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16 | NewScientist | 8 June 2013

PUTTING digital faces to the
abusive voices in their head could
help people with schizophrenia.
Sixteen people with the
condition created an on-screen
avatar that best matched what
they imagined the voice in their
head to look like. They then chose
a voice to go with the avatar.
Julian Leff at University College
London, who led the trial, then
took sessions with each person.

Leff sat in a separate room and
took on a dual role both as
therapist and as each person’s
avatar. When speaking as the
avatar, software altered his voice
to match the chosen avatar voice.
As the avatar, Leff would start by
role-playing an abusive character.
Over six sessions, he gradually
made the avatar’s responses more
supportive. He used his therapist
voice to encourage the people to

Is flu salvation right
under our nose?

A BETTER defence against
pandemic flu may be on the way.
It takes months to make a flu
vaccine but, as each vaccine works
against only one particular flu
virus, we can’t stockpile any.
In 2011, researchers looking
for a universal vaccine found
an antibody that attacks all flu
viruses. Normally flu tricks us into
making too little of the antibody
to make a difference, but James
Wilson at the University of
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and his
team have created a workaround.
They put the DNA that codes for
the antibody into an innocuous
virus and squirted it into the
noses of mice and ferrets. There
it made the antibody, which
protected the animals against flu
viruses including the lethal H5N
bird flu (Science Translational
Medicine, doi.org/mpp).
Such a stockpiled remedy could
buy time in a pandemic while a
vaccine is made, the team say.

When the heat is on, starfish
lose an arm to survive

YOU can tell when a starfish is too hot – it loses an arm.
The remarkable behaviour is part of a strategy that
may allow the animals to survive in warmer waters.
Sylvain Pincebourde at the Institute of Research
on Insect Biology in Tours, France, and his colleagues
collected 70 ochre starfish (Pisaster ochraceus) from
the coast of California and housed them at temperatures
ranging between 26 °C and 42 °C. By monitoring body
temperature, they found that each animal’s central
disc was always 3 °C to 5 °C cooler than its five arms.
If its core temperature rose above 35 °C, the starfish


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Standing up to the voices in your head be more forceful and stand up
for themselves.
Three months later, 15 of the
participants showed significant
improvement in their symptoms,
and three of them had stopped
hearing voices altogether.
“I found it good to visualise
what was going on in my head,”
says one of the 16 participants. “I
learned how to handle the voices.”
Leff discussed the study last
week at the Wellcome Trust in

died. Its arms, however, could withstand those
temperatures – although if they remained at 35 °C
for more than a few days, one or more arms typically
fell off (Journal of Experimental Biology, doi.org/mpr).
Temperature regulation is a trait not normally
associated with cold-blooded animals and it is not
clear how the starfish influence the temperature in the
different parts of their bodies. It is possible that they
actively divert heat into their arms, which can release
the heat into the water relatively efficiently because of
their large surface area. This could explain why animals
that are warm for an extended period lose some arms:
by using them as heat sinks, the starfish may thermally
damage their arms beyond repair in a bid to preserve
their vital organs.

OBESE black holes, not stars, may
have lit up the first galaxies – and
could have grown into the earliest
supermassive black holes.
Black holes usually form from
a collapsed star, and then grow by
gobbling up material. But how did
supermassive ones arise a mere
billion years after the big bang?
Perhaps they were born “obese”,
forming when vast clouds of
atomic hydrogen collapsed. Now
Bhaskar Agarwal at the Max Planck
Institute for Extraterrestrial
Physics in Garching, Germany, and
colleagues say we could detect the
result: galaxies with few stars, each
dominated by a black hole that
shone as matter accreting around
it was compressed (Monthly
Notices of the Royal Astronomical
Society, doi.org/mqg).

Early galaxies were
lit by fat black holes

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