Category Archives: Health & Medicine

Did smoke kill the Neandertals?

Somewhere along our evolutionary path, humans developed the ability to tolerate smoke — which can be full of toxic chemicals.

This genetic mutation may have given early humans a few advantages for survival, says Gary Perdew, the John T. and Paige S. Smith Professor in Agricultural Sciences. Cooking food on a campfire in a cave or heating a shelter with fire could have been fatal without this adaptation, for instance.

On a recent episode of the Naked Scientists (listen to the excerpt above), Perdew discussed this genetic change, as well as how he and his team found that Neandertals didn’t have similar protection. Perdew suggests that this could be one reason that human civilization flourished and the Neandertals, well… went up in smoke.

You can read the transcript of the interview here and listen to the entire episode here, on the Naked Scientists, University of Cambridge website.

Members of the news media interested in talking to Perdew should contact Matt Swayne at 814-865-5774 or

Featured image: rahul rekapalli, via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The dangerous allure of performance-enhancing drugs

By Scott Gilbert

Imagine you dedicate your whole life to becoming the best in your chosen sport. You put in the work, make big sacrifices, and finally make the Olympic team. You have a shot at a medal — and all the money, fame, and influence that comes with it.

Then, someone offers you a magic pill with two guarantees — that you won’t get caught and that you’ll win everything. There’s just one catch: you’ll be dead within five years from the pill’s side effects.

Would you take it?

Continue reading The dangerous allure of performance-enhancing drugs

So what if some female Olympians have high testosterone?

By Jaime Schultz

On August 12, Dutee Chand became just the second female sprinter to represent India at the Olympic Games. Her road to Rio has been anything but easy.

In 2014, the International Association of Athletic Federations banned her from competition on the grounds that her body naturally produced too much testosterone, a condition called hyperandrogenism. It wasn’t her fault, the organization explained. But her condition gave her an unfair edge over other female athletes, according to the IAAF policy.

Chand appealed the ruling, and in July 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport determined that the IAAF:

“was unable to conclude that hyperandrogenic female athletes may benefit from such a significant performance advantage that it is necessary to exclude them from competing in the female category.”

Continue reading So what if some female Olympians have high testosterone?

The neuroscience of getting “in the zone”

By Jordan Gaines Lewis

Social media exploded earlier this week with a bevy of tweets and memes featuring a rather unimpressed Olympian – and this time, it wasn’t McKayla Maroney.

On Monday night, cameras captured a hooded Michael Phelps appearing to brood and snarl in the direction of South African swimmer Chad le Clos, who was shadowboxing in preparation for the 200-meter butterfly semifinal.

 JeffAuriemma via Imgur
#PhelpsFace gif by JeffAuriemma via Imgur

Thus, #PhelpsFace was born.

Continue reading The neuroscience of getting “in the zone”

Focus on research: Emotional abuse can affect growing children, like Harry Potter

By Jordan Gaines Lewis

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared on The Conversation. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” was released on July 31, 2016.

Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age … [he] had a thin face, knobbly knees … and wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose.

And so we are introduced to our protagonist, The Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One: Harry Potter. The seven books about the young wizard and his time at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have been translated into 73 different languages and sold over 450m copies worldwide. And readers wouldn’t guess, after author J K Rowling’s introduction of Harry, that the orphaned boy would be the one to defeat the powerful and devastating Dark Lord Voldemort.

Harry’s home life wasn’t as exciting as his rising wizardry: he was snubbed by his only remaining family, bullied by his cousin and classmates, and resided in that dark cupboard under the stairs. His uncle Vernon, aunt Petunia, and cousin Dudley Dursley — to whom he was passed as an infant after the death of his parents — ensure that he’s properly malnourished at all times. After spending a day cleaning the Dursleys’ entire house and working outside in the blazing July heat (on his 12th birthday, no less), Aunt Petunia prepares for Harry “two slices of bread and a lump of cheese” before sending him off to hide during their dinner party with the Masons. It’s no wonder he was so small for his age.

Continue reading Focus on research: Emotional abuse can affect growing children, like Harry Potter