Research Round-up: Week 1

Shreya Kulkarni 9 February 2015

1) A group of astronomers have teamed up with researchers from the University of Cambridge to delve back into the early years of the universe, to discover the role quasers – extremely luminous galactic objects powered by a supermassive black hole in the core. Using telescopes and supercomputer simulations, the team were able to mimick the action of these stellar objects, driven by the energy drawn in by supermassive black holes. Looking back 13 billion years, the team found that quasars spat out cold gas at high speeds of 2,000km per second! “It is the first time that we have seen outflowing cold gas moving at these large speeds at such large distances from the supermassive black hole,” said Claudia Cicone, a PhD student at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. The findings help shine a light into the beginnings of our universe.

2) A 20 minute walk a day could be enough to reduce the risk of early death, as recent research shows that lack of exercise is responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity. Collating data on from over 300,00 men and women from across Europe, researchers measured the height, weight, waste circumference and self-assessed level of physical activity. The study found a significant reduction in risk of premature death in the moderately active compared to those who were inactive. Only a 20 minute walk a day, burning 90-110kcal, could reduce the risk by 16-30 per cent. Professor Ulf Ekelund from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the study, says: “This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive.”

3) The spread of the fatal Lassa fever may have roots in the human to human transmission of “superspreaders”, suggest researchers, who are part of the “Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium”. Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness, that in 20 per cent of cases is spread due to human-to-human contact. The danger comes in ‘super spreaders’: individuals who spread the disease to a disproportionate number of people. Researchers hope that by highlighting this mode of transmission, changes can be put into place to control Lassa fever. Dr Grant, co-author of the research said: “Simple messages to the local people could change their perceptions of risk and hopefully make the difference. For example, making people aware that the virus can remain in urine for several weeks during the recovery period, could promote improved hygienic practices.”