February 20, 2014

Cat biting the hand of a person who now has a 50 percent chance of being depressed.     Photo: g_lutsenko/Getty Images

Cat Bites Linked to Depression

Or are depressed people more likely to own cats?

After studying more than 1.3 million people for 10 years, researchers found that if you are a woman who has been bitten by a cat, there is a 50 percent chance you are also depressed.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, does not reveal whether cats are acting aggressively toward people suffering from depression or if depressed people are simply more likely to own felines.

A third option involves a parasite found in cat poop. The culprit, Toxoplasma gondii, has the ability to change the chemical makeup of the human brain, causing self-inflicted violence and increased suicide rates, as well as depression in some patients.

Although the jury is still out on the cause behind depressed cat-bite victims, we do know that the bites themselves are extremely dangerous. One clinic reported to the Journal of Hand Surgery that out of 193 cat-bite patients, 30 percent had to be hospitalized for three days.

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Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden, New York     Photo: senatorpeter6/Wikimedia

U.S. Indoor Track Champs Start Friday

Fifth consecutive year in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Starting Friday, February 21, track and field athletes from across the U.S. will compete for championship titles and a place on the U.S. Team at the USATF Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The top athletes in their events will go on to represent the U.S. at the World Indoor Track & Field Championships in Sopot, Poland, on March 7-9.

The men's 3000-meter run and the women's 1500-meter run are two of the most highly anticipated events at the championships this weekend. Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp and 12-time World Championship medalist Bernard Legat are entered in the 3,000-meter race. The women's 1500-meter run puts two running prodigies against each other: Jordan Hasay and Mary Cain.

Because there is neither a Summer Olympic Games nor an outdoor track and field world championship this year, indoor track and field gains importance as the only international championship this year. But because the sport, and the public, put less pressure on indoor competition, many athletes are looking forward to this gap year in the sport.

"I'm very excited it's a non-championships year. I don't think my heart can take any more stress and anxiety from qualifying to compete," says Jenn Suhr, who won gold in the pole vault at the 2012 London Olympics.

Two-time USA Outdoor heptathlon champion Sharon Day echoes those sentiments: "I think it's a great opportunity to get a mental and physical break to recharge for the years after this."

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Lena Wang (right) on the Potomac Boat Club dock near Key Bridge this morning. Harbor police circle in the background.     Photo: Sadie Quarrier

Bridge Jumper Saved in Icy Potomac

Two rowers rescue young man

“What was that splash?”

Just before 7 a.m., Sadie Quarrier and her sculling partner, Lena Wang, prepared for their first row of 2014. Their streamlined craft swayed alongside the Potomac Boat Club’s launching dock as they made final adjustments to brave the frigid D.C. morning. Most of the ice had vanished from the river earlier in the week, but the water still hovered below 40 degrees. As she balanced the boat with her toe, Wang heard the splash. The pair immediately looked toward Key Bridge—a two- or three-minute row downstream.

The duo climbed into their two-person scull and rowed quickly toward a figure bobbing in the water. “It was hard to tell if it was a person,” Quarrier, a senior photo editor at National Geographic, told Outside. Whatever caused the splash was thrashing in the river, fighting against the pierced surface of the Potomac. Roughly three minutes after they’d heard the sound, the women steadied next to a stunned young man, who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, and helped him onto the top of the boat.

Secured between Wang and Quarrier, the man seemed to be in shock—he neither welcomed nor resisted the help as he clung to the open scull. Suffering from his time in the 39-degree water, he moaned as the women tried to stay upright. “This was not a thrill seeker,” Quarrier later said. “You don’t just fall off Key Bridge.” Quarrier had brought her cell phone along in a Ziploc and tried calling a rowing coach she often saw on the water. But, after many rings and a text, there was still no response.

In recent years, similar incidents have taken place on Key Bridge. In January 2013, police stopped a man from jumping after hours of negotiation. In December 2012, another jumper wasn’t as lucky. And this latest incident, in late February, also had near-freezing waters as a major safety concern. Without a protective wetsuit, humans typically fall victim to hypothermia, dying within 10 to 20 minutes of entering 40-degree water. The Potomac Boat Club makes a point of reminding rowers just how dangerous winter waters can be.

Against the jumper’s wishes, Quarrier dialed 911 as the three floated below Key Bridge. Nearly 90 feet above, hundreds of commuters passed over the six-lane bridge, oblivious to the scene below. The dispatchers she reached insisted that Quarrier stay on the line as they sent metro and harbor police. Another pair of rowers, Billy Cox and Katie Stainken, soon pulled over next to Quarrier and Wang’s boat. Using an oar, Cox and Stainken locked the two shells together to create a more stable, pontoon-like craft. The rowers were quiet as they rowed toward the dock they’d left just moments before.

Once on shore, nearly ten minutes after Quarrier’s 911 call, sirens blasted as harbor police arrived by water. Quarrier asked the officers to turn off their sirens, thinking the jumper had already gone through enough. The young man was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Boats churned the cold, winter water in front of the Potomac Boat Club, and the scene soon faded into just another peaceful morning.

Quarrier returned to her office on 17th Street. “I hope, if this was an act of desperation,” she later told Outside, “that we provided a nice twist of fate.”

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Scientists created a master monkey that uses mind control to move an avatar.     Photo: jinterwas/Flickr

Scientists Create Monkey Avatar

Link primates with computer chips

Real avatars have started to appear more quickly than even James Cameron might have expected.

In an experiment we’d rather not imagine, scientists used computer chips to link two monkeys together, allowing one primate’s brain to control the other’s body.  

Although it might sound gruesome, the researchers hope their work—partly inspired by Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar—will help patients with nerve or spinal paralysis.

To pull off this mind-control feat, the team implanted a microchip in the “master” monkey’s brain so it could control the avatar’s movements. The avatar had a chip plugged into its spinal cord.

"So the hookup was basically a computational link where we … matched everything that the monkey, that the master, was thinking about, and then matched that with movements produced in the avatar,” says Harvard neurosurgeon Ziv Williams, who co-authored the study. "It was actually through a computer interface, but in theory you could do it wirelessly as well."

The study looked only at movement in animals, but if subsequent trials are successful, scientists could bring the research to paralyzed human arms or robotic limbs.

Suddenly Avatar 2 doesn’t seem so futuristic anymore.

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Surfing and bicycling go together like peanut butter and jelly.     Photo: Getty Images/Tetra Images RF

L.A. Introduces Bike-Friendly Districts

Will stimulate local commerce, fight smog

Los Angeles might be known for its smog, and California's signature green city might be San Francisco, but those stereotypes aren't stopping the City of Angels from rolling out an initiative that exercise fiends and environmentalists alike will appreciate.

Los Angeles plans to develop a Bicycle Friendly Business District (BFBD) program to encourage bicycling in commercial areas, according to TreeHugger. The program will begin in Northeast Los Angeles before expanding to other parts of the city.

Documentation from the L.A. Department of Transportation lists the benefits, which include encouraging dining and shopping, prompting business growth, providing more parking for establishments, and supporting bicycling as a healthy, environmentally beneficial mode of transit.

LADOT chose Northeast L.A. because of its many commercial properties and conditions that will help with future evaluation: existing transit infrastructure, built environment, and the income and ages of its residents. In short, the area provides officials with lots of ways to see how the program might prosper in greater Los Angeles.

The city hopes to incorporate aspects of bike-friendly programs in Santa Monica and Long Beach, as well as New York City's, when launching the bike districts.

Los Angeles might just now be getting on the biking bandwagon, but we've been preaching its benefits for a long time. A 2013 study found that bike commuters are happiest—and cycling to work has been on the rise, if only because it's good for the soul.

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