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Brain study sheds light on decision-making process

Everyday actions such as sending an email or eating a sandwich are governed in the brain by a cascade of decision-making that runs from abstract to concrete, rather as in a large corporation, a new study has shown.

The process takes place along a path moving from front to back in a key region in the brain called the prefrontal cortex, located just behind the forehead.

"It is among the strongest evidence to date for a systemic organization of the frontal cortex," said lead author David Badre of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Pills

Study: Drug not working against flu

An important antiviral drug no longer works against this season's most prevalent type of flu, which has mutated into a resistant strain, researchers reported today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

That drug -- sold as Tamiflu in the U.S. -- was one arrow in a very small quiver of antiviral medicines used to battle influenza, an illness that lands 200,000 Americans in the hospital and kills 36,000 every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Public health officials and physicians called the development and spread of Tamiflu-resistant flu disturbing.

"It makes me nervous," said Michael Koller, a doctor of internal medicine at Loyola University Medical Center. "We know that it keeps mutating and that is why it is still around. It manages to figure out ways to outsmart us and our medications."

Attention

Vegan diet increases the risk of birth defects, scientists warn

Women who are strict vegetarians or vegans may be a greater risk of having a child with birth defects because they are likely to be deficient in vitamin B12, researchers warned.

Research carried out in Ireland has found that women with low levels of B12, found in meat, eggs and milk, when they conceive are at greater risk of having a child with neural tube defects.

These conditions include spina bifida, which causes partial paralysis, and anencephaly where the brain does not develop and is normally fatal shortly after birth.

Women who may become pregnant or who are pregnant are advised to take folic acid supplements because it is known that the vitamin folate protects against these defects and it has been suggested that taking vitamin B12 may reduce the risk further.

Blackbox

Is Our Obsession With Pandemic Bird Flu Justified?

While it is almost a certainty that within the next few decades humanity will experience another influenza pandemic, it may not be caused by the avian influenza strain H5N1 that many scientists believe could be a prime candidate.

"We continue to be aroused and some nearly panicked by the threat of a flu pandemic caused by the avian influenza virus, H5N1. Is this anxiety justified? In the more than 15 years since it was first recognized, this bird flu virus has yet cause very much mortality in humans or evolve to be readily transmitted between people," says Bruce Levin, the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Biology at Emory University.

Info

New Devices Aid Deaf People By Translating Sound Waves To Vibrations

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© Donna Coveney
Senior research scientist Charlotte Reed speaks while the device she helped develop converts the sounds into vibrations. Graduate research assistant Theodore Moallem uses the device to read her lips and feel the sounds.

Lip reading is a critical means of communication for many deaf people, but it has a drawback: Certain consonants (for example, p and b) can be nearly impossible to distinguish by sight alone.

Tactile devices, which translate sound waves into vibrations that can be felt by the skin, can help overcome that obstacle by conveying nuances of speech that can't be gleaned from lip reading.

Researchers in MIT's Sensory Communication Group are working on a new generation of such devices, which could be an important tool for deaf people who rely on lip reading and can't use or can't afford cochlear implants. The cost of the device and the surgery make cochlear implants prohibitive for many people, especially in developing countries.

Health

Drug-resistant gonorrhoea on the rise

The sexually transmitted disease, which can lead to infertility in men and women, is treatable with antibiotics. But following recent resistance to the quinolone family of antibiotics in the US, UK and Australia, authorities in these countries now recommend cephalosporins, the only option besides quinolones.

In the latest setback, quinolone resistance seems to have spread to Canada. Kaede Ota and her colleagues at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto found that quinolone-resistant infections in Ontario soared from 4 per cent of infections in 2002 to 28 per cent in 2006 (Canadian Medical Association Journal, DOI: [link]). The team blames the surge on a mixture of unsafe sex and people not completing prescribed courses of antibiotics.

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Fresh Pineapple Has Many Benefits

The pineapple is a member of the bromeliad family. It is extremely rare that bromeliads produce edible fruit. The pineapple is the only available edible bromeliad today. It is a multiple fruit. One pineapple is actually made up of dozens of individual flowerets that grow together to form the entire fruit. Each scale on a pineapple is evidence of a separate flower. Pineapples stop ripening the minute they are picked. No special way of storing them will help ripen them further. Color is relatively unimportant in determining ripeness. Choose your pineapple by smell. If it smells fresh, tropical and sweet, it will be a good fruit. The more scales on the pineapple, the sweeter and juicier the taste. After you cut off the top, you can plant it. It should grow much like a sweet potato will. This delicious fruit is not only sweet and tropical, it also offers many benefits to our health.

Pineapple is a remarkable fruit. We find it enjoyable because of its lush, sweet and exotic flavor, but it may be one of the most healthful foods available today. If we take a more detailed look at it, we will find that pineapple is valuable for easing indigestion, arthritis or sinusitis. The juice has an anthelmintic effect; it helps get rid of intestinal worms. Let's look at how pineapple affects other conditions.

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Research Shows Doodling Can Help Memory Recall

Doodling while listening can help with remembering details, rather than implying that the mind is wandering as is the common perception. According to a study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, subjects given a doodling task while listening to a dull phone message had a 29% improved recall compared to their non-doodling counterparts.

40 members of the research panel of the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge were asked to listen to a two and a half minute tape giving several names of people and places, and were told to write down only the names of people going to a party. 20 of the participants were asked to shade in shapes on a piece of paper at the same time, but paying no attention to neatness. Participants were not asked to doodle naturally so that they would not become self-conscious. None of the participants were told it was a memory test.

After the tape had finished, all participants in the study were asked to recall the eight names of the party-goers which they were asked to write down, as well as eight additional place names which were included as incidental information. The doodlers recalled on average 7.5 names of people and places compared to only 5.8 by the non-doodlers.

Sun

Beauty queen almost 'tanned herself to death because of sunbed addiction'

A former beauty queen became so obsessed staying attractive she nearly tanned herself to death after becoming addicted to sunbeds as a teenager.

Brittany Lietz spent all her time perfecting her appearance for pageants, which included two and half hours per week on tanning machines.

But after developing stage two melanoma at 19, she had to undergo 30 operations to remove cancerous moles.

Miss Lietz admitted she nearly lost her life due to her obsession with beauty pageants.

The 22-year-old, now married and expecting her first child, said: "I always had pale skin and wasn't really into sunbathing.

"But after I'd done a couple of pageants, I noticed all the girls there did indoor tanning.

"I didn't think I'd look attractive enough for the swimwear round if I was really pale."

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Study of saliva offers insight into human health

Bacteria found in people's spit does not vary much around the world, a surprising finding that could provide insights into how diet and cultural factors affect human health, researchers said Thursday.

Because the human body harbors 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells, scientists are trying to understand more about the bacteria we carry.

The human mouth is a major gateway for bacteria into the body and it contains a diverse array of microbial species. Yet scientists know little about this diversity and how it relates to diet, environment, health and disease, they added.