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Octopuses on Ecstasy Prefer One Another to Chewbacca

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When Gül Dölen first gave ecstasy to octopuses, she didn’t know what to expect.

Dölen is a neuroscientist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who studies how the cells and chemicals in animal brains influence animals’ social lives. Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, interests her because it’s known to make people feel more sociable, more interested in others, and less defensive. The same effects also occur in rats and mice—the animals that Dölen usually studies.

But octopuses are very different creatures. They’re clearly intelligent and their behavior is undoubtedly sophisticated, but their brains have a completely different architecture than those of mammals—for one thing, they’re shaped like donuts. “It’s organized much more like a snail’s brain than ours,” Dölen says. With such a dissimilar anatomy, she wondered whether these animals would respond to drugs in unpredictable ways. And to find out, she needed a way of assessing how sociable an octopus is.

She and her colleague Eric Edsinger put five Californian two-spot octopuses individually into the middle of three connected chambers and gave them free rein to explore. One of the adjacent chambers housed a second octopus, confined inside an overturned plastic basket. The other contained an unfamiliar object, such as a plastic flower or a Chewbacca figurine. Dölen and Edsinger measured how long the main animal spent in the company of its peer, and how long with the random toy.

This is exactly the kind of setup that neuroscientists use to test social behavior in mice, but Dölen had no idea whether it would work with octopuses. “It might be that they are so smart that the kind of task we’d use for a mouse would be boring to them,” she says. “Maybe they’d take one lap around the chambers and stop.” Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. The free-moving individuals thoroughly explored the chambers, and from their movements, Dölen realized that individuals of any sex gravitate toward females, but avoid males.

Next, she dosed the animals with ecstasy. Again, there’s no precedent for this, but researchers often anesthetize octopuses by dunking them in ethanol—a humane procedure with no lasting side effects. So Dölen and Edsinger submerged their octopuses in an MDMA solution, allowing them to absorb the drug through their gills. At first they used too high a dose, and the animals “freaked out and did all these color changes,” she says. But once the team found a more suitable dose, the animals behaved more calmly—and more sociably.

With ecstasy in their system, the five octopuses spent far more time in the company of the same trapped male they once shunned. Even without a stopwatch, the change was obvious. Before the drug, they explored the chamber with the other octopus very tentatively. “They mashed themselves against one wall, very slowly extended one arm, touched the [other animal], and went back to the other side,” Dölen says. “But when they had MDMA, they had this very relaxed posture. They floated around, they wrapped their arms around the chamber, and they interacted with the other octopus in a much more fluid and generous way. They even exposed their [underside], where their mouth is, which is not something octopuses usually do.”

But most octopuses, with some exceptions, are solitary hermits, and Jennifer Mather from the University of Lethbridge isn’t convinced that ecstasy is making them sociable. Instead, the drug might just mess with their ability to detect the chemical cues of potential mates. “There’s no proof that it is anything more than attraction,” she says.

Harriet de Wit from the University of Chicago, who has studied ecstasy’s effects on animals, has other concerns. “It’s an innovative and exciting study,” she says, but it’s unfortunate that the duo always tested the octopuses first after a dunk in normal salt water and then after an ecstasy bath. In pharmacology studies, scientists normally mix up the order in which animals receive the drug and the saline control. Without that counterbalancing, it’s hard to say why the octopuses were behaving differently the second time around: Was it because of the ecstasy, or simply because they had become familiar with the arena, the plastic toy, or the other octopus?

Dölen admits that the study is just a pilot, and one with a very small sample size. “We would obviously want other people to try and repeat it in a much larger group of animals,” she says. “But we wanted to publish it, because there really aren’t established protocols for delivering drugs to octopuses or doing social tests with them.” She hopes that her findings will encourage more neuroscientists to study these beguiling animals.

She’s not the first to make such a call, either. In 1964, the English zoologist J. Z. Young wrote a book called A Model of the Brain, in which he encouraged scientists to study the brains of a wide variety of species, octopuses included. “We could say the octopus brain is totally different to a human one, but we need this synapse or this neurotransmitter,” Dölen says. “We could write down a list of these minimal building blocks of complex behavior.” And that’s what she and Edsinger have started doing.

They knew that ecstasy works by causing neurons to release serotonin, a signaling chemical that affects our mood. The drug does that by sticking to a protein called the serotonin transporter, or SERT, which neurons normally use to suck up the chemical. Ecstasy’s presence reverses that flow, creating a massive, mood-altering dump of serotonin.

Octopuses have their own version of SERT, and Dölen and Edsinger showed that it’s just a 50 percent match to ours. Despite these differences, the specific bit of the protein that sticks to ecstasy is almost identical in both species, which is why the drug affects both. “We weren’t expecting it to have quite so much overlap,” Dölen says.

“Octopuses really are the best example we have on Earth of a second intelligence,” says Robyn Crook, a neuroscientist from San Francisco State University. We last shared a common ancestor with them around 800 million years ago, and their brains have evolved independently from ours. And yet Dölen’s study showed that our brains have a few extreme similarities, from the molecular level to the behavioral one. It strengthens the idea, Crook says, that “there are only so many ways to make an intelligent brain.”

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jchalifour
2 days ago
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With the European Parliament vote on the copyright directive, the internet lost – for now

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© European Union 2018 – European Parliament, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Today the European Parliament voted 438-226 (with 39 abstentions) to approve drastic changes to copyright law that, if ultimately enacted, would negatively affect creativity, freedom of expression, research, and sharing across the EU.

The Parliament voted in favor of almost all provisions that extend more rights to the establishment copyright industries while failing to protect users and new creators online.

The Parliament voted in favor of Article 13, which will essentially force online platforms to install expensive content filters to police user uploads and remove content if there’s any whiff of unauthorized sharing of copyrighted materials. The rule covers all types of content, from music to video to images. If platforms don’t take action, they assume liability for what their uses publish online. Upload filters will limit freedom of expression, as the technologies can’t tell the difference between copyright infringement and permitted uses of copyrighted works, such as memes shared as parody, or the incidental capture of an advertisement in the background of a selfie.

They approved Article 11, which provides extra copyright-like rights to press publishers. Article 11 would force news aggregators to pay publishers for linking to their stories. The rule covers links and snippet over a single word. The Parliament’s vote also included giveaways to other groups, such as a new right for sporting event producers to lock down the sharing of fan photography and short videos at sporting events.

The Parliament refused to make much needed changes to the text that would help ensure that Europe can remain a relevant player for research and innovation. It approved only a limited copyright exception for text and data mining that restricts its use only for approved non-profit research organisations, instead of providing a blanket exception supported by libraries, research organisations, and the EU startup community that would make “the right to read is the right to mine.” As a result, investment and innovation in this space will move to outside of Europe where there’s a more conducive legal environment for text and data mining, such as the United States.

Not only does the plan approved by the Parliament fail to produce benefits for its intended frame, the digital single market, it also does almost nothing to protect user rights, improve the ability to share remixes and other user-generated content (UGC), or protect the public domain. The commonsense amendments in support of UGC, freedom of panorama, and calling for support of the public domain were all voted down.

Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons, appeared on BBC Radio this afternoon for an interview on the copyright directive vote. He reiterated that artists should be able to receive fair and appropriate compensation for their work, and that Creative Commons was formed in order to provide alternative choices for creators in how they share creativity online. But he said that most of the provisions passed in today’s EU Parliament vote only benefited major rights holders like TV networks or music labels:

If you’re a regular person or an independent artist who needs the internet for your every day life or for work or for fun, if you’re somebody who reads articles online or makes your own music or has an idea for a startup, or you’re a scientist who wants to cure a disease, you lose in this proposal. The EU is a less good place to make your art, to make your music, or to drive innovation or discovery.

What’s next?

Now the Parliament enters into closed-door three-way negotiations with the Council of the European Union (the EU Member State governments) and the European Commission (the EU executive body which proposed the original text of the copyright directive). These three bodies will work to reconcile their versions of the directive text, and the final text will again be voted on in the European Parliament probably early in 2019.

The European Parliament was given the chance to fix copyright for 500 million Europeans, and signal to the world that progressive changes to law can empower new creators and champion creativity and the open web. Instead, they chose to side with the most powerful corporate rights holders whose sole objective is to minimize the impact brought about by digital technologies and the internet on their legacy business models.

The fight for the future of the internet is far from over. While today’s Parliament vote was a major setback, it’s up to all of us to continue to organize and advocate for the free and open web we want and need, in the EU and beyond.

The post With the European Parliament vote on the copyright directive, the internet lost – for now appeared first on Creative Commons.

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jchalifour
9 days ago
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Paywall Is A Compelling Documentary Toward OA

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Last Friday night, I watched the new documentary, Paywall: The Business of Scholarship. If you're involved in research, scholarly communication, or even just concerned with the availability of knowledge (especially as it results from public funding), then I recommend watching this film. You can easily stream it and, in-line with its subject matter, it will not cost you anything.
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jchalifour
11 days ago
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Augmented

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
Later, due to a sponsorship, the dragon spends all day telling you about Pepsi products.


Today's News:
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jchalifour
24 days ago
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Federal scientists to be protected against muzzling, political interference

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205290703 Muzzling scientists

Federal departments need to have new "scientific integrity} policies to protect their scientists and researchers against political interference by the end of the year — something those scientists lobbied for after being "muzzled" under the previous Conservative government.

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jchalifour
52 days ago
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Zero-waste camping is possible, and you can do it with these tips

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Camping Hiking Outdoors Wilderness Boots Tent

You might already be familiar with the idea of leave-no-trace camping: whatever you bring in, take it right out again.​ If you add zero-waste principles to that equation, you'll end up with a pretty light load — garbage-wise, anyway.

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jchalifour
54 days ago
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