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May 30, 2015 / 12 Sivan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘science’

Weird Science: Weizmann Institute Study: People Sniff Their Hands Twice As Much After A Handshake

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Published on Jewish Business News

People sniff their hands twice as much after a handshake, according to a Weizmann Institute study Why do people shake hands? A new Weizmann Institute study suggests one of the reasons for this ancient custom may be to check out each other’s odors.

Even if we are not consciously aware of this, handshaking may provide people with a socially acceptable way of communicating via the sense of smell. Not only do people often sniff their own hands, but they do so for a much longer time after shaking someone else’s hand, the study has found.

As reported today in the journal eLife, the number of seconds the subjects spent sniffing their own right hand more than doubled after an experimenter greeted them with a handshake. “Our findings suggest that people are not just passively exposed to socially-significant chemical signals, but actively seek them out,” said Idan Frumin, the research student who conducted the study under the guidance of Prof. Noam Sobel of Weizmann’s Neurobiology Department.

“Rodents, dogs and other mammals commonly sniff themselves, and they sniff one another in social interactions, and it seems that in the course of evolution, humans have retained this practice – only on a subliminal level.” To examine whether handshakes indeed transfer body odors, the researchers first had experimenters wearing gloves shake the subjects’ bare hands, then tested the glove for smell residues.

They found that a handshake alone was sufficient for the transfer of several odors known to serve as meaningful chemical signals in mammals. “It’s well known that germs can be passed on through skin contact in handshakes, but we’ve shown that potential chemical messages, known as chemosignals, can be passed on in the same manner,” Frumin says.

Next, to explore the potential role of handshakes in communicating odors, the scientists used covert cameras to film some 280 volunteers before and after they were greeted by an experimenter, who either shook their hand or didn’t. The researchers found that after shaking hands with an experimenter of the same gender, subjects more than doubled the time they later spent sniffing their own right hand (the shaking one). In contrast, after shaking hands with an experimenter of the opposite gender, subjects increased the sniffing of their own left hand (the non-shaking one).

“The sense of smell plays a particularly important role in interactions within gender, not only across gender as commonly assumed,” Frumin says. The scientists then performed a series of tests to make sure the hand-sniffing indeed served the purpose of checking out odors and was not merely a stress-related response to a strange situation. First, 2 they measured nasal airflow during the task and found that subjects were truly sniffing their hands and not just lifting them to their nose.

It turned out that the amount of air inhaled by the volunteers through the nose doubled when they brought their hands to their face. Next, the scientists found they could manipulate the hand-sniffing by artificially introducing different smells into the experimental setting. For example, when experimenters were tainted with a commercial unisex perfume, the hand-sniffing increased. In contrast, when the experimenters were tainted with odors derived from sex hormones, the sniffing decreased.

These final tests confirmed the olfactory nature of the hand-sniffing behavior. Taking part in the study were Ofer Perl, Yaara Endevelt-Shapira, Ami Eisen, Neetai Eshel, Iris Heller, Maya Shemesh, Aharon Ravia, Dr. Lee Sela and Dr. Anat Arzi, all of Prof. Sobel’s lab “Handshakes vary in strength, duration and posture, so they convey social information of various sorts,” says Prof. Sobel. “But our findings suggest that at its evolutionary origins, handshaking might have also served to convey odor signals, and such signaling may still be a meaningful, albeit subliminal, component of this custom.”

Ancient Leviathan Fossils Found in Arava Valley

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

The land that runs along the edge of the southern end of the Dead Sea, near a certain section close to Masada, is soft and white. Although there are steep mounds of chalky white deposits that seem to stand guard along a path that moves inward towards the cliffs that rim the sea, they too are brittle, delicate and soft. They crumble at a touch.

One can climb those mounds, reach the top and then slide down just for fun. Desert tour guides sometimes take their private clients there to do just that – especially if there are children along for the tour.

The entire area, you see, was actually an ancient seabed. So it should come as no surprise that the remains of what may have been the Leviathan were found in southern Israel, researchers announced Tuesday.

Thirty fossilized remnants of the Elasmosaurus, described by Dr. Sarit Ashckenazi-Polivoda in an interview with The Jerusalem Post as the “cousin of dinosaurs” were found in the Arava Valley between 2012 and 2014.

During the period from which the fragments came – some 85 million years ago – the area was covered in ocean water 200 meters deep, the researcher said. “All of Israel was under water until 20-30 million years ago,” she told the Post. “The sea had a lot of algae and plankton that bloomed then, that attracted a lot of fish that fed on the algae, which the reptile ate.”

No one knows how or why the creatures from that period became extinct, but they disappeared about 66 million years ago, she said. Global changes such as volcanic eruptions that warmed and cooled the environment and caused changes in the ocean, as to the fish and algae, certainly could have contributed.

A dinosaur footprint was also found in Jerusalem in the 1980s, she said, and a 75 million-year-old reptile skeleton was found in the Negev in 2005.

The Elasmosaurus remains are currently on display at Hebrew University.

Israel-Japan Researchers Teaming on Autism and Brain Research

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Israeli and Japanese researchers are teaming on a project to learn how autistic spectrum disorder develops in the brain.

The prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders has been steadily rising; in most parts of the world rates as high as 1 percent are reported, including in the United States. In Israel, previously reported prevalence rates have been in the 0.2 percent rage and were  based on parental reporting of diagnosis. However, they too appear to be rising.

The scientists met together at a conference that convened following a visit to Israel by japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A group of leading Japanese scientists arrived at the Weizmann Institute of Science late last week  to attend the Advances in Brain Sciences conference, which was  was jointly hosted by Weizmann in Rehovot and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan.

Weizmann’s conference co-organizer Dr. Ofer Yizhar is currently involved in the collaborative research project with RIKEN researcher Toru Takumi. The joint project is aimed at determining which neural mechanisms are involved in autistic spectrum disorder behaviorisms, Yizhar explained.

“Takumi creates mice that have a genetic defect which mimics autism,” he explained, “while my optogenetics lab can work with these mice, turning neurons in the brain ‘on’ and ‘off’ with light.”

There were a number of other presentations at the conference as well.

Keynote speaker Professor Shimon Ullman (Weizmann) spoke on visual recognition, a subject that crosses the boundaries between neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Ullman has worked with RIKEN’s Dr. Manabu Tanifuji for a number of years. “Scientificc and personal connections have deepened over the years,” he said, “and we are currently planning the next steps of joint work in the future.”

In 2010, prevalence rates for autistic spectrum disorders in Israel were found to be 0.65 percent in eight year old children, and 0.48 percent in children ages 1 to 12, per 1,000 children, according to an article published in 2013 in the Journal of Autism and Development Disorders.

The article, entitled ‘Prevalence and incidence of autism spectrum disorder in an Israeli population, listed the findings of a study of records from the Maccabi Health Maintenance Organization (HMO / kupat holim) Child Neurology and Development, Child Development Center, Jerusalem and Shfela District.

Canada-Israel Autism Research Symposium was also held for the first time last March at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, jointly sponsored by the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Hub at the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada and the Canadian Friends of The Hebrew University.

US Dept of Defense Trains Teachers in 3-D Printing

Friday, December 19th, 2014

The U.S. Department of Defense is teaching America’s teachers how to use 3-D technology to “print” solid objects, according to a report on NJTV.

The workshops are led by engineers who teach the teachers to use Mak-Bot printers with various materials, each relevant to the object being created by the 3-D printer. The purpose of the program, according to the report, is to ensure the next generation will be educated properly in the technology, which is already available.

The medical field is also experimenting with 3-D printing for the creation of human tissue and organs in life-saving transplant surgeries and other situations.

UK Jewish Girls School Erased Evolution Questions from Test

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Yesoday HaTorah Senior Girls School in Hackney, England has been redacting evolution related questions out of their standardized science tests, according to a report on the BBC website.

The school removed evolution related questions from 52 tests.

The testing body said that in the future they will allow the school to officially remove evolution related questions.

The British Department of Education wants to ensure that the girls are learning the entire curriculum.

The Almighty’s Supreme Call to Man

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

It is the most famous, majestic and influential opening of any book in literature: “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” What is surpassingly strange is the way Rashi – most beloved of all Jewish commentators – begins his commentary:

Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah should have begun with the verse (Exodus 12:1), “This month shall be to you the first of the months,” which was the first commandment given to Israel.

Can we really take this at face value? Did Rabbi Isaac, or for that matter Rashi, seriously suggest that the Book of books might have begun in the middle – a third of the way into Exodus? That it might have passed by in silence the creation of the universe – which is, after all, one of the fundamentals of Jewish faith?

Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children? Could we have understood those narratives without knowing what preceded them: G-d’s repeated disappointment with Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of the Flood, and the builders of the Tower of Babel?

The 50 chapters of Genesis, together with the opening of Exodus, are the source book of biblical faith. They are as near as we get to an exposition of the philosophy of Judaism. What then did Rabbi Isaac mean?

He meant something profound, which we often forget. To understand a book, we need to know to what genre it belongs. Is it history or legend, chronicle or myth? To what question is it an answer? A history book answers the question: what happened? A book of cosmology – be it science or myth – answers the question: how did it happen?

What Rabbi Isaac is telling us is that if we seek to understand the Torah, we must read it as Torah, which is to say: law, instruction, teaching, and guidance. Torah is an answer to the question: how shall we live? That is why he raises the question as to why it does not begin with the first command given to Israel.

Torah is not a book of history, even though it includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the 19th-century sociologist Max Weber pointed out – is the necessary prelude to science, because it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will – and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. It is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only commandments but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction.

Jewish ethics is not confined to law. It includes virtues of character, general principles and role models. It is conveyed not only by commandments but also by narratives, telling us how particular individuals responded to specific situations.

It moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on these questions: What shall I do? How shall I live? What kind of person should I strive to become? It begins, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?”

Pico della Mirandola’s 15th century Oration on the Dignity of Man was one of the turning points of Western civilization, the “manifesto” of the Italian Renaissance. In it he attributed the following declaration to G-d, addressing the first man:

 

We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.

 

Homo sapiens, that unique synthesis of “dust of the earth” and breath of G-d, is unique among created beings in having no fixed essence – in being free to be what he or she chooses. Mirandola’s Oration was a break with the two dominant traditions of the Middle Ages: the Christian doctrine that human beings are irretrievably corrupt, tainted by original sin, and the Platonic idea that humanity is bounded by fixed forms.

It is also a strikingly Jewish account – almost identical with the one given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in Halakhic Man: “The most fundamental principle of all is that man must create himself. It is this idea that Judaism introduced into the world.” It is therefore with a frisson of recognition that we discover that Mirandola had a Jewish teacher, Rabbi Elijah ben Moses Delmedigo (1460-1497).

Born in Crete, Delmedigo was a Talmudic prodigy, appointed at a young age to be head of the yeshiva in Padua. At the same time he studied philosophy, in particular the work of Aristotle, Maimonides and Averroes. At 23, he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Padua. It was through this that he came to know Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who became both his student and his patron. Eventually, however, Delmedigo’s philosophical writings – especially his work Bechinat ha-Dat – became controversial. Other rabbis accused him of heresy. He had to leave Italy and return to Crete. He was much admired by Jews and Christians alike and, when he died young, many Christians as well as Jews attended his funeral.

This emphasis on choice, freedom and responsibility is one of the most distinctive features of Jewish thought. It is proclaimed in the first chapter of Genesis in the most subtle way. We are all familiar with its statement that G-d created man “in His image, after His likeness.” Seldom do we pause to reflect on the paradox. If there is one thing emphasized time and again in the Torah, it is that G-d has no image. “I will be what I will be,” He says to Moses when he asks Him His name.

Since G-d transcends nature – the fundamental point of Genesis 1 – then He is free, unbounded by nature’s laws. By creating human beings in His image, He gave us a similar freedom, thus creating the one being capable itself of being creative. The unprecedented account of G-d in the Torah’s opening chapter leads to an equally unprecedented view of the human person and our capacity for self-transformation.

The Renaissance, one of the high points of European civilization, eventually collapsed. A series of corrupt rulers and popes led to the Reformation, and to the quite different views of Luther and Calvin. It is fascinating to speculate what might have happened had it continued along the lines signalled by Mirandola. His late 15th century humanism was not secular but deeply religious.

As it is, the great truth of Genesis 1 remains. As the rabbis put it (Bereishit Rabbah 8:1; Sanhedrin 38a): “Why was man created last? In order to say, if he is worthy, all creation was made for you; but if he is unworthy, he is told, even a gnat preceded you.” The Torah remains G-d’s supreme call to humankind to freedom and creativity on the one hand and, on the other, to responsibility and restraint – becoming G-d’s partner in the work of creation.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

Jewish Scientists: Block Memory of Alcohol Use and Cure the Habit?

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Research teams headed by a Hebrew University graduate and Tel Aviv University researchers have suggested that an experiment on rats showed that blocking their memory of alcohol use helped them break the habit.

Memories of addiction often cause drinkers to return to their habit when they are aroused by the smell of alcohol, creating pattern difficult to break.

Dorit Ron, a neuroscientist at the University of California at San Francisco and a graduate of Hebrew University, led her team’s research that disrupted memories of rats that had been exposed to alcohol.

The scientists, along with a team from Tel Aviv University, identified a potential molecular target in the brains of rats that might be able to be used to help cure alcoholics.

Their study, published this week in Nature Neuroscience4, explained that rats became problem drinkers after spending seven weeks exposed to a choice of water or a mixture of water and 20% alcohol.

Ron said, “It’s pretty amazing. Over time, you can see they develop a strong preference for alcohol.”

The researchers then took the alcohol away from the rodents, but then gave them a drop a day of a liquid that had a slight taste and odor of alcohol. The rats that also received a drug to inhibit memory showed a lesser tendency to go back to the booze.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/jewish-scientists-block-memory-of-alcohol-use-and-cure-the-habit/2013/06/24/

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