Speaking of Science

November 2014's selection of notable quotes

By The Scientist Staff | November 1, 2014

TECHNICOLOR CONNECTIONS: Diffusion tensor imaging imbues axonal nerve fibers in the brain with a profusion of color. JG MARCELINO/WEBS R US/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Your connectome is you. If you know all 1015 connections in your brain, and you understand those, [it is possible to predict] exactly what you are going to do.

—University of Virginia neuroscientist Barry Condron, opining on the promise of neuroscience research (The Cavalier Daily, October 10)


What we’re discovering about the brain through spatial mapping is likely of greater consequence than just for understanding about space. . . . Indeed, it seems to support autobiographical memory in humans.

Colin Lever, a senior lecturer in the department of psychology at Durham University in the U.K., speaking to The Scientist about the Nobel Prize recently awarded to his mentor John O’Keefe and to May-Britt and Edvard Moser for discovering cells that constitute the brain’s GPS system (October 6)


I am much better at recognizing my neighbors’ dogs (they have characteristic shapes and colors) than my neighbors themselves.

—Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, in his 2010 book The Mind’s Eye, in which he discusses his struggles with prosopagnosia, or face blindness


Sex is a critical variable when trying to understand the biological and behavioral systems that fundamentally shape human health. As such, it also is a critical element to be considered when designing rigorous preclinical research experiments that inform human studies.

Sally Rockey, the National Institutes of Health’s Deputy Director for Extramural Research, on the agency’s plan to develop and implement policies requiring NIH applicants to consider sex as a variable in biomedical research involving animals and cells (September 11)


During the current emergency, caring for the sick and stopping the spread of the virus are clearly the most important and immediate tasks. Once the epidemic is over, however, it will be paramount to reassess the extent of the area at risk of outbreaks. Health care systems in these regions will then need to be strengthened and made capable of curbing any further outbreaks at the source. The area found to be at risk is home to some of the most under-resourced health care systems in the world—with the five countries afflicted by the current outbreak ranking among the world’s worst both in terms of maternal mortality and human development.

Sebastian Funk, researcher at the Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, and Peter Piot, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine microbiologist and codiscoverer of the Ebola virus, in a recent eLife paper about mapping the disease in wild African animals (September 19)


I have Ebola. You’re all screwed. 

—The ill-advised, post-sneeze joke voiced by an as-yet-unnamed man who was escorted off of his flight by health workers wearing full hazmat suits in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (October 10)

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Avatar of: James V. Kohl

James V. Kohl

Posts: 525

November 5, 2014

The quotes are scattered from across disciplines, but can be linked to what is known about conserved molecular mechanisms of biologically-based cause and effect that, in context, make sense of them.

1) Cell type differentiation occurs via amino acid substitutions in the Ebola viruses. Identification of two amino acid residues on Ebola virus glycoprotein 1 critical for cell entry

2) What is known about nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled sex differences in cell type differentiation via amino acid substitutions appears to extend from non-living viruses to the differentiation of all cell types in all individuals of all species.

3) See, for example: "Excitatory amino acid transporters: recent insights into molecular mechanisms, novel modes of modulation and new therapeutic possibilities"

4) Place it into the context of "The Mind's Eyes: Human pheromones, neuroscience, and male sexual preferences."

5) It should come as no surprise to learn that ecological variation leads to ecological adaptations manifested in the connectome and in unconsciuos affects associated with face perception and cognition. Arguably, the only pathway that links the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA in the organized genomes of species from microbes to man is the gene-cell-tissue-organ-organ system pathway.

6) We used that pathway in our 2001 review Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinology and ethology.

7) Panksepp et al, (2002) followed with Comparative approaches in evolutionary psychology: molecular neuroscience meets the mind.

Unless excitatory amino acid transporters somehow evolved due to mutations, they appear to exemplify how nutrient-uptake and the pheromone-controlled physiology of reproduction link ecological, social, neurogenic, and socio-cognitive niche construction. Niche constuction links increasing organismal complexity based on what is known about conserved molecular mechanisms that link physics to the chemistry of protein folding and RNA-mediated events. The RNA-mediated events link the Ebola viruses to human ignorance of biophysically-constrained cause and effect.

It is often attributed to mutations and/or natural selection that somehow leads to the evolution of biodiversity and  "Excitatory amino acid transporters"   in the context of the connectome via cell type differentiation in our brain.

Avatar of: John Salerno

John Salerno

Posts: 10

November 6, 2014

I doubt that knowing and understanding all the connections in a brain would prefectly predict behavior. Many threshold level events in signaling are probabilistic, and this rigidly deterninistic statement does not take this into account. I suspect that more of our behavior is random than we'd like ot believe. 

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