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Assange slams Germany for continuing to sell weaponised malware
Schizophrenia is known to be passed in families, implying genetic origins, but no single mutation has ever been shown to cause symptoms to emerge. It turns out, that's because different "orchestras" of mutations working together cause a range disorders that until now had been understood as a single disease. These results emerged from a new approach to studying the illness. Scientists examined the DNA of 4,200 people with schizophrenia and 3,800 healthy controls, looking for places in the genome where a single nucleotide -- the smallest unit of data in DNA -- had mutated. They found that none of the individual mutations produce significant risk for the disorder on their own. However, particular clusters of mutations create risk of developing schizophrenia and different symptoms. Eight have been found so far, and they expect to uncover more.
"This is better than saying that someone either has or doesn't have the disease," Dr. Igor Zwir, a lead on the study, tells Popular Science.
The study could have broad implications for the severe mental illness, which appears in about 1 percent of the population. Sufferers can experience a range of symptoms from delusions and hallucinations to disorganized speech and apathy. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published in 2013, called for interpretation of schizophrenia along a spectrum, but, according to Zwir, no comprehensive method for doing so existed, leading doctors to rely on trial and error for treatment.
"You can have one patient on seven drugs," he says. "One doesn't work, so they try another, and another, and another, and another. The problem is no one knows how to divide schizophrenia into groups."
By looking at the genetic roots of the disease instead of symptoms, Zwir hopes doctors will be able to be more direct in their treatment.
According to Zwir, the next step is to develop inexpensive targeted tests for the groups of mutations that produce schizophrenic symptoms. That could lead to a future of quicker, more effective care.
by Julik and Aaron
An international agreement to phase out use of chemicals that damage the ozone layer appears to be working. A new report finds that ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere are down by 10 to 15 percent, and that the ozone layer is by and large getting thicker.
The reason is that nations have followed through on commitments made under the Montreal Protocol and related pacts to phase out use of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and halons, according to the new assessment (PDF) released this week by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. About 300 scientists contributed to the report.
The ozone layer is a thin film of gas in the stratosphere. It protects the Earth from the Sun's ultraviolent rays, which can cause skin cancer, eye damage, and other forms of ill health for both animal and plant life on Earth.
CFCs and halons were common in products like refrigerators, fire-fighting foams and aerosol spray cans. But from the early 1970s onward, evidence mounted that UV radiation broke down these compounds in the mid-stratosphere (about six miles above the Earth's surface), resulting in the release of chlorine and bromine atoms that break down ozone (O3) molecules. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one chlorine atom can rip apart over 100,000 ozone molecules.
After the Montreal Protocol came into effect in 1989, countries began phasing out manufacture and use of ozone-destroying substances. There have been signs in the past 10 to 15 years that the atmosphere's "ozone column" is thickening in places, suggesting that the ban is working. The new report estimates that by 2050, the ozone layer in the Arctic and middle latitudes should return to roughly the condition it was in in 1980. Because natural atmospheric conditions cause air pollutants to concentrate over the poles, the seasonal ozone hole over Antarctica each spring (which has caused changes in the summer climate of the Southern Hemisphere) will take longer to heal.
A side benefit of CFC reduction is that it may be helping to blunt the progress of global warming, since CFCs are also powerful greenhouse gases. The assessment estimates that in 2010, lowered emissions of ozone depleters equated to keeping around 10 metric gigatons of CO2 out of the atmosphere, “which is about five times larger than the annual emissions reduction target” for 2008-2012 under the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty.
There are some warnings in the report as well. Some of the compounds being swapped in for ozone depleters – such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – are also potent greenhouse gases. If their use increases as predicted, they will contribute quite a lot to surface temperature rises.
As well, carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) levels remain unexpectedly high, even though the substance was banned under the Montreal Protocol. Participants in the treaty reported no new emissions of CCI4, which was used in fire fighting and dry cleaning, between 2007 and 2012. NASA credits the high levels to "unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources."
The UN assessment also warns that the options available for stopping future damage to the ozone layer are becoming limited as most of the most straightforward actions play themselves out. These have ranged from ending the production of ozone-harming substances, to the destruction of "banks" of destructive chemicals and upgrading to appliances that don't contain CFCs. Presumably more ingenuity will be required on humanity's part to continue making progress -- by coming up with new, safe chemicals and technologies -- as well as not repeating the mistakes of the past.
a month of standby...
The first (and perhaps only) feature phone that Microsoft has unveiled, the Nokia 130, is now available in stores in China, Pakistan and Nigeria. The rollout to other countries will continue in the following weeks. The Nokia 130 has a recommended retail price of just 19 for the single-SIM version. That's CNY 151, PKR 2,530 or NGN 4,010 by today's exchange rates. There's a dual-SIM version of the phone that will cost a bit more. Red, black and white color options are available. Nokia/Microsoft are very proud of the 130's battery life, even made an infographic about it. It's good enough for about a month of standby or 46 hours of music playback. The phone has a microSD card (up to 32GB) for music storage. There's also FM radio built-in The phone has Bluetooth for local connectivity (with Nokia's SLAM for easier connections). The Nokia 130 has a flashlight and can be used as a backup phone if something goes wrong. It supports charging over USB (so you can use your regular chargers), the lengthy standby helps...
The sun has been regurgitating a lot of solar flares these days, and now, a couple will be knocking at Earth’s door this weekend.
The originator of these flares is a particularly complex sunspot called AR2518, which is currently facing our planet. Late Monday night, the spot produced a minor solar flare (class R1) that lasted for six hours, but then on Wednesday at 1:45 p.m. EST, it upchucked a whopping X1.6-class solar flare, which is pretty darn strong.
Both flares have launched large outbursts of magnetic fields, known as coronal mass ejections – or CMEs – at high velocity straight toward Earth, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. The CME associated with Monday’s flare is expected to hit tonight, while the more intense CME is expected to arrive Friday afternoon to evening. Earth experiences CMEs all the time without issue, but if they're strong enough, CMEs can cause geomagnetic storms and sometimes, extreme radio blackouts.
Although Wednesday’s solar flare was somewhat strong, the magnitudes of these incoming CMEs aren’t that intense, historically speaking. (Although, as the Sun is nearing peak activity on its 11-year solar cycle, we may be seeing more -- and stronger -- storms soon.) What makes this event so unique, however, is that Earth will experience two CMEs in close succession to one another – a situation that is pretty rare. That means scientists are being cautious about what to expect. “The two CMEs could be interacting on their way to Earth’s orbit, or beyond Earth’s orbit,” says Thomas Berger, director of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), meaning the flares could potentially amplify each other in some way.
Ultimately, no one really knows how these storms will impact each other. Given this uncertainty, NOAA has issued a moderate to strong G3 geomagnetic storm watch for Friday. The rating indicates that the incoming magnetic fields may cause some problems with radio communications, as well as voltage irregularities in northern latitudes of the United States. Grid operators and even FEMA have been notified, just in case.
Fortunately, NOAA doesn’t expect the impacts of the CMEs to be unmanageable. “There’s really no concern for electronics down here on the ground,” says William Murtagh, program coordinator of the Space Weather Prediction Center. Murtagh notes that some studies have implied that electronics at higher altitudes and higher latitudes, such as planes flying near the poles, might be more vulnerable to geomagnetic storms. The biggest concern with electronics on the ground would be a loss of power, but Murtagh says the storms aren't strong enough to cause such a blackout.
Still, they’ll be watching the events closely. Additionally, Wednesday’s eruption also produced an Earth-bound solar radiation storm, but that has only amounted to an S1 rating (the lowest on the NOAA scale). When solar radiation storms reach a level of S3 or above, NOAA will advise the FAA to start rerouting flights away from the poles to avoid radiation exposure. NASA mission control will also direct astronauts into more hardened portions of the International Space Station.
Meanwhile, there is one pretty awesome byproduct of these two solar flares. The storms could produce some pretty intense auroras, which may be visible in northern parts of the United States tonight and tomorrow. So if you living in Maine or the Dakotas (or even New York), make sure you have your camera handy. Chances are your DSLR will work just fine.
A Japanese patient with severe eye disease is set to become the first person to be treated with induced pluripotent stem cells, Nature News reports. Cells of this type have been considered promising for future treatments since their creation eight years ago, which was itself a milestone. This human test is set to be a historic moment in biotechnology.
It's also an anxious one. Stem cell therapies carry the risk of creating tumors, although Nature News reports the scientists in charge of the Japanese trial found their treatment did not cause tumors in mice and monkeys. In addition, there might be other risks to the treatment that scientists aren't yet aware of; stem cell therapies of all types are only just being tried in humans.
Induced pluripotent stem cells are special because they're not made from embryos. Instead, they come from harvesting skin cells from people, then treating those cells with genes that reverse the cell's life stage back to its stem cell state. That means scientists are able to make induced pluripotent stem cells from cells taken from a patient's own body. The resulting cells should be well matched to the patient's own genetics, although it's possible the "induction" part of the process introduces genetic aberrations into the cells.
The patient in this Japanese trial has macular degeneration, a progressive disease in which people lose the light-detecting cells in the retinas in their eyes. Scientists have also tried embryonic stem cells as a treatment for the disease. (Here's an update on that effort.)
The induced pluripotent stem cell trial will test a treatment developed by Masayo Takahashi, an opthamologist with a Japanese research institute called RIKEN. Takahashi has been making induced pluripotent stem cells and growing those cells into a sheet of replacement retinal cells. He then surgically attaches the sheet onto the retina. He and his colleagues have previously demonstrated that this treatment works in monkeys.
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