Science Now
Discoveries from the world of science and medicine
We're all in the clean-plate club, researchers conclude

Seems that most of us take to heart the common admonition to clean our plates, at least when we fill them ourselves. Adults eat nearly 92% of the food they put on their plates, according to research published in the International Journal of Obesity. There were some variations: If people were distracted, they ate less, almost 89% of what they took; they ate 92.8% of meals but only 76.1% of snacks. At home or in a lab, the amount eaten was about the same, and men and women ate the same percentages.  “If you put it on your plate, it’s going into your stomach,” said Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and the study’s lead researcher. Wansink, who frequently studies eating habits, conducted the research with Katherine Abowd Johnson, a doctoral student at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The studies that looked at children showed they ate about 60% of what they took. Nor is the urge to clean our plates strictly an American trait: The results were...

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Wild monkeys suffer low blood cell counts near Fukushima power plant

Wild Japanese monkeys near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have lower blood cell counts than similar monkeys who lived almost 200 miles away, according to biologists. In a paper published Thursday in Scientific Reports, researchers tested Japanese macaques captured and killed in a forest about 40 miles from the power plant and compared the results to macaques in Shimokita Peninsula, a remote area in the country's north. According to researchers, monkeys in the vicinity of Fukushima City had detectable levels of radioactive cesium in their muscles, while the northern monkeys did not. Researchers also found that the Fukushima simians had significantly lower white and red blood cell counts compared with macaque troops almost 200 miles away. "These results suggest that the exposure to some form of radioactive material contributed to hematological changes in Fukushima monkeys," argued the study's lead author, Kazuhiko Ochiai, a researcher at Nippon Veterinary and Life Science...

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Pack attack: Tyrannosaurs ran in gangs, fossil footprints show

Talk about a triple threat! If you thought tyrannosaurs weren’t scary enough, try three of them at the same time. Turns out these fearsome beasts weren’t solitary hunters -- they ran in gangs, according to a study of the first fossil tyrannosaurid trackways ever discovered. The three sets of fossil footprints, described in a PLOS One paper called “A Terror of Tyrannosaurs,” show clear evidence that these animals were “gregarious”: They operated in packs rather than alone, as once thought. While paleontologists have dug up a decent number of tyrannosaur bones, their footprints have been few and far between, according to the study led by Richard McCrea, a researcher at Peace Region Palaeontology Research Center. Those few that have been found are single, solitary footprints, not part of a trail. And that’s too bad, because a series of footprints (referred to as "trackways") can reveal certain things that bones alone may not, including the animal’s gait, how fast it could go and who it...

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Ancestors of birds were not the only dinosaurs with feathers

If you've visited a dinosaur exhibit in the last five years you know that at least some of the scaly, reptilian-looking creatures most of us imagined were in fact plumed. That is, in addition to scales, they had feathers too. But the recent discovery of a small downy dinosaur in Siberia suggests that feather-like structures on dinosaurs may have been even more widespread throughout the dinosaur world than was previously thought. The best evidence for feathered dinosaurs comes from a series of discoveries in northeastern China, beginning in the 1980s. Hundreds of millions of years ago this area was covered in forest, filled with animals and dotted with lakes. Those lakes are key, because their sediments preserved not just the bones of the dead animals that fell to their bottoms, but also some of their soft tissue -- skin, and feathers as well.  From these discoveries, scientists were able to conclude that at least the theropod group of dinosaurs was sporting bird-like feathers about 200...

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Overweight and obese kids are in denial about their weight, CDC says

New government data suggest a non-medical cause of America’s childhood obesity crisis: denial. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48% of obese boys and 36% of obese girls think their weight is “about right.” Among kids and teens who were merely overweight, 81% of boys and 71% of girls also judged their weight to be “about right.” Those figures are based on interviews with American children who were between the ages of 8 and 15 during the years 2005 through 2012. As part of the CDC’s ongoing National  Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, they had their height and weight measured and they answered questions from interviewers. Among them: “Do you consider yourself now to be fat or overweight, too thin or about the right weight?” Overall, 30.2% of the kids gave an answer that wasn’t in line with their actual body mass index, according to the report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. That corresponds to about 9.1 million American kids who...

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Study casts doubt on rate of Antarctic sea ice growth

A new study suggests that scientists must reexamine records that show increases in Antarctic sea ice since 1979. Researchers found that something changed in the way satellite data get converted into ice cover, but they can’t yet identify the exact nature of the change, or whether it fixed a problem or introduced one. They can say that their results show either Antarctic sea ice has not expanded as much as previously reported or it has been gaining ground for longer than scientists realized. The study was published this week in the journal The Cryosphere. The paradox of expanding Antarctic sea ice has troubled scientists for many years. Although climate models predict southern sea ice should shrink, it has stubbornly refused to do so. In fact, between the last two reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which came out just seven years apart, the rate of Antarctic sea ice growth more than doubled. The prevailing explanation held that extending the relatively...

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In Alaska, wood frogs freeze for seven months, thaw and hop away

Each September, the wood frogs of Alaska do a very strange thing: They freeze. They do not freeze totally solid, but they do freeze mostly solid. Two-thirds of their body water turns to ice. If you picked them up, they would not move. If you bent one of their legs, it would break. Inside these frozen frogs other weird physiological things are going on. Their hearts stop beating, their blood no longer flows and their glucose levels sky rocket. "On an organismal level they are essentially dead," said Don Larson, a graduate student at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks who studies frogs. "The individual cells are still functioning, but they have no way to communicate with each other." The craziest thing of all may be that in this frozen state, they can withstand temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit for as long as seven months, and then, when spring arrives, thaw out and hop away. Biologists have known for decades that some frogs freeze in the winter and thaw in the spring, but...

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What can dogs teach us about jealousy?

Jealousy is such a powerful emotion that at least one study has characterized it as the third leading cause of non-accidental homicide in all cultures. Is it possible that this universal green-eyed monster evolved as a survival mechanism? In a study published Wednesday in the journal Plos One, researchers at UC San Diego experimented with dogs to see whether they, like humans, were hard-wired for jealousy. If so, the researchers suggested that human and canine jealousy might exist for similar "primordial" reasons. Although many dog owners will attest to bouts of canine jealousy --  even evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin suspected that the creatures were capable of such emotion -- few have tried to prove it scientifically, according to psychology professor Christine Harris and researcher Caroline Prouvost, the study's authors.  In an experiment, the authors took 36 dogs of various breeds -- along with their owners -- and observed the dogs' behavior as their masters interacted with...

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Safety profile of blockbuster blood thinner comes under question

A new investigation has raised fresh questions about a bestselling prescription medication to reduce stroke risk in those with the heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation. Published Wednesday in the journal BMJ, a package of articles suggests that patients taking the drug dabigatran (marketed since 2010 as Pradaxa) may have a higher risk of life-threatening bleeding episodes than physicians and regulators had been led to believe. ------------ FOR THE RECORD This post has been changed to correct the publication date of the articles in the journal BMJ. ------------ The BMJ probe also suggests that there may be safety benefits to monitoring Pradaxa's anticoagulant effect on individual patients -- a practice deemed unnecessary by the Food and Drug Administration when it approved the medication's marketing four years ago. Beneath these carefully worded questions of patient safety, the authors write, lie issues of integrity and transparency in the presentation by Pradaxa's...

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FDA approves new opioid pain reliever designed to be hard to abuse

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new form of the powerful and controversial pain reliever OxyContin that is designed to be more resistant to abuse, but experts warned the drug could wind up having the opposite effect. Purdue Pharma’s Targiniq ER combines a long-acting form of the opioid analgesic oxycodone with the medication naloxone, which is commonly used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. In Targiniq, the naloxone is included not to reverse an overdose but to block the euphoric effects of oxycodone and thus make it less enticing to many addicts. The new drug, approved Wednesday, can be crushed and then snorted or injected to release its full narcotic payload instantly — the pattern of abuse that fueled addiction and overdoses involving Purdue’s original OxyContin pills. The naxolone becomes active when the pills are crushed. However, the naxolone doesn’t kick in when the pills are swallowed whole. Most people who abuse oxycodone take the pills this way,...

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Maintaining weight may lower depression in African American women

Trying to maintain their weight helped low-income, overweight African American women stave off depression, researchers reported. The researchers looked at the confluence of two debilitating health issues. Depression is among the most common and disabling mental health conditions in the United States, and nearly 15% of African American women will experience major depression in their lifetimes. Additionally, depressed African American adults are less likely to get treatment for depression than are white people. Obesity is also disproportionately prevalent among African American women. At the start of the study, about 20% of the 185 participants reported symptoms of moderate to severe depression. Among the group in the weight management program, that number fell to about 10% after a year and after 18 months. Among the control group, there was no change. "This equates to an almost 50% reduction in the proportion of intervention participants with moderate to severe depression," the Duke...

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Ships and blue whales on a collision course off California coast

Blue whales cluster for long periods in the busy shipping lanes off the California coast, according to a new study that raises concern about collisions between vessels and the endangered animals. “It’s an unhappy coincidence,” said Ladd Irvine, a marine mammal ecologist at Oregon State University who led the study published Wednesday in the journal Plos One. “The blue whales need to find the densest food supply. There’s a limited number of those dense places, and it seems as though two of the main regular spots are crossed by the shipping lanes.” Irvine and his colleagues used satellites to track 171 tagged blue whales over 15 years. They produced the most-detailed maps to date of the feeding zones of the giant whales, which are protected from hunting under international regulations. The biggest overlap between blue whales and ships occurs from July to October near the western Channel Islands off Santa Barbara, the researchers reported. They also found somewhat smaller overlaps near...

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