Riviste scientifiche

Police can now track killers using relatives’ DNA – but should they?

New Scientist - Me, 08/08/2018 - 20:00
Genetic genealogy services are rapidly becoming a key source of forensic evidence, but do we really want the police to have access to everyone's DNA?

Ecstasy-like drugs might relieve social difficulties in autism

New Scientist - Me, 08/08/2018 - 20:00
Mouse studies hint that social difficulties in autism might be caused by faulty serotonin signalling in the brain and can be helped with serotonin-boosting drugs

Don’t give up, we can survive even a Hothouse Earth

New Scientist - Me, 08/08/2018 - 19:22
Bad news on the climate should lead neither to despair nor unfounded optimism. Instead, we need to roll up our sleeves and prepare for life on a drastically changing planet

The underwater drones that hunt for oil spills beneath the waves

New Scientist - Me, 08/08/2018 - 18:30
Oil behaves strangely in water – now a combination of AI and super-expensive underwater vehicles are being used to track it. Joshua Howgego went along for the ride

US Navy wants to fire a slime cannon at boats to stop them escaping

New Scientist - Me, 08/08/2018 - 17:42
The US Navy wants to make super-expanding weaponised slime, inspired by the hagfish,  that can trap boats in the water

Allergy explosion: They are on the rise, and here’s why

New Scientist - Me, 08/08/2018 - 14:00
Banning nuts on planes and in schools may seem like hysteria, but there's good reason: allergies are becoming more common. And you may not realise how you're affected

California’s worst wildfire in history is now the size of Los Angeles

New Scientist - Me, 08/08/2018 - 13:57
Firefighters are battling high winds and extreme heat as they try to slow the spread of the biggest wildfire ever recorded in California

Neutron stars bend light so much we see their front and back at once

New Scientist - Me, 08/08/2018 - 13:36
Ultra-compact neutron stars are so dense that the light bends around from the far side, making it possible to see all sides of them simultaneously

Benzodiazepine prescribing for children, adolescents, and young adults from 2006 through 2013: A total population register-linkage study

PLoS Medicine - Ma, 07/08/2018 - 23:00

by Anna Sidorchuk, Kayoko Isomura, Yasmina Molero, Clara Hellner, Paul Lichtenstein, Zheng Chang, Johan Franck, Lorena Fernández de la Cruz, David Mataix-Cols


Pharmacoepidemiological studies have long raised concerns on widespread use of benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-related drugs (BZDs), in particular long-term use, among adults and the elderly. In contrast, evidence pertaining to the rates of BZD use at younger ages is still scarce, and the factors that influence BZD utilisation and shape the different prescribing patterns in youths remain largely unexplored. We examined the prevalence rates, relative changes in rates over time, and prescribing patterns for BZD dispensation in young people aged 0–24 years in Sweden during the period January 1, 2006–December 31, 2013, and explored demographic, clinical, pharmacological, and prescriber-related attributes of BZD prescribing in this group.

Methods and findings

Through the linkage of 3 nationwide Swedish health and administrative registers, we collected data on 17,500 children (0–11 years), 15,039 adolescents (12–17 years), and 85,200 young adults (18–24 years) with at least 1 dispensed prescription for a BZD during 2006–2013, out of 3,726,818 Swedish inhabitants aged 0–24 years. Age-specific annual prevalence rates of BZD dispensations were adjusted for population growth, and relative changes in rates were calculated between 2006 and 2013. We analysed how BZD dispensation varied by sex, psychiatric morbidity and epilepsy, concurrent dispensation of psychotropic medication, type of dispensed BZD, and type of healthcare provider prescribing the BZD. Prescribing patterns were established in relation to duration (3 months, >3 to ≤6 months, or >6 months), dosage (<0.5 defined daily dosage [DDD]/day, ≥0.5 to <1.5 DDD/day, or ≥1.5 DDD/day), and “user category” (“regular users” [≥0.5 to <1.5 DDD/day for ≥1 year], “heavy users” [≥1.5 DDD/day for ≥1 year], or otherwise “occasional users”). Multinomial regression models were fitted to test associations between BZD prescribing patterns and individual characteristics of study participants. Between 2006 and 2013, the prevalence rate of BZD dispensation among individuals aged 0–24 years increased by 22% from 0.81 per 100 inhabitants to 0.99 per 100 inhabitants. This increase was mainly driven by a rise in the rate among young adults (+20%), with more modest increases in children (+3%) and adolescents (+7%). Within each age category, overall dispensation of BZD anxiolytics and clonazepam decreased over time, while dispensation of BZD hypnotics/sedatives, including Z-drugs, showed an increase between 2006 and 2013. Out of 117,739 study participants with dispensed BZD prescriptions, 65% initiated BZD prescriptions outside of psychiatric services (92% of children, 60% of adolescents, 60% of young adults), and 76% were dispensed other psychotropic drugs concurrently with a BZD (46% of children, 80% of adolescents, 81% of young adults). Nearly 30% of the participants were prescribed a BZD for longer than 6 months (18% of children, 31% of adolescents, 31% of young adults). A high dose prescription (≥1.5 DDD/day) and heavy use were detected in 2.6% and 1.7% of the participants, respectively. After controlling for potential confounding by demographic and clinical characteristics, the characteristics age above 11 years at the first BZD dispensation, lifetime psychiatric diagnosis or epilepsy, and concurrent dispensation of other psychotropic drugs were found to be associated with higher odds of being prescribed a BZD for longer than 6 months, high dose prescription, and heavy use. Male sex was associated with a higher likelihood of high dose prescription and heavy use, but not with being prescribed a BZD on a long-term basis (> 6 months). The study limitations included lack of information on actual consumption of the dispensed BZDs and unavailability of data on the indications for BZD prescriptions.


The overall increase in prevalence rates of BZD dispensations during the study period and the unexpectedly high proportion of individuals who were prescribed a BZD on a long-term basis at a young age indicate a lack of congruence with international and national guidelines. These findings highlight the need for close monitoring of prescribing practices, particularly in non-psychiatric settings, in order to build an evidence base for safe and efficient BZD treatment in young persons.

Age at puberty and risk of asthma: A Mendelian randomisation study

PLoS Medicine - Ma, 07/08/2018 - 23:00

by Cosetta Minelli, Diana A. van der Plaat, Bénédicte Leynaert, Raquel Granell, Andre F. S. Amaral, Miguel Pereira, Osama Mahmoud, James Potts, Nuala A. Sheehan, Jack Bowden, John Thompson, Debbie Jarvis, George Davey Smith, John Henderson


Observational studies on pubertal timing and asthma, mainly performed in females, have provided conflicting results about a possible association of early puberty with higher risk of adult asthma, possibly due to residual confounding. To overcome issues of confounding, we used Mendelian randomisation (MR), i.e., genetic variants were used as instrumental variables to estimate causal effects of early puberty on post-pubertal asthma in both females and males.

Methods and findings

MR analyses were performed in UK Biobank on 243,316 women using 254 genetic variants for age at menarche, and on 192,067 men using 46 variants for age at voice breaking. Age at menarche, recorded in years, was categorised as early (<12), normal (12–14), or late (>14); age at voice breaking was recorded and analysed as early (younger than average), normal (about average age), or late (older than average). In females, we found evidence for a causal effect of pubertal timing on asthma, with an 8% increase in asthma risk for early menarche (odds ratio [OR] 1.08; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.12; p = 8.7 × 10−5) and an 8% decrease for late menarche (OR 0.92; 95% CI 0.89 to 0.97; p = 3.4 × 10−4), suggesting a continuous protective effect of increasing age at puberty. In males, we found very similar estimates of causal effects, although with wider confidence intervals (early voice breaking: OR 1.07; 95% CI 1.00 to 1.16; p = 0.06; late voice breaking: OR 0.93; 95% CI 0.87 to 0.99; p = 0.03). We detected only modest pleiotropy, and our findings showed robustness when different methods to account for pleiotropy were applied. BMI may either introduce pleiotropy or lie on the causal pathway; secondary analyses excluding variants associated with BMI yielded similar results to those of the main analyses. Our study relies on self-reported exposures and outcomes, which may have particularly affected the power of the analyses on age at voice breaking.


This large MR study provides evidence for a causal detrimental effect of early puberty on asthma, and does not support previous observational findings of a U-shaped relationship between pubertal timing and asthma. Common biological or psychological mechanisms associated with early puberty might explain the similarity of our results in females and males, but further research is needed to investigate this. Taken together with evidence for other detrimental effects of early puberty on health, our study emphasises the need to further investigate and address the causes of the secular shift towards earlier puberty observed worldwide.

Choices in vaccine trial design in epidemics of emerging infections

PLoS Medicine - Ma, 07/08/2018 - 23:00

by Rebecca Kahn, Annette Rid, Peter G. Smith, Nir Eyal, Marc Lipsitch

In a Policy Forum, Marc Lipsitch and colleagues discuss trial design issues in infectious disease outbreaks.

Sound waves are a form of antigravity because they have negative mass

New Scientist - Ma, 07/08/2018 - 17:11
As sound waves travel, they float upwards away from the pull of gravity. That’s because they have negative mass, so they’re repelled by massive objects

Future heatwaves will knock nuclear, gas and coal power plants offline

New Scientist - Ma, 07/08/2018 - 16:54
Power plants are shutting down in the northern hemisphere due to a lack of cool water, and the problem will only get worst in a warming and drier world

New Scientist Live: dogs and people, a 40,000-year love story

New Scientist - Ma, 07/08/2018 - 14:55
In London this September, Juliane Kaminski will be arguing that dogs have spent so long living alongside humans that they have evolved to think just like us

Exploring the Future webinar

New Scientist - Ma, 07/08/2018 - 11:24
Join our panel of experts discussing the emerging technologies that are set to change our lives by 2030

Extreme weather finally brings home the reality of climate change

New Scientist - Ma, 07/08/2018 - 11:00
Climate scientists have shied away from attributing heatwaves and floods to global warming – but now there can be no more denying the facts

Meet Bob the tame flamingo who has become a local superstar

New Scientist - Ma, 07/08/2018 - 09:00
Bob became a celebrity on the Caribbean island of Curaçao after injuring himself by flying into a window of the island's Hilton Hotel

Global warming may become unstoppable even if we stick to Paris target

New Scientist - Lu, 06/08/2018 - 22:00
There could be a planetary threshold beyond which the earth will keep warming even if we stop pumping out more fossil fuels - the so-called 'Hothouse Earth' scenario

Women more likely to survive heart attacks if treated by female doctor

New Scientist - Lu, 06/08/2018 - 22:00
An analysis of more than 580,000 heart attacks found that women are slightly less likely to die from a heart attack if they are seen by a female doctor

More than 90 people killed in massive earthquake on island of Lombok

New Scientist - Lu, 06/08/2018 - 19:38
Rescuers still have not reached some devastated parts of the Indonesian tourist island of Lombok after a powerful earthquake flattened houses and toppled bridges
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