SciTech Briefs

Study suggests southern Africa as language source

In an article recently published in Science, a biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand has concluded that human language originated in southern Africa. Quentin Atkinson, the author of the study, used a mathematical model to trace common linguistic features back through time, much in the same way scientists trace the evolutionary history of organisms. While the oldest language tree that has been constructed so far — the Indo-European family — goes back 9,000 years, it is predicted that language itself originated between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago.

Source: The New York Times

Chimpanzees sacrifice initiative for conformity

Researchers at Georgia State University determined that in a social environment, chimpanzees would follow a dominant leader even when it meant receiving a worse outcome. In a situation with one dominant female and four subordinate chimpanzees, the subordinates mimicked the female’s actions. This occurred even though the other chimps had been trained to work towards a better reward. The lead researcher, Lydia Hopper, has theorized that the value of maintaining social alliances may outweigh the immediate value of a better reward.

Source: New Scientist

Postpartum depression more likely in fall, winter

A study by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden suggests that women who give birth between October and December may be twice as likely to develop postpartum depression than new mothers in the rest of the year. The study, which was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, involved over 2,000 Swedish women. Because of Sweden’s high latitude and high variation in sunlight between summer and winter, the authors believe these seasonal effects may be less pronounced in other regions.

Source: Los Angeles Times

New spending bill limits U.S.-China collaboration

A provision in the recently passed 2011 spending bill bans any collaboration between the United States and China on scientific work coordinated by NASA or the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The measure’s sponsor, Frank Wolf (R–Va.), aims to restrict any joint projects between specific U.S. government agencies and any body of the Chinese government. Previous collaborations have covered “fisheries, earth and atmospheric sciences, basic research, ... and disaster relief” among other areas.

Source: Science

Biologists study disease-resistant mosquitoes

Andrea Crisanti and Austin Burt, molecular biologists at Imperial College London, are developing techniques to spread disease-resistant mosquitoes in the wild. Scientists have been working for some time to manipulate mosquitoes’ genetic code to avoid the transmission of diseases like malaria. Crisanti and Burt’s approach used a homing-endonuclease gene (HEG) to spread a genetic modification among a population of mosquitoes. HEG is a so-called “selfish” gene, which spreads rapidly through a population.

Source: Science

Intelligent systems developed to monitor newborns

InfoSphere Streams, a system developed by IBM, is being used in hospitals to process data about newborns in the intensive care unit. In the past, an enormous amount of data was collected about infant patients, but most of this data was discarded. InfoSphere Streams processes all this data in real-time to better predict if an infant has an infection or some other problem. The system was first implemented in the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and is spreading to other facilities around the world.

Source: Technology Review