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Archive for February, 2013

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Herbed Breadcrumbs

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Herbed Breadcrumbs


  • 2 pounds mixed root vegetables (such as carrots, celery root, beets, and parsnips), peeled, cut on a diagonal into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 sprigs oregano plus 2 tablespoons chopped leaves
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup very coarse fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley plus 2 tablespoons whole leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup reduced-fat (2%) or whole Greek yogurt


  • Preheat oven to 425°. Combine root vegetables, 2 oregano sprigs, and 2 Tbsp. oil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and starting to turn golden brown, 20–25 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, combine breadcrumbs and 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large pan, preferably nonstick, set over medium-high heat. Toast, stirring frequently, until breadcrumbs are golden brown and crisp, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and mix in chopped oregano, chopped parsley, and chives. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  • Drizzle roasted root vegetables with lemon juice and remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil, sprinkle with whole parsley leaves and season with salt and pepper, if desired.
 Divide yogurt among shallow bowls or plates. Arrange root vegetables around and sprinkle breadcrumbs over.

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iPhone Screenshot 3

There’s a fine line between simple and basic. One can prove immensely useful yet quick to deal with, while the other proves quick to use but far too limited in its potential. Thinglist veers a little bit too closely to basic, despite having very good intentions.

Those intentions are solving a big problem that everyone suffers from at one point or another: remembering random bits of information. How often does a great idea pop into one’s head at the worst moment possible? Or someone mentions a great movie, book or restaurant but it’s forgotten far too quickly. It’s easily done. After all, the brain isn’t perfect. Thinglist aims to offer a place to consolidate all those pieces, with it taking seconds to add notes for future reference.

These notes are restricted to certain types: a bar, book, restaurant/food, idea, movie, music, person, place and product. It’s a good starting point, though, and some are suitably vague to cover other options. Hit one of those icons and it’s simply a matter of typing in briefly the subject, such as the name of a film or product. Notes can then be added, but that’s as detailed as Thinglist gets. It means it’s quick to use and add information, plus just as quick to consult. It also means that the $1.99 asking price feels rather expensive, even for saving time and thoughts.

There’s no way to back up information, or export it to another app. It’s not possible to open up a film based search, according to the movie title, or look for a book via iBooks. It’s not even possible to search for a place name, through Maps. All that is possible is to look at the very attractive and well laid out list. Looks wise, Thinglist is pretty great. It’s just all too shallow. Maybe at $0.99, this wouldn’t be so bad but at $1.99, it feels too expensive for too little content.

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Babies can hear syllables in the womb, says research

Baby's ear

Linguistic processes appear to develop long before birth

Scientists say babies decipher speech as early as three months before birth.

The evidence comes from detailed brain scans of 12 infants born prematurely.

At just 28 weeks’ gestation, the babies appeared to discriminate between different syllables like “ga” and “ba” as well as male and female voices.

Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the French team said it was unlikely the babies’ experience outside the womb would have affected their findings.

The research lends support to the idea that babies develop language skills while still in the womb in response to their parents’ voices.

Babies hear can hear their mother’s voice in the womb and pick up on the pitch and rhythm”

Prof Sophie ScottSpeech perception expert at UCL

Experts already know that babies are able to hear noises in the womb – the ear and the auditory part of the brain that allow this are formed by around 23 weeks’ gestation.

But it is still debated whether humans are born with an innate ability to process speech or whether this is something acquired through learning after birth.

The authors of the study in PNAS say environmental factors are undoubtedly important, but based on their findings they believe linguistic processes are innate.

Dr Fabrice Wallois and colleagues say: “Our results demonstrate that the human brain, at the very onset of the establishment of a cortical circuit for auditory perception, already discriminates subtle differences in speech syllables.”

But they add that this “does not challenge the fact that experience is also crucial for their fine tuning and for learning the specific properties of the native language”.

Their brain scan study was carried out in the first few days following birth, so it is possible that the noises and sounds the newborns encountered in their new environment outside of the womb may have triggered rapid development. However, the researchers doubt this.

Prof Sophie Scott, an expert in speech perception at University College London, said the findings supported and added to current knowledge.

“We know that babies hear can hear their mother’s voice in the womb and pick up on the pitch and rhythm.

“And they use this information – newborn babies are soothed by their mother’s voice from the minute they are born.”


Bad sleep ‘dramatically’ alters body


A run of poor sleep can have a potentially profound effect on the internal workings of the human body, say UK researchers.

The activity of hundreds of genes was altered when people’s sleep was cut to less than six hours a day for a week.

Writing in the journal PNAS, the researchers said the results helped explain how poor sleep damaged health.

Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and poor brain function have all been linked to substandard sleep.

What missing hours in bed actually does to alter health, however, is unknown.

So researchers at the University of Surrey analysed the blood of 26 people after they had had plenty of sleep, up to 10 hours each night for a week, and compared the results with samples after a week of fewer than six hours a night.

More than 700 genes were altered by the shift. Each contains the instructions for building a protein, so those that became more active produced more proteins – changing the chemistry of the body.

How to get a better night’s sleep

A man yawning

SourcesMental Health Foundation and BBC Science

Discover what disturbs your sleep the most

Meanwhile the natural body clock was disturbed – some genes naturally wax and wane in activity through the day, but this effect was dulled by sleep deprivation.

Prof Colin Smith, from the University of Surrey, told the BBC: “There was quite a dramatic change in activity in many different kinds of genes.”

Areas such as the immune system and how the body responds to damage and stress were affected.

Prof Smith added: “Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state, all kinds of damage appear to occur – hinting at what may lead to ill health.

“If we can’t actually replenish and replace new cells, then that’s going to lead to degenerative diseases.”

He said many people may be even more sleep deprived in their daily lives than those in the study – suggesting these changes may be common.

Dr Akhilesh Reddy, a specialist in the body clock at the University of Cambridge, said the study was “interesting”.

He said the key findings were the effects on inflammation and the immune system as it was possible to see a link between those effects and health problems such as diabetes.

The findings also tie into research attempting to do away with sleep, such as by finding a drug that could eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation.

Dr Reddy said: “We don’t know what the switch is that causes all these changes, but theoretically if you could switch it on or off, you might be able to get away without sleep.

“But my feeling is that sleep is fundamentally important to regenerating all cells.”


Drug firm Roche pledges greater access to trials data


Research suggests half of all clinical trials have never been published

The pharmaceutical company Roche has announced that it will make more of the data from its clinical trials available to researchers.

The company says it will appoint a panel of experts to evaluate and approve requests to access anonymised patient data.

We understand and support calls for our industry to be more transparent”

Daniel O’DayRoche

But the announcement has been dismissed as “pathetic” by campaigners arguing for greater transparency from the pharmaceutical industry – an issue I wrote about last month.

It’s estimated that half of all clinical trials have never been published and positive trial results are twice as likely to be published as negative findings. The AllTrials campaign wants the pharmaceutical industry to publish all data, and is supported by the Wellcome Trust, the BMJ and NICE.

“More transparent”

Roche, which makes the anti-viral medicine Tamiflu, has been repeatedly criticised by researchers for failing to grant access to all its data on the drug.

In response Roche has appointed a four man panel headed by flu expert Prof Albert Osterhaus to look at data on Tamiflu which the company says will “identify unanswered questions”.

Roche says it will also appoint an “independent body” to assess the validity of requests for unpublished trial data for its other medicines.

Daniel O’Day, Chief Operating Officer of Roche Pharma said: “We understand and support calls for our industry to be more transparent about clinical trial data with the aim of meeting the best interests of patients and medicine.”

Does Roche expect applause for announcing that it will continue to keep clinical trial findings hidden?”

Tracey BrownSense About Science

Mr O’Day told me that although the company would appoint the experts, the panel would be independent and would “stand up to public scrutiny”.


But the announcement has been met with derision by the organisation Sense About Science, which helped initiate the AllTrials campaign for all clinical research to be published. Its director Tracey Brown said: “Does Roche expect applause for announcing that it will continue to keep clinical trial findings hidden? They’re on another planet. Roche’s response is pathetic. Which bit of All and Trials do they not understand?”

Carl Heneghan, Director, Centre of Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford, who is part of the Cochrane team reviewing Tamiflu said, “How can any panel be independent if they appoint it and oversee it? It also means there will be confidentiality clauses within any agreement. Either you provide the data in a transparent manner or you don’t.”

Earlier this month GSK became the first major pharmaceutical company to pledge its support for the AllTrials campaign. GSK said it would publish all clinical trial data dating back to the formation of the company in 2000 when it merged with SmithKline Beecham.

In the past GSK has been caught withholding safety data and last year it agreed to pay $3bn (£1.9bn) in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history after promoting two drugs for unapproved uses and other failures.

Its support for the AllTrials campaign is seen as highly significant.

Dr Heneghan said that GSK had provided him with all 30 clinical study reports (CSR) – regarding its anti-viral flu drug Relenza whereas he had received just one regarding Roche’s drug Tamiflu.

Roche says it has published 71 out of 74 Tamiflu trial results but these can be just short summaries and not the raw data of clinical study reports which can run into hundreds of pages.

The doctor and columnist Ben Goldacre, who has spearheaded the campaign for data transparency said GSK had “led the field” by signing up to AllTrials and it was “bizarre to see that Roche expect to be praised today for continuing to withhold data.” He predicted that the era of drug companies and researchers “routinely withholding important information about clinical trials is coming to an end.”


Action on ‘untreatable’ gonorrhoea


Infection is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoea

Health experts in England and Wales are on high alert for “untreatable” gonorrhoea that, in some countries, has developed resistance to antibiotics.

Although most UK cases are readily treatable, infection rates are rising.

And the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is launching an action plan to reduce transmission and monitor for and rapidly detect drug resistance.

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) in England.


  • Infection can be passed on by unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • It can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby
  • Of those infected, about one in 10 men and nearly half of women do not have symptoms
  • Gonorrhoea can be easily diagnosed with a swab test

In 2011, newly diagnosed cases jumped 25% to nearly 21,000.

At the same time, the risk of gonorrhoea developing resistance to the antibiotics doctors normally prescribe – ceftriaxone and azithromycin – fell slightly for the first time in five years.

However, cases of treatment failure have now been reported globally and, with no new drugs in the pipeline, England’s chief medical officer has advised the government to add the threat of the infection’s resistance to front-line antibiotics to the civil emergencies risk register.

Dame Sally Davies said: “We have seen a worrying rise in cases of drug-resistant gonorrhoea over the last decade.

“Antimicrobial resistance to common drugs will increasingly threaten our ability to tackle infections, and the Health Protection Agency’s work is vital to addressing this threat.”

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at the HPA, said: “We are seriously concerned about continuing high levels of gonorrhoea transmission and repeat infection, suggesting we need to do more to reduce unsafe sexual behaviour.”

She said a priority was to encourage safer sexual behaviour and condom use, particularly among high-risk groups such as men who have sex with men, who account for more than a third of new gonorrhoea cases.

The first case of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea was found in Japan in 2011. Sweden has also encountered a case.


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