Maternal response to crying baby exists across cultures

WASHINGTON (AFP): A baby's cries activate specific areas of a mother's brain related to movement and speech, a study of mothers in several countries published revealed, reinforcing the idea of biological maternal instinct. The National Institute of Health study showed regardless of culture, mothers were likely to react to their infant's cries by showing affection, distracting, nurturing, picking up and holding. The researchers carried out a series of studies into maternal behavior using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain. They observed 684 new mothers and their five-month-old babies in several countries.

Using fMRI studies of other women, the study team also found a baby's cries caused similar brain activity in new mothers and those who had already raised a child.

As well as stimulating the area of the brain related to movement and speaking, imaging showed the sound of a crying baby also activates regions involved in speech production and sound processing.

"Overall, the findings suggest that mothers' responses to infant cries are hard-wired and generalizable across cultures," the authors of the study, which appeared in the American Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, concluded.

The study follows other research showing male and female brains respond differently to infants' cries.




'Magic' penalty leaves Thai goalie in despair

BANGKOK (AFP): A Thai goalkeeper was left red-faced after sprinting from his goaline to celebrate a penalty hitting the crossbar in a shoot-out - only to watch the ball spectacularly spin back into the empty net. The U-18s cup match (October 21) between Bangkok Sports Club and Satri Angthong had finished 2-2 in normal time, prompting an epic shootout that ended 20-19. The bizarre penalty came early on, throwing Bangkok a lifeline in a shootout that Bangkok Sports Club had been on the verge of losing. One of their players stepped up to take the third penalty knowing a miss would see his team dumped from the tournament. He struck the ball hard onto the crossbar, sending his opposite number dashing from his line in jubilation.

But in comical scenes, Satri's keeper turned to see the ball bounce near the penalty spot and spin back towards the unguarded net.

He scrambled back as the ball crossed the goal line, sending him to his knees in despair.

"As the ball hit the bar, the penalty taker's face turned grey because he thought his miss had cost his team the game," said Apinun Prasertsang, a teacher at Bangkok Sports Club, a sports school in the Thai capital.

"But the ball bounced back into the goal as the Satri keeper was celebrating in joy."

A video of the bizarre penalty has been viewed more than two million times on Facebook.




EU parliament votes to ban controversial weedkiller

STRASBOURG (AFP): The European Parliament Tuesday called for the controversial weedkiller glyphosate to be banned by 2022 amid fears it causes cancer, a day before EU states vote on whether to renew its licence. MEPs approved a resolution which is not binding but will add fresh pressure on the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, which has recommended the licence for the herbicide be renewed for 10 years. Glyphosate critics, led by environmental campaigners Greenpeace, are calling for an outright ban in Europe and on Monday activists handed the EU a petition signed by more than 1.3 million people backing such a move. Experts from the EU's 28 member states are due to vote on the commission recommendation on Wednesday.

MEPs criticised the commission's proposal, saying it "fails to ensure a high level of protection of both human and animal health and the environment (and) fails to apply the precautionary principle".

They called for a halt to non-professional use of glyphosate when its licence runs out in December 15 and for its use to end near public parks and playgrounds.

Opponents of glyphosate, used in Monsanto's best-selling herbicide Roundup, point to a 2015 study by the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer that concluded it was "probably carcinogenic".

This contradicted findings by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency, which both said glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans, in line with a 2016 review carried out by other WHO experts and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.





Forest fires contributed to record global tree cover loss

WASHINGTON (AFP): A sharp increase in forest fires stoked record losses in global forest cover equivalent to the area of New Zealand in 2016, a Global Forest Watch report said Monday. The alarming pace of destruction - 51 percent higher than the prior year with a loss of 73.4 million acres (29.7 million hectares), according to data from the University of Maryland - was partially due to climate change that has increased the risks and intensity of wildfires by triggering temperature rise and drought in some places, the monitor said. The 2015-2016 weather phenomenon El Nino, one of the strongest on record, also played a role, having created particularly dry conditions in the tropics.

Many of those tropical areas are not naturally prone to catching fire - but vulnerability increased due to poor management and was exacerbated by El Nino.

Deadly blazes in Brazil and Indonesia were among those contributing to the loss. This year, deadly blazes have again devastated regions of Portugal as well as California.

Brazil's Amazon region lost 9.1 million acres of tree cover - more than three times that of 2015.

And Portugal saw some four percent of its forests go up in smoke in 2016, the highest proportion of any other country.

Nearly half of all forests burned in the European Union in 2016 were in Portugal, where fire-prone eucalyptus and pine plantations along with poor soil encouraged the deadly flames.

The country is set to break the record for destroyed forests in 2017, with recent disasters killing dozens of people.

Early 2016 saw one of the largest fires ever recorded in Central Africa, destroying 37,000 acres of forest in the Republic of Congo.

Last year's Fort McMurray fire in Canada ravaged more than 1.5 million acres, causing $8.8 billion in damage.

Deforestation resulting from agriculture, logging and mining also contributed to the losses.

The report urged improving fire and forest management, including early warning systems, fire bans during dry seasons and more augmented investment in forest protection and restoration.




Chicago museum outs Trump 'Renoir' as fake

CHICAGO (AFP): An American museum is casting doubt on President Donald Trump's reported claim to possess an original Renoir - revealing to have owned the Impressionist painting in question for the past 84 years. According to a former Trump biographer, the US leader claims to own the original "Two Sisters (On the Terrace)," an oil-on-canvas painted by the French master Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1881. But the Art Institute of Chicago begs to differ.  "I'm happy to confirm that it's in our collection," museum spokeswoman Amanda Hicks told AFP by email Monday. "We're proud and grateful to be able to share this exceptional painting with our 1.5 million visitors each year." An identical work, which Trump asserted to be the original, was displayed in his private jet.

O'Brien told Vanity Fair magazine earlier this month that he saw the painting while conducting interviews for his 2005 book "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald."

The biographer, who Trump unsuccessfully sued for asserting that his net worth was as low as $150 million, corrected the self-proclaimed billionaire.

"It clearly was a knock-off," O'Brien told the magazine's Hive podcast, adding that he told Trump: "I grew up in Chicago... That's not an original."

Trump continued to insist that his painting was authentic, O'Brien said.

The White House did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.

The Chicago museum lists the Renoir as having been donated in 1933 by a local art collector, who bought it from a Paris art dealer, who in turn had purchased it from the artist himself in 1881 for 1,500 francs.

This is not the first authenticity controversy to dog the real estate mogul turned president.

In June, Time magazine reportedly asked the Trump Organization to remove from display a fake magazine cover featuring Trump's face adorned with flattering headlines.