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Science news digest – 16th January 2014

In the science news this week, bees fitted with tiny sensors to find cause of hive collapses, nine women receive womb transplants in Sweden, comedians show psychotic traits, and finally…find out the best way to stay alive after a nuclear blast.

Thousands of bees fitted with sensors to understand decline

Around 5,000 bees have been fitted with tiny sensors on their backs at a study site in Hobart, Tasmania. The bees will be monitored for the next two months to try to determine the reason behind colony collapse disorder, reports the Guardian.

The CSIRO-led research will follow the movements and habits of several generations of bees at four different hives. Two of the hives will be provided a feeder with normal nectar and pollen, while the other two will feed on nectar and pollen that contains small amounts of pesticides – one of the believed causes of colony collapse disorder.

“The sensors are basically a tag which lets us know how long the bees go for, how many follow them and so on,” said Paulo de Souza, lead scientist at CSIRO. “We will monitor the hives for changes, such as whether the bees are slower to come back or go to other hives.

“This will be the largest study ever done of this kind, given that there will be 5,000 sensors. Two months is quite a long time to be studying them, too.”

In the past six years, more than 10 million bees have been wiped out worldwide due to the collapse of hives. So far, however, Australia has remained free of this phenomenon, as well as the deadly varroa mite, which has wreaked havoc on bee populations in almost every other country. However, it is unknown how long Australian bees will remain unaffected.

“We don’t know how long they will stay in this condition for – pesticides are one risk as well as monocultures of pollen that bees don’t do well in,” de Souza said. “We are doing some things that might contribute to a future collapse, so it’s important we study this area.”

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Womb transplants are hailed a success in Sweden

Nine women have received womb transplants in Sweden and will soon try to become pregnant. The women all received wombs donated by relatives, and were either born without a womb or had it removed due to cervical cancer.

Most of the women are in their thirties and are part of the first major experiment to test whether it is possible to transplant wombs into women in order to allow them to give birth to their own children, reports the BBC.

There have been a two previous womb transplant attempts – one in Saudi Arabia and one in Turkey – but neither women gave birth.

"This is a new kind of surgery," says Dr Mats Brannstrom, chair of the obstetrics and gynaecology department at the University of Gothenburg who are leading the initiative. "We have no textbook to look at."

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Comedians may be funny because of their psychotic traits

A study of over 500 comedians from the UK, USA and Australia claims that the reason that comedians can make people laugh is because they display the characteristics found in people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, reports the Guardian.

The researchers suggest that many comedians’ talents lie in their ability to find connections between seemingly unrelated topics.

"The creative elements needed to produce humour are strikingly similar to those characterising the cognitive style of people with psychosis – both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder," said Professor Gordon Claridge from Oxford University's department of experimental psychology and one of the co-authors of the study.

"Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humour, in its lesser form it can increase people's ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think 'outside the box'. Equally, 'manic thinking', which is common in people with bipolar disorder, may help people combine ideas to form new, original and humorous connections," Claridge added.

The comedians were asked to fill in a short online version of the Oxford-Liverpool Inventory of Feelings and Experiences (O-LIFE), which asks questions about schizophrenic and bipolar features.

The scores of the 523 comedians were compared against the scores from 364 actors and 831 people in non-creative occupations.

While the actors, on average, scored higher than the “non-creative” group in three of the four measures, the comedians came out "significantly higher on all four types of psychotic personality traits" compared to them, the researchers reported.

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And finally…

Mathematician deciphers best survival method during nuclear blast

Mathematician, Michael B Dillon, has drafted a comprehensive guide on where and when you should seek shelter during a nuclear fallout. Dillon estimates that 10,000 to 100,000 people could be saved from fatal exposure to the radiation if people sought out “adequate shelter” at the right moment following the blast, according to Wired.

Dillon suggests that if you initially take cover in a poor quality shelter but you know of a better location that is no more than 15 minutes away, you should only stay put for a maximum of 30 minutes. However, if you’re aware of adequate shelter that is less than five minutes away, then you should immediately go to the better shelter.

"The methods developed here estimate the optimal shelter exit time that minimises the total radiation exposure," says Dillon.

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