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for December, 2010.
Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
Greetings everyone and welcome to the last column of the year and of the decade. Interestingly enough I’ve received several requests for the rerun of an old column this year so I thought I’d give you that one again and add another previous column with an interesting update.
Our first subject concerns an element that’s extremely toxic. Oddly enough, there’s now a push to place more of this toxic element in your home in a very dangerous form, all in the name of saving energy.
TEA WITH THE MAD HATTER
Have you ever had one of those conversations with someone where you seemed to be talking at cross-purposes? Have a look at this excerpt from Alice in Wonderland and you’ll see what I mean.
Alice had been looking over his [the Mad Hatter] shoulder with some curiosity. `What a funny watch!’ she remarked. `It tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell what o’clock it is!’
`Why should it?’ muttered the Hatter. `Does your watch tell you what year it is?’
`Of course not,’ Alice replied very readily: `but that’s because it stays the same year for such a long time together.’
`Which is just the case with mine,’ said the Hatter.
Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. `I don’t quite understand you,’ she said, as politely as she could.
The Mad Hatter is just full of remarks like that and interestingly enough; Lewis Carol had a very definite role model in mind when he created the character. In 19th century England (and the United States), hatters (people who made hats) really did go mad. Many hats were (and still are) made of felt and the chemicals used to cure felt included mercury nitrate. Prolonged exposure to these mercury vapors caused mercury poisoning. Victims developed severe and uncontrollable muscular tremors and twitching limbs, called "hatter’s shakes"; other symptoms included distorted vision and confused speech. Advanced cases developed hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms.
Many hats were made of beaver fur, but cheaper ones used rabbit fur instead. Making a rabbit fur hat was complex and involved many steps. One step was to brush a solution of mercury nitrate on to the fur to roughen the fibers and make them mat more easily. The process called carroting because it made the fur turn orange. Beaver fur has natural serrated edges that make this unnecessary, one reason why it was preferred, but the cost and scarcity of beaver meant that other furs had to be used.
Whatever the source of the fur, the fibers were shaved off the skin and matted into felt; which was later immersed in a boiling acid solution to thicken and harden it. The acid treatment decomposed the mercury nitrate to elemental mercury. Finishing processes included steaming the hat to shape and ironing it. In all these steps, hatters working in poorly ventilated workshops would breathe in mercury vapor.
This hazard continued into the 20th century and it wasn’t until 1941 that the US officially banned the practice of using mercury to make hats. Although hatters are no longer routinely exposed to the hazards of mercury, you may not be so lucky.
Elemental mercury is everywhere. The vapor is easily transported by the wind and trace amounts can be found in all bodies of water. Unfortunately, bacteria can cause chemical changes that transform elemental mercury to methyl mercury, a more toxic form.
Fish absorb methyl mercury from the water as it passes over their gills and as they feed on aquatic organisms. The mercury then moves up the food chain and top-drawer predators like sharks, tuna and swordfish can contain significant amounts of toxic mercury which can then wind up on your plate and in your body.
But that’s not the only way you can get mercury into your body. When I was very young and extremely stupid, someone gave me some elemental mercury and I played with it for about a week.
But then I began to notice something really strange. My vision had altered. Whenever I looked at things it was like looking at them through the wrong end of a telescope. Everything looked much farther away that it should. It was years later that I discovered that this vision change is one of the first indications of mercury poisoning. It lasted for several months.
Flash forward to today. I received one of those new ‘curly lightbulbs’ for free because they last significantly longer than conventional bulbs and they are ‘so good for the environment’. So when the light over my stove burned out, I used that bulb to replace it, because the light over my stove burns 24/7.
Unfortunately, old butterfingers dropped it and it shattered into a million pieces. A day or so later, I told my daughter-in-law the same story I just told you because strangely enough, I had the same symptoms of looking the wrong way through a telescope. And my daughter-in-law said “Don’t you know that the ‘curly bulbs’ are full of mercury?” Hmmmmm . . . . . those bulbs may not be the ‘planet savers’ everyone says they are!
And now, for the article that I’ve had several requests to run again. If mercury poisoning just alters your vision or makes you crazy, what’s going to kill you?
WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
One of the best things about my job at the University of Guam Planetarium is the chance to talk to the kids (and adults) after the show. And one of the things that absolutely fascinates me is what kids worry about. They want to know if we’re all going to be pulled into a black hole (no chance), get run over by another planet (no chance) or die when the Sun explodes (the Sun won’t explode; it isn’t big enough). And many of them are convinced that, like the dinosaurs, we’ll all die in an asteroid impact.
We won’t die in an asteroid impact. Ninety-nine point nine per cent of all asteroids live in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter and are always millions of miles away from Earth. There are a few rogue asteroids that cross Earth’s orbital path, but we know where they are because they’re big and easy to see and none of them are on a collision course with Earth.
But Earth does cross the path of millions of objects smaller than asteroids. Earth, the spaceship you ride every day of your life runs over about 1,000 objects a day as we circle the Sun at 66,000 mph. Most of them are dust and sand grains. A rock smaller than 50 feet on a side burns up entirely from friction with our air and never hits the ground.
Bigger rocks called meteors do hit the Earth, though. Seventy percent of them land in the water; since the world ocean covers 70% of our planet. We hit roughly two rocks a week that leave remnants that punch all the way through to the surface.
About once a century, we get hit by a meteor that was originally the size of a football field. These rocks can do serious damage if they hit land. A rock about this size blew up over Tunguska, Siberia in 1908. A rock has to be at least a mile in diameter to have global effects and it was a meteor about 6 miles across that took out the dinosaurs. It will happen again; there are lots of big rocks out there with “Earth” written right across the front.
So . . . what are the chances that it will happen in your lifetime? What are the odds that you’ll die in a meteor impact? Should you be scared like the little kids that come into the Planetarium?
For that matter, what WILL kill you? Nobody gets out alive you know; something will cause your death. So what should you be afraid of? Meteors? Tsunamis? Earthquakes? Environmental pollution? Airplanes? Cars? There are people who worry about these odds as a profession (and I suspect most of them work in the insurance business). So let’s examine your chances.
Dying in a meteor impact ranks way down at the bottom. Your chances of checking out under a big rock are 1 in 200,000. Interestingly enough, those odds are pretty high when you consider that we have no recorded information about anyone ever dying in a meteor impact. And they are high because when the big one comes in, it will destroy lots and lots of real estate and many (most? all?) people will die.
Because of the potential destruction, those odds are lower than your chances of dying in a tsunami, which are 1 in 500,000. If the big one hits, it won’t make any difference where you are on Earth, but in order to die in a tsunami, you have to be on a coast, which reduces your chances.
Your chances of dying in an earthquake are significantly higher at 1 in 132,000. Mother Earth is restless and we do insist on living in inadequate housing on fault lines. Here on Guam we’re at risk, but our houses, are, as a general rule adequate, as the 10th largest earthquake in recorded history proved.
Do you worry a great deal about dying in the electric chair? To help you gain some perspective on these odds; your chances of dying in a legal execution in the United States (all these statistics are for the U.S.) are 1 in 58,000. Since I have no worries about my criminal activities, those odds sure make me feel better about the earthquake, tsunami and meteor impacts!
But you might want to think again about getting on that airplane. Your odds of dying in an airplane crash are 1 in 20,000. And you might also want to stay out of the water. Mama Ocean does not forgive, and your odds of dying by drowning are 1 in 9,000.
Mother Nature isn’t very forgiving in general, and your odds for dying by natural forces which includes typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, lightning strikes, tornados, floods, blizzards (I’m not too worried about that here!) and all the other ways that Mother Nature can do you in, are definitely creeping up there at 1 in 3,000.
Don’t smoke in bed. As a matter of fact, don’t smoke at all and definitely don’t use matches or be around anyone who does. Your chances of dying by fire or smoke are 1 in 1,100.
Next up is a chilling statistic. Guns may not kill people (people kill people); but your chances of dying by gunfire are a whopping 1 in 325. I guess I should start telling the kids that they need to be much more afraid of Daddy’s handgun than that meteor.
If you’re really worried about how you’ll die and you want to know what you should be afraid of, sell the car immediately and never get in another one because your chances of dying in an automobile accident are 1 in 100. I’m always amused by people who are afraid to fly. They should really be afraid to cross the street.
So, what’s the real killer? What should you really be afraid of? Well, it isn’t meteors, or typhoons or tsunamis or earthquakes, or airplanes or cars and we all harbor the weapon in our homes. Your chances of dying of heart disease are 1 in 5, and the weapon is the fork.
Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
Although many of the files are bulging, this week’s column will be a little different. Many of you know that I’m the Star Lady at the UOG Planetarium and we’ve got something happening in the sky tonight that will be worth looking for. So we’ll talk a little about that first.
CHRISTMAS ORNAMENT RISING
We’ve got something interesting happening in the sky this evening and you certainly don’t need a telescope to see it. We’re having a total eclipse of the Moon. It’s being touted in the mainland US as the ‘solstice eclipse’ but it won’t happen on winter solstice for us as we celebrate winter solstice tomorrow at 9:39 a.m. More on the solstices and the strangeness of sunrise-sunset times here later.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth, the Sun and the Moon line up exactly with the Earth in the middle. We don’t have a lunar eclipse at every full Moon and a solar eclipse at every new Moon because the Moon’s orbit is tilted about five degrees to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. This means that typically the Moon passes either above or below the Earth’s shadow and doesn’t enter it.
But tonight the Moon will pass into the darker part of the Earth’s shadow and we’ll be having a total lunar eclipse. Now we all know that in a total solar eclipse that the Moon blocks the Sun’s light entirely and there is a brief period of darkness. But strangely enough, when there’s an eclipse of the Moon, you can still see the Moon, even though the Earth is between the Moon and the Sun.
The difference occurs because the Earth has air and the Moon doesn’t. The Earth’s air bends the Sun’s light around the Earth to shine on the Moon. Now, if you think about it, it’s always sunrise or sunset somewhere on the earth. That area is called the sunrise-sunset ring and it’s a permanent feature. Twice a day, your spinning spaceship rotates you through it.
The typical colors of a sunrise or a sunset are red or orange. That’s because the Earth’s air absorbs light and turns it to heat. When the Sun’s light is traveling through a lot of air as it does at the sunrise-sunset ring, more of the shorter wavelengths are absorbed and the light that emerges is red or orange.
So if the light that shines on the Moon passes through the sunrise-sunset ring, you’d expect the Moon to be red in color and in a typical lunar eclipse, that’s exactly what happens. The Moon is a lovely coppery red, the color of a sunset.
But how a lunar eclipse actually looks depends on something very important, the quality of the air you have to breathe. If the air is clean, the Moon is red. If the air is dirty, particularly at the higher altitudes, the Moon can be very dark. We had a lunar eclipse here on Guam shortly after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 and the Moon was so dark, you could barely see it unless you knew exactly where to look.
So what will the Moon look like tonight? Well, there are a couple more factors that make this eclipse unique. A typical total lunar eclipse lasts about four hours. The Moon orbits the Earth at 2300 mph, but the Earth is big and it takes a while for the Moon to transit through the Earth’s shadow.
And that’s what makes this eclipse unique. I tell my Planetarium patrons that actually watching a lunar eclipse is sort of like watching paint dry. In a ‘clean-air eclipse, there’s first a little color on the limb and the color can take up to an hour to transit across the Moon’s face. I usually tell people to make watching a lunar eclipse a “commercial eclipse”. In other words, watch TV and at every commercial go outside and see what’s happened to the Moon.
But tonight’s eclipse won’t be like that. When the Moon rises out of the eastern ocean tonight it will already be completely eclipsed. This eclipse starts at 4:30 this afternoon and totality begins at 5:47 p.m. Moonrise begins at 5:55 p.m. and sunset will be at 5:59 p.m. This means that if this is a typical eclipse, the Moon will rise from the eastern ocean and it will be a beautiful red Christmas ornament.
Maximum eclipse will be at 6:17 p.m. and totality will end at 6:42 p.m. The whole show will be over at 8:01 p.m. So, what will this eclipse look like? Well, we have had a few volcanic eruptions in our area recently and there’s really no telling how dark the Moon will be. You just need to go out and have a look for yourself. Here’s hoping it won’t be totally overcast!!
THE LONGEST NIGHT?
So I mentioned earlier in the article that they’re calling this the solstice eclipse in the states because it happens on the 21st of December, which is winter solstice for them. Since we’re where America’s Day Begins, solstice doesn’t happen for us until tomorrow. And of course, winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, right? Well, yes and no.
Here on Guam, we’re so close to the equator that the Sun’s angle doesn’t change much and it’s the angle of the Sun that affects the number of hours it spends above the horizon. The Sun actually started setting later last month, but it will continue to rise later here on Guam until the end of January. The longest day in December was on the first when we had 11 hours and 24 minutes of daylight. The shortest day contains 11 hours and 20 minutes of daylight, only four minutes less than December’s longest day.
So what day is the shortest day? This year it’s really strange. I’m used to all the even numbered days or all the odd numbered days being the ‘shortest day’ but this year, the 15th, the 17th and the 19th last week were all 11 hours and 20 minutes long. And this week, every day from Monday the 20th to Christmas Day on Saturday, they’re all 11 hours and 20 minutes long as is the 27th. All the rest of the days next week are 11 hours and 21 minutes long.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that here on Guam, we don’t have a shortest day, we have a shortest month. Of course, 11 hours and 20 minutes of daylight is a vast improvement over the 8 hours and 20 minutes of daylight they’ll have in Seattle on Wednesday! So use our long December nights to do a little Moon and star gazing and don’t forget to watch the lunar eclipse tonight!
And now for a little story about a subject that all of us are interested in at this time of year!
HOW HE REALLY DOES IT!
Santa skeptics have long considered St. Nick’s ability to deliver toys to the world’s good girls and boys on Christmas Eve a scientific impossibility. But new research shows that Santa is able to make his appointed rounds through the pioneering use of cutting-edge science and technology.
"Santa is using technologies that we are not yet able to recreate in our own labs," explains North Carolina State University’s Dr. Larry Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who just completed a six month visiting-scholar program at Santa’s Workshop-North Pole Labs (SW-NPL). "As the first scholar to participate in the SW-NPL program, I learned that we have a long way to go to catch up with Santa in fields ranging from aerodynamics and thermodynamics to materials science."
For example, Silverberg says that Santa’s sleigh is far more advanced than any modern form of air transportation. "The truss of the sleigh, including the runners, are made of a honeycombed titanium alloy that is very lightweight and 10 to 20 times stronger than anything we can make today," Silverberg says.
The sleigh is also equipped with state of the art electronics, including laser sensors that can detect upcoming thermals and wind conditions to find the optimal path. The focus on efficiency and a smooth ride has also led to the development of a nanostructured "skin" for the sleigh that is porous and contains its own low-pressure system, which holds the air flowing around the airborne sled onto the body, reducing drag by as much as 90 percent.
A key finding from Silverberg’s visit to the North Pole is that Santa uses a reversible thermodynamic processor — a sort of nano-toymaker known as the "magic sack" — that creates toys for good girls and boys on site, significantly cutting down on the overall weight of the sleigh. The magic sack uses carbon-based soot from chimneys, together with other local materials, to make the toys. The magic sack works by applying high-precision electromagnetic fields to reverse thermodynamic processes previously thought to be irreversible.
The sleigh is driven by Santa’s well-known team of reindeer, which is equipped with side-mounted jetpacks. The reindeer and jetpacks, which are powered by cold fusion, "are arrayed in such a way as to create a stable reindeer-sleigh system," Silverberg says. "The sleigh’s reins are used to not only direct the heads of the reindeer, but to direct the orientation of the jetpacks for precision flight."
Silverberg explains that the sleigh is also equipped to make use of so-called "relativity clouds" to help ensure Santa and his reindeer can travel approximately 200 million square miles, making stops in some 80 million homes, in one night. "Based on his advanced knowledge of the theory of relativity, Santa recognizes that time can be stretched like a rubber band, space can be squeezed like an orange and light can be bent," Silverberg says. "Relativity clouds are controllable domains — rips in time — that allow him months to deliver presents while only a few minutes pass on Earth. The presents are truly delivered in a wink of an eye."
Silverberg says the experience was "an eye-opener. I appreciate the opportunity Santa has given me to visit his sleighport and work alongside the elves at SW-NPL. It was a unique learning experience and a tremendous honor." He notes that the principles of cold fusion are still a closely guarded secret.
I hope you enjoyed our excursions into fact and fantasy. MERRY CHRISTMAS to all!!
Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
Although we’ve still got a couple of weeks to go, the experts are already saying that 2010 will go down in the history books as the warmest year on record. Of course, there’s a very strong possibility that it won’t keep that record for long.
We’ve also had news stories about our neighbors to the east who will probably become refugees in the next twenty years or so, not because of war, or famine or volcanoes or earthquakes but because their homes, their land, their countries are simply swallowed up by the rising sea.
So I figured it was time to dip into the global warming file and find some of the smaller stories that figure in what’s shaping up to be the biggest global change since that big rock took out the dinosaurs a few million years ago.
One of the many consequences of global warming is (wait for it) ice melting! And although 2010 doesn’t hold the record for lowest amount of Arctic ice; it’s close!
In September, the Arctic sea ice cover reached its minimum extent for the year and it was the third-lowest recorded since satellites began measuring sea ice extent in 1979, according to the University of Colorado at Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Although more ice remained after many days of 24 hour sunlight than in 2007 and 2008, the two years that hold the record for minimum Arctic sea ice, 2010 is still significantly below the long-term average and well outside the range of natural climate variability, according to CU-Boulder’s NSIDC scientists. Most researchers believe the shrinking Arctic sea ice is tied to warming temperatures caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases being pumped into Earth’s atmosphere.
On Sept. 10 the sea ice extent dropped to 1.84 million square miles, or 4.76 million square kilometers, the lowest ice extent of the year before the returning darkness caused the sea to begin to freeze again. The 2010 minimum is 753,000 square miles below the 1879-2000 average minimum and 625,000 square miles below the 1979 to 2010 average minimum.
The experts still say that we’ll be looking at an ice-free Arctic in 20-30 years.
Arctic sea ice reached the lowest 2010 extent, making it the third lowest extent in the satellite record. (Credit: CU-Boulder/National Snow and Ice Data Center)
So, just what does that shrinking ice mean? Well, for one thing, rising sea levels, although the melting Arctic ice doesn’t contribute much because nine-tenths of that ice is already in the water. But it does mean something interesting. The fabled Northwest Passage isn’t a fable anymore. Read on!
OVER THE TOP
As Arctic ice recedes, countries are looking forward to faster, safer and more efficient sea routes across the top of the world. Responding to a request from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska Maritime Pilots and the commercial shipping industry, NOAA sent one of its premier surveying vessels, NOAA Ship Fairweather, to detect navigational dangers in critical Arctic waters that haven’t been charted for more than 50 years.
Fairweather, homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska, spent most of last summer examining seafloor features, measuring ocean depths and updating NOAA’s nautical charts in the Bering Straits. The data also supported scientific research on essential fish habitat and provided new tide data for the region.
The number of ships wanting to cut thousands of miles off their routes from say Europe to Japan has caused the number of ships traversing the newly-opened Northwest Passage to soar. Just as the growing number of cars on the road causes traffic jams, more ships in the Northwest Passage can cause ‘ship jams’, especially when the maps are outdated and you can’t find the safe ‘roads’. And commercial shippers aren’t the only ones who need the new maps. Commercial fishermen and cruise liners are beginning to visit the top of the world.
The U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone includes 568,000 square miles of U.S. Arctic waters. The majority of charted Arctic waters were surveyed with obsolete technology dating back to the 1800s. Most of the shoreline along Alaska’s northern and western coasts has not been mapped since 1960, if ever, and confidence in the region’s nautical charts is extremely low.
"In Alaska we are seeing the effects of climate change more rapidly than anywhere else in the U.S.," said Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska. "As Arctic sea ice recedes, economic activity in the region is going to expand dramatically. Alaskans rely on NOAA to help us make sure that things like oil and gas development and marine transportation are done safely and responsibly. The 21st century mapping technology the Ketchikan-based Fairweather brings to this important charting mission is a great example of what the federal government needs to do as activity in the Arctic grows."
About a third of U.S. Arctic waters are considered navigationally significant. Of that area, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has identified 38,000 square nautical miles as survey priorities. NOAA estimates that it will take well more than 25 years to map the prioritized areas of the Arctic seafloor.
"President Thomas Jefferson ordered a survey of the East Coast in 1807, when our country was losing more ships to unsafe navigation than to war," explains Capt. David Neander, commanding officer of the Fairweather. "Today, we have better maps of the moon than of our own oceans. Our 46-person crew is amassing ocean data that directly affects our economy and our ecosystems."
The vessel is equipped with the latest in hydrographic survey technology — multi-beam survey systems; high-speed, high-resolution side-scan sonar; position and orientation systems; hydrographic survey launches; and an on-board data-processing server.
Using state-of-the-art echo sounding technology, NOAA Ship Fairweather is detecting navigational dangers in critical Arctic waterways. (Credit: NOAA)
So, global warming isn’t absolutely all negative. But here’s a question for you? How will it affect other animals besides humans? And here’s the answer about one animal.
Although most of us don’t like rodents because the only ones most people notice here are the Agana sewer rats, rodents are a large and diverse group and many of them are quite cute. Prairie dogs are a favorite of mine and so are their close relatives, the marmots. Prairie dogs live on . . . . the prairie and marmots live in the western mountains of the United States. Now, results from a decades-long research project show that marmots are growing larger, healthier and more plentiful in response to climate change.
The groundbreaking study, published in Nature, is the first to reveal that changes in seasonal timing can increase body weight and population size simultaneously in a species — findings likely to have implications for a host of other creatures, especially those that hibernate.
The long-term study which was begun in 1962, tracks yellow-bellied marmots in Colorado. Kenneth Armitage, the lead investigator and originator of the study, chose to study marmots because they live in easy-to-find burrows and they’re active in the daytime, so they’re easy to find and track.
Every summer since 1962, the researchers recorded basic data on the marmots like age, gender, body mass, who survived and who reproduced. Armitage said that at the time he started the study he had no idea that climate change was going to be a problem. But he collected the basic data as a foundation for other projects.
Armitage said he didn’t intend to spend 40 years studying marmots, but new questions kept coming up. Long-term studies like his are quite rare but they generate precisely the kind of data needed to determine the effects of climate change on a specific population.
Using data collected between 1976 and 2008, the researchers concluded that a longer growing season has boosted marmots’ individual size, overall strength and general population. The average weight of adult marmots jumped from 6.82 pounds in the early years of the study to 7.56 pounds in the later half of the study. And the marmots didn’t just get bigger. There were a lot more of them. The study showed that the population growth of marmots in the study area increased from 0.56 marmots per year from 1976 to 2001 to 14.2 marmots per year from 2001 to 2008.
Global warming results in earlier snowmelt, and the plants (marmots are herbivores) appear sooner. This means that the marmots come out of hibernation earlier. Since they haven’t been asleep as long, they have more fat left which provides them with the energy to start foraging. Their young are born earlier and have time to get fat enough to survive hibernation. Most importantly, the reproductive female can survive better. Because she can wean her young earlier, she has a better chance of getting enough food to survive the next winter and the survival rate of adult females has increased. But Dr. Armitage has some bad news too.
"This benefit to marmots is probably short-lived," he said. "Changes in snow patterns both benefit and harm marmots. Prolonged snow cover in the spring increases mortality and reduces reproduction. But if there’s less snowmelt to nourish plants that marmots forage in the summer, it will severely affect them. In droughts, we’ve had very high mortality."
This is a yearling yellow-bellied marmot. (Credit: Arpat Ozgul)
Good news. Bad news. But what global warming really means is change. Get ready for it!
Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
Greetings everyone. Well, after examining my bulging files, I’ve discovered that the medical file is overflowing (no surprise there!). But I have good news! ALL the articles today are just that. Good news. So off we go to discover some positive things about what ails us.
An unfortunately prevalent disease on Guam is tuberculosis and any good news about TB is good news indeed.
STOPPING A KILLER
A new technique designed to quickly distinguish between people with active and dormant tuberculosis may help health professionals diagnose the disease sooner. This could help stop its spread in the community, according to a study conducted by researchers at Duke University Medical Center.
Current blood tests for TB can fairly easily determine if you have TB or not, but can’t tell if the tuberculosis is active (which means you can infect other people) or if you have what’s called a ‘latent infection’. Medical professionals use cultures to tell the difference between latent infection and active tuberculosis, but cultures usually take weeks to deliver results. A quicker test that could tell the difference between latent and active tuberculosis would be a major step forward.
The Duke researchers collected blood samples from 71 people belonging to one of three groups: those with active tuberculosis, those with latent tuberculosis infection, and those who were not infected with tuberculosis. Then they exposed the samples to the tuberculosis bacteria to trigger an immune response. They looked at the levels of 25 specific proteins, called cytokines, to see if there were any patterns that were different among the three groups.
They found that two cytokines, called MCP-1 and IL-15, were reasonably good at differentiating between persons sick with TB and persons infected but not sick and that a third cytokine, called IP-10, showed some promise in distinguishing between infected and uninfected people.
The researchers think that their findings could lead to earlier diagnosis of active tuberculosis, which would not only get that person to treatment sooner but could prevent them from infecting others. And since anyone who tests positive for TB has to take a long treatment of medication, these tests could also help prevent people who don’t actually have TB from having to take unnecessary and potentially toxic medications.
Although the initial results were promising, the researchers note that the sampling for this pilot study was limited, and that further research would be needed to determine if the results could be replicated in a larger population.
I hope they get their grants. Anything that helps stop TB in its tracks is most welcome!
And now news of yet more new tests that have the potential to stop a much more dangerous killer that TB because this one strikes silently and without symptoms until it’s far too late for many women.
Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have attained very promising results on their initial investigations of a new test for ovarian cancer. Using a new technique involving mass spectrometry of a single drop of blood serum, the test correctly identified women with ovarian cancer in 100 percent of the patients tested. (And 100 percent is a figure you rarely see in ANY scientific study!)
The test uses a single drop of blood serum, which is vaporized by hot helium plasma. As the molecules from the serum become electrically charged, a mass spectrometer is used to measure their relative abundance. The test looks at small molecules involved in metabolism called (interestingly enough) metabolites. A computer program was then used to sort the metabolites that were found in samples from patients with ovarian cancer from the ones found in samples from healthy women.
The technique did extremely well in initial tests involving 94 subjects. In addition to being able to generate results using only a drop of blood serum, the test proved to be 100 percent accurate in distinguishing sera from women with ovarian cancer from normal controls. In addition it registered neither a single false positive nor a false negative. The researchers are currently conducting the next set of assays, this time with 500 patients.
Since they don’t have 500 patients with the same type of ovarian cancer, they’re going to look at other types of ovarian cancer. They may discover the signatures for other types of cancers, not just ovarian and are working with collaborators in Atlanta and elsewhere.
Ovarian cancer is asymptomatic in the early stages. Therefore, if further testing confirms the ability to accurately detect ovarian cancer by analyzing metabolites in the serum of women, doctors will be able detect the disease early and save many lives.
Well, there’s some news about new tests that are being developed, but that’s sort of beyond our control, so now let’s talk about some things that you can do to make your life better. This one also applies mostly to women, but keep reading guys!
One of the things that used to make my life an absolute misery was a bladder infection. I had a lot of them when I was younger and learned that I’d gotten the bugs resistant to most antibiotics by stopping the medication before I’d actually killed all the germs. I learned a valuable lesson about when and how to take antibiotics but I also picked up some ‘Grandma’s folklore’ about the same time. Someone (and who has been lost in the mists of time) told me that if you drink cranberry juice you can stop those pesky infections in their tracks.
Now I like cranberry juice, so I tried it and whenever I’d get that familiar hot weighty feeling, I’d drink three or four glasses. And I’ve had very few bladder infections since. Now new research tells us that ‘Grandma’s folklore’ isn’t always wrong!
DRINK YOUR WAY TO HEALTH!
Researchers report new scientific evidence on the effectiveness of cranberry juice for urinary tract infections. The study reports that several clinical trials have produced results that show cranberry juice really is effective for preventing urinary tract infections.
Estimates suggest that urinary tract infections (UTIs) account for about 8 million medical visits each year, at a total cost of more than $1.6 billion. UTIs involve bacterial infections of the urinary tract and can occur anywhere between the urethra, the opening where urine is excreted from the body, and the kidney. Women are frequent victims, with at least 1 in 3 experiencing a UTI. Not only are they frequent, studies suggest that only half of women with UTIs seek medical care for the mildest symptoms, which include burning and frequent urination.
The researchers wanted to discover just how cranberry juice fights E. coli, the most common cause of UTIs. The study involved growing strains of E. coli in urine collected from healthy volunteers before and after consumption of cranberry juice. The scientists then tested the E. coli for their ability to stick together and form biofilms, thin, slimy layers that provide an environment for bacteria to thrive.
The scientists concluded that cranberry juice prevents E. coli from sticking to other bacteria and the surface of a plastic petri dish. E. coli that doesn’t stick has a better chance of being flushed out of the urinary track. The results suggest that the beneficial substances in cranberry juice could reach the urinary tract and prevent bacterial adhesion within 8 hours after drinking the juice.
Although the researchers warned against self-treating UTIs and said that individuals who suspect an infection should seek medical advice because these nasty infections can progress rapidly and, if left untreated with antibiotics, result in severe illness, especially in children, individuals with chronic health problems, and the elderly.
And to that I say, drink your cranberry juice, for a day or two. If it doesn’t get any better, then you know what you have to do. And if the symptoms never progress, then you’ve knocked a nasty bug in the head with your own juices!
Cranberry juice. (Credit: iStockphoto/Tarek El Sombati)
So, you’re now going to drink your cranberry juice. So let me tell you why you also need to . . .
EAT YOUR VEGGIES!!
Recent research published in the journal of the American Association for Cancer Research shows that adding a variety of vegetables to one’s diet may help decrease the chance of getting lung cancer, and adding a variety of fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of squamous cell lung cancer, especially among smokers.
The scientists say that quitting smoking is the most important preventive action in reducing lung cancer risk but that consuming a mix of different types of fruit and vegetables may also reduce risk especially among smokers.
The researchers evaluated 452,187 participants. Of these people 1,613 were diagnosed with lung cancer. Information was obtained on 14 commonly eaten fruits and 26 commonly eaten vegetables. The fruits and vegetables evaluated in the study consisted of a wide variety of fresh, canned or dried products.
The study showed that the quantity of vegetables and fruits may decrease risk of lung cancer; in particular the risk of one specific type of lung cancer, squamous cell carcinoma.
The risk of lung cancer decreased when a variety of vegetables were consumed, regardless of the amount consumed. In addition, the risk of squamous cell carcinoma decreased substantially when a variety of fruits and vegetables were eaten.
Fruits and vegetables contain many different bioactive compounds, and it makes sense to assume that it is important that you not only eat the recommended amounts, but also consume a rich mix of these bioactive compounds by consuming a large variety.
While previous research has shown the influence of the quantity of fruits and vegetables on cancer development, the researchers believe this study is one of the first to evaluate diversity of fruit and vegetable consumption, rather than quantity.
So eat those fruits and veggies. They just may keep you from getting cancer!
Jim is, above all, a passionate eco-humanitarian who has developed his own science talk-radio show to inform The DEEP’s listeners about such newsy topics as global warming, shark-finning and reef protection as well as to explore earth’s many underwater and space mysteries.
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