Science  08 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6026, pp. 157

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  1. The Curse of the Mummy's Arteries


    In the ancient tomb paintings of the Nile Valley, Egypt's nobility often appear lithe, beautiful, and healthy. But new research, the latest being a study presented this week at the American College of Cardiology's annual scientific session, paints a less wholesome picture of ancient Egyptian health.

    A team led by cardiologists Adel Allam of the Al Azhar Medical School in Cairo and Gregory Thomas of the University of California, Irvine, performed CT scans on 52 mummies. Of the 44 who still possessed identifiable cardiovascular tissue, 45% exhibited definite or probable atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. The average age of death was 40.

    How did Egypt's upper echelon get so unhealthy? Wealthy ancient Egyptians relished such calorie-rich fare as cakes sweetened with honey, but they did not smoke tobacco and, in an age before automobiles, they likely got more exercise than many of us do today. So the researchers think that other risks, such as high exposure to pathogens—malaria, for instance, is endemic to the Nile Valley—came into play. Chronic infections cause high levels of inflammation, which can contribute to the hardening of arteries. The team now plans to test this hypothesis by examining CT scans of the mummies for signs of chronic infections.

  2. Chinese Ducks Felled By New Virus

    Peking duck, salted duck eggs, duck soup: China is famous for its duck delicacies and duck farms dot the country's agricultural belt. So last spring, when egg production plummeted by as much as 90% in some flocks, Chinese farmers began to worry.

    Some ducks died within days of falling ill. By the end of the year, an estimated 4.4 million ducks in eastern China had caught the mysterious illness, which then spread farther afield.

    When the news reached microbiologist George Gao and his colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, they headed to the farms to collect tissue and serum samples from the affected flocks. As detailed in a paper published 24 March in PLoS ONE, they isolated the culprit: an aggressive new flavivirus, a class of viruses that includes yellow and dengue fevers. Dubbed BYD, it is the first flavivirus ever identified in ducks. Gao and colleagues stress that the disease should be closely monitored; many flaviviruses can be transmitted from animals to people. The next step, they say, is the development of a BYD vaccine.

  3. Paper, Plastic, or Steel?

    CREDIT: W. WU AND Z. YOU, PROC. R. SOC. A (2011)

    Inspired by the ancient art of origami, engineers have built a foldable grocery bag from steel (go ahead, load it with soda bottles!). The technique could help speed up factory packaging processes.

    By adding a number of extra creases to the traditional pattern used in conventional paper grocery bags, Zhong You and Weina Wu of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom constructed a prototype of a steel bag that can be collapsed as flat as a standard paper grocery bag (pictured). The bag is made of stainless steel plates stuck to a light, flexible plastic sheet. The edges where the plates meet serve as “creases,” along which the bag can be bent.

    The prototype could lead to what was previously thought impossible to make: cardboard boxes that can be flat-packed while keeping their bottoms intact, thus saving time on factory assembly lines. The pair are now discussing their design—published online last week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A—with carton manufacturers.