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Identifying where to reforest after wildfire




In the aftermath of megafires that devastated forests of the western United States, attention turns to whether forests will regenerate on their own or not. Forest managers can now look to a newly enhanced, predictive mapping tool to learn where forests are likely to regenerate on their own and where replanting efforts may be beneficial.

The tool is described in a study published in the journal Ecological Applications by researchers from the University of California, Davis; U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.

“Huge fires are converting forested areas to landscapes devoid of living trees,” said lead author Joseph Stewart, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis and with USGS. “Managers need timely and accurate information on where reforestation efforts are needed most.”

The tool, also known as the Post-fire Spatial Conifer Regeneration Prediction Tool (POSCRPT), helps forest managers identify within weeks after a fire where sufficient natural tree regeneration is likely and where artificial planting of seedlings may be necessary to restore the most vulnerable areas of the forest.


Conifers, or plants with cones such as pine trees, dominate many forests in western North America. The study found that conifers are less likely to regenerate after fires when seedlings face drier climate conditions, especially in low-elevation forests that already experience frequent drought stress. Overall, fewer conifers are expected to grow in California’s lower elevations following wildfire due to climate and drought conditions.

“We found that when forest fires are followed by drought, tree seedlings have a harder time, and the forest is less likely to come back,” said Stewart.

A UC Davis team collected post-fire recovery data from more than 1,200 study plots in 19 wildfires that burned between 2004 and 2012, as well as 18 years of forest seed production data. Ecologists at USGS collected and identified over 170,000 seeds from hundreds of seed traps. The scientists combined these data with multispectral satellite imagery, forest structure maps, climate and other environmental data to create spatial models of seed availability and regeneration probability for different groups of conifers, including pines and firs.

Forest managers have used a prototype of the tool in recent years to better understand where to focus regeneration efforts. The new upgrade incorporates information on post-fire climate and seed production and includes an easy-to-use web interface expected to increase the tool’s accuracy and use.

“This work is a great example of how multiple partners can come together to solve major resource management problems that are arising from California’s climate and fire trends,” said co-author Hugh Safford, regional ecologist for the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region and a member of the research faculty at UC Davis.


Additional co-authors include Phillip van Mantgem, Adrian Das, Nathan Stephenson, Jon Keeley and Micah Wright of USGS; Derek Young and James Thorne of UC Davis; Kristen Shive of Save the Redwoods League; Haiganoush Preisler of U.S. Forest Service; and Kevin Welch of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The study was funded by the USGS’ Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, Ecosystems Mission Area and Land Change Science Program.



Children can bypass age verification procedures in popular social media apps




Children of all ages can completely bypass age verification measures to sign-up to the world’s most popular social media apps including Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype and Discord by simply lying about their age, researchers at Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software have discovered.

And even potential age verification solutions identified by the research team can be easily sidestepped by children, according to the team’s most recent study: Digital Age of Consent and Age Verification: Can They Protect Children?

Lead researcher Lero’s Dr Liliana Pasquale, assistant professor at University College Dublin’s School of Computer Science, said children could easily bypass the mechanisms adopted by apps to verify their age.

“This results in children being exposed to privacy and safety threats such as cyberbullying, online grooming, or exposure to content that may be inappropriate for their age,” she added.

The study which examined Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, HouseParty, Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Messenger, Skype, Discord apps scrutinised age verification procedures in April 2019 and repeated it in April 2020 ¬- it found all ten apps permitted users, regardless of age, to set up accounts if they first gave their age as 16.

Dr Pasquale said the widespread use of age of 13 as the minimum age for accessing social media services derives from the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), effective in the USA since 2000. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires children below the age of digital consent (13-16) to have verifiable parental consent for the processing of their data.

EU member states are also free to set a different digital age of consent, between 13 and 16 years, leading to a range of age limits across Europe. For example, Ireland, France, Germany and The Netherlands have opted for 16, while Italy and Spain have set the age at 14; while the UK, Denmark, and Sweden have set the age at 13.

“Our study found that while some apps disabled registration if users input ages below 13, but if the age 16 is provided as input initially then none of the apps require a proof of age. Providing mechanisms that deter a user from installing an app on a device on which they have previously declared themselves to be underage is currently one of the most sensible solutions not to incentivise users to lie about their age,” Dr Pasquale said.

The team looked at existing age recognition techniques using biometrics such as speech recognition and fingerprint characteristics as possible solutions to implement more robust age verification mechanisms. However, these were also found to have limitations with speech recognition, for example, easily bypassed by playing voice recordings.

Dr Pasquale said their study found existing data protection regulations to be ineffective.

“In reality, the application of substantial financial penalties was the main trigger for app providers to implement more effective age verification mechanisms. Based on our study and on our survey of biometrics-based age recognition techniques, we propose a number of recommendations to app providers and developers,” she said.


  • Clarify the minimum age and treatment of data:
    Existing apps should ensure that a clear, concise and age-appropriate summary of the relevant parts of the app’s ToU (terms of use) is displayed to users who sign-up and declare their age to be under 18.
  • Enable the most restrictive privacy settings:
    Apps should apply the most restrictive privacy settings by default for any user that declares themselves to be under the age of 18. For example, photos, posts and messages should only be shared with “friends”, location data should not be collected at all. It should also not be possible to override privacy settings without explicit parental consent.
  • Encourage users not to lie about their age:
    Despite the presence of a minimum age requirement, many underage users continue to use social and communication apps. Users must be incentivised to be honest about their age, with minimal data collected. Providing mechanisms that deter a user from installing an app on a device on which they have previously declared themselves to be underage is currently the most sensible solution and the hardest to circumvent.
  • Implement Robust Age Verification Mechanisms:
    Where a minimum age requirement is in place, it should be backed up by appropriate age verification mechanisms. Using age recognition techniques based on biometrics factors, such as facial features, may not be sufficient considering that these can be circumvented. Age verification should be an ongoing process that does not terminate after sign-up, to assess whether a user lied about his/her age at the moment of sign-up, to counteract evasion measures.


This study was commissioned by Cyber-SafeIreland, an Irish not-for-profit organisation that aims to empower children, parents and teachers to navigate the online world in a safe and responsible manner.

This work was partially supported by Science Foundation Ireland grant 15/SIRG/3501, EU H2020 CyberSec4Europe project grant 830929, and the ERC Advanced Grant no. 291652 (ASAP).

Source: The Apps studied were downloaded from the Irish Google App Store

Publication: The peer-reviewed paper was published in IEEE Software on 15 December 2020.

Citation: L. Pasquale, P. Zippo, C. Curley, B. O’Neill and M. Mongiello, “Digital Age of Consent and Age Verification: Can They Protect Children?,” in IEEE Software, doi: 10.1109/MS.2020.3044872.

About Lero:

Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software, brings together expert software teams from universities and institutes of technology across Ireland in a co-ordinated centre of research excellence with a strong industry focus. Lero’s research spans a wide range of application domains from driverless cars to artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, esports, fintech, govtech, smart communities, agtech and healthtech.

Hosted by the University of Limerick, Lero’s academic partners include Dublin City University, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, Maynooth University, National University of Ireland Galway, University College Cork, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Waterford Institute of Technology, Limerick Institute of Technology and Munster Technological University.

As the world’s second-largest software exporter, Ireland is recognised internationally as a leading location for companies in the software sector and Lero is a key pillar in the sector. Fifteen out of the top 20 global technology firms have strategic operations in Ireland. Since its foundation in 2005, Lero has become one of the best-known, and most highly regarded, software research centres in the world.


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Pace of prehistoric human innovation could be revealed by ‘linguistic thermometer’




Multi-disciplinary researchers at The University of Manchester have helped develop a powerful physics-based tool to map the pace of language development and human innovation over thousands of years – even stretching into pre-history before records were kept.

Tobias Galla, a professor in theoretical physics, and Dr Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero, a specialist in historical linguistics, from The University of Manchester, have come together as part of an international team to share their diverse expertise to develop the new model, revealed in a paper entitled ‘Geospatial distributions reflect temperatures of linguistic feature’ authored by Henri Kauhanen, Deepthi Gopal, Tobias Galla and Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero, and published by the journal Science Advances.

Professor Galla has applied statistical physics – usually used to map atoms or nanoparticles – to help build a mathematically-based model that responds to the evolutionary dynamics of language. Essentially, the forces that drive language change can operate across thousands of years and leave a measurable “geospatial signature”, determining how languages of different types are distributed over the surface of the Earth.

Dr Bermúdez-Otero explained: “In our model each language has a collection of properties or features and some of those features are what we describe as ‘hot’ or ‘cold’.

“So, if a language puts the object before the verb, then it is relatively likely to get stuck with that order for a long period of time – so that’s a ‘cold’ feature. In contrast, markers like the English article ‘the’ come and go a lot faster: they may be here in one historical period, and be gone in the next. In that sense, definite articles are ‘hot’ features.

“The striking thing is that languages with ‘cold’ properties tend to form big clumps, whereas languages with ‘hot’ properties tend to be more scattered geographically.”

This method therefore works like a thermometer, enabling researchers to retrospectively tell whether one linguistic property is more prone to change in historical time than another. This modelling could also provide a similar benchmark for the pace of change in other social behaviours or practices over time and space.

“For example, suppose that you have a map showing the spatial distribution of some variable cultural practice for which you don’t have any historical records – this could be be anything, like different rules on marriage or on the inheritance of possessions,” added Dr Bermúdez-Otero.

“Our method could, in principle, be used to ascertain whether one practice changes in the course of historical time faster than another, ie whether people are more innovative in one area than in another, just by looking at how the present-day variation is distributed in space.”

The source data for the linguistic modelling comes from present-day languages and the team relied on The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS). This records information of 2,676 contemporary languages.

Professor Galla explained: “We were interested in emergent phenomena, such as how large-scale effects, for example patterns in the distribution of language features arise from relatively simple interactions. This is a common theme in complex systems research.

“I was able to help with my expertise in the mathematical tools we used to analyse the language model and in simulation techniques. I also contributed to setting up the model in the first place, and by asking questions that a linguist would perhaps not ask in the same way.”


NOTE:- Henri Kauhanen(1), Deepthi Gopal (2), Tobias Galla(3) (4) and Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero (5);

  1. Zukunftskolleg, University of Konstanz, Universitätsstraße 10, 78464 Konstanz, Germany.
  2. Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge.
  3. Department of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Manchester
  4. Instituto de Física Interdisciplinar y Sistemas Complejos (IFISC), CSIC-UIB, Campus Universitat Illes Balears, E-07122 Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
  5. Department of Linguistics and English Language, The University of Manchester


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Highly specific synaptic plasticity in addiction




Philadelphia, January 26, 2021 – Addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD), is a complex neurological condition that includes drug-seeking behavior among other cognitive, emotional and behavioral features. Synaptic plasticity, or changes in the way neurons communicate with one another, drives these addictive behaviors. These lasting brain changes are at the crux of why addiction is so hard to treat.

A new study in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier, now shows that players in the extracellular environment – not just at neuronal interfaces – contribute to addiction plasticity. Neurons in a brain area called the nucleus accumbens are known to undergo addiction-related plasticity. Specifically, changes at synapses of medium spiny neurons (MSN), which sense the neurotransmitter dopamine, have been associated with drug-seeking and extinction behaviors.

Previous research had shown that plasticity at MSNs expressing the D1-type of dopamine receptor is linked to drug-seeking, whereas extinction of drug-seeking involves plasticity at MSNs containing the D2-type dopamine receptor. Now, research led by Peter Kalivas, PhD, and Vivian Chioma, PhD, shows that distinct enzymes working at D1- and D2-type MSNs underlie drug-seeking and extinction behaviors.

The researchers trained rats to self-administer heroin by pushing a lever for 10 days, followed by a 10-day withdrawal period. They then carefully examined the rats’ brains under a microscope to detect enzymatic activity around the MSN synapses.

The study focused on the activity of extracellular enzymes called metalloproteinases (MMP). MMPs break down proteins that constitute the extracellular matrix around nerve cells. This matrix of proteins supports synaptic connections, but it also constrains the remodeling of synaptic connections in response to experience. Therefore, MMP activity directly impacts cells’ ability to manifest neuroplastic changes.

To assess activity of the MMPs, the researchers used a technique called in vivo zymography, in which the rats’ brains were injected with a fluorescent dye encapsulated in a protective gelatin coat at various points during the drug-training regimen. Once broken open by MMP enzymes, the dye becomes visible, allowing the investigators to observe cells’ morphology as well as the enzymes’ activity around specific cell types and sub-cellular locations.

“We found that drug cues increased MMP activity on one cell type in the nucleus accumbens,” said Dr. Kalivas, referring to D1-type MSNs, “and they decreased activity on another cell type,” the D2-type MSNs. “By showing this cellular specificity of MMP activation and inactivation by cues, we have identified novel molecules that may be potential targets for drug development in treating drug addiction,” he added.

“This paper highlights the exquisite selectivity of addiction-related neuroplasticity,” said John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “In this study, cues associated with heroin delivery activated MMPs near dopamine D1 receptor-containing MSNs in the nucleus accumbens, promoting plasticity in key cells implicated in addiction. Rather than reducing this addiction-related effect on plasticity, extinction training instead increased MMP activity close to neighboring dopamine D2 receptor-containing MSNs – cells implicated in protection against addiction.”

Importantly, the researchers also saw MMP activity associated with cells adjacent to the MSNs called astrocytes, a type of glial cell. The astrocytes, the extracellular matrix, and the two neurons forming a synapse are all part of what is termed the tetrapartite, or four-part, synaptic complex.

“Our work investigating cell-type specific synaptic neuroadaptations in the nucleus accumbens provides evidence of novel advances in our understanding of tetrapartite synaptic activity during heroin seeking,” said Dr. Chioma. “This research demonstrates how integration of components of the tetrapartite synapse regulate specific addiction phenotypes.”

Dr. Krystal added, “This finding suggests that recovery from addiction is not simply a reversal of addiction-related changes in the brain, but rather it also involves the laying down of new anti-addiction changes that protect against substance use.”


Notes for editors

The article is “Heroin Seeking and Extinction from Seeking Activate Matrix Metalloproteinases at Synapses on Distinct Subpopulations of Accumbens Cells,” by Vivian Chioma, Anna Kruyer, Ana-Clara Bobadilla, Ariana Angelis, Zachary Ellison, Ritchy Hodebourg, Michael Scofield, Peter Kalivas ( It appears as an Article in Press in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Rhiannon Bugno at [email protected]”>[email protected] or +1 254 522 9700. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Peter Kalivas at kaliv[email protected]”>[email protected] or +11 843-991-2627.

The authors’ affiliations and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, MD, is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Chief of Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

About Biological Psychiatry

Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.

Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 7th out of 155 Psychiatry titles and 12th out of 271 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Clarivate Analytics. The 2019 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 12.095.

About Elsevier

As a global leader in information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making for customers across the global research and health ecosystems.

In everything we publish, we uphold the highest standards of quality and integrity. We bring that same rigor to our information analytics solutions for researchers, health professionals, institutions and funders.

Elsevier employs 8,100 people worldwide. We have supported the work of our research and health partners for more than 140 years. Growing from our roots in publishing, we offer knowledge and valuable analytics that help our users make breakthroughs and drive societal progress. Digital solutions such as ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath support strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and health education. Researchers and healthcare professionals rely on our 2,500+ digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, our 40,000 eBook titles; and our iconic reference works, such as Gray’s Anatomy. With the Elsevier Foundation and our external Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Board, we work in partnership with diverse stakeholders to advance inclusion and diversity in science, research and healthcare in developing countries and around the world.

Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

Media contact

Rhiannon Bugno, Editorial Office

Biological Psychiatry

+1 254 522 9700

[email protected]”>[email protected]


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Breakthrough design at UBCO vastly improves mechanical heart valve




New research coming out of UBC’s Okanagan campus may take the current ‘gold standard’ for heart valves to a new level of reliability.

A team of researchers at UBCO’s Heart Valve Performance Lab (HVPL) has developed a way to improve overall blood flow through the valves, so the design of mechanical heart valves will more closely match the real thing.

“Despite more than 40 years of research, we are still chasing the goal of creating mechanical heart valves that perform consistently and seamlessly inside the human body,” explains Dr. Hadi Mohammadi, an associate professor at the School of Engineering and lead researcher for the HVPL. “The way blood travels through the body is very unique to a person’s physiology, so a ‘one-size fits all’ valve has always been a real challenge.”

Mohammadi, along with doctoral student Arpin Bhullar, has developed an innovative mechanical bileaflet that enables the mechanical heart valve to function just like the real thing. A bileaflet valve–two semicircular leaflets that pivot on hinges–is a mechanical gateway that allows consistent blood-flow and ensures the flow is in one direction.

While developed decades ago and used regularly to improve a patient’s blood flow, artificial valves have never been perfect, says Mohammadi. With existing versions of bileaflets, there is a small risk of blood clots or even a backflow of blood.

The design of the bileaflet is crucial for maintaining blood flow in order to eliminate risk to the patient. Mohammadi believes he’s found a way to fix the problem, by adding a slight twist to the design.

“Our findings show our apex heart valve maintains consistent flow as a result of its breakthrough design–specifically the valve’s curvature which mitigates clotting.”

The initial design was confirmed by Dr. Guy Fradet, head of Kelowna General Hospital’s cardiothoracic surgery program. Mohammadi says it takes decades for innovations in mechanical heart valves before they are used on humans, but he is confident his novel leaflet-shaped valve is the way of the future.

“The work we’re doing has resulted in the design of a valve which may serve as the foundation for the next generation of bileaflet mechanical heart valves,” he says. “Our research, with computer simulation and in-vitro studies, helped evaluate the performance of the proposed valve and also compare it to the industry gold standard.”


The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Engineering and Technology, suggest additional experimentation is still needed to confirm the valve’s effectiveness. The researchers are now in the process of developing 3D-printed, carbon and aluminum prototypes of the valve for further testing. The research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.


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