eLife episode 27

09 February 2016
Presented by Chris Smith.

In this episode of the eLife podcast we hear about midnight snacking, X-ray imaging of fossils, hummingbirds, monkeys gambling and axolotls regenerating...

In this episode

00:32 - Food for Thought

Moving meal times can disrupt learning and memory

Food for Thought
with Dawn Loh, UCLA

The midnight feast will be a concept familiar to many youngsters but, increasingly, older kids - including some in their 30s, 40s and 50s - are embracing lifestyles that lead to sleep deprivation and eating at what could be regarded as "all the wrong times" including late into the night. Often this is to meet deadlines or cram in work around family life and other obligations. But it could be having a detrimental effect on your memory, by throwing the body clock off kilter in your hippocampus, the part of the brain where memories are first made. Dawn Loh...body clock meal times

[transcript to follow]

06:08 - Beneath the surface

X-rays can reveal the internal anatomical details of certain fossils

Beneath the surface
with Thomas van de Kamp, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Fossils are a valuable insight into the evolutionary past, although the quality of their preservation can be highly variable. But focusing chiefly on the specimens that look nice means we might have overlooked a valuable source of material to study. Thomas van de Kamp, from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology wondered whether a synchrotron X-ray beam could enable him and his team to see inside what are called mineralised specimens of insects, which are often dismissed as fossil x-raybeing of much lower scientific value. The results, from a fossil collection that hadn't seen the light of day since the 1940s, are impressive...

[transcript to follow]

11:16 - Up in the air

Burst muscle capacity is the key to manoeuverability for hummingbirds

Up in the air
with Doug Altshuler, University of British Columbia

The ability of an animal to manoeuvre is fundamental to its survival and is the product of millions of years of evolution. So it's surprising then that we haven't really got a way to quantify manoeuverability and that's largely because it's extremely hard to study in an objective and consistent way. But the University of British Columbia's Doug Altshuler and his colleagues have now managed to do this for the first time by spending literally years painstakingly recording birds in a hummingbirdspecial flight chamber and using a computer to extract the relevant flight metrics...

[Transcript to follow]

16:05 - Decisions, decisions

Two trained monkeys and a gambling task

Decisions, decisions
with Veit Stuphorn, Johns Hopkins University

Making decisions is something we do continuously throughout the day. But what's going on neurologically while this is happening? There are two theories: one says that we weigh up all of the possible options, pick the best one and then make a motor plan to achieve the desired outcome. In contrast, the other theory posits that the decision is part of the motor process itself and that different neuronal assemblages representing the possible outcomes compete brain activity Stuphornwith each other until one wins out and becomes the decision we make. Unfortunately, there's data supporting both theories! And they can't both be right. But what no one had done before was to test both theories at the same time, to see what the real pecking order is. And this is what Veit Stuphorn set out to do...

21:53 - Going back in time

Neural stem cells in injured axolotls behave like embryonic cells

Going back in time
with Elly Tanaka, Technishe University

Neural stem cells in injured axolotls behave like embryonic cells. This enigma of neuroscience has stood for decades; Elly Tanaka has been taking a genetics approach to try to get to the bottom of why this happens...axolotl stem cell

[transcript to follow]

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