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Watching the World

Watching the World

 Watching the World

Friendships Affect Hearts

“Having friends and good relationships with the family is associated with a reduced risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke,” states the Spanish newspaper Diario Médico. Doctors have long considered cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body weight to be significant factors affecting the condition of the heart. But according to a recent study of about 500 women who suffered chest pains, the scope and depth of the patient’s network of family and friends should also be considered. The new study revealed that “those who had the worst social relationships had twice the risk of dying [prematurely] in comparison with more sociable women.” Carl J. Pepine, a coauthor of the study, adds that even “with one or two close friends, a reduction in the risk [of stroke or heart attack] was detected.”

 A Surprising Sponge

Researchers at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, recently discovered a white, spherical sponge that displays some surprising talents, reports the German newspaper Die Welt. The sponge is very small but can propel itself at the rate of several centimeters a day, making it the fastest-moving sponge yet discovered. During rhythmic contractions the organism squeezes water from its body, reducing its body volume by up to 70 percent. When it inhales​—by absorbing water—​nutrients and soluble oxygen are ingested. Researchers discovered that the sponge’s contractions become much stronger when small crustaceans are introduced into its aquarium. “This is very unusual,” says researcher Michael Nickel, since the sponge “has no nervous system.” How does the sponge control its movements or detect the presence of other creatures despite lacking a nervous system? Researchers are intensely studying the sponge, hoping to learn how it manages these tasks.

Antarctic Krill Decline

Krill​—tiny shrimplike crustaceans that are vital to the marine food chain—​have suffered an 80 percent decline in Antarctica since the 1970’s, notes David Adam, as reported in the Guardian newspaper of London. Krill feed on algas that shelter beneath the sea ice, but the average air temperature around the Antarctic Peninsula has risen 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit [2.5°C] since the 1950’s, melting some of the ice. Angus Atkinson, of the British Antarctic Survey, says: “We don’t fully understand how the loss of sea ice here is connected to the warming, but we believe it could be behind the decline in krill.” The team examined the scientific fishing records of nine countries working in Antarctica from 1926 to 1939, and from 1976 to 2003. They say there is now only about one fifth of the krill that existed three decades ago.

Speaking by Whistling

The shepherds of La Gomera in the Canary Islands use a language known as Silbo, which is based on whistles. Using a code made up of two vowels and four consonants, which are whistled in different tones, the shepherds are able to communicate great distances. Recently, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brain activity of five Spanish-speaking subjects with that of five shepherds who spoke both Spanish and Silbo. The researchers found that when the shepherds communicate with whistles, “their brains emit the same signals as if they were speaking,” states the Spanish newspaper El País. The report quotes one researcher as saying: “Our results provide more evidence about the flexibility of human capacity for language in a variety of forms.”

The Rising Cost of Translation

In May 2004 the European Union expanded to include ten new member nations, bringing their total number to 25. Expansion, however, has brought linguistic challenges, resulting in increased costs. The 20 languages used by the 25 countries are considered official. Thus, documents must be translated into each language. “Prior to enlargement,” reports the French newsmagazine Valeurs Actuelles, “the European Commission translated 1,416,817 pages [of text] in 2003.” However, the number of translated pages will now rapidly increase. With nine new languages, possible translation combinations (for example, Maltese to Finnish, or Estonian to Greek) have gone up from 110 to 380. Finding qualified translators and interpreters is proving difficult. The translation budget​—currently 550 million euros—​is set to explode and “could reach 808 million euros,” says Robert Rowe of the European Commission’s translation services.

Unholy Smoke

Smoke particles emitted by burning candles and incense could be endangering the health of priests and parishioners who spend long periods in poorly ventilated churches, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. A study found that smoke particle levels in two churches were “up to 20 times higher than what is considered safe to breathe under European air pollution standards,” says the paper. The report likened the levels of pollution to that “found in the air beside roads driven by 45,000 cars a day.” Regular exposure to this indoor air pollution could result in an increased risk of contracting lung cancer or pulmonary diseases, warned one of the authors of the study.

Monument to Animals Used in War

“A national monument to animals that served, suffered and died alongside the British and Allied forces in wars and conflicts through the centuries” has been unveiled in central London, reports The Times. The monument consists of a bronze sculpture depicting a horse, a dog, and two laden mules, encircled by a stone wall carved with representations of other animals that served in various wars. In World War I, for example, an estimated eight million horses died, as well as countless mules and donkeys. The Guardian newspaper reports that glowworms were used by soldiers during World War I to read maps at night. A remarkable animal named Rob the “para-dog” made more than 20 parachute drops into North Africa and Italy. In addition, during World War I, a pigeon named Cher Ami “delivered no fewer than 12 messages and never failed,” states The Times. However, according to one source, an estimated 20,000 pigeons were lost during that war.