Oftentimes it feels like regular citizens have little to no say in national or state-level politics. That’s why we’re excited to share news out of Washington state where a new assembly is being formed that will allow 80 randomly-selected members of the public to have a direct say on climate matters in the state.
Although this has never been done in the US, we reported in 2019 about a similar initiative in Ireland called The Citizens’ Assembly in which 99 randomly-selected citizens are tasked with weighing in on particular issues and creating recommendations for how the government can deal with those issues. The Citizens’ Assembly spearheaded Ireland’s vote to overturn an abortion ban in 2018, and a similarly-formatted assembly in Ireland has been providing recommendations on climate action based on the latest climate change research since 2019.
In an attempt to welcome more voices of the public to the policy-making table, Washington is creating a similar climate assembly formed out of randomly-selected state residents from every congressional district. Members of the assembly will be learning about climate change and discussing the issue, and are required to provide recommendations to the state legislature by March.
“It’s going to hinge on getting people from different ideological perspectives to talk and be informed and come to some consensus,” said State Rep. Jake Fey, a Democrat from Tacoma.
With the formation of the country’s first climate assembly in Washington, the state hopes to develop innovative solutions for pollution and educate more people about the real consequences of climate change.
mRNA vaccine technology provided a breakthrough in the search for a covid-19 vaccine, and researchers are hopeful it could offer a solution for treating other diseases as well. Pharmaceutical company Moderna has announced plans to use this mRNA technique to attempt to create the first vaccine for HIV.
Traditional vaccines introduce a small amount of a pathogen to prompt the body to create antibodies to fight a virus should it ever reach the body in an infectious amount. An mRNA vaccine works a little differently. Rather than introducing a pathogen, it delivers a bit of genetic code to create the part of a pathogen that triggers antibody creation. Now that the technique has been developed, it can be replicated for different genetic codes for different diseases. Thanks to advanced sequencing technology, these codes are easier than ever to obtain and mobilize.
Historically, an HIV vaccine has been difficult to produce because of how fast the virus mutates, but Moderna believes an mRNA vaccine could finally find some prevention efficacy. The company has partnered with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop two potential vaccine prototypes to protect against multiple strains of HIV. Clinical trials are expected to begin in 2021.
HIV infected 1.7 million people in 2019 and killed an estimated 700,000 people. Although scientists anticipate the road to an HIV vaccine will be even more complex than the one to covid-19 protection, an mRNA vaccine holds the potential to save thousands of lives and find a solution for another one of the world’s most devastating diseases.
Traditional clay teacups called kulhads will be making an impactful comeback in 7,000 railway stations across India. Kulhads are 100 percent environment-friendly, unpainted, and unglazed. The clay’s natural, earthy fragrance is said to enhance the flavor of the tea, while evoking memories of India’s rich provincial past. The government hopes that the widespread use of these completely biodegradable cups will be a big step towards their objective of making India free of single-use plastic.
Serving tea in kulhads has the added benefit of creating employment for a great many local potters as well as keeping India’s rich tradition of pottery alive. Before the pandemic, around 23 million people a day traveled by train in India, which means that a significant number of kulhads will need to be produced. Politician and handicrafts expert Jaya Jaitly says that this initiative has the potential to generate and increase income for 2 million potters. But switching plastic cups for kulhads is easier said than done.
Firstly, railways will have to let go of their expectation for kulhads to be standardized in their shape and size. They will be handmade by potters all over the country who have access to different types of clay based on their region, deeming it impossible to produce identical kulhads. The government will also need to ensure that clay is accessible to potters, especially in prime areas such as rivers, irrigation channels, and water bodies, where clay is often in short supply. On top of these two issues, the general organization of India’s village potters presents a challenge. Production facilities with electricity near railway stations will need to be provided for potters to work in, while local transport will have to be arranged to distribute the kulhads to the railway stations.
Luckily, The Khadi and Village Industries Commission has already started equipping more than 100,000 potters with electric potting wheels and tools. With the help of electric equipment, the average income of a potter will skyrocket from 2,500 rupees a month (a meager $34) to 10,000 rupees a month.
The end goal is to make kulhads a universal staple for hot beverages on trains and platforms. Considering that we are still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, an especially important advantage of these kiln-fired kulhads is that they are inherently hygienic. On top of this, even though they are hardly reused, they do not add to the heaps of single-use plastic waste in India as they are perfectly biodegradable.
In the German city of Ulm, 75 miles west of Munich, people who don’t have a roof over their head can now benefit from a thoughtful initiative — the installation of a series of pods around the city for homeless people to be able to sleep in.
Called Ulmer Nests, the sleeping pods are made of wood and steel, and are meant to help shield those without homes from the cold, wind, and humidity. They are also made to fit up to two people.
While there are no cameras, when the doors are opened, motion sensors alert social workers that the pods are in use. The caretakers then check the pod following its use to ensure that it can be cleaned, and also to provide assistance to anyone using the shelter.
The nests are also equipped with solar panels and are connected to a radio network, ensuring the occupants can communicate without having to rely on mobile networks.
According to the creators of the Ulmer Nest, the pods are intended for those who cannot access usual homeless shelters either due to psychological factors or because they have a pet, for example. They also note that the pod is not an alternative to a more traditional hostel or housing facility, but that it serves as an “emergency last resort” alternative to sleeping in the outdoors.
Currently, the nests are part of a pilot program seeking to test whether the installations are suitable to protect against frostbite. If that’s the case, they could be adopted for a nationwide rollout.
When you go through a night or several nights of little to no sleep, a common tactic is to use the weekend to catch up on all those lost zzz’s. The question is: Does this strategy actually work?
According to Fiona Barwick, director of the Cognitive Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Stanford University, the answer is yes and no.
If your night of poor sleep was recent, such as on a Thursday night, then sleeping in on Saturday should give you a chance of counteracting some of the damage of sleep deprivation. However, Barwick warns that you will never be able to make up for lost sleep entirely.
“If you’re using the weekend to catch up on a week’s worth of poor sleep, or poor sleep from earlier in the week, you’re out of luck,” Barwick says. “Your body clock has already been disrupted, and the damage is done.”
As described in ThriveGlobal, the reason making up for lost sleep on the weekend doesn’t work is because the wide-ranging effects of sleep deprivation occur immediately. That said, Barwick warns that this last bit is a point of contention for sleep experts. Some will say sleeping in on the weekend is better than never making up for the lost sleep at all.
For Barwick, however, the best strategy is to simply prioritize quality sleep on a nightly basis so that you are not forced to try and catch up later on.
Struggling to fall asleep at night? Check out this Optimist Daily article that details the four things you should add to your daily routine for a good night’s sleep.
Amanda Stiles and Beth Zotter, founders of the startup Trophic, are on a mission to develop the most sustainable supply chain for alternative protein in the world! Their key ingredient? Seaweed.
Seaweed has been a staple in Asian diets for centuries because of its high quantities of protein and carbohydrates, but for Westerners, the idea of a pile of seaweed on our plates may not always be the most appetizing. Stiles, a Ph.D. plant biochemist, and Zotter, a technology entrepreneur with a background in renewable energy, aim to change this perspective and establish seaweed as the alternative-protein source, eclipsing other popular plant-based proteins such as soy.
When most people conjure up an image of seaweed, they probably imagine something green, slimy, and stringy. However, Stiles and Zotter focus on Rhodophyta, or red seaweeds, because of their vivid color and high protein content. They also hone in on red seaweed as an ingredient for its ability to enhance faux meat so that it looks, cooks, and tastes more authentically meaty, rather than considering its potential as food on its own.
The research that Stiles and Zotter do for Trophic looks at red seaweed on a molecular level. Seaweed is mostly composed of protein and hydrocolloids, which are carbohydrates. They separate the hydrocolloids from the protein through a process called fractionation, so that they have more flexibility to play with the ingredients. Hydrocolloids have a particular texture that enables them to bind well, and better replicate the three-dimensional structure needed to simulate muscles in meat.
Seaweed will also maintain moisture and fat when cooked, which is a problem for other plant-based food products that lose much of their oil and moisture once cooked.
In addition to its meat-like and meat-enhancing properties, there is a lot of evidence that suggests that red seaweed could be the solution to many of the environmental issues we face today. In fact, the Department of Energy is funding Stiles and Zotter’s research because it is interested in seaweed as a renewable fuel! Seaweed could very well become the most sustainable source of protein on Earth by implementing the same technologies needed to extract renewable energy from this alternative, plant-based source.
Seaweed grows easily in harsh and salty climes and doesn’t require fresh water or fertilizers. And because it grows so quickly, seaweed farms will absorb carbon much faster than the vegetation we have on land. Farming seaweed in the ocean is like planting an underwater forest. If seaweed is farmed at a large scale, then sunk into deep ocean trenches, it has the potential to take carbon out of the atmosphere efficiently and permanently.
In addition to this, Zotter says that a seaweed farm that covers an area equal to the size of Massachusetts would generate enough protein to replace all the beef consumed around the world. And to make things better, there is a type of red algae called Dulse that even tastes like bacon when cooked!
The current method doctors use to screen for prostate cancer involves looking at the levels of a protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in a patient’s blood. The problem with a PSA test, however, is that it’s not very accurate. In fact, 70 percent of the people it flags as having prostate cancer don’t.
In search of a better cancer diagnosis solution, scientists at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) have developed a form of artificial intelligence (AI) that can make a near 100 percent accurate prostate cancer diagnosis from a urine sample. Rather than search for a single biomarker, the KIST team created an ultra-sensitive sensor that can detect small amounts of four different markers of prostate cancer.
As reported in FreeThink, the researchers collected urine samples from 51 Korean men, with 25 of those men having prostate cancer and the other 26 not having this common form of cancer. The 25 who had cancer contributed two urine samples (one before and one after a rectal exam, which can affect the test results), which means the researchers had a total of 76 urine samples. Then, the researchers used 53 of those urine samples to train two different AIs to look for patterns in the four biomarkers that would indicate that a person has prostate cancer. After this, the researchers tested the AI on the remaining 23 urine samples.
Impressively, one of the AIs correctly categorized every sample it tested, while the other AI produced only one false positive. That’s far more accurate than the conventional PSA test. This is exciting news for the medical world, especially considering that prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, with more than 1.2 million new cases every year.
Thanks to this new AI from the researchers over at KIST, it could be possible to detect cancer much earlier, thus dramatically improving a patient’s chances of a better health outcome.
If you would have told us back in 2015 that Europeans would get more of their electricity from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels in five years’ time, we wouldn’t have believed you. Sure, we are optimistic, but such growth in the renewable energy sector seemed unprecedented at that point in time considering the steep price difference between fossil fuels and clean energy.
Today, however, we are here to report that Europeans DID get more of their electricity from renewable sources than fossil fuels for the first time ever in 2020, according to an annual report from Ember and Agora Energiewende.
The report found that renewables delivered 38 percent of electricity last year while fossil fuels delivered 37 percent. Solar and wind power are the major drivers for this shift as both sources have nearly doubled since 2015.
“Rapid growth in wind and solar has forced coal into decline, but this is just the beginning,” said Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst for Ember. “Europe is relying on wind and solar to ensure not only coal is phased out by 2030, but also to phase out gas generation, replace closing nuclear power plants, and to meet rising electricity demand from electric cars, heat pumps, and electrolyzers.”
Although the Covid-19 lockdown caused demand for electricity to fall across the world, the report indicates that Covid trends had no effect on the growth of renewable energy sources.
The exciting news that renewable energy has surpassed fossil fuels in Europe follows recent commitments made by leaders of the European Union to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.
That exercise is good for the body in all kinds of ways is a given, but researchers are only just uncovering a rather surprising effect that exercise has on muscles. Apparently, exercise prompts muscle cells to fight off inflammation on their own.
Scientists at Duke University have been stimulating the effects of exercise on engineered muscle cells and tissues that were grown in a lab. The lab-grown muscles have been subjected to high levels of a pro-inflammatory molecule called interferon gamma over the course of seven days. In previous studies, interferon gamma has been linked to muscle wasting-related conditions.
After this, the scientists stimulated the muscles with a pair of electrodes to mimic the effects of exercise. To their great surprise, the “exercise” caused the inflammation to disappear almost entirely, with further investigations revealing that the stimulated exercise blocked a particular pathway in the muscle cells.
“When exercising, the muscle cells themselves were directly opposing the pro-inflammatory signal induced by interferon gamma, which we did not expect to happen,” said Nenad Bursac, professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University. “These results show just how valuable lab-grown human muscles might be in discovering new mechanisms of disease and potential treatments.”
As a reminder, inflammation is a complex physiological response to a range of triggers such as stress or infections, and it can have a damaging long-term consequences on your body. If you want to take a deeper scientific dive into the effect of exercise on inflammation, check out the research in the journal Science Advances.
While out to study the growth of plants in an evergreen forest on the Japanese island of Amami-Oshima, a team of researchers has come across a colony of an unfamiliar plant species. Not long after — after taking a sample to the lab — the researchers realized that what they had recently discovered was a dwarf shrub species of the nettle family, believed extinct in Japan for almost 100 years.
According to Shuichiro Tagane, an assistant professor of plant taxonomy with the Kagoshima University Museum, the last report of the Elatostema lineolatum plant growing wild on the island was in 1924.
The researchers described the plant as a subshrub species that grows to a height of between 50 centimeters and two meters and is characterized by leaves whose edges in the upper half are saw-toothed. The plant is among the 28 species classified as extinct in a red list issued by Japan’s Environment Ministry.
“Amami-Oshima is an area that hosts diverse and precious plant species growing in the wild,” says Tagane. “More rare plant species could still be found on the island in years to come.”