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Science News: February 2004

Author: Nicolas Delerue, Issue: February 2004, Topic: Science News, Science

Peeling apples is good for your brain

Recent studies made at the National Food Research Institute have shown that when you cut the skin of an apple the front part of your brain is stimulated. During this study the researchers used infrared to monitor the amount blood flowing in the brain while people were peeling apples. They noticed that the amount of blood in the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain) sharply increases when peeling apples. This area of the brain is known to control emotions and high-level activities such as calculation. They believe that having to handle a dangerous knife to follow a complicated trajectory (the external surface of the apple) might explain their results.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Jan. 3, 2004

You can find more details at http://www12.mainichi.co.jp/news/mdn/search-news/895490/apples-0-1.html

Silkworms to produce drugs

The National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Tsukuba is breeding a new kind of silkworms. These silkworms have been genetically modified so that they produce proteins that are expensive to produce by conventional methods. So far these worms' DNA has been modified so that they produce a fluorescent protein found in corals or jellyfish but the goal of Toshiki Tamura's is to make these worms produce useful proteins. Some genetically modified silkworms are already at work to produce drugs in an insect factory located in Ehime prefecture (Shikoku). There, they produce a drug used to treat cats and dogs with viral infections. Silkworms have the advantage of not been able to fly and are thus easier to contain in a closed laboratory than other species of insects. This insect factory takes advantage of Japan's position as a world leader in silkworm breeding.

You can read more about this topic at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20040115b5.htm

Is avian flu going to be worse than SARS?

The discovery of a case of avian flu in Yamaguchi prefecture has triggered many fears among Japaneses chicken consumers. This was the first outbreak of the disease in Japan since 1925 and comes just a few week after the announcement of the first case of mad cow disease in the US. This outbreak has hit not only Japan but most of south-eastern Asian countries and probably started in Vietnam. In that country, at least 3 persons died of the disease, as was confirmed by tests conducted at Tsukuba's National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and tests performed at the National Institute of Animal Health have shown that the strain found in Yamaguchi prefecture is the same. Despite these confirmed deaths, it is important to stress that contamination by this virus of the disease occurs by direct contact with sick animals and not by the consumption of chicken (or eggs). But experts warns that if a variant of this virus gained the capability to propagate from human to human, the resulting outbreak might be devastating, as humans have no antibodies to fight this kind of virus.

More details can be found (for example) at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20040121b8.htm and http://www.nature.com/nsu/040112/040112-3.html

<< Science News: January 2004 | Master Index | Using Japanese TV in the Language Learning Classroom >>


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