Altering songbird brain provides insight into human behavior

Songbirds are providing insight into how a specific set of neurons may guide the learning of vocal behaviors in humans, according to Science Daily.

A study demonstrates that a bird's song can be altered -- to the syllable -- by activating and deactivating a neuronal pathway responsible for helping the brain determine whether a vocalization is performed correctly. Previous research has shown that when a song is performed without perceived error, certain neurons release dopamine to brain areas involved in motor control. The new study shows that by activating and suppressing these neurons, scientists can prompt the birds to change specific syllables in future performances.

Feed the birds, but be aware of risks

Scientists are warning of the risks of wild birds spreading diseases when they gather at feeders in gardens.

Experts led by Zoological Society of London say people should continue to feed birds, especially in winter, but should be aware of the risks, according to BBC.

If birds look sick, food should be withdrawn temporarily, they say.

The review of 25 years' worth of data identified emerging threats to garden birds. Finches, doves and pigeons are vulnerable to a parasite infection.

Mammals share mechanisms controlling the heart with a 400 million-year-old fish

Primitive air-breathing fish, whose direct ancestors first appeared around 400 million years ago, show mechanisms controlling the heart which were previously considered to be found only in mammals, according to Science Daily.

Mammals show an increase in heart rate when breathing in and a decrease during expiration -- a cardiorespiratory process known as respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). This process and its underlying control mechanisms have been considered by many scientists to be solely mammalian but the present study questions this assumption.

Tiny bubbles of oxygen got trapped 1.6 billion years ago

Take a good look at this photo: It shows you 1.6 billion years old fossilized oxygen bubbles, created by tiny microbes in what was once a shallow sea somewhere on young Earth, according to Science Daily.

The bubbles were photographed and analyzed by researchers studying early life on Earth.

Microbes are of special interest: They were not only the first life forms on Earth. They also turned our planet into a tolerable environment for plants and animals and thus their activity paved the way for life as we know it today.

Some of these early microbes were cyanobacteria that thrived in early shallow waters. They produced oxygen by photosynthesis, and sometimes the oxygen got trapped as bubbles within sticky microbial mats.

How some mushrooms became 'magic'

Researchers say mind-altering compound may have evolved to trip up fungus-eating insects

They’ve gained notoriety for their hallucinogenic side-effects – but, so-called magic mushrooms may have developed their mind-altering properties as a way to protect themselves, according to Daily Mail.

Scientists have long remained perplexed by the ‘biological mystery’ of psychedelic mushrooms, which contain the compound psilocybin but appear to have little in common between the different species.