Research in Brief – 5th March

 
 

Indian Ocean may hold evidence of a prehistoric continent

Many know the Indian Ocean as an empty stretch of ocean between India and Africa, a vast expanse of water punctuated by small archipelagos. However, according to new findings published in Nature Geoscience, the Indian Ocean may hold pieces of a geologically different, long lost continent.

This discovery is the result of an investigation into a phenomenon that had long puzzled scientists. Certain islands in the Indian Ocean, such as Seychelles, Madagascar, and Mauritius, have a slightly stronger than normal gravitational field. Scientists speculated this was due to thicker crust that is normally only associated with continental land. Computerised modelling data suggested that these islands used to be part of land masses attached to India. Furthermore, sands from the islands, once analysed, showed the presence of zircon, a material found in continental crust.

More investigation needs to be done to find more geologic evidence of continental crust in the Indian ocean. However, this revelation may change the current tectonic theory. These islands, long thought to be volcanic upshoots from the oceanic plate, may in fact be part of  a lost continent.

 

New study suggests that individuals classified as being in a vegetative state still feel pain

A recent study suggests that some individuals classified as having Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome (UWS; formerly called vegetative state) still respond to pain. The study was conducted by Alexandra Markl, and it examined the MRI scans of thirty people in both normal states and in states stimulated by painful electrical shock. The results were compared to a control group of 15 individuals with normal, unaltered consciousness.

Study results suggest that, while some UWS individuals may not be diagnosed as conscious, they may still in fact still feel pain. Activity in the pain sensory network was significantly increased in sixteen of the thirty individuals tested, a finding confirmed by previous studies.

However, seven of these 16 individuals were also found to have neural activity in the affective pain network, the part of the brain that interprets pain as an unpleasant sensation. This suggests that many individuals diagnosed as having UWS may in fact still be conscious and feel pain. Though more research needs to be done to confirm these results, these findings suggest that the diagnosis of UWS may need to be changed.

New app designed to track daily fluctuation of mood by voice

Keeping a diary of daily activities and emotions is an important tool for making an accurate diagnosis, particularly for depression and other psychiatric disorders. However, people are often too busy or unmotivated to keep very good or detailed descriptions of their daily life, making tracking progress hard. Luckily, Dobsen and Barclay have an app for that.

The app, Xpression, is unique in that it picks up emotions throughout the day not by recording descriptions or voice messages, but rather by the pattern of tones as you talk. The app utilises the latest software in speech recognition technology to detect subtle tone differences. It then sends sound bites of the tones to a storage system, where it is analysed and then stored in a databank. Like Siri, which can ‘learn’ your accent if you use it enough, this app uses these soundbites to analyse the pattern of tones you use throughout the day.

Xpression has already attracted attention, despite not having gone through formal scientific investigation. Dobsen and Barclay’s firm is a finalist to identify Britain’s top mobile companies, and clinical trials are due to run next year.

By Edith Wong

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