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Discovered: A human bird flu pandemic is a real possibility, these flowers could cure depression, alcohol improves your quality of life, and the Arctic climate is in trouble.

  • A human bird flu pandemic is a real possibility. Scary, right? We think so. Science has created a strain of the H5N1 virus, a.k.a avian flu, that with just a few mutations could infect new hosts through the air. For ferrets it took just five mutations until the virus turned into something they could get from breathing. "We assume also in humans it would only take a low number of transmission events for these mutations to accumulate," explains researcher Ron Fouchier. Science isn't sure how it would play it out for humans, but researcher Derek Smith didn't make it sound like a latent threat. "It really is real, but we just don't know how real yet," he said. "What we know from our study is that it's active and it could go off." [Los Angeles Times]
  • Flowers to cure depression. We're not just talking about some nice gesture for a sad person. Rather, science has thinks South African Daffodils could hold a cure for depression. "Several of our plant compounds can probably be smuggled past the brain's effective barrier proteins. We examined various compounds for their influence on the transporter proteins in the brain. Our results are promising, and several of the chemical compounds studied should therefore be tested further, as candidates for long-term drug development," explains researcher Birger Brodin. Wouldn't that be a romantic way to cure this disease? [University of Copenhagen]
  • Abstinence from drinking doesn't lead to the highest quality of life. Hear that Friday readers, science wants to you to go home this evening and have a drink. Moderate drinkers, meaning those who had 1 drinks per week with no more than 3 on any day for women and 4 for men, ranked highest on science's official quality of life index. "Regular moderate drinkers had the highest indices of quality of life at baseline, but subsequent changes in quality of life indicators were similar in all groups except for those reporting decreasing alcohol consumption. The investigators conclude that regular moderate drinkers had higher initial levels of health-related quality of life than abstainers and those in other groups," explains the report. Drink on. [Boston University]
  • The Arctic is in trouble. Science sounds really flustered about the way the Arctic has warmed over the last few decades. This scientist, for example, couldn't use more alarming words if she tried. "What we see is astonishing. We had no idea that we'd find this. It's astonishing to see so many intervals when the Arctic was really warm, enough so forests were growing where today we see tundra and permafrost. And the intensity of warming is completely unexpected. The other astounding thing is that we were able to determine that during many times when the West Antarctic ice sheet disappeared, we see a corresponding warm period following very quickly in the Arctic. Arctic warm periods cluster with periods when the Western Antarctic ice sheet is gone," said researcher Julie Brigham-Grette. Specifically, she found Seven of the 12 major ice shelves around the Antarctic have melted or are already gone. Things are getting warmer and it's unexpected! Astonishing! Scary, even! [UMass Amherst]

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