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Tag: TED

Smart And Compassionate Crows

While we humans might be calling ourselves as the smartest species on the earth, but we are not the only smart ones here. We already know how intelligent Chimpanzees, Dolphins, Octopus can be. Recent studies have shown that Crows or Ravens are extremely smart, may be even the smartest of the Chimpanzee, Dolphin, Octopus, Raven group. Crows have interestingly adapted themselves to live successfully with the humans and that’s why they are found everywhere where human beings live. Recent studies have shown that they can use tools to solve the problems and even feel compassion for their ‘friend’ crows in distress. In a recent study, researchers found that after a fight, crows will go to their beat-up friend and try to console them. They suggest that probably crows are able to sense the stress and can response to emotional needs. Also since the crows live in groups, this gesture also helps them in balancing up the cost of group living and makes the group more stable, just like the humans do! This kind of consolation behaviour has also been found in chimpanzees and baboons. Dogs and wolves also seem to show such kind of behaviour but it has not been studied in detail.  So while we humans might be losing the touch of showing compassion to stressful conditions of our fellow human beings, crows have still got it. The study reports the conclusions as follows:


Our findings suggest that in ravens, bystanders may console victims with whom they share a valuable relationship, thus alleviating the victims’ post-conflict distress. Conversely victims may affiliate with bystanders after a conflict in order to reduce the likelihood of renewed aggression. These results stress the importance of relationship quality in determining the occurrence and function of post-conflict interactions, and show that ravens may be sensitive to the emotions of others.

Source: Fraser ON, Bugnyar T (2010) Do Ravens Show Consolation? Responses to Distressed Others.PLoS ONE 5(5): e10605. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010605

Talking about how intelligent crows are, I will include a TED talk by Joshua Klein, who has been studying the behaviour of crows for many years and have even built a vending machine for crows where crows can use a coin to get a peanut and the crows were successfully able to use the machine! In one another example which he mentions in his talk, a group of crows in Tokyo have found an indigenous way of eating a hard nut which they cannot crack open by themselves.They drop the nut in the middle of the road, sot that cars can crush it. Then they wait for traffic light to turn red, so that they can easily walk into the traffic and eat their nut and fly away. This behaviour has been collectively picked up the crows living in that area and also being passed onto the next generation of the crows. Intelligent approach of survival! In next set of posts in coming weeks, I will also post some other videos and findings where it has been shown that crows can solve a two step and three step problem to make a tool in order to reach a target.

By the way just a thought: If tools, language and social structure were the attributes which were used to distinguish humans from other animals/species, probably we now need another characteristic of ours for that purpose, as chimpanzees and crows can make tools, dolphins can be made to speak and crows and chimpanzees follow a social structure where they live and survive in groups and also have empathy for their fellow group members. So what distinguishes us from other animals now? Maybe the ability to convert various energy forms for our advantage, some energy based definition? Or something else?

Anyway here is the TED Video:

Photo Credit: Flickr by Carly & Art used under Creative Commons License

1 Comment May 17, 2010

Zapping Malaria: One Mosquito At A Time

Intellectual Ventures have come up with a very novel approach of controlling Malaria, using a laser to target the mosquito, figure out if its male or female and then zap it. Sounds like some kind of video game, right, but this technique has been tested in labs and even works. Intellectual Ventures Lab calls this invention as Photonic Fence which detects the mosquito flying at a distance using a low powered laser. This laser doesn’t kill but it identifies whether it’s malaria causing female mosquito or other harmless insect by measuring the size and frequency of the wing-beats of the insect. Female mosquito has lower frequency of wing-beats as compared to their male counterparts and they are larger in size. Once the malaria causing mosquito is identified, another ‘lethal’ laser is targeted at the mosquito finally zapping it either by destroying it’s DNA or by thermal energy. The laser energy and frequency they use is harmless to human  tissue.

Additionally, the company has found applied some very interesting optical and magnetic properties of crystal called hemozoin ,which is also called the malaria pigment, to detect malaria infection. The original discovery about optical properties of hemezoin for detection of Malaria was done in a study  by a group at McGill Univeristy in 2008. When a person is infected with malaria, the parasite enters the red blood cells and feed on hemoglobin but they are unable to digest the heme or the iron containing part of the hemoglobin and sequesters it in form of hemozoin. Presence of hemozoin in blood is indication of malaria infection. It has been found out by researchers at McGill University and confirmed by intellectual ventures that hemozoin interacts with high energy femtosecond laser and it emits distinctive wavelength of light which can be used for non-invasive diagnostics of  malaria. They also found out that the hemozoin is slightly magnetic in nature. These newly found optical and magnetic properties can be used for manipulating the hemozion and ultimately destroy the parasite.

We are attempting to find ways to use this approach to treat malaria as well as to detect it. By tuning the light used in the laser beam to just the right wavelength, we hope to induce the hemozoin to emit optical pulses that actually destroy the parasite’s DNA without harming the surrounding human tissue.Besides being optically active, hemozoin is very slightly magnetic. That opens another avenue for attacking the parasite. We’ve invented ways to magnetically shake or spin hemozoin crystals, rupturing the parasite’s innards enough to kill it. [Intellectual Ventures]

Here are some SEM images of hemozoin nanocrystal:

Also, you can listen to Nathan Myhrvold, co-founder of Intellectual Ventures,  talking about this invention in his recent TED talk.

Source and Photo: Intellectual Ventures Lab

Reference article on hemezoins: doi: 10.1529/biophysj.107.125443

2 Comments May 11, 2010

Prakash Center for Children

Prakash center is an initiative taken up by Dr Pawan Sinha from MIT to improve the condition of children with disabilities in India focusing primarily on blindness. The planned center in Rishikesh will have hospitals to provide treatment, schooling facilities for children and will also have a cutting edge research facility. Dr Sinha’s group has already published some pathbreaking results in the field of cognitive neuroscience and learning and its application to improve the lives of millions of children all around the world will be a great step forward. Some of the group’s work has been highlighted in recent talk by Dr Sinha during TED India event.

Leave a Comment February 27, 2010

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of mind

A very motivating talk by Dr. Temple  Grandin who was diagnosed  with Autism in childhood and is noted for her animal welfare works and autism advocacy. Recently an HBO film titled ” Temple Grandin” was released based on her life and work.

Leave a Comment February 25, 2010


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