Love hormone is released during crises

When you notice your partner is less interested than you are, your brain may send out a hormone that can help you fix the relationship.

Oxytocin is often called the "love hormone" or "cuddle chemical," but American and Norwegian researchers have found out that it may as well be called a "crisis hormone."

"When people notice that their partner is showing less interest in their relationship than they are, the level of this relationship-building hormone increases," says Andreas Aarseth Kristoffersen, a research assistant in NTNU's Department of psychology.

The hormone oxytocin has long been associated with relationships in several different ways. Oxytocin has a great reputation, because it is thought that it can make us feel better by reducing anxiety and making us feel more generous. Our brain secretes it during orgasm. It also influences the relationship between mother and child.

But it's not all cuddling and love.

Two -- or more -- possibilities

"Two main theories exist. Some scientists believe that oxytocin is released primarily to enhance a relationship and make it stronger when you're with someone you love," says Aarseth Kristoffersen.

But others believe that oxytocin levels increase primarily when we find ourselves in difficult or even threatening situations. In those cases, the hormone helps us seek out new social relationships.

However it may not just be either-or.

Hormone increases in good and bad times

NTNU researchers joined researchers from the University of New Mexico to study the connection between oxytocin and investment in couple relationships.

The researchers examined 75 American couples, and 148 Norwegian individuals who were one of the partners in their relationships. Newly minted Ph.D. Nicholas M. Grebe is the study's first author and visited Professor Kennair at NTNU's Department of Psychology. Kennair has collaborated with Grebe's Ph.D. advisor Professor Steven W. Gangestad.

"Participants in the study were asked to think about their partner and how they wish their partner would connect with them in the relationship," says Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, PhD, from the Department of Psychology.

Oxytocin levels were measured both before and during the tasks. In both studies, individuals showed elevated hormone levels when they felt strong personal investment in the bond. In this case, oxytocin's reputation as a love hormone holds up.

"Yes, oxytocin relates to one's feelings of involvement -- but, this association is particularly strong when one feels more involved than their partner," says Nick Grebe.

But the crucial finding came from simultaneously examining both partners' involvement..

The partners who were more invested in a relationship released more oxytocin when they thought about their relationship than the less invested partner did. Considering both members together, it was the difference in investment between partners that predicted an increase in oxytocin. Here, oxytocin may be acting more like a "crisis hormone."

"It's seems contradictory that you would release more oxytocin both when things are going well and when they're not, but that's how it is," says Aarseth Kristoffersen.

But why would that be?

Put more effort into the relationship

"This may be because people in a relationship where their partner is waffling need to engage more," Aarseth Kristoffersen says.

"The idea behind the prediction was that oxytocin might promote attention and motivation toward the relationship when it was both important and threatened," says Professor Gangestad.

For example, the partner who is most invested in the relationship might benefit from putting even more effort into making it work, so that the more sceptical party re-engages.

"What's implied here is a statement about what oxytocin is doing: It's perhaps fostering attention to and motivation to "take care of" the relationship," says Gangestad.

Nevertheless, there is apparently -- some would say fortunately -- a limit. This would apply to relationships where everything seems lost and is clearly heading for a break-up. In those situations, the more invested partner does not show the same increase in oxytocin levels.

"There's no point in investing more in a lost cause," says Kennair.

There appears to be a limit to how long you should spend energy and resources on a relationship that is simply over.

However, this is still mostly speculation for now.

What you believe is what matters

The researchers found no significant difference between US and Norwegian results. Responses to the study tasks were consistent across cultural conditions, which reinforces the theory that the underlying explanation is biological.

The procedure in the two countries differed somewhat. The American couples were asked directly about how committed they were in their relationships. The Norwegian individuals were asked how invested they thought their partner was in the relationship. This made no difference for the results.

It is enough if you think the relationship is weakening because your partner is losing interest. This will trigger your brain to release extra oxytocin.

"I might emphasize that it isn't necessarily "bad" or "good" for a person to release oxytocin. Yes, it might motivate attention that helps to maintain a relationship, but as the article hints, that isn't necessarily desirable, though it could be! What is biologically "functional" and socially "desirable" are two different things," says Nick Grebe.

"We think that viewing oxytocin in this way can help us understand why it plays a role in other kinds of interdependent social relationships -- new romances, mother-infant bonds, as two examples. The idea is that emotionally salient relationships, especially when those relationships are vulnerable, are elicitors of the oxytocin system," Nick Grebe concludes.

Dinosaur asteroid hit 'worst possible place'

Scientists who drilled into the impact crater associated with the demise of the dinosaurs summarise their findings so far in a BBC Two documentary on Monday.

The researchers recovered rocks from under the Gulf of Mexico that were hit by an asteroid 66 million years ago.

The nature of this material records the details of the event.

It is becoming clear that the 15km-wide asteroid could not have hit a worse place on Earth.

https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/CA49/production/_96058715_bm_bm_eotd_02738308.jpgThe drill rig was on station in the Gulf in April and May last year / BARCROFT PRODUCTIONS/BBC

The shallow sea covering the target site meant colossal volumes of sulphur (from the mineral gypsum) were injected into the atmosphere, extending the "global winter" period that followed the immediate firestorm.

Had the asteroid struck a different location, the outcome might have been very different.

"This is where we get to the great irony of the story – because in the end it wasn’t the size of the asteroid, the scale of blast, or even its global reach that made dinosaurs extinct – it was where the impact happened," said Ben Garrod, who presents The Day The Dinosaurs Died with Alice Roberts.

https://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/5901/production/_96058722_bm_bm_eotd_02738320.jpgThe fractured rocks were subjected to immense pressures / BARCROFT PRODUCTIONS/BBC

"Had the asteroid struck a few moments earlier or later, rather than hitting shallow coastal waters it might have hit deep ocean.

"An impact in the nearby Atlantic or Pacific oceans would have meant much less vaporised rock – including the deadly gypsum. The cloud would have been less dense and sunlight could still have reached the planet’s surface, meaning what happened next might have been avoided.

"In this cold, dark world food ran out of the oceans within a week and shortly after on land. With nothing to eat anywhere on the planet, the mighty dinosaurs stood little chance of survival."

Ben Garrod spent time on the drill rig that was stationed 30km off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in April/May last year, to better understand the aims of the project; Alice Roberts visited widely separated fossil beds in the Americas, to get a sense of how life was upended by the impact.

Rock cores from up to 1,300m beneath the Gulf were recovered.

The lowest sections of this material come from a feature within the crater called the peak ring.

This is made from rock that has been heavily fractured and altered by immense pressures.

By analysing its properties, the drill project team - led by Profs Jo Morgan and Sean Gulick - hope to reconstruct how the impact proceeded and the environmental changes it brought about.

Chicxulub Crater - The impact that changed life on Earth

  • A 15km-wide object dug a hole in Earth's crust 100km across and 30km deep
  • This bowl then collapsed, leaving a crater 200km across and a few km deep
  • The crater's centre rebounded and collapsed again, producing an inner ring
  • Today, much of the crater is buried offshore, under 600m of sediments
  • On land, it is covered by limestone, but its rim is traced by an arc of sinkholes
  • They know now the energy that went into making the crater when the asteroid struck - equivalent to 10 billion Hiroshima A-bombs. And they also understand how the depression assumed the structure we observe today.

    The team is also gaining insights into the return of life to the impact site in the years after the event.

    One of the many fascinating sequences in the BBC Two programme sees Alice Roberts visit a quarry in New Jersey, US, where 25,000 fossil fragments have been recovered - evidence of a mass die-off of creatures that may have been among the casualties on the day of the impact itself.

    "All these fossils occur in a layer no more than 10cm thick," palaeontologist Ken Lacovara tells Alice.

    "They died suddenly and were buried quickly. It tells us this is a moment in geological time. That's days, weeks, maybe months. But this is not thousands of years; it's not hundreds of thousands of years. This is essentially an instantaneous event."

    The Day The Dinosaurs Died is on BBC Two at 21:00, after which it will be available on the BBC iPlayer.

Intestinal bacteria may protect against diabetes

A high concentration of indolepropionic acid in the serum protects against type 2 diabetes, shows a new study from the University of Eastern Finland. Indolepropionic acid is a metabolite produced by intestinal bacteria, and its production is boosted by a fibre-rich diet. According to the researchers, the discovery provides additional insight into the role of intestinal bacteria in the interplay between diet, metabolism and health.

The findings were published in Scientific Reports. The study was carried out in the LC-MS Metabolomics Centre of the University of Eastern Finland together with a large number of partners from Finnish and Swedish research institutes.

The study compared two groups participating in the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study, DPS. At the onset of the study, all participants were overweight and had impaired glucose tolerance. The researchers investigated the serum metabolite profile of 200 participants with impaired glucose tolerance, who either developed type 2 diabetes within the first 5 years, or did not convert to type 2 diabetes within a 15-year follow-up. The differences between the groups were analysed by non-targeted metabolomics analysis. Instead of focusing on just a few pre-defined markers, metabolomics analysis allows for the determination of the study participants' metabolic profile, i.e. the concentrations of several metabolites.

The greatest differences in the metabolic profiles of those who developed type 2 diabetes and those who didn't were observed in the concentrations of indolepropionic acid and certain lipid metabolites.

A high concentration of indolepropionic acid in the serum was discovered to protect against diabetes. Indolepropionic acid is a metabolite produced by intestinal bacteria. A diet rich in whole grain products and dietary fibre increased the indolepropionic acid concentration. A higher concentration of indolepropionic acid also seemed to promote insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells, which may explain the protective effect.

In addition to the DPS data, the association of indolepropionic acid with the risk of diabetes was also studied in two other population-based datasets: in the Finnish Metabolic Syndrome In Men Study, METSIM, and in the Swedish Västerbotten Intervention Project, VIP. In these datasets too, indolepropionic acid was discovered to protect against diabetes.

The study also identified several new lipid metabolites whose high concentrations were associated with improved insulin resistance and reduced risk of diabetes. The concentrations of these metabolites were also associated with dietary fat: the lower the amount of saturated fat in the diet, the higher the concentrations of these metabolites. Similarly to indolepropionic acid, high concentrations of these lipid metabolites also seemed to protect against low-grade inflammation.

"Earlier studies, too, have linked intestinal bacteria with the risk of disease in overweight people. Our findings suggest that indolepropionic acid may be one factor that mediates the protective effect of diet and intestinal bacteria," Academy Research Fellow Kati Hanhineva from the University of Eastern Finland says.

A direct identification of intestinal bacteria is a complex process, which is why identifying the metabolites produced by intestinal bacteria may be a more feasible method for analysing the role of intestinal bacteria in the pathogenesis of, for example, diabetes.

The Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study was the first randomised, controlled lifestyle intervention study to show that in persons with impaired glucose tolerance, type 2 diabetes can be prevented by lifestyle changes. The most important lifestyle changes included weight loss, more exercise and dietary adjustments to include more whole grain products, fruits and vegetables.


Space Expedition 50 crew touches down in Kazakhstan after 170 days in orbit

The three international crew members of Expedition 50 have landed safely in the Kazakhstan steppes, thus bringing their 173-day mission at the International Space Station (ISS) to an end.

Expedition 50 concluded successfully as the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft’s landing module touched down at around 10:20 GMT 146km (91 miles) from the town of Zhezkazgan on the Kazakhstan steppe.

@NASA Earth has 3 more people on it as @Astro_Kimbrough, Sergey Ryzhikov & Andrey Borisenko land at 7:20am ET. Watch: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

“The crewmembers feel well. Medics are examining the space travelers upon return to Earth,” the Russian Federal Space Agency’s RKA Mission Control Center told RIA Novosti.

@NASA What's involved in returning to Earth from @Space_Station? This animation shows the sequence of events. Watch live: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

NASA’s mission commander Robert Shane Kimbrough and two Russian flight engineers, Andrey Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov, boarded the Soyuz spacecraft early on Monday and undocked from the space station at 7:57 GMT.

@NASA @Astro_Kimbrough, Sergey Ryzhikov & Andrey Borisenko undocked from @Space_Station at 3:57am ET. Watch live: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

While on the mission, the crew researched the influence of lighting on the overall health and well-being of humans in space, examined the genetic properties of space-grown plants, and looked at human tissue regeneration in microgravity.

@NASA @Astro_Kimbrough, Sergey Ryzhikov & Andrey Borisenko have departed @Space_Station on their journey home to Earth after 173 days in space

Back at the ISS, command was transferred to NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, starting Expedition 51. Whitson becomes the first woman to command two ISS expeditions, as she was in charge of Expedition 16.

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and French flight engineer Thomas Pesquet have also stayed at the station for Expedition 51. Two other members are expected to join them in 10 days, after their Soyuz MS-04 blasts off on April 20.

RT correspondent Maria Finoshina caught the emotional moment for Andrey Borisenko’s family right after the landing. “Of course we have been worrying, but we are sure of our equipment and that everything will be all right,” the cosmonaut’s father, Ivan, told RT. “It’s not like walking in the park or a trip to another city,” Borisenko’s wife, Natalia, added. Andrey Borisenko is the cosmonaut behind the RT 360 space project, which has been bringing panoramic videos from aboard the ISS for the first time ever.

Huge ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid hurtling towards Earth

A huge 1km-wide asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, prompting astronomers to label it “potentially hazardous”. But don’t pack for Mars just yet – the giant space rock, ‘2014 JO25’, is expected to pass by our planet safely.

According to NASA the encounter on April 19 will be the closest the asteroid comes to Earth in 400 years, and no projected future encounters will be as close for at least another 480 years.

However, another fly-by is expected in 2091 and the space rock also makes regular close approaches to Mercury and Venus.

 
An asteroid of this size won't have as close an encounter with Earth for more than 10 years. "The next known flyby by an object with a comparable or larger diameter will occur when 800-meter-diameter asteroid ‘1999 AN10’ approaches within one lunar distance in August 2027," NASA said.

The asteroid was discovered by the Mt. Lemmon Survey in May 2014. Astronomers describe it as a “bright object” and believe it will be among the best targets for radar observations this year.

READ MORE: Risk of catastrophic asteroid impact ‘real’ – White House

‘2014 JO25’ has been designated as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) by the Minor Planet Center. PHA’s are asteroids larger than 100 meters that can come closer to Earth than 7,495,839km (about 4,658,000 miles), which is equal to 19.5 ‘Lunar distances’.

Asteroid Hazards, Part 1: What Makes an Asteroid a Hazard?

Despite 2014 JO25’s designation as a PHA, projections predict it will pass by Earth at a safe distance of about 1.8 million km (4.57 lunar distances).

@BadAstronomer Pic of a 10-meter rock that passed inside the Moon’s orbit a couple of hours ago. Amazing we can find these things. http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/2017/04/02/near-earth-asteroid-2017-fu102-close-encounter-image-2-apr-2017/ 


 
 
 

Two other big asteroids, ‘2003 BD44’ and ‘1999 CU3’, which are both nearly 2km wide, will also pass by our planet shortly, however they won’t come as close as 2014.

Astrowatch report 1,781 PHAs were detected on Sunday, however – happily – none of them is on a projected collision course with Earth.

British, Canadian and Italian babies cry the most: study

Highest levels of colic found in Britain, Canada and Italy.

Babies cry more in Britain, Canada, Italy and the Netherlands than in other countries, while newborns in Denmark, Germany and Japan cry and fuss the least, researchers said on Monday.

In research looking at how much babies around the world cry in their first three months, psychologists from Britain have created the first universal charts for normal amounts of crying during that period.

“Babies are already very different in how much they cry in the first weeks of life,” said Dieter Wolker, who led the study at Warwick University. “We may learn more from looking at cultures where there is less crying — [including] whether this may be due to parenting or other factors relating to pregnancy experiences or genetics.”

The highest levels of colic defined as crying more than three hours a day for at least three days a week were found in babies in Britain, Canada and Italy, while the lowest colic rates were found in Denmark and Germany.

On average, the study found, babies cry for around two hours a day in the first two weeks. They then cry a little more in the following few weeks until they peak at around two hours 15 minutes a day at six weeks. This then reduces to an average of one hour 10 minutes by the time they are 12 weeks old.

The research, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, was a meta-analysis of studies covering some 8,700 babies in countries including Germany, Denmark, Japan, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain.

Climate change: ‘human fingerprint’ found on global extreme weather

Global warming makes temperature patterns that cause heatwaves, droughts and floods across Europe, north America and Asia more likely, scientists find.

The fingerprint of human-caused climate change has been found on heatwaves, droughts and floods across the world, according to scientists.

The discovery indicates that the impacts of global warming are already being felt by society and adds further urgency to the need to cut carbon emissions. A key factor is the fast-melting Arctic, which is now strongly linked to extreme weather across Europe, Asia and north America.

Rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have long been expected to lead to increasing extreme weather events, as they trap extra energy in the atmosphere. But linking global warming to particular events is difficult because the climate is naturally variable.

The new work analysed a type of extreme weather event known to be caused by changes in “planetary waves” – such as California’s ongoing record drought, and recent heatwaves in the US and Russia, as well as severe floods in Pakistan in 2010.

Planetary waves are a pattern of winds, of which the jet stream is a part, that encircle the northern hemisphere in lines that undulate from the tropics to the poles. Normally, the whole wave moves eastwards but, under certain temperature conditions, the wave can halt its movement. This leaves whole regions under the same weather for extended periods, which can turn hot spells into heatwaves and wet weather into floods.

This type of extreme weather event is known to have increased in recent decades. But the new research used observations and climate models to show that the chances of the conditions needed to halt the planetary waves occurring are significantly more likely as a result of global warming.

“Human activity has been suspected of contributing to this pattern before, but now we uncover a clear fingerprint of human activity,” said Prof Michael Mann, at Pennsylvania State University in the US and who led the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Large scale wind patterns are largely driven by the temperature difference between the poles and the tropics. But global warming is altering this difference because the Arctic is heating up faster than lower latitudes and because land areas are heating up faster than the oceans.

Recent changes in the Arctic are particularly striking, with record low levels of ice cover and extremely unusual high temperatures. “Things in the Arctic are happening much faster than we expected,” said Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, also at PIK.

“It is not just a problem of nature conservation or polar bears, it is about a threat to human society that comes from these rapid changes,” he said. “This is because it hits us with increasing extreme events in the highly populated centres in the mid-latitudes. It also affects us through sea level rise, which is hitting shores globally. So these changes that are going on in the Arctic should concern everyone.”

Other climate research, called attribution, is increasingly able to calculate how much more likely specific extreme weather events have been made by global warming. For example, the heatwave in south-eastern Australia in February was made twice as likely by climate change, while Storm Desmond, which caused heavy flooding in the UK in 2015, was made 40% more likely.

Scientist pioneers new technology, maps giant virus

In a laboratory at Michigan State University, scientists took a DIY approach to build a retrofitted cryo-electron microscope that allowed them to map a giant Samba virus -- one of the world's largest viruses.

"If the common cold virus is scaled to the size of a ladder, then the giant Samba virus is bigger than the Washington Monument," said Kristin Parent, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and co-author of the paper featured on the cover of the journal Viruses. "Cryo-EM allowed us to map this virus' structure and observe the proteins it uses to enter, or attack, cells."

It seems counterintuitive that bigger organisms are harder to see, but they are when using cryo-electron microscopy. That's because these microscopes usually are used to look at thin specimens and can't decipher larger organisms to reveal their biological mechanisms. For thick samples, scientists see only dark gray or black blobs instead of seeing the molecular framework.

Cryo-EM allowed Parent's team to image the giant Samba virus and understand the structures that allow it to enter an amoeba. Once inside, Samba opens one of its capsid layers and releases its nucleocapsid -- which carries the genetic cargo that sparks an infection. While Samba isn't known to cause any diseases in humans, its cousin, the mimivirus, may be a culprit for causing some respiratory ailments in humans.

"If you scoop up a handful of water from Lake Michigan, you are literally holding more viruses than there are people on the planet," said Parent, who published the paper with Jason Schrad and Eric Young, MSU biochemistry and molecular biology graduate students. "While scientists can't study every virus on Earth, the insights we glean from viruses like the giant Samba can help us understand the mechanisms of other viruses in its family, how they thrive and how we can attack them."

As bacteria become more resistant to antibiotics, looking for new ways to fight diseases will continue to grow in importance. Parent's lab also studies how bacteria-infecting viruses enter cells using this method, which could potentially lead to new antibacterial treatments. Yet the world's best cryo-EM microscope costs more than $5 million. Limited by funds but not drive, Parent was able to upgrade an existing microscope at MSU to do cryo-EM -- one that is a tinkerer's dream.

This traditional transmission electron microscope was retrofitted with a cryostage, which keeps viruses frozen in liquid nitrogen while they're being studied. Parent and her team then added a Direct Electron DE-20 detector, a powerful camera -- the mighty microscope's piece de resistance.

Parent didn't invent cryo-EM, but establishing it on campus serves as a viable proof-of-concept for MSU, opening the door for many interdisciplinary partnerships. This cutting-edge microscopy has applications across many fields, from those addressing a single protein to others studying entire cells. Virtually anyone studying complex molecular machines can advance their work with this tool, Parent added.

Parent has earned an AAAS Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences. This award, her paper in Viruses and being the co-author who performed cryo-EM work in a recent Nature Communications paper, lays the groundwork to some day have a more advanced cryo-EM microscope housed at MSU to be able to perform high-resolution structural studies.

"We've done quite a bit with our limited resources, but we're primed to do more," Parent said. "I think MSU could serve as a cryo-EM center and to increase the prevalence of this technology in the Midwest and beyond."

As one example, scientists from Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (Brazil) and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) also contributed to this study and benefitted from the technology MSU has to offer.

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