Trump’s deportations damage children


This April 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

President Trump has issued executive orders to aggressively find and remove undocumented immigrants. Now even those merely suspected of a crime can be deported, along with those who’ve been following the law by checking in with immigration authorities. AJ+‘s Dena Takruri visited an Arizona community living in fear of ICE arrests.

These two videos are the sequels.

By Meenakshi Jagadeesan in the USA:

Report details psychological and health impact of deportation on children

17 February 2018

Last August, the medical journal Frontiers in Pediatrics published an academic report entitled “Fear of Massive Deportations in the United States: Social Implications on Deprived Pediatric Communities” which details long-term health consequences of stress suffered by children whose parents are at risk of deportation. The report, written by Marie Leiner, Izul De la Vega and Bert Johansson, provides a systematic and chilling summary of the socio-psychological impact of mass deportations on millions of people. The report comes amidst an intensified crackdown on immigrants with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) boasting a staggering 30 percent increase in arrests from 2016, totaling at least 143,470 arrests in the 2017 fiscal year.

Leiner and her co-authors point out that regardless of whether the children might be living in the country legally or illegally, their parents—usually the intended targets of immigration raids—tend to use “negative coping mechanisms” to deal with the persistent stress and depression engendered by their situation. Because of the constant fear and insecurity, parents—and by extension—children “will experience limited access to the pillars that sustain society, including access to education, protection by law, basic needs (e.g., food and housing, health care) and opportunities to plan for the future.”

In real terms, this means parents who fear deportations stop taking their children to school, children fail to report family abuse, and parents stop seeking help in acquiring food, shelter or health care, both preventative and urgent, for themselves and their children. Above all, the environment of fear and instability prevents not just the parents, but also children from making any plans for the future.

As the report explains, each of the behaviors outlined above has an even more ominous consequence for childhood development. Missing school means that the children inevitably fall behind their peers; the continuation of abuse leads to a devastating physical and psychological fallout that will create lifelong scars.

Additionally, lack of access to basic needs and preventive health care will inhibit growth and brain development, and the inability to envisage a secure future makes children potentially prone to “many physical, mental and emotional problems.”

What adds to the danger is the fact that the targeted communities also generally tend to be the most economically disadvantaged. Some of the earlier studies on the subject quoted by the report have detailed findings on how living in poverty affects the brain development of children, leading to “decreased reading/language ability and executive functions,” as well as “behavioral, cognitive and emotional problems.” Children of immigrants dealing with the looming threat of deportations thus face double the structural barrier to a healthy life.

While the long-term effects of massive deportations on children have yet to be studied, Leiner and her colleagues point out that the situation they face is not fundamentally different from those faced by children living in condition of systematic “generalized fear.” Studies that have dealt with such conditions—whether due to immigration raids or violence that is the result of terrorism, war or organized crime—have all concluded that it is the main trigger for negative outcomes.

Based on these studies, the conclusion reveals that the long-term effects of the ongoing massive deportations yields a terrible societal consequence. The report notes that the “feeling that society has failed individuals is the seed that generates individuals who are dedicated to crime, delinquency, or who are simply disconnected from society and have no intention to positively contribute to a harmonious and balanced society.”

The dire consequences of massive deportations will not remain restricted to the targeted communities. They could, as Leiner et al. state, trigger “potential unintended consequences involving increased racial/ethnic discrimination, feelings of stigma, and possible lower tolerance of racial/ethnic diversity.” The negative consequences that will be initially seen in immigrant communities will soon spread and “affect every person” in the country.

The report concludes with the suggestion that the only way forward is through the creation of a “multidimensional approach for planning, understanding and considering all social, economic, and cultural implications” of the proposed immigration policies. In addition, what is needed is an investment in “early childhood programs that focus on families as an inseparable nucleus.”

The United States has the dubious distinction of one of two UN member states to not have ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989), the other being Somalia. The basic proposition underlying the convention is that in all actions that affect children a state should make “the best interest of the child” a primary consideration. A hallmark of a civilized society is its treatment of the most vulnerable sections of its population, including children. In this sense, the trauma produced by US government policy against immigrants, supported by both the Democratic and Republican parties, reflects the brutality of American capitalism.

World Socialist Web Site reporter Eric London recently spoke with Professor Chris Fradkin about his recently authored commentary in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics on the 2017 study “Fear of massive deportations in the United States: Social implications on deprived pediatric communities”: here.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the US as children face an increased threat of deportation after the Senate rejected a series of proposals to couple legal status for those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with stepped-up repressive measures against immigrants, including Trump’s wall along the US-Mexico border: here.

New York City immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir secured a delay to his impending deportation last week, as his legal team filed suit against the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for retaliatory targeting of political opponents. Ragbir, who has lived in the United States for 27 years, was scheduled to be expelled to Trinidad on February 10. Federal officials agreed to accept a delay until a judge can evaluate the case, which could be as early as mid-March: here.

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‘Turkish army uses poison gas in Syria’


Syrian with breathing problems in Afrin hospital, AFP photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Syrian Kurds: Turkey attacked us with poison gas

In the Syrian-Kurdish region Afrin six civilians with respiratory problems ended up in hospital. Doctors say to local media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

a source which is often sympathetic to the Turkish Erdogan regime’s Free Syrian Army allies

that the complaints are caused by poison gas. That is said to have been used by the Turkish army, which has been engaged in an offensive in the region since the end of January. …

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which operates from Coventry in the UK, the patients had respiratory problems and dilated pupils. Local media also speak of rashes and vomiting …

The director of the hospital in Afrin told the German news agency DPA that the people injured after the [Turkish army] shelling came in with respiratory problems …

The Turkish army is supported in Afrin by militias of the Free Syrian Army. The village where this incident took place is close to the border with the Turkish Hatay province, where only Turkish troops are stationed.

Cuttlefish camouflage, new research


This 2013 video is about cuttlefish camouflage.

From the Marine Biological Laboratory in the USA:

How the cuttlefish spikes out its skin: Neurological study reveals surprising control

February 15, 2018

Wouldn’t it be useful to suddenly erect 3D spikes out of your skin, hold them for an hour, then even faster retract them and swim away? Octopus and cuttlefish can do this as a camouflage tactic, taking on a jagged outline to mimic coral or other marine hiding spots, then flattening the skin to jet away. A new study clarifies the neural and muscular mechanisms that underlie this extraordinary defense tactic, conducted by scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole, and the University of Cambridge, U.K. The study is published in iScience, a new interdisciplinary journal from Cell Press.

“The biggest surprise for us was to see that these skin spikes, called papillae, can hold their shape in the extended position for more than an hour, without neural signals controlling them,” says Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido, a lecturer in neuroscience at University of Cambridge and a former staff scientist at the MBL. This sustained tension, the team found, arises from specialized musculature in papillae that is similar to the “catch” mechanism in clams and other bivalves.

“The catch mechanism allows a bivalve to snap its shell shut and keep it shut, should a predator come along and try to nudge it open,” says corresponding author Trevor Wardill, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge and a former staff scientist at the MBL. Rather than using energy (ATP) to keep the shell shut, the tension is maintained by smooth muscles that fit like a lock-and-key, until a chemical signal (neurotransmitter) releases them. A similar mechanism may be at work in cuttlefish papillae, the scientists found.

Gonzalez-Bellido and Wardill began this study in 2013 in the laboratory of MBL Senior Scientist Roger Hanlon, the leading expert on cephalopod camouflage. Hanlon’s lab had been the first to describe the structure, function, and biomechanics of skin-morphing papillae in cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), but their neurological control was unknown.

Hanlon suggested the team look for the “wiring” that controls papillae action in the cuttlefish. As reported here, they discovered a motor nerve dedicated exclusively to papillary and skin tension control that originates not in the brain, but in a peripheral nerve center called the stellate ganglion.

Surprisingly, they also found that the neural circuit for papillae action is remarkably similar to the neural circuit in squid that controls skin iridescence. Since cuttlefish don’t have tunable iridescence, and squid don’t have papillae, this finding raises interesting questions about the evolution and function of the neural circuit in different species.

“We hypothesize that the neural circuit for iridescence and for papillae control originates from a common ancestor to squid and cuttlefish, but we don’t know that yet. This is for future work,” Gonzalez-Bellido says.

“This research on neural control of flexible skin, combined with anatomical studies of the novel muscle groups that enable such shape-shifting skin, has applications for the development of new classes of soft materials that can be engineered for a wide array of uses in industry, society, and medicine,” Hanlon says.

Bird, primate, alligator brains and intelligence


This video from the USA says about itself:

Bird Brain: Smarter Than You Think

13 June 2016

The first study to systematically measure the number of neurons in the brains of birds has found that they have significantly more neurons packed into their small brains than are stuffed into mammalian and even primate brains of the same mass.

From the University of Chicago Medical Center in the USA:

Birds and primates share brain cell types linked to intelligence

Bird and reptile brains have a vastly different anatomy from mammalian brains, but contain cell types linked to mammalian cognitive abilities

February 15, 2018

Summary: In a new study scientists show that some neurons in bird brains form the same kind of circuitry and have the same molecular signature as cells that enable connectivity between different areas of the mammalian neocortex. The researchers found that alligators share these cell types as well, suggesting that while mammal, bird and reptile brains have very different anatomical structures, they operate using the same shared set of brain cell types.

Neuronal cell types in the brains of birds linked to goal-directed behaviors and cognition are similar to cells in the mammalian neocortex, the large, layered structure on the outer surface of the brain where most higher-order processing takes place.

In a new study, published this week in the journal Current Biology, scientists from the University of Chicago show that some neurons in bird brains form the same kind of circuitry and have the same molecular signature as cells that enable connectivity between different areas of the mammalian neocortex. The researchers found that alligators share these cell types as well, suggesting that while mammal, bird and reptile brains have very different anatomical structures, they operate using the same shared set of brain cell types.

Birds are more intelligent than you think, and they do clever things. So, the question is: What kind of brain circuitry are they using?” said Clifton Ragsdale, PhD, professor of neurobiology at UChicago and senior author of the study. “What this research shows is that they’re using the same cell types with the same kinds of connections we see in the neocortex, but with a very different kind of organization.”

Both the mammalian neocortex and a structure in the bird brain called the dorsal ventricular ridge (DVR) develop from an embryonic region called the telencephalon. However, the two regions mature into very different shapes. The neocortex is made up of six distinct layers while the DVR contains large clusters of neurons called nuclei.

Because of this different anatomy, many scientists proposed that the bird DVR does not correspond to the mammalian cortex but is instead analogous to another mammalian brain structure called the amygdala.

In 2012, Ragsdale and his team confirmed a 50-year-old hypothesis by University of California San Diego neuroscientist Harvey Karten that proposed the DVR performs a similar function to the neocortex, but with dramatically different anatomy. In that study, the UChicago researchers matched genetic markers of the “input” and “output” neurons of the mammalian neocortex with genes expressed in several bird DVR nuclei.

In the new study, led by graduate student Steven Briscoe, the team found that other populations of neurons in the bird DVR share molecular signatures with neocortical intratelencephalic cells, or IT neurons. These IT neurons form a critical link in the circuitry of the neocortex. They help communicate between different neocortical layers and across cortical areas from one side of the brain to the other. The team then extended their work from birds to reptiles and identified IT neurons in a similar place in the alligator DVR.

“The structure of the avian DVR looks nothing like the mammalian neocortex, and this has historically been a huge problem in comparative neuroscience”, Briscoe said. “Anatomists have debated how to compare the DVR and neocortex for over a century, and our identification of IT neurons in the bird DVR helps to explain how such different brain structures can give rise to similar behaviors.”

The research suggests an interesting possibility that birds and primates evolved intelligence independently, developing vastly different brain structures but starting with the same shared sets of cell types.

“The input cell types, the output cell types and the intratelencephalic cell types are all conserved. They’re not just found in mammals, which we knew, but in non-avian reptiles like alligators and avian reptiles, or birds,” Ragsdale said. “It begins to clarify where and how in evolution we got this fantastic structure, the neocortex.”

Australian venomous spiders, new research


This 2015 video says about itself:

Australian hospitals are in desperate need of live funnel web spiders to make anti-venom. Spider expert Stacey Denovan shows the safest way to catch them.

From San Diego State University in the USA:

World’s most venomous spiders are actually cousins

Study finds the deadly Australian funnel-web spiders and mouse spiders are more closely related than previously thought

February 15, 2018

Two groups of highly venomous spiders might be seeing more of each other at family reunions. A new study led by San Diego State University biologist Marshal Hedin has found that two lineages of dangerous arachnids found in Australia — long classified as distantly related in the official taxonomy — are, in fact, relatively close evolutionary cousins. The findings could help in the development of novel antivenoms, as well as point to new forms of insecticides.

The spiders in question are those from the families Atracinae and Actinopodidae and include Australian funnel-web spiders and eastern Australian mouse spiders, respectively. One member of Atracinae, Atrax robustus, is considered by many to be the most venomous spider in the world.

“A reasonable number of people get bitten every year, but basically nobody dies from it anymore because of the wide availability of antivenom”, Hedin said.

Historically, the spiders were thought to have diverged from a common ancestor more than 200 million years ago and therefore were only distantly related. Based on their anatomy and other traits, funnel-web spiders and mouse spiders closely resemble other species of spiders known to be distantly related. Yet based on their highly similar venom — the same antivenom can treat bites from both Atricinae and Actinopodidae — many biologists suspected these spider groups might be more closely related than previously thought.

“The funnel-webs always were an uncomfortable fit in their taxonomic place”, Hedin said. “I could see the writing on the wall.”

So he and colleagues, with help from biologists in New Zealand and Argentina, collected new spiders from both branches throughout Australia, sought out museum specimens and raided Hedin’s own collection to come up with dozens of specimens representing various branches of spiders both closely and distantly related. Then the scientists sequenced large chunks of the spiders’ genomes, looking for genetic patterns that would reveal how the species are related to one another.

After this analysis, the researchers discovered that the Australian funnel-web spiders and mouse spiders were, in fact, fairly closely related, although it’s unclear exactly when they diverged from a common ancestor. In addition to solving that mystery, Hedin and colleagues discovered the existence of three entirely new taxonomic families of spiders. The researchers published their findings last month in Nature Scientific Reports.

Online taxonomy databases have already begun updating to reflect these changes, Hedin said. “We’ve convincingly resolved this relationship.”

Knowing these spiders’ ancestry could help scientists devise a kind of general-purpose antivenom to treat bites from a wide variety of related spider species, Hedin explained. In addition, funnel-web and mouse spider venom is notable for containing many different types of peptide molecules, including some that specifically target insects. Knowing more about how their venom evolved could help bioengineers to design bio-insecticides that target insects but are harmless to vertebrate animals.

Puerto Rico hurricanes changed animal sounds


This 22 September 2017 video is called Student Saves Birds From Hurricane Maria.

From the American Geophysical Union:

Hurricanes Irma and Maria temporarily altered choruses of land and sea animals

February 15, 2018

Audio recordings of Hurricanes Irma and Maria’s passage over Puerto Rico document how the calls of coastal critters changed in response to the deadly storms. The hurricanes caused a major disruption in the acoustic activity of snapping shrimp, a reduction in insect and bird sounds, and potentially an intensification of fish choruses, according to new research presented at the Ocean Sciences Meeting Friday.

In March 2017, researchers set up acoustic monitoring sites in coastal forests and coral reefs on Puerto Rico’s southwest coast to continuously record the area’s ambient sounds. Their goal was to capture the region’s land and sea soundscapes — especially the cacophony of sounds created by animal vocalizations — and document how and why they change over time.

But the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria over Puerto Rico in September gave the researchers an unexpected look at how coastal soundscapes change in response to natural disasters. Although the hurricanes did not directly hit the study area, audio recordings reveal the storms had noticeable short-term effects on fish choruses, snapping shrimp activity in coral reefs, and bird and insect calls on land.

The recordings show fish increased the intensity of their nightly choruses in the days following Hurricane Irma. The clicking of snapping shrimp, which are among the loudest animal noises in the ocean, plummeted during Hurricane Maria, and the daily snapping rhythm was disrupted for several days.

In nearby dry forests, Maria had longer-lasting effects on the soundscape. There was a marked reduction in insect sounds during the three weeks after the storm. Listen to time-lapse recordings of changes to insect sounds, fish choruses and snapping shrimp activity here.

The results show how scientists can use the soundscape as a measure of biodiversity and environmental change, according to the researchers. Capturing responses from a variety of species at the same time can help scientists better understand how the ecosystem is affected as a whole, according to Ben Gottesman, a PhD candidate at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and lead author of the new research.

“Sometimes you can’t visually assess an impact, but you can certainly capture that through changes in the soundscape,” said Felix Martinez, an ecologist and Program Manager at the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who will present the new findings Friday at the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting, co-sponsored by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, The Oceanography Society and the American Geophysical Union. “We really need to understand when those changes are natural versus due to some kind of stressor, whether it’s human or natural.”

Similar to birds and frogs, fish call to find mates and defend spawning territories, producing choruses at specific times of day and specific times of the year. Gottesman suspects one reason the fish may have chorused more after Hurricane Irma — which coincided with the full moon — was because the water became very turbid, making it harder for them to be seen by predators.

While the fish increased their activity following Hurricane Irma, shrimp snaps declined steeply during Maria and rebounded in the first few days after the storm. Snapping shrimp make a loud cracking noise with their claws to stun and catch prey. The snapping shrimp recorded in Puerto Rico displayed a very precise¬ schedule of when they snapped the most, almost like clockwork, Gottesman said. After the storms, peaks of snapping activity at dawn and dusk were less pronounced, and it took several days for them to recover to pre-storm levels.

The researchers suspect the shrimp could have snapped less for several reasons. During the storms, the intense current and turbidity likely dissuaded the shrimps from seeking prey, or else the extreme turbidity muffled the high-frequency shrimp snaps. After the storm, Maria may have disturbed their rocky coral habitats, the shrimp could have been spending time cleaning out their burrows, or they may not have been able to see their prey when the water became turbid.

Post-storm recordings show the land and sea animals’ vocalizations in this part of Puerto Rico, which was not in the eye of the storm, did eventually rebound to pre-storm levels. Maria was a catastrophic disaster, causing an estimated $90 billion worth of damage, but the new findings show how resilient this coastal ecosystem was in response to the storm, according to the researchers.

Australian fire beetles avoid heat


This 13 february 2018 video is called The impact of infrared radiation in flight control in the Australian “fire beetle” Merimna atrata.

From the University of Bonn in Germany:

Australian fire beetle avoids the heat: Its infrared organs warn the insect of hot surfaces

February 15, 2018

Summary: The Australian jewel beetle Merimna atrata has several heat sensors. Originally it was thought that it uses them to detect forest fires as the insect lays its eggs in the wood of burned eucalyptus trees. Researchers were finally able to refute this hypothesis. Instead, the beetle appears to need its heat sensors for a different purpose: to not burn its feet on landing.

The Australian fire beetle is attracted to freshly burnt wood. Experts also call this pyrophilia (“love of fire”). This behavior is not very common in insects. Merimna atrata however has a good reason for this. The dead wood provides plenty of food for the larvae of the beetle, so it uses the wood for oviposition.

But how does Merimna find a freshly burned area? For some time it has been known that the fire beetle has heat sensors with which it can detect infrared radiation. In a sense, it “sees” hot places in its environment against a cooler background. It was originally believed that the insects use this ability to detect forest fires.

“However, the IR organs in Merimna atrata are relatively insensitive,” Dr. Helmut Schmitz emphasizes. Schmitz is a lecturer at the Institute of Zoology at the University of Bonn; he has investigated thermo and infrared reception in the black insects for nearly two decades. “This actually contradicts the assumption that the IR organs enable the beetle to detect fires from a greater distance.”

Beetles on a pin

Together with his colleagues, Schmitz has now been able to demonstrate for the first time that these doubts are justified. The scientists designed an ingenious experiment for this purpose. Put simply, they stuck the beetles with their backs to the end of a pin and used this to hang them up. This left the experimental animals with the ability to fly continuously, but without moving forward. “More importantly, they were able to navigate in any direction, i.e. turning right or left,” emphasizes Schmitz.

Then the scientists stimulated the flying beetles with weak infrared radiation from the side. The beetles changed their flight direction in response, but always away from the source and never towards it.

“Merimna’s IR organs are located on both sides of its abdomen; incidentally, this is unique in the animal kingdom,” explains Schmitz. “When we occluded the IR receptors with aluminum foil, the animals no longer reacted to the radiation, but always carried on flying straight ahead. As soon as we removed the foil they displayed their original behavior again.” This observation suggests another use of the heat sensors. “Presumably they help the fire beetles avoid hot spots when approaching an oviposition site such as a freshly burnt branch; these hot spots are not visible with the naked eye to humans and animals during the day,” says Schmitz.

How the animals detect forest fires remains unclear. Even visual stimuli seem to play no role in fire detection, despite Merimna atrata having good eyesight. The researchers tested this hypothesis by showing the beetles slides of large clouds of smoke rising above a forest area. But the insects were completely unimpressed and they never changed their flight direction.

Following their nose

“We therefore assume that Merimna atrata gets its information about an ongoing fire from the smell of smoke,” concludes Helmut Schmitz. This is also important for another reason. Odors can tell you exactly what is actually burning. In contrast, this information cannot be inferred from the heat development or the appearance of a smoke plume. Merimna is very picky, it only lays its eggs in burnt eucalyptus wood and avoids other trees. If the insect was to rely on its IR sense, it would risk being lured into the wrong kind of fires.

Something quite different can be seen with a close European relative; the fire beetles of the genus Melanophila. Their larvae develop in a variety of trees. Heat perception would be quite worthwhile for them. In fact, Melanophila also has infrared sensors, but they are completely different. They can presumably detect infrared radiation even from a long distance. According to measurements and theoretical calculations, Melanophila heat sensors are at least 500 times more sensitive than those of Merimna atrata.