Body & Brain

High-fiber diet may prolong life, plus more in this week’s news

Ear infection mix What’s living in children’s noses could determine whether they get ear infections. Researchers from Yale and the University of Pennsylvania took swabs from the noses of sick children with and without ear infections. Kids with ear infections were more likely to carry Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, a major cause of pneumonia and ear infections. Some other types of bacteria seemed to protect against both Streptococcus and ear infections, the researchers reported online February 1 in mBio . Yet other types of bacteria promoted ear infection, including types that don’t cause ear infections themselves. The findings could lead to new ways to prevent ear infections. — Tina Hesman Saey Fiber may boost longevity A high-fiber diet may contribute to a longer life, scientists report February 14 in the Archives of Internal Medicine . Researchers consulted data from more than 380,000 men and women who completed diet questionnaires in the 1990s. By tracking death records over nine years, scientists from the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Md., determined that people consuming the most fiber were about 20 percent less likely to die of any cause during the study than people getting the least. Fiber from grains outweighed fiber from fruits, vegetables or beans in both men and women — but particularly in men. — Nathan Seppa Lavender oil vs. fungus Lavender oil can knock out drug-resistant fungi called dermatophytes, lab-dish tests show. Distilled from the Iberian shrub Lavandula viridis L’Hér, the oil inhibited dermatophytes by attacking their cell membranes. It also proved promising against Candida fungi. Dermatophytes cause athletes’ foot, ringworm and nail infections, while Candida causes yeast infections. Researchers at the University of Coimbra in Portugal report the results in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Medical Microbiology . The active ingredient in the lavender oil appears to be an organic compound called alpha-pinene, they note. More tests are planned. — Nathan Seppa ALS on the move Harmful proteins responsible for progressive, fatal ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, can quickly hop from nerve cell to nerve cell, researchers from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge report online February 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . The team watched as misfolded clumps of the protein, called superoxide dismutase-1, made their way into nerve cells and induced normally harmless versions of the protein to clump up. These misfolded groups then popped out of the infected cell and into neighboring cells. This cycle is similar to how prions — the infectious proteins behind brain-wasting conditions such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — spread through the brain. — Laura Sanders How the brain rewires Nerve cells sprouting new connections are likely responsible for the brain’s ability to reroute sensory information after a serious spinal injury, an international team reports online February 16 in the Journal of Neuroscience . The results of the study, which was based on brain scans of volunteers with spinal injuries, runs counter to the theory that this job switch can be explained by the awakening of existing but dormant nerve cell connections. — Laura Sanders

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