Published: Sunday 30 April 2006

grapes benefit: Grape seed extract can prove beneficial to people with high blood pressure, according to a study conducted at the University of California Davis in the US.

The study is the first human clinical trial to assess the effect of grape seed extract on people with metabolic syndrome, a combination of risk factors that increase the risk for heart disease, including high blood pressure and high blood sugar. The average drop in systolic pressure was 12 points while the diastolic pressure fell by 8 points.

hazy future: Smog is bad not just for the lungs, but even for a man's sperm, claims a recent study. It looked at the sperm counts of 48 men who donated at least 10 times in two years to a Los Angeles sperm bank.

Using air pollution figures for the area where each man lived, researchers from the University of Southern California in the US found that ozone formed in smoggy air was the only pollutant that appeared to be linked to decreased sperm production. Carbon monoxide seemed to have no effect.

plant defence: Researchers have found that corn produces an enzyme that helps it defend itself against caterpillars by disrupting the insects' ability to digest food, and ultimately killing them. The enzyme -- Mir1-CP -- could be used in tandem with other biological pesticides such as the Bt toxin to prevent the pests from developing resistance and making the toxin more effective. Dawn Luthe, professor of plant stress biology at Pennsylvania State University, and researchers at the Mississippi State University, both in the US, have developed several lines of corn resistant to multiple pests.

shape and signs: Letters and other human visual signs were selected for ease of reading, at the expense of writing, says a study. Conducted at the California Institute of Technology in the US, the study confirmed the hypothesis that visual signs have been cross-culturally selected to reflect common contours in natural scenes that humans have evolved to be good at seeing. For example, contours resembling an "L" or "X" are more common in both human visual signs and natural scenes than anything resembling an asterisk.

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