Monthly Archives: August 2011

Eating lots of chocolate cuts risk of heart disease, research suggests

Good news for chocoholics everywhere: eating high amounts of chocolate could reduce the risk of suffering coronary heart disease and stroke, and may even be good for the brain. That’s according to scientists at the University of Cambridge, who have analysed data from over 100,000 patients and found levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders.

But before we all start to binge on chocolate and expect perfect health, the researchers have warned that high chocolate consumption can lead to other problems, such as Type 2 diabetes and – perhaps unsurprisingly – weight gain. They have also pointed out that further research is needed to confirm the beneficial effects of chocolate.

The research suggests that a couple of bars of chocolate a day will help reduce blood pressure. However, The British Heart Foundation have made it clear there are better ways to achieve this. Victoria Taylor, the Foundation’s senior heart health dietician, advises: “We can’t start advising people to eat lots of chocolate based on this research.”

Full story: BBC News


Introducing Robonaut R2: The robot that uses Twitter. In outer space.

R2 is a robot with a difference. Not only is it the first ever human-like astronuat robot, but it uses social networking website Twitter to write status updates from The International Space Station.  The popular robonaut has already acquired over 40,000 followers on the site.

R2 has been designed to assist astronauts in The ISS, both inside and outside the station. (It describes itself on its Twitter profile as “A humanoid robot designed to work side by side with humans, or go where the risks are too great for people”). The robot currently sits in a fixed base, but eventually NASA plans to attach legs so that R2 can crawl through the Station corridors. Further forward in time, it may even be mounted to a 4-wheel rover and sent to explore the surfaces of Mars and the Moon.

The success of R2 is considered a massively encouraging sign for future space exploration. Writing on NASA’s website, John Olson, the agency’s director of Exploration Systems Integration Office, said: “The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equalling more than the parts … It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today.”

Full story: BBC News

Study reveals polar bears have Irish maternal ancestors

Where do Polar Bears come from? The obvious answer is, of course, the North Pole. However, if we go far back enough generations, the real answer is theRepublic of Ireland. The furry white giants are in fact descended from now-extinct Irish brown bears that lived during the last Ice Age.

This surprising finding is the result of a study of ancient brown bear teeth and skeletons found in various cave sites across Ireland. Scientists from the UK, Ireland and the US analysed the brown bears’ mitochondrial DNA – which is passed from mother to child – and it turns out they share a distinct DNA sequence with all of today’s polar bears.

Oxford University’s Dr Ceiridwen Edwards, the research paper’s lead author said: “Hybridization between ancient Irish brown bears and polar bears has led to the complete replacement of the original polar bear mitochondria. This maternal lineage is now present in all modern polar bears … It’s amazing to think that Irish brown bears are the ancestors of the modern maternal polar bear lineage.”

It was a changing climate that caused their paths to cross. Just before – or during – the last Ice Age, the two species came together and polar bears mated with female Irish brown bears. “The hybridisation between the two species occurred at a time when their home ranges overlapped, most likely during environmental stress”, explained Dr. Edwards. 

Full story: BelfastTelegraph

Student devises optical device that could give us invisibility cloak

We’ve all seen the films or read the books. Harry Potter has a magic “invisibility cloak” that allows him to perfectly camoflague himself and creep around un-noticed. It’s the work of fiction, but a student at St. Andrews University has taken it one step closer to becoming a reality.

22-year-old undergraduate Janos Perczel has devised a way of slowing down light as it travels around an object, which creates an optical device called an “invisibility sphere”. This overcomes a major hurdle that had previously prevented the progress of inventing invisibility cloaks. It could now lead to such a cloak that works against backgrounds of a variety of ever-changing colours and remains unseen.

The makers of the Harry Potter movies must be frustrated that a real-life invisibility cloak wasn’t invented as they were making the films. It would have saved an awful lot of time and effort on special effects.

Full story: Photonics Online

Music linked with helping depression

Music is non-verbal communication, and allows people to express emotions in ways that words cannot. It therefore has the power to help people physically, mentally, and spiritually. That’s the basic premise of music therapy. It has its critics and its skeptics, but music therapy is used by the NHS to help children who struggle to communicate.  

Now, latest research in Finland suggests that the very same therapy can help adults improve their levels of depression and anxiety. In a study of 79 people, all patients with depression received the standard practice of counselling and appropriate medication, while 33 patients received twenty additional sessions with a trained music therapist.

After three months, patients receiving music therapy showed a greater improvement in scores of anxiety and depression than the other set of patients. Although there was no statistical improvement after six months, it still supports the short-term effectiveness of music therapy to treat depression, when combined with conventional therapy.

The University of Jyväskylä’s Professor Christian Gold said: “Our trial has shown that music therapy, when added to standard care, helps people to improve their levels of depression and anxiety.”

Full story: BBC News