Health & Science

Exercise: Now in pill form; The stretch mark myth; The first cloned pet dogs; A ‘lost world’ of gorillas; Here comes the sun

Exercise: Now in pill form

It may soon be possible to train for a triathlon by sitting on a couch and taking a pill. Scientists have discovered a natural chemical compound that has such a pronounced effect on muscles that a single dose increases endurance in mice by 44 percent. “We did not expect you

could create exercise in a pill,” study leader Ronald Evans tells Science. When we exercise, we turn on body enzymes that enable our muscles to effectively burn fat for energy. But scientists at San Diego’s Salk Institute found that they could turn on the very same proteins using a compound called AICAR, which is naturally produced in tiny amounts in muscle cells. When AICAR was given to mice in conjunction with an exercise routine, the average endurance of the mice increased by 70 percent over mice that exercised without the drug. More astonishing is the fact that another group of mice given the drug didn’t need any exercise at all to achieve a 44 percent endurance boost—overnight. AICAR is so effective, says muscle and metabolism expert Mark Tarnopolsky, “it’s a little bit scary.” Evans has already warned the International Olympic Committee to test for the drug, which has been available to medical researchers for years.

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The stretch mark myth

Doctors and midwives have told pregnant women for decades that they could prevent stretch marks by slathering their swelling bellies, breasts, and hips with cocoa butter. It’s not so, says a new study. Stretch marks are scars caused by rapid growth or weight gain that overwhelms

the skin’s elasticity. When Dr. A. H. Nasser of the American University in Beirut studied a group of pregnant women who used cocoa butter, he found that 45 percent developed stretch marks—about the same percentage as for a group that used a placebo cream. What really determines whether a woman gets stretch marks, Nasser tells, is heredity and how much weight she gains during pregnancy.

The first cloned pet dogs

For the right price, dog lovers can now clone their favorite pets before they die, so they can be replaced by an exact replica, says the Associated Press. A California woman, Bernann McKinney, this week received a litter of puppies cloned from her late pit bull Booger—the first dogs created by RNL Bio, a commercial pet-cloning service in Seoul. McKinney paid $50,000 for the puppies, all genetically identical to Booger. “It’s a miracle!” McKinney said as the new pups snuggled against her. “Yes, I know you! You know me, too.” (McKinney, a screenwriter, admitted after her photo was published that she was once accused of kidnapping a Mormon missionary she fell in love with, an allegation she denies.) She says she was especially attached to Booger—who died in August 2006—because he had saved her from a vicious attack by another dog. At this stage, pet cloning will be for the wealthy only: RNL Bio says it plans to charge $150,000 for future dog cloning, and may also focus on cloning camels for wealthy clients in the Middle East.

A ‘lost world’ of gorillas

A new count of western lowland gorillas has found a surprising number of the apes living deep in the wilderness in the Republic of Congo, more than doubling previous estimates of their population. Now, researchers believe, the population of this subspecies of gorilla numbers about 125,000, as opposed to previous estimates of 50,000. The Wildlife Conservation Society conducted the new survey by counting gorilla nests in the most remote region of Congo, known to scientists as the “green abyss.” The WCS’ discovery of hidden gorilla communities was greeted with relief by conservationists, who have seen primate populations shrinking because of habitat devastation, the Ebola virus, and illegal hunting. “The message from our community is so often one of despair,” Dr. Steven Sanderson of the WCS tells The New York Times. “While we don’t want to relax our concern, it’s just great to discover that these animals are doing well.”

Here comes the sun

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come up with a novel technique that makes solar a more feasible energy option, says Forbes. Until now, solar panels had one major flaw: Though they could collect plenty of energy when the sun was shining, they couldn’t store it, making energy flow unavailable during the night and on cloudy days. But scientists at MIT realized they could imitate nature’s process of photosynthesis, which enables green plants to gather and store energy from the sun. They developed a chemical process that captures the sun’s energy by “splitting water”: separating it into its gaseous hydrogen and oxygen components. The process, known as electrolysis, allows solar systems to store abundant clean energy in fuel cells when the sun is out; those cells can then be used to power a house or charge an electric car even during the night. “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,” says study author Daniel Nocera. “Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon.”

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