Random Samples

Science  05 May 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5774, pp. 667

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    The World Health Organization (WHO) last week issued new standards for child growth that are more globally applicable than existing ones.

    Based on measurements of 8440 children in six countries including their weight, length/height, and body mass index, the new standards provide an international measure of how children should grow until age 5, given optimal nutrition and health. The old standards were not necessarily internationally applicable, as they described the growth of children from one area of the United States in the 1970s. They also made no distinction between how the children were fed, which affects growth rates; formula-fed babies grow faster. The new standards may prove to be controversial in countries such as the United States where many children are fed formula, because 20% to 30% more children may be categorized as overweight on the new charts.

    The children measured for the new standards were breastfed, received suitable additional nutrition after 6 months, and had mothers who were also healthy, well-nourished, and did not smoke. “For the first time, we have a world standard to see how children are doing,” says Cutberto Garza of Boston College, chair of the Multicentre Growth Reference Study that was responsible for measuring the children. The new standards will enable doctors and researchers to better predict whether a child is becoming overweight or underweight, explains project coordinator Mercedes de Onis of WHO, and should also help them develop better strategies for dealing with malnutrition.


    Scientists at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute in Daejeon say they have cooked up a special kimchi for space travel, which they hope to launch in 2008 when Korea's first astronaut boards the Russian spaceship Soyuz.


    Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish consisting of fermented chili peppers and cabbage or other vegetables. Working with researchers at the Institute of Biomedical Problems, a state facility in Russia that conducts biomedical support of space flights, the Korean scientists, led by Myung Woo Byun, used gamma- and electro-irradiation to sterilize fully fermented kimchi. They then froze it to a half-dried state and packed it in a vacuum-sealed pouch.

    Byun says the development of kimchi was symbolic, but also that the food is not without merits. “Space food is now entirely Western food, so we thought it would be meaningful to have a Korean food on the menu. Also, astronauts suffer failing digestive and intestinal functions from lack of fiber in space-food diet. Kimchi is abundant in fiber.”

    The group plans to present the kimchi later this year to Russian space authorities, who must approve it as an official food for astronauts. Such approvals are not automatic. In the United States, NASA takes months to analyze potential new space foods, checking nutritional value, conducting a sensory evaluation, and ultimately performing a zero-gravity test on an airplane.


    The familiar names of Oxford and Cambridge still dominate research in the United Kingdom, but lesser-known universities have proved themselves to be big players in several fields, according to rankings reported in the May/June issue of Thompson Scientific's ScienceWatch.

    Examining 21 fields within the life, physical, and social sciences, the survey used two measures of scientific heft to evaluate universities: citation impact, or the number of citations per paper, and the total number of citations. Based on the first measure, Oxford and Cambridge ranked among the top three institutions in 10 fields, with Oxford taking top honors in four disciplines, including immunology and psychology/psychiatry, and Cambridge winning first place in one, neurosciences. Based on the number of citations, Cambridge was the top-ranked institution in 10 fields, whereas Oxford was ranked first in only two.


    The current survey analyzed papers published between 2001 and 2005, but the basic trend of “Oxbridge” dominating several disciplines and other universities distinguishing themselves in certain fields is similar to what was found in the last survey, conducted in 1997.


    Mountain gorillas love to munch on rotting wood, and now we know why: The food is a source of sodium. Researchers from Cornell University reported in a study published online in Biology Letters on 25 April that gorillas in Uganda get more than 95% of their sodium requirements from decaying wood, which makes up only 4% of their diet. They also found that the apes avoided timber with low sodium content. The researchers plan to see if this taste for salty wood is common in other primate species.