Discovered: a more competitive age group, why that person who never sleeps has so much energy, learning from weightless space worms and the latest salvo in the "legalize it" debate.

  • Learning from weightless worms for deep space missions. In 2006, thousands of microscopic worms (origins are said to be from British trash bins) were sent into space on the shuttle Discovery and monitored by a team of researchers led by Dr. Nathaniel Szewczyk at University of Nottingham. His latest "space-worm" study, just published, studied the effects of a deep space mission on the worms to glean any insights they might have on astronauts on a potential mission to a far off planet (i.e. Mars). As BBC News notes, the study specifically tried to look at the effect of space on the muscles of worms. Not an apples-to-apples comparison to an astronaut we'd assume. But still helpful: "While it may seem surprising, many of the biological changes that happen during spaceflight affect astronauts and worms and in the same way," said Szewczyk in a news release. "We have been able to show that worms can grow and reproduce in space for long enough to reach another planet and that we can remotely monitor their health." [Eurekalert, BBC News]
  • When it's the middle aged who are the most competitive.  Measuring "competitiveness" seems like a difficult thing to do because there's so many different ways to go about it. Researchers could have participants play sports, answer trivia questions, or compete for money. One new study reported by Miller-McCune magazine opted for the last option: at an Oregon mall a research team corralled 500+ participants to compete in "a simple mental arithmetic task" (math games?) with the chance of winning a few extra dollars. And it was the middle aged guys (45 to 54 year-olds) who were the most competitive. One caveat, we'd guess, is that since the study measured competitiveness by offering small amounts of money, the middle-aged--who presumably make more, generally, than the oldest or youngest folks--were more likely to take the risk of doubling their money because they had less to lose.  [Miller-McCune]
  • The latest salvo in the endless debate over legalizing medical marijuana. It would seem to take a lot of "if's" to theorize that the legalization of marijuana would lead to fewer people drinking and driving and would, therefore, lead to fewer traffic fatalities from drunk drivers. But "legalize" advocates appear to have new (but not yet peer-reviewed, an important indicator of some scientific acceptance) research on their side with a study by two professors who found "passage of state medical-marijuana laws is associated with a subsequent drop in the rate of traffic fatalities." The study touts a 9 percent decrease in traffic deaths and a 5 percent drop in beer sales in those states. As The Denver Post carefully noted, the "study stops short of saying the medical-marijuana laws cause the drop in traffic deaths" but the implication is there. [The Denver Post, Eurekalert]
  • Here's a theory about why that person at work who never sleeps always has so much energy.  It has nothing to do with coffee, or any other stimulants, but it is sort of an obvious research go-to theory: "German scientists have found a gene variant that may be responsible for some people's short sleeping habits," The Los Angeles Times informs. Ah, the old gene varient theory. "[R]esearchers found that those who had two copies of a variant of the ABCC9 gene slept for short amounts of time, briefer than those who had two copies of another form of the gene." An apparent downside: "That same gene has also been associated with heart disease and diabetes." [The Los Angeles Times]