Ageing might seem an inevitable part of life, but scientists are closer than ever to finding drugs and interventions to fight back against the ravages of time.
Within just a few years medications could be available that extend both lifespan and healthspan by many years.
But what is happening in the body during the ageing process and how can it be stopped?
Some experts believe we have a built-in obsolescence, or kill-switch that kicks in to make sure we don’t take vital resources from younger generations, while others say it is simply wear and tear.
Another theory suggests that because natural selection only works up to the point of reproduction, it will always be impossible to evolve strategies…
Being wrong 15 per cent of the time is the secret to learning new things, scientists have found.
Although nobody likes to fail, academics have long suspected that people learn better when they are challenged to grasp something just outside of their existing knowledge.
Make a task too hard and participants will give up without acquiring any new skills, but if it is too easy and they will also not pick up anything useful.
But that ‘sweet spot’ has always been unknown.
To find out where it lies researchers at the University of Arizona conduced a series of machine-learning experiments in which they taught computers simple tasks, such as picking whether a number was odd or even.
They found the…
Weather experts say Taiwan and the Philippines have experienced fewer typhoons in recent years.
The reduced storm activity may be be the result of higher water temperatures and changes in upper-atmosphere winds.
Taiwan, which sits in the western Pacific, normally gets hit hard by three to four typhoons each year between the months of June and October. Each storm can kill five to 10 people and can cause major damage.
Taiwan’s neighbor to the south, the Philippines, can get up to 20 typhoons per year.
The storms bring winds strong enough to blow down trees, and rainfall that can quickly turn streets into rivers. They usually cause mass evacuations and widespread transportation problems.
The systems are called cyclones and hurricanes in other parts of the world.
For the past three years, Taiwan and the Philippines have missed their historical average typhoon counts. Weather officials say one of the main reasons for this is higher water temperatures in the mid-Pacific, where such storms form. In addition, wind directions have changed in the upper-atmosphere and are blowing more typhoons to the north.
Jason Nicholls is an international weather expert with U.S.-based forecasting company AccuWeather. Nicholls told VOA that weather officials have seen a general warming of waters in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific in recent years.
Nicholls added that ocean temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean have been warming up since 2017. He said this caused typhoons to form in areas to the north and east of Taiwan and the Philippines.
Upper-atmosphere winds pushed the storms north. Most of this year’s 21 typhoons in Asia moved north to reach Japan, South Korea and China. The most severe, Typhoon Hagibis, killed 80 people in eastern Japan earlier this month.
Western Pacific waters have been somewhat cooler this year, Nicholls said. This means fewer storms have formed near the eastern coasts of Taiwan or the Philippines.
Asia’s deadliest storms each year often reach the Philippines, including 2013’s super-typhoon that killed 6,340 people. So far this year, no major typhoons have hit the country. It has experienced weaker tropical storms, however.
Chen Meng-shih is a forecaster with Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau. He told VOA more northward-moving typhoons are likely to continue as long as “Pacific Ocean high pressure is weak and higher north.”
Many scientists have blamed rising ocean temperatures in the Pacific and Atlantic on a combination of natural conditions and man-made climate change. Man-made causes include the burning of coal, oil and gas.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
What are your thoughts about the changes affecting weather around the world? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
evacuation – n. the moving or people from a dangerous place to somewhere safer
forecast – v. say what is expected to happen in the future
Mice and rats have long been used in medical research because of their biological similarities to humans.
The tiny animals have already shown an ability to recognize objects, push buttons and find their way through complex paths.
Now, scientists have trained rats to drive small vehicles created for them. One of the main findings of the experiment was that the driving activity seemed to help the rats relax.
Researchers at the University of Richmond in Virginia led the experiment. Their findings were published in Behavioural Brain Research.
The team built tiny cars out of plastic and other materials. The vehicles had an opening at one end where electrical wires were attached. By touching one of three different wires, the rat could steer the car in different directions – left, center and right.
Sweet treats were placed inside the experiment containers in an attempt to get the rats to drive the vehicle to get to the food.
Researchers trained 17 rats over several months to drive around the containers. The animals proved that they could be trained to drive forward as well as in other directions to get to the treats.
Kelly Lambert of the University of Richmond helped lead the experiment. She told the French news agency AFP the research suggests that rat brains may be more complex and flexible than once thought.
Lambert said she had long been interested in neuroplasticity, or the way the brain changes to react to different experiences and difficulties. She found that rats kept in what she calls “enriched environments” performed far better than those in labs. While she expected that result, Lambert told AFP “it was actually quite shocking to me that they were so much better.”
The researchers examined levels of two hormones in the rats – one that causes stress and another that counters it. All rats that took part in the training had higher levels of the hormone that reduces stress. The research suggests the increased relaxation levels could be linked to the enjoyment of successfully completing a new skill.
The team also found that the rats that drove themselves showed higher levels of the stress-fighting hormone than those that simply rode in small cars controlled by humans.
Lambert said the most exciting result of the experiment for her was about the possible effect on humans. The research may open new areas of non-drug treatments for people suffering from mental health conditions.
“There’s no cure for schizophrenia or depression and we need to catch up,” she said. “And I think we need to look at different animal models and different types of tasks and really respect that behavior can change our neurochemistry.”
Speaking to the British-based magazine New Scientist, Lambert said her team is planning to continue experiments to learn more about how the rats learned to drive. The new research will also examine why some activities appear to reduce stress, and which areas of the brain are involved in the process.
As an example, Lambert said new driving tests could be created to test the effects of Parkinson’s disease on motor skills and awareness of space. “If we use more realistic and challenging models, it may provide more meaningful data,” she told New Scientist.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the University of Richmond, Agence France-Press, Reuters and NewScientist. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
button – n. something you press to control a piece of equipment
relax – v. to become happy and comfortable because nothing is worrying you
steer – v. to control the direction of a vehicle
treat – n. a piece of free food, drink, etc., provided to someone
flexible – adj. able to be easily changed
enrich – v. to improve the quality of something by adding something to it
hormone – n. one of several chemicals produced in the body that influence growth and development
stress – n. feelings or worry or nervousness caused by difficult situations or problems
task – n. a piece of work, especially something unpleasant or difficult
A paper signed by more than 11,000 scientists lists specific concerns adding up to a “climate emergency.”Scientists cite signs of hope, including climate protests around the world this year.The emergency declaration is backed by analysis of 40 years of global climate data.More than 11,000 scientists have signed onto a scholarly paper describing a “climate emergency.” In the paper, ecological researcher William Ripple, of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, leads a team that describes the factors that make up the emergency, from per capita meat consumption to rates of passenger flight around the world.
This isn’t Ripple’s first foray into the climate spotlight. His research focuses on trophic cascade, which is the domino effect of habitat loss and ecological crisis caused by changes in the numbers of predators and prey within a food chain. If there are too many predators, the dwindling number of prey animals in turn has ramifications for flora, which then affects soil cover, ground water, and more.
In 2017, Ripple published a paper similar to the one out now, a massively endorsed climate study called “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” That paper was a spiritual sequel to a 1992 report on the escalating natural resource and habitat crisis at the time. (The original was signed by over 1,500 scientists. We’ve come a long way.)
The word trophic comes from the same root as atrophy and just means “nutritional”; our trophic level is where we are in the food chain. Some scientists have tried to argue that humans are apex predators, a term referring to an animal not just at the top of the food chain but with literally no natural predators. But the varied, buck-wild diet of the human species likely makes us a category all our own.
Our use of livestock animals has also turned us into “predators” in an unusual way. Livestock farmers around the world end up killing wild carnivores as retaliation for lost livestock. Ripple has studied this, too, including in a 2018 paper that looked at the lack of substantial, evidence-based protections for farmers around the world.
The people losing livestock to local carnivores need help to install better ways to protect their livestock, and this in turn will protect local carnivores from being hunted as a stopgap measure to prevent livestock loss.
Ripple studies large carnivores, but even the endangered wildcat species in places like the U.K. and U.S. are threatened by farmers who seek to reduce threats to their livestock. People kill wildcats by accident, or they choose to illegally hunt wildcats. These wildcats are rarely much larger than domestic cats, but can take down livestock larger than themselves.
The pervasion of livestock is just one aspect of the “climate emergency” paper, which also delves into pollution, the environmental cost of commercial and cargo flight, and rebounding rates of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. And, like a blast from the near past, the greenhouse effect is back in a big way: Greenhouse gases have been less visible in public-facing activism about climate change, but have steadily increased for decades. Global ice cover continues to melt, and the ocean continues to grow more acidic as a result of these changes.
Despite all the evidence in the massive paper, the emergency isn’t hopeless. The team outlines direct, concrete actions that will ameliorate the most dire threats, and most seem to have little impact on the daily lives of average people. Alternative fuel sources like wind and solar, for example, have increased “373 [percent] per decade” but still lag far behind fossil fuels, leaving tons of room for growth in alternative fuels toward Ripple and the scientists’ goal to “leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground.”
As with livestock farmers, people need support to meet them where they are when addressing climate change on a personal level. Most of the suggestions are on a level to be instituted by world government bodies, NGOs, and organizations or businesses. “As the Alliance of World Scientists, we stand ready to assist decision-makers in a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future,” the researchers conclude in the paper.
Scientists have created an “artificial leaf” to fight climate change by inexpensively converting harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) into a useful alternative fuel.
The new technology, outlined in a paper published today in the journal Nature Energy, was inspired by the way plants use energy from sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into food.
“We call it an artificial leaf because it mimics real leaves and the process of photosynthesis,” said Yimin Wu, an engineering professor at the University of Waterloo who led the research. “A leaf produces glucose and oxygen. We produce methanol and oxygen.”
Making methanol from carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to global warming, would both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a substitute for the fossil fuels that create them.
The key to the process is a cheap, optimized red powder called cuprous oxide.
Engineered to have as many eight-sided particles as possible, the powder is created by a chemical reaction when four substances – glucose, copper acetate, sodium hydroxide and sodium dodecyl sulfate – are added to water that has been heated to a particular temperature.
The powder then serves as the catalyst, or trigger, for another chemical reaction when it is mixed with water into which carbon dioxide is blown and a beam of white light is directed with a solar simulator.
“This is the chemical reaction that we discovered,” said Wu, who has worked on the project since 2015. “Nobody has done this before.”
The reaction produces oxygen, as in photosynthesis, while also converting carbon dioxide in the water-powder solution into methanol. The methanol is collected as it evaporates when the solution is heated.
Next steps in the research include increasing the methanol yield and commercializing the patented process to convert carbon dioxide collected from major greenhouse gas sources such as power plants, vehicles, and oil drilling.
“I’m extremely excited about the potential of this discovery to change the game,” said Wu, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering, and a member of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology. “Climate change is an urgent problem and we can help reduce CO2 emissions while also creating an alternative fuel.”
Wu collaborated on the paper, Facet-dependent active sites of a single Cu2O particle photocatalyst for CO2 reduction to methanol, with Tijana Rajh and other researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, as well as scientists at California State University, Northridge, and the City University of Hong Kong.
We might not notice them, but the crops farmers grow are protected by scores of tiny invertebrate bodyguards. Naturally occurring arthropods like spiders and lady beetles patrol crop fields looking for insects to eat. These natural enemies keep pests under control, making it easier to grow the crops we depend on.
New research from Michigan State University by Nate Haan, Yajun Zhang and Doug Landis sheds light on how these natural enemies respond to large-scale spatial patterns in agricultural landscapes. These areas are made up of crop fields, forests, and grasslands. It turns out their configuration, or spatial arrangement, can go a long way in determining how many natural enemies show up in a field to eat pests.
A new review article published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution on November 4, 2019, summarizes recent research into ways landscape configuration affects natural enemies and pest suppression.
“One of the take-homes from our review is that natural enemies can be more abundant when agricultural landscapes are made up of smaller farm fields,” said Haan, MSU postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Entomology and one of the study’s authors. “Some natural enemies need resources found in other habitats or in crop field edges. We think when habitat patches are small, they are more likely to find their way back and forth between these habitats and crop fields, or from one crop field into another.”
Haan emphasizes that the exact effects of landscape configuration depend on the natural history of the critter in question.
“A predator that finds everything it needs to survive within a single crop field might not need natural habitats outside that crop field, but there are lots of other insects that need to find nectar or shelter in other places,” Haan said. “For these insects, the spatial arrangement of crop fields and those other habitats can become very important.”
This research will help scientists predict how future changes to farming landscapes will affect insect diversity and pest suppression, a service that is estimated to save farmers billions of dollars every year.
One expected change to landscapes in the Midwest will occur as farmers begin to grow more bioenergy crops. This is a key interest to the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, or GLBRC, which funded the study. Farmers are likely to grow more crops that can be processed and used as substitutes for petroleum; these crops could be traditional crops like corn, but switchgrass, poplar trees, and native prairie are promising alternatives. Depending on which crops are used and where they are planted, future landscapes will contain new habitats and will likely be in new spatial arrangements.
The next steps for this research include learning more about whether life-history traits of beneficial arthropods predict how they will respond to landscape change. Insects have different food requirements and strategies for moving around the landscape, Haan and colleagues are excited to learn how these differences can be used to predict how the insects will respond to future landscape changes.
Reference: “Predicting Landscape Configuration Effects on Agricultural Pest Suppression” by Nathan L. Haan, Yajun Zhang and Douglas A. Landis, 4 November 2019, Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and cyber physical systems have opened up possibilities for smart cities and smart homes, and are changing the way for people to live. In this smart era, it is increasingly demanded to remotely monitor people in daily life using radio-frequency probe signals. However, the conventional sensing systems can hardly be deployed in real-world settings since they typically require objects to either deliberately cooperate or carry an active wireless device or identification tag. Additionally, the existing sensing systems are not adaptive or programmable to specific tasks. Hence, they are far from efficient in many points of view, from time to energy consumptions.
In a new paper published in Light Science & Application, scientists from the State Key Laboratory of Advanced Optical Communication Systems and Networks, Department of Electronics, Peking University, China, the State Key Laboratory of Millimeter Waves, Southeast University, China, and co-workers developed an AI-driven smart metasurface for jointly controlling the EM waves on the physical level and the EM data flux on the digital pipeline. Based on the metasurface, they designed an inexpensive intelligent EM “camera,” which has robust performance in realizing instantaneous in-situ imaging of full scene and adaptive recognition of the hand signs and vital signs of multiple non-cooperative people. More interestingly, the EM camera works very well even when it is passively excited by stray 2.4GHz Wi-Fi signals that ubiquitously exist in the daily lives. As such, their intelligent camera allows us to remotely “see” what people are doing, monitor how their physiological states change, and “hear” what people are talking without deploying any acoustic sensors, even when these people are non-cooperative and are behind obstacles. The reported method and technique will open new avenues for future smart cities, smart homes, human-device interactive interfaces, health monitoring, and safety screening, without causing the visual privacy problems.
The intelligent EM camera is centered around a smart metasurface, i.e., a programmable metasurface empowered with a cluster of artificial neural networks (ANNs). The metasurface can be manipulated to generate the desired radiation patterns corresponding to different sensing tasks, from data acquisition to imaging, and to automatic recognition. It can support various kinds of successive sensing tasks with a single device in real-time. These scientists summarize the operational principle of their camera:
“We design a large-aperture programmable coding metasurface for three purposes in one: (1) to perform in-situ high-resolution imaging of multiple people in a full-view scene; (2) to rapidly focus EM fields (including ambient stray Wi-Fi signals) to selected local spots and avoid undesired interferences from the body trunk and ambient environment; and (3) to monitor the local body signs and vital signs of multiple non-cooperative people in real-world settings by instantly scanning the local body parts of interest.”
“Since the switching rate of metasurface is remarkably faster than that of body changing (vital sign and hand sign) by a factor of ~ , the number of people monitored in principle can be very large” they added.
“The presented technique can be used to monitor the notable or non-notable movements of non-cooperative people in the real world but also help people with profound disabilities remotely send commands to devices using body languages. This breakthrough could open a new venue for future smart cities, smart homes, human-device interactive interface, healthy monitoring, and safety screening without causing privacy issues. ” the scientists forecast.
This research received funding from the National Key Research and Development Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China , and the 111 Project.
Image: Lianlin Li, Ya Shuang, Qian Ma, Haoyang Li, Hanting Zhao, Menglin Wei, Che Liu, Chenglong Hao, Cheng-Wei Qiu, and Tie Jun Cui
Chelsea L. Kracht, Ph.D., discusses the results of a new study that indicates that the busyness of having multiple children forces parents to be more organized, better plan their families’ meals, and eat out less.
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.
A new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, published by Elsevier, found that only-children, who researchers refer to as “singletons,” had less healthy family eating practices, beverage choices, and total Healthy Eating Index 2010 score, coming in lower on three out of the 12 areas measured. They also had significantly lower total scores across weekdays, weekends, and on average, indicating there are both individual and collective differences in eating patterns between the groups.
“Nutrition professionals must consider the influence of family and siblings to provide appropriate and tailored nutrition education for families of young children,” said lead author Chelsea L. Kracht, PhD. Dr. Kracht completed the research during her PhD program alongside Dr. Susan Sisson at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, USA. “Efforts to help all children and families establish healthy eating habits and practices must be encouraged.”
Data was self-reported in daily food logs kept by mothers over the course of three days – two weekdays and one weekend day. Teachers kept logs by proxy for any food children ate while at school. Mothers also completed the Family Nutrition and Physical Activity questionnaire to evaluate typical family eating behaviors like food and beverage choice.
Researchers found mothers of singleton children were more likely to be obese themselves. Moreover, maternal BMI had a much stronger connection to child BMI percentile and waist circumference percentile than singleton status. Maternal BMI did not significantly contribute to overall eating patterns but did contribute to empty calories.
The study only looked at mothers and children and so could not speak to the impact of fathers’ eating patterns, but the results were independent of marital status.
The study also found that time spent in away-from-home care like school and daycare was not connected to children’s eating patterns. This points to the difference coming from inside the household, including a difference in how frequently the family eats in front of the television (family eating practices score) and sugary drinks consumption (beverage choices score), which differed between groups in the study.
“Healthier eating behaviors and patterns may result from household-level changes rather than peer exposure, as peer exposure is also present in away-from-home care,” Dr. Kracht said.
Dr. Kracht and her colleagues are continuing their research, looking specifically into household and family dynamics and how they influence children’s eating behavior, physical activity, sleep, and other factors contributing to obesity.
A new study finds that there is not enough information to support the claim that violent video games lead to acts of violence.
The Contemporary Economic Policy study examined data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), a nationally representative sample of adolescents in grades 7-12 in the United States between April and December 1995. Over 15,000 participants were followed into young adulthood with four waves of in-home interviews, with the last interview conducted in 2008, when participants were 24-32 years old.
“While the data show that fighting later in life is related to playing video games as an adolescent, most of this is because, relative to females, males both play games more often and fight more often. Estimates that better establish causality find no effect, or a small negative effect,” said author Michael Ward, PhD, of The University of Texas at Arlington. “This is my fourth analysis using a fourth methodology and a fourth dataset on actual outcomes that finds no violent effects from video games.”
Dr. Ward noted that it is important that studies examine real world outcomes and that they account for competing reasons why negative outcomes might be related to video game playing. “Video game development is among the fastest evolving forms of human expression ever devised. It is hard for us to imagine the experiences that games developed over just the next few decades will provide,” he said. “It would be a shame to unintentionally, and needlessly, stifle this explosion of creativity with content-based policy interventions.”