Author Archives: danielle marcotte

Where did that tickle come from?

Newborn baby. Credit: Wikipedia

Newborn baby. Credit: Wikipedia

Babies are a tiny package of wonderful, but their minds are very mysterious. What do they think, and how do they perceive the outside world? Even if they had the chance to explain this, how could they with a brain that completely lacks vocabulary? Are babies’ perceptions like ours?

So many questions asked about these mysterious minds, and a recent paper published October 19 2015, offers some insight. Andrew Bremner of Goldsmiths, University of London and his colleagues observed tickling responses in infants and adults, the study was published in the Current Biology journal.

The research focused on 4-month-old babies, 6-month-old babies and adults and their reactions to remote controlled tickling sensations. During the study, the legs or arms are crossed and their foot or hand is tickled. How the individual responded was quite interesting. So, the left hand (now crossed over to the right side) gets tickled, they would see the right side of the body get tickled, but feel it on their left hand. The mismatch between sight and touch can interfere when correctly saying which hand was touched. The same method was used for the feet.

Newborn baby . Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Newborn baby. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, I could not find any video footage but the paper includes detailed figures and diagrams.

The researchers wondered if the same responses would come from infants with little visual experience. It turns out that 6-month old babies and adults were both fooled by the cross-over, but 4-month-old babies didn’t fall for the trick. With only a 2-month gap, the younger babies were more in tuned with their self and oblivious to the outside world.

Bremner suggests that young babies don’t link their physical body to the outside world, this is learned during the 2 month period.  Young babies live in a very different world; one where visual objects are not necessarily connected to the physical being.

As babies grow and learn, they start making these connections and become more alike. They gain knowledge and lose the mysteriousness they were born with. Wouldn’t it be amazing to fully understand what that tiny island is like living on? Maybe one day.

Danielle Marcotte

Sweet Addiction


Early mornings and long hours call for a nice cup of coffee, and it seems that honey-bees agree. Dr. Margret Couvillon of the University of Sussex led a team of researchers testing bees’ response to a sucrose solution with and without a dose of caffeine, the study was published in the Cell Press journal Currrent Biology Thursday October 15. The caffeine present was in concentrations that are naturally found in nectar, and the bees found this to be a higher reward than the decaffeinated version.

Upon returning to the beehive, a sheltered structure,  the bees appeared to be more hyperactive and were more than willing to share their new find, via the “waggle dance”. The waggle dance is a special behavioural technique used to communicate food sources to fellow hive members. The dance is modified based on how much sugar the food source has, the more frequent the waggle the sweeter the nectar. However, caffeine seemed to override this connection because the bees performed the waggle dance 4 times more often after enjoying some caffeinated-laced nectar, encouraging other bees to visit the site. As is appears, the dance is only performed for the very best sources, and the plants have the upper-hand when recruiting loyal customers. Talk about a caffeine buzz.


Plants may be masking their nectar as a high quality source, by lacing it with caffeine, and encouraging bees to visit more often. Dr Couvillon says, “Some plants, through the action of a secondary compound like caffeine that is present in nectar, may be tricking the honey bee by securing loyal and faithful foraging and recruitment behaviours, perhaps without providing the best quality forage.”

It was also observed that bees visited the caffeine laced feeders numerous times, well after the feeders were emptied, and were less inclined to search for a new site. The bees tended to overvalue a caffeinated nectar source, suggesting the possibility of plants lowering their nectar investment but still receiving high visitation from loyal customers.

Most are guilty of enjoying a hot cup of coffee for that little caffeine boost, but could bees be taking this a little too far? Seems like plants are being less mutualistic than we expected by taking advantage of our little worker bees. That must sting.

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Credit: BBC News

Danielle Marcotte

Infectious Felines

Our furry felines may be the highlight of our day, with those innocent round eyes and that little button nose, but what lies beneath that furry coat? Possibly a parasite, known as Taxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), which may be cultivating in the intestines of our furry friend, CBC News reported.

T. gondii is a single celled parasite that infects people globally, including those in developed nations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 60 million people in the United States are carrying the parasite. People become infected after swallowing the parasite, but symptoms are rare, only those with weaker immune systems and pregnant women may become ill.

The T. gondii parasite causes a disease known as taxoplasmosis, which has been linked to multiple mental illnesses, such as: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsion disorder, and addiction. In the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, A.L. Sutterland and colleagues recently published a paper analyzing 50 published studies of the association with the parasite and these illnesses. They also state that people infected with T. gondii are at double the risk of developing schizophrenia than those who were not infected.

“In schizophrenia, the evidence of an association with T. gondii is overwhelming,” the authors say in a press release. “These findings may give further clues about how T. gondii infection can possibly [alter] the risk of specific psychiatric disorders”, CBC News reports.

Fuller Torrey and Dr. Robert H. Yolken study the T. gondii parasite and health, which has been linked to: miscarriages, fetal development disorders, weeks of flu-like illness, blindness, and death. Recently published in Schizophrenia Research, Torrey and Yolken compare childhood cat owners and mental illnesses later in life. Results indicated that our furry friends, carrying T. gondii, may be a high risk factor for developing mental illnesses.

“Cat ownership in childhood has now been reported in three studies to be significantly more common in families in which the child is later diagnosed with schizophrenia or another serious mental illness,” the authors reported in a press release.

This seems like a large price to pay for some friendly cuddles, so how do we keep our cats clean and ourselves parasite free? Keep our feline from roaming the streets, and wash your hands when handling the litterbox. Keep the litterbox clean, nobody likes a dirty bathroom, including the T. gondii parasite as they only become infectious 1 to 5 days after your cat’s bathroom break. Finally, keep to home-cooked meals and avoid feeding those carnivorous felines raw or undercooked meat.

Danielle Marcotte