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Environmental activists pluck plastic from world's beaches on mass cleanup day

Environmental activists pluck plastic from world's beaches on mass cleanup dayThousands of volunteers wielding nets and bin bags scoured coasts, parks and riverbanks across the globe Saturday, in a litter-picking drive highlighting the vast quantity of trash dumped worldwide, a day after mass international climate protests. Campaigners took part in World Cleanup Day from Manila to the Mediterranean, as hundreds of thousands of people across the world take part in demonstrations and activities calling for urgent action on the environment. Young people have been at the forefront of the movement, with masses of children skipping school on Friday for a global climate strike, which teen activist Greta Thunberg said was "only the beginning".

Sat, 21 Sep 2019 14:14:35 -0400
A year in the ice: Scientists set sail on Arctic expedition

A year in the ice: Scientists set sail on Arctic expeditionAn international team of researchers set off Friday on the biggest and most complex expedition ever attempted in the central Arctic, a yearlong journey they hope will sharpen the scientific models that underpin human understanding of climate change. The 140-million euro ($158 million) expedition into the ice will see 600 scientists from 19 countries, including Germany, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, work together in one of the most inhospitable regions of the planet. "The Arctic is the epicenter of global climate change," expedition leader Markus Rex of Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Ocean Research said ahead of the launch.

Fri, 20 Sep 2019 16:42:04 -0400
Can you get cancer from tap water? New study says even 'safe' drinking water poses risk

Can you get cancer from tap water? New study says even 'safe' drinking water poses riskAn Environmental Working Group study suggests that 22 carcinogens found in tap water including arsenic could result in over 100,000 cancer cases.

Fri, 20 Sep 2019 14:08:27 -0400
Chernobyl's 'sarcophagus' is getting dismantled because it's teetering on collapse. Photos reveal the structure's rise and fall.

Chernobyl's 'sarcophagus' is getting dismantled because it's teetering on collapse. Photos reveal the structure's rise and fall.More than 33 years after the Chernobyl disaster, workers have to dismantle the protective sarcophagus before it comes tumbling down.

Fri, 20 Sep 2019 10:07:25 -0400
Scientists Identify Neurons That Help the Brain Forget

Scientists Identify Neurons That Help the Brain ForgetOne afternoon in April 1929, a journalist from a Moscow newspaper turned up in Alexander Luria's office with an unusual problem: He never forgot things.Luria, a neuropsychologist, proceeded to test the man, who later became known as subject S., by spouting long strings of numbers and words, foreign poems and scientific formulas, all of which S. recited back without fail. Decades later, S. still remembered the lists of numbers perfectly whenever Luria retested him.But S.'s ability to remember was also a hindrance in everyday life. He had a hard time understanding abstract concepts or figurative language, and he was terrible at recognizing faces because he had memorized them at an exact point in time, with specific facial expressions and features. The ability to forget, scientists eventually came to realize, was just as vital as the ability to remember."We're inundated with so much information every day, and much of that information is turned into memories in the brain," said Ronald Davis, a neurobiologist at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida. "We simply cannot deal with all of it."Researchers like Davis argue that forgetting is an active mechanism that the brain employs to clear out unnecessary pieces of information so we can retain new ones. Others have gone a step further, suggesting that forgetting is required for the mental flexibility inherent in creative thinking and imagination.A new paper, published Thursday in the journal Science, points to a group of neurons in the brain that may be responsible for helping the brain to forget. Akihiro Yamanaka, a neuroscientist at Nagoya University in Japan, and his team stumbled across the cells, known as melanin-concentrating hormone, or MCH, neurons, while studying sleep regulation in mice.Unlike most of the brain's neurons, which are active when animals are awake, MCH neurons in the hypothalamus start firing electrical signals most actively when a sleeping animal is in a stage called REM sleep. This phase of sleep is characterized by rapid eye movement, an elevated pulse, unique brain waves and, in humans, vivid dreams. When the researchers tracked MCH signals in mice, they found that the cells were suppressing neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region known to play a role in the consolidation of memory.To evaluate the effects of the MCH neurons on memory, the researchers used genetic tools to turn MCH neurons on and off before mice performed some memory tests. First, the researchers presented the mice with a tiny plastic banana and a wooden toy to explore side by side. After each animal sniffed out both items, the researchers artificially activated or inhibited its MCH neurons. Then they put each mouse back in the test cage, where one of the toys had been swapped out for a new item.To the scientists' surprise, "turning on" MCH cells during the retention period worsened memory; the mice did not remember which toys they had already seen and smelled. They approached the familiar wooden or plastic toy with the same frequency as the new one. But mice that had their MCH neurons artificially suppressed were more likely to play with the new item, indicating that they had formed stronger memories of the initial items and did not need to explore them again.The change in behavior was so obvious that researchers could tell just by observing the mice which ones had their MCH neurons suppressed. And the effects were visible only if the MCH neurons were inhibited during REM sleep; inhibiting the cells while the mice were awake or during a different part of the sleep cycle did not improve their performance on the memory test."These results suggest that hypothalamic MCH neurons help the brain actively forget new information that is not important," Yamanaka said. And because the neurons are most active during REM sleep, they may explain why humans usually do not remember their dreams when they wake up. "The neurons may be clearing up memory resources for the next day," Yamanaka said.But there are likely to be many processes regulating how and when the brain forgets, just as there is with recollection."As we learn, and as other animals learn throughout the day, various forgetting mechanisms may always be slowly eroding memory," Davis said. Changes in the firing pattern of neurons, the weakening of synapses and the generation of new neurons in the brain have all been shown to contribute to some level of memory loss.Davis' studies in fruit flies indicate that the neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in both forming and forgetting memories. His theory is that after a memory is formed, the slow, continual release of additional dopamine triggers a cascade of biochemical reactions in the neurons that store the memory, and that this eventually removes the memory unless another brain mechanism deems it important and intervenes."If the memory is really important to the organism, or to us as humans, then this attention or emotional interest will come in and act like a judge, telling the brain, 'Keep this one, protect it,'" Davis said.It would make sense that the regions and mechanisms in the brain that are involved in memory formation are also connected to memory removal, Davis said. If you wanted to make changes to your house -- by painting a room, say -- and a few months or years later you decided to adopt a trendy new color, you would first go back and strip out the old paint.But we are far from the day, if it ever comes, when traumatic memories can be erased or sunny ones are made easier to recall, Yamanaka said. For now, such possibilities belong to the realm of movies like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company

Fri, 20 Sep 2019 08:39:47 -0400
Before Area 51, the US' first 'UFO' controversy uncovered a top-secret military project

Before Area 51, the US' first 'UFO' controversy uncovered a top-secret military projectThe plan to storm Area 51 is one chapter in a history of conspiracy theories about alien encounters. Before Area 51, there was Roswell, New Mexico.

Fri, 20 Sep 2019 19:25:00 -0400
'Largest polar expedition in history' to probe Arctic climate

'Largest polar expedition in history' to probe Arctic climateA team of scientists from 19 countries will set off for the Arctic on Friday, aiming to freeze their ship into the polar ice for a year to research the changing climate. The 140 million-euro ($155 million) mission will study the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, ecosystem and natural processes -- looking to build a picture of how climate change is affecting the region and the entire world. "No other region of the world has warmed as quickly as the Arctic in the past decades," mission leader and atmospheric scientist Markus Rex said on the "Mosaic" (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) website.

Fri, 20 Sep 2019 13:50:04 -0400
'Mudlarks' unearth the past on London's riverbanks

'Mudlarks' unearth the past on London's riverbanksTreading her way along the muddy banks of the River Thames, Lara Maiklem spots a 16th-century clothespin which she wipes and adds to a row of others puncturing her coat pocket. "Mudlarks" have scoured the foreshores of London's rivers for centuries, searching out lost or discarded items to sell, and the tradition lives on today in a small band of devotees. "These little snapshots of everyday London life, that you find coming out of the mud, every tide -- it's like a giant history book," said Maiklem, who works in the publishing industry.

Fri, 20 Sep 2019 11:34:04 -0400
How 16-year-old Greta Thunberg became the face of climate-change activism

How 16-year-old Greta Thunberg became the face of climate-change activismGreta Thunberg has met with world leaders, led climate strikes, sailed across the Atlantic, and been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Fri, 20 Sep 2019 07:04:00 -0400
Vitamin D deficiency linked with increased risk of death, particularly from diabetes: study

Vitamin D deficiency linked with increased risk of death, particularly from diabetes: studyNew European research has found that individuals with low levels of vitamin D may have a higher risk of an early death, particularly if they have diabetes. Carried out by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, the new study looked at data gathered from 78,581 patients with an average age of 51 who had blood tests taken to measure the levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25D), more commonly known as vitamin D. A vitamin D level of 50 nmol/L, which is the commonly used cut-off value for vitamin D deficiency, was used in the study as a reference value for comparing other vitamin D levels.

Fri, 20 Sep 2019 06:19:52 -0400
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