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Ants have a great sense of smell

Odour receptors among ants is four to five times higher than most insects, researchers have revealed.

The research team, led by Lawrence Zwiebel at Vanderbilt, recently completed the first full map of olfactory system that provides ants with their sense of taste and smell.  They found the industrious insects have genes that make about 400 distinct odorant receptors, special proteins that detect different odors.  By comparison, silk moths have 52, fruit flies have 61, mosquitoes range from 74 to 158 and honeybees have 174.

“The most exciting moment for me was when the analysis came back showing that we had identified more than 400 OR genes, the largest number of any known insect species,” Xiaofan Zhou, the research associate who headed up the characterization process, said.  “It meant that we had successfully taken the first step toward gaining a new level of understanding of the complex social system that has made ants one of the most successful families on the planet,” Zhou said.

People have long been intrigued and inspired by ants’ ability to form highly organized colonies with division of labour, communication between individuals and ability to solve complex problems.

For some time, scientists have also known that chemical communication plays an important role in ant behaviour. “So it’s a reasonable supposition that this dramatic expansion in odour-sensing capability is what allowed ants to develop such a high level of social organisation,” Laurence Zwiebel, professor of biological sciences said.

Breast-feeding may cut risk of depression in adults


Infants who are breast-fed are less likely to suffer from depression in adulthood, according to a new study. But the researchers find that amount of time a person was breast-fed has no bearing on the severity of later depression, the Daily Mail reported. They studied 52 people with an average age of 44 who were being treated for severe depression at an inpatient facility. The patients were considered to have been breast-fed if they, or their mothers, stated that they been nursed for more than two weeks. The researchers then compared these results with those gathered from 106 people without mental health problems.

The study revealed that some 73 per cent of those who didn't suffer from depression had been breast-fed, compared to just 46 per cent of people with depression.  Despite these results, the scientists said that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between breast-feeding, or lack thereof, and depression, according to MyHealthNewsDaily. Firstly, a mother who breastfeeds might be more likely to go on to provide her child with a more loving environment growing up, thus lowering the chance of a child suffering from depression in adulthood.

Secondly, breastfeeding could be linked to an increase in the hormone oxytocin being released in mothers, which protects against stress. Thirdly, the researchers said, breast milk could contain components that help prevent against depression.

Having more siblings and dogs cuts risk of egg allergy 

Exposure to the family dog and more siblings reduced the risk of babies developing egg allergies, according to a Melbourne study.  Allergy experts from Melbourne’s Murdoch Childrens Research Institute studied more than 5000 babies and found those with young siblings and infants exposed to a dog inside the home were less likely to develop an allergic reaction to egg. According to the study published in the journal Allergy, food allergies now affect up to 10 per cent of babies.

It found 10.8 per cent of infants with no siblings were allergic to egg but as the number of brothers and sisters increased the incidence of egg allergy decreased. Meanwhile, about 10 per cent of babies in households without a dog had an egg allergy compared to only six per cent of those with a dog.  Lead researcher Dr Jennifer Koplin said the risk of developing a food allergy seemed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
 

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