Archive for October, 2011

Would Simple Star Ratings for Food Help People Eat Healthier?

By Valerie Ross | October 21, 2011 4:12 pm

Even when you’re trying to eat healthy foods, it can be hard to know what to buy: Few us have the time to decipher the nutrition facts on every item we’re considering at the grocery store, and the dizzying number of health claims plastered on labels make the task, if anything, more confusing. The Institute of Medicine offered a possible solution in a report released yesterday: put a simple, standardized rating—zero to three stars or checkmarks—on every food package.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Army Looks Into Treating PTSD with Dream Manipulation

By Veronique Greenwood | October 21, 2011 3:27 pm


What’s the News: Recurring nightmares can cast a pall over anyone’s waking life, and for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, they can also contribute to panic attacks, flashbacks, and violent behavior. Can soothing, dream-like experiences in a virtual world, entered immediately after a nightmare runs its course, tame those bad dreams? It seems like a kind of real-life inception, but it’s not as far fetched as you’d think: the Army is investigating just such a treatment, Dawn Lim at Wired’s Danger Room reports.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain

Watch the World Burn: Cool NASA Video Shows Fires Around Globe

By Douglas Main | October 21, 2011 12:43 pm

Some men just want to watch the world burn. Count me as one of them, at least when it comes to this video from NASA showing fires taking place the world over. Seventy percent of the world’s blazes take place in Africa—apparently making it the “fire continent,” according to the  narrator. Perhaps surprisingly, especially given recent wildfires in the American West and Southwest, only 2 percent of the globes conflagrations take place in North America. NASA used two satellites, Terra and Aqua, to visualize patterns of vegetation, snow/ice cover, and fires worldwide from July 2002 to July 2011.

[Via NASA]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Parasite Turns Wasps into Wandering, Would-Be Royalty

By Valerie Ross | October 21, 2011 9:00 am

Parasitic wasps have a terrifying but weirdly impressive knack for taking over the bodies and brains of other many-legged creatures, making spiders weave them bespoke silk cocoons, obedient cockroaches incubate their eggs, and paralyzed, partially devoured ladybugs guard their young. But for the European paper wasp, as a new study describes, the tables are turned: It’s the host rather than the parasite—and the things the Xenos vesparum fly larvae inside it lead it to do are at least as odd as any of the above.

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Worms with Genes for Long Life Pass on Longevity to Offspring…Even Without the Genes

By Veronique Greenwood | October 21, 2011 8:40 am

Nematode worms live longer if their grandparents had particular genes.
But they don’t need to receive the genes themselves to feel the effects.

What’s the News: Scientists have discovered that worms who’ve been given mutated genes that let them live longer pass on their longevity to their descendants—even when the descendants don’t receive the genes. How does it work?

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Superconductors + Flux Tubes = Levitating Frozen Puck

By Veronique Greenwood | October 20, 2011 11:21 am

When you freeze a chunk of sapphire coated in yttrium barium copper oxide, what do you get? A puck that can whiz around a magnetic track like a hovercraft. When the oxide gets very cold, it becomes a superconductor and actively repels magnets, with the result that when it’s placed over a large enough magnet, it levitates.

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White Roofs May Actually Add to Global Warming

By Douglas Main | October 20, 2011 8:53 am

A new study published in the Journal of Climate claims that painting rooftops white—a method championed by energy secretary Steven Chu and others to combat climate change—only minimally reduces local cooling, and actually causes a slight increase in overall global warming.

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Malaria Vaccine Cuts Risk of Infection By Half

By Douglas Main | October 19, 2011 12:19 pm

Blood smear of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite

Preliminary results from the largest ever field trial of a malaria vaccine show the vaccine cut infant’s risk of getting the disease by half. In development for more than 25 years by GlaxoSmithKline and others, the vaccine cut the risk of catching severe malaria by 47 percent amongst infants ages 5 months to 17 months in the year after receiving it. 6,000 kids enrolled in the study, whose early results were published yesterday in the The New England Journal of Medicine and announced at a Seattle conference organized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major funder of the study and other efforts to combat malaria. The vaccine represents the first against a parasite-borne infection and has been notoriously difficult to develop since the protozoan that causes the illness (mainly Plasmodium falciparum) changes shape as it moves from the blood to the liver and back again.

While 47 percent isn’t very effective—most vaccines aren’t approved until they reach 90 percent or better—even this level of protection could save millions of lives, Glaxo’s chief executive Andrew Witty tells the New York Times. Malaria kills an estimated 780,000 per year, despite being preventable and treatable, mostly claiming the lives of African children.

[Via The Guardian]

Image: CDC / Wikimedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

New, From the Makers of Stuxnet: The Duqu Virus

By Veronique Greenwood | October 19, 2011 11:55 am


On October 14, security company Symantec got word from a research lab that they’d discovered a piece of malware that looked a lot like Stuxnet, the sophisticated computer virus that made headlines last year after its anonymous designers used it to attack Iran’s nuclear program. This new malware, called Duqu by the researchers who discovered it, shares much of Stuxnet’s code, suggesting that it came from the same people who built the first virus, or at least people who had access to the source code. Read More


For Kids Under Two, Steer Clear of Screen Time, Pediatricians Say

By Valerie Ross | October 19, 2011 11:15 am

Parents should strictly limit how much children under two years old watch television or videos, says the American Academy of Pediatrics in a new policy statement, since TV time not only doesn’t seem to benefit babies, it may come with developmental drawbacks. (Activities like computer and touchscreen games, where the babies interact with what’s happening on the screen rather than passively watch it, aren’t included in the statement.) The academy issued a similar statement in 1999, discouraging screen time for kids less than 24 months old—and in the intervening decade, there’s been more research to back up that recommendation.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain

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