Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
How the brain learns the way things work
When we learn a new technical concept, something happens in our brain. But exactly what? That has been a mystery until now.
 
For the first time, scientists have traced the brain processes that occur during the learning of technical concepts.
 
Published in NeuroImage, the findings reveal how new technical knowledge is built up in the brain.
 
"After you learn a force applied to an enclosed fluid is involved in the workings of a car's brakes, and you also learn how a force applied to an enclosed fluid is involved in the workings of a fire extinguisher, the brain representations of these two very different systems increase in their similarity to each other," said lead author Robert Mason.
 
"This provides evidence that appropriate instruction can bring out the fundamental understanding of how things work at a deep level," he added.
 
"This study yields an initial theory of learning of mechanical systems that can be related to the instructional methods and resulting cognitive processes that underlie science learning," said professor Marcel Just from the Carnegie Mellon University.
 
Just and Mason scanned the brains of 16 healthy adults as they learned for the first time how four common mechanical systems work.
 
While inside the brain scanner, the participants were shown a series of pictures, diagrams and text that described the internal workings of a bathroom scale, fire extinguisher, automobile braking system and trumpet.
 
Just and Mason were able to use the fMRI images to follow how each new concept made its way from the words and pictures to neural representations over many regions of the brain.
 
Interestingly, they found that the neural representations progressed through several stages, with each stage involving different parts of the brain that played different roles.
 
"This will enable instructors to 'teach to the brain' instead of 'teaching to the test'," Just said.

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Wipro invests $5 million in cloud solutions firm
IT bellwether Wipro has invested $5 million (Rs.31 crore) to pick a minority stake in Drivestream Inc., a US-based leading Oracle cloud applications systems integrator, with development centre in Chennai.
 
"As a strategic partner in Drivestream, we will build an integrated cloud solutions stack for our customers," Wipro said in a statement on Wednesday from Virginia, US, where Drivestream is headquartered.
 
Promoted by non-resident Indian Gopal Krishna as a management and IT consulting firm, Drivestream specialises in migrating the enterprise business processes of large and medium sized businesses to the cloud.
 
Cloud computing involves using a network of remote servers hosted on internet to store, manage and process huge volumes of databases.
 
The global software major Wipro, however, did not disclose the equity percentage bought in Drivestream through its $100-million venture fund, set up to invest in disruptive start-ups.
 
"Associating with Drivestream is part of our strategic drive to participate in the external innovation eco-system for which we have recently set up Wipro Venture," B.M. Bhanumurthy, chief executive for application services and strategic alliances, said on the occasion when the two firms signed the agreement on Tuesday.
 
Noting that software-as-a-service (SaaS) represented a huge opportunity for business value creation, Bhanumurthy said the investment would extend the company's leadership position in the Oracle application services space, especially in cloud application.
 
"The investment in Drivestream is a commitment to help our customers adopt Oracle cloud applications and enable us to jointly deliver value and enhance our leadership in the Oracle cloud market space," Bhanumurthy said.
 
The equity participation will also benefit customers from Drivestream's cloud solutions built on Oracle product platform.
 
"We are honoured a global software major like Wipro has taken note of our unique capabilities and market potential for Oracle cloud applications," Drivestream chief executive Gopal Krishna said.
 
The partnership with Wipro will also enable Drivestream to scale its operations and presence in the US and worldwide.
 
Drivestream's methodology and processes provide quality value to its customers for human capital management, financial management, enterprise performance management, PeopleSoft and business analytics.
 
"Our product solutions enable firms and industries to implement cloud applications, migrate on-premise applications to the cloud or implement a hybrid approach that supports the needs of an enterprise," Krishna added.
 

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Aspirin may not reduce colorectal cancer risk: Study
Regular use of aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) can reduce most people's colorectal cancer risk but a few individuals with rare genetic variants do not share this benefit, a study has suggested.
 
"Previous studies, including randomised trials, demonstrated that NSAIDs, particularly aspirin, protect against the development of colorectal cancer, but it remains unclear whether an individual's genetic makeup might influence that benefit," co-senior author Andrew Chan of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Gastroenterology Division said in a statement on Tuesday. 
 
"Since these drugs are known to have serious side effects -- especially gastrointestinal bleeding -- determining whether certain subsets of the population might not benefit is important for our ability to tailor recommendations for individual patients," Xinhua quoted Chan as stating.
 
Chan and colleagues analysed data from 10 large population-based studies in North America, Australia and Germany. They compared genetic and lifestyle data from 8,624 people who developed colorectal cancer with that of 8,553 people who did not. Both groups were matched by age and gender.
 
The researchers found that regular use of aspirin or NSAID was associated with a 30 percent reduction in colorectal cancer risk for most people.
 
However, they found no such protective effect among about nine percent of the study participants who had genetic variations on chromosome 15.
 
What is more, about four percent of the participants who carried two even rarer genotypes on chromosome 12 had an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
 
The researchers cautioned that the ability to translate genetic profiling into tailored preventive care plans for individuals is still years away.
 
"It is premature to recommend genetic screening to guide clinical care, since our findings need to be validated in other populations," Chan said.
 
The findings were published in the US journal JAMA. 
 

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