Data Points

April 22nd, 2007

AGE-SWATTER Want to live longer? There's hope - at least if you're a fruit fly. Professor of Biology Stephen Helfand recently led a team who discovered the possible role of a gene - p53 - in the aging of fruit flies, which share thousands of genes with humans. Scientists already knew about p53's role in ridding the body of cells that contain badly deformed DNA that could cause cancer. But in Current Biology this fall, Helfand shows that a decrease in p53 in neurons results in fruit flies that lived up to 58 percent longer than flies with normal p53. Helfand believes the finding could make p53 a good target for anti-aging drugs.

GO TO BED! NOW! If you're not sure whether your child is getting enough sleep, ask a teacher. A recent experiment by four Brown researchers, who published the results in the December issue of the journal Sleep, found that teachers are particularly good at figuring out who's not getting enough shut-eye. Former Brown Medical School and Bradley Hospital assistant research professor Gahan Fallone (who has since become an associate professor at the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology) and colleagues took seventy-four six-to- twelve-year-old children and controlled the amount of sleep they got for three weeks. Their teachers, who then answered a survey, found more academic problems and difficulty focusing among students who slept only eight hours (for first- and second-graders) or six and a half hours (for students in third grade or higher) The study reinforces earlier research urging kids to get at least ten hours of sleep a night.

MUD MAKERS What's killing the salt marshes of the southeastern United States? Since 2000, hundreds of thousands of acres of salt marsh have been disappearing from South Carolina to Texas, and research fellow Brian Silliman and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Mark Bertness think they know why. Conventional wisdom among biologists has long focused on soil chemistry as the key factor, but after more than two years of field study in the South, Silliman and Bertness concluded that periwinkles must share the blame. Drought-stressed soils turn vegetation into inviting food for these snails, which can transform a healthy marsh into a mudflat within months, the authors explained in Science in December. Climate change may be contributing to the drought conditions, and overharvesting could be reducing the numbers of blue crabs and turtles that prey on them.

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Related Issue
January / February 2006