Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing



































IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.












Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.












Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"


















































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Syrian shells hit Israeli-occupied Golan: army






JERUSALEM: Mortar rounds believed to be have been fired from Syria hit the southern Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Saturday without causing damage or casualties, the army said.

"Several shells landed and were found in an open area in the southern Golan Heights, most likely due to the fighting in Syria," a spokesman told AFP.

"No injuries or damages were caused. The incident was reported to the United Nations forces, and IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) soldiers continued searching the area," he said.

On Wednesday, a mortar shell struck the central Golan Heights, causing no injuries or damage, after nearly three months of no spillover from the fighting in Syria.

The same day, six Syrians were discharged from an Israeli hospital and returned to Syria, with a seventh staying behind for further treatment.

They were wounded in the fighting over the border and allowed on February 16 to cross into Israel, where they received treatment at Ziv hospital in the northern Galilee town of Safed.

Such incidents have been sporadic but have increased over the past six months as violence from the civil war in Syria seeped across the ceasefire line.

In recent months, there have been several instances of gunfire or mortar shells hitting the Israeli side of the plateau. In November, troops responded with artillery in the first such instance of Israeli fire at the Syrian military since the 1973 war.

Israel seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognised by the international community.

It is currently upgrading its security fence along its armistice line with the work expected to be finished by the end of the year.

- AFP/xq



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Hallmark shop fades into history








I noticed when I shopped for Valentine's Day cards that the supply at my local Hallmark store was woefully thin. I chalked that up to my own procrastinating.


But when I went back this week to buy a thank-you card to mail to a friend, I found a note taped to the door that moved me uncomfortably close to tears.


To our Valued Friends, it read. Thank you for 20 years of patronage and friendship! We are now permanently closed for business."






Greeting cards, it seems, are becoming passe in an era of Evites, Facebook birthday posts and thank-yous via text.


Grace's Hallmark in Granada Hills had become the latest victim of a generational and technological shift that has laid waste to bookstores, newspapers, magazines and age-old rituals of human interaction that don't require a computer, a tablet or a cellphone.


::


The card shop's owners, Grace and Dan Lee, were packing to leave Monday when I stopped by. They officially closed the day before, but customers were still trickling in for goodbyes and last-minute bargains on things they hadn't known they wanted.


Stragglers pawed through leftovers: Easter and St. Patrick's Day cards, picture frames, coffee mugs, Christmas decorations and wedding goblets — all cash only, 50% off.


A father and daughter came looking for Precious Moments figurines. He had bought dozens over the years, marking family milestones at this store.


A couple of ladies stopped by with champagne; hugs accompanied the bubbles.


Grace Lee said she's been surprised by the emotional response to their departure. "Some people come in crying," she said.


Grace's Hallmark opened in 1993, survived the damage of the Northridge earthquake and the shifting fortunes of the Granada Village shopping center to become a neighborhood staple. You could buy a card from Grace and Dan, walk a few steps to the post office and drop it in the mailbox.


They are shutting down because their lease expired, and it doesn't make sense to recommit to an industry that's dying.


"Business has been trending down for years," Grace Lee said. "Young people don't come in anymore. They order [gifts] on Amazon and send their cards online.


"It's the older people who like to buy cards. And they like to receive them."


People like me... who also like to browse bookstore racks and page through the newspaper when it lands each morning in the driveway.


The cyber world can't replicate the sifting and studying, the prospect of discovery, the sync between what's on my mind and what I'm holding in my hand.


The satisfaction of the search is part of what's lost as we leave print and concrete behind. There's a visceral pleasure in those tactile, tangible things — picking, sending, opening a card — that a Facebook post can't match.


::


I admit I'm still bitter about the closing of our local Borders 18 months ago. It was the last of what used to be a half-dozen bookstores within a few miles of my Northridge home. Now it's a sporting goods store.






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Black Hole Spins at Nearly the Speed of Light


A superfast black hole nearly 60 million light-years away appears to be pushing the ultimate speed limit of the universe, a new study says.

For the first time, astronomers have managed to measure the rate of spin of a supermassive black hole—and it's been clocked at 84 percent of the speed of light, or the maximum allowed by the law of physics.

"The most exciting part of this finding is the ability to test the theory of general relativity in such an extreme regime, where the gravitational field is huge, and the properties of space-time around it are completely different from the standard Newtonian case," said lead author Guido Risaliti, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and INAF-Arcetri Observatory in Italy. (Related: "Speedy Star Found Near Black Hole May Test Einstein Theory.")

Notorious for ripping apart and swallowing stars, supermassive black holes live at the center of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way. (See black hole pictures.)

They can pack the gravitational punch of many million or even billions of suns—distorting space-time in the region around them, not even letting light to escape their clutches.

Galactic Monster

The predatory monster that lurks at the core of the relatively nearby spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is estimated to weigh in at about two million times the mass of the sun, and stretches some 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) across-more than eight times the distance between Earth and the moon, Risaliti said. (Also see "Black Hole Blast Biggest Ever Recorded.")

Risaliti and colleagues' unprecedented discovery was made possible thanks to the combined observations from NASA's high-energy x-ray detectors on its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) probe and the European Space Agency's low-energy, x-ray-detecting XMM-Newton space observatory.

Astronomers detected x-ray particle remnants of stars circling in a pancake-shaped accretion disk surrounding the black hole, and used this data to help determine its rate of spin.

By getting a fix on this spin speed, astronomers now hope to better understand what happens inside giant black holes as they gravitationally warp space-time around themselves.

Even more intriguing to the research team is that this discovery will shed clues to black hole's past, and the evolution of its surrounding galaxy.

Tracking the Universe's Evolution

Supermassive black holes have a large impact in the evolution of their host galaxy, where a self-regulating process occurs between the two structures.

"When more stars are formed, they throw gas into the black hole, increasing its mass, but the radiation produced by this accretion warms up the gas in the galaxy, preventing more star formation," said Risaliti.

"So the two events—black hole accretion and formation of new stars—interact with each other."

Knowing how fast black holes spin may also help shed light how the entire universe evolved. (Learn more about the origin of the universe.)

"With a knowledge of the average spin of galaxies at different ages of the universe," Risaliti said, "we could track their evolution much more precisely than we can do today."


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Smartphone projector breathes life into storybooks



Hal Hodson, technology reporter



Remember your favourite storybook from childhood? Now imagine that the characters that graced its pages didn't only appear in print, but acted out scenes right in front of you, à la magic Harry Potter paintings.


HideOut, a smartphone projector system developed by Karl Willis at Disney Research in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, does exactly that by using invisible-ink markers to guide the projected characters of a storybook through an entire other layer of activities.






The projector also lets the user move a digital, animated character over surfaces in the real world. By passing the camera over another of the hidden patterns - which are visible only in infrared - the character can even seem to interact with physical obstacles, as in the video above.


In a paper describing the system, presented this month at the Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction conference in Barcelona, Spain, Willis laid out how projection will move past games and playing to become an important computer-human interaction technology, freeing digital content from the screens.


Willis writes that future smartphones with embedded projectors will be used to browse digital files projected on any wall or table, to augment theme parks with digital characters, or to make digital board games that jump out of the table. "Enabling projected content to be mapped onto everyday surfaces from mobile devices is an important step towards seamless interaction between the digital and physical worlds."




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Motor Racing: Button sets pace on second day of testing in Barcelona

 





BARCELONA: Britain's Jenson Button, of McLaren, was quickest on a wet second morning of the final pre-season testing of the winter in Barcelona on Friday.

Button, the 2009 world champion, was 0.216 seconds quicker than Germany's Adrian Sutil, driving for Force India in conditions that started off very wet before beginning to dry up.

Sutil's impressive performance came a day after he was confirmed as the Force India team's second driver for 2013 after a 12-month absence.

His compatriot Niko Huelkenberg, in a Sauber, was third, while world champion Sebastian Vettel was tenth in his Red Bull, for whom Mark Webber had set the quickest pace on Thursday.

Leading times

1. Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:25.936 (33 laps),
2. Adrian Sutil (GER/Force India-Mercedes) 1:26.152 (42),
3. Nico Huelkenberg (GER/Sauber-Ferrari) 1:27.246 (36),
4. Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes) 1:27.672 (50),
5. Romain Grosjean (FRA/Lotus-Renault) 1:27.757 (52),
6. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Ferrari) 1:27.878 (52),
7. Pastor Maldonado (VEN/Williams-Renault) 1:29.132 (35),
8. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 1:29.682 (40),
9. Max Chilton (GBR/Marussia-Cosworth) 1:29.772 (39),
10. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Red Bull-Renault) 1:31.159 (26),
11. Giedo van der Garde (NED/Caterham-Renault) 1:39.036 (29)

- AFP/xq




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Las Vegas Strip shooting suspect is arrested in L.A.









A man suspected in a deadly car-to-car shooting in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip was arrested Thursday at a Studio City apartment complex, bringing an end to a weeklong manhunt.


Los Angeles police and FBI agents surrounded the suburban apartment complex in the 4100 block of Arch Drive about noon and ordered Ammar Harris to surrender. Officers said there was a woman inside the apartment where he was holed up; she was not arrested.


Harris, 26, is being held on suspicion of murder and is expected to be extradited back to Nevada.





"This arrest is much more than just taking Ammar Harris," said Las Vegas Sheriff Doug Gillespie, speaking at police headquarters near the Strip. "The citizens of our community as well as tourists who visit and work in the Las Vegas Valley are entitled to a safe community."


Harris — described by law enforcement officials as a man with an "extensive and violent criminal history" — is accused of being the gunman in the Feb. 21 shooting that killed three people, including Kenneth Cherry Jr., an Oakland native and rapper known as Kenny Clutch.


Las Vegas police said Harris opened fire from his Ranger Rover on Cherry's Maserati on Las Vegas Boulevard after an altercation at a valet stand at the Aria hotel resort.


The Maserati then sped into the intersection at Flamingo Road, where it rammed a Yellow Cab, which erupted in flames near the mega-wattage casinos of the Bellagio, the Flamingo and Ceasars Palace. The explosion killed the taxi driver and passenger inside.


Cherry and a passenger in his Maserati were taken to a hospital, where Cherry was pronounced dead. Four other vehicles were involved in the fiery crash, which left three other people with injuries.


"What I can tell you is that Mr. Harris' behavior was unlike any other I've seen, and I've been in this community in law enforcement for 32 years," Clark County Dist. Atty. Steve Wolfson said.


"I cannot imagine anything more serious than firing a weapon from a moving vehicle into another moving vehicle on a corner such as Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo."


Even in a city accustomed to spectacle, the shooting and collision were shocking.


On the night of the shooting, Harris was accompanied by three people in his Range Rover, none considered suspects, said Lt. Ray Steiber of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. On Saturday, Las Vegas police found Harris' black Range Rover at an apartment complex in the city. The district attorney charged Harris with murder even though he could not be located, and a federal magistrate signed off on a charge of fleeing the jurisdiction.


Federal court documents show Las Vegas homicide detectives suspected that Harris may have fled to California because his phone showed he made calls in the state.


According to law enforcement sources, Harris operated as a pimp in Las Vegas. In a video released by Las Vegas police, Harris flashed a fistful of $100 bills as he bragged about the money. He boasted about money, guns, expensive cars and run-ins with the law on social media accounts, authorities said.


On one social media site, using the name Jai'duh, someone authorities believe was Harris posted pictures of stacks of $100 bills and a Carbon 15 pistol.


Harris' record includes a 2010 arrest in Las Vegas on suspicion of pimping-related offenses of pandering with force and sexual assault. He has previously been arrested on suspicion of a variety of crimes in South Carolina and Georgia, authorities said.


Harris is slated to appear in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Monday for an extradition proceeding.


richard.winton@latimes.com


john.glionna@latimes.com


kate.mather@latimes.com


Glionna reported from Las Vegas. Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.





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Scarred Duckbill Dinosaur Escaped T. Rex Attack


A scar on the face of a duckbill dinosaur received after a close encounter with a Tyrannosaurus rex is the first clear case of a healed dinosaur wound, scientists say.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Cretaceous Research, also reveals that the healing properties of dinosaur skin were likely very similar to that of modern reptiles.

The lucky dinosaur was an adult Edmontosaurus annectens, a species of duckbill dinosaur that lived in what is today the Hell Creek region of South Dakota about 65 to 67 million years ago. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)

A teardrop-shaped patch of fossilized skin about 5 by 5 inches (12 by 14 centimeters) that was discovered with the creature's bones and is thought to have come from above its right eye, includes an oval-shaped section that is incongruous with the surrounding skin. (Related: "'Dinosaur Mummy' Found; Have Intact Skin, Tissue.")

Bruce Rothschild, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas and Northeast Ohio Medical University, said the first time he laid eyes on it, it was "quite clear" to him that he was looking at an old wound.

"That was unequivocal," said Rothschild, who is a co-author of the new study.

A Terrible Attacker

The skull of the scarred Edmontosaurus also showed signs of trauma, and from the size and shape of the marks on the bone, Rothschild and fellow co-author Robert DePalma, a paleontologist at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida, speculate the creature was attacked by a T. rex.

It's likely, though still unproven, that both the skin wound and the skull injury were sustained during the same attack, the scientists say. The wound "was large enough to have been a claw or a tooth," Rothschild said.

Rothschild and DePalma also compared the dinosaur wound to healed wounds on modern reptiles, including iguanas, and found the scar patterns to be nearly identical.

It isn't surprising that the wounds would be similar, said paleontologist David Burnham of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, since dinosaurs and lizards are distant cousins.

"That's kind of what we would expect," said Burnham, who was not involved in the study. "It's what makes evolution work—that we can depend on this."

Dog-Eat-Dog

Phil Bell, a paleontologist with the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative in Canada who also was not involved in the research, called the Edmontosaurus fossil "a really nicely preserved animal with a very obvious scar."

He's not convinced, however, that it was caused by a predator attack. The size of the scar is relatively small, Bell said, and would also be consistent with the skin being pierced in some other accident such as a fall.

"But certainly the marks that you see on the skull, those are [more consistent] with Tyrannosaur-bitten bones," he added.

Prior to the discovery, scientists knew of one other case of a dinosaur wound. But in that instance, it was an unhealed wound that scientists think was inflicted by scavengers after the creature was already dead.

It's very likely that this particular Edmontosaurus wasn't the only dinosaur to sport scars, whether from battle wounds or accidents, Bell added.

"I would imagine just about every dinosaur walking around had similar scars," he said. (Read about "Extreme Dinosaurs" in National Geographic magazine.)

"Tigers and lions have scarred noses, and great white sharks have got dings on their noses and nips taken out of their fins. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and [Edmontosaurus was] unfortunately in the line of fire from some pretty big and nasty predators ... This one was just lucky to get away."

Mysterious Escape

Just how Edmontosaurus survived a T. rex attack is still unclear. "Escape from a T. rex is something that we wouldn't think would happen," Burnham said.

Duckbill dinosaurs, also known as Hadrosaurs, were not without defenses. Edmontosaurus, for example, grew up to 30 feet (9 meters) in length, and could swipe its hefty tail or kick its legs to fell predators.

Furthermore, they were fast. "Hadrosaurs like Edmontosaurus had very powerful [running] muscles, which would have made them difficult to catch once they'd taken flight," Bell said.

Duckbills were also herd animals, so maybe this one escaped with help from neighbors. Or perhaps the T. rex that attacked it was young. "There's something surrounding this case that we don't know yet," Burnham said.

Figuring out the details of the story is part of what makes paleontology exciting, he added. "We construct past lives. We can go back into a day in the life of this animal and talk about an attack and [about] it getting away. That's pretty cool."


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Kerry to chide Turkish PM over Zionism comments


ANKARA (Reuters) - Secretary of State John Kerry will upbraid Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Friday for his description of Zionism as a crime against humanity, comments which could overshadow his first trip to a Muslim nation since taking office.


Kerry is meeting Turkish leaders in talks meant to focus on Syria's civil war and bilateral interests from energy security to counter-terrorism.


But Erdogan's comment at a U.N. meeting in Vienna this week, condemned by his Israeli counterpart, the White House and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has clouded his trip.


"This was particularly offensive, frankly, to call Zionism a crime against humanity ... It does have a corrosive effect (on relations)," a senior U.S. official told reporters as Kerry flew to Ankara.


"I am sure the secretary will be very clear about how dismayed we were to hear it," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.


"To state the obvious, it complicates our ability to do all of the things that we want to do together when we have such a profound disagreement about such an important thing."


Washington needs all the allies it can get as it navigates the political currents of the Middle East, and sees Turkey as the key player in supporting Syria's opposition and planning for the era after President Bashar al-Assad.


But the collapse of its ties with Israel have undermined U.S. hopes that Turkey could play a role as a broker in the broader region.


"The Turkey-Israel relationship is frozen," the U.S. official said. "We want to see a normalization ... not just for the sake of the two countries but for the sake of the region and, frankly, for the symbolism," he said.


"Not that long ago (you) had these two countries demonstrating that a majority Muslim country could have very positive and strong relations with the Jewish state and that was a sign for the region (of what was) possible."


Erdogan told the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Vienna on Wednesday: "Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity."


The head of Europe's main rabbinical group condemned his words as a "hateful attack" on Jews.


Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when Israeli marines killed nine Turks in fighting aboard a Palestinian aid ship that tried to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.


In recent weeks, there has been a run of reports in the Turkish and Israeli media about efforts to repair relations, including a senior diplomatic meeting last month in Rome and military equipment transfers.


The reports have not been confirmed by either government.


SUPPORT FOR SYRIAN OPPOSITION


Officials said Syria would top the agenda when Kerry meets Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, building on the discussions in Rome between 11 mostly European and Arab nations within the "Friends of Syria" group.


After the Rome meeting, Kerry said on Thursday the United States would for the first time give non-lethal aid to the rebels and more than double support to the civilian opposition, although Western powers stopped short of pledging arms.


"We need to continue the discussion which took place in Rome ... in terms of the main goals there is no daylight between us and the Americans," a senior Turkish official said.


"A broad agreement was reached on supporting the opposition. Now our sides need to sit down and really flesh out what we can do to support them in order to change the balance on the ground," he said.


Turkey has been one of Assad's fiercest critics, hosting a NATO Patriot missile defense system, including two U.S. batteries, to protect against a spillover of violence and leading calls for international intervention.


It has spent more than $600 million sheltering refugees from the conflict that began almost two years ago, housing some 180,000 in camps near the border and tens of thousands more who are staying with relatives or in private accommodation.


Washington has given $385 million in humanitarian aid for Syria but President Barack Obama has so far refused to give arms, arguing it is difficult to prevent them from falling into the hands of militants who could use them on Western targets.


Turkey, too, has been reluctant to provide weapons, fearing direct intervention could cause the conflict to spill across its borders.


(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Janet Lawrence)



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First mind-reading implant gives rats telepathic power

















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The world's first brain-to-brain connection has given rats the power to communicate by thought alone.











"Many people thought it could never happen," says Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Although monkeys have been able to control robots with their mind using brain-to-machine interfaces, work by Nicolelis's team has, for the first time, demonstrated a direct interface between two brains – with the rats able to share both motor and sensory information.













The feat was achieved by first training rats to press one of two levers when an LED above that lever was lit. A correct action opened a hatch containing a drink of water. The rats were then split into two groups, designated as "encoders" and "decoders".












An array of microelectrodes – each about one hundredth the width of a human hair – was then implanted in the encoder rats' primary motor cortex, an area of the brain that processes movement. The team used the implant to record the neuronal activity that occurs just before the rat made a decision in the lever task. They found that pressing the left lever produced a different pattern of activity from pressing the right lever, regardless of which was the correct action.












Next, the team recreated these patterns in decoder rats, using an implant in the same brain area that stimulates neurons rather than recording from them. The decoders received a few training sessions to prime them to pick the correct lever in response to the different patterns of stimulation.











Implants linked













The researchers then wired up the implants of an encoder and a decoder rat. The pair were given the same lever-press task again, but this time only the encoder rats saw the LEDs come on. Brain signals from the encoder rat were recorded just before they pressed the lever and transmitted to the decoder rat. The team found that the decoders, despite having no visual cue, pressed the correct lever between 60 and 72 per cent of the time.












The rats' ability to cooperate was reinforced by rewarding both rats if the communication resulted in a correct outcome. Such reinforcement led to the transmission of clearer signals, improving the rats' success rate compared with cases where decoders were given a pre-recorded signal. This was a big surprise, says Nicolelis. "The encoder's brain activity became more precise. This could have happened because the animal enhanced its attention during the performance of the next trial after a decoder error."












If the decoders had not been primed to relate specific activity with the left or right lever prior to the being linked with an encoder, the only consequence would be that it would have taken a bit more time for them to learn the task while interacting with the encoder, says Nicolelis. "We simply primed the decoder so that it would get the gist of the task it had to perform." In unpublished monkey experiments doing a similar task, the team did not need to prime the animals at all.












In a second experiment, rats were trained to explore a hole with their whiskers and indicate if it was narrow or wide by turning to the left or right. Pairs of rats were then connected as before, but this time the implants were placed in their primary somatosensory cortex, an area that processes touch. Decoder rats were able to indicate over 60 per cent of the time the width of a gap that only the encoder rats were exploring.












Finally, encoder rats were held still while their whiskers were stroked with metal bars. The researchers observed patterns of activity in the somatosensory cortex of the decoder rats that matched that of the encoder rats, even though the whiskers of the decoder rats had not been touched.












Pairs of rats were even able to cooperate across continents using cyberspace. Brain signals from an encoder rat at the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil were sent to a decoder in Nicolelis's lab in North Carolina via the internet. Though there was a slight transmission delay, the decoder rat still performed with an accuracy similar to those of rats in closer proximity with encoders.











Wake-up call













Christopher James at the University of Warwick, UK, who works on brain-to-machine interfaces for prostheses, says the work is a "wake-up call" for people who haven't caught up with recent advances in brain research.












We have the technology to create implants for long-term use, he says. What is missing, though, is a full understanding of the brain processes involved. In this case, Nicolelis's team is "blasting a relatively large area of the brain with a signal they're not sure is 100 per cent correct," he says.












That's because the exact information being communicated between the rats' brains is not clear. The brain activity of the encoders cannot be transferred precisely to the decoders because that would require matching the patterns neuron for neuron, which is not currently possible. Instead, the two patterns are closely related in terms of their frequency and spatial representation.

























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If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































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