Gizmorama - May 23, 2018
Colony collapse disorder is a devastating phenomenon that has huge repercussions the planet over. Now, probiotics may be the key to helping bee colonies become more resistant to infection and thrive once again.
Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.
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*-- Ultrasound helmet to help scientists image the brain, tap into neural networks --*
Scientists first considered the possibility for a brain-imaging helmet powered by ultrasound technology more than 30 years ago.
"But it's been mostly ignored for the last decade," Brett Byram, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University, told UPI.
It's not being ignored any longer. This month, Byram and his research partners at Vanderbilt received a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a device that combines ultrasound and EEG technologies to image the brain in real time.
"We're hoping that the grant will get us to the point of having a working helmet that has EEG and ultrasound working together," Byram said.
Current methods for imaging the brain are imperfect. Electroencephalography, or EEG, the technology that measures electrical activity in the brain, can't penetrate deep into the brain, offering only surface-level images.
"If you're looking for deeper or localized info, EEG doesn't always work," Byram said.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, on the other hand, relies on big, heavy magnets.
Ultrasound technology works like an optical technology, with a lens that focuses waves on the imaging target. The technology sends and receives sound waves, which can detect blood profusion, or blood flow, in the brain.
Both ultrasound and its predecessor, transcranial doppler, have been traditionally used to measure blood flow in the brain's largest arteries and assess brain death.
Byram wants to do more than determine whether a brain is dead or not. He wants to use ultrasound and EEG to study the brain's blood flow and electrical patterns in real time -- a combination that could offer researchers a better understanding of the brain's complex architecture and the neural patterns triggered by thoughts, emotions and actions.
Of course, if ultrasound offered a simple solution to detailed, in-depth brain imaging, researchers would be using it already. While scientists can focus a beam of sound waves with great precision, the waves don't exactly return in an organized fashion.
"You get waves bouncing around the brain coming back from all different locations," Byram said. "It's very hard to keep the signals in their respective categories."
The research team at Vanderbilt, however, has developed machine learning algorithms to sort the waves and isolate the signals returning from the imaging target. When combined with EEG, the technology could offer the most detailed and comprehensive images of the brain yet.
In addition to imaging and studying brain activity, Byram hopes his helmet can eventually replicate brain signals. The technology could be integrated with software, artificial limbs and other types of robotics, turning thoughts into actions.
So far, Byram and his colleagues have been working on the basic functionality of the different technological components, mostly using a liver instead of a brain as a test bed.
"We have a lot of the pieces," he said. "The thing that we're starting work on now is integrating those things for the functional task of brain imaging. Then we're going to actually start designing and constructing the helmet."
"I think it will be first prototype in two or three years, and a decent working helmet in four or five years," Bryam said.
*-- Probiotics help bees fight colony collapse disorder --*
When fed probiotics, bee colonies are more resistant to nosemosis, a fungal infection linked with colony collapse disorder.
Nosemosis, or nosema disease, is caused by a single-celled fungus called Nosema ceranae. When bees ingest the fungus with their food, the fungal cells can colonize the insect's intestinal walls.
"Under normal conditions, this fungus does not cause any problems for bees," Nicolas Derome, a professor of science and engineering at Laval University in France, said in a news release. "But when bees are subjected to stress, the microorganism can evade their immune system, causing an infection that can impair their ability to forage, hinder larval care, disturb the bees' orientation, and increase mortality."
A wealth of research suggests it is rarely a single factor that explains a decline in bee health. Instead, several stressors combine to increase mortality rates. Still, studies have revealed a correlation between nosemosis and colony collapse disorder, the crisis causing the decline of honey bee populations all over the world.
In a new study, researchers found probiotics can help prevent and treat nosemosis.
In lab experiments, Derome and his colleagues fed groups of bees four different types of probiotics. The probiotics were added to bees' food, a sugar syrup. Two types were commercial products added to feed on pork, chicken, shrimp and salmon farms. The other two were extracted from the guts of healthy bees.
All four probiotics worked equally well, decreasing the mortality rates of bees exposed to Nosema ceranae by 20 to 40 percent compared to a control group.
"Our results suggest that bacteria in the microbiota of bees can be as effective as commercial probiotics in treating nosemosis," said Derome. "It's important to note that given a very high infection rate, the probiotics tested did not reduce the number of fungi present in bees, but they allowed the bees to better tolerate them."
Derome and his colleague published the results of their research in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
Previous studies suggest both monoculture farming, leading to a less diverse diet, and exposure to pesticides can diminish the health of bees' microbiome, leaving them more vulnerable to parasites and disease.
Researchers are working to develop a variety of probiotic strains to combat disease.
"However, the real solution to this disease is to identify and correct the sources of stress disrupting the bees," Derome said.
Earlier this year, the European Union's policy makers agreed to ban three neonicotinoid insecticides blamed for bee decline.
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