Author Archives: Luke Foster

Parkinson’s originates in the intestine and spreads to the brain via vagus nerve according to a new study

Parkinson’s disease may have originated in intestine cells according to a new study conducted by a group of researchers at the Johns Hopkins University medical school in the United States.
According to the researchers, the disease could then spread from the intestine to the brain.

The study, published in Neuron, provides “further evidence of the role of the intestine in Parkinson’s disease,” according to Ted Dawson, professor of neurology and one of the authors of the study.
To date, we know that Parkinson’s disease is caused by the accumulation of a particular protein, called alpha-synuclein, which occurs in brain cells. This accumulation causes the death of nerve tissues and this, in turn, causes the accumulation of dead brain matter, a matter called the “Lewy body.”

This new study is based on a discovery already made in 2003 when a German neuroanatomist realized that the accumulations of the alpha-synuclein protein occur in the parts of the central nervous system that are responsible for the intestine. Among other things, this would be consistent, according to the researchers, with the fact that one of the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is constipation. Already this anatomist, Heiko Braak, hypothesized that the disease could advance through the nerves from the intestine to the brain as if it were climbing up a ladder.

The researchers behind the study published in Neuron therefore wanted to understand how this spread could occur from the intestine to the brain and tried to understand if this protein responsible for accumulation traveled along the vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves that goes right from the stomach to the brain base. They therefore performed experiments on mice by injecting 25 µg of malformed synthetic alpha-synuclein into their bodies. The experiment, which lasted 10 months, actually showed that the alpha-synuclein began to accumulate precisely where the conjunction between the vagus nerve and the intestine is present and that it continued to spread reaching the brain.

The researchers then performed a second experiment on mice, similar to the first, but this time they cut the vagus nerve. After seven months, the researchers discovered that mice with vagus cut nerves did not show signs of cell death typical of Parkinson’s disease. The study therefore shows that blocking the transmission path via the vagus nerve could prove to be the key to at least prevent the signs of Parkinson’s disease, “an exciting discovery for the field,” says Dawson.

Wearable device detects emotions and provides input in real time

A technology that allows wearable sensors to detect and report human emotions: this is how the University of Lancaster, UK, describes the new device developed by researchers from the School of Computing and Communications.

The latter have used “intelligent” materials and have created wrist sensor prototypes which can, in real time, change color, temperature or tighten or vibrate in relation to various user emotions.
According to the same researchers, such a device could be of great help in detecting states such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder as well as the whole range related to human emotions.

The device is made with thermochromic materials that can change color when they are heated and therefore when the body temperature increases. During experiments, devices, for example, were activated when users performed movements, worked, played, conversed or relaxed. In fact, the sensor is able to detect changes related to excitation through the galvanic response of the skin, substantially its electrical conductivity.

The device will be presented in more detail at the DIS 2019 conference in San Diego. In any case, it is not a brand new technology to interpret human emotions and states through the skin but this device, according to Muhammad Umair, one of the authors of the research, is not only wearable and also provides non-visual signals but can also vibrate , provide a sense of tension or a feeling of warmth and therefore provides data in real time, rather than historical, allowing the wearer to pay attention to his emotional responses in real time and to understand which moods change and what causes this change.

Impact of aircraft contrails on global warming will triple by 2050

A new study, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, analyzes the impact of the contrails that planes leave in the air, an impact that, according to the results achieved by researchers, could triple its effects by 2050.

These contrails, in fact, under certain conditions, can remain in the sky for a longer time, becoming real clouds of ice that trap heat inside the atmosphere. Their impact on the climate has been neglected by everyone, even by the world of research, as it is thought that the major pollution involving air transport is produced by engine emissions.

In fact, according to the researchers behind this study, condensation trails have contributed more to heating the atmosphere than all the CO 2 emissions emitted by aircraft since this type of transport began. These trails create an imbalance in the earth’s climate balance called “radiative forcing,” an imbalance that then manifests itself with global warming.

The researchers calculated that in 2005 air traffic was responsible for 5% of the man-made radiative forcing but this negative influence is expected to increase in the near future in parallel with the increase of airplanes in the skies and should even triple by 2050.

According to researchers, the strongest impact will be in North America and Europe, ie the geographical areas most subject to air traffic, but will also increase significantly in the Asian area. Cleaner emissions would partially solve the problem as the soot particles emitted by the aircraft would lead to a parallel decrease in ice crystals in the wake, however researchers say that even a 90% reduction in soot level would not be enough to bring the impact of wakes at 2006 levels.

Also diverting flights to ensure that planes do not pass in those regions most sensitive to the formation of contrails is not seen by researchers as a practical solution because this would lengthen travel and cause more CO 2 emissions.

Melting of the Himalayan glaciers doubled in recent years

A new study covering forty years of satellite observations confirms that the melting of ice has been involving the Himalayan glaciers for several years already. The new study, published in Science Advances, refers to data collected by satellites in recent decades in India, Nepal, China and Bhutan and shows that glaciers in mountain areas in these regions have dropped by an average of 45 cm every year since 2000.

It is the equivalent of eight billion tons of water per year or 3.2 million Olympic size pools formed by melted ice every year. This is the double the ice that these glaciers have lost from 1975 to 2000, data that shows how the dissolution in these areas is accelerating and certainly cannot be classified as stable.

Often referred to as the “third pole” of the Earth, the Himalayas contain more than 600 billion tons of ice and already several estimates made in previous studies showed that 2/3 of this ice could disappear by 2100 already. There are studies in this particular area that are sometimes contradictory, while this study, carried out by Joshua Maurer, a researcher at Columbia University, is a summary of all the previous studies, fragmented both geographically and temporally.

And the results certainly do not seem encouraging. Another example is also given by the analysis of temperature alone: ​​from 2000 to 2016 the average temperature of all these areas taken together has increased by one degree centigrade compared to that recorded from 1975 to 2000. This is the “clearest picture of how much quickly the glaciers of the Himalayas are melting in this interval of time,” as Maurer himself declares.

The researcher, to analyze the large mass of data, has created a new automated system that has transformed satellite images into 3D models to better show the changing elevations of glaciers over time.

The situation is serious for several reasons, perhaps the main one is linked to the seasonal outflow of the Himalayan glaciers that serve to irrigate the cultivated fields that feed hundreds of millions of people in the area: when the glaciers begin to lose many parts of their mass, these natural irrigations will be greatly reduced and this will lead to lack of water and cultivated food.

3,000-year-old stones used by capuchin monkeys to open nuts have been found

The stones used by Capuchin monkeys in the area of ​​today’s Serra da Capivara National Park in Brazil about 3,000 years ago are already considered as the instruments not used by older humans ever found outside Africa.

In the study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, various rounded stones are described due to the blows produced by the capuchin monkeys in the region to break seeds and open nuts. The most interesting fact, however, lies in the fact that these are objects of various shapes belonging to different eras, something that suggests that the monkeys of the region have used stones of different shapes and with a different degree of roundness to scratch or open foods of various hardness over time.

This without considering that it is a fairly detailed individual archaeological record, something that usually belongs to human beings. Not that it was not known that many species of primates already used at the time, or long before, stone tools to facilitate the opening of nuts, but they are the few archaeological sites that can boast of having preserved non-human instruments.

The researchers found more than 1500 stones during excavations and 122 of them showed signs of impact or other changes that clearly indicated that they were used to open nuts or crush seeds, just as different species of monkeys do today. The stones vary in size depending on the period to which they belong. Some, used between 2403 thousand years ago, are low-weight rocks, probably used for smaller or less resistant foods like cashews.

Other stones, used 250 years ago, turn out to be more resistant and heavy rocks, probably used to open harder foods.

“It is the first example of variation in the use of long-term tools outside human lineage,” state researchers Tiago Falótico of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and Tomos Proffitt of University College London who performed the study on the stones together with other colleagues.

These changes could be explained by the parallel changes in the availability of different foods over time. For example, cashews, today quite abundant and one of the main foodstuffs for Capuchin monkeys, may not have been so widespread during the past.