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Palm trees may hold key to immortality

The key to longevity may not lie in a miraculous essence of water, but rather in the structure and function of cells within a plant and not a special, mysterious, rare plant, but one that we may think of as being quite commonplace, even ordinary – the palm, researchers say.

For centuries, humans have been exploring, researching, and, in some cases, discovering how to stave off life-threatening diseases, increase life spans, and obtain immortality. Biologists, doctors, spiritual gurus, and even explorers have pursued these quests — one of the most well-known examples being the legendary search by Ponce de Leon for the “Fountain of Youth”.

P. Barry Tomlinson from The Kampong Garden of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, Miami, teamed up with graduate student Brett Huggett from HarvardUniversity to write a review paper exploring the idea that palms may be the longest-lived tree, and whether this might be due to genetic underpinnings.

Having retained his essay in his personal files, Tomlinson found that it provided an excellent literature background for working on the question of cell longevity in relation to palms. A component of an organism’s life span that biologists have been particularly interested in is whether longevity is genetically determined and adaptive.

Why some dinosaurs grew so big

Dinosaurs were not only the largest animals to roam the Earth - they also had a greater number of larger species compared to all other back-boned animals – a new study has suggested.

The researchers, from Queen Mary, University of London, compared the size of the femur bone of 329 different dinosaur species from fossil records. The length and weight of the femur bone is a recognised method in palaeontology for estimating a dinosaur’s body mass.

They found that dinosaurs follow the opposite pattern of body size distribution as seen in other vertebrate species. For example, within living mammals there tends to be few larger species, such as elephants, compared to smaller animals, such as mice, which have many species.

The evidence from fossil records implies that in contrast there were many species of larger dinosaurs and few small species.

“What is remarkable is that this tendency to have more species at a bigger size seemed to evolve quite early on in dinosaurian evolution around the Late Triassic period, 225 million years ago, raising questions about why they got to be so big,” said Dr David Hone from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

“Our evidence supports the hypothesis that young dinosaurs occupied a different ecological niche to their parents so they weren’t in competition for the same sources of food as they ate smaller plants or preyed on smaller size animals. In fact, we see modern crocodiles following this pattern - baby crocodiles start by feeding off insects and tadpoles before graduating onto fish and then larger mammals,” he explained.

IQ tests cannot assess one’s true level of intelligence

The notion of measuring one’s intelligence quotient or IQ by a singular, standardized test is highly misleading, a research team has concluded after conducting the largest online intelligence study on record.

The landmark study that included more than 100,000 participants was conducted by Adrian M. Owen and Adam Hampshire from Western’s Brain and Mind Institute (London, Canada) and Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum Group (London, U.K). Utilising an online study open to anyone, anywhere in the world, the researchers asked respondents to complete 12 cognitive tests tapping memory, reasoning, attention and planning abilities, as well as a survey about their background and lifestyle habits.

The results showed that when a wide range of cognitive abilities are explored, the observed variations in performance can only be explained with at least three distinct components: short-term memory, reasoning and a verbal component.

No one component, or IQ, explained everything. Furthermore, the scientists used a brain scanning technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to show that these differences in cognitive ability map onto distinct circuits in the brain.

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