Manganese speeds up honey bees

The industrial metal manganese, once scarce, is now ubiquitous in our environment. New work suggests that it addles honey bees, which often act as sentinel species for environmental contaminants, even at levels considered safe for humans.

Tiny wireless device shines light on mouse brain, generating reward

Using a miniature electronic device implanted in the brain, scientists have tapped into the internal reward system of mice, prodding neurons to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure. This LED light can activate brain cells and may lead to the mapping of circuits involved in sleep, depression and addiction.

What is better, the carrot, the stick or both?

The business world runs on agreements. As long as everyone fulfills his or her end of the bargain, things tend to run smoothly. But the question of the most effective way to enforce or regulate these agreements remains. Adam B. Badawi, JD, PhD, associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, looks at this question in the context of franchises. After examining a large number of franchise agreements, Badawi found that despite sometimes allowing contract damage awards against franchisees, the more effective method of enforcing these agreements is often through informal, non-legal rewards system.

Studies affirm relationship between early humans, Neandertals

Joe Angeles/WUSTL PhotoErik Trinkaus, WUSTL professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences, holding a Neandertal skull, says the evidence is very convincing that Neandertals and early humans mixed.For nearly a century, anthropologists have been debating the relationship of Neandertals to modern humans. Central to the debate is whether Neandertals contributed directly or indirectly to the ancestry of the early modern humans that succeeded them. As this discussion has intensified in the past decades, it has become the central research focus of Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. Trinkaus has examined the earliest modern humans in Europe, including specimens in Romania, Czech Republic and France. Those specimens, in Trinkaus’ opinion, have shown obvious Neandertal ancestry.

Early man more wary than war-like, new book asserts

Some species still prey on humans to this day.Early man was more wary than war-like, more intelligent, agile, and cooperative than aggressive, predator or killer, and he co-evolved as the prey of many species. Moreover, in the old days, woman wore the pants in the family and men were basically expendable, not the brightest bulbs on the tree when it came to tools, and functioning best as sentinels wary of predators in edge environments between the forest and savannah. Those are the primary themes of a new book, “Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators and Human Evolution”, co-authored by Robert W. Sussman, Ph.D., professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences.

Social problems such as obesity can’t be solved through genetics alone, warns biologist

Photo courtesy University of IowaCould there be a link between the obesity epidemic and eugenic thinking? A historian of science at Washington University in St. Louis poses the question.As obesity rates continue to grow in the United States, threatening the health of millions of Americans, a historian of science warns that social problems such as this cannot be solved through science, especially genetics, alone. In this new “gene age” in which large amounts of research funds are used for studies on the genetics of such complex social traits as alcoholism, criminality or obesity, for example, Garland E. Allen, Ph.D., professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, says the climate is ripe for a “re-packaged” eugenics in American society. Allen points out that 100 years ago, eugenics, a movement that claimed many social, personality and mental traits were hereditary, was emerging as a major social movement in Europe and the United States. His concern: it might well still be with us today.

Gambling psychology offers insight into self-control, risk-taking, impulsiveness

Photo by Joe Angeles/WUSTL PhotoAre gamblers impulsive?Why do people engage in behaviors they know are harmful to them in the long run? Why do we give in to that incredible chocolate cake even though we’re trying to lose weight and stay fit? The answer, suggests a recent study on the psychology of gambling and impulsive behavior, is a simple economic phenomenon known as discounting. While good health may be its own reward, research suggests that the value of that reward diminishes as it’s delayed; and the longer it’s delayed, the less it controls your present behavior. Although gamblers may deserve their reputations as notorious risk-takers, they often do better than non-gamblers at delaying gratification to maximize long-term rewards.