‘Love’ hormone oxytocin regulates female sexual behavior, study suggests


Previous research shows that the hormone oxytocin stimulates social behavior in humans, but a study published Thursday in the journal Cell suggests the hormone plays an especially strong role in regulating female sexual behavior.

Scientists at The Rockefeller University in New York City genetically modified female mice so that they no longer had an oxytocin response in the prefrontal cortex. As a result, the females no longer approached male mice for mating during the sexually receptive stage of their estrous cycle. In fact, with reduced oxytocin, the female mice showed about as much interest in males as they did in a LEGO block.

The researchers manipulated only a small amount of the neurons— less than 1 percent in the prefrontal cortex, an area known to trigger behavior in mammals, lead author Miho Nakajima, a graduate student at The Rockefeller University, told FoxNews.com.

Senior study author Nathaniel Heintz, a James and Marilyn Simons professor at The Rockefeller University, said the female mice were still interested in males and other females when oxytocin was reduced, but they didn’t show sexual interest.

“When [female] mice are sexually active, this small population [of neurons] is required for female mice to show interest in the male mice,” Heintz, an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, told FoxNews.com.

Researchers found that the change in interest among the male mice was less pronounced than the females’ response when researchers manipulated their oxytocin levels.

“There’s a functional difference in how male mice and female mice responded,” Heintz said.

Past research has shown that oxytocin plays a strong role in partner and mother-child bonding.

A study previously published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology showed that oxytocin levels skyrocket when people fall in love, and that a higher amount of oxytocin is correlated with longer relationships. Another study, in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, suggested that oxytocin improved communication and lowered cortisol, a stress hormone, in both men and women. Many scientists have consequently nicknamed oxytocin the “love” or “pro-social” hormone.

The study authors said further research should explore what oxytocin does at a molecular level, and which brain areas and what types of cells respond to the hormone. Their study explores how oxytocin behaves in just one context.

Other studies have examined whether oxytocin levels can be modified to enhance the social behaviors of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The mental condition impacts 1 in 68 children, and its hallmark is impaired social interaction.

Heintz said his team’s findings could help advance treatment development for ASD.

A study published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that a single dose of oxytocin can increase brain functions responsible for social interaction in children and adolescents with autism. In their research, Yale University scientists found that brain centers associated with reward and emotional cognition responded more during social tasks when the study participants were giving an oxytocin nasal spray rather than a placebo nasal spray.

“Each study gives us more insight into how this [oxytocin] might be acting in humans,” Heintz said.

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Dozens of police agencies report loss of Pentagon-supplied military weapons


FILE: Aug. 18, 2014: Police in suburban St. Louis after the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer started rancorous protests in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

Images showing high-powered military rifles in the hands of law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting of an unarmed black man focused attention on a controversial Pentagon program that supplies that kind of weaponry to local police departments. Now reports reveal how some of those guns have been lost by law enforcement officials who received the weapons.

Take Huntington Beach, Calif., which was given 23 M-16 rifles and has reported one missing.

“Bottom line is the gun is not here and we were suspended from the program, haven’t received anything since 1999,” Huntington Beach Police Department Lt. Mitchell O’Brien told ABC News Friday.

O’Brien told the network the lost weapon could have been melted down, but that’s uncertain.

“Bottom line is the gun is not here and we were suspended from the program.”- Huntington Beach Police Department Lt. Mitchell O’Brien

“Probably, [it was] one of those things where we used it for parts and the spare parts probably got discarded at some point — but again, it’s inconclusive,” he said. “But we are pretty confident nobody got into our armory and took it.

The program O’Brien was referencing is the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which gives away surplus military weapons to local police departments. In a report Friday the Cox Washington Bureau said Huntington Beach is one of 145 local law enforcement agencies across the country that has been suspended from the program.  Three states — Alabama, North Carolina and Minnesota — also have been suspended.

Cox named some of the banned agencies.

The Daytona Beach Police Department was suspended after reporting a lost M-16 in January.

“We still have not been able to find it,” Daytona Beach Police spokesman Jimmie Flynt told Cox.

The Napa County Sheriff’s Office was banned after someone stole a rifle from an employee’s personal vehicle.

“If I knew where it was, I’d go get it,” Undersheriff Jean Donaldson told Cox. “It’s equipment we can obtain at no cost to our budget, so the taxpayers don’t get taxed twice.”

KARK-TV in Arkansas said three law enforcement agencies in the state have been suspended for losing weapons or having weapons stolen: the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, the Woodruff County Sheriff’s Office and the Judsonia Police Department.

James Ray, who oversees the 1033 program in Arkansas, told the station officials are worried the missing weapons could end up in the wrong hands.

“I have no reason to believe that, but if we don’t know where they are then hopefully we can get them back,” he said. “I mean they’ve been reported stolen by the law enforcement agencies….”

“It just appears that the Pentagon’s not minding the store, that once the inventory is gone, it’s out of sight, out of mind—and we can’t afford to have weapons of this type walking around the streets,” Steve Ellis, vice president of Tax Payers for Common Sense, told ABC.

A Pentagon spokesman told the station that 8,000 law enforcement agencies participate in the 1033 program and that 98 percent remain in good standing.

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Star Trek Cosplay for Your Saturday!

This cosplay edition for Saturday I decided to focus on Star Trek.  Enjoy!

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Dutch biker gang grabs rifles, joins Kurds in fight against ISIS


The No Surrender motorcycle club. (Reuters)

Members of a massive Dutch motorcycle gang, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, recently joined Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq, vowing to “exterminate the rodents.”

The leader of No Surrender — which has dozens of chapters in the Netherlands and across Europe — told state broadcaster NOS on Friday that three of its members have traveled to Mosul in Northern Iraq to take up the fight against ISIS, AFP reports.

A photo posted on a Dutch-Kurdish Twitter account last week shows a heavily-tattooed man in military garb flashing the “victory” sign alongside a Kurdish fighter inside a bunker.

“Ron from The Netherlands has joined the Kurds to exterminate the rodents of [ISIS],” a caption with the photo reads, according to the New York Post.

Countries around the world have been trying to stop people from joining the jihadists in the Islamic State, but a Dutch public prosecutor says it’s OK for its citizens to fight against them.

“Joining a foreign armed force was previously punishable, now it’s no longer forbidden,” Wim de Bruin told AFP on Tuesday. “You just can’t join a fight against the Netherlands.”

Dutch citizens are also not allowed to join the Kurdistan Workers’ Party because it is blacklisted as a terrorist organization, De Bruin added.

Meanwhile, Kurdish militiamen fought pitched street battles Wednesday with the extremists in a Syrian Kurdish border town near Turkey, making small advances, activists and officials told The Associated Press.

In the border town of Kobani, members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, were advancing hours after the U.S.-led coalition stepped up airstrikes against ISIS in and around the town, said Asya Abdullah, a Syrian Kurdish leader.

Abdullah, the co-president of Syria’s powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, told The Associated Press that Kurdish fighters have advanced near the hill of Tel Shair that overlooks part of the town, taking advantage of the air raids that slowed the push by the militants. Abdullah spoke by phone from Kobani.

U.S. Central Command said Wednesday that 18 airstrikes near Kobani destroyed 16 ISIS-occupied buildings. One airstrike near the Haditha Dam in western Iraq destroyed an ISIS armed vehicle and guard shack, while four airstrikes in Baiji destroyed an ISIS building, a Humvee and artillery.

In mid-September, the Islamic State group launched its offensive on Kobani — also known under its Arabic name of Ayn Arab — and captured dozens of nearby Kurdish villages, as well as about a third of the town. The fighting in and around Kobani has killed more than 500 people and forced more than 200,000 people to flee across the border into Turkey.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around the country, said Wednesday’s clashes were taking place in the eastern neighborhoods of Kobani as well as the southern edge of the town.

The Observatory also reported several airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition in the town Wednesday and plumes of smoke rising from the strikes were visible across the border in Turkey.

Also Wednesday, Syria’s Foreign Ministry dismissed Turkey’s calls for a no-fly zone on the Syrian territories as a “flagrant violation” of the U.N. charter and international law.

“Syria categorically rejects the establishment of no-fly zones on any part of the Syrian territories under any pretext,” the ministry said.

Turkey has said it won’t join the fight against the Islamic State extremists in Syria unless the U.S.-led coalition also goes after the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, including establishing a no-fly zone and a buffer zone along the Turkish border.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Random Humor

Random humor to cheer up your end of the work week.

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Snake robots! Slithering machines could aid search-and-rescue efforts


The Carnegie Mellon snake robot has finally mastered the art of slithering up a sandy slope. (Nico Zevallos and Chaohui Gong)

One snake’s ability to shimmy up slippery sand dunes could inspire new technologies for robots that could perform search and rescue missions, carry out inspections of hazardous wastes and even explore ancient pyramids.

A new study looked at the North American desert-dwelling sidewinder rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes), a creature better known for its venomous bite than its graceful movements. But this snake can climb up sandy slopes without sliding back down to the bottom a feat that few snake species can accomplish.

Snakelike, or limbless, robots are intriguing to scientists for several reasons. First, their lack of legs, wheels or tracks means they don’t often get stuck in ruts or held up by bumps in their path. They could also be used to access areas that other bots can’t get to, or to explore places that aren’t safe for humans. [Biomimicry: 7 Clever Technologies Inspired by Nature]

The sidewinder shimmy

To get a closer look at their live study subjects, the researchers headed to Zoo Atlanta, where they were able to examine six sidewinder rattlesnakes. They tested the snakes on a specially designed inclined table covered with loosely packed sand.

Fifty-four trials were conducted, with each of the six snakes slithering up the sandy table nine times, three times each at varying degrees of steepness. As the snakes worked their way up the makeshift sand dune, high-speed cameras tracked their movements, taking note of exactly where their bodies came into contact with the sand as they moved upward.

The researchers found that sidewinder snakes live up to their name. The slithery creatures moved up the sandy incline in a sideways motion, with their heads pointing toward the top of the incline and the rest of their bodies moving horizontally up the slope. The researchers then looked more carefully at how sidewinders carry out these complex movements.

“The snakes tended to increase the amount of body in contact with the surface at any instant in time when they were sidewinding up the slope and the incline angle increased,” said Daniel Goldman, co-author of the study and an associate professor of biomechanics at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Specifically, the snakes doubled the amount of their bodies touching the sand when navigating the slope, he added.

And the parts of the snake’s body that were touching the sand during the ascent never slipped back down the slope because the creature applied the right amount of force in its movements, keeping the sand under it from sliding, Goldman told Live Science.

Snake robots

To put their newfound understanding of sidewinding to good use, Goldman and his colleagues got in touch with Howie Choset, a professor at The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Choset, who has been developing limbless robots for years, already developed a snakelike bot that performs well both in the lab and in real-life situations. However, his slithering machine has run into one particular problem during field tests.

“These guys have been making a robot sidewind for years over a wide diversity of substrates, but they had a lot of trouble on sandy slopes,” Goldman said.

To get the robot moving over sandy dunes, the researchers applied what they now know about the sidewinding rattlesnake’s patterns of movement. They programmed the robot so that more of its body would come into contact with the ground as it slides up the slope. They also applied what they had learned about force, which enables the robot to move its weight in such a way that it keeps moving upward over the sand without rolling back down the slope.

Now that Choset’s snake robot can move over tough terrain, it’ll be better equipped to handle the tasks that it was built to tackle.

“Since these robots have a narrow cross section and they’re relatively smooth, they can fit into places that people and machinery can’t otherwise access,” Choset told Live Science.

For example, these limbless robots could be used during search-and-rescue missions, since the slithery machines can crawl into a collapsed building and search for people trapped inside without disturbing the compromised structure. The snake bot could also be sent into containers that may hold dangerous substances, such as nuclear waste, to take samples and report back to hazmat specialists.

Choset also said these robotic sidewinding abilities could come in handy on archaeological sites. For instance, the robots could one day be used to explore the insides of pyramids or tombs, he said.

The research represents a key collaboration between biologists and roboticists, said Auke Ijspeert, head of the Biorobotics Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne (EPFL), who was not involved in the new study.

“I think its a very exciting project which managed to contribute to the two objectives of biorobotics,” Ijspeert told Live Science.

“On one hand, they took inspiration from biology to design better control methods for the robot,” Ijspeert said. “By looking at how sidewinding takes place in a snake, especially with slopes, they found out the strategy that the animal uses and, when they tested it on the robot, it could really improve the climbing capabilities of the robot.”

The researchers also achieved the second goal of biorobotics, he said, which is to use a robot as a scientific tool. By testing the different speeds at which the robotic snake could successfully climb up the sand, the researchers were able to pinpoint exactly how fast real snakes make their way up these slippery slopes.

“It’s a nice example of how robots can help in biology and how biology can help in robotics.”

The study was published online Oct. 9 in the journal Science.

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Ani-Humans by Lennette Newell (Warning: Body Painting Contains Artistic Nudity)

  scream itarticle-2034342-0DBC9C2B00000578-803_964x661zebra and zebra lady communicatingLennette_Newell_19_CoultiqueThis amazing, truly awe-inspiring series was envision and brought to life by Lennette Newell, an American photographer, based in Los Angeles. Ani-Humans is the name chosen by the artist for her exhibition and it can be considered a lifelong dream come true.

Born and raised on the high plains of Western Nebraska, as the daughter of a veterinarian, she used to fantasize of becoming one of the animals her father took care of.  Lennette Newell’s personality was influenced by this, combined with the environment she grew in, The Great Plains, shaping her character and determining her conceptions: greatly involved in nature’s preservation, she supports the changes needed by our planet in order to survive.

ani-human cheetahimages323ani-human cheetahThe photo shoot, Ani-Humans, took place at the famous Smashbox Studios, in L.A., featuring six different exotic animals and three rather brave models. The animals were brought from in and around Los Angeles, the cast consisting of an elephant, two zebra and tigers, a baboon, a cheetah and, finally, a python. Lennette Newell made sure that the animals were treated as good as their human counterparts, every one being closely monitored by their own personal trainer, as they interacted with them.ani-human AFRICAN ELEPHANT131467141_71nThe life of the models, Jasmina, Paolo and Kaela, weren’t easy either, undertaking over seven hours of makeup, for the four days needed to complete the Ani-Humans series.  Although naked and sometimes posing in quite amusing and funny postures, Lennette Newell tried to underline the seriousness behind the idea of her project. Beside the attempt of creating a connection between the two species, the artist also struggled to remind us of our humble origins. After all, we are all animals and as a society, we should make an effort to rekindle the bond with nature, coming ever closer to our distant brothers.

ani-human pythonani-human pythonAni-Baboon Animal Seriesimages

The Ani-Humans series is Lennette Newell’s latest project. Nevertheless, her photos appealed to the public, creating a real buzz and finally granting her an honorable mention at the International Photography Awards.




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