Scientists have found evidence of a ‘fourth dimension’
11 Freak Weather Phenomena That Might Just Be Warning Signs Of Impending Doom – Indiatimes.com
When exposed to weightless conditions, astronauts can really pick up a temperature, new research reveals. This kind of ‘space fever’ comes on even when the body is at rest, and this strange finding is giving us more insight into how human beings cope outside of Earth’s orbit.
The temperature rises don’t come on instantly though – they develop over a period of months as the body adjusts to life in space without gravity, based on measurements taken before, during, and after trips to the International Space Station (ISS).
After two-and-a-half months, astronaut body temperatures regularly exceeded 40°C (104°F) during exercise, reports the team of scientists, and went 1°C above the normal level of around 37°C (98.6°F) even when the astronauts weren’t doing anything at all.
“We developed a new technology which combines a skin surface temperature sensor with a heat flux sensor, and which is capable of measuring even minor changes in arterial blood temperature,” explains one of the researchers, Hanns-Christian Gunga from the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin clinic in Germany.
The study was part of an ongoing effort to study how we might cope with extended trips in space, but so far little research has been done into how weightlessness affects the core body temperature (CBT), something that’s very tightly regulated by our internal biological systems here on Earth.
Using the new ultra-sensitive sensors, which are placed on the forehead, the researchers got readings from 11 astronauts at various points during their time on board the ISS, starting 90 days before their first launch flight and ending 30 days after they got back.
On top of the general temperature rises, the results showed the human body’s CBT rising faster in microgravity than it does on Earth.
That’s likely because the space environment interferes with the key factors that regulate body temperature, including the heat we give off into our surrounding environment, and the amount of sweat we produce to cool down.
Sweat evaporates more slowly in space, for instance, which means overheating during exercise sessions on board the ISS becomes a potential problem.
“Under weightless conditions, our bodies find it extremely difficult to eliminate excess heat,” says Gunga. “The transfer of heat between the body and its environment becomes significantly more challenging in these conditions.”
This matters because regulating body temperature is crucial to our health and well-being – the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the US recommends that CBT shouldn’t exceed 38.0°C (100.4°F) for the average person involved in heavy work on a daily basis.
What we don’t want to see are problems like hyperthermia or heat stress while we’re all on our way to Mars, so more research is going to be required to see how extensive this ‘space fever’ is and how we can combat it.
Besides the implications for space travel, the research also highlights issues about how our bodies could evolve to safely adjust CBT, and might have done so in the past. Given enough time, we might be able to tweak our own CBT to fit in with life in space.
“Our results also raise questions about the evolution of our optimum core body temperature: how it has already adapted, and how it will continue to adapt to climate changes on Earth,” says Gunga.
Green sea turtles do not develop into males or females due to sex chromosomes, like humans and most other mammals do. Instead, the temperature outside a turtle egg influences the sex of the growing embryo.
And this unusual biological quirk, scientists say, endangers their future in a warmer world.
Already, some sea turtle populations are so skewed by heat that the young reptiles are almost entirely female, according to a new report in the journal Current Biology.
“This is one of the most important conservation papers of the decade,” said biologist David Owens, a professor emeritus at the College of Charleston who was not a part of this research.
It will not be long, perhaps within a few decades to a century, until “there will not be enough males in sea turtle populations,” he warned.
The sex of a green sea turtle is a result of its environment.
“They have temperature-dependent sex determination,” said Camryn Allen, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration endocrinology researcher and co-author of the new study. “It’s not genetics. It’s actually the temperature.”
At what biologists call the pivot temperature, turtles hatch as a mixture of males and females.
For green sea turtles, this temperature is 29.3 degrees Celsius (85 Fahrenheit). A few degrees below 29.3 C, all the sea turtles are born male. Heat up the eggs and only females are born.
“That transitional range, from 100 percent males to 100 percent females, spans a very narrow band of only a couple of degrees,” said NOAA marine biologist and study co-author Michael Jensen.
Head toward the equator along Australia’s east coast and, near the continent’s tip, you will arrive at prime turtle nesting grounds.
Some 200,000 turtles lay their eggs at the beaches of Raine Island and nearby cays. It is one of the largest gatherings of green sea turtles in the world.
Green sea turtles play critical roles in their ecosystems. They graze sea grass beds like cattle at pasture, and the turtles’ nibbles appear to keep plants healthy.
Where the turtles feed is pristine, Jensen said, untouched by human civilisation. Dugongs and tiger sharks cruise by. And there are loads and loads of turtles.
“It really is the ideal place to study turtles,” he said. “There’s 30 years of knowledge about this population along the east coast of Australia.”
That’s where the study authors were waiting. For several weeks, the scientists collected turtles, took plasma samples and released the animals.
It is difficult to distinguish young male turtles from females. Their external features are unhelpful — you cannot simply flip a subadult turtle over and inspect the undercarriage.
In the past, researchers cut open juvenile turtles to inspect their gonads. But the researchers want to minimise their impact on the population; the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists these animals as endangered.
And laparoscopic turtle surgery is an untenable proposition at scale.
Allen worked on a new technique to reveal the turtles’ sex through their hormones. The scientists examined the plasma samples in a California lab.
“You can’t use genetic tests,” Allen said, because “they don’t have sex chromosomes like humans do.”
Biologists discovered the first turtle thermometer gene in snapping turtles in 2016. Not all turtles regulate their sexes this way, but snapping turtles are like green sea turtles in this regard.
Why turtle sex is linked to temperature remains unclear, though some biologists have a hypothesis: Turtles that develop in colder conditions grow larger, and it might benefit a turtle species if the larger ones are males.
Previous studies had predicted that green sea turtles and other temperature-dependent reptiles might be changing in response to a warmer climate.
Turtles around the world “are absolutely being affected right now,” said Owens, who has collaborated with some of the study authors in the past.
“Many of the other species and populations my colleagues are studying are already showing 90 percent or more female populations.”
But no one had seen anything quite to this extent. (“Holy moly” is how Allen described her initial reaction to the results of the lab tests.)
If Raine Island is a baby factory, the assembly-line switch has been thrown in one direction. It churns out female turtle after female turtle.
More than 99 percent of young turtles are female, the scientists found, and 87 percent of mature turtles are female. For every juvenile male, there are 116 female turtles.
Doom will not come for these turtles tomorrow. In fact, the overall turtle population might briefly increase, as long as the more numerous female turtles can find males to fertilise their eggs.
Turtles do not need a 50:50 ratio of males to females.
“A few males can go a really long way,” Jensen said. “Male turtles mate more frequently” than female turtles do.
“It’s hard to say whether it’s good or bad but it’s big and it could have a lot of cascading consequences,” said Rory Telemeco, a biologist at California State University Fresno, not affiliated with this research, who studies temperature and reptile development.
“Though it does seem a little scary.”
To estimate sand temperatures, study authors used historical sea and air temperatures in the breeding grounds between 1960 and 2016. By the 1990s, the sand temperature estimates were consistently higher than the pivot temperature.
The researchers were convinced climate change was the hand on the factory lever. “If it’s not climate change,” Allen said, “then what is it?”
Owens agreed. “Climate change is clearly the culprit,” he said.
There is another nesting region, more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to the south of Raine Island, which consistently stays cooler. In southern Australia, the sex ratio is less skewed, with 1 male turtle to 2 female turtles. “These two populations at opposite ends of the reef have massively different sex ratios,” Jensen said.
It does not seem likely, the study authors said, that these populations would interbreed. Turtles, like salmon, imprint on their birth areas. The reptiles return to their home shores to find mates. “Breeding will happen in the vicinity of these nesting beaches,” Jensen said.
Researchers estimate that green sea turtles can live for 60 to 70 years. “Oh yes, there are a few males remaining, and there will be for decades to come,” Owens said.
“But they will eventually die off. I predict that very soon the [northern Great Barrier Reef] population will start to see reduced fertility at the nesting beach if it is not already happening.”
The good news, according to Jensen and Allen, is that management strategies are possible. Shading the beaches or pouring water on the sand can cool the nesting areas.
The Australian government, through the Raine Island Recovery Project, is working to monitor and protect these animals.
“We’ve got time on our hands,” Allen said. The turtles still have ways to adapt, she said. It’s just a matter of whether they adapt quickly enough.
The car that charges itself.
Designed by the Dutch startup Lightyear, the “car that charges itself” can supposedly drive for months without charging and has a 400-800 km range. But is a solar-powered car feasible?
For years, the concept of “solar-powered cars” has loomed over the electric car industry as a hopeful, possible future. But there are many who argue that this concept is not only impractical, it is basically impossible.
For instance, a solar roof that was designed to power the Toyota Prius was found to only be useful in combination with a traditional battery charging system and it only added an additional 4 miles to the range – not that impressive.
One engineer even calculated the power capacity of a car with a solar roof under the optimal amount of solar radiation, and the results are underwhelming.
Engineers measure the rate at which an engine’s work is done in “horsepower” (hp): the car equipped with a solar roof had a horsepower rate of 6.4. For comparison, engineer Tom Lombardo said, “my riding lawnmower has an 18 hp engine.”
The first 10 Lightyear One cars are due to be released in 2019. Up until now fully solar-powered cars were not considered a realistic prospect, Solar Assisted Electric Vehicles (SAEVs) were considered the best possible option for solar cars, adding up to hundreds of miles to a car’s range.
But the Dutch Lightyear promises to topple the canon with a car that is not only fully powered by the sun, but also overcomes some of the conventional challenges associated with the technology, such as intermittency and low performance.
The five entrepreneurs have been prototyping and working out the kinks of their concept for years but, as long as the project remains an early-stage design, it is difficult to imagine that anyone would be capable of bridging the gap between SAEVs and fully-solar vehicles with record-breaking range.
But small encouraging signs are emerging all over the world. For example, in 2017, the Byron Bay Railroad Company created the first fully solar-powered train.
And, while the vehicle has a very limited range, it shows that solar-powered vehicles are within the realm of possibility.
DNA is helping solve a new type of crime scene – linking the DNA of rhino horns confiscated from poachers and traffickers to specific sites where carcasses of the murdered rhinoceroses are found.
To date, the Rhino DNA Index System (RhODIS) has been used to match rhino DNA to over 120 criminal cases.
“Unlike similar work in which genetic databases provide an indication of geographic provenance, RhODIS provides individual matches that, similar to human DNA profiling, is used as direct evidence in criminal court cases,” said researcher Cindy Harper of the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
In Africa, thanks to conservation efforts, populations of white and black rhinoceroses have been slowly gaining. The near-threatened white rhino has increased from estimated numbers as low as 50-100 individuals in the early 20th century to around 20,000 animals today, and the critically endangered black rhino is at somewhere between 5,042 and 5,458, up from 2,410 in 1995.
But poaching has also increased dramatically since 2007. In 2016, 1,054 rhinos were reported killed in South Africa. That’s around 6 percent – perilously close to the birth rate, which means even a slight increase in killings would see an immediate decline in population figures.
Although there is absolutely no medical benefit to rhino horn whatsoever, it’s still considered an effective treatment for cancer, and demand has been soaring, particularly in the burgeoning market of Vietnam.
The database, which was started in 2010, comprises 20,000 samples – from living rhinos, from confiscated rhino horns, from carcasses, from bloodstains and from curios or powdered horn.
And the research team has now demonstrated that it can be reliably used to match forensic evidence to specific animals.
To determine the probability of a match, they analysed genetic material from 3,085 white rhinos and 883 black rhinos. They looked at how frequently gene variants appeared at specific points on the chromosome. This is called allele frequency, and it can be used to show genetic diversity within a species.
The higher the genetic diversity, the better the chances of an accurate DNA match.
The team’s findings show that it’s possible to reliably match the DNA of a specific rhino to any tissue, including bloodstains and powdered horn.
Their report details nine cases that have been concluded in court using successful DNA matches from the RhODIS database. Most were matching horns with a carcass, but one matched a genetic profile retrieved from the poacher’s clothing to a white rhino carcass, and another matched bloodstains found on a poacher’s carpet to a black rhino.
All were sentenced to jail, with the shortest sentence being 8 years.
The team is now working on increasing the database and analyse more of the samples already contained therein.
“This effort will further ensure that the survivors remain healthy while efforts to curb wildlife trafficking and educate consumers continue,” Harper said.
Male fertility could be at a tipping point. Last year, scientists discovered sperm counts in western countries had plummeted by 50 percent in 40 years, and while the reasons behind the decline are complex, many researchers say the phenomenon is due to men’s hormones being disrupted.
Now, one of those disruptors has come to light. In a new study, scientists show the common painkiller ibuprofen can have a negative impact on testicular health, altering hormone production and inducing a condition called compensated hypogonadism, which affects reproductive health in men.
“Our immediate concern is for the fertility of men who use these drugs for a long time,” biomedical researcher David Møbjerg Kristensen from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark told The Guardian.
“These compounds are good painkillers, but a certain amount of people in society use them without thinking of them as proper medicines.”
While previous research had already demonstrated that foetal exposure to ibuprofen and other analgesics (like aspirin and paracetamol/acetaminophen) could be harmful, less was known about its potential effects on adult men.
To find out, researchers recruited 31 male participants aged between 18 and 35, giving half of them a moderate dose (600 milligrams, equivalent to three tablets) of the drug daily for six weeks, while the other group took a placebo.
For context, up to 3,200 mg per day is considered the maximum daily adult limit by some medical sites. But even a small fraction of that dosage had a negative effect on the men after two weeks of daily use.
Within 14 days, the men taking daily ibuprofen exhibited an increase in luteinising hormones – which help regulate testosterone production – indicating the drug had impaired healthy testicular function, forcing the body to compensate by boosting testosterone levels.
While this effect wasn’t permanent, the researchers warn prolonged use of ibuprofen by men could potentially progress to more serious conditions causing low testosterone production – which might end up harming their fertility.
“[I]t is also of concern that men with compensated hypogonadism may eventually progress to overt primary hypogonadism, which is characterised by low-circulating testosterone and prevalent symptoms including reduced libido, reduced muscle mass and strength, and depressed mood and fatigue,” the team writes.
While researchers are welcoming the findings, they also say the most alarming outcomes are unlikely for most people. Also, given the results come from such a small sample, more research is definitely needed.
“Further studies are required to investigate whether this mild effect of ibuprofen could significantly impair testicular function in terms of testosterone levels, or fertility, after long term use – this study did not examine effects on fertility,” explains endocrinologist Ali Abbara from Imperial College London, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“The effects were very mild even after six weeks of regular consumption of ibuprofen, which is longer than is usually recommended in practice, so this data should not concern men who occasionally take ibuprofen for pain relief.”
As for those whose use isn’t so occasional? The results aren’t yet clear.
But given how athletes routinely use the medication to help with recurring sports injuries, experts say this is something we definitely need to stay aware of – because despite how some might abuse it, ibuprofen isn’t something that was ever intended to be taken casually.
“[T]he alarm has been raised now,” one of the team, Bernard Jégou from the Institute of Research in Environmental and Occupational Health in France told CNN.
“[I]f this serves to remind people that we are really dealing with medical drugs – not with things which are not dangerous – this would be a good thing.”
The findings are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Wondering when to stop drinking coffee and using screens to avoid messing with your sleep? How frequently you should wash your sheets?
Scientists have been looking for answers to these questions too.
You can use their answers to guide many of the decisions you make on a nightly basis, from what you drink at night to how often you do laundry.
1. Watch your mid-afternoon caffeine intake.
The Mayo Clinic advises adults to limit their caffeine intake to 400 mg per day, or the equivalent of about two to three coffees.
Caffeine content can differ dramatically based on the type of coffee, however. Just 1.5 cups of Starbucks contains 400 mg of caffeine, while you’d need four cups of McDonald’s drip coffee to equal that amount.
Like too much of anything, excess caffeine comes with risks, including migraine headaches, irritability, upset stomach, and even muscle tremors – so it’s important to know how much you’re getting.
2. On your commute home, don’t agonise over germs.
A team of geneticists made headlines in 2015 for a mission to document all the bacteria on the New York City subway. They turned up nearly 600 different species of microbescrawling around on all those greasy rails.
Before whipping out the hand sanitiser and tissues, keep this in mind: Almost all of the germs they found were completely harmless.
In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that regular exposure to germs helps keep our immune systems healthy by priming it to more easily recognise dangerous microbes in the future.
The idea could partially explain why children who grow up around animals and in rural areas are less likely to develop conditions like asthma than children who don’t.
3. Skip happy hour, or go simply for the food and company.
Alcohol is one of the world’s most widely consumed drugs, but drinking even small amounts – as little as one glass of wine or beer a day – has been linked with a host of negative side effects, including cancer.
In November, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a group of the nation’s top cancer doctors, released an unprecedented warning in which it told Americans to drink less.
“ASCO believes that a proactive stance by the Society to minimise excessive exposure to alcohol has important implications for cancer prevention,” the statement said.
So at your next happy-hour event, consider skipping the booze or doing something else.
4. Stay hydrated.
Staying hydrated is vital. Our bodies are 60 percent water, and not getting enough can lead to headaches, fatigue, and even overeating. Still, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t necessarily need to drink eight glasses of water a day.
Instead, your daily hydration requirement can change based on several factors, from how much you worked out that day to the weather outside.
Certain foods are also a good water source, so eating more of them may mean you need to drink less. Cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, and spinach are all 92 percent water. Carrots, green peas, and even white potatoes are more than 79 percent.
5. Take breaks from screens to avoid eye strain.
Many of us go from starting at computers to staring at our phones, and as a result our eyes are often dry, itchy, blurry, or irritated. Ophthalmologists call this condition “digital eyestrain.”
To avoid it, make sure you’re drinking (and blinking) enough and avoid reading your phone under the glare of a lamp. You can also practice what’s known as the 20-20-20 rule.
Every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This will allow your eyes to rest, Rahul Khurana, the clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmologists told my colleague Kevin Loria.
6. If you go out for dinner, plan on taking up to a third of it home.
The average size of many of our foods – whether fast food, sit-down meals, or even items from the grocery store – has grown by as much as 138 percent since the 1970s, according to data from the American Journal of Public Health, the Journal of Nutrition, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
So be mindful of portion sizes, and if you’re eating out, consider taking anywhere from a third to half of it to go.
7. Put away screens for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
The blue light that illuminates our screens also tamps down on the production of melatonin, a key hormone our brains use to tell our bodies to start preparing for sleep.
That’s something you don’t want to be doing at night, especially right when you’re heading to bed. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of no-screen time before bedtime.
8. Before you tuck in for the night, make sure your sheets are clean.
Our beds can blossom into a “botanical park” of bacteria and fungus in as little as a week, New York University microbiologist Philip Tierno told Business Insider.
The combination of sweat, animal dander, pollen, soil, lint, dust-mite debris, and plenty of other things is enough to make anyone sick, let alone someone with allergies. So clean your sheets at least once every seven days.
Pfizer, the world’s third largest drug maker, has announced it is ending research to discover new medications for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
The move, which will eliminate hundreds of research positions across the pharmaceutical giant’s roster, casts an even darker shadow outside the company – dashing the hopes of millions affected by neurological disorders, whose dreams of finding a treatment just got that much more desperate.
“As a result of a recent comprehensive review, we have made the decision to end our neuroscience discovery and early development efforts and re-allocate [spending] to those areas where we have strong scientific leadership and that will allow us to provide the greatest impact for patients,” the company said in a statement to NPR.
Job reductions primarily in Massachusetts and Connecticut are expected to occur across the next several months, although the company is continuing research into rare neurological diseases, and plans to launch a venture fund committed to neuroscience.
To many, though, those gestures won’t replace the loss of some 300 neuroscientists and associated staff in an organisation that bills itself as “the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company”.
“Any decision impacting colleagues is difficult,” the company’s statement reads.
“[H]owever, we believe this will best position the company to bring meaningful new therapies to market, and will bring the most value for shareholders and patients.”
Of course, value for shareholders is one thing; but for patients, especially those affected by neurological diseases (and their families), it’s quite another, as critics of Pfizer’s new direction are eager to make clear.
“[W]ith no new drug for dementia in the last 15 years, this will come as a heavy blow to the estimated 46.8 million people currently living with the condition across the globe,” says the head of research at the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society, James Pickett.
“Every three seconds someone in the world develops dementia and, with this number set to rise, there has never been a more important time for such life-saving research.”
That’s especially so since the best, mostly ineffective medications we have for conditions like Alzheimer’s are in fact the products of research from decades ago.
While there are strong hopes they can be improved upon – and treatments for Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions too – until more research is done, a hoped-for, effective replacement won’t materialise.
“The current medication for Alzheimer’s disease is approved, essentially, because it’s better than nothing. There’s nothing else at the moment,” neuroscientist Joseph Jebelli told NPR last week.
“These drugs were pioneered in the ’70s and ’80s and they treat the symptoms, as opposed to the underlying biology.”
“It’s really alarming to see such a large pharmaceutical company deciding to abandon research into the brain and central nervous system,” chief scientific officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation, James Beck, told the Los Angeles Times.
“[H]aving Pfizer exit does not augur well for what other companies are likely to do.”
That’s especially so since Pfizer’s decision follows a series of clinical failures by other companies pursuing Alzheimer’s research – developments that can be extremely costly for the companies invested in the trials.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens here – and hope the companies committing to this research keep focussed on what’s really at stake here.
“[N]euroscience research is high risk, in that failure for pharmaceutical companies comes at a high price,”Alzheimer’s Research’s director of policy, Matthew Norton, told The Times.
“[But] the potential benefits of success to the millions of people around the world living with dementia are too great to ignore.”