April 29, 2016

U.S. Teen Pregnancy Hits New Low and Other Good News

By Chelsea German
Researchers Improve Crops to Counter Insect Resistance

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops, which are toxic to the insects that ingest them, have proved to be one of the most important success stories in genetic engineering in agriculture, allowing farms to produce more food per unit of land and feeding more people. Agricultural pests continuously adapt, however, and are evolving resistance to Bt crops. A team of researchers from Monsanto, Harvard University, and Cornell University, partnered to identify the mutations responsible for Bt-resistance, and have now created new toxins that are shown to be effective against the mutated insects in tests.

A Way to Reverse Autism Makes Progress

Researchers may have just found a way to reverse the most common genetic condition behind intellectual disabilities. Fragile X affects one boy in every four thousand and one girl in every seven thousand, who fail to produce a protein in the brain necessary for normal neural development, resulting in mild to severe autism. Researchers brought about the same protein deficiency in mice, limiting their mental capacity so that they could not perform a memory-based task as well as most mice. The mice then received an experimental drug, Nutlin-3, which restored their intelligence to the point that their task performance became indistinguishable from that of normal mice. The mice suffered no ill health effects.

U.S. Teen Pregnancy Rate Hits All-Time Low

Teen pregnancy was considered a crisis in the United States during the 1990s, but the teen pregnancy rate has since plummeted to an all-time low. Hispanics and blacks saw a remarkable 50% decline since 2006. According to the data, this change has been prompted both by increased access to contraception and also by a trend towards teenagers delaying sex longer. Other factors may include the rise of the Internet making information more readily accessible, and even, according to one study, the reality TV show, “16 and pregnant,” which seems to have discouraged pregnancy among viewers. Between 1960 and 2014, the U.S. fertility rate for girls aged 15 to 19 fell by 71%. The global fertility rate for the same age group also fell, by close to 50%.

E-Cigarettes Endorsed by Prominent British Doctors

Britain’s foremost medical organization released a report urging smokers to switch to e-cigarettes. The Royal College of Physicians is a prominent British doctors’ group, which delivered a groundbreaking report on smoking’s health effects in 1962, two entire years before the U.S. surgeon general reported a link between smoking and cancer. The RCP’s new report on e-cigarettes summarizes the results of various studies to show that the benefits of e-cigarettes seem to outweigh any harm that they do. E-cigarettes deliver nicotine without the other damaging substances that cause cancer found in traditional cigarettes, and are thus widely believed to be less harmful. American public health officials have given e-cigarettes a far colder welcome than their British counterparts, seeking to strictly regulate “e-cigs” and discourage their use until more studies have been done.