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July 1 - 7, 2009
Man’s best friend? All the latest inventions and discoveries telegraph.co.uk/science
By Kate Devlin Medical Correspondent
THE MEDITERRANEAN diet has long been hailed as the perfect recipe for a long life.
Researchers have claimed that the foods are effective against a variety of illnesses, from Alzheimer’s to cancer. But a new study suggests that not all the ingredients carry the same benefits.
Researchers found that eating large amounts of fish
and seafood or the low levels of dairy food traditionally associated with the diet did little or nothing to lengthen a subject’s lifespan.
However, drinking a glass of wine or two a day with large amounts of fruit, vegetables and olive oil, while keeping red meat consumption to a minimum did contribute towards a longer life.
The scientists behind the study claim that it is the first to identify which individual
parts of the diet might contribute the most to longevity.
Previous research has found that sticking to the diet can protect the brain against developing Alzheimer’s and other memory problems.
The variety of ingredients also reduce the chances of developing heart disease and even cut the risk of being diagnosed with cancer. The latest study, which followed 23,000 people, found that
those who adhered most closely to a typical Mediterranean diet were 14 per cent more likely still to be alive after eight years.
Prof Dimitrios Trichopoulos, from the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study, said: “The analysis suggests that the dominant components of the Mediterranean diet are moderate consumption of alcohol, mostly in the form of
wine during meals, as is traditional in the Mediterranean countries, low consumption of meat and meat products, and high consumption of vegetables, fruits and nuts and olive oil.”
Drinking wine was most beneficial for lifespan, followed by reducing meat consumption and eating a lot of fruit, vegetables and nuts.
There were also “clear” benefits in combining key components of the diet, such
as lots of vegetables and olive oil, the researchers found.
However, the findings, published online by the British Medical Journal, do not mean that eating fish carries few health benefits.
Previous studies have suggested that the omega three “good” fatty acids found in fish such as tuna and salmon can help protect the mind against decline and reduce the risk of prostate cancer for men.
By Louise Gray Environment Correspondent
EVERY HOME in Britain will be powered with electricity generated by 7,000 new wind turbines around the coast, under government plans.
Lord Hunt, the Energy Minister, announced proposals last week to use offshore wind farms to provide enough power for millions of homes by 2020.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change would provide £15billion to connect the new turbines to the national grid.
But Dr John Constable, Research Director at the Renewable Energy Foundation, said the grid was not designed to take so much “uncontrollable” electricity,
THECASE FOR WIND
Wind farms are capable of supplying more than 30 times the electricity consumed in Britain, scientists claim.
A network of 2.5 megawatt inshore wind turbines, operating at a fifth of their capacity and sited away from urban centres would meet electricity demands, a study by a team of scientists led by Prof Michael McElroy at Harvard University suggests.
The team worked out the potential for wind-powered electricity based on wind speed, air density, turbine spacing and the size of blades.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate that wind farms could provide more than 40 times the world’s electricity demands.
which varied greatly with the level of wind. He said it would be impossible to get the turbines built in time because of a shortage of equipment.
Environmental groups said the grid would need to be upgraded in order to handle such a large amount of power.
Britain already has eight gigawatts of wind-powered generation capacity that is either built or in the planning stage, enough to supply up to five million homes. The plan for an extra 25GW would create enough capacity to supply every home in Britain.
The 7,000 turbines would be in addition to 210 already in place offshore and more than 2,000 on land. Last week the bidding process began for energy companies to lease sites, including Dogger Bank, in the North Sea; west of the Isle of Wight in the Channel, and the Irish Sea.
The Government said the investment would provide up to 70,000 jobs, but Dr Constable said Britain should only build enough turbines offshore to produce 10GW.
He said that for up to two thirds of the year, when the wind was not blowing, it would be necessary to have backup nuclear, coal or other renewable energy sources. He also said the industry was not value for money because subsidies were needed to get the technology off the ground.
Nick Rau, of Friends of the Earth, said: “Ministers must [develop] an offshore super grid to harness offshore wind, wave and tidal power and stabilise supply and demand by connecting us to a bigger European energy network.”
Dolphins and small whales on verge of extinction
Dolphins and smaller whales are in danger of dying out because they have not been given the same protection as great whales, according to The World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The international community has no measures in place to protect the smaller species, the charity claims. The fund is calling for protection
for the animals, not only from hunting but also from pollution, fishing equipment and loss of habitat.
Almost all great whales are protected under international treaties, but only 17 per cent of dolphin and porpoise species enjoy a similar status.
By Richard Alleyne Science Correspondent
WE MIGHT be asleep, but deep in the recesses of our mind a “memory editor” is replaying the experiences of the day and storing the highlights on our brain’s version of a video recorder, scientists believe.
Researchers have discovered that the mind keeps most memories for just a day, but at night it sifts through the “clips” before transferring the best ones to long-term storage in our own archive. They say the research has “profound implications” for the importance of sleep and its link with long-term memory.
Scientists have long suspected that there is a link between sleep and memory and have suggested that it acts like a filing system, enabling the brain to distinguish between important and useless information.
Dreams, which usually occur in light sleep, are thought to be part of the process. But, in memory tests, scientists discovered that it was more likely that deep sleep played a significant role.
The research was carried out by Professor Susuma Tonegawa at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, an offshoot of the American university MIT. Prof Tonegawa
and his team used humans and mice to show that memories are stored in the hippocampus, a part of the central brain, before being “replayed” and transferred down a circuit known as the “trisynaptic pathway” to be filed in the outer neocortex.
In experiments, volunteers were asked to memorise sets of words. Half of the volunteers were allowed to go to sleep immediately and half were kept awake. Those who slept, greatly increased their ability to recall the words up to six weeks later.
By blocking the trisynaptic pathway in mice, scientists were able to block the formation of long-term memories.
By Kate Devlin Medical Correspondent
CHEMICALS WIDELY used in shampoos, toys, hairspray and cosmetics could harm the growth of unborn babies, a study suggests.
Scientists found that the compounds were linked to low birth weight, which increased the risk of children dying in the first weeks of life and contributed to long-term health problems such as heart disease.
Researchers believe that exposure to the chemicals in the womb could inhibit the children’s growth. Previous studies have shown that the chemicals, phthalates, can also cause fertility problems in men.
The study analysed blood and other samples taken from 201 babies, 88 of whom were born weighing less than 2,500g (5.5lb).
Researchers found that more than seven in 10 had significant levels of the chemicals in their bodies. On average, all those of low birth weight had 30 more phthalates than the other children, according to the findings published in the Journal Of Paediatrics.
Although larger studies need to be carried out to verify the findings, the authors said that the results suggested that minimising exposure to the chemicals could be beneficial to unborn children.
Prof Charles Tyler, from the University of Exeter, said: “This study adds to a growing body of evidence which suggests that phthalates can have a wide range of effects on the body.”
Phthalates are found in glues and paints, and are added to plastics to make them more flexible.
In Europe, certain phthalates were banned from hairsprays and other products in 2005.