Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Science news that’s good for tough cookies, bad for ‘God particle’ mystique

This undated image made available by CERN shows a typical candidate event including two high-energy photons whose energy (depicted by red towers) is measured in the CMS electromagnetic calorimeter. The yellow lines are the measured tracks of other particles produced in the collision. The pale blue volume shows the CMS crystal calorimeter barrel. To cheers and standing ovations, scientists at the world's biggest atom smasher claimed the discovery of a new subatomic particle Wednesday July 4, 2012, calling it "consistent" with the long-sought Higgs boson — popularly known as the "God particle" — that helps explain what gives all matter in the universe size and shape.


A roundup of the good, the bad and the just plain interesting from the week's science headlines:

Good news

Tough cookies display the ability to feel more pain relief from placebos, a finding that could impact how drug studies are conducted and could explain why sham treatments work on some people. First, a team of researchers led by the University of Michigan determined the strongest personality traits in each of the study's participants.Then, they injected saltwater into each person's jaw muscle to cause pain, with intermittent exposure to a "painkiller" – really a placebo. Participants who were more resilient, straightforward or altruistic were more likely to feel more relief from the placebo, with their brains releasing more of a natural painkiller called endogenous opioids, the U of M researchers said in a release. (Angry people weren't quite as lucky.) The study, published Thursday in Neuropsychopharmacology, could one day help researchers take personality into account during drug trials that use placebos – though a larger sample group needs to be evaluated. – Aleysha Haniff

Story continues below advertisement

Bad news

A new elementary particle whose discovery was announced with fanfare to a waiting world in July risks being just a little less exciting than scientists had hoped. Reporting on a conference in Kyoto where the latest data from their Large Hadron Collider was presented, scientists at the CERN European research centre said on Thursday it seemed very likely that the particle was indeed the long-sought Higgs boson, the "God particle" believed to play a key role in the creation of the universe by giving mass to matter. But rather than an exotic beast opening the door to new realms of cosmology as some had hoped, the data increasingly suggests it is a "Standard Model Higgs" fitting into the current scientific concept of the universe, they asserted. Still, scientists hope the Higgs-like particle could produce evidence to back alternative concepts that attempt to explain what the standard model doesn't cover. – Reuters

Just news

Two international teams of scientists have identified a rare mutation in a gene linked with inflammation that significantly increases the risk for the most common form of Alzheimer's disease, the first such discovery in at least a decade. The findings, published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, offer new insights into the underpinnings of Alzheimer's. In separate studies, teams led by privately held deCode Genetics and John Hardy of University College London found that people with a mutation in a gene called TREM2 were four times as likely to have the disease as people who did not have the gene. TREM2 is rare, but its discovery offers another hint at a cause of Alzheimer's. With the new finding, researchers say the focus will turn on the role of inflammation in Alzheimer's disease. – Reuters

Canadian and French researchers have discovered a free-floating planet drifting through space without a parent star. Beyond the obvious neat-o factor, astronomers hope to learn more about planets beyond our solar system since the newly discovered CFBDSIR2149 is close enough to be viewed by telescope. "Intrinsically, they're interesting on a human level, as solitary planets in space," Université de Montréal researcher Loïc Albert told The Globe's Tu Thanh Ha. "But they can also be a proxy for the study of other planets. They can be models to help us study other objects that are harder to see." The planet, which is 10 times wider than Earth and 1,000 times heavier, is likely magenta or dark pink with a surface temperature of 400C. The research was published Wednesday in Astronomy and Astrophysics.– Aleysha Haniff

Scientists have mapped the genome of the domestic pig in a project that could enhance the animal's use for meat production and the testing of drugs for human disease. A study published Thursday in the journal Nature identified genes that could be linked with illnesses suffered by farmed pigs, providing a reference tool for selective breeding to increase their resistance to disease. Identifying genes responsible for diseases that are also seen in people could see pigs used more extensively for drug testing. Some of the genetic faults that pigs share with humans can be linked with conditions as varied as Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, dyslexia, obesity and Parkinson's disease, the researchers said. – Reuters

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to