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Are senior doctors who help drug companies sell their drugs independent experts or just drug representatives in disguise, asks Ray Moynihan from the University of Newcastle in Australia, in this week's BMJ.

Pharmaceutical companies regularly sponsor leading specialists with "generous fees to peddle influence" and promote drugs to the profession and the public, writes Moynihan.

Drug companies will pay influential doctors up to $400 an hour to act as key opinion leaders, and some doctors earn more than $25 000 a year in advisory fees.

Radiation is dangerous. In high doses it is certainly lethal and chronic exposure is linked to the development of cancer. That's why we have bomb shelters and canned food.

But what if a short-term controlled exposure to a low dose of radiation were good for our health? Don Luckey, emeritus professor at the University of Missouri, claims just that in the International Journal of Low Radiation.

Luckey was also the nutrition consultant for NASA's Apollo 11 to 17 moon missions and has spent the last several years developing the concept of improving health through exposure to low-dose radiation.


To mark the launch of the Pet Health Information website ( http://www.pethealthinfo.org.uk), a nationwide search for 'it shouldn't happen to a pet' anecdotes to highlight the lack of awareness of pet health issues amongst owners has revealed some howlers.


A research team from the University of the Basque Country, led by Basilio Sierra, is devising a robot that can identify different locations and will even ask permission before going through a doorway.

Let's face it, robots are boring. They never came close to cleaning our houses or delving into Asimovian angst about their existence.

A robot that can walk around without having every move programmed and can make decisions for itself is a start. The Autonomous Robotics and Systems Research Team at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) are involved in increasing the autonomy of robots so that they are evermore capable of carrying out more tasks on their own. They started with Marisorgin, the robot for distributing mail, and are making further advances with Tartalo.


Enactment of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 is a boon to individual patients and for genetic research, write Kathy Hudson, M.K. Holohan, and Francis Collins in the June 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. But the bill is not a panacea, they note: Employers, health insurers, patients, and doctors now must be educated about its provisions, gaps remain in genetic testing oversight, and there still may be opportunities to misuse genetic information.

Hudson, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts-funded Genetics and Public Policy Center, and co-authors Holohan and Collins of the National Human Genome Research Institute, reflect on GINA's slow path through the legislative process.

Nitrogen is essential to all life on Earth, and determines how much carbon dioxide ecosystems can absorb from the atmosphere, says UC Davis assistant professor Benjamin Houlton.

There are puzzling aspects of the nitrogen cycle in temperate and tropical forests. Defying laws of supply and demand, trees capable of extracting nitrogen directly from the atmosphere, nitrogen fixation, often thrive where it is readily available in the soil, but not where it is in short supply.

Houlton tackled the problem with colleagues including top international ecologist Peter Vitousek, the Clifford G. Morrison Professor in Population and Resource Studies at Stanford University.