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Could Tribal Cannibalism Offer the Key to Treating Deadly Diseases?

Papua New Guinea’s Fore people ate human brains for centuries. Their DNA may now help treat conditions like Parkinson’s and Mad Cow?

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

Back in the 1950s, colonial officials and European scientists working in the vast, underexplored interior highlands of Papua New Guinea noted the spread of a strange disease amongst the southern Fore people. Locals called it kuru, the shaking death, as it usually started off as uncontrollable tremors, progressing into dementia and mood swings, and finally over the course of six to 12 months developing into an always-lethal coma. At its height, from 1957 to 1968, kuru killed over 1,100 people, or up to two percent of the population per year, and seemed to hit women, children, and the elderly especially hard. At first, the disease perplexed observers and the Fore alike, leading people to attribute it to anything from a slow-moving virus to a psychosomatic illness to black magic. But eventually, even if the mechanics of the disease remained obscure, the cause revealed itself: Kuru was the result of cannibalizing human brains.

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Scientists Grow 3D Mini-Brains to Learn About the Real Thing

Researchers hope that growing tiny brains from repurposed skin cells will lead to new treatments for neurological disorders.

image via (cc) flickr user neilconway

The idea of a laboratory-grown brain has long been the purview of mad scientists in b-movie horror flicks. Now, a team of researchers has taken what once belonged to science fiction, and brought it squarely into the realm of scientific fact. They’ve taken skin cells, and—through a complicated stimulation process—coaxed them to develop into tiny biological facsimiles of the human brain.

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Scientists Can Give Sleeping Mice False Happy Memories

The experiment is part of research into future treatment of humans suffering from PTSD.

image via (cc) flickr user maryscheirer

Imagine waking up one morning and having a wonderful—albeit fuzzy—memory of a place you barely cared about when you went to bed the night before. You can’t quite explain why, but the next time you go to that place you feel terrific, as if you’re somewhere you’ve always loved, even though you know that’s never actually been the case. This, more or less, is what laboratory mice at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) have experienced recently, after undergoing what The Guardian calls “the first demonstration of memory manipulation during sleep.”

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Watch This 12-Year-Old Genius Teach Calculus 2

Jacob Barnett is also working on an "expanded version of Einstein's theory of relativity" and plans to disprove the big bang theory.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFmrlIEpJOE

Having a tough time understanding college level calculus? You might want to start watching the YouTube videos of 12-year-old Indiana tween Jacob Barnett. He has an IQ of 170, taught himself calculus, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry in a mere two weeks, and enrolled in the astrophysics program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis when he was eight.

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Fascinating: This Is Your Brain in Love

Get clinical this Valentine's Day by taking a look at our brain's newly discovered "passion network."

Syracuse University professor Stephanie Ortigue compiled MRIs from people around the world who indicated they were either in love or were "experiencing maternal or unconditional love." Using that data, she was then able reveal a "passion network" in our brains, a roadmap of spots that "release neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain and blood that create the sensations of attraction, arousal, pleasure … and obsession."

Above is a depiction of the various points on the brain that compose this newfound network, the specifics of which can be found here. Among other interesting machinations of a body in love, cortisol levels in the blood increase, jacking up stress and alertness but lowering pain sensitivity. Also, the brain's serotonin levels decrease, subsequently spiking obsessive thinking and aggression.

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