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Fear and anxiety are two of the most studied emotions in neuroscience. So far they have been addressed separately: fear, the response to immediate threat, is thought to be controlled by the amygdala; and anxiety, which does not necessarily stem from danger, is linked to the BNST (Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis). ⠀

A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience challenges the prevailing view: ‘while fear and anxiety are distinct emotional states, it appears their underlying neural circuitry is shared.’ The idea that two have separate neural processing pathways came from years of animal brain experiments, but new technology that can study individual cells demonstrates the opposite. ⠀

A fMRI experiment exposed 100 participants to physical, visual and auditory stimuli: fixed time or random exposure to images were made to sub-groups and the control group. This elaborate experiment is neatly summarised by senior researcher, Alexander Shackman (University of Maryland): a “low budget version of an immersive experience you might have with a good haunted house or a horror film.” ⠀

The scientists want the research framework (RDoC) of the National Institutes of Health-funded programs to be updated to reflect the new findings. #emotion #brain #fear #neuroscience

I am in Semey. I find myself standing outside a two-storied log-house with a tin roof and green coloured windows. There are just a handful of people; Russian tourists I presume. This is the well-preserved living quarters (and now museum) of one of literature’s giants: Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. ⠀

This trip was a last minute addition: it would be travesty to come away from Kazakhstan without paying homage to the Russian literary stalwart. So I took a flight from Almaty to Semey; by road it would have taken about 20 hours!⠀

After spending 4 years in a Siberian prison, Dostoevsky was put in compulsory military service in Semipalatinsk (Semey), Kazakhstan for 6 years. The author of Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov wrote 12 novels besides novellas, short-stories, essays and other writings. The museum has parts of manuscripts, handwritten letters, and his artworks. The basement is a recreation of his work space: his original writing desk, gramophone, books and other chattels provide a glimpse into 19th century aristocratic lifestyle. ⠀

The imposing joint-statue of Dostoevsky and Chokhan Valikhanovm in Semey is literally ‘a clash of civilisations’: Dostoevesky - exiled Russian littérateur meets Valikhanovm - Kazakh princeling and scholar, direct descendant of Chengiz Khan, and upholder of all things native.⠀

I also took time to visit the Museum of Abay Kunanbayev, Father of Kazakh poetry, philosopher, social reformer. The impressive complex houses 17 halls, full of exhibits: impossible to traverse in a day. I only had time to see Abay and his Epoch: his influence on Kazakh economic, administrative and socio-political structure.⠀

Incidently, Semipalatinsk, was part of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons program. The infamous ‘Semipalatinsk Polygon’ is just 150 kms away. These numbers are going to shake you: 456 nuclear tests were conducted here from 1949 until 1989. I feared that radioactive fallout might be hanging around; but this is now an actively researched atomic testing site, and the only one in the world open to public!⠀

#Kazakhstan #Dostoevsky #Semey #travelogue #Valikhanovm #literature #russian #russia

Book: Cain, by Jose Saramago⠀

The Author⠀
This is the second book of Saramago’s I revisited in the last one month. Reading without much punctuation brings on a rhythm and rapidity to the words and ideas that infiltrate my brain, and leaves me breathless. Such a style would drag in the hands of a lesser writer, and perhaps, turn away a reader. But Saramago knows how to race between blindness and light, heaven and earth, real and metaphorical, the sarcastic and the platitudinous, and turn up at the winning post without breaking a sweat.⠀

Cain is the last book that Saramago wrote, before his death, and along with The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, remains true to his irreverence for religious scripture and iconography. He died with his atheist (and communist) beliefs intact; mocking religion, customs, people... well almost everything, but with a lightness of touch that makes his work memorable.⠀

The Story⠀
Trying to write a story where Cain is the protagonist and God is the villain is no joy-ride. What Saramago does with aplomb, to give his take on multiple episodes of the Old Testament, is to allow Cain the freedom to wander through both time and space. Cain’s punishment for murdering his brother, Abel, was to wander forever, and it is this detail that Saramago exaggerates to build his storyline. Book of Genesis stories such as Original Sin, Fall of Man are mixed with biblical favourites, Noah’s Ark, Tower of Babel, Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, a later myth like the story of Lilith, and the sufferings of Job at the hands of Satan. The reader is sent on a roller-coaster between time and stories, with Cain pointing an accusatory finger at God for all the mistakes he made.⠀

The Subtext⠀
Cain is a representation of the common man who has his flaws (meanness, jealousy, lust, greed) but suffers injustices at the hands of those in power. The concept of God is nothing but that of a tyrant: oppressive, petulant, scheming, ruthless and diabolical. Cain is given a wide berth to rave against the vileness of God but the story is balanced by wit, situational comedy and a simplicity bordering on naivete.⠀

#bookreview #books #cain #saramago #god #able #bible

“Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.”⠀
- Press Release, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences ⠀

I am personally delighted that the CRISPR technology has been recognised so quickly; just eight years since it was announced in 2012. It is a technology that is being increasingly used in various fields, and its many applications are likely to have a monumental impact on the future of humanity.⠀

Charpentier and Doudna are amongst five women winners of the chemistry prize, ever. Frances Arnold won in 2018; Marie Curie was the first, in 1911 (she also won earlier, in 1903, for Physics). They join 53 women who have previously won a Nobel Prize. ⠀

Here’s what Lila Gierasch, the editor in chief of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, told The Scientist, “It’s stunning, it’s appropriate, and it brings joy to those of us who are women in science.”⠀
#CRISPR #chemistry #nobel #nobelprize #women #scientists #award #DNA #genetics #science

Much of the interest in Venus waned after the 1960s when scientists perceived that the surface of Venus was far hotter than previously understood, appearing to negate any chances of life. ⠀

But the recent discovery of phosphine in the planet’s atmosphere is rekindling interest in the planet. ⠀

Using telescopes (such as the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and ALMA in Chile) which work in infrared light and radio wave bandwidths, scientists led by Dr. Sara Seager (MIT) and Dr. Janet Greaves (University of Cardiff) have been measuring the radiation off Venus’s atmosphere to better identify its chemical composition. ⠀

One of the chemicals thus revealed appears to be phosphine. Phosphine is considered to be a “biomarker” by astrobiologists, who look for the things that make life possible in extra-terrestrial circumstances.⠀

Scientists are now speculating if there might be life above the searing surface. On Earth, where water droplets in clouds contain living bacteria, Venus’s clouds (though incredibly acidic), could also potentially be inhabited by alien microbes. ⠀

If there had been microbes in the surface waters of Venus eons ago, it’s possible that evolution could have urged them (not into the depths, as it did on Mars), but into the skies, where temperature remains bearable and water exists as droplets.⠀

In an atmosphere like Venus’s, phosphine should only be able to survive briefly before chemistry destroys it. For it to persist — something must be producing it at the same rate as the atmosphere gets rid of it. ⠀

Astrobiologists like Dr. Sara Seager of MIT are striving to learn what that might be. Dr. Seager has secured a grant from Breakthrough Initiatives, a research program funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, to investigate the scientific case for life on Venus and the challenges of a potential exploratory mission. #venus #space #exploration #life #chemistry #phosphine #evolution

Go through the high mountains, ⠀
Through fast flowing river, ⠀
Through thick, impenetrable forests,⠀
Through the large lake, ⠀
In many countries, ⠀
Go through the desert,⠀
Where the bird's wings are tired,⠀
Find the way to off-road,⠀
Be ahead of the troops in battle.⠀
Let it be your horse is always ready, ⠀
I wish you this.⠀

- [Kazakh blessing for a child when he first sits on a saddle]⠀

The ubiquitous horse is both a companion and provider for the Kazakhs. They revere it like a god, mythicize it (tulpar, a winged horse), use it for travel and sport, flaunt it in iconography, and depend on it for sustenance. A child is put ceremonially on a saddle at the age of 3 and blessed to become a lifelong friend of the horse.⠀

In a story of many firsts, the horse was first domesticated in Kazakhstan. Scientists from the University of Pittsburg have identified the settlement of Botay to be the first place where this remarkable transition occurred; and this event went on to change the political map of the world. There is a town called Atbasar near Botay: Atbasar means ‘to ride on horseback’. Kazakhs have been breeding horses for 5600 years, and researchers have even unearthed the model of the first bridles ever made.⠀

Some of us recoil at the thought of eating horse-meat but when you are a nomadic race, and have to travel across vast distances, you tend to maximize and stretch all that you have. Waste is a luxury you can ill-afford when the cold wind blows through the steppes, and your next destination is both uncertain and unknown. ⠀

Incidentally, Kazakhstan is the second highest consumer of horse-meat in the world after China! Besides meat, both horse and camel milk are the source of year-round nourishment and health. Fermented horse-milk, called Kumis, a staple of yesteryears’ nomadic life, is now extremely popular and artisanal versions (in plastic bottles) are available on the roadside!⠀

Greek historian Herodotus, mentions Kumis in his writings about horse-raiders of the mountain-steppes. Its curative powers is the stuff of legend: from leprosy to impotence and almost everything between!⠀

See #Kazakhstan Part 4. #horse #horses #travel

For those who prefer listening over reading, check out the audiobook for Where Will Man Take Us now on Amazon (link in bio) ⠀
#audiobook #bookstagram #audiobooks #audible #books #audiobookstagram #book #booklover #audio #reading #bookworm #ebook #booknerd #kindle #ebooks #audiblebooks #audiobooklove #podcast #booksofinstagram #bookstagrammer #voiceover #bibliophile #bookreview #instabook #bookish #nonfiction #audiobooksofinstagram #amazon #wherewillmantakeus

Astronauts who are sent on long duration missions into space are susceptible to muscle atrophy and bone loss from the effects of microgravity. This is true for astronauts staying on the ISS or contemplating visits to Mars and beyond.⠀

The Jackson Laboratory in Connecticut sent 40 young black mice to the ISS on a SpaceX capsule to test a treatment which ‘involves blocking a pair of proteins that typically limit muscle mass’. ⠀

Of the forty in total, twenty-four mice were untreated, and they lost considerable muscle and bone mass (up to 18%). Eight of those who were given the ‘mighty mouse’ treatment in space returned with ‘dramatically bigger muscles.’ Another 8 that were genetically engineered to have double their mass retained their bulk. These findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.⠀

This treatment augurs well, both for astronauts and bedridden or wheelchair bound patients, but has to be tested further for side-effects on humans. As for genetic tweaking of astronauts’ genes; it’s not on the horizon so far.⠀

Incidentally, the 24 mice that suffered muscle and bone loss, were given the ‘mighty mouse’ treatment upon their return to Earth and have since regained their mass. #mice #space #missions #astronauts #mars #muscle #mass #zerogravity

The only recognised personality from Kazakhstan is Borat, and he is fictional! Sasha Baron Cohen’s parody is world-famous but the locals don’t take very kindly to it for the gross misrepresentation it inflicts on their society and culture.⠀

I became aware of this soon after I flew into Almaty, the second largest city in Kazakhstan. The people are friendly and helpful, though constrained by the language barrier, which is essentially Russian. The crime rate is low and travellers are free to roam the country without fear.⠀

A beautiful and large country, yet not many of us know much about it. It is the size of Western Europe; and is ranked 9th largest in the world, just after Argentina and India. The physical geography of the place is in your face; the low density of population gives its vistas an eerie beauty filled with calm and tranquility. The gorgeous steppes, dotted with #horses and yurts (round tents); yester-world villages nestled between high mountain passes; and scores of glaciers, canyons and lakes everywhere. ⠀

This surreal place is home to Kazakhs (from the Turkic word for Free Man), Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Germans, Tatars, and Uyghurs. The reason why this country is shrouded in mystery is because Russian Tsars closed the country to foreigners, and the Soviet Union did no different. They used it for Gulags (Soviet Labour Camps), nuclear test sites, and bases to launch their space missions. ⠀

#Kazakhstan, which is part of the Eurasian Steppe Route, forerunner of the Silk Route, has been visited by warriors and adventurers over the centuries. In ancient times some myths existed: it was an unexplored world, a place of dragons and monsters. Herodotus wrote about its deserts and impassable mountains, and of a tribe of fearsome female warriors known as the Amazons! ⠀

Originally, the nomadic Scythians resided here, but have since vanished. Alexander the Great fought in the Battle of Jaxartes (Syr Darya) against them. In the 13th Century the Kazakhs were subjugated by Genghis Khan. By the 18th Century they were absorbed into the #Russian Empire.⠀

Do Kazakhs eat horse meat and drink camel milk? See Part 3. #travel #biodiversity #travelogue