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January 29, 2007
Volume 85, Number 05
p. 104

Living Longer

Oregon State University
Long-Lived: Linus Pauling, a Nobel Laureate in chemistry, lived to be 93.

Pssst—want to know the secret to living longer? Research from the University of Warwick, in England, reveals how to EXTEND YOUR LIFE by two years—All you have to do is win a Nobel Prize.

In the study, entitled "Mortality and Immortality," researchers Andrew Oswald and Matthew Rablen attempt to answer the long-standing question: Does social status alone affect people's well-being and life span?

Rablen and Oswald chose to study Nobel Prize winners because they could be seen as having their high status suddenly dropped onto them. They also come with a ready-made control group—scientists who were nominated but did not actually win.

Because the full list of nominees is kept secret for 50 years, the researchers looked at winners and nominees in physics and chemistry between 1901 and 1950. To avoid differences in life span between sexes, the researchers stuck to males.

The researchers looked at a total of 528 male scientists with known birth and death dates who did not die prematurely for nonbiological reasons, such as injuries from combat in World War I.

According to the research, winners of the Nobel Prize live 1.4 years longer on average (77.2 years) than those who had been nominated for a prize, living an average of 75.8 years. "Status seems to work a kind of health-giving magic," Oswald says. "How status does this, we just don't know."

Sex-Changing Chemicals

Polluted: Taking a dip in the Potomac River might be a bad idea.

Residents of the Washington, D.C., metro area have another reason not to swim in the Potomac River. Chemicals known to produce STRANGE SEXUAL CHARACTERISTICS in fish have been found in West Virginia tributaries of the Potomac, according to Reuters and the U.S. Geological Survey.

An investigation into fish having both male and female sexual characteristics turned up various chemicals including pesticides, flame retardants, and personal care products.

Scientists analyzed tissue samples of 30 smallmouth bass from six sites, including single-sexed males and females as well as intersexual males, and found that all samples included some detectable amount of at least one endocrine-disrupting compound.

Endocrine disrupters affect hormone systems, causing birth defects and other sexual abnormalities in various species including frogs and alligators.

A Very Rare Gecko

Waikato Regional Council, New Zealand
Gecko: Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

It's not every day that you find a Coromandel Striped Gecko hanging out at a suburban barbecue in New Zealand—especially because this particular GECKO was believed to be extinct.

According to the Sunday Star-Times, a New Zealand newspaper, an employee at the Moehau Kiwi Sanctuary found the gecko and, understanding its significance, contacted the local ranger who was present when the species was first discovered in 1997. So little is known about this gecko that scientists are unsure if it's nocturnal, whether it's arboreal or a ground-dweller, or how it reproduces.

The first Coromandel Striped Gecko (a silver-toned male) to be captured and studied died in captivity after waiting four years for a girlfriend to be captured. If no girlfriend can be found for the current gecko, it will be fitted with a tiny transmitter and released.

This week's column was written by Faith Hayden. Please send comments and suggestions to