What's the buzz

What's the buzz

Humans blessed with spider sense

Scientists have compared people’s ability to quickly learn to recognise a threat even while they are unaware of it to Spider-man’s famous ‘spider sense’. Edinburgh University researchers showed that people did not have to be super heroes to respond to threats without being consciously aware of them. However they said that this type of learning was quickly forgotten.

When people are aware of a threat, they take longer to learn to be afraid but retain the fear in the long term. The findings headed by researchers from universities in Edinburgh and New York show the differences between conscious and unconscious learning.

Dr David Carmel, from Edinburgh University’s department of psychology, said that the study, involving group trials, examined how people react to danger. “This study shows that we are capable of learning very rapidly that something is a threat even when we don’t perceive it consciously,” the BBC quoted Dr Carmel as saying.

“On the big screen, Spider-Man can use his spider sense to tell that something is wrong; in reality, we don’t need an extra sense, our brains are capable of learning about threats that we remain unaware of” Dr Carmel added.

How cigarette smoke weakens bones

Cigarette smoke makes people produce excessive amounts of two proteins that trigger a natural body process that breaks down bone, a new study has concluded.

Gary Guishan Xiao and colleagues point out that previous studies suggested toxins in cigarette smoke weakened bones by affecting the activity of osteoblasts, cells which build new bone, and osteoclasts, which resorb, or break down, old bone. Weakening of the bones, known as osteoporosis, can increase the risk of fractures and is a major cause of disability among older people.

To shed light on how cigarette smoking weakens bones, the scientists analysed differences in genetic activity in bone marrow cells of smokers and non-smokers.They discovered that human smokers produce unusually large amounts of two proteins that foster production of bone-resorbing osteoclasts compared to non-smokers. 

Low vitamin D could increase risk of dying for older adults

Low levels of vitamin D could mean greater risk of death for older adults – especially those who are frail, say researchers.

A randomised, nationally representative study found that older adults with low vitamin D levels had a 30 per cent greater risk of death than people who had higher levels.

Overall, people who were frail had more than double the risk of death than those who were not frail. Frail adults with low levels of vitamin D tripled their risk of death over people who were not frail and who had higher levels of vitamin D.

“What this really means is that it is important to assess vitamin D levels in older adults, and especially among people who are frail,” said lead author Ellen Smit of Oregon State University.

Smit said past studies have separately associated frailty and low vitamin D with a greater mortality risk, but this is the first to look at the combined effect. 

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