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European Cave Art Gets Older

from Science News

Red disks, hand stencils and club-shaped drawings lining the walls of several Stone Age caves in Spain were painted so long ago that Neandertals might have been their makers, say researchers armed with a high-powered method for dating ancient stone.

Scientists have struggled for more than a century to determine the ages of Europe's striking Stone Age cave paintings. A new rock-dating technique, which uses bits of mineralized stone to estimate minimum and maximum ages of ancient paintings, finds that European cave art started earlier than researchers have assumed -- at least 40,800 years ago, say archaeologist Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol in England and his colleagues.

Pike's team presents its findings in the June 15 Science.Previous age estimates were based on stylistic comparisons of drawings in different caves and radiocarbon dates for ancient pigments containing charcoal or other organic material. That research indicated that people began creating cave paintings in Europe possibly 36,000 years ago. Some researchers suspect that Homo sapiens made rapid advances in symbolic thinking around that time.

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Debate on a Study Examining Gay Parents

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

Young adults from broken homes in which a parent had had a same-sex relationship reported modestly more psychological and social problems in their current lives than peers from other families that had experienced divorce and other disruptions, a new study has found, stirring bitter debate among partisans on gay marriage.

The study counted parents as gay or lesbian by asking participants whether their parents had ever had a same-sex relationship; the parents may not have identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Gay-rights groups attacked the study, financed by conservative foundations, as biased and poorly done even before its publication on Sunday in the journal Social Science Research.

But outside experts, by and large, said the research was rigorous, providing some of the best data yet comparing outcomes for adult children with a gay parent with those with heterosexual parents. But they also said the findings were not particularly relevant to the current debate over gay marriage or gay parenting.

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Educators Once Opposed Raising Bilingual Children. Experts Now Say It's Beneficial.

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)

When I was a baby, my mother gazed down at me in her hospital bed and did something that would permanently change the way my brain developed. Something that would make me better at learning, multi-tasking and solving problems. Eventually, it might even protect my brain against the ravages of old age. Her trick? She started speaking to me in French.

At the time, my mother had no idea that her actions would give me a cognitive boost. She is French and my father English, and they simply felt it made sense to raise me and my brothers as bilingual. Yet a mass of research has emerged to suggest that speaking two languages while growing up may profoundly affect the way I think.

Cognitive enhancement is just the start. According to some studies, my memories, my values, even my personality may change depending on which language I happen to be speaking. It is almost as though the bilingual brain houses two separate minds. All of which highlights the fundamental role of language in human thought. "Bilingualism is quite an extraordinary microscope into the human brain," says cognitive neuroscientist Laura Ann Petitto of Gallaudet University.

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Institute's Gas Drilling Report Leads to Claims of Bias

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

A report from a new institute at the State University at Buffalo asserting that state oversight has made natural gas drilling safer is causing tumult on campus and beyond, with critics arguing that the institute is biased toward industry and could undercut the university's reputation.

The study, issued on May 15, said that state regulation in Pennsylvania had made drilling there far safer and that New York rules were even more likely to ensure safety once drilling gets under way in the state.

But a government watchdog group quickly raised questions about the study's data and the authors' ties to the oil and gas industry. And a newly formed group of professors and students is calling for a broader inquiry into the genesis of the institute, which issued the report only weeks after its creation was announced in April.

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Fish Oil Fail: Omega-3s May Not Protect Brain Health After All

from Time

Despite the widely touted benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for preserving cognitive function and memory, a new review by the Cochrane Library finds that those effects may be overstated: healthy elderly people taking omega-3 supplements did no better on tests of thinking and verbal skills than those taking placebo.

A number of previous studies have associated omega-3 consumption with better brain health and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. One recent study by Columbia University researchers found that people who ate diets higher in omega-3s had lower blood levels of beta amyloid, the telltale protein that gums up brains in Alzheimer's patients. In another study published in the journal Neurology in February, researchers showed that people with the highest levels of omega-3s in their blood had bigger brain volumes and performed better on tests of visual memory and abstract reasoning, compared with those with the lowest levels.

Much of this previous data has been observational, however. So, for the Cochrane review, researchers looked specifically at so-called "gold standard" studies, those that randomly assigned people to take either omega-3s or a placebo and then tracked the participants over time. The authors of the review, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, included three studies involving a total of 3,536 people over the age of 60, which lasted between six and 40 months. All the participants started the studies in good cognitive health.

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NASA's Nustar X-Ray Telescope Rides to Orbit

from BBC News Online

The US space agency (NASA) has launched its latest orbiting X-ray observatory. The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (Nustar) was sent into space on a Pegasus rocket operated out of the Kwajalein Atol in the central Pacific.

Nustar will study high-energy X-rays coming from exotic sources such as black holes, exploded stars and the hot gas in galaxy clusters. The observatory will capture its target X-rays using a novel optics system held on the end of a 10m-long extension.

"Nustar will open up a whole new window on the Universe by being the very first telescope to focus high-energy X-rays," explained Fiona Harrison, Nustar's principal investigator from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. "As such it will make images that are 10 times crisper and 100 times more sensitive than any telescope that has operated in this region of the spectrum."

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Antibody Cocktail Cures Monkeys of Ebola

from Nature News

Monkeys infected with Ebola have been cured by a cocktail of three antibodies first administered 24 hours or more after exposure. The result raises hopes that a future treatment could improve the chances of humans surviving the disease caused by the deadly virus, which kills up to 90% of infected people and could potentially be used as a biological weapon. Most treatment regimes tested to date only improve chances of survival if administered within one hour of infection. There are no approved treatments for people infected with Ebola.

Researchers based at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada, administered an antibody cocktail named ZMAb to cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) infected with the Zaire virus -- the deadliest strain of Ebola, prevalent in African countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon. All four of the monkeys that began the three-dose treatment regime within 24 hours of being infected survived. Two of four monkeys given the cocktail from 48 hours of infection also lived. A monkey that was not treated died within five days of infection.

"The antibodies slowed replication until the animals' own immune systems kicked in and completely cleared the virus," says Gary Kobinger, a medical microbiologist at the University of Manitoba who led the study. The results are published today in Science Translational Medicine.

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GM Crops Good for Environment, Study Finds

from the Guardian (UK)

Crops genetically modified to poison pests can deliver major environmental benefits, according to a landmark study spanning two decades and 1.5 million square kilometres. The benefits extended to non-GM crops grown in neighbouring fields, researchers found.

Plants engineered to produce a bacterial toxin lethal to some insects but harmless to people were grown in over 66 million hectares around the world in 2011. So-called Bt cotton is one type and now makes up 95% of the vast plantations in China. Since its introduction there in 1997, pesticide use has halved and the new study showed this led to a doubling of natural insect predators such as ladybirds, lacewings and spiders. These decimated pests not targeted by the Bt cotton, not only in the cotton fields, but also in conventional corn, soybean and peanut fields in the region.

"Insecticide use usually kills the natural enemies of pests and weakens the biocontrol services that they provide," said Professor Kongming Wu at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, who led the research team. "Transgenic crops reduce insecticide use and promote the population increase of natural enemies. Therefore, we think that this is a general principle."

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Alzheimer's Gene Found to Affect Women Over Men

from the San Francisco Chronicle

A gene that's been known for two decades as the largest inheritable risk for developing Alzheimer's disease mostly affects the brains of women, not men, according to a team of researchers from Stanford and UCSF.

The gene variant known as APOE4 is the most common genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's - only about 15 percent of people carry the gene, but it's found in more than half of all Alzheimer's patients.

The variant was first connected to Alzheimer's in 1993, but doctors and scientists for the most part have been unaware of any gender differences, despite early studies that showed an increased risk for women with the gene.

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Bonobos Join Chimps as Closest Human Relatives

from ScienceNOW Daily News

Chimpanzees now have to share the distinction of being our closest living relative in the animal kingdom. An international team of researchers has sequenced the genome of the bonobo for the first time, confirming that it shares the same percentage of its DNA with us as chimps do. The team also found some small but tantalizing differences in the genomes of the three species--differences that may explain how bonobos and chimpanzees don't look or act like us even though we share about 99% of our DNA.

"We're so closely related genetically, yet our behavior is so different," says team member and computational biologist Janet Kelso of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. "This will allow us to look for the genetic basis of what makes modern humans different from both bonobos and chimpanzees."

Ever since researchers sequenced the chimp genome in 2005, they have known that humans share about 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, making them our closest living relatives. But there are actually two species of chimpanzees that are this closely related to humans: bonobos (Pan paniscus) and the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). This has prompted researchers to speculate whether the ancestor of humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos looked and acted more like a bonobo, a chimpanzee, or something else--and how all three species have evolved differently since the ancestor of humans split with the common ancestor of bonobos and chimps between 5 million and 7 million years ago in Africa.

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