Human Brain Cells Make Mice Smarter

Discovered: Human brain cells increase mice's brain power; Google searches can reveal bad drug interactions; you never need to go outside again; bees love caffeine.

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Human brain cells increase mice's brain power. When transplanted into mice, glia — the special cells which envelope nerve cells — can enhance the brain function of lowly mice, researchers in Rochester, New York announced today. Previously thought to be mostly janitorial, glia appears to have affected how mice stored memories, which means it may have a more prominent role in the brains of humans, especially in curing those who have neurological illnesses. "Many neuroscientists essentially ignore glia," notes Science News. "[but] it is becoming clear that the [glia cells] — which make up about 90 percent of the brain — are more important than some people believe." [Science News]

Google searches can reveal bad drug interactions. You may have searched the web for interactions between certain drugs — a blood thinner and an antibiotic, say — to make sure that you don't hurt yourself. A team at Stanford University says if you aggregate a bunch of people's search terms — in the same manner Google tracks the spread of the flu — you can figure out which drugs adversely interact with each other. As a test, the team studied the search data of people taking two different drugs, looking for terms related to illness. "There was a clear spike in searches combining the symptoms" — "together with both drug names, over and above the signal for either drug searched alone." [New Scientist]

You never need to go outside again. You don't really need to prove that going for a walk in the woods tends to be relaxing. But now you might not even have to step outside to gain any of nature's relaxing effects. A Japanese immunologist found that simply the smell of trees and other flora can induce the human body to release stress-decreasing hormones. For now it's unclear whether the effect is causal or correlative. Memories of scent are incredibly powerful, so the smell of a tree could be conjuring a pleasant memory rather than chemically altering the human body. But the notion is attractive for office-dwellers who love getting outside but rarely have the time to wander among the trees. [The Atlantic Cities]

Bees love caffeine. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a tired person wants caffeine. (That, or to go to bed.) English bee researchers have discovered this overarching principle applies to honeybees, too. The researchers found that bees, like humans, get a cognitive kick from the stimulant, after the researchers dosed the nectar of plants that the bees under study were pollinating. While the effect on bees may seem kind of obvious — who doesn't love caffeine? — the study also shows that the brain chemistry of all species, both high and low on the food chain, may be more similar than dissimilar, at least in terms of how our brains — or a bee's — process rewards. Like caffeine. [The New York Times]