The new World Memory Champion managed to forget the Newsnight presenter's name. Here are a few tips to help you avoid the same fate
When Jonas von Essen, the new World Memory Champion, appeared before Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight yesterday, he was tasked with demonstrating his formidable skills by reciting the programme's credits from memory. The maestro's brain was no doubt full from three days of gruelling memorisation. Nonetheless, it's difficult not to laugh out loud at what happened next.
Beginning confidently, he proclaimed: "The presenter's name is of course ... Jeremy … errm ... err ..."
After an agonising pause, he eventually managed to summon Paxman's surname. But there's something very relatable in his floundering: we all struggle with names, after all. I know I do – and I'm supposed to be an expert. Here are four tips and tricks that can make it much easier to remember a stranger's name.Say the name out loud, and often
The simplest way to boost your memory for a person's name on meeting them is to use it repeatedly while talking to them. By actively using a person's name, you're practising the memory, and, just as importantly, you're gaining confidence in using it.Link the name to an amusing image
Another powerful method for linking names to people is to use wordplay to transform the name into an amusing sentence. For example, if someone is called Jeremy Paxman, you might think of him as a Jammy Pacman. Such mnemonics – puns really – are a wonderful way of bringing names to life. Visual memories are the best, and humour makes learning much easier.Learn more about the person
On first meeting a person, you typically know nothing about them, so it can be difficult to find enough ideas to connect with their name and face to make those associations stick. Jonas could have learned more about Paxo: why's he so gruff? What's this Newsnight thing all about? What's the best YouTube clip of him being slapped down by an Icelandic politician? Such details would have helped Paxo occupy more space in Jonas' mind, making him easier to remember.Don't be afraid to get it wrong
Paradoxically, the main reason we struggle to remember names is our fear of getting them wrong. One is frequently not quite sure about a name. Was it Susan or Samantha? Ian or Evan? Rod or Eric? When doubt creeps in, confusion soon follows. Better to risk it and be wrong (and so learn and correct) than find oneself referring to someone as "mate" for a whole evening, and hoping not to bump into them ever again.Jeremy Paxman
As development attention shifts from oil and towards shale gas, firms are seeking biofuel alternatives to a key component of tyres
Is it possible to make car tyres using sugar beet, straw or even wood? Strange as it may seem, Michelin, the world's second-biggest tyre manufacturer, last month announced a major research programme to investigate those very possibilities. But the French firm is not simply acting out of a general concern for the environment; it is concerned there may soon be a shortage of oil-based materials.
The project, codenamed Bio Butterfly,involves construction of a pilot plant and will be carried out in partnership with a public research centre, IFP Energies nouvelles, and its subsidiary Axens. France's Environment and Energy Management Agency is also supporting it with a €14.7m ($20m) subsidy as part of its Investing in the Future initiative. Over the next eight years BioButterfly's budget will total €52m.
The stakes are high for Michelin. To produce tyres it currently uses a mixture of natural and synthetic rubber. But the main synthetic ingredient is butadiene, a petroleum by-product that will ultimately run short. "We are expecting a butadiene shortage by 2020," says Vincent Ferreiro, who has global responsibility for developing the firm's materials and components.
Curiously, this threat is linked to the worldwide surge in shale gas, which has driven gas prices down and prompted chemists to neglect oil and focus on the new energy source. As such there is a risk of a shortfall in butadiene output, despite demand continuing to rise by 4% a year.
In 2011-12 the first signs of a shortage doubled prices, giving tyre manufacturers a big scare. Prices have dropped back since, due to the slowdown in the Chinese economy. "But the upward pressure will return and we can't just sit here doing nothing," Ferreiro says. Hence the decision to find a sustainable alternative.
The plan is to start with organic matter often treated as waste. The biomass will be fermented to obtain alcohol, the end result being a form of "bio-butadiene". "But it remains to be seen whether the process is technically feasible and competitive," says Jean-Pierre Burzynski at IFP Energies nouvelles. The Bio Butterfly project will test these assumptions.
Faced with the same risk, Michelin's key rivals, such as Bridgestone, and chemical firms, such as Eni and TPC, are also working on alternatives to butadiene. It may not be the sort of race normally associated with Michelin, but one it nevertheless wants to win.
This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le MondeDenis Cosnard
Photographer Lara Jo Regan snaps the joy experienced by cruising canines when a breeze hits their facesJoanna Ruck
Male koalas attract mates with unusually low, Barry White-like callHenry Nicholls
Cuban physician and scientist, who would have been 180 today, developed theory that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes
Google's latest doodle celebrates the birthday of Carlos Finlay, the Cuban physician and scientist who theorised that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes.
Of French and Scottish descent, Finlay was born in 1833 in Puerto Príncipe, now the Cuban city of Camagüey, and studied at Jefferson medical college in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He finished his studies in Havana and Paris before settling in Cuba to open a medical practice.
Finlay was appointed by the Cuban government in 1879 to work with a North American commission studying the causes of yellow fever, and two years later was sent as the Cuban delegate to the fifth International Sanitary Conference in Washington DC.
At the conference, he urged the study of yellow fever vectors and later stated that the carrier was the mosquito Culex fasciatus, now known as Aedes aegypti.
When a US army's Yellow Fever Board arrived in Cuba in 1900, he sought to persuade it of his mosquito-vector theory.
Finlay's hypothesis and exhaustive proofs were confirmed by the board's head, the US army doctor Walter Reed, paving the way for the eradication of yellow fever and saving generations of lives throughout South America, the Caribbean, Africa and the southern US.
As General Leonard Wood, a physician and military governor of Cuba, put it: "The confirmation of Dr Finlay's doctrine is the greatest step forward made in medical science since Jenner's discovery of the vaccination."
Finlay died in August 1915 from a stroke caused by severe brain seizures in his home in Havana.
Women with early stages of breast cancer may no longer face treatment without knowing whether it will become life-threatening
Researchers believe they have identified a molecule that could be key to preventing over-treatment of breast cancer by revealing when the early stage of the disease is likely to develop into its invasive form.
Over-diagnosis and over-treatment has become a contentious issue, provoking impassioned argument between epidemiologists. Some have gone so far as to argue that the harm caused by needless diagnosis and damaging treatment for cancerous cells that would have gone away or never progressed to disease in the woman's lifetime outweighs the number of lives saved.
But the Breast Cancer Campaign says that a routine test could spare women the difficult decision on whether to have treatment after research funded by the charity found that the molecule alpha v beta 6 could tell doctors which cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a condition in which non-invasive cancerous cells are contained within the milk ducts of the breast, are most likely to develop into early invasive breast cancer.
Study co-author Professor Louise Jones said: "You have a chance you can watch and monitor [where the molecule is not present].
"We often pick this [DCIS] up in screening, which means that women are 50 or older and if it takes 30 years for that disease to progress, watching and waiting might be a sensible way to go. It's difficult for women to accept that they might need to have a mastectomy for something that you don't know is going to harm them."
She hopes to validate the results in further research and that a test for use in clinics could then be developed.
Around 4,800 cases of DCIS are diagnosed each year in the UK, two-thirds of them through breast screening. If left untreated up to half could progress into invasive breast cancer, but it is currently not possible to say which ones.
Jones and Dr Michael Allen, at Queen Mary University of London's Barts Cancer Institute, looked at 583 breast tissue samples from normal breasts and those with DCIS. They showed a link between levels of alpha v beta 6 in cells which form part of the milk duct walls (myoepithelial cells) and whether breast tissue was normal, had DCIS or had progressed to invasive breast cancer.
Almost no alpha v beta 6 was found in cells from normal tissues, whereas over half of the DCIS cases had alpha v beta 6 in the surrounding cells and nearly all DCIS cases that had already started to become invasive breast cancer had alpha v beta 6.
Examining a further 104 cases of DCIS matched to long-term follow-up information they found that women whose myoepithelial cells contained alpha v beta 6 saw their disease recur on average around nine years earlier than those without alpha v beta 6 (after 2.3 years compared to 11).
Lady Morgan, chief executive of the Breast Cancer Campaign, which urges women to go for screening, said development of a reliable test would signal "a pivotal moment in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer".
"Women with DCIS … would no longer face the agonising choice between risking their breast cancer becoming invasive or facing treatment without knowing whether their DCIS will become life-threatening or not," she said.
Professor Clare Isacke, from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said the research was "potentially very important" because it was one of few papers that deal with early stage lesions and showed that "this integrin [alpha v beta 6] is a biomarker [biological marker] of those DCIS cases that are going to do worse".Case study
Linda French, from Oxford, was 58 when she something irregular was discovered during a routine mammogram in November last year. As the tests progressed, she said every time she went to the clinic with her husband "the odds went further against me".
When she was diagnosed with DCIS, she said the hospital asked her whether she had heard the negative press around treatment of DCIS.
"We were told 'We really don't know, out of people who have this, who is going to go on and get aggressive breast cancer and who isn't'."
French said she was offered everything from a complete left breast mastectomy to the lump being removed, although they said a mastectomy would be "quite severe".
She opted to have the lump removed and went into hospital on 29 January. She was told on 13 February that the surrounding area was clear of cancer but radiation treatment was suggested as an "insurance policy".
French agreed to have the treatment, which spanned 15 sessions over three weeks. She said for her the decision was guided by what the experts said.
"If they'd said to me at the timethat it would have been best to have a left mastectomy, I would have gone along with them, because I have been brought up to believe people in white coats."
She has no regrets about her decision – she is now clear of cancer but being monitored – but welcomed the prospect of a reliable test. "If this is what it seems, that would be marvellous for the future for people in my situation," she said.Haroon Siddique
Researchers announce discovery of proteins that can be blocked to prevent the launch of sperm cells during ejaculation
A pill that provides a safe, effective and reversible method of contraception for men has been brought a step closer by scientists.
Researchers identified two proteins that can be blocked to prevent the launch of sperm cells from the testes during ejaculation. Knocking out the proteins in genetically engineered mice resulted in male animals that were completely infertile, though they continued to mate normally. A similar goal could theoretically be achieved by suppressing the proteins with drugs, scientists say. In fact, medicines for prostate enlargement and high blood pressure already exist that blocks one of them.
"This concept is indeed a feasible mechanism of producing male contraception," the Australian and British researchers wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A male contraceptive pill has been the holy grail of fertility scientists, but one that has proved frustratingly elusive.
Compared with developing a female pill, designing a male version is a far more difficult process. Most approaches have relied on hormonal targets or rendering sperm dysfunctional. One major problem is ensuring that every one of the millions of sperm cells produced by a man is stopped from carrying out its job of fertilising the female egg, because it takes only one sperm to produce a baby.
Tampering with sperm must also present no risk of altering an offspring's genetics. In addition, a male oral contraceptive should ideally be readily reversible, and leave sexual function unaffected. The new approach appears to tick all these boxes, raising the prospect of a pill for men that is 100% reliable and can be taken when needed.
The two proteins, alpha1A-adrenoceptor and P2X1-purinoceptor, are both "receptor" molecules on which other agents act to trigger biological processes. Together they enable sperm cells to be transported from the testes to the penis through a muscular tube called the vas deferens, which contracts during ejaculation.
Deleting genes for the proteins produced male mice that were 100% infertile, wrote the researchers led by Dr Sabatino Ventura, from Monash University in Victoria, Australia. Importantly, complete loss of fertility in the "knockout" mice did not affect their sex drive or normal sexual activity. "This bypasses perhaps the greatest stumbling block in the quest for a socially acceptable male contraceptive," the scientists wrote.
The mice appeared normal and did not suffer any side-effects that would make such a treatment unthinkable for humans. They were also able to father normal offspring, after having sperm extracted from their testes and injected into female eggs.
Adrenoceptor-blocking drugs are already in widespread use as treatments for benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) – non-cancerous prostate enlargement – and high blood pressure, the researchers pointed out.
"Development of only a suitable P2X1-purinoceptor antagonist [blocker] is required before this pharmacological strategy for male contraception can be trialled," they added.
Maps of neural circuitry show women's brains are suited to social skills and memory, men's perception and co-ordination
Scientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark differences exist in the wiring of male and female brains.
Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women's brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men's brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions.
Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men's brains apparently wired more for perception and co-ordinated actions, and women's for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking.
"If you look at functional studies, the left of the brain is more for logical thinking, the right of the brain is for more intuitive thinking. So if there's a task that involves doing both of those things, it would seem that women are hardwired to do those better," Verma said. "Women are better at intuitive thinking. Women are better at remembering things. When you talk, women are more emotionally involved – they will listen more."
She added: "I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men."
The findings come from one of the largest studies to look at how brains are wired in healthy males and females. The maps give scientists a more complete picture of what counts as normal for each sex at various ages. Armed with the maps, they hope to learn more about whether abnormalities in brain connectivity affect brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.
Verma's team used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging to map neural connections in the brains of 428 males and 521 females aged eight to 22. The neural connections are much like a road system over which the brain's traffic travels.
The scans showed greater connectivity between the left and right sides of the brain in women, while the connections in men were mostly confined to individual hemispheres. The only region where men had more connections between the left and right sides of the brain was in the cerebellum, which plays a vital role in motor control. "If you want to learn how to ski, it's the cerebellum that has to be strong," Verma said. Details of the study are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Male and female brains showed few differences in connectivity up to the age of 13, but became more differentiated in 14- to 17-year-olds.
"It's quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are," Ruben Gur, a co-author on the study, said in a statement. "Detailed connectome maps of the brain will not only help us better understand the differences between how men and women think, but it will also give us more insight into the roots of neurological disorders, which are often sex-related."Ian Sample
Researchers find that nasal sprays laced with oxytocin help youngsters interact better, but the effects do not last long
A nasal spray laced with the "love hormone" oxytocin could help children with autism learn to handle social situations better, US researchers claim. Scans of children with autistic spectrum disorder showed that a single dose of the chemical improved brain responses to facial expressions, a shift that could make social interactions feel more natural and rewarding for them.
The scientists behind the research said a course of oxytocin might boost the success of behavioural therapies that are already used to help people with autism learn to cope with social situations.
"Over time, what you would expect to see is more appropriate social responding, being more interested in interacting with other people, more eye contact and more conversational ability," said Kevin Pelphrey, director of the child neuroscience lab at Yale University.
Autism is a developmental disorder seen in more than one in 100 people. The condition affects individuals in different ways, but is characterised by difficulties in social interaction and communication. So far, there is no established treatment for the social problems caused by autism.
Researchers at Yale have studied the brain chemical oxytocin as a potential treatment for the social impairments caused by autism because it plays a crucial role in bonding and trust. Results have been mixed, though: one recent study found no significant benefit for youths given the chemical over several days. But Pelphrey said oxytocin might help the brain learn from social interactions; it would work best when used with therapies that encourage people with autism to engage more socially, he said. "Our study shows that oxytocin affects the brain and opens up the possibility that, when combined with behavioural treatments, it works like a social enhancer," he said.
The scientists used a technique called functional MRI to scan the brains of 17 youths aged eight to 16 with autism while they looked at images of cars or the eyes of people expressing various emotions. The scans were given 45 minutes after the participants inhaled a placebo or oxytocin through a nasal spray.
The scans showed that reward circuitry in the children's brains behaved more normally after a snort of oxytocin, being more active when the person was looking at faces and less active when viewing the inanimate cars. The study appears in the latest issue of the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.
"If this is replicated, it suggests that oxytocin might treat something for which we don't have a treatment in autism, and that's the core social motivation," Pelphrey told the Guardian.
He warned that it was too early to use oxytocin as a treatment for the social difficulties caused by autism and cautioned against buying oxytocin from suppliers online. "We don't want them running out on the basis of this study or any other and trying oxytocin at home. There is no telling what they are buying. We are nowhere near thinking this is a ready treatment. It needs more follow up," he said.
"This is an important new study in identifying changes in brain activity in key regions of the brain involved in social cognition in autism following oxytocin administration," said Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University.
A surprising finding however is that oxytocin nasal spray did not change performance on the social cognitive task. Nor is it clear yet if oxytocin only has benefits for people with autism, and no unwanted side effects. Finally, oxytocin effects only last about 45 minutes, so there may be practical considerations as to whether this could be used as a treatment.
"From a scientific perspective, this study has a lot of evidence from animal and human work to justify serious attention, but more research is needed. Doctors should be cautious about the clinical potential of this hormone until we know much more about its benefits and risks, in much larger studies."
Uta Frith, who studies autism at University College London, said: "According to this study, oxytocin may have an effect of making faces more interesting as assessed by greater activity in brain structures concerned with reward evaluation. Disappointingly, this effect is seen only in brain activity and not in behaviour. Demonstrating an effect on behaviour will be critical if nasal spray treatment is to be of any value."Ian Sample
Researchers are pioneering treatments on the continent, for health challenges unique to the continent – but despite the successes African research institutions continue to lag behind
Professor Yasien Sayed, at Wits University in Johannesburg, recently celebrated a colossal advance in the study of HIV. Big pharma doesn't differentiate between the strain of HIV caught by people living in sub-Saharan Africa and the strains caught in Europe and America. This is a major problem because the virus itself is continent-specific.
Sayed said the plight of HIV-infected patients is aggravated because pharmaceutical companies investigating ARV design are not designing subtype specific drugs – "because it is not in their financial interests … in my opinion, big pharmaceutical companies are not interested in South Africa or sub-Saharan Africa because we are not a viable economic market".
"The problem is that all the drugs currently available to treat HIV worldwide have been designed to target the subtype B virus of HIV – the major cause of infection in North America and Europe," he continued.
The vast majority – 70% of adults and 88% of children - infected with HIV worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa, but almost all of the treatment developed to date has been designed using the research into the North American and European strains.
So Sayed set out to study the strains of HIV that affect sub-Saharan Africa. He is working towards a treatment for the subtype C virus, which is present in more than 95% of South African HIV infections.
A Wits university spokesperson said: "This has significant implications for Africa, India and China where the subtype A and C viruses account for the majority of infections."
Sayed collaborated with organic chemists Professor Thavendran Govender and Professor Gert Kruger from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the chemist Professor Emeritus Perry Kaye from Rhodes University to do the work. This groundbreaking work is a prime example of how research institutions across Africa are working hard to solve Africa-specific problems.
At the Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, Phd students toil over the health issues that are the scourge of their country. In particular, researchers there are experts in the field of zoonoses: the study the transmission of diseases from animals to humans. 80% of Ugandan's live in rural areas so diseases that cross between species are a serious problem.
Diarrhoea is one of the conditions that can easily be transferred from animals to humans, in this case pigs. The disease kills 14,000 Ugandan children under the age of five every year and in the districts of Gulu and Soroti, 15% of households keep pigs. For his Phd Dr Kokas Ikwap studied the salmonellae infections in the pigs kept by families in Gulu and Soroti. He found that 39% of households had at least one animal with salmonellae.
Denis Rwabiita Mugizi is studying the transmission of brucellosis from cows to their handlers in the in Gulu and Soroti districts; while Margaret Nabukenya, studied helminthosis (tapeworms) found in goats in Gulu and Mpigi districts. She discovered that the disease is spread by gastro-intestinal parasites. Helminthosis affects nutritional intake and leads to poor weight gain in both goats and humans. As well as being bad for the health it is bad for business, lowering the return that farmers get when they sell their goat meat. This is particularly important, Margaret explains, when you take in to account the fact that 5.2% of the country's GDP comes from livestock products (pdf).
Across the continent in Ghana, the ministry of health has teamed up with one of its own leading universities and a German university to form a world class research institution to study tropical medicine in the rain forest region of Kumasi.
The Kumasi Center for collaborative research in tropical medicine (KCCR) is a joint venture between the ministry of health, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, KNUST, Ghana, and the Bernhard-Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, (BNITM), Hamburg, Germany. Working in partnership with academic teams from around the world the centre is seeking cures for a wide variety of diseases including malaria, HIV and tuberculosis. And it has achieved much.
For all the successes and breakthroughs, African research institutions as a whole still have some way to go. Professor Mark Taylor from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine has been working in partnership with KCCR's research scientists for over 10 years.
Taylor said that although Ghana's wealth and infrastructure has increased dramatically over the past decade there were still many people living with the diseases of poverty. He said that although great advances are being made – together with professor Ohene Adjei and Dr Alex Yaw Debrah from KCCR, Taylor's team has successfully developed a drug to treat elephantiasis – African research institutions would always lag behind, because "technology in the developed countries moves so fast. Unless you are at the forefront you cannot hope to keep up."
According to Taylor, the next big challenge for Africa's research institutions is not to catched up with Western institutions but to make them more sustainable. Explaining what that would mean, he said: "To develop the infrastructure of their universities and get the balance between research, teaching and governance right." It is fair to say that while investing in individual researchers and departments is already paying dividends, the challenge for African research institutions remain – and so do the challenges for public health.
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