Accumulating ‘microplastic’ threat to shores.

Debris on shoreline (Image: AP)
Concentrations of microplastic were greatest near coastal urban areas, the study showed

Microscopic plastic debris from washing clothes is accumulating in the marine environment and could be entering the food chain, a study has warned.

Researchers traced the “microplastic” back to synthetic clothes, which released up to 1,900 tiny fibres per garment every time they were washed.

Earlier research showed plastic smaller than 1mm were being eaten by animals and getting into the food chain.

The findings appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

“Research we had done before… showed that when we looked at all the bits of plastic in the environment, about 80% was made up from smaller bits of plastic,” said co-author Mark Browne, an ecologist now based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“This really led us to the idea of what sorts of plastic are there and where did they come from.”

Dr Browne, a member of the US-based research network National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, said the tiny plastic was a concern because evidence showed that it was making its way into the food chain.

“Once the plastics had been eaten, it transferred from [the animals’] stomachs to their circulation system and actually accumulated in their cells,” he told BBC News.

In order to identify how widespread the presence of microplastic was on shorelines, the team took samples from 18 beaches around the globe, including the UK, India and Singapore.

“We found that there was no sample from around the world that did not contain pieces of microplastic.”

Scanning microscope image of nylon fibres
The smallest fibres could end up causing huge problems worldwide

Dr Browne added: “Most of the plastic seemed to be fibrous.

“When we looked at the different types of polymers we were finding, we were finding that polyester, acrylic and polyamides (nylon) were the major ones that we were finding.”

The data also showed that the concentration of microplastic was greatest in areas near large urban centres.

In order to test the idea that sewerage discharges were the source of the plastic discharges, the team worked with a local authority in New South Wales, Australia.

“We found exactly the same proportion of plastics,” Dr Browne revealed, which led the team to conclude that their suspicions had been correct.

As a result, Dr Browne his colleague Professor Richard Thompson from the University of Plymouth, UK carried out a number of experiments to see what fibres were contained in the water discharge from washing machines.

“We were quite surprised. Some polyester garments released more than 1,900 fibres per garment, per wash,” Dr Browne observed.

“It may not sound like an awful lot, but if that is from a single item from a single wash, it shows how things can build up.

“It suggests to us that a large proportion of the fibres we were finding in the environment, in the strongest evidence yet, was derived from the sewerage as a consequence from washing clothes.”

What Marita Cheng did next.

You’re a brilliant young computer science student who was awarded Young Australian of the Year in 2012 after you founded an international organisation to get girls interested in high tech careers.

You’ve got a swag of scholarships and fellowships under your belt and you’re in demand as a guest speaker in Australia and overseas.

Young Australian of the Year, Marita Cheng assembling a robot at Melbourne University last year.

You’re about to graduate from the University of Melbourne with a double degree in mechatronics and computer science after seven years on the books.

Do you: a) take one of the hundreds of job offers that have come your way in the past two years; b) leapfrog into a career in academia, courtesy of your high profile; or c) start a company that makes bionic arms for people with disabilities?

Option C, says 24-year-old Robogals founder Marita Cheng, who’s preparing to throw herself full-time into 2Mar Robotics, the start-up she launched in April, when she graduates at the end of the year.

Her vision is to produce a bionic arm which can be used as daily living aid for people with limited hand movement, due to spinal injuries and disabilities such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.  The arm can be mounted in multiple places around the home, including the kitchen and bathroom, and is controlled by iPhone.

“I really wanted to make a robot that was useful to people and changed people’s lives and this was a way I could do it,” Cheng says.

The idea drew enthusiastic feedback from the Spinal Injuries Association when first mooted, Cheng says: “People thought it was a dream come true.”

There are 20,000 people with spinal injuries in Australia and around three million worldwide. As well as offering people more independence, investing in robotic devices makes sound economic sense, Cheng says.

Her arm may reduce the amount of human assistance some people need to perform basic tasks and save thousands in carer costs, she says.

Cheng’s first group of users will begin testing a prototype in their homes next month and she hopes to have the arm available commercially by April next year.

Pricing is yet to be determined but Cheng hopes to collaborate with not-for-profits which can provide grant funding to suitable recipients.

“I feel really lucky, I know what I’m doing next year…I’m looking forward to it, I can spend more time on this,” Cheng says.

Striking out on her own, rather than fast tracking into an international firm, seems a logical progression for someone who cites Steve Jobs as an inspiration.

“I got so many job offers last year, it was a real dream but I always knew I wanted to start a company,” Cheng says.

“I have energy and I like to put that energy into something…I like having a vision and making it happen in real life.”

Jamie Evans is the academic whose suggestion Cheng do something to encourage young girls into engineering led her to found Robogals in 2008. The organisation, which sends students into schools to teach girls robotics, has 17 chapters in four countries and has run workshops for 11,000 girls.

Now the head of electrical and computer systems engineering at Monash University, Evans says Cheng’s segue into the start-up world is no surprise.

“She is a quintessential entrepreneur – someone who is not interested in finding reasons that things can’t be done but rather believing that something is important and making it happen, regardless of the limited resources at her disposal,” Evans says.

“She likes to set her own agenda and, given the amazing things she has already achieved, I could not imagine her taking a graduate job in a big company. I see her as a serial entrepreneur moving from one venture to another over the years.”

Australia bans sunbeds in every state in a bid to slash deaths from skin cancer.

Australia is to ban all commercial sunbeds in a bid to slash skin cancer rates.

Every state has now either banned or is planning to outlaw commercial sunbeds due to the country having some of the highest skin cancer rates in the world.

The condition is responsible for more than 2,000 deaths and 80 per cent of all new cancer diagnoses.

Every Australian state has now either banned or is planning to outlaw commercial sunbeds due to the country having some of the highest skin cancer rates in the worldEvery Australian state has now either banned or is planning to outlaw commercial sunbeds due to the country having some of the highest skin cancer rates in the world

On Sunday, the Queensland government announced a total ban on commercial sunbeds by December 31 next year.

The state’s 44 solarium operators will be paid $1,000 AUD (£600) in compensation for each tanning bed – a total cost of $160,000 (£9,540), Sky News reported.

The move came after other states – New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT all took steps to regulate or ban sunbed use.

Following the Queensland announcement, Dr Kim Hames, health minister of Western Australia – the only remaining state left to act – announced he was also preparing documents to ban sunbeds.

Cases of malignant melanoma - the deadliest skin cancer - have doubled in the last decadeCases of malignant melanoma – the deadliest skin cancer – have doubled in the last decade

He told Fairfax Radio: ‘There is no doubt about the increased risk of cancer – so I think the chances are (a ban in WA) won’t be far away.’

‘I have to take it to cabinet, but if it happens it will happen in the next three months,’ Dr Hames told Fairfax radio.

Research has shown that people who have ever used a sunbed are 20 per cent more likely to  develop melanoma later in life, compared to people who had never used one.

And those who started using sunbeds before the age of 35 were 87 per cent more likely to develop melanoma compared to people who have never used a sunbed.

Cases of malignant melanoma – the deadliest skin cancer – have doubled in the last decade, according to figures from Cancer Research UK.

Around 13,000 Britons are diagnosed with the illness each year and it causes 2,800 deaths.

The Australian crackdown comes after Brazil outlawed tanning beds, along with U.S. states such as Vermont and California. In the UK, people under 18 are banned from using sunbeds.

Tanning beds became increasingly popular among young Australians around 15-20 years ago. But numbers have fallen dramatically since a similar ban for under 18s was introduced.

Sara Osborne, Cancer Research UK’s head of policy, said: ‘It’s encouraging to see the Australian Government tackling this important issue and it will be interesting to see the response in other countries.

The Australian crackdown comes after Brazil outlawed tanning beds, along with U.S. states such as Vermont and California. In the UK, people under 18 are banned from using sunbedsThe Australian crackdown comes after Brazil outlawed tanning beds, along with U.S. states such as Vermont and California. In the UK, people under 18 are banned from using sunbeds

‘The evidence linking sun bed use and skin cancer is very clear. Overexposure to UV rays from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of skin cancer, including malignant melanoma – the most serious form of the disease – which sadly kills around six people every day in the UK.

‘Cancer Research UK urges people not to use sunbeds for cosmetic reasons. The charity was involved in the successful campaign to introduce a ban on under-18s using them and is now asking the Government to give local authorities the power to license any businesses that provide sunbeds and to inform users of the health risks.

Low-dose testosterone induced protein anabolism in postmenopausal women

Low-dose testosterone therapy could be a promising treatment option for reducing protein breakdown and oxidation in elderly men and postmenopausal women, according to researchers.

“Oral testosterone administration resulted in a significant reduction in the rate of leucine appearance, an index of protein breakdown, and the rate of Lox, an index of irreversible loss of protein,” Vita Birzniece, MD, PhD,senior lecturer at the University Western Sydney, clinical researcher in endocrinology and metabolism at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney and a senior lecturer at the University New South Wales, and colleagues wrote.

The researchers studied eight healthy postmenopausal women (mean age: 64.2 years; BMI: 26.8 kg/m2) administered 40-mg oral testosterone daily. Treatment effect was examined based on the concentration of testosterone, markers of hepatic function, resting energy expenditure and fat oxidation, as well as whole-body leucine turnover. Evaluations of liver transaminases, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), in addition to all other measurements, were collected at baseline and after 2 weeks of treatment.

Data indicate testosterone therapy significantly decreased the leucine rate of appearance by 7.1% and the leucine oxidation by 14.6% (P<.05). Although SHBG remained within normal range (16.8%), IGF-1 increased by 18.4% (P<.05), researchers wrote. However, there were no significant changes to liver transaminases. Peripheral testosterone concentrations increased from 0.4 nmol/L to 1.1 nmol/L (P<.05), according to data.

“In the post-absorptive state, oral testosterone administration did not significantly affect resting energy expenditure and carbohydrate and fatty acid oxidation in healthy postmenopausal women,” the researchers wrote.

These findings add to the literature that low-dose oral testosterone may be beneficial for both men and women, they wrote.

Source: Endocrine Today



Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long distance drivers of commercial vehicles.

caffeinecrystalsObjective To determine whether there is an association between use of substances that contain caffeine and the risk of crash in long distance commercial vehicle drivers.

Design Case-control study.

Setting New South Wales (NSW) and Western Australia (WA), Australia.

Participants 530 long distance drivers of commercial vehicles who were recently involved in a crash attended by police (cases) and 517 control drivers who had not had a crash while driving a commercial vehicle in the past 12 months.

Main outcome measure The likelihood of a crash associated with the use of substances containing caffeine after adjustment for factors including age, health disorders, sleep patterns, and symptoms of sleep disorders as well as exposures such as kilometres driven, hours slept, breaks taken, and night driving schedules.

Results Forty three percent of drivers reported consuming substances containing caffeine, such as tea, coffee, caffeine tablets, or energy drinks for the express purpose of staying awake. Only 3% reported using illegal stimulants such as amphetamine (“speed”); 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy); and cocaine. After adjustment for potential confounders, drivers who consumed caffeinated substances for this purpose had a 63% reduced likelihood of crashing (odds ratio 0.37, 95% confidence interval 0.27 to 0.50) compared with drivers who did not take caffeinated substances.

Conclusions Caffeinated substances are associated with a reduced risk of crashing for long distance commercial motor vehicle drivers. While comprehensive mandated strategies for fatigue management remain a priority, the use of caffeinated substances could be a useful adjunct strategy in the maintenance of alertness while driving.




Should Men Be Allowed to Father Children After They’re Dead?

Fertility-treatment innovations mean that all sorts of people who would not have been able to have a baby a generation ago are now able to bring life into the world. Now, some are arguing the ranks of the newly fertile should include dead people.

In Australia, a woman was granted permission last month to use her dead husband’s sperm in an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) attempt to create a child. In Israel, grieving grandparents are petitioning a court to allow them to use their dead son’s sperm to conceive a grandchild. And in California, a woman is due in three months with her husband’s child — even though her husband died not long before she got pregnant.

The rules of post-humous baby-making are only now being written, but it’s a dicey undertaking because individual situations vary so widely. It’s not uncommon for soldiers on the brink of a dangerous deployment to freeze sperm so that their wives can have a child should they die. And patients diagnosed with cancer are increasingly turning to fertility preservation to ensure they can become parents. But what happens when the patient dies, as in the California case in which the husband froze sperm prior to cancer treatment and indicated his desire for his wife to bear his child? And how to rule on the Israeli grandparents’ quest for a grandchild from their son who was injured last year and died after two weeks in a coma?

“That’s much less straightforward,” says Theresa Erickson, the San Diego attorney for the pregnant California woman. “Creating a grandchild is much different than creating a child. Imagine what the child will think: My dad’s dead and he never even knew I existed. It’s a pretty sticky ethical and moral dilemma.”

Erickson’s client had little problem gaining access to her husband’s sperm; a California law governing the posthumous use of sperm requires a fetus be in utero within two years of the death, assuming the donor gave consent before he died. Erickson is petitioning for her client’s husband’s name to be listed on the birth certificate.

In Israel, 27-year-old Ohad Ben-Yaakov wasn’t married or in a committed relationship. But his parents, Mali and Dudi Ben-Yaakov, had his sperm extracted and are waiting for a ruling from the country’s attorney general to find out whether they can use IVF to impregnate a surrogate with his child. “If we were entitled to donate the organs of our son why are we not entitled to make use of his sperm in order to bring offspring to the world?” they asked in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper.

Israel is already IVF-crazy; health insurance pays for as many IVF cycles as needed to achieve the birth of up to two babies. In 2003, it codified guidelines surrounding posthumous reproduction that allow a spouse or partner to use a dead man’s sperm unless he had specified that was unacceptable.

“This notion of presumed consent, that we can assume that a man would want to have genetic children after his death, that was really pushing the envelope at the time in comparison with other countries,” says Vardit Ravitsky, an Israeli-born assistant professor in the Bioethics Programs at the Université de Montréal Faculty of Medicine. But the ministry refused to allow a man’s mother or father similar access, concluding that parents have no legal standing regarding their children’s fertility, “[n]ot in their lifetime, and certainly not when they are dead.”

In Australia, Jocelyn Edwards and her husband, Mark, were on the brink of signing the paperwork to commence fertility treatment when he was killed last year in a work accident. Although it’s illegal to use sperm without donor consent in New South Wales, where they lived, a judge ruled in favor of Edwards, who had the support of her late husband’s parents and siblings.

“Mark would be so happy,” Edwards said outside the court, according to the Daily Telegraph. “We’re going to have our baby.”

Related Topics: IVF, posthumous sperm donation, Pregnancy, sperm donor, sperm extraction, Family & Parenting, Infertility
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