Latest research news

September 6, 2006

The artist who painted music reveals secrets of the senses
Great artists tap into the way the brain muddles up the senses, according to a study that offers a scientific explanation of our love of ballet, opera and other blends of sounds and sights. Vision and hearing are inextricably linked in everyone's brain, but this is only really apparent to the one or two per cent of us who are synaesthetes - those with a rare condition in which the senses consciously mingle. Scientists at University College London, attempting to recreate what synaesthetes experience, have now concluded that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder: we all rate certain combinations of vision and music as more beautiful than others.
The Daily Telegraph

We're born with a belief in the supernatural, says scientist
Religions will continue to thrive despite the rise of science and rationality because we are all born with a tendency to believe in the supernatural, according to recent research. "Magical thinking" is hard-wired into our brains, according to Professor Bruce Hood, of the University of Bristol, speaking at the British Association's annual festival in Norwich. Professor Hood challenged the assumption of Prof Richard Dawkins and other "ultra rationalists" that belief in the supernatural was spread by religions in gullible minds. "Rather, religions may simply capitalise on a natural bias to assume the existence of supernatural forces," he said.
The Daily Telegraph

Treatment with 'friendly' bacteria could counter autism in children
Probiotic bacteria given to autistic children improved their concentration and behaviour so much that medical trials collapsed because parents refused to accept placebos, a scientist has revealed. The effect of the bacteria was so pronounced that some of the parents taking part in what was supposed to be a blind trial realised their children were taking something other than a placebo. A number then refused to give their children the placebo when they were due to switch, resulting in the collapse of the trial. Glenn Gibson, a microbiologist who ran the study of 40 autistic children aged between four and eight, said this meant it was difficult to draw any firm conclusions and he is planning to carry out further research.
The Scotsman, The Guardian

Ice bubbles reveal biggest rise in CO2 for 800,000 years
The rapid rise in greenhouse gases over the past century is unprecedented in at least 800,000 years, according to a study of the oldest Antarctic ice core which highlights the reality of climate change. Air bubbles trapped in ice for hundreds of thousands of years have revealed that humans are changing the composition of the atmosphere in a manner that has no known natural parallel. Scientists at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge have found there have been eight cycles of atmospheric change in the past 800,000 years when carbon dioxide and methane have risen to peak levels.
The Independent

Children of older fathers at risk of autism
Older men are far more likely to father autistic children, according to new research. A study involving more than 100,000 children found that those born to fathers aged 40 and over were nearly six times more likely to suffer from autism and related disorders than those with a father under 30. Scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said that their research supported the theory that men also have a “biological clock” when it comes to producing healthy babies. They described the findings as “the first convincing evidence that advanced paternal age is a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder”. However the authors could not find a link between a mother’s advancing age and autism.
The Times

Spine injection cuts arthritis inflammation
The central nervous system appears to exert a profound influence over the body’s immune response and can be directly manipulated to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, new research reveals. Rats that received an arthritis drug in their spinal cords had half as much joint damage as rats given the same medication by regular injections that simply pierced the skin. Experts say that modelling arthritis drugs to target the brain and spine – i.e. the central nervous system – could help patients with the disease live longer. “People with rheumatoid arthritis tend to die about five to 10 years earlier than others, so this is not just feeling stiff in the morning,” explains Gary Firestein of the University of California in San Diego, US.
New Scientist

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