Smartphones carry your microbes

1. You are what you . . . call on?

Your smartphone might go with you everywhere, but that means it carries more of you around than you might think. Researchers at the University of Oregon compared microbes from people's dominant-hand and the touchscreens of their smartphones. The microbes on the phones closely matched those on the owners' fingers. The researchers said it was a "proof-of-concept" for an ultimate purpose of potentially using personal items as a way to monitor health and spread of infectious bugs.

2. Neanderthals evolved in stages

One of the biggest collections of ancient hominin fossils has shed light on how Neanderthals evolved. About 400-500,000 years ago, a group of archaic humans split off from other groups living in Africa and East Asia and settled in Eurasia. Eventually they evolved the characteristics that define Neanderthals. But 17 skulls analysed from a Spanish cave showed that some of those characteristics, such as the jaw and teeth, evolved before others, like a large brain. Previously it had been thought those characteristics all developed at the same time. Separate archaeological research from Spain looked at 50,000-year-old fossilised faeces of Neanderthals and found evidence suggesting they ate both meat and plants.

3. Not such creatures of habit?

Emperor penguins aren't quite so faithful to their nesting sites as once thought. A study by University of Minnesota researchers used satellite images to show that the penguins did not always return to the same location to breed. The behaviour might make the 25-40kg penguins more adaptable to changing environments.

But other research has highlighted how relying on satellite imagery could be fraught, after a new colony of emperor penguins was found in Antarctica completely hidden from satellite surveys. There's no replacement for good old-fashioned field work, it seems.

4. Moustaches and oxygen therapy shouldn't mix

Researchers in the United States have found facial hair raises the risk of burns for men using home oxygen therapy systems. But don't worry, no moustachioed men were harmed during the research: the Mayo Clinic researchers used mannequins with and without facial hair to test the risk of burns.

The researchers said facial hair could act as kindling for nasal oxygen tubes when a spark was added, for instance if someone lit a match nearby. The results came with serious warnings: home oxygen therapy-related burns could cause serious damage to the face and airways.

More than 1 million people in the United States use home oxygen therapy, and usage is on the rise around the world especially where smoking is increasing.

5. Air pollution controls have health effects

A study in North Carolina found that air pollution controls in the early 1990s coincided with decreased death rates from emphysema, asthma and pneumonia.

Researchers at Duke University compared public health data with monthly measurements from air-monitoring stations between 1993 and 2010. They found a close association between improving air quality and declining death rates from respiratory illnesses.

The Press