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Averaged images of 16 sick (L) and healthy (R) individuals

Composite images of 16 people who either had been injected with a bacterial molecule that spurs an immune response (‘sick’, left) or were healthy (right). Credit: Audrey Henderson/J. Axelsson et al./Proc. R. Soc. B

Human behaviour

Illness is written all over your face

Subtle visual cues allow us to distinguish sick from well.

People can recognize subtle differences in the appearance of the skin, mouth and eyes as signs of disease.

John Axelsson at Stockholm University and his colleagues investigated whether people are able to detect illness in others in the absence of behaviours associated with infection, such as coughing. They showed untrained volunteers photographs of men and women taken two hours after injection with either a placebo or a bacterial molecule that triggers a strong immune reaction.

People who saw these pictures for no more than five seconds classified faces as either sick or healthy more accurately than if they had chosen at random. Pale skin and drooping eyelids were the strongest predictors of sickness.

The ability to detect early signs of disease might have evolved as a way to avoid close interaction when the risk of contagion is high.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.

Zoology

A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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