Weekend reads: These sheep can recognize Baaa-rack O-baaa-ma

Ben Palmer's reads

A baby's best friend? Cats, new study says. Having a cat in the house shortly after a child is born could potentially reduce the child's risk of developing asthma, according to a new study from the Copenhagen Studies on Asthma in Childhood Research Center in Denmark. For the study, published in Science Direct, researchers assessed 377 Danish children who had mothers with asthma, mapping the children's genes and collecting information on their home and upbringing. According to the researchers, the presence of a cat in the house nullified the increased risk of developing asthma among babies with a variant of the 17q21 gene, called TT, which plays the largest role in determining whether a child will develop the condition. Unfortunately, however, the findings did not apply to dogs, the researchers said.

Blame sleepy brain cells when you space out after too little rest, study says. Sleep deprivation can hamper brain cells' ability to communicate with each other, causing mental and visual lags, according to a study in Nature Medicine. For the study, researchers assessed how quickly 12 participants, who had electrodes implanted into their brains, were able to sort a variety of images. According to the researchers, the participants' brains fired nearly 1,500 cells while sorting the images—however, after a night without sleep, participants' performance and brain cell activity slowed and declined.

Rachel Schulze's reads

It's pronounced O-baaa-ma. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have taught a group of sheep to recognize former President Barack Obama as well as a handful of other public figures. Jenny Morton, a neurobiologist at the University of Cambridge, uses the sheep as stand-in humans, in part because "sheep have large brains with humanlike anatomy." Morton, who studies Huntington's disease—which affects individuals' ability to recognize facial emotions—said the study could help advance neurological research that uses sheep as model organisms.

Want your very own crazy family for Thanksgiving? This company has you covered. If you're feeling lonely over the holidays, and happen to be in Japan, a Japanese company called Family Romance will provide professional actors to fill in as friends and relatives. The company, Roc Mortin writes in The Atlantic, "prides itself on being able to provide a surrogate for almost any conceivable situation." Ishii Yuichi, who runs the business, believes the service helps people cope with absences or perceived deficiencies in their lives. And the relationships aren't just temporary. Yuichi said, "I always ask every client, 'Are you prepared to sustain this lie?'"


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