Discovered: Planets that could sustain life; the shiniest fruit; non-alcoholic wine defeats the purpose but bestows health benefits; weed is linked to testicular cancer.
'Dry' red wine is more healthy. Alcohol-free red wine just sounds like bitter grape juice, and we're not sure why anyone would drink it. But researchers have shown that alcohol content is not responsible for the famous blood pressure-lowering benefits bestowed by moderate red wine consumption. Lead author Gemma Chiva-Branch, a PhD student at the University of Barcelona, held a clinical trial of 67 older men at risk for cardiovascular disease. They cycled through four-week periods of drinking gin, red wine, and non-alcoholic red wine. Gin didn't affect their blood pressure, red wine did slightly, and non-alcoholic red wine had the greatest blood pressure lowering effects. The conclusion Chiva-Branch draws is, "If you want to control blood pressure, drinking nonalcoholic red wine may be one good dietary measure you could take." [The New York Times]
How an African fruit got its shine. The Poliia condensata might be the most exotic-looking fruit, with its metallic shimmer and its smooth, Christmas ornament shape. It's native to central Africa, and though it appears blue, it contains no blue pigment whatsoever. The University of Cambridge's Silvia Vignolini has discovered that the fruit gets its unusual color is the result of a complex, four-layered cellular wall structure. When light passes through these intricately stacked layers, some of it gets reflected, while the rest is absorbed deeper. The technical term for where this shine comes from is "multilayer interference," and it can be seen on the shells of beetles and the wings of certain butterflies. The Pollia condensata just happens to have the most iridescence caused by multilayer interference, making it the shiniest known object in the world. [Discover]
Planets that could sustain life. The NASA Curiosity rover still hasn't found any little green men on Mars, but new research suggests that many more planets may be capable of sustaining life than we previously thought. Sean McMahon, a PhD student from Aberdeen University, created new computer models about potentially habitable environments based on new information about the likelihood of sub-surface water existing on many planets. Explaining the "Goldilocks theory" of planet habitability, McMahon says, "It's the idea of a range of distances from a star within which the surface of an Earth-like planet is not too hot or too cold for water to be liquid." His research challenges that theory, pointing out that planets not in the "just right" zone may still sustain microorganisms, thanks to underground water supplies. McMahon says that as a result of his work, "There will be several times more [habitable] planets." [BBC]
Smoking pot could lead to testicular cancer. We've already heard that pot makes young smokers dumber, but here's another risk: it might also increase male smokers' likelihood of contracting testicular cancer. University of Southern California researchers led by Victoria Cortessis studied 163 men who were diagnosed with nonseminomas, a highly dangerous form of testicular cancer, between 1986 and 1991. Pitting these subjects against a test group, they discovered that marijuana users were two times more likely to contract testicular cancer. These findings build on two previous studies linking testicular cancer and marijuana use. Sidenote: the scientists also found that cocaine use actually reduces the risk of testicular cancer. [Los Angeles Times]