New & Notable: 11/19 - 11/25

/ by Edit Staff /

Singing with Alzheimer's patients, the length of the Great Wall, more on climate change, and nasty boys!

Ah Yes, I Remember it Well
There is new hope for Alzheimer’s patients and their families, and it doesn’t come in a pill. Singing for the Brain, a British program that holds weekly meetings, brings people with memory problems together in song—with remarkable results. Patients are expressing emotions, forming words, and showing signs of increased mental and physical well-being. “Somehow the memory for singing is preserved forever in the brain,” said program founder Chreanne Montgomery-Smith. “And it gives people a lift when they can remember things.”
(source: BBC News)

Go West, Young Bacterium
Some bacteria have a perfect sense of direction, and scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Biology have just figured out why. The researchers identified the protein responsible for creating and aligning a chain of iron magnetosomes, enveloped compartments containing magnetic particles. The bacteria use this internal compass to navigate layers of water, finding optimal growth conditions. The researchers say their finding—that this chain structure is precisely regulated by genetics—could help us understand how higher organisms, such as homing pigeons or migratory salmon, orient themselves to a magnetic field.

The Greater Wall
China is about to remeasure the length of the Great Wall using aeronautic remote sensing technology. Currently, the measure stands at an awfully approximate 7,300 km, obtained using low-tech measuring equipment and antiquated methods. Soon the Chinese will know the true length of their pride and joy. Size matters.
(source: Xinhua)

Warming Warning
Earth received several pieces of bad news this week, as scientists released studies detailing the sorry state of our planet. Researchers analyzed the air bubbles trapped in an Antarctic ice core and found that the current level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is 27% higher than the highest known level from the past 650,000 years. These researchers also observed that humans have changed the composition of the atmosphere at a drastically rapid rate, far quicker than it’s changed before.
Another team found that global ocean levels are rising twice as quickly as they were 150 years ago. “The main thing that’s changed since the 19th century and the beginning of modern observation has been the widespread increase in fossil fuel use and more greenhouse gases,” said Rutgers geology professor Kenneth G. Miller. Coincidence? He thinks not.

A Head Case
For the first time, researchers have imaged the effects of everyday stress on the healthy human brain. While giving subjects high-pressure tasks, University of Pennsylvania scientists observed increased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, an area associated with anxiety and depression, as well as executive functioning.
“The message from this study is that while stress may be useful in increasing focus, chronic stress could also be detrimental to mental health,” said Jiongjiong Wang, professor of radiology.
The conclusion confirms the obvious. Not much to worry about, there.

It’s Too Hard to Make Responsible Choices
The “heat of the moment” is the wrong time to make important decisions, according to scientists at MIT and Carnegie Mellon. In this NC-17 study, researchers had male students answer questions about how likely they’d be to engage in certain kinds of sexual behavior. Half of the subjects responded while masturbating to a “high but sub-orgasmic level of arousal.”
It turns out aroused men are pretty kinky fellows, not to mention—surprise!—total jerks.
A full 81% thought it would be fun to be tied up, 63% said they’d convince a date to drink to get her in bed more easily, and 26% said they’d slip a woman a drug to increase the chances she’d sleep with them (versus 5% of non-aroused men). Also, sexagenarians take heed, the number of college boys who could imagine having sex with a 60-year-old jumped from 7% to 23% when they were sexually aroused.
Hey, dinner and a movie is a lot cheaper with the senior discount.
(source: Annals of Improbable Research)

Originally published November 28, 2005

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