Latest research news

February 22, 2006

Species-crossing diseases on rise
Avian flu has highlighted the growing threat from diseases that move from animals to people. A new study shows that 38 pathogens have made the jump over the past 25 years - a much higher rate than in the past. Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St Louis yesterday there were about 1,400 species of pathogen - viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites - known to cause human disease.
The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Times

Warming threat to 'lost world' in New Guinea
A "lost world" of unknown and rare species unafraid of humans that was discovered high in the misty jungles of western New Guinea is under threat from climate change, according to a new study. A recent expedition to the Foja mountains of Indonesia's Irian Jaya province found dozens of new species, including frogs, butterflies, plants, and an orange-faced honey-eater, the first new bird recorded in New Guinea for more than 60 years. The incredible biodiversity of the area "has likely arisen in significant part due to the climatic stability of the highlands", said Dr Michael Prentice, of Plymouth State University, New Hampshire. He has found evidence that this stability is under threat.
The Daily Telegraph

Mass sequencing effort tackles termite guts
A facility built to do some of the heavy-duty processing for the human genome initiative is now cracking into the genomes of microorganisms; not as individuals, but en masse. Researchers hope that the work will uncover useful enzymes from bacteria that could be put to work in environmentally friendly applications. The bugs that help termites to digest wood, for example, could hopefully yield a formula for turning waste plants into green ethanol fuels for cars.

Great apes found to be rich in culture
The evidence is mounting that great apes are a cultured lot, researchers heard at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis this week. It is well established that apes are clever: gorillas lift electric wires with sticks to slip underneath; orang-utans can crack nuts open with rocks; and chimpanzees have been spotted elegantly sipping water from a sponge of crumpled leaves. But these tool-using apes also show signs of cultural traditions that vary from group to group, just as some customs are passed down from one generation to another in human societies.
Nature, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent

Why men are still frisky after 50
Men in their 50s are more satisfied with their love lives than those who are one or two decades younger, despite their decline in sexual performance, a medical study has found. According to research by experts at the University of Oslo, the University of Bergen and Harvard Medical School, the middle-aged man showed similar levels of contentment to those who were physiologically in their sexual prime, aged between 20 and 29. Sexual contentment hits the average 50-year-old in spite of increased problems with sexual functions such as attaining, and sustaining, an erection, the study said.
The Independent

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