T Cells, Teddy Bears, Migraines and Monarchs

• When thousands of people in a number of countries rated their overall satisfaction with life, those living in Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, and Sweden reported the greatest satisfaction. The top five countries where people expressed the least satisfaction included Sierra Leone, Haiti, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Georgia. Countries in which people expressed the most positive feelings (enjoyment, smiling and laughing) were Costa Rica, Canada, Paraguay, Laos, and Ireland. (Psychologist Suzann Pileggi Pawelski in Scientific American Mind, Sept./Oct., 2011)

• Are the Himalayan glaciers really melting? The answer to that question is contained in a five-year comprehensive study by the Indian Space Research Organization and the Geological Survey of India. The study reveals that of the 2,767 glaciers monitored, 2,184 were retreating, 435 were advancing, and 148 showed no change, meaning that most of the glaciers are indeed retreating. (Science, Aug. 19, 2011)

• Cells called “T cells” are critical to the human immune response. Recently scientists learned how to insert a special gene into cancer patients’ T cells, tricking them into directly orchestrating an attack on malignant cells. The scientists called them “serial killer cells” and estimated that for every genetically modified T cell introduced into the body of a cancer patient, 1,000 cancer cells were destroyed. Clinical trials are now underway to perfect this new therapy. (Science, Aug., 2011; recent reports in the August issues of Science Translational Medicine, and The New England Journal of Medicine)

• Believe it or not…In 2007, a major motel chain in Britain surveyed 2,000 guests and found that one in five traveling salespeople slept with their childhood teddy bear. (Scientific American Mind, Sept./October, 2011)

• About 36 million Americans have migraine headaches. At a recent conference of the American Headache Society, experts reported that early symptoms (the premonition stage) may provide clues as to the cause of the headaches, and they are beginning to focus on what happens in the brain during this warning stage. The stage may include seeing flashing lights or wavy lines, as well as mood changes, frequent urinating, or yawning excessively. Common triggers of migraines include caffeine, chocolate, aged cheese, red wine, stress, and even weather changes. Although there are no cures for these headaches, pain relievers, some prescription drugs (e.g., beta blockers, anti-seizure drugs, etc.), and even acupuncture and biofeedback may help. (Brain in the News, June, 2011)

• At the time of this writing, “local” Monarch butterflies are well on their way south to their winter home in the forests of Mexico, a remarkable trip of about 2,000 miles fueled by stopping along the way to ingest nectar. Youngsters involved in tagging Monarchs at Crossroads at Big Creek in Sturgeon Bay have a special interest in the journey. Several years ago, two of their tagged butterflies were recorded in Mexico. Although they appear awkward flying around our flower gardens, Monarchs are efficient flyers and during migration they can travel over 200 miles in a day. They flap their wings five to 12 times per second and also soar and take advantage of wind currents. After wintering in Mexico, a surviving Door County Monarch may take off on a return trip to Wisconsin, but makes it only part way until it “runs out of gas” and leaves the rest of the journey north to younger generations. (Coggin Heeringa at Crossroads Nature Center;; other sources)