Tag: National Academy of Sciences

Is The CIA Manipulating The Weather?

Derrick Broze, ContributorIn a recent speech, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency discussed the controversial topic of geoengineering, leading some activists to ask whether the agency is actively and deliberately modifying the weather.​In late June, John Brennan, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, spoke at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting about threats to global security. Director Brennan mentioned a number of threats to stability before di [...]

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Jupiter May Be Behind The Mysterious ‘Gaping Hole’ In Our Solar System

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.comWhen astronomers began studying other solar systems in the Milky Way galaxy back in the 1990s, they noticed something peculiar: most of these systems have big planets that circle their host stars in tight orbits, a fin...

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Young Jupiter wiped out solar system’s early inner planets, study says


Ganymede
(Photo : NASA/ESA) In early days of solar system, Jupiter destroyed everything that came in its way, researchers have found.


Excerpt from latimes.com

Before Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars occupied the inner solar system, there may have been a previous generation of planets that were bigger and more numerous – but were ultimately doomed by Jupiter, according to a new study.

If indeed the early solar system was crowded with so-called super-Earths, it would have looked a lot more like the planetary systems found elsewhere in the galaxy, scientists wrote Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Inner planets
As NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found more than 1,000 planets in orbit around other stars, along with more than 4,000 other objects that are believed to be planets but haven’t yet been confirmed. Kepler finds these planets by watching their host stars and registering tiny drops in their brightness – a sign that they are being ever-so-slightly darkened by a planet crossing in front of them.

In addition, ground-based telescopes have detected hundreds of exoplanets by measuring the wiggles of distant stars. Those stars wiggle thanks to the gravitational pull of orbiting planets, and the Doppler effect makes it possible to estimate the size of these planets.

The more planetary systems astronomers discovered, the more our own solar system looked like an oddball. Exoplanets – at least the ones big enough for us to see – tended to be bigger than Earth, with tight orbits that took them much closer to their host stars. In multi-planet systems, these orbits tended to be much closer together than they are in our solar system. For instance, the star known as Kepler-11 has six planets closer to it than Venus is to the sun.

Why does our solar system look so different? Astrophysicists Konstantin Batygin of Caltech and Greg Laughlin of UC Santa Cruz summed it up in one word: Jupiter.

Here’s what could have happened, according to their models:

In Solar System 1.0, the region closest to the sun was occupied by numerous planets with masses several times bigger than that of Earth. There were also planetesimals, “planetary building blocks” that formed within the first million years after the birth of the sun, Batygin and Laughlin wrote.

This is how things might have stayed if the young Jupiter had stayed put at its initial orbit, between 3 and 10 astronomical units away from the sun. (An astronomical unit, or AU, is the distance between the Earth and the sun. Today, Jupiter’s orbit ranges between 5 and 5.5 AUs from the sun.)

But Jupiter was restless, according to a scenario known as the “Grand Tack.” In this version of events, Jupiter was swept up by the currents of gas that surrounded the young sun and drifted toward the center of the solar system.

Jupiter, however, was too big to travel solo. All manner of smaller objects would have been dragged along too. With so many bodies in motion, there would have been a lot of crashes.

The result was “a collisional cascade that grinds down the planetesimal population to smaller sizes,” the astrophysicists wrote. For the most part, these planetary crumbs were swept toward the sun and ultimately destroyed, like disintegrating satellites falling back to Earth.

The planetesimals wouldn’t have been Jupiter’s only victims. Assuming the early solar system resembled the planetary systems spied by Kepler and other telescopes, there would have been “a similar population of first-generation planets,” the pair wrote. “If such planets formed, however, they were destroyed.”

Jupiter probably got about as close to the sun as Mars is today before reversing course, pulled away by the gravity of the newly formed Saturn. That would have ended the chaos in the inner solar system, allowing Earth and the other rocky planets to form from the debris that remained.

“This scenario provides a natural explanation for why the inner Solar System bears scant resemblance to the ubiquitous multi-planet systems” discovered by Kepler and other survey efforts, Batygin and Laughlin wrote.

Although their models show that this is what might have happened, they don’t prove that it actually did. But there may be a way to get closer to the truth.

The scientists’ equations suggest that if a star is orbited by a cluster of close-in planets, there won’t be a larger, farther-out planet in the same system. As astronomers find more exoplanetary systems, they can see whether this prediction holds up.

Also, if far-away solar systems are experiencing a similar series of events, telescopes ought to be able to detect the extra heat thrown off by all of the planetesimal collisions, they added.

Sadly for those hoping to find life on other planets, the pair’s calculations also imply that most Earth-sized planets are lacking in water and other essential compounds that can exist in liquid or solid form. As a result, they would be “uninhabitable,” they wrote.

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Biologists fear DNA editing procedure can alter human DNA




Excerpt from themarketbusiness.com

A group of biologists was alarmed with the use a new genome-editing technique to modify human DNA in a way that it can become hereditary.
The biologists worry that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead with it before its safety can be weigh up. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, which could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence. The latter is a path that many ethicists believe should never be taken.


“You could exert control over human heredity with this technique, and that is why we are raising the issue,” said David Baltimore, a former president of the California Institute of Technology and a member of the group whose paper on the topic was published in the journal Science.

Ethicists have been concerned for decades about the dangers of altering the human germ line — meaning to make changes to human sperm, eggs or embryos that will last through the life of the individual and be passed on to future generations. Until now, these worries have been theoretical. But a technique invented in 2012 makes it possible to edit the genome precisely and with much greater ease. The technique has already been used to edit the genomes of mice, rats and monkeys, and few doubt that it would work the same way in people.

The new genome-editing technique holds the power to repair or enhance any human gene. “It raises the most fundamental of issues about how we are going to view our humanity in the future and whether we are going to take the dramatic step of modifying our own germline and in a sense take control of our genetic destiny, which raises enormous peril for humanity,” said George Daley, a stem cell expert at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the group.

The biologists writing in Science support continuing laboratory research with the technique, and few if any scientists believe it is ready for clinical use. Any such use is tightly regulated in the United States and Europe. American scientists, for instance, would have to present a plan to treat genetic diseases in the human germline to the Food and Drug Administration.

The paper’s authors, however, are concerned about countries that have less regulation in science. They urge that “scientists should avoid even attempting, in lax jurisdictions, germ line genome modification for clinical application in humans” until the full implications “are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations.”

Though such a moratorium would not be legally enforceable and might seem unlikely to exert global sway, there is a precedent. In 1975, scientists worldwide were asked to refrain from using a method for manipulating genes, the recombinant DNA technique, until rules had been established.

“We asked at that time that nobody do certain experiments, and in fact nobody did, to my knowledge,” said Baltimore, who was a member of the 1975 group. “So there is a moral authority you can assert from the U.S., and that is what we hope to do.”

Recombinant DNA was the first in a series of ever-improving steps for manipulating genetic material. The chief problem has always been one of accuracy, of editing the DNA at precisely the intended site, since any off-target change could be lethal. Two recent methods, known as zinc fingers and TAL effectors, came close to the goal of accurate genome editing, but both are hard to use. The new genome-editing approach was invented by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umea University in Sweden.

Their method, known by the acronym Crispr-Cas9, co-opts the natural immune system with which bacteria remember the DNA of the viruses that attack them so they are ready the next time those same invaders appear. Researchers can simply prime the defense system with a guide sequence of their choice and it will then destroy the matching DNA sequence in any genome presented to it. Doudna is the lead author of the Science article calling for control of the technique and organized the meeting at which the statement was developed.

Though highly efficient, the technique occasionally cuts the genome at unintended sites. The issue of how much mistargeting could be tolerated in a clinical setting is one that Doudna’s group wants to see thoroughly explored before any human genome is edited.

Scientists also say that replacing a defective gene with a normal one may seem entirely harmless but perhaps would not be.
“We worry about people making changes without the knowledge of what those changes mean in terms of the overall genome,” Baltimore said. “I personally think we are just not smart enough — and won’t be for a very long time — to feel comfortable about the consequences of changing heredity, even in a single individual.”
Many ethicists have accepted the idea of gene therapy, changes that die with the patient, but draw a clear line at altering the germline, since these will extend to future generations. The British Parliament in February approved the transfer of mitochondria, small DNA-containing organelles, to human eggs whose own mitochondria are defective. But that technique is less far-reaching because no genes are edited.

There are two broad schools of thought on modifying the human germline, said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the Doudna group. One is pragmatic and seeks to balance benefit and risk. The other “sets up inherent limits on how much humankind should alter nature,” she said. 
Some Christian doctrines oppose the idea of playing God, whereas in Judaism and Islam there is the notion “that humankind is supposed to improve the world.” She described herself as more of a pragmatist, saying, “I would try to regulate such things rather than shut a new technology down at its beginning.”

Other scientists agree with the Doudna group’s message.
“It is very clear that people will try to do gene editing in humans,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a stem cell biologist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not a member of the Doudna group. “This paper calls for a moratorium on any clinical application, which I believe is the right thing to do.”
Writing in Nature last week, Edward Lanphier and other scientists involved in developing the rival zinc finger technique for genome editing also called for a moratorium on human germline modification, saying that use of current technologies would be “dangerous and ethically unacceptable.”

The International Society for Stem Cell Research said Thursday that it supported the proposed moratorium.

The Doudna group calls for public discussion but is also working to develop some more formal process, such as an international meeting convened by the National Academy of Sciences, to establish guidelines for human use of the genome-editing technique.

“We need some principled agreement that we want to enhance humans in this way or we don’t,” Jaenisch said. “You have to have this discussion because people are gearing up to do this.”

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This Alien Color Catalog May Help Us Spot Life on Other Planets






Excerpt from smithsonianmag.com


In the hunt for alien life, our first glimpse of extraterrestrials may be in the rainbow of colors seen coming from the surface of an exoplanet.

That's the deceptively simple idea behind a study led by Siddharth Hegde at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany. Seen from light-years away, plants on Earth give our planet a distinctive hue in the near-infrared, a phenomenon called red edge. That's because the chlorophyll in plants absorbs most visible light waves but starts to become transparent to wavelengths on the redder end of the spectrum. An extraterrestrial looking at Earth through a telescope could match this reflected color with the presence of oxygen in our atmosphere and conclude there is life here.


exoplanets palette
Eight of the 137 microorganism samples used to measure biosignatures for the catalog of reflection signatures of Earth life forms. In each panel, the top is a regular photograph of the sample and the bottom is a micrograph, a version of the top image zoomed-in 400 times.



Plants, though, have only been around for 500 million years—a relative blip in our planet's 4.6-billion-year history. Microbes dominated the scene for some 2.5 billion years in the past, and some studies suggest they will rule the Earth again for much of its future. So Hegde and his team gathered 137 species of microorganisms that all have different pigments and that reflect light in specific ways. By building up a library of the microbes' reflectance spectra—the types of colors those microscopic critters reflect from a distance—scientists examining the light from habitable exoplanets can have a plethora of possible signals to search for, the team argues this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"No one had looked at the wide range of diverse life on Earth and asked how we could potentially spot such life on other planets, and include life from extreme environments on Earth that could be the 'norm' on other planets," Lisa Kaltenegger, a co-author on the study, says via email. "You can use it to model an Earth that is different and has different widespread biota and look how it would appear to our telescopes."

To make sure they got enough diversity, the researchers looked at temperate-dwelling microbes as well as creatures that live in extreme environments like deserts, mineral springs, hydrothermal vents or volcanically active areas.

While it might seem that alien life could take a huge variety of forms—for instance, something like the silicon-based Horta from Star Trek—it's possible to narrow things down if we restrict the search to life as we know it. First, any life-form that is carbon-based and uses water as a solvent isn't going to like the short wavelengths of light far in the ultraviolet, because this high-energy UV can damage organic molecules. At the other end of the spectrum, any molecule that alien plants (or their analogues) use to photosynthesize won't be picking up light that's too far into the infrared, because there's not enough energy at those longer wavelengths.

In addition, far-infrared light is hard to see through an Earth-like atmosphere because the gases block a lot of these waves, and whatever heat the planet emits will drown out any signal from surface life. That means the researchers restricted their library to the reflected colors we can see when looking at wavelengths in the visible part of the spectrum, the longest wavelength UV and short-wave infrared.

The library won't be much use if we can't see the planets' surfaces in the first place, and that's where the next generation of telescopes comes in, Kaltenegger says. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, should be able to see the spectra of relatively small exoplanet atmospheres and help scientists work out their chemical compositions, but it won't be able to see any reflected spectra from material at the surface. Luckily, there are other planned telescopes that should be able to do the job. The European Extremely Large Telescope, a 40-meter instrument in Chile, will be complete by 2022. And NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which is funded and in its design stages, should be up and running by the mid-2020s.

Another issue is whether natural geologic or chemical processes could look like life and create a false signal. So far the pigments from life-forms look a lot different from those reflected by minerals, but the team hasn't examined all the possibilities either, says Kaltenegger. They hope to do more testing in the future as they build up the digital library, which is now online and free for anyone to explore at biosignatures.astro.cornell.edu.

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Putting Lazy to Bed: Chronic fatigue syndrome is a physical disorder, not a psychological illness, panel says




Excerpt from washingtonpost.com

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a "serious, debilitating" condition with a cluster of clear physical symptoms — not a psychological illness — a panel of experts reported Tuesday as it called for more research into a disease that may affect as many as 2.5 million Americans.
"We just needed to put to rest, once and for all, the idea that this is just psychosomatic or that people were making this up, or that they were just lazy," said Ellen Wright Clayton, a professor of pediatrics and law at Vanderbilt University, who chaired the committee of the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
Although the cause of the disorder is still unknown, the panel established three critical symptoms for the condition (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis):

  • A sharp reduction in the ability to engage in pre-illness activity levels that lasts for more than six months and is accompanied by deep fatigue that only recently developed.
  • Worsening of symptoms after any type of exertion, including "physical, cognitive or emotional stress."
  • Sleep that doesn't refresh the sufferer.
In addition, the committee said, true chronic fatigue syndrome also includes either cognitive impairment or the inability to remain upright with symptoms that improve when the person with the condition lies down, known as "orthostatic intolerance."
The panel acknowledged what people with chronic fatigue syndrome have long complained about: They struggle, sometimes for years, before finding a health-care provider who diagnoses a disorder that often devastates their lives. Sixty-seven percent to 77 percent reported in surveys that it took longer than a year to receive a diagnosis, and about 29 percent said it took longer than five years. The vast majority of people with the disorder remain undiagnosed, the panel said, estimating that between 836,000 and 2.5 million Americans have it.
"Seeking and receiving a diagnosis can be a frustrating process for several reasons, including skepticism of health care providers about the serious nature of [chronic fatigue syndrome] and the misconception that it is a psychogenic illness or even a figment of the patient’s imagination," the panel wrote.  Less than a third of medical schools include the condition in their curricula and only 40 percent of medical textbooks contain information on it, the experts said.
Christine Williams, who has the illness herself and is vice-chair of the board of directors for the advocacy group Solve ME/CFS Initiative, welcomed the IOM report.
“I have been sick for six-and-a-half-years, and this is definitely the most encouraging thing that I have seen,” she said. Williams praised the IOM for setting forth a set of clearly understandable diagnostic criteria, including the hallmark symptom “post-exertional malaise.”
Williams predicted that the IOM panel’s proposed new name for the illness -- "systemic exertion intolerance disease"--would be widely debated by patients’ groups. But she added that the IOM “moved in the right direction by getting away from 'chronic fatigue syndrome',” which she said  trivialized a serious disease.
Williams, who spent three decades working as a health policy expert in the federal government, said she hopes the report sparks additional research into new treatments for the illness.
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome remains unknown, but symptoms may be triggered by an infection or "immunization, anesthetics, physical trauma, exposure to environmental pollutants, chemicals and heavy metals and, rarely, blood transfusions," the panel reported. Clayton said mononucleosis is "a major trigger" of chronic fatigue syndrome among adolescents, but little is known about causes beyond that.
Treatments can include drugs such as anti-depressants and sleeping pills; gentle exercise and psychological counseling; and lifestyle changes such as limiting stress, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
Clayton also emphasized that many people with chronic fatigue syndrome also have other medical problems, which can complicate diagnosis and treatment.
"Lots of adults have more than one thing going on," she said. "If they meet these criteria, they have this disorder. They can have something else as well, which is not uncommon in medicine."

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Scientists discover organism that hasn’t evolved in more than 2 billion years



Nonevolving bacteria
These sulfur bacteria haven't evolved for billions of years.
Credit: UCLA Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life

Excerpt from natmonitor.com
By Justin Beach

If there was a Guinness World Record for not evolving, it would be held by a sulfur-cycling microorganism found off the course of Australia. According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they have not evolved in any way in more than two billion years and have survived five mass extinction events.
According to the researchers behind the paper, the lack of evolution actually supports Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
The researchers examined the microorganisms, which are too small to see with the naked eye, in samples of rocks from the coastal waters of Western Australia. Next they examined samples of the same bacteria from the same region in rocks 2.3 billion years old. Both sets of bacteria are indistinguishable from modern sulfur bacteria found off the coast of Chile.





“It seems astounding that life has not evolved for more than 2 billion years — nearly half the history of the Earth. Given that evolution is a fact, this lack of evolution needs to be explained,” said J. William Schopf, a UCLA professor of earth, planetary and space sciences in the UCLA College who was the study’s lead author in a statement.
Critics of Darwin’s theory of evolution might be tempted to jump on this discovery as proof that Darwin was wrong, but that would be a mistake.
Darwin’s work focused more on species that changed, rather than species that didn’t. However, there is nothing in Darwin’s work that states that a successful species that has found it’s niche in an ecosystem has to change. Unless there is change in the ecosystem or competition for resources there would be no reason for change.
“The rule of biology is not to evolve unless the physical or biological environment changes, which is consistent with Darwin. These microorganisms are well-adapted to their simple, very stable physical and biological environment. If they were in an environment that did not change but they nevertheless evolved, that would have shown that our understanding of Darwinian evolution was seriously flawed.” said Schopf, who also is director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life.
It is likely that there were genetic mutations in the organisms. Mutations are fairly random and happen in all species, but unless those mutations are improvements that help the species function better in the environment, they usually do not get passed on.
Schopf said that the findings provide further proof that Darwin’s ideas were right.
The oldest fossils analyzed for the study date back to the Great Oxidation Event. This event, which occurred between 2.2 and 2.4 billion years ago, saw a substantial increase in Earth’s oxygen levels. That period also saw an increase in sulfates and nitrates, which is all that the microorganisms would have needed to survive and reproduce.
Shopf and his team used Raman spectroscopy, which allows scientists to examine the composition and chemistry of rocks as well as confocal laser scary microscopy to generate 3-D images of fossils embedded in rock.
The research was funded by NASA Astrobiology Institute, in the hope that it will help the space agency to find life elsewhere.

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New data on Easter Island’s mysterious past is a game-changer





Excerpt from sciencerecorder.com


A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that harsh environmental conditions were the main source of population decline for the native Polynesians of Easter Island, potentially ending a long-standing debate over the exact cause.

Researchers of the study, led by Dr. Thegn Ladefoged of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, analyzed obsidian artifacts recovered from a number of habitation sites on the island to assess the regional land-use of the local inhabitants, known as the Rapa Nui.

The team found a shift in human uses of different parts of the island, suggesting an attempt to adapt to changing natural environmental conditions. Because of this, the researchers believe that natural barriers and climate extremes may have negatively impacted the islanders enough to lead to population declines.

“The results of our research were really quite surprising to me,” said Ladefoged, according to The Huffington Post. “In short, our research does not support the suggestion that societal collapse occurred prior to European contact due to physical erosion and productivity decline, but it does indicate that use of less optimal environmental regions changed prior to European contact.”

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Yet another reason you must not die too soon

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A couple of weeks back I mailed all of you about the discovery of an aging protein that we may be able to conquer. The real message--I spelled it out--was: DO NOT DIE YET.

Science is moving so fast, in the next decade o...

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Cold Fusion Steams Ahead at World’s Oldest University

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Progress accelerates as a year long study of Andrea Rossi's Nickel-Hydrogen Cold Fusion technology (energy catalyzer) at the University of Bologna is announced. The birthplace of higher education has become the developmental womb ...

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US says too much fluoride causing splotchy teeth

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  AP – Graphic charts the prevalence and distribution of dental fluorosis By MIKE STOBBE, AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe, Ap Medical Writer – Fri Jan 7, 10:18 pm ET

ATLANTA –...

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Oxytocin – Hormone alleviates symptoms of autism

by Carolanne Wright, citizen journalist See all articles by this author Email this author

(NaturalNews) An article in The Washington Post reports that oxytocin can help those with autism make eye contact and interact better with others. Oxy...

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