Do magnets have healing power?
Enthusiasts who believe they get increased blood flow and pain relief from therapeutic magnets spend about $5 billion per year on magnetic wraps, bracelets, and neck braces. Most doctors have scoffed, insisting people have been wasting their money. But a new study finds that powerful magnets do, in fact, have the ability to increase blood flow and reduce inflammation. Researchers at the University of Virginia applied powerful magnets to the paw injuries of rats, and measured blood flow to the area. They found that through a mechanism not fully understood, the magnetic field opened tiny blood vessels, thus increasing the oxygen and nutrients supplied to damaged tissue, and reducing swelling by a very significant 50 percent. If the same result occurs in tests on humans, study author Thomas Skalak tells, doctors will have to embrace magnets as another tool in the arsenal for treating sprains, bruises, and other injuries. “Let’s say it takes you four or five days to recover from a given injury,” Skalak says. “If by preventing swelling you recover after two days, you’ve cut the healing time by a factor
of two.”

Cloned pigs pass on their genes
A cloned pig engineered to glow fluorescent green has passed on that trait to its offspring, raising the chances that pigs could someday be designed to produce organs that could be transplanted into humans. Two years ago, researchers at a university in China designed the cloned pigs to carry a fluorescent green protein, which makes parts of their bodies glow in the dark. The birth of the glowing piglets proves that cloned pigs are fertile and can pass on their engineered genes to their young. Pig organs are similar to humans’, and scientists have long considered pigs a possible source for human transplants. The problem thus far is that pig organs are rejected by human immune systems, but with genetic engineering, that obstacle might be eliminated. In theory, a special line of pigs could be engineered and bred that would produce hearts, livers, and kidneys for people who need them. Every year, thousands of people die because of a lack of available human organs.

Vaccines didn’t cause autism
The belief that childhood vaccines cause autism has finally been disproved, says a new study by the California Department of Public Health. Some parents of autistic children have long believed that the dramatic increase in autism cases in recent years was caused by a preservative called thimerosal, which was widely used in vaccines until 2001. Thimerosal contains tiny amounts of mercury, which in larger doses can cause neurological damage. While the cause of autism is still unclear, thimerosal definitely wasn’t the culprit, researcher Dr. Robert Schechter tells the Los Angeles Times. Schechter compared developmental data on children vaccinated before and after thimerosal was removed from vaccines. “If mercury exposure in vaccines was a major cause of autism, then the number of affected kids should have diminished once they were no longer exposed to thimerosal,” Schechter says. “That is not what we found.” Instead, the number of autism cases continued to increase after thimerosal was removed. More than 1.5 million people in the U.S. have some form of autism, a neurological disorder in which children become emotionally isolated from the world around them. Researchers aren’t sure whether the increase in cases has an environmental or genetic cause, or whether it simply reflects greater awareness of the disorder and, thus, more diagnoses.

A form of ethanol that works
Critics say the federal government is foolishly subsidizing the ethanol industry, since studies show that corn ethanol actually takes more energy to make and deliver than it produces. But ethanol could be a useful alternative fuel, a new University of Nebraska study says, if it’s made from prairie grass instead of corn. When researchers paid farmers to grow prairie grass (also known as switch grass), says Scientific American, they were able to grow enough to produce more than five times the energy they had invested in the form of diesel gas for tractors and nitrogen fertilizers made with petroleum. Growing corn consumes far more resources. Biofuel made from prairie grass and wood chips is called “cellulosic ethanol,” and it has many advantages, including that it emits less greenhouse gas when burned and that it doesn’t raise corn prices to the developing world. The biggest obstacle, says researcher Ken Vogel, is that the government has been emphasizing corn ethanol. “Right now,” he says, “there are no biorefineries built that handle cellulosic material.”

Why unpopular girls gain weight
Girls who rank low on the social ladder are more likely to gain weight during adolescence, says a new study. In a study of nearly 4,500 junior high and high school girls, Harvard University researchers found that those who thought they weren’t well-liked tended to gain more weight than their popular peers. Unpopular girls were about 70 percent more likely to put on more than 11 excess pounds over two years. Efforts to promote good nutrition and exercise habits, says study author Adina Lemeshow, can be undermined by social factors that make girls turn to food for consolation. “How girls feel about themselves should be part of all obesity-prevention strategies,” Lemeshow tells the Associated Press.