Sitting outweighs exercise

People who exercise regularly may still be
at risk for heart disease and diabetes if they
spend the rest of their day sitting behind
a desk or sprawled on the sofa. Indeed,
an American Heart Association (AHA)
study found U.S. adults are sedentary for
up to eight hours each day. It doesn’t help
matters that fewer than 20 percent of jobs
require employees to be active—down from
50 percent in the 1960s, NBCNews.com
reports. No amount of exercise can offset
the harmful effects that prolonged sitting
can have on the heart and blood vessels,
the AHA cautions. People should avoid sitting
for too long—even if they meet current
physical activity recommendations and get
at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise
each week, the group advises. “Given the
current state of the science on sedentary
behavior,” says AHA’s Deborah Rohm
Young, “it is appropriate to promote the
advisory ‘Sit less, move more.’”

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Bookworms live longer

Bibliophilia is good for your health: A new
study suggests that people who read books
regularly may add nearly two years to
their lives. Researchers at Yale University
examined the reading habits of 3,635
people over 50 and found that the ones
who buried their noses in a book for more
than 3.5 hours each week—or 30 minutes a
day—were 23 percent less likely to die over
the course of the 12-year study, reports The
Christian Science Monitor. Even after variables
such as health, education, and income
were taken into account, bookworms were
17 percent less likely to die over the same
period than their non-reading peers. It’s
unclear why reading is associated with this
“survival advantage,” but the researchers
suggest delving into novels promotes
cognitive processes, such as empathy and
emotional intelligence, which can boost
longevity. Unfortunately, reading magazines
and newspapers may not provide the same
benefit. “We uncovered that this effect is
likely because books engage the reader’s
mind more,” says researcher Avni Bavishi,
“providing more cognitive benefit, and
therefore increasing the life span.”

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BEST UNDER THE SUN

Yellow fever threatens globe

Health officials are scrambling to control
a deadly yellow fever outbreak in southern
and central Africa before the mosquitoborne
illness spreads to Europe, Asia, and
the Americas. Carried primarily by Aedes
aegypti, the same mosquito that spreads
Zika and dengue, yellow fever has already
killed more than 400 people in Angola
and the Democratic Republic of Congo,
the World Health Organization (WHO)
reports. (Most people with yellow fever
experience only mild muscle pain, jaundice,
and fever, but a small percentage of
patients develop a more severe form—and
about half of these die within several days.)
Efforts to immunize more than 14 million
people in the region have been complicated
by a global vaccine shortage as well
as humid conditions that provide fertile
breeding ground for mosquitoes. Since the
vaccine takes at least six months to produce,
those at risk will receive one-fifth of
the standard dose, which offers protection
against the illness for about one year. “This
outbreak response has been complex and
challenging,” WHO’s Tarik Jasarevic tells
CBSNews.com. “For the first time, WHO
and other partners are dealing with an
outbreak of yellow fever in a dense, urban
setting.” Urbanization, greater mobility,
and climate change, he notes, “mean an
increased risk of mosquito-borne diseases
spreading internationally.”


Tweets get quality control

Twitter is now offering powerful antiharassment
tools, once reserved for highprofile
users, to everyone, said Nick Statt in
TheVerge.com. All users will be able to limit
their notifications to people they follow on
the social network, giving themselves more
control over what they see by hiding tweets
from random strangers and other would-be
abusers. Twitter is also making its “quality
filter” available to everyone. The filter weeds
out tweets from potential harassers based on
their previous online behavior. “These features
aren’t exactly new.” But until now, they have
been available only to users with “verified
accounts,” such as celebrities, media personalities,
and other Twitter power users.

Uber’s self-driving taxis take Pittsburgh

“The robot cars aren’t coming. The robot
cars are here,” said Russ Mitchell and
Tracey Lien in the Los Angeles Times.
Uber announced last week that its customers
in Pittsburgh would soon be able to
hail a ride from one of the company’s experimental
self-driving cars. An Uber engineer
will be in the front seat, ready to take
the wheel “in case things go wrong,” but
otherwise the fleet of Fords and Volvos
will be fully capable of driving themselves.
“Although other companies, including
Google, are testing self-driving cars on
public roads, none offers rides to regular
people,” said Justin Pritchard and Tom Krisher in the Associated
Press. Participation in Uber’s test program will be optional for
Pittsburgh residents when it rolls out in the next few weeks, but
the company says that “as an enticement” it will offer the autonomous
rides free of charge to woo hesitant passengers.
“Both Silicon Valley and Detroit are doubling down on their
bets for autonomous vehicles,” said Bill Vlasic and Mike Isaac
in The New York Times. Ford also announced last week that
it plans to put self-driving taxis onto American roads by 2021.
“But while Ford is looking five years out,” Uber is stepping
on the gas. The ride-hailing company also just announced it is
buying Otto, a startup focused on self-driving semitruck technology,
and is embarking on a $300 million partnership to develop
self-driving cars with Volvo. If Uber’s
autonomous fleet can conquer Pittsburgh,
where the company’s self-driving
research lab is based, there’s no doubt it
can win the self-driving-car arms race,
said Avery Hartmans in BusinessInsider
.com. The city’s innumerable bridges,
tunnels, and hills—not to mention its
morass of Google Maps–confounding
one-way streets and narrow roads—make
it the ideal city for working out the kinks
in self-driving technology. “Plus, there’s
the weather. Snow, ice, wind, rain—
Pittsburgh has it all.”
Uber’s real endgame is to eliminate those “pesky resource hogs”
otherwise known as humans, said Jason Koebler in Vice.com.
The backup driver-engineers in Uber’s self-driving fleet won’t
even be permitted to speak to their passengers. The goal, says
Uber’s engineering lead Raffi Krikorian, “is to wean us off of
having drivers in the car.” Most auto experts agree that a future
of driverless cars will ultimately be safer, more efficient,
and better for the environment. And Uber predicts that hailing
a robotaxi will one day be cheaper than owning a vehicle. But
the transition to this brave new world will be brutal for Uber’s
1 mil lion drivers around the world. “There is no short-term job
in an automated car for the recently laid-off guy who drives
Uber to make ends meet.”



Teenage depression rising

The number of young Americans battling
depression rose by more than a third
in the decade leading up to 2014. In a
review of surveys completed by more than
170,000 teens, researchers from the Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Health found that 6 percent of boys suffered
a major depressive episode in 2014,
up from 4 percent in 2005. Among girls,
the figure soared from 13 percent to more
than 17 percent. It’s unclear what’s behind
this worrying trend—and why girls are
more at risk. Researchers note that social
media use and cyberbullying are much
more prevalent among girls, which could
make them more vulnerable to depression.
Complicating matters, the number of
teens being treated for the disorder
remains unchanged. This suggests
many young people are suffering
in silence, increasing their risk for
suicide, reports NBCNews.com. Ramin
Mojtabai, the study’s leader, said it was
“imperative that we find ways to reach
these teenagers and help them manage
their depression.”

Paralyzed monkeys walk

In a medical breakthrough that offers new
hope to people with spinal cord injuries,
scientists have used a brain implant to
enable partially paralyzed monkeys to
regain the ability to walk. Researchers at
the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
implanted the device in the monkey’s
motor cortex, or movement center, where
it recorded neural activity. This data was
then wirelessly routed to a second implant
placed on the spinal
cord beyond
the injured nerves,
which triggered the
intended movements.
Two monkeys
fitted with this
“brain-spine
interface” system
regained the ability to walk within days,
and were fully mobile after three months.
“It was a big surprise for us,” Grégoire
Courtine, a neuroscientist who led the
research, tells The Guardian (U.K.). “The
gait was not perfect, but it was almost like
normal walking. The foot was not dragging
and it was fully weight-bearing.” The
implant’s components—which took seven
years to develop, after 10 years of work on
rodents—are already approved for use in
humans. But helping monkeys walk using
four limbs is much less challenging than
enabling paralyzed people to balance and
walk on two legs. Nevertheless, researchers
believe the technology could be transferred
to humans within a decade.


Supercharging statins

Statins have become the “gold standard”
for the treatment of high cholesterol—and
a new type of drug known as PCSK9
inhibitors could make them even better. In
a recent study, researchers split a group of
968 volunteers into two groups: one tak
Statins have become the “gold standard”
for the treatment of high cholesterol—and
a new type of drug known as PCSK9
inhibitors could make them even better. In
a recent study, researchers split a group of
968 volunteers into two groups: one taking
only a statin, the other combining the
drug with evolocumab, a PCSK9 inhibitor.
After 18 months, the team measured
the participants’ levels of LDL, or “bad
cholesterol.” Anything below 100 milligrams
per deciliter of blood is considered
excellent, and those who were taking only
a statin averaged an impressive 93 mg/dL.
But those taking a combination of the two
drugs averaged an astonishing 36 mg/dL
of LDL—an ultralow level generally seen
only in babies. “In a sense,” says cardiologist
Elliott Antman, who wasn’t associated
with the study, “you are turning back
the cardiovascular clock.” These striking
reductions came with an added benefit,
reports Reuters.com: greater declines in
dangerous plaques that had accumulated
in the patients’ arteries. Plaques shrank in
two-thirds of those taking both drugs, but
in only half of those taking a statin alone.
The only downside of PCSK9 inhibitors is
their cost: With some prescriptions priced
at $14,000 a year, most insurers are refusing
to pay for them.


La Niña’s impact on weather

Months after the conclusion of one of the
strongest El Niños in history, the weather
system’s lesser-known sister, La Niña, has
finally made her arrival. Unlike El Niño,
which occurs when ocean temperatures
in the Pacific become unusually warm,
La Niña cools the surface of the tropical
Pacific, altering the storm track over North
America and other parts of the world.
El Niño was blamed for last year’s balmy
winter in the Northeast and soaking rains
in the drought-stricken West; La Niña will
have the opposite effect, ushering in wetter,
cooler conditions in the northern states
and exacerbating dry conditions across
the South. The weather system “is likely
to contribute to persisting or developing
drought across much of the southern U.S.
this winter,” Mike Halpert of the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, tells
CNN.com. An ongoing drought in Southern
California also is likely to continue. This
La Niña isn’t particularly strong, and is
expected to last only until spring.

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Mumps infections spike

Reported cases of mumps have spiked to
a 10-year high in the U.S., jumping from
229 cases in 2012 to more than 4,000 in
2016. A vaccine-preventable disease that
affects the salivary glands, mumps causes
headaches, fatigue, and swelling of the jaw;
in rare cases, it can lead to complications
including deafness or brain inflammation.
Infections were reported in 46 states and
the District of Columbia last year; particularly
hard hit were Arkansas, Iowa,
Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York,
and Oklahoma. Health officials have noted
that the controversial “anti-vax” movement,
which opposes the use of vaccinations,
isn’t entirely to blame: Most of the
people diagnosed with mumps last year
had received the two recommended
doses of the measles-mumps-rubella
(MMR) vaccine. There is also no evidence
that the virus has mutated, which
would render the vaccine less effective.
“The most likely reason for these
outbreaks is that vaccine immunity
is fading,” Dr. Paul Offit, with the
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,
tells Scientific American. Health
officials investigating the issue say a
third dose of the MMR vaccine may
be required.

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A new human organ

Since the late 1800s, medical textbooks
like Gray’s Anatomy have listed 78 organs
in the human body. But that tally has just
gone up, reports The Washington Post.
Irish researchers have determined
that the mesentery,
a sheet of tissue that
connects the intestines
to the abdominal wall,
should be categorized
as a bona fide organ. For
decades, it was widely
believed that the mesentery
was merely a series of fragmented
membranes. But after
re-examining its structure, two
scientists from the University
of Limerick concluded that
it is in fact one continuous
entity that plays a vital role
in preventing the intestines from flopping
around in the belly. They believe the
mesentery fits the broad definition of an
organ: a self-contained structure that performs
a specific bodily function. “Without
it,” says study author J. Calvin Coffey,
“you can’t live.” It remains unclear what
other purposes the mesentery serves, or to
which system of the body it belongs. But
the researchers say that reclassifying the
body part as an organ will encourage further
study, which could help shed light on
Crohn’s disease and other gut disorders.

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Novel penis implant

A heat-activated penis implant may offer
new hope for men suffering from erectile
dysfunction. Scientists at the University of
Wisconsin–Madison used nitinol, a nickeltitanium
alloy known for its elasticity
and shape memory, to develop a device
that expands when heated. The implant
remains flaccid at normal human body
temperature, becomes erect when warmed
slightly, and returns to its flaccid state on
cooling. The device isn’t perfect: Men fitted
with it would get an erection every time
they bathed, unless they draped a cold, wet
towel over their groin. But Brian Le, who
led the research, hopes it will offer men with
treatment-resistant erectile dysfunction an
option that’s simpler and less awkward than
an implant requiring a penis pump. “We’re
hoping that, with a better device, a better
patient experience, and a simpler surgery,
more urologists would perform this operation,
and more patients would want to try
the device,” he tells MedicalDaily.com. Le
and his team are now working on a remote
control that would activate the implant, using
heat induction, when waved over the penis.

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Dinosaurs’ egg problem

Dinosaurs took much longer to incubate
their eggs than previously thought—a factor
that may have contributed to their demise.
Scientists at Florida State University came
to this conclusion after analyzing the teeth
of rare fossilized dinosaur embryos. Like
human teeth, reptile teeth are formed during
incubation from a liquid called dentin;
this calcified tissue builds up, adding a
new layer each day as the embryo develops.
“They’re kind of like tree rings,” lead
author Gregory Erickson tells CSMonitor
.com. “We could literally count them to see
how long each dinosaur had been developing.”
The researchers calculated that smaller
Protoceratops hatchlings took nearly three
months to develop, while the eggs of the
Hypacrosaurus, a duck-billed dinosaur that
grew to be about 30 feet long, incubated for
about six months. With such long incubations,
dinosaurs must have been very slow
reproducers—a trait that would hurt their
ability to rebuild their populations after
a comet or asteroid strike wiped many of
them out 65 million years ago. The discovery
may also help explain why birds, whose
eggs have significantly shorter incubation
times than dinosaurs’ did, survived the same
mass extinction event.

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Will we build astronaut igloos on Mars?

NASA has identified a surprisingly basic
building material for housing astronauts
on Mars: ice. There is thought to be a
giant slab of frozen water only a few
meters below the Martian surface, spanning
an area larger than New Mexico.
NASA researchers, working in collaboration
with two space architectural
firms, believe this ice could potentially
be mined and used to make igloo-like
homes for astronauts. There would be
no need to transport large quantities of
building materials and equipment from
Earth, and the hydrogen-rich ice would
shield the Martian explorers from harmful
cosmic rays. The “Mars Ice Home”
would consist of a large inflatable dome,
surrounded by an icy outer shell. A
layer of carbon dioxide between the two
would provide insulation from the chilly
temperatures outside, keeping the living
and working quarters at a comfortable
72 degrees Fahrenheit. Construction
would take as long as 400 days, but that
work could be done by robots before the
astronauts’ arrival. The Ice Home could
be larger than a building made from traditional
materials, and could be deflated
and relocated if required. Another benefit,
notes NASA’s Kevin Kempton, stems from
the translucent qualities of ice. “Some
outside daylight could pass through,” he
tells Space.com, “and make it feel like
you’re in a home and not a cave.”

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