Indian elephants form groups of only males to survive

An article in Scientific Reports describes an unusual behavior implemented by Asian elephants. According to the researchers, young specimens living in India tend to form ever-larger groups made up of males only, something that would increase their chance of survival.

Researchers, who have analyzed various elephant communities in India, have discovered that they perform this behavior in response to increasingly difficult conditions in this region. The elephants of south-east Asia, especially those in India, must in fact face more and more the attempts of killing carried out by humans, due to poaching or to people who intend to exploit a piece of land for cultivation or to cases that see animals invade inhabited areas.

To respond to these increasingly dangerous living conditions and to a habitat that is becoming ever smaller, male elephants have adapted their behavior by forming groups of males, the only ones that seem to move away from the areas most sheltered differently from the females and the smaller ones, which evidently remain safe.

The study was carried out when several reports of large groups of adult male elephants were carried out in various areas of India.

The researchers found that the more dangerous an area is for a young male elephant, the more these groups, real elephant bands, become large.

This means that groups of elephants in inhabited areas, which are forming due to a necessity attributable to the same survival, are becoming increasingly larger and this also poses a danger to the inhabitants themselves.

Degradable and recyclable bioplastic produced from food waste

There are many laboratories in the world that are trying to produce increasingly efficient bioplastics but few of them are trying to use the waste to find the basic “ingredients.”

Producing, for example, economically efficient bioplastics using food waste would, as they say, kill two birds with one stone.

This is precisely what some researchers at the University of Canterbury are trying to do, who have created a new type of catalytic conversion to transform food waste into valuable chemical components that can then be used to produce bioplastics.

In collaboration with the Hong Kong Polytechnic, Alex Yip is planning a new catalyst to achieve precisely this goal and the result he has achieved, at least for now, has been to demonstrate that the concept is feasible.

Specifically, the researcher, together with his team, succeeded in extracting three key chemical components, including polylactic acid and 5-HMF, an organic compound, which allows the creation of sustainable bioplastics with various properties similar to plastic.

This new bioplastic would be 100% recyclable or completely biodegradable. It could be used mainly for packaging and food containers.

Scientists control sight of a mouse by manipulating neurons of the visual cortex

A group of scientists from Columbia University manipulated the visual cortex of a mouse’s brain to control its visual system. This is the first time that the visual behavior of an animal is controlled by manipulating its neurons.

The researchers specifically manipulated neuronal groups using new optical and analytical tools. They first identified cortical sets that performed certain visual tasks in mice by injecting viruses into their brains that enabled them to analyze neuronal activity.

They then trained rodents to associate a certain visual stimulus to water and in this way every time a certain image appeared, the mice ingested water. Then, through high-resolution optogenetics, they identified the neurons involved in this process of vision and reaction with cellular level precision, which allowed them to be able to reactivate these neurons at will using a two-photon laser.

When you reactivated those precise neurons, the mice activated themselves to drink water even though they had not seen the image that was the input. They therefore basically took control of the visual system of the mice, almost creating an image in their brain to which they responded by ingesting the water.

“It’s the most exciting work in my lab for decades,” says Rafael Yuste, a professor of biological sciences at Columbia and senior author of the study.

Naturally the thought goes immediately to possible applications of such a method on human beings: although the researchers are still far from this, Luis Carrillo-Reid, another author of the study, admits that this research could prove useful for possible attempts at precise reprogramming of the brain, something that would make a huge leap forward for all neuroscience.