GMO scientists now developing techniques to intentionally pollute natural organisms’ genomes to permanently alter DNA.

Due to recent breakthroughs in genetic engineering (GE) technology, scientists are now talking openly about deliberately attempting to modify the genomes of entire wild species to suit human ends – embracing “genetic pollution” as a goal, not a risk.

GMO scientists

Although these far-reaching plans, known as gene drives, have not yet been unleashed on the natural world, they have been successfully tested in laboratory populations.

Known to be possible since at least 2003, gene drives only became feasible three years ago with the development of a new GE technique known as “Crispr-Cas9” gene editing. This method allows scientists to snip out a targeted gene in a cell – including an embryo or germ cell – and replace it with the gene of their choice.

The quest for control ends in extinction

Scientists laud the potential of gene drives to eradicate insect-borne diseases, remove herbicide resistance from weeds (which of course developed this resistance due to overuse of Roundup on GE crops) and “control” invasive species. Already, scientists are testing techniques to make mosquitoes resistant to the malaria parasite or – apparently having learned nothing from the ecological catastrophes caused by wildlife policies of the 19th century – render them sterile, thus driving the entire wild population extinct.

These scientists claim to be very aware of the risks of this technology, although they have made it clear that they are talking about the risks only to appease the public and gain its support for these dangerous experiments on nature. Writing in the journal Science about ways to prevent the accidental escape of gene drive organisms, a group of researchers noted the need to “build a foundation of public trust for potential future applications.”

Ecological consequences cannot be foreseen

But the real concern with gene drives is the simple law of unintended consequences. These consequences could come for the modified organism itself, as genetics are notoriously complex. For example, modifying one trait could cause changes elsewhere, and a disease meant to be rendered harmless could actually become more deadly or could jump to a separate host.

Even if gene drives work exactly as intended, however, they are likely to have negative consequences for Earth’s ecosystems – and, by extension, for the human beings that depend on a healthy biosphere for our own survival. As Harvard biochemist Kevin Esvelt so succinctly put it, “mosquitoes interact with other species.”

You can’t deliberately drive a species extinct without seeing an effect elsewhere. And you can’t know what that effect will be ahead of time.

Another inevitable effect of gene drives, acknowledged even by its supporters, is that some wild “pests” will evolve resistance to whatever genes scientists try to introduce. That’s because natural selection (evolution) tends to favor fitness, and the gene drives being discussed would by definition lower fitness.

True to form, the genetic engineers are talking about solving this problem, when it arises, with still more gene drives. This is reminiscent of the arms race that these same scientists are currently locked into with the Roundup resistant weeds they created, deploying ever higher levels of more and more toxic chemicals to get the same crop yields.

Scientists have also discussed the need to build in measures to reverse gene drives that went wrong, or to make wild organisms immune to the spread of a rogue gene drive. But critics have suggested that these measures might function simply to pacify public opposition, without any promise of actually working?

In the words of Austin Burt of Imperial College London, the very man who first suggested how gene drives might work, “If your first drive doesn’t work as intended, are you sure your second drive will work?”

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This Is Your Brain On Drugs

Research psychiatrist Nora Volkow revolutionized the science of addiction. Now she’s set her sights on reimagining treatment.


Nora Volkow has never been one to blindly accept convention. As a child in Mexico City, she would hunt down the source material cited in her textbooks and spend hours immersed in the intricacies of the Spanish conquest of Mexico or the geography of Indonesia. Diving deep instead of sticking to her assignments was not the best way to get good grades, she admits. But that curiosity began to pay off when she discovered biology. Volkow was named the best medical student of her class in 1981 at the National University of Mexico, and she went on to break new ground in the field of addiction research.

Nora Volkow
As a young researcher at the University of Texas, she was the first to show that cocaine changes the human brain. A controversial idea at the time, it is now widely accepted. Later, Volkow used cutting-edge brain-scanning tools to pinpoint not only the physical changes wrought by addiction, but also the inherited brain abnormalities that make some people more vulnerable to it. Her work provided a potent rejoinder to anyone arguing that addiction was simply a matter of willpower. (At the time, first lady Nancy Reagan was urging everyone to “just say no.”) Revolutionary ideas are part of Volkow’s heritage. Her great-grandfather was Leon Trotsky, the Marxist revolutionary theorist and Soviet Bolshevik leader assassinated on the orders of Joseph Stalin. Volkow and her three sisters grew up in the Mexico City house where Trotsky lived out his exile and was murdered in 1940.
Volkow, who has directed the National Institute on Drug Abuse since 2003, is still challenging assumptions. In recent years, she has raised eyebrows for proposing that the same neural mechanisms behind cocaine and alcohol addiction also underlie eating disorders that lead to obesity.

Discover contributing editor Adam Piore talked with the 58-year-old in her office in Bethesda, Md. Volkow, a wiry long-distance runner with a lively demeanor and a slight accent, spoke about everything from the implications of her work on the neuroscience of addiction to the nature of evil.

Discover: What was it like to grow up in the house where Trotsky lived?

Volkow: We lived in a group of little rooms that had been used by American students — volunteers — who would come and visit Trotsky. But during the day, we would explore the rest of the house. My father didn’t change it; it was immaculate, and it was left like that for visitors to come see it. It was a fascinating experience because I got exposed to very interesting people of all sorts and of all nationalities, and people who had made a big impact in history, art or science.

One weekend it was my turn to show people around, and I was reading 100 Years of Solitude [a novel by Gabriel Garcia Márquez]. I have been a multitasker all my life. So I’m reading and I’m showing them around. And this man was asking me, “Well, do you like this writer?” And I said, “Yes, I was fascinated.” The man didn’t tell me he was Garcia Márquez. It was only later that I found out.

I’ve read that growing up, you were a talented writer yourself, as well as an artist and a competitive swimmer and runner. And your family, of course, has a long history of politics. Why did you become a scientist?

V: Because I’m a very curious creature. Science is the ideal discipline for someone whose brain is basically driven to want to understand things. I spent hours looking at insects in the garden, literally trying to understand their paths and what happened if there was an object that disturbed them and how they interacted with one another. You put something in front of me, and I would become just mesmerized. It can be very disruptive in a lot of activities, but it’s perfect for science

Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, redefined society’s understanding of addiction early in her career. She is the great-granddaughter of Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, and she says her family’s persecution inspired her to study the biochemistry of behavior.
Jessica Kourkounis
Your family has endured a lot of tragedy. On your father’s side, besides Trotsky’s death, your paternal grandfather died in a concentration camp. Your grandmother — Trotsky’s daughter — committed suicide. Two of your father’s uncles were killed, and his aunt died of tuberculosis. And your mother’s brothers were forced to flee Spain after the Spanish Civil War. Is there any connection between your family background and your career choice?V: Absolutely. I come from a family that was persecuted. I lived with the consequences of that persecution and was brought up with the notion that my family paid a very high price trying to create a situation where people have more chances. I was brought up with the sense that we all have a responsibility of making this a fairer world for everybody. And we were taught as very little girls that we needed to do something with our lives that would be helpful for others.

How did those past experiences of your family influence the path you decided to take in science?

V: I knew that Stalin actually said he would go after the third generation of the relatives of Trotsky — and that has something to do with it. I am fascinated as a neuroscientist to understand where this hatred emerges from. Why this level of vengeance and hatred of someone? When I got to medical school, I started looking for researchers who were involved with understanding the biochemistry of behavior. And if you’re interested in understanding the biochemistry of behavior — even more then than now — you go into pharmacology. It’s extraordinarily powerful because in pharmacology, you have the ability — by giving a drug — to manipulate [the brain using] that biochemical substance. So I started to volunteer in a research laboratory involved with pharmacology and the responses of drugs in the brain and how they influence behavior.

How did that lead to addiction research?

V: Schizophrenia was the first disease that I got attracted to because a schizophrenic person cannot distinguish an inner voice from an outside voice. You also have distortion in thinking and emotions. I was very intrigued by the idea of peering inside the brain using new brain-imaging techniques. When I got my first faculty position, at the University of Texas, I wanted to continue researching schizophrenia. They have a wonderful psychiatric in-patient unit, but they don’t admit the schizophrenics there. I was obviously very, very frustrated. But I was also doing the rounds, and what struck me was there were many patients being admitted with psychosis from taking cocaine. And I basically had had all of that experience of working with drugs when I was a medical student. Immediately I said, “OK, I cannot study schizophrenics, but I can study psychosis in patients who are coming with cocaine substance-use disorders.” So I started to image them with the idea, “Can I use imaging technologies to see if I can also observe a commonality and the patterns that we saw with schizophrenic patients?”

During your time in Texas in the mid-1980s, you made one of your first big discoveries with positron emission tomography, which uses radioactive markers to monitor blood flow, among other functions. What was the significance of that finding?

V: In the brain of a normal person, the blood flow is all over the cortex. But I observed in those first images of cocaine addicts that blood flow in their brains was very decreased. There were patches where there was no blood flow. This is what you see when someone suffers a stroke — there is an interruption of [blood] flow into the brain. So when we were getting these images of cocaine abusers, they looked like the brain images of stroke patients. This was a very unexpected finding. It was the first study that ever showed me that cocaine could be damaging to your brain. At that time, it was felt that cocaine was very, very safe. Now we know that cocaine produces lots of constriction, and that’s what decreases blood flow.

You’re also known for discovering that the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain essential to decision-making and our ability to behave appropriately around others, is compromised in the brains of addicts. Why was this an important discovery, and how did it come about?

V: At Brookhaven [National Laboratory] I was doing these studies on cocaine abusers, and after I’d seen a number of brain images, I realized I could distinguish a cocaine abuser from a control. I was very surprised. I said, “Wow, the prefrontal cortex — it’s completely abnormal in people who are addicted to cocaine!” It shifted the whole paradigm because at the time, nobody thought the prefrontal cortex was involved with addiction. I was criticized left and right. Eventually, with all the replications [of the study], people now recognize that one of the main pathologies in addiction is in the prefrontal cortex.

Volkow has shown that drug use damages the brains of addicts. As these brain scans show, addicts have fewer D2 receptors, proteins that regulate dopamine. This results in a decreased sensitivity to normal pleasures — and a greater dependency on the high the drug provides.
Science Source
What are the implications of that finding?V: An addiction has been classically understood as a disease of the primitive limbic brain, not of the cortical areas that are involved in what we call executive function. Executive function pertains to the operations of the brain where you have a committed awareness that requires some level of control — for example, if you want to pay attention. Other examples: if you want to control your anger or if you want to inhibit the urge to eat chocolate.

What jumped out in those brain scans was that the areas of the brain in the lower parts of the prefrontal cortex were hyper, hyper, hyperactive in addicts and were correlated with their cravings. It turns out that if someone is actively craving cocaine, or if you expose an addict to stimuli that remind the addict of cocaine and activate the craving, what you are doing is increasing activity in an area of the prefrontal cortex called the orbitofrontal cortex. It is involved in how you assign value to different stimuli. If you are very hungry and I show you a chocolate and you start to desire it, that is going to activate your orbitofrontal cortex. So what’s going on is the person who is addicted to the drug, if you expose them to an environment with stimuli that for them are salient, those stimuli will hyperactivate — much more than is normal.

What is very interesting is that this is also the area of the brain that is involved in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorders. What makes this particularly relevant is that in both conditions — in addiction and in compulsive-obsessive disorders — you have a compulsive pattern of behavior.

One of your biggest discoveries was how addiction affects the D2 receptor, the protein that determines how sensitive individuals are to the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with feelings of reward and pleasure. Does that play a role in the problems in the prefrontal cortex?

V: You need these receptors for the proper function of the human brain. So when the number of receptors you have is decreased, which we discovered happens in people who are addicted to drugs, what results is inappropriate function of the prefrontal areas of the brain that are regulated by dopamine. And one of the consequences is that you cannot exert inhibitory

“This is a fascinating concept, that a single protein, the D2 receptor, can have such a powerful effect. One single protein.”

control — you become more compulsive. At the same time, it also affects the areas that are involved in whether we find something desirable or of value. So addicts in a detoxification unit are much less sensitive to natural reinforcers such as food, sexual stimuli and money. They are very apathetic to the environment, and the only thing that really interests them is the drug. That’s part of the challenge clinically.

And this is not unique to cocaine, right?V: Right. I was interested in identifying abnormalities that existed across addictions. It was very striking: We found we could replicate what happens in the prefrontal areas and the D2 receptors with cocaine also with alcohol, and then we replicated it in methamphetamine-addicted individuals, and then we replicated it in individuals who come from families where alcoholism is very prevalent.

You mean people can have a biological predisposition to alcoholism or drug addiction?

V: Yes. They have fewer D2 receptors; therefore, they are less sensitive to natural reward because natural reward cannot increase dopamine as much as a drug. And there’s increasing evidence that this may be one of the mechanisms by which someone with low levels of dopamine D2 receptors is more vulnerable to taking drugs. This is a fascinating concept, that a single protein, the D2 receptor, can have such a powerful effect. One single protein.

You’ve found that a lack of D2 receptors also can predispose someone to obesity. What made you think that the brains of obese people might have similarities to drug addicts and alcoholics?

V: I wondered, “Does the reduction in D2 receptors reflect the fact that these people are taking artificial substances that are changing the biochemistry of the brain, or does that basically reflect the expression of a predisposition to compulsiveness?” So I said, “What is a condition that has the similarities in terms of the behavioral expression?” And that’s why I went to obesity. Because people compulsively eat huge quantities of food, but the food is a natural reinforcer. You’re not bringing anything chemical, but there are similarities. People who are compulsive eaters cannot control — they endanger their lives. My prediction was that they also would have fewer D2 receptors. And the research showed exactly that.

You were drawn to neuroscience by the biochemistry of human behavior and, in part, the question of what could drive a person like Stalin to vow to kill every single descendent of your great-grandfather. Have you found any answers?

V: Some. I think that hatred itself can be rewarded and it’s self-perpetuating. Recent studies have demonstrated that falling in love — or the love a mother has for an infant, which is so powerful — is driven by these reward processes, and it actually engages the same [brain] circuit that gives priority of that behavior over anything else, just like in addiction. Just like you can activate those systems with love, for some people you can do exactly the same thing with hatred. People become obsessed about their hatred. All of their activities are aimed toward revenge, revenge, revenge. So there has to be a rewarding component to motivate us. What is it that drives you?

Your own drive has led you to a pretty powerful position where you can make a big impact. As the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which spent more than $664 million on research grants in fiscal year 2014, how have you tried to improve addiction treatment?

V: One of my main goals has been to provide the knowledge that will enable us to treat drug addiction as a disease of the brain and to provide the tools that will allow you to be more effective in treating it, but also in preventing it. One way to do that is to provide a much greater granularity of understanding of the changes at the molecular level. We’re funding researchers to investigate how drugs alter what genes are activated such that they modify the function of the cells, and how this, in turn, modifies the functions of brain circuits, and how that modifies behavior. So the work goes into the basic science to understand how genes may make you vulnerable, and how drugs may influence what genes are expressed and what genes are silenced. Once you understand these processes, you can design and develop interventions to basically recover those processes that are disrupted by drugs.

If I could select one biochemical intervention, the one that I think would be most likely to have a beneficial effect is an increase in the level of D2 receptors. But unfortunately, I think we’re still far away from being able to do that.

Another focus of your work seems to be the development of medications. Could you tell me a little more about that effort?

V: We have very few medications for the treatment of drug addictions. Based on the knowledge that we have, we should be in a much better position to help people who are addicted to drugs. Our difficulty has been that the pharmaceutical industry has not been interested in developing medications for addictions. So one of my priorities has been to advance the science on such compounds. Now we have partnerships with some of the pharmaceutical [companies]. Addiction is considered an immoral behavior, so many companies don’t want to be associated with those types of applications. But I think that is slowly changing.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is probably a myth, say psychologists

There is no evidence that Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is real and just because people are depressed in winter, it doesn’t mean lack of sunlight is to blame

A sad-looking woman gazing out of a window

Seasonal Affective Disorder probably does not exist, say scientists

Seasonal Affective Disorder, the condition where people become depressed because of the lack of sunlight in the winter time, is probably myth, scientists have concluded.

A large scale study of adults in the US found that levels of depressive symptoms do not change from season to season or in different levels of light.

The researchers concluded that the findings are ‘inconsistent with the notion of seasonal depression as a commonly occurring disorder.’

“Pursuit of treatments based on false causes is unlikely to lead to rapid and durable recoveries.”
Dr Steven LoBello, Auburn University at Montgomery.

“In conversations with colleagues, the belief in the association of seasonal changes with depression is more-or-less taken as a given and the same belief is widespread in our culture,” said Dr Steven LoBello, a professor of psychology at Auburn University at Montgomery.

“We analysed the data from many angles and found that the prevalence of depression is very stable across different latitudes, seasons of the year, and sunlight exposures.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has been a recognised condition since the late 1990s. To receive a diagnosis patients must exhibit major depressive symptoms which coincide with specific seasons. In most cases, patients report an increase of symptoms in the autumn and winter and a decrease in symptoms in spring and summer.

The NHS currently recommends that people see their GP if they experience low mood and and are struggling to cope. Doctors often recommend light boxes and even cognitive behavioural therapy as a treatment.

Met Office to launch service to warn SAD sufferers of gloomy daysLight boxes are recommended for people suffering from SAD  Photo: GETTY

But recent studies have challenged the validity of earlier SAD research, including the fact that SAD is typically identified by asking patients to recall past depressive episodes over the course of the previous year or more.

To test whether depressive symptoms got worse in the winter, the researchers examined data from a total of 34,294 participants ranging in age from 18 to 99 who took part in a phone survey about their health throughout 2006.

Participants were asked how many days in the previous two weeks they had experienced symptoms of depression. They then checked geographical location and sunlight exposure for each respondents.

The results showed no evidence that symptoms of depression were associated with any of the season-related measures. People who responded to the survey in the winter months, or at times of lower sunlight exposure, did not have noticeably higher levels of depressive symptoms than those who responded to the survey at other times.

And the researchers did not find any evidence for seasonal differences in symptoms when they specifically looked at the subsample of 1,754 participants who scored within the range for clinical depression.

“The findings cast doubt on major depression with seasonal variation as a legitimate psychiatric disorder,” the researchers conclude.

They argue that: “being depressed during winter is not evidence that one is depressed because of winter.”

The researchers said it was clear that if SAD did exist it could only be affecting a very small proportion of the population.

“Mental health professionals who treat people with depression should be concerned about their own and their patients’ accurate conceptions about the possible causes of depression,” added Dr LoBello

“Pursuit of treatments based on false causes is unlikely to lead to rapid and durable recoveries.”

CERN scientists ‘break the speed of light’

Scientists said on Thursday they recorded particles travelling faster than light – a finding that could overturn one of Einstein’s fundamental laws of the universe.

 Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the international group of researchers, said that measurements taken over three years showed neutrinos pumped from CERN near Geneva to Gran Sasso in Italy had arrived 60 nanoseconds quicker than light would have done.

“We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing,” he said. “We now want colleagues to check them independently.”

If confirmed, the discovery would undermine Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity, which says that the speed of light is a “cosmic constant” and that nothing in the universe can travel faster.

That assertion, which has withstood over a century of testing, is one of the key elements of the so-called Standard Model of physics, which attempts to describe the way the universe and everything in it works.

The totally unexpected finding emerged from research by a physicists working on an experiment dubbed OPERA run jointly by the CERN particle research centre near Geneva and the Gran Sasso Laboratory in central Italy.

A total of 15,000 beams of neutrinos – tiny particles that pervade the cosmos – were fired over a period of three years from CERN towards Gran Sasso 730 (500 miles) km away, where they were picked up by giant detectors.

Light would have covered the distance in around 2.4 thousandths of a second, but the neutrinos took 60 nanoseconds – or 60 billionths of a second – less than light beams would have taken.

“It is a tiny difference,” said Ereditato, who also works at Berne University in Switzerland, “but conceptually it is incredibly important. The finding is so startling that, for the moment, everybody should be very prudent.”

Ereditato declined to speculate on what it might mean if other physicists, who will be officially informed of the discovery at a meeting in CERN on Friday, found that OPERA’s measurements were correct.

“I just don’t want to think of the implications,” he said. “We are scientists and work with what we know.”

Much science-fiction literature is based on the idea that, if the light-speed barrier can be overcome, time travel might theoretically become possible.

The existence of the neutrino, an elementary sub-atomic particle with a tiny amount of mass created in radioactive decay or in nuclear reactions such as those in the Sun, was first confirmed in 1934, but it still mystifies researchers.

It can pass through most matter undetected, even over long distances, and without being affected. Millions pass through the human body every day, scientists say.

To reach Gran Sasso, the neutrinos pushed out from a special installation at CERN – also home to the Large Hadron Collider probing the origins of the universe – have to pass through water, air and rock.

The underground Italian laboratory, some 120 km (75 miles) to the south of Rome, is the largest of its type in the world for particle physics and cosmic research.

Around 750 scientists from 22 different countries work there, attracted by the possibility of staging experiments in its three massive halls, protected from cosmic rays by some 1,400 metres (4,200 feet) of rock overhead.

Robot Surgeons are the Future of Medicine

Bearded men are probably more hygienic, new research finds

The trendiness of beards seems to ebb and flow depending on where in the world you are and what decade you happen to be living in, but what about the health implications of these dense patches of ‘face fur’? The BBC has been investigating whether beards are actually good or bad for our health, whether you’re growing one yourself or coming into contact with someone who is.

In this case, the question was sparked by the discovery of a new form of antibiotic found living on the bacteria in someone’s beard – not a finding that’s going to encourage someone who’s already put off by the sight of a beard (the technical term for a person afraid of beards is a pogonophobe, in case you were wondering).

But what does the science say? Michael Mosley from the BBC points to a study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection that looked at samples taken from 408 hospital staff: the data showed that it was the clean-shaven staff members who were more likely to have “certain bacterial species” living on their faces.

In particular, those without beards were more than three times as likely to be harbouring methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) on their skin, a particularly notorious source of infections in hospital.

There are two hypotheses: one is that the process of shaving creates micro-abrasions in the skin which then provide a fertile breeding ground for bacteria. The second idea is that beards actively fight off bacterial infection. In an experiment carried out for the BBC, microbiologist Adam Roberts was able to grow more than 100 types of bacteria from material swabbed from beards – and he says it’s possible that some of these microbes are helping in the process of killing off others.

For example, some of the ‘silent assassins’ grown by Roberts were part of theStaphylococcus epidermidis species, which were found to be effective at killing offEscherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. It seems that the unique microclimate of a beard could be an invaluable breeding ground for some medical treatments.

Beards are likely to be contentious for some time to come. They were compulsory for men in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, for example, while Alexander the Great was said to have banned his soldiers from growing beards in case enemy fighters held on to them in battle.

According to Philip Tierno, a clinical professor who spoke to Mic, the question of a beard’s healthiness is a complex one: in his opinion, there’s no proof that beards are either healthy or unhealthy.

“People touch their faces often – they touch their nose, they rub their eyes, they’re bringing on a variety of things,” Tierno said. “Kissing people, even on the cheek, brings organisms. Over time, you have opportunities to deposit numerous types of organisms – some of which stay, some of which die.”

Carrying a Phone In Your Trouser Pocket Can Kill Sperm, Lower Testosterone, Cause Infertility

We have heard it before and now it has been proven by science: mobile phones can actually cause harm to the fertility of man. Scientists believe that men who tend to keep their smartphones in the pocket of their trousers run the risk of exposing their bodies to radiation that can reduce the likelihood of them becoming fathers in future. According to the scientists at University of Exeter, the electromagnetic radiation can reduce the mobility and quality of sperm by as much as eight percent.

A large part of the world has smartphones these days whereas about fourteen percent of people in developing countries have issues understanding this problem. Dr Fiona Mathews and team from University of Exeter reviewed the findings using ten studies that constituted 1,492 male members. Dr. Mathews mentioned that the studies make it abundantly clear that radiation from smartphones adversely affects the fertility of men. Still, there is a lot more research required to arrive at a solid conclusion.

Dr. Mathews went on to say that the study claims that carrying mobile phones in the pockets of a trouser adversely affects the quality of sperm as it exposes one’s body to radio frequencyelectromagnetic radiation. This can raise further issues for men who are already on the brink of infertility. There are a total of three ways in which the quality of sperm can be affected: mobility, viability and concentration of sperm cells. A majority of men have upto 85 percent of sperm with normal rate of mobility. Researchers believe that this percentage would fall further by 8 percent with the exposure of the radiation from mobile phones.

The authors of this study claim that the radiation could emanate from not only the mobilephone but also the internet WiFi. As a result, all of these could have cumulative effect on the sperm. A recent study also proved that WiFi from laptops can have similar effects on the quality of sperm. Improved understanding of these factors could assist in enhancing ways of treatment and support. Though, Allan Pacey from University of Sheffield is not convinced by these findings. He believes that the findings do not make much sense.

Critics say that the findings are based on sperm that is tested in a petri dish which is irradiated at a frequency that mimics that same as that of mobile phones. Given that they is artificial, the conclusion is not realistic. We might want to wait for some more studies before we can draw some solid conclusions.

Overuse of electronics is causing worldwide epidemic of nearsightedness in children

Myopia, or nearsightedness, has been increasing over the past few decades among adults and is showing up more in very young children, even preschool-age kids. It is the inability to focus on objects far away or even just not nearby. Some optometrists and ophthalmologists (eye doctors) think this rising epidemic of myopia can be attributed to electronic displays.


Computers, iPads, cellphones and video games occupy a lot of our time, more now than a few decades ago before nearsightedness escalated. People who are nearsighted tend to have eyeballs that are more egg-shaped than spherical. This characteristic has been associated with a higher risk for other more serious eye diseases such as cataracts, retinal detachment and glaucoma.

Mark Jacquot, an optometrist and clinical director of vision care at LensCrafters, mentions a “major lifestyle shift that’s been brewing over the last 30 years… contributing to a reduced ability to focus on things farther away, which is essentially myopia.”

Jacquot alludes to the lifestyle of remaining indoors and doing close-up work which has developed increasingly since the 1970s. With the advent of more electronic gadgetry for communication, work and games in the 1980s, the myopia numbers went somewhat exponential.

Considering increases in education as more went into debt with undergraduate and graduate studies, academic study “near work” was preparing young folks for more indoor “near work” in the corporate world. Even non-college attendees were prepped for near work in close quarters with phones and computers for service or sales jobs.

During the early 1970s, 25 percent of 12- to 54-year-old Americans were myopic. By the 2000s, more than 41 percent had the condition. It’s gotten to the point that Christine Wildsoet, professor of vision and optometry at the University of California, Berkeley, is having problems finding non-myopic individuals as control subjects for their myopia studies.

Myopia is affecting many more younger children than before. The Berkeley Myopia Control Clinic has seen severe myopia in children as young as four years old. You may have noticed toddlers playing with iPads or hand-held video games in public areas while parents and other adults chatted, or worked on their laptops.

Myopia epidemic worse elsewhere

East Asia schooling starts earlier and lasts longer than American schooling. And it’s no secret that they’re heavily into hand-held electronic display devices for just about everything. The Singapore military used to screen out myopic recruits and applicants. Now they can’t. It would lessen their numbers too much. They even offer laser surgery to some.

In Taiwan, the myopia prevalence among seven-year-olds increased from 5.8 percent in 1983 to 21 percent in 2000. A study there determined that myopia occurrences among seven-year-olds increased from 5.8 percent in 1983 to 21 percent in 2000.

And in South Korea, a large representative study of 19-year-old male conscripts (military draftees) showed that more than 96 percent were myopic in 2010. “So you can pretty much say everybody’s myopic” there, quipped professor Wildsoet.

A few ounces of prevention

Increased outdoor activity is the first recommendation. Looking out onto the horizon or at least distant objects is what has decreased during our international myopia epidemic. So it’s wise to practice looking away while being outdoors more. Or at least looking out from inside through a window with a distant view.

Kids should be encouraged to play outside more. “If we can encourage kids to stay outdoors as much as they can, that itself serves as a very good protective mechanism for faster progression,” said Dr. Maria Liu, OD, PhD, and head of Berkeley’s Myopia Control Clinic.

For adults working in small cubicle computer stations, there is Jacquot’s “20-20-20” rule: For every 20 minutes of close-up activity, look at something about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. “It can give your eyes a little bit of a break; it of course gives your mind a bit of a break, too,” suggested Jacquot.

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First materials to be woven at the atomic and molecular levels created

First materials to be woven at the atomic and molecular levels created
COF-505 is the first 3D covalent organic framework to be made by weaving together helical organic threads, a fabrication technique that yields significant advantages in structural flexibility, resiliency and reversibility over previous COFs.

There are many different ways to make nanomaterials but weaving, the oldest and most enduring method of making fabrics, has not been one of them – until now. An international collaboration led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, has woven the first three-dimensional covalent organic frameworks (COFs) from helical organic threads. The woven COFs display significant advantages in structural flexibility, resiliency and reversibility over previous COFs – materials that are highly prized for their potential to capture and store carbon dioxide then convert it into valuable chemical products.

The Incredible Things Your Brain Does While You’re Sleeping

Until recently, sleep was something of a mystery to us. Scientists didn’t know why we slept — and they thought that when the body was at rest, the brain was, too.

Now, we know better. The brain performs a number of important activities while we’re unconscious, according to new neuroscience research.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Duke University professor Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a world-renowned psychiatrist and brain health expert, told HuffPost Rise about the key functions your brain performs while you’re not awake.

“Sleep is probably the glue that ties all our health together,” Doraiswamy said. “The brain actually works harder when we sleep than when we’re awake.”

For one, the brain undergoes a drainage process to flush out harmful toxins. It also reviews information acquired during the day and consolidates memories, according to Doraiswamy.