A Patch of Garbage in the Pacific Is Now Twice the Size of Texas

Imagine trillions of pieces of plastic debris that, if strung together end to end, would line every inch of coastline in the world at least three times over.

That’s how much garbage researchers found pollutes a remote area in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. The phenomenon is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and researchers with The Ocean Cleanup foundation estimate it covers more than 600,000 square miles, more than twice the size of Texas:

It's growing, too. A study published last month in Scientific Reports reported it is four to 16 times bigger than in previous estimates.  

Records of the patch have been around since as early as 1988, but the concentration of debris received a significant amount of media attention in the 2010s. The environmental charity Plastic Oceans Foundation and social media company LADBible went so far as to campaign for the patch to be recognized as a sovereign nation in 2017.

While the name may suggest an actual land mass, an island of garbage floating far out in the ocean, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is nothing like that. Rather, it's a concentration of particles ranging from 10 kilograms of debris per square kilometer to over 100.

"There's been a lot of different wording for this area, people call it like, 'plastic soup' or 'plastic smog,'" said Laurent Lebreton, head researcher at The Ocean Cleanup and lead author of the recent study.

Instead, it's a patch in that there is a consistent concentration of plastic within the estimated bounds, he said. The phenomenon is observed in each of the world's oceans: accumulations of debris at the center of large-scale circular current patterns called "ocean gyres," which are created by winds and the Earth's rotation.

"It really is a 'patch.' It's an area that keeps its integrity … the concentration of plastic inside this area is one to two orders of magnitude [larger] than outside," Lebreton said.

In other words, the patch would not be visible from a satellite or even a plane, but close inspection reveals enough debris to impact marine life.

The Ocean Cleanup determined the concentration and extent of the patch through observation with boats, nets and aerial imaging. Researchers projected the full extent of high concentrations of debris using an algorithm.

The patch is made up of trillions of pieces of debris, from the size of large fishermen's nets down to particles less than 0.05 cm in length. Most of the patch's mass is debris wider than 50 cm:

Because the bulk of the patch's mass is larger debris, The Ocean Cleanup says cleanup is possible, if it's rolled out soon.

"We need to clean up as much as we can before everything degrades into microplastics," Lebreton said.

It would cost between $122 million and $489 million just to hire enough boats to clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for a year, according to a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate from 2012.

And The Ocean Cleanup projects the patch, and others like it in oceans across the planet, will continue to grow at faster rates if nothing is done to curb disposal of plastic into the ocean.

Lebreton said that any solution toward prevention and cleanup will require "drastic measures" in the form of policy and planning at many levels — governments, corporations and cities.

"Plastic pollution in the ocean starts in the street — everything goes down waterways, streams, rivers," Lebreton said. "So that’s how we tackle this. We need to stop putting plastic in anything that leads to the ocean."

Scientists discover new way that HIV evades the immune system

Scientists have just discovered a new mechanism by which HIV evades the immune system, and which shows precisely how the virus avoids elimination. The new research shows that HIV targets and disables a pathway involving a number of biological molecules that are key in blocking viral activity and clearing infection.

HIV remains a major global health problem, with over 40 million people infected worldwide. And while people living with HIV have been treated with anti-retroviral therapy for over 30 years, this favoured therapeutic option merely prevents the progression of the disease to AIDS - it doesn't cure patients of HIV.

The discovery, which opens the door to a new era of HIV research focused on curing people living with the , has just been published in international journal, EBioMedicine, which is a collaborative online journal from Cell Press and the Lancet.

During any viral our immune system produces a powerful molecule (Interferon), which 'interferes' with the infection and the replication of viruses. Interferon activates an assembly line of molecules in our cells—via the Interferon signalling pathway - which causes the body to make antivirals that help to clear the infection.

However, when patients are being treated with anti-retroviral therapy, HIV is not fully cleared by our immune system. Therefore, the scientists from Trinity College Dublin behind the research investigated whether HIV was somehow blocking the Interferon signalling pathway and thus avoiding the immune response that is designed to cure viral infection. The findings confirmed their suspicions.

Assistant Professor in Immunology at Trinity, Nigel Stevenson, led the work. He said: "We discovered that HIV promotes the destruction of the anti-viral Interferon signalling pathway. Essentially, HIV uses the machinery in our own cells to do this, and the virus is thus able to reduce the production of many important anti-viral molecules. Without these anti-viral , our immune system can't clear ."

"Our new revelation sheds new light on how HIV avoids elimination, which, in turn, may explain why HIV is still not a curable disease. We feel this discovery could mark a paradigm shift in our understanding of how this virus evades our . It should open the door to a new era of HIV research aiming to cure and eradicate this deadly virus."

Coral reefs protect coasts from severe storms

Coral reefs can naturally protect coasts from tropical cyclones by reducing the impact of large waves before they reach the shore, according to scientists.

Tropical cyclones wreak havoc on coastal infrastructure, marine habitats and coastal populations across the world. However, Dr. Michael Cuttler, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at The University of Western Australia (UWA), says that for coastlines facing a direct cyclone impact, a fringing reef can protect the beach from extensive erosion.

"Reefs can effectively protect shorelines because of their ability to cause waves to break offshore, thus limiting the energy impacting the coastline," he said.

Dr. Cuttler and several of his Coral CoE colleagues studied Ningaloo Reef -- Australia's largest fringing reef system, and a UN World Heritage site -- during Tropical Cyclone Olwyn in 2015. Olwyn was a Category 3 severe tropical cyclone that caused extensive damage along the coast of Western Australia.

The team observed that the shoreline remained largely unscathed because of the protection provided by its offshore reef.

"The large waves generated by the cyclone were effectively dissipated by the reef situated offshore," Dr. Cuttler explained.

"The little erosion that did occur was due to smaller waves that were generated by wind within the lagoon."

The shape, or geomorphology, of the reef -- with its steep forereef slope, shallow reef crest and reef flat, and relatively shallow lagoon -- is representative of most fringing reefs worldwide.

"In this study, we also compared similar cyclone impacts on coastlines without reefs and found that these beaches were eroded up to ten times more than the beach at Ningaloo," Dr. Cuttler said.

While the findings of Dr. Cuttler's study indicated that coral reefs can effectively protect coastlines from tropical cyclones and other large wave impacts, it also suggested that for reef systems with lagoons, local wind effects cannot be ignored when attempting to model or predict the impact of cyclones.

He also warned that the ability of reefs to protect adjacent coastlines was threatened by both sea level rise and slowing rates of reef accretion.

"These changes may ultimately increase the amount of wave energy reaching the coastline and potentially enhance coastal erosion," he said.

Few studies before have measured the hydrodynamic conditions and morphological responses of such a coastline in the presence of a tropical cyclone.

Dr. Cuttler and his Coral CoE colleagues found the results could be used to assess coastal hazards facing reef-fringed coastlines due to extreme tropical cyclone conditions, and would become increasingly relevant as climate change alters the status of coral reefs globally.

Coming soon: Male contraceptive pill inches closer

Researchers are one step closer to developing a male contraceptive pill, a medical conference has heard. Early trials show the pill to be both safe and effective.

The study, led by Professor Stephanie Page of the University of Washington, included 100 men aged between 18 and 50. The men were split into groups of between 17-20 and given three different doses of pills known as dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU. Out of each group, five subjects were given a placebo while another 12-15 were given daily doses of DMAU for 28 days. Some 83 men completed the study.

READ MORE: ‘One size does not fit all’: Chinese condoms are too small for Zimbabweans, says health minister

The highest dose, 400mg of DMAU, showed “marked suppression” of testosterone levels as well as two other hormones required for the production of sperm. The results were compared to longer-term studies and appeared consistent with effective male contraception.

@RTUKnews Teach kids how to get pregnant, UK doctors say https://trib.al/Ml0P6ax
 

"DMAU is a major step forward in the development of a once-daily 'male pill,'" Page reportedly told the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago. "Many men say they would prefer a daily pill as a reversible contraceptive, rather than long-acting injections or topical gels, which are also in development."

Page also said that few participants in the study reported having symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency, although all groups reported weight gain and decreases in healthy cholesterol. "These promising results are unprecedented in the development of a prototype male pill," Page said. "Longer term studies are currently underway to confirm that DMAU taken every day blocks sperm production."

@RT_com Condom-free male contraceptive successfully trialed on monkeys - next stop, human testing https://on.rt.com/82jm

Various male contraceptives have been trialed in the past. In February last year, a gel injection used to block the sperm-carrying tubes, known as vas deferens, was trialed on monkeys. The Vasalgel injection, made by the Parsemus Foundation, has gone forward for human trials.

Neurology Institute Increases its Research

Dr. Rafael Estrada Gonzalez, of the Neurology and Neurosurgery Institute said on Monday in Havana that the center continues to improve in comprehensive treatment and specialized attention of its neurological-degenerative illness and those that increase due to the aging population.

The challenges for the center, reference of Neurological sciences in Cuba, are the development of advanced and minimum invasive neurological surgery techniques for the treatment of tumors of the central nervous system and the increase of research in neurological sciences.

The Head of the Institution’s Neurological physiology, Dr. Yoel Gutierrez Gil said that among the projections this year is the development of diagnostic technology for neurological ailments through MRI with the construction of a high camp equipment and strengthen a comprehensive attention of patients with epilepsy, movement disorders and neuro-muscular ailments.

In addition, neurological stimulation and neurological modulation techniques in diseases of the central nervous system and the treatment of pain, among others.

After 56 years in the creation of the institution, the main impacts are related with the following research topics: epidemiology in neurological ailments (Parkinson, Guillain-Barre; epilepsy, vascular diseases and brain tumors.

Other inquiries are discussed on the development of new methods for the prenatal molecular diagnosis and carriers of severe neurological diseases (spine and muscular atrophy); epidemic neuropathy (optic and peripheral) hyperthyroidism, dementia and the study of neurological psychology in neurological genetic ailments.

The Neurological and Neurosurgery Institute is a national reference for the diagnosis and treatment of the ailments that affect the central and peripheral nervous system includes specialists in Neurology, Neurosurgery and other disciplines in the field.

The center is recognized by its assistance, education and clinical and basic researches, that contribute to stimulating scientific inquiries and offers a better medical attention, achieving a high grade of satisfaction in the patients.

The center is also highlighted by the effective modification of its indicators of neurological and neurosurgical diseases in children and adults, in addition to the development of highly specialized human resources. (ACN)

Brain is less flexible than we thought when learning

Nobody really knows how the activity in your brain reorganizes as you learn new tasks, but new research reveals that the brain has various mechanisms and constraints by which it reorganizes its neural activity when learning over the course of a few hours. The new research finds that, when learning a new task, the brain is less flexible than previously thought.

The research, published today in Nature Neuroscience, examined the changes that take place in the brain when learning a new task. To truly see how neural activity changes during learning, we need to look bigger -- at populations of neurons, rather than one neuron at a time, which has been the standard approach to date.

The research team used a brain-computer interface (BCI), where subjects move a cursor on a computer screen by thought alone. As with learning to play a new sport, they found that subjects learned to control the cursor more accurately with practice. They then investigated how the activity in the brain changed during learning that enabled the improved performance. They found that, on a time scale of a few hours, the brain does not reconfigure its neural activity to maximize the speed and accuracy by which it moves the cursor.

"In this experimental paradigm, we're able to track all of the neurons that can lead to behavioral improvements and look at how they all change simultaneously," says Steve Chase, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. "When we do that, what we see is a really constrained set of changes that happen, and it leads to this suboptimal improvement of performance. And so, that implies that there are limits that constrain how flexible your brain is, at least on these short time scales."

When we're learning a new task, we can't instantaneously learn it to proficiency, in part due to the way in which the neurons are wired up in the brain. Learning takes time, and there are mechanisms by which neurons can change the way they communicate with each other to enable learning -- some of which can be fast, and some of which can take longer. The team found that the brain operates under a more stringent set of constraints than originally thought, resulting in good learning on the short term, but nevertheless suboptimal performance in controlling the BCI cursor.

Imagine a tennis player whose friends have asked her to play squash. When she picks up the squash racket, it's lighter than the tennis racket she is used to, and it has a slightly different balance point. But since she's a good tennis player, this difference in rackets doesn't cause her to miss the ball completely. She adjusts quickly, but she hasn't immediately picked up the swing form of a squash player. To really become an expert, it will require a long period of training with the new equipment. However, her experienced squash-playing friends will quickly see that she is a tennis player, because until she's learned the proper technique, she'll be swinging the squash racket the same as she would a tennis racket.

"Just as it takes time to train a person to swing a squash racket like an expert, it takes time to train one's neurons to produce the ideal activity patterns," says Byron Yu, associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. "When faced with a new task, we're finding that the brain is constrained to take the neural activity patterns that it's capable of generating right now and use them as effectively as possible in this new task."

"When we learn, at first the brain tends to not produce new activity patterns, but to repurpose the activity patterns it already knows how to generate," says Aaron Batista, an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. "Learning over the course of a few hours is suboptimal. When first learning something new, our brain doesn't seem to be able to change its activity in the best possible way to allow us to be proficient at new skills.."

Acquiring a skill is very difficult, and it takes a lot of time and a lot of practice. But when you're first starting to learn a new skill, your brain has to adjust quickly to the new task. The researchers found that the brain is constrained to take neural activity patterns it already knows and use them for the new task. By repurposing neuron patterns the brain is already capable of generating, the brain applies a "quick and dirty fix" to the new problem it's facing.

"None of us predicted this outcome," says Matthew Golub, a postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. "Learning is far more limited on the scale of a few hours than any of us were expecting when we started this. We were all surprised that the brain wasn't able to choose the best strategy possible."

The research was done in collaboration with the Center for Neural Basis of Cognition, a cross-university research and educational program between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh that leverages each institution's strengths to investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms that give rise to biological intelligence and behavior.

Smoking kills 3,000 people each year in UAE

Almost 3,000 people die from smoking-related illnesses in the United Arab Emirates each year, an international report has revealed. The problem cost the country about $569 million in 2016 in lost productivity and health expenses.

Of the 2,900 people who were killed by smoking in 2016, the vast majority (2,728) were men, while 265 were women, according to the global report by The Tobacco Atlas. Even with the alarming death rate, it is estimated that more than 900,000 adults in the UAE are currently using tobacco on a daily basis.

obacco taxes are one of the most effective tobacco control measures available and are a key tool to reduce prevalence. See more in the 6th Edition

READ MORE: Tobacconists protest cigarette price hike by dumping ton of carrots in Paris (VIDEOS)

Health care professionals running cessation clinics have reported younger users seeking help to quit the addictive habit, however they have noticed that medwakh – smoking using a traditional Arabic pipe – is increasing in popularity. Tackling the issue starts at government level, according to the report’s author.

Every death from tobacco is preventable, and every government has the power reduce the human and economic toll of the tobacco epidemic,” said Jeffrey Drope, co-editor and author of the report published by global public-health think-tank Vital Strategies and the American Cancer Society.

It starts by resisting the influence of the industry and implementing proven tobacco control policies."

Fewer smokers = fewer premature deaths.

READ MORE: Big Tobacco runs court-ordered ads admitting cigarettes kill 1,200 Americans a day

The country has introduced several measures in 2017 to combat the pervasive habit. A 100 percent tobacco tax was introduced at the end of last year, the price of cigarettes doubled in October and Shisha cafes must now display visual information on the damaging effects of smoking water pipes.

Worldwide more than 7 million people (5.1 million men, 2 million women) died as a result of tobacco use in 2016. Use and exposure to secondhand smoke costs the global economy over 2 trillion dollars every year, the equivalent to almost 2 percent of the world’s total economic output.

 

 

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Air pollutants linked to abnormal fetal growth

The findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, were based on data collected from more than 8,000 women in Lanzhou, China from 2010 to 2012.

The researchers said that, to their knowledge, it is the first study of its kind to be conducted in areas with very high .

"There is a lack of studies investigating the association between air and fetal overgrowth," said Yawei Zhang, M.D., associate professor at YSPH. "We analyzed data from Lanzhou Birth Cohort Study to investigate the hypothesis that exposure to high levels of PM10 during pregnancy increases the risk of abnormal fetal growth, including both undergrowth and overgrowth, to determine if and how expectant mothers could protect themselves from possible contributing pollutants."

In collaboration with researchers from the Gansu Provincial Maternity and Child Care Hospital, the Yale scientists collected the daily average concentration for PM10—a diverse class of air pollution with health implications—from the government monitoring stations in Lanzhou. Using ultrasound measures of four fetal growth parameters during pregnancy, the researchers examined the associations between PM10 exposure and risk of abnormal fetal growth.

The researchers consistently identified positive associations between higher levels of exposure to a mixture of pollutants from car fumes, industry emissions, or construction activities and fetal head circumference overgrowth, they said.

Pregnant women's home and work addresses were collected through in-person interviews, and researchers calculated daily PM10 concentrations by incorporating each participant's home and work addresses.

Zhang says the novel finding that high levels of PM10 are associated with risk of overgrowth should be confirmed by other studies in different populations, and that it is also important to identify the specific pollutants that are responsible for this association by investigating the components of PM10.

"Our results have important public health implications and call for future studies to explore the underlying mechanisms and postnatal consequences to the findings," says Zhang. "We are going to replicate the findings in another and will continue to identify individuals who are more susceptible to air pollution."

Women in the region may lower the risk of fetal overgrowth by choosing their inception time and reducing their outdoor activities during the days with high , said Zhang.

Pregnant women who came to the Gansu Provincial Maternity and Child Care Hospital for delivery in 2010-2012 and who were 18 years or older with gestation age of more than 20 weeks were eligible to participate in this study.

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