Random Samples

Science  04 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5676, pp. 1441

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  1. Frogs, Frogs, Frogs

    Frogs may be declining around the world, but local populations are exploding at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. More than 200 live frogs, representing 24 species from more than 17 countries, are on view through September. “This is a five-star hotel for frogs,” says co-curator Taran Grant.

    The croaking and peeping amphibians come in every color, from traditional greens and browns to the bright blues, reds, oranges, and yellows of Central and South American poison dart frogs. Although hopping remains popular, the waxy monkey frog clambers around branches on its hands and feet like a monkey; the Chinese gliding frog (above) uses special enhanced toe webbing to turn a leap into a long, planing glide. Some frogs chase their prey; others, like the huge-bellied, pond scum-colored ornate horned frog (left) prove that they also eat who only sit and wait.


    The exhibit's centerpiece is a vivarium containing 75 poison dart frogs. Frog mucus gets its poison from frogs' prey. (Those on display are on a nontoxic diet.) The museum's prize frog is also the world's most deadly: the golden poison dart frog, discovered in 1978 by then-curator of herpetology Charles Myers—which produces enough toxin to kill 10 people.

  2. Equal Time for Men's Health

    “Is ‘Mancipation’ needed to close the gender gap?” With that question, Elsevier science publishers, taking a leaf out of feminists’ book, last month unveiled the new Journal of Men's Health and Gender (http://www.jmhg.org/).

    The journal, edited by Viennese physician Siegfried Meryn, is primarily oriented to the aging European male. But it's not confined to stuffy articles about the prostate, heart attacks, and erectile dysfunction, taking instead a wide-ranging look at manhood and its travails, with articles such as one in the first issue entitled “Quantitative Evaluation of Germanic Men's Perspectives on Their Masculine Identity.”

    Time to ponder the prostate.


    There's no question that in today's world men are the weaker sex. “Men suffer from a cocktail of depression, aggression and violence, psychosomatically caused cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, destructive lifestyles of addiction and alcohol intoxication, and risk-taking behaviors,” according to Meryn. “Men's higher mortality rates for the 15 leading causes of death and their life expectancy, which is 7 years shorter than women, could slowly but surely shoot them into extinction.”

    It's definitely time to play catch-up, says Gerald Andriole, U.S. associate editor and a urologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. Whereas women tend to get regular checkups, he notes, “men sort of disappear from the health care system until they get to be older.” Andriole says the journal will also call attention to imbalances: For example, prostate cancer, which kills about 30,000 people a year, is almost as big a threat to men as breast cancer (about 40,000 deaths) is to women. Yet much more public attention and money are devoted to breast cancer.

  3. Hyper-Additivity

    Researchers in Britain have produced what they say is the best evidence to date that food additives aggravate hyperactive behavior in children.

    To many parents it's an article of faith, but numerous studies have failed to provide conclusive evidence. Now John Warner, a pediatric allergist at the University of Southampton, and colleagues have assembled what they say is the largest study population to date: 277 3-year-olds on the Isle of Wight, about half of whom were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    In the monthlong trial, each child spent a week drinking juice laced with food colorings and sodium benzoate, a common preservative, and, after a week of drying out, another week drinking identical-tasting juice with no additives. Parents were blind to the study design. The additives in the juice were “no more than what you would expect in a reasonable child's diet,” says Warner.

    Weekly lab assessments of children's behavior did not reveal any differential effect from the additives. But most parents detected significant differences— regardless of whether their child had ADHD—when asked to give weekly ratings of their behaviors in realms such as twitching, talkativeness, restlessness, and difficulties in concentration. Parental scores shifted by half a standard deviation, the authors report in the June issue of Archives of Diseases in Childhood. That means that elimination of additives might reduce the percentage of children diagnosed as “hyperactive to the point of impairing performance” from 15% to 6%, says Warner.

    “There have been very polarized camps on this issue for a long time,” says pediatrics professor Hugh Sampson of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai College of Medicine. “This study suggests that food additives may have an effect on child behavior and certainly supports the need for further study.” Warner is planning a larger study on older children.

  4. In Perfect Harmony

    Siemens winners and musicians Irene Sun (above) and Vlad Codrea.

    Did you ever “hit all the right notes” on a paper or an experiment? Maybe it's more than a figure of speech.

    This month the Siemens Foundation will hold an unusual symposium, “Beautiful Minds, Beautiful Music,” that explores the relation between artistic and scientific brilliance. The private 17 June event, at New York City's famed Carnegie Hall, will feature short performances by five winners of the Siemens/Westinghouse student science competition, followed by a panel of experts discussing the phenomenon. “We were amazed to find that nearly 100% of past winners played a musical instrument,” says James Miller, a spokesperson for the foundation. “And some are quite talented.”

    That's no surprise to panelist Diana Dabby, a concert pianist and composer who teaches both electrical engineering and music at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, where 10% of the student body participates in a conductorless chamber orchestra. “We'd have double the number, but they wanted to hold auditions to maintain high standards.”

    Violinist Vlad Codrea, a gold medal winner now majoring in biochemistry at the University of Texas, Austin, says his knowledge of music “opens up my mind” when he's writing computer programs or thinking about scientific concepts.

  5. Rising Stars


    Intel International. High school students Uwe Treske of Germany, Sarah Langberg of the United States, and Yuanchen Zhu of China (left to right) won top honors and a $50,000 scholarship at the 2004 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Portland, Oregon, last month. The three were chosen from more than 500 winners of regional science fairs held around the world.

    Zhu developed a technique to speed up the rendering of computer graphics while increasing their level of detail. Treske designed a low-cost scanning tunneling microscope using common materials such as tungsten filaments from light bulbs and a standard PC sound card. Langberg performed a geochemical analysis of off-axis volcanic regions along the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the northeast Pacific Ocean.

    “In my house, we have ‘flavor of the week,’” says Langberg, 17, from Fort Myers, Florida. “I love how exciting the sciences are. But then I'll read about poli sci, or philosophy, and change my mind.”

  6. Tributes


    On the money. The Bank of Japan is honoring Hideyo Noguchi, who helped create Japan's modern research enterprise, by placing him on a ¥1000 ($9) bank note that goes into circulation later this year.

    Noguchi, born in 1876, was a bacteriologist who discovered the syphilis-causing microbe Treponema pallidum. He was working to develop a vaccine for yellow fever when he contracted the disease and died in Ghana at age 52.

  7. Jobs


    Dramatic makeover. Spanish immunologist Carlos Martínez Alonso hopes to raise the status of a 65-year-old government research entity. But his initial step may be to “lower” its name.

    The Higher Research Council (CSIC) employs 2500 scientists at 120 research centers around the country. Martínez Alonso, who was appointed council president last month, wants them to strengthen ties to both university and industry researchers, and he also wants to boost their salaries. But first he wants to drop “higher” from the council's name. “It sounds arrogant,” he says.

  8. Awards

    Research prize. German bioinformaticist Martin Vingron and U.S. computer scientist Eugene Myers have won the Max Planck Research Prize from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society. Vingron, who directs the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, and Myers, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, will each receive $900,000 to promote international cooperation in bioinformatics.

    Ernst Jung award. Neurologist Stuart Lipton of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, California, and neurobiologist Tobias Bonhoeffer of the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology in Munich have won $150,000 each as co- recipients of a medicine prize endowed by German industrialist Ernst Jung.