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News Bytes of the Week—Watson in Disgrace

Chimpanzees are manipulative liars, Blood test for Alzheimer's and more…:
James Watson: genetically predisposed to stupidity?
Nobel laureate James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, canceled an international book tour and returned to the U.S. in disgrace this week after a furor over racist comments published in The Sunday Times Magazine of London, which quoted Watson as saying he's "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really." Watson's employer, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory—once the headquarters of the U.S. eugenics movement—promptly suspended the 79-year- old geneticist's administrative duties. "I am mortified about what has happened," Watson told reporters. "More importantly, I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said." Apparently Watson forgot that in 2000 he told students at the University of California, Berkeley, that there might be a link between skin color and libido, and in 2003 he described extreme stupidity as a disease. (AP)

It's not easy being an invasive toad
Big, toxic and prolific, the South American cane toad has run roughshod over northeastern Australian wildlife since its introduction there in 1935 to control sugarcane pests. But being a notorious invasive species has its downside, too: Researchers discovered that 10 percent of the biggest Australian cane toads suffer from spinal arthritis. Larger toads hop farther but also hit the ground harder, rattling their spines and putting them at risk of infection from soil bacteria that trigger the ailment, according to a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. (PNAS)

Alzheimer's leaves bloody fingerprint
A new blood test may finally give doctors a way to predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease, which afflicts one in eight adults by the age of 65. Researchers analyzed blood samples from 259 people ranging from those with no symptoms to mild cognitive impairment to advanced Alzheimer's. Of the mildly impaired, 47 would later be diagnosed with the disease. The team found that changes in 18 proteins in those samples predicted 90 percent of the future Alzheimer's sufferers, who were diagnosed two to six years after the blood tests. (Nature Medicine; press release)

Garlic to red blood cells: Relax
A snoot full of raw garlic really opens up the sinuses, and a new study suggests the pungent bulb may have a similar effect on blood vessels. Researchers dripped the juice extracted from supermarket garlic onto dishes of red blood cells, which immediately digested the garlic compounds into hydrogen sulfide gas, known to relax blood vessels and boost blood flow. The group from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which published its study in PNAS, said the results could help standardize garlic supplements, which have yet to demonstrate a documented health benefit despite studies indicating that garlic eaters have better health than those with sweeter breath. (PNAS)

Chimpanzees cry wolf
A new study finds that chimps have something in common with bickering children and pro basketball defenders: exaggerating for others' benefit. Researchers recorded chimps screaming bloody murder during attacks by their fellow apes. The loudness of a victim's cries generally matched the severity of the beating, with one notable exception: victims screeched louder than usual if other chimps in earshot were of the same or higher social rank than the attackers, suggesting they were looking for swift retribution. (PNAS)James Watson: genetically predisposed to stupidity?
Nobel laureate James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, canceled an international book tour and returned to the U.S. in disgrace this week after a furor over racist comments published in The Sunday Times Magazine of London, which quoted Watson as saying he's "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really." Watson's employer, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory—once the headquarters of the U.S. eugenics movement—promptly suspended the 79-year- old geneticist's administrative duties. "I am mortified about what has happened," Watson told reporters. "More importantly, I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said." Apparently Watson forgot that in 2000 he told students at the University of California, Berkeley, that there might be a link between skin color and libido, and in 2003 he described extreme stupidity as a disease. (AP)

It's not easy being an invasive toad
Big, toxic and prolific, the South American cane toad has run roughshod over northeastern Australian wildlife since its introduction there in 1935 to control sugarcane pests. But being a notorious invasive species has its downside, too: Researchers discovered that 10 percent of the biggest Australian cane toads suffer from spinal arthritis. Larger toads hop farther but also hit the ground harder, rattling their spines and putting them at risk of infection from soil bacteria that trigger the ailment, according to a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. (PNAS)

Alzheimer's leaves bloody fingerprint
A new blood test may finally give doctors a way to predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease, which afflicts one in eight adults by the age of 65. Researchers analyzed blood samples from 259 people ranging from those with no symptoms to mild cognitive impairment to advanced Alzheimer's. Of the mildly impaired, 47 would later be diagnosed with the disease. The team found that changes in 18 proteins in those samples predicted 90 percent of the future Alzheimer's sufferers, who were diagnosed two to six years after the blood tests. (Nature Medicine; press release)

Garlic to red blood cells: Relax
A snoot full of raw garlic really opens up the sinuses, and a new study suggests the pungent bulb may have a similar effect on blood vessels. Researchers dripped the juice extracted from supermarket garlic onto dishes of red blood cells, which immediately digested the garlic compounds into hydrogen sulfide gas, known to relax blood vessels and boost blood flow. The group from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which published its study in PNAS, said the results could help standardize garlic supplements, which have yet to demonstrate a documented health benefit despite studies indicating that garlic eaters have better health than those with sweeter breath. (PNAS)

Chimpanzees cry wolf
A new study finds that chimps have something in common with bickering children and pro basketball defenders: exaggerating for others' benefit. Researchers recorded chimps screaming bloody murder during attacks by their fellow apes. The loudness of a victim's cries generally matched the severity of the beating, with one notable exception: victims screeched louder than usual if other chimps in earshot were of the same or higher social rank than the attackers, suggesting they were looking for swift retribution. (PNAS)

U.S. cancer death rate hits new low
A bright note on the cancer front. Death rates from the disease declined 2.1 percent annually from 2002 to 2004, nearly twice the annual decrease from 1993 to 2002, according to a new report from the National Cancer Institute. Men saw declines in their three top killers—lung, prostate and colorectal cancers—and women saw dips in death rates from colorectal and breast cancer as well as a slowdown in rising lung cancer death rates. Researchers credit screening, earlier detection, smoking prevention and more effective treatments for the slides. (NCI)

Sleep deprived? How would you know?
Seems people are in the dark when it comes to how much shut- eye they really get. In a new study of more than 2,000 patients aged 40 years and older, volunteers were hooked up to a polysomnogram, a machine that measures brain waves to determine the amount of sleep someone is getting, and then asked to report how much sleep they got. On average, patients reported snoozing 20 minutes more than they really did. (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine; Arizona State University)

When string and a doorknob won't cut it
The British have a rep for bad teeth, but this is ridiculous. A survey of more than 5,000 English dentistry patients found that 6 percent had performed self-dentistry, including pulling their own not- so-pearly whites or supergluing a crown back on, Agence France-Presse reports. Researchers attributed the woes to falling numbers of state-funded dentists. Nearly eight in 10 of those surveyed said that their dentist had stopped treating publicly financed patients or that they couldn't find one in their neighborhood who did. One in five respondents reported they had avoided dental work because of the cost. (AFP; Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health)

U.S. cancer death rate hits new low
A bright note on the cancer front. Death rates from the disease declined 2.1 percent annually from 2002 to 2004, nearly twice the annual decrease from 1993 to 2002, according to a new report from the National Cancer Institute. Men saw declines in their three top killers—lung, prostate and colorectal cancers—and women saw dips in death rates from colorectal and breast cancer as well as a slowdown in rising lung cancer death rates. Researchers credit screening, earlier detection, smoking prevention and more effective treatments for the slides. (NCI)

Sleep deprived? How would you know?
Seems people are in the dark when it comes to how much shut- eye they really get. In a new study of more than 2,000 patients aged 40 years and older, volunteers were hooked up to a polysomnogram, a machine that measures brain waves to determine the amount of sleep someone is getting, and then asked to report how much sleep they got. On average, patients reported snoozing 20 minutes more than they really did. (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine; Arizona State University)

When string and a doorknob won't cut it
The British have a rep for bad teeth, but this is ridiculous. A survey of more than 5,000 English dentistry patients found that 6 percent had performed self-dentistry, including pulling their own not- so-pearly whites or supergluing a crown back on, Agence France-Presse reports. Researchers attributed the woes to falling numbers of state-funded dentists. Nearly eight in 10 of those surveyed said that their dentist had stopped treating publicly financed patients or that they couldn't find one in their neighborhood who did. One in five respondents reported they had avoided dental work because of the cost. (AFP; Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health)

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