Archive for May, 2008

Blogging May Indeed Be the Path to Greater Happiness

By Melissa Lafsky | May 28, 2008 12:49 pm

Happy bloggersDespite recent reports of blogging’s potential deadliness—which turned out to be, shall we say, a tad overblown—millions of hooked bloggers can attest that writing about stressful or painful experiences online can be deeply cathartic, helping them find self-expression, common ground, and connections with others. Now, researchers are pinpointing the ways in which journaling on the Internet is good for your mental health. Scientific American reports that neuroscientists have begun examining the effects blogging has on the brain, while a recent study in The Oncologist found that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing (though not necessarily on the Internet) just before treatment fared markedly better than patients who didn’t.

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Antarctic Glaciers Melt and Spill Their Secret: DDT

By Andrew Moseman | May 27, 2008 4:08 pm

Global warming is melting Antarctic glaciersThirty-five years after the United States banned the pesticide DDT because it was toxic to both humans and the environment, the chemical is still polluting the Antarctic thanks to global warming.

Antarctica’s Adelie penguins have shown traces of DDT since scientists started tracking the data in the 1970s. But alarmingly, the DDT concentration has remained about the same, even as the world has cut its DDT use by 80 to 90 percent since the 1960s. Although DDT persists in the environment—as famously documented in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—its presence should decrease over time unless a new source is leaching DDT into the ecosystem, according to a study led by Heidi Geisz at the College of William and Mary. And Geisz’s team thinks they’ve figured out what the new source is: Glaciers.

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For Fruit Flies, Turning Off a Gene Means Turning On the Same-Sex Love

By Andrew Moseman | May 27, 2008 1:09 pm

Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit flyForget looking for a “gay gene”: fruit flies, the favorite insects of geneticists for a century, need a particular gene to keep the males straight.

A team of scientists led by Manyuan Long at the University of Chicago call it the sphinx gene, and it is present only in fruit flies. Long’s grad student Wen Wang identified the gene back in 2002, and now two other former students, Hongzheng Dai and Ying Chen, have discovered its purpose. When Dai and Chen turned off the gene, the males looked and acted ordinary, at least until they were placed in each other’s company. When that happened, the genetically engineered flies spent 10 times more time pursuing other males than normal fruit flies. Long says that the gene evolved about two million years ago to prevent male flies from inhibiting mating by spending too much time with each other.

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It’s In the Bag! Teenager Wins Science Fair, Solves Massive Environmental Problem

By Melissa Lafsky | May 27, 2008 11:27 am

plastic bagsWe’ve all heard the plastic bag horror stories—the billions of bags discarded every year that wind up polluting oceans, killing wildlife and getting dumped in landfills where they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Researchers have been wracking their brains for years to figure out a solution. But leave it to a Canadian high school student to leave them all in the dust. Daniel Burd, an 11th grader at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, has discovered a way to make plastic bags degrade in as little as three months—a finding that won him first prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, a $20,000 scholarship, and a chance to revolutionize a major environmental issue.

Burd’s strategy was simple: Since plastic does eventually degrade, it must be eaten by microorganisms. If those microorganisms, as well as the optimal conditions for their growth, could be identified, we could put them to work eating the plastic much faster than under normal conditions.

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MORE ABOUT: pollution

Idaho Canyons Could Lower Chances of Martian Life

By Andrew Moseman | May 23, 2008 12:18 pm

NASA image of the Valles Marineris on the surface of MarsWhen NASA’s Phoenix Lander touches down on Mars this weekend—presuming it survives the hot and harrowing descent to the surface—scientists hope that it finds more evidence of water. A new study in Science uses an Idaho gorge to suggest that the surface of Mars may have once been covered in huge quantities of water, though that may not be as good a portent for finding life on the Red Planet as it might sound.

While the Colorado River gradually carved the Grand Canyon over the last five or six millions years, there’s more than one way to scoop out a chasm. Short but massive deluges of water can do it, too. That’s how Michael Lamb and his team at the University of California, Berkeley think that Box Canyon in eastern Idaho was created.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom
MORE ABOUT: Mars, water

Weekly Science Blog Roundup

By Melissa Lafsky | May 23, 2008 12:11 pm

roundup• After the tragic school collapses in China, it’s worth asking: Where else are schools at risk from potential geohazards? The answer may surprise—and disturb—you.

• Looking for the best way to spoil the new Indiana Jones? Dissect every scientific inaccuracy in the film.

• Aaron Rowe’s suggested treatment plan for Ted Kennedy: Radioactive scorpion venom. We couldn’t agree more.

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MORE ABOUT: climate change

Death by Detergent Shakes up Japan

By Andrew Moseman | May 22, 2008 5:28 pm

Mixing detergents is the new recipe for suicide in JapanMay has been a good month for detergent sales in Japan. Unfortunately, it’s also been a good month for gas masks.

The growing trend in Japan of committing suicide by cooking up a noxious brew of household chemicals has become a disaster for anyone caught upwind. People aren’t just killing themselves anymore; they’re making their neighbors sick as well.

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Malaysian Scientists Hope Sterilized Mosquitoes Will Wipe Themselves Out

By Andrew Moseman | May 22, 2008 1:49 pm

Mosquitoes carry malaria, dengue and other deadly diseases.The best way to confront a mosquito problem might be to release millions more mosquitoes — if the new batch of bugs harbors a Trojan Horse to kill future generations.

The mosquitoes in question are prolific carriers of the virus causing dengue fever, which afflicts about 50 million people per year. Malaysia saw more then 30,000 cases and 67 deaths from dengue in 2007, according to the Hong Kong government’s Travel Health Service.

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Giant Rat Less Giant Than Originally Thought

By Andrew Moseman | May 22, 2008 9:13 am

The skull of Josephoartigasia monesiIf one Canadian researcher is right, the largest rodent ever found just lost about 1,300 pounds.

A biological brouhaha started this week over the fossils of the Josephoartigasia monesi, a giant rat that made its home a couple million years ago in what is now Uruguay. Unfortunately, only the fossilized skull survived — scientists never unearthed any of the remainder of the skeleton, so they had had to do a little guessing as to the rest of the creature’s proportions. Using the ratio of the size of a modern rat’s head to its body, the Uruguayan scientists who dug up the bones in January said the creature would have weighed a full ton — about 2,200 pounds, or 15 times heavier than the largest rodent roaming the earth today.

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Alarming Number of Patients Think About Killing Their Doctors

By Melissa Lafsky | May 21, 2008 4:25 pm

doctorWhile tales of patients murdering their medical care providers are very real and very tragic, they’re also rare. But a disturbing new study indicates that thoughts of killing doctors occur more frequently than we might think, particularly among patients who are in pain, undergoing physical rehabilitation, or seeking compensation for a disability.

New Scientist reports that psychiatrist David Fishbain and his colleagues at the University of Miami, Florida, surveyed around 800 physical rehabilitation patients and found that just over 1 in 20, or around 5 percent, admitted that they entertained thoughts of murdering their physician. In a control group of people not in treatment for any condition, around 2 percent reported having felt the desire to kill their doctor in the past.

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