Latest research news

October 18, 2006

The proof that visiting people in hospital really does them good
Though it might seem like a chore to you, visiting a sick friend or relation in hospital really could make a difference to their health. Recent research has shown it’s what your visit does to their brain that helps. It’s already well known that emotions have a powerful effect on a patient’s health. A close relationship with a friend, partner or relative has been found to halve the risk of heart patients having another cardiac arrest - while a lack of a close confidant puts sufferers at a greater risk of having further heart attacks. Positive emotions have also been shown to increase a person’s resistance to illness. Now scientists have discovered why this might be so. The answer seems to lie in a group of brain cells known as mirror neurons.
The Daily Mail

The future ascent (and descent) of man
Humanity could evolve into two sub-species within 100,000 years as social divisions produce a genetic underclass, a scientist has said. The mating preferences of the rich, highly educated and well-nourished could ultimately drive their separation into a genetically distinct group that no longer interbreeds with less fortunate human beings, according to Oliver Curry. Dr Curry, a research associate in the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science of the London School of Economics, speculated that privileged humans might over tens of thousands of years evolve into a “gracile” subspecies, tall, thin, symmetrical, intelligent and creative. The rest would be shorter and stockier, with asymmetric features and lower intelligence, he said.
The Times, The Daily Telegraph

You were born with your future facial expressions
Facial expressions appear to be at least partially inherited, according to a study of blind people and their relatives. Experts say the findings indicate that people do not always learn their expressions for certain emotions by copying the facial quirks they see as youngsters. To understand the “nature vs. nurture” component of facial expressions, Israeli researchers recruited 21 people who were born blind along with 30 of their relatives. The 51 volunteers were videotaped as they recounted happy, sad and aggravating life experiences, concentrated on puzzles and heard a gory story and an unexpected question in gibberish.
New Scientist, The Guardian

Heaviest element made - again
For the second time in seven years, researchers say they have made the heaviest chemical element ever - the exotically titled ununoctium, or element 118. In 1999, physicist Victor Ninov, then working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, claimed to have created element 1181; the team retracted its results two years later amid accusations of falsified data, which Ninov denied. Now, reporting in the journal Physical Review C , researchers in Russia and the United States claim to have succeeded - this time using a different experimental setup2. The evidence comes in the form of specific isotopes of elements 116, 114 and 112, which are created when element 118 decays.

'DNA computer' is unbeatable at tic-tac-toe
A computer that uses strands of DNA to perform calculations has mastered the game tic-tac-toe. MAYA-II, developed by researchers at Columbia University and the University of New Mexico in the US, uses a system of DNA logic gates to calculate its moves. A DNA logic gate consists of a strand of DNA that binds to another specific input sequence. This binding causes a region of the strand to work as an enzyme, modifying yet another short DNA sequence into an output string. Scientists have already developed DNA computers capable of various similar simple calculations. But the researchers behind MAYA-II say their design should prove particularly useful for exploring ways to identify the genetic markers associated with certain diseases.
New Scientist

How coffee keeps you younger
Drinking coffee can keep the brain healthy, according to new research. A ten-year study found that men who drank three cups of coffee a day had the smallest mental decline as they got older. Researchers at the National Institute For Public Health And The Environment in the Netherlands analysed cognitive decline in elderly men over ten years. A total of 676 men from a number of countries in Europe took tests that measured the effect of coffee on their cognitive performance.
The Daily Mail

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