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Science & Medicine

Study: Biodeversity loss ups disease risk

Washington -- Plant and animal extinctions are not just a biodiversity problem but a threat to health, a U.S. study linking biodiversity and infectious diseases says.

Research funded by the National Science Foundation suggests species loss in ecosystems such as forests and fields results in increases in pathogens, disease-causing organisms, an NSF release said Wednesday.

The species most likely to disappear as biodiversity declines are often those that buffer infectious disease transmission, researchers said

Species that remain tend to be the ones that magnify the transmission of infectious diseases like West Nile virus, Lyme disease and hantavirus, they said.

Find could change search for alien life

Washington -- A U.S. researcher says she has found an Earthly bacteria that breaks the biochemical "rules" all life on the planet was thought to follow.

All known life on Earth is based on a single genetic model that requires six essential elements: carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus.

But biochemist Felisa Wolfe-Simon has discovered a bacterium that has five of those essential elements but has, in effect, replaced phosphorus with its look-alike but toxic cousin arsenic, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Study: Primates best at coping with change

Durham, N.C. -- Primates are more adept than other animals at dealing with seasonal environmental changes, especially rainfall, U.S. researchers say.

To find out how well primates cope with unpredictability, compared with other animals, researchers at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, N.C., analyzed decades of birth and survival data for seven species of wild primates, a center release reported Wednesday.

"Wild animals deal with a world that's unpredictable from year to year," study lead author Bill Morris, a biologist at Duke University, said. "The weather can change a lot; there can be years with plenty of food and years of famine."

Amazon deforestation lowest in 22 years

Brasilia, Brazil -- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon region is at its lowest rate in 22 years due to better monitoring and police control, the country's government says.

Satellite monitoring indicated some 2,490 square miles of rainforest were cleared between August 2009 and July 2010, a drop of 14 percent from the previous 12 months, the BBC reported.

The figures were "fantastic," Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said, adding she would be "proud" to present the results at the U.N. Climate Change Conference presently being held in Cancun, Mexico.

Brazil was well on course to its target of reducing deforestation to its annual target of 1,900 square miles by 2017, she said.

The new rate is far lower than the peak of 10,700 square miles in 2004.

Universe may have more stars than thought

New Heaven, Conn. -- The observable universe may hold as many as three times the number of stars previously estimated by astronomers just a year ago, U.S. researchers say.

Astronomers at Yale University said a particular kind of galaxy may contain 10 times more red dwarf stars than thought, which would triple the number of stars in the universe as a whole, the Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday.

The Yale researchers surveyed eight huge elliptical galaxies selected from two vast galaxy clusters 53 million to 321 million light-years from Earth.

Surveys of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, have found red dwarfs outnumber sun-like stars by about 100 to 1, Yale astronomer Pieter van Dokkum said.

Damage to U.S. birds by cats: $17 billion

Lincoln, Neb. -- Feral cats are a threat to birds across the United States, whether or not they are fed by kindhearted humans, a study released Wednesday concluded.

The report from the University of Nebraska concluded that bird loss due to homeless cats totals $17 billion damage based expenditures from hunters and bird watchers.

The study concluded that there are an estimated 60 million feral cats in the United States that are opportunistic hunters. The creatures don't lose their instincts for the hunt even if they are fed regularly by good Samaritans, and they tend to be a greater threat to wild native species of birds and rodents than they are to pests such as pigeons and house mice.

Study: Narcissists more likely to cheat

Newark, Ohio -- College students who exhibit narcissistic tendencies are more likely than other students to cheat on exams and assignments, a study by U.S. researchers shows.

Research at Ohio State University's Newark campus suggested narcissists are motivated to cheat because their academic performance provides an opportunity to show off, and that they didn't feel particularly guilty about their actions, a university release said Tuesday.

"Narcissists really want to be admired by others, and you look good in college if you're getting good grades," Amy Brunell, assistant professor of psychology, says. "They also tend to feel less guilt, so they don't mind cheating their way to the top."

Sahara Desert could 'breed' solar power

Tokyo -- Japanese and Algerian researchers say the Sahara Desert's two most abundant resources -- sunlight and sand -- could help solar power "breed" and grow there.

The Sahara Solar Breeder Project is a joint initiative by Japanese and Algerian universities that aims to build enough solar power stations by 2050 to supply 50 percent of the energy used by humanity, reported Tuesday.

The proposal is to begin building a small number of manufacturing plants in the Sahara, turning the desert sand into the high-quality silicon needed to build solar panels.

Vatican advisers recommend modified crops

Vatican City -- World scientists have both the right and a moral duty to genetically modify crops to help the world's poor, scientific advisers to the Vatican say.

A group of scientists, including leading members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, released a statement this week condemning opposition to genetically modified crops by rich countries as unjustified. They demand a relaxation of "excessive, unscientific regulations" they say prevent development of crops for the "public good," reported Tuesday.

The statement by 40 international scientists came after a week-long meeting convened by Ingo Potrykus.

Dolly, the first cloned sheep, is 'reborn'

Nottingham, England -- The U.K. scientist who created Dolly, the first cloned sheep, says she's been "reborn" as he's made four more clones of her.

The four, nicknamed "The Dollies," are said to be exact genetic copies of their predecessor who was put down seven years ago due to health problems, The Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday.

"Dolly is alive and well. Genetically these are Dolly," Professor Keith Campbell, who keeps the Dollies as pets on land at Nottingham University, told the British newspaper.

The arrival of the original Dolly was a landmark in genetic technology, demonstrating that scientists could convert an adult sheep's cell into an embryo, which was then grown into a new sheep.