Protein researchers closing in on the mystery of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe disease for which there is still no effective medical treatment. In an attempt to understand exactly what happens in the brain of schizophrenic people, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have analysed proteins in the brains of rats that have been given hallucinogenic drugs. This may pave the way for new and better medicines.Seven per cent of the adult population suffer from schizophrenia, and although scientists have tried for centuries to understand the disease, they still do not know what causes the disease or which physiological changes it causes in the body. Doctors cannot make the diagnosis by looking for specific physiological changes in the patient’s blood or tissue, but have to diagnose from behavioral symptoms.In an attempt to find the physiological signature of schizophrenia, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have conducted tests on rats, and they now believe that the signature lies in some specific, measurable proteins. Knowing these proteins and comparing their behavior to proteins in the brains of not-schizophrenic people may make it possible to develop more effective drugs.It is extremely difficult to study brain activity in schizophrenic people, which is why researchers often use animal models in their strive to understand the mysteries of the schizophrenic brain. Rat brains resemble human brains in so many ways that studying them makes sense if one wants to learn more about the human brain.Schizophrenic symptoms in ratsThe strong hallucinogenic drug phenocyclidine (PCP), also known as “angel’s dust,” provides a range of symptoms in people which are very similar to schizophrenia.”When we give PCP to rats, the rats become valuable study objects for schizophrenia researchers,” explains Ole Nrregaard Jensen, professor and head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.Along with Pawel Palmowski, Adelina Rogowska-Wrzesinska and others, he is the author of a scientific paper about the discovery, published in the international Journal of Proteome Research.Among the symptoms and reactions that can be observed in both humans and rats are changes in movement and reduced cognitive functions such as impaired memory, attention and learning ability.”Scientists have studied PCP rats for decades, but until now no one really knew what was going on in the rat brains at the molecular level. We now present what we believe to be the largest proteomics data set to date,” says Ole Nrregaard Jensen.PCP is absorbed very quickly by the brain, and it only stays in the brain for a few hours. Therefore, it was important for researchers to examine the rats’ brain cells soon after the rats were injected with the hallucinogenic drug.”We could see changes in the proteins in the brain already after 15 minutes. And after 240 minutes, it was almost over,” says Ole Nrregaard Jensen.The University of Southern Denmark holds some of the world’s most advanced equipment for studying proteins, and Ole Nrregaard Jensen and his colleagues used the university’s so-called mass spectrometres for their protein studies.352 proteins cause brain changes”We found 2604 proteins, and in 352 of them, we saw changes that can be associated with the PCP injections. These 352 proteins will be extremely interesting to study in closer detail to see if they also alter in people with schizophrenia — and if that’s the case, it will of course be interesting to try to develop a drug that can prevent the protein changes that lead to schizophrenia,” says Ole Nrregaard Jensen about the discovery and the work that now lies ahead.The 352 proteins in rat brains responded immediately when the animals were exposed to PCP. …

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Canal between ears helps alligators pinpoint sound

By reptile standards, alligators are positively chatty. They are the most vocal of the non-avian reptiles and are known to be able to pinpoint the source of sounds with accuracy. But it wasn’t clear exactly how they did it because they lack external auditory structures.In a new study, an international team of biologists shows that the alligator’s ear is strongly directional because of large, air-filled channels connecting the two middle ears. This configuration is similar in birds, which have an interaural canal that increases directionality.”Mammals usually have large moveable ears, but alligators do not, so they have solved the problems of sound localization a little differently. This may also be the solution used by the alligator’s dinosaur relatives,” said Hilary Bierman, a biology lecturer at the University of Maryland.The study, which was led by Bierman and UMD Biology Professor Catherine Carr, was published online in the Journal of Experimental Biology on March 26, 2014. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Danish National Science Foundation and Carlsberg Foundation.The UMD biologists — along with researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of Colorado Medical School and University of Southern Denmark — collected anatomical, biophysical and electrophysiological measurements of alligators to investigate the mechanisms alligators use to locate sounds.”Different vertebrate lineages have evolved external and/or internal anatomical adaptations to enhance these auditory cues, such as pinnae and interaural canals,” said Bierman.First, the team tested how sound travelled around an alligator’s head to investigate whether the animal somehow channels sound, listening for tiny time and volume differences in the sound’s arrival at the two ears to help locate the origin. But the team found no evidence that the animal’s body alters sound transmission sufficiently for the animal to be able to detect the difference. And when the team measured alligators’ brainstem responses to sounds, they were too fast for the animals to sense these small time differences.Next, the team looked for internal structures in the alligators’ heads that might propagate sound between the two eardrums. Viewing slices through the heads of young alligators, the team could clearly see two channels linking the two middle ears that could transmit sound between the two eardrums.Sound reaches both sides of the eardrum — travelling externally to reach the outer side and through head structures to the internal side — to amplify the vibration at some frequencies when the head is aligned with the sound. This maximizes the pressure differences on the two sides of the eardrum, magnifying the time difference between the sound arriving at the ear drum via two different paths to allow the animal to pinpoint the source. …

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Salamanders shrinking as their mountain havens heat up

Wild salamanders living in some of North America’s best salamander habitat are getting smaller as their surroundings get warmer and drier, forcing them to burn more energy in a changing climate.That’s the key finding of a new study, published March 25 in the journal Global Change Biology, that examined museum specimens caught in the Appalachian Mountains from 1957 to 2007 and wild salamanders measured at the same sites in 2011-2012. The salamanders studied from 1980 onward were, on average, 8% smaller than their counterparts from earlier decades. The changes were most marked in the Southern Appalachians and at low elevations — settings where detailed weather records showed the climate has warmed and dried out most.Scientists have predicted that some animals will get smaller in response to climate change, and this is strongest confirmation of that prediction.”This is one of the largest and fastest rates of change ever recorded in any animal,” said Karen R. Lips, an associate professor of biology at the University of Maryland and the study’s senior author. “We don’t know exactly how or why it’s happening, but our data show it is clearly correlated with climate change.” And it’s happening at a time when salamanders and other amphibians are in distress, with some species going extinct and others dwindling in number.”We don’t know if this is a genetic change or a sign that the animals are flexible enough to adjust to new conditions,” Lips said. “If these animals are adjusting, it gives us hope that some species are going to be able to keep up with climate change.”The study was prompted by the work of University of Maryland Prof. Emeritus Richard Highton, who began collecting salamanders in the Appalachian Mountains in 1957. The geologically ancient mountain range’s moist forests and long evolutionary history make it a global hot spot for a variety of salamander species. Highton collected hundreds of thousands of salamanders, now preserved in jars at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Service Center in Suitland, MD.But Highton’s records show a mysterious decline in the region’s salamander populations beginning in the 1980s. Lips, an amphibian expert, saw a similar decline in the frogs she studied in Central America, and tracked it to a lethal fungal disease. …

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The ten best weather places in the world

Do you dream of a place that is always sunny? Where the temperature is perfect? Where there is virtually no severe weather? Ed Darack has. His article, “The 10 Best Weather Places in the World,” featured in the March/April issue of Weatherwise magazine attempts to name the top ten places in the world that continually experience the best weather.Darack defines what “best” weather consists of. The basis of this list is founded in weather that has positive effects on human fundamental needs (physical, mental, and emotional). “We can determine meteorological “best” criteria for ideal human physical, mental, and emotional health that includes temperature, humidity, average number of sunny days, and other criteria, by studying the results of research conducted on environmental effects on humans.” With this in mind Darack creates a mythical place of weather perfection, ‘Anthro-Weathertopia’. Here the temperature never strays too far from 68F, the humidity is always comfortably 50%, and the clouds are never a threat. Unfortunately this perfect place does not exist, but his article lists the top ten places that come close.The Manjimup region of the extreme south west region of Western Australia ranks at number ten on the list. It is a piece of lush land off the southern Indian Ocean. …

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Climatologists offer explanation for widening of Earth’s tropical belt

Recent studies have shown that Earth’s tropical belt — demarcated, roughly, by the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn — has progressively expanded since at least the late 1970s. Several explanations for this widening have been proposed, such as radiative forcing due to greenhouse gas increase and stratospheric ozone depletion.Now, a team of climatologists, led by researchers at the University of California, Riverside, posits that the recent widening of the tropical belt is primarily caused by multi-decadal sea surface temperature variability in the Pacific Ocean. This variability includes the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), a long-lived El Nio-like pattern of Pacific climate variability that works like a switch every 30 years or so between two different circulation patterns in the North Pacific Ocean. It also includes, the researchers say, anthropogenic pollutants, which act to modify the PDO.Study results appear March 16 in Nature Geoscience.”Prior analyses have found that climate models underestimate the observed rate of tropical widening, leading to questions on possible model deficiencies, possible errors in the observations, and lack of confidence in future projections,” said Robert J. Allen, an assistant professor of climatology in UC Riverside’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the study. “Furthermore, there has been no clear explanation for what is driving the widening.”Now Allen’s team has found that the recent tropical widening is largely driven by the PDO.”Although this widening is considered a ‘natural’ mode of climate variability, implying tropical widening is primarily driven by internal dynamics of the climate system, we also show that anthropogenic pollutants have driven trends in the PDO,” Allen said. “Thus, tropical widening is related to both the PDO and anthropogenic pollutants.”Widening concernsTropical widening is associated with several significant changes in our climate, including shifts in large-scale atmospheric circulation, like storm tracks, and major climate zones. For example, in Southern California, tropical widening may be associated with less precipitation.Of particular concern are the semi-arid regions poleward of the subtropical dry belts, including the Mediterranean, the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, southern Australia, southern Africa, and parts of South America. A poleward expansion of the tropics is likely to bring even drier conditions to these heavily populated regions, but may bring increased moisture to other areas.Widening of the tropics would also probably be associated with poleward movement of major extratropical climate zones due to changes in the position of jet streams, storm tracks, mean position of high and low pressure systems, and associated precipitation regimes. An increase in the width of the tropics could increase the area affected by tropical storms (hurricanes), or could change climatological tropical cyclone development regions and tracks.Belt contractionAllen’s research team also showed that prior to the recent (since ~1980 onwards) tropical widening, the tropical belt actually contracted for several decades, consistent with the reversal of the PDO during this earlier time period.”The reversal of the PDO, in turn, may be related to the global increase in anthropogenic pollutant emissions prior to the ~ early 1980s,” Allen said.AnalysisAllen’s team analyzed IPCC AR5 (5th Assessment Report) climate models, several observational and reanalysis data sets, and conducted their own climate model experiments to quantify tropical widening, and to isolate the main cause.”When we analyzed IPCC climate model experiments driven with the time-evolution of observed sea surface temperatures, we found much larger rates of tropical widening, in better agreement to the observed rate–particularly in the Northern Hemisphere,” Allen said. …

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Europe may experience higher warming than global average

The majority of Europe will experience higher warming than the global average if surface temperatures rise to 2 C above pre-industrial levels, according to a new study published today.Under such a scenario, temperatures greater than the 2 C global average will be experienced in Northern and Eastern Europe in winter and Southern Europe in summer; however, North-Western Europe — specifically the UK — will experience a lower relative warming.The study, which has been published today, 7 March, in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, also shows that in the summer, daily maximum temperatures could increase by 3-4 C over South-Eastern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula and rise well above 40 C in regions that already experience some of the highest temperatures in Europe, such as Spain, Portugal and France. Such higher temperatures will increase evaporation and drought.In the winter, the maximum daily temperatures could increase by more than 6 C across Scandinavia and Russia.Lead author of the research Robert Vautard, from Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (CEA/CNRS/UVSQ), said: “The 2 C warming target has mainly been decided among nations as a limit not to exceed in order to avoid possibly dangerous climate change. However, the consequences of such a warming, at the scale of a continent like Europe, have not yet been quantified.”We find that, even for such an ambitious target as 2 C, changes in European climate are significant and will lead to significant impacts.”The study also shows that there will be a robust increase in precipitation over Central and Northern Europe in the winter and Northern Europe in the summer, and that most of the continent will experience an increase in instances of extreme precipitation, increasing the flood risks which are already having significant economic consequences.Southern Europe is an exception, and will experience a general decline in mean precipitation.To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers used an ensemble of 15 regional climate models to simulate climate changes under an A1B scenario, which represents rapid economic growth and a balanced approach to energy sources.In addition to temperature and precipitation changes that may occur, the researchers also investigated atmospheric circulation and winds, but found no significant changes.”Even if the 2 C goal is achieved, Europe will experience impacts, and these are likely to exacerbate existing climate vulnerability. Further work on identifying key hotspots, potential impacts and advancing carefully planned adaptation is therefore needed,” the researchers write in their study.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Physics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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How our brain networks: White matter ‘scaffold’ of human brain revealed

For the first time, neuroscientists have systematically identified the white matter “scaffold” of the human brain, the critical communications network that supports brain function.Their work, published Feb. 11 in the open-source journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, has major implications for understanding brain injury and disease. By detailing the connections that have the greatest influence over all other connections, the researchers offer not only a landmark first map of core white matter pathways, but also show which connections may be most vulnerable to damage.”We coined the term white matter ‘scaffold’ because this network defines the information architecture which supports brain function,” said senior author John Darrell Van Horn of the USC Institute for Neuroimaging and Informatics and the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at USC.”While all connections in the brain have their importance, there are particular links which are the major players,” Van Horn said.Using MRI data from a large sample of 110 individuals, lead author Andrei Irimia, also of the USC Institute for Neuroimaging and Informatics, and Van Horn systematically simulated the effects of damaging each white matter pathway.They found that the most important areas of white and gray matter don’t always overlap. Gray matter is the outermost portion of the brain containing the neurons where information is processed and stored. Past research has identified the areas of gray matter that are disproportionately affected by injury.But the current study shows that the most vulnerable white matter pathways — the core “scaffolding” — are not necessarily just the connections among the most vulnerable areas of gray matter, helping explain why seemingly small brain injuries may have such devastating effects.”Sometimes people experience a head injury which seems severe but from which they are able to recover. On the other hand, some people have a seemingly small injury which has very serious clinical effects,” says Van Horn, associate professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “This research helps us to better address clinical challenges such as traumatic brain injury and to determine what makes certain white matter pathways particularly vulnerable and important.”The researchers compare their brain imaging analysis to models used for understanding social networks. To get a sense of how the brain works, Irimia and Van Horn did not focus only on the most prominent gray matter nodes — which are akin to the individuals within a social network. Nor did they merely look at how connected those nodes are.Rather, they also examined the strength of these white matter connections, i.e. which connections seemed to be particularly sensitive or to cause the greatest repercussions across the network when removed. …

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Researchers discover rare new species of deep-diving whale

Researchers have identified a new species of mysterious beaked whale based on the study of seven animals stranded on remote tropical islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans over the past 50 years.Beaked whales, a widespread but little-known family of toothed whales distantly related to sperm whales, are found in deep ocean waters beyond the edge of the continental shelf throughout the world’s oceans.”They are rarely seen at sea due to their elusive habits, long dive capacity and apparent low abundance for some species. Understandably, most people have never heard of them,” says international team leader, Dr Merel Dalebout, a visiting research fellow at UNSW.The study of the new species, Mesoplodon hotaula, is published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.The first specimen was a female found on a Sri Lankan beach more than 50 years ago.On 26 January 1963, a 4.5 metre-long, blue-grey beaked whale washed up at Ratmalana near Colombo. The then director of the National Museums of Ceylon, P.E.P (Paulus) Deraniyagala, described it as a new species, and named it Mesoplodon hotaula, after the local Singhala words for ‘pointed beak’.However, two years later, other researchers reclassified this specimen as an existing species, Mesoplodon ginkgodens, named for the tusk-like teeth of the adult males that are shaped like the leaves of a ginkgo tree.”Now it turns out that Deraniyagala was right regarding the uniqueness of the whale he identified. While it is closely related to the ginkgo-toothed beaked whale, it is definitely not the same species,” says Dr Dalebout.The researchers used a combination of DNA analysis and physical characteristics to identify the new species from seven specimens found stranded in Sri Lanka, the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), Palmyra Atoll in the Northern Line Islands near Hawai’i, the Maldives, and the Seychelles.The new specimens are held by various institutions and groups, including the US Smithsonian National Museum in Washington DC, the Island Conservation Society in the Seychelles, and the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The genetic analyses were conducted as part of an international collaboration with the US NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State University.The researchers were able to get good quality DNA from tissue samples from only one specimen. For the others, they drilled the bones of the whales in order to analyse short fragments of ‘ancient DNA’ relying on techniques commonly used with old sub-fossil material from extinct species.The researchers also studied all other known beaked whale species to confirm the distinctiveness of Deraniyagala’s whale, including six specimens of the closely related, gingko-toothed beaked whale.”A number of species in this group are known from only a handful of animals, and we are still finding new ones, so the situation with Deraniyagala’s whale is not that unusual,” Dr Dalebout says.”For example, the ginkgo-toothed beaked whale, first described in 1963, is only known from about 30 strandings and has never been seen alive at sea with any certainty. It’s always incredible to me to realise how little we really do know about life in the oceans. There’s so much out there to discover. “Over the last 10 years or so, two other new beaked whales have come to light; both through research in which Dr Dalebout was involved. In 2002, Mesoplodon perrini or Perrin’s beaked whale, was described from the eastern North Pacific, and in 2003, Mesoplodon traversii, the spade-toothed whale, was described from the Southern Ocean. …

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We do it just to ruin your day

We lactating mothers just can’t wait to bare it all. Because we’re all exhibitionists at heart. And we want to ruin your day.Sparrow-Folk have a go at breastfeeding in public in this song “Ruin Your Day” from their debut album The Fox and the Lark.About Sparrow-Folk:Jules and Catherine first performed together in an improvised show and went on to play a fully improvised gig at a Chalk Board Tent in The Canberra Folk Festival in 2012. It was there the dream was hatched to start Sparrow-Folk. They began performing in backyards, at family events and even had a couple of small appearances at local venues like the Hellenic Club, and Smith’s Alternative Bookshop.Recently, Sparrow-Folk was named the ACT winner of …

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Global ocean currents explain why Northern Hemisphere is the soggier one

Oct. 20, 2013 — A quick glance at a world precipitation map shows that most tropical rain falls in the Northern Hemisphere. The Palmyra Atoll, at 6 degrees north, gets 175 inches of rain a year, while an equal distance on the opposite side of the equator gets only 45 inches.Scientists long believed that this was a quirk of Earth’s geometry — that the ocean basins tilting diagonally while the planet spins pushed tropical rain bands north of the equator. But a new University of Washington study shows that the pattern arises from ocean currents originating from the poles, thousands of miles away.The findings, published Oct. 20 in Nature Geoscience, explain a fundamental feature of the planet’s climate, and show that icy waters affect seasonal rains that are crucial for growing crops in such places as Africa’s Sahel region and southern India.In general, hotter places are wetter because hot air rises and moisture precipitates out.”It rains more in the Northern Hemisphere because it’s warmer,” said corresponding author Dargan Frierson, a UW associate professor of atmospheric sciences. “The question is: What makes the Northern Hemisphere warmer? And we’ve found that it’s the ocean circulation.”Frierson and his co-authors first used detailed measurements from NASA’s Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System, or CERES, satellites to show that sunlight actually provides more heat to the Southern Hemisphere — and so, by atmospheric radiation alone, the Southern Hemisphere should be the soggier one.After using other observations to calculate the ocean heat transport, the authors next used computer models to show the key role of the huge conveyor-belt current that sinks near Greenland, travels along the ocean bottom to Antarctica, and then rises and flows north along the surface. Eliminating this current flips the tropical rain bands to the south.The reason is that as the water moves north over many decades it gradually heats up, carrying some 400 trillion (that’s four with 14 zeroes after it) watts of power across the equator.For many years, slanting ocean basins have been the accepted reason for the asymmetry in tropical rainfall.”But at the same time, a lot of people didn’t really believe that explanation because it’s kind of a complicated argument. For such a major feature there’s usually a simpler explanation,” Frierson said.The ocean current they found to be responsible was made famous in the 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” in which the premise was that the overturning circulation shut down and New York froze over. While a sudden shutdown like in the movie won’t happen, a gradual slowing — which the recent United Nations report said was “very likely” by 2100 — could shift tropical rains south, the study suggests, as it probably has in the past.The slowdown of the currents is predicted because increasing rain and freshwater in the North Atlantic would make the water less dense and less prone to sinking.”This is really just another part of a big, growing body of evidence that’s come out in the last 10 or 15 years showing how important high latitudes are for other parts of the world,” Frierson said.Frierson’s earlier work shows how the changing temperature balance between hemispheres influences tropical rainfall. …

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Lorenzo Lamas on “Good Day LA” to Promote the “The Greatest Escape Motorcycle Ride” for Mesothelioma Research

Actor and lifelong motorcycle enthusiast Lorenzo Lamas appeared this morning on the Fox morning news show, “Good Day LA”, to promoteThe Greatest Escape Motorcycle Ridewhich will take place this Sunday, September 22 to raise money for mesothelioma research conducted by thePacific Meso Center.Lorenzo Lamas will be riding alongside other celebrities and dignitaries including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and stars from the 1980s hit series CHIPS, Larry Wilcox, Robert Pine and Paul Linke. Joining them will be riders from many Southern California motorcycle clubs including Eaglerider Motorcycles, Los Angeles Young Riders, The Society of Riders and Free Riders.TheWorthington & Caron law firmis pleased to serve as the title sponsor for the inaugural event. PartnersRoger WorthingtonandJohn Caronwill be riding along with many of their clients and …

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Soft shells and strange star clusters

Oct. 10, 2013 — PGC 6240 is an elliptical galaxy that resembles a pale rose in the sky, with hazy shells of stars encircling a very bright centre. Some of these shells are packed close to the centre of the galaxy, while others are flung further out into space. Several wisps of material have been thrown so far that they appear to be almost detached from the galaxy altogether.Astronomers have studied PGC 6240 in detail due to this structure, and also because of its surrounding globular clusters — dense, tightly packed groups of gravitationally bound stars that orbit galaxies. Over 150 of these clusters orbit our own galaxy, the Milky Way, all composed of old stars.All the globular clusters around a certain galaxy form at approximately the same time, giving them all the same age. This is echoed within the clusters — all the stars within a single cluster form at around the same time, too. Because of this, most galaxies have cluster populations of pretty similar ages, both in terms of overall cluster, and individual stars. However, PGC 6240 is unusual in that its clusters are varied — while some do contain old stars, as expected, others contain younger stars which formed more recently.The most likely explanation for both the galaxy’s stacked shell structure and the unexpectedly young star clusters is that PGC 6240 merged with another galaxy at some point in the recent past. Such a merger would send ripples through the galaxy and disrupt its structure, forming the concentric shells of material seen here. It would also ignite a strong burst of star formation in the galaxy, which would then trigger similar activity in nearby space — leading to the creation of new, younger globular clusters around PGC 6240.PGC 6240 is an elliptical galaxy in the southern constellation of Hydrus (The Water Snake). …

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Council fined over health and safety failing

Home » No Win No Fee » Latest Personal Injury News » 2013 » 10 » Council fined over health and safety failingCouncil fined over health and safety failingA council has been hit with a £48,000 fine after it was found to have overseen health and safety failings that resulted in the disfigurement of a school child.Galashiels Academy student Nadine Craig was forced to spend ten days in hospital and six months off school following an incident in her classroom in 2007 in which she was dragged into an unguarded lathe, reports the Southern Reporter.Sheriff Kevin Drummond initially handed the local authority a £72,000 fine at Selkirk Sheriff Court this week, but he later reduced it to £48,000 in recognition of Scottish Borders Council’s early plea.He explained the lathe had regularly been used without a guard, despite the fact one could be purchased for around £260.Mr Drummond said: “The degree of risk was substantial and it was one which was allowed to continue over a significant period of time. The fact that schoolchildren were, in fact, permitted to be involved in the operation of machinery in these circumstances was a serious failure.”He also refused the idea that the teacher had not been given the resources required to carry out a full risk assessment of the machine in order to decide whether it was safe for pupils to use.A spokesman for the council said it had issued a full apology to Miss Craig and accepted it was responsible for the incident.The representative added: “A full safety review of technical classes in all secondary schools was carried out immediately after the accident.”It remains to be seen whether the steps taken by the local authority will prevent similar occurrences in schools in the Scottish Borders in the coming months and years.By Francesca WitneyOr call us on 0800 884 0321SHARE THIS

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As sea level rises, Everglades’ freshwater plants perish

Oct. 10, 2013 — Just inland from the familiar salt-loving mangroves that line the Southern tip of the Florida Peninsula lie plant communities that depend on freshwater flowing south from Lake Okeechobee.These communities provide critical habitats to many wildlife species, and as salt water intrudes, it could spell problems for freshwater plants and animals alike.Satellite imagery over the southeastern Everglades confirms long-term trends of mangrove expansion and sawgrass habitat loss near the shore. The trend is related to salt water intrusion caused by sea-level rise and water management practices, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Wetlands.”I was very surprised at how well the results matched our understanding of long-term trends and field data. Normally, we don’t see such clear patterns,” said Douglas Fuller, principal investigator of the study.The findings show large patches of vegetation loss closer to the coast, approximately four kilometers from the shoreline, in and around a vegetative band of low productivity that has been shifting inland over the past 70 years. Growth trends were seen primarily in the interior, at about eight kilometers from the shore.”Less salt-tolerant plants like the sawgrass, spike rush, and tropical hardwood hammocks are retreating. At the same time, salt-loving mangroves continue to extend inland,” said Fuller, professor of Geography and Regional studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami.Changes in water management, such as the implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, may help offset the possible effects caused by future salt water intrusion. “However, restoration may not suffice if sea-level rise accelerates in the coming decades,” Fuller said.Fuller and co-author Yu Wang, a former master’s student at UM, used satellite imagery from 2001 to 2010 over the southeastern Everglades, in an area called Taylor Slough, which is the second-largest flow-way for surface water in the Everglades, and stretches about 30 kilometers along the eastern boundary of Everglades National Park.”These methods allowed us to perform a spatially comprehensive assessment of the trends, unlike research that has been limited to plot-level studies, in which careful measurements of plant cover and composition have been made over the past dozen years,” Fuller said. “These field studies, which provide confirmation of the satellite-based results, involved clipping and weighing plants found in sawgrass prairies and are part of a long-term effort to understand the dynamics of the ecosystems in the Everglades.”In the future, the researchers would like to apply the methods used in their study to other coastal wetland areas that are threatened by sea-level rise.

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Underlying ocean melts ice shelf, speeds up glacier movement

Sep. 12, 2013 — Warm ocean water, not warm air, is melting the Pine Island Glacier’s floating ice shelf in Antarctica and may be the culprit for increased melting of other ice shelves, according to an international team of researchers.”We’ve been dumping heat into the atmosphere for years and the oceans have been doing their job, taking it out of the air and into the ocean,” said Sridhar Anandakrishnan, professor of geosciences, Penn State. “Eventually, with all that atmospheric heat, the oceans will heat up.”The researchers looked at the remote Pine Island Glacier, a major outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet because it has rapidly thinned and accelerated in the recent past.”It has taken years and years to do the logistics because it is so remote from established permanent bases,” said Anandakrishnan.Pine Island Glacier or PIG lies far from McMurdo base, the usual location of American research in Antarctica. Work done in the southern hemisphere’s summer, December through January 2012-13, included drilling holes in the ice to place a variety of instruments and using radar to map the underside of the ice shelf and the bottom of the ocean. Penn State researchers did the geophysics for the project and the research team’s results are reported today (Sept. 13) in Science.The ice shelf is melting more rapidly from below for a number of reasons. The oceans are warmer than they have been in the past and water can transfer more heat than air. More importantly, the terrain beneath the ice shelf is a series of channels. The floating ice in the channel has ample room beneath it for ocean water to flow in. The water melts some of the ice beneath and cools. …

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Global warming could change strength of El Niño

Sep. 11, 2013 — Global warming could impact the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), altering the cycles of El Niño and La Niña events that bring extreme drought and flooding to Australia and many other Pacific-rim countries.New research published in Nature Geoscience using coral samples from Kiribati has revealed how the ENSO cycle has changed over the past 4300 years. This research suggests that external changes have an impact on the strength and timing of El Niño events.”Our research has showed that while the development of La Niña and El Niño events is chaotic and hard to predict, the strength of these events can change over long time spans due to changes in the global climate,” said one of the paper’s authors Dr Steven Phipps.”For instance, we found that the ENSO cycle was much weaker 4300 years ago than it is today. This weaker cycle persisted for almost two centuries.”The researchers determined that natural influences on Earth’s climate, such as those caused by variations in its orbit around the sun, could affect the strength of El Niño events.Although small, these natural influences altered seasonal trade winds across the Eastern Pacific and affected the development of El Niño events. Interestingly, the research also showed that El Niño events in the past started later in the year and were often less intense.”We found there was a small strengthening of the regular seasonal trade winds in the Eastern Pacific in response to natural warming cycles in the Earth’s orbit around the sun. Remarkably this acted in a big way to stop El Niño events from forming and growing,” said lead author Dr Helen McGregor from the University of Wollongong.”This shows us that external factors can influence the ENSO process and that it may have a sustained response to future greenhouse gas changes. Currently 20th Century observations are too short to confirm whether this is occurring now.”Importantly, these new observations can now be used in climate models to see if these past changes in ENSO processes can be reproduced.”Currently, climate models do not agree on how El Niño may change under future global warming scenarios,” said Dr Phipps”With these new observations we can determine which models reproduce the most accurate response to changes in the global climate. This will help us to more accurately forecast the response of ENSO under future global warming scenarios.”

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First animal model of adult-onset SMA sheds light on disease progression & treatment

Sep. 9, 2013 — A research team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has used a recently developed technology they call TSUNAMI to create the first animal model of the adult-onset version of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a devastating motor-neuron illness.The same team, led by CSHL Professor Adrian R. Krainer, Ph.D., and including scientists from California-based Isis Pharmaceuticals, as well as the University of Southern California and Stony Brook University, succeeded a year ago in using TSUNAMI to make a mouse model of the disease as it is manifest in children. In its most severe form, called Type I SMA, the disease is the leading genetic cause of childhood mortality. Half of infants with Type I SMA die before their second birthday.Many SMA patients do reach adulthood, however, and on occasion people develop symptoms of the illness only after they have become adults. Hence the importance of the team’s success, reported online today in EMBO Molecular Medicine.All patients with SMA, regardless of their age, have a non-functional version of a gene called SMN1, or are missing it entirely. The acronym “SMN” stands for “survival of motor neuron” and suggests why SMA is so serious. The SMN1 gene encodes a protein, called SMN, that motor neurons need in order to function. Humans have a backup copy of the gene, called SMN2, which produces the same protein, but in much lower amounts.The body’s manufacture of the SMN protein from the SMN2 genecan limit the impact of SMA. How much a patient is helped depends on the number of copies of the SMN2 gene they possess. …

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STEMI incidence falls in southern Switzerland after smoking ban implemented

Aug. 31, 2013 — STEMI incidence fell in southern Switzerland after implementation of the smoking ban in public places, reveals research presented at the ESC Congress today by Dr. Alessandra Pia Porretta from Switzerland.Second-hand smoke increases the risk of coronary artery disease and acute myocardial infarction. For this reason, health policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption and public smoke exposure are strongly recommended.Dr Porretta said: “Canton Ticino (CT), which is one of the 26 cantons of the Swiss Federation, was the first Swiss canton to introduce a smoking ban in April 2007. We had the opportunity to assess the long-term impact of the smoking ban on the incidence of ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) and to compare STEMI epidemiology with Canton Basel City (CBC), where the law was not yet implemented.”The principal investigator of the study (Dr Marcello Di Valentino) collected data retrospectively from the codified hospital discharge registry (ICD-10 codes) on STEMI hospitalisations in CT and CBC during the 3 years before (2004-2007) and after (2007-2010) the ban was implemented in CT.In CT, data were acquired from the four cantonal public hospitals and from Cardiocentro Ticino, an exclusive institution for invasive coronary interventions. In CBC, data were obtained from the public University Hospital of Basel. For each considered year, STEMI incidence per 100,000 inhabitants was calculated for both CT and CBC using demographic data from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office.The study found a significant and long-lasting reduction in the incidence of STEMI hospitalisations in the overall population of Canton Ticino after the smoking ban was implemented. Incidence reduced by an average of 21.1% between 2004-07 and 2007-2010. Compared to 2004-2007, incidence reduced by 23% in 2007-2008, 15% in 2008-2009, and 24% in 2009-2010.When population subsets were analysed, the researchers found that the significant and long-lasting reduction in STEMI admissions was observed only among older people, with a 27.4% post-ban decrease in women ≥65 years and a 27.3% reduction in men ≥65 years. Younger people (<65 years) of both sexes showed a reduction (statistically significant in men, near to significance in women) in STEMI admissions only in the first year after the ban was enforced, with no significant decrease in the second and third years.</p>Dr Porretta said: “The varying impact of smoke-free legislation between age groups may be explained in part by the different role played by passive and active smoking in younger and older people.”In CBC there was no change in the overall population incidence of STEMI between 2004-2007 and 2007-2010. …

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