Science highlights: human adult neurogenesis, and a fungus killing amphibians

Growing new neurons in the human adult brain
Growing new neurons in the human adult brain

A new study provides further evidence that the adult brain in humans does grow new neurons (a process called neurogenesis) in the hippocampus–the section of the brain where learning, memory, and mood regulation is controlled. These new brain cells may play a role in depression, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, etc.

Read the article (Karen Weintraub, Scientific American, 25 March 2019).

And, go to the source — Adult hippocampal neurogenesis is abundant in neurologically healthy subjects and drops sharply in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (Elena P. Moreno-Jimenez, et al., Nature Medicine, 25 March 2019).

B dendrobatidis is infecting and killing amphibians worldwide

B. dendrobatidis or Bd is a fungus that infects the skins of amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, etc.) and then kills them. Bd has been around since at least the 1980’s, but only recently has research quantified that Bd has caused declines in 500 amphibian species globally–more than 40% of those species are now extinct or have lost more than 90% of their population.

Read the article (Stephanie Pappas, Scientific American, 28 March 2019).

And, go to the source — Amphibian fungal panzootic causes catastrophic and ongoing loss of biodiversity (Ben C. Scheele, et al., Science, 29 March 2019).

Science highlights: threats to global health, and apple trees are dying

Air pollution is one of the greatest threats to people's health worldwide.
Air pollution is one of the greatest threats to people’s health worldwide.

See the WHO’s 10 threats to global health in 2019. Diabetes, cancer, and heart disease account for more than 70% of all deaths globally–driven by tobacco use, physical inactivity, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diets, and/or air pollution and climate change. These factors also drive mental illness; half of all mental illness starts by age 14, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-19 year-olds.

(World Health Organization, 21 March 2019).

Rapid Apple Decline is killing young apple trees in North America
Rapid Apple Decline is killing young apple trees in North America.

“Rapid/sudden apple decline”–where rows of young apple trees quickly die–is occurring and spreading in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, British Columbia, and elsewhere in North America. No certain cause has yet been found–weather-related stress (severe cold and drought), certain root stocks, herbicides, unknown pathogens, insects, and/or high-density planting may play a role. Apples are a very valuable crop–worth $4 billion in the U.S. alone.

Read the article (Erik Stokstad, Science, 21 March 2019).

Science highlights: insomnia, and maternal mortality

Recent research has probed the biological basis of insomnia.
Recent research has probed the biological basis of insomnia

Sleeplessness is a big problem today; its costs from health problems to lost productivity are huge. Recent research has probed the biological basis of insomnia. From analysis of the genomes of over 1.75 million people, insomnia has been potentially linked to hundreds of genes, specific brain regions, and an overlap with mood disorders (depression, anxiety, etc.).

Read the article (Simon Makin, Scientific American, 12 March 2019).

Maternal mortality in the United States is the highest among all developed countries.
Maternal mortality in the United States is the highest among all developed countries

Approximately 800 women in the U.S. die each year during pregnancy and within 42 days after delivery–all developed countries have a lower maternal mortality rate. More than 60% of these deaths are preventable; the main causes of death vary by race. Suicide, homicide, and drug overdoses are the cause of many postpartum deaths.

Read the article (Anita Slomski, JAMA, 13 March 2019).

Science highlights: dwindling seafood, Alzheimer’s/Parkinson’s and inflammation, today’s fast food, and disease-carrying mosquitos

Rising ocean water temperatures are lowering stocks of fish globally

Rising sea water temperatures have lowered the yield of 235 fish stocks globally by 4% since 1930. However, by 2100, water temperatures will increase more than 3 times the current amount since 1930, plus tropical fish haven’t been factored in, and they’re most at risk. The global seafood supply is decreasing.

Read the article (Erik Stokstad, Science, 28 February 2019).

Inflammation may be the root cause behind Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s may be the result of neuroinflammation; the evidence for that is building. The inflammation–triggered by a virus, gut microbe, infection, stress, aging, etc. (different triggers in different people)–could start a cascade of harm.

Read the article (Karen Weintraub, Scientific American, 4 March 2019).

Today’s fast food is even less healthy than 30 years ago

Not a surprise–fast food menus are less healthy today than they were 30 years ago. Despite small attempts to mix in healthier options, the average fast food meal/portion size (entree + side + desert) is 30% larger, has 43% more calories, and 64% more salt than 30 years ago. Meanwhile, the obesity rate among adults in the United States has reached 40%–a 208% increase since the 1960’s.

Read the article (Tiffany Hsu, New York Times, 3 March 2019).

More and more of us are being exposed to disease-carrying mosquitos

Disease-carrying mosquitos are spreading across the U.S. and Europe at rates of 37-93 miles per year. By 2050, at least half the global population may be at risk of mosquito-borne diseases. Climate change, increasing population density, and urbanization will be major drivers.

Read the article (Chelsea Harvey, Scientific American, 7 March 2019).

Science highlights: job automation, dishonesty, and craving sweets

Job automation in the fast food industry

Job automation is here and is happening in the fast food industry. 70% of fast food sales come from drive-through. From taking orders, customer interaction, even to cooking, machines are taking the place of human beings–all to get your burger 58 seconds faster.

Read the article (Peter Holley, Washington Post, 22 February 2019).

Truth and lies

“Lying or acting dishonestly is a powerful act that is intent on retaining stability and social order.” But, whose order and stability? A corporation? A billionaire? A politician? A political party? Is it for the good of society, or for the benefit of a few?

Read the article (Kevin Engel, 26 February 2019; article by Melody Carter, Nursing Philosophy, July 2016).

Craving sweets when stressed

Why do we crave sweets when we feel stressed? Our brain normally uses half of our daily intake of carbohydrates and, under stress, the brain needs even more energy. Carbohydrates in the form of glucose (like chocolate) provide our bodies with the quickest source of energy.

Read the article (Achim Peters, Scientific American, 27 February 2019).

Science highlights: food waste, weather forecasting, 2080 climate, and sinking land

Food waste

1/3 of all fruit & vegetables produced annually are thrown away because they appear marked or spoiled. A new edible food coating–already in use–helps food last 2-3 times longer and can cut down on food waste.

Read the article (Charlotte Jee, MIT Technology Review, 14 February 2019).

Weather forecasting

Weather forecasting has improved; accurate forecasts can now be made for 10 days in the future. But, there appears to be a limit. Tiny atmospheric disruptions cause models to diverge after 2 weeks; 14-15 days may be the ultimate limit to weather prediction.

Read the article (Paul Voosen, Science, 14 February 2019).

Climate change …

What will our climate be like in 2080?

Check out this interactive map of 540 urban areas in North America–

Sea rise and sinking land in Louisiana

Sea levels are rising globally from melting ice and warming oceans. The impacts are huge. But, there is another factor–sinking land especially in river deltas. Louisiana, USA is an example; the land is sinking due to compacting soil and groundwater, oil, and gas extraction.

Read the article (Paul Voosen, Science, 30 January 2019).