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Social studies

Don’t sweat it: Evolution is on your side Add to ...

Sweat gland evolution

“About 30,000 years ago, a tiny mutation arose in a gene known as EDAR and began to spread rapidly in central China, eventually becoming common in the region,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “[Last] week, scientists at Harvard University offered some explanations for why the EDAR mutation may have been so successful – by observing how it affects mice. … The small change, substituting one chemical letter of DNA for another, may have helped humans in Asia survive crippling heat and humidity by endowing them with extra sweat glands, the scientists reported Thursday in the journal Cell. It may also have made people with the mutation more attractive to the opposite sex by allowing them to grow thicker hair or fuller breasts.”

Helping lab chimps recover

“A study has shown that anti-depressants can be used to help former lab chimps combat depression and trauma,” says BBC News. “Researchers say that the treatment should be considered for hundreds of other chimps that have been used in scientific research. The finding comes as a U.S. funding body thinks about retiring the more than 300 chimps it uses for medical research.”

When dolphins play rough

“When dolphins tire of man-made toys, they have no problem with using baby sharks as a volleyball, officials at a Florida research centre said,” United Press International reports. “The activity triggers a scramble for staff to rescue the sharks at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, 58 miles [93 kilometres] north of Key West, media relations co-ordinator Mary Stella [said]. The centre has 90,000 square feet [27,000 square metres] of lagoons on the Gulf of Mexico. Staff developed a plastic mesh that is used as fencing to keep the centre’s 19 resident dolphins in. … She said occasionally, baby nurse sharks find their way into the lagoons and staff have to rescue them from the dolphins.”

How guppies show off

“When it comes to mating, guppies treasure their ugly friends – because they look so good by comparison,” says Associated Press. “An article published Wednesday by Britain’s Royal Society says that male guppies prefer to associate with their drab-coloured counterparts when females are around. ‘Males actively choose the social context that maximizes their relative attractiveness,’ the article said. Or, as lead author Clelia Gasparini put it, ‘If you are surrounded by ugly friends, you look better.’”

Real necktie? You rebel

A British schoolboy was “excluded” for breaching his school’s health and safety rules by wearing a regular rather than a clip-on tie, says The Daily Telegraph. “Max Richmond, 13, said the clip-on ones were uncomfortable and childish. He preferred to wear a traditional tie of exactly the same design. … He was put into educational isolation for a day for wearing the proper tie at Colne Community School in Brightlingsea, Essex. … The 1,438-pupil school insisted pupils wore clip-on ties for health and safety reasons.”

Are you afraid of holes?

“Four years ago, my husband revealed one of his more peculiar qualities: He’s freaked out by the sight of sliced cantaloupe,” writes Michaeleen Doucleff at NPR.org. “The melon seeds, all clustered together, make his skin itch and his stomach churn. Then he gets obsessed and can’t stop talking about it. A bit concerned by his behaviour, I started researching it on the Web. Boy, was I in for a treat. My husband was not alone. Trypophobia, as the Urban Dictionary defines it, is an irrational fear of holes, pods or cracks – specifically, clusters of them. It’s not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or any clinical psychologist we could find, but a whole trypophobia community is rising up on the Web.”

Thought du jour

“You must lose a fly to catch a trout.”

George Herbert, Welsh-born English poet (1593-1633)

 

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