"Of the 20,000 genes in the human genome," Nicholas Wade writes for The New York Times, "few are more fascinating than FOXP2, a gene that underlies the faculty of human speech. All animals have a FOXP2 gene, but the human version's product differs at just two of its 740 units from that of chimpanzees, suggesting that this tiny evolutionary fix may hold the key to why people can speak and chimps cannot. … [This year]biologists in Leipzig, Germany, genetically engineered a mouse with the human version of FOXP2 substituted for its own. The upgraded mice squeaked somewhat differently from plain mice and were born with subtle alterations in brain structure. But mice and people are rather distant cousins … and the human version of FOXP2 evidently was not able to exert a transformative effect on the mouse."
Guidelines issued by police and fire services in Britain discourage the use of certain words by staff, The Sunday Telegraph reports. "One force urging caution over the use of 'evening' is Warwickshire Police. … It states: 'Don't assume those words for the time of day, such as afternoon or evening, have the same meaning.' A spokesman added: 'Terms such as 'afternoon' and 'evening' are somewhat subjective in meaning and can vary according to a person's culture or nationality. In many cultures, the term evening is linked to the time of day when people have their main meal of the day. In some countries, including the U.K., the evening meal time is traditionally thought of as being around 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. but this might be different, say, for a family from America who might have their main meal earlier, and thus for them 'evening' may be an earlier time.'" A number of organizations tell staff to avoid the words "child, youth or youngster," saying these could have "connotations of inexperience, impetuosity and unreliability or even dishonesty." Police and firefighters are instructed to say "young people."
Have a drink, kid
"With so much high-stakes testing in school these days, any little edge can be important," Kevin Lewis writes in The Boston Globe. "An experiment by psychologists in Britain offers one simple lesson: Have a drink. They tested a group of six- to seven-year-olds on various cognitive tasks, and then, 40 minutes later, asked half the group to leave the room while the remaining kids were offered a drink of water. After another 45 minutes, both groups were retested. The kids who were offered a drink performed significantly better on tests of visual attention and search. It's not exactly clear how a drink of water causes this effect for healthy kids, but it does raise the question of whether kids (and maybe adults) are optimally hydrated during the day."
You need a drink?
In a Redbook article on "surprising things that are making you tired," Stacey Colino writes: "'A lot of people are walking around in a mild state of dehydration,' says Susan Kleiner, a registered dietitian in Mercer Island, Wash. 'When you feel thirsty, you've already lost 2 to 3 per cent of your body fluid.' Even this mild dehydration can make you feel tired or lethargic: Your blood volume lowers, which means you don't get as much blood to your brain and your heart has to pump harder. Think about when you're going to drink just like you'd plan your meals. … Increase your water intake by eating more soup, fresh fruits and vegetables."
So don't inhale
"More than £1-million [$1.76-million]worth of counterfeit cigarettes filled with rabbit droppings instead of tobacco has been confiscated by customs officials in Spain," Ananova.com reports. The fake cigarettes -to be sold on the black market as famous brands - were discovered as holidaying Britons lit up. "They not only smell bad but the toxic chemicals they give off are pure poison," a customs official said.
A coral has been recorded eating a jellyfish for the first time in photographs taken by two Israeli scientists, BBC News reports. Coral usually feed on tiny plankton as well as products provided by photosynthetic algae. Yet the photos reveal a stationary mushroom coral sucking in a large moon jellyfish. It is still a mystery how the coral manages to catch its prey.
"A blood-orange blob the size of a small refrigerator emerged from the dark waters, its venomous tentacles trapped in a fishing net," Michael Casey writes for Associated Press. "Within minutes, hundreds more were being hauled up, a pulsating mass crowding out the catch of mackerel and sea bass. The [Japanese]fishermen leaned into the nets, grunting and grumbling as they tossed the translucent jellyfish back into the bay, giants weighing up to 200 kilograms, marine invaders that are putting the men's livelihoods at risk. The venom of the Nomura, the world's largest jellyfish, a creature up to two metres in diameter, can ruin a whole day's catch by tainting or killing fish stung when ensnared with them in the maze of nets." Scientists believe that warming oceans have allowed jellyfish species to expand their ranges, appear earlier in the year and increase overall numbers.
Thought du jour
"You can fool too many of the people too much of the time."
- James Thurber