Discovered: The genes behind faces; an even closer look at molecules; job-related stress is killing us; this is your brain in isolation.
Childhood neglect irreparably damages brain's white matter. Childhood neglect doesn't just lead to emotional problems, it also leaves tangible physical marks on the brain, researchers have discovered. Scientists from Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School place young lab mice in environments of varying isolation, and later found that the most neglected mice exhibited stunted white matter growth in their brains. White matter facilitates nerve cell communication, and lead researcher Gabriel Corfas found that mice with damaged white matter were socially challenged, less interested in exploring and had less ability to form memories. Corfas thinks her research "shows how sensitive the development of myelin is to experience." Scientists are hoping the findings will help them better understand people raised in social isolation, such as recent Romanian orphans who exhibit many learning and behavioral problems. [Science News]
Most detailed molecular image yet. In 2009, an IBM research team in Zurich published the first-ever image of a single molecule. Now they're back with images so up-close, so personal, so high definition that you can make out the distinct type of bonds joining atoms. In order to capture these images, the researchers had to chill the molecules at a frigid -268C, because room temperature haziness would make any photographs blurry. Lead researcher Leo Gross says these images offer concrete evidence for long-held theories about molecular structure. "We can see different physical properties of different bonds, and that's really exciting," he enthuses. The researchers hope such imaging will help them better understand "wonder materials" like graphene and electron behavior during chemical reactions. [BBC]
The dangers of work-related stress. When your stressed-out friends complain, "My job is killing me," they're only kind of exaggerating. A compilation of studies links work-related stress to an approximately 25 percent higher chance of developing heart disease, which remains America's leading cause of death. That sounds like quite an increase, but many scientists actually expected it to be as high as 40 percent. Addressing the sources of on-the-job stress would help address the problem of course, but the researchers behind this new analysis in the journal Neurology believe that getting smokers to quit would have a bigger impact. Three-quarters of Americans list work as a significant stressor, and employers lose an estimated $300 million per year in stress-related absences, health care costs, turnover and lowered productivity. [Los Angeles Times]
Genes that determine your looks. Normal people compliment each others looks by saying "you've got good genes." But if you want to be hyper-specific about it, you can now compliment someone's looks by saying, "Your TP63 gene really spaces your eye sockets nicely." Erasmus University Medical Center's Manfred Kayser and colleagues have pinpointed certain genes that influence facial structure. By analyzed DNA from 10,000 Europeans by observed 3-D MRI scans of their heads and looking for facial "landmarks" and their relation to genetic code. The research has implications for criminology, since police could possibly reconstruct what a criminal looks like based on a crime scene DNA sample. That ability is a long ways away, though, says Kayser. "It's a start," he says of his findings. "But we are far away from predicting what someone's face looks like." [New Scientist]