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By Priyanka Runwal Everyone needs to cool off on a scorching summer day, even chimpanzees. Where do the primates go on sizzling days when woodlands and forests don’t provide respite from the heat? But not just any chimps. New research shows that on Senegal’s savannas, home to a population of chimpanzees that has long fascinated scientists for their distinct behaviors, you’re more likely to find mama chimps than adult males or non-lactating females hiding out in cool caves. Their visits coincided with the hottest times of day and became more frequent during the hottest months of the year, according to the study published last month in the International Journal of Primatology. They also made these visits despite the risks of encounters with predators, showing how important the locations are for helping them survive and bring up babies in a challenging landscape that is threatened by human activities. In southeastern Senegal, temperatures spike to 110 degrees Fahrenheit and fires burn large parts of the landscape over a seven-month dry season. Several natural cave formations pock the terrain, and they can be up to 55 degrees cooler than the surrounding grasslands. The region is also home to the northernmost population of western chimpanzees, a critically endangered subspecies that mostly lives in large swathes of open grasslands and woodlands in this area. In 2001, Jill Pruetz, a primatologist then at Iowa State University, gathered evidence of western chimpanzees using caves in the area, suspecting that they used them to escape the heat and possibly avoid heat stroke and other ill health effects of the dry season. But she reached few conclusions about whether all of the chimps used the caves as often as others. Kelly Boyer Ontl, a primatologist at Ball State University in Indiana and lead author of the new study, said, “I was really interested in finding out what chimpanzees are doing in caves, when are they using it and who’s going in there.” © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 27409 - Posted: 08.08.2020

By Hannah Sparks For communities with a low rate of depression and suicide, there may be something in the water, according to a new study. A comprehensive analysis of findings from previous studies has revealed that regions where the public drinking water contains a high level of naturally occurring lithium — a mineral used most often for the treatment of depression and bipolar disorder — also boast a lower rate of suicide than other areas. The review included all prior research on the effects of lithium, as well as regional water samples and suicide data from 1,286 locales in Austria, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, the UK, Japan and the United States. “Naturally occurring lithium in drinking water may have the potential to reduce the risk of suicide and may possibly help in mood stabilization, particularly in populations with relatively high suicide rates and geographical areas with a greater range of lithium concentration in the drinking water,” the authors concluded in their report. Denoted as “Li” on the periodic table, the element is found in varying concentrations in crops, rocks, soil and ground water — thus how it seeps into our water supply. In a statement on the King’s College London website, lead study author and chairman of epidemiology and public health at Brighton and Sussex Medical School Anjum Memon said, “It is promising that higher levels of trace lithium in drinking water may exert an anti-suicidal effect and have the potential to improve community mental health.” The results, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, “are also consistent with the finding in clinical trials that lithium reduces suicide and related behaviors in people with a mood disorder,” said Allan Young, a professor at King’s College’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience.

Keyword: Depression; Schizophrenia
Link ID: 27408 - Posted: 08.08.2020

Viviana Gradinaru Despite the wealth and quality of basic neuroscience research, there is still little we can do to treat or prevent most brain disorders. Industry efforts, meanwhile, have shied away from this field, particularly after a series of major drug candidates for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease failed to meet expectations (1). My previous research, which entailed developing and using optogenetics (2, 3) to understand how deep brain stimulation works in Parkinson's disease (PD) (4, 5), resulted in two key insights: We need to look and intervene earlier in brain disease progression, and we need to be able to access relevant cell populations with noninvasive yet precise tools to investigate, prevent, contain, or even reverse the course of disease. Accumulating evidence has highlighted a third insight: We may need to look beyond the brain to fully understand brain disorders (6, 7). My goal has been to develop an effective toolkit for neuromodulation so we can start to bridge the gap between what we know and what we can do to treat the brain. To achieve minimally invasive optogenetic-mediated modulation, we need to be able to penetrate the blood–brain barrier (BBB) so that vectors can be delivered systemically rather than through intracranial injections and address the poor reach of visible light through tissue so that large tissue volumes can be recruited without implantation of optical fibers. For early intervention, we need to get past the neuronal and brain-centric view of neurological disease. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Schizophrenia; Depression
Link ID: 27407 - Posted: 08.08.2020

By Nicholas Bakalar The incidence of hip fracture has decreased steadily over the past 40 years, but a new analysis suggests that new osteoporosis drugs have made only a small contribution to the trend. The report, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, included 10,552 men and women and their offspring followed since 1970. Every five years through 2010, the researchers recorded the number of hip fractures in people over 60. They found that the incidence of hip fractures decreased by 67 percent over those years, and rates were lower in people born later. The bone-strengthening bisphosphonates, like Fosamax (introduced in 1995) and Boniva (introduced in 2003), cut the fracture incidence by about 4.8 percent, the researchers estimate. But smoking decreased to 15 percent of participants in 2010, from 38 percent in 1970, and heavy drinking declined to 4.5 percent, from 7 percent. Both are significant risk factors for fracture. Other risk factors, like being underweight and early menopause, were stable over the years. “Smoking cessation accounts for about 90 percent of the decline in the age-adjusted decrease,” said the lead author, Dr. Timothy Bhattacharyya, an orthopedic surgeon with the National Institutes of Health. Other factors that may have played a role included estrogens, which were approved for osteoporosis treatment in 1988, and bone mineral density testing, which first became available in the 1990s. But “we didn’t observe any effect from estrogens or bone mineral density testing,” Dr. Bhattacharyya said. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27406 - Posted: 08.08.2020

Abby Carney Shortly after relocating to Texas from California three years ago, Cheryl Webster started hosting a game night at her home as a way of meeting new people. They stopped meeting due to Covid-19, and Webster has only heard from one person in the group in the months since they were able to play. Eventually, she decided to pick up the phone herself – but nobody called back. “I think that’s the hardest part about loneliness,” she said. “Is it my fault? Am I not a very nice person? Or is there something wrong with me?” End of the office: the quiet, grinding loneliness of working from home Read more Webster, 65, is a proactive doer who volunteers regularly and has even helped finance the education of several friends’ children. She sits on the board of the Austin housing authority and the chamber of commerce, and is sure the Christian business leaders’ group she meets with monthly would say flattering things about her. Though divorced and childless, Webster is not a Havisham spinster – putting herself “out there” comes naturally. And so she supposes many people in her life would be surprised to learn that she’s lonely. Despite following the advice of experts to ward off the feeling, her heart still aches. Advertisement Webster is not alone. A growing number of people share her affliction – so much so that some governments are incorporating loneliness into their health public policy. To help people like her, a number of scientists are researching medical solutions, such as pills and nasal sprays. But will treating loneliness like a disease, rather than an existential question, work to ease their pain? © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 27405 - Posted: 08.06.2020

By Gina Kolata Despite the lack of effective treatments or preventive strategies, the dementia epidemic is on the wane in the United States and Europe, scientists reported on Monday. The risk for a person to develop dementia over a lifetime is now 13 percent lower than it was in 2010. Incidence rates at every age have steadily declined over the past quarter-century. If the trend continues, the paper’s authors note, there will be 15 million fewer people in Europe and the United States with dementia than there are now. The study is the most definitive yet to document a decline in dementia rates. Its findings counter warnings from advocacy groups of a coming tsunami of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, said Dr. John Morris, director of the Center for Aging at Washington University in St. Louis. It is correct that there are now more people than ever with dementia, but that is because there are more and more older people in the population. The new incidence data are “hopeful,” Dr. Morris said. “It is such a strong study and such a powerful message. It suggests that the risk is modifiable.” Researchers at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., reviewed data from seven large studies with a total of 49,202 individuals. The studies followed men and women aged 65 and older for at least 15 years, and included in-person exams and, in many cases, genetic data, brain scans and information on participants’ risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The data also include a separate assessment of Alzheimer’s disease. Its incidence, too, has steadily fallen, at a rate of 16 percent per decade, the researchers found. Their study was published in the journal Neurology. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 27404 - Posted: 08.06.2020

Lenny Bernstein The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned parents and caregivers Tuesday to watch out for an uncommon, polio-like condition that mostly strikes children, usually between August and November. Acute flaccid myelitis, which may be caused by any of several viruses, is marked by a sudden weakness or paralysis of the limbs. Since surveillance began in 2014, prevalence of the ­syndrome has spiked in even-numbered years, often afflicting children about 5 years old. The disease is very rare, but a quick response is critical once the weakness sets in; the disease can progress over hours or days and lead to permanent paralysis or respiratory failure, according to a report issued Tuesday by the CDC. Among 238 cases in 2018 reviewed by the CDC, 98 percent of patients were hospitalized, 54 percent required intensive care, and 23 percent were placed on ventilators to help them breathe. Most patients were hospitalized within a day of experiencing weakness, but about 10 percent were not hospitalized until four or more days later, possibly because of failure to recognize the syndrome, the report said. Limb weakness, difficulty walking and limb pain are often preceded by fever or respiratory illness, usually by about six days, the CDC said. Hundreds of U.S. children have been affected, and many do not fully recover. A number of viruses — including West Nile virus, adenovirus and non-polio enteroviruses — are known to produce the symptoms in a small number of people who become infected by those pathogens. But enterovirus, particularly one dubbed EV-D68, appears to be the most common cause, the CDC said. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is working on a vaccine for EV-D68. © 1996-2020 The Washington Post

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Muscles
Link ID: 27403 - Posted: 08.06.2020

by Chloe Williams A new atlas lays bare how neuronal connections, or synapses, change from birth to old age in mice1. The ‘synaptome’ may help researchers investigate how mutations linked to autism affect these connections at different stages of life. Synapses are the junctions where information is transferred between cells, and they are integral to functions such as learning, behavior and movement. Autism is linked to several mutations that alter synaptic proteins. In 2018, researchers created the first synaptome of the mouse brain, mapping billions of synapses and sorting them into types based on their size, shape and composition2. The map revealed that synapse subtypes have distinct distributions in the brain, suggesting they have specific functions. This synaptome mapped the mouse brain only at one point in time, however. In the new work, the team charted five billion synapses in mice at 10 different ages, revealing how synapses change in number, structure and molecular makeup throughout life. “It’s the first time anybody’s ever done that in any species,” says Seth Grant, professor of molecular neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, who led the research. To create the atlas, the team engineered mice to express fluorescent markers of different colors on two proteins — PSD95 and SAP102 — that frequently line the signal-receiving end of excitatory synapses, which make up the preponderance of synapses in the brain. Mutations in these proteins have been linked to autism, schizophrenia and intellectual disability. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27402 - Posted: 08.06.2020

Craig W. Stevens Even as the COVID-19 pandemic cripples the economy and kills hundreds of people each day, there is another epidemic that continues to kill tens of thousands of people each year through opioid drug overdose. Opioid analgesic drugs, like morphine and oxycodone, are the classic double-edged swords. They are the very best drugs to stop severe pain but also the class of drugs most likely to kill the person taking them. In a recent journal article, I outlined how a combination of state-of-the-art molecular techniques, such as CRISPR gene editing and brain microinjection methods, could be used to blunt one edge of the sword and make opioid drugs safer. I am a pharmacologist interested in the way opioid drugs such as morphine and fentanyl can blunt pain. I became fascinated in biology at the time when endorphins – natural opioids made by our bodies – were discovered. I have been intrigued by the way opioid drugs work and their targets in the brain, the opioid receptors, for the last 30 years. In my paper, I propose a way to prevent opioid overdoses by modifying an opioid user’s brain cells using advanced technology. Opioid receptors stop breathing Opioids kill by stopping a person from breathing (respiratory depression). They do so by acting on a specific set of respiratory nerves, or neurons, found in the lower part of the brain that contain opioid receptors. Opioid receptors are proteins that bind morphine, heroin and other opioid drugs. The binding of an opioid to its receptor triggers a reaction in neurons that reduces their activity. Opioid receptors on pain neurons mediate the pain-killing, or analgesic, effects of opioids. When opioids bind to opioid receptors on respiratory neurons, they slow breathing or, in the case of an opioid overdose, stop it entirely. © 2010–2020, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27401 - Posted: 08.06.2020

Obesity should be defined by a person's health - not just their weight, says a new Canadian clinical guideline. It also advises doctors to go beyond simply recommending diet and exercise. Instead, they should focus on the root causes of weight gain and take a holistic approach to health. The guideline, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Tuesday, specifically admonished weight-related stigma against patients in the health system. "The dominant cultural narrative regarding obesity fuels assumptions about personal irresponsibility and lack of willpower and casts blame and shame upon people living with obesity," the guideline, which is intended to be used by primary care physicians in diagnosing and treating obesity in their daily practice, states. Ximena Ramos-Salas, the director of research and policy at Obesity Canada and one of the guideline's authors, said research shows many doctors discriminate against obese patients, and that can lead to worse health outcomes irrespective of their weight. "Weight bias is not just about believing the wrong thing about obesity," she told the BBC. "Weight bias actually has an effect on the behaviour of healthcare practitioners." The rate of obesity has tripled over the past three decades in Canada, and now about one in four Canadians is obese according to Statistics Canada. The guideline had not been updated since 2006. The new version was funded by Obesity Canada, the Canadian Association of Bariatric Physicians and Surgeons and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research through a Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research grant. Although the latest advice still recommends using diagnostic criteria like the body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, it acknowledges their clinical limitations and says doctors should focus more on how weight impacts a person's health. Small reductions in weight, of about 3-5%, can lead to health improvements and an obese person's "best weight" might not be their "ideal weight" according to BMI, the guideline says. It emphasises that obesity is a complex, chronic condition that needs lifelong management. © 2020 BBC.

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 27400 - Posted: 08.06.2020

By Jennifer Couzin-Frankel Athena Akrami’s neuroscience lab reopened last month without her. Life for the 38-year-old is a pale shadow of what it was before 17 March, the day she first experienced symptoms of the novel coronavirus. At University College London (UCL), Akrami’s students probe how the brain organizes memories to support learning, but at home, she struggles to think clearly and battles joint and muscle pain. “I used to go to the gym three times a week,” Akrami says. Now, “My physical activity is bed to couch, maybe couch to kitchen.” Her early symptoms were textbook for COVID-19: a fever and cough, followed by shortness of breath, chest pain, and extreme fatigue. For weeks, she struggled to heal at home. But rather than ebb with time, Akrami’s symptoms waxed and waned without ever going away. She’s had just 3 weeks since March when her body temperature was normal. “Everybody talks about a binary situation, you either get it mild and recover quickly, or you get really sick and wind up in the ICU,” says Akrami, who falls into neither category. Thousands echo her story in online COVID-19 support groups. Outpatient clinics for survivors are springing up, and some are already overburdened. Akrami has been waiting more than 4 weeks to be seen at one of them, despite a referral from her general practitioner. The list of lingering maladies from COVID-19 is longer and more varied than most doctors could have imagined. Ongoing problems include fatigue, a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, achy joints, foggy thinking, a persistent loss of sense of smell, and damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Stroke; Stress
Link ID: 27399 - Posted: 08.03.2020

By Aimee Cunningham Heavy drinking is robbing Americans of decades of life. From 2011 to 2015, an average of 93,296 deaths annually could be tied to excessive alcohol use, or 255 deaths per day. Excessive drinking brought death early, typically 29 years sooner than would have been expected. All told, the United States saw 2.7 million years of potential life lost each year, researchers report in the July 31 Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report. The researchers used a program developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimates annual deaths and years of potential life lost due to an individual’s own or another’s excessive drinking. The tool takes into account whether the cause of death is fully attributable to alcohol, such as alcoholic liver cirrhosis, or whether excessive drinking can partially contribute to a condition, such as breast cancer. Annually, about 51,000 of the deaths were from chronic conditions. The rest were sudden demises such as poisonings that involved another substance along with alcohol or alcohol-related car crashes. The CDC defines excessive alcohol use as binging — drinking five or more drinks at a time for men, four or more for women — or drinking heavily over the course of the week. Men qualify at 15 or more drinks per week; for women, it’s eight or more. The numbers of deaths and years of life extinguished due to excessive drinking have gone up since the last report. That assessment covered 2006 to 2010 and reported close to 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million lost years annually. Recommendations from the Community Preventive Services Task Force, made up of public health and prevention experts, to stem excessive drinking include raising taxes on alcohol and regulating the number of places that sell alcoholic beverages (SN: 8/9/17). © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 27398 - Posted: 08.03.2020

By Abdul-Kareem Ahmed “He doesn’t look like himself,” his wife said. It was midnight, and I was consulting on a patient in the emergency room. He was 48 years old and complaining of a headache. Ten years ago my attending had partially removed a benign tumor growing in his cerebellum, part of the hindbrain that controls movement, coordination and speech. Our team had also placed a shunt in his brain. The brain is buoyed and bathed by cerebrospinal fluid. This clear fluid is made in large cavities, called ventricles, and is eventually absorbed by veins. The tumor’s inoperable remnant had blocked the fluid’s natural escape, causing it to build up, a condition known as hydrocephalus. A shunt is a thin rubber tube that is placed in the ventricles of the brain and tunneled under the skin, into the abdomen. It can have a programmable pressure valve, a gauge that sits under the scalp. His shunt had been siphoning excess fluid to his abdomen for years where it was absorbed, preventing life-threatening high pressure in the brain. Today, however, something was wrong, and I thought it was revealed on his new head CT. His ventricles were very large, suggesting high pressure. “I get a bad headache when I sit up,” he mumbled. “Sometimes I vomit. I feel better when I lie flat.” His wife, a strong and kindhearted woman, corroborated his complaint. “He’s also having memory problems, and he’s losing his balance when he walks,” she added. His symptoms were the opposite of what I expected. He was describing a low-pressure headache. He was relieved by lying down but worsened when sitting up.

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 27397 - Posted: 08.03.2020

"Julich-Brain" is the name of the first 3D-atlas of the human brain that reflects the variability of the brain’s structure with microscopic resolution. The atlas features close to 250 structurally distinct areas, each one based on the analysis of 10 brains. More than 24000 extremely thin brain sections were digitized, assembled in 3D and mapped by experts. As part of the new EBRAINS infrastructure of the European Human Brain Project, the atlas serves as an interface to link different information about the brain in a spatially precise way. German researchers led by Prof. Katrin Amunts have now presented the new brain atlas in the renowned journal Science. Under the microscope, it can be seen that the human brain is not uniformly structured, but divided into clearly distinguishable areas. They differ in the distribution and density of nerve cells and in function. With the Julich-Brain, researchers led by Katrin Amunts now present the most comprehensive digital map of the cellular architecture and make it available worldwide via the EBRAINS research infrastructure. "On the one hand, the digital brain atlas will help to interpret the results of neuroimaging studies, for example of patients, more accurately", says Katrin Amunts, Director at the German Research Center Juelich and Professor at the University of Düsseldorf. "On the other hand, it is becoming the basis for a kind of 'Google Earth' of the brain - because the cellular level is the best interface for linking data about very different facets of the brain. ©2017 Human Brain Project.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27396 - Posted: 08.03.2020

Nicola Davis Excessive drinking, exposure to air pollution and head injuries all increase dementia risk, experts say in a report revealing that up to 40% of dementia cases worldwide could be delayed or prevented by addressing 12 such lifestyle factors. Around 50 million people around the world live with dementia, including about 850,000 people in the UK. By 2040, it has been estimated there will be more than 1.2 million people living with dementia in England and Wales. There is currently no cure. However, while some risk factors for dementia cannot be changed, for example particular genes or ethnicity, many are down to lifestyle. “Dementia is potentially preventable – you can do things to reduce your risk of dementia, whatever stage of life you are at,” said Gill Livingston, professor of psychiatry of older people at University College London and a co-author of the report. She added such lifestyle changes could reduce the chances of developing dementia in both those with and without a high genetic risk for such conditions. The report from the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care builds on previous work revealing that about a third of dementia cases could be prevented by addressing nine lifestyle factors, including midlife hearing loss, depression, less childhood education and smoking. The research weighs up the latest evidence, largely from high-income countries, supporting the addition of a further three risk factors to the list. It suggests that 1% of dementia cases worldwide are attributable to excessive mid-life alcohol intake, 3% to mid-life head injuries and 2% a result of exposure to air pollution in older age – although they caution that the latter could be an underestimate. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 27394 - Posted: 07.31.2020

By Joshua Sokol A beast calls in the distance. Hearing a low rumble, you might imagine the source will be an unholy cross between a wild boar and a chain saw. The message is unmistakable: I’m here, I’m huge and you can either come mate with me or stay out of my way. Surprise! It’s just a cuddly little koala. Like online dating, the soundscape of the animal world is rife with exaggerations about size, which animals use to scare off rivals and attract mates. Gazelles, howler monkeys, bats and many more creatures have evolved to create calls with deep sonic frequencies that sound as if they come from a much larger animal. Now scientists have proposed this same underlying pressure to exaggerate size might be linked to an even deeper mystery. It could have spurred mammals toward developing the ability to make a wider array of possible calls, to mimic sounds after hearing them and maybe even speech, what scientists call vocal learning. “We are offering one possible way for vocal learning to have evolved,” says Maxime Garcia, a biologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland who suggested the relationship with his colleague, Andrea Ravignani, in the journal Biology Letters this month. Their idea builds off previous studies on vocal learning in humans. Beyond just opera singers, beatboxers and Michael Winslow from the “Police Academy” movies, we all have some level of control over the frequencies of our voices. “I can tell you to lower your pitch or try to sound big, and you can soound like thissss,” said Katarzyna Pisanski at the University of Lyon in France, affecting a deep voice. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Communication; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27393 - Posted: 07.31.2020

By Nicholas Bakalar Severe gum disease and tooth loss may be linked to an increased risk for developing dementia, a new study has found. Researchers looked at 8,275 men and women whose average age was 63 at the start of the study. Over an average follow-up of more than 18 years, 19 percent of them developed Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. After controlling for various characteristics, including age, sex, education, cholesterol, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, smoking and body mass index, they found that compared with people with healthy gums, those who had severe gingivitis with tooth loss had a 22 percent increased relative risk for dementia. Being toothless was associated with a 26 percent increased risk. The report is in the journal Neurology. Previous studies have shown that bacteria present in periodontal disease, particularly certain spirochetes, can travel along the trigeminal nerve that connects the mucous membranes of the mouth to the brain, potentially causing brain damage. The researchers also suggest that the connection could be more indirect, with the inflammation of gum disease leading to cardiovascular disease or diabetes, which are known risk factors for dementia. “We haven’t proven causation,” said the lead author, Ryan T. Demmer, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. “But if it is causal, the population impact could be significant. Half the population has periodontal disease severe enough to put them at higher risk.” © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 27392 - Posted: 07.31.2020

By Helen Macdonald I found a dead common swift once, a husk of a bird under a bridge over the River Thames, where sunlight from the water cast bright scribbles on the arches above. I picked it up, held it in my palm, saw the dust in its feathers, its wings crossed like dull blades, its eyes tightly closed, and realized that I didn’t know what to do. This was a surprise. Encouraged by books, I’d always been the type of Gothic amateur naturalist who preserved interesting bits of the dead. I cleaned and polished fox skulls; disarticulated, dried and kept the wings of roadkill birds. But I knew, looking at the swift, that I could not do anything like that to it. The bird was suffused with a kind of seriousness very akin to holiness. I didn’t want to leave it there, so I took it home, swaddled it in a towel and tucked it in the freezer. It was in early May the next year, as soon as I saw the first returning swifts flowing down from the clouds, that I knew what I had to do. I went to the freezer, took out the swift and buried it in the garden one hand’s-width deep in earth newly warmed by the sun. Swifts are magical in the manner of all things that exist just a little beyond understanding. Once they were called the “Devil’s bird,” perhaps because those screaming flocks of black crosses around churches seemed pulled from darkness, not light. But to me, they are creatures of the upper air, and of their nature unintelligible, which makes them more akin to angels. Unlike all other birds I knew as a child, they never descended to the ground. When I was young, I was frustrated that there was no way for me to know them better. They were so fast that it was impossible to focus on their facial expressions or watch them preen through binoculars. They were only ever flickering silhouettes at 30, 40, 50 miles an hour, a shoal of birds, a pouring sheaf of identical black grains against bright clouds. There was no way to tell one bird from another, nor to watch them do anything other than move from place to place, although sometimes, if the swifts were flying low over rooftops, I’d see one open its mouth, and that was truly uncanny, because the gape was huge, turning the bird into something uncomfortably like a miniature basking shark. Even so, watching them with the naked eye was rewarding in how it revealed the dynamism of what before was merely blankness. Swifts weigh about 1½ ounces, and their surfing and tacking against the pressures of oncoming air make visible the movings of the atmosphere. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep; Evolution
Link ID: 27391 - Posted: 07.29.2020

Ian Sample Science editor Scientists have unravelled the mysterious mechanism behind the armpit’s ability to produce the pungent smell of body odour. Researchers at the University of York traced the source of underarm odour to a particular enzyme in a certain microbe that lives in the human armpit. To prove the enzyme was the chemical culprit, the scientists transferred it to an innocent member of the underarm microbe community and noted – to their delight – that it too began to emanate bad smells. The work paves the way for more effective deodorants and antiperspirants, the scientists believe, and suggests that humans may have inherited the mephitic microbes from our ancient primate ancestors. “We’ve discovered how the odour is produced,” said Prof Gavin Thomas, a senior microbiologist on the team. “What we really want to understand now is why.” Humans do not produce the most pungent constituents of BO directly. The offending odours, known as thioalcohols, are released as a byproduct when microbes feast on other compounds they encounter on the skin. The York team previously discovered that most microbes on the skin cannot make thioalcohols. But further tests revealed that one armpit-dwelling species, Staphylococcus hominis, was a major contributor. The bacteria produce the fetid fumes when they consume an odourless compound called Cys-Gly-3M3SH, which is released by sweat glands in the armpit. Advertisement Humans come with two types of sweat glands. Eccrine glands cover the body and open directly onto the skin. They are an essential component of the body’s cooling system. Apocrine glands, on the other hand, open into hair follicles, and are crammed into particular places: the armpits, nipples and genitals. Their role is not so clear. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27390 - Posted: 07.29.2020

By Jane E. Brody Appearances, as I’m sure you know, can be deceiving. In one all-too-common example, adolescents and young adults with disordered eating habits or outright eating disorders often go unrecognized by both parents and physicians because their appearance defies common beliefs: they don’t look like they have an eating problem. One such belief is that people with anorexia always look scrawny and malnourished when in fact they may be of normal weight or even overweight, according to recent research at the University of California, San Francisco. The researchers, led by Dr. Jason M. Nagata, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the university’s Benioff Children’s Hospital, found in a national survey that distorted eating behaviors occur in young people irrespective of their weight, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. And it’s not just about losing weight. The survey revealed that among young adults aged 18 to 24, 22 percent of males and 5 percent of females were striving to gain weight or build muscle by relying on eating habits that may appear to be healthy but that the researchers categorized as risky. These practices include overconsuming protein and avoiding fats and carbohydrates. The use of poorly tested dietary supplements and anabolic steroids was also common among those surveyed. The Covid-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated the problem for many teenagers whose daily routines have been disrupted and who now find themselves at home all day with lots of food being hoarded in kitchens and pantries, Dr. Nagata said in an interview. “We’re seeing more patients and referrals for eating disorders and their complications,” he said. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Anorexia & Bulimia
Link ID: 27389 - Posted: 07.29.2020