Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fish; Bird-Brain Food

It's true:

The global decline in seabird populations is of growing concern to ecologists, and now researchers have discovered a new cause – some may be becoming too stupid to survive.

Climate change may be the root of the trouble. New environmental conditions lead fish to migrate, leaving the birds that feed on them malnourished. The new research shows that lack of a specific nutrient in red-legged kittiwakes damages their cognitive abilities and could leave them too daft to find food.

Red-legged kittiwake populations have plummeted by half since the 1980s in the Pribilof Islands in the southeastern Bering Sea. So Alexander Kitayski and colleagues at the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Irving, US, devised an experiment to try to find out why.

The sharp drop in the seabird numbers coincided with a climate shift that resulted in a reduced abundance of lipid-rich fish in the area, though other fish species remained available as food. The researchers theorised that chicks born at or after this time lacked the lipid-rich foods they needed for proper cognitive development, leaving them less likely to have the skills needed to survive as independent adults.

Fortunately, there's some good health news: drink beer:

Research is showing that beer could join the ranks of other guilt-inducing but wildly popular foods — chocolate, coffee and red wine — as a possible disease-fighter.

It turns out that beer hops contain a unique micronutrient that inhibits cancer-causing enzymes. Hops are plants used in beer to give it aroma, flavor and bitterness.

The compound, xanthohumol, was first isolated by researchers with Oregon State University 10 years ago. Initial testing was promising, and now an increasing number of laboratories across the world have begun studying the compound, said Fred Stevens, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at Oregon State's College of Pharmacy.

Earlier this year, a German research journal even devoted an entire issue to xanthohumol, he said.

What Stevens and others are discovering is that xanthohumol has several unique effects. Along with inhibiting tumor growth and other enzymes that activate cancer cells, it also helps the body make unhealthy compounds more water-soluble, so they can be excreted.

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