Science and Medicine

World’s First Super Predator Had Remarkable Vision

The metre-long super predator Anomalocaris. (Credit: Artist's impression by Katrina Kenny/University of Adelaide.)

South Australian Museum and University of Adelaide scientists working on fossils from Kangaroo Island have found eyes belonging to a giant 500 million-year-old marine predator that sat at the top of Earth's first food chain.

This story will be accompanied by an artist's impression of the super predator on the front cover of the December 8, 2011 issue of Nature.

Paleontologists have discovered exceptionally preserved fossil eyes of the top predator in the Cambrian ocean from more than 500 million years ago: the fearsome meter-long Anomalocaris.

The scientists show that the world's first apex predator had highly acute vision, rivaling or exceeding that of most living insects and crustaceans.

The international team behind this discovery includes two Adelaide researchers, Dr. Michael Lee (SA Museum and University of Adelaide—Environment Institute and School of Earth & Environmental Sciences) and Dr. Jim Jago (SA Museum and UniSA), and was led by Dr. John Paterson (University of New England).

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Dream Sleep Soothes Painful Memories

While humans spend one-third of their lives sleeping, there is no scientific consensus on the function of sleep.

During the dream phase of sleep, the body’s stress chemistry shuts down, taking the edge off difficult memories. The finding may help explain why people with post-traumatic stress disorder suffer reoccurring nightmares.

“The dream stage of sleep, based on its unique neurochemical composition, provides us with a form of overnight therapy, a soothing balm that removes the sharp edges from the prior day’s emotional experiences,” said Matthew Walker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley.

For people with PTSD, such as war veterans, this overnight therapy may not work effectively, so when a “flashback is triggered by, say, a car backfiring, they relive the whole visceral experience once again because the emotion has not been properly stripped away from the memory during sleep.”

Published in Current Biology, the study offers some of the first insights into the emotional function of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which typically takes up 20 percent of a healthy human’s sleeping hours. Previous brain studies indicate that sleep patterns are disrupted in people with mood disorders such as PTSD and depression.

While humans spend one-third of their lives sleeping, there is no scientific consensus on the function of sleep. The research unlocks many of the mysteries linking sleep to learning, memory, and mood regulation—and shows the importance of the REM dream state.

“During REM sleep, memories are being reactivated, put in perspective and connected and integrated, but in a state where stress neurochemicals are beneficially suppressed,” says lead author Els van der Helm, doctoral student in psychology.

For the study, 35 healthy young adults were divided into two groups and viewed 150 emotional images twice, 12 hours apart, while an MRI scanner measured brain activity.

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Jet Lagged? Time to Reset That Inner Clock

Identifying the structure of dCRY is a starting point to understand the function and mechanisms of the protein.

A better understanding of how circadian rhythms work could lead to better treatments for jet lag and perhaps even more serious syndromes, a new study shows.

Researchers have identified for the first time the 3-D crystal structure of a protein in fruit flies (Drosophila) that also facilitates circadian rhythm functions in most higher organisms—from cyanobacteria and plants to animals, including humans.

While the mechanisms of circadian—or biological—clocks are complex in humans, many of their key components are shared by such lower species as Drosophila, which serve as a model organism for understanding circadian rhythms.

The study reported in the journal Nature identifies a protein called cryptochrome (dCRY) that plays a key role in circadian clocks, which get cues from daylight and allow organisms to pace their metabolism on a 24-hour cycle.

Read more: Jet Lagged? Time to Reset That Inner Clock

   

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