Looking Back at the Jupiter Crash 20 Years Later.


Twenty years ago, human and robotic eyes observed the first recorded impact between cosmic bodies in the solar system, as fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into the atmosphere of Jupiter. Between July 16 and July 22, 1994, space- and Earth-based assets managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, joined an armada of other NASA and international telescopes, straining to get a glimpse of the historic event.

– NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, still a year-and-a-half out from its arrival at Jupiter, had a unique view of fireballs that erupted from Jupiter’s southern hemisphere as the comet fragments struck.

– NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, using the JPL-developed and -built Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, observed the comet and the impact scars it left on Jupiter.

– The giant radio telescopes of NASA’s Deep Space Network — which perform radio and radar astronomy research in addition to their communications functions — were tasked with observing radio emissions from Jupiter’s radiation belt, looking for disturbances caused by comet dust.

– NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, then about 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from Jupiter, observed the impacts with its ultraviolet spectrometer and a planetary radio astronomy instrument.

– The Ulysses spacecraft also made observations during the comet impact from about 500 million miles (800 million kilometers) away. Ulysses observed radio transmissions from Jupiter with its combined radio wave and plasma wave instrument.

The work of scientists in studying the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact raised awareness about the potential for asteroid impacts on Earth and the need for predicting them ahead of time, important factors in the formation of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office. The NEO Program Office coordinates NASA-sponsored efforts to detect, track and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that could approach Earth.

The Galileo mission was managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. JPL also manages the Voyager mission and the Deep Space Network for NASA. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, manages and funds the search, study and monitoring of asteroids and comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

World first: Australian solar plant has generated “supercritical” steam that rivals fossil fuels’.


A solar thermal test plant in Newcastle, Australia, has generated “supercritical” steam at a pressure of 23.5 MPa (3400 psi) and 570°C (1,058°F).

CSIRO is claiming it as a world record, and it’s a HUGE step for solar thermal energy.

“It’s like breaking the sound barrier; this step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources,” Dr Alex Wonhas, CSIRO’s Energy Director, told Colin Jeffrey for Gizmag.

The Energy Centre uses a field of more than 600 mirrors (known as heliostats) which are all directed at two towers housing solar receivers and turbines, Gizmag reports.

This supercritical steam is used to drive the world’s most advanced power plant turbines, but previously it’s only been possible to produce it by burning fossil fuels such as coal or gas.

“Instead of relying on burning fossil fuels to produce supercritical steam, this breakthrough demonstrates that the power plants of the future could instead be using the free, zero emission energy of the sun to achieve the same result,” Dr Wonhas explained.

csiro_solar_steam_process

Image: CSIRO

Currently, commercial solar thermal or concentrating solar power power plants only operate a “subcritical” levels, using less pressurised steam. This means that they’ve never been able to match the output or efficiency of the world’s best fossil fuel power plants – until now.

The commercial development of this technology is still a fair way off, but this is an important first step towards a more sustainable future.

watch the vdeo. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RAqd1MuoLo8

Brain-eating amoeba kills 9-year-old


A brain-eating amoeba that lurks in fresh water has prompted warnings from Kansas officials after it killed a 9-year-old girl.

Hally Yust was an avid water skier and spent the past few weeks swimming in several bodies of fresh water. She died last week from Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating parasite that lives in warm, standing water.

At Hally’s funeral Monday, her family wore matching T-shirts with the logo of her water-skiing club, CNN affiliate WDAF said. Relatives honored the young athlete by announcing the Hally Yust Women’s Basketball Scholarship at Kansas State University.

“Our precious daughter, Hally, loved life and part of her great joy was spending time playing in the water,” her family said in a statement.

Brain-eating amoeba kills 9-year-old

Mom celebrates miraculous survival

Brain-eating amoeba in water

“Her life was taken by a rare amoeba organism that grows in many different fresh water settings. We want you to know this tragic event is very, very rare, and this is not something to become fearful about.”

‘It just causes destruction’

While Naegleria fowleri infections are rare, they can have devastating effects.

“The amoeba … finds itself way back in our noses and then can work its way into our central nervous system, around our brains,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “And once it’s there, it just causes destruction.”

Symptoms usually show up about the five days after infection, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said.

In addition to a severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, Naegleria fowleri infections often cause death.

More frequent in summer

The cases are often reported in the summer, when more swimmers take a dip in fresh water.

Last summer, 12-year-old Zachary Reyna of Florida became infected after he went knee-boarding in fresh water near his home. He later died.

Also last summer, Kali Hardig of Arkansas went for a swim and was infected by the parasite. Despite incredible odds against her, Kali survived.

Over the past 50 years, about 130 Naegleria fowleri infections have been reported. Of those, only three people — including Kali — have survived.

While humans can get infected swimming in fresh water, people cannot get infected from drinking water contaminated with the amoeba, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

How to protect yourself

The extreme rarity and randomness of infections can make it difficult to predict where they might occur.

“It is unknown why certain persons become infected with (Naegleria fowleri) while millions of others exposed to warm recreational fresh waters do not, including those who were swimming with people who became infected,” the CDC said.

2013: Florida boy fights brain-eating amoeba

2013: Officials warn of brain-eating amoeba

The Kansas health department advises swimmers to use nose plugs when swimming in fresh water.

It also suggests not stirring up the sediment at the bottom of shallow freshwater areas and keeping your head above the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.

But Naegleria fowleri is far from the biggest danger in summertime water activities. While 34 people were infected with the amoeba in the U.S. between 2004 and 2013, there were more than 34,000 drowning deaths in the United States between 2001 and 2010, the CDC said.

Study finds link between marijuana abuse and blunted dopamine response


People who use marijuana heavily experience a blunted response to dopamine, according to researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, New York University Langone Medical Center and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. When marijuana abusers took methylphenidate, a drug that stimulates dopamine production, they did not experience the cardiovascular, behavioral and brain changes usually associated with an increase in dopamine levels. The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Scientists don’t know much about how excessive use of marijuana affects the brain. Marijuana doesn’t seem to affect the brain in the same way that other drugs of abuse do. Other drugs stimulate the release of , a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure, in a region of the forebrain known as the striatum. While some earlier studies have shown that marijuana does this as well, other studies have shown that marijuana does not have this effect. People who abuse alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin experience a decreased ability to produce dopamine. However, scientists have never found a link between marijuana use and reduced dopamine production.

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Joanne Fowler of Brookhaven National Laboratory and her colleagues wanted to see if marijuana abusers have a different response to dopamine than other people do. To do this, they gave 24 marijuana abusers, who had been smoking a median of about five joints a day, five days a week for 10 years, the drug methylphenidate. This drug, also known as Ritalin, stimulates the production of dopamine. Fowler’s team gave 24 control subjects methylphenidate as well.

When the researchers compared the two groups’ reactions to methylphenidate, they found that members of the control group experienced greater increases in heart rate and than the marijuana abusers did. Members of the control group reported feeling more high, restless, anxious and affected by the drug than the marijuana abusers did.

PET scans showed that caused changes in the striatums and the cerebellums of the controls. These changes were significantly smaller in the marijuana abusers.

The research suggests that people who use marijuana excessively have problems with the reward circuitry in their brains. Even when their brains produce large amounts of dopamine, marijuana abusers don’t respond to it normally. Personality tests showed that the marijuana abusers in the study were more likely to experience negative emotions, including depression, anxiety and irritability, than the controls were. This is a sign that marijuana abusers find it harder to experience pleasure than most people do.

It’s not clear whether excessive marijuana use damages the brain’s reward circuitry, or whether people who already have damaged reward circuitry use to make themselves feel better.

More information: Decreased dopamine brain reactivity in marijuana abusers is associated with negative emotionality and addiction severity, PNAS, http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/07/10/1411228111

Abstract
Moves to legalize marijuana highlight the urgency to investigate effects of chronic marijuana in the human brain. Here, we challenged 48 participants (24 controls and 24 marijuana abusers) with methylphenidate (MP), a drug that elevates extracellular dopamine (DA) as a surrogate for probing the reactivity of the brain to DA stimulation. We compared the subjective, cardiovascular, and brain DA responses (measured with PET and [11C]raclopride) to MP between controls and marijuana abusers. Although baseline (placebo) measures of striatal DA D2 receptor availability did not differ between groups, the marijuana abusers showed markedly blunted responses when challenged with MP. Specifically, compared with controls, marijuana abusers had significantly attenuated behavioral (“self-reports” for high, drug effects, anxiety, and restlessness), cardiovascular (pulse rate and diastolic blood pressure), and brain DA [reduced decreases in distribution volumes (DVs) of [11C]raclopride, although normal reductions in striatal nondisplaceable binding potential (BPND)] responses to MP. In ventral striatum (key brain reward region), MP-induced reductions in DVs and BPND (reflecting DA increases) were inversely correlated with scores of negative emotionality, which were significantly higher for marijuana abusers than controls. In marijuana abusers, DA responses in ventral striatum were also inversely correlated with addiction severity and craving. The attenuated responses to MP, including reduced decreases in striatal DVs, are consistent with decreased brain reactivity to the DA stimulation in marijuana abusers that might contribute to their negative emotionality (increased stress reactivity and irritability) and addictive behaviors.

Researchers demonstrate novel, tunable nanoantennas


A research team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed a novel, tunable nanoantenna that paves the way for new kinds of plasmonic-based optomechanical systems, whereby plasmonic field enhancement can actuate mechanical motion.

 

“Recently, there has been a lot of interest in fabricating metal-based nanotextured surfaces that are pre-programmed to alter the properties of light in a specific way after incoming light interacts with it,” explained Kimani Toussaint, an associate professor of mechanical science and engineering who led the research. “For our approach, one can take a nanoarray structure that was already fabricated and further reconfigure the plasmonic, and hence, optical properties of select antennas. Therefore, one can decide after fabrication, rather than before, how they want their nanostructure to modify light.”

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The researchers developed a novel, metal, pillar-bowtie nanoantenna (p-BNA) array template on 500-nanometer tall glass pillars (or posts). In doing so, they demonstrated that the gap size for either individual or multiple p-BNAs can be tuned down to approx. 5 nm (approx. 4x smaller than what is currently achievable using conventional techniques).

“On a fundamental level, our work demonstrates electron-beam based manipulation of nanoparticles an order of magnitude larger than previously possible, using a simple SEM operating at only a fraction of the electron energies of previous work,” said Brian Roxworthy, who earned his PhD in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at Illinois and was first author of the paper published in Nature Communications.

“The dramatic deformation of the we observe is facilitated by strong in-gap plasmonic modes excited by the passing electrons, which give rise to nanoNewton-magnitude gradient forces on the constituent metal particles.”

The interdisiciplinary research team—that included Abdul Bhuiya (MS student in ECE student), Xin Yu (ECE post-grad), and K.C. Chow (a research engineer at the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory)—also demonstrated that the gap size for either individual or multiple p-BNAs can be tuned down to approximately 5 nm (roughly 4x smaller than what is currently achievable using conventional electron-beam lithography techniques).

The team demonstrated that an electron beam from a standard scanning electron microscope (SEM) can be used to deform either individual p-BNA structures or groups of p-BNAs within a sub-array with velocities as large as 60 nanometers per second. A photonic-crystal fiber was used to generate (quasi-white light) supercontinuum to probe the spectral response of select regions within the array.

The researchers said the importance of this work is three-fold: It enables tuning of the optical (plasmonic) response of the nanoantennas, down to the level of a single nanoantenna (approximately 250 nanometers across); it could lead to unique, spatially addressable nanophotonic devices for sensing and particle manipulation, for example; and, it provides a fertile platform for studying mechanical, electromagnetic, and thermal phenomena in a nanoscale system.

The team believes that the relatively high aspect ratio (pillar height-to-thickness) of 4.2 for the p-BNAs, along with a significant thermal contribution, permit sufficient compliance of the pillars to be actuated by electron-beam-induced gradient forces. Based on the observed experiments, the gradient force is estimated to be on the order of nanoNewtons.

“Our fabrication process shows for the first time an innovative way of fabricating plasmonic nanoantenna structures under the SEM, which avoids complications such as proximity effects from conventional lithography techniques,” Bhuiya said. “This process also reduces the gap of the nanoantennas down to ~5 nm under SEM with a controlled reduction rate. With this new fabrication technique, it opens an avenue to study different phenomena which leads to new exciting research fields.”

The 1% of scientific publishing.


Publishing is one of the most ballyhooed metrics of scientific careers, and every researcher hates to have a gap in that part of his or her CV. Here’s some consolation: A new study finds that very few scientists—fewer than 1%—manage to publish a paper every year.

But these 150,608 scientists dominate the research journals, having their names on 41% of all papers. Among the most highly cited work, this elite group can be found among the co-authors of 87% of papers.

The new research, published on 9 July in PLOS ONE, was led by epidemiologist John Ioannidis of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, with analysis of Elsevier’s Scopus database by colleagues Kevin Boyack and Richard Klavans at SciTech Strategies. They looked at papers published between 1996 and 2011 by 15 million scientists worldwide in many disciplines.

The 1% of scientific publishing

 

“I decided to study this question because I had seen in my life a large number of talented people who just did not survive in the current system and with the current limited resources,” Ioannidis wrote to ScienceInsider in an e-mail. He suspected that only a few scientists are able to publish papers year in, year out. But the finding that less than 1% do so surprised him, he says.

The ranks of scientists who repeatedly published more than one paper per year thin out dramatically.

  • Two or more: 68,221
  • Three or more: 37,953
  • Four or more: 23,342
  • Five or more: 15,464
  • 10 or more: 3269

Many of these prolific scientists are likely the heads of laboratories or research groups; they bring in funding, supervise research, and add their names to the numerous papers that result. Others may be scientists with enough job security and time to do copious research themselves, Ioannidis says.

But there’s also a lot of grunt work behind these papers that appear like clockwork from highly productive labs. “In many disciplines, doctoral students may be enrolled in high numbers, offering a cheap workforce,” Ioannidis and his co-authors write in their paper. These students may spend years on research that yields, then, only one or a few papers. “[I]n these cases, the research system may be exploiting the work of millions of young scientists.”

If he could pick one thing to do, Ioannidis wrote in an e-mail, he would recommend spreading resources “to give more opportunities to a wider pool of scientists, especially younger ones, to help them secure continuity of productivity and excellence.”

Months before their first words, babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics.


Infants can tell the difference between sounds of all languages until about 8 months of age when their brains start to focus only on the sounds they hear around them. It’s been unclear how this transition occurs, but social interactions and caregivers’ use of exaggerated “parentese” style of speech seem to help.

 

University of Washington research in 7- and 11-month-old infants shows that stimulate areas of the brain that coordinate and plan motor movements for speech.

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The study, published July 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that baby brains start laying down the groundwork of how to form words long before they actually begin to speak, and this may affect the developmental transition.

“Most babies babble by 7 months, but don’t utter their first words until after their first birthdays,” said lead author Patricia Kuhl, who is the co-director of the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. “Finding activation in motor areas of the brain when infants are simply listening is significant, because it means the baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and suggests that 7-month-olds’ brains are already trying to figure out how to make the right movements that will produce words.”

Kuhl and her research team believe this practice at motor planning contributes to the transition when infants become more sensitive to their native language.

The results emphasize the importance of talking to kids during social interactions even if they aren’t talking back yet.

“Hearing us talk exercises the action areas of infants’ brains, going beyond what we thought happens when we talk to them,” Kuhl said. “Infants’ brains are preparing them to act on the world by practicing how to speak before they actually say a word.”

In the experiment, infants sat in a brain scanner that measures through a noninvasive technique called magnetoencephalography. Nicknamed MEG, the brain scanner resembles an egg-shaped vintage hair dryer and is completely safe for infants. The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences was the first in the world to use such a tool to study babies while they engaged in a task.

Here’s a video of one the babies in the experiment:

The babies, 57 7- and 11- or 12-month-olds, each listened to a series of native and foreign language syllables such as “da” and “ta” as researchers recorded brain responses. They listened to sounds from English and Spanish.

The researchers observed brain activity in an auditory area of the brain called the superior temporal gyrus, as well as in Broca’s area and the cerebellum, cortical regions responsible for planning the motor movements required for producing speech.

This pattern of brain activation occurred for sounds in the 7-month-olds’ native language (English) as well as in a non-native language (Spanish), showing that at this early age infants are responding to all speech sounds, whether or not they have heard the sounds before.

In the older infants, brain activation was different. By 11-12 months, infants’ brains increase motor activation to the non-native speech sounds relative to native speech, which the researchers interpret as showing that it takes more effort for the baby brain to predict which movements create non-native speech. This reflects an effect of experience between 7 and 11 months, and suggests that activation in motor areas is contributing to the transition in early speech perception.

The study has social implications, suggesting that the slow and exaggerated parentese – “Hiiiii! How are youuuuu?” – may actually prompt infants to try to synthesize utterances themselves and imitate what they heard, uttering something like “Ahhh bah bah baaah.”

“Parentese is very exaggerated, and when hear it, their brains may find it easier to model the motor movements necessary to speak,” Kuhl said.

You’re Drinking the Wrong Kind of Milk.


When my in-laws moved from India to the United States some 35 years ago, they couldn’t believe the low cost and abundance of our milk—until they developed digestive problems. They’ll now tell you the same thing I’ve heard a lot of immigrants say: American milk will make you sick.

It turns out that they could be onto something. An emerging body of research suggests that many of the 1 in 4 Americans who exhibit symptoms of lactose intolerance could instead be unable to digest A1, a protein most often found in milk from the high-producing Holstein cows favored by American and some European industrial dairies. The A1 protein is much less prevalent in milk from Jersey, Guernsey, and most Asian and African cow breeds, where, instead, the A2 protein predominates.

“We’ve got a huge amount of observational evidence that a lot of people can digest the A2 but not the A1,” says Keith Woodford, a professor of farm management and agribusiness at New Zealand’s Lincoln University who wrote the 2007 book Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health, and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk. “More than 100 studies suggest links between the A1 protein and a whole range of health conditions”—everything from heart disease to diabetes to autism, Woodford says, though the evidence is far from conclusive.

Holsteins, the most common dairy-cow breed in the United States, typically produce A1 milk.  

For more than a decade, an Auckland-based company called A2 Corporation has been selling a brand of A2 milk in New Zealand and Australia; it now accounts for 8 percent of Australia’s dairy market. In 2012, A2 Corp. introduced its milk in the United Kingdom through the Tesco chain, where a two-liter bottle sells for about 18 percent more than conventional milk.

But critics write off the success of A2 Corp. as a victory of marketing over science. Indeed, a 2009 review by the European Food Safety Authority found no link between the consumption of A1 milk and health and digestive problems. So far, much of the research on the matter is funded by A2 Corp., which holds a patent for the only genetic test that can separate A1 from A2 cows. And in 2004, the same year that A2 Corp. went public on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, Australia’s Queensland Health Department fined its marketers $15,000 for making false and misleading claims about the health benefits of its milk.

The A1/A2 debate has raged for years in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe, but it is still virtually unheard of across the pond. That could soon change: A2 Corp. recently announced plans to offer its milk in the United States in coming months. In a letter to investors, the company claims that “consumer research [in Los Angeles] confirms the attractiveness of the A2 proposition.”

The difference between A1 and A2 proteins is subtle: They are different forms of beta-casein, a part of the curds (i.e., milk solids ) that make up about 30 percent of the protein content in milk. The A2 variety of beta-casein mutated into the A1 version several thousand years ago in some European dairy herds. Two genes code for beta-casein, so modern cows can either be purely A2, A1/A2 hybrids, or purely A1. Milk from goats and humans contains only the A2 beta-casein, yet not everyone likes the flavor of goat milk, which also contains comparatively less vitamin B-12—a nutrient essential for creating red blood cells.

About 65 percent of Jersey cows exclusively produce A2 milk  

The A1 milk hypothesis was devised in 1993 by Bob Elliott, a professor of child health research at the University of Auckland. Elliott believed that consumption of A1 milk could account for the unusually high incidence of type-1 diabetes among Samoan children growing up in New Zealand. He and a colleague, Corran McLachlan, later compared the per capita consumption of A1 milk to the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease in 20 countries and came up with strong correlations.

Critics argued that the relationships could be explained away by other factors, such as diet, lifestyle, and latitude-dependent exposure to vitamin D in sunlight—and in any case started to fall apart when more countries were included.

African cows also tend to produce A2 milk. 

Yet a 1997 study by Elliott published by the International Dairy Federation showed A1 beta-casein caused mice to develop diabetes, lending support to the hypothesis, and McLachlan remained convinced. In 2000, he partnered with entrepreneur Howard Paterson, then regarded as the wealthiest man on New Zealand’s South Island, to found the A2 Corporation.

Starting in 2003, A2 Corp. sold milk in the United States through a licensing agreement, but pulled out in 2007 after it failed to catch on. Susan Massasso, A2 Corp.’s chief marketing officer, blamed mistakes by the company’s US partner, but declined to elaborate. But now the market dynamics may be changing in A2 Corp.’s favor as compelling new research on the A1/A2 debate grabs headlines in the Australian and UK press.

When digested, A1 beta-casein (but not the A2 variety) releases beta-casomorphin7 (BCM7), an opioid with a structure similar to that of morphine.  Studies increasingly point to BCM7 as a troublemaker. Numerous recent tests, for example, have shown that blood from people with autism and schizophrenia contains higher-than-average amounts of BCM7. In a recent study, Richard Deth, a professor of pharmacology at Northeastern University in Boston, and his postdoctoral fellow, Malav Trivedi, showed in cell cultures that the presence of similarly high amounts of BCM7 in gut cells causes a chain reaction that creates a shortage of antioxidants in neural cells, a condition that other research has tied to autism. The study, underwritten in part by A2 Corp., is now undergoing peer review in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

Nearly 80 percent of Guernsey cows tested in the US are pure A2, the highest percentage of any traditional breed, according to the American Guernsey Association

The results suggest that drinking A2 milk instead of A1 milk could reduce the symptoms of autism, Trivedi says, but, he adds: “There’s a lot more research that needs to be done to support these claims.”

Researchers without ties to A2 Corp. are also lending increasing support to the A1 hypothesis. One peer-reviewed study conducted at the National Dairy Research Institute in India, published in October in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that mice fed A1 beta-casein overproduced enzymes and immune regulators that other studies have linked to heart disease and autoimmune conditions such as eczema and asthma.

The leading explanation for why some people but not others may react poorly to A1 milk implicates leaky gut syndrome—a concept that got its start in alternative medicine circles but has been gaining wider traction in the medical establishment. The idea is that that loose connections in the gut, like tears in a coffee filter, allow rogue proteins such as BCM7 to enter the body and run amok. The body brings in immune cells to fight them off, creating inflammation that manifests as swelling and pain—a telltale symptom of autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and diabetes, and autism.

The A2-producing Normande is a popular breed in France. 

Though many adults may suffer from leaky guts, the condition is normal in babies less than a year old, who naturally have semi-permeable intestines. This may pose a problem when they’re fed typical cow-milk formula. A 2009 study documented that formula-fed infants developed muscle tone and psychomotor skills more slowly than infants that were fed (A2-only) breast milk. Researchers in Russia, Poland, and the Czech Republic have suggested links between BCM7 in cow milk formula and childhood health issues. A 2011 study implicates BCM7 in sudden infant death syndrome: the blood serum of some infants that experienced a “near-miss SIDS” incident contained more BCM7 than of healthy infants the same age. Capitalizing on those findings, A2 Corp. also sells an A2-only infant formula, a2PLATINUM, in Australia, New Zealand, and China.

The mainstream dairy industry in the United States may be more interested in the A1/A2 debate than it lets on. For example, US companies that sell bull semen for breeding purposes maintain information on the exact A1/A2 genetics of all of their offerings. And breeders have already developed A2 Holsteins to replace the A1 varieties typically used in confined agricultural feeding operations. “There is absolutely no problem in moving across to A2 and still having these high-production cows,” says Woodford, the Devil in the Milk author, who has in more recent years worked as a consultant for A2 Corp.

But the transition to A2 milk would take a bit of money and a lot of time—probably about a decade, Woodford believes. “The mainstream industry has always seen it as a threat,” he says, “whereas another way of looking at it is, hey, this can actually bring more people to drinking milk.”

Indian cows produce A2 milk. 

For now, here in the United States, the best way to get milk with a higher-than-average A2 content is to buy it from a dairy that uses A2-dominant cow breeds such as the Jersey, the Guernsey, or the Normande. In Northern California, for example, Sonoma County’s Saint Benoit Creamery specifies on its milk labels that it uses “pastured Jersey cows.”

The heirloom A2 cow breeds tend to be hardy animals adapted to living on the open range and not producing a ton of milk, but what they do produce is comparatively thicker, creamier, and, many people say, a lot tastier than what you’ll typically find at the supermarket.

“People taste our milk and they say: ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t tasted milk like this since I left home,'” and came to America, says Warren Taylor, the owner of Ohio’s Snowville Creamery, which has been phasing out A1 cows from its herds. For the time being, the switch to A2 milk “is going to be for the small producers—people like us,” he adds. “It’s just a part of our responsibility.”

Scotland could host UK spaceport


LauncherOne

Artist’s concept: Virgin Galactic plans to launch satellites as well as people into space

Scotland could host the UK’s first dedicated base for spaceplanes, according to new government plans.

Ministers want to establish the UK spaceport by 2018 – the first of its kind outside of the US.

Eight aerodromes have been shortlisted and Scotland has six of the potential locations.

The Scottish government said only independence would lead to a greater development of the country’s space industry.

For ministers and the space industry, the major interest in a UK spaceport is as a facility to enable satellite launches, but hopefully it would also become a centre for the new tourism initiatives from specialist operators such as Virgin Galactic and XCor.

Ahead of the announcement at this week’s Farnborough Airshow, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander hinted that Scotland could become a key player in the UK government’s future plans for developing commercial space travel.

He said: “I am delighted that the government is pushing forward with its ambitious plans to open a spaceport in the UK by 2018. Spaceports will be key to us opening up the final frontier of commercial space travel.

“Scotland has a proud association with space exploration. We celebrated Neil Armstrong’s Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the Moon and only last week an amazing Scottish company was responsible for building the UK Space Agency’s first satellite.

“The UK space industry is one of our great success stories and I am sure there will be a role for Scotland to play in the future.”

Map of aerodromesSpaceplane systems may need runway lengths of 3,000m and more

Earlier this week, UKube-1, a satellite built by Glasgow-based technology firm Clyde Space, successfully launched on a test flight from Kazakhstan.

It was the first ever spacecraft to be fully assembled in Scotland.

Figures from the government show that the space sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK as a whole.

The latest data indicates it is now generating more than £11bn for the economy every year, and employs 34,000 people – an increase of almost 9% on employment figures from 2011.

Ministers hope to capitalise on this growth and capture 10% of the global space market by 2030, which could mean the creation of 100,000 additional jobs.

Skilled jobs

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “Our world-leading and ambitious space sector is thriving.

“This week we will announce the next steps for this country’s space race, outlining how we will take one giant leap towards establishing the first British spaceport by 2018 – making the UK the place for space.”

News of the plan was welcomed by the Scottish government, who also stressed that Scotland’s growing space industry would be strengthened by a “Yes” vote on 18 September.

A spokeswomen said: “The space sector offers huge economic potential for Scottish companies, indeed the first Scottish satellite, UKube-1, built by Clyde Space in Glasgow, successfully launched on 8 July.

“It was a landmark occasion and a clear example of the scientific and engineering excellence being demonstrated by Scotland’s entrepreneurial innovators.

“That same day a report published by Dr Malcolm Macdonald from Strathclyde Space Institute at Strathclyde University found that independence could be worth £15 million to £20 million a year in the medium term and as much as £100 million a year in the longer term to the space sector industry.”

She added: “Scotland is proving that it has the expertise to attract and support such a specialised, global industry, and as such an independent Scotland will be an attractive option for spaceport pioneers.”

Ascender and Skylon
Ascender and Skylon are UK spaceplane concepts currently in development

Genome-wide analysis reveals genetic similarities among friends


If you consider your friends family, you may be on to something. A study from the University of California, San Diego, and Yale University finds that friends who are not biologically related still resemble each other genetically.

 

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is coauthored by James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at UC San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis, professor of sociology, evolutionary biology, and medicine at Yale.

“Looking across the whole genome,” Fowler said, “we find that, on average, we are genetically similar to our . We have more DNA in common with the people we pick as friends than we do with strangers in the same population.”

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The study is a genome-wide analysis of nearly 1.5 million markers of gene variation, and relies on data from the Framingham Heart Study. The Framingham dataset is the largest the authors are aware of that contains both that level of genetic detail and information on who is friends with whom.

The researchers focused on 1,932 unique subjects and compared pairs of unrelated friends against pairs of unrelated strangers. The same people, who were neither kin nor spouses, were used in both types of samples. The only thing that differed between them was their social relationship.

The findings are not, the researchers say, an artifact of people’s tendency to befriend those of similar ethnic backgrounds. The Framingham data is dominated by people of European extraction. While this is a drawback for some research, it may be advantageous to the study here: because all the subjects, friends and not, were drawn from the same population. The researchers also controlled for ancestry, they say, by using the most conservative techniques currently available. The observed genetic go beyond what you would expect to find among people of shared heritage – these results are “net of ancestry,” Fowler said.

Kissing Cousins

How similar are friends? On average, Fowler and Christakis find, friends are as “related” as fourth cousins or people who share great-great-great grandparents. That translates to about 1 percent of our genes.

“One percent may not sound like much to the layperson,” Christakis said, “but to geneticists it is a significant number. And how remarkable: Most people don’t even know who their fourth cousins are! Yet we are somehow, among a myriad of possibilities, managing to select as friends the people who resemble our kin.”

In the study, Fowler and Christakis also develop what they call a “friendship score,” which they can use to predict who will be friends at about the same level of confidence that scientists currently have for predicting, on the basis of genes, a person’s chances of obesity or schizophrenia.

Friends with Benefits

Shared attributes among friends or “functional kinship” can confer a variety of evolutionary advantages. In the simplest terms: If your friend feels cold when you do and builds a fire, you both benefit.

It is also the case that some traits only work if your friend also has them, Fowler said: “The first mutant to speak needed someone else to speak to. The ability is useless if there’s no one who shares it. These types of traits in people are a kind of social network effect.”

Beyond the average similarities across the whole genome, Fowler and Christakis looked in the study at focused sets of genes. They find that friends are most similar in genes affecting the sense of smell. The opposite holds for genes controlling immunity. That is, friends are relatively more dissimilar in their genetic protection against various diseases.

The immunity finding supports what others have recently found in regards to spouses. And there is a fairly straightforward evolutionary advantage to this, Fowler and Christakis say: Having connections to people who are able to withstand different pathogens reduces interpersonal spread. But how it is that we select people for this benefit of immunity? The mechanism still remains unclear.

Also open to debate and also needing further research is why we might be most similar in our olfactory genes. It could be, Fowler said, that our sense of smell draws us to similar environments. It is not hard to imagine that people who like the scent of coffee, for example, hang out at cafes more and so meet and befriend each other. But the researchers suspect there is more to the story than that.

They note, too, that most likely there are several mechanisms, operating both in concert and in parallel, driving us to choose genetically similar friends.

With a Little Help From Our Friends

Perhaps the most intriguing result in the study is that genes that were more similar between friends seem to be evolving faster than other . Fowler and Christakis say this may help to explain why human evolution appears to have speeded up over the last 30,000 years, and they suggest that the social environment itself is an evolutionary force.

“The paper also lends support to the view of human beings as ‘metagenomic,'” Christakis said, “not only with respect to the microbes within us but also to the people who surround us. It seems that our fitness depends not only on our own genetic constitutions, but also on the genetic constitutions of our friends.”