Climate change will even change the color of the oceans, study says

(CNN)The ocean will not look the same color in the future. It won't turn pink or anything radically different; the change will be more apparent through optic sensors than though the human eye. But it serves as an early warning sign that global warming is significantly altering the planet's ecosystems, according to a new study.

Essentially, climate change will make the blues of the ocean bluer and the greens greener. Scientists figured this out by creating a global model that simulates the growth of a tiny creature that lives in the oceans and affects the color we see. Their research was published Monday in the journal Nature Communications.

The ocean looks blue or green to us because of a combination of how sunlight interacts with water molecules and with whatever else lives in that water.
The molecules in water absorb all but the blue part of the spectrum of sunlight, and the water reflects that blue color back. That's the color we see.
The water looks greener when it has more phytoplankton, tiny, microscopic organisms that, like plants, can use chlorophyll to capture mostly the blue portions of the spectrum of sunlight. They then use photosynthesis to create the chemical energy they need to live. When there are more of these creatures in the water absorbing sunlight, they make the water look greener. Conversely, if there are fewer phytoplankton, the water looks bluer.
The creatures' growth is dependent on how much sunlight, carbon dioxide and nutrients are around. Climate change is altering the ocean currents, meaning there will be fewer nutrients for phytoplankton to feed on in some areas, so there will be a decline in their number in those regions.
Since the 1990s, satellites have taken regular measurements of how much chlorophyll is in the ocean. Those levels can change because of weather events or because of climate change. But using those images to look at reflected light alone, the researchers in the new study could distinguish what is specifically due to climate change. And they noticed that there will be a significant shift in the color of the oceans much earlier than was previously predicted, just looking at chlorophyll changes.
The study predicts that the blues will intensify, most likely in subtropical regions where phytoplankton will decrease. These are areas near the equator like Bermuda and the Bahamas that are already quite low in phytoplankton.
Regions where there are a lot of nutrients, like in the Southern Ocean or parts of the North Atlantic, will see even faster-growing phytoplankton because those waters are warming with climate change. Those waters will look greener.
Climate change will bring a color change to half of the world's oceans by the end of the 21st century, the study says. That's bad for climate change on several levels: For one, phytoplankton remove about as much carbon dioxide from the air as plants and help regulate our climate, research shows. They are also key to other animals' survival.
"The change is not a good thing, since it will definitely impact the rest of the food web," said study co-author Stephanie Dutkiewicz, a principal research scientist in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. "Phytoplankton are at the base, and if the base changes, it endangers everything else along the food web, going far enough to the polar bears or tuna or just about anything that you want to eat or love to see in pictures."
 

Poor sleep at night, more pain the next day

After one night of inadequate sleep, brain activity ramps up in pain-sensing regions while activity is scaled back in areas responsible for modulating how we perceive painful stimuli. This finding, published in JNeurosci, provides the first brain-based explanation for the well-established relationship between sleep and pain.

In two studies -- one in a sleep laboratory and the other online -- Matthew Walker and colleagues show how the brain processes pain differently when individuals are sleep deprived and how self-reported sleep quality and pain sensitivity can change night-to-night and day-to-day. When the researchers kept healthy young adults awake through the night in the lab, they observed increased activity in the primary somatosensory cortex and reduced activity in regions of the striatum and insula cortex during a pain sensitivity task. Participants in the online study, recruited via the crowdsourcing marketplace Amazon Mechanical Turk, reported increased pain during the day after reporting poor sleep the night before.

These results suggest improving sleep quality, especially in hospital settings, could be an effective approach for pain management. More generally, the research highlights the interrelationship between sleep and pain, which is decreasing and increasing, respectively, in societies around the world.

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Breakthrough in understanding male infertility

Hope has emerged for infertile men as scientists at Newcastle University have understood the importance of a gene in regulating the production of fully-functioning sperm.

For the first time, experts have identified the role of gene, RBMXL2, which is very similar to a possible infertility gene found on the Y chromosome found only in men. This provided a model for the team to manipulate as the Y chromosome itself is very difficult to analyse.

The study, published today in eLife, sheds light on why some men may be infertile as RBMXL2 has been shown to be essential to make sperm.

Faulty gene process

Scientists found that deleting the RBMXL2 gene from chromosome 11 blocked sperm production and this paves the way for further exciting research in this area.

Professor David Elliott, at the Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, led the 10-year international study, which involved experts from America, Edinburgh and mainland Europe.

He said: "Male infertility is a poorly understood topic, and this study helps us to understand why some men might become infertile.

"This is important since many couples suffer from infertility and it can cause psychological stress, and also have economic consequences in some countries as it can affect care in later life."

Making sperm and eggs, and then eventually the next generation, depends upon a special kind of cell division known as meiosis.

Meiosis is a hotspot for gene expression and sperm development, which involves copying long stretches of DNA into RNA.

Without the important RBMXL2 gene, other genes are not expressed properly -- they still make RNA, but this process does not replicate accurately, leading to mistakes which eventually block the production of sperm.

Important discovery

Scientists used a mouse model for their study as these mammals, like humans, have an RBMXL2 gene. Removing this single gene from mice prevented sperm from being produced.

Understanding how RBMXL2 enables sperm to be made, giving experts a clue as to how the similar infertility genes on the Y chromosome work.

Research found that the block occurred while the cells were dividing in the testes to make sperm, under the process of meiosis. This block meant that none of the cells developed into sperm cells able to swim and fertilise eggs.

A technique known as RNA sequencing was used to monitor the expression of millions of RNAs in adolescent mice.

Professor Elliott said: "The RBMXL2 gene was first discovered almost 20 years ago, but no one until now has known what it does or why it is important.

"The gene is found in all mammals, and we predict that similar problems found in mice will occur in infertile men, but we need to test this in future research."

The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Wellcome Trust.

Aileen Feeney, chief executive of national patient fertility charity, Fertility Network, said: "Male infertility is far more prevalent than usually recognised: the most common reason for a couple to seek fertility treatment, such as IVF, is because of male fertility reasons.

"Infertility also hits men hard: Fertility Network's 2017 study looking at the impact of infertility on men revealed struggling to become a father affected men's mental health, self-esteem, relationships, sex life, masculinity, career and finances.

"Much more needs to be done to investigate the causes of male factor infertility, that's why Fertility Network welcomes this research from Newcastle University which, although in the very early stages, offers hope for a greater understanding of male fertility in the future."

Blood test shows promise for early detection of severe lung-transplant rejection

Researchers have developed a simple blood test that can detect when a newly transplanted lung is being rejected by a patient, even when no outward signs of the rejection are evident. The test could make it possible for doctors to intervene faster to prevent or slow down so-called chronic rejection -- which is severe, irreversible, and often deadly -- in those first critical months after lung transplantation. Researchers believe this same test might also be useful for monitoring rejection in other types of organ transplants. The work was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The study's findings are scheduled to appear Jan. 22 in EBioMedicine, a publication of The Lancet.

"This test solves a long-standing problem in lung transplants: detection of hidden signs of rejection," said Hannah Valantine, M.D., co-leader of the study and lead investigator of the Laboratory of Organ Transplant Genomics in the Cardiovascular Branch at NHLBI. "We're very excited about its potential to save lives, especially in the wake of a critical shortage of donor organs."

The test relies on DNA sequencing, Valantine explained, and as such, represents a great example of personalized medicine, as it will allow doctors to tailor transplant treatments to those individuals who are at highest risk for rejection.

Lung transplant recipients have the shortest survival rates among patients who get solid organ transplantation of any kind -- only about half live past five years. Lung transplant recipients face a high incidence of chronic rejection, which occurs when the body's immune system attacks the transplanted organ. Existing tools for detecting signs of rejection, such as biopsy, either require the removal of small amounts of lung tissue or are not sensitive enough to discern the severity of the rejection. The new test appears to overcome those challenges.

Called the donor-derived cell-free DNA test, the experimental test begins with obtaining a few blood droplets taken from the arm of the transplant recipient. A special set of machines then sorts the DNA fragments in the blood sample, and in combination with computer analysis, determines whether the fragments are from the recipient or the donor and how many of each type are present. Because injured or dying cells from the donor release lots of donor DNA fragments into the bloodstream compared to normal donor cells, higher amounts of donor DNA indicate a higher risk for transplant rejection in the recipient.

In the study, 106 lung transplant recipients were enrolled and monitored. Blood samples collected in the first three months after transplantation underwent the testing procedure. The results showed that those with higher levels of the donor-derived DNA fragments in the first three months of transplantation were six times more likely to subsequently develop transplant organ failure or die during the study follow-up period than those with lower donor-derived DNA levels. Importantly, researchers found that more than half of the high-risk subjects showed no outward signs of clinical complications during this period.

"We showed for the first time that donor-derived DNA is a predictive marker for chronic lung rejection and death, and could provide critical time-points to intervene, perhaps preventing these outcomes," Valantine said. "Once rejection is detected early via this test, doctors would then have the option to increase the dosages of anti-rejection drugs, add new agents that reduce tissue inflammation, or take other measures to prevent or slow the progression."

In 2010, Valantine was part of a research team that pioneered the first blood test to diagnose organ rejection. The now-widely used test, called the AlloMap, analyzes the expression of 20 genes in a transplant recipient's blood sample to determine whether the patient's immune system is launching an attack. The following year, Valantine and her colleagues showed for the first time that a cell-free DNA blood test could be useful for monitoring early signs of rejection. However, those early studies of the cell-free DNA test only identified signs of "acute" transplant rejection, which is easily reversed. The current study shows that high cell-free DNA levels during the first three months after transplant predicts chronic rejection. If validated, this blood test could become a routine tool used to monitor transplant patients at very early stages of rejection, the researchers said.

This research is supported by The Genomic Research Alliance for Transplantation Study (NCT02423070), which is funded by the Division of Intramural Research of NHLBI. The research is also supported by The Genome Transplant Dynamics Study (NCT01985412), which is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases through Grant RC4AI092673.

Climate Change: Warming Oceans Set Heat Record in 2018

A team of Chinese and U.S. scientists estimated that the world’s oceans are warming by up to 40% faster than previously thought.

The oceans are warming faster than previously estimated, setting a new temperature record in 2018 in a trend that is causing major damage to marine life, a Science article published Thursday warns.

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"How fast are the oceans warming?" was the main question addressed by a team of Chinese and U.S. scientists in a research which demonstrates that "global warming is here and has major consequences already. There is no doubt, none!"

New measurements, aided by an international network of 3,900 floats deployed in the oceans since 2000, showed more warming - since 1971 - than calculated by the 2013 UN assessment of climate change.

According to Lijing Cheng, a scientist from China's Institute of Atmospheric Physics, "2018 was the warmest year on record for the global ocean" as marine temperatures as far down as 2,000 meters rose about 0.1 degree Celsius. 

"Observational records of ocean heat content show that ocean warming is accelerating," the team of scientists stated and also explained that greenhouse gas emissions warm the atmosphere, and a large part of the heat gets absorbed by the oceans.

The heat absorption process, in turn, changes the physical-chemical properties of marine ecosystems, which displaces marine like forcing them to flee to cooler waters.

Ocean warming: past and future! Ocean warming has already been detected in the past 60 years, and is accelerating now and well projected in the future! Read our new science study:

Deep ocean temperatures are less influenced by annual variations in weather and can take more than 1,000 years to adjust to changes like regions closer to the surface. "The deep ocean reflects the climate of the deep and uncertain past," Kevin Trenberth, a co-author of the study, said.

Among effects, extra warmth can reduce oxygen in the ocean and damage coral reefs that serve as nurseries for fish, the scientists said. While warmer seas release more moisture that can stoke more powerful storms.

Despite growing evidence of the human-driven global climate change, some heads of state and government across the globe - mainly far-right administrations - deny the existence of a problem.

In that sense, for example, U.S. President Donald Trump and his allies, such as Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, have, recently, questioned and make advancements towards terminating some multilateral agreements and shuttering institutions that could help contain environmental threats to humanity.

 

California Fires, Hurricane Michael 2018's Costliest Disasters

California experienced back-to-back worst-ever wildfire seasons, contributing US$24 billion to the overall 2018 natural catastrophe loss burden.

California bushfires and Hurricane Michael were named the most costly global disasters of 2018 among typhoons, hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, earthquakes and other catastrophes, according to Munich Re - one of the world’s leading insurer - annual report.

RELATED: Trump Threatens to Cut Emergency Aid to California Fire Victims

“Many scientists see a link between these developments and advancing climate change. This is compounded by man-made factors such as burgeoning settlements in areas close to forests at risk from wildfire,” Ernst Rauch, head of Climate and Geosciences at Munich Re, said in a release.

In 2018, the natural catastrophe bill clocked in at an overall global price tag of US$160 billion below 2017’s loss total of US$350 billion, the reinsurer explained, adding that some half of 2018’s ‘loss total’ was recoverable through insurance claims.

“The casualties and losses are immense, and measures to prevent fires and damage are vital. Insurers also need to take account of the rising losses in their risk management and pricing,” Rauch explained.

California, the firm further detailed, experienced back-to-back worst-ever wildfire seasons, contributing US$24 billion to the overall 2018 natural catastrophe loss burden.

“Our data shows that the losses from wildfires in California have risen dramatically in recent years. At the same time, we have experienced a significant increase in hot, dry summers, which has been a major factor in the formation of wildfires,” Ernst Rauch, head of Climate and Geosciences at Munich Re, said in a release.

Additionally, Hurricane Michael logged overall losses of US$16 billion and insured losses of US$10 billion against the U.S. states’ US$16.5 billion losses against insured losses of US$12.5 billion.

Globally, cyclones - including hurricanes Michael and Florence as well as typhoon which struck Japan - caused an above-average total loss of about US$56 billion, in 2018. The most severe was Typhoon Jebi with overall losses of US$12.5 billion and insured losses of around US$9 billion.

“It would certainly make sense to have higher insurance density against flood losses given that studies have shown the influence of climate change on torrential rainfall events on the Gulf of Mexico coast, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017,” Munich Re said.

Florence had estimated insured losses of US$5 billion out of a total of US$14 billion in overall losses.

The German company ranks 2018 as the fourth-costliest year since 1980 in terms of insured losses.

 

Risky decisions: Excessive social media use is comparable to drug addiction

Bad decision-making is a trait oftentimes associated with drug addicts and pathological gamblers, but what about people who excessively use social media? New research from Michigan State University shows a connection between social media use and impaired risky decision-making, which is commonly deficient in substance addiction.

"Around one-third of humans on the planet are using social media, and some of these people are displaying maladaptive, excessive use of these sites," said Dar Meshi, lead author and assistant professor at MSU. "Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously."

The findings, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, are the first to examine the relationship between social media use and risky decision-making capabilities.

"Decision making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders. They sometimes fail to learn from their mistakes and continue down a path of negative outcomes," Meshi said. "But no one previously looked at this behavior as it relates to excessive social media users, so we investigated this possible parallel between excessive social media users and substance abusers. While we didn't test for the cause of poor decision-making, we tested for its correlation with problematic social media use."

Meshi and his co-authors had 71 participants take a survey that measured their psychological dependence on Facebook, similar to addiction. Questions on the survey asked about users' preoccupation with the platform, their feelings when unable to use it, attempts to quit and the impact that Facebook has had on their job or studies.

The researchers then had the participants do the Iowa Gambling Task, a common exercise used by psychologists to measure decision-making. To successfully complete the task, users identify outcome patterns in decks of cards to choose the best possible deck.

Meshi and his colleagues found that by the end of the gambling task, the worse people performed by choosing from bad decks, the more excessive their social media use. The better they did in the task, the less their social media use. This result is complementary to results with substance abusers. People who abuse opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, among others -- have similar outcomes on the Iowa Gambling Task, thus showing the same deficiency in decision-making.

"With so many people around the world using social media, it's critical for us to understand its use," Meshi said. "I believe that social media has tremendous benefits for individuals, but there's also a dark side when people can't pull themselves away. We need to better understand this drive so we can determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction."

Gently stroking babies before medical procedures may reduce pain processing

Researchers found that gently stroking a baby seems to reduce activity in the infant brain associated with painful experiences. Their results, appearing December 17 in the journal Current Biology, suggest that lightly brushing an infant at a certain speed -- of approximately 3 centimeters per second -- could provide effective pain relief before clinically necessary medical procedures.

"Parents intuitively stroke their babies at this optimal velocity," says senior author Rebeccah Slater, professor of pediatric science at the University of Oxford, who worked alongside collaborators from Liverpool John Moores University. "If we can better understand the neurobiological underpinnings of techniques like infant massage, we can improve the advice we give to parents on how to comfort their babies."

Slater and her team measured newborns' pain responses to medically necessary blood tests by observing their behavior and detecting their brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG), a technique that measures tiny bursts of electrical activity from the surface of the brain. For half of the babies, a scientist on Slater's team stroked their skin gently with a soft brush right before the blood test.

Slater's previous work showed that EEG activity increases in the infant brain immediately after a blood test. This pattern of pain-related activity can be lowered by interventions, such as the application of a local anesthetic prior to the procedure. In her most recent experiment, she found that the babies who received light stroking touch showed lower pain-related EEG activity. However, the babies still reflexed their limbs away from the stimulus.

"We hypothesized that stroking would reduce pain-related brain activity, so we were pleased to see it. But we didn't see a reduction in how they reflex their limbs away from the heel lance," says Slater. "That could mean our intervention is perhaps causing a dissociation between limb movement and brain activity."

The optimal pain-reducing stroking speed of approximately 3 centimeters per second is the same frequency that activates a class of sensory neurons in the skin called C-tactile afferents, which have been previously been shown to reduce pain in adults. Up until now, it was unclear whether this sensory response occurred in newborns or developed over time.

"There was evidence to suggest that C-tactile afferents can be activated in babies and that slow, gentle touch can evoke changes in brain activity in infants," says Slater.

Slater says that the pain-reducing power of stroking appears to be clinically useful, and it could explain anecdotal evidence of the soothing power of touch-based interventions such as infant massage and kangaroo care -- the practice of holding premature babies against the skin to encourage parent-infant bonding and possibly reduce pain. Slater and her group plan to repeat their experiment in premature babies, whose sensory pathways are still developing.

"Previous work has shown that touch may increase parental bonding, decrease stress for both the parents and the baby, and reduce the length of hospital stay," says Slater. "Touch seems to have analgesic potential without the risk of side effects."

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