Science  21 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6139, pp. 1385

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  1. Beer Goggles for Your Brain


    Hot? Or not? The lightning-quick spark that triggers desire when you see an attractive face is kindled within the ventral midbrain, associated with processing reward. Now, researchers have discovered a way to stoke that fire … with 2 milliamps of electrical current.

    The research teams asked 19 volunteers to rate the attractiveness of two sets of computer-generated male and female faces with neutral expressions (examples above) before and after the activity in their ventral midbrains was ramped up using a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which passes current through the brain between two electrodes on the scalp. A control group did the same, while receiving "sham" electrical stimulation that produced a tingling sensation but no real current. Compared with the control group, the volunteers who received tDCS rated the second set of faces as significantly more attractive than the first set, the scientists reported online last week in Translational Psychiatry.

    Similar techniques, the researchers say, could be used to treat disorders associated with faulty ventral midbrain circuitry, such as Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia—without drugs or invasive surgery.

  2. Did Inbreeding Bind Early Farmers Together?

    Tell-tale teeth.

    A high percentage of early farmers from Basta are missing two of their upper incisors (inset) due to inbreeding.


    About 10,000 years ago, roving hunter-gatherers in the Near East began settling down to form farming villages. What were the social ties that bound them into communities? A German team working at the 9500-year-old early farming site of Basta in Jordan has one answer: The inhabitants apparently engaged in inbreeding, although not necessarily incest.

    The evidence for this startling conclusion, reported online last week in PLOS ONE, comes from a rare genetic anomaly in which both incisors are missing from the upper jaw. The incidence ranges from 0.5% to 3.0% in today's human populations, but it was 35.7% in 28 buried skeletons with preserved upper jaws. Even in groups known from their genealogy to have engaged in intensive inbreeding, this proportion never exceeds 20%, the team notes.

    Many artifacts found at the site, including stone tools and jewelry, came from other farming sites in the Near East, a sign that the inhabitants traded widely. That means inbreeding was a deliberate social choice rather than the result of geographic isolation, the team concludes. Despite hints of inbreeding at other sites, the researchers say that it's too early to tell if this social system helped create the ties that bound other farming villages together.