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In Brief

In the News

August 18, 2006


Galaxy element more than thought

Researchers are scratching their heads over key observations that found far more deuterium in our Milky Way galaxy than theorists expected.

Deuterium is a form of hydrogen with a neutron added to the lone proton in its atomic nucleus. It was formed in the Big Bang, and has been slowly consumed by stars ever since, converted to helium and heavier elements.

Scientists thought they knew how much deuterium should remain 13 billion years later. But six years of measurements by NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer satellite, operated by the Johns Hopkins University, have revealed far more in our galaxy than expected - about 85 percent of the original total, instead of 66 percent.

So, either the stars are burning it up faster than once thought, or there's an unexplained surplus of it in the Milky Way. Either way, the Hopkins team says, theorists have some explaining to do.

"Though the answer ... may be unsettling to some, it represents a major step forward in our understanding of chemical evolution," said H. Warren Moos, the Hopkins astronomer who leads the team. The paper appears in the latest edition of the Astrophysical Journal.



Married people have longer lives

Bad news for the confirmed bachelors and runaway brides of the world: They don't live as long as married people, especially if they never get married, according to new research. Many studies have found that single adults tend to die earlier than those who are married, but most didn't differentiate between lifelong singles and those who got hitched and then separated or divorced.

In the new study, researchers from two University of California campuses studied census and death certificate data from almost 67,000 U.S. adults between 1989 and 1997. Controlling for age, health and other longevity factors, the researchers found that those who had been widowed were almost 40 percent more likely to die than married people living with their spouses.

Those who had been divorced or separated were 27 percent more likely to have shorter lives. Those who had never been married were 58 percent more likely to die.

"The data seem to support the hypothesis that the greater level of social isolation associated with having never married is associated with larger health consequences," the researchers wrote in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.



Rail riders have increased stress

Rail commuters brag that they have cushy commutes compared with people who drive to work - they can nap, read a book or work on laptop computers. But commuting by train is also stressful, a new study has found. And the longer the commute, the more stress levels increase.

Researchers studied 208 commuters taking trains from New Jersey to Manhattan, N.Y. They measured the commuters' saliva for the stress hormone cortisol, analyzed questionnaires filled out by the commuters and their spouses, and asked each participant to proofread a document at the end of the commute.

The results: minute by minute, physiological and psychological stress increase in train commuters. At the end of the commute, which averaged 81 minutes, participants were less able to complete the simple proofreading task, used to measure the after-effects of stress.

The research, published in the journal Health Psychology, suggests that there are stress factors in rail commuting - perhaps the noise, crowding, effort it takes and lack of control.

"I think you get worn out," says study co-author Gary Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University in New York. "People tend to say that after a while you get used to the stress," he says. "But we used experienced commuters. I don't think you get used to it."



Researchers seek `healthy' HIV group

TORONTO --AIDS researchers are seeking out a tiny group of patients who have the HIV virus but seem to be able to control it with their own immune systems.

Scientists at the 16th International AIDS Conference here say they want to study these "elite controllers" and learn their biological secrets. The goal is to find a common thread in their genes or in the virus within their bodies - and use it to develop AIDS treatments.

"Somewhere inside there is a recipe for the end of the epidemic," said Harvard Medical School AIDS researcher Dr. Bruce Walker. He is also director of the Partners AIDS Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, and he announced creation of a study that will recruit up to 1,000 such patients.

Walker, who plans to collaborate with 15 other AIDS research centers, began his work with tests on Lauren Willenberg, 52, a Californian who tested positive for HIV in 1992 but never became ill.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that his federal laboratory is also looking at elite controllers. The lab found that many of them carry an unusual gene, but its significance is unclear.

Scientists have long studied patients known as "long-term nonprogressors," who are infected with the virus but never get ill. Elite controllers are similar but are uniquely characterized by levels of infection so low that standard tests cannot detect the virus.


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