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City dwellers could be more disease resistant

Genes and the city

"People from traditionally urban areas could be genetically better suited to fighting infection, say researchers," BBC News reports. "The University of London team looked at how many people carried a specific gene variant known to give them resistance to TB and leprosy. It was more common in those from areas with a longer history of urbanization, where the diseases were more likely to have been rife at one point. They described the discovery as an example of 'evolution in action.' The phenomenon, reported in the journal Evolution, is suggested as an example of so-called 'selective pressure' in relation to disease resistance. It happens because, when a population is exposed to a killer illness, the people who are best placed to pass on their genes to the next generation are those whose genetic makeup helps them fight the infection."

Mother-in-law jokes

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"A [London borough's]council has banned staff from using mother-in-law jokes after deeming them sexist and disrespectful to 'family elders,'" The Daily Telegraph reports. "Despite surviving from Roman times, the humour is no longer considered acceptable, according to officials at the London Borough of Barnet. The edict was issued in a 12-page booklet entitled Cultural Awareness: General Problems, which came to light through a Freedom of Information request."

Heavy roommates

"Freshmen female students who live with heavier roommates may stay leaner their first year of college," reports, "and avoid the tendency to delve into unhealthy lifestyle patterns, suggests the findings of new research. … Presented this summer at the annual meeting of the American Society of Health Economists, the study revealed that those who live with heavier roommates - weighing more than average for their respective height and build - gained only a half a pound compared to the average of 2.5 to six pounds per year for the population at large. 'This finding seems counterintuitive, but there are some good explanations for why it may be happening,' said Kandice Kapinos, an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. According to Kapinos, a labour and health economist, the freshman females weighing more than average may model behaviours for roommates that encourage them to stay leaner. Specifically, a heavier female is more likely than an average-weight woman to diet, exercise more frequently, use weight-loss supplements and purchase college meal plans that limit access to food."

Cause offence? Moi?

"Men, according to conventional wisdom, are stubbornly unwilling to apologize," Tom Jacobs writes for "Countless pop-psychology books have referenced this reluctance, explaining that our egos are too fragile to admit we're wrong, or we're oblivious to important nuances of social interaction. Sorry to disrupt that lovely feeling of superiority, ladies, but newly published research suggests such smug explanations miss the mark. Writing in the journal Psychological Science, University of Waterloo psychologists Karina Schumann and Michael Ross report that men are, indeed, less likely to say, 'I'm sorry.' But they're also less likely to take offence and expect an apology from someone else. Their conclusion is that 'men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behaviour.'"

Forgive us our grades

"Some colleges and universities, including Rutgers University and Penn State University, are reaching out to former students who left school before completing a degree," Kaitlin Ek reports for the Daily Nebraskan. "Offering academic forgiveness programs, the schools allow students to erase their previous GPA and start over with a clean slate. Earl Hawkey, director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's registration and records, said UNL offers similar programs. However, unlike other universities' programs, which only offer academic forgiveness to returning dropouts, UNL's program allows any student to reset their GPA." In one of the options, a student can declare "academic bankruptcy," allowing them to declare up to two terms as "bankrupt," so all courses and credits in those terms are taken out of the GPA equation and do not count toward a degree requirement. The courses still appear on a student's transcript, but are marked as academically bankrupt.

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"There may be a good reason why people instantly make a grab for an injured finger or toe," The Independent reports. "Touching oneself provides immediate pain relief, a study has found. The effect is due to change in the way the body is represented in the brain, researchers at [University College London]report in the journal Current Biology."

End of the world

"Those who expect the end of the world also often believe that there will be signs that it's coming … ," Robert Faturechi writes for the Los Angeles Times. "Natural disasters, such as major earthquakes and fires, often bring spikes of apocalyptic forecasts. An evangelical Christian website,, features a regularly updated 'rapture index' that gauges the imminent approach of the world's end. It's calculated by adding quantitative measurements for a number of supposed apocalyptic signs, including volcanoes, drug abuse, drought and liberalism."

Thought du jour

"Life begins at 40, but so do fallen arches, rheumatism, faulty eyesight and the tendency to tell a story to the same person three or four times."

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- Helen Rowland, journalist

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