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Even monkeys can figure out where others are looking

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The ability to understand the direction of someone’s gaze is not a prerogative of human beings according to a new study carried out by researchers from the University of St Andrews, the National University of Singapore and the University of Leiden.

Understanding where others look was considered a feature found only in humans but researchers found that chimpanzees and bonobo can do the same. The wrong conviction, according to the press release on the website of the uniqueness of St Andrews, was born from the physical conformation of our eyes: the white part of the pupil, the sclera and the colored irises allow you to easily understand the direction of the look differently from the eyes of the monkeys.

The latter, in fact, often have a darker sclera and for this reason their gaze has always been considered “hidden” if not even cryptic.

Cat Hobaiter, primatologist and researcher at the University of St Andrews, explains the meaning of the study: “Understanding where someone looks seems to be the key to understanding what they are interested in, what they are thinking. For a long time researchers have suggested that the color of the eyes of monkeys means that they hide this information; we have shown that it is not so.”

The researcher noted that bonobo have a lighter sclera and darker irises, like humans, while chimpanzees have a very dark sclera and lighter irises. Both these models, after the researcher, show practically the same type of contrast that can be seen in the human eyes and therefore also these monkeys can understand where they are looking at the other individuals.

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Eating fruit during pregnancy promotes better cognitive development of children

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Eating fruit is also important during pregnancy, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta, according to which pregnant women who eat more fruit are more likely to improve the cognitive development of children up to a year after birth.

The discovery had already been made by a previous study, as explained by Claire Scavuzzo, one of the authors of the study, but these results had not been able to establish that it was the consumption of fruit, instead of other factors, to cause net improvements in cognition of children.
In this new study, the researchers confirm that it is precisely the intake of fruit that regulates improvements in children’s cognition.

To confirm this, Scavuzzo and colleagues carried out experiments on rats: those born to mothers whose diet had been supplemented with fruit juice obtained much better results in memory tests.
These results are in line with those of the previous study carried out on humans and with other similar studies carried out on fruit flies.

“We consider this information particularly useful for pregnant mothers, as it offers a non-pharmacological dietary intervention to promote the development of the child’s brain,” says the researcher.

This study is one of many that in recent years are showing the impact on the mental health of unborn children and babies even months after birth caused by the levels and nutritional quality of the mother during pregnancy, as suggested by Rachel Ward-Flanagan, another author of the study.
Rachel Ward-Flanagan, another author of the study, clearly states that a fruit-enriched diet carried out by women during pregnancy is one of the most efficient ways for children to start their lives in the best possible way.
The study was published in PLOS ONE.

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Microalgae as food and biomass: huge potential in Malaysia

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Microalgae that can be used as food for humans? Researcher Foo Su Chern from the Monash University School of Science of Malaysia’s Monash University is thinking about it. She is studying these particular monocellular organisms that can convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into biochemical products and produce oxygen as a by-product.

More than 100,000 species of microalgae have been classified to those of interest to the researcher are perhaps those that have yet to be discovered. Microalgae are already used in some nutraceutical food supplements and the properties of many species that could be of benefit to human health, but also to animal health, are certainly of interest.
Interest could increase even more with ongoing climate change as the microalgae themselves could be used to reduce carbon in the air.

Microalgae, as Foo herself explains, can grow in freshwater or seawater bodies, are characterized by high yield and, compared to other crops, are characterized by a much lower carbon release.
This means that the cultivation of microalgae itself would be much more sustainable than any other crop. They can be grown anywhere, even in closed areas, and are especially suitable in those tropical regions where there is sunshine almost all year round.

This is precisely why Malaysia could have great potential for microalgae cultivation. These could, for example, be grown as an alternative biomass to supplement palm oil, which is already widely consumed in the country, not to mention its possible use in animal feed.
This is precisely why Foo and his team are now analysing those microalgae species that are more efficient at capturing carbon and converting it into useful biochemical products, including food for humans. The team has already developed a bioreactor to produce monocultural microalgae with over 80% purity.

“We hope to gain more research opportunities and promote microalgae as a sustainable resource in the context of Southeast Asia. We need to understand that microalgae are very useful. My ultimate goal is to make microalgae more accessible to the public, so I hope to solve bottlenecks in this growing area,” says the researcher.

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Discovered new sense of dogs: they detect heat through the nose

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It’s a kind of “new meaning” discovered in the noses of dogs by a research team at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It is a “fascinating discovery”, as ethologist Marc Bekoff, a canine sniffing expert not involved in the study, describes it.
According to the researchers, in fact, dogs with their noses can not only sniff but also perceive mammalian body heat levels without a direct touch and therefore at a certain distance.

This is not a unique ability in absolute: that of perceiving radiant heat from living beings is a characteristic also present in some beetles, in some species of snakes and in a mammal species, the vampire bat.
Researchers have in fact discovered that the rhinaria of dogs, the naked and smooth area on the tip of the nose around the nostrils, is humid, colder than room temperature and very rich in nerves.

Precisely on the basis of these characteristics, the researchers immediately thought that dogs’ noses could not only detect the sense of smell but also heat. In order to obtain confirmation, they performed experiments on three pet dogs who had to choose a particular warm object and one at room temperature. The researchers positioned the objects at a distance of 1.6 metres.
All three dogs detected the objects emitting heat radiation with a certain level of success.

At this point, the researchers scanned the brains of other dogs of various breeds using functional MRI scans when they presented the dogs with objects that emit heat radiation or objects that did not.
Dogs were much more sensitive to hot thermal stimulation than neutral objects that did not emit any reaction.

These experiments therefore confirm that dogs can perceive heat through the nose, something that probably triggers a particular region of the brain. The dogs themselves probably inherited this ability from their direct ancestor, the grey wolf, who can sniff out hot bodies during hunting.
The study was published in Scientific Reports.

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