Today’s Solutions: May 23, 2022

New program seeks to break the cycle between jail and homelessness

in Business Homelessness

Several factors can lead to homelessness: a lack of affordable housing, high costs of living, and even, sadly, mental illness. Another factor that contributes to homelessness, which is often overlooked, is incarceration. 

Many individuals serve their jail or prison sentences and cannot find work or a place to stay due to the stigma attached to ex-cons, and they either relapse into crime or they wind up homeless. A new program funded by the MacArthur Foundation aims to address this issue in four American jurisdictions. 

The Just Home Project

Homelessness itself, unfortunately, is illegal in some states and can retroactively send people back to jail, continuing a cycle that’s both harmful to the people involved and costly to cities. Also, research shows that unhoused people have a higher chance of run-ins with the police. In Los Angeles, unhoused people are 10 times more likely to have run-ins with police than housed people.

“Homelessness, housing insecurity and participation in the criminal justice system are just simply deeply intertwined, in part because of the criminalization of homelessness itself,” said Kelly Walsh, a principal policy associate at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and Research to Action Lab.

A project designed and funded by the Macarthur Foundation and coordinated by the Urban Institute will provide resources and technical expertise to end the jail-homelessness cycle in four US jurisdictions. The Just Home Project will launch in South Carolina’s Charleston County, Oklahoma’s Tulsa County, South Dakota’s Minnehaha County, and the city and county of San Francisco. $20 million in funding is available in these areas to combat homelessness. 

A place to land and get back on their feet

$5 million of the funding will go toward each area for them to address their unique issues with homelessness. Each of these jurisdictions has its own problems to face. San Francisco, for instance, has an extremely high cost of living, while Charleston and Tulsa have higher rates of incarceration. 

One problem that exists across the board, however, is the seemingly simple issue of finding a place to live for individuals coming out of jail or prison. It is often a parole requirement that ex-cons have a place to stay once they’re out of prison, but it can be hard to arrange that while in prison or find one once they’re out. Without a place to stay, these individuals might violate their parole and become reincarcerated, or they might become resigned to homelessness and even return to crime. 

This is why $15 million of the MacArthur funding is specifically allocated toward acquiring or developing housing units in these jurisdictions, making sure that people can have a place to stay once they get out of jail or prison. It’s a first step in the right direction toward getting these individuals safe and back on their feet. 

How a century-old cargo schooner is bringing back emissions-free shipping

in Business Three-masted schooner sailing at sea on clear sunny day

The shipping industry is responsible for 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — putting about 940 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Before 1960, however, when containerization started to take off, cargo schooners were transporting goods around the world emissions-free. A startup is now trying to bring the cargo schooner back, in a bid to raise awareness about the urgency of slashing the industry’s huge environmental footprint.

Bringing back wind power 

The first ship to return from retirement is a large cargo schooner called Vega. The ship used to make zero-carbon deliveries up and down the coast of Sweden about a century ago. Now, it is about to get a new lease on life making zero-carbon deliveries for companies looking to slash their emissions.

“Our mission is to prove the value of clean shipping,” says Danielle Doggett, CEO, and co-founder of Sailcargo, the company that now owns the ship and is preparing to operate routes between North and South America. The first trips will deliver specialty coffee from Colombia to New Jersey for roaster Café William, which wants to sell emissions-free coffee.

Doggett, who has been sailing on tall ships from a young age, came up with the idea of reviving traditional cargo shipping more than 10 years ago. On one of her trips, she came across Vega, which had been restored by a Swedish family of shipbuilders. Loving the schooner’s design, she then made a deal with them to buy it.

Emissions-free shipping, just like the old days

The shipping industry moves more than 10 billion metric tons of cargo annually and has a bigger carbon footprint than the airline industry. As you’ve probably learned from our previous articles, some shipping companies are already working on reducing their impacts. With that said, progress has been slow. “They have massive fleets, and filling stations, and all of these very real, tangible assets that take a very long time to transition,” says Doggett.

While Sailcargo doesn’t expect to replace the industry, it could provide solutions to companies looking to decarbonize their supply chain. Not only that, Doggett claims that cargo schooners can also offer some logistical advantages: “Some of these fast vessels have to wait at port often up to two weeks because they’re dependent on the port infrastructure. They need the big crane to unload the container. We do not—we can unload ourselves.”

The company plans to start its first shipments between Colombia and New Jersey this summer. Its second cargo schooner, currently under work at its headquarters in Costa Rica, is expected to set sail in a year and a half.

Dam! Europe removes record number of river barriers in 2021

in Climate Action Aerial view on Cogilnic River river freed from the dams

In 2021, Spain began a movement to remove dams from the country’s rivers to restore fish migration routes and boost biodiversity across the nation. They successfully took down 108 barriers and inspired other European countries to do the same.

“Our efforts to expand dam removals across Europe are gathering speed,” said Pao Fernández Garrido, project manager for the World Fish Migration Foundation who also played a role in producing Dam Removal Europe’s annual report.

Dam Removal Europe is a coalition of seven organizations that prioritize the restoration of healthy, free-flowing rivers across Europe. 

“An increasing number of governments, NGOs, companies, and communities are understanding the importance of halting and reversing nature loss and buying into the fact that dam removal is a river-restoration tool that boosts biodiversity and enhances climate resilience. We’re also seeing lessons being learned from previous dam removals, new countries kickstarting removals, and new fundings, including crowdfunding,” Fernández Garrido adds.

At least 239 barriers across 17 European countries ended up being removed. Currently, there are over one million barriers in Europe’s rivers, and a good number of them were built over a century ago, and at least 150,000 are obsolete and serve no economic purpose. Instead, they only offer obstacles that prevent fish from completing their migration routes, which results in a loss of breeding areas and ultimately reduced number of species like salmon, sturgeon, trout, and eel.

These losses translate to the wider biodiversity of ecosystems and affect other species like eagles and otters.

“Removing dams is a real need,” asserts Fernández Garrido. “We have hundreds of thousands of abandoned barriers, which is a safety problem. Dams affect water quality and underground water levels, cause channel and coastal erosion and beach disappearances, generate greenhouse gas emissions, and lead to declines and even extinctions of migratory fish populations, with a 93 percent decline of migratory fish in Europe in the last 50 years.”

Of course, some dams and barriers still serve important purposes, so those will remain untouched. However, “if a dam or weir isn’t strictly necessary anymore, we mustn’t pass the burden to future generations,” Fernández Garrido continues.

Fernández Garrido is confident that 2022 will surpass 2021’s dam removals, because “financial aids are being created to help cover the removal costs, like the new Open Rivers Programme, which will invest €42.5 million over the next six years to help remove river barriers in Europe.”

This contact lens releases glaucoma medication

in Business Contact lens

While it is treatable, glaucoma remains a serious eye disease that can damage the optic nerve and lead to blindness if left untreated. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease, and research indicates that it affects 10 percent of those over 75. 

Researchers from China have developed a contact lens that responds to an increase in eye pressure by releasing anti-glaucoma medicine that keeps pressure under a certain level. 

Improving vision and eye health 

In their study, published in Nature Communications, the research team explain that their device uses a snowflake-shaped pressure sensor and power source fitted between an upper and lower lens around their rim. An added aesthetic to the lens is that it appears to give the wearer’s eyes the appearance of golden irises. Plus, the design allows for the essential components to operate without disturbing the wearer’s vision or irritating their eyes.  

If eye pressure increases, the gap between the two lenses decreases, and the pressure sensor picks this up and sends a signal to the wireless system. This then triggers a release of the anti-glaucoma drug from a hydrogel in the device. Brimonidine is the drug used here that reduces the pressure in the eye. 

The device has so far been tested successfully on pigs and rabbits but not yet on humans. 

Professor Zubair Ahmed from the Institute of Inflammation and Aging at the University of Birmingham, who was not involved in the work, was excited by the research and felt it could be used to help a lot of people with glaucoma-related pressure in their eyes. 

 

“Here, the researchers have developed a minimally invasive contact lens that can detect these changes in pressure within the eye to provide real-time monitoring, but the contact lens can also respond by allowing on-demand drug delivery directly to the eye,” he said.

Source Study: Nature CommunicationsIntelligent wireless theranostic contact lens for electrical sensing and regulation of intraocular pressure | Nature Communications

US soccer and national teams reach agreement to close gender pay gap

in Business Megan Rapinoe of USA celebrates after scoring during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune

In a historic win for women’s rights, US Soccer and both the women’s and men’s national teams have proclaimed a collective bargaining agreement to close the gender pay gap and ensure that each player, regardless of gender, will be paid equally.

This collective bargaining agreement is the final step in a years-long journey toward securing the new policy of equal pay.

“I am feeling extreme pride,” said Becky Sauerbrunn, US Women’s National Team defender, on NBC’s “TODAY” show. “To be able to say finally, equal pay for equal work feels very, very good.”

Following the new terms, World Cup Prize money will be pooled and shared equally among the men’s and women’s team players. This means that the men’s World Cup win in 2018, which earned $38 million, will be pooled with the earnings of $4 million that the women’s team earned for their win in 2019. This equal split will be a first in the soccer federation world.

“There’s equalization of World Cup prize money, identical financial terms, including identical game payments, identical revenue sharing for both teams, so identical in every aspect on that front,” explains US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone.

Going forward, the men’s and women’s teams will also equally divide any money US Soccer makes commercially and at events.

New immunotherapy drug combo slows liver cancer growth in mice

in Health Lab Mice

There is something of an art to the science of medicine. We’ve all heard that everyone’s different, and so is their biology. Sometimes, developing the right treatment for a patient’s condition takes dedicated and creative trial and error with their doctor, and finding the right combination of medications can be a bit like solving a puzzle. 

The same goes for research and finding the right combinations of drugs to fight certain maladies. Researchers from the University of Missouri have found a promising combination of immunotherapy drugs to fight liver cancer

This hopeful match involves a tumor-suppressing lipid molecule called nanoliposome C6-ceramide (LipC6) and an antibody for cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA4). When used together, these drugs significantly slowed cancer growth in the liver and enhanced the strength of cancer-fighting T cells. 

“Our analysis revealed the combination therapy significantly extended the life span of tumor-bearing mice compared to the mice with a single type of therapy or no therapy at all,” says co-principal investigator Guangfu Li, associate professor in the surgery department and the molecular microbiology and immunology department at the University of Missouri.

Liver cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, but there remains a lack of effective treatments for this specific kind of cancer, which is what inspires such hope in Li and other researchers. 

After successful tests on mice, there is still much research to be done to make sure that this drug combination would be as effective with humans. Human responses to similar immunotherapy drugs have been a bit of a mixed bag, but the good news is that these drugs are already approved for humans by the FDA.

If this combo proves effective in human trials, we could see it fast-tracked into hospitals to help liver cancer patients, who have only an average five-year survival rate of 20 percent. 

Source Study: FACEB JournalNanoliposome C6‐Ceramide in combination with anti‐CTLA4 antibody improves anti‐tumor immunity in hepatocellular cancer – Qi – 2022 – The FASEB Journal – Wiley Online Library

In a first, gene editing has been carried out in cockroaches

in Science A cockroach on a piece of wood.

Since its invention, CRISPR-Cas9 has been hailed as the answer to many of our genetic worries. The gene-editing tool has made strides in many areas of research and treatment of diseases, including sickle cell anemia, high cholesterol levels, and the rare eye disease Leber congenital amaurosis.

And its benefits extend beyond humankind.

CRISPR in cockroaches 

In a first, CRISPR has been used for genetic editing of cockroach DNA. The simple and effective technique, termed “direct parental” CRISPR (DIPA-CRISPR), involves the injection of molecules into pregnant female adults to impact the genome of their developing eggs.

Due to the complex reproductive cycles of cockroaches and insects in general, the usual CRISPR technique of embryo injections is severely limiting, however, this revolutionary method bypasses this previous challenge. “In a sense, insect researchers have been freed from the annoyance of egg injections,” says senior author Takaaki Daimon of Kyoto University. “We can now edit insect genomes more freely and at will. In principle, this method should work for more than 90% of insect species.”

The team managed to overcome these problems by inserting molecules called Cas9 ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) into the main body of a female cockroach which introduce mutations into the eggs. Currently, the technique has a low efficiency of 22 percent in cockroaches and 50 percent in beetles, though the team is continuing research to improve the method.

Why is this research useful?

The ability to carry out DIPA-CRISPR in two animals so evolutionarily distant shows the technique’s potential for broad use. Despite its current limitations, the method is accessible, highly practical, and could be easily implemented in many laboratories. Moreover, this injection method requires minimal equipment and eliminates time-consuming steps in the procedure.

”By improving the DIPA-CRISPR method and making it even more efficient and versatile, we may be able to enable genome editing in almost all of the more than 1.5 million species of insects, opening up a future in which we can fully utilize the amazing biological functions of insects,” Daimon says.

They continue: ”In principle, it may be also possible that other arthropods could be genome-edited using a similar approach. These include medical and agricultural pests such as mites and ticks and important fishery resources such as shrimp and crabs.”

Source study: Cell Reports Methods – DIPA-CRISPR is a simple and accessible method for insect gene editing

These mental health stories will inspire you

in Health Chalk drawing of a brain on asphalt in different colors.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, so here at The Optimist Daily, we are informing our readers about all things mental health. Sometimes when you are experiencing mental health issues it can feel like you’re never going to come out the other side. While this is a completely normal and a valid way to feel, it’s also important to remind yourself that you will.

Each person’s journey is different, but it can be helpful to hear the experiences of other people that can inspire and help you push through the darkest times. Here are some web posts that describe encouraging mental health stories to help you do just that.

Natalie Slivinski: What It’s Like to Have an ADHD Brain

Natalie’s clever writing really allows you to enter the mind of someone with ADHD through colorful descriptions and clever analogies while still delving into the science behind the disease. “In the ADHD brain, the team is short-staffed. Everything — including the trash — goes into one big pile of equal importance,” she writes.

Wil Wheaton: My name is Wil Wheaton. I Live With Chronic Depression and Generalized Anxiety. I Am Not Ashamed

In this post, New York Times Number One Bestselling Audiobook narrator and former Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton opens up about his struggles with anxiety and depression. This story shows that success and mental illness aren’t mutually exclusive while giving you a realistic account of his journey along the way.

Alicia T. Rust: Bipolar Confessions

This heartfelt confession of dealing with bipolar disorder and motherhood is truly inspiring. Parenting with any mental illness is challenging, so guidance and support should be accessible. Blog posts such as this help break the taboo surrounding this issue and allow advice to reach the people who need it.

David Ly Khim: A Reflection on How I Dug Myself Out of the Millennial Mental Health Decline

David’s story of mental health struggles in his early twenties is a common one, however, one that is rarely discussed. We’re all told this time period is supposed to be the best years of our lives, skipping over all the confusion and anxiety that is bubbling during this transition to adulthood.

Taylor Otwell: My Mental Health Toolbelt

This post offers straightforward actionable tips focussing on mental health and technology. As most of us are pinned to our computer screens, sitting at a desk all day, understanding how these devices impact our mental health and what we can do about it is seriously important.

Engineering students create Tastee Tape—edible tape to keep burritos secure

in Education close up of woman holding burrito or wrap

Do you love burritos but don’t have the restaurant-grade wrapping skills to, you know, keep it together? A group of Maryland college students has come up with a deliciously ingenious solution: edible burrito tape.

Student Erin Walsh, a member of the all-woman team of Johns Hopkins University undergraduates that created the burrito tape, was inspired during a brainstorming session for a product design course while she was, well, eating a burrito.

“One of my favorite foods is burritos and wraps. I’m a student-athlete, so I’m not looking to make a skimpy burrito. I’m really trying to fill it with substance, and so I would tend to get frustrated when I would be trying to wrap it and the contents would be getting everywhere,” she explains.

The food-grade adhesive, called Tastee Tape, will help keep the contents of your burrito, taco, gyro, or wrap safely secure for your mess-free enjoyment. According to Walsh and her fellow designers, chemical and biomolecular engineering students Marie Eric, Tyler Guarino, and Rachel Nie, the tape is edible, safe, and strong enough to be used during cooking and consumption.

Despite the name, Tastee Tape has no taste or texture. The tape comes in strips of a half-inch to two inches wide, affixed to sheets of wax paper. To use, simply pull it off the sheet, wet it to activate the adhesive, and stick it to whatever needs securing.

For now, the team is keeping the ingredients of the tap secret as they’re working with university officials to apply for a patent.

Give your mood a boost with these 5 superfoods

in Health Organic natural sesame seeds on a wooden spoon in front of a black background.

It’s as simple as this: when you eat good, you feel good. Keeping your body healthy and disease-free is more than likely to boost your mood. Plus, key nutrients in certain foods can influence levels of serotonin – the happy hormone – and improve circulation, keeping your organs nice and happy.

With that in mind, here are five superfoods that are proven to boost your mood.

Turmeric

Starting off the list is the Indian spice turmeric, an antioxidant-rich root that boosts dopamine and serotonin levels. Studies have found that curcumin – the primary antioxidant component in turmeric – not only boosted cognitive function but also improved mood in study participants.

Fatty fish

Besides the delicious taste of fish, this superfood plays host to a whole lot of inflammation-reducing omega-3 fatty acids and muscle-building protein. Fish is often referred to as “brain food” because it supplies essential fats that allow brain membranes to perform at peak levels which is key for the regulation of mood. Additionally, studies have concluded that omega-3s in the form of fish oil are associated with lower depression scores, so why not pick up some salmon, anchovies, or bluefin tuna on your next trip to the store.

Yogurt and other fermented foods

The keyword here is probiotics. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics that are known to boost the connection between your brain and your gut microbiome. This is vital because that connection plays an influential role in your brain’s sensory processing and emotion. With more and more studies uncovering the mood-regulating roles of our gut, keeping these microorganisms happy is in our best interest.

Sesame seeds

For those who constantly feel stressed, sesame seeds are fantastic. That’s because of their high levels of magnesium, a mineral that helps control your stress response and well as boosts immune cell capabilities.

Bananas

High in vitamin B6, bananas can increase the levels of feel-good transmitters like dopamine and serotonin. The fruit contains both fiber and sugar which when paired helps a slow and stable release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, allowing for better mood control. Bananas are also fantastic sources of prebitoics, a type of fiber that gut bacteria love to snack on.