Latest research news

November 15, 2006

Educational toys 'are no better than trip to park'
Aspirational parents who want to "hothouse" their children's intelligence are wasting thousands of pounds on educational toys for three and four-year-olds when a trip to the park or swimming pool would be as beneficial, says research. It found that in many cases children used toy laptops and mobile phones in imaginative games rather than the purpose for which they were designed. In other instances they quickly outgrew the toys. However some toys, such as karaoke machines, were good at ensuring families played and laughed together.
The Daily Telegraph

Natural painkiller found in human spit
A new painkilling substance has been discovered that is up to six times more potent than morphine when tested in rats - and it's produced naturally by the human body. Natural painkillers are very rare, and researchers hope that this recent find might be harnessed as a clinical treatment. Naturally produced painkillers might help to avoid some of the side effects experienced by patients treated with synthetic compounds such as morphine, including addiction and tolerance with prolonged use. But the new substance will first have to be tested to confirm whether it will be an effective drug, experts warn.
Nature, New Scientist

World's most deadly bugs... in the hands of terrorists
New technology that would give terrorists the power to create deadly bacteria and viruses from scratch is only years away from completion and threatens to make existing controls on biological weapons obsolete, experts warned. Synthetic biology is an emerging field that allows scientists to build micro-organisms from simple genetic material, in theory enabling the creation of deadly pathogens such as ebola or anthrax without access to existing stockpiles of the bugs. The technology could also allow terrorists or scientists in rogue states to jumble the genetic signature of the bugs in order to render them unrecognisable to health experts dealing with an outbreak, potentially delaying treatment and preventing authorities from tracing the origin of an attack.
The Scotsman, The Guardian

Up to 150 kidnapped from Baghdad institute
Gunmen today kidnapped up to 150 scientists and staff members from a Baghdad research institute. The gunmen - wearing interior ministry commando uniforms - arrived at the institute, beneath the ministry of higher education in the religiously-mixed Karrada area, in a fleet of 20 vehicles at around 9.30am local time, authorities said. They forced their captives into the vehicles at gunpoint before driving off, and had sealed off roads leading to the institute during the 20-minute raid, police said. A police spokesman said around 20 people had been kidnapped.
The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent

Forest growth is encouraging, say researchers
Contrary to common belief, forests in many nations are expanding not shrinking, say researchers. They say that while the majority of the world's most forested countries are still losing trees, the number that are gaining forests is rising. However, much of the new forest is cultivated, not natural, leading some experts to caution that planted forests do not support the same level of biodiversity. The new work assessed the 50 most-forested countries around the world from 1990 to 2005. It reveals that forest area increased in 18 of the 50 nations, while total biomass increased in 22 countries.
New Scientist

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