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DISCOVERIES

Huge sea spiders, other creatures found

BIOLOGY
More than 1,000 new species of sea creatures were discovered at the very bottom of the Weddell Sea and adjacent areas, just off the coast of Antarctica. The rich diversity of the populations there came as a surprise to researchers with the Antarctic Benthic Deep-Sea Biodiversity project. "Life wasn't abundant in the deep sea, but it was diverse," co-author Angelika Brandt , a marine biologist with the Zoological Institute and Zoological Museum at the University of Hamburg, said in an e-mail. The conventional wisdom -- based on studies of the Arctic Sea -- had predicted that biodiversity would decrease closer to South Pole. Instead, Brandt said, deep water flowing north from the Antarctic might even serve as a sort of "pump" filling the oceans to the north with more diverse forms of life. Measurements, photos, and specimens were taken over the course of three sampling expeditions, at depths ranging from about 2,500 feet to nearly 21,000 feet. The researchers found more than 1,000 new species total. Among the finds -- a carnivorous sponge that traps and eats shrimp-like crustaceans, Katrin Linse of the British Antarctic Survey, a co-author of the study, said in an e-mail. "We also discovered very large sea spiders the size of dinner plates," Linse said. The spiders walk on the ocean floor, scavenging the corpses of fish and sea urchins. The researchers also took video from the ocean floor, which can be viewed at nature.com/nature/videoarchive/deepsea/index.html.

BOTTOM LINE: The deepest oceans around the South Pole have much more diversity of sea life than previously thought.

CAUTIONS: Tracing the migration of species to and from the Weddell Sea might yield more surprises.

WHAT'S NEXT: A follow-up project to be led by Brandt starting this winter will examine why some species in the region are more abundant than others.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Nature, May 17

J.M. BERGER

DEVELOPMENT

Database of children's brains offers insights


Healthy children -- whether boys or girls -- perform equally well on cognitive tests, and the differences previously attributed to family income may actually be a reflection of the worse health status of kids from low-income families, rather than any difference in intelligence, according to a new study of the brains of healthy children. Also, the study, part of a larger NIH effort to create a database of normal brain development from birth to adulthood, found that 10-year-olds are much better at the tests than 6-year-olds. But teenagers were not substantially better than the 10-year-olds, suggesting that adolescents' brains may not develop as much as previously thought, or that they develop in ways the tests did not detect. Children's Hospital Boston was one of six centers nationwide that conducted tests and brain scans of 385 healthy children, ages 6 to 18, who came from a range of ethnic and income backgrounds reflective of the country's diversity. The database "will provide researchers with a reference point for how the normal brain develops, so that they can better understand what goes wrong in children who have brain abnormalities caused by genetic disease, prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs, or other factors," Deborah Waber, the study's lead author, and an associate professor of psychiatry at Children's Hospital, said in a statement. BOTTOM LINE: A new database that includes brain scans and tests from hundreds of healthy children nationwide could help doctors better understand whether a child fits into a normal range of cognitive development or is in need of medical assistance.

CAUTIONS: Though participants were evaluated at two-year-intervals for four years, results from only one evaluation were used for this study. More data is, therefore, required to confirm these findings.

WHAT'S NEXT: Researchers want to link brain MRI scan data and cognitive evaluation data to try and understand how the brain's changing structure is related to cognitive and behavioral development throughout childhood.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, May 18 (online).

SENA DESAI GOPAL

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