Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Town On Fire What We Can Learn From A Blaze That's Been Burning For Half A Century

May 27, 1962, was an ordinary spring Sunday in the rolling green hills of Centralia, Pennsylvania. The roughly 1,000 residents of the small coal-mining town went about their usual Sunday routines, looking forward to tomorrow's Memorial Day festivities.
To get the town ready, officials had ordered the removal of the huge pile of trash sitting in the town dump. The easiest method available was to set it all on fire. Burning trash remains a common (but mostly illegal) way of getting rid of garbage, especially in rural areas without a robust waste infrastructure. Certainly in 1962, months before the publication of Silent Spring and years before the environmental movement really took off, burning waste was much more common than it is today.
There was just one problem. The fire that started that day never went out, and the town began a long, smoldering decline into oblivion.

What does rosemary do to your brain?

In folk medicine, rosemary has been associated for centuries with having a good memory. But is it worth investigating whether it really has any powers, asks Dr Chris Van Tulleken.
In scientific terms there are different kinds of memory.
There's past memory - your experiences and what you learned at school. There's present memory, which is your working minute-to-minute memory. And there's future memory or "remembering to remember".

Pluto's ices may snow down on its nearby moon

During its historic flyby, the New Horizons spacecraft has not forgotten about Pluto’s giant, airless moon Charon, which is 20 times closer to Pluto than the moon is to Earth. Charon is dark gray and rich in water ice, because it is not massive enough to hold onto the brighter methane and nitrogen ices seen on Pluto—except, maybe, at Charon’s pole. Today, the New Horizons team released a false color image of the duo (pictured above), which shows the different materials that blanket each body. The team also offered an intriguing theory for Charon’s reddish polar cap. Although it lacks an atmosphere of its own, Charon orbits through and picks up gas molecules of ices that sublimate from Pluto’s surface and then escape from its atmosphere. Some of these stray molecules may bounce around Charon until they end up at a place cold enough to freeze out and stay put: the pole. The reddish regions on both Charon and Pluto thus offer an intriguing hint of a material connection between the two bodies.
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Pluto: New Horizons probe makes contact with Earth

Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft has made contact with Earth, confirming its successful flypast of Pluto, after a journey to the far reaches of the solar system that has taken nine-and-a-half years and 3 billion miles (4.88bn km).
At precisely 8.52.37pm Eastern US time, the probe “phoned home” to mission control in Maryland, 13 hours after it flew within 7,750 miles (12,472km) of Pluto.
Scientists greeted the news of its safe passage with cheers and tears, calling it a historic day for space exploration.

Friday, July 10, 2015

New BMJ editorial: “How Medicine is Broken, and How We Can Fix It”

There are some big problems in medicine, and the public are right to be concerned about our shortcomings. Last week we found out that the Chief Medical Officer has written to the Academy of Medical Sciences, asking for an authoritative review into problems in the evidence we use to choose treatments, focusing especially on concerns around statins and tamiflu.
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The role of the microbiota in preventing allergies

The human body is inhabited by billions of symbiotic bacteria, carrying a diversity that is unique to each individual. The microbiota is involved in many mechanisms, including digestion, vitamin synthesis and host defense. It is well established that a loss of bacterial symbionts promotes the development of allergies. Scientists at the Institut Pasteur have succeeded in explaining this phenomenon, and demonstrate how the microbiota acts on the balance of the immune system: the presence of microbes specifically blocks the immune cells responsible for triggering allergies. These results are published in Science on July 9, 2015.
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Bumblebees being crushed by climate change

As the climate changes, plants and animals are on the move. So far, many are redistributing in a similar pattern: As habitat that was once too cold warms up, species are expanding their ranges toward the poles, whereas boundaries closer to the equator have remained more static.
Bumblebees, however, appear to be a disturbing exception, according to a study in Science today. A comprehensive look at dozens of species, it finds that many North American and European bumblebees are failing to “track” warming by colonizing new habitats north of their historic range. Simultaneously, they are disappearing from the southern portions of their range

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