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How Playing Tetris Could Help Fix A Lazy Eye

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By Chris Gayomali

One in 50 children is born with a condition called amblyopia, in which the vision in one eye fails to develop properly, resulting in what's commonly called a lazy eye. If left untreated, amblyopia can result in a loss of eyesight, which is why doctors try to catch it early.

The downside to an early amblyopia diagnosis is that you have to wear an eyepatch, which, as anyone who's ever been an 8-year-old will tell you, is the kind of thing that tends to attract the wrong kind of attention on the playground. (By covering up the healthy eye with an eyepatch, the thinking goes, the weaker of the two will be forced to pull its own weight.)

But now, doctors from McGill University have developed a new treatment that, at least in a preliminary study, sounds slightly less embarrassing than an eyepatch, and 10 times more fun. In research published in Current Biology, doctors split 18 adult participants with lazy eyes into two groups and asked them to do some homework: Play a few games of Tetris, one hour a day, for two weeks.

The catch was that some participants were asked to wear the traditional eyepatch over their healthy eye, while otheras were asked to play while wearing a special pair of goggles. According to BBC News, "the goggles allowed one eye to see only the falling objects, while the other eye could see only the blocks that accumulate on the ground in the game."

The Tetris players asked to wear the special goggles showed more improved vision than their cyclopean friends. Not to be left out, though, doctors let the folks asked to wear eyepatches don the special goggles for a few weeks, and their vision also improved considerably.

Researchers now think that training the eyes to work in unison—as opposed to one at a time—is probably the preferred approach. "It's much better than patching, much more enjoyable, it's faster, and it seems to work better," Dr. Robert Hess, who led the study, tells BBC News. The next step for researchers is to apply the vision technology to amblyopic children, who probably won't mind the extra hour of video game homework every day.

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows
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Ticks plagued the dinosaurs, too, as evidenced by a 99-million-year old parasite preserved inside a hunk of ancient amber. Entomologists who examined the Cretaceous period fossil noticed that the tiny arachnid was latched to a dinosaur feather—the first evidence that the bloodsuckers dined on dinos, according to The New York Times. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Ticks are one of the most common blood-feeding parasites. But experts didn’t know what they ate in prehistoric times, as parasites and their hosts are rarely found together in the fossil record. Scientists assumed they chowed down on early amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, according to NPR. They didn’t have hard evidence until study co-author David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of History, and his colleagues spotted the tick while perusing a private collection of Myanmar amber.

A 99-million-year-old tick encased in amber, grasping a dinosaur feather.
Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick entangled in a feather. a Photograph of the Burmese amber piece (Bu JZC-F18) showing a semicomplete pennaceous feather. Scale bar, 5 mm. b Detail of the nymphal tick in dorsal view and barbs (inset in a). Scale bar, 1 mm. c Detail of the tick’s capitulum (mouthparts), showing palpi and hypostome with teeth (arrow). Scale bar, 0.1 mm. d Detail of a barb. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. e Drawing of the tick in dorsal view indicating the point of entanglement. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. f Detached barbule pennulum showing hooklets on one of its sides (arrow in a indicates its location but in the opposite side of the amber piece). Scale bar, 0.2 mm
Peñalver et al., Nature Communications

The tick is a nymph, meaning it was in the second stage of its short three-stage life cycle when it died. The dinosaur it fed on was a “nanoraptor,” or a tiny dino that was roughly the size of a hummingbird, Grimaldi told The Times. These creatures lived in tree nests, and sometimes met a sticky end after tumbling from their perches into hunks of gooey resin. But just because the nanoraptor lived in a nest didn’t mean it was a bird: Molecular dating pinpointed the specimen as being at least 25 million years older than modern-day avians.

In addition to ticks, dinosaurs likely also had to deal with another nest pest: skin beetles. Grimaldi’s team located several additional preserved ticks, and two were covered in the insect’s fine hairs. Skin beetles—which are still around today—are scavengers that live in aerial bird homes and consume molted feathers.

“These findings shed light on early tick evolution and ecology, and provide insights into the parasitic relationship between ticks and ancient relatives of birds, which persists today for modern birds,” researchers concluded in a news release.

[h/t The New York Times]

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