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Women may be under-diagnosed for Alzheimer’s, while men over-diagnosed, new study suggests

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 05:19

Women often perform better on verbal tests. So when they're used to diagnose cognitive declines that precede Alzheimer's, women may be under-diagnosed

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Museum explores spooky science behind 'Frankenstein', 'The Mummy'

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 23:23

What is the spookiest thing about "Frankenstein," "The Mummy" and "Dracula"? Or the fact that these classic horror films were all rooted in real-life scientific experiments and discoveries? The "Natural History of Horror" -- opening Thursday, as Halloween looms -- displays the cloth wrappings used to mummify Boris Karloff in the 1932 classic movie alongside real ancient Egyptian corpse bindings from the museum's archeology collection.

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'Koala AIDS' research reveals genome evolution in action

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 23:18

Wild koalas sickened by a deadly retrovirus are fighting the disease at the genetic level, scientists said Thursday, a rare evolutionary process unfolding before our eyes. It is linked to Koala Immune Deficiency Syndrome (KIDS), which is similar to but less potent than AIDS in humans, and makes the animals susceptible to fatal cancers and secondary infections like chlamydia that renders them infertile. Retroviruses work by inserting their genome into a host genome, but unlike HIV, KoRV-A also enters the animal's germ cells that produce sperm and eggs, meaning it gets passed down through generations.

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Artificial meat is now made in space, coming to a supermarket near you

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 23:02

Creating meat from cells is no longer the realm of science fiction: a Russian cosmonaut did it aboard the International Space Station, and it is just a matter of time before these products arrive in supermarkets. Tests carried out in space in September led to the production of beef, rabbit and fish tissue using a 3D printer. This new technology "could make long-term travel possible and renew space exploration," to Mars for example, said Didier Toubia, the head of the Israeli startup Aleph Farms, which provided cells for the tests.

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NASA launches satellite to explore where air meets space

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 20:58

NASA launched a satellite on Thursday night to explore the mysterious, dynamic region where air meets space. Five seconds after the satellite's release, the attached Pegasus rocket ignited, sending Icon on its way. It's in constant flux as space weather bombards it from above and Earth weather from below, sometimes disrupting radio communications.

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NASA’s chief and SpaceX’s Elon Musk mend fences – and give ‘best guess’ for Crew Dragon’s big flight

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 19:52

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited SpaceX's headquarters in California today, for what was seen as an opportunity to smooth over differences and update expectations for SpaceX's first-ever crewed spaceflight. Over the past few years, the first flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts aboard has been repeatedly rescheduled, leading to moments of frustration for Bridenstine. But after meeting with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and others at the company's facilities in Hawthorne, Calif., the NASA chief suggested the goal was in sight. "If everything goes according to plan, it will be in the first quarter… Read More

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Babies at higher risk of heart defects if dad drinks alcohol before conception: Study

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 16:26

Does a dad's drinking matter as much as a mom's before conception? Researchers in China believe that a father's alcohol intake may actually affect a future child more than a mother's. "Binge drinking by would-be parents is a high-risk and dangerous behavior that not only may increase the chance of their baby being born with a heart defect, but also greatly damages their own health," study author Dr Jiabi Qin, of Xiangya School of Public Health, Central South University, Changsha, China, said in a statement.

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Climate Change Is Shaping Up As an Utter Disaster for Much of America's Bird Life

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 14:27

Two thirds of American bird species are at risk, according to a new report

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A NASA image shows the center of our galaxy in unprecedented detail. Expect far more revealing photos from a soon-to-launch telescope.

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 11:53

NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will bring "the highest quality image ever obtained of the galactic center," one researcher said.

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'Bird emergency': Climate change threatening two-thirds of species in U.S. with extinction, report says

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 10:14

Climate change is creating a 'frightening future' for America's birds: Nearly two-thirds are at risk for extinction, National Audubon Society says.

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NASA's first female launch director to lead countdowns during Artemis missions to the moon

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 06:49

NASA's Artemis program aims to send two American astronauts — a man and a woman — to the moon's south pole by 2024.

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New study links air pollution to hair loss

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 06:27

New research has uncovered another negative effect of air pollution on our health, finding that exposure to common air pollutants could cause hair loss. The researchers exposed the cells to a type of PM known as PM10, which are particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or smaller.

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Scientists Designed a Drug for Just One Patient. Her Name Is Mila

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 06:02

A new drug, created to treat just one patient, has pushed the bounds of personalized medicine and has raised unexplored regulatory and ethical questions, scientists reported Wednesday.The drug, described in the New England Journal of Medicine, is believed to be the first "custom" treatment for a genetic disease. It is called milasen, named after the only patient who will ever take it: Mila (mee-lah) Makovec, who lives with her mother, Julia Vitarello, in Longmont, Colorado.Mila, 8, has a rapidly progressing neurological disorder that is fatal. Her symptoms started at age 3. Within a few years, she had gone from an agile, talkative child to one who was blind and unable to stand or hold up her head. She needed a feeding tube and experienced up to 30 seizures a day, each lasting one or two minutes.Vitarello learned in December 2016 that Mila had Batten's disease. But the girl's case was puzzling, doctors said. Batten's disease is recessive -- a patient must inherit two mutated versions of a gene, MFSD8, to develop the disease.Mila had just one mutated gene, and the other copy seemed normal. That should have been sufficient to prevent the disease.In March 2017, Dr. Timothy Yu and his colleagues at Boston Children's Hospital discovered that the problem with the intact gene lay in an extraneous bit of DNA that had scrambled the manufacturing of an important protein.That gave Yu an idea: Why not make a custom piece of RNA to block the effects of the extraneous DNA? Developing such a drug would be expensive, but there were no other options.Vitarello already had set up Mila's Miracle Foundation and was appealing for donations on GoFundMe. So, she began fundraising in earnest, eventually raising $3 million for a variety of research efforts.Yu's team oversaw development of the drug, tested it in rodents, and consulted with the Food and Drug Administration. In January 2018, the agency granted permission to give the drug to Mila. She got her first dose on Jan. 31, 2018.The drug was delivered through a spinal tap, so it could reach her brain. Within a month, Vitarello noticed a difference. Mila was having fewer seizures, and they were not lasting as long.With continued treatments, the number of seizures has diminished so much that the girl has between zero and six a day, and they last less than a minute.Mila rarely needs the feeding tube now, and is able once again to eat pureed foods. She cannot stand unassisted, but when she is held upright, her neck and back are straight, no longer slumped.Still, Mila has lost the last few words of her vocabulary and remains severely disabled."She is starting not to respond to things that made her laugh or smile," Vitarello said.Milasen is believed to be the first drug developed for a single patient (CAR-T cancer therapies, while individualized, are not drugs). But the path forward is not clear, Yu and his colleagues acknowledged.There are more than 7,000 rare diseases, and more than 90% have no FDA-approved treatment, according to Rachel Sher, vice president of regulatory and government affairs at the National Organization for Rare Disorders.Tens of thousands of patients could be in Mila's situation in the United States alone. But there are nowhere near enough researchers to make custom drugs for all who might want them.And even if there were, who would pay? Not the federal government, not drug companies and not insurers, said Dr. Steven Joffe, professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania."Unfortunately, that leaves it to families," he added. "It feels awfully uncomfortable, but that is the reality."That means custom drugs would be an option only for the very wealthy, those with the skills to raise large sums of money, or those who gain the support of foundations.Mila's drug development was mostly paid for by the foundation run by her mother, but she and Yu declined to say how much was spent.The idea of custom drugs also leads the FDA into uncharted territory. In an editorial published with Yu's paper, Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, raised tough questions:What type of evidence is needed before exposing a human to a new drug? Even in rapidly progressing, fatal illnesses, precipitating severe complications or death is not acceptable, so what is the minimum assurance of safety that is needed?She also asked how a custom drug's efficacy might be evaluated, and how regulators should weigh the urgency of the patient's situation and the number of patients who could ultimately be treated. None of those questions have an easy answer.Brad Margus, founder of the A-T Children's Project, said he was hoping Yu would develop another custom drug for a 2-year-old girl with A-T, or ataxia telangiectasia, an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes a variety of symptoms, including problems moving, a weakened immune system and slowed mental development. Margus' two sons have A-T.His foundation would pay for the work, although the drug would be suitable for only one child. But Margus wondered how generalizable the custom-drug approach would be for "patients whose parents or disease advocates haven't been lucky enough to capture a slice of Tim Yu's time."Milasen will not cure Mila, Vitarello acknowledged. But Mila was 7 when she got her first dose."What if the next Mila is treated when she is 4 or 5?" she asked. The development of milasen "is opening up an entirely new treatment path.""As a mom, I still feel hopeful," Vitarello added. "But I have one foot in hope and one foot in reality."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company

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Even light smoking can still cause long-term lung damage, new study finds

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 03:47

New US research has found that smoking even just five cigarettes a day or less is enough to cause long-term damage to lungs. Led by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the new study looked at 25,352 participants age 17 to 93 years who were a mix of smokers, ex-smokers and never-smokers. Thanks to using such a large study sample, the researchers were able to see differences in lung function among light smokers (defined as 5 or less cigarettes per day) and heavy smokers (30 or more cigarettes per day) which other studies have been unable to detect.

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Humans will not 'migrate' to other planets, Nobel winner says

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 13:42

Humans will never migrate to a planet outside of Earth's solar system because it would take far too long to get there, Swiss Nobel laureate Michel Mayor said Wednesday. Mayor and his colleague Didier Queloz were on Tuesday awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their research refining techniques to detect so-called exoplanets. "If we are talking about exoplanets, things should be clear: we will not migrate there," Mayor told AFP near Madrid on the sidelines of a conference when asked about the possibility of humans moving to other planets.

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As Sea Levels Rise, So Do Ghost Forests

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 12:48

Up and down the mid-Atlantic coast, sea levels are rising rapidly, creating stands of dead trees -- often bleached, sometimes blackened -- known as ghost forests.The water is gaining as much as 5 millimeters per year in some places, well above the global average of 3.1 millimeters, driven by profound environmental shifts that include climate change.Increasingly powerful storms, a consequence of a warming world, push seawater inland. More intense dry spells reduce freshwater flowing outward. Adding to the peril, in some places the land is naturally sinking.All of this allows seawater to claim new territory, killing trees from the roots up.Rising seas often conjure the threat to faraway, low-lying nations or island-states. But to understand the immediate consequences of some of the most rapid sea-level rise anywhere in the world, stand among the scraggly, dying pines of Dorchester County along the Maryland coast.Chesapeake Bay's Migrating MarshesPeople living on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, the country's largest estuary system, have a front-row view of the sea's rapid advance, said Keryn Gedan, a wetland ecologist at George Washington University.Part of the reason for the quickly rising waters may be that the Gulf Stream, which flows northward up the coast, is slowing down as meltwater from Greenland inhibits its flow. That is causing what some scientists describe as a pileup of water along the East Coast, elevating sea levels locally.The effects of climate change are also exacerbated by land that is sinking as a result of geological processes triggered by the end of the last ice age.Because of the extraordinary speed at which the water is rising here, Gedan said, "I think of this area as a window into the future for the rest of the world."In Dorchester County, where dead and dying loblolly pines stand forlornly, Gedan has learned to "read" these forests from the mix of species present.As saltwater moves into the ground, oak and other sensitive hardwoods die first. Loblolly pine, the most salt-tolerant, is often the last tree standing until it, too, is overwhelmed.Then the saltwater marsh plants move in. If you're lucky, velvety tufts of cordgrass sprout. If not, impenetrable stands of cane-like Phragmites, an invasive species, take over.One reason the effects of rising seas are so noticeable here is that the land has very little slope. Those 5 millimeters of sea level, a rise that's only slightly more than two half-dollar coins stacked, can translate into saltwater pushing 15 feet inland per year, according to Gedan.Shoots of sweet gum, a tree with star-shaped leaves and bark like alligator skin, have more tolerance for salt than other hardwoods, such as oak. They can endure for a time as groundwater becomes more saline.But eventually, the sweet gum dies as well.The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, where Gedan does research, lost 3,000 acres of forest and agricultural land between 1938 and 2006. More than 5,000 acres of marsh became open water.At first, this trend depressed Matt Whitbeck, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who works at the refuge. Saltwater marshes are important nurseries for the fish and crabs people like to eat.But in 2012, he realized the marsh wasn't entirely disappearing; it was migrating. Some of the 3,000 acres of forest that the refuge had lost had transformed into saltwater marsh.His outlook changed. "We need to think about where the marsh is moving, not where it is," he said.But in nearby Smithville, a historically African American town, this movement poses an existential threat. Backyards have been gobbled up by advancing marsh, basketball courts overgrown. What were once thick stands of pine near the water's edge have greatly thinned. The marsh now menaces a graveyard.Residents have battled the advancing wetlands for years, said Roslyn Watts, 60, who grew up here. All that time, she and her neighbors thought the inexorable advance was simply the price of living near water's edge.But in 2010, she learned about global warming and sea level rise, she said. She understood that what was happening wasn't entirely natural."I was angry," she said, and particularly incensed by the idea that retreat was the only workable strategy. The Dutch didn't retreat, she said. They built dikes. Why couldn't Smithville?"These families have been here since at least the late 19th century," she said. "There's a connection to the land."But Smithville, small and with few resources, has little money to adapt.Further south in Somerset County, numerous "for sale" signs stand in front of houses along the back roads. Some are abandoned, their yards overgrown by Phragmites. On Deal Island, ditches once dug to drain the land for farming and to help manage flooding from high tides now stand full of stagnant water.Today, in fact, these ditches are part of the threat: Instead of draining water out to sea, they can accelerate the movement of saltwater inland, said Kate Tully, an agroecologist at the University of Maryland.In general, saltwater can seep into the soil before sea level rise becomes obvious in other ways, killing sensitive plants far from the shore. "We call it the invisible flood, because you can't really see it," she said.Elizabeth van Dolah, an anthropologist at the University of Maryland who works with rural communities along the eastern shore, noted that residents here are accustomed to marsh migration and flooding. "But they're probably seeing it happening at a much quicker pace than in the past," she said. "Many of them recognize that, yes, they eventually have to leave. But for the time being, they intend to stay in place."Bob Fitzgerald, 80, has farmed near the town Princess Anne his whole life. Driving the back roads in his four-seater pickup, he pointed out fields that, just five years ago, grew corn but have since become too salty for crops."You can't give property away down here," he said.The asphalt roads are occasionally tinted red along the edges. That, too, is an effect of the floodwater "overtopping" the roads, Fitzgerald said."People who have built their homes here are damn fools," he said, speaking near a place where pine trees appear to be dying around a house. "It should have been abandoned."As the years pass, he said, it will be.'Cedar Cemeteries' in New JerseyFor 33 years, Ken Able has walked the same causeway almost daily at the Rutgers University Marine Field Station in Tuckerton, New Jersey. In that time he has seen marsh become open water, and the fish population transform as cooler-water species decline and those that thrive in warmer waters move in.Blue crab and summer flounder, both saltwater species, have pushed into freshwater rivers. Their arrival suggests the waterways are becoming saltier further inland.All these signs of change come from the ocean, a fluid and often fickle environment. Which is why Able, a professor emeritus of marine and coastal sciences, so appreciates the ghost forests. They're a signal of change from a stationary source: the trees themselves."A ghost forest is a way to capture geological history," he said. "There's not always a way to do that."The Atlantic white cedar, abundant around the Mullica River Estuary in stands such as this one, is an unusually durable parchment on which to capture that history.Long prized for lumber, its wood is highly resistant to rot. But the tree is also very sensitive to salt. It can tolerate maybe three salty high tides before succumbing.So when the trees begin dying, it's a trustworthy indicator that conditions are becoming more saline. It is an age-old phenomenon, now happening faster.Erosion of marshes and riverbanks has also accelerated, revealing buried cedar stumps from prehistoric ghost forests. Jennifer Walker, a frequent collaborator with Able who recently earned her Ph.D. in oceanography at Rutgers, dated one stump here to the fifth century. "Cedar cemeteries," she calls these places.As elsewhere, ghost forest formation seems to have sped up recently, particularly after Hurricane Sandy hit the region in 2012. "It's a good example of a slowly encroaching process -- and then storms making it worse," Walker said.She is studying sediment cores from salt marshes and dating ancient, dead cedars in order to reconstruct sea level rise and ghost forest formation through time.The pace of sea level rise first quickened in the late 19th century after the Industrial Revolution, Walker said, and then sped up again in recent decades. It's now rising faster than at any point in the past several thousand years.Much of the Mullica River Estuary is a nature preserve, its many tributaries remote and undeveloped. But since 2015, Able and Walker have taken a series of helicopter rides over the area. "It's not one giant ghost forest," Walker said. "But the more you look, the more you find them."From above, they've seen swaths of dead trees along riverbanks many miles from the open ocean, suggesting that Sandy pushed seawater far up the river system."You get a slug of saltwater," Able said, "and things die."On the North Carolina Coast, Fires and SaltPaul Taillie, a Ph.D. student at North Carolina State University, encountered a mystery: He wanted to know how quickly ghost forests form. So he repeated a study originally done 15 years earlier to see how plant life had changed over time.As expected, saltwater marsh had advanced. Pond pine and other salt-sensitive trees were dying. Salt-tolerant plants, including saw grass and black needle rush, were moving in.But unexpectedly, the change wasn't occurring evenly across the landscape. Trees were dying faster in some places than others.What could explain this uneven emergence of ghost forests?The study area had almost no slope -- much of it was just inches above sea level -- and the minor differences in elevation couldn't explain the variation.But a clue came from the soil. It tended to be saltier where trees were dying fastest.The explanation Taillie, who's now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida, landed on had to do with drought. When droughts hit, the amount of freshwater emptying into the ocean from nearby rivers declines, making nearshore waters saltier in some places.That saltier water then pushes inland unevenly, killing trees in an irregular pattern across an otherwise mostly uniform landscape. "It's not just rising sea level" that creates ghost forests, Tallie said, but periods of dryness."It's more during times of drought, when you have less freshwater, that the saltwater creeps in," he said. "Salinity goes up."Wildfires are another accelerant.Wetlands burn naturally here during dry years. Fires often travel on top of standing water, consuming grass and trees that rise above the muck.In the past, young trees quickly sprouted after fires. But recently, some forests have failed to recover."There's almost no regeneration," Chris Moorman, a disturbance ecologist at North Carolina State University, said as we surveyed an expanse of dead, mostly branchless trees. He and Taillie said they think that wetlands like these have become too salty for young pond pines, which are more sensitive to salt than mature ones. They can't gain a foothold in marshes their own forebears could tolerate.Drought is predicted to become more frequent as the climate warms, Taillie said. That means wildfires, combined with intensified dry spells and amplified saltwater intrusion may, together, accelerate the formation of ghost forests independently of sea level rise.The synergy of fire and salt produces particularly dramatic ghost forests. Along the Chesapeake Bay, stands of trees might gradually thin near open water, until just a few scraggly pines remain. But in some places here, acre upon acre of dead trees, sun-bleached and occasionally fire-blackened, stand sentinel over bubbling marshes.Yet while the ghost forests may evoke graveyards, the salt marsh plants that advance into dead and dying stands of trees are themselves valuable. Marshes provide homes for birds; they serve as nurseries for young fish and other sea creatures.And as the sea advances, the new marshes also provide a momentary buffer against the rising tide -- protecting the forests whose time has not yet come.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company

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Is vaping safer than smoking? Depends who you ask, and what scientific study they point to

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 12:34

The claim is central to electronic cigarettes' future, and is under scrutiny as cases of vaping-related lung injuries rise with at least 18 dead.

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Back from the dead: Some corals regrow after 'fatal' warming

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 12:16

For the first time ever, scientists have found corals that were thought to have been killed by heat stress have recovered, a glimmer of hope for the world's climate change-threatened reefs. The chance discovery, made by Diego K. Kersting from the Freie University of Berlin and the University of Barcelona during diving expeditions in the Spanish Mediterranean, was reported in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday. Kersting and co-author Cristina Linares have been carrying out long-term monitoring of 243 colonies of the endangered reef-builder coral Cladocora caespitosa since 2002, allowing them to describe in previous papers recurring warming-related mass mortalities.

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Nobel prize honors breakthroughs on lithium-ion batteries

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 11:37

If you're reading this on a cellphone or laptop computer, you might thank this year's three winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on lithium-ion batteries. The breakthroughs they achieved also made storing energy from renewable sources more feasible, opening up a whole new front in the fight against global warming. "This is a highly charged story of tremendous potential," quipped Olof Ramstrom of the Nobel committee for chemistry.

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