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Health & Science

Proof that monkeys can talk; A final answer for Gulf War vets; An epidemic of STDs among teens; The roots of S&M

 
Proof that monkeys can talk
For the first time, scientists have caught wild primates in the act of speaking—communicating specific messages through a pattern of vocalizations. The study of Nigerian putty-nosed monkeys has scientists reworking their theory that language evolved in only one species, Homo sapiens, and relatively late in our evolution. During their fieldwork in Africa, Scotland-based primatologists Kate Arnold and Klaus Zuberbühler noticed that local monkeys tended to use similar patterns of calls to warn one another of approaching predators. A specific series of “hacks,” they found, always indicated that a crowned eagle was flying overhead, looking for something to eat, while a sequence of “pyow” sounds indicated a lurking leopard. When Arnold and Zuberbühler dissected the sequences, they found that each communication contained three key pieces of information. The speaking monkey identified itself and the predator in question, then announced whether or not it was running away. The monkeys used only hacks and pyows because their throats do not allow for a great variety of sounds. “What our research shows is that individual calls do not carry any specific meanings, but different call sequences do,” Zuberbühler tells Discovery News. Only similar studies of other species, he says, will determine if the putty-nosed monkey “is a freak of nature,” or whether the ability to communicate through sound is widespread in the animal kingdom.

A final answer for Gulf War vets
For more than a decade, scientists have debated whether “Gulf War syndrome” is real, or whether veterans of that 1991 conflict were falsely attributing myriad neurological illnesses to exposure to toxic chemicals. The verdict is now in: The syndrome is real. By reviewing 115 studies on Gulf War syndrome, University of California researcher Dr. Beatrice Golomb believes she has pinpointed the root cause of the nerve pain, chronic fatigue, mental confusion, and other symptoms reported by more than 200,000 Gulf War veterans. During the war, these soldiers were exposed to pesticides, Iraqi nerve gas, and anti­–nerve gas pills; they are known to have absorbed high doses of a group of chemicals called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChEIs) from these agents. These chemicals work against the enzyme cholinesterase, a protein that helps to break down neurotransmitters that flow in the blood and between nerves. When soldiers received high doses of AChEIs, their bodies became unable to deactivate nerve signals, leading to a constant state of nerve overload. A similar form of neurological chaos, Golomb says, has been found in farmworkers exposed to high levels of pesticides, and in victims of the 1995 sarin gas attacks in Japan. The review “thoroughly, conclusively shows that this class of chemicals actually is a cause of illness in Gulf War veterans,” Golomb tells the Los Angeles Times.

An epidemic of STDs among teens
One of every four teenage girls in America is walking around with a sexually transmitted disease, says a startling new study by the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC’s data, collected from more than 800 randomly selected girls, is “overwhelming,” adolescent medicine specialist Dr. Margaret Blythe tells LiveScience. “You’re talking about more than half the sexually experienced teens at any one time having evidence of an STD.” Even girls who technically remain virgins can have one or more of the diseases in question, because some of them are transmitted by oral sex as well as by intercourse. The most common infection—found in 18 percent of the girls studied—was human papillomavirus, or HPV; the often asymptomatic virus causes genital warts and can lead to cervical and throat cancer. Other STDs commonly found were chlamydia, herpes, and trichomoniasis. Dr. Ellen Kruger, an obstetrician-gynecologist in New Orleans, says teens need to be reminded frequently that the only two ways to prevent STDs are to be abstinent or to use condoms. “You’ve got to hammer at them” at every stage of teen development, she says, or they will fall prey to irrational thinking about sex.

The roots of S&M
Kids who are regularly spanked grow up into adults who are aroused by sadomasochistic sex, says a new study. University of New Hampshire sociologist Murray Straus asked 14,000 college students about their current sexual habits and their parents’ methods of discipline when they were children. Straus found that the adults who got the most spankings as children were the ones who were most turned on by risky or sadomasochistic sex. They were the group most likely to forgo condoms, coerce their partners, and cross the line between consensual sex and date rape. When a child is repeatedly hit by his parents, Straus tells the Concord, N.H., Monitor, “love and violence get linked” in the brain, “and that gets acted out in sex.”

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