What the sci­en­tists are say­ing…

The Week Middle East - - News -

Smoking trig­gers DNA mu­ta­tions

Re­searchers have, for the first time, ex­am­ined the im­pact of smoking on hu­man cells – and it makes for sober­ing read­ing. The team in the US an­a­lysed the DNA se­quences of more than 5,000 can­cers, in tu­mours from both smok­ers and non-smok­ers, and found that peo­ple who smoke 20 a day for a year typ­i­cally de­velop an ex­tra 150 mu­ta­tions in ev­ery lung cell. They also de­velop 97 more mu­ta­tions in the cells of the lar­ynx, 23 in the mouth, 18 in the blad­der, and six in the liver. Mu­ta­tions are changes to a cell’s ge­netic pro­gram­ming that can oc­cur when cells di­vide. Many are harm­less, or eas­ily re­paired, but when they start to build up, cells are more likely to be­gin di­vid­ing un­con­trol­lably – which is what leads to the growth of can­cer tu­mours. “If you smoke even a lit­tle bit, you’ll erode the ge­netic ma­te­rial of most of the cells in your body,” said Lud­mil Alexan­drov of the Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory in New Mex­ico, and one of the study’s au­thors. “You can re­ally think of it as play­ing Rus­sian roulette.”

Bats killed by wind farm tur­bines

Thou­sands of bats may be dy­ing each month as a re­sult of be­ing hit by wind tur­bine blades, the Fi­nan­cial Times has re­ported. Us­ing snif­fer dogs, re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Exeter searched for bat car­casses at 29 on­shore wind farms, where they found that a to­tal of at least 194 were be­ing killed, on av­er­age, each month. And the real ca­su­alty rate was likely to be higher, as some car­casses may have been re­moved by scav­engers. In to­tal, there are more than 450 on­shore wind farms in Bri­tain, sug­gest­ing a min­i­mum of 3,000 bats are killed each month na­tion­wide. It’s un­clear why the bats fly into the blades. Pos­si­bly they turn off their sonar sys­tems when fly­ing above a cer­tain height, as they don’t ex­pect their paths to be blocked. They could also be at­tracted to in­sects that gather around the blades, or sim­ply to un­fa­mil­iar ob­jects, which would help ex­plain why car­casses were found at wind farms sit­u­ated in open ar­eas, where the risk to bats (which gen­er­ally live in shel­tered places) was as­sumed to be min­i­mal. “Bats have been around for at least 30 mil­lion years, and dur­ing that time had been able to fly hap­pily with­out the risk of col­lid­ing with spin­ning ob­jects,” said study leader Dr Fiona Mathews. The re­searchers called for tur­bines to be switched off at night, at least dur­ing the sum­mer, which is peak mi­grat­ing and scav­eng­ing sea­son for bats.

The scout recipe for hap­pi­ness

If you want your chil­dren to be men­tally ro­bust through­out life, con­sider sign­ing them up to the scouts or guides. Re­searchers from Glas­gow and Ed­in­burgh uni­ver­si­ties looked at 10,000 peo­ple from across Bri­tain who are now in their late 50s. Roughly a quar­ter had been scouts or guides; and they were, on av­er­age, 15% less likely to suf­fer from anx­i­ety or mood dis­or­ders than those who hadn’t. Ac­cord­ing to the re­searchers, this could be be­cause learn­ing skills such as knot-ty­ing and tent-pitch­ing helps make peo­ple more re­sis­tant to stress; or it may be that learn­ing to tackle such chal­lenges in­creases a per­son’s chances of be­ing suc­cess­ful – which gen­er­ally makes them less anx­ious. As the same ben­e­fits prob­a­bly ex­ist to­day, en­cour­ag­ing more chil­dren to join youth groups “might be very sen­si­ble”, said chief re­searcher Pro­fes­sor Chris Dibben.

Mor­bid thoughts “help you win”

Does dwelling on our own mor­tal­ity turn us into higher achiev­ers? That is the im­pli­ca­tion of a new US study, which found that bas­ket­ball play­ers per­formed bet­ter if they had thought about death be­fore go­ing on court. For the small study, teams of am­a­teur play­ers were asked to at­tempt a se­ries of bas­ket­ball chal­lenges. Be­fore­hand, half were en­cour­aged to think about death – ei­ther by be­ing asked to write their thoughts on the topic, or more sub­tly, by be­ing briefed by a re­searcher wear­ing a T-shirt em­bla­zoned with a skull and the word “death”. On the court, those who’d been led to have mor­bid thoughts sig­nif­i­cantly out­per­formed the oth­ers: they “took more shots, bet­ter shots, and they hus­tled more and ran faster”, said study leader Uri Lif­shin. The find­ings fit with a the­ory known as “ter­ror man­age­ment”, which holds that peo­ple com­pen­sate for anx­i­ety about dy­ing by des­per­ately find­ing ways to boost their self-es­teem; which, for this group, meant win­ning at bas­ket­ball.

Are for­mer girl guides less anx­ious as adults?

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