More Groovy Science 3

Another science extravaganza! Here are some recent interesting studies:

  • Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure

  • Anxiety May Be at Root of Religious Extremism

  • Brain Differences Found Between Believers In God And Non-Believers

  • Honey as an Antibiotic: Scientists Identify a Secret Ingredient in Honey That Kills Bacteria

  • Honey Bee Venom May Help Design New Treatments to Alleviate Muscular Dystrophy, Depression and Dementia

  • How Fast Can Microbes Break Down Oil Washed Onto Gulf Beaches?

  • Bicycling, Brisk Walking Help Women Control Weight

  • Nano-Sized Advance Toward Next Big Treatment Era in Dentistry

  • Complex, Multicellular Life from Over Two Billion Years Ago Discovered

  • Cocoa Flavanols Improve Vascular and Blood Pressure Measures for Coronary Artery Disease Patients

  • Road Surface Purifies Air by Removing Nitrogen Oxides

  • Cell Phone Microscope Poised to Begin Trials in Africa

  • Tibetan Adaptation to High Altitude Occurred in Less Than 3,000 Years

Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure: For people with hypertension, eating dark chocolate can significantly reduce blood pressure. ...There have, however, been conflicting results as to the real-life effects of eating chocolate. We've found that consumption can significantly, albeit modestly, reduce blood pressure for people with high blood pressure but not for people with normal blood pressure." The pressure reduction seen in the combined results for people with hypertension, 5mm Hg systolic, may be clinically relevant -- it is comparable to the known effects of 30 daily minutes of physical activity (4-9mm Hg) and could theoretically reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event by about 20% over five years. The researchers are cautious, however, "The practicability of chocolate or cocoa drinks as long-term treatment is questionable."

Anxiety May Be at Root of Religious Extremism: Anxiety and uncertainty can cause us to become more idealistic and more radical in our religious beliefs. ...Anxious conditions caused participants to become more eagerly engaged in their ideals and extreme in their religious convictions. ...Researchers found that religious zeal reactions were most pronounced among participants with bold personalities (defined as having high self-esteem and being action-oriented, eager and tenacious), who were already vulnerable to anxiety, and felt most hopeless about their daily goals in life. ...A basic motivational process called Reactive Approach Motivation (RAM) is responsible. "Approach motivation is a tenacious state in which people become 'locked and loaded' on whatever goal or ideal they are promoting. They feel powerful, and thoughts and feelings related to other issues recede."

Brain Differences Found Between Believers In God And Non-Believers: Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signaling when attention and control are needed, usually as a result of some anxiety-producing event like making a mistake. The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made. "You could think of this part of the brain like a cortical alarm bell that rings when an individual has just made a mistake or experiences uncertainty. We found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors. They're much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error." Their findings show religious belief has a calming effect on its devotees, which makes them less likely to feel anxious about making errors or facing the unknown. But Inzlicht cautions that anxiety is a "double-edged sword" which is at times necessary and helpful. "Obviously, anxiety can be negative because if you have too much, you're paralyzed with fear. However, it also serves a very useful function in that it alerts us when we're making mistakes. If you don't experience anxiety when you make an error, what impetus do you have to change or improve your behaviour so you don't make the same mistakes again and again?"

Honey as an Antibiotic: Scientists Identify a Secret Ingredient in Honey That Kills Bacteria: Bees make a protein that they add to the honey, called defensin-1, which could one day be used to treat burns and skin infections and to develop new drugs that could combat antibiotic-resistant infections. After analysis, the scientists concluded that the vast majority of honey's antibacterial properties come from defensin-1. This information also sheds light on the inner workings of honey bee immune systems, which may one day help breeders create healthier and heartier honey bees.

Honey Bee Venom May Help Design New Treatments to Alleviate Muscular Dystrophy, Depression and Dementia: Apamin, a natural peptide toxin found in bee venom, is known for its ability to block a type of ion channel that enables a high-speed and selective flow of potassium ions out of nerves. The blocking of these channels in brain causes nerves to become hyperexcitable, producing improved learning that has implications for the treatment of dementia and depression. In addition, injection of apamin improves the symptoms experienced by sufferers of myotonic muscular dystrophy (MD).

How Fast Can Microbes Break Down Oil Washed Onto Gulf Beaches? A new Florida State University study is investigating how quickly the Deepwater Horizon oil carried into Gulf of Mexico beach sands is being degraded by the sands' natural microbial communities, and whether native oil-eating bacteria that wash ashore with the crude are helping or hindering that process. ..."Crude oil is a natural component that constantly seeps out of Gulf of Mexico sediments --obviously in much smaller quantities than those now caused by the drilling accident -- so native microbes have evolved that consume this oil and thereby degrade it. If oxygen is present -- as it is in the water and in the upper layers of the beach sand -- the microbes decompose the oil aerobically (by using oxygen). This degradation process is much faster than the degradation under anaerobic conditions (when no oxygen is available), such as those found in deeper sediment layers of the beach. That's why at the site of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, oil can still be found deeply buried in the gravel beach sediments, because anaerobic microbial degradation is slow and, in Alaska, slower still because of the cold climate."

Bicycling, Brisk Walking Help Women Control Weight; Researchers Call for More Bike-Friendly Environments to Combat Obesity: Premenopausal women who make even small increases in the amount of time they spend bicycling or walking briskly every day decrease their risk of gaining weight. For premenopausal women of any weight, riding a bicycle was effective in helping to maintain weight, and overweight and obese women appeared to benefit the most. The researchers found that among women who did not originally bicycle in 1989 but bicycled in 2005, even a small increase in bicycling time -- as little as five minutes each day -- helped to control weight. Among the walkers who had increased their daily activity by an average of 30 min/day over the years, only those who walked briskly (≥3 mph) were able to control their weight. Walking slowly (<3 mph) had no effect. ...In the U.S., 66% of adults are overweight or obese, 16% of children and adolescents are overweight, and 34% of children and adolescents are at risk of becoming overweight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that every adult accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity on most, preferably all, days of the week to prevent obesity and improve health.

Nano-Sized Advance Toward Next Big Treatment Era in Dentistry: Scientists are reporting an advance toward the next big treatment revolution in dentistry -- the era in which root canal therapy brings diseased teeth back to life, rather than leaving a "non-vital" or dead tooth in the mouth. In a report in the monthly journal ACS Nano, they describe a first-of-its-kind, nano-sized dental film that shows early promise for achieving this long-sought goal.

Complex, Multicellular Life from Over Two Billion Years Ago Discovered: The discovery in Gabon of more than 250 fossils in an excellent state of conservation has provided proof, for the first time, of the existence of multicellular organisms 2.1 billion years ago. This finding represents a major breakthrough: until now, the first complex life forms (made up of several cells) dated from around 600 million years ago. While studying the paleo-environment of a fossil-bearing site situated near Franceville in Gabon in 2008, El Albani and his team unexpectedly discovered perfectly preserved fossil remains in the 2.1 billion-year-old sediments. They have collected more than 250 fossils to date, of which one hundred or so have been studied in detail. Their morphology cannot be explained by purely chemical or physical mechanisms. These specimens, which have various shapes and can reach 10 to 12 centimeters, are too big and too complex to be single-celled prokaryotes or eukaryotes. This establishes that different life forms co-existed at the start of the Proterozoic, as the specimens are well and truly fossilized living material.

Cocoa Flavanols Improve Vascular and Blood Pressure Measures for Coronary Artery Disease Patients: A new study found that high concentrations of cocoa flavanols decrease blood pressure, improve the health of blood vessels and increase the number of circulating blood-vessel-forming cells in patients with heart disease. The findings indicate that foods rich in flavanols -- such as cocoa products, tea, wine, and various fruits and vegetables -- have a cardio-protective benefit for heart disease patients. Flavanols are phytonutrient compounds that are found naturally in apples, grapes, tea, cocoa and cherries, which account for the antioxidant effect provided by red wine and green tea. The study found a protective effect from a cocoa drink with 375 mg of flavanols, but according to researchers, a standard or recommended dosage has not yet been defined to achieve optimal health benefit. In the current study, the benefit seen from the two-fold increase in circulating angiogenic cells was similar to that achieved by therapy with statins and with lifestyle changes such as exercise and smoking cessation. The benefit demonstrated with cocoa flavanol therapy occurred in addition to the medical regimen already being taken by study participants. "Our data support the concept that dietary flavanols at the levels provided -- in tandem with current medical therapy -- are safe, improve cardiovascular function, and increase circulating angiogenic cells, which have previously been shown to correlate positively with long-term cardiovascular outcomes. Long-term trials examining the effects of high-flavanol diets on cardiovascular health and function are warranted, but these early findings help us understand how these compounds impact the function of damaged blood vessels."

Road Surface Purifies Air by Removing Nitrogen Oxides: Around 1,000 square meters of the road's surface were covered with air-purifying concrete paving stones. For comparison purposes, another area of 1.000 square meters was surfaced with normal paving stones. The use of air-purifying concrete does not have a major impact on the cost of a road, Brouwers has calculated. Although the stones themselves are 50 per cent more expensive than normal concrete stones, the total road-building costs are only ten per cent higher. Vehicle exhaust gases contain nitrogen oxides (NOx), which cause acid rain and smog. The air‑purifying concrete contains titanium dioxide, a photocatalytic material that removes the nitrogen oxides from the air and converts them with the aid of sunlight into harmless nitrate. The nitrate is then rinsed away by rain. These stones also have another advantage: they break down algae and dirt, so that they always stay clean.

Cell Phone Microscope Poised to Begin Trials in Africa: The lensless imaging platform behind the cell phone microscope is nearing readiness for real world trials, after receiving prestigious awards in the past month from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Geographic, and the National Science Foundation (NSF). "We can leverage the fact that eighty percent of the world's population lives in areas covered by cell phone networks to bridge the gaps left by a lack of health care infrastructure in developing countries." That lack of health care infrastructure includes not only buildings, but also trained personnel. For telemedicine tools to effectively fill in for hospitals, the devices have to meet several criteria. They must be cheap enough for widespread use in poor areas, be simple enough for a minimally trained person to correctly operate, and be able to easily transmit information over existing cellular networks. Optical microscopes, a key diagnostic tool in hospitals, are too bulky for telemedicine applications. In optical microscopes, one of the elements which limits the miniaturization possibilities and drives up the cost is the lens. Ozcan's telemedicine microscope avoids both these constraints by capturing an image with a lensless system. This innovative engineering means that the microscope can be miniaturized to the point where it fits on most cell phones, while remaining inexpensive enough for widespread use in developing countries, costing only about ten dollars each. The cell phone microscope is also easy to use, and versatile. Samples (blood smears or saliva) are loaded into single-use chips that easily slide into the side of the microscope. Because the microscope uses the entire detector array to capture an image and has a relatively large aperture, it has a wide imaging field-of-view. Samples do not need to be precisely aligned for images to be captured, and the chance of debris clogging the light source is lessened. Alternate uses of the technology include testing water quality in the field following a disaster like a hurricane or earthquake.

Tibetan Adaptation to High Altitude Occurred in Less Than 3,000 Years: Tibetans have mutations in numerous genes related to how the body uses oxygen. A comparison of the genomes of 50 Tibetans and 40 Han Chinese shows that ethnic Tibetans split off from the Han less than 3,000 years ago and since then rapidly evolved a unique ability to thrive at high altitudes and low oxygen levels. The new findings could steer scientists to till-now unknown genes that play a role in how the body deals with decreased oxygen, and perhaps explain some diseases, including schizophrenia and epilepsy, associated with oxygen deprivation in the womb.

Cross-posted from ZeNeece's World


  1. I've always used honey to treat cuts and grazes, small burns and minor infections (the sorts of things you don't need to see the doctor for). It's a wonderful all-purpose anti-everything! The only problem is that insects like it too, but a plaster normally solves that.

  2. That's cool! You just put honey on a cut or minor infection? What about the stickiness? I guess that is where the band-aid (or plaster) would come in handy.

  3. Yep - just a tiny bit to cover the cut/infection (not too much or it really gets messy and sticky!) then if need be cover it. It doesn't necessarily heal faster than normal, although it seems to for me, but I have found it promotes skin growth and any scars are minimal, less than if I use anything else (I'm an avid gardener and have always had cats - and a dog for 14 years - so my hands, arms and ankles are usually covered with scratches).

    My only problem is I don't like honey, neither the taste nor the smell!

  4. I decided to try this honey remedy on a recent injury (a scratch or maybe you could say a very minor cut) while only covering about half of it.

    My results so far are of course that it's sticky. :D Anyway, I don't know if it helps heal things faster, but it does seem that the part where I didn't apply honey is itching more (and scratching less would of course lead to faster healing). Although now that I'm writing this it did start itching under the honey too, lol. The power of the mind, eh.

  5. I recently tried it on two similar small cuts. On one I used neosporin and one I used honey. By the time the neosporin one was almost done, the honey cut was still red. I want to try it again next time I have 2 similar cuts or abrasions again. One try is not enough, of course.

    That's funny that it started itching as you were thinking about it. As you say, the power of the mind! :P

    Oh, and just because fresh honey doesn't work on a cut, it doesn't mean the protein isn't in there. It might be that it's in a very low concentration. But if they do more research on it they could isolate it and find a way to make the protein in bulk for antibiotic resistant treatment.