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Science

Curious Bends – counting tigers, curing PTSD, farming in battlefields and more

1. Tracking tigers by keeping an eye out for their stripes

“The software ExtractCompare, the first of its kind for tigers, projects photographs of tigers on to a three-dimensional surface, and tallies their stripe patterns, distinct as a barcode, against images stored in a database. When a “high similarity” score is reached, a successful identification is made. “This rapid pattern matching system speeds up the matching process when thousands of comparisons are involved,” said Karanth. But no software, no matter how sophisticated, has yet topped a field researcher’s well-trained eye.” (6 min read)

2. The Deccan Traps volcanoes did their bit to kill the dinos

“Based on the precise dates for the Deccan Traps, the scientists believe the massive eruptions may have played a significant role in extinguishing the dinosaurs – although the exact kill mechanism may never be known. “I don’t think the debate will ever go away. The asteroid impact may have caused the extinction. But perhaps its effect was enhanced because things were softened up a bit by the eruption of these volcanoes,” said co-author Prof Sam Bowring of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” (3 min read)

3. On the cusp of a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder…

“The above findings clearly demonstrate that the potentially greater cost of failing to discriminate correctly pushed the animals’ behaviour towards playing it safe. They behaved as if there was potential danger in the safe sound as well. The neurons too reflected this tendency to play it safe at the behavioural level. The work by Chattarji and Ghosh thus marks a significant advance in our understanding of how information is processed in the amygdala at the level of individual neurons to maintain a balance between when one should be and should not be afraid.” (14 min read)

4. The first signs of resistance to the ‘last antibiotic’ are showing in India

“”Colistin resistance is still rare. It is carbapenem (the strongest class of antibiotic) resistance that is increasing across the world. Colistin is used to treat cases that are resistant even to carbapenem. It is an emerging problem. Doctors in Greece had published colistin-resistance data in 2006, and the US recorded it two years ago,” said infectious diseases consultant Dr Abdul Ghafur, one of the authors of the paper on the 13 cases, and also the coordinator of Chennai Declaration that has laid out guidelines for hospitals and doctors on antibiotic use.” (7 min read)

5. What’s the price you pay when you farm along the world’s most dangerous border?

“When the barbed fence was raised in the mid-1980s, it divided Harjinder Singh’s fields into two — 15 acres in India, 15 acres in no-man’s land (between the fence and the actual line of control) — almost 40 years after Partition divided his family’s fields between India and Pakistan. Half his land, across the fence, is now under curfew between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. This makes his land at the international border half as profitable as that in India, Singh said. “They took away the food from our plate,” Singh said. “And gave us hardship in return.”” (8 min read)

Chart of the week

“China is not alone in having low transplant rates in Asia—even richer countries such as Japan and Singapore fall far short of Western countries. Most transplants in these countries also tend to come from live donors, compared with under a third in the West. That suggests there is a lot of room to increase the deceased-donor supply, whether through public-information campaigns or “opt-out” donor-consent regimes. China is considering a legal standard for brain death, enabling exploitation of intact organs while a patient’s heart is still functioning but recovery is deemed impossible.” The Economist has more.