Heads Up April 10, 2012 | Bacteria isolated for four million years, insect castes pulling double duty, and the risk of cancer from dental X-rays PDF Print E-mail

White-nose fungus European?


The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in North American bats - and has nearly wiped out many bat populations - was introduced from Europe, and European bats are more resistant than North American bats, a study finds.


The neuroscience of altruism


A study of MRI images in a small group of people suggests that our ability to behave altruistically as a species is related to activity in a brain area called the insular cortex. This helps increase our understanding of altruistic and egalitarian behavior.


Low social status changes gene expression


Social status affects gene activity in macaques, a study finds. The genes in question are related to immunity, and while the genes themselves don’t change, their expression does. This might be partly responsible for the link between low social status and poor health.


Warmer summers affecting Arctic vegetation

Nature Climate Change

A Canadian study of 46 Arctic locations worldwide details vegetation changes over the last 30 years as a response to increased summer warming, giving new detail on the effects of recent climate change on Arctic plants.


Anxious behaviors in monkeys

Nature Neuroscience

Activity in a brain area called the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex varies when monkeys make trade-off choices between low- and high-anxiety options. The PACC is associated with anxiety and depression in humans, and this study could help explain why those mental illnesses lead patients to make the choices they do.


 Getting at the genetics of IBD


A study of several hundred First Nations and white people in Manitoba uncovers some differences in genes associated with inflammatory bowel disease, an immune disorder. First Nations people have lower IBD rates than whites, and describing the genes involved may help pinpoint the cause.


Dental X-rays and cancer risk*


Frequent dental x-rays are associated with an increased risk of meniginoma, the most commonly diagnosed kind of brain tumor.


Fighting all kinds of foes

Royal Society Journal Biology Letters

Canadians have found an example of a soldier caste in a colony of thunderbugs (a type of insect) that not only fights larger enemies, but also secrete antifungal compounds that help control Corticeps fungus that is pathogenic to the insects. Our knowledge of the roles of some insect castes, such as the altruistic soldier caste, may need to be revised as they are more complex than previously thought.


Getting batty

Royal Society Journal Biology Letters

A Canadian study helps explain the energy budget of flying in bats, including that bats fold their wings on the upstroke to reduce the energy of the upstroke by 35 per cent. The new host of Discovery Channel Canada’s Daily Planet is a co-author.  


Selflessness and vaccination

Journal of the Royal Society Interface

How does altruistic behavior affect decisions about vaccination? A Canadian study provides a mathematical public health model for flu vaccination, finding that altruistic behavior increased uptake of the vaccine.


 Cave bacteria give clues to antibiotic resistance


A sample of bacteria from Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico, isolated from humans for over four million years, showed resistance to several antibiotics. This not only suggests the existence of natural antibiotics yet to be discovered, but can help predict new types of resistance that may arise in known bacteria.


Escaped salmon may have benefits

PLoS Biology

Biologists suggest that allowing some wild salmon to escape from being harvested, and allowed to spawn in coastal streams on the Pacific coast, may benefit both the fish stocks and grizzly bears who feed on them.  Allowing more salmon to escape would increase food for the bears, and increase the number of breeding fish, producing larger salmon yields.


Big man with a gun


Americans perceive men to be larger and more muscular when shown a picture of them holding a weapon such as a handgun, as opposed to nothing, a study finds.


Chinese medicine contains toxic plants, endangered species

PLoS Genetics

Australian border officials tested 15 samples of seized traditional Chinese medicine and found some samples contained traces of potentially toxic plants as well as endangered animals like Asiatic black bear and Saiga antelope.


Birds’ navigation remains a mystery


A study has failed to identify what cells in birds may be responsible for their ability to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. Just what structures or cells birds do use to follow the compass remains a mystery. Images are available.  


Sleep and diabetes

Science Translational Medicine

A six-week study of sleep patterns in volunteers suggests that too little sleep, or sleeping at odds with the body’s circadian clock, affects biochemical pathways that deal with insulin, raising the risk of diabetes. This may mean risks for those on shift-work or who frequently travel and experience jet lag.


Therapy helps addicts handle drug memories


Researchers have invented a behavioural therapy that may help ex-addicts avoid relapse by increasing the effectiveness of ‘extinction’; a strategy where patients repeatedly trigger memories of drug use and the urge to use, causing the memories to gradually lose their potency.


Also of Interest:


Ambergris versus balsam

Journal of Biological Chemistry

UBC researchers suggest a way to create inexpensive fixative for perfumes by using a substance found in balsam fir instead of ambergris, found in whale vomit and currently used as a fixative in expensive perfumes. A fixative helps the scent last longer on the skin.