Health & Science
One creature that will outlast us
The hardiest animals on the planet aren’t large, brawny, or cunning. This distinction goes to simple-brained, water-dwelling micro-animals called tardigrades, or water bears. In new research, scientists have concluded that these nearly indestructible eightlegged creatures, which have been around for some 600 million years, will remain on Earth for another billion years—long after people and other animals are gone. There are more than 1,000 species of tardigrades. Each one has certain adaptations that enable it to tolerate otherwise lethal conditions, including extreme temperatures, intense radiation, and airlessness. A group of theoretical physicists contemplating various doomsday scenarios used these resilient animals as a barometer for the tenacity of life on Earth. The team considered three potential threats: a gamma-ray burst, a giant asteroid impact, and a supernova (the massive explosion of a nearby star). They found that none of these events would obliterate all tardigrades—even if Earth’s ozone layer and oxygen-rich atmosphere were destroyed, NationalGeographic.com reports. “Tardigrades,” says study author Rafael Alves Batista of the University of Oxford, “are as close to indestructible as it gets on Earth.”
The anti-dementia diet
A diet that’s good for the heart can also help protect the brain, dramatically reducing the risk for dementia, new research reveals. Scientists assessed the eating habits of nearly 6,000 older Americans along with their cognitive status. They found a 35 percent lower risk for mental decline in those who ate a Mediterranean or similar diet emphasizing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, nuts and extra-virgin olive oil, CNN.com reports. Mind-protective diets include small portions of lean proteins, particularly fish, but little or no red meat, saturated fats, sugar, or refined carbohydrates. Such a diet also greatly reduces the risk of heart disease, and researchers point out that the brain relies on healthy blood flow from the heart for oxygen and essential nutrients that sustain its normal function.
You could outrun a T. rex
Science-fiction movies such as Jurassic Park depict the 20-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex racing after its prey, but a new analysis finds that the 9-ton flesh eater couldn’t run. It was more of a speed walker. Using advanced computer simulations, researchers analyzed how the weight of an adult T. rex was distributed as it moved, and how its bones would handle this stress. They found its skeleton was capable of running movements, but if the dinosaur had actually tried to accelerate beyond a brisk walk, its legs would have buckled and shattered under the pressure, reports Gizmodo.com. The study’s authors calculate that most people would be able to outrun the prehistoric predator, which was unable to exceed speeds of roughly 12 mph. Experts point out that T. rex really didn’t need to be all that fast to catch its lumbering prey. “The available herbivorous dinosaurs in its environment— Edmontosaurus, Triceratops, Ankylosaurus— were all much slower than an adult T. rex,” says paleontologist Thomas Carr. “It was just slaughter in the slow lane.”
Health scare of the week
Midlife weight gain
Americans tend to gain a pound or two each year between early adulthood and middle age. That gradual weight gain may not seem to be a cause for concern, but Harvard scientists warn that the extra pounds add up and significantly increase the risk for chronic health issues and early death. The researchers analyzed the health records of about 118,000 people. Women gained an average of 22 pounds between the ages of 18 and 55, while men packed on an average of 19 pounds. The study found that a gain of five pounds was the threshold for health problems.
For every 11 pounds a person gained, the risk for type 2 diabetes rose by 30 percent, for high blood pressure by 14 percent, and for cancer by 6 percent. Study author Frank Hu tells MedicalDaily.com that “even a modest amount of weight gain may have important health consequences.” ■