Friday, October 17, 2008

Colossal Black Holes Common In Early Universe, Spectacular Galactic Collision Suggests

Artist’s conception of the 4C60.07 system of colliding galaxies. The galaxy on the left has turned most of its gas into stars, and the black hole in its center is ejecting charged particles in the two immense jets shown. The galaxy on the right also has a black hole causing the galaxy’s central region to shine, but much of its light is hidden by surrounding gas and dust. Vast numbers of stars are forming out of the gas and dust, and some of the material is being pulled away from the galaxy. (Credit: David A. Hardy/UK ATC)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 16, 2008) — Astronomers think that many - perhaps all - galaxies in the universe contain massive black holes at their centers. New observations with the Submillimeter Array now suggest that such colossal black holes were common even 12 billion years ago, when the universe was only 1.7 billion years old and galaxies were just beginning to form.

The new conclusion comes from the discovery of two distant galaxies, both with black holes at their heart, which are involved in a spectacular collision.

4C60.07, the first of the galaxies to be discovered, came to astronomers' attention because of its bright radio emission. This radio signal is one telltale sign of a quasar - a rapidly spinning black hole that is feeding on its home galaxy.

When 4C60.07 was first studied, astronomers thought that hydrogen gas surrounding the black hole was undergoing a burst of star formation, forming stars at a remarkable rate - the equivalent of 5,000 suns every year. This vigorous activity was revealed by the infrared glow from smoky debris left over when the largest stars rapidly died.

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Awesome Pictures Of The Sun published some great pictures of the Sun. The link is HERE.

The Power Of Music

Amazing Power of Music Revealed -- Live Science

More than 7,000 runners who raced earlier this month in a half-marathon in London were under the influence of a scientifically derived and powerful performance-enhancing stimulant — pop music.

The dance-able, upbeat music at London's "Run to the Beat" race was selected on the basis of the research and consultation of sport psychologist Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in England. He has learned how to devise soundtracks that are just as powerful, if not more so, as some of the not-so-legal substances that athletes commonly take to excel.

"Music is a great way to regulate mood both before and during physical activity. A lot of athletes use music as if it's a legal drug," Karageorghis told LiveScience. "They can use it as a stimulant or as a sedative. Generally speaking, loud upbeat music has a stimulating effect and slow music reduces arousal."

The link between music and athletic performance is just one example of the inroads scientists and doctors are making into understanding the amazing power that music has over our minds and bodies. Science is backing up our intuition and experience, showing that music really does kill pain, reduce stress, better our brains and basically change how we experience life.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Even Moderate Alcohol Seems To Shrink Brain

From Future Pundit:

Using 1,839 subjects in the Framingham Offspring Study examined with functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) researchers find that even lower levels of alcohol drinking are associated with more rapid brain shrinkage with age.

Increasing alcohol intake was associated with loss in total brain volume greater than expected from age alone (P<0.001), reported Carol Ann Paul, of Wellesley College, and colleagues in the October issue of the Archives of Neurology. In the cross-sectional study, women were affected more strongly than men by moderate alcohol intake averaging one to two drinks a day (eight to 14 per week). Do you drink two drinks a day? If so, you are probably getting dumber faster than you need to. The hope was that cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption would keep the brain better fed with blood and slow brain aging. But that hope seems unrealistic now. The cardiovascular benefits of low to moderate alcohol intake are thought to result from increasing blood flow rates, which would have been expected to benefit the brain also, Paul said. But rather than preventing normal age-related volume reductions, the effects of moderate drinking were closer to those of heavy drinking, which has been linked to brain atrophy and cognitive decline, the researchers noted.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

World's Hottest Ever Planet Is Discovered - At A Sizzling 2250C It's Half As Hot As The Sun!

Hottest ever: The new planet is half the temperature of the Sun (Image from the Daily Mail)

From The Daily Mail:

Scientists have made an amazing discovery in space - the hottest ever planet ever found.

The planet, known as WASP-12b, is believed to be an amazing 2250 Centigrade, about half as hot as the Sun.

The planet, which one and half times the size of Jupiter, orbits at one fortieth the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Despite the mind-boggling temperature of the new planet, it may not necessarily keep hold of its record for long. Wasp-12b only just edges out the last record-holder HD 149026b, which is a searing 2040 Centigrade.

The discovery was made using two sets of telescopes, one in Spain's Canary Islands and the other in South Africa, to search for signs of 'transiting' planets, which pass in front of and dim their host stars as seen from Earth.

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Reading This Will Change Your Brain

Jeff Sherman / Taxi-Getty Images (Photo from Newsweek)

From Newsweek:

A leading neuroscientist says processing digital information can rewire your circuits. But is it evolution?

Is technology changing our brains? A new study by UCLA neuroscientist Gary Small adds to a growing body of research that says it is. And according to Small's new book, "iBRAIN: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind," a dramatic shift in how we gather information and communicate with one another has touched off an era of rapid evolution that may ultimately change the human brain as we know it. "Perhaps not since early man first discovered how to use a tool has the human brain been affected so quickly and so dramatically," he writes. "As the brain evolves and shifts its focus towards new technological skills, it drifts away from fundamental social skills."

The impact of technology on our circuitry should not come as a surprise. The brain's plasticity—it's ability to change in response to different stimuli—is well known. Professional musicians have more gray matter in brain regions responsible for planning finger movements. And athletes' brains are bulkier in areas that control hand-eye coordination. That's because the more time you devote to a specific activity, the stronger the neural pathways responsible for executing that activity become. So it makes sense that people who process a constant stream of digital information would have more neurons dedicated to filtering that information. Still, that's not the same thing as evolution.

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Mysterious Cyclones Seen At Both of Saturn's Poles

From National Geographic:

Saturn boasts cyclones at each of its poles that dramatically outpower Earth-roving hurricanes, new images reveal.

The Cassini spacecraft—a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency—recently peered below what had previously appeared to be isolated cumulus clouds at the planet's south pole.

"What looked like puffy clouds in lower resolution images are turning out to be deep convective structures seen through the atmospheric haze," Cassini imaging team member Tony Del Genio said in a press release.

"One of them has punched through to a higher altitude and created its own little vortex."

"Little" is relative—the eye of the storm is surrounded by an outer ring of clouds that measures 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) wide. That's about five times the size of the largest cyclones, or hurricanes, on Earth.

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Einstein's Relativity Survives Neutrino Test

From E! Science News:

Physicists working to disprove "Lorentz invariance" -- Einstein's prediction that matter and massless particles will behave the same no matter how they're turned or how fast they go -- won't get that satisfaction from muon neutrinos, at least for the time being, says a consortium of scientists. The test of Lorentz invariance, conducted by MINOS Experiment scientists and reported in the Oct. 10 issue of Physical Review Letters, started with a stream of muon neutrinos produced at Fermilab particle accelerator, near Chicago, and ended with a neutrino detector 750 meters away and 103 meters below ground. As the Earth does its daily rotation, the neutrino beam rotates too.

"If there's a field out there that can cause violations of Lorentz invariance, we should be able to see its effects as the beam rotates in space," said Indiana University Bloomington astrophysicist Stuart Mufson, a project leader. "But we did not. Einsteinian relativity lives to see another day."

Mufson is quick to point out that the Physical Review Letters report does not disprove the existence of a Lorentz-violating field. Despite the sophistication and power of MINOS's detector, "It may be that the field's effects are so exceedingly small that you'd need extraordinary tools to detect it," Mufson said.

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Asia Trumping US On Science R&D

(Click To Enlarge)

From Christian Science Monitor:

Federal funding for research has been falling in real terms. Is the nation’s economic edge at stake?

Tallying this year’s Nobel Prizes so far, it’s been a respectable year for US-based scientists. Four shared the prestigious awards – three for chemistry and one as part of an international trio for physics.

As congratulations pour in, however, some science-policy specialists in the United States see troubling signs that federal support for research – measured by checks written rather than checks promised – may be weakening.

To those involved in federally funded research, their work represents a kind of intellectual infrastructure that, if allowed to erode, can begin to undermine the country’s economic competitiveness.

The immediate concern is the continuing resolution the president signed Sept. 30. Congress punted final passage of the federal budget to next March. Except for the Defense Department, other federal agencies responsible for performing or funding research must hold spending at or below fiscal year 2008 levels.

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Coolest Inventions Of 2008

From Popular Mechanics:

Popular Mechanics Picks Them; The complete list can be found HERE.

Genetic Reasons For Baldness

Hope for the hairless: Researchers in Europe isolated stem cells from the hair follicles of mice (shown here under a microscope) and transplanted them onto the backs of hairless animals, which then sprouted hair. Credit: Nature Genetics

Baldness Genes -- Technology Review

Finding the genetic causes could lead to new therapies for baldness.

It may be small comfort to anyone sporting a comb-over, but researchers have found a second genetic risk factor for baldness.

Two groups, working independently, found variants on chromosome 20 that are associated with male pattern baldness--the most common cause of hair loss in men, and the root of a multimillion-dollar industry devoted to protecting, nurturing, and transplanting hair.

A third report identifies a new kind of stem cell in the hair follicles of mice that, when transplanted onto the skin of hairless rodents, causes the animals to sprout tufts of hair.

These latest findings offer greater insight into the genetic underpinnings of male pattern baldness, and into the process that produces a glorious head of hair in the unafflicted. According to a research team led by Tim Spector of King's College London, figuring out the genetic variants linked to the disorder could lead to gene therapies for baldness. The discovery of a risk factor on chromosome 20 may point to "an intriguing new potential target" for gene therapy.

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Earliest Known Human TB Found In 9,000 Year-old Skeletons

The Skeletons submerged at the Alit-Yam site.
(Credit: Image courtesy of University College London)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 15, 2008) — The discovery of the earliest known cases of human tuberculosis (TB) in bones found submerged off the coast of Israel shows that the disease is 3000 years older than previously thought. Direct examination of this ancient DNA confirms the latest theory that bovine TB evolved later than human TB.

The new research, led by scientists from UCL (University College London) and Tel-Aviv University and published today in PLoS One, sheds light on how the TB bacterium has evolved over the millennia and increases our understanding of how it may change in the future.

The bones, thought to be of a mother and baby, were excavated from Alit-Yam, a 9000 year-old Pre-Pottery Neolithic village, which has been submerged off the coast of Haifa, Israel for thousands of years. Professor Israel Hershkovitz, from Tel-Aviv University's Department of Anatomy, noticed the characteristic bone lesions that are signs of TB in skeletons from the settlement, one of the earliest with evidence of domesticated cattle.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New Evidence Provides An Alternative Route 'Out Of Africa' For Early Humans

A generalized map of the Sahara shows the location of the sample sites and the fossilized river courses. (Credit: Anne Osborne)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 15, 2008) — The widely held belief that the Nile valley was the most likely route out of sub-Saharan Africa for early modern humans 120,000 year ago is challenged in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team led by the University of Bristol shows that wetter conditions reached a lot further north than previously thought, providing a wet 'corridor' through Libya for early human migrations. The results also help explain inconsistencies between archaeological finds.

While it is widely accepted that modern humans originated in sub-Saharan Africa 150-200 thousand years ago, their route of dispersal across the hyper-arid Sahara remains controversial. The Sahara covers most of North Africa and to cross it on foot would be a serious undertaking, even today with the most advanced equipment.

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Why Women Have Bad Teeth

Anthropologist John Lukacs shows a 250,000-year-old "Kabwe skull" from Africa. The sex is unknown, but this specimen has 15 teeth still intact or partially present. 12 of them have obvious damage from dental cavities. Credit: Jim Barlow/U. of Oregon

From Live Science:

Women had poor dental health compared to men back in the hunter-gatherer era, and it got worse as societies turned to farming.

Now an anthropologist is pointing to an overlooked explanation — hormonal and dietary changes related to higher pregnancy rates.

Anthropologists usually argue that women's poor dental health resulted from culture-driven factors, such as cooking duties and the ongoing nibbling that can go along with that. But that narrow focus may overlook biological factors connected to women bearing more and more children in agricultural societies.

Today, men are more likely than women to suffer from gum disease, possibly because men are more likely to ignore dental care, according to Delta Dental. Nonetheless, women do not tend to have better oral health than men, for hormonal reasons, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.

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NASA To Start Long Distance Repairs On Hubble

Hubble Space Telescope is seen with ground view in this picture taken from Space Shuttle in March 2002. (NASA/Handout/Reuters)

From Yahoo News/AP:

WASHINGTON - NASA engineers say they know how to fix the broken Hubble Space Telescope: They have to wake up computer parts that have been sleeping in space for more than 18 years.

On Wednesday, NASA will start a complicated remote-control fix of a major glitch that stopped the telescope from capturing and beaming down pictures. Hubble should be able to send stunning astronomy photos back to Earth by Friday, officials said.

The abrupt failure more than two weeks ago caused NASA to postpone its Hubble upgrade mission from October to sometime next February or so. The delay is costing NASA about $10 million a month, officials said in a Tuesday teleconference.

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Chimps 90 Percent Gone In A "Final Stronghold"

A young chimpanzee is shown in Côte d'Ivoire's Taï National Park in an undated photo. (Photo from National Geographic)

From The National Geographic:

West African chimpanzees have declined by 90 percent in the last 18 years in an African country that is one of the subspecies' "final strongholds," a new study stays.

Scientists counting the rare chimps in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) found only about 800 to 1,200 of the apes—down from about 8,000 to 12,000 in 1989-90. Before the new survey, the country had been thought to harbor about half of all West African chimps.

"We were not expecting such a drastic decrease," said lead author Geneviève Campbell, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

The 1989-90 survey had itself represented a significant decline from 1960s estimates of about a hundred thousand West African Chimps in Côte d'Ivoire.

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Men Who Never Smoke Live Longer, Better Lives Than Heavy Smokers

From E! Science News:

Health-related quality of life appears to deteriorate as the number of cigarettes smoked per day increases, even in individuals who subsequently quit smoking, according to a report in the October 13 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. Smoking has been shown to shorten men's lives between seven and 10 years, according to background information in the article. It also has been linked to factors that may reduce quality of life, including poor nutrition and lower socioeconomic status.

Arto Y. Strandberg, M.D., of the University of Helsinki, and colleagues followed 1,658 white men born between 1919 and 1934 who were healthy at their first assessment, conducted in 1974. Participants were mailed follow-up questionnaires in 2000 that assessed their current smoking status, health and quality of life. Deaths were tracked through Finnish national registers.

During the 26-year follow-up period, 372 (22.4 percent) of the men died. Those who had never smoked lived an average of 10 years longer than heavy smokers (more than 20 cigarettes per day). Non-smokers also had the best scores on all health-related quality of life measures, especially those associated with physical functioning. Physical health deteriorated at an increasing rate as the number of cigarettes smoked per day increased, with heavy smokers experiencing a decline equivalent to 10 years of aging.

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Archaeological Dig Uncovers Roman Mystery

Archeologist Roger Wilson pulls out the clay amphora from its 1,500 year hiding place. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Roger Wilson from Science Daily)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 14, 2008) — University of British Columbia archaeologists have dug up a mystery worthy of Indiana Jones, one that includes a tomb, skeletons and burial rites with both Christian and pagan elements.

This summer, Prof. Roger Wilson led excavations at Kaukana, an ancient Roman village located near Punta Secca, a small town in the south-eastern province of Ragusa in Sicily.

Combing through the sand-buried site, the 15-member team made a series of startling discoveries. Central to the mystery was finding a tomb inside a room in a house dating from the sixth century AD.

Wilson explains that tombs during this period are normally found only in cemeteries outside the built-up area of a town, or around the apse of a church. And since the building was substantial with mortared walls and internal plaster, this would have been likely a tomb for the wealthy.

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Home Lighting Could Be Wireless Network

An illustration shows an office where LED lighting provides both illumination and wireless communication. Credit: Boston University

From Live Science:

Lights may soon do more than just shine in dark places – they might wirelessly connect your computer, phone or car to the Internet.

Sounds strange, but consider this. Remote controls already use infrared light to communicate with TVs and DVD players. Turning ceiling and reading lamps into wireless access points could allow you to get your Internet fix almost anywhere.

"We can provide ubiquitous communication if we have network access wherever there's lighting," said Thomas Little, a computer engineer at Boston University.

These aren't just any lights, though. Little and other researchers hope to piggyback on the spread of light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs, which are finding favor as low-energy, long-lasting alternatives to the more conventional incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Step Aside, Chicken Soup: Eight Cold Elixirs

From ABC News:

Spanning the Globe in Search of Alternative Home Remedies for the Common Cold
No matter where you live or what language you speak, the symptoms of a coldare understood the world over -- no translation required: Your throat feels sore; your nose runs; you might cough or sneeze; and your body aches.

It's time to crawl under the covers and get the extra rest you need.

But a cold virus will need some coaxing to hit the road. Colds rarely make a quick exit and usually take about a week to run their course.

That's where the time-honored tradition of folk medicine comes into play.

Faced with a cold and a lack of modern medicine, our ancestors turned to nature for its treatments. And throughout the world, parts of plants -- the roots, stems, leaves, fruits and flowers -- are used to ease a cold and its symptoms.

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For U.S. Astronauts, A Russian Second Home

The centrifuge at Star City is large enough for people to ride in and subjects them to high G-forces such as those experienced during spacecraft launches and re-entries. (Photo from the New York Times)

From The New York Times:

STAR CITY, Russia — Garrett Reisman was on his way to this formerly secret military base for several weeks of training, making his way through Kennedy Airport, when his cellphone rang. It was his boss, Steven W. Lindsey, the head of NASA’s astronaut office.

“Come back to Houston. They’ve canceled your training — they’re playing hardball,” Mr. Reisman recalled his boss saying. He was caught in a momentarily important dispute between NASA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.

Ultimately, Mr. Reisman’s aborted trip was just a bump in the road on the way to space: he spent three months aboard the International Space Station earlier this year, performed a spacewalk and even traded jokes over a video link with Stephen Colbert.

Everyone who works with the Russian space program has similar stories to tell of implacable bureaucrats, byzantine rules and decisions that seem capricious at best. And many of those stories are played out here in Star City, where cosmonauts and, now, astronauts from all over the world train to fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to go to the $100 billion International Space Station.

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Google Satellite's Eye-Opening First Picture Promises Even Clearer Views Of Earth

Pin-sharp ... yet GeoEye-1's picture of Pennsylvania's Kutztown University
campus was taken from 423 miles above

From The Daily Mail:

Google's new satellite has beamed back its first picture, taken the moment the on-board camera was switched on.

The crystal-clear image promises to make the internet giant's photographic atlas, Google Earth, even more detailed.

The satellite went live for the first time two days ago following its launch last month from a U.S. air force base in California.

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Introducing the World’s Largest Solar Powered Winery

(Photo from Treehugger)

From Treehugger:

The largest solar installation of any winery in the world is set to be built for Constellation Wines’ Gonzalez winery in Monterrey County, CA by Pacific Power Management. Mitsubishi solar panels will cover 170,000 square feet on the winery warehouse roof, and will generate 1,700,000 kilowatt hours a year—enough to power over 50 percent of the winery’s energy needs.

Solar Powered Wine-Making, Solar Powered Living
What’s more, during the summer months when the winery isn’t operating at full capacity (it doesn’t process grapes in summer months), the electricity will be exported in order to power 25 percent of the energy needs of surrounding residential areas—1,695 homes in the city of Gonzalez.

This may very well be the most expansive effort to power a winery with alternative energy (though there are more than a few very green wineries already in operation, and it won't lay claim to the first carbon neutral winery).

Read more .....

Haemorrhagic Virus Carried By Common African Mouse

From the New Scientist:

Three people have died and another is seriously ill with a previously unknown strain of a virus carried by a common African rodent. The virus requires close contact to spread, but experts warn that more like it could be circulating.

A 36-year-old woman on a small farm outside the Zambian capital Lusaka developed flu-like symptoms in early September. When they worsened she was taken by air ambulance to South Africa, where she died.

Alarms were raised after the ambulance paramedic and the nurse who attended her also died after developing similar symptoms two weeks later. The nurse who tended the paramedic is also in a serious condition.

On Sunday South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced that the victims were infected by an arenavirus, one of a family of viruses carried by rodents.

"They are very widespread," says Bob Swanepoel, former head of the NICD and one of the world's leading experts on haemorrhagic viruses. In Africa, arenaviruses are carried, with no symptoms, by the multimammate mouse, a common farm pest sold in Europe as a "pocket pet".

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Fusion Will Be Cracked "Within 30 Years"

(Click To Enlarge)
Temperatures inside the fusion reactor will reach 100 million degrees Celsius (ITER.ORG)

From Swissinfo:

Despite the complexity and high research and development costs, scientists are convinced they can unlock the massive power of nuclear fusion within a generation.

On Monday the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor Organisation (ITER) signed a cooperation agreement at the opening of an IAEA fusion energy conference, held in Geneva.

"ITER is one of the most important scientific projects in the world," said IAEA's director general, Yuri Sokolov.

ITER, or "the way" in Latin, is an experimental reactor being built in Cadarache, southern France, which has a practical goal: to establish whether fusion, the nuclear reaction that powers the sun and the hydrogen bomb, can be tamed to generate useful power on Earth.

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Break Out The Bubbly: White Wine May Be Good For You

From The New Scientist:

White wine lovers can feel a little less guilty about their habit. New research suggests that white varieties may offer similar heart benefits to red wines.

Rats that were fed white wine as part of their diet suffered less heart damage during cardiac arrest, compared to animals fed only water or grain alcohol. These benefits were similar to animals that ingested a red wine or its wonder ingredient found only in grape skin, resveratrol.

White wine, made from the pulp of the grape but not the skin, contains no resveratrol, which led many to pin the so-called "French paradox" – high fat intake but low rates of heart disease – on moderate consumption of red wines.

Not just reds, says Dipak Das, a molecular biologist at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington. "The flesh of the grape can do the same job as the skin."

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