What the scientists are saying…
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?