Walkers' Brains Better Connected

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Aug. 28 (UPI) — U.S. researchers suggest walking enhances brain circuit connectivity and brain function.

Moderate walking for 40 minutes three times per week for a year — rather than just stretching and toning — helped increase brain function in older adults.

University of Illinois at Champaign study leader Art Kramer and colleagues looked at brain regions functioning together — especially the “default mode network” that dominates brain activity while passively observing or simply daydreaming.

The study, published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, finds in healthy young brains, activity in the default mode network quickly diminishes when a person engages in an activity requiring focus on the external environment. The researchers also say default mode network connectivity significantly improved in the brains of the older walkers.

“The higher the connectivity, the better the performance on some of these cognitive tasks, especially the ones we call executive control tasks — things like planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity, working memory and multitasking,” Kramer says in a statement.

Kramer and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity in 32 adults, ages 18-35, as well as in 65 previously sedentary people age 59 to over 80 — before, as well as six and 12 months, after joining either a walking group or a stretching and toning group.

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U.S. Bred Toads Returning to Africa

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Aug. 17 (UPI) — One hundred of the world’s rarest amphibians have been returned to their African homeland after being carefully raised at two U.S. zoos, officials said.

The Kihansi spray toads are living in a state-of-the-art propagation center in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital, after being transported from the Bronx Zoo in New York and the Toledo, Ohio, zoo, a Wildlife Conservation Society release said Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Anna Maembe said the Tanzanian government was “very grateful to the Bronx Zoo and The Toledo Zoo for taking care of these precious toads for 10 years.

“We are very optimistic that they will acclimatize soon and be taken to their homeland in Kihansi Gorge in the near future,” she said.

The Kihansi spray toad was first discovered in 1996 living in a 5-acre micro-habitat created by the spray of nearby waterfalls in the Kihansi Gorge. In 1999, the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the gorge dramatically changed the Kihansi spray toad’s habitat, lessening the mist zone in which the toads thrived.

Scientists and Tanzanian officials collected a colony of 499 Kihansi spray toads from the gorge as assurance of the species’ survival.

The toad was last seen in the wild in 2004, and in 2009 the toad was declared to be extinct in the wild by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The Toledo Zoo has 5,000 toads and the Bronx zoo has 1,500. Both zoos will continue breeding them, returning additional shipments to Tanzania as their numbers rebound.

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Trial Under Way for Oral Cancer Test

SHEFFIELD, England, Aug. 13 (UPI) — A British team of researchers say they has been awarded a $2 million grant to perfect a test dentists can use to detect oral cancer through mouth cells.

An international team led by Martin Thornhill of the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals has begun clinical trials on patients at Charles Clifford Dental Hospital for two years to perfect the technology. If the new technology is as effective as the current system that uses a biopsy it could be regularly used in dental offices in the future.

The current procedure involves a dentist detecting a suspicious lesion and using a scalpel to perform a biopsy using an off-site laboratory.

The new test involves removing cells with a brush, placing them on a chip, and inserting the chip into the analyzer, leading to a result in 8-10 minutes. The new test is quicker and less expensive, Thornhill says.

Professor John McDevitt of Rice University developed the novel micro-chip that uses microchip design, nanotechnology, microfluids, image analysis, pattern recognition and biotechnology to shrink many of the main functions of a state-of-the-art clinical pathology laboratory onto a nano-bio-chip.

The nano-bio-chips are disposable and formed like a credit card into a battery-powered analyzer.

The sample of mouth cells is placed on the card and microfluidic circuits wash cells from the sample into the reaction chamber. The cells pass through channels about the size of small veins and come in contact with “biomarkers” that react only with specific types of diseased cells.

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New Findings from Ancient Tomb in Italy

ROME, Aug. 5 (UPI) — A royal tomb in an Etruscan necropolis in central Italy has yielded fresh archaeological finds during a summer dig, researchers say.

Tarquinia, one of the richest Etruscan sites in the Lazio region of Italy, is home to dozens of tombs, but researchers were only recently given permission to excavate the “Queen’s Tomb” in detail, ANSA reported.

Dating to the mid-seventh century B.C., the crypt is thought to have been a royal burial site although no remains have ever been found.

Researchers uncovering the crypt say they are finding images and decorations found in other contemporary cultures, suggesting the ancient city had much wider links with the outside world than previously thought.

Archaeologists believe the royal tomb was created by a team of foreign architects and craftsmen, strong evidence of a solid network of ties and trade with other civilizations, they said.

The necropolis of Tarquinia contains 6,000 graves cut into the rock but has won worldwide fame for its painted tombs.

Nearly 200 crypts at the site are decorated with frescos in the early Etruscan and Greek style.

Considered one of the most important galleries of ancient art, the Tarquinia necropolis has been on UNESCO’s world heritage list since 2004.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Computer Game Unlocks Protein Puzzle

SEATTLE, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Computer gamers are helping U.S. scientists discover secrets about the structure of proteins — and having fun while they do it, they say.

More than 57,000 people, many of them non-scientists, have been playing Foldit, an online game aimed at solving the mysteries of protein structure, a report in the journal Nature said Thursday.

Several top-ranked game players even outperformed state-of-the-art computer algorithms that tackle the same problem, the article said.

The game, developed by Seth Cooper of the University of Washington in Seattle, recruited the online community to help solve the mystery of how proteins fold amino acid chains that allow them to become the building blocks of life.

Players tweak, tug and twist partially folded proteins, with the aim of creating 3-D structures that are energetically comfortable for the protein to maintain.

Foldit has a good mix of the three main motivators in online gaming: competition (players score points and are ranked), camaraderie (teams can play, sharing strategies and dividing labor) and immersion (players can lose themselves in the game).

Foldit is such a success the University of Washington is starting a new center for game science, Cooper says.

“The word game has been kind of a bad word,” Stanford University’s Nick Yee, who studies the sociology of online games, says.

“(People say) computer games are just trivial; they’re what teenagers do in their basement. This … shows you can actually use computer games to solve really hard problems.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Computer Game Unlocks Protein Puzzle

SEATTLE, Aug. 5 (UPI) — Computer gamers are helping U.S. scientists discover secrets about the structure of proteins — and having fun while they do it, they say.

More than 57,000 people, many of them non-scientists, have been playing Foldit, on online game aimed at solving the mysteries of protein structure, a report in the journal Nature said Thursday.

Several top-ranked game players even outperformed state-of-the-art computer algorithms that tackle the same problem, the article said.

The game, developed by Seth Cooper of the University of Washington in Seattle, recruited the online community to solve the mystery of how proteins fold amino acid chains that allow them to become the building blocks of life.

Players tweak, tug and twist partially folded proteins, with the aim of creating 3-D structures that are energetically comfortable for the protein to maintain.

Foldit has a good mix of the three main motivators in online gaming: competition (players score points and are ranked), camaraderie (teams can play, sharing strategies and dividing labor) and immersion (players can lose themselves in the game).

Foldit is such a success the University of Washington is starting a new center for game science, Cooper says.

“The word game has been kind of a bad word,” Stanford University’s Nick Yee, who studies the sociology of online games, says.

“(People say) computer games are just trivial; they’re what teenagers do in their basement. This … shows you can actually use computer games to solve really hard problems.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Golfers Improve Putting with 'Quiet Eye'

EXETER, England, July 17 (UPI) — British researchers suggest golfers may improve putting accuracy by learning use a technique they call the Quiet Eye.

Researchers at the University of Exeter in England say all good putters follow a similar pattern of visual control — lining up a putt and alternating between the ball and the hole. Then, before and during the stroke, they hold a steady fix on the back of the ball for about 2-3 seconds. After contact with the ball, the eyes remain steady for a further one-half second.

The researchers call this technique the Quiet Eye and measured the putting performance of a group of golfers with an average handicap of 2.5 before and after they had been taught the technique.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, finds golfers sank 6 percent more putts after training for this technique. The same group of golfers — put in a higher pressure competition — sank 17 percent more putts than their competitors not taught the technique.

“Our research shows that assessing visual control, using state of the art eye trackers, and coaching golfers to use the Quiet Eye technique can lead to dramatic improvements in putting performance,” study leader Samuel Vine said in a statement.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Golfers: Up Putts with a 'Quiet Eye'

EXETER, England, July 17 (UPI) — British researchers suggest golfers may improve putting accuracy by learning to use a technique they call he Quiet Eye.

Researchers at the University of Exeter in England say all good putters follow a similar pattern of visual control — lining up a putt and alternating between the ball and the hole. Then before and during the stroke they hold a steady fix on the back of the ball, for about 2-3 seconds. After contact with the ball, the eyes remain steady for a further one-half a second.

The researchers call this technique the Quiet Eye and measured the putting performance of a group of golfers with an average handicap of 2.5 before and after they had been taught the technique.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, finds golfers sank 6 percent more putts after training for this technique. The same group of golfers — put in a higher pressure competition — sank 17 percent more putts than their competitors not taught the technique.

“Our research shows that assessing visual control, using state of the art eye trackers, and coaching golfers to use the Quiet Eye technique can lead to dramatic improvements in putting performance,” study leader Samuel Vine says in a statement.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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New Fire Code Based on World Trade Center

GAITHERSBURG, Md., June 11 (UPI) — World Trade Center recommendations for emergency evacuations from buildings are the basis for a new set of fire codes, U.S. officials said.

Shyam Sunder, World Trade Center lead investigator, said 17 major building and fire code changes approved recently by the International Code Council are based on recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s investigation of the collapses of World Trade Center twin towers and World Trade Center 7 in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

The code changes include safety improvement requirements for elevators in tall buildings used during an emergency by occupants evacuating and firefighters entering, and provisions to ensure that emergency radio communications will work among first responders.

The changes will be incorporated into the 2012 edition of the International Building Code and the International Fire Code, a state-of-the-art model code used as the basis for building and fire regulations promulgated and enforced by U.S. state and local jurisdictions. Jurisdictions have the option of incorporating some or all of the code’s provisions, Sunder said.

“With their adoption and reaffirmation over two code cycles, we believe that the safety improvements stimulated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s World Trade Center investigation are now well integrated within the mainstream of U.S. building and fire codes,” Sunder said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Substance Abuse Program Treats Families

TUCSON, June 8 (UPI) — An Arizona foundation says it has received a grant for $1 million to build a substance abuse recovery program for parents and children.

Officials of the Amity Foundation say the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco has awarded the foundation the funds to build Dragonfly Village, a state-of-the-art drug and alcohol treatment center for children and families at Amity Foundation’s Circle Tree Ranch in Tucson.

Ray Clarke, Dragonfly board president, says the treatment facility provides therapy for 100 families with problems of addiction, abuse and neglect. He says the Annie E. Casey Foundation points out that:

– The primary cause of poverty is drug related.

– There are only 159 residential treatment spaces for women and children in Arizona and 6,000 children per year have parents who need treatment that do not receive services.

– Restoring families through the teaching and community building process ensures that society will spend less on welfare, foster care, medical care, incarceration and other services that drain local, state and federal budgets.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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