Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that Scotland’s overall labour market provides a positive picture. Scotland’s unemployment rate at 3.2% is the lowest on record and below that of the UK as a whole at 3.8%. Furthermore, the number of people employed in Scotland is close to the recent record high at 2,682,000. Although, Scotland’s employment rate, at 75.4%, remains below the UK’s rate at 76.1%.Responding to the figures the Scottish Secretary said: It is good news that unemployment in Scotland is at a record low, this really is to be celebrated. The UK Government is investing in Scotland’s economy and creating jobs. Our £1.35 billion city and growth deals programme is starting to reap rewards and will give Scotland a long-lasting economic boost. In the past month alone we have seen the launch of the new fleet of Caledonian sleeper trains and Highland Council’s broadband project shortlisted for the 2019 Connected Britain Awards. Figures also showed Scotland’s booming digital tech sector employing a record 58,000 people. UK Government investment is having a real impact and I urge the Scottish Government to work with us and use their extensive economic development powers as effectively as possible.
Blind rodents on the run from knife-wielding farmers’ wives may never need to ask for directions again. Scientists have gifted navigational skills to blind rats by wiring them with a compass that sends electric signals to their brain when they’re facing north or south. The advance helps shed light on how the brain processes sensory information and could lead to new technologies to help blind people navigate.“This is an elegant paper and quite an accomplishment,” says neuroscientist Shinsuke Shimojo of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.To give the body the feeling of where you are in relationship to your environment—called an allocentric sense—your brain relies mostly on information from your eyes. Looking at a street corner in your neighborhood, you can probably quickly navigate back to your own house. Without vision, this becomes harder; blind individuals can rely on other senses—the smell of a nearby bakery or the sound of a passing train—but some locations lack these cues. 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When a rat’s head faced within 20° of due north, the implant sent electrical pulses to the left side of the visual cortex. When the animal’s head was south, the pulses were relayed to the right visual cortex.The rodents couldn’t feel the shocks like they would on the skin, Norimoto says, because the implant was directly stimulating brain activity. In human experiments, people whose visual cortex was electrically stimulated in this fashion reported that they saw a white dot. “Perhaps,” he conjectured, “our rats perceived that the positions of these white dots represented their head directions.”However the rodents experienced the new brain activity, they quickly learned to put it to use, the researchers report online today in Current Biology. Within only 4 days of getting the implant, blind rats were taking the correct path through a maze to find hidden food 80% of the time. When the compasses were removed, the animals lost their way again—suggesting that they hadn’t just memorized a route, but were using the directional information to navigate.Norimoto says the results demonstrate the brain’s impressive capacity for taking advantage of new sensory information. “I expect that humans can expand their senses through artificial sensors, including those that convey geomagnetism, ultraviolet rays, radioactive rays, humidity, pheromones, ultrasonic sound, or radio waves.” For now, he plans to keep studying direction—installing compasses in canes that give the user directional feedback, for example, could give blind people a better allocentric sense.Although Shimojo says the new device is a leap forward in neuroengineering, he questions whether the rats truly gained a new sense. “This could have been a different type of cued association or learning,” he says. The rats could have learned, for example, that if they got the north-facing signal they should turn right to find food, and they were facing south they should turn left. That’s different, Shimojo says, from knowing you need to go east and using the compass cues to find east. In either case, the rodents were indeed using the information from the implant, but exactly how that information was being processed by the brain could be different.