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For Better Workouts, Head for the Hills

Science News1 reported on a study by the American Heart Association that shows hiking in the mountains is good for you.  Experiments on people hiking in the Austrian Alps showed that going uphill, the body improves the processing of fats called triglycerides, and walking downhill improves the processing of glucose sugar.  45 volunteers who were […]

Monkeys Have No Ear for Music

Consonance and dissonance have no meaning to monkeys, studies have shown.  Nature Science Update reported on experiments on cotton-top tamarins showing that, unlike humans, they do not find consonant tones more pleasing than dissonant ones. “If you want to look at the evolution of music it’s important to do these types of studies,” says Laurel […]

Haeckel Vindicated?  Parathyroid Glands from Gills?

“Human gland evolved from gills” trumpeted a BBC News science article without apology.*  It gives uncontested press to a team from King’s College that is claiming the human parathyroid glands evolved from gills.  This is claimed on the basis that they have similar functions (calcium regulation) and are located in the neck region.  Fish have […]

Did Language Evolve by Natural Selection?

In the Oct 14 issue of Nature,1 Gary Marcus (Dept. of Psychology, New York University) appears conflicted about how human language arose.  He wants to attribute it to a Darwinian process: If, as François Jacob famously argued, evolution is like a tinkerer who builds something new by using whatever is close at hand, then from […]

Adult Stem Cells Continue to Work Miracle Cures

Chalk up two more amazing successes for adult stem cells (not derived from human embryos, like the controversial ES stem cells): 1. Blindness:  The BBC News reported that stem cells from the back of the eyeball might be able to restore sight to those afflicted with macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. 2. Parkinson’s […]

Disembodied Brain Flies Jet Aircraft

Researchers at University of Florida claim to have connected rat brains neurons in a dish to electrodes, which learned to run an F22 flight simulator. We can’t speak to the validity of this claim or its interpretation, but what stands out in the article is the awe over the computational abilities of the human brain: […]

Ghost of Hitler Still Haunts Western Medicine

“During the 1930s, the German medical establishment was admired as a world leader in innovative public health and medical research.  The question we want to examine is: ‘How could science be co-opted in such a way that doctors as healers evolved into killers and medical research became torture?’”  The question was posed by Dr. Alan […]

Your Brain Hums While Idling

Your brain is 100% occupied when watching and concentrating on things, and still processing at 80% in the dark when idle, say researchers at University of Rochester.  Opening your eyes only adds 20% more brain activity to the 80% while in neutral.  The amount of neural processing going on in idle mode surprised the researchers.  […]

Another Thing to Worry About: Synthetic Biology

Philip Ball is no alarmist, but as consultant editor of Nature,1 he had sobering words last week about things that could go wrong in the new field of synthetic biology, where scientists are tinkering with cells to create artificial life forms: The expanding toolbox of ways to re-engineer microbes – and even construct new ones […]

Burnt Bridges, Brownian Ratchets, and Self-Propelled Motors Keep Skin Young Looking

Rock climbers and cavers are familiar with mechanical devices called ascenders that enable them to climb ropes safely and easily.  Ascenders slide up the rope in one direction, but latch onto it tightly when pulled the other direction.  Now imagine the ascender by itself, hanging on the rope, in a flurry of winds blowing in […]

Your Eyes Have Automatic Light Meters

Every pupil knows that pupils constrict in bright light and dilate in dim light, but how?  Physiologists had assumed the retina signalled the iris muscles, but now it appears there is an independent mechanism in the iris itself, at least in birds, and probably in mammals, too.  A report in EurekAlert summarizes a finding from […]

New Treatment for Hyperactivity: Nature Walks

Hiking in the woods seems to alleviate ADHD, say two researchers from University of Illinois, in two studies mentioned briefly in Science News.1  The article begins, “Does spending more playtime amid greenery improve behavior in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder?” (emphasis added).  Apparently, yes.  The setting, not just the activity, is part of the equation, […]

Bless Your Heart: Exercise for Senior Vitality

A study from UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas confirms what we all should know but need to be reminded of frequently: that prolonged, sustained exercise can build up the heart at any age, and provide insurance against heart failure.  The summary on EurekAlert warns, “a sedentary lifestyle, in addition to aging, puts older people […]

Natural Selection Demonstrated in European Heart-Disease Gene?

Stephen Wooding (U. of Utah) is elated.  He sees an “exciting trend” in genetic research that might, finally, demonstrate positive natural selection acting on a gene with a clear phenotypic effect (measurable outward benefit).  Writing in the Sept. 7 Current Biology,1 he mentions a few recent papers suggesting this connection, but focuses particularly on one […]

What Would a Man Born Blind See With New Eyes?

The Bible records an instance of a man born blind miraculously healed, who was immediately able to walk and recognize things.  Scientists had doubted whether a blind person suddenly able to see would understand the world of vision at all, or be able to make any sense of his new sense.  Then a real world […]
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