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By Admin (from 13/11/2011 @ 11:00:55, in ro - Stiinta si Societate, read 1836 times)

Creierul este un organ cu adevărat fantastic. El ne controlează miscările si emotiile, dar ne-am întreabat vreodată cum reuseste să redea amintirile? O echipă de cercetători neurologi din cadrul Universitătii New York a identificat acea parte a creierului pe care o folosim să ne amintim succesiunea evenimentelor din cadrul unui întâmplări.

Cum procesează creierul amintirile

Cercetătorii au supus un număr de animale unui experiment centrat pe ordiniea formării amintirilor: erau prezentate doua imagini, iar subiectii trebuiau să si le amintească în ordinea prezentării lor, după un anumit interval de timp.

Pentru a îndeplini cerinta corespunzător, animalele trebuiau să-si amintească atât ce s-a întâmplat, cât si când a avut loc întâmplarea. În timpul experimentului, cercetătorii au monitorizat activitatea celulelor din lobul temporal medial (MTL).

Rezultatele au arătat că în acest proces sunt implicate două zone principale din cadrul MTL. Aceste zone sunt hipocampul si cortexul perirhinal. Zona hipocampica este cunoscută ca având un rol important într-o varietate mare de atributii ale memoriei. Ea emite semnale elementare de sincronizare între evenimente-cheie, oferind informatii despre cât timp a trecut de la ultimul eveniment de acest gen si, totodată, estimează timpul până la unul viitor.

Cortexul peririnal integrează informatii ce răspund la întrebările "ce?" si "când?" semnalizând dacă un element a fost arătat primul sau al doilea în cadrul unei serii. Descoperirile americanilor oferă o perspectivă asupra modelelor de activitate cerebrală care ne permit să ne amintim atât elementele-cheie care me marchează viata, cât si succesiunea în care acestea au survenit.


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Storing the sun’s heat in chemical form — rather than converting it to electricity or storing the heat itself in a heavily insulated container — has significant advantages, since in principle the chemical material can be stored for long periods of time without losing any of its stored energy. The problem with that approach has been that until now the chemicals needed to perform this conversion and storage either degraded within a few cycles, or included the element ruthenium, which is rare and expensive.


Last year, MIT associate professor Jeffrey Grossman and four co-authors figured out exactly how fulvalene diruthenium — known to scientists as the best chemical for reversibly storing solar energy, since it did not degrade — was able to accomplish this feat. Grossman said at the time that better understanding this process could make it easier to search for other compounds, made of abundant and inexpensive materials, which could be used in the same way.

Now, he and postdoc Alexie Kolpak have succeeded in doing just that. A paper describing their new findings has just been published online in the journal Nano Letters, and will appear in print in a forthcoming issue.

The new material found by Grossman and Kolpak is made using carbon nanotubes, tiny tubular structures of pure carbon, in combination with a compound called azobenzene. The resulting molecules, produced using nanoscale templates to shape and constrain their physical structure, gain “new properties that aren’t available” in the separate materials, says Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering.

Not only is this new chemical system less expensive than the earlier ruthenium-containing compound, but it also is vastly more efficient at storing energy in a given amount of space — about 10,000 times higher in volumetric energy density, Kolpak says — making its energy density comparable to lithium-ion batteries. By using nanofabrication methods, “you can control [the molecules’] interactions, increasing the amount of energy they can store and the length of time for which they can store it — and most importantly, you can control both independently,” she says.
Thermo-chemical storage of solar energy uses a molecule whose structure changes when exposed to sunlight, and can remain stable in that form indefinitely. Then, when nudged by a stimulus — a catalyst, a small temperature change, a flash of light — it can quickly snap back to its other form, releasing its stored energy in a burst of heat. Grossman describes it as creating a rechargeable heat battery with a long shelf life, like a conventional battery.

One of the great advantages of the new approach to harnessing solar energy, Grossman says, is that it simplifies the process by combining energy harvesting and storage into a single step. “You’ve got a material that both converts and stores energy,” he says. “It’s robust, it doesn’t degrade, and it’s cheap.” One limitation, however, is that while this process is useful for heating applications, to produce electricity would require another conversion step, using thermoelectric devices or producing steam to run a generator.
While the new work shows the energy-storage capability of a specific type of molecule — azobenzene-functionalized carbon nanotubes — Grossman says the way the material was designed involves “a general concept that can be applied to many new materials.” Many of these have already been synthesized by other researchers for different applications, and would simply need to have their properties fine-tuned for solar thermal storage.

The key to controlling solar thermal storage is an energy barrier separating the two stable states the molecule can adopt; the detailed understanding of that barrier was central to Grossman’s earlier research on fulvalene dirunthenium, accounting for its long-term stability. Too low a barrier, and the molecule would return too easily to its “uncharged” state, failing to store energy for long periods; if the barrier were too high, it would not be able to easily release its energy when needed. “The barrier has to be optimized,” Grossman says.

Already, the team is “very actively looking at a range of new materials,” he says. While they have already identified the one very promising material described in this paper, he says, “I see this as the tip of the iceberg. We’re pretty jazzed up about it.”

Yosuke Kanai, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says “the idea of reversibly storing solar energy in chemical bonds is gaining a lot of attention these days. The novelty of this work is how these authors have shown that the energy density can be significantly increased by using carbon nanotubes as nanoscale templates. This innovative idea also opens up an interesting avenue for tailoring already-known photoactive molecules for solar thermal fuels and storage in general.”

Source: PhysOrg

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A woman holds up an Italian flag with a placard displaying a picture of outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in front of the Presidential palace in Rome, November 12, 2011. REUTERS-Remo Casilli

Berlusconi, who failed to secure a majority in a crucial vote on Tuesday, stepped down as prime minister after parliament passed a package of measures demanded by European partners to restore market confidence in Italy's strained public finances.

Former European Commissioner Mario Monti is expected to be given the task of trying to form a new administration to face a widening financial crisis which has sent Italy's borrowing costs to unmanageable levels.

More than a thousand demonstrators waving banners mocking Berlusconi flocked to the president's residence at the Quirinale Palace as the motorcade carrying the billionaire media entrepreneur, who has been Italy's longest serving prime minister, entered.

The crowd grew so unruly that Berlusconi was forced to leave secretly via a side entrance and return to his private residence.

Cheers broke out when they heard that Berlusconi had resigned and the square broke out into a party atmosphere. People sang, danced and some broke open bottles of champagne.

An orchestra near the palace played the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. "We are here to rejoice," one said.

Demonstrators chanting "resign, resign, resign" also gathered outside the prime minister's office and parliament, heckling ministers as they walked between the two buildings.

A small group of pro-Berlusconi demonstrators gathered outside his residence but were hugely outnumbered by opponents.

After the resignation, hundreds shouting "Jail, Jail, Jail,"

moved from the presidential palace to Berlusconi's residence to continue the noisy celebrations below his windows.

"This is something that deeply saddens me," the Italian news agency Ansa quoted Berlusconi as telling aides.

Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives at the Presidential palace in Rome, November 12, 2011. REUTERS-Giampiero Sposito

President Giorgio Napolitano will begin consultations with political leaders at 5:00 a.m. EST on Sunday morning. He was expected to ask Monti for form a government on Sunday night.

Italy, the euro zone's third largest economy, came close to disaster this week when yields on 10-year bonds soared over 7.6 percent, the kind of level which forced Ireland, Portugal and Greece to seek international bailouts.

Berlusconi, who failed to secure a majority in a vote on Tuesday, promised to resign once parliament passed the package of economic reforms demanded by European partners to restore confidence in Italy's battered public finances.

Monti, named by Napolitano as a Senator for Life on Wednesday, is expected to appoint a relatively small cabinet of technocrat specialists to steer Italy through the crisis.

With the next election not due until 2013, a technocrat government could have about 18 months to pass painful economic reforms but will need to secure the backing of a majority in parliament and could fall before then.

With a public debt of more than 120 percent of gross domestic product and more than a decade of anemic economic growth behind it, Italy is at the heart of the euro zone debt crisis and would be too big for the bloc to bail out.

Financial markets have backed a Monti government and as prospects of Berlusconi going became firmer last week, yields dropped below the critical 7 percent level, although they remain close.

"We don't yet have a new government in Italy and we have to wait, but I'm sure if Mario Monti will be appointed he will do whatever is necessary in order to restore the confidence of the financial markets in Italy," Alessandro Profumo, former head of Unicredit, Italy's largest bank, told Reuters.

Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi leaves his residence downtown in Rome November 12, 2011 as he heads for lunch with Mario Monti. Monti, the former European Commissioner expected to try to form Italy's next government, will have a working lunch with Berlusconi on Saturday, a Senate statement said.   REUTERS-Giampiero Sposito


Berlusconi, fighting an array of scandals and facing trials on charges ranging from tax fraud to paying for sex with an under-aged prostitute, had been under pressure to resign for weeks as the market crisis threatened to spin out of control.

International leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde have expressed hopes a new government can be in place quickly.

Talks with Italian political parties are expected to begin on Sunday with hopes that a new government can be in place in time for the opening of financial markets on Monday.

However, even as preparations for a transition begin, signs of opposition have appeared, with Berlusconi's PDL party split between factions ready to accept a Monti government and others deeply opposed.

Berlusconi had a working lunch with Monti before the vote, suggesting the outgoing government will not try to block a quick handover, but the attitude of the center-right as a whole remains unclear.

The PDL's main coalition ally, the regional pro-devolution Northern League, has declared it will go into opposition, underlining the risk that the new government will lack the broad parliamentary support it will need to pass deep reforms.

"The convulsions in the center-right at the prospect of a government led by Mario Monti signal a danger: that a divided coalition may be tempted to unload its divisions on the country," the daily Corriere della Sera said.

The center-left Democratic party and smaller centrist parties have pledged support to Monti. Italy's main business and banking associations and some of the moderate trade unions have also called for a government of national unity.

Source: Reuters - (Additional reporting by James Mackenzie and Paolo Biondi; Writing by Philip Pullella and James Mackenzie; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Andrew Heavens)

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Se volete dirlo e scriverlo come avrebbero fatto Maya e Aztechi, sappiate che 6 settembre 2011, è il per il calendario Maya Lungo Computo, il 16 Mol nello Haab, e il 13 Lamat nello Tzolkin. Non facile da ricordare, certo, ma potrebbe andar meglio con (il 21 dicembre 2012, lasciando da parte il calendario Haab e il Tzolkin, rispettivamente il calendario solare e quello religioso), giorno in cui il Lungo Computo (il complesso calendario invece utilizzato per marcare gli eventi sul lungo periodo) terminerà il suo lunghissimo ciclo di 5126 anni circa (il quarto per i Maya), avuto inizio il 6 settembre 3114 a.C (secondo il calendario giuliano). E con lui il prossimo anno, almeno secondo le profezie, anche il mondo dovrebbe finire. O, nel migliore di casi, subire un cambiamento radicale, l’apertura verso una Nuova Era.


Ma come e da dove hanno avuto origine questa apocalittiche profezie? In Messico, precisamente nel sito archeologico di Tortuguero, grazie all’ormai famoso monumento VI, che riporta una misteriosa (quanto in larga parte non interpretabile perché incompleta e danneggiata) iscrizione che si riferisce alla fine del tredicesimo baktun del Lungo Computo (1 baktun equivale a un periodo di circa 144mila giorni), coincidente proprio con la data del solstizio d’inverno dell’anno che verrà, come una data da tenere sotto controllo. Quel giorno infatti qualcosa di imprecisato dovrebbe accadere in seguito all’avvento di Bolon Yokte K’uh, dio maya generalmente associato con la creazione, ma anche con gli inferi, i conflitti e la guerra. Di qui l’idea di un grande cambiamento, qualcosa che implichi distruzione, come appunto la fine del mondo. Oppure l’avvento di Bolon Yokte K’Hu potrebbe avere a che fare con una nuova creazione (una New Age per l’appunto) piuttosto che con un evento distruttivo.

Secondo alcuni studiosi della civiltà Maya, però, né l’una né l’altra profezia sembrerebbero avere un reale riscontro: la fine del calendario maya non sarebbe altro che la chiusura di un ciclo prima dell’inizio di una nuova era. Eppure, dal Monumento VI, quella scritta ne ha generate di paure e miscredenze. Alcune vogliono che il 21 dicembre 2012 coincida con l’impatto, in pieno stile Armageddon, di un asteroide con la Terra e con l’avvento di un’estinzione di massa senza precedenti. Secondo altri invece potrebbe verificarsi un terremoto straordinario, e un cambiamento del campo magnetico del nostro pianeta - indotto dal raro allinearsi con gli altri componenti del sistema solare lungo l’equatore galattico - così forte da determinare un’inversione della polarità della Terra. Quanto manca? Circa 471 giorni, come cita il countdown del sito ufficiale dell’apocalisse prevista per il prossimo anno del sito December 21 2012. Noi, in ogni caso, non tratterremo il fiato.


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Câteva modificări minore, printre care se numără schimbarea locului în care luăm mesele si micsorarea dimensiunii farfuriilor din care mâncăm, pot ajuta la pierderea în greutate, sustin cercetătorii.

Vreţi să scăpaţi de kilogramele în plus? Mâncaţi din farfurii mai mici, recomandă specialiştii

Cercetătorul american Brian Wansink, de la Universitatea Cornell, a declarat că unul dintre studiile sale a analizat modul în care cinefilii mănâncă floricele de porumb din recipiente mari si foarte mari.

Cei care aleg portiile mai mari mănâncă, în medie, cu 45% mai mult; chiar si atunci când floricelele nu mai sunt foarte proaspete, acestia mănâncă mai mult cu 34%.

Un alt studiu, realizat pe copii, a demonstrat că acestia au tendinta de a mai cere o portie de cereale atunci când mănâncă dintr-un castron mai mare, fată de cei care aleg să mănânce din castroane mai mici.

Dr. Wansink a declarat, la un congres al Asociatiei Americane de Psihologie, că oamenii au pierdut până la un kilogram prin simpla schimbare a mărimii farfuriilor din care mănâncă, prin evitarea alimentelor nesănătoase si luarea meselor fără prezenta televizorului.

De asemenea, dr. Wansink a declarat că ideea că stomacul nostru ne va anunta atunci când este plin este gresită. Rezultatele studiilor sale arată că senzatia de satietate e influentată de factori externi precum mărimea recipientelor si a portiilor si de atentia acordată actului de a mânca.

Sursa: Mail Online

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The technology amplifies any anthrax DNA present in the sample and can reveal the presence of just 40 microscopic cells of the deadly bacteria Bacillus anthracis.

B. anthracis, commonly known as anthrax, is a potentially lethal microbe that might be used intentionally to infect victims through contamination of food and water supplies, aerosolized particles, or even dried powders, such as those used in bioterrorist attacks in the USA. Detection is crucial to preventing widespread fatalities in the event of an anthrax attack. However, the complexity of the microbe's biology have so far made it difficult to build a portable system that can be employed quickly in the field. That said, there are several systems available that use PCR to amplify a particular component of the genetic material present in anthrax and then to flag this amplified signal. These systems are fast and sensitive but do not integrate sample preparation and so are not as convenient as a single detector unit would be.

A photomicrograph of Bacillus anthracis bacteria using Gram-stain technique. Anthrax is diagnosed by isolating B. anthracis from the blood, skin lesions, or respiratory secretions, or by measuring specific antibodies in the blood of persons with suspected cases. Photo: CDC

Writing in the International Journal of Biomedical Nanoscience and Nanotechnology this month, Nathaniel Cady of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) of the University at Albany and colleagues there and at Cornell University, New York, explain how they have constructed nanofabricated fluidic cartridges that can be used to carry out detection of anthrax. The device is a so-called "lab-on-a-chips" device, or more properly a 3D microfluidic network that contains nanofabricated pillar structures.

The device has fluidic inputs for adding sample and reagents, removing waste, for carrying out DNA purification, and critically an integrated chamber for amplifying only the target DNA in the sample using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) system. The chip also contains a wave guide for the fluorescence-based identification of the amplified DNA and thus the target microbe. Importantly, the system works without manual intervention other than loading a droplet of sample into the detector.

"The average time required for DNA purification during these experiments was approximately 15 min, and when combined with real-time PCR analysis, this resulted in an average time to detection of 60 min," the team says. The system can detect as few as 40 B. anthracis cells. "Due to its small size and low power requirements, this system can be further developed as a truly portable, hand-held device," the researchers conclude.

Source: NanoTechWeb

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You could never prosecute WikiLeaks without criminalizing all journalism in the United States. - Glenn Greenwald

This is a "WikiLeaks News Update", a news update of stories relating directly to WikiLeaks and also freedom of information, transparency, cybersecurity, and freedom of expression.

WikiLeaks News: Collateral Murder changes US interrogator's views, WL/Bradley #Manning Support

On Veteran's day, The Atlantic interviews Michael Patterson, a former U.S. army interrogator whose decision to leave the army and current participation in the Occupy Movement (Michael is staying at Occupy DC) were motivated by the video Collateral Murder, released by WikiLeaks on the 5th April 2010:

"... I ask him what was the switch for him and when. He explained that it was WikiLeaks. It was the footage of the Apache helicopter gunning down Iraqis released by WikiLeaks in April of 2010. Up to that point he had been interrogating Iraqis and using what he describes as psychological torture. He was 10 years old when the World Trade Center was hit. He wanted to fight terrorism in Iraq. He bought into the whole thing, he tells me. He had been looking forward to signing up ever since the 5th grade and then, suddenly, last November, he found himself watching a video of his fellow soldiers gunning down Iraqis on the street and it all changed for him.

The Apache video, to a civilian, makes war look like a video game, but to Patterson, it was the first time he saw Iraqis as real people. Random people, with children and families who care about them. He tried to get out of the military as a conscientious objector after that. He was told it wouldn't work because he's an atheist. "So I just smoked a bunch of pot and got kicked out," he says. He was officially discharged on June 7th of this year. He went back home to Alaska, where he read about Occupy Wall Street on Reddit.

He then went to D.C. to sleep in a tent a block away from the White House."

EFF and ACLU respond to Court ruling WikiLeaks' associates private twitter records are to be disclosed to the US government, as part of a Grand Jury investigation on WikiLeaks.
A statement released by EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundations), titled 'Privacy Loses in Twitter/Wikileaks Records Battle' reads:

'... Jonsdottir and others only found out about the government requests for information because Twitter took steps to notify them of the court order. EFF is urging other companies to follow Twitter's lead, stand with their customers, and promise to inform users when their data is sought by the government, as part of our Who Has Your Back? campaign.'

Both organizations represent Icelandic MP and former WikiLeaks volunteer Birgitta Jonsdottir in the case. Read ACLU's press release on this subject here.
In an interview to The Guardian, Birgitta declared the intention to take the case to the Council of Europe.


Vigil for Bradley Manning on his 24th Birthday

ImageSaturday, December 17 · 12:00am - 11:30pm
On the 17th of December - his 24th birthday - Bradley Manning will have been incarcerated for 571 days.

On this day stand in solidarity with Bradley Manning whose only crime was revealing the truth - congregate at the White House, your city hall or town square, or your nearest US Embassy or Consulate - peacefully and solemnly. [For more details, see Vigil for Bradley Manning on his 24th Birthday's facebook page.]
Other upcoming campaigns in support of Bradley Manning:

* Starting next Monday (November 14), a Call-in to The White House and Military to Demand UN Access to Bradley Manning will take place throughout the week. Additional information will be posted on the Bradley Manning Support Network website,

* Bradley's 24th birthday will be on December 17th. This is the second birthday the alleged whistleblower will have spent detained in a military prison, without trial. Everyone is encouraged to gather support for Bradley Manning on this day and to send small gifts and birthday cards to the following address

Bradley Manning 89289
830 Sabalu Road
Fort Leavenworth, KS 6602

Julian Assange/WikiLeaks Support Campaigns

* November 17: Headed by Christine Assange, Julian Assange's mother, a protest against Julian's extradition and US government actions against WikiLeaks will occur in front of the Parliament House in Canberra on the occasion of US President Obama's visit to Australia. Please join.
Know more about this protest.

* Online Human Rights petition demanding Julian Assange be protected by the Australian Parliament from extradition to the United States.

Julian Assange has been under house arrest for 339 days without having been charged of a crime. (Visit Sweden vs. Assange for all information on this case.) Bradley Manning has spent 535 days detained without trial. A Fair Trials International campaign was launched to end pre-trial detention within the EU. Fair Trials International also advocate the reform of the European Arrest Warrant:

The EAW has removed many of the traditional safeguards in the extradition process. If a court in one country demands a person’s arrest and extradition, courts and police in other countries must act on it. In 2009, this fast track extradition system was used to extradite over 4,000 people across the EU (700 people from the UK alone).

Although it was intended to deliver justice, the current system is actually resulting in cases of serious injustice. Our own casework repeatedly demonstrates the human cost of EU extradition. Fair Trials International will continue to press for an EU extradition system which is both fair and effective. Through our Justice in Europe campaign, we are succeeding in making the case for reform.


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Nu-i asa ca ti-ar placea ca macar o data sa vina cineva la tine si sa îti arate clar dovezi ale existentei lui Dumnezeu? Fara nici o fortare din partea nimanui. Fara afirmatii de genul: „Trebuie sa crezi si gata.” Ei bine, iata, încerc aici sa îti ofer câteva motive care sugereaza existenta lui Dumnezeu.

Dar mai înainte as vrea sa te gândesti putin... Daca cineva respinge pâna si posibilitatea existentei lui Dumnezeu, atunci orice dovada s-ar aduce, el o poate demonta, respingând-o printr-o explicatie sau alta. Este ca atunci când cineva refuza din principiu sa creada ca oamenii au ajuns pe Luna si, oricâte informatii ar primi, nu se va razgândi. Fotografii ale astronautilor în timp ce merg pe Luna, interviuri cu astronautii, roci selenare... toate dovezile n-ar avea nici o valoare daca persoana respectiva a ajuns deja la concluzia ca oamenii nu pot ajunge pe Luna.

Când vine vorba de posibilitatea existentei lui Dumnezeu, Biblia spune ca unii oameni au vazut suficiente dovezi, dar ca aleg sa înabuse adevarul despre Dumnezeu. Pe de alta parte, acelora care vor sa stie daca exista Dumnezeu, Dumnezeu Însusi le spune: „Ma veti cauta si Ma veti gasi; daca Ma veti cauta cu tot dinadinsul, Ma voi lasa gasit.”

Înainte de a analiza datele referitoare la existenta lui Dumnezeu, raspunde-ti la întrebarea: „Daca Dumnezeu chiar exista, as vrea sa-L cunosc?” Iata apoi câteva motive care ne pun pe gânduri...


Erodump - Vicky - Abbi

Nu-i asa ca ti-ar placea ca macar o data sa vina cineva la tine si sa îti arate clar dovezi ale existentei lui Dumnezeu? Fara nici o fortare din partea nimanui. Fara afirmatii de genul: „Trebuie sa crezi si gata.” Ei bine, iata, încerc aici sa îti ofer câteva motive care sugereaza existenta lui Dumnezeu.

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And, the study found, pet owners were just as close to key people in their lives as to their animals, indicating no evidence that relationships with pets came at the expense of relationships with other people, or that people relied more on pets when their human social support was poorer.

Psychologists at Miami University and Saint Louis University conducted three experiments to examine the potential benefits of pet ownership among what they called everyday people. The results of the current study were reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published online by APA.

“We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions,” said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University in Ohio. “Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

Until now, most research into the benefits of pets has been correlational, meaning it looked at the relationship between two variables but didn’t show that one caused the other. For example, prior research showed that elderly Medicare patients with pets had fewer doctor visits than similar patients without pets, or that HIV-positive men with pets were less depressed than those without.

In this study, 217 people (79 percent women, mean age 31, mean annual family income $77,000) answered surveys aimed at determining whether pet owners in the group differed from people who didn’t have pets in the areas of well-being, personality type and attachment style. Several differences between the groups emerged, and in all cases, pet owners were happier, healthier and better adjusted than were non-owners.

A second experiment, involving 56 dog owners (91 percent of whom were women, with a mean age of 42 and average annual family income of $65,000), examined whether pet owners benefit more when their pet is perceived to fulfill their social needs better. This study found greater well-being among owners whose dogs increased their feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.

The last study, comprising 97 undergraduates with an average age of 19, found that pets can make people feel better after experiencing rejection. Subjects were asked to write about a time when they felt excluded. Then they were asked to write about their favorite pet, or to write about their favorite friend, or to draw a map of their campus. The researchers found that writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend when it came to staving off feelings of rejection.

“[T]he present work presents considerable evidence that pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically, by serving as an important source of social support,” the researchers wrote. “Whereas past work has focused primarily on pet owners facing significant health challenges … the present study establishes that there are many positive consequences for everyday people who own pets.”

Source: American Psychological Association

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Specie in estinzione? L'ultima spiaggia potrebbero essere le cellule staminali. Non tutti ne sono convinti, ma intanto alcuni scienziati si sono già messi al lavoro. Le basi del progetto sono state gettate nel 2006, quando Oliver Ryder, direttore di genetica del San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, contattò Jeanne Loring, docente di neurobiologia dello sviluppo presso lo Scripps Research Institute. Il motivo del loro incontro era discutere la possibilità di collezionare le cellule staminali dalle specie animali fortemente minacciate.

Ameca splendens   Giraffa di Rothschild   Iguana delicatissima    Aquila delle Filippine (Pithecophaga jefferyi)   Lupo rosso (Canis rufus)

Ryder aveva di fatto già messo in piedi il Frozen Zoo, una banca di cellule della pelle (epiteliali) e di altro materiale biologico di oltre 800 specie, e allora non era chiaro se questo materiale potesse essere o meno utile allo scopo. Ma poco dopo, era il 2007, due équipe (quella di James A. Thomson della University of Wisconsin-Medison, e quella di Shinya Yamanaka dell'Università di Tokyo) trovarono il modo di ottenere in laboratorio cellule staminali adulte pluripotenti proprio da quelle epiteliali. Oggi la tecnica per derivare le Ipsc (acronimo di cellule pluripotenti indotte) è ormai ben sviluppata e utilizzata in molti laboratori in tutto il mondo (il metodo si serve di 4 geni che fanno regredire le epiteliali fino allo stadio di staminale).

Già nel 2008, i team di Ryder e di Loring diedero il via a una serie di studi per determinare se la tecnica potesse essere applicata agli animali, allo scopo di preservarli. La prima specie a fare da cavia è stata il drillo ( Mandrillus leucophaeus), un primate della foresta tropicale pluviale scelto per la relativa vicinanza genetica con la nostra specie e, soprattutto, perché gli esemplari in cattività soffrono frequentemente di diabete. La seconda specie fu il rinoceronte bianco; il motivo è che attualmente vi sono appena 7 esemplari al mondo, due conservati proprio allo Zoo Safari Park di San Diego.

Per oltre un anno, i ricercatori provarono a ottenere le Ipsc usando geni di animali strettamente imparentati con le specie scelte. In realtà, i ricercatori hanno scoperto - con non poco stupore - che a funzionare sono gli stessi 4 geni usati per ricavare le Ipsc umane. Il procedimento, descritto su Nature Methods, è ancora poco efficiente: tanto lavoro e numerosi tentativi per ottenere solo poche cellule staminali. Ma questo non vuol dire che non stia funzionando.

Se e come verranno poi utilizzate queste cellule è un’altra storia. Attualmente le terapie basate sulle cellule staminali sono in una fase preliminare di studio, e non è chiaro come questo strano zoo possa contribuire a salvare le specie.

Ciò non toglie che progressi nei campi della riproduzione e delle biotecnologie possano un giorno permetterci di sfruttare il lavoro di Ryder e Loring (preferibilmente prima che l’ultimo rinoceronte bianco scompaia). “ La cosa più importante è dare la possibilità ad altre persone di fare qualche altro passo in avanti”, ha infatti commentato Loring. In alcuni centri, per esempio, si sta cercando di differenziare le cellule staminali indotte in spermatozoi e ovociti. Se vi si riuscisse, una possibilità potrebbe essere rappresentata dalla fertilizzazione in vitro per creare un embrione da impiantare poi nell’utero di un animale vivente.

I due scienziati vedono nella loro collezione soprattutto una risorsa di biodiversità. Infatti, se anche i pochi esemplari superstiti si riproducessero in cattività (cosa che comunque non avviene facilmente, come sottolineano i ricercatori), la diversità genetica verrebbe irrimediabilmente persa. Una delle conseguenze - di cui siamo già testimoni - è che la prole nasce sempre meno sana con il passare delle generazioni.

Resta il fatto che prevenire sarebbe meglio (meno costoso e molto più efficace) che curare; ma nel caso dei rinoceronti bianchi e di molte altre specie, le strategie di protezione degli animali e dei loro habitat non hanno funzionato.


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