Marital transitions make us pile on the pounds

August 30, 2011 at 8:04 am | Posted in Editorial Comment, Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Both marriage and divorce are bad for the waistline according to American researchers, with women piling on the pounds once they’ve bagged their man, and blokes after divorce.

Marriage and divorce act as ‘weight shocks’ which lead people to add a few extra pounds to their middle – especially among those over 30, says new research.

“Clearly the effect of marital transitions on weight changes differs by gender,” said lead author Dmitry Tumin, a doctoral student from Ohio State University. “Divorces for men , and to some extent, marriages for women promote weight gains that may be large enough to pose a health risk.”

So what causes the weight gain? The researchers think married women are too busy around the house to exercise, and that being married has a health benefit for men – which is lost when they get divorced.

This wieght gains is more pronounced in those over 30 say the researchers who think that the shock of marriage or divorce  is a bigger later in life.

Either that or we just give up trying!



August 25, 2011 at 8:34 am | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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There’s nothing quite like a steaming hot mug of tea – unless your tea isn’t just tea, but a whole load of common weeds too.

The LabNews team tend to stick to their Tetley’s so we’re not worried, but those of you who like the odd fruity or herbal tipple might like to read this.

A group of high school students found several brands of herbal – and a few brands of regular tea – contain more than is listed on the packet. Among these unlisted ingredients are weeds, garden flowers, ornamental trees and herbal plants. Some of the teas even had parsley in them!

“For example, DNA testing showed that an herbal infusion labelled “St. John’s wort” (Hypericum perforatum) included material from a fern in genus Terpischore. A DNA “barcode” obtained from another herbal tea labelled “ginger root, linden, lemon peel, blackberry leaves, and lemongrass” matched annual bluegrass (Poa annua), a common weed unrelated to lemongrass. Four herbal infusions yielded sequences identical or nearly identical to the tea plant, C. sinensis but none listed “tea” as an ingredient. The most common non-label ingredient, found in seven herbal products, was chamomile (Matricaria recutita).”

The teas – half herbal, half regular – came from 33 different manufacturers in 17 different countries and were collected or purchased at 25 locations in New York. Although the unlisted ingredients are mostly harmless, they could affect a tiny minority of consumers with acute allergies…better check the labels…

Deadly dieting

August 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Your tummy is growling at you – you’ve been really good and starved yourself all day, but your brain has already begun to sabotage your efforts.

New research suggests that when we don’t eat, hunger-inducing neurons in the brain start eating bits of themselves, and this act of self cannibalism make you want to eat even more.

The process – known as autophagy – has been uncovered in the neurons in the hypothalamus, and scientists believe blocking autophagy might be a useful hunger-fighting weapon in the war against obesity.

When the brain starts to eat itself, lipid in the agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons become mobilised, generating free fatty acids, which in turn boost AgRP – the hunger signal.

When autophagy is blocked, AgRP levels fail to rise in response to starvation. Experiments on mice showed they became lighter and leaner, because they ate less after fasting and burned more energy.

So there might be hope for us yet, but for now, we’ll all just have to struggle with diet and exercise.

There’s big, and then there’s this…

August 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Motivation. Unfortunately something the Science lite desk has but a passing acquaintance with, yet even we are aware that it can usually be boiled down to several key ingredients – and money is more often than not the king, and indeed queen, of driving forces. And so it appears to be for one of the biggest technology projects being undertaken at the moment.

Fuel giant Shell is forging ahead with a project that will revolutionise natural gas production. Now, they say that there are several environmental benefits to the project, but the real nub of the matter is the vast amount of money they stand to make from it. You see, they want to tap into an enormous gas field that is unsullied by any other company pipelines. Why so virginal? Well, it is located 250m under the sea in an area known as ‘cyclone alley’.  Hmm – should alarm bells be ringing at this point? It has become increasingly clear that large scale energy production and extreme natural events do not mix particularly well.

That said some incredibly advanced science and technology has been utilised in the project, and some 600 people around the world have spent over 1.6 million hours working on the problem – and what of their findings? An innovative pipeline perhaps? An advanced submersible? A pod of highly trained gas-collecting dolphins? Nope, pleasingly – for us at least – they are to build THE WORLD’S BIGGEST SHIP!

Now, it is kind of an unwritten law that writers should not really refer to the little devices they employ in order to get a sentence to covey meaning. A skilfully constructed sentence should leave you not only with information, but also the emotional context with-in which that information should be set. There are many tricks writers use to do this, and expertly applied they can be a thing of joy. However, it is pretty much universally understood by those in the word game that simply capitalising the words upon which he or she intends to hang an emphasis is a big no no. And so for that we apologise, but some things are simply beyond subtlety, and THE WORLDS BIGGEST SHIP! surely falls under that category?

Now whilst all this might sound a little bit like we are trying to convince the Editor to stop throwing our work back at us – the truth is that this particular ship seems to warrant capitals. Let’s have a look at the numbers. It is 488m long – that is longer than 4 football pitches. When fully loaded it’ll weigh 600,000 tonnes – six times the weight of the largest aircraft carrier. And the real kicker – its 200 strong crew will be ferried back and forth by 6 return flights a week.

By 2017 the vessel should be anchored off the north coast of Australia, where it will be used to harvest natural gas from Shell’s Prelude field. Once the gas is on board, it will be cooled until it liquefies and stored in vast tanks at -161°C. Every six or seven days a huge tanker will dock beside the platform and load up enough fuel to heat a city the size of London for a week.

Whichever way you look at it, it is a big boat. In fact big doesn’t really do it justice – nor do any superlatives we can currently think of to be honest. Time to break another writing rule­ – time for some excessive word-compounding. Ginormohuge, Enormassive – yes, they both seem to define this leviathan fairly well.

So to sum up – the world’s biggest ship, which will suck up gas from the seabed only to cool it to         -161°C in order to produce millions of tonnes of liquefied gas, is to be positioned in one of the world’s stormiest seas a mere 200km from western Australia’s beautiful Kimberley coastline – we can’t decide if this is human ingenuity at its greatest or its most foolhardy, but whichever it is, it definitely warrants capitals.

The Sky Tonight at the Peter Harrison Planetarium in Greenwich

August 16, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Posted in Watch | Leave a comment
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If you enjoyed the BBC’s Stargazing LIVE, you’ll enjoy The Sky Tonight. Presented live by a Royal Observatory astronomer, this show will show you which constellations and planets, cosmic gas clouds, comets or shooting stars can be seen in the night sky. A must for any amateur stargazer.

More information at

Something for the Summer – The Natural History Museum

August 10, 2011 at 10:40 am | Posted in Do | Leave a comment
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It’s the summer holidays and those of you with children are probably already fed up with them complaining that they’re bored. Why not check out what’s going on at the Natural History Museum?

Pick up a Family Explorer Backpack – complete with an explorer hat and binoculars and filled with explorers tools, drawing materials and fun activities – kids explore one of six different areas:
Primates – meet our closest relatives and consider what similarities you share.
Mammals – follow the clues of hair and teeth to find the mystery animal.
Monsters – track down a monster that lived millions of years ago.
Birds – match the beak and feathers to identify the correct bird.
Oceans – explore life underwater and follow the clues to catch the right fish.
Wildlife garden – investigate the diverse colours and shapes of nature in the Museum garden.

Don’t fancy that? Discover how what it’s like to be a butterfly explorer on the 13th August, or take in an Animal Vision show on the 17th August to find see how animals view the world.

More information at

Perfect Rigour by Masha Gessen

August 8, 2011 at 8:37 am | Posted in Competition, Read | 1 Comment
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In 2000, the Poincaré Conjecture was named as one of seven of the greatest unsolved mathematical problems in world, and the Clay Institute in Boston – recognising its complexity – offered $1m to anyone who could produce a solution. Grigori Perelman – a talented Russian mathematician – posted his solution to the mathematical conundrum online in 2002. His solution was validated in 2006, and in 2010, he was offered the $1m in recognition of his proof and mathematically ability – he refused every penny, the Fields Medal – mathematics’ highest honour – and he job offers that inevitably followed.

Journalist Masha Gessen wanted to find out why – and her task was made even harder as Perelman refused to bask in the limelight of his success, becoming a recluse and cutting off all communication with the outside world, especially journalists.

Perfect Rigour is like no other biography – Gessen says she never met with Perelman, and was forced to find out more about the genius from former classmates, teachers and colleagues in both America and Russia to paint a picture of a man who never wanted to be famous.

Perfect Rigour by Masha Gessen, Icon Books, March 2011, £7.99

We’ve got a copy of Perfect Rigour to give away – to be in with a chance of winning just send your name, address and organisation/institution to by 29th August.

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