This week in science – Jan. 21

Mark Hendricks, Science & Technology Editor Ω

Spirituality helps combat depression

New research shows that meditation and other forms of spirituality might combat depression by thickening the brain cortex. Moyan Brenn/Flickr Commons

New research shows that meditation and other forms of spirituality might combat depression by thickening the brain cortex. Moyan Brenn/Flickr Commons

A new study shows that spirituality can lead to a thickening of the brain cortex which can help combat depression.

Spirituality (in the context of the study) can range from something as simple as meditation to organized religion. The protection against depression is especially strong in those individuals who are already at high risk for protection.

A thicker brain cortex helps counteract the cortical thinning that occurs as a result of severe clinical depression. More research is needed as it is not currently understood why this happens.

The study was published by Lisa Miller on Dec. 25, 2013 in the online journal JAMA Psychiatry. This research follows previous research done by Miller which showed a 90 per cent decrease in severe depression in people who valued spirituality versus those who didn’t when both parents suffered from depression.

Find out more: http://www.newswise.com/articles/

 

Smart plants

New research has shown that at least one plant, mimosa pudica, also known as a touch-me-not, has the ability to learn and remember behaviors just as an animal would.

The research was conducted by Monica Gagliano from the University of Western Australia along with three other colleagues and was published in the January issue of the online journal Oecologia.

The team trained the plants’ short-term and long-term memories in both low light and high light conditions by rigging an apparatus to continuously drop water on the plant.

The plants initially closed their leaves as a result of the water, but quickly opened them back up when they realized it wasn’t causing any damage. The plants learned this behavior in a matter of seconds and retained this behavior for weeks, even under changing environmental conditions.

Find out more: http://www.sci-news.com/biology/

 

Solar inactivity as solar flares and sun spots die off

The sun is currently experience the least amount of solar activity in 100 years as it's entering a solar lull. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr Commons

The sun is currently experience the least amount of solar activity in 100 years as it’s entering a solar lull. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr Commons

The sun has entered a stage of solar lull, a period signified by very little solar flare activity and bitterly cold winters.

According to scientists, solar cycles are getting shorter and there are fewer solar flares. Solar cycles rise and fall in 11-year cycles. Despite being at the peak of this cycle, however, the sun is at its lowest state of activity in over a hundred years according to Richard Harrison, the head of space physics at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The declining rate of activity mirrors a period in the 17th century known as the maunder minimum, a period of virtually no solar activity. It was a period of bitterly cold winters where the River Thames froze over in England for two months.

Scientists aren’t certain if this declining solar activity will trigger a similar situation. Due to the effects of global warming and human activity on the atmosphere there isn’t any data as to how a solar lull like this will affect temperature.

Find out more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science_and_environment/