Friday, April 18, 2014

Taking care of grandkids one day a week helps keep grandmothers mentally sharp, shows study

Taking care of grandkids one day a week helps keep grandmothers mentally sharp, finds a study from the Women's Healthy Aging Project study in Australia, published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). That's good news for women after menopause, when women need to lower their risks of developing Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive disorders.

On the other hand, taking care of grandchildren five days a week or more had some negative effects on tests of mental sharpness. "We know that older women who are socially engaged have better cognitive function and a lower risk of developing dementia later, but too much of a good thing just might be bad," said NAMS Executive Director Margery Gass, MD.

The 186 Australian women, ages 57 to 68, took three different tests of mental sharpness and also noted whether they thought their own children had been particularly demanding of them in the last year. Among the 120 grandmothers, those who spent one day a week taking care of grandchildren performed best on two of the three tests. But those taking care of grandchildren for five or more days a week did significantly worse on one of the tests, which assesses working memory and mental processing speed.

That was a finding the researchers didn't expect. However, they also found that the more time grandmothers spent taking care of the grandchildren, the more they felt that their children had been more demanding of them, so maybe mood plays a role in the unexpected result. The investigators are already following up with more research.

Although other research has looked at the relationship between mental sharpness and being socially engaged, this is the first time that this type of research has looked at grandmothering. "Because grandmothering is such an important and common social role for postmenopausal women, we need to know more about its effects on their future health," says Dr. Gass. "This study is a good start."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Watching movies synchronises viewers' brains

When we watch a movie, our brains react to it immediately in a way similar to brains of other people, scientists have found.

When we watch a movie, our brains react to it immediately in a way similar to brains of other people, scientists have found.

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have developed a method fast enough to observe immediate changes in the function of the brain even when watching a movie.

Researchers said by employing movies it was possible to investigate the function of the human brain in experimental conditions that are close to natural.

Traditionally, in neuroscience research, simple stimuli, such as checkerboard patterns or single images, have been used.

Viewing a movie creates multilevel changes in the brain function. Despite the complexity of the stimulus, the elicited brain activity patterns show remarkable similarities across different people - even at the time scale of fractions of seconds.

"The analysis revealed important similarities between brain signals of different people during movie viewing," said researcher Kaisu Lankinen.

"These similar kinds or synchronised signals were found in brain areas that are connected with the early-stage processing of visual stimuli, detection of movement and persons, motor coordination and cognitive functions.

"The results imply that the contents of the movie affected certain brain functions of the subjects in a similar manner," Lankinen said.

So far, studies in this field have mainly been based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). However, given the superior temporal resolution, within milliseconds, magnetoencephalography (MEG) is able to provide more complete picture of the fast brain processes.

With the help of MEG and new analysis methods, investigation of significantly faster brain processes is possible and it enables detection of brain activity in frequencies higher than before.

In the new analysis, brain imaging was combined with machine-learning methodology, with which signals of a similar form were mined from the brain data.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Targeting mosquito sperm can help combat malaria

Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes are the main transmitters of malaria, which affects around 200 million people every year.

Scientists have discovered a way of reducing the fertility of malaria-carrying mosquitoes by targeting an enzyme that protects their sperm, potentially providing a new tactic to combat the disease.

Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes are the main transmitters of malaria, which affects around 200 million people every year. The females mate only once during their lives.

They store the sperm from this single mating in an organ called the spermatheca, from which they repeatedly take sperm over the course of their lifetime to fertilise the eggs that they lay. The female needs the sperm to stay healthy whilst they are in storage in the spermatheca, so that they are viable each time she uses them to reproduce.

The new research shows that the sperm are partly protected by the actions of an enzyme called HPX15. When the researchers interfered with HPX15 in female A gambiae mosquitoes in the laboratory, the females fertilised fewer eggs and therefore produced fewer offspring. This is the first time that scientists have discovered a mechanism that preserves the function of sperm in A gambiae.

The researchers, from Harvard School of Public Health, the University of Perugia and Imperial College London, believe that their insight could ultimately lead to a new weapon in the fight against malaria. This would work by disabling HPX15 to reduce female fertility and through that, reduce the number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes in circulation.

“Malaria kills over 650,000 people every year and we need to find new ways of tackling it, partly because mosquitoes continue to evolve ways of resisting our efforts,” Dr Robert Shaw, one of the lead authors of the research, said. “We are interested in cutting the numbers of malarial mosquitoes by impairing their ability to reproduce, and our new study suggests a way that we might be able to do this.

“There is no single magic bullet for tackling malaria, but making mosquitoes less fertile could provide us with a valuable weapon against the disease,” said Shaw. The study suggests that HPX15 may protect the stored sperm against potentially damaging molecules called free radicals, which are particularly abundant after a female takes a blood feed.

Ensuring that the sperm are healthy after blood-feeding is important for the female’s fertility as she reproduces after each feed, fertilising her eggs with sperm released from the spermatheca. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Study warns kitchens may carry multi-drug resistant bacteria

Prefer spicy restaurant food over home-made delicacies? Get alarmed as hands of food preparers and chopping boards remain a source of transmission for multi-drug resistant bacteria such as E coli, a study warns.

"The spread of multi-drug resistant bacteria has been associated with the hospital setting, but new findings suggest that transmission of drug-resistant E coli occurs both in hospitals and kitchens," explained Andreas Widmer from University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland.

The findings emphasise the importance of hand hygiene, not only after handling raw poultry, but also after contact with cutting boards used in poultry preparation, he added.

To reach this conclusion, researchers collected and examined 298 cutting boards (154 from University Hospital and 144 from private households) after preparation of various meats - poultry, beef/veal, pork, lamb, game and fish - and before being cleaned.

These samples were tested for the presence of bacteria that includes Salmonella, E coli and Klebsiella.

In testing the cutting boards, researchers found that boards used in households had E coli on 3.5% of these surfaces.

They also found that 50% of the kitchen gloves were contaminated with this drug-resistant E coli.

The meat's country of origin did not play a factor in the presence of bacteria on any of the surfaces, said the study, published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

Monday, April 14, 2014

'I will do it tomorrow' attitude hidden in genes

Those who procrastinate are also likely to be more impulsive and both the traits are linked to genes that one inherits, the study has found.

"Everyone procrastinates at least sometimes but we wanted to explore why some people procrastinate more than others and why procrastinators seem more likely to make rash actions and act without thinking," said psychological scientist Daniel Gustavson of the University of Colorado Boulder in the US.

The researchers found that procrastination is indeed heritable, just like impulsivity. Not only that, there seems to be a complete genetic overlap between procrastination and impulsivity - that is, there are no genetic influences that are unique to either trait alone, the study found.

For the study, researchers had 181 identical-twin pairs and 166 fraternal-twin pairs complete several surveys intended to probe their tendencies toward impulsivity and procrastination, as well as their ability to set and maintain goals.

The research appeared in the journal Psychological Science.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

'Red' letter day: India's Mars mission crosses halfway mark

Bangalore: Mangalyaan, India's maiden mission to Mars, crossed the halfway mark of its incredible journey today morning at 9.50 am.

Mangalyaan (Mars craft), which was launched on November 5, 2013 from the Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh, has travelled nearly 337.5 million km till now.

It is expected to rendezvous with the Red Planet on September 24, 2014, when it will become the farthest any Indian object has ever travelled.

At Rs. 450 crore, India's Mars mission is the cheapest inter planetary mission ever undertaken.

Mangalyaan aims to look for signs of life on Mars. It also aspires to fulfill India's covert desire to beat China in the race to the Red Planet.

The mission seems to be on track thanks to the nature of planetary forces and the precise orbit injection by the Indian Space Research Organisation.

A team comprising nearly 500 ISRO scientists had worked tirelessly to ensure that Mangalyaan was ready for its launch within a record 15 months.

Of the 51 missions to Mars launched from across the world till date, 27 have failed so far.

If Mangalyaan manages to reach Mars, India will become the first country to achieve the enviable feat on a spacecraft 's maiden flight.

Till date, only the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency have successfully managed to send a spacecraft all the way to Mars.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced the Centre's decision to undertake a mission to Mars during his speech at the Red Fort on August 15, 2012.

From simply being an ambitious idea by the Indian government to an actual inter planetary mission that has crossed its halfway mark, it has been quite a remarkable journey for Mangalyaan.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Couch potatoes date back 7,000 years

Thought couch potatoes are the product of a modern lifestyle? They may have evolved 7,000 years ago!

Thought couch potatoes are the product of a modern lifestyle? They may have evolved 7,000 years ago!

A new Cambridge study has shown that couch potatoes have a history that stretches back 7,000 years when humans first picked up the plough.

Research into lower limb bones shows that our early farming ancestors in Central Europe became less active as their tasks diversified and technology improved.

Cambridge University anthropologist Alison Macintosh found that this drop in mobility was particularly marked in men.

Macintosh shows that after the emergence of agriculture in Central Europe from around 5300 BC, the bones of those living in the fertile soils of the Danube river valley became progressively less strong, pointing to a decline in mobility and loading.

Macintosh suggests that male mobility among earliest farmers (around 7,300 years ago) was, on average, at a level near that of today's student cross-country runners.

Within just over 3,000 years, average mobility had dropped to the level of those students rated as sedentary, after which the decline slowed.

Macintosh laser-scanned skeletons found in cemeteries across Central Europe.

The earliest skeletons she examined date from around 5300 BC and the most recent from around 850 AD - a time span of 6,150 years.

Using a portable desktop 3D laser surface scanner to scan femora and tibiae, she found that male tibiae became less rigid and that bones in both males and females became less strengthened to loads in one direction more than another, such as front-to-back in walking.

These findings all indicate a drop in mobility. In other words, it is likely that the people to whom the skeletons belonged became, over generations, less intensely active and probably covered less distance, or carried out less physically demanding tasks, than those who had lived before them.

"My results suggest that, following the transition to agriculture in Central Europe, males were more affected than females by cultural and technological changes that reduced the need for long-distance travel or heavy physical work," said Macintosh.

"This also means that, as people began to specialise in tasks other than just farming and food production, such as metalworking, fewer people were regularly doing tasks that were very strenuous on their legs," Macintosh said.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ethnicity has 'more impact on eye movements than culture'

Researchers studying eye movements have found that ethnicity rather than culture is the underlying factor in influencing patterns. The findings dispute previous research which suggested that neurological behaviour, such as eye movement, is shaped by cultural influence.
Scientists at the University of Liverpool tested three groups of participants; Chinese (70), British Chinese (45) and White British (70), to look at the speed of small eye movements called saccades.

Subjects looked at a white board and coloured lights would flash up on the board. The time taken for the eyes to react was then recorded by a headset.

The researchers found that from the three groups, subjects of Chinese ethnicity had faster eye movements than Caucasians, despite the British Chinese subjects having different cultural values to Chinese subjects – as measured by questionnaire.

Dr Paul Knox, the Neurophysiologist at the University of Liverpool who led the study, said: “Many scientists believe that the eye movement patterns you develop are due to where you live, the books you read and the influence of your family, peers and community – your culture.

“Our research has shown that this cannot be the case, at least for saccade behaviour. What this leaves is the way we’re made, perhaps our genetics. And this may have a bearing on the way the brains in different groups react to injuries and disease.”

The research was published in the journal PLoS ONE. HERE: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0094424

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Researchers reveal theory behind creation of Earth’s tectonic plates

Starting roughly four billion years ago, cooler parts of earth's crust were pulled downwards into the warmer upper mantle, damaging and weakening the surrounding crust. The process happened again and again until the weak areas formed plate boundaries.

"Over a much longer period, the same process could have created many tectonic plates. We have got a physical mechanism to explain how it could have happened," study author David Bercovici from Yale University explained.

The process began about four billion years ago and caused complete fractures some three billion years ago.
To investigate how the plates formed, Bercovici and Yanick Ricard of University of Lyon in France developed a computer model of earth's crust as it may have existed billions of years ago.

The model included a low-pressure zone at the base of the crust which caused a piece of the crust to sink into the upper mantle - mimicking conditions thought to have occurred early in the earth's history.

As the process repeated over time, it created a large tectonic plate with an active subduction zone.
Prior studies suggested the age of the plates - based on evidence of subduction gathered from minerals - preserved in ancient rocks.

In geology, subduction is the process that takes place at convergent boundaries by which one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate and sinks into the mantle as the plates converge.

The oldest such specimens are four-billion-year-old zircons found in the Jack Hills of Australia that appear to have formed at temperatures and pressures that are indicative of subduction.

"The subsequent movement of the plates has erased much of the evidence of their origin," said Paul Tackley, a geophysicist at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland in a report published in Nature.

According to Robert Stern, a geologist at University of Texas in Dallas, there is no firm evidence of plate tectonics earlier than one billion years ago, but the new mechanism behind plate formation is "the first interesting example of how it might have occurred".

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Microsoft rolls out Update 1 for Windows 8.1: Features improved app management, boot to Desktop, IE11

Windows 8.1 update 1 have been officially released by Microsoft and is now available for download from the official site. The company has made it mandatory for the Windows 8.1 users to install the Update 1 pack on their systems. This update comes just a day after Windows XP support was ended by the company.

This is the first update for Windows 8.1 OS, which was released late last year. The post from company’s official blog says, “Failure to install this Update will prevent Windows Update from patching your system with any future updates starting with Updates released in May 2014.” Most of these updates are aimed at making the operating system more user friendly for those who still prefer using a keyboard and mouse.

Windows 8.1 already have undergone changes prior these latest updates from Microsoft. These updates are a result of the user feedback that Microsoft claims to have paid heed to. It is no secret that the latest Windows 8.1 can be quite intimidating for any first time user. It is altogether a new ball game and has quite a steep learning curve. This is eventually ended up causing frustration and costing precious time.

Now users have the option of choosing which interface to boot into. You can pick between the traditional Desktop mode or the Windows 8 Start Screen. You can even open Windows 8 apps on the desktop for a more familiar experience.

With windowed mode for Modern UI apps users can open each app in a window, and move to the next app, without the need to completely minimise the current app and going back to the desktop screen. The familiar close and minimise icons are back for Windows 8 apps as well. In addition, shutdown options are presented on the Start Screen itself. The taskbar will also be visible on the Windows 8 Start Screen.

The updates also will give you an updated Internet Explorer 11 that will be free of compatibility issues it earlier had. Now IE 11 can now be installed on Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 operating systems.

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