Latest research news

November 1, 2006

Mirror makes elephants reflect
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the smartest pachyderm of all? Happy, the Asian elephant, according to an experiment that reflects well on their great intelligence. Researchers exposed Happy, Maxine and Patty - all adult Asian females at the Bronx Zoo in New York - to a square eight-ft mirror and discovered that they were aware that they were looking at their own reflections. And in the case of Happy, she also touched a mark on her head which she could not have otherwise seen. In this way, elephants have joined a small, elite group of species - including humans, great apes and dolphins - that have the ability to recognise themselves in the mirror.
The Daily Telegraph, Nature, The Scotsman, New Scientist

First liver grown from stem cells offers hope for transplant patients
An artificial liver has been grown for the first time from stem cells, it emerged last night. The breakthrough by British scientists is considered the vital first step towards creating a fully artificial liver that could be used to tackle ever-growing waiting lists for transplants within as little as ten years. A team based at Newcastle University grew the miniature liver, using stem cells taken from umbilical cords. Dr Nico Forraz and Professor Colin McGuckin worked with scientists from Nasa in Houston, Texas. Using some of the skills they obtained at Nasa they were able to produce the miniature livers. These can now be used for drug and pharmaceutical testing, eradicating the need to test on animals and humans.
The Scotsman, The Daily Telegraph

Statisticians prove that the referee is a 'homer'
Football fans have been chanting it, pundits have been suggesting it but now, it seems, statistics prove it - referees should be wearing spectacles. Researchers looking at the fouls awarded in 2,500 Premier League matches in 1996-97 and 2002-03 found the supposedly impartial men in black favour the home side. Worse still for teams considered the underdogs, they are likely to be on the receiving end of some of the poorest decisions - home or away. The researchers from Bath University, who developed equations to account for the variables, said referees handed out an average extra half a yellow card each game to the away team.
The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian

New strain of H5N1 bird flu emerges in China
A new strain of H5N1 bird flu has emerged in China that is poised to start yet another global wave of infection. Nearly three times as many Chinese poultry are infected with H5N1 now than last year, despite China’s insistence that all poultry be vaccinated. In fact, vaccination may be the reason for the increase in infections, researchers say. Yi Guan and colleagues at the University of Hong Kong have been testing poultry in markets across southern China for flu for years, the only such long-term monitoring in the world. Between mid-2004 and mid-2005 they found 0.9 per cent of market poultry were carrying H5N1, including 2 per cent of ducks, a major carrier of the virus.
New Scientist

Did Neanderthals and modern humans get it together?
The idea that Neanderthals and early humans living in Europe may have interbred has been strengthened by a re-analysis of bones unearthed in a Romanian cave more than 50 years ago. The bones show a mixture of modern human and Neanderthal features, leading researchers to suggest that the two groups could have intermixed and produced offspring. The fossils include parts of a skull and jaw, and a shoulder blade. Although they mainly resembled modern humans, with a narrow nose and small brow bones, for example, the remains also showed other features normally associated with Neanderthals - a pronounced bump on the back of the skull, and a distinctive lower jaw bone.

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