Discovered: Mapping the genetics of barley; intelligence linked with anorexia and bulimia risk; UV light could prevent nasty hospital infections; dolphins sleep with one eye open.
Perfecting beer through the delicate science of barley genetics. About 32,000 different genes make up the barley genome. That's twice the size of the human genome, and an international team of scientists has gathered to crack it. Clearly, this work has some very important implications—chief among them, better beer. Oh, and better food security for those in developing nations, considering that barley is the world's fourth most cultivated crop. The genomic map of barley released by this consortium includes information about improving yields, preventing disease, enhancing nutritional value, and bolstering the crop's ability to withstand heat and drought. The research was funded by Danish beer giant, the Carlsberg Group. Research Peter Langridge says the findings prove that barley is much more genetically complex than its reputation suggests. "Barley always feels like a poor brother to wheat," he says. "But we gather and drink beer together and discuss things. It's a good intellectual lubricant." [Deutsche Welle]
Are kids prone to eating disorders smarter? A study conducted by researchers from the University College London's Institute of Child Health suggests they are. Psychologists examined 6,200 children between the age of 8 and 10, finding that the kids more at risk for developing an eating disorder had significantly higher IQs. To be clear, the researchers did not focus on the children's actual diets—just on the likelihood of those kids becoming anorexic or bulimic. The risk factor was determined in part by the children's relatives. Those whose family histories had a higher incidence of psychologically fraught relationships with food also had higher IQs. Lead researcher Nadia Micali says the findings don't reveal anything about the consequences of having an eating disorder, but do shed light on the early development of such disorders. "Although more research is needed to clarify these results, these findings should nevertheless help in the identification of vulnerable children, and in furthering our understanding of which neuropsychological characteristics may make a child susceptible to an eating disorder." [Salon]
Dolphins sleep with one eye open, figuratively speaking. They can sleep with half of their brain still alert for over two weeks, researchers from the National Marine Mammal Foundation have discovered. Balancing their consciousness between sleep and wakefulness helps dolphins be on the lookout for predatory sharks. Marine scientists have known that dolphin brains remain partially "awake" while sleeping for a while now, but Brian Branstetter and his colleagues have built on this knowledge by studying two penned-in dolphins' ability to echolocate for 15 days. "Dolphins can continue to swim and think for days without rest or sleep, possibly indefinitely," says Branstetter. Basically, all those CEOs who deprive themselves of sleep in order to get ahead have nothing on dolphins. [Christian Science Monitor]
Killing hospital-borne infections with UV rays. Adding infection to injury, diseases spread primarily in hospitals are on the rise. 1.7 million Americans contract one each year, and up to 98,000 die from one over the same period. You may have heard about pathogens, such as MRSA and VRE, which are often passed around in hospitals. These pose a unique problem to doctors given their drug resistance. How can we get rid of infections we can't treat? A new study from the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network's Deverick Anderson and colleagues has one answer: by blasting the offending microorganisms with UV light. Short-wave UV radiation effectively killed C. difficile, Acinetobacter, and VRE after the researchers beamed it on hospital facilities for about a half-hour. "We were able to demonstrate that we could achieve well over 90 percent reduction in each of those three bad bugs after using the UV light," says Anderson. "In an era of increasing antibiotic resistance, it could become an important addition to hospitals’ arsenal." [Scientific American]