Originally created 02/20/03


Growing old

Ancient farmers along Ecuador's coast may have been the first in the New World to domesticate plants, 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Archaeologists have previously focused on the Mesoamerican highlands as the place where New World residents switched from hunting and gathering to raising crops. But a site in southwest Ecuador contains fossils from domesticated squash, say Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Karen Stothert of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The researchers can tell the difference because domesticated squash are bigger than their wild counterparts. The discovery helps illuminate how and when people transformed themselves into an agricultural society, the researchers wrote in last week's issue of the journal Science.

That's disgusting

Without the ventral anterior insula, you might not have recognized some people's reactions to the Michael Jackson TV special.

The insula, a tiny structure deep in the brain, is essential for recognizing disgust in people's faces. Last week, French scientists reported that they had mapped the disgust-registering region of the brain in greater detail than ever, using electrodes implanted in the brains of 13 volunteers.

The research, to be published in the June issue of the Annals of Neurology, found that the ventral anterior insula appears to be the most crucial part of the insula when recognizing an expression of disgust in a human face.

Such studies are important because many human diseases involve a loss of recognition of human expression.

Something smells

Subtle chemical signals involved in animal attraction make a clear impression in the brains of mice, scientists have discovered.

Researchers from Duke University in Durham, N.C., and Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., used miniature equipment to record activity of individual nerve cells in each mouse's accessory olfactory bulb. That site processes the subtle signals known as pheromones, which are believed to help males, for instance, determine whether another male is dominant or a female is ready to mate.

As the test mice took a whiff of various peers, the pheromones triggered brain cell activity distinct for different individuals, the researchers found. The study appears in the current issue of the journal Science.


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