Health & Science
Marriage wards off dementia
People who are married are less likely to develop dementia than those who are single and living alone, new research has found. Researchers in London and France analyzed 15 studies involving more than 800,000 people in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. After taking other possible risk factors into account, they found that those who never married had a 42 percent higher risk for dementia than those who were living with a spouse or partner. Those who had been widowed had a 20 percent higher risk. Why? The protective effect of marriage “is linked to various lifestyle factors that are known to accompany marriage,” lead author Andrew Sommerlad tells CNN.com. These factor include “living a generally healthier lifestyle and having more social stimulation as a result of living with a spouse or partner.” Previously, studies have found that husbands and wives also enjoy better heart health than those who have never married.
Envisioning a city on Mars
If you’ve ever wondered what a Martian city would look like, you may finally have an answer, reports NBCNews.com. NASA and the European Space Agency recently co-sponsored a competition for people to design a suitable habitat for the Red Planet. The winning entry, designed by a team of engineers and architects from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was inspired by a vital part of Earth’s ecosystem: trees. Named Redwood Forest, the design features 200 inflated domes, called tree habitats, anchored and connected by a system of tunnels—the “roots.” MIT researcher Valentina Sumini says the habitat would “physically and functionally mimic a forest, using local Martian resources such as ice and water, regolith (or soil), and sun to support life.” Each dome would house up to 50 people and be equipped with solar panels to generate clean energy. Structural “branches” would carry potable water throughout the habitat; this supply could also be used for farming. The city’s root system, meanwhile, would enable colonists to access public spaces and travel between habitats—as well as provide protection from debris, radiation, extreme temperature swings, and other deep-space hazards.
Origami muscles for robots
Scientists have created super-flexible artificial muscles that enable soft robots to lift objects 1,000 times their own weight. That is the rough equivalent, reports ScienceDaily.com, of a duck lifting a car. The unprecedented strength of these artificial muscles is tied to their inner skeletons, which were inspired by origami. Each skeleton, which is made of materials such as a plastic or metal coil, is surrounded by air or fluid and sealed in a plastic or fabric “skin.” When this air or fluid is suctioned out with a vacuum, the skeleton is compressed, causing it to curl, twist, or fold into a specific shape. Suddenly, soft robots are far stronger than rigid ones made of metal. “We expected they’d have a higher maximum functional weight than ordinary soft robots, but we didn’t expect a thousandfold increase,” says MIT researcher Daniela Rus. “It’s like giving these robots superpowers.” The origami-inspired muscles can be made in a matter of minutes, using materials that typically cost less than $1. The creators say the technology will have a wide range of uses, from surgery to space exploration.
Health scare of the week
Mouthwash linked to diabetes
More than 200 million Americans routinely swig and swish mouthwash to prevent tooth decay and bad breath. But new research suggests this seemingly healthy habit could increase risk for type 2 diabetes, particularly for those already at high risk for the disease. A three-year study involving 945 middle-aged, overweight adults found that using mouthwash at least twice a day was associated with a 55 percent higher risk for diabetes or the precursor to the condition, known as prediabetes. The study’s authors aren’t sure why, but they theorize that antibacterial agents added to mouthwashes, such as chlorhexidine and triclosan, may do more harm than good. These ingredients destroy the harmful bacteria responsible for gum disease and cavities. But they also wipe out “friendly” bacteria that are essential for the production of nitric oxide, a compound that helps regulate insulin, which in turn keeps blood sugar levels in check. “Mouthwash is often advertised for killing germs,” lead author Kaumudi Joshipura, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, tells Today.com. “Killing most or all oral bacteria is not necessarily a good thing.”