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Jul 28
Early reading skills make kids sharper
If you wish to see your kids emerge as intelligent adults, start now to mind their reading skills. Researchers have found that early reading skills might positively affect later intellectual abilities.

"Early remediation of reading problems might aid in not only the growth of literacy, but also more general cognitive abilities that are of critical importance across the lifespan," said Stuart Ritchie, a research fellow in psychology at University of Edinburgh in Britain.

"Children who do not receive enough assistance in learning to read may also be missing out on the important, intelligence-boosting properties of literacy," Ritchie said.

For the study, researchers looked at 1,890 identical twins who were part of the "Twins Early Development Study", an ongoing longitudinal study in Britain.

They examined scores from tests of reading and intelligence taken when the twins were aged seven, nine, 10, 12, and 16.

The researchers found that earlier differences in reading between the twins were linked to later differences in intelligence.

Reading was associated not only with measures of verbal intelligence (such as vocabulary tests) but with measures of nonverbal intelligence as well (such as reasoning tests).

The differences in reading that were linked to differences in later intelligence were present by age seven, which may indicate that even early reading skills affect intellectual development.

The study appeared in the journal Child Development.

Jul 28
New probe will allow early cancer detection in seconds
Scientists have revealed that they are developing a revolutionary new laser device that would allow on-the-spot diagnosis of cancer in just seconds.

According to the researchers from Birmingham City University and the University of Central Lancashire, the probe will detect cancers early and distinguish between different forms of the disease, the Daily Express reported.

Ryan Stables said that this could change the way we approach cancer - diagnosis so it is faster, potentially saving thousands of lives and this method of identifying cancerous cells is similar to that of using a metal detector.

Stables added that the probe allows you to recognise the characteristics of cancer in real-time, which they hope could have life-changing implications.

The non-invasive system, which is still in its early stages of development, detects malignant cells by the way in which laser light disperses from them and the researchers hope a probe could be in widespread use in surgeries within five years. It is intended for use on the skin and internally and for testing blood samples taken by the GP.

Jul 26
'Background TV' may affect kids' health: Study
A recent study has revealed that television programmes running in the back ground have a negative impact on the children, during their play and learn phase.

University of Iowa researchers found that background television could divert a child's attention from play and learning and that non-educational programs could negatively affect children's cognitive development.

The team found a relationship between the content children were exposed to and their executive function, an important facet in learning and development.

Deborah Linebarger, UI associate professor, said that Children, whose parents created a home environment that was loving and nurturing and where rules and expectations were the same from one time to another, were better able to control their behavior, display more empathy, and did better academically.

In particular, Linebarger suggested the parents to be mindful what their children view on the tube, especially the content of a show.

Researchers said that among the impacts of background TV, it recruited kids' attention away from other activities, such as play and learning.

The study was published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Jul 26
Bacteria linked to obesity and diabetes found
Biologists have discovered an extremely widespread virus that could be as old as humans and could play a major role in obesity and diabetes.

More than half the world's population is host to the newly described virus, named crAssphage, which infects one of the most common types of gut bacteria, Bacteroidetes, the findings showed.

This phylum of bacteria is thought to be connected with obesity, diabetes and other gut-related diseases.

"It is not unusual to go looking for a novel virus and find one. But it is very unusual to find one that so many people have in common. The fact that it has flown under the radar for so long is very strange," said Robert Edwards, a bioinformatics professor at the San Diego State University in the US.

In the DNA fecal samples from 12 different individuals, the researchers noticed a particular cluster of viral DNA, about 97,000 base pairs long, that the samples all had in common.

When Edwards and his colleagues checked this discovery against a comprehensive listing of known viruses, they came up empty.

This was a new virus that about half the sampled people had in their bodies that nobody knew about.

The fact that it is so widespread indicates that it probably is not a particularly young virus, either.

"We have basically found it in every population we have looked at," Edwards said.

"As far as we can tell, it is as old as humans are," he said.

The study appeared in the journal Nature Communications.

Jul 25
Girls' puberty age depends on which parent's 'imprinted gene' they carry
A new study has found that the puberty age of girls largely depends on which of the two parents' 'imprinted' genes they have.

The findings come from an international study of more than 180,000 women involving scientists from 166 institutions worldwide, including the University of Cambridge. The researchers identified 123 genetic variations that were associated with the timing of when girls experienced their first menstrual cycle by analysing the DNA of 182,416 women of European descent from 57 studies. Six of these variants were found to be clustered within imprinted regions of the genome.

Lead author Dr John Perry from the University of Cambridge said that normally, the inherited physical characteristics reflect a roughly average combination of our parents' genomes, but imprinted genes place unequal weight on the influence of either the mother's or the father's genes, it was found that one parent may more profoundly affect puberty timing in their daughters than the other parent.

He added that they knew some imprinted genes controlled antenatal growth and development, but there was an increasing interest in the possibility that imprinted genes may also control childhood maturation and later life outcomes, including disease risks.

Senior author Dr Ken Ong said that they were also studying the genetic factors to understand how early puberty in girls is linked to higher risks of developing diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer in later life, and to hopefully one day break this link.

The research is published in the journal Nature.

Jul 25
Brain next frontier to treat obesity
Therapies aimed at areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning could lead to better treatment of obesity and dementia, says a study.

"This is a novel way for health care providers who treat people with weight problems and for researchers who study dementia to think about obesity and cognitive decline," said professor Terry Davidson from the American University in the US.

Researchers reviewed findings linking obesity with cognitive decline, including the "vicious cycle" model, which explains how weight-challenged individuals who suffer from particular kinds of cognitive impairment are more susceptible to overeating.

It is widely accepted that over consumption of dietary fats, sugar and sweeteners can cause obesity. These types of dietary factors are also linked to cognitive dysfunction.

Experiments in rats by the researchers showed that over consumption of foods high in saturated fats and simple carbohydrates can damage or change the blood-brain barrier, the tight network of blood vessels protecting the brain and substrates for cognition.

Certain kinds of dementia are known to arise from the breakdown in these brain substrates.

"Treating obesity successfully may also reduce the incidence of dementia, because the deterioration in the brain is often produced by the same diets that promote obesity," concluded the study that appeared in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

Jul 24
Fly-inspired device could help you hear better
Scientists have developed a tiny prototype device that mimics a parasitic fly's hearing mechanism which may lead to a new generation of hypersensitive hearing aids and military technology.

The yellow-coloured Ormia ochracea fly can pinpoint the location of a chirping cricket with remarkable accuracy because of its freakishly acute hearing, which relies upon a sophisticated sound processing mechanism that really sets it apart from all other known insects.

The 2-millimetre-wide device developed by researchers at the University of Texas Austin uses piezoelectric materials, which turn mechanical strain into electric signals.

The use of these materials means that the device requires very little power.

"Synthesising the special mechanism with piezoelectric readout is a big step forward towards commercialisation of the technology," said Neal Hall, an assistant professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT Austin.

"Minimising power consumption is always an important consideration in hearing-aid device technology," said Hall.

There are military and defence applications as well. In dark environments, for instance, where visual cues are not available, localising events using sound may be critical.

The pioneering work in discovering the fly's unusual hearing mechanism was done by Ronald Miles at Binghamton University and colleagues Ronald Hoy and Daniel Robert, who first described the phase amplification mechanism the fly uses to achieve its directional hearing some 20 years ago.

Inspired by Miles's prior work, Hall and his graduate students Michael Kuntzman and Donghwan Kim built a miniature pressure-sensitive teeter-totter in silicon that has a flexible beam and integrated piezoelectric materials.

The use of piezoelectric materials was their original innovation, and it allowed them to simultaneously measure the flexing and the rotation of the teeter-totter beam.

Simultaneously measuring these two vibration modes allowed them to replicate the fly's special ability to detect sound direction in a device essentially the same size as the fly's physiology.

The new technology could enable a generation of hearing aids that have intelligent microphones that adaptively focus only on those conversations or sounds that are of interest to the wearer.

Jul 24
Encephalitis toll rises to 105 in West Bengal
With three more people dying due to Encephalitis since yesterday, the death toll in cases related to the mosquito-borne virus in the seven north Bengal districts rose to 105 today.

"Three more deaths have been reported from the North Bengal Medical College Hospital (NBMC) since yesterday," West Bengal Health Services director Biswaranjan Satpathy told PTI.

He said that since January more than 370 infected cases had been reported in the state.

"41 fresh cases were reported since yesterday. The number is decreasing gradually. We hope that we will be able to bring the situation under control within a week as we are taking all preventive measures," Satpathy said.

A red alert in the affected districts has already been sounded by the state government and municipalities have been asked to maintain cleanliness and undertake fogging activities regularly to control the disease.

Jalpaiguri district was the worst-hit with rural areas in Dhupguri and Moynaguri being the most affected because of the presence of a large number of piggeries from where Japanese Encephalitis spread.

NBMC superintendent Amarendra Nath Sarkar said that since January, 80 persons had died of Encephalitis in the hospital, out of which 20 succumbed to Japanese Encephalitis.

At present, he said, there are 42 Encephalitis cases being treated in the hospital.

Blood tests for all suspected cases of Encephalitis in the five districts of north Bengal are being held in the NBMC, Sarkar said.

Jul 23
Anti-cancer drug picks HIV out of CD4 cells' hiding places
A pilot study by HIV researchers from Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark has shown that anti-cancer drug romidepsin can activate HIV out of their state of hiding in CD4 cells.

CD4 cells are white blood cells that fight infection and their count is an indication of how strong or weak a person's immune system is.

HIV remains a chronic, life-long infection due to its ability to stay hidden within infected blood cells. According to researchers, these cellular "reservoirs" contain the genetic code of HIV. They remain invisible to the body's immune defences and are not sensitive to anti-HIV drugs.

Why this finding is significant is that romidespin kicks the virus out of the CD4 cells and into the bloodstream in large amounts, leaving a trace on the outside of the CD4 cells - meaning that the body's immune system, the T cells, can trace and destroy the HIV-infected cells.

The results were presented at a session at the 20th International Aids Conference.

Identifying the hidden virus
The researchers found that romidespin increased the virus production in HIV-infected cells between 2.1 and 3.9 times above normal and that the viral load in the blood increased to measure levels in five out of six patients with HIV infection.

"This meeting will be remembered for this research because it truly identified the hidden virus, something that has never been shown in people before," said Stevan Deeks, professor of medicine in residence at the University of California, San Francisco.

The researchers previously showed that the drug panobinostat can activate hidden HIV in the cells, but they have now shown that it is possible to activate the hidden virus to levels readably detectable in the blood by standard methods that could be made available cheaply to low- and middle-income countries.

Immune system to fight HIV
The results are part of a larger study by the Danish researchers, who are investigating the possibilities of combining activation of HIV and a vaccine to strengthen the ability of the immune system to fight HIV.

However, the researchers warned that this is just one step towards finding a solution to the epidemic.

The next step is to conduct a larger trail where the researchers will combine romidespin activation with a vaccine to strengthen the ability of killer T-cells to fight HIV.

Jul 23
'Revolutionary' antibiotics to tackle TB
Why mycobacteria - a family that includes the microbe that causes tuberculosis (TB) - survive oxygen limitation has long been a mystery but not any more. A discovery could lead to a revolutionary class of antibiotics to tackle TB.

Researchers have found that hydrogen is a key factor that enables mycobacteria to survive oxygen-limitation over long periods.

"Mycobacteria grow through combusting their preferred carbon-based fuel sources using oxygen. However, they can also somehow survive for months or years when their oxygen supply is exhausted," said Greg Cook, a professor from University of Otago in New Zealand.

"For example, in people with latent TB infections, mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria are walled in by clumps of immune and other body cells in what is thought to be an extremely low oxygen environment. However, such patients must be monitored for rest of their lives in case the bacteria become active again," he added.

The bacterium is able to quickly switch its cellular metabolism from a primarily oxygen-based one over to one that uses fermentation for energy production instead.

This metabolic mode depends on the production and recycling of molecular hydrogen, a high-energy fuel and diffusible gas.

These cells produce hydrogen to ensure their survival until they once again have access to sufficient oxygen for growth.

The researchers established that mycobacterium smegmatis metabolises molecular hydrogen using three enzymes called hydrogenases.

One hydrogenase produces hydrogen, whereas the other two consume it. These hydrogenases are activated under oxygen starvation by a master regulator called DosR.

The researchers found that strains of mycobacterium smegmatis in which the genes for the hydrogenases or the regulator DosR had been 'knocked out' experienced a hundred-fold reduction in the long-term survival compared to the normal bacterium.

The study appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.