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Many berries show cancer promise
By Nathan Seppa
Garden-variety berries provide about
the same cancer-fighting punch as more
exotic ones, a study of rats with esophageal cancer shows. A separate study finds
possible protection against breast cancer.
Cancer biologist Gary Stoner of Ohio
State University in Columbus and colleagues tested seven berry types against
cancer of the esophagus in rats — black
raspberries, red raspberries, blueberries,
strawberries, noni berries, açai berries
and wolfberries (also called goji berries).
The scientists injected rats with a carcinogenic chemical. Some then got normal food, while others ate a similar chow
Familiar berries fight cancer as effectively
as exotic types, research suggests.
of which 5 percent was one of the types
of berry in dehydrated form. Nearly all of
the rats fed just normal chow developed
tumors, but only 60 to 75 percent of the
berry-supplemented rats did. The berry-
eating rats had about half as many tumors
overall, the team reports in the June
Practice can be
less than perfect
Working memory may limit
musicians’ sight-reading skill
By Bruce Bower
Here’s a harsh piano lesson: Years of tickling the ivories go only so far for those who
want to sight-read sheet music fluently,
a new study suggests. Aside from those
painstaking hours of practice, a memory
skill that pianists have little control over
may help orchestrate their performance.
Sight-reading is the act of playing
sheet music on an instrument with little or no preparation. Any person who
practices sight-reading for thousands of
hours will get pretty good at it, say study
coauthors Elizabeth Meinz of Southern
Illinois University Edwardsville and
David Hambrick of Michigan State University in East Lansing. But a strong ability to keep different pieces of relevant
information in mind while performing a
task — known as working memory capac-
ity — aids sight-reading regardless of practice, the psychologists report in a paper
published online June 9 in Psychological
Science. The best sight readers combined
strong working memories with decades
of piano practice, the researchers found.
Working memory appears to gel early
in life and can’t be improved much by
learning, the study suggests. High scores
on working memory tests did not cluster among volunteers who had practiced
piano playing and sight-reading the most.
Previous research indicates that working memory capacity varies from one person to another and changes little from
childhood to adulthood, the scientists say.
“Practice ... will not always be sufficient
to overcome limitations due to a person’s
basic cognitive abilities,” Meinz says.
IQ scores probably relate to sight-reading proficiency as well, because IQ
tests tap into working memory capacity,
says psychologist Glenn Schellenberg of
the University of Toronto Mississauga .
He sees the new findings as a challenge
to the influential view, championed
by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson of
Florida State University in Tallahassee,
that expertise in sight-reading or anything
else depends on skills acquired through
extensive practice. Novices at a particu-
lar activity rely on general mental facul-
ties such as working memory, Ericsson
argues. But after roughly 10 years of
practice at a task such as sight-reading,
he suggests, specific mental mechanisms
for getting the job done emerge and gen-
eral-purpose faculties are jettisoned.