Tag Archives: science news

World Bank envisions a 4°C over normal future temperature. Call Kevin Costner so we can survive in the water world.

When scientists and politicians chat about the next century of climate change, the idea is that we can make enough changes and keep things together enough to see only a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature from pre-industrial levels. Realistically however, even with electric cars on the rise and carbon offsets, we may still hit the dreaded 4 degree mark, which would cause the kind of catastrophic climate change and flooding that all those tree-huggers have been warning us about. And now, the World Bank is involved because if this does happen, it will completely change the entire global economic picture.

In a report released today, the World Bank analyzed the consequences of allowing temperatures to reach 4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Even the well understood problems—up to a meter of sea level rise, winter months that are warmer than our current summers—sound pretty ugly. The report also notes the possibility of tipping points and synergies make some of the impacts much harder to predict.

The report itself is a collaboration between the Bank’s Global Expert Team for Climate Change Adaptation and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. In addition to taking a different perspective on the problem of climate change, the report comes at a valuable time. It’s been five years since the release of the fourth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the fifth isn’t due until late next year.

So, what are the chances of adding an extra 4°C by the end of the century? The report estimates that, even if all countries are able to meet their current emissions pledges, there’s still a 20 percent chance we’ll hit 4°C by the end of the century. The longer we wait to meet those pledges, the harder it will be in part because it means we’ve already built fossil fuel infrastructure that has a life span of decades.

What does a world that much warmer look like? To give a sense of how hard it is to imagine, the report notes some points in the last glacial period were only 4.5°colder than present temperatures—and there were ice sheets covering a lot of the Northern Hemisphere. We’ve already hit levels of CO2 in the atmosphere that haven’t been seen in over 15 million years. To reach 4°C, they’d have to roughly double again. And these changes would take place at a pace that probably has few geological precedents.

So, even the report’s authors admit that predications are a challenge. Still, they do their best to try to paint a picture, and boy, is it grim.

Sea level would rise by a half-meter or more, putting lots of coastal infrastructure and plenty of people at risk. The typical summer temperatures would be the equivalent of our worst heat waves. In fact, the specifically note that normal temperatures in Russia would be similar to those of its recent heat wave, which killed 55,000 people and caused massive property damage. Meanwhile, the baseline winter temperatures would be equivalent to our current summers in most areas. Temperatures over land will rise faster than they do over the ocean, and some regions will be especially hard hit. The authors predict that typical temperatures in the Mediterranean will be up by roughly 9°C.

Rainfall patterns would shift dramatically, with some river basins seeing a reduction of over 20 percent in water while others get additional rainfall. That will add to the stresses on agriculture, where many crops will already be pushing up against temperature limits in current growth zones. Meanwhile, the level of ocean acidification driven by our emissions may stop coral reef growth as soon as the 2030s. Acidification may also begin reducing reefs by the end of the century.

All of that sounds pretty awful, but that’s not the end of it. Even if atmospheric greenhouse gas levels were stabilized by the end of the century, it would take our planet time to reach a new equilibrium. Temperatures would continue to rise, with the global mean reaching 6° over pre-industrial levels. Sea levels would continue to rise, reaching somewhere between 1.5m and 5m above present levels. That later figure is higher than the storm surge that swept into Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In addition, the report raises the spectre of nonlinear events, commonly called tipping points, where a current equilibrium is shifted to a new state entirely. It points out there might be synergistic effects that could make a combination of tolerable impacts difficult to manage. For example, reduced rainfall, elevated temperatures, and saltwater intrusion from rising ocean levels could all have a negative impact on agriculture. At the same time, loss of port facilities to sea level rise could make importing crops from elsewhere a challenge.

If all of this is a bit shocking, then the report achieves its desired effect. “It is my hope that this report shocks us into action,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. “Even for those of us already committed to fighting climate change, I hope it causes us to work with much more urgency.” He said that the Bank’s goal of economic development and poverty reduction could be met without pushing against planned emissions limits.


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Scientists successfully grow a human eye from stem cells

Will the magic of stem cells never cease? Scientists in Japan have reached a milestone in regenerating human organs by teasing stem cells to create the precursor to a human eye without any scaffolding structure.

The structure, which was developed by Yoshiki Sasai of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CBD) in Japan, was an “optic cup” only 550 micrometers in diameter, but it had all the hallmarks of an eye-in-the-making, including multiple layers of retinal cells and photoreceptors. Until now, stem-cell biologists have been unable to grow precursors like this, limited to two-dimensional sheets of tissue. Moreover, Sasai’s breakthrough marks the first time that such a complicated feat was done with human cells.

And just as excitingly, Sasai’s experiment revealed that the cues for complex cellular formation comes from inside the cell rather than from external triggers. Once the retinal precursor was up-and-running, it spontaneously formed a ball of epithelial tissue cells and then bulged outwards to form a bubble called an eye vesicle. It then folded back on itself to form a pouch, creating the optic cup with an outer wall (which in time would be the retinal epithelium) and an inner wall comprising layers of retinal cells including photoreceptors, bipolar cells, and ganglion cells.

The achievement is particularly promising for those hoping to advance cell transplantation. Sasai’s organically layered structure could result in the transplantation of photoreceptor tissue. It could also lead to treatments for diseases, and the possibility that such tissue could be frozen in anticipation of future transplants.

Sasai is confident that his model will work for transplantation, noting that these cells are “pure” and without residual embryonic stem cells – a factor that significantly reduces the chance of cancerous offshoots or growths of fragments of unrelated tissue (like bones or other organs).


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Crazy billionaire wants to tow a 500 ton asteroid to Earth by 2025

Towing a 500 ton asteroid into the outer orbit of Earth sounds like something a James Bond villain might try, but one billionaire says he wants to give it a shot. It’s something that the Chinese government has said might be an option in studying asteroids, and it’s just crazy enough it might work. Or it could kill us all.

Cal Tech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) commissioned a larger study beginning in September 2011 and issued its report earlier this month. In it, a who’s who of people from at least 17 organizations suggest that we bring a much larger asteroid near the Earth and visit it there. After all, in the decade it would take to develop the skills and equipment we’ll need to visit the asteroid belt, we could identify a target and make the tiny course corrections in its orbit necessary to have it arrive at our doorstep seven to ten years later.

Figuratively speaking, a small mountain really could come to Mohammed. The much smaller spacecraft necessary to bring it could be launched on a conventional Atlas, Delta, or Falcon rocket.

In this case we’re really talking about bringing home a molehill: only 500 metric tons and roughly 7 meters across. The KISS study points out that the Apollo mission brought back 382kg of samples in 6 missions, and the OSIRIS-REx mission would bring back 60 grams of surface material by 2023. By nudging an asteroid with some creative orbital mechanics, KISS suggested that 500 tons or larger would be well within the realm of possibility. Several targets could be identified every year.

The problem requires three technological developments, the first of which we’ve mastered—we now have the ability to identify candidate asteroids. The second is solar electric propulsion, a technology which has now been used on several small spacecraft. Scaling up, NASA recently received the results of four study contracts it awarded late last year for the construction of SEP-driven orbital tugboats. The last development involves NASA’s plan to have a human presence in the area of space to which asteroids could safely be delivered by 2025: geosynchronous orbits and the Lagrange points between the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun. A small spacecraft could deliver between 28 and 70 times its own mass back into easier-to-access space. The KISS paper recommends placing this first asteroid in lunar orbit or at a lunar Lagrange point, for safety.

A robotic asteroid retrieval mission would contribute toward an invaluable advance in human spaceflight, a leap forward in several areas in which humankind must make progress in order to advance into the solar system. The necessary elements all exist. By the best metric in spaceflight available to measure feasibility today, the mission is only a one-billionaire problem. And as it happens, a few billionaires may be interested.

According to MIT’s Technology Review, a new firm backed by several deep-pocketed investors will announce itself Tuesday at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The firm calls itself Planetary Resources, and the people involved include Charles Simonyi of Microsoft, Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google, James Cameron, Ross Perot Jr., and Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize Foundation. With this much money involved, the eyeballs of space geeks everywhere are now expectantly coming to bear on Seattle.


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Scientists still perplexed as to why some girls are starting puberty at ages as young as six.

For a couple decades now, scientists and parents alike have been noticing that some girls are hitting puberty earlier and earlier, some as young as six years old. For a while, it was feared that girls starting puberty around age 9 might become the new norm, but fortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

And this is part of a trend?
According to Weil’s report — “Puberty before age 10: A new ‘normal’?” — Ainsley is part of a growing tide of young girls forced to confront the mounting pressures of puberty at an increasingly young age. A large study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 10 percent of white girls, 23 percent of black girls, 15 percent of Hispanic girls, and 2 percent of Asian girls start growing breasts by the age of 7. But that earlier breast development hasn’t generally been accompanied by an early first period.

Why are some girls developing earlier?
Researchers are still trying to figure that out. Typically, “girls who go through puberty early fall into two camps,” says Weil: “Girls with diagnosable disorders like central precocious puberty, and girls who simply develop on the early side of the normal curve.” Young “girls who are overweight are more likely to enter puberty early than thinner girls,” says Weil. And some environmental chemicals, like the flame retardant PBB, can alter a young girl’s timing by changing her hormone levels. Stress “can disrupt puberty timing as well.”

So while the jury is still out, some of it is just natural variation, while some of it seems to be reactions to modern environmental chemicals and possibly low levels of hormones in food. If you’ve been keeping up with this scientific inquiry, you know that this does seem to be almost all girls who seem to be slowly trending towards puberty at younger ages, not boys.


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Get out those cigarettes and light ’em up, a universal cancer vaccine has been developed

For decades, the holy grail of cancer research has been a universal cancer vaccine, one that would target a wide variety of different types of cancers, caused by myriad causes. Brain cancer is different than breast cancer is different than lung cancer is different than liver cancer, but scientists have finally developed a cancer drug that targets a molecule found in 90% of all cancers.

Preliminary results from early clinical trials have shown the vaccine can trigger an immune response in patients and reduce levels of disease.

The scientists behind the vaccine now hope to conduct larger trials in patients to prove it can be effective against a range of different cancers.

They believe it could be used to combat small tumours if they are detected early enough or to help prevent the return and spread of disease in patients who have undergone other forms of treatment such as surgery.

Cancer cells usually evade patient’s immune systems because they are not recognised as being a threat. While the immune system usually attacks foreign cells such as bacteria, tumours are formed of the patient’s own cells that have malfunctioned.

Scientists have, however, found that a molecule called MUC1, which is found in high amounts on the surface of cancer cells, can be used to help the immune system detect tumours.

The new vaccine, developed by drug company Vaxil Biotheraputics along with researchers at Tel Aviv University, uses a small section of the molecule to prime the immune system so that it can identify and destroy cancer cells.

A statement from Vaxil Biotheraputics said: “ImMucin generated a robust and specific immune response in all patients which was observed after only 2-4 doses of the vaccine out of a maximum of 12 doses.

“In some of the patients, preliminary signs of clinical efficacy were observed.”

The results are still to be formally published but if further trials prove to be successful the vaccine could be available within six years.

As a therapeutic vaccine it is designed to be given to patients who are already suffering from cancer to help their bodies fight off the disease rather than to prevent disease in the first place.

Cancer cells contain high levels of MUC1 as it is thought to be involved helping tumours grow. Healthy human cells also contain MUC1, but have levels that are too low to trigger the immune system after vaccination.


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Fuck you Icarus! Guy makes wings that allow him to fly

Fuck translates to fuck in Dutch.

Turns out though that it was all a big phony. It was a marketing campaign done by a media company named Revolver that just wanted some press and viral video views. God, I hate media companies.

Dutch filmmaker and animator Floris Kaayk in collaboration with media production company Revolver fessed up to creating a “media art project” that took the world by storm in recent days — a video of inventor Jarno Smeets taking flight by flapping his arms.

But like the wax melting from Icarus’ wings, the truth is finally emerging. Kaayak announced on Dutch television that he didn’t expect the media attention his project would generate, with over 8.9 million views across the world.

He made the project in collaboration with Revolver and Omroep NTL, sources in the Netherlands who have spoken to the filmmaker told FoxNews.com prior to the show. They admitted their hoax Thursday evening on the Dutch television show Wereld Draait Door.

Revolver — which describes its goal on its website as “to engage with audiences through storytelling and original, challenging content — was “extremely surprised” by the worldwide media attention its little project has generated, sources told FoxNews.com.


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SCIENCE: Men’s cognitive functioning lowered around women

Researchers have begun to explore the cognitive impairment that men experience before and after interacting with women. A 2009 study demonstrated that after a short interaction with an attractive woman, men experienced a decline in mental performance. A more recent study suggests that this cognitive impairment takes hold even w hen men simply anticipate interacting with a woman who they know very little about.

Sanne Nauts and her colleagues at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands ran two experiments using men and women university students as participants. They first collected a baseline measure of cognitive performance by having the students complete a Stroop test. Developed in 1935 by the psychologist John Ridley Stroop, the test is a common way of assessing our ability to process competing information. The test involves showing people a series of words describing different colors that are printed in different colored inks. For example, the word “blue” might be printed in green ink and the word “red” printed in blue ink. Participants are asked to name, as quickly as they can, the color of the ink that the words are written in. The test is cognitively demanding because our brains can’t help but process the meaning of the word along with the color of the ink. When people are mentally tired, they tend to complete the task at a slower rate.

After completing the Stroop Test, participants in Nauts’ study were asked to take part in another supposedly unrelated task. They were asked to read out loud a number of Dutch words while sitting in front of a webcam. The experimenters told them that during this “lip reading task” an observer would watch them over the webcam. The observer was given either a common male or female name. Participants were led to believe that this person would see them over the web cam, but they would not be able to interact with the person. No pictures or other identifying information were provided about the observer—all the participants knew was his or her name. After the lip reading task, the participants took another Stroop test. Women’s performance on the second test did not differ, regardless of the gender of their observer. However men who thought a woman was observing them ended up performing worse on the second Stroop test. This cognitive impairment occurred even though the men had not interacted with the female observer.

In a second study, Nauts and her colleagues again began the experiment by having each participant complete the Stroop test. Then each participant was led to believe they would soon be taking part in the same “lip reading” task similar to the first study. Half were told that a man would observe them and the other half were led to believe that a woman would observe them. In reality, participants never engaged in the task. After being told about it, they completed another Stroop test to measure their current level of cognitive functioning.

Once again, women’s performance on the test did not differ, regardless of whether they were expecting a man or woman to observe them. But men who had been told a woman would observe them ended up doing much worse on the second Stroop task. Thus, simply anticipating the opposite sex interaction was enough to interfere with men’s cognitive functioning.


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