Latest research news

December 13, 2006

More brain used to recognise faces
Brain cells that are selectively tuned to identify gender and ethnicity have been found by scientists in an area not previously thought to be associated with the process of face recognition. The finding could give new insights into why some people have a profound inability to recognise others because it reveals that more brain regions are involved than previously thought. "When looking at a face, its gender and ethnicity tends to be the first thing we notice," says Ione Fine of the University of Southern California, who led the research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We become sensitive to these cues remarkably early in life."
The Daily Telegraph

Hotspots not the best way to preserve biodiversity
Conservationists must make better choices of the areas they focus their protection efforts on, say researchers. The concept of "hotspots" of biodiversity, which organisations such as Conservation International have been using since the late 1980s, is too simple to be effective, argue Gerardo Ceballos, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Paul Ehrlich, at Stanford University, US. It is generally accepted that there are three types of hotspots: hotspots of endemic species that are found only in that area, hotspots of endangered species and hotspots of richness, which contain a greater number of different species than most regions.
New Scientist

Sibling link to brain tumour risk revealed
People with many younger siblings are more likely to develop brain tumours, according to a new study. Those with four or more siblings have twice the risk of brain cancer compared to only-children, the study found. The finding suggests that an infectious agent, such as a virus, may be involved in some brain cancers, say the researchers, who compared over 13,000 incidences of the disease. The study also found there was a two- to fourfold increase in brain tumour rates among children younger than 15 who had three or more younger siblings compared to children of the same age who had no siblings. But there was no association between the number of older siblings and brain tumours.
New Scientist, Nature

Arctic's summer sea ice 'could disappear completely by 2040'
The Arctic could lose virtually all its summer sea ice by the year 2040 - 40 years earlier than previously thought - according to a study by leading climate scientists. A rapid acceleration in the loss of sea ice seen in recent years will be dwarfed by the massive melting, up to four times faster than previously, which could take place within 20 years, the scientists predict. If nothing is done to curb man-made emissions of greenhouse gases the Arctic Basin, from Siberia and Greenland to Canada and Alaska, could be open water in summer within the lifetime of today's children.
The Independent, The Times

Pill offers release from hay fever misery for millions of sufferers
More than 1 million hay fever sufferers could benefit from a new drug that will be available on prescription next month. Grazax, taken as a pill, provides immunity to the allergens contained in grass pollens and has had an 83 per cent success rate in tests. Allergy researchers believe it will provide relief for hay fever sufferers who find antihistamines and nasal sprays ineffective. Stephen Durham, of Imperial College London, who is investigating the long-term benefits of the drug, said: “It’s been shown to be associated with a 30 per cent reduction of hay fever symptoms and a 40 per cent reduction in the need for other medications, such as nasal sprays.”
The Times

Ear-splitting presents 'could do permanent damage to children'
Christmas morning could be more than just noisy for some families: it could be deafening, the charity Deafness Research UK has found. It asked Brad Backus, of the Ear Institute at University College London, to test the noise levels produced by a selection of toys available this year. Fourteen of the fifteen submitted for testing produced noise levels above the recommended decibel safety limit of 85dB(A) when held close to the ear. Half the toys tested had levels above or very near to recommended safety limits when measured at a distance of 25cm - about a child’s arm’s-length away.
The Times

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