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Quick Takes

Smart golf clubs

Golf pros are impressed with new technology that lets players download an analysis of their swing on a personal computer.

SmartSwing Golf (smartswinggolf.com) has developed clubs that combine swing-analysis software with high-tech circuitry that lets you store and analyze as many as 100 swings on a computer screen.

The system uses infrared trackers, gyroscopes and accelerometers placed inside the club's shaft. Data are then sent wirelessly to your computer, or can be downloaded with a USB device. Players can analyze their swing for launch angle, ball flight and club-head speed. Players can even compare their swing with that of a pro.

At the moment, there are three SmartSwing clubs available: a driver, 3-wood and 6-iron (plans for a putter are in the works). Or you can retrofit your own club with the technology. Cost is $650 to $800.

Bottom Line: Golf pros give the SmartSwing a thumbs-up. It's probably not going to turn you into Tiger Woods, but it may improve your stroke. - Mary Beth Regan

Did you know ...

Poison ivy causes a form of contact dermatitis. When your skin touches the leaves of a poison ivy plant, it absorbs a small amount of urushiol, an oily substance made by the plant. If you're allergic to this oil, your skin reacts with redness, itching, swelling and blisters. - Mayo Clinic


Giant moas, the largest birds that ever lived, disappeared from New Zealand 600 years ago in part because they waited too long to reproduce, British researchers say.

The moas took about 10 years to reach their full height of six feet and several more years to reach sexual maturity, researchers say.

The findings, published this week in the journal Nature, are based on growth rings in the cross sections of a moa leg bone that like look tree rings. They establish how long the animal took to reach its adult size. Most birds today reach their adult size in a single year and don't have such rings.

New Zealand, the world's most isolated major land mass, was once home to predatory eagles, but lacked any mammalian predators to eat moas before the arrival of Maori hunters around A.D. 1300.

"There really wouldn't have been anything hunting them," said Samuel Turvey, the lead author and a research fellow at the Institute of Zoology. The institute is affiliated with the London Zoo and funded by the British government.

Some moas - there were at least 10 species - grew to over 6 feet in height and weighed 530 pounds. The flightless birds, first described by Richard Owen in 1839, are cousins of the ostrich, emu, cassowary and kiwi. No one is sure, but experts believe they lived to be 50 years old.

Female moa were up to three times larger than males - the greatest gender size difference of any species of bird or mammal.

The moa's extensive growth periods likely evolved in response to the nearly predator-free environment and would help ensure high-quality offspring later in life, Turvey said.

If birds had evolved in the presence of predators, the emphasis would have been on more rapid reproduction.

But the moa's growth rates made them more vulnerable to extinction when humans began hunting them. Once they became prey, they couldn't grow and breed fast enough to replenish the population.

Turvey said the birds' charred remains, found at archaeological sites, show they were cooked for their meat. They were wiped out about 100 years after humans arrived, he said.

Turvey said it's important to understand what drives an animal into extinction to prevent future extinctions. - Dennis O'Brien

In Brief

Stomach bug may cause irregular heart rhythm

A stomach bug that affects about half of the people over the age of 60 in the United States may trigger an irregular heart rhythm, according to a study in the medical journal Heart.

Patients with an irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation, were 20 times more likely to test positive for Helicobacter pylori bacteria and had five times higher levels of gastric inflammation than healthy volunteers, the study of 104 people found. It was the first time such a link has been established

H. pylori causes ulcers and has been tied to stomach cancer and heart disease, and now for the first time to atrial fibrillation, said Annibale Sandro Montenero, a professor of epidemiology at the Cardiology Department and Arrhythmia Center at Policlinico Multimedica in Milan, Italy, who led the study.

Montenero said he's studying different theories to explain the link, including immune reactions, the possibility of different strains of the bacterium and the fact that the esophagus is close to the heart and the arterial veins.

H. pylori is a resilient bacterium that manages to escape detection by the immune system. In the United States, about 20 percent of people under 40 years old are infected with H. pylori, which can cause chronic inflammation of the stomach lining.

Big bursts of alcohol big problem for mice

Heavy drinking, even for short periods of time, can mean long-lasting brain damage, according to scientists who put mice on a two-month bender and found that the rodents had learning memory problems long after they stopped drinking.

The finding, published in this week's Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, could mean that people who party too hard are in for a lifetime of brain problems.

Researchers at St. Louis University led by Dr. Susan A. Farr fed young adult mice a 20 percent alcohol solution for four weeks or eight weeks. Compared with mice that drank only tap water or sugar water, both sets of boozing mice fared worse in multiple tests of learning and memory. The mice that drank for only four weeks recovered after only a few days, but the ones who drank for eight weeks still had trouble learning and remembering three months later.

Scientists have known that long-term alcohol abuse can hurt the brain, but few studies have examined whether short bursts of heavy drinking also can have persistent effects.

This research comes with a message for heavy drinkers, according to Dr. Leslie Morrow, associate director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

"The longer you drink, the harder it is to come back," she said.


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