Flexibility is a hallmark of the human brain, and Yale neuroscientist Alex Kwan and his colleagues are zeroing in on what happens at the neuron level when a situation requires flexible thinking. Using mice as human proxies, the Kwan team observed differences in brain cells that had been tagged with fluorescent markers when the rodents engaged in a task that required adaptive behavior versus one that was repetitive. While achieving the “delicate balance” between flexibility and stability was, said the researchers in the online issue of Nature Neuroscience, a “key requirement of adaptive decision-making,” the failure to do so might be at the root of the rigid thinking characteristic of schizophrenia, depression, and other psychiatric disorders.


Want to help keep the common cold virus at bay? Stay warm, says School of Medicine immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki. In the July PNAS, Iwasaki and her team added two important new discoveries about the role that temperature plays in preventing rhinoviruses from successful infection—and subsequent misery. While the cooler temperatures that prevail in the nose enable viruses to establish themselves, normal body temperatures can lead to the death of infected cells as well as the triggering of enzymes that effectively degrade viral genetic material and prevent replication. The result of these defenses can be “resilient protection” in cases where a virus tries to block other host defense pathways.


Low-grade waste heat from power plants and manufacturing facilities represents an enormous potential source of energy, but no technology exists to exploit it. That may be changing. In the June 27 issue of Nature Energy, engineering professor Menachem Elimelech and his colleagues described a method that uses an air-bubble-trapping nanoporous membrane to create pressure gradients to move enough water to drive a turbine and generate electricity.  

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