Books

Alzheimer’s is a chronic disease that causes brain cells to degenerate and eventually die, leading to a decline in cognitive function. Patients often suffer from symptoms such as long-term memory loss, mood swings and difficulty in communicating. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for the disease. Scientists are still unclear about the exact cause of Alzheimer’s. Genetics, along with aging, appear to be the most significant risk factors for the disease. The composition of an individual’s gut microbiome, the community of bacteria present in the gut, also appears to be important because these bacteria are known to produce chemicals that communicate with the brain. Animal studies have also suggested that environmental factors such as noise pollution (from cars, trains, and airplanes) can cause symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s disease and alter the gut microbiome. However, a definitive link between these factors remained elusive until now. In this study, a team of…

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Most fish farming in the ocean uses net cages that float because it is easier to feed and remove fish at the surface and because some fish species require access to air. However, the surface of the ocean experiences a wide variety of temperatures, salinity (how salty the water is), and wave action depending on the weather. Changing conditions such as warmer or colder temperatures, reduced oxygen from algal blooms, and reduced salinity from rain can be hard on the fish. Storms also cause large waves that can damage nets and allow fish to escape, which results in a loss of money for the farm and a potential disturbance of local fish populations. Submerged cages also aren’t visible, and thus coastal land owners may be more open to having them off their shores. The black objects in the red circle are sea lice. Peter Malloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons…

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Pesticides applied to vegetables are extremely helpful in producing high quality crop yields. With the onset of their use in farming, they have helped bring global food security and stability. Without them, pests would eat and destroy a lot of the vegetables before they are even brought to the market. However, some take a long time to break down in the soil after they are applied to crops. In humans, some pesticides can build up in the body over time. This can lead to serious health hazards such as neurological issues, skin irritations, and reproductive problems. Buying organic produce can reduce the amount and certain types of pesticides on vegetables. But organic veggies are expensive and sometimes impractical for a weekly budget. Washing vegetables in cold water is a good start for removing some pesticides. Does it remove enough Researchers in Pakistan studied how effective some household products were in…

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What was the Earth like way before the dinosaurs? Scientists are interested in that question for many reasons, but for me, it is because the air back then was very different. If you transported yourself in a time-machine to Earth 3 billion years ago, which is more than 2.5 billion years before the dinosaurs, you’d better have brought a breathing mask and some sunscreen. As the doors of your time machine opened on this alien landscape, you would die (with a sunburn), as there was no oxygen in the air, and the UV radiation would have been brutal. Without oxygen, there would have been no protective ozone layer. However, back then, Earth was teeming with microbial life. One of the many reasons I enjoy being a deep time geologist is because it’s fun to picture yourself on this ancient and alien landscape (except for the dying part). Imagine the landscape…

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What was the Earth like way before the dinosaurs? Scientists are interested in that question for many reasons, but for me, it is because the air back then was very different. If you transported yourself in a time-machine to Earth 3 billion years ago, which is more than 2.5 billion years before the dinosaurs, you’d better have brought a breathing mask and some sunscreen. As the doors of your time machine opened on this alien landscape, you would die (with a sunburn), as there was no oxygen in the air, and the UV radiation would have been brutal. Without oxygen, there would have been no protective ozone layer. However, back then, Earth was teeming with microbial life. One of the many reasons I enjoy being a deep time geologist is because it’s fun to picture yourself on this ancient and alien landscape (except for the dying part). Imagine the landscape…

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A recent study has highlighted a link between the appendix and Parkinson’s disease. This is interesting because Parkinson’s disease is well known as a neurodegenerative disorder – disorders in which brain cells, or neurons, die off as the illness develops. As a result, one might not expect to see a link between the appendix, located at the beginning of the large intestine, and a disease like Parkinson’s which occurs primarily in the brain. However, thorough analysis of large amounts of data tracking individuals over 5 decades, the researchers of this study found that removal of the appendix was indicative of a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. The risk was actually 19% lower in individuals who had their appendix removed. In addition, individuals  that did develop Parkinsons disease did so at a later age (disease onset was on average 3.6 years later). What is important is that this research actually…

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A recent study has highlighted a link between the appendix and Parkinson’s disease. This is interesting because Parkinson’s disease is well known as a neurodegenerative disorder – disorders in which brain cells, or neurons, die off as the illness develops. As a result, one might not expect to see a link between the appendix, located at the beginning of the large intestine, and a disease like Parkinson’s which occurs primarily in the brain. However, thorough analysis of large amounts of data tracking individuals over 5 decades, the researchers of this study found that removal of the appendix was indicative of a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. The risk was actually 19% lower in individuals who had their appendix removed. In addition, individuals  that did develop Parkinsons disease did so at a later age (disease onset was on average 3.6 years later). What is important is that this research actually…

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Believe it or not, electric hand dryers have been around since the 1920s. Companies raced to develop the best forced-air hand dryer to cut back on paper towel waste. However, scientists at the time remained skeptical if electric hand dryers really were the best idea. Today, there is a research effort to determine safety risks of electric hand dryers in public spaces. They may save paper and money, but are they hygenic? Hand-washing is one of humanity’s greatest public health achievements, and greatly reduces suffering from preventable infectious disease. So, it makes sense that researchers want to make sure that convenience isn’t coming at a cost to health. Researchers at three separate hospitals in the United Kingdom, France, and Italy put this question to the test by sampling surfaces, dust, and air for bacteria in public restrooms using either paper towels or jet air dryers. The researchers swabbed surfaces such…

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In the United States, deaths from opioid overdoses continue to rise, both from illegally distributed heroin and fentanyl, but also from prescription opioids given by doctors. Currently, prescription opioids are related to 40% of all opioid overdoses here in the US, and are the first type of opioid that many people get before they move onto using illegal opioids. Doctors in the United States prescribe three times more opioids today than in 1999, and those levels are still very high even in regions where many people are dying from opioid overdoses. When pharmaceutical companies directly market drugs to doctors, the rates of doctors prescribing those drugs increase. However, it is not well known if deaths from prescription opioid overdoses are associated with pharmaceutical companies marketing these opioids directly to doctors. Therefore, researchers from around the country looked at data that was collected from the Centers for Disease Control and the…

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We’ve all heard of hunting for fossils to learn about the Earth’s past, but what if you wanted to learn about the microbes that lived thousands if not millions of years ago? It’s a little bit more of a complicated process made harder by the fact that microbes are so small and relatively fragile. The likelihood that they survive all the processes on Earth that erode and break things down is small, and as such, scientists have to look for creative ways to define where they were and weren’t. The number of microbes living in the Earth’s crust far outnumber the lifeforms above. To understand where and how they lived gives us better insight into how Earth as a system developed, and so it’s important to be able to identify fossilized microbes as part of Earth’s historical record. This was precisely the task that scientists from Germany and Sweden sought…

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An infant’s experiences in their first year of life is known to affect their personalities and well-being in later years. Ideally, parents should get the chance to bond with their child, learn about their needs, and give them stable support during this time. In turn, these kinds of connections lead to positive developments in the child, like the ability to manage emotions and have empathy. Currently, the U.S. is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which doesn’t provide paid leave for mothers. And only about half of working moms—which make up 70% of American mothers—get covered under the Family Leave and Medical Act (FMLA). Single and/or low-income mothers are even less likely to be covered. What’s more, the act only applies to unpaid leave; there are no policies in place to provide paid leave to American moms. This causes many women to go back…

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When faced with a supermarket of shelves and glass cases bursting with choices, how do you decide which fish to bring home for dinner? Companies choose what to include on their packaging based on their understanding of what’s important to consumers.  Nowadays, people place more importance on the ethics of food, so tracking consumer choices helps sellers decide which products and labels to focus on. According to research by the University of Kassel in Germany, people can be separated into five main groups based on what’s important to them about a farmed fish product. Germany was chosen for this study because it has the largest food market in Europe. Researchers found  that the main drivers of choice are cost, country of origin, the way fish are raised, and sustainability labeling. The people chosen to participate in the study were asked about household income and size, age, education level, gender, how…

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The Ruby Slippers from the 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz continue to capture the imaginations of the young and old alike. How we sometimes wish we could be transported home by clicking our heels thrice and saying “there’s no place like home!”. Several pairs of these iconic slippers were used during filming; over the years, some were stolen, some were lost, and some changed hands and attics. In late October last year, one pair of Dorothy Gale’s Ruby Slippers returned for public viewing at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. After more than a year of meticulous sequin-by-sequin restoration and conservation treatment, Janet Douglas and her team of conservationists from the Smithsonian Institution are determined to keep this pair sparkly for several generations to enjoy. This conservation campaign was crowdfunded under the handle #KeepThemRuby. It was important for the research team to first extract detailed information about the…

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The Ruby Slippers from the 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz continue to capture the imaginations of the young and old alike. How we sometimes wish we could be transported home by clicking our heels thrice and saying “there’s no place like home!”. Several pairs of these iconic slippers were used during filming; over the years, some were stolen, some were lost, and some changed hands and attics. In late October last year, one pair of Dorothy Gale’s Ruby Slippers returned for public viewing at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. After more than a year of meticulous sequin-by-sequin restoration and conservation treatment, Janet Douglas and her team of conservationists from the Smithsonian Institution are determined to keep this pair sparkly for several generations to enjoy. This conservation campaign was crowdfunded under the handle #KeepThemRuby. It was important for the research team to first extract detailed information about the…

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Sometimes, all it takes is a whiff of a wine to know whether you’ll like the taste. Each wine is unique: red wines smell distinct from white wines and sweet wines smell different than dry wines. These differences arise from a variety of factors, such as climate, soil type, genus and species of grape used, length of fermentation, and more. Researchers from Australia wanted to know how the volatile profile (gas compounds) of Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon wine changed at different stages of grape growth. This information will be helpful for managing crops and ensuring grapes are harvested at times ideal for maximizing certain flavor or scent characteristics. At a vineyard in Oxford Landing, South Australia, grapes were randomly collected in bunches from different grapevines every two weeks, starting two weeks after flowering. Grapes for Riesling and Cabernet were sampled until weeks 14 and 16, respectively, when the crop was…

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