BRAIN and BEHAVIOR INITIATIVE WEEKLY DIGEST

October 14, 2019


News

Many new parents are familiar with terms like “baby brain” or “mommy brain” that hint at an unavoidable decline in cognitive function associated with the hormonal changes of pregnancy, childbirth, and maternal caregiving. A new study of parental care in stickleback fish is a reminder that such parenting-induced changes in the brain and associated shifts in cognition and behavior are not just for females—and they’re not just for mammals either. Researchers found that the transition to fatherhood for male sticklebacks is accompanied by a host of changes in gene activity in the brain.
One of the latest advances in imaging from the BRAIN Initiative makes it possible to view dozens of proteins in rapid succession in a single tissue sample containing thousands of synapses. Upon close inspection of the rainbow of images above, you may see some subtle differences among the image in both intensity and pattern. That’s because the images capture different proteins within the complex network of synapses—and those proteins may be present in that network in different amounts and locations. Such findings may shed light on key differences among synapses, as well as provide new clues into the roles that synaptic proteins may play in schizophrenia and other neurological disorders.
In the past few years, a number of high-profile studies have linked parental age at birth, and paternal age in particular, with a child’s autism risk. Now research is asking whether having older parents is correlated with characteristics of the brain that have been linked to autism. In a recent study that examined the brain scans of 39 adult males with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder and of 37 typically developing males, scientists found that, for all 76 cases, paternal age correlated with characteristics of the white matter in regions of the brain responsible for social interactions.
Historically, scientists have relied on a few key organisms, including bacteria, fruit flies, rats, and mice, to study the basic life processes that run bodily functions. In recent years, however, scientists have begun to add other organisms to their toolkits. Many of these newer research organisms are particularly well suited for a specific type of investigation. For example, the small, freshwater zebrafish grows quickly and has transparent embryos and see-through eggs, making it ideal for examining how organs develop. Other organisms might hold clues about how to improve wound healing and tissue regeneration in humans. Here are profiles of some alternative organisms entering the research world.
In March 2018, researchers reported evidence suggesting that adult humans do not generate new neurons in the hippocampus—the brain’s epicenter of learning and memory. The result contradicted two decades of work that said human adults actually do grow new neurons there, and it revealed a need for new and better tools to study neurogenesis. Since that study was published, several other teams have used similar techniques, but they have arrived at different conclusions, publishing evidence that adult humans do indeed grow new hippocampal neurons, even at the age of 99. 
Dolphins, chimpanzees, and crows all use tools to help accomplish tasks. Now, pigs have joined the club. For the first time, researchers have caught a species of swine called the Visayan warty pig using pieces of bark as a shovel to move dirt around in their nests. Researchers filmed several of the pigs in captivity as they got their nests ready to welcome piglets in the spring, and observed the animals using tools 11 times over two years. The team also sprinkled a few spatulas around the enclosure, in case the pigs might prefer a more easily held tool, but the swine generally stuck to natural tools such as bark or sticks. Click through to watch the researchers' video.
Research topic preference accounts for more than 20% of a persistent funding gap for black scientists applying for NIH research project (R01) grants compared to white scientists, according to a new study by NIH scientists. Researchers examined each step in the application submission and review process for R01 applications submitted between 2011-2015. The study confirms previous findings that career stage and institutional resources influence the gap in the number of submissions by black and white researchers. However, the finding that black applicants as a group are more likely to propose research topics that are less likely to be funded was new.
Researchers have developed a tiny nanolaser that can function inside living tissues without harming them. Just 50 to 150 nanometers thick, the laser is about 1/1,000th the thickness of a single human hair. At this size, the laser can fit and function inside living tissues, with the potential to sense disease biomarkers or perhaps treat deep-brain neurological disorders, such as epilepsy. Not only is the laser made mostly of glass, which is intrinsically biocompatible, but it can also be excited with longer wavelengths of light and emit at shorter wavelengths. In short, the nanolaser shows promise for imaging in living tissues.
The National Science Foundation today announced the creation of a new program that will significantly advance research in AI and accelerate the development of transformational, AI-powered innovation by allowing researchers to focus on larger-scale, longer-term research. The National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes program anticipates approximately $120 million in grants next year to fund planning grants and up to six research institutes in order to advance AI research and create national nexus points for universities, federal agencies, industries and nonprofits.

Calendar of Events

Cognitive Science Colloquium
Speaker: Nausicaa Pouscoulous (University College London)
Title: "Children’s Understanding of Pragmatic Inferences"
Date: Thursday, October 17, 2019
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: 1103 Bioscience Research Building
More info

Funding Announcements

Please visit bbi.umd.edu/news/FOA for the complete list of open Funding Announcements.
 
*New!* Upcoming Maryland Catalyst Fund deadlines:
 
The Big Opportunity Fund for Proposal Support offers proposal preparation support to incentivize faculty to pursue and be more competitive for large, high-visibility, externally-funded research opportunities (typically ≥$2M/year for multiple years). Such awards contribute to the university’s overall research volume, impact, and reputation. Applications due October 21, 2019.
 
The Reinforcement Grants for Operational Support provide operating support to cover activities critical to the execution of a proposed large-scale externally-funded research award, when grant funding is not available to cover certain operational expenses. Such operating support is intended to help build infrastructure for new center-level research awards whose establishment improves the university’s overall impact and reputation. Reinforcement Grants aim to make major funded research programs more productive and more competitive for future renewal. Applications due October 21, 2019.
 
The Strategic Growth Fund for Proposal Support aims to incentivize faculty to pursue and be more competitive for high-visibility, externally-funded research awards in areas in which the University seeks to quickly build capacity and/or visibility. SGFs support proposals that are not large enough to qualify for Big Opportunity Funds but have high strategic potential for the University. They also broaden and diversify the base of faculty who can be supported by proposal development funds. Applications due October 21, 2019.
 
The New Directions Fund aims to enable important new lines of research and creative work with high potential for impact. There are two competition tracks: Proof of Concept awards support researchers pursuing a new line of research or collaborative partnership, to help them be competitive for external funding; and Limited External Grant Opportunity (LEGO) awards support particularly innovative research, writing, and/or creative work in fields where external funding is scarce. Applications due November 1, 2019.
 
The Fearless Ideation Workshop awards support organized events with each of the following goals: to identify complementary research strengths and explore potential collaborations; to develop high potential, innovative research ideas that require the involvement of multiple disciplines and leverage unique strengths within UMD; to facilitate new and enhance existing collaborations among faculty; and to generate “competitive intelligence” analyses to identify gaps in the current body of research, assess future funding opportunities, and generate insights on next steps. Applications due November 1, 2019.
 
*New!* The National Institute of Nursing Research invites applications for Strategies to Improve Health Outcomes and to Reduce Disparities in Rural Populations (R01 Clinical Trial Optional) (RFA-NR-20-001). This RFA encourages research to promote a greater understanding of the challenges faced by rural population groups, for the development (or adoption/adaptation) of evidence-based interventions that can reduce health risks faced by rural Americans. Applications due December 13, 2019.

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