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Exercise can improve heart health at any age - Earth.com

The study, led by Dr. Nathalia Gonzalez of the University of Bern, shows that getting active later in life can have major heart health benefits

08-25-2021

New research from the European Society of Cardiology gives hope to older people that it is never too late to start exercising and increase longevity. The study, led by Dr. Nathalia Gonzalez of the University of Bern, shows that getting active later in life can have major heart health benefits. 

“These encouraging findings highlight how patients with coronary heart disease may benefit by preserving or adopting a physically active lifestyle,” explained Dr. Gonzalez.

The researchers analyzed data from 33,576 patients who suffered from coronary heart disease with an average age of 62.5 years old. On average, follow-up exams were conducted every 7.2 years. 

Activity levels in the patients were assessed via a questionnaire and were divided into four different categories: inactive over time, active over time, increased activity over time, decreased activity over time. 

Unsurprisingly, patients who were inactive over time were the most likely to die of cardiovascular disease. They were also more likely to die prematurely from any cause. 

Patients who were active over time were 50 percent less likely to die, while patients who increased activity over time were 45 percent less likely to die. 

When it comes to heart health, similar results were observed. The risk for cardiovascular mortality was 51 percent lower among those who remained active, and 27 percent lower among patients who increased their activity. 

“The results show that continuing an active lifestyle over the years is associated with the greatest longevity. However, patients with heart disease can overcome prior years of inactivity and obtain survival benefits by taking up exercise later in life,” said Dr. Gonzalez.

“On the other hand, the benefits of activity can be weakened or even lost if activity is not maintained. The findings illustrate the benefits to heart patients of being physically active, regardless of their previous habits.”

In case you needed extra motivation to get outside or hit the gym, remember, years of your life could depend on it. 

The research was presented at ESC Congress 2021 .

By Zach Fitzner , Earth.com Staff Writer

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New research from the European Society of Cardiology gives hope to older people that it is never too late to start exercising and increase longevity. The study, led by Dr. Nathalia Gonzalez of the University of Bern, shows that getting active later in life can have major heart health benefits. 

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“These encouraging findings highlight how patients with coronary heart disease may benefit by preserving or adopting a physically active lifestyle,” explained Dr. Gonzalez.

\n

The researchers analyzed data from 33,576 patients who suffered from coronary heart disease with an average age of 62.5 years old. On average, follow-up exams were conducted every 7.2 years. 

\n

Activity levels in the patients were assessed via a questionnaire and were divided into four different categories: inactive over time, active over time, increased activity over time, decreased activity over time. 

\n

Unsurprisingly, patients who were inactive over time were the most likely to die of cardiovascular disease. They were also more likely to die prematurely from any cause. 

\n

Patients who were active over time were 50 percent less likely to die, while patients who increased activity over time were 45 percent less likely to die. 

\n

When it comes to heart health, similar results were observed. The risk for cardiovascular mortality was 51 percent lower among those who remained active, and 27 percent lower among patients who increased their activity. 

\n

“The results show that continuing an active lifestyle over the years is associated with the greatest longevity. However, patients with heart disease can overcome prior years of inactivity and obtain survival benefits by taking up exercise later in life,” said Dr. Gonzalez.

\n

“On the other hand, the benefits of activity can be weakened or even lost if activity is not maintained. The findings illustrate the benefits to heart patients of being physically active, regardless of their previous habits.”

\n

In case you needed extra motivation to get outside or hit the gym, remember, years of your life could depend on it. 

\n

The research was presented at ESC Congress 2021 .

\n

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By Zach Fitzner , Earth.com Staff Writer

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Staying fit is hard, and when you begin the long journey to weight loss it can be an uphill battle. New research confirms that shedding pounds is more than a matter of mindset - if you’re already obese, it can be even harder for you to burn calories than people who are already in shape. 

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\"This analysis using data from the DLW database shows how individuals are not all the same in the way they budget their energy use. People living with obesity may be particularly efficient at hanging onto their fat stores, making weight loss difficult,\" explained Professor John Speakman of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

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The research, published by a group of international scholars from China and the United Kingdom, looked at data from 1,750 adults. Individuals with a more normal body mass index (BMI) ended up burning more calories at the end of the day after vigorous activity - 72 percent of those calories burned during exercise stayed gone. Those with a higher BMI only ended up losing about half of the calories they burned during exercise. 

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The researchers believe compensatory mechanisms to be the cause. The body is constantly seeking a state of equilibrium, a balance that both environment and history influence. So, if you eat a lot and then exercise, your body is going to increase your appetite, or possibly reduce the calories you burn while resting to maintain your “normal” state. 

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Professor Speakman says that this discrepancy explains why despite significant effort, it can be hard for more obese individuals to lose weight. \"When enrolled into exercise programs for weight loss, most people lose a little weight. Some individuals lose lots, but a few unlucky individuals actually gain weight.” 

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Professor Lewis Halsey from the University of Roehampton says that medical professionals and weight loss programs need to take heed of the difference between individuals’ metabolisms.  

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\"Around the world, national guidelines tend to recommend a 500–600 calorie deficit through exercising and dieting to lose weight. However, they do not take into account the reduction of calories being burned in the most basic of human functions as the body compensates for the calories burned on the exercise,\" explained Professor Halsey.

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While the study might sound discouraging to those pursuing a healthier lifestyle, understanding the nuances of one’s own body can only be a good thing. Paying close attention to your own physiological cues can be an added tool for weight loss. 

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The study is published in the journal Current Biology . 

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By Alex Ruger , Earth.com Staff Writer

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Everyone knows that dogs can be conditioned, or trained, to do basic tasks. Due to the co-evolution of humans and dogs, our canine companions seem able to do many things for us. Sitting, staying, assisting disabled people, and retrieving are all well known canine skills. A question that many people may not consider is whether dogs can understand the human intention behind a command.

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Understanding intention in others is part of a “theory of mind,” which involves the ability to think about mental states - both your own and those of others. This ability has often been assumed to be unique to humans. But now, new research from the Max Planck Institute presents evidence that dogs may have at least some components of a theory of mind. 

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The study was focused on 51 dogs, who were each tested in three different scenarios. The dogs were placed on one side of a transparent barrier with human researchers on the other side. The experimenters withheld a treat from the dogs - either intentionally or unintentionally.

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When the humans appeared simply unwilling to give the treat, they placed it in front of themselves. In two other scenarios, the researchers appeared unable to give the treat, either because they fumbled it at the gap in the barrier and dropped it or because the barrier was blocked. 

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“If dogs are indeed able to ascribe intention-in-action to humans, we would expect them to show different reactions in the unwilling condition compared to the two unable conditions. As it turns out, this is exactly what we observed,\" explained Dr. Juliane Bräuer.

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The dogs waited longer in hopes of a treat when the human seemed unwilling to give it compared to when they were unable. The canine test subjects were also more likely to lay or sit down - behaviors interpreted as appeasing - and they stopped wagging their tails when a person seemed to be intentionally withholding a reward.

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“The dogs in our study clearly behaved differently depending on whether the actions of a human experimenter were intentional or unintentional,” said study first author Britta Schünemann. “This suggests that dogs may indeed be able to identify humans’ intention-in-action,” added co-author Hannes Rakoczy.

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The researchers know their study is likely to be met with skepticism. “Nevertheless, the findings present important initial evidence that dogs may have at least one aspect of Theory of Mind: The capacity to recognize intention-in-action.”

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The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports .

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By Zach Fitzner , Earth.com Staff Writer

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For many, coffee is a necessary ingredient to start the day. Now, new research has revealed that regular coffee consumption may also be a key component to extending your longevity.

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\"Our findings suggest that coffee consumption of up to 3 cups per day is associated with favorable cardiovascular outcomes,\" said Dr. Judit Simon of Semmelweis University. \"While further studies are needed to explain the underlying mechanisms, the observed benefits might be partly explained by positive alterations in cardiac structure and function.”

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The research, presented at the European Society of Cardiology, assessed coffee consumption among those that did not yet have significant heart problems. Dr. Simon says that her team’s research “is the largest study to systematically assess the cardiovascular effects of regular coffee consumption in a population without diagnosed heart disease.” 

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Study participants either drank no coffee, 0.5 to three cups a day, or more than three cups daily. The scientists then looked at each individual's age, weight, sex, respiratory health, blood pressure, and other factors to determine their likelihood of being diagnosed with heart disease. 

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The results showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee had a 17 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who drank no coffee at all. 

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The researchers also used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to directly look at the heart health of over 30,000 participants. According to Dr. Simon, daily consumers had healthier sized and better functioning hearts. \"This was consistent with reversing the detrimental effects of aging on the heart.”

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“Our results suggest that regular coffee consumption is safe, as even high daily intake was not associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes and all-cause mortality after a follow-up of 10 to 15 years.” 

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Other benefits of drinking coffee regularly may include lower risks of stroke, death from cardiovascular disease, and death from any cause. Although further research is needed to understand this phenomenon, it appears that you don’t need to feel guilty about pouring yourself a cup of joe in the morning. 

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The research will be presented at ESC Congress 2021.

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By Alex Ruger , Earth.com Staff Writer

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The Earth faces an ongoing extinction crisis. Understanding the threats to biodiversity over the globe can be complicated. Scientists just published a new model revealing the location and threats to biodiversity over the planet in the journal Nature Ecology Evolution . 

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The scientists created six maps elucidating the main threats to amphibians, birds and mammals - logging, agriculture, hunting trapping, pollution, invasive species and climate change. 

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Agriculture and logging are common threats in the tropics, while hunting trapping are the most widespread threat to mammals and birds. 50% of land birds are threatened by hunting trapping and 73% of land mammals are. Agriculture is the most dangerous threat to amphibians, with amphibians on 44% of global land area being threatened.  

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Beyond identifying which threats are most prevalent, the research also identified the most vulnerable regions. The study revealed that wildlife in Southeast Asia is particularly threatened, especially in Sumatra and Borneo. Madagascar is another island with vulnerable animals. 

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The scientists hope this data could provide necessary knowledge for conservation planning now and in the future. 

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“We are facing a global nature crisis, and the next ten years is a crucial window for taking decisive action to tackle biodiversity loss. Our results reveal the location and intensity of human-caused threats to nature,\" explained Dr. Mike Harfoot, one of the lead co-authors of the paper, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

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\"This information can support decision-makers at a range of levels in identifying where action to reduce these threats could yield the best results for people and planet. With further work, we will improve this information in terms of accuracy and the breadth of nature considered.”

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With the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming, China coming up next year, this research will have a chance to play an important role in global planning and ideally help save some species. 

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By Zach Fitzner , Earth.com Staff Writer

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Stingrays are unusual among fishBowfin fish proves that evolution can be flexible in that their bodies are dorsoventrally compressed into flattened discs, rather than being laterally flattened into the more traditional fish shape. When stingrays swim, they propel themselves using undulations of their body and pectoral “wings” without relying on side-to-side motion of the tail.

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Scientists have long been fascinated by this very efficient form of locomotion through the water. Until now, however, their studies have not quantified the effects of a stingray’s protruding eyes and snout, which potentially have the ability to disrupt the smooth flow of water and reduce the animal’s hydrodynamic properties.

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In a new study published by the American Institute of Physics, the Chinese and South Korean scientists investigate the effects that these protruding features have on the various forces involved in the propulsion of simulated stingrays, such as pressure and vorticity.

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“The influence of 3D protruding eyes and mouth on a self-propelled flexible stingray and its underlying hydrodynamic mechanism are not yet fully understood,” said Hyung Jin Sung, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. “In the present study, the hydrodynamic benefit of protruding eyes and mouth was explored for the first time, revealing the hydrodynamic role of protruding eyes and mouth.”

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The hydrodynamic forces at play during stingray swimming are complex and cannot be measured adequately using live animals. Instead, the researchers generated a computer model of a self-propelled flexible plate. By “fixing” the front of the plate they could simulate the up-and-down oscillations that a stingray generates when moving through the water.

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The model was then adjusted to allow for the addition of multiple rigid plates in 3D, at the position where a stingray’s head and eyes would be. The two models (with and without a protruding 3D head) were then compared using a technique known as the penalty immersed boundary method.

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“Managing random fish swimming, and isolating the desired purpose of measurement from numerous factors are difficult,” said Sung. “To overcome these limitations, the penalty immersed boundary method was adopted to find the hydrodynamic benefits of the protruding eyes and mouth.”

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The results showed that the presence of the protruding eyes and snout increased a stingray’s propulsion efficiency by more than 20 percent and 10 percent respectively. This was achieved due to the generation of vortices as water flowed over the head region. A vortex at the simulated animal’s front increased negative pressure in the forward-backward plane, while a side-to-side vortex added to the pressure differential above and below the body. These factors led to a boost in thrust, cruising speed, and overall efficiency of locomotion. 

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The researchers hope that their new understanding of fluid phenomena in stingray locomotion can be applied in the design and development of future aquatic vehicles that move efficiently underwater. 

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The study is published in the journal Physics of Fluids .

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By Alison Bosman , Earth.com Staff Writer

\n","post_title":"Protruding eyes and snout improve stingray hydrodynamics","post_excerpt":"Stingrays are unusual among fish in that their bodies are dorsoventrally compressed into flattened discs, rather than being laterally flattened into the more traditional fish shape","post_status":"publish","comment_status":"closed","ping_status":"closed","post_password":"","post_name":"protruding-eyes-and-snout-improve-stingray-hydrodynamics","to_ping":"","pinged":"","post_modified":"2021-08-31 09:01:37","post_modified_gmt":"2021-08-31 15:01:37","post_content_filtered":"","post_parent":0,"guid":"https://www.earth.com/?post_type=newsp=1894721","menu_order":0,"post_type":"news","post_mime_type":"","comment_count":"0","filter":"raw","formatted_date":"08-31-2021","permalink":"https://www.earth.com/news/protruding-eyes-and-snout-improve-stingray-hydrodynamics/","author_name":"Alison Bosman","author_url":"","author_avatar":" ","thumb":"https://cff2.earth.com/uploads/2021/08/31090112/Stingray-270x180.png","terms":false,"trimmed_content":"Stingrays are unusual among fishBowfin fish proves that evolution can..."},{"ID":1894719,"post_author":"59","post_date":"2021-08-31 09:00:00","post_date_gmt":"2021-08-31 15:00:00","post_content":"\n

Scientists from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Utah have investigated what makes a human voice attractive, a question with important implications in both our personal and professional lives.

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The researchers recorded 42 individuals performing a variety of speech tasks and asked participants to rate the vocal attractiveness of the recorded speakers. They studied how acoustic correlates of speech clarity might predict attractiveness ratings, with the concept of “vowel space area” (an important qualitative intelligibility index) as a main acoustic feature.

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\"Much received wisdom and many vocal coaches would encourage people to slow down and carefully enunciate to make a better impression on their audience,\" said study co-author Daniel Stehr. 

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\"However, when it comes to empirical studies of how attractiveness of the human voice is judged, we couldn't find previous work investigating whether an actual link exists between perceived attractiveness and overall clarity of articulation.\"

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Stehr and his colleagues were surprised to discover an important gender difference for the correlation between speech intelligibility and perceived attractiveness. Although clarity of articulation seemed to be strongly predictive of vocal attractiveness, these results only applied to female speakers.   

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Scientists believe that the lack of relationship between acoustic correlates of clearly produced speech and male vocal attractiveness might have compelling evolutionary origins.

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“From a sexual selection standpoint, males with traits that are slightly more masculine than average are typically preferred, which in this context would make males with less clear speech more attractive,” Stehr explained. 

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However, such theories should not be taken for granted. As Stehr acknowledged, everything connected to evolution can have different, sometimes even contradictory, explanations. 

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\"At the same time, constricted vowel space area and lower perceived clarity is associated with a range of speech motor disorders, suggesting a lack of clarity may also have indicated the presence of disease to our ancestors,\" said Stehr.

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Further research is needed to sort through such contradictory explanations, and shed more light on the evolutionary origins of contemporary human behaviors.

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The study was published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America . 

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By Andrei Ionescu , Earth.com Staff Writer

\n","post_title":"What makes a human voice attractive?","post_excerpt":"Scientists from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Utah have investigated what makes a human voice attractive","post_status":"publish","comment_status":"closed","ping_status":"closed","post_password":"","post_name":"what-makes-a-human-voice-attractive","to_ping":"","pinged":"","post_modified":"2021-08-31 08:28:46","post_modified_gmt":"2021-08-31 14:28:46","post_content_filtered":"","post_parent":0,"guid":"https://www.earth.com/?post_type=newsp=1894719","menu_order":0,"post_type":"news","post_mime_type":"","comment_count":"0","filter":"raw","formatted_date":"08-31-2021","permalink":"https://www.earth.com/news/what-makes-a-human-voice-attractive/","author_name":"Andrei Ionescu","author_url":"http://earth.com","author_avatar":" ","thumb":"https://cff2.earth.com/uploads/2021/08/31082813/Human-voice-270x180.png","terms":false,"trimmed_content":"Scientists from the University of California, Irvine and the University..."},{"ID":1894717,"post_author":"59","post_date":"2021-08-31 08:10:00","post_date_gmt":"2021-08-31 14:10:00","post_content":"\n

According to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science Technology Letters , the indoor air we breathe at home, in offices, or classrooms can be polluted with harmful PFAS chemicals. These findings suggest that indoor air is an underestimated source of exposure to dangerous chemicals.

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PFAS chemicals are well-known health hazards that are often associated with cancer, infertility, and immune system problems. Moreover, they are either extremely persistent in many environments or capable of breaking down into highly persistent elements. 

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“Food and water are known to be major sources of PFAS exposure,” said Rainer Lohmann, senior author and professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island.

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“Our study shows that indoor air, including dust, is another source of exposure to potentially harmful forever chemicals. In fact, for children in homes or schools with old PFAS-treated carpets, inhalation may be even more important than dust as an exposure pathway to volatile PFAS that eventually could biotransform to more persistent and harmful PFAS.”

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Professor Lohmann and colleagues measured the concentration of PFAS in the air in nine carpeted kindergarten classrooms, one home, the storage room of a Californian clothing store, two carpet stores from Rhode Island, as well as in two labs, five offices, one storage area, and one elevator at the University of Rhode Island. 

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They detected PFAS chemicals in all of these locations, several kindergarten and university classrooms having even higher concentrations than the clothing store, where most of the clothes and gear were treated with PFAS. However, the highest concentration was found in two carpet stores. 

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“PFAS were formerly used as stain and water repellents in most carpets,\" explained study lead author Maya Morales-McDevitt. “Fortunately, major retailers including The Home Depot and Lowe’s now only sell PFAS-free carpets. We believe that slowly smaller retailers will do so as well.”

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Although families, schools, and workplaces are currently reducing indoor concentrations of PFAS by replacing carpets, many other products, such as clothes, shoes, building products, and furnishing still emit PFAS chemicals in the air. 

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“As long as they continue to be used in products, we’ll all be eating, drinking, and breathing PFAS,” concluded co-author Tom Bruton, a senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute. “We need to turn off the tap and stop all unnecessary uses of PFAS as soon as possible.”

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---

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By Andrei Ionescu , Earth.com Staff Writer

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The insides of plants can shelter a large variety of microorganisms, similar to the well-known microbes residing in the human gut. A research team from the Tokyo University of Science is the first to isolate the bacteria contained in the seeds of the passion fruit (Passiflora edulis). 

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The endophytic microorganisms residing inside plants’ fruits, leaves, stems, roots, or seeds are not necessarily harmful to plants. Instead, they often develop a synergistic relationship with their host, and are beneficial for processes of germination, growth, and even defense. 

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However, most of the plants contain many “secondary metabolites” – natural bioactive compounds with strong antimicrobial properties. This makes such environments typically hostile to endophytic microorganisms.  

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Passion fruit seeds are generally full of secondary metabolites, such as resveratrol and, particularly, piceatannol. This is precisely the reason why scientists were curious to investigate whether passion fruit seeds contain any endophytic microorganisms too. 

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“The extraordinarily high concentration of piceatannol protects P. edulis seeds from microorganisms. We thought it would be interesting to know if any endophytic microorganism could survive this extreme environment, and if yes, how,” explained study co-author Toshiki Furuya, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Biological Science at Tokyo University of Science.

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Remarkably, the researchers discovered 19 bacterial strains in the passion fruit seeds, including three that were previously unknown. Their hypothesis is that the piceatannol from the seeds had bacteriostatic (“bacterial growth-stalling”) rather than bactericidal (“bacteria-killing”) effects on the endophytic bacteria residing in the seeds. 

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“Due to the presence of a high concentration of piceatannol, the growth of the bacteria was stagnated inside the seed, but when transmitted to the next-generation seedlings during germination, the bacteria were relieved from the effect of piceatannol and able to grow again,” said study co-author Aoi Ishida.

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The scientists also made another surprising discovery. One of the isolated bacteria, Brevibacterium sp. PE28-2, possessed the ability to convert piceatannol and resveratrol to their respective derivatives. This is the first endophytic bacteria shown to exhibit such abilities.

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Earlier research demonstrated that endophytic bacteria which are capable to survive in environments rich in secondary metabolites compounds possess biocatalytic activities related to the metabolism of these compounds. This biocatalytic potential can be exploited for therapeutic purposes.

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Further research on the mechanisms of endophytic resistance inside of plants is needed to open new paths in medicine and beyond.   

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The research is published in the journal MicrobiologyOpen .     

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---

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By Andrei Ionescu , Earth.com Staff Writer

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While the ecological and aesthetic benefits of green spaces are intuitively obvious, scientists have just begun to understand the different impacts that greening initiatives may have on human health. 

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Green spaces have already been linked to lower levels of stress and anxiety, and are known to help mitigate the urban heat island effect and reduce levels of air pollution. According to new research from the European Society for Cardiology, greener spaces also make for healthier hearts.

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The most recent research looked at medical data from 243,558 US Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older in Miami-Dade County. This information was combined with satellite imagery showing which areas had more vegetation. 

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Two rounds of data collection - one in 2011 and one in 2016 - were conducted, coinciding with three planting programs undertaken by Miami-Dade County. In addition, the researchers assessed actual heart health and relative risk of cardiovascular disease. 

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\"Higher levels of greenness were associated with lower rates of heart conditions and stroke over time, both when an area maintained high greenness and when greenness increased,\" explained study lead author Dr. William Aitken. He and his colleagues suspect that multiple factors may account for these observations. 

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\"For instance, people living in greener areas may do more outdoor exercise and might feel less stressed due to being surrounded by nature. In addition, vegetation could provide some protection from air and/or noise pollution.” 

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Scientists are accumulating more and more evidence which confirms the compounding benefits of green spaces. 

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“Tree planting and greening of neighborhoods is associated with multiple benefits and offers a relatively low-cost investment to enhance health and well-being in many circumstances,\" said Dr. Airken. \"For the cost of one emergency room visit for a heart attack, trees could be planted in a neighborhood with 100 residents and potentially prevent ten heart diseases in this group.”

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For the health and safety of our planet and our people, that’s quite the deal. 

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The research was presented at ESC Congress 2021.

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---By Alex Ruger , Earth.com Staff Writer

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Flowers are the most complex structures to be found on plants. They are formed at the tips of stems and involve a transition of the normal apical meristem (growing tissue) into a flower meristem that develops the reproductive organs. Scientists have long wondered about the mechanisms that allow this transition to take place correctly, and how flower formation occurs so rapidly.

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A team of researchers led by the Nara Institute of Science and Technology has now identified a small protein that plays a key role in correctly timing the developmental changes that lead to flower formation in the cress plant, Arabidopsis thaliana.  

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In the growing tips of stems, a gene known as WUSCHEL (WUS) promotes the formation and maintenance of stem cells. During the early stages of flower formation, stem cells act as a source of tissue to form what will be the flower’s reproductive organs. 

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Clearly, the activity of WUS needs to be restricted at this stage so that the stem cells stop proliferating and, instead, differentiate successfully into the correct number of sepals, petals, stamens and carpels. There is a balance between the formation of stem cells (WUS) and the differentiation of stem cells into reproductive organs, which is under the influence of the gene CLAVATA3 (CLV3), via a feedback loop.

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The protein identified by the researchers, known as KNUCKLES (KNU), represses the activity of both the WUS and CLV3 genes and disrupts the feedback loop. This means that the floral meristem is no longer maintained and the development of the flower’s reproductive organs can progress toward completion. 

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“A small protein called KNUCKLES (KNU) represses WUS directly, which leads to the completion of floral stem cell activity at the right time,” explained study lead author Erlei Shang. “What isn’t fully understood is how the robust floral stem cell activity finishes within a limited time period to ensure carpel development.”

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“The team’s research revealed that in Arabidopsis thaliana, KNU can completely deactivate the robust floral meristems at a particular floral stage, thanks to the multiple functions that KNU carries out via its position-specific roles,” said senior author Toshiro Ito.

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The findings will help scientists to understand flower formation in important food crops such as rice, tomatoes and maize. The researchers hope that their discovery of the molecular genetic mechanism whereby floral meristem is terminated will benefit crop yields for food production globally.

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“Our results reveal a regulatory pathway where KNU plays a key role in supporting the completion of floral meristem development within a short time window, and ensures that flower reproductive organs are properly formed,” said study co-author Bo Sun.

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The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

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---

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By Alison Bosman , Earth.com Staff Writer

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An international team of scientists from Michigan State University recently sequenced the genome of the bowfin fish (Amia calva). The study is shedding more light on a species that has long been considered an evolutionary enigma since it embodies a unique combination of ancestral and modern fish features. 

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The bowfin is a fish endemic to eastern North America and the only contemporary survivor of a large lineage of many species that are known only from fossils. This fish occupies a peculiar position in its evolutionary lineage, standing between the teleosts, a group of fish that emerged recently, and more ancient branches including sturgeons, paddlefish, and bichirs. 

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The bowfin combines ancestral features, such as a robust fin skeleton and lung-like air breathing, with derived features including a reduced tail and simplified scales.

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Sequencing the genome of the bowfin is an important step for understanding not only the evolutionary origin of the teleosts, but also the fin-to-limb transition in the evolution of vertebrate organisms.

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The research was focused on the pectoral fin of the bowfin because it retains the metapterygium, a portion of the fin skeleton which is homologous to the limb bones of tetrapods. Genetic sequencing at the Harvard University Bauer Core Facility showed that some of the most critical appendage growth genes, such as the fibroblast growth factor 8 gene (Fgf8), were entirely absent from the bowfin pectoral fins.

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“Every other fin and limb we know of expresses Fgf8 during development,” said study co-author M. Brent Hawkins, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. “Discovering that bowfin fins don’t express Fgf8 is like finding a car that runs without a gas pedal. That the bowfin has accomplished this rewiring indicates unexpected flexibility in the fin development program.”

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Whereas some genes like Fgf8 were mysteriously absent from the bowfin pectoral fin, other genes - such as HoxD14 (which is expressed in ancestral species such as paddlefish) - were unexpectedly activated, although unable to encode functional proteins.

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“The fact that the HoxD14 gene can no longer make a protein, but it still transcribed into mRNA at such high levels suggests that there might be another function that we do not yet understand,” explained Hawkins.

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The findings indicate that genetic programs are not as invariable as previously thought. “By studying more species, we learn which rules are hard and fast and which ones evolution can tinker with. Our study shows the importance of sampling a broader swath of natural diversity. We might just find important exceptions to established rules,” concluded Hawkins.

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This research is published in the journal Nature Genetics . 

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---

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By Andrei Ionescu , Earth.com Staff Writer

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A new study published in Scientific Reports has found that prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2 does not guarantee higher levels of antibodies, and that full vaccination offers more protection against the virus than previous infection or a single dose of vaccine. 

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Study participants were selected from a racially and ethnically diverse pool of adults in the Chicago area and were provided with antibody testing kits devised by scientists at Northwestern University. The individuals submitted blood samples two to three weeks after their first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, as well as two months after the second dose. Scientists measured whether the blood samples could inhibit the binding between coronavirus’ spike protein and the ACE2 receptor.

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“When we tested blood samples from participants collected about three weeks after their second vaccine dose, the average level of inhibition was 98 percent, indicating a very high level of neutralizing antibodies,” said study lead author Thomas McDade, professor of anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University.

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The researchers found that the antibody response to vaccination varied according the participants’ history of prior infection. Individuals who previously contacted SARS-CoV-2 and had multiple symptoms had much higher antibody levels than those who were asymptomatic or had mild cases. 

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“Many people, and many doctors, are assuming that any prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2 will confer immunity to re-infection. Based on this logic, some people with prior exposure don’t think they need to get vaccinated. Or if they do get vaccinated, they think that they only need the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer/Moderna vaccines,” explained Professor McDade.

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“Our study shows that prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2 does not guarantee a high level of antibodies, nor does it guarantee a robust antibody response to the first vaccine dose. For people who had mild or asymptomatic infections, their antibody response to vaccination is essentially the same as it is for people who have not been previously exposed.” 

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Moreover, the emergence of new variants decreases protection from both prior infection and vaccination. For the emerging variants B.1.1351 (South Africa), B.1.1.7 (UK), and P.1 (Brazil), scientists found that the levels of inhibition ranged from 67 to 92 percent.

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“As far as protection goes after vaccination, the story is the same for all the variants, including delta - the vaccine provides good protection, but not as good protection as for the original version of the virus for which the vaccine was designed. Combine that with the fact that immunity wanes over time, you get increased vulnerability to breakthrough infection,” said Professor McDade. 

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---

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By Andrei Ionescu , Earth.com Staff Writer

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