News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 14th August 2013

The euro zone is out of recession as new EU stats show


GDP expands by 0.3 per cent in second quarter, marking end of downturn

The euro zone is formally out of recession, according to figures published by the EU’s statistics agency in Luxembourg.

Gross domestic product – the widest measure of economic activity – expanded by 0.3 per cent in the second quarter of 2013 compared to the previous quarter.

The expansion followed six consecutive quarters of contraction – the longest recession since the euro was established in 1999.

However, activity in the euro zone, which is the second largest economy in the world after the US, remains down on the year-earlier period, recording a GDP contraction of 0.7 per cent in the second quarter.

As Ireland is among the last to publish its quarterly GDP numbers, today’s Eurostat data did not include any new figures for the State.

Germany, which is the biggest economy within the eurozone, beat forecasters’ expectations, growing by 0.7 per cent on the quarter.

The region’s second largest economy France grew by 0.5 per cent in the second quarter, the strongest rate of growth since 2011.

Among the countries for which figures were published, Portugal recorded the strongest growth in the second quarter, expanding by 1.1 per cent. The bailed-out country has suffered one of the most severe and protracted recessions in Europe in recent years.

Eurostat confirmed data previously published by the national statistics agencies of Italy and Spain that both economies remained in recession in the second quarter. Respectively the third and fourth largest economies in the euro zone, their deep and protracted contractions continued, albeit at more moderate rates than in most recent quarters.

Improve your posture in five easy steps


With good posture, you will stand, feel and appear taller. Look at celebrities in magazines and see how they ooze poise and confidence when they pose for cameras – all of which is achieved through good posture.

Clothes will hug and fit your body in a more flattering manner if you have good posture. For example, bodice tops and open-back dresses are designed with good posture in mind. Placing a well-designed garment on a body frame with poor posture is not a flattering sight.

Posture is the way your muscles and skeleton hold your body erect. Many people suffer with stiffness, tightness and or limited range of motion of a joint. What most people don’t realise is that the majority of these ailments occur because of poor posture.


Good posture occurs when the muscles of the body are working in harmony allowing for efficient movement.

If muscles are not balanced and flexible, the joints in the body (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, spine and neck) will not align properly. This causes some muscles to work harder than others. Over time, those muscles become tense while the others weaken, creating muscle imbalances and poor posture.

As posture deteriorates further, joint movements become restricted while the differences between the tense and weak muscles will place greater stress on the joints. This causes pain, stiffness and loss of motion throughout the body.

But with regular gentle exercises both these imbalances and your posture (and the pain associated with it) will improve. The benefits of good posture include muscles being more balanced and more flexible and with a greater flow of oxygenated blood getting to the muscle. This creates better circulation and makes muscles less prone to injury.

Joints will be more supple, lessening the chances of common complaints the majority of people experience after 40 – lower back pain, knee stiffness and circulation problems, especially in cold weather.

So what can you do to correct and improve posture? Here are some simple techniques that can be done from the comfort of your own home.

Firstly, warm the muscles and loosen the joints by marching on the spot for two to three minutes, bringing your knees to hip height. Follow this by circling your arms – 30 seconds clockwise and 30 seconds, moving anti-clockwise.

Exercise 1 Chest Stretch. Place the palms of your hands either side of a door frame, gently and slowly lean your body forward through the doorway until you feel a gentle stretch through your chest muscles.

You will also feel a stretch on the front of your shoulders. This stretch, over time, pulls the shoulders back into proper alignment.

Exercise 2 Back extension. Place a mat or towel on the floor. Lie down on your tummy, feet together, hands by your side, palms facing upwards. For a focus point, place a coin under your nose. Keeping hands and feet firmly on the floor, slowly raise your upper body off the floor while maintaining focus on the coin. Hold for 10-15 seconds and repeat 4-5 times. This stretch strengthens the lower back, which helps to alleviate pressure of the lumbar discs (lower back).

Exercise 3 Opposite arm and leg raise. Begin on all fours, align your knees under hips, hands under shoulders. Raise the left arm up to shoulder height and your right leg up to hip height, hold for five seconds and return to start position. Do the same on the other side and repeat 10 times. This stretch is fantastic for building on core strength.

Exercise 4 Hip Flexor Stretch. If this muscle becomes hypertonic (extreme tightness) it can cause many postural problems. Because the pelvis is pulled down to the front, this increases the curvature of your lower back, which will cause pain in that area. Place your left leg out in front, with a 90° angle at the knee. Your right leg should be placed on the ground, with your knee just behind your hip. Place your hands on your hips and slowly begin to push your hips forward while maintaining a straight spine. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. Do this cycle three times.

Exercise 5 The Plank. This exercise will strengthen your abs, back and neck. Lie on your tummy with your elbows under shoulders. Raise your hips off the floor so that your body is supported on your toes and elbows. Don’t raise your hips too high, just enough that your spine is straight. Keep your stomach muscles pulled in and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat six times. If you find this difficult, do it from your knees instead of your toes.

Aidan Carroll is the founder of Focus Fitness Personal Training ( and of Hard Target Self Defence Systems (

Irish College team makes major breakthrough on children’s Neuroblastoma cancer


A team of Irish scientists has made a major breakthrough in understanding the most common forms of cancer in very young children.

The group from Trinity College Dublin identified that the CHD5 gene is “deleted” in children with the worst form of neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in children aged under two years and attacks special nerve cells, known as neuroblasts, which are found throughout the body.

Normally these immature cells grow into functioning nerve cells, but in children with neuroblastoma they fail to mature and become cancer cells instead.

The scientists at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College explored the function of the CHD5 gene and found that, without the gene, neuroblasts are incapable of growing into mature nerve cells.

The team plans to continue its research in the hope of creating new treatments for children with this form of cancer.

Dr Adrian Bracken, lead scientist on the research project, said: “Understanding the role of genes whose deletion or inactivation is associated with disease is central to designing intelligent therapeutic strategies.

“Our work has unravelled the normal function of the CHD5 gene and suggests that its inactivation in neuroblastoma leads to an inability of these cells to correctly mature or differentiate,” he explained.

“Our future work will assess the potential benefit of reactivating CHD5 in neuroblastoma cells which usually retain one silenced copy of this gene.”

Gardai in Donegal issue appeal over missing woman


GARDAI in Letterkenny have issued an appeal for information in tracing the whereabouts of 44-year-old Siobhan Mc Nulty.

She has been missing from Knocknamona, Letterkenny, since Monday at  8.45pm.

Gardai believe she may have travelled to the Dublin area.

She is described as being 5ft 4″ tall with dark blonde hair. When last seen she was last seen wearing a pink top with grey shirt and grey jeans and carrying a black and brown bag.

Gardai have also informed the public that she speaks with a Scottish accent.

Anyone with information or who can assist in locating Siobhan are asked to contact Letterkenny Gardai Station on 074-9167100, The Garda Confidential Line on 1-800-666-111 or any Garda Station.

The Ultimate guide to cheap, healthy foods

In an era of rising food prices and economic strains that have put one in four people on federal nutrition assistance, nearly all Americans must search for foods that are nutritious and affordable. To ease the pressure, Environmental Working Group’s researchers have created Good Food on a Tight Budget, a science-based shopping guide of the top 100 foods that are healthy, cheap,clean, and green.

We can’t thank the Environmental Working Group enough for creating this incredibly comprehensive review of the most inexpensive foods that are good for both you and the environment. The organization’s health experts selected these best buys based on an in-depth analysis of government surveys and tests for nearly 1,200 foods.

Not only does this guide include helpful illustrations listing the best foods for each category (like the ones for fruits and vegetables, pictured below), but it also offers recipes for dishes like tabbouleh and crunchy peanut slaw, plus shopping lists and meal planners for you to print out and fill in.Some of the things we learned:

  • Buy organic peaches — while super nutritious, peaches have more pesticides than other fruits.
  • Goat is the world’s most commonly eaten meat.
  • Not all dairy products are rich in calcium — fatty foods like cream cheese, sour cream, cream and butter have little or no calcium.
  • When shopping for bread and pasta, you should aim for brands with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving in bread and 5 grams in pasta.
  • You can get your five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day for about the cost of a bus ride in most cities.

Ostrich necks provide clues to how sauropod dinosaurs moved and ate

sauropod exhibit, American Museum of Natural History   

Visitors at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City look at models of the sauropod Mamenchisaurus. Researchers debate whether modern depictions of how sauropods held their long necks are accurate or not.

How did sauropod dinosaurs move their heads?  When they stood, were their super-long necks stretched up high to the treetops like a giraffe’s?  Set horizontal to the ground like a cow’s?  Or in some other orientation as yet unimagined?

Many scientists have pinned their understanding of sauropod neck posture and flexibility on a groundbreaking computer model, described in a 1999 study in the journal Science.  But a new study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that model doesn’t convey the whole picture because it doesn’t fully consider how soft tissues like cartilage and muscle — absent from dinosaur bones but available for study in extant animals — might have influenced flexibility.

“No one ever said, ‘Let’s apply this to a living animal,'” said Matthew Cobley, a graduate student at the University of Utah and first author of the PLOS ONE study. “When we did, we saw it was totally wrong.”

Cobley, who did the work as part of his master’s studies at the University of Bristol in England, decided to look at ostriches to gain insight into the sauropod biology. Scientists look at living relatives of dinosaurs, including reptiles and birds, to infer information about soft tissues in dinosaurs, Cobley said.  In this case, ostriches provided the best analog for the sauropods because they also have long necks. (Giraffes, another obvious candidate for study, aren’t as good a fit because mammals have significantly fewer vertebrae in their necks than sauropods and birds, he added.)

Cobley obtained three female ostrich necks and used an instrument called a goniometer to measure the angles formed at joints between vertebrae as he bent the neck as far as it could go. Taking measurements on the necks with muscles and cartilage intact and after soft tissues were removed, he discovered that the necks were less flexible with the soft tissues intact.

“That demonstrates that a computer model that doesn’t take soft tissues into account can’t be adequate,” Cobley said.”When you look at extinct animals, you have to consider soft tissue.

“If I’m not looking at how soft tissue affects flexibility,” he said, “I’m not getting a idea of how flexible [the animal] is in real life.”

The computer models were so widely accepted that they’ve influenced depictions of sauropods on popular TV shows and in museum exhibits. Cobley said his research doesn’t suggest a better way to position the necks in such presentations — rather, it reminds scientists that they don’t understand everything about how dinosaurs really stood.

“We don’t really know what’s going on,” he said.

Debating the finer points of how dinosaurs stood or moved their necks can seem like a trivial pursuit, said Mathew Wedel, a biologist at the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, who has also researched the question.  But it’s a detail of great importance to paleobiologists, who want to know how sauropods — who thrived for some 150 million years  — lived so successfully on Earth for so long.

If scientists can understand what herbivorous creatures like Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus were capable of doing with their long necks, they can speculate about their eating patterns and how species competed for food resources, said Wedel, who was not involved with Cobley’s research.

“For more than twice the length of the whole age of mammals, these guys were … ecologically dominant,” Wedel said. “If we want to understand Mesozoic ecosystems, we have to understand what sauropods were doing.”

Wedel praised Cobley for what he said was “a ton of work” coming up with methods to gauge the neck flexibility, and said he hoped that scientists would now take the process Cobley developed and apply it to study other animals such as swans, cranes, llamas, giraffes and owls to look for patterns that might help paleontologists better understand sauropod anatomy.

Wedel said he had just submitted a paper for publication that suggested that sauropod muscles would have improved flexibility — not hampered it.

“Now I have to change it,” he said with a laugh.


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