Heading footballs and Gesturing Ravens

How heading footballs could lead to brain injuries, a new target for drugs against Malaria and more evidence for the cleverness of corvids...
02 December 2011

Interview with 

Andrew Tobin, University of Leicester; Michael Lipton, Einstein school of Medicine; Thomas Bugnyar, Max Planck School of Ornithology.


New Malaria Drug Target

A new drug target to fight Malaria has been identified by scientists at the University of Leicester.The disease results in nearly 800,000 deaths globally each year and is caused by invasion of the parasite plasmodium falciparum in red blood cells . Current drugs on the market have started to see resistance develop against them causing scientists to be on the lookout for new ways to kill the parasite.

Now Andrew Tobin's team have identified a crucial group of proteins known as kinases needed by the parasite to survive in the bloodstream, making them a prime target to stop  invasion.

'Headers' could cause brain injury

Too many headers when playing football could lead to serious brain injuries according to work presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological society of North America this week.

By scanning the brains of 32 amateur football players in the US, Michael Lipton from the Albert Einstein college of Medicine found that players who frequently header the ball during games had brain abnormalities in regions such as those responsible for memory and attention, causing changes similar to those in patients with traumatic brain injury or concussion.

Lipton identified a threshold level of 1000 to 1500 headers per year before significant damage is caused.

Gesturing Ravens

Ravens have been found to point and gesture at objects to attract each others attention, in a similar way to humans.

Previously, the only animal group thought to use gestures such as pointing to draw attention to something and holding an object for another to take, were the great apes. But now, after two years monitoring ravens in the wild, Thomas Bugnyar and colleagues from the Max Planck institute of Ornithology found the birds using their beaks to show or offer objects such as twigs and stones either to interest the opposite sex or strengthen social bonds.

The work adds further evidence to theories of a convergent evolution of the corvid bird family, which includes ravens, in parallel to the evolution of humans.


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