March 27 2006


March 27 2006



Fresh from debating pop star Paul McCartney on the seal hunt, the Newfoundland premier received a challenge from the International Fund for Animal Welfare to yet another televised debate. Meanwhile, he turned his attention to less glamorous affairs: shuffling his cabinet. He also found time to announce major infrastructure spending for Labrador, including funds for a cultural “performance space.” Presumably McCartney will not be invited to perform there.


Little knitters

Nanofibres can help neurons knit together. Scientists made deep incisions in the optic tracts of hamster pups, rendering the animals blind. They then treated the wound with 10 microlitres of a solution that is 99 per cent water and one per cent a special ionic peptide. These are short amino acids that acted as molecular scaffolds, closing the neural damage within 30 days. The research holds promise for restoring damage done by accidents and strokes.

Rise and fall

Easter Island’s totemic civilization happened later and lasted less time than previously believed by historians. New archaeological evidence points to the arrival of settlers in 1200 CE. Scientists now say that shortly after landing, the settlers began erecting the giant

stone heads the island is known for, and that the ecological damage they inflicted building their society led to its more rapid collapse. Pre-civilization, the l66-sq.km island hosted 16 million palm trees. But by the time Dutch explorers landed in 1722, the island was only grass, with totems and a few thousand starving people.

RFID viruses

Security researchers have demonstrated that radio-frequency ID tags (RFIDs) can be infected with computer viruses. RFIDs are tout-

ed as a far more useful successor to ubiquitous bar codes for tracking merchandise. Because the tags carry tiny radio transmitters and computer memory, they can transfer data to inventory computers (as well as viruses). Officials at Amsterdam’s Free University, who made the discovery, called it “a wake-up call” for the need for more secure RFID designs.

Menstrual stem cells

Japanese researchers have harvested a rich source of stem cells from menstrual blood. Their findings, disclosed last week, state that menstrual blood yields 30 times the number of stem cells as bone marrow. The blood-borne stem cells, which originate on the walls of the uterus, could be used in the future to fashion other, specialized cells in a variety of medical treatments. Scientists coaxed the cells into becoming heart tissue, which after a few days contracted spontaneously and rhythmically, as if in coordination.


Body image irony

Sexually active young females who have positive images about their appearance are less likely to have multiple sex partners and to participate in unsafe sex. But in contrast, young males who are confident about their bodies are more likely to be promiscuous and practise unsafe sex. Penn State researchers concluded: “Although it is widely believed that a positive view of one’s body is beneficial, our results suggest this may not be the case for males.”

Reversing decline

The decline in ability to exercise among older adults is reversible. A new study comparing sedentary adults in their 60s and 70s with those in their 20s and 30s found that while older adults required more oxygen to perform the same tasks as young people,

they could reverse the inefficiency through exercise. A six-month regimen of exercise was found to improve older participants’ exercise efficiency by 30 per cent.

Tobacco helps

Can the much-maligned tobacco plant help immunize people against HIV? Scientists have developed a “fusion molecule” that could assist in creating an HIV vaccine. The molecule can help turn plants into “bioreactors,” manufacturing antigens needed for vaccines. The method shows promise for producing large amounts of vaccines through an inexpensive vehicle: genetically modified tobacco plants.

Merry widows

A new study of widows refutes the mental health profession’s assumptions that widows with few signs of grief are in denial or emotionally distant. The U.S. National Institute on Aging reported that while 46 per cent of women said they’d enjoyed their marriages, they were able to cope with their husbands’ deaths. Another 10 per cent of widows even felt better afterwards.


Where Lexus flops

Around the world, Toyota’s Lexus brand has become a paradigm of luxury, keeping company with BMW and Mercedes. But on Toyota’s home turf, the marque is falling flat. Introduced in Japan only last year, Lexus sold only 10,100 vehicles over four months, halfToyota’s sales target. While it is targeting 40,000 for 2006, it sold only 2,200 in the first two months. The reason may be the attitude in local buyers’ minds that luxury vehicles are foreign— BMW and Mercedes.

Tax ref und plans

Are Americans growing more prudent about money than Cana-

dians? When asked what they intend to do with their tax refund this year, 58 per cent of Canadian respondents told pollsters they’d put the money away for a rainy day. In contrast, 70 per cent of Americans said they planned to do that. And while 66 per cent of Canadians said they’d use the money to buy something they need, only 57 per cent of Americans had that intention.



The annual Rattlesnake Roundup concluded last week in Sweetwater, Texas. James Wells was the first in line to turn in his 1,200 lb. of rattlesnakes. Originally in-

tended as a way of controlling the population of venomous snakes, which are a menace to livestock, the four-day event has evolved into an annual festival as well, including the crowning ofMiss Snake Charmer. The event pays US$5 a pound for the 2,000 lb. of rattlers turned in. Although only about one per cent of the state’s population of western diamondbacks are collected, the roundup’s opponents say even that is too much.


Hamas plans to present its choice of government to parliament after coalition talks broke down last week. Meanwhile, Maher Arar will make his first trip abroad since his abduction to Syria in 2002. He travels to Brussels to address the European Parliament on the illegal detention of prisoners.

Sincere, thanks

Japan’s guide dog “spokes-canine,” Sincere, has died at the age of 12. Japan did not legally recognize guide dogs until 2002. Sincere, a golden Labrador retriever, was instrumental in a nationwide campaign for legislation that legally obliges businesses to stop barring guide dogs.

Living fossil

Wildlife experts perusing a hunter’s market in Laos in the late 1990s discovered a rat that was thought to represent a new family of mammals. Now, researchers say, the rock rat seems to belong to a family known as Diatomyidae, which was believed to have been extinct for 11 million years.

Meerkat crimes

The communal meerkat appears to be a paragon of co-operation, with parents helping to raise one another’s pups. But Cambridge University experts last week reported observing female meerkats killing other mothers’ pups, apparently to secure more food for their own. Although killing other pups is not unusual among dominant animals in other species, what distinguishes the killing in meerkat groups is that even subordinate females commit the acts.


School witch

Students near Nelspruit, South Africa, rioted last week after officials refused to dismiss a teacher whom students accused of practising witchcraft. The rampage at ZB Kunene secondary school included holding teachers hostage and stoning police vehicles. A 15-year-old was shot and killed by police. Officials were at a loss to explain why the students thought the teacher was a witch.

Pi contest

GauravRajav had hoped to set a world record last week reciting digits in pi, the non-repeating, non-terminating decimal. He fell short of his goal of 10,790 digits, but if his feat of just 8,784 digits is verified by the Pi World Ranking List, he could place 12th in the world. “I’m kind of disappointed,” the 15-year-old Rajav said, “but I guess I did okay.”


Roy “Red” Storey, 88, NHL referee. He began his pro sports career as a football player and helped the Toronto Argonauts win Grey Cups in 1937 and 1938. He joined the NHL as a referee in 1950, presiding over Stanley Cup finals from 1952 to 1958.

Maureen Stapleton, 80, actress. Her six-decade career saw her capture five Tony Awards, including wins for The Crucible and The Little Foxes. In Hollywood, she won an Oscar for Reds in 1981 but was more memorable as the guilt-rattled wife of a would-be bomber in Airport.

Robert Baker, 84, food scientist. As a professor of food and poultry sciences at Cornell University, he created many now ubiquitous foods, including chicken nuggets and turkey ham. M