Discoveries

DISCOVERIES

December 03, 2004

AUSTRALIA: WHERE THE CAMEL ROAMS

Parts of Australia's Outback could soon be overrun by wild camels if drastic measures are not taken to cull them, Australian wildlife scientists say.

Australia is now home to around 500,000 camels roaming the country's vast tracts of desert, said Glenn Edwards, a senior scientist for the Northern Territory provincial government.

Camels were first introduced to Australia in the mid-1800s to transport goods across the desert. When trucks and trains made the beasts of burden unneeded, their owners simply turned them loose.

With no natural predators and ample grazing land, the camel population has exploded in parts of central, northern and western Australia, and could exceed 1 million in the next decade, Edwards said.

"The feral camel population is growing by about 10 percent each year and doubling in size every eight years," Edwards said in a statement. "These camels feed on more than 80 percent of the available plant species in the area they inhabit and have serious impacts on vegetation."

Edwards said camels were also beginning to encroach on agricultural land, causing extensive damage to stock fences and rural infrastructure.

Australia has a history of infestations by animals from overseas.

Rabbits brought from Europe swarmed across parts of the Outback and noxious cane toads brought from South America to control bugs in sugar cane fields are now spreading across the north, killing native wildlife from snakes to small crocodiles that eat them.

Officials from the Northern Territory government are calling for a strict management plan to control camel numbers, including moves to harvest the beasts for meat and other commercial products.

But for those camels living in remote areas inaccessible by road, Edwards said there may be little option but to shoot them from the air.

"There probably really isn't any other way," he said.

-- Associated Press

Quick Takes

Laser me beautiful

Anything promoted as less painful -- and more effective -- than a facial chemical peel is likely to raise a few eyebrows.

So it's no surprise that the buzz in the cosmetic industry is about a new procedure called Fraxel Laser Treatment, or FLT, said to remove wrinkles and sun-damaged skin with little risk of side effects or infection.

The procedure, developed by researchers at Harvard's Wellman Laboratories and approved by the Food and Drug Administration this fall, uses laser energy to soften wrinkles and lighten uneven pigmentation.

In FLT, the laser passes through the skin's protective outer barrier, so healing should be quicker and easier. But like chemical peels, it could take several treatments to achieve results, and each FLT treatment costs about $1,000.

For more information about the new procedure, visit the Web site www. fraxel.com.

Bottom Line: Fraxel Laser Treatment sounds promising, especially for serious problems such as acne scarring. But at $1,000 a pop, it's an expensive route to a blemish- or wrinkle-free face.

-- Mary Beth Regan

Did you know...

Ultrasound, a versatile diagnostic technique, uses high-frequency sound waves to produce precise images of structures within the body. Ultrasound is based on the same principles as sonar, a technology used to map seabeds.

-- Mayo Clinic

In Brief

Salty breath keeps the germs away

Inhaling a salt-water aerosol may reduce the spread of germs that can spread disease, according to a Harvard University study reported in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers treated a group of patients with a six-minute inhalation of salt-water mist -- typically used for asthma sufferers -- and then measured the number of particles containing viruses and bacteria that they exhaled. Those who received the salt-water treatment exhaled far fewer germs over a six-hour period than a control group.

Scientists believe the treatment increased surface tension among fluids lining the subjects' airways, producing larger droplets that were less likely to remain airborne and exit through the mouth. Although the study was small, researchers said it points to the possibility of a simple but effective technique to limit the spread of common germs.

That second drink goes to the head

After one drink, a driver's reflexes are impaired slightly, but he's likely to compensate by driving more carefully. It's the second drink that makes him more likely to wobble or drive off the road, according to a new study at Yale University.

Researchers gave drivers enough alcohol to raise their blood levels -- first to .04 percent and then to .08 percent, the legal limit in Maryland and most other states. It was the second drink that affected the orbitofrontal cortex, which is important for reviewing what other brain areas are doing and rejecting bad ideas.

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