Category Archives: science

GMO’s: How do they effect our bodies and our environment?

 

Video credit: TabithaDurrant

Genetically modified foods are everywhere. Technology has come so far that we can now design our ideal foods. Genetic modification is when the DNA of the crops we eat are changed in attempts of resistance against pathogens, herbicides and pesticides. Other benefits include additional nutrition and more crops being produced.

I reached out to Greenpeace, who were unable to give me a direct quote, but gave me permission to use their GM campaign in support of the article. The campaign suggests that using GMO crops isn’t what is right for the general public because we need to know what it is we are putting inside our bodies. Much isn’t known about the process of genetically altering the DNA of these crops.

As we don’t know exactly how they are made, nor do we know for certain what it means to modify crops, should we really be putting them into our bodies?

As they are in nearly everything, especially processed foods, it is difficult to avoid them. But, if you do want to avoid them, try going for organic fruits and vegetables and anything with a GMO free label.

But this may not help you entirely. Even the livestock we eat can be affected by these crops. Farmers feed their livestock genetically modified feed because, simply, it is cheaper. But when the livestock end up on our plates or on the shelves at your local supermarket, there is no way to tell which beef joint was fed genetically modified grain and which was not. So, in any case you could be consuming GM foods without actually knowing.

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Image credit: TabithaDurrant

GM foods are not the only thing that is wrong with the food industry though. If we look at what we are putting into our bodies, we need to look at what types of foods we eat as well. Not eating genetically modified foods won’t be effective to your health if you carry on eating non-healthy foods.

In defence of GM products, they have a longer shelf life, which essentially can reduce the amount of food we, as a collective, throw away. Think about how much food your household throws away and whether these are genetically modified foods.

Even so, these crops can be designed to produce the maximum amount of nutrients and vitamins that we need to survive. This is revolutionary, because it can (if used properly) end world famine. But is that really an excuse to change the DNA of food that has served us well for so long?

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Image credit: TabithaDurrant

Well… yes and no. The world’s population has increased massively since mass farming began and now in 2018 farmers can’t keep up, especially if they are faced with bad weather and crops don’t make harvest. Genetically modified crops can fix this. They are able to protect themselves from bugs, germs and weather because their DNA has been adapted to do just this.

GMO’s are suspected to cause food allergies, of which there is an increasing number of people who suffer from them; wheat, eggs, milk, dairy, fish, nuts and seeds. Though it is uncertain that genetically modified food actually causes these allergies, most of these food products have had their DNA altered, which kind of puts them hand-in-hand.

It isn’t just our food we need to think about and how it affects our bodies. What about our environment? Are genetically modified organisms good for the Earth and its wildlife?

Well, it is common knowledge that the pollen in these crops is vastly different from plants that are not altered in any way. It is supposedly far down inside the plant so it is not picked up in a wind transfer, however Prince Charles made an excellent comment, “can you govern how far a bee flies?”

No, no you cannot.

Monsanto were unavailable for comment when I reached out to them. The company has facilities in 69 different countries and contribute to the use of GM crops. Monsanto encourage the use of these crops on the basis that they can be more efficient in feeding the masses.

Genetically modifying crops can be harmful to the earth but it can be very beneficial, especially to humans. I mean, now that we have over populated the earth and are running out of food, we need this food-based revolution so we have enough for everyone.

Is the unknown as scary as we think it is or should we continue to allow the modification of our food?

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Image credit: TabithaDurrant

What is this Siberian “Beast from East” and how did it make Britain so cold?

Why was the UK suddenly covered in heavy snow?

The blast of cold air sweeping in from Siberia to Western Europe, popularly dubbed as ‘beast from east’, is a result of a break down in jet streams over Scandinavia.

Jet streams are basically ribbons of strong, high altitude winds (upto 200mph), blowing across Atlantic west to east, that are responsible for the shifts in weather across the globe.

Jet streams naturally move either in a “wavy” irregular path or in strong-steady flow. And previous studies have shown the weather to be much cold moving south from the Artic towards the mid-latitudes, even bringing freezing temperatures when the jet streams move in a wavy path. Whereas, when jets streams move strong and steadily from west to east, winter weather conditions are milder in the countries that lie between the tropics and the Artic, including the UK.

And although there is no denying that last week’s bad winter weather has been a result of a natural shift, scientists are now linking the increasing frequencies of such weather shifts and anomalies to a larger change in global weather.

(Check out this video by Met Office on jet streams)

 

What is causing these weather anomalies across the globe?

While rest of the world is suffering from dropping degrees, scientists say temperatures have risen above freezing repeatedly at the North Pole, reaching as high as 30C above normal for the depths of winter.

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Source: Research on Arctic Temperatures by Zachary Labe

Such a radical difference (rise) in temperature in Arctic, especially in winter seasons, evidently does not bode well for the rest of the world. And the fact that these changes are in-part largely a result of man-made climate changes, makes things even more critical.

Professor Edward Hanna, of the University of Sheffield, said: “We’ve always had years with wavy and not so wavy jet stream winds, but in the last one to two decades the warming Arctic could well have been amplifying the effects of the wavy patterns.

“This may have contributed to some recent extreme cold winter spells along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in eastern Asia, and at times over the UK.”

(Read more about his research on Extreme cold winters fuelled by jet stream and climate change here.)

The lead scientist at Berkerley Earth, Robert Rohde, too pointed out recently that the North Pole is warmer than much of Europe.

And this anomaly is due to the dark retreat of sea ice in Arctic winter, resulting in temperatures above the freezing level at the meteorological site in the northern extreme of Greenland for a record-breaking 61 hours, so far in year 2018. As shown by the graph (below) from Robert Rohde’s research.

But the bigger question that comes to mind is that what is the probability of such weather conditions repeating itself? They are possibly higher than what would have been few decades ago. Especially with recent studies showing an increase in frequency of warm air intrusions, making scientists believe that the further reduction in ice sea on the Arctic Ocean will allow warmer water to release heat into the atmosphere, resulting in knock-on effects for the jet stream.

The most worrisome thing is not what is happening right now to the weather but how often this has started happening in the recent years.

This video by the Robert Rohde and the Berkerley Earth division showing how climate has changed in 168 years.

Cars and street covered with heavy snow in Central London. As the snow and cold grew, many motorways were forced to close down due to high levels of invisibility and accidents. Trains were delayed when not altogether cancelled. Even the airways suffered, with British Airways cancelling many flights from Heathrow Airport, London.

 

 

 

 

Which types of treatments are available to reduce the risk of heart failure?

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With recent research showing an increase in heart failure by consuming too much non-prescriptive drugs such as ibuprofen. Are there any other factors that need to be considered that can contribute to the increased risk of heart failure?

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Diclofenac – 50%   Ibuprofen – 48%

Naproxen – 53%     Rofecoxib – 58%

Source: NHS

 

Treatments for heart failure:

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor – The inhibitor opens the blood vessels to allow the heart to pump blood around the body more smoothly.

Beta-blockers – These are used to reduce the heart rate by reducing the effects of adrenaline which increases the heart rate and blood pressure of the body.

Hydralazine with nitrate – This tends to prescribed by a cardiologist as some patients cannot take an ACE inhibitor. The drug is used to relax the blood vessels.

Diuretics – These are designed to reduce ankle swelling and breathlessness by causing the body to remove large quantities of urine.

Digoxin – Is used to strengthen cardiac muscle contraction as well as reducing heart rate.

Is it worth worrying about your ibuprofen usage?

Research into anti-inflammatory tablets has clarified that this medication is closely linked to heart attacks. The study which was conducted at the University of Montreal has received a huge amount of coverage, but should it concern you?

This research is reminder that NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are not harmless; although these drugs have already been linked to heart failure and strokes in the past, they are still sold all over the country in supermarkets where no professional advice is given on how to take the drugs correctly.

What did the research highlight?

The research explored health records of around eight million patients who had an average age of 77 and whether or not they had used NSAIDs, such as: ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen.

People who had used NSAID were found to have a 19 per cent higher chance of being admitted to hospital for heart failure. However, many news outlets also failed to point out that drugs like diclofenac are more dangerous than ibuprofen which the articles seemed to be focused more heavily on.

How was the media coverage of the story?

A large quantity of the coverage failed to highlight how the correlation between anti-inflammatory medication and heart problems was already well known.

The story received a huge amount attention from various media outlets and tended to exaggerate the research which had been conducted. Here are some of the titles:

  • Ibuprofen WARNING: Regular usage for just ONE week ‘increases heart attack risk’
  • Common painkillers may raise risk of heart attack by 100%
  • Taking ibuprofen to treat pain ‘for just ONE DAY increases your risk of heart attack by half’

What was the view of experts?

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation stated in response to growing concerns about the consumption of NSAIDs that, “It has been known for some years now that such drugs need to be used with caution in patients with, or at high risk of, heart disease. This applies mostly to those who take them on a daily basis rather than only occasionally.”

Chief medical officer at the Australian Heart Foundation, Garry Jennings stated, “There is really no information which suggests that they can cause either a cardiac arrest or a heart attack out of the blue. I think that is very unlikely.”

The overuse of NSAIDs can lead to various complications such as: stomach ulcers, and liver and kidney problems. Jennings stated, “They’re not smarties, they’re serious medications.”

 

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So what should I do?

Researchers have highlighted how ibuprofen can still be taken, but consumers should stick to small doses and only take it for as long as it really has to be. It is also important to remember that you can always look for nondrug treatments, such as ice packs and muscle sprays for any inflammation which you may be facing.

 

Listen to more about the issue below, with interviews from various professionals questioned about some of the points above:

Ibuprofen and the side effects

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What is ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a painkiller that is used to counteract toothache, fevers as well as swelling.  Ibuprofen is a non-prescriptive drug that can be purchased at any store.

Ibuprofen is most known to be a tablet but it can also be available as a capsule, liquid or a type of gel.

It usually takes between 20-30 minutes to have any effect. If applied to the skin it can take up to two days to have any effect.

 

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Source: Refluxcentar

What are the side effects of taking too much Ibuprofen?

If there is a high concentration of ibuprofen in the body; it can lead to vomiting, tiredness and breathing difficulties.

It is recommended by the NHS that you take the box of the of the ibuprofen with you, should you feel any of the above symptoms.

For more stories such as this:

Risk of heart attacks from common painkillers

 

Risk of heart attacks from common painkillers

A new study suggests that there is a link between the frequent use of anti-inflammatory painkillers, for example: ibuprofen, and heart attacks.

Research shows that using these forms of painkillers would raise the risk of heart attack, ‘between 24 and 58 per cent overall’ in comparison with not using painkillers

The new study suggests that taking ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory’s increases the likelihood of having a heart attack within the first month of taking them if consumed in high doses.

Research conducted throughout 2013 found that a years worth of high-does treatment with ibuprofen and diclofenac (a treatment used by thousands of arthritis sufferers in the UK) causes three avoidable heart attacks and one fatal heart attack for every 1,000 users.

 

 

It was stated by Michèle Bally of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre that, “Taking any dose of NSAIDs for one week, one month, or more than a month was associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack].”

It is clear that doctors should consider both the positives and negatives when it comes to prescribing drugs, as sometimes they can create more dangerous issues.

So should you be worried? For most people under the age of 65 and those without heart problems, the answer is no. Most doctors also already try to avoid prescribing anti-inflammatory medication to people with these issues. The worries about these types of drugs also seem to only apply to those individuals who take the tablets on a daily basis.

 

Humans on Mars? About Time

This decade has baffled us with even more questions about the mysterious Red Planet. The most important question of them all: Can humans live on Mars?

NASA has discovered valuable resources such as water and ice just below the red surface. This is good news! If water is present, then human pioneers may thrive on the planet. Their robotic “scouts” have shown that Mars’ geological evolution and climate cycles are not very different from Earth’s, and that at one point in time, the planet could have had life-sustaining properties.

Some space organisations have been working on getting human life to planet Mars for more than four decades. What makes the venture to Mars so difficult, that four decades of work is still far from enough? Besides the lack of reliable technology, they haven’t figured out the parameters needed to settle on a planet with different gravitational or magnetic forces. Mars is just unknown territory, so the outcome of actually staying on the red planet would be rather unpredictable. No organisation is ready to risk human lives just yet.

Another reason why getting to Mars is so difficult is the risk of radiation the shuttles and crew would have to face once they’re there. Astronauts on planet Mars are far from the Earth’s magnetic field. The crew and technology will be exposed to high-energy particles, including infrequent, but potentially deadly solar flares and galactic cosmic rays. Dr Simon Foster from Imperial College London told WNOL: “Solar flares or coronal mass ejections that happen around sun spots launch masses of radiation out into space. They are lethal to astronauts.” According to him: “The Earth’s magnetic field protects us and that’s where we get the Aurora. We see the Aurora when one of these things hits the earth…if you’re going to Mars, you don’t have protection from solar flares.”

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Coronal Mass Ejection. Image by: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), and the joint ESA/NASA Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), 31st August 2012.

If a human being is exposed to that much radiation, it may adversely affect the immune system, and increase cancer risk. NASA’s Human Research Program is developing methods and technologies to protect, mitigate, and treat the effects of radiation on the crew and their exploration systems.

Here is a breakdown of the most prominent organisations who are working hard to get humans to Mars.

Mars One

The Mars One organisation aims to land the first humans on Mars. Their main goal is to start a human colony on the planet by 2031. Mars One consists of two entities: the not-for-profit Mars One Foundation, and the for-profit company Mars One Ventures. It was founded by Bas Lansdorp from Netherlands, a controversial figure subject to a lot of scepticism in the media, mainly because he has no actual background in the field. The organisation came under fire in October 2014, when Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate students Sydney Do and Andrew Owens released an independent research report on Mars One, which found that their publicised plans are simply not feasible. According to their report, it is likely that Mars One’s current plans would kill its astronauts within the first few months of the mission.

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(From left to right) Sydney Do, Barry Finger, the Mars Society moderator, Andrew Owens, and Bas Lansdorp pose for a photo after a debate for the 18th Annual International Mars Society Convention . Image by: www.theverge.com

Their Timeline

  • 2022: Mars One plans to send a lander with visual communication technology to Mars as a “demonstration mission.” They plan to carry out a “water extraction experiment” to confirm that Martian soil may provide basic human resources.
  • 2024: Their next course of action is launching a communications satellite to orbit the planet. This is for 24/7 Earth-Mars communication, except for when the Sun is between the two planets.
  • 2026: They aim to launch a rover and a trailer to explore Mars’ surface to find the best location for human settlement. By then, they plan to launch a second communications satellite- this time to orbit the Sun- so they would have uninterrupted Earth-Mars communication even when the Sun is in between the two planets.
  • 2029: They plan to launch six cargo missions, which includes a second rover, two living units, two life support units, and a supply unit.
  • 2030: Their rovers would prepare the outpost location for the settlers. Their Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), powered by solar panels, will then be activated. Their goal at this stage is to produce breathable atmosphere and sufficient water before the first human crew starts their journey to Mars.
  • 2031: This is when they plan to send the first human crew to permanently settle on Mars, followed by a second crew in 2033.

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Mars One: A plan for their mission to Mars. Infographic by: Ainaa Mashrique. Powered by: Visme.

Lansdorp called for volunteers for their mission in 2013, and in February 2016 announced his first batch of successful candidates – the Mars 100. A young Dublin academic with a PhD in physics and astrophysics, Joseph Roche, told The Guardian in an article that he was leaving the Mars 100. According to him, the selection process was “laughably inadequate”, done via online forms and Skype.

Despite that, Mars One was still able to receive applications from 202000 potential volunteers. Overseen by Mars One medical director Norbert Kraft, a veteran of the US, Russian, and Japanese space programmes, the candidates were reduced to 1,058. And then, a medical routine conducted by their own GPs brought the numbers to a global 660. And then finally, the chosen Mars 100.

NASA

NASA’s goal is similar to Mars One’s: to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. Their journey is already well under way as their orbiters, landers, and rovers have been exploring the planet for decades. The Curiosity rover was used to gather radiation data to protect future astronauts, and the upcoming Mars 2020 rover will attempt to uncover Martian resources, including oxygen.

NASA also shares their goal of finding a way for humans to settle safely beyond Earth. With a growing number of international and commercial partners who realise the economic potential of strengthening America’s leadership on Earth and in space, their goals seem achievable, but very difficult.

NASA’s  journey to Mars is divided into three phases. Each subsequent phase crosses a new threshold of challenges as humans move farther from Earth.

Click here for a summary infographic (Infographic by: Ainaa Mashrique. Information from: www.nasa.gov)

Their Timeline

Earth Reliantnow until mid-2020s

  • This phase consists of International Space Station (ISS) operation through 2024, where there would be commercial development in low-earth orbit technology before moving onto deep space systems; customers may pay to go onboard the ISS.
  • One of their goals at this stage is to study life support and human health stabilisation while in deep space.
  • Research would be carried out aboard the ISS, as the orbiting laboratory would act as a testing ground for the technologies and communication interfaces required for deep space missions involving human crew.
  • On the other hand, astronauts will learn about living and working in deep space for long durations.

Proving Ground2018 until 2030

  •  NASA would conduct regular crewed missions and spacewalks in cis-lunar space (the space around the Moon), by using the knowledge and technology previously acquired during phase one.
  • This phase would ideally verify deep space habitation.
  • NASA plans to conduct a yearlong mission to prepare for their mission to Mars.
  • NASA also aspires to integrate human and robotic operations by redirecting and sampling an asteroid boulder into cis-lunar orbit.
  • Astronauts on the ISS during the previous phase would be hours away from Earth, but the proving ground is days away. This is one step closer to an actual Mars mission, which will be months away from the Earth.
  • NASA plans to launch their powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission will carry the Orion spacecraft (without astronauts first) thousands of miles beyond the moon for approximately three weeks.
  • After that, astronauts would embark on a similar mission on board the Orion, traveling farther than humans have ever travelled before.

Earth Independent2030s and beyond

  • The final phase before the manned mission to Mars.
  • With knowledge gathered during the previous two phases, it aims to prepare astronauts and technology for the upcoming mission to Mars.
  • Science missions during this time will be in the final stages.
  • NASA plans to demonstrate entry, descent, and landing (EDL) techniques that they plan to employ during the actual Mars mission.
  • They would also demonstrate in-situ resource utilisation.
  • They plan to send humans to low-Mars orbit or to orbit one of the Martian moons by the early 2030s.
  • NASA’s main goal at this stage is to send humans to the Martian surface.
  • At the moment, NASA is already looking at potential outposts on Mars that would propel scientific research and provide the most resources.

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NASA’s Journey to Mars. Image by: www.nasa.gov

Space-X

Space X is a private company founded by Elon Musk that builds rockets and spacecraft. With a 1.6 billion USD contract with NASA, the company is the first private company that has successfully built spacecraft for cargo resupplies at NASA’s International Space Station, previously a feat only achieved by the US government. The founder Elon Musk shares the dream of a manned mission to Mars, and says in a keynote speech in Mexico that he may be able to accomplish this in six years by upgrading one of his existing spacecraft called the Falcon-9.

His current plan to get to Mars involves a multi-stage launch and transport system- including a reusable booster- which will be a bigger version of their existing and tested Falcon 9 spacecraft. The booster, and an “interplanetary module” could potentially carry 100 passengers. Elon Musk’s ongoing feat to develop reusable rockets would also dramatically cut costs needed for deep space missions. He is one step closer as Space X had successfully launched and landed the first used rocket on 30th March 2017.

He also proposed using similar modules- also launched using reusable boosters- in the Earth’s orbit to refuel the interplanetary craft, so it could be used for multiple trips. This includes trips to other parts of the solar system.

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Space-X spacecraft. Images by: www.spacex.com.
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