure. Insights from this study may lead to new strategies for treating patients with severe HRV complications and inadequate MDA5 responses.


New Treatment for CHAPLE Disease, a Rare Immune Disorder


CHAPLE disease is a form of primary intestinal lymphangiectasia (PIL), or Waldmann’s disease, first described in 1961 by Thomas A. Waldmann, M.D., an NIH Distinguished Investigator at the National Cancer Institute, at NIH.


According to an article published online in the New England Journal of Medicine (29 June 2017), a genetic cause and potential treatment strategy has been identified for a rare immune disorder called CHAPLE disease. Children with the condition can experience severe gastrointestinal distress and deep vein blood clots. No effective treatments are available to ameliorate or prevent these life-threatening symptoms. The study describes a newly understood mechanism for CHAPLE disease, also known as CD55 deficiency with hyperactivation of complement, angiopathic thrombosis, and protein-losing enteropathy.


For the study, genes from 11 children with CHAPLE disease and their families were analyzed. Results showed that each child had two copies of a defective CD55 gene that prevented them from producing a cell surface protein of the same name. The CD55 protein helps regulate the immune system by blocking the activity of complement, a group of immune system proteins that can fight infections by punching holes in the cell membranes of bacteria and other infectious agents. However, complement also can damage the body’s tissues. The study authors found that in CHAPLE disease, uninhibited complement resulting from a lack of CD55 protein damaged blood and lymph vessels along the lower digestive tract, leading to the loss of protective immune proteins and blood cells. In many patients, this process caused a range of symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, problems absorbing nutrients, slow growth, swelling in the legs, recurrent lung infections, and blood clots.


After discovering that complement hyperactivity was driving these severe symptoms, the authors tested drugs already approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of other diseases to see if they block this process in samples of patient immune cells. The authors found that complement production decreased when cells were exposed to eculizumab, a therapeutic antibody approved to treat another rare condition called paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria. The authors plan to study eculizumab in people with CHAPLE disease with the hope that the therapeutic could become the first effective treatment for the disorder.


FDA Approves Treatment for Chronic Graft Versus Host Disease


Chronic graft versus host disease (cGVHD) is a life-threatening condition that can occur in patients after they receive a stem cell transplant from blood or bone marrow, called hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). HSCT is used to treat certain blood or bone marrow cancers. cGVHD occurs when cells from the stem cell transplant attack healthy cells in a patient’s tissues. Symptoms of cGVHD can occur in the skin, eyes, mouth, gut, liver and lungs. The condition is estimated to occur in 30-70% of all patients who receive HSCT.


The FDA has expanded the approval of Imbruvica (ibrutinib) for the treatment of adult patients with chronic graft versus host disease (cGVHD) after failure of one or more treatments. This is the first FDA-approved therapy for the treatment of cGVHD. The efficacy and safety of Imbruvica for the treatment of cGVHD were studied in a single-arm trial of 42 patients with cGVHD whose symptoms persisted despite standard treatment with corticosteroids. Most patients’ symptoms included mouth ulcers and skin rashes, and more than 50% of patients had two or more organs affected by cGVHD. In the trial, 67% of patients experienced improvements in their cGVHD symptoms. In 48% of patients in the trial, the improvement of symptoms lasted for up to five months or longer.


Common side effects of Imbruvica in patients with cGVHD include fatigue, bruising, diarrhea, low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia), muscle spasms, swelling and sores in the mouth (stomatitis), nausea, severe bleeding (hemorrhage), low levels of red blood cells (anemia) and lung infection (pneumonia). Serious side effects of Imbruvica include severe bleeding (hemorrhage), infections, low levels of blood cells (cytopenias), irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), high blood pressure (hypertension), new cancers (second primary malignancies) and metabolic abnormalities (tumor lysis syndrome). Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take Imbruvica because it may cause harm to a developing fetus or a newborn baby.


Imbruvica, a kinase inhibitor, was previously approved for certain indications in treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia and marginal zone lymphoma, as well as under accelerated approval status for mantle cell lymphoma.


The FDA granted this application Priority Review and Breakthrough Therapydesignations. Imbruvica also received Orphan Drug designation for this indication, which provides incentives to assist and encourage the development of drugs for rare diseases. The FDA granted the approval of Imbruvica to Pharmacyclics LLC.


Summer Solstice

This delicious (our original recipe) martini took many weeks, before we got exactly the taste we were looking for. That’s why you will see a variety of photographs. Our aim was for a refreshing, immediately delicious flavor with a slight layer of spice; also a light red or dark pink, color. We started with a plethora of ingredients just before dinner. The constant star of them all, is Zubrowka special vodka, delivered directly from Poland, the flavor of which adds a certain punch. It took about eight dinners, before we hit our goal. Now we can share our laborious research, with you. Need I say, we had so much fun, experimenting, on your behalf, of course. :) ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.


Here is Dodi, our adorable cat, supervising the project. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.


Ingredients For Two 

Martini shaker, strainer, jigger, towel to catch liquid, while shaking

2.5 teaspoons strawberry puree in bottom of each glass (before pouring)

Vodka, 2 jiggers vodka, plus a splash, into shaker

Strawberry liqueur, 3 jiggers, plus a splash, into shaker

Sparkling rose wine, 6 jiggers, plus a splash, into shaker

Container with ice cubes, drain just before adding to shaker

2 Martini picks

Garnish: 1/2 lime, 6 raspberries


Except for this particular, Polish vodka, all of the ingredients are easy to find. For over 30 years, we’ve been ordering from Sherry-Lehmann, a well-known wine and spirits source in Manhattan. If for some reasons, they don’t have what we need, our backup is always Astor Wine & Spirits down on Lafayette Street in the Village. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.



1. Put the martini glasses in the fridge for 30 minutes of more.

2. Bring all of your ingredients to the same place

3. In a food processor, puree a few fresh strawberries so that you have 1.5 teaspoons of puree for each martini glass.

4. With a small spoon add the puree to the bottom of each glass, before you pour anything.

5. Put three raspberries on each martini pick, then add a pick to each glass.

6. Slice the lime; cut the slice in half, put each half on the edge of glass

7. Measure the vodka, strawberry liqueur and rose wine, and add to the martini shaker.

8. Last, before shaking, add ice cubes bringing the mixture up to the top.

9. Close the shaker tightly, cover shaker with a towel, and shake as vigorously as you can.

10. Pour contents of shaker into glasses. Not necessary to fill up to the very top, since there will be enough in the shaker for round two.

11. Make a toast and enjoy!


This was an experiment, using a strawberry as garnish. They’re too big for the garnish on side of a martini glass. Tried it once, didn’t work well. Decided to use the much smaller red raspberries. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.


You’re getting a glimpse of our plant wall, a work in progress. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.


This is a gorgeous martini that will not disappoint. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.


We have been enjoying the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center this summer. We recently heard award winning pianist from Iceland, Vikingur Olafsson play Beethoven’s Pathetique, and violinist Thomas Zehetmair in Beethoven’s violin concerto, both brought the house down! No one could stop clapping and cheering! The audience went wild! ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.


Beethoven Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op 13 (Pathetique), 1797

Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, 1806


From Our Table to Yours

Bon Appetit!

August 9, 2017

University of Royal Holloway London

A novel new experiment to test how aware babies are of their bodies’ internal signals has been developed by researchers. The ability to consciously sense signals from your body is called interoception, and some people are more aware of these signals than others. These differences between people can influence a wide range of psychological processes, including how strongly you feel emotions, your decision-making, and mental health.


Historically, understanding how babies process internal signals has been difficult; until now, there has been no way to measure interoception in infants.
Credit: © blanche / Fotolia



Research published in eLife explains how researchers created a novel new experiment to test how aware babies are of their bodies’ internal signals. The ability to consciously sense signals from your body is called interoception, and some people are more aware of these signals than others. These differences between people can influence a wide range of psychological processes, including how strongly you feel emotions, your decision-making, and mental health.

“Understanding when we start to be aware of internal signals and how this ability differs among people is really important,” said Professor Manos Tsakiris from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway. “Despite the fact we know that this type of awareness plays a crucial role in cognition in adulthood, we know practically nothing about how its early developmental origins. How and when does this ability develop? And how does this influence who we are as adults?”

By creating a new test called iBEATS, the researchers could measure this ability for the first time, and found that babies as young as five months old are able to sense their own heartbeats.

“If you get butterflies before a speech, or feel your heart thumping in your chest when you’re scared, you’re using a skill called interoception.” explains Dr Lara Maister, also at Royal Holloway and the Warburg Institute, at the School of Advanced Study. “We created a new experiment to see if young children were using interoception so we could see when these skills develop.”

Historically, understanding how babies process internal signals has been difficult; until now, there has been no way to measure interoception in infants. The researchers measured whether infants can discriminate between an animated character moving in synchrony or out of synchrony with their own heartbeat. Infants preferred to watch the character that was moving out of synchrony, suggesting that even at this early age, infants are sensitive to their own interoceptive signals.

The test also showed that some babies were more sensitive than others. The researchers measured brain activity and infants who had shown a strong preference in the iBEATS task also showed a larger brain signal known as the Heart-Evoked Potential (or HEP) that reflects how our brains process signals from the heart. This special interoceptive brain signal got stronger when babies saw people making negative facial expressions like fear and anger. This suggests that the way babies experience emotions might be closely linked to their bodies’ responses.

It is now possible that by using this test and following babies as they get older will allow researchers to track how awareness to internal bodily signals changes as we age to support self-awareness, emotional and cognitive development, and how these processes impact on mental health as we grow up.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Royal Holloway LondonNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Lara Maister, Teresa Tang, Manos Tsakiris. Neurobehavioral evidence of interoceptive sensitivity in early infancyeLife, 2017; 6 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.25318


Source: University of Royal Holloway London. “Heartbeats could hold the key to understanding babies’ inner world.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2017. <>.

Babies succeed much earlier than previously assumed in assigning meanings to words and to not perceive them as random noise

August 8, 2017

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

For babies every moment is a new experience — until the infant brain organizes the flood of stimulations. It has to save new information in its long-term memory, aggregate similar experiences and categorize them. Therefore, one thing seems to be crucial: sufficient sleep. Researchers have now discovered that babies can even associate them with meanings the first time — much earlier than supposed.


After a midday nap in babies who fell asleep after the learning phases, the brain could differentiate between the right and wrong term for a new object, in this case a new version of a ‘Bofel’ or a ‘Zuser’.
Credit: © MPI CBS



While babies sleep, astonishing processes take place in their brains. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig observed that babies succeed in associating a meaning with a word between the age of six and eight months — a capability which until now was known for older children and adults. Memory which is assigned to the meaning of words passes through the same stages during sleep that also happen in typical lexical development: So-called protowords which combine only simultaneously occurring visual and acoustic stimuli become real words that are connected to content.

The scientists investigated these relations by introducing six- to eight-month-old infants to fantasy objects which they gave fantasy names such as “Bofel” or “Zuser.” Objects that differed only in form or colour were called the same names — just as cats are called “cats” although they differ in their details. The researchers chose these fictitious objects to make sure that the young study participants could not access any existing knowledge.

From the infants’ brain reaction it was clear that the children could not connect new objects of the same category with the corresponding name. That means they did not recognise a new Bofel as a “Bofel” although it was quite similar to the previously seen Bofel versions. For the babies, every new object-word pair was unknown and unique, they could not yet build a general relation between them.

This changed after a midday nap. In babies who fell asleep after the learning phases, the brain could differentiate between the right and wrong term for a new object. They had consolidated their knowledge while sleeping. Babies that stayed awake could not manage to do so.

Interestingly, the children developed two different types of knowledge depending on the duration of sleep. After a half-hour nap they showed a brain reaction which three-month-olds already have after associating a visual stimulus with an acoustic one. During their nap they filtered similar features out of the objects and connected them with the sound of a word. Similar to the three-month-old babies, they perceived the word as a random sound with no meaning.

Unlike the infants who napped for half an hour, babies that slept for about 50 minutes showed a brain reaction that was previously only known for older children and adults. Here, the so-called N400 component occurred, which signals that incongruous meanings were processed in the brain — whether it be in sentences, word pairs, picture stories or object-word pairs. By means of this component the researchers were able to recognise that the young participants in fact learnt the meaning of the words.

“Our results demonstrate that children hold real word meanings in their long-term memory much earlier than assumed. Although the brain structures relevant for this type of memory are not fully matured, they can already be used to a distinguishable extent,” explains Angela D. Friederici, director at MPI CBS and senior author of the underlying study which has recently been published in Current Biology.

In this context, one stage of sleep could be of particular importance: The duration of the second of the four stages of sleep, in particular, seems to have an important influence on the development of lexical memory. “During this light sleep, the transition from a simple early developing form of lexical memory to an advanced later developing form evidently takes place,” says study leader Manuela Friedrich. “These two types of memory which develop during sleep are comparable with those that we know from infant development. Whereas during sleep there are just minutes in between the two types, in typical development there are months.” The formation of memory content in sleep clearly takes place in fast motion.

“In our study, however, the babies received such a lot of information which they normally pick up within a longer time period,” Manuela Friedrich adds. “But only during sleep, when the child’s brain is disconnected from the outer world, can it filter and save essential relations. Only during the interaction between awake exploration and ordering processes while sleeping can early cognitive and linguistic capabilities develop properly.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain SciencesNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Manuela Friedrich, Ines Wilhelm, Matthias Mölle, Jan Born, Angela D. Friederici. The Sleeping Infant Brain Anticipates DevelopmentCurrent Biology, 2017; 27 (15): 2374 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.06.070


Source: Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. “Sleep makes it possible for babies to associate words with content, and not with noise: Babies succeed much earlier than previously assumed in assigning meanings to words and to not perceive them as random noise.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 August 2017. <>.

Device instantly delivers new DNA or RNA into living skin cells to change their function

August 7, 2017

Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Researchers have developed a device that can switch cell function to rescue failing body functions with a single touch. The technology, known as Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), injects genetic code into skin cells, turning those skin cells into other types of cells required for treating diseased conditions.


Researchers demonstrate a process known as tissue nanotransfection at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. In laboratory tests, this process was able to heal the badly injured legs of mice in just three weeks with a single touch of this chip. The technology works by converting normal skin cells into vascular cells, which helped heal the wounds.
Credit: Courtesy The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center



Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Ohio State’s College of Engineering have developed a new technology, Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), that can generate any cell type of interest for treatment within the patient’s own body. This technology may be used to repair injured tissue or restore function of aging tissue, including organs, blood vessels and nerve cells.

Results of the regenerative medicine study published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

“By using our novel nanochip technology, injured or compromised organs can be replaced. We have shown that skin is a fertile land where we can grow the elements of any organ that is declining,” said Dr. Chandan Sen, director of Ohio State’s Center for Regenerative Medicine & Cell Based Therapies, who co-led the study with L. James Lee, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with Ohio State’s College of Engineering in collaboration with Ohio State’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.

Researchers studied mice and pigs in these experiments. In the study, researchers were able to reprogram skin cells to become vascular cells in badly injured legs that lacked blood flow. Within one week, active blood vessels appeared in the injured leg, and by the second week, the leg was saved. In lab tests, this technology was also shown to reprogram skin cells in the live body into nerve cells that were injected into brain-injured mice to help them recover from stroke.

“This is difficult to imagine, but it is achievable, successfully working about 98 percent of the time. With this technology, we can convert skin cells into elements of any organ with just one touch. This process only takes less than a second and is non-invasive, and then you’re off. The chip does not stay with you, and the reprogramming of the cell starts. Our technology keeps the cells in the body under immune surveillance, so immune suppression is not necessary,” said Sen, who also is executive director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Wound Center.

TNT technology has two major components: First is a nanotechnology-based chip designed to deliver cargo to adult cells in the live body. Second is the design of specific biological cargo for cell conversion. This cargo, when delivered using the chip, converts an adult cell from one type to another, said first author Daniel Gallego-Perez, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and general surgery who also was a postdoctoral researcher in both Sen’s and Lee’s laboratories.

TNT doesn’t require any laboratory-based procedures and may be implemented at the point of care. The procedure is also non-invasive. The cargo is delivered by zapping the device with a small electrical charge that’s barely felt by the patient.

“The concept is very simple,” Lee said. “As a matter of fact, we were even surprised how it worked so well. In my lab, we have ongoing research trying to understand the mechanism and do even better. So, this is the beginning, more to come.”

Researchers plan to start clinical trials next year to test this technology in humans, Sen said.

Funding for this research was provided by Leslie and Abigail Wexner, Ohio State’s Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-Based Therapies and Ohio State’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Ohio State University Wexner Medical CenterNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Daniel Gallego-Perez, Durba Pal, Subhadip Ghatak, Veysi Malkoc, Natalia Higuita-Castro, Surya Gnyawali, Lingqian Chang, Wei-Ching Liao, Junfeng Shi, Mithun Sinha, Kanhaiya Singh, Erin Steen, Alec Sunyecz, Richard Stewart, Jordan Moore, Thomas Ziebro, Robert G. Northcutt, Michael Homsy, Paul Bertani, Wu Lu, Sashwati Roy, Savita Khanna, Cameron Rink, Vishnu Baba Sundaresan, Jose J. Otero, L. James Lee, Chandan K. Sen. Topical tissue nano-transfection mediates non-viral stroma reprogramming and rescueNature Nanotechnology, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2017.134


Source: Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Breakthrough device heals organs with a single touch: Device instantly delivers new DNA or RNA into living skin cells to change their function.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 August 2017. <>.

Largest functional brain imaging study to date identifies specific brain differences between women and men, according to a new report in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease

August 7, 2017

IOS Press

In the largest functional brain imaging study to date, researchers compared 46,034 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) imaging studies provided by nine clinics, quantifying differences between the brains of men and women.


Side view of the brain summarizing blood flow results from tens of thousands of study subjects shows increased blood flow in women compared to men, highlighted in the red colored areas of the brain: the cingulate gyrus and precuneus. Men in this image have higher blood flow in blue colored areas — the cerebellum.
Credit: Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease



In the largest functional brain imaging study to date, the Amen Clinics (Newport Beach, CA) compared 46,034 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) imaging studies provided by nine clinics, quantifying differences between the brains of men and women. The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Lead author, psychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, MD, founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., commented, “This is a very important study to help understand gender-based brain differences. The quantifiable differences we identified between men and women are important for understanding gender-based risk for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Using functional neuroimaging tools, such as SPECT, are essential to developing precision medicine brain treatments in the future.”

The brains of women in the study were significantly more active in many more areas of the brain than men, especially in the prefrontal cortex, involved with focus and impulse control, and the limbic or emotional areas of the brain, involved with mood and anxiety. The visual and coordination centers of the brain were more active in men. SPECT can measure blood perfusion in the brain. Images acquired from subjects at rest or while performing various cognitive tasks will show different blood flow in specific brain regions.

Subjects included 119 healthy volunteers and 26,683 patients with a variety of psychiatric conditions such as brain trauma, bipolar disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia/psychotic disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A total of 128 brain regions were analyzed for subjects at baseline and while performing a concentration task.

Understanding these differences is important because brain disorders affect men and women differently. Women have significantly higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease, depression, which is itself is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and anxiety disorders, while men have higher rates of (ADHD), conduct-related problems, and incarceration (by 1,400%).

Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dean of the College of Sciences at The University of Texas at San Antonio, Dr. George Perry said, “Precisely defining the physiological and structural basis of gender differences in brain function will illuminate Alzheimer’s disease and understanding our partners.”

The study findings of increased prefrontal cortex blood flow in women compared to men may explain why women tend to exhibit greater strengths in the areas of empathy, intuition, collaboration, self-control, and appropriate concern. The study also found increased blood flow in limbic areas of the brains of women, which may also partially explain why women are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and eating disorders.

Story Source:

Materials provided by IOS PressNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Daniel G. Amen, Manuel Trujillo, David Keator, Derek V. Taylor, Kristen Willeumier, Somayeh Meysami, Cyrus A. Raji. Gender-Based Cerebral Perfusion Differences in 46,034 Functional Neuroimaging ScansJournal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-170432


Source: IOS Press. “Women have more active brains than men: Largest functional brain imaging study to date identifies specific brain differences between women and men, according to a new report in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 August 2017. <>.

Without action, climate change could devastate a region home to one-fifth of humanity, study finds

August 2, 2017

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In South Asia, new research suggests that by the end of this century climate change could lead to summer heat waves with levels of heat and humidity that exceed what humans can survive without protection.


A new study shows that without significant reductions in carbon emissions, deadly heat waves could begin within as little as a few decades to strike regions of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. This map shows the maximum wet-bulb temperatures (which combine temperature and humidity) that have been reached in this region since 1979.
Credit: Courtesy of the researchers



In South Asia, a region of deep poverty where one-fifth of the world’s people live, new research suggests that by the end of this century climate change could lead to summer heat waves with levels of heat and humidity that exceed what humans can survive without protection.

There is still time to avert such severe warming if measures are implemented now to reduce the most dire consequences of global warming. However, under business-as-usual scenarios, without significant reductions in carbon emissions, the study shows these deadly heat waves could begin within as little as a few decades to strike regions of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, including the fertile Indus and Ganges river basins that produce much of the region’s food supply.

The new findings, based on detailed computer simulations using the best available global circulation models, are described this week in the journal Science Advances, in a paper by MIT professor of environmental engineering Elfatih Eltahir, MIT Research Scientist Eun Soon Im, and Professor Jeremy Pal at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

The study follows an earlier report by Eltahir and his team that looked at projected heat waves in the Persian Gulf region. While the number of extreme-heat days projected for that region was even worse than for South Asia, Eltahir says the impact in the latter area could be vastly more severe. That’s because while the Persian Gulf area has a relatively small, relatively wealthy population and little agricultural land, the areas likely to be hardest hit in northern India, Bangladesh, and southern Pakistan are home to 1.5 billion people. These areas are also among the poorest in the region, with much of the population dependent on subsistence farming that requires long hours of hard labor out in the open and unprotected from the sun.

“That makes them very vulnerable to these climatic changes, assuming no mitigation,” says Eltahir, who spoke with MIT News from Singapore, where he is carrying out follow-up research on potential climate effects in that area.

While the projections show the Persian Gulf may become the region of the worst heat waves on the planet, northern India is a close second, Eltahir says, and eastern China, also densely populated, is third. But the highest concentrations of heat in the Persian Gulf would be out over the waters of the Gulf itself, with lesser levels over inhabited land.

The new analysis is based on recent research showing that hot weather’s most deadly effects for humans comes from a combination of high temperature and high humidity, an index which is measured by a reading known as wet-bulb temperature. This reflects the ability of moisture to evaporate, which is the mechanism required for the human body to maintain its internal temperature through the evaporation of sweat. At a wet-bulb temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), the human body cannot cool itself enough to survive more than a few hours.

A previous study of temperature and humidity records show that in today’s climate, wet-bulb temperatures have rarely exceeded about 31 C anywhere on Earth. While the earlier report from Eltahir and his colleagues showed that this survivability limit would start to be exceeded occasionally in the Persian Gulf region by the end of this century, actual readings there in the summer of 2015 showed that the 35-degree wet-bulb limit had almost been reached already, suggesting that such extremes could begin happening earlier than projected. The summer of 2015 also produced one of the deadliest heat waves in history in South Asia, killing an estimated 3,500 people in Pakistan and India.

And yet, India and China remain two countries where emission rates of greenhouse gases continue to rise, driven mostly by economic growth, Eltahir says. “So I think these results pose a dilemma for countries like India. Global warming is not just a global problem — for them, they will have some of the hottest spots” on the planet. In fact, a separate study by researchers at the University of California at Irvine and elsewhere, published recently also in Scientific Advances, reached similar conclusions based on a different kind of analysis using recent weather records.

That paper was “complementary to ours, which is based on modeling,” Eltahir says. The new analysis looked at results from three of the more than 20 comprehensive global climate models, which were selected because they most accurately matched actual weather data from the South Asian region. The study shows that by century’s end, absent serious reductions in global emissions, the most extreme, once-in-25-years heat waves would increase from wet-bulb temperatures of about 31 C to 34.2 C. “It brings us close to the threshold” of survivability, he says, and “anything in the 30s is very severe.”

In today’s climate, about 2 percent of the Indian population sometimes gets exposed to extremes of 32-degree wet-bulb temperatures. According to this study, by 2100 that will increase to about 70 percent of the population, and about 2 percent of the people will sometimes be exposed to the survivability limit of 35 degrees. And because the region is important agriculturally, it’s not just those directly affected by the heat who will suffer, Eltahir says: “With the disruption to the agricultural production, it doesn’t need to be the heat wave itself that kills people. Production will go down, so potentially everyone will suffer.”

But while the study provides a grim warning about what could happen, it is far from inevitable, Eltahir stresses. The study examined not just the “business as usual” case but also the effects under a moderate mitigation scenario, which showed that these dramatic, deadly effects can still be averted. “There is value in mitigation, as far as public health and reducing heat waves,” he says. “With mitigation, we hope we will be able to avoid these severe projections. This is not something that is unavoidable.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Original written by David Chandler. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Eun-Soon Im, Jeremy S. Pal, Elfatih A. B. Eltahir. Deadly heat waves projected in the densely populated agricultural regions of South AsiaScience Advances, 2017; 3 (8): e1603322 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1603322


Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Deadly heat waves could hit South Asia this century: Without action, climate change could devastate a region home to one-fifth of humanity, study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 August 2017. <>.

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