The latest news from science and technology.

Science, technology, and life.
Dec. 8 2005 9:23 AM

Why the Screwball Gets the Girl

And other news from science and technology.

(For the latest Human Nature columns on gay priests, Pat Robertson, and abortion, click here.)

A newly decoded dog genome will help us unravel human diseases. Genes, diseases, and behaviors have been concentrated in separate dog breeds, making it easier to correlate genes with diseases and behaviors. Genetic similarities would then help us find the troublesome genes in humans. Possible targets: cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Bonus finding: Testicle-activity genes evolved particularly rapidly in humans compared with dogs and mice, suggesting that female selection of males is central to human evolution.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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Schizophrenic genes may be sexually advantageous. A study indicates that creative people and unconventional thinkers get more sex partners. Previous studies showed that creative people are more likely than others to be schizophrenic or have schizophrenic relatives. Authors' hypothesis: Schizophrenia is disadvantageous to passing on your genes, but if you don't get the full-blown disease, schizophrenia-related genes that cause unconventional thinking make you more attractive, and that's why the genes and the disease persist.

You'll soon be able to use frequent-flyer miles to go into space. Virgin Atlantic has spent $250 million to begin building vehicles that will carry small groups of clients beyond the atmosphere and back. A model craft has already made the trip. Tentative launch date: 2008. Cost per ticket: $200,000, or 2 million frequent-flyer miles.

Hanging out with dolphins can relieve human depression. Researchers' conclusion: It makes the humans feel better. Environmentalists' objection: It stresses out the dolphins. Cynics' question: Why are we testing a therapy hardly anyone could arrange or afford?

A study sayspeoplewho have one alcoholic drink a day are 54 percent less obesity-prone than teetotalers are. (But those who have four or more drinks a day are 46 percent more obesity-prone.) Another study indicates that among people who weigh too much or drink too much alcohol, those who drink more than two cups of coffee a day are only half as prone to chronic liver disease. Each study involved more than 8,000 people. Cynical take: Wash out your fat with liquor, then rinse out your liquor with coffee.

NASA is developing "synthetic vision" for pilots. The technology translates data on a plane's motion and surroundings into three-dimensional video. This helps pilots respond as though they can see outside, even when they can't due to clouds, fog, or darkness.

The spread of impotence drugs is declining. Suggested reasons: 1) Stigma. 2) Dubious reports of blindness. 3) People resent high drug prices and distrust drug ads. 4) The performance enhancement for men under 40 is unimpressive. 5) Younger men learned that the drugs improve only circulation, not arousal. 6) Older men got used to frigid marriages.

An analysis of studies indicates passive smoke may be as dangerous as smoking in causing breast cancer. In studies that checked women less thoroughly for passive-smoke exposure, the increase in risk (of breast cancer, compared to non-exposed women) for smokers was double the increase for passive smokers. But in studies that checked more thoroughly, the increase in risk was similar: 108 percent for smokers and 90 percent for passive smokers. Authors' conclusion: Extend the crackdown on smoking.

A nicotine vaccine could prevent kids from smoking. It triggers antibodies that prevent nicotine from getting to your brain. In a small initial sample, several smokers getting high doses of the vaccine kicked the habit for 30 days. Doctors say it could be administered to teenagers to prevent them from taking up smoking—"the first time that a vaccine is used not to prevent a disease but to prevent a behavior."

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