Jackson's Death Not From Metal

Historians have long debated whether President Andrew Jackson died from mercury and lead poisoning from medicines he took or perhaps the two bullets that were lodged in his body for years. New tests on snippets of his hair, however, indicate that while the nation's seventh president was exposed to mercury and lead, they probably did not contribute to his death.

Jackson's 19th-century doctors treated him with calomel, which contains mercury, and sugar of lead, which contains lead, two commonly used compounds in Jackson's day. Old Hickory also had lead bullets in his left lung and left shoulder, "a consequence of his propensity to settle disputes with guns," according to a report in the Aug. 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Jackson exhibited many symptoms and signs compatible with mercury poisoning and [lead poisoning], including excessive salivation, rapid tooth loss, colic, diarrhea, pallor, hand tremor, irritability, paranoia, violent mood swings and probably chronic renal failure," wrote Ludwig M. Deppisch of Northside Hospital in Youngstown, Ohio, and colleagues.

Deppisch and his colleagues obtained two samples of Jackson's hair kept by the Hermitage, Jackson's home outside Nashville, and tested them for mercury and lead. While levels of both metals were elevated, neither was high enough to kill him, though he probably did experience some health problems due to lead exposure, the researchers said.

"Jackson's death was probably not due to heavy metal poisoning," they concluded.

Instead, his death at age 78 in 1845 was most likely due to kidney failure, the researchers said.

Amnesiac Man Aids Research

A 76-year-old brain-damaged man with serious amnesia has provided researchers with new clues to how memory works.

Scientists have long believed that a part of the brain known as the hippocampus plays a crucial role in the formation of memories. The man, a former laboratory technician known as E.P., had a hippocampus that was completely destroyed by a brain infection.

Tests found that E.P. was able to remember the streets of the Hayward-Castro Valley area where he grew up in California as well as three men and one woman who attended the same high school at the same time and moved out of the area about 50 years ago.

"In contrast, E.P. has no knowledge of his current neighborhood, to which he moved after he became amnesic," Edmond Teng and Larry R. Squire of the University of California at San Diego reported in the Aug. 12 issue of Nature.

E.P. provides strong new evidence that the hippocampus is essential for the creation of new long-term memories, a conclusion supported by an accompanying study of mice by French researchers.

Longer-Lasting Battery Created

Israeli researchers have developed a new battery that they say lasts 50 percent longer than today's commonly used batteries.

Batteries produce power by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. The standard alkaline batteries most commonly used today use zinc and a combination of carbon and manganese.

In the new batteries, Stuart Licht of the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and colleagues replaced manganese with an unusual form of iron known as iron (VI), also called "super iron." It had been thought too unstable for use in a battery, but Licht and colleagues found that inside a battery it remained stable.

The batteries should be environmentally safe because iron (VI) simply turns into rust after it is spent. They also should be relatively inexpensive to manufacture and recharge, the researchers reported in the Aug. 13 issue of Science.

Record Set for Snowfall

Here's a little antidote to the summer heat: Mount Baker in Washington state has set a record for the most snowfall measured in the United States in a single season.

The Mount Baker Ski Area, which is located at an elevation of 4,200 feet in northwestern Washington state, reported 1,140 inches of snow for the 1998-99 snowfall season, which ran from July 1, 1998, to June 30, 1999. The record was confirmed by several independent groups, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA announced last week.

The previous record was 1,122 inches, set during the 1971-72 season at Mount Rainier/Paradise, a station located at an elevation of 5,500 feet on the slopes of Mount Rainier about 150 miles south of Mount Baker, officials said.

The unusually heavy snowfall is being attributed, in part, to this year's La Nina climate pattern.

Manatee Has Spinal Surgery

Surgeons in Miami have performed what is believed to be the first operation of its kind on a manatee. The animal was severely injured in a collision with a boat off the coast of Florida.

Doctors from the University of Miami performed more than five hours of surgery on Nash, a manatee being cared for at the Miami Seaquarium since a July 16 collision with a boat in the waters off Fort Lauderdale. The boat's propeller sliced 25 pounds of skin away from Nash's backbone, which was also fractured when the marine mammal collided with the boat.

After Nash was stabilized with antibiotics and other care at the aquarium, a team of veterinarians and neurosurgeons last week used the same rod and pin system used to repair human spinal cord injuries to repair the 12-foot, 1,000-pound sea mammal's spine.

Nash, about 9 years old, was in critical condition after the surgery. Doctors hope he will recover but expect that he will remain partially paralyzed. There is little chance he will be returned to the sea. There are only about 2,300 manatees left in Florida's waters.