Discovered: Mothers living near freeways more likely to have autistic kids; siblings that get along turn out healthier; high fructose corn syrup linked to diabetes; strange ancient life in Antarctic ice.
Does air pollution lead to autism? A new study from University of Southern California researchers seems to make a strong case for linking air pollution with autism. Their evidence shows that autistic children are two to three times more likely to have been exposed to exhaust, smog, and other air pollutants early in life. "We’re not saying that air pollution causes autism," clarifies lead researcher Heather Volk. But, she says, "We’re saying it may be a risk factor for autism." Any new study making big claims about autism will of course have its skeptics, though. For instance, Forbes' Emily Willingham points out that air pollution has actually decreased significantly over the last 10 years, that there are many confounding variables at play here, and that increasing autism incidence may simply be a function of increasing study on autism. [Time]
Siblings that play nice together stay healthier longer. Brother tussling over backyard sporting events, sisters jockeying to be the favorite child—a little sibling rivalry can't hurt, right? Think again, say scientists from Penn State. They observed 174 families in rural and urban areas, finding that conflict between siblings corresponds to poor health later in life. "Negative sibling relationships are strongly linked to aggressive, anti-social and delinquent behaviors, including substance use," says Prof. Mark Feinberg. He and his colleagues devised a program that helps siblings get along better, and showed that if implemented when kids are still in elementary school, siblings tend to avoid negative behavior later in life. [Penn State]
More high fructose corn syrup consumption correlates with more diabetes. Scientists have long known that overconsumption of sugar leads to Type 2 diabetes. And now, new research shows that common sugar substitute high fructose corn syrup has the same effects, with increased consumption of the artificial sweetener correlating with a boom in Type 2 diabetes. "It's a question of the good, the bad and the ugly," says lead author Dr. Michael Goran of USC's Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute, "with an apple—which has about 10 grams of fructose in it—being good, the fructose in [table] sugar being bad, and the fructose in high fructose corn syrup being the ugly." According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million Americans have diabetes, and 7 million of them don't even realize it. [CBS News]
Microbes have survived in Antarctic ice for thousands of years without light or oxygen. Maybe we won't have to travel to other galaxies to find alien life. Scientists from the University of Illinois have found pretty strange lifeforms right here on Earth. Peter T. Doran and his colleagues have happened upon microbes living 65 feet below the surface of briny Antarctic sea water, far from the usual energy sources like light and oxygen. They've been swimming in this inhospitable environment for almost 3,000 years. "This provides us with new boundary conditions on the limits for life," says Doran. "The low temperature or high salinity on their own are limiting, but combined with an absence of solar energy or any new inputs from the atmosphere, they make this a very tough place to make a living." [Wired]