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Bird, reptile tears similar to human tears, study says

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Aug. 13 (UPI) — The tears shed by birds and reptiles are surprisingly similar to human tears, according to a new study. However, researchers also identified key differences.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, also identified key differences and could help scientists better understand the evolution of tears among animal groups.

The findings, researchers say, could help the develop of new ophthalmic treatments for humans and animals.

“Discovering how tears are able to maintain the ocular homeostasis, even in different species and environmental conditions, is crucial for understanding the evolution and adaptation processes, and is essential for the discovery of new molecules for ophthalmic drugs,” first author Arianne P. Oriá, an associate professor of veterinary sciences a the Federal University of Bahia, in Salvador, Brazil, said in a news release.

Tears help keep eyes moist and clear of debris. They are essential to healthy vision, but the study of tears has been limited to just a few mammal groups — humans, dogs, horses, monkeys and camels.

For the last several years, Oriá has been leading an effort to document the tears of other types of animals, including reptiles and birds. Her latest paper offers insights into the tears produced by seven species of birds and reptiles.

“Although birds and reptiles have different structures that are responsible for tear production, some components of this fluid — electrolytes — are present at similar concentrations as what is found in humans,” said Oriá. “But the crystal structures are organized in different ways so that they guarantee the eyes´ health and an equilibrium with the various environments.”

With the help of veterinarians and caretakers at a conservation center and wild animal care center, as well as a commercial animal breeder, researchers were able to collect tears from healthy captive animals, including macaws, hawks, owls, parrots, tortoises, caimans and sea turtles.

When scientists analyzed the chemical composition of the tears, they found levels of electrolytes, such as sodium and chloride, similar to those found in human tears. The researchers measured slightly higher levels of urea and protein, however, in the tears of owls and sea turtles.

Researchers also studied the crystals that form as tears dry out. In addition to pinpointing differences in tears, crystallization patterns can also reveal the presence of different eye diseases.

Despite the similarities in chemical composition, the tears of the different birds and reptile species showed a surprising amount of variation, the researchers said.

The crystallization patterns observed in the tears of sea turtles and caimans were especially unique — they must produce special tears to protect their eyes underwater.

The researchers said they plan to continue collecting and studying the composition of the tears produced by a wider and wider variety of animal species. In the future, scientists hope to study tears produced by wild animals.

“This knowledge helps in the understanding of the evolution and adaption of these species, as well as in their conservation,” said Oriá.



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‘Invisible’ words reveal common structure among famous stories

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — Storytelling requires a narrative arc, but the trajectory of a dramatic arc isn’t always obvious.

By tracing the abundance of “invisible” words — pronouns, articles and other short words — researchers were able to identify patterns shared by a diversity of stories, from Shakespeare to Spielberg, according to a study published Friday in Science Advances.

“Over the years, these ‘invisible’ words have been found to be related to a whole mess of psychological processes — how people use small words like articles and pronouns tell us about a person’s mental health, thinking style, their social status, and even how well they get along with other people,” study lead author Ryan Boyd told UPI.

“In many ways, it was a natural progression to look at what these words can tell us how the nature of stories,” said Boyd, a lecturer in behavioral analytics at the University of Leeds.

For the study, Boyd and his colleagues used a range of statistical techniques to analyze the abundance and distribution of invisible words in 40,000 fictional texts, including short stories, novels and movie scripts.

The analysis revealed a common structure — a so-called narrative curve — featuring three distinct phases.

During the “staging” phase, authors use prepositions and articles in greater abundance, peppering their prose with “a” and “the.” These words are more useful at the beginning, when authors must set the scene and provide the audience with basic information.

The middle phase is defined by plot progression, which is revealed by a greater abundance of auxiliary verbs, adverbs and pronouns — or interactional language. During this phase, “the house” from the staging phase becomes “her home” or “it.”

During the third phase, cognitive tension is ramped up as the narrative arc reaches a climax. As the author guides the reader or viewer through the process of conflict resolution, cognitive-processing words like “think,” “believe,” “understand” and “cause” begin to crop up in greater numbers.

Researchers found this three-phase narrative shape remained consistent, regardless of a stories length.

“A 25,000 word story has the same shape as a 250 word story,” said Boyd, lead author of the new study. “It seems, then, that we are able to do a good job of structuring our stories in an optimal way regardless of how much space we have to do it in.”

The researchers set up a website showing the shapes of staging, plot progression and cognitive tension in eight texts at The Arc of Narrative website.

The patterns left by invisible words proved both good and bad stories — tales spun by amateurs, as well as professionals — utilize similar structures.

“Our results confirm what people have long believed about stories,” Boyd said. “Like DNA, we knew about it long before we could actually see it and measure it. With these new methods, we are able to see and measure the ‘DNA’ of stories and understand them in more objective, scientific ways.”

According to Boyd, studying the patterns of stories can offer insights into cognitive processes unique to humans.

“What these story shapes seem to tell us is that we have, to some degree, evolved to process information in certain ways,” he said. “We need to understand the ‘who’ and ‘what’ in order to understand the ‘why’ of our everyday lives and the lives of others.”

The authors of the latest story are already mining text for other language patterns that might help researchers determine whether a story-teller is telling the truth, or perhaps reveal the secrets to a “good” story.



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Florida Current study confirms decline in strength of Gulf Stream

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — New research suggests the strength of the Florida Current, which forms the beginning of the Gulf Stream, has weakened considerably over the last century.

The findings, published Friday in the journal Nature Climate Change, corroborate the predictions of several models that suggest the Gulf Stream has slowed over the last several decades.

The Florida Current is a thermal ocean current that flows from west to east around the tip of Florida, joining the Gulf Stream off Florida’s east coast.

Scientists have been tracking the strength of the Florida Current since the early 1980s — not long enough to identify multi-decadal or centennial trends.

To better understand the current’s historical changes, Christopher Piecuch, researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, decided to study the relationship between coastal sea level and the strength of near-shore currents.

While researchers have only been measuring the Florida Current for a few decades, scientists have been recording sea level data since the early 1900s. Piecuch was able to use the data to predict historic changes in the strength of near-shore currents.

“In the ocean, almost everything is connected,” Christopher Piecuch, sole author of the new study, said in a news release. “We can use those connections to look at things in the past or far from shore, giving us a more complete view of the ocean and how it changes across space and time.”

The statistical analysis performed by Piecuch showed the Florida Current and Gulf Stream are the weakest they’ve been during the last 110 years.

The findings are in agreement with ocean current models that suggest climate change has caused a slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, of which the Gulf Stream is a part.

Piecuch said he hopes his research will help other scientists use coastal current data to study changes in bigger currents like the Gulf Stream.

“If we can monitor something over the horizon by making measurements from shore, then that’s a win for science and potentially for society,” he said.



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SpaceX, ULA win large government launch contracts

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Astronauts make round trip to space station from U.S. soil

NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley (C) waves to onlookers as he boards a plane at Naval Air Station Pensacola to return him and NASA astronaut Robert Behnken home to Houston a few hours after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Fla,, on August 2, 2020. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo



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