Latest research news

November 29, 2006

Slouch - it's the safest way to sit
Your mother probably told you, as her mother told her: sit up straight. Whether at table, in class or at work we have always been told that sitting stiff-backed and upright is good for our bones, our posture, our digestion, our alertness and our general air of looking as if we are plugged into the world. Now research suggests that we would be far better off slouching and slumping. Today’s advice is to let go and recline. Using a new form of magnetic resonance imaging, a team of radiologists have found that sitting up straight puts unnecessary strain on the spine and could cause chronic back pain because of trapped nerves or slipped discs.
The Times, The Guardian

Intelligent humpbacks are blessed with a whale of a brain
Washington Humpback whales have a type of brain cell seen previously only in humans, the great apes and other cetaceans such as dolphins, US researchers have reported. This might mean that such whales are more intelligent than they have been given credit for and suggests that the basis for complex brains either evolved more than once, or has gone unused by most species of animals, the researchers report in The Anatomical Record . The finding may help to explain some of the behaviour seen in whales, such as intricate communication skills, coalition formation, cultural transmission and tool usage.
The Times

Ecstasy harms brain on first use, study finds
People who use ecstasy for the first time could suffer impaired memory and harm to their brains, a new study of the dance drug's effects reveals. Even low doses can cause changes to the brain, according to the first study to compare users before and after they took the drug for the first time. It found blood flow to parts of the brain was reduced and that users struggled in memory tests. "We do not know if these effects are transient or permanent," said Maartje de Win at the University of Amsterdam, who led the study. "Therefore, we cannot conclude that ecstasy, even in small doses, is safe for the brain, and people should be informed of this risk."
The Guardian

Broken leg may have killed Tutankhamun
A medical scan of King Tutankhamun's mummified corpse may have finally nailed the cause of the Egyptian pharaoh's premature death. It was not a blow to the head, as some had speculated, but gangrene caused by a badly broken leg. A team of radiologists used a sophisticated 3D X-ray of Tutankhamun's body to identify what may have happened to the boy king before he died 3,300 years ago at about the age of 19.
The Independent, The Guardian

The problem with cutting swathes into rainforests
Logging in tropical rainforests creates more insidious and longer-lasting environmental devastation than previously thought, researchers say. When loggers and ranchers clear-cut parts of the jungle, the forest fragments that remain change far more quickly than ecologists expected, according to a famous, long-running study of forest fragmentation in central Brazil. There, researchers have been carrying out a census of tree species in 40 one-hectare rainforest plots since the early 1980s, when ranchers cleared large swathes of forest to leave fragments ranging in size from 1 to 100 hectares.
New Scientist

HIV to be top health problem within 25 years
AIDS will become the world's most burdensome disease by 2030, according to predictions released today. Its predicted rise, which will overtake today's top problem of poor perinatal health (such as low birth weight), is being blamed on many countries' failure to impose proper prevention measures since the pandemic was first revealed. The result is in sharp contrast to the same group's last prediction, made in 1996, that heart disease would be the top global health problem in 2020, with HIV a mere tenth in the list.
Nature, New Scientist

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