New DNA nanorobots successfully target and kill off cancerous tumors

Original Article

Science fiction no more — in an article out today in Nature Biotechnology, scientists were able to show tiny autonomous bots have the potential to function as intelligent delivery vehicles to cure cancer in mice.

These DNA nanorobots do so by seeking out and injecting cancerous tumors with drugs that can cut off their blood supply, shriveling them up and killing them.

“Using tumor-bearing mouse models, we demonstrate that intravenously injected DNA nanorobots deliver thrombin specifically to tumor-associated blood vessels and induce intravascular thrombosis, resulting in tumor necrosis and inhibition of tumor growth,” the paper explains.

DNA nanorobots are a somewhat new concept for drug delivery. They work by getting programmed DNA to fold into itself like origami and then deploying it like a tiny machine, ready for action.

The scientists behind this study tested the delivery bots by injecting them into mice with human breast cancer tumors. Within 48 hours, the bots had successfully grabbed onto vascular cells at the tumor sites, causing blood clots in the tumor’s vessels and cutting off their blood supply, leading to their death.

Remarkably, the bots did not cause clotting in other parts of the body, just the cancerous cells they’d been programmed to target, according to the paper.

The scientists were also able to demonstrate the bots did not cause clotting in the healthy tissues of Bama miniature pigs, calming fears over what might happen in larger animals.

The goal, say the scientists behind the paper, is to eventually prove these bots can do the same thing in humans. Of course, more work will need to be done before human trials begin.

Regardless, this is a huge breakthrough in cancer research. The current methods of either using chemotherapy to destroy every cell just to get at the cancer cell are barbaric in comparison. Using targeted drugs is also not as exact as simply cutting off blood supply and killing the cancer on the spot. Should this new technique gain approval for use on humans in the near future it could have impressive affects on those afflicted with the disease.

This electronic skin can heal itself — and then make more skin

The new e-skin. Photo by Jianliang Xiao / University of Colorado Boulder

In a quest to make electronic devices more environmentally friendly, researchers have created an electronic skin that can be completely recycled. The e-skin can also heal itself if it’s torn apart.

The device, described today in the journal Science Advances, is basically a thin film equipped with sensors that can measure pressure, temperature, humidity, and air flow. The film is made of three commercially available compounds mixed together in a matrix and laced with silver nanoparticles: when the e-skin is cut in two, adding the three compounds to the “wound” allows the e-skin to heal itself by recreating chemical bonds between the two sides. That way, the matrix is restored and the e-skin is as good as new. If the e-skin is broken beyond repair, it can just be soaked in a solution that “liquefies” it so that the materials can be reused to make new e-skin. One day, this electronic skin could be used in prosthetics, robots, or smart textiles.

Many labs around the world are developing e-skins. One created in Europe allows users to manipulate virtual objects without touching them, by using magnets. Another one developed in Japan can turn a smart shirt into a video game motion controller. This latest e-skin is special because it’s recyclable — and that’s an important added bonus if you consider that in the US alone, 16 billion pounds of electronic waste was created in 2014. All these circuit boards, transistors, and hard drives can contain toxic chemicals that need to be disposed of properly.

“This particular device … won’t produce any waste,” says study co-author Jianliang Xiao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at University of Colorado Boulder. “We want to make electronics to be environmentally friendly.”

So if the e-skin is severely damaged, or you’re just done with it, it can be recycled using a “recycling solution.” This solution dissolves the matrix into small molecules, allowing the silver nanoparticle to sink to the bottom. All materials can then be reused to create another patch of functioning e-skin. The whole recycling takes about 30 minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) or 10 hours at room temperature. The healing happens even faster: within a half hour at room temperature, or within a few minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), according to Xiao.

The e-skin isn’t perfect. It’s soft, but not as stretchy as human skin. Xiao says he and his colleagues are also working to make the device more scalable, so that it’ll be easier to manufacture and embed in prosthetics or robots. But it’s the fact that the e-skin can be recycled that gets Xiao excited.

“We are facing pollution issues every day,” he says. “It’s important to preserve our environment and make sure that nature can be very safe for ourselves and for our kids.”

More US teens are rejecting ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ gender identities, a study finds

Original Article

(CNN)More teenagers are identifying themselves with nontraditional gender labels such as transgender or gender-fluid, according to a new study.

The research, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, found that almost 3% of Minnesota teens did not identify with traditional gender labels such as “boy” or “girl.” That number is higher than researchers expected. A UCLA study from a year ago estimated that 0.7% of teens identified as transgender.
Lead researcher Nic Rider of the University of Minnesota said the main purpose of the new study was to examine health differences between gender-nonconforming teens and teens who are cisgender, a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth.
The study found that transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) youth reported “reported significantly poorer health” — including mental health — than cisgender teenagers. TGNC teens also were less likely to get preventive health checkups and more likely to visit their school nurse, the study found.
But more surprising may have been the rising percentage of teens who say they don’t fit traditional gender norms.
The study supports prior research suggesting “that previous estimates of the size of the TGNC population have been underestimated by orders of magnitude,” wrote Daniel Shumer, a specialist in transgender medicine at the University of Michigan, in an accompanying opinion article.
The study supports prior research suggesting “that previous estimates of the size of the TGNC population have been underestimated by orders of magnitude,” wrote Daniel Shumer, a specialist in transgender medicine at the University of Michigan, in an accompanying opinion article.
That’s a big jump from the UCLA study, which was published in January 2017 and estimated that 0.7% of American teens ages 13-17 identify as transgender.
That study was based on government data on adults collected by 27 US states in 2014 and 2015. The survey’s researchers used the adult data to estimate the percentage of transgender teens.
Rider’s new study only focuses on Minnesota teens, but researchers hope to expand it into a national study to get more accurate data.

‘A window into high school-aged youth’

Growing awareness and visibility surrounding transgender issues in recent years may make teenagers more comfortable with steering away from traditional gender labels, experts say.
Shumer, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, believes that the growing percentage of gender-nonconforming youth should serve as a lesson to schools and physicians to abandon limited views of gender.
“Of particular interest is how the researchers in this study were able to provide a window into how high school-aged youth understand and redefine gender,” he wrote.
“Continued work to build understanding of how youth understand and express gender is a critical step toward reducing health disparities in this important and valued population.”
Rider hopes this study will help improve health care for transgender teenagers, adding that doctors and parents should help gender-nonconforming youth feel more comfortable about seeking medical help.

The UK Is Officially Letting Doctors Create A 3-Parent Baby

 

Original Article

The modern era of the so-called “three-parent baby” has officially kicked off, and it will begin in the UK.

According to the BBC, the country’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has granted permission for doctors at the Newcastle Fertility Center to artificially implant two women with an embryo containing the DNA of three people. The procedure is intended to prevent the women from passing a rare, debilitating genetic condition known as MERRF (myoclonic epilepsy with ragged red fibers) syndrome down to their children. People born with MERRF suffer a wide variety of chronic symptoms, including seizures, impaired muscles, and eventually dementia.

There are two current techniques that can be used to create a three-parent baby, but the net result is the same: A child born with the nuclear DNA of their intended parents, and the swapped-in mitochondrial DNA of a donor woman.

Mitochondria are an essential part of nearly every kind of cell found in the body, acting as the cell’s source of energy. But only a tiny slice of our DNA determines how our mitochondria functions—a whooping 37 genes out of more than 20,000. And none of these genes influence things like our appearance, risk of some cancers, or propensity for Cheetos. But because we obtain the genes for making mitochondria exclusively from our mother, women whose mitochondria have damaging mutations are at high risk at passing on those same flaws to their children, including those responsible for MERRF syndrome.

Three-parent babies actually aren’t new. Similar procedures were performed throughout the 90s in various countries, including the U.S. But concerns emerged that the techniques used then were too risky, and may have resulted in children who were either born with the same mutations their mothers had or who developed other complications. Within a few years, the FDA banned these procedures from being performed in the states, while other countries informally followed suit.

The new generation of three-parent techniques are thought to be much safer. But there are still worries that we might be moving too fast. Last year, the FDA warned John Zhang, a New York fertility doctor, to steer clear of the U.S. if he wanted to perform his version of the technique, since there is still a formal ban on implanting women with genetically modified human embryos.

Zhang is credited as the first doctor to successfully perform the modern-day procedure, but ethicists have balked at the shady workarounds he used to pull it off. According to the FDA, Zhang’s initial application to have the procedure put through clinical trials was denied, and he promised to avoid performing it stateside until he could gain approval. But he’s also continued to advertise it as a way to not only prevent mitochondrial birth defects, but age-related infertility. Meanwhile, other teams from China and the Ukraine have also reported using 3-person techniques in the wake of Zhang’s success.

Unlike the U.S., the UK has long been preparing for the arrival of three-parent babies. In 2015, its Parliament passed regulations that would eventually allow the use of these techniques, pending a lengthy review process by the HFEA. Last year, the agency finally granted its first license to perform the procedure to the Newcastle Fertility Center. For the time being, each potential case will be reviewed by the HFEA before its approval.

http://bgr.com/2018/01/01/alzheimers-treatment-drug-type-2-diabetes-research/

Original Article

Developing new treatments for ailments can be a tedious and frustrating process for scientists. Oftentimes, newly developed drugs just don’t work the way they were intended, falling short of expectations and leading to a dead end. But other times, a drug developed for one purpose turns out to be even more effective at treating something completely different. That appears to be exactly what is happening with a new class of drug originally developed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but has recently been shown to have a drastic benefit in mice with Alzheimer’s.

The new drugs, which are classified as “triple agonist” (because they work in three ways), were tested on mice which were developed to express genes linked to Alzheimer’s. The animals were already exhibiting many of the symptoms associated with the disease, including compromised memory and difficulty learning, but showed dramatic improvement in their brain function after receiving the unique treatment.

The treatment “holds clear promise of being developed into a new treatment for chronic neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” Professor Christian Holscher, lead researcher of the study, explains. The research was published in Brain Research.

According to the study, the triple-acting treatment is thought to work against Alzheimer’s disease by protecting nerve cells, reducing amyloid plaques in the brain (which have been linked to Alzheimer’s), and reducing inflammation while slowing nerve cell degradation. Mice that received treatment demonstrated significant improvement in learning as well as memory formation.

Discovering a potential new treatment for a devastating disease like Alzheimer’s is fantastic news, but the fact that the drug was initially intended to treat type 2 diabetes isn’t just a coincidence. Type 2 diabetes has been linked to Alzheimer’s in the past, and the two often go hand-in-hand in older individuals. “Insulin desensitisation has also been observed in the Alzheimer’s disease brain,” the researchers explain in a press release. “The desensitisation could play a role in the development of neurodegenerative disorders as insulin is a growth factor with neuroprotective properties.”

The treatment has not yet been approved for Alzheimer’s patients, and has only been demonstrated in these early trials with mice. Further research is most certainly warranted, and if we’re lucky, we might actually have a go-to solution for the disease sooner rather than later.

Gaming disorder is going to be named a mental health condition for the first time

Original Article

By Sabrina Barr

 

a man holding a guitar© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media LimitedGaming disorder is soon to be classified as a mental health condition for the very first time, the New Scientist reports.

The International Classification of Diseases is a diagnostic manual that’s published by the World Health Organisation.

It was last updated 27 years ago, in 1990.

The eleventh edition of the manual is due to be published in 2018 and will include gaming disorder as a serious health condition to be monitored.

The wording of the gaming disorder hasn’t been revealed yet.

However, the draft outlines the criteria needed to determine whether someone can be classed as having a gaming disorder.

Vladimir Poznyak, a member of the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, spoke about the importance of recognising gaming disorder as an important issue.

“Health professionals need to recognise that gaming disorder may have serious health consequences,” he said.

“Most people who play video games don’t have a disorder, just like most people who drink alcohol don’t have a disorder either. However, in certain circumstances overuse can lead to adverse effects.”

Last year, researchers from the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute undertook a study to investigate the percentage of gamers who are addicted to video games.

The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that only 2 to 3 per cent of the 19,000 men and women surveyed from the UK, the US, Canada and Germany admitted that they experienced five or more of the symptoms from the American Psychiatric Association checklist of health symptoms.

A few years ago, the APA created a list of nine standard symptoms that could determine “internet gaming disorder”. These symptoms include anxiety, withdrawal symptoms and antisocial behaviour.

Dr Andrew Przybylski, lead author from the University of Oxford study, discussed their findings.

“To our knowledge, these are the first findings from a large-scale project to produce robust evidence on the potential new problem of ‘internet gaming disorder,’” he said.

“Contrary to what was predicted, the study did not find a clear link between potential addiction and negative effects on health; however, more research grounded in open and robust scientific practices is needed to learn if games are truly as addictive as many fear.”

While some may debate whether gaming does pose a threat to mental health, the amount of time many people spend playing video games is astounding.

When researchers from ESET polled 500 gamers, they discovered that 10 per cent admitted to spending between 12 and 24 hours glued to their video game screens.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BcqmZOiH8Hd/embed/?cr=1&v=8&wp=777#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A1549.455%7D

“Gaming is highly addictive, and it is no wonder so many respondents from our study admit to playing them for so long,” said Mark James, a security specialist at ESET.

‘I want to help humans genetically modify themselves’

Original Article

By Tom Ireland

Josiah Zayner, 36, recently made headlines by becoming the first person to use the revolutionary gene-editing tool Crispr to try to change their own genes. Part way through a talk on genetic engineering, Zayner pulled out a syringe apparently containing DNA and other chemicals designed to trigger a genetic change in his cells associated with dramatically increased muscle mass. He injected the DIY gene therapy into his left arm, live-streaming the procedure on the internet.

The former Nasa biochemist, based in California, has become a leading figure in the growing “biohacker” movement, which involves loose collectives of scientists, engineers, artists, designers, and activists experimenting with biotechnology outside of conventional institutions and laboratories.

Despite warnings from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that selling gene therapy products without regulatory approval is illegal, Zayner sells kits that allow anyone to get started with basic genetic engineering techniques, and has published a free guide for others who want to take it further and experiment on themselves.

Was administering a dose of Crispr on yourself an experiment, or a stunt to show what amateur scientists/biohackers can do?
Both. The technical feasibility of what I did is not under question – researchers have done this many times, in all sorts of animals. But there’s a barrier – people are afraid of it, and just talk about the possibilities in humans. I wanted to break that down, to say “Hey look, the tools are inexpensive, and somebody with a bit of knowledge can actually go through with these experiments”.

I chose to start with the gene for myostatin [a protein that regulates muscle growth], because it has been extensively studied, and it produces an obvious change if it has worked.

So, how is your arm looking?
In similar experiments with animals, you only start to see results after four to six months of treatment. I would expect that the DNA in some of the cells of my arm has changed, but I am still working on developing assays [tests] to try and detect that. As to whether the actual size of the muscle changes, I’m more sceptical.

Changing the way one gene behaves can have a huge number of knock-on effects on the way other genes are regulated or expressed. Do you really know what you’re doing?
It’s a good question. These things are complicated, and obviously with things like this there are lots of unknowns. I look at what the possible negative outcomes are and ask: “Are those risks insignificant enough that I’m willing to undertake this experiment?” Based on the data I read, for a local injection the answer was yes. A treatment that blocks myostatin throughout the whole body? That would be much more hazardous – you would be messing with the muscles of your heart.

You support the idea of people attempting gene therapy and other experimental procedures on themselves. What’s wrong with the existing system, where treatments are thoroughly tested by professionals before being approved for use?
If we’re going to do these experiments you have to balance two things: how many people can possibly die from testing their own products or making them available prematurely, versus how many people have genetic disorders and are just dying because they don’t have access to them. I think there’s a huge imbalance, where we’re overprotective of hurting people instead of offering a chance to millions of people who are dying right now.

As human beings we’re very big on freedoms, equality, equal rights. What’s more of an equal right than being able to control what genes we have? I think people should be able to choose that. I’m not saying anything I can do can help treat people, but treating things genetically is the ultimate medicine.

I grew up in the 90s with the computer hacker movement, the development of the internet – the whole open-source movement was amazing. Who created Linux, the most used operating system ever? Not students from Harvard or Cambridge, but Linus Torvalds, a student in Finland working in his apartment.

I don’t think for a second I’m going to be the mastermind behind a great biotech revolution, but I think there’s some brilliant person waiting to be discovered out there that could be.

In another recent biohacking experiment, a man injected himself with an unproven gene-therapy treatment for HIV which had been developed by biohacking startup Ascendence Biomedical. What do you know about what they are doing, and do you support their approach?
I think they’re at a lot more risk because they are trying to work in the medical field, saying they can cure people. I think that starts to get a little more ethically and morally sketchy, and the government will certainly crack down on that.

The reason we have hospitals is that it’s not just one random person giving you their opinion; there is oversight, checks and balances. When people start proposing new treatments without data to back them up or without consulting people, I think “Hey, be smart”. Get a second opinion, third opinion, ask doctors, ask other biohackers. Trying a therapy that doesn’t work instead of your medication obviously could be worse.

The problem is, it’s like the freedom of speech thing: it sucks sometimes. If I say I want the freedom to test something on myself, it means everybody does – even people who are stupid or want to do crazy stuff.

But if you say people should experiment on themselves outside of the traditional clinical trial system, surely that’s exactly what will happen? There will be a grey area where people are halfway there, or guessing what the effects will be.
Yeah. I don’t know – honestly, I would never put me in charge of running this stuff for the FDA or the government. I think there are people who know how to make the rules to protect the most amount of people.

People are going to get hurt with this stuff and I feel ethically terrible about that, and I don’t know how to prevent it. I see these instances of people doing crazy stuff and I’m like, “No, that’s not what I meant! Why are you injecting things in your eyeballs?”.

I have this very libertarian side of me that says people have the right to do whatever they want with their bodies. But I also have this part of me that says “Be knowledgeable! Base it on scientific data!”

What do your family think of what you do?
I usually hide stuff I’m about to do from them, in case they try and talk me out of it. If I decide to do something, it’s because I’ve carefully weighed up the pros and cons. They won’t understand how much research I’ve done. My mom supports me, but thinks I’m crazy. She was so sad when I left Nasa.

Last year, you performed a DIY faecal transplant on yourself. How did that go?
Yes, I did a DIY faecal transplant to help with my gut health issues. It still blows my mind the effect it had, and DNA samples showed I did manage to change the makeup of my gut bacteria. I don’t exactly recommend the course of action I took, because there are safer alternatives to DIY. But if people have no access to those I support their choice to try it. Faeces is quite strictly regulated in the US, like a drug, so people travel to the UK where there are clinics.

Where do you and other biohackers get the equipment, tools and chemicals to conduct genetic engineering at home? 
People don’t know that generally the same resources that are available to scientists are available to non-scientists. I can just order DNA online and they ship it to my house. If I want to get some sequencing done I send it off to a company and they’ll do it for me. It’s really inexpensive – we’re talking $6 to get a sample sequenced, or $10 to get a piece of DNA.

What are you working on next? 
We have always been slaves to the genomes we have, and giving people the ability to change that almost changes what it means to be human. It seems so sci-fi and made up, but we’ve been genetically modifying humans with gene therapy since the 1990s – it’s just been very few people and for medical reasons. I want to help humans genetically modify themselves.

If DIY genetic engineering becomes commonplace, as you hope, what do you think the world will be like in the future?
To me it’s like Blade Runner, where he goes into that back-alley science lab and there’s the guy making eyes. I imagine people going to some place like a tattoo parlour, and instead of getting a tattoo they pick out some DNA that makes them muscly, or changes the colour of their hair or eyes.

DNA defines what a species is, and I imagine it wouldn’t be too long into the future when the human species almost becomes a new species because of these modifications.

When scientists first started altering DNA just to make, say, tomatoes ripen differently, there was immense public concern. Do you expect the general public is going to be supportive of people modifying any organism, including people, in any way they can, in their garage?
The whole thing with GMOs [genetically modified organisms] was that it was “us and them”. They have the power to modify plants and we don’t know what they’re doing, and have no control over it, and so we are against it. This technology that I’m trying to do is for all of us. Whether you’re a big corporation or somebody in their basement, you have access to this stuff – everybody does. People respond very positively to that. We’ll see what happens. I’m sure we’ll get a different response when people are doing it every day, or when the first person decides to try and give themselves a tail or something.

Former Facebook Exec: ‘You Don’t Realize It But You Are Being Programmed’

Original Article

By Jennings Brown

This is the year everyone—including founding executives—began publicly questioning the impact of social media on our lives.

Last month, Facebook’s first president Sean Parker opened up about his regrets over helping create social media as we know it today. “I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because of the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other,” Parker said. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

 

Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice president of user growth, also recently expressed his concerns. During a recent public discussion at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Palihapitiya—who worked at Facebook from 2005 to 2011—told the audience, “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

Some of his comments seem to echo Parker’s concern [emphasis ours]. Parker has said that social media creates “a social-validation feedback loop” by giving people “a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.”

Just days after Parker made those comments, Palihapitiya told the Stanford audience, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” Palihapitiya said. “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem—this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

It’s as if Parker and Palihapitiya got together at a bar that week to work out their inner demons. When the host asked Palihapitiya if he was doing any soul searching in regards to his role in building Facebook, he responded: “I feel tremendous guilt. I think we all knew in the back of our minds—even though we feigned this whole line of, like, there probably aren’t any bad unintended consequences. I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of, we kind of knew something bad could happen. But I think the way we defined it was not like this.”

He went on to explain what “this” is:

So we are in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other. And I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years.

Speaking more broadly on the subject of social media, Palihapitiya said he doesn’t use social media because he “innately didn’t want to get programmed.” As for his kids: “They’re not allowed to use this shit.”

Then he got even more fired up: “Your behaviors—you don’t realize it but you are being programmed. It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you are willing to give up, how much of your intellectual independence,” he told the students in the crowd. “And don’t think, ‘Oh yeah, not me, I’m fucking genius, I’m at Stanford.’ You’re probably the most likely to fucking fall for it. ‘Cause you are fucking check-boxing your whole Goddamn life.”

Oh boy. Nobody show this to Alex Jones.

Having older brothers increases men’s likelihood of being gay

Original Article

By Jen Christensen

(CNN)If you’re a guy with an older brother, there’s an increased chance you’re gay.

Scientists have noticed this pattern in previous research, but now they think they have a biological explanation as to why, and it starts long before birth. The results were published in the journal PNAS on Monday.
The researchers say that if their findings can be replicated, we may know at least one of the biological reasons some men are gay.
Many factors may determine someone’s sexual orientation, but in this case, researchers noticed a pattern that may be linked to something that happens in the womb. The phenomenon is related to a protein linked to the Y chromosome (which women do not have) that is important to male brain development.
Researchers think it’s possible that when a woman gets pregnant with her first boy, this Y-linked protein gets into her bloodstream. The mother’s body recognizes the protein as a foreign substance, and her immune system responds, creating antibodies. If enough of these antibodies build up in the woman’s body and she gets pregnant with another a boy, they can cross the placental barrier and enter the brain of the second male fetus.
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“That may alter the functions in the brain, changing the direction of how the male fetus may later develop their sense of attraction,” said study author Anthony Bogaert, a Canadian psychologist and professor in the departments of psychology and community health sciences at Brock University.
Earlier research has shown that the more older brothers a boy has, the more of a chance that boy will be attracted to men. A 2006 study showed that with each brother, the chance that a man will be gay goes up by about a third, but the researchers didn’t determine why that was.
Bogaert and his co-authors tested a small group of 142 women and 12 men ages 18 to 80 and found a higher concentration of antibodies to the protein, known as NLGN4Y, in blood samples from women than from men. They found the highest concentration of antibodies to the protein in women with gay younger sons who had older brothers, compared with women who had no sons or who had given birth to only heterosexual boys.
The study builds on research Bogaert and his co-authors have been exploring for more than 20 years. Since their initial research that noted the trend, other research — although not all studies — have detected the phenomenon, even across cultures. One found that a man’s chances of being gay increased even if he was raised apart from his older brother.
Researchers did not see a similar pattern in families with adopted brothers, so scientists started to think there must be a maternal developmental explanation. The research does not give biological explanation for why some men may be bisexual or may not be attracted to anyone at all, nor can it give a biological explanation for gay only children, gay oldest sons or women who are attracted to women.
J. Michael Bailey, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, thinks the latest research is important. “It is significant, and I believe science granting agencies should put a high priority into additional research to see if this is true,” he said.
Bailey was not involved in the new study but has worked on studies that have found genetic factors that may explain some differences in sexual orientations.
Bailey’s latest paper, published this month in the journal Nature Research, looked at people’s genomes and found several regions with single-letter DNA changes that were more common among gay men than straight men and may be relevant to the development of sexual orientation. Bailey believes this new study may be even more significant than general genetic findings if the findings can be replicated.
“Our studies only show that there may be genes that matter in sexual orientation,” he said. “It is not like this study, that shows there is a potential specific mechanism by which sexual orientation may have changed prenatally. This is important work and fascinating if it proves to be true.”

Major cause of dementia discovered

Original Article

An international team of scientists have confirmed the discovery of a major cause of dementia, with important implications for possible treatment and diagnosis.

Professor Garth Cooper from The University of Manchester, who leads the Manchester team, says the build-up of urea in the brain to toxic levels can cause brain damage – and eventually .

The work follows on from Professor Cooper’s earlier studies, which identified metabolic linkages between Huntington’s, other neurodegenerative diseases and type-2 diabetes.

The team consists of scientists from The University of Manchester, the University of Auckland, AgResearch New Zealand, the South Australian Research and Development Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University.

The latest paper by the scientists, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that Huntington’s Disease – one of seven major types of age-related dementia – is directly linked to brain urea levels and metabolic processes.

Their 2016 study revealing that urea is similarly linked to Alzheimer’s, shows, according to Professor Cooper, that the discovery could be relevant to all types of age-related dementias.

The Huntington’s study also showed that the high urea levels occurred before dementia sets in, which could help doctors to one day diagnose and even treat dementia, well in advance of its onset.

Urea and ammonia in the brain are metabolic breakdown products of protein. Urea is more commonly known as a compound which is excreted from the body in urine. If urea and ammonia build up in the body because the kidneys are unable to eliminate them, for example, serious symptoms can result.

Professor Cooper, who is based at The University of Manchester’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, said: “This study on Huntington’s Disease is the final piece of the jigsaw which leads us to conclude that high brain urea plays a pivotal role in dementia.

“Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s are at opposite ends of the dementia spectrum – so if this holds true for these types, then I believe it is highly likely it will hold true for all the major age-related dementias.

“More research, however, is needed to discover the source of the elevated urea in HD, particularly concerning the potential involvement of ammonia and a systemic metabolic defect.

“This could have profound implications for our fundamental understanding of the molecular basis of dementia, and its treatability, including the potential use of therapies already in use for disorders with systemic urea phenotypes.”

Dementia results in a progressive and irreversible loss of nerve cells and brain functioning, causing loss of memory and cognitive impairments affecting the ability to learn. Currently, there is no cure.

The team used human brains, donated by families for medical research, as well as transgenic sheep in Australia.

Manchester members of the team used cutting-edge gas chromatography mass spectrometry to measure brain urea levels. For levels to be toxic urea must rise 4-fold or higher than in the normal brain says Professor Cooper.

He added: “We already know Huntington’s Disease is an illness caused by a faulty gene in our DNA – but until now we didn’t understand how that causes brain damage – so we feel this is an important milestone.

“Doctors already use medicines to tackle high levels of ammonia in other parts of the body Lactulose – a commonly used laxative, for example, traps ammonia in the gut. So it is conceivable that one day, a commonly used drug may be able to stop dementia from progressing. It might even be shown that treating this metabolic state in the  may help in the regeneration of tissue, thus giving a tantalising hint that reversal of dementia may one day be possible.”

Unconscious Patient With ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Tattoo Causes Ethical Conundrum at Hospital

Original Article

By George Dvorsky

When an unresponsive patient arrived at a Florida hospital ER, the medical staff was taken aback upon discovering the words “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” tattooed onto the man’s chest—with the word “NOT” underlined and with his signature beneath it. Confused and alarmed, the medical staff chose to ignore the apparent DNR request—but not without alerting the hospital’s ethics team, who had a different take on the matter.

As described in a New England Journal of Medicine case report, the unnamed 70-year-old man was brought to the ER by paramedics in an unconscious state, and with an elevated blood alcohol level. The patient had a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a type of lung disease), diabetes, and an irregular heart rate. His condition began to deteriorate several hours after being admitted, and dramatic medical interventions were needed to keep the patient alive.

But with the “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” tattoo glaring back at them, the ICU team was suddenly confronted with a serious dilemma. The patient arrived at the hospital without ID, the medical staff was unable to contact next of kin, and efforts to revive or communicate with the patient were futile. The medical staff had no way of knowing if the tattoo was representative of the man’s true end-of-life wishes, so they decided to play it safe and ignore it.

“We initially decided not to honor the tattoo, invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty,” wrote the authors of the case study. “This decision left us conflicted owing to the patient’s extraordinary effort to make his presumed advance directive known; therefore, an ethics consultation was requested.”

But there was more too it than just the medical ethics. Gregory Holt, the lead author of the new case study, said the biggest question in his mind was the legal aspect of whether or not it was acceptable. “Florida has stringent rules on this,” he told Gizmodo.

 

While the DNR tattoo may seem extreme, the request to not be resuscitated during end-of-life care is most certainly not. Roughly 80 percent of US Medicare patients say “they wish to avoid hospitalization and intensive care during the terminal phase of illness.” Revealingly, a 2014 survey showed that the vast majority of physicians would prefer to skip high-intensity interventions for themselves. Of the 1,081 doctors polled, over 88 percent opted for do-not-resuscitate status. Indeed, measures to keep a patient alive are often invasive, painful, and costly. DNRs, which hospital staff refer to as “no-codes,” are an explicit request to forego high-intensity interventions like CPR, electric shock, and intubation tubes. More implicitly, it’s a request to not be hooked up to a machine.

Typically, DNRs are formal, notarized documents that a patient gives to their doctor and family members. Tattoos, needless to say, are a highly unorthodox—but arguably direct—means of conveying one’s end-of-life wishes. That said, this patient’s tattoo presented some undeniable complications for the hospital staff. Is a tattoo a legal document? Was it a regretful thing the patient did while he was drunk or high? Did he get the tattoo, but later change his opinion? On this last point, a prior case does exist in which a patient’s DNR tattoo did not reflect their wishes (as the authors wrote in this 2012 report: “…he did not think anyone would take his tattoo seriously…”).

In this most recent NEJM case, the ICU team did its best to keep the patient alive as the ethics team mulled over the situation, administering antibiotics, vasopressors (to elevate low blood pressure), intravenous fluid resuscitation, and other measures.

“After reviewing the patient’s case, the ethics consultants advised us to honor the patient’s DNR tattoo,” Holt told Gizmodo. “They suggested that it was most reasonable to infer that the tattoo expressed an authentic preference, that what might be seen as caution could also be seen as standing on ceremony [i.e. adherence to medical tradition and norms], and that the law is sometimes not nimble enough to support patient-centered care and respect for patients’ best interests.”

Accordingly, the ICU team wrote up a DNR, and the patient died later that evening without having undergone any emergency DNR measures. Before he died, however, the hospital’s social work department discovered the patient’s Florida Department of Health “out-of-hospital” DNR order, which was consistent with the tattoo.

But as the authors of the new report point out, the whole incident “produced more confusion than clarity,” saying that, despite how hard it can be for patients to make their end-of-life wishes known, “this case report neither supports nor opposes the use of tattoos to express end-of-life wishes when the person is incapacitated.”

Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, agrees that this incident was challenging.

“Advanced directives of any kind do not override most recent expressed capable wish,” Bowman told Gizmodo. “In other words, [the patient] may have changed his mind and there may be no way of knowing. Tattoo regret is not rare. [The ICU team’s] defense is erring on the side of life.”

At the same time, however, Bowman is sympathetic to the patient, saying the tattoo may be an expression of how often patients’ wishes are somehow overlooked and the system takes over. “My position would be if someone went to the great length of having DNR tattooed with a signature, it indicates a strong and clear wish,” he told Gizmodo.

Melissa Garrido, an Associate Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NYC, shares this sentiment, saying that even when a DNR order has been entered into a medical record, it is not always readily accessible in a health crisis. “A standardized tattoo may be a readily accessible method for communicating a strongly held care preference,” she told Gizmodo.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that vasopressors lower blood pressure. They do the opposite, and we regret the error.

 

 

Grand Manan fisherman finds lobster with Pepsi can imprinted on claw

Original Article

Karissa Lindstrand had already spent five hours banding lobster claws on a boat called Honour Bound, off Grand Manan, when a blue and red logo she knew well caught her eye.

It was a Pepsi can image “tattooed on the lobster’s claw,” said Lindstrand.

Being a huge Pepsi fan — she drinks 12 cans every day — this image would have caught her interest anywhere.

But this was something she had never seen before.

“I can’t say how he got it on,” Lindstrand said. “It seemed more like a tattoo or a drawing on the lobster rather than something growing into it.”

Different theories

She showed it to her crew that Tuesday, Nov. 21, and these past few days she has talked about it with others, including the “Pepsi guy who delivers Pepsi products all over Grand Manan.”

They all have different theories about what could have happened.

“They believe that maybe there was a can in the bottom of the ocean and when [the lobster] was growing, it grew around the can.”

Karissa Lindstrand

Karissa Lindstrand has been lobster fishing off Grand Manan for four years. Never before had she seen garbage imprinted on an animal. (Submitted by Karissa Lindstrand)

She said others believe part of a Pepsi box stuck on the lobster when it was growing and stayed there.

“This tells me there is a lot of garbage in the ocean, if that’s what’s happening to the lobsters we get out from the water.”

Lindstrand has been lobster fishing for four years.

‘A unique instance’

“It’s the first time I have seen garbage imprinted on an animal,” she said.

It’s also a first for Matthew Abbott, Fundy baykeeper and marine program co-ordinator at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

“This is really a unique instance,” Abbott said. “I haven’t seen something like it before, of such a clear imprint of a can on a marine animal.”

He said this photo tells part of our oceans’ story.

“Where [the lobster] was living, there was garbage infiltrating even into the deep water,” said Abbott.

Garbage everywhere

Abbott said this is a serious issue. There’s no week where he does not have a discussion about marine debris in New Brunswick’s coastal waters.

Human garbage “is really widespread, just about anywhere,” he said. “You can’t really name one hotspot because it is well too widespread for that.”

The problem with plastics, according to Abbott, is they break down and get small but don’t go away.

“The smaller something becomes the more it looks like food to animals of various sizes. Once ingested, it can cause all sorts of problems.”

Some animals have even died.

Matthew Abbott, Fundy Baykeeper

Matthew Abbott, Fundy baykeeper and marine program co-ordinator at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said marine debris is a serious issue in New Brunswick. (Conservation Council of New Brunswick)

There is also the risk of entanglement. Once a marine animal is entangled in debris, it might not be able to carry out its regular functions.

“And so they won’t be able to survive,” said Abbott.

Abbott said the Conservation Council has been working with provincial and federal governments as well as other non-governmental organizations to try to tackle some of the issues with debris.

Yet animals like the lobster Lindstrand found are still dealing with garbage problems.

Lindstrand and her crew members sold the lobster with the Pepsi can claw along with the other ones that day.

“It is probably in Boston,” she said. “It probably already crossed the border.

But Lindstrand still finds herself wondering how on Earth that lobster got that “Pepsi tattoo.”

Scientists call for ban on glitter, say it’s a global hazard

Original Article

NEW YORK (CBS) — Arts and crafts enthusiasts have known for years that glitter tends to attach itself everywhere and never seems to come off.

Scientists now say the sticky decorations are an ecological hazard that needs to be banned across the globe.

Environmental scientists are arguing that the risk of pollution, specifically to the oceans, is too great to ignore and the tiny plastic particles need to be outlawed.

“I think all glitter should be banned, because it’s microplastic,” Dr. Trisia Farrelly of New Zealand’s Massey University said.

Microplastics are defined as plastics that are less than five millimeters in length.

The small size of the craft supply reportedly makes glitter appealing for many animals, who eat the dangerous objects.

A study by Professor Richard Thompson claimed that plastics were found in a third of all fish caught in Great Britain.

“I was quite concerned when somebody bought my daughters some shower gel that had glitter particles in it,” Thompson said. “That stuff is going to escape down the plughole and potentially enter the environment.”

Some British nurseries have already banned the products from their facilities as the country is expected to officially ban items that contain microbeads in 2018.

“There are 22,000 nurseries in the country, so if we’re all getting through kilos and kilos of glitter, we’re doing terrible damage,” director of Tops Day Nurseries Cheryl Hadland told the BBC.

In America, only seven states have passed legislation to restrict the use and sale of microbeads in products such as facial scrubs and body washes. California became the first to place a ban on the products in 2015.

Bread made of insects to be sold in Finnish supermarkets

Original Article

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — One of Finland’s largest food companies is selling what it claims to be a first: insect bread.

Markus Hellstrom, head of the Fazer group’s bakery division, said Thursday that one loaf contains about 70 dried house crickets, ground into powder and added to the flour. The farm-raised crickets represent 3 percent of the bread’s weight, Hellstrom said.

“Finns are known to be willing to try new things,” he said, and according to a survey commissioned by Fazer “good taste, freshness” were among the main criteria for bread.

According to recent surveys of the Nordic countries, “Finns have the most positive attitudes toward insects,” said Juhani Sibakov, head of Fazer Bakery Finland’s innovation department.

“We made crunchy dough to enhance taste,” he said. The result was “delicious and nutritious,” he said, adding that the Fazer Sirkkaleipa (Finnish for Fazer Cricket Bread) “is a good source of protein and insects also contain good fatty acids, calcium, iron and vitamin B12.”

“Mankind needs new and sustainable sources of nutrition,” Sibakov said in a statement. Hellstrom noted that Finnish legislation was changed on Nov. 1 to allow the sale of insects as food.

The first batch of cricket breads will be sold in major Finnish cities Friday. The company said there is not enough cricket flour available for now to support sales nationwide but the aim is to have the bread available in 47 bakeries in Finland in a subsequent round of sales.

In Switzerland, supermarket chain Coop began selling burgers and balls made from insects in September. Insects can also be found on supermarket shelves in Belgium, Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization has promoted insects as a source of human food, saying they are healthy and high in protein and minerals. The agency says many types of insects produce less greenhouse gases and ammonia than most livestock — such as methane-spewing cattle — and require less land and money to cultivate.

Immortality Is Impossible, Say Scientists Sutdying the Mathematics of Aging

Original Article

By Peter Hess

While healthcare has dramatically extended our lifespans by preventing certain causes of death, aging still inevitably takes its fatal toll. And, as scientists report in a new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, that’s not going to change: Whether it’s by cancer or run-of-the-mill cell destruction, aging and death is mathematically inescapable.

In the paper published Monday, Joanna Masel, Ph.D., and Paul Nelson, Ph.D., both of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, provide mathematical evidence that aging and eventual death must happen, no matter how we intervene in the aging process.

They explain that every cell in the body is tasked with two opposing missions: ensuring its own survival and supporting the organism it’s a part of. Masel and Nelson reason that this endless push and pull between those missions means that aging is unstoppable.

“If you have [no competition] or too little, then damaged cells accumulate and you get senescence,” Masel tells Inverse. “And if you have more than zero, then you get cancer. Either way, you get decreasing vitality with age.”

The team came to this conclusion by creating a mathematical model of cell competition within an organism. Cells in a human body, they explain, face a unique set of forces under the dynamic of competition: On one hand, cells need to work together for the body to function properly. But on the other hand, those cells must compete with each other for survival, and natural selection among those cells means that competition allows only the fittest cells to survive. This competition, the authors explain, results in cancer as the cells that inevitably find ways to game the system are the ones that end up growing uncontrollably.

When a human ages normally, the survival of any individual cell is sacrificed in the name of the organism’s health. In other words, a certain portion of each cell’s output is devoted to collective health instead of individual health. Ultimately, the triumph of cooperation over competition means that bodies accumulate dead or dying cells in a way that eventually leads to what we know as aging.

Natural selection is a process that’s more commonly liked with the genetic evolution of a population of individuals than of cells, but previous research has shown it plays a role in aging too as the cells in your body need to survive and work together in order for a person to live. Nelson, a postdoc in Masel’s lab, says the new research makes an even stronger statement about how the process of natural selection affects human aging.

“Even if selection were perfect, we would still get aging because the cells in our body are evolving all the time,” says Nelson.

The team came to this conclusion by creating a mathematical model of cell competition within an organism. Cells in a human body, they explain, face a unique set of forces under the dynamic of competition: On one hand, cells need to work together for the body to function properly. But on the other hand, those cells must compete with each other for survival, and natural selection among those cells means that competition allows only the fittest cells to survive. This competition, the authors explain, results in cancer as the cells that inevitably find ways to game the system are the ones that end up growing uncontrollably.

When a human ages normally, the survival of any individual cell is sacrificed in the name of the organism’s health. In other words, a certain portion of each cell’s output is devoted to collective health instead of individual health. Ultimately, the triumph of cooperation over competition means that bodies accumulate dead or dying cells in a way that eventually leads to what we know as aging.

Natural selection is a process that’s more commonly liked with the genetic evolution of a population of individuals than of cells, but previous research has shown it plays a role in aging too as the cells in your body need to survive and work together in order for a person to live. Nelson, a postdoc in Masel’s lab, says the new research makes an even stronger statement about how the process of natural selection affects human aging.

“Even if selection were perfect, we would still get aging because the cells in our body are evolving all the time,” says Nelson.

 

 

 

Plague warning in NINE countries – including Brit holiday hotspots

Original Article

By Corey Charlton

PLAGUE warnings have been issued for NINE countries surrounding Madagascar amid fears the disease could spread via sea trade and flight routes.

The outbreak is considered a much bigger threat to the region than in previous years because it has taken on its pneumonic form – meaning it is airborne and spread by sneezing and coughing.

 WHO has issued alerts for nine countries surrounding Madagascar where the outbreak has occurred

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WHO has issued alerts for nine countries surrounding Madagascar where the outbreak has occurred

And experts say the epidemic could still worsen as the death tolls hits 124 and more than 1,300 are left infected.

The medieval disease famously wiped out ONE THIRD of Europe’s population in the 13th and 14th centuries in one of the most devastating pandemics in human history known as the Black Death.

Dr Ashok Chopra, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas, told The Sun Online the crisis in Madagascar had yet to peak.

He warned it was possible for the deadly plague to move further into the region given the regular flights going in and out of the country.

 Red Cross officials work in Antananarivo, Madagascar, where the plague has struck

AFP OR LICENSORS
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Red Cross officials work in Antananarivo, Madagascar, where the plague has struck
 A doctor from the local Ministry of Health staffs a heath care checkpoint

AFP OR LICENSORS
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A doctor from the local Ministry of Health staffs a heath care checkpoint

“If they are travelling shorter distances and they’re still in the incubation period, and they have the pneumonic (form) then they could spread it to other places.

“We don’t want to have a situation where the disease spreads so fast it sort of gets out of control.”

He added: “Most of the cases in the past have been of the bubonic plague but if you look at this particular outbreak, 70 per cent of the cases are pneumonic plague, which is the most deadly form of the disease.

“If the treatment is not given in a very short period of time these people will end up dying.”

Dr Ibrahima-Soce Fall says World Health Organisation are working to prevent the spread of plague on Madagascar

 Some 1,300 people have been infected by the deadly medieval disease

AFP OR LICENSORS
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Some 1,300 people have been infected by the deadly medieval disease
 If they do not receive antibiotics immediately, the disease is extremely deadly

AFP OR LICENSORS
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If they do not receive antibiotics immediately, the disease is extremely deadly

Plague symptoms include sudden fevers, head and body aches, vomiting and nausea.

Dr Chopra added that it spreads “very rapidly”, as seen by the number of cases in Madagascar doubling within a week.


BLACK DEATH IS BACK These are the signs and symptoms of the bubonic plague


Speaking from Madagascar, Christine South, head of IFRC’s emergency operations, said: “With anything like this there is a possibility that somebody could be infected and get on a plane.

“We have done preparedness support to some of the neighbouring countries.”

However, she added that she believed the plague outbreak may now be stabilising but medical staff would have a clearer understanding of this over the next few days.

The nine countries the WHO has warned of being at risk are:

  • Kenya
  • Ethiopia
  • South Africa
  • Mozambique
  • Tanzania
  • Reunion
  • Mauritius
  • Seychelles
  • Comoros
 Tourists have been warned to stay away from Madagascar after the outbreak of plague left more than 120 dead

GETTY – CONTRIBUTOR
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Tourists have been warned to stay away from Madagascar after the outbreak of plague left more than 120 dead
 The Black Death decimated the population of Europe when it swept through the continent in the 1300s

ALAMY
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The Black Death decimated the population of Europe when it swept through the continent in the 1300s
 The Black Death often conjures up chilling images of masked plague doctors, who would stuff fresh herbs and spices in their 'beaks' to deal with the smell

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The Black Death often conjures up chilling images of masked plague doctors, who would stuff fresh herbs and spices in their ‘beaks’ to deal with the smell

According to the World Health Organisation, the disease – which has struck heavily populated cities – sparked a false alarm in the Seychelles after a traveller reported symptoms of the disease.

WHO stated: “The risk of regional spread is moderate due to the occurrence of frequent travel by air and sea to neighbouring Indian Ocean islands and other southern and east African countries.”

“Nine countries and overseas territories have been identified as priority countries in the African region for plague preparedness and readiness by virtue of having trade and travel links to Madagascar.

“These countries and overseas territories include Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, La Réunion (France), Seychelles, South Africa, and Tanzania.”

The disease remains endemic in rural parts of the African island but the rise in the pneumonic version of the illness has sparked particular concern.

The World Health Organisation said that this year, plague arrived earlier than expected, and the infection is also spreading in urban centres and in areas that until now had not been affected.

Elsewhere this week, a man who caught the bubonic plague from his pet cat and nearly suffered an agonising death has revealed what it was like to lose all fingers and toes to the deadly disease.

Paul Gaylord, who lives in a remote part of Oregon, spoke about the horrific symptoms he suffered as the Black Death threatened his life – and even turned his hands black.

 

Kid’s Spend Less Time Outdoors Than Prisoners.

Original Article

By Sara Burrows

Imagination Grove (a nature play area) at Sugar Grove Nature Center, McLean, IL, June 2011.

Imagination Grove (a nature play area) at Sugar Grove Nature Center, McLean, IL, June 2011.

While inmates at maximum security prisons in the U.S. are guaranteed at least 2 hours of outdoor time a day, half of children worldwide spend less than an hour outside, reports TreeHugger.com.

 

A survey of 12,000 parents in 10 countries found that one-third of children (ages 5 to 12) spend less than 30 minutes outside each day. The survey, sponsored by Unilever laundry detergent brands OMO and Persil, inspired a new marketing campaign – “Dirt is Good – Free the Children.”

The short film below – documenting prisoners’ responses to the survey – is part of that campaign:

Prisoners at a maximum security facility in Indiana called outdoor time the “highlight” of their day.  “You take all your problems and frustrations and just leave them out there,” one prisoner said. Another said “it keeps his mind right.”

 

When asked how they would feel about having their “yard time” reduced to one hour a day, inmates responded that it would build more anger and resentment. One inmate said it would be “torture.” A prison guard said it would be “potentially disastrous.”

The prisoners are shocked upon learning that most children have less than an hour of outdoor time per day, one of them calling the news “depressing.” Another said if he could have one wish granted it would be that he could take his kid to a park.

Another study found that one in nine children “have not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least 12 months.”

Huffington Post reported recently that with children today spending only half the time their parents did outdoors, we are producing an “unsociable, unimaginative and inactive generation.” Only half of children have ever built a sandcastle at the beach or had a picnic outside of their own yard, and over a third have never played in the mud. Also, about half of children opt for screen time alone over playing with others outdoors.

 

In addition to “unsociable, unimaginative and inactive” – our culture’s lack of outdoor time is producing children who are physically and mentally ill:

“We are physically active when we spend time outdoors, so we are less likely to become obese. When sunshine hits our skin, we form Vitamin D, which helps with a number of health issues. Peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that time spent outside lowers rates of heart disease, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, and some forms of cancer. Kids with ADHD focus better when they spend time outdoors. And, nature time leads to more positive moods, as well as lower stress and anxiety.”

Antibiotic Resistance Could Spell End Of Modern Medicine, Says Chief Medic.

England’s chief medical officer has repeated her warning of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” as she urged world leaders to address the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

Prof Dame Sally Davies said that if antibiotics lose their effectiveness it would spell “the end of modern medicine”. Without the drugs used to fight infections, common medical interventions such as caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would become incredibly risky and transplant medicine would be a thing of the past, she said.

“We really are facing – if we don’t take action now – a dreadful post-antibiotic apocalypse. I don’t want to say to my children that I didn’t do my best to protect them and their children,” Davies said.

Health experts have previously said resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer. In recent years, the UK has led a drive to raise global awareness of the threat posed to modern medicine by antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Each year about 700,000 people around the world die due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria. If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

The UK government and the Wellcome Trust, along with others, have organised a call to action meeting for health officials from around the world. At the meeting in Berlin, the government will announce a new project that will map the spread of death and disease caused by drug-resistant superbugs.

BBC Radio 4 Today(@BBCr4today)

England’s chief medical officer has renewed her warning about what she’s described as a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” #r4todaypic.twitter.com/3EAUvmOTAv

October 13, 2017

Davies said: “This AMR is with us now, killing people. This is a serious issue that is with us now, causing deaths. If it was anything else, people would be up in arms about it. But because it is hidden they just let it pass.

“It does not really have a ‘face’ because most people who die of drug-resistant infections, their families just think they died of an uncontrolled infection. It will only get worse unless we take strong action everywhere across the globe. We need some real work on the ground to make a difference or we risk the end of modern medicine.”

She added: “Not to be able to effectively treat infections means that caesarean sections, hip replacements, modern surgery, is risky. Modern cancer treatment is risky and transplant medicine becomes a thing of the past.”

Davies said that if the global community did not act then the progress that had been made in Britain may be undermined.

She estimated that about one in three or one in four prescriptions in UK primary care were probably not needed. “But other countries use vastly more antibiotics in the community and they need to start doing as we are, which is reducing usage,” she said. “Our latest data shows that we have reduced human consumption by 4.3% in 2014-15 from the year before.”

Different Meditation Practices Reshape Brain in Different Ways

Original Article

By Tereza Pultarova

Credit: Mooshny/Shutterstock

Different types of meditation change the brain in different ways, a new study finds.

In one of the largest studies on meditation and the human brain to date, a team of neuroscience researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany examined 300 participants in a nine-month meditation program. The project, called ReSource, consisted of three periods of three months each. During this program, the participants each practiced different three types of meditation focused on improving attention, compassion or cognitive skills.

At the beginning of the program, and then again at the end of each three-month period, the researchers took measurements of the participants’ brains using a variety of techniques, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers found that not only did certain brain regions change substantially within the three-month periods, but these regions also changed differently based on the type of meditation the participants had practiced. [Mind Games: 7 Reasons You Should Meditation]

“We were surprised [by] how much can actually happen in three months, because three months isn’t that long,” said Veronika Engert, a neuroscience researcher at Max Planck. Engert was the lead author of one of two papers published on Oct. 4 by the research group in the journal Science Advances.

Engert told LiveScience that while changes in brain structure after intensive meditation programs have been observed before, this is the first time that researchers could clearly see the changes that followed a period of practicing a specific type of meditation.

The participants were divided into three groups, and practiced each type of meditation in a different order. This allowed the researchers to more reliably link the changes in the brain to the type of meditation that was being practiced.

For example, in one part of the study, a group of participants was asked to practice mindfulness-based attention for 30 minutes daily six days a week for three months. During this type of meditation, the participants were taught to focus on their breath with their eyes closed or to monitor tension in their bodies. At the end of the three-month period, the participants showed thickening in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area involved in complex thinking, decision-making and attention, Engert said.

After the three-month session that focused on mindfulness, that group moved on to types of mediation focused on developing social skills such as compassion and understanding a situation from a perspective of another person. As with the first session, the researchers observed different changes in the people’s brains after each of the next two sessions.

“If people train [in the skill of] perspective-taking, we see changes in brain regions that are important for these cognitive processes” Engert said. Or, if people focus on affect, or emotion, “then we see changes in brain regions that are important for emotional regulation,” she said.

But the participants’ brains weren’t the only things that were changing. The researchers also observed changes in the behavior of the participants, and these changes matched up with the changes in their brains.

In another part of the study, the researchers measured how the participants responded to a stressful situation similar to a job interview or an exam. The scientists found that all respondents who were practicing meditation reported feeling less stressed than people who were not meditating. However, only those participants practicing compassion and perspective-taking showed consistently lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva after the stressful situation, according to Engert.

“After this type of a stress test we usually see that cortisol rises after about 20 minutes,” said Engert. “This rise in cortisol was lower by 51 percent in those subjects who had the social training.”

One limitation of the study was that the participants included only healthy people who did not have any type of mental health condition. Engert said the researchers haven’t looked at whether meditation could be used to, for example, help people suffering from depressionor anxiety. However, Engert said, considering the fact that stress is a major contributor to a wide range of diseases that plague the modern world, the findings could help tailor approaches that could be used as preventive measures. Stress, according to Engert contributes not only to the development of depression but also cardiovascular or metabolic diseases.

In addition, the findings could help researchers develop tailored training programs for specific areas of the brain to help people perform better in various areas of their lives, she said, however, more research is needed to understand exactly how such programs affect the brain.

The team will now focus on studying the effects of the three mind-training techniques on children and people working in highly stressful professions, Engert said.

Originally publishedon Live Science.

Some Private Citizens Complain of Health Symptoms After Visiting Cuba

Original Article

By Steve Dorsey

Some private U.S. citizens who traveled to Cuba say they have experienced symptoms similar to those suffered by at least 22 U.S. diplomats after mysterious acoustic attacks in Havana.

“Since we issued the September 29 Travel Warning, we have received a handful of reports from U.S. citizens who report they experienced similar symptoms following stays in Cuba,” a State Department official told CBS News. “We have no way of verifying whether they were harmed by the same attacks targeting official U.S. employees.”

At this point, nearly a year since the attacks targeting diplomats began in Havana, Cuba, U.S. investigators are no closer to determining either the source or the methods, according to officials close to the investigation underway by several agencies including the FBI and CIA.

Investigators have been probing whether the attacks were caused by something more than just mysterious sonic devices after U.S. government personnel complained about hearing loud, bizarre and unexplained noises in homes and hotels.

Medical records examined by CBS News show some Americans suffered mild traumatic brain injury, cognitive problems, hearing loss and other health issues. The victims include a handful of Americans connected to the U.S. intelligence community, according to sources.

The U.S. has ordered most of its personnel and all families to leave Cuba, and is expelling a proportional number of Cuban embassy officials from its embassy in Washington. But the U.S. has stopped short of blaming Cuba for the attacks, as investigators consider whether another country could be involved.

AG Directive Protects Religious Objectors to LGBT Rights

Original Article

By Rachel Zoll, Eric Tucker, and Sadie Gurman.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping directive to agencies Friday to do as much as possible to accommodate those who say their religious freedoms are being violated.

The guidance, an attempt to deliver on President Donald Trump’s pledge to his evangelical and other religious supporters, effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove that their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held.

Under the new policy, a claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to override concerns for the civil rights of LGBT people and anti-discrimination protections for women and others. The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty are calling them a legal powder-keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government.

“This is putting the world on notice: You better take these claims seriously,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This is a signal to the rest of these agencies to rethink the protections they have put in place on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Trump announced plans for the directive last May in a Rose Garden ceremony where he was surrounded by religious leaders. Since then, religious conservatives have anxiously awaited the Justice Department guidance, hoping for greatly strengthened protections for their beliefs amid the rapid acceptance of LGBT rights. Religious liberty experts said they would have to see how the guidance would be applied by individual agencies, both in crafting regulations and deciding how to enforce them. But experts said the directive clearly tilted the balance very far in favor of people of faith who do not want to recognize same-sex marriage.

“Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” Sessions wrote. “To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm, called it “a great day for religious freedom.” The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights group, called the guidelines an “all-out assault” on civil rights and a “sweeping license to discriminate.”

The new document lays the groundwork for legal positions that the Trump administration intends to take in future religious freedom cases, envisioning sweeping protections for faith-based beliefs and practices in private workplaces, at government jobs, in awarding government grants and in running prisons.

In issuing the memo, Sessions is injecting the department into a thicket of highly charged legal questions that have repeatedly reached the U.S. Supreme Court, most notably in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case that said corporations with religious objections could opt out of a health law requirement to cover contraceptives for women.

The memo makes clear the Justice Department’s support of that opinion in noting that the primary religious freedom law — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 — protects the rights not only of people to worship as they choose but also of corporations, companies and private firms.

In what is likely to be one of the more contested aspects of the document, the Justice Department states that religious organizations can hire workers based on religious beliefs and an employee’s willingness “to adhere to a code of conduct.” Many conservative Christian schools and faith-based agencies require employees to adhere to moral codes that ban sex outside marriage and same-sex relationships, among other behavior.

The document also says the government improperly infringes on individuals’ religious liberty by banning an aspect of their practice or by forcing them to take an action that contradicts their faith. As an example, Justice Department lawyers say government efforts to require employers to provide contraceptives to their workers “substantially burdens their religious practice.” Separately Friday, the Health and Human Services Department allowed more employers with religious objections to opt out of the birth control coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act.

Session’s directive affirms Trump’s earlier directive to the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which bars churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates. The policy has only rarely been enforced in the past.

The department’s civil rights division will now be involved in reviewing all agency actions to make sure they don’t conflict with federal law regarding religious liberty. Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, in a statement lauding Trump, said his group has set up a hotline for federal employees and others who feel they’ve faced discrimination over their religious beliefs.

Nobel Prize Awarded for Biological Clock Discoveries

Original Article

By Jordana Cepelewicz

 

Ninety minutes before dawn in the eastern United States, the Nobel committee announced that it was awarding this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to three American biologists for their research on the control of circadian rhythms. Jeffrey C. Hallat the University of Maine, Michael Rosbash at Brandeis University and Michael W. Young at the Rockefeller University share the prize for their discoveries of the genetic and biomolecular mechanisms that help the cells of plants and animals (including humans) mark the 24-hour cycle of day and night. That research became a cornerstone of the science of chronobiology, the study of how organisms track time and adapt to its cycles.

“It’s a really beautiful example of basic research that has led to incredible discoveries,” commented Paul Hardin, who studies chronobiology at Texas A&M University. “Almost every aspect of physiology and metabolism will be controlled by the circadian clock.” For example, in the case of mammals, he said, 20–30 percent of the genes in any given tissue may be under the control of an internal clock. “But if you take all the tissues of the body, the vast majority of genes are under clock control in one tissue or another.”

Josephine Arendt, an emeritus professor of endocrinology at Surrey University who studies circadian rhythms, agreed about the importance of the work winning this year’s prize. Health and fitness can be profoundly affected by disorders that throw off that 24-hour timekeeping mechanism or any of the neurological and hormonal systems that rely on it. “Their work underpins [that of] people like me who are interested in applying circadian principles to human health,” she said.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young (left to right) are new Nobel laureates in celebration of their discoveries about the genetic and biomolecular mechanism that governs the circadian rhythm.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young (left to right) are new Nobel laureates in celebration of their discoveries about the genetic and biomolecular mechanism that governs the circadian rhythm.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young (left to right) are new Nobel laureates in celebration of their discoveries about the genetic and biomolecular mechanism that governs the circadian rhythm.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young (left to right) are new Nobel laureates in celebration of their discoveries about the genetic and biomolecular mechanism that governs the circadian rhythm.

The Gairdner Foundation (Hall and Young); Mike Lovett/Brandeis University (Rosbash)

The study of circadian rhythms goes back to at least the 18th century, when scientists noticed that certain plants would open their leaves at sunrise and close them at sunset even in the absence of lighting cues. Later evidence showed that essentially all organisms had some internal biological clock that allowed them to match their physiology to the day-night cycle. Work in the 1970s by Ronald Konopka and Seymour Benzer showed that this clock was under genetic control because mutations could disrupt it. The name period was given to that gene but little else was known about it. Indeed, how a gene could allow cells to keep time remained a mystery.

Answers began to fall into place in 1984, when Hall and Rosbash working at Brandeis and Young at Rockefeller independently isolated the period gene in fruit flies. Hall and Rosbash showed that the cellular concentrations of the protein made by period, PER, were high during the day and then dropped at night, befitting a 24-hour timekeeping gene.

The Brandeis researchers hypothesized that a feedback loop might be governing this gene-protein system: When concentrations of PER climbed high enough, they shut down the activity of period. When PER degraded, period could start up again. PER could thereby inhibit its own synthesis. The hitch in this scheme was that for it to work, something had to transport PER from the cell’s cytoplasm, where it was made, into the nucleus where period dwelled. Hall and Rosbash showed that PER was getting into the nucleus but it was unclear how until 1994, when Young discovered the timeless gene, which was also essential for proper circadian rhythms. The protein made by timeless, TIM, latches on to cytoplasmic PER and escorts it into the nucleus to inhibit period. Young later identified a third gene, doubletime, that also delays the build-up of PER in cells to further improve the linkage of this circadian mechanism to the time of day.

Lucy Reading-Ikkanda/Quanta Magazine

Andrew Millar, the chair of systems biology at the University of Edinburgh and an expert on plant circadian rhythms, noted that the precise genetic clock mechanism that Hall, Rosbash and Young identified was specific to animals, but that conceptually similar mechanisms built around analogous genes were soon identified in plants, fungi, bacteria and other organisms by other researchers. “It’s the breadth of application of biological rhythm research that makes it so fascinating,” he said.

Chronobiology is consequently a field in its early days. Researchers are still trying to fully understand the connection between the circadian rhythm within cells and animals’ need for sleep. Not only do diverse organisms use a variety of mechanisms to maintain circadian rhythms and other temporal cycles, some cells of the body may use specialized timekeeping systems for specialized functions. New biological rhythms — and their influence on organisms — continue to be discovered. Nevertheless, the dissection of this circadian timekeeping system by these scientists already stands as a landmark achievement.

This post was updated on October 2 with additional comments from

Highest-Ever Number of STDs Recorded in U.S. Last Year

Original Article

By Angela Chen

NIAID/Flickr

STDs are on the rise in the US, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The highest-ever number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were recorded in 2016.

There were 2 million cases overall. Of those, 1.6 million were chlamydia and nearly half of these diagnoses were young women, according to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report. Syphilis rates grew about 18 percent from 2015 to 2016, and most of these cases were men, especially gay and bisexual men. Still, there was a 36 percent increase in women with the disease, and a 28 percent increase in babies born with syphilis.

In contrast, there was a 22 percent increase in gonorrhea diagnoses for men (again, especially among gay and bisexual men). Growing rates of gonorrhea are concerning, given that the disease is becoming resistant to the two antibiotics used to treat it.

All three diseases are treatable for now, but if they’re not diagnosed in time, they can lead to infertility or infant stillbirth.

In The U.S., 110 Million S.T.D. Infections

Original Article

By Nicholas Bakalar

A colored transmission electron microscopy image of the chlamydia sp. bacterium.CreditDavid M. Phillips/Science Source, via Getty Images

The incidence of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis is increasing, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At any given time, there are an estimated 110 million sexually transmitted infections in the United States.

While HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, according to the C.D.C., chlamydia is the most common type that can be easily cured, yet the number of cases rose 4.7 percent from 2015 to 2016. The increases occurred nationwide; rates were highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast.

Chlamydia is usually asymptomatic, and the number of reported cases may have grown in part because of newer, more sensitive screening techniques.

Adolescents and young adult women have the highest rates of chlamydia: one survey found that 9.2 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 were infected, as were 8.0 percent of women aged 20 to 24.

Rates declined 3.5 percent among African-Americans and 6.4 percent among Native Americans and Alaska Natives, but chlamydia still is most common in these groups. Rates rose among all other races and ethnicities.

Continue reading the main story

From 2015 to 2016, gonorrhea infections increased 22.2 percent among men and 13.8 percent among women, the C.D.C. reported. Almost 92 percent of cases are in people 15 to 44 years old.

The only recommended treatment is to take two antibiotics simultaneously, ceftriaxone and azithromycin. Resistance to azithromycin is becoming more common, however, and there is some evidence of growing resistance to ceftriaxone, as well.

“Several drug trials are going on now that we hope will provide new treatments for gonorrhea,” said Dr. Gail Bolan, the director of sexually transmitted disease prevention at the C.D.C.

“But these treatment trials take years, and we don’t know if these new drugs will be safe and effective.”

The rate of primary and secondary syphilis in 2016 is the highest it has been since 1993, and it increased among both men and women from 2015 to 2016. Men account for almost 90 percent of cases, and most are among men who have sex with men.

Rates of syphilis increased in every age group and all races, and they were highest among people in their twenties. The number of babies born infected with syphilis increased to 628 cases in 2016, from 492 in 2015 — each case, in Dr. Bolan’s words, “a needless tragedy.”

”The enormity of the S.T.D. epidemic requires everyone play a role in reversing these trends,” Dr. Bolan said.

Correction: October 2, 2017 
An earlier version of this article misstated the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. It is human papillomavirus not chlamydia.

Correction: October 3, 2017 
An earlier version of this story misstated the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. There are 110 million such infections, not 110 million people with infections, at any given time. (Some people may have more than one infection.)

‘God Makes No Mistakes’: Couple Ignores Warning That Baby Could Die, Rejects Doctors, Police Say

Original Article

By Christopher Haxel

LANSING, Mich. — A mom refused to seek medical treatment for her newborn daughter even after a midwife warned that the infant’s jaundice could lead to brain damage or death, according to a police detective.

“God makes no mistakes,” Rachel Joy Piland told her midwife, according to court testimony last week from Peter Scaccia, a Lansing Police detective.

Two days later, infant Abigail was dead.

Abigail died Feb. 9 from unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus, according to an autopsy that Dr. Patrick Hansma, a medical examiner at Sparrow Hospital here, conducted later. Both conditions are related to jaundice, a common condition in newborns that can clear up on its own but needs a physician to monitor.

“He said if treated, most likely she would’ve been alive,” Scaccia testified.

Piland, 30, and her husband, Joshua Barry Piland, 36, were charged with involuntary manslaughter, a charge that carries up to 15 years of prison time. The two were released from jail Sept. 21 after posting $75,000 bond and did not answer their door Wednesday evening.

Records indicate the couple has requested that the court appoint lawyers for them.

The case likely will pit the Pilands’ apparent belief in divine healing and the religious group they have been involved in, Faith Tech Ministries, against government officials who contend that parents are responsible for seeking medical care for their child.

Abigail was born at about 9:50 p.m. ET Feb. 6 at the Pilands’ Lansing home. A midwife, who previously helped deliver two of Rachel Piland’s children, expressed no concerns about the baby’s health when she and an assistant left around midnight.

But the midwife’s assessment changed the next day when she saw Abigail’s jaundiced skin. She advised Rachel Piland to take her infant to a pediatrician or emergency room, Scaccia said.

“Rachel declined to seek any medical treatment for Abigail, stating God makes no mistakes,” the detective said. “She indicated to the midwife that the baby was fine.”

The midwife scheduled another appointment for the next day, but Rachel Piland later canceled it.

On Feb. 8, Abigail wasn’t eating properly and coughed up blood. At one point Rachel Piland’s mother, Rebecca Kerr, told her daughter that Abigail’s skin was not the right color.

“Rachel told Rebecca about (the midwife’s) concern,” Scaccia said. “And then Rachel went to listen to sermons.”

grandmother noticed blood coming out of the newborn’s nose, problems with her breathing and a lack of desire to eat. Rachel Piland wouldn’t allow her mother to call for help.

By 11 a.m., Abigail’s mother found the infant not breathing and lifeless in a bouncy seat. Rachel Piland took the body to her husband, who attempted one round of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and decided not to try cardio-pulmonary resuscitation because he did not know how to perform it on children, according to court records.

“They then brought Abigail upstairs to pray for her,” Scaccia said. “Joshua continued to massage Abigail, attempting to get her good air. Both Josh and (Rachel) reached out to friends and fellow church members to come to their home and pray for Abigail’s resurrection but never called the police.”

Authorities learned of the baby’s death because Rachel Piland’s brother called them from California. When police arrived at the Pilands’ home, “went upstairs and found a baby that had passed away and three other people praying for it,” Scaccia said.

Joshua Piland has posted videos of missionary trips to Kenya with a Lansing-based Faith Tech Ministries, which describes itself online as nondenominational but similar to other “full gospel” or Pentecostal organizations. Its website says the Bible school has a strong message in the area of divine healing.

In 2016 Joshua Piland was listed as a speaker at a Divine Healing Conference that the ministry organized. His LinkedIn profile indicates he left the organization in February, the same month his daughter died.

No one at Faith Tech Ministries answered the phone Wednesday afternoon and evening.

The couple is scheduled to appear Oct. 5 in Lansing’s 54A District Court.

Joshua Piland worked for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. from 2009 until sometime this month, said Lynne Feldpausch, the public-private partnership’s executive vice president. She would not say which day was Joshua Piland’s last nor why he left.

On Wednesday he still was listed as a senior project manager in the organization’s online directory, but by Thursday afternoon, his name had been removed.

 

DNA Surgery on Embryos Removes Disease

Original Article

By James Gallagher

Precise “chemical surgery” has been performed on human embryos to remove disease in a world first, Chinese researchers have told the BBC.

The team at Sun Yat-sen University used a technique called base editing to correct a single error out of the three billion “letters” of our genetic code.

They altered lab-made embryos to remove the disease beta-thalassemia. The embryos were not implanted.

The team says the approach may one day treat a range of inherited diseases.

Base editing alters the fundamental building blocks of DNA: the four bases adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine.

They are commonly known by their respective letters, A, C, G and T.

All the instructions for building and running the human body are encoded in combinations of those four bases.

DNAImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The potentially life-threatening blood disorder beta-thalassemia is caused by a change to a single base in the genetic code – known as a point mutation.

The team in China edited it back.

They scanned DNA for the error then converted a G to an A, correcting the fault.

Junjiu Huang, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: “We are the first to demonstrate the feasibility of curing genetic disease in human embryos by base editor system.”

He said their study opens new avenues for treating patients and preventing babies being born with beta-thalassemia, “and even other inherited diseases”.

The experiments were performed in tissues taken from a patient with the blood disorder and in human embryos made through cloning.

Genetics revolution

Base editing is an advance on a form of gene-editing known as Crispr, that is already revolutionising science.

Crispr breaks DNA. When the body tries to repair the break, it deactivates a set of instructions called a gene. It is also an opportunity to insert new genetic information.

Base editing works on the DNA bases themselves to convert one into another.

Prof David Liu, who pioneered base editing at Harvard University, describes the approach as “chemical surgery”.

He says the technique is more efficient and has fewer unwanted side-effects than Crispr.

He told the BBC: “About two-thirds of known human genetic variants associated with disease are point mutations.

“So base editing has the potential to directly correct, or reproduce for research purposes, many pathogenic [mutations].”

EmbryoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The research group at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou hit the headlines before when they were the first to use Crispr on human embryos.

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute in London, described parts of their latest study as “ingenious”.

But he also questioned why they did not do more animal research before jumping to human embryos and said the rules on embryo research in other countries would have been “more exacting”.

The study, published in Protein and Cell, is the latest example of the rapidly growing ability of scientists to manipulate human DNA.

It is provoking deep ethical and societal debate about what is and is not acceptable in efforts to prevent disease.

Prof Lovell-Badge said these approaches are unlikely to be used clinically anytime soon.

“There would need to be far more debate, covering the ethics, and how these approaches should be regulated.

“And in many countries, including China, there needs to be more robust mechanisms established for regulation, oversight, and long-term follow-up.”

Gender Stereotypes Are Destroying Girls, And They’re Killing Boys

Original Article

By Alia E. Dastagir

In almost every society, from Baltimore to Beijing, boys are told from a young age to go outside and have adventures, while young girls are encouraged to stay home and do chores Time

It doesn’t matter where in the world you live. Lessons about gender start early, and they have lifelong consequences.

A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Healthfound many norms around gender, what’s expected of boys and girls, become entrenched in adolescence and have negative impacts that carry into adulthood.

We knew some of this already. Existing research shows gender roles can harm both sexes. But the Global Early Adolescent Study — which looked at girls and boys between 10-14 years old in 15 countries with varying income levels — found many of these stereotypes are universal, and they become entrenched before 10 years old.

“We were actually anticipating more differences than similarities, and one of the big findings is that there are still very consistent forms of patriarchy around the world,” said Kristin Mmari, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the lead qualitative researcher on the study.

The ideas girls and boys have about gender, the study found, form earlier in adolescence than had previously been measured, Mmari said.

“There seems to be a shift as soon as girls and boys enter this stage, where their attitudes and beliefs about the opposite sex change dramatically,” she said. “And they talked about how this was not so in childhood. That they could have these friends — opposite sex friends — and they were given equal amounts of freedom. They were treated the same, they thought. But once they began puberty, and their bodies developed, their worlds changed.”

The biggest myth perpetuated about gender, researchers found, is that once girls hit puberty, they are vulnerable and in need of protection to preserve their sexual and reproductive health, while boys are seen as strong and independent. It’s this myth, Mmari said, that changes how the world sees both sexes during adolescence, and how it continues to treat them throughout their lives.

“How you perceive girls and boys is socially driven,” Mmari said. “It’s not biologically driven.”

Among consequences that the study noted when girls conform to gender stereotypes:

  • Depression
  • Child marriage
  • Leaving school early
  • Exposure to violence

And consequences when boys conform to gender stereotypes:

  • Engaging in physical violence to a much greater extent than girls
  • Dying more frequently from unintentional injuries
  • Being more prone to substance abuse and suicide
  • Having a shorter life expectancy than women

Mmari said one of the major takeaways from the study is that it’s important to challenge gender stereotypes when children are young.

“You can look at it as a window of opportunity to really address these attitudes and beliefs before they become cemented later on,” she said.

The next phase of the study, which Mmari said will take about four or five years, will measure how gender norms change over time, what factors influence those changes and how they relate to health-outcomes for boys and girls.

“We need to view gender as more of a system,” Mmari said. “One of the problems … is we typically look at things on an individual level. So we feel like if we just empower girls, make them feel good, then we’ll change. But the problem is they go back to their homes where they’re given messages from their parents that are contradictory. They go to the schools where they’re given messages from their teachers that are contradictory. They look at the media — it’s a whole system out there that’s transmitting these inequitable norms, and so we have to think of it more on that level.”

New Antibody Attacks 99% of HIV Strains

Original Article

By James Gallagher

HIVImage copyright SPL

Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and can prevent infection in primates.

It is built to attack three critical parts of the virus – making it harder for HIV to resist its effects.

The work is a collaboration between the US National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

The International Aids Society said it was an “exciting breakthrough”. Human trials will start in 2018 to see if it can prevent or treat infection.

Our bodies struggle to fight HIV because of the virus’ incredible ability to mutate and change its appearance.

These varieties of HIV – or strains – in a single patient are comparable to those of influenza during a worldwide flu season.

So the immune system finds itself in a fight against an insurmountable number of strains of HIV.

Super-antibodies

But after years of infection, a small number of patients develop powerful weapons called “broadly neutralising antibodies” that attack something fundamental to HIV and can kill large swathes of HIV strains.

Researchers have been trying to use broadly neutralising antibodies as a way to treat HIV, or prevent infection in the first place.

The study, published in the journal Science, combines three such antibodies into an even more powerful “tri-specific antibody”.

Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors, told the BBC News website: “They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered.”

The best naturally occurring antibodies will target 90% of HIV strains.

“We’re getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody,” said Dr Nabel.

Experiments on 24 monkeys showed none of those given the tri-specific antibody developed an infection when they were later injected with the virus.

Dr Nabel said: “It was quite an impressive degree of protection.”

The work included scientists at Harvard Medical School, The Scripps Research Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

‘Exciting’

Clinical trials to test the antibody in people will start next year.

Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, the president of the International Aids Society, told the BBC: “This paper reports an exciting breakthrough.

“These super-engineered antibodies seem to go beyond the natural and could have more applications than we have imagined to date.

“It’s early days yet, and as a scientist I look forward to seeing the first trials get off the ground in 2018.

“As a doctor in Africa, I feel the urgency to confirm these findings in humans as soon as possible.”

Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it was an intriguing approach.

He added: “Combinations of antibodies that each bind to a distinct site on HIV may best overcome the defences of the virus in the effort to achieve effective antibody-based treatment and prevention.”

Poliovirus Kills Off Cancer Cells Stops Tumor Regrowth

Original Article

By Ana Sandoiu

Researchers from Duke University in Durham, NC, may have discovered a new way of killing off cancer cells.

The team was jointly led by Dr. Matthias Gromeier, a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, and Prof. Smita Nair, who is an immunologist in the Department of Surgery.

The new research – which is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine – shows how a modified poliovirus enables the body to use its own resources to fight off cancer. The modified virus bears the name of recombinant oncolytic poliovirus (PVS-RIPO).

PVS-RIPO has been in clinical trials since 2011 and preliminary results have offered hope to patients with one of the most aggressive forms of brain tumor: recurrent glioblastoma. So, the researchers set out to investigate more deeply how exactly PVS-RIPO works.

Explaining the rationale behind their research endeavor, Dr. Gromeier says, “Knowing the steps that occur to generate an immune response will enable us to rationally decide whether and what other therapies make sense in combination with poliovirus to improve patient survival.”

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Poliovirus attacks tumors, inhibits regrowth

The researchers examined the behavior of the poliovirus in two human cell lines: melanomaand triple-negative breast cancer. They observed that the poliovirus attaches itself to cancerous cells. These cells have an excess of the CD155 protein, which acts as a receptor for the poliovirus.

Then, the poliovirus starts to attack the malignant cells, triggering the release of antigens from the tumorAntigens are toxic substances that the body does not recognize, therefore setting off an immune attack against them.

So, when the tumor cells release antigens, this alerts the body’s immune system to start attacking. At the same time, the poliovirus infects the dendritic cells and macrophages.

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Dendritic cells are cells whose role it is to process antigens and “present” them to T cells, which are a type of immune cell. Macrophages are another type of immune cell – namely, large white blood cells whose main role is to rid our bodies of debris and toxic substances.

The cell culture results – which the researchers then verified in mouse models – showed that once PVS-RIPO infects the dendritic cells, these cells “tell” T cells to start the immune attack.

Once started, this process seems to be continuously successful. The cancer cells continue to be vulnerable to the immune system’s attack over a longer period of time, which appears to stop the tumor from regrowing.

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As Prof. Nair explains, “Not only is poliovirus killing tumor cells, it is also infecting the antigen-presenting cells, which allows them to function in such a way that they can now raise a T cell response that can recognize and infiltrate a tumor.”

“This is an encouraging finding, because it means the poliovirus stimulates an innate inflammatory response.”

Prof. Smita Nair

Speaking to Medical News Today about the clinical implications of the findings and the scientists’ directions for future research, Dr. Gromeier said, “Our findings provide clear rationales for moving forward with clinical trials in breast cancer, prostate cancer, and malignant melanoma.”

“This includes novel combination treatments that we will pursue,” he added.

More specifically, he explains, because the study revealed that after treatment with the poliovirus “immune checkpoints are increased on immune cells,” a future strategy the researchers plan to explore is “[oncolytic] poliovirus combined with immune checkpoint blockade.”

An Apocalyptic Mass Extinction Will Begin in 2100, Scientists Say

Original Article

By Jasper Hamill

A mass extinction that wipes out humanity will be under way by the year 2100, scientists have claimed.

By the end of the century, it’s feared that so much carbon will have been added to the oceans that the planet will have passed a “threshold of catastrophe” which leads to the destruction of our species.

In the past 540 million years, the planet has endured five such wipeouts — including the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The worst took place 252 million years ago and is known as the Great Dying.

This disaster killed off more than 95 percent of marine life when the seas suddenly became more acidic.

Now geophysicist Professor Daniel Rothman says we are seeing a disturbing parallel today — this time because of man-made global warming.

He came up with a simple mathematical formula that predicts that the oceans will soon hold so much carbon that a mass extinction is inevitable.

It showed the critical extra amount required is about 310 gigatons — which is the best-case scenario projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And it’s well below the worst of more than 500 gigatons — which would far exceed the line.

In all scenarios, the study found that by the end of the century, the carbon cycle will either be close to or well beyond the threshold for catastrophe.

Although mass extinction won’t soon follow at the turn of the century, the world may have tipped into “unknown territory.”

Rothman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says it would take some time — about 10,000 years — for such ecological disasters to play out.

He said: “This is not saying disaster occurs the next day.

“It’s saying — if left unchecked — the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict.

“In the past this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”

In the modern era, CO2 emissions have risen steadily since the 19th century, but deciphering whether this could lead to mass extinction has been challenging.

Humans have emitted 1,540 billion tons of CO2 since the Industrial Revolution — equivalent to burning enough coal to form a square tower 72 feet wide stretching 240,000 miles from Earth to the moon.

Half of these have remained in the atmosphere, causing a rise in levels at least 10 times faster than any known natural increase during Earth’s long history.

Most of the other half has dissolved into the ocean — causing acidification.

Will this lead to the destruction of humanity?

Your grandchildren will probably find out, unless something changes now.

New Research Suggest Climate Change Not As Threatening As Previously Thought

Original Article

By Henry Bodkin

the planet than previously thought because scientists got their modelling wrong, a new study has found. New research by British scientists reveals the world is being polluted and warming up less quickly than 10-year-old forecasts predicted, giving countries more time to get a grip on their carbon output.

An unexpected “revolution” in affordable renewable energy has also contributed to the more positive outlook.

Experts now say there is a two-in-three chance of keeping global temperatures within 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the ultimate goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Paris climate change deal: Moment agreement announcedParis climate change deal: Moment agreement announced

They also condemned the “overreaction” to the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, announced by Donald Trump in June, saying it is unlikely to make a significant difference.

According to the models used to draw up the agreement, the world ought now to be 1.3 degrees above the mid-19th-Century average, whereas the most recent observations suggest it is actually between 0.9 and 1 degree above.

We’re in the midst of an energy revolution and it’s happening faster than we thoughtProfessor Michael Grubb, University College London

The discrepancy means nations could continue emitting carbon dioxide at the current rate for another 20 years before the target was breached, instead of the three to five predicted by the previous model.

“When you are talking about a budget of 1.5 degrees, then a 0.3 degree difference is a big deal”, said Professor Myles Allen, of Oxford University and one of the authors of the new study.

Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, it suggests that if polluting peaks and then declines to below current levels before 2030 and then continue to drop more sharply, there is a 66 per cent chance of global average temperatures staying below 1.5 degrees.

The goal was yesterday described as “very ambitious” but “physically possible”.

Another reason the climate outlook is less bleak than previously thought is stabilising emissions, particularly in China.

Renewable energy has also enjoyed more use than was predicted.

China has now acquired more than 100 gigawatts of solar cells, 25 per cent of which in the last six months, and in the UK, offshore wind has turned out to cost far less than expected.

Professor Michael Grubb, from University College London, had previously described the goals agreed at Paris in 2015 as “incompatible with democracy”.

Outrage at Trump's withdrawal from Paris climate agreementOutrage at Trump’s withdrawal from Paris climate agreement

But yesterday he said: “We’re in the midst of an energy revolution and it’s happening faster than we thought, which makes it much more credible for governments to tighten the offer they put on the table at Paris.”

He added that President Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement would not be significant because “The White House’s position doesn’t have much impact on US emissions”.

“The smaller constituencies – cities, businesses, states – are just saying they’re getting on with it, partly for carbon reduction, but partly because there’s this energy revolution and they don’t want to be left behind.”

The new research was published as the Met Office announced that a “slowdown” in the rate of global temperature rises reported over roughly the first decade of this century was now over.

The organisation said the slowdown in rising air temperatures between 1999 and 2014 happened as a result of a natural cycle in the Pacific, which led to the ocean circulation speeding up, causing it to pull heat down in the deeper ocean away from the atmosphere.

However, that cycle has now ended.

Claire Perry, the climate change and industry minister, claimed Britain had already demonstrated that tackling climate change and running a strong economy could go “hand in hand”.

“How is the time to build on our strengths and cement our position as a global hub for investment in clean growth,” she said.

 

Studies of Pregnant Mice Highlight Link Between Immune Response and Autism

Original Article

A century ago, a largely forgotten, worldwide epidemic that would kill nearly a million people was beginning to take hold. Labelled as sleepy sickness — or more properly encephalitis lethargica — the disease caused a number of bizarre mental and physical symptoms and frequently left people in a catatonic state, sometimes for decades. (Oliver Sacks described his successful treatment of some of them in 1969, in the book Awakenings.) The cause has never been officially pinned down, but the most common suggestion is that some kind of infectious agent triggered an autoimmune response, which targeted and inflamed part of the brain.

The role of the immune system in mental disorders is subject to much important research at the moment. The onset of conditions from depression and psychosis to obsessive–compulsive disorder has been linked to the abrupt changes in biology and physiology that occur when the body responds to infection, especially in childhood. And some researchers have traced the possible chain of events back a generation. Studies have highlighted that pregnant women could react to infection in a way that influences their baby’s developing brain, which could lead to cognitive and neurodevelopmental problems in the child.

One consequence of this ‘maternal immune activation’ (MIA) in some women could be to increase the risk of autism in their children. And two papers published online this week in Nature (S. Kim et alNaturehttp://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature23910; 2017 and Y. S. Yim et al. Naturehttp://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature23909; 2017) use animal models to examine how this might happen, as well as suggest some possible strategies to reduce the risk.

Kim et al. looked at the impact of MIA on the brains and behaviour of mice. They found that pregnant female animals exposed to circumstances similar to a viral infection have offspring that are more likely to show atypical behaviour, and they unpick some of the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible. Some of their results confirm what scientists already suspected: pregnancy changes the female mouse’s immune response, specifically, by turning on the production of a protein called interleukin-17a. But the authors also conducted further experiments that give clues about the mechanisms at work.

“It’s tempting to draw parallels with mechanisms that might increase the risk of autism in some people.”

The types of bacteria in the mouse’s gut seem to be important. When the scientists used antibiotics to wipe out common gut microorganisms called segmented filamentous bacteria in female mice, this seemed to protect the animals’ babies from the impact of the simulated infection. The offspring of mice given the antibiotic treatment did not show the unusual behaviours, such as reduced sociability and repetitive actions. Segmented filamentous bacteria are known to encourage cells to produce more interleukin-17a, and an accompanying News & Views article (C. M. Powell Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature24139; 2017) discusses one obvious implication: some pregnant women could use diet or drugs to manipulate their gut micro­biome to reduce the risk of harm to their baby if an infection triggers their immune response. Much science still needs to be done before such a course could be recommended — not least further research to confirm and build on these results.

Yim et al. analysed the developing brain of mice born to mothers who showed MIA. They traced the abnormalities to a region called the dysgranular zone of the primary somato-sensory cortex (S1DZ). The authors genetically engineered the mice so that neurons in this region could be activated by light, and they showed that activation of S1DZ induced the same telltale atypical behaviours, even in mice that were born to mothers with no MIA.

It’s unusual to be able to demonstrate such a direct link between the activities of brain regions and specific behaviours — although plenty of work on mental disorders makes a strong theoretical case for linking particular conditions to over- and under-active brain zones and circuitry.

Encephalitis lethargica, for example, has been linked to changes in the deep regions of the basal ganglia, and the disease produces symptoms that are similar to those often seen in autism, including stereotyped and repetitive behaviours. Yim et al.’s study shows that the S1DZ region projects to one of those deep brain regions — the striatum — and that this connection helps to trigger repetitive actions in the animals. But S1DZ also connects to a separate, distinct, region in the cortex, and this is what seems to drive the changes in sociability.

Taking the two studies together, it’s tempting to draw parallels with mechanisms that might increase the risk of autism in some people and explain some of its symptoms. Scientists and others should be cautious about doing so — much can change when results from animal models are applied to human biology. But the studies do offer some intriguing leads.

‘The Orion Bionic Eye’ To Begin Huma Trails. Hopes To Restore Sight of Blind Patients

Original Article

American medical company, ‘Second Sight’ manufacture implantable visual prosthetics to provide vision to people that suffer from a variety of different visual impairments. Their most advanced piece of technology so far is ‘The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System’ that can restore some functional vision for people suffering from blindness. Although a very successful product, it only provides a limited about of restored vision to the patient, so the company have been working on it’s successor, ‘The Orion’.

The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System

The Orion™ Cortical Visual Prosthesis System

The idea behind The Orion is to convert images captured by a small video camera mounted on a pair of glasses that the patient wears daily, these images are then converted into a series of small electrical impulses.

The Orion would then wirelessly transmit these pulses to an array of electrodes that have been implanted into the patient. The electrodes bypass the retina and optic nerve to directly stimulate the visual cortex. This is the area of the brain that processes visual data, effectively allowing a person to see.

This technology has the potential to essential “cure” all forms of blindness including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and forms of cancer and trauma. The Argus II had been approved for use in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the U.S., so you can expect to see The Orion in the same, if not more countries.

Second Sight’s Argus II Restores Vision to Blind Patient

Tattoo Ink Particles Can Travel To Lymph Nodes.

Original Article

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Image: Pitbull Tattoo Thailand

Tattoos are very cool and I do not want to say bad things about them. Evidence of tattooing dates back thousands of years, and the art form has a long history across the world in various cultures. Tattooing has associations with wealth, crime, or seafaring depending on where in history you look. Today, there’s no denying tattoos are everywhere.

But unfortunately, scientists haven’t really looked at the long-term effects of tattoos on the human body.

Researchers have long noticed ink stains on lymph nodes in tattooed folks, but weren’t certain which kinds of particles from the ink were actually ending up there. A new study analyzing deceased tattooed individuals with a high-tech x-ray light source looked at the specifics of the tiny particles that made it to the nodes and stayed there for a long time. While the lymph nodes of these deceased individuals contained a small amount of potentially toxic metals that are believed to be from the tattoos, it’s still unclear exactly what effects these particles might have.

That’s because, given that tattooing is a cosmetic choice, scientists haven’t really studied it. “Currently, basic toxicological aspects,” like how the body transports and breaks down the ink molecules, “are largely uncertain,” the authors write in the paper published today in the journal Scientific Reports. “The animal experiments which would be necessary to address these toxicological issues were rated unethical because tattoos are applied as a matter of choice and lack medical necessity, similar to cosmetics.”

The researchers took skin and lymph node samples from four tattooed deceased human body donors and two non-tattooed donors. They found ink in both the skin and lymph nodes of two of the four patients—one with blue ink and another with green ink. Further chemical analysis found elevated levels of aluminum, chromium, iron, nickel, and copper in both the lymph nodes and skin of tattooed individuals, and even found cadmium and mercury in one of the donors’ lymph nodes (but not in the skin—the authors thought maybe it came from a different tattoo not tested). All of the tattooed individuals also had higher levels of titanium in the skin and nodes, which the authors thought was unlikely to have come from the usual titanium dioxide sources, cosmetics and sunscreen.

Skin and lymph node samples

The researchers also analyzed the skin and lymph nodes with x-rays from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, a large particle accelerator in France, and found that the bodies seemed to react to the tattoos in the lymph nodes—lipid levels were higher near the intruding particles. They note that these lipids may also have come from components of the ink.

While there are several acute issues that might come along with tattoos, from allergic reaction and inflammation to infection, there’s still question as to what the long-term effects might be. The authors here aren’t telling you that you should be worried, yet, as this is a preliminary study with only a few samples. Rather, they’ve recognized that lots of people are getting tattoos these days but the effects are understudied. It would probably be beneficial to understand what your body is actually doing with all of that ink, or even how it reacts to titanium oxide in cosmetics when it comes into contact with a wound.

One scientist not involved with the study, Wolfgang Bäumler from University Hospital Regensburg in Germany, said the work convincingly confirmed something he’s been studying: “Tattoo effects may be more than skin deep.”

I think you should get a tattoo because tattoos are dope (this is a biased statement, I have a family member who is a tattoo artist). But you should also know the risks, said Bäumler. “People getting a tattoo should know that colorants injected in the skin may cause skin problems like an allergic reaction and/or granulomas… People should also know that skin is eager to remove such foreign bodies from skin (tattoo colorant) via the lymphatic system, that is the job of the immune system in skin. Then, the colorant ingredients show up in the next lymph nodes.”

[Scientific Reports]

 

Face Reading A.I. Able To Detect IQ and Views on Politics

Original Article

By Sam Levin

Your photo could soon reveal your political views, says a Stanford professor.

 

Professor whose study suggested technology can detect whether a person is gay or straight says programs will soon reveal traits such as criminal predisposition

Voters have a right to keep their political beliefs private. But according to some researchers, it won’t be long before a computer program can accurately guess whether people are liberal or conservative in an instant. All that will be needed are photos of their faces.

Michal Kosinski – the Stanford University professor who went viral last week for research suggesting that artificial intelligence (AI) can detect whether people are gay or straight based on photos – said sexual orientation was just one of many characteristics that algorithms would be able to predict through facial recognition.

Using photos, AI will be able to identify people’s political views, whether they have high IQs, whether they are predisposed to criminal behavior, whether they have specific personality traits and many other private, personal details that could carry huge social consequences, he said.

Kosinski outlined the extraordinary and sometimes disturbing applications of facial detection technology that he expects to see in the near future, raising complex ethical questions about the erosion of privacy and the possible misuse of AI to target vulnerable people.

“The face is an observable proxy for a wide range of factors, like your life history, your development factors, whether you’re healthy,” he said.

Faces contain a significant amount of information, and using large datasets of photos, sophisticated computer programs can uncover trends and learn how to distinguish key traits with a high rate of accuracy. With Kosinski’s “gaydar” AI, an algorithm used online dating photos to create a program that could correctly identify sexual orientation 91% of the time with men and 83% with women, just by reviewing a handful of photos.

Kosinski’s research is highly controversial, and faced a huge backlash from LGBT rights groups, which argued that the AI was flawed and that anti-LGBT governments could use this type of software to out gay people and persecute them. Kosinski and other researchers, however, have argued that powerful governments and corporations already possess these technological capabilities and that it is vital to expose possible dangers in an effort to push for privacy protections and regulatory safeguards, which have not kept pace with AI.

Kosinski, an assistant professor of organizational behavior, said he was studying links between facial features and political preferences, with preliminary results showing that AI is effective at guessing people’s ideologies based on their faces.

This is probably because political views appear to be heritable, as research has shown, he said. That means political leanings are possibly linked to genetics or developmental factors, which could result in detectable facial differences.

Kosinski said previous studies have found that conservative politicians tend to be more attractive than liberals, possibly because good-looking people have more advantages and an easier time getting ahead in life.

Michal Kosinski.
 Michal Kosinski. Photograph: Lauren Bamford

Kosinski said the AI would perform best for people who are far to the right or left and would be less effective for the large population of voters in the middle. “A high conservative score … would be a very reliable prediction that this guy is conservative.”

Kosinski is also known for his controversial work on psychometric profiling, including using Facebook data to draw inferences about personality. The data firm Cambridge Analytica has used similar tools to target voters in support of Donald Trump’s campaign, sparking debate about the use of personal voter information in campaigns.

Facial recognition may also be used to make inferences about IQ, said Kosinski, suggesting a future in which schools could use the results of facial scans when considering prospective students. This application raises a host of ethical questions, particularly if the AI is purporting to reveal whether certain children are genetically more intelligent, he said: “We should be thinking about what to do to make sure we don’t end up in a world where better genes means a better life.”

Some of Kosinski’s suggestions conjure up the 2002 science-fiction film Minority Report, in which police arrest people before they have committed crimes based on predictions of future murders. The professor argued that certain areas of society already function in a similar way.

He cited school counselors intervening when they observe children who appear to exhibit aggressive behavior. If algorithms could be used to accurately predict which students need help and early support, that could be beneficial, he said. “The technologies sound very dangerous and scary on the surface, but if used properly or ethically, they can really improve our existence.”

There are, however, growing concerns that AI and facial recognition technologies are actually relying on biased data and algorithms and could cause great harm. It is particularly alarming in the context of criminal justice, where machines could make decisions about people’s lives – such as the length of a prison sentence or whether to release someone on bail – based on biased data from a court and policing system that is racially prejudiced at every step.

Kosinski predicted that with a large volume of facial images of an individual, an algorithm could easily detect if that person is a psychopath or has high criminal tendencies. He said this was particularly concerning given that a propensity for crime does not translate to criminal actions: “Even people highly disposed to committing a crime are very unlikely to commit a crime.”

He also cited an example referenced in the Economist – which first reported the sexual orientation study – that nightclubs and sport stadiums could face pressure to scan people’s faces before they enter to detect possible threats of violence.

Kosinski noted that in some ways, this wasn’t much different from human security guards making subjective decisions about people they deem too dangerous-looking to enter.

The law generally considers people’s faces to be “public information”, said Thomas Keenan, professor of environmental design and computer science at the University of Calgary, noting that regulations have not caught up with technology: no law establishes when the use of someone’s face to produce new information rises to the level of privacy invasion.

Keenan said it might take a tragedy to spark reforms, such as a gay youth being beaten to death because bullies used an algorithm to out him: “Now, you’re putting people’s lives at risk.”

Even with AI that makes highly accurate predictions, there is also still a percentage of predictions that will be incorrect.

“You’re going down a very slippery slope,” said Keenan, “if one in 20 or one in a hundred times … you’re going to be dead wrong.”

Researchers Reverse the Negative Effects Of Adolescent Marijuana Use

Original Article

Researchers at Western University have found a way to use pharmaceuticals to reverse the negative psychiatric effects of THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. Chronic adolescent marijuana use has previously been linked to the development of psychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia, in adulthood. But until now, researchers were unsure of what exactly was happening in the brain to cause this to occur.

“What is important about this study is that not only have we identified a specific mechanism in the prefrontal cortex for some of the mental health risks associated with adolescent  use, but we have also identified a mechanism to reverse those risks,” said Steven Laviolette, professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

In a study published online today in Scientific Reports the researchers demonstrate that adolescent THC exposure modulates the activity of a neurotransmitter called GABA in the  region of the brain. The team, led by Laviolette and post-doctoral fellow Justine Renard, looked specifically at GABA because of its previously shown clinical association with .

“GABA is an  and plays a crucial role in regulating the excitatory activity in the frontal cortex, so if you have less GABA, your neuronal systems become hyperactive leading to behavioural changes consistent with schizophrenia,” said Renard.

The study showed that the reduction of GABA as a result of THC exposure in adolescence caused the neurons in adulthood to not only be hyperactive in this part of the brain, but also to be out of synch with each other, demonstrated by abnormal oscillations called ‘gamma’ waves. This loss of GABA in the cortex caused a corresponding hyperactive state in the brain’s dopamine system, which is commonly observed in schizophrenia.

By using drugs to activate GABA in a rat model of schizophrenia, the team was able to reverse the neuronal and behavioural effects of the THC and eliminate the schizophrenia-like symptoms.

Laviolette says this finding is especially important given the impending legalization of marijuana in Canada. “What this could mean is that if you are going to be using marijuana, in a recreational or medicinal way, you can potentially combine it with compounds that boost GABA to block the negative effects of THC.”

The research team says the next steps will examine how combinations of cannabinoid chemicals with compounds that can boost the brains GABA system may serve as more effective and safer treatments for a variety of  disorders, such as addiction, depression and anxiety.

Post-Harvey Mosquito Invasion Seems Terrible

Original Article

By Adam Clark Estes

Screenshots: YouTube/Tyler Bennett

Plenty of people have described Hurricane Harvey as a disaster of biblical proportions, and it seems the next plague is upon us. It’s not locusts. Thanks to untold quantities of filthy standing water, millions of mosquitos are starting to hatch. And yes, they do bite. They love to bite.

A little bit of itch isn’t what folks in Texas are afraid of, however. Public health officials warn that the surge in the mosquito population caused by the flooding could lead to a spike of mosquito-borne illness. As the Centers for Disease Control explained in a recent advisory, the mosquito population increases dramatically after a major flooding event as dormant eggs hatch. These so-called floodwater mosquitoes are a different breed than those that would typically carry dangerous diseases, however.

“Most of these mosquitoes are considered nuisance mosquitoes and will not spread viruses,” said the CDC. “However, some types of mosquitoes could spread viruses like Zika, dengue, or West Nile.”

Before we get into the threat of disease, let’s have a look at what large populations of nuisance or floodwater mosquitoes look like. This video was filmed near Refugio, Texas:

That looks like a nuisance indeed! Without that netting, the worker’s face would undoubtedly be covered with mosquitoes and—what’s worse—mosquitoes that like to bite. Meanwhile, someone posted this horror show to the Houston subreddit:

And the follow up is actually worse:

Considering these images, calling these bugs a “nuisance” seems like an understatement. Dr. Charles Allen, an associate professor of entomology at Texas A&M, uses more colorful language to describe the behavior of the post-flood mosquito populations. They are definitely rude little bastards, but for now, they’re probably not deadly.

“There will soon be a lot of mosquitoes and they will be very noticeable, because of their sheer numbers and because they are vicious biters,” Dr. Allen said in a press release. “It’s important to realize though that as unpleasant as these will be, they are not a species that typically transmits disease. So at least in the short-term, it’s not a Zika issue and it’s not a West Nile Virus issue.”

Over time, the threat of West Nile and Zika will unfortunately come back, and it might do so with a vengeance. West Nile, specifically, is a concern. The virus has been in Texas at least since 2002, and last year, there were370 recorded cases. And while the floodwater mosquitoes will be a conspicuous pain in the ass for the next few weeks in the areas affected by Harvey, the more dangerous mosquitoes will eventually come back, perhaps with a vengeance. For instance, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the West Nile Virus wasn’t a major problem for New Orleans, but the following year saw twice as many cases in the area than were recorded before the storm.

Texans can do their best to temper the mosquito explosion for now by eradicating any standing water that could become a breeding ground. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to wear long sleeves and pants. A good douse of DEET will also help. If all else fails, just stay inside and keep the windows closed. Because based on the images coming out of Texas, the mosquitoes will find you when you go outside. And they will bite you.

Can Nightmares Cause Death?

Original Article

By Tara MacIsaac

In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.

A lot of the research on nightmares suggests these events test the strength of one’s mind. If the mind is not strong, nightmares can take hold with greater force and the torment can extend beyond one’s dreams.

Dr. Patrick McNamara of the Boston University School of Medicine looks at nightmares in a modern clinical context that also takes into account the history of dream phenomena in many cultures. He connects nightmares with a world of malevolent spirits.

 

Spirit Possession

Some people who experience frequent nightmares, both today and throughout history, also show signs in waking life of mental illness and even what may be seen as spirit possession.

Dr. McNamara seems unabashed in speaking about spirit possession.

“Nightmares very often involve supernatural characters that attack or target the dreamer in some way. I mean monsters, creatures, demons, spirits, unusual animals, and the like,” Dr. McNamara said in an interview with Boston University’s alumni publication Bostonia. “The self escapes unscathed only if it refuses to look at or speak to or in any way engage the monster. When the self engages the monster, all kinds of ill effects ensue, including, in ancestral cultures, demonic or spirit possession.”

“It is an interesting clinical fact that, even today, most cases of involuntary spirit possession across the world occur overnight. The person wakes up possessed,” he said. He said spirit possession is much more common than most people think. “It is a universal human experience.”

Under attack, the strength of a dreamer’s ego is challenged in nightmares. As with facing other hardships in life, overcoming a nightmare attack can make a person stronger, Dr. McNamara said.

Nightmares are more frequent for people with “thin boundaries,” he said—that is, people who are sensitive to sensory impressions and creative people.

People who’ve experienced trauma also experience frequent nightmares. As has been suggested in other modern spirit possession studies, trauma victims may sometimes withdraw their consciousness from their bodies as a coping method, thus leaving their bodies open to the control of other consciousnesses.

ALSO SEE: Science of Spirit Possession

Neurologist and psychiatrist Dr. McNamara studied nightmares for more than a decade before writing “The Science and Solution of Those Frightening Visions During Sleep” in 2008.

 

Mental Illness

Mental Illness
Concept image of a woman suffering from mental illness via Shutterstock

Researchers at the University of Warwick in England released a study earlier this year linking chronic childhood nightmares with mental illness later in life.

A link does not mean a cause-effect relationship. It may be that people likely to have nightmares are also likely to be mentally ill. Children who experienced frequent nightmares were three times more likely to have psychotic experiences in their teenage years.

When considering the lasting impact of nightmares on one’s mind, another question that has been raised is, if a person dies in a dream could he die in real life as a result?

 

Can You Really Die if Killed in a Nightmare?

There is a phenomenon called “sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome” (SUNDS) that some have speculated may be linked to nightmares, but this link has not been rigorously tested and is far from certain. SUNDS is more common among a particular demographic, young men, and often happens when the men have gone to bed with a full stomach, suggesting more physiological causes.

Another phenomenon related to death in sleep is parasomnia pseudo-suicide, when people commit suicide in their sleep. A 2003 article in the Journal of Forensic Science explained: “Complex behaviors arising from the sleep period may result in violent or injurious consequences, even death. Those resulting in death may be erroneously deemed suicides.”

Some have said this is what happened to modern artist Tobias Wong, who hanged himself in New York in 2010.

Doree Shafrir of Buzzfeed wrote an article about her personal experiences with night terrors and also mentioned Wong. Night terrors differ slightly from nightmares in that the sleepers may exhibit more physical movement or yelling during the terrors and they may not remember dream episodes that caused the reaction. “It crosses my mind that I could actually scare myself to death,” she wrote.

“The prevailing theory about Tobias Wong’s death was that he hanged himself while experiencing a night terror. I imagine that something in his mind told him that hanging himself was the only way to escape whoever, or whatever, was chasing him, in the same way that I have thought that the only way to save myself was to jump out of a window or smash a pane of glass.”

It is difficult, of course, to establish any clear link between nightmares and death, since the cause of death would be manifest in the person’s mind and the person would not be able to report it if he or she actually died as a result.

 

How to Fight Nightmares: Make the Scary Thing Silly

A common therapy to help people with chronic nightmares overcome them is turning the scary image into something benign. In waking life, the person identifies the frightening imagery that comes up in recurrent nightmares or nightmares with similar themes. He or she Reimagines it in a way that makes it less scary, sometimes drawing it out on paper to help visualize it more clearly and reinforce the image.

“Harry Potter,” fans may think of the scene in which Neville Longbottom pictures the frightful Professor Snape dressed in his grandmother’s clothes, effectively dispelling the fear associated with that figure.

The Science of Spirit Possession

Original Article

By Tara MacIsaac

In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challeange our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.

Modern science questions much of the knowledge gained through the collective memory of humanity over the course of millennia.

“Every culture and religious belief system throughout human history has its traditional beliefs of spirit possession in some form or another with corresponding rituals for the release or exorcism of spirit entities,” wrote Dr. Terence Palmer, a psychologist and the first person in the U.K. to earn a Ph.D. in spirit release therapy.

Some psychologists are returning to the methods developed by our ancestors to help patients with symptoms of possession.

Dr. William Baldwin (1939–2004) founded the practice of spirit release therapy and he also used past-life regression treatments. Baldwin was cautious about saying whether he believed in reincarnation or not, but he did say his treatments helped patients, and that’s what matters.

Spirit release practitioner Dr. Alan Sanderson wrote in a paper titled “Spirit Release Therapy: What Is It and What Can It Achieve?”: “I want to stress that the concept of spirit attachment and the practice of spirit release are not based on faith, as are religious and mystical beliefs. They are based on the observation of clinical cases and their response to standard therapeutic techniques. This is a scientific approach, albeit one that takes account of subjective experience and is not confined by contemporary scientific theory.”

Dr. Palmer commented in the introduction to a lecture titled “The Science of Spirit Possession”: “SRT [spirit release therapy] sits uncomfortably between the disbelief of a materialist secular society and the subjective experience of spirit possession: whether that experience is a symptom of psychosis, symbolic representation, socio-cultural expectation or a veridical manifestation.”

Parapsychology has been called a “pseudoscience,” as have other scientific approaches to phenomena that cannot be entirely explained by conventional science. However one views the method, it appears a revival of ancient wisdom has been effective in many cases.

Here’s a look at some of the thinkers, including those already mentioned, who have approached possession scientifically.

 

Frederick W.H. Myers

Frederick W.H. Myers (1843–1901) wrote in his book “Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death,” which was published posthumously in 1906: “The controlling spirit proves his identity mainly by reproducing, in speech or writing, facts which belong to his memory and not to the automatist’s memory.”

He noted that the brain is little-understood; scientists don’t have a solid understanding of many of its ordinary functions let alone extraordinary functions (and this still holds true today). He theorized about a sort of radiation or energy that could be behind the telepathic influence of one person on another.  He tried to consider how the memory centers might be related to the gaps in memory experienced by people said to be possessed.

Myers has not been shown to have any formal education in the field of psychology and much of his work relied on two mediums he worked with. It was his belief in a science that takes fuller account of human consciousness that has continued to inspire scientists. Myers also noted that the origin of the idea is not as important as its effectiveness or veracity.

“Instead of asking in what age a doctrine originated—with the implied assumption that the more recent it is, the better—we can now ask how far it is in accord or in discord with a great mass of actual recent evidence which comes into contact, in one way or another, with nearly every belief as to an unseen world which has been held at least by Western men.

“Submitted to this test, the theory of possession gives a remarkable result. It cannot be said to be inconsistent with any of our proved facts. We know absolutely nothing which negatives its possibility.

“Nay, more than this. The theory of possession actually supplies us with a powerful method of co-ordinating and explaining many earlier groups of phenomena, if only we will consent to explain them in a way which at first sight seemed extreme in its assumptions.”

 

Dr. Terence Palmer

Dr. Palmer’s Ph.D. thesis revived Myers’s work. He said that Myers and others have tried to bring the mental, emotional, and spiritual elements of human experience into natural science.

“To permit the accommodation of all human experience into a broader scientific framework is a scary prospect for several reasons. But fear is the cause of all human suffering, and only when medical science puts aside its own fears of being proven wrong can it treat sickness effectively by showing how fear is to be remedied,” Dr. Palmer wrote.

In a recorded lecture on his thesis, he looked at ways in which we come to know things. Some of the ways include learning from others, using logic and deduction, and through personal experience. He noted that in these ways, a good deal of evidence exists for the possibility of real spirit possession.

Funding, he said, has been one of the obstacles to conducting more rigorous scientific research of spirit possession. He said further studies must be done with remote telepathic intervention. This would bypass any placebo effect or any psychological impact a patient’s belief system may have.

 

Dr. Alan Sanderson

Dr. Sanderson asked in his paper “So where is the research to back these heretical claims [about spirit possession]?”

He gave three reasons for minimal research in this field of study. First, spirit release is a new study, which has only been systematically taught and practiced for about a decade. Second, much mistrust and many misconceptions still present obstacles. Third, research funds are hard to come by.

He is hopeful the field will progress and funds with come forth. In the meantime, he said, “individual cases have much to say.” Dr. Sanderson uses the method developed by Dr. Baldwin to treat spirit possession. Following is an outline of Dr. Baldwin’s work and an example of how Dr. Sanderson used it to help a woman allegedly possessed by the ghost of her father.

 

Dr. William Baldwin

Dr. Baldwin developed a method of helping people exorcise their demons so to speak. It is thought that traumatic experiences can especially cause a person’s consciousness to withdraw and give the body over to other forms of consciousness.

In spirit release therapy, the patient is hypnotized so it is easier to access the other consciousnesses in the person’s mind. The therapist asks the possessing entity to look inside. Dr. Baldwin has said that about half of his hypnotized patients could see silver threads, like those described in Ecclesiastes in the Bible as connecting the human spirit to the body, according to author Kerry Pobanz.

The therapist is said to help the spirits resolve issues so they will no longer have a negative impact on the patient and the therapist may even ask for divine intervention.

 

Dr. Sanderson’s Case Study of a Woman With Multiple Personalities

Pru, 46, had long-term psychological problems found to stem from sexual abuse by her father when she was a child. Under hypnosis in a session with Dr. Sanderson, she identified herself as her father, Jason. Jason would become angry and threaten Dr. Sanderson.

“In deep trance, Jason agreed to look within himself, where he saw blackness,” Dr. Sanderson wrote. “I called for angelic help. With the use of Baldwin’s protocol for dealing with demonic spirits, the blackness left. Thereafter, Jason was amenable. He agreed to leave. Other destructive entities responded similarly.”

Not all spirits found inside a person are malevolent, say spirit release practitioners.

Pru wrote a paragraph to describe her experience: “‘The spiritual approach left me freer from the remaining daily distress than anything tried before. Whilst under hypnosis I found myself talking about some experiences that I had definitely not had and places I certainly had not been to. So, was this spirits, split off parts of my personality, ancestral memory or even false memory/imagination? I very much doubt the latter. There was reluctance, yet at the same time relief, to be spoken to, accepted and contacted. The release from the darkness, into the light and to the beyond had to be experienced to be believed. It was amazing and I still marvel at the sight of these ‘entities’ disappearing and freeing me.”

*Image of woman being hypnotized via Shutterstock

29 States Banned Individual State Laws About Seeds

Original Article

By Kristina Johnson

This story was originally published by Food and Environment Reporting Network.

With little notice, more than two dozen state legislatures have passed “seed-preemption laws” designed to block counties and cities from adopting their own rules on the use of seeds, including bans on GMOs. Opponents say that there’s nothing more fundamental than a seed, and that now, in many parts of the country, decisions about what can be grown have been taken out of local control and put solely in the hands of the state.

“This bill should be viewed for what it is — a gag order on public debate,” says Kristina Hubbard, director of advocacy and communications at the Organic Seed Alliance, a national advocacy group, and a resident of Montana, which along with Texas passed a seed-preemption bill this year. “This thinly disguised attack on local democracy can be easily traced to out-of-state, corporate interests that want to quash local autonomy.”

Seed-preemption laws are part of a spate of legislative initiatives by industrial agriculture, including ag-gag laws passed in several states that legally prohibit outsiders from photographing farms, and “right-to-farm” laws that make it easier to snuff out complaints about animal welfare. The seed laws, critics say, are a related thrust meant to protect the interests of agro-chemical companies.

Nearly every seed-preemption law in the country borrows language from a 2013 model bill drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The council is “a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists,” essentially “voting as equals” with state legislators on bills, according to The Center for Media and Democracy. ALEC’s corporate members include the Koch brothers as well as some of the largest seed-chemical companies — Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont — which want to make sure GMO bans, like those enacted in Jackson County, Oregon, and Boulder County, Colorado, don’t become a trend.

Seed-preemption laws have been adopted in 29 states, including Oregon — one of the world’s top five seed-producing regions — California, Iowa, and Colorado. In Oregon, the bill was greenlighted in 2014 after Monsanto and Syngenta spent nearly $500,000 fighting a GMO ban in Jackson County. Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, and Syngenta also spent more than $6.9 million opposing anti-GMO rules in three Hawaiian counties, and thousands more in campaign donations. (These companies are also involved in mergers that, if approved, would create three seed-agrochemical giants.)

Montana and Texas were the latest states to join the seed-preemption club. Farming is the largest industry in Montana, and Texas is the third-largest agricultural state in terms of production, behind California and Iowa.

Language in the Texas version of the bill preempts not only local laws that affect seeds but also local laws that deal with “cultivating plants grown from seed.” In theory, that could extend to almost anything: what kinds of manure or fertilizer can be used, or whether a county can limit irrigation during a drought, says Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. Along with other activists, her organization was able to force an amendment to the Texas bill guaranteeing the right to impose local water restrictions. Still, the law’s wording remains uncomfortably open to interpretation, she says.

In both Montana and Texas, the laws passed with support from the state chapter of the Farm Bureau Federation — the nation’s largest farm-lobbying group — and other major ag groups, including the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Texas Seed Trade Alliance. In Texas, DuPont and Dow Chemical also joined the fight, publicly registering their support for the bill.

Echoing President Trump’s anti-regulatory rhetoric, preemption proponents argue that, fundamentally, seed-preemption laws are about cutting the red tape from around farmers’ throats. Supporters also contend that counties and cities don’t have the expertise or the resources to make sound scientific decisions about the safety or quality of seeds.

“We don’t believe the locals have the science that the state of Texas has,” said Jim Reaves, legislative director of the Texas Farm Bureau. “So we think it’s better held in the state’s hands. It will basically tell cities that if you have a problem with a certain seed, the state can ban it, but you can’t.”

Other preemption proponents claim that local seed rules would simply get too complicated, forcing growers to navigate conflicting laws in different counties. “Many of us farm fields in more than one county,” said Don Steinbeisser Jr., a Sidney, Montana, farmer who testified in support of his state’s bill at a legislative hearing this spring. “Having different rules in each county would make management a nightmare and add costs to the crops that we simply do not need and cannot afford.”

But critics of preemption laws, including farmers (organic and conventional) and some independent seed companies, are afraid of losing their legislative rights. They claim something far more serious than a single farmer’s crop is at stake.

“There is no looming threat that warrants forfeiting the independence of local agricultural communities in the form of sweeping language that eliminates all local authority governing one of our most valuable national resources,” says Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance.

Organic farmers can lose their crop if it becomes contaminated with genetically modified material. Even conventional farmers who rely on exports to Asia, where GMOs are banned by some countries, face risks from contamination. There are currently no plans to push for a GMO ban anywhere in Texas or Montana, and neither state requires companies to disclose the use of GMOs. (In Montana, at least, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, added an amendment to the preemption bill when he signed it, preserving the right of local governments to require that farmers notify their neighbors if they’re planting GMO seeds.) Yet critics of the preemption laws fear that they tie the hands of local governments, which will make it harder for communities to respond to problems in the future.

Still, the fight isn’t just about GMOs, says Judith McGeary, noting that seeds coated with neonicotinoids — a class of pesticides linked to colony collapse disorder in bees — are also at issue. Under the Texas bill, a local government can’t ban neonic seeds in order to protect pollinator insects, and in the current political climate, it’s hard to imagine that such a ban would happen on the state level.

“We have an extremely large state with an incredible diversity of agricultural practices and ecological conditions, and you’ve now hobbled any ability to address a problem that’s found in one local area,” says McGeary. “Until it’s a big enough issue for a state of 23 million to pay attention to through the state legislature, nothing is going to happen,” she says.

Scientists Incubate Lamb In Artificial Womb For the Second Time.

Original Article

A lamb in an artificial womb from a team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (Image: The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)

It may look like a glorified Ziplock bag, but the artificial womb could one day save the lives of the thousands of babies born every year prematurely.

For the second time, researchers announced this week that they have successfully incubated lambs born before reaching full term in an artificial ‘womb.’ In findings published this week in The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecologyresearchers from the University of Western Australia, Australia’s Women and Infants Research Foundation, and Tohoku University Hospital in Japan reported that several lambs continued to grow during a week-long incubation period in an “ex-vivo uterine environment” dubbed “EVE.” They appeared healthy when later delivered.

The artificial womb system, “EVE,” used to incubate lambs. IMAGE: Women and Infants Research Foundation

It’s not the first time that researchers have successfully used such a system to incubate preterm lambs. In April, researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia used a similar system to incubate premature lambs for a record-breaking four weeks. Lambs have a shorter gestation period so the 105- to 115-day-old premature lamb fetuses in that study were the equivalent of about 23 weeks in a human. The hope is that such systems could help babies born as early as 22 weeks. Each year in the United States, approximately 30,000 births are critically preterm, meaning babies are born before 26 weeks of a full 37-week gestation period.

The system in the new study relies on a fluid-filled plastic bag to keep the lambs alive. A bath of artificial amniotic fluid fills the bag to mimic conditions inside the womb. An external oxygenator fills in for the mother’s placenta, allowing gas exchange of CO2 and oxygen in the fetal blood. Like the Children’s Hospital study, the Australian and Japanese researchers relied on the fetal heart to power the womb, ensuring that developing hearts and lungs don’t get overloaded and giving those organs a chance to develop normally.

Before the April study, the maximum duration a lamb fetus had survived in an artificial system was 60 hours, and those animals experienced brain damage.

The success—using a fetal-powered system for the second time—is an important step towards having something that could actually be tested in human babies. Such a system would be a vast improvement over the current treatment, which is to place premature infants in an incubator and rely on devices like ventilators to assist their still-developing organs.

Such new technologies, though, will also inevitably raise new ethical questions. Recently, one researcher pointed out that the availability of artificial womb technology could threaten a woman’s right to an abortion, since in the US the right hinges in part on whether a fetus is viable. The technology could also result in premature babies that survive, but have lifelong impairments or conditions, raising questions of when it would be appropriate to use such technology.

There is still much work to be done before artificial wombs are ready for humans—if they ever are at all. Researchers have said it will be at least five years before trials are even a possibility, if not more. But it is a future we are inching closer to every day.

Biohackers Install Malware in DNA

Original Article

WHEN BIOLOGISTS SYNTHESIZE DNA, they take pains not to create or spread a dangerous stretch of genetic code that could be used to create a toxin or, worse, an infectious disease. But one group of biohackers has demonstrated how DNA can carry a less expected threat—one designed to infect not humans nor animals but computers.

In new research they plan to present at the USENIX Security conference on Thursday, a group of researchers from the University of Washington has shown for the first time that it’s possible to encode malicious software into physical strands of DNA, so that when a gene sequencer analyzes it the resulting data becomes a program that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of the underlying computer. While that attack is far from practical for any real spy or criminal, it’s one the researchers argue could become more likely over time, as DNA sequencing becomes more commonplace, powerful, and performed by third-party services on sensitive computer systems. And, perhaps more to the point for the cybersecurity community, it also represents an impressive, sci-fi feat of sheer hacker ingenuity.

“We know that if an adversary has control over the data a computer is processing, it can potentially take over that computer,” says Tadayoshi Kohno, the University of Washington computer science professor who led the project, comparing the technique to traditional hacker attacks that package malicious code in web pages or an email attachment. “That means when you’re looking at the security of computational biology systems, you’re not only thinking about the network connectivity and the USB drive and the user at the keyboard but also the information stored in the DNA they’re sequencing. It’s about considering a different class of threat.”

A Sci-Fi Hack

For now, that threat remains more of a plot point in a Michael Crichton novel than one that should concern computational biologists. But as genetic sequencing is increasingly handled by centralized services—often run by university labs that own the expensive gene sequencing equipment—that DNA-borne malware trick becomes ever so slightly more realistic. Especially given that the DNA samples come from outside sources, which may be difficult to properly vet.

If hackers did pull off the trick, the researchers say they could potentially gain access to valuable intellectual property, or possibly taint genetic analysis like criminal DNA testing. Companies could even potentially place malicious code in the DNA of genetically modified products, as a way to protect trade secrets, the researchers suggest. “There are a lot of interesting—or threatening may be a better word—applications of this coming in the future,” says Peter Ney, a researcher on the project.

Regardless of any practical reason for the research, however, the notion of building a computer attack—known as an “exploit”—with nothing but the information stored in a strand of DNA represented an epic hacker challenge for the University of Washington team. The researchers started by writing a well-known exploit called a “buffer overflow,” designed to fill the space in a computer’s memory meant for a certain piece of data and then spill out into another part of the memory to plant its own malicious commands.

But encoding that attack in actual DNA proved harder than they first imagined. DNA sequencers work by mixing DNA with chemicals that bind differently to DNA’s basic units of code—the chemical bases A, T, G, and C—and each emit a different color of light, captured in a photo of the DNA molecules. To speed up the processing, the images of millions of bases are split up into thousands of chunks and analyzed in parallel. So all the data that comprised their attack had to fit into just a few hundred of those bases, to increase the likelihood it would remain intact throughout the sequencer’s parallel processing.

When the researchers sent their carefully crafted attack to the DNA synthesis service Integrated DNA Technologies in the form of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs, they found that DNA has other physical restrictions too. For their DNA sample to remain stable, they had to maintain a certain ratio of Gs and Cs to As and Ts, because the natural stability of DNA depends on a regular proportion of A-T and G-C pairs. And while a buffer overflow often involves using the same strings of data repeatedly, doing so in this case caused the DNA strand to fold in on itself. All of that meant the group had to repeatedly rewrite their exploit code to find a form that could also survive as actual DNA, which the synthesis service would ultimately send them in a finger-sized plastic vial in the mail.

The result, finally, was a piece of attack software that could survive the translation from physical DNA to the digital format, known as FASTQ, that’s used to store the DNA sequence. And when that FASTQ file is compressed with a common compression program known as fqzcomp—FASTQ files are often compressed because they can stretch to gigabytes of text—it hacks that compression software with its buffer overflow exploit, breaking out of the program and into the memory of the computer running the software to run its own arbitrary commands.

A Far-Off Threat

Even then, the attack was fully translated only about 37 percent of the time, since the sequencer’s parallel processing often cut it short or—another hazard of writing code in a physical object—the program decoded it backward. (A strand of DNA can be sequenced in either direction, but code is meant to be read in only one. The researchers suggest in their paper that future, improved versions of the attack might be crafted as a palindrome.)

Despite that tortuous, unreliable process, the researchers admit, they also had to take some serious shortcuts in their proof-of-concept that verge on cheating. Rather than exploit an existing vulnerability in the fqzcomp program, as real-world hackers do, they modified the program’s open-source code to insert their own flaw allowing the buffer overflow. But aside from writing that DNA attack code to exploit their artificially vulnerable version of fqzcomp, the researchers also performed a survey of common DNA sequencing software and found three actual buffer overflow vulnerabilities in common programs. “A lot of this software wasn’t written with security in mind,” Ney says. That shows, the researchers say, that a future hacker might be able to pull off the attack in a more realistic setting, particularly as more powerful gene sequencers start analyzing larger chunks of data that could better preserve an exploit’s code.

Needless to say, any possible DNA-based hacking is years away. Illumina, the leading maker of gene-sequencing equipment, said as much in a statement responding to the University of Washington paper. “This is interesting research about potential long-term risks. We agree with the premise of the study that this does not pose an imminent threat and is not a typical cyber security capability,” writes Jason Callahan, the company’s chief information security officer “We are vigilant and routinely evaluate the safeguards in place for our software and instruments. We welcome any studies that create a dialogue around a broad future framework and guidelines to ensure security and privacy in DNA synthesis, sequencing, and processing.”

But hacking aside, the use of DNA for handling computer information is slowly becoming a reality, says Seth Shipman, one member of a Harvard team that recently encoded a video in a DNA sample. (Shipman is married to WIRED senior writer Emily Dreyfuss.) That storage method, while mostly theoretical for now, could someday allow data to be kept for hundreds of years, thanks to DNA’s ability to maintain its structure far longer than magnetic encoding in flash memory or on a hard drive. And if DNA-based computer storage is coming, DNA-based computer attacks may not be so farfetched, he says.

“I read this paper with a smile on my face, because I think it’s clever,” Shipman says. “Is it something we should start screening for now? I doubt it.” But he adds that, with an age of DNA-based data possibly on the horizon, the ability to plant malicious code in DNA is more than a hacker parlor trick.

“Somewhere down the line, when more information is stored in DNA and it’s being input and sequenced constantly,” Shipman says, “we’ll be glad we started thinking about these things.”

Researchers Create Machine That Converts CO2 and Electricity to “Food”

Original Article

‘Food’ has been created from carbon dioxide and electricity, according to a team of scientists.

The meal of single-cell protein may not revolutionise cuisine but it could open a way for a new type of food in the future.

The Food From Electricity study, funded by the Academy of Finland, was set up with no less an aim than to alleviate the world hunger.

Using carbon dioxide taken from the air, researchers from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) succeeded in creating a protein powder, which could be used to feed people or animals.

The “protein reactor” can be used anywhere with access to electricity. If it was used as an alternative animal feed, this would allow land to be used for other purposes such as forestry or more crops for human consumption.

“One possible alternative is a home reactor, a type of domestic appliance that the consumer can use to produce the needed protein.”

According to the researchers, the process of creating food from electricity can be nearly 10 times as energy efficient as photosynthesis, the process used by plants.

Mr Pitkänen said the powder was a healthy source of protein.

“In the long term, protein created with electricity is meant to be used in cooking and products as it is. The mixture is very nutritious, with more than 50 per cent protein and 25 per cent carbohydrates. The rest is fats and nucleic acids.

“The consistency of the final product can be modified by changing the organisms used in the production,” he said.

Although the technology is in its infancy, researchers hope the “protein reactor” could become a household item.

Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, a scientist at VTT, said: “In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air. In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine.

Microchip Implants for Employees? One Company Says Yes

original article

By MAGGIE ASTOR

At first blush, it sounds like the talk of a conspiracy theorist: a company implanting microchips under employees’ skin. But it’s not a conspiracy, and employees are lining up for the opportunity.

On Aug. 1, employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, can choose to have a chip the size of a grain of rice injected between their thumb and index finger. Once that is done, any task involving RFID technology — swiping into the office building, paying for food in the cafeteria — can be accomplished with a wave of the hand.

The program is not mandatory, but as of Monday, more than 50 out of 80 employees at Three Square’s headquarters in River Falls, Wis., had volunteered.

“It was pretty much 100 percent yes right from the get-go for me,” said Sam Bengtson, a software engineer. “In the next five to 10 years, this is going to be something that isn’t scoffed at so much, or is more normal. So I like to jump on the bandwagon with these kind of things early, just to say that I have it.”

Jon Krusell, another software engineer, and Melissa Timmins, the company’s sales director, were more hesitant. Mr. Krusell, who said he was excited about the technology but leery of an implanted device, might get a ring with a chip instead.

“Because it’s new, I don’t know enough about it yet,” Ms. Timmins said. “I’m a little nervous about implanting something into my body.”

Still, “I think it’s pretty exciting to be part of something new like this,” she said. “I know down the road, it’s going to be the next big thing, and we’re on the cutting edge of it.”

The program — a partnership between Three Square Market and the Swedish company Biohax International — is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, but it has already been done at a Swedish company, Epicenter. It raises a variety of questions, both privacy- and health-related.

“Companies often claim that these chips are secure and encrypted,” said Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. But “encrypted” is “a pretty vague term,” he said, “which could include anything from a truly secure product to something that is easily hackable.”

Another potential problem, Dr. Acquisti said, is that technology designed for one purpose may later be used for another. A microchip implanted today to allow for easy building access and payments could, in theory, be used later in more invasive ways: to track the length of employees’ bathroom or lunch breaks, for instance, without their consent or even their knowledge.

“Once they are implanted, it’s very hard to predict or stop a future widening of their usage,” Dr. Acquisti said.

Todd Westby, the chief executive of Three Square, emphasized that the chip’s capabilities were limited. “All it is is an RFID chip reader,” he said. “It’s not a GPS tracking device. It’s a passive device and can only give data when data’s requested.”

“Nobody can track you with it,” Mr. Westby added. “Your cellphone does 100 times more reporting of data than does an RFID chip.”

Health concerns are more difficult to assess. Implantable radio-frequency transponder systems, the technical name for the chips, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004 for medical uses. But in rare cases, according to the F.D.A., the implantation site may become infected, or the chip may migrate elsewhere in the body.

Dewey Wahlin, general manager of Three Square, emphasized that the chips are F.D.A.-approved and removable. “I’m going to have it implanted in me, and I don’t see any concerns,” he said.

While that sentiment is not universal at Three Square, the response among employees was mostly positive.

“Much to my surprise, when we had our initial meeting to ask if this was something we wanted to look at doing, it was an overwhelming majority of people that said yes,” Mr. Westby said, noting that he had expected more reluctance. “It exceeded my expectations. Friends, they want to be chipped. My whole family is being chipped — my two sons, my wife and myself.”

If the devices are going to be introduced anywhere, Mr. Wahlin noted, employees like Three Square’s might be most receptive.

“We are a technology company, when all is said and done, and they’re excited about it,” he said. “They see this as the future.”