Marriage may protect against heart disease/stroke and associated risk of death

Marriage may protect against the development of heart disease/stroke as well as influencing who is more likely to die of it, suggests a pooled analysis of the available data, published online in the journal Heart.

The findings prompt the researchers to suggest that marital status should be included as a risk factor for heart disease/stroke and likely survival in its own right.

Most (80%) cardiovascular disease can be attributed to well known risk factors: age; sex; high blood pressure; high cholesterol; smoking; and diabetes. But it's not clear what influences the remaining 20 per cent.

The findings of previous research on the impact of marital status have been somewhat mixed, so in a bid to clarify the issues, the authors trawled research databases for relevant published studies.

They drew on 34 out of a total of 225, all of which had been published between 1963 and 2015, and involved more than 2 million people aged between 42 and 77 from Europe, Scandinavia, North America, the Middle East, and Asia.

Pooled analysis of the data revealed that, compared with people who were married, those who weren't (never married, divorced, widowed) were at heightened risk of developing cardiovascular disease (42%) and coronary artery heart disease (16%).

Not being married was also associated with a heightened risk of dying from both coronary heart disease (42%) and stroke (55%).

When the data were broken down further, the analysis showed that divorce was associated with a 35 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease for both men and women, while widowers of both sexes were 16 per cent more likely to have a stroke.

While there was no difference in the risk of death following a stroke between the married and the unmarried, this was not the case after a heart attack, the risk of which was significantly higher (42%) among those who had never married.

The authors caution that the methods used and adjustments made for potentially influential factors varied considerably across all the studies, which may have affected the results of their analysis.

Similarly, there was no information on same sex partnerships or the quality of marriage, and the potential role of living with someone, as opposed to being married to them, was not explored.

But this is the largest study to date, with the age and ethnicity of the participants strengthening the wider applicability of the findings, the authors point out.

And there are various theories as to why marriage may be protective. These include earlier recognition of, and response to, health problems; better adherence to medication; better financial security; enhanced wellbeing; and better friendship networks.

"Future research should focus around whether marital status is a surrogate marker for other adverse health behaviour or cardiovascular risk profiles that underlies our reported findings or whether marital status should be considered as a risk factor by itself," the authors conclude.

Ocean warming threatens kelp forests

Increasing sea temperatures in the northeast Atlantic Ocean have led to lower growth rates and decreased local biodiversity within coastal kelp forests, new research has revealed.

The research shows that the amount of carbon fixed by kelp forests and released as ‘leaf litter’ had been previously underestimated and, crucially, that kelp forests in cold waters typically store and release two to three times more carbon than those in warm waters. Kelp forests generally occur in cold, nutrient-rich water and are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth, absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide in order to grow. However, recent significant warming of some parts of the Atlantic mean that sea temperatures are no longer optimal for kelp growth.

Kelp grows more slowly in warmer sea temperatures
Kelp grows more slowly in warmer sea temperatures

© Marine Biological Association

Dr Dan Smale of the Marine Biological Association, who co-led the research, has been studying kelp forest ecosystems in the UK and elsewhere for a decade. He says: “Some kelp species can grow incredibly quickly, providing fuel for coastal food webs that in turn support a wide range of marine life, including fish, crabs, birds and mammals. We knew that kelp forests fix and release considerable amounts of carbon, but until now we didn’t know exactly how much energy flows through these habitats and just how strongly ocean temperature affects this process”  

The team used scientific diving to perform surveys and experiments at eight locations, spanning 900 kilometres of UK coastline, from northern Scotland to southwest England, to determine how ocean temperatures affect kelp forest growth rates.

The observations have important implications for the future of oceans and management of global warming.

“The study comes as the debate of how we manage coastal ecosystems to tackle climate change intensifies, and our results suggest kelp forests have a more important role to play than previously thought,” Dr Smale said.

In a separate, related study, the team also showed that ocean warming has led to changes in habitat structure, as different kelp species respond to increased sea temperature in different ways. Changes in the density and identity of kelp species have caused changes in the number and diversity of plants and animals using the forests as habitat. The study highlights how climate change can indirectly impact upon marine biodiversity, by driving changes in the distribution and performance of key habitat-forming species.

“Kelp forests represent critical marine habitats, similar to coral reefs and seagrass meadows, but they are difficult to study and our understanding of how climate change and other pressures are altering these ecosystems remains fairly limited. What is clear, is that they provide habitat and nursery grounds for a wide range of marine life, including fisheries species, and they play a key role in carbon capture and release in coastal waters,” Dr Smale concluded.  

By the End of This Century Robots Could Become Self-Aware - Futurist

Sputnik spoke with Michio Kaku, an American theoretical physicist, futurist, and popularizer of science at the 2018 International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

Sputnik: This forum is dedicated this year to technological advances, to digitalization and technology as a whole, I think, would blockchain and crypto currencies, even money being replaced by those digital things. Do you think they are bringing good things or it’s kind of a mixed thing for humanity?

Michio Kaku: Science is the engine of prosperity. From the steam engine of the 1800s to the electric revolution of the 1900s, to the computer revolution of today. Each time tremendous wealth and prosperity was generated. Now we are facing the fourth way of innovation – artificial intelligence, nano technology, bio technology require the digitization of society, the digitization of jobs, which is just gonna create even more prosperity. Think about it: the robotics energy could be bigger than the automobile industry of today, because your automobile will become a robot, you’ll talk to it, argue with it, it will park itself. So the automobile industry will be a part of the largest industry of artificial intelligence. That’s how big this could become.

Sputnik: Tech giants and people in the tech industry, for example Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, have totally opposite opinions on AI. Who is right? Which one of them is right in your opinion?

Michio Kaku: I think both of them are right to a degree. Zuckerberg is right that for the next several decades to come artificial intelligence will generate jobs, prosperity, economic activity, a better life for the average person. But let’s not be naive, by the end of this century robots could become self-aware. At that point they may have a different agenda than us. […] For the next coming decades I see no need for a fail-safe system, because robots do not know they are robots, they are simply servants to humanity. But by the end of the century they could be as intelligent as a monkey, in which case we may have to put fail-safe system on them. So I think Elon Musk is right in the long-term, that they are potentially dangerous, but Zuckerberg is right for many decades to come.

Are humans causing cancer in wild animals?

As humans, we know that some of our activities can cause cancer to develop in our bodies. Smoking, poor diets, pollution, chemicals used as additives in food and personal hygiene products, and even too much sun are some of the things that contribute to an increased risk of cancer.

But, are human activities also causing cancer in wild animals? Are we oncogenic -- a species that causes cancer in other species?

Researchers from Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences think so and are urgently calling for research into this topic. In a paper published online today in "Nature Ecology & Evolution," Mathieu Giraudeau and Tuul Sepp, both postdoctoral researchers in the lab of ASU life sciences professor Kevin McGraw, say that humans are changing the environment in a way that causes cancer in wild animal populations.

"We know that some viruses can cause cancer in humans by changing the environment that they live in -- in their case, human cells -- to make it more suitable for themselves," said Sepp. "Basically, we are doing the same thing. We are changing the environment to be more suitable for ourselves, while these changes are having a negative impact on many species on many different levels, including the probability of developing cancer."

In the paper, Giraudeau and Sepp and a team of international researchers, point out many pathways and previous scientific studies that show where human activities are already taking a toll on animals. These include chemical and physical pollution in our oceans and waterways, accidental release of radiation into the atmosphere from nuclear plants, and the accumulation of microplastics in both land- and water-based environments. In addition, exposure to pesticides and herbicides on farmlands, artificial light pollution, loss of genetic diversity and animals eating human food are known to cause health problems.

"Cancer in wild populations is a completely ignored topic and we wanted to stimulate research on this question," shared Giraudeau. "We recently published several theoretical papers on this topic, but this time, we wanted to highlight the fact that our species can strongly influence the prevalence of cancer in many other species of our planet.

"Cancer has been found in all species where scientists have looked for it and human activities are known to strongly influence cancer rate in humans. So, this human impact on wild environments might strongly influence the prevalence of cancer in wild populations with additional consequences on ecosystem functioning," he said.

Even something such as artificial light and light pollution, as well as food meant for humans, are negatively affecting wild animals.

Sepp said: "It is already known in human studies that obesity and nutrient deficiency can cause cancer, but these issues have been mostly overlooked in wild animals. At the same time, more and more wild species are in contact with anthropogenic food sources. In humans, it's also known that light at night can cause hormonal changes and lead to cancer. Wild animals living close to cities and roads face the same problem -- there is no darkness anymore. For example, in birds, their hormones -- the same that are linked to cancer in humans -- are affected by light at night. So, the next step would be to study if it also affects their probability of developing tumors."

While these scientists are urgently calling for studies on cancer and its causes in wild animal populations, they realize that this is no easy subject to study.

"The next step is definitely to go into the field and measure cancer rate in wild populations," said Giraudeau. "We are now trying to develop some biomarkers to be able to study this. I think it would be interesting to measure cancer prevalence in wild animals in human-impacted environments and also in more preserved areas for the same species."

If humans are the cause of cancer in wild animals, then many species may be more threatened than people realize. Yet Tuul said, there is reason to hold out hope.

"To me, the saddest thing is that we already know what to do. We should not destroy the habitats of wild animals, pollute the environment, and feed wild animals human food," shared Sepp. "The fact that everybody already knows what to do, but we are not doing it, makes it seem even more hopeless.

"But I see hope in education. Our kids are learning a lot more about conservation issues than our parents did. So, there is hope that the decision-makers of the future will be more mindful of the anthropogenic effects on the environment."

What will happen when our sun dies?

Scientists agree the sun will die in approximately 10 billion years, but they weren't sure what would happen next...until now.

A team of international astronomers, including Professor Albert Zijlstra from the University of Manchester, predict it will turn into a massive ring of luminous, interstellar gas and dust, known as a planetary nebula.

A planetary nebula marks the end of 90% of all stars active lives and traces the star's transition from a red giant to a degenerate white dwarf. But, for years, scientists weren't sure if the sun in our galaxy would follow the same fate: it was thought to have too low mass to create a visible planetary nebula.

To find out the team developed a new stellar, data-model that predicts the lifecycle of stars. The model was used to predict the brightness (or luminosity) of the ejected envelope, for stars of different masses and ages.

The research is being published in Nature Astronomy on Monday 7th May.

Prof Zijslra explains: "When a star dies it ejects a mass of gas and dust -- known as its envelope -- into space. The envelope can be as much as half the star's mass. This reveals the star's core, which by this point in the star's life is running out of fuel, eventually turning off and before finally dying.

"It is only then the hot core makes the ejected envelope shine brightly for around 10,000 years -- a brief period in astronomy. This is what makes the planetary nebula visible. Some are so bright that they can be seen from extremely large distances measuring tens of millions of light years, where the star itself would have been much too faint to see."

The model also solves another problem that has been perplexing astronomers for a quarter of a century.

Approximately 25 years ago astronomers discovered that if you look at planetary nebulae in another galaxy, the brightest ones always have the same brightness. It was found that it was possible to see how far away a galaxy was just from the appearance of its brightest planetary nebulae. In theory it worked in any of type galaxy.

But whilst the data suggested this was correct, the scientific models claimed otherwise. Prof Zijlstra adds: "Old, low mass stars should make much fainter planetary nebulae than young, more massive stars. This has become a source of conflict for the past for 25 years.

"The data said you could get bright planetary nebulae from low mass stars like the sun, the models said that was not possible, anything less than about twice the mass of the sun would give a planetary nebula too faint to see."

The new models show that after the ejection of the envelope, the stars heat up three times faster than found in older models. This makes it much easier for a low mass star, such as the sun, to form a bright planetary nebula. The team found that in the new models, the sun is almost exactly the lowest mass star that still produces a visible, though faint, planetary nebula. Stars even a few per cent smaller do not.

Professor Zijlstra added: "We found that stars with mass less than 1.1 times the mass of the sun produce fainter nebula, and stars more massive than 3 solar masses brighter nebulae, but for the rest the predicted brightness is very close to what had been observed. Problem solved, after 25 years!

"This is a nice result. Not only do we now have a way to measure the presence of stars of ages a few billion years in distant galaxies, which is a range that is remarkably difficult to measure, we even have found out what the sun will do when it dies!"

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.

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