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Belly bacteria can shape mood and behavior

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Belly bacteria can shape mood and behavior

When Margaret Morris goes to the grocery store, she fills her cart with french fries, cheesecakes, meat pies and other tasty treats. People often ask if she’s throwing a party. And she is, but her guests are lab rats. The animals are helping her study how a junk food diet affects the nonstop chemical “chatter” between the brain, the gut and all of the many microbes living in the gut. By eavesdropping on what those microbial freeloaders “tell” the brain, Morris and other scientists are revealing the extent to which foods can influence our feelings and behavior. — Bethany Brookshire

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Surprise! Fire can help some forests keep more of their water

In forests, abundant trees are good and fire is bad, right? Actually, the reverse can be true — especially in some dry parts of California, a new study concludes. Trees release some of the water they absorb into the air through pores in their leaves. Periodic tree loss due to wildfires clears out many of the young trees, leaving fewer plants to pull water from the soil. With less competition from other plants, the larger trees can grow and remain healthy. Not suppressing wildfires in the 5,310-square-kilometer American River basin could save an estimated 773 billion liters of water per year that’s not being lost to the air, the study finds. — Michelle Donahue

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This robot can wash a skyscraper’s windows

Washing windows on a high-rise can be a dangerous job, notes Oliver Nicholls. So the Australian teen created a robot to do it. About the size of a medium-sized picnic cooler, the robot withstands winds of up to 45 kilometers per hour. The economically competitive, computer-controlled device sprays a window, then scrubs away dirt and leftover water. Next, propellers push the device off the glass so cables can bring the bot to the next window. This nifty invention earned Nicholls, age 19, $75,000 and the top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May. — Sid Perkins

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