Health & Science
The baby with three biological parents
A baby boy with genetic infor mation from three parents has been born with the help of a controversial new in vitro fertilization technique. The procedure, called mitochondrial transfer, was created to prevent women with genetic mutations from passing along devastating diseases to their children. The first beneficiaries were a Jordanian couple who had lost two previous children and four pregnancies to Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder that affects the developing nervous system. To enable them to have a healthy baby, New York–based fertility specialist Dr._John Zhang took the nucleus from one of the woman’s eggs and inserted it into a healthy donor’s egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The resulting egg contains the donor’s mitochondria but genetic information from the mother that will determine traits like eye and hair color; it was then fertilized with sperm from the father. About 99.9 percent of the embryo’s DNA came from his mother and father, with a tiny percentage from the donor mitochondria. The boy, now 6 months old, is healthy, but his birth has sparked criticism, since three-parent embryo techniques are banned in the U.S. because of fears they might lead to genetic abnormalities. Zhang performed the procedure in Mexico, and tells New Scientist he was justified in what he did. “To save lives is the ethical thing to do,” he said.
Europa’s icy geysers
NASA scientists are building a stronger case for the possibility of extraterrestrial life on Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. Recent images captured by the Hubble Telescope show what appear to be giant water plumes spewing about 125 miles into space from the moon’s surface, bolstering speculation that a vast saltwater ocean lies beneath its frozen crust. These geysers are also signs of geological activity—and a possible heat or energy source—on the distant moon. If Europa has water, energy, and organic chemicals, the possibility of alien life is a lot more plausible, NPR.com reports. “On Earth, life is found wherever there is energy, water, and nutrients,” says NASA’s Paul Hertz. “So we have a special interest in any place that might possess those characteristics. And Europa might be such a place.” If geysers occur frequently there, scientists could use a flyby spacecraft to collect and analyze samples of Europa’s water with relative ease, eliminating the need to drill through miles of ice or even land on the moon’s surface.
Happy wife, healthy life
New research adds credibility to the old saying “Happy wife, happy life,” suggesting that men and women with happy spouses are not only happier but also healthier. For the study, researchers analyzed data compiled on nearly 2,000 middle-aged, heterosexual couples whose happiness and physical health were tracked for 6 years. They found that those whose spouses had a positive outlook were 34 percent more likely to be healthy, exercise regularly and eat healthfully, and have positive outlooks themselves. Those with a pessimistic partner, on the other hand, had more health issues and were less physically active. Why? The researchers speculate that when one member of a couple adopts good lifestyle habits, that person encourages his or her spouse to do the same. Spouses with a positive outlook also cause less stress in the relationship, the study’s lead author, William Chopik, tells Time.com. “Simply having a happy partner,” he said, “may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself.”
How the Iceman was killed
Ever since hikers discovered the frozen remains of Ötzi the Iceman in northern Italy’s Ötztal Alps in 1991, scientists have speculated about the events that led up to his death 5,300 years ago. Ötzi is “a typical European from earlier times and is precious for this reason alone,” anthropologist Albert Zink tells The Washington Post. “And it’s a murder case.” An arrowhead found in Ötzi’s left shoulder has been long suspected as the cause of his death, but researchers have now used modern forensics to unravel the ancient cold case. The analysis by a German detective suggests Ötzi was taken by surprise when he was shot in the back from a distance and fell face down in the snow. The 45-year old had been resting after a heavy meal of meat and cereal in the moments before his death. A defensive injury to his right hand also points to a recent dispute that may have lead to the deadly attack. The analysis also found that Ötzi’s valuable copper axe was mined with ore from South Tuscany, and researchers speculate that he may have traveled to the Alps to trade goods and become involved in a personal conflict that ultimately proved fatal.
Health scare of the week
Bad air is killing millions
More than nine out of 10 people on Earth —a staggering 6.76 billion people—are breathing polluted air, increasing their risk for heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and other chronic health issues, according to a sobering new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The comprehensive analysis found that 92 percent of the world’s population lives in areas where air quality falls below clean-air standards, with high concentrations of fine particulate matter emitted primarily by vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities. These tiny particles are inhaled into the lungs, but they also enter the bloodstream, creating inflammation throughout the body and increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke. Air pollution claims roughly 6.5 million lives each year, the report says. Most of these deaths occur in China, India, and other developing countries, but about 15 percent of cities in the relatively affluent Americas, including Los Angeles and New York City, also fail to meet air quality standards. “Globally, air pollution presents a major risk to public health,” study leader Gavin Shaddick tells The Guardian (U.K.). “A substantial number of lives could be saved if levels of air pollution were reduced.”