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Environmental Scientist

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Scientists Discover a Brain Region That Controls Aging

Scientists at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine say they’ve discovered a brain region that may control aging throughout the entire body. By manipulating that region, they were able to extend the lives of mice by 20 percent. The finding, detailed in a paper published in Nature on May 1, may lead to new ways of warding off age-related diseases and increasing life spans.

The hypothalamus, an almond-size area of the brain, controls growth, reproduction, and metabolism but also initiates aging, according to the study. Dongsheng Cai, a physiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, together with colleagues, realized this by tracking NF-κB, a molecule that controls DNA transcription and is involved in inflammation and the bodily response to stress. They found that in mice, NF-κB becomes more active in the hypothalamus with age.

Mice that were injected with a substance that inhibits NF-κB’s activity lived longer—up to 20 percent longer—while those injected with a substance that stimulated the molecule died earlier.

What’s more, the inhibitor seems to block the lamentable physical decline that occurs with age. Six months after the initial experiment, mice that had been injected with inhibitors performed better than controls on cognition and movement tests. “They also showed less age-related decline in muscle strength, skin thickness, bone mass, and tail-tendon integrity,” according to an article in Nature.



another mouse model, but interesting anyway....

Internet lights up as new People's Daily HQ erected

The shape of the new headquarters of the People's Daily, the Communist Party's main propaganda machine, has sparked heated discussion online for looking a bit too phallic.

The building is still under construction in Beijing, but at its current stage, documented widely in pictures on social media sites, its shape is certainly suggestive.

Most photos posted on Sina Weibo, the mainland's most popular microblogging site, were removed by censors, and attempts to search for " People's Daily building" in Chinese were met with a message that read: "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results cannot be displayed."

However, photos could still be found on other social media sites.



Lifestyles of 'Zombie Worms': Spitting Acid In More Than Just Whale Bones

You may have heard about the bone-eating "zombie worms" and their ability to bore through the thick bones in whale corpses, but new research on the creepy worms reveals more details on the lifestyle of the bone eaters.

Researchers discovered the creatures a little more than a decade ago and found that the worms were able to remove nutrients from bones, despite having no mouth, gut or anus. But just how the worms are able to physically bore into the bones has been a mystery until now.

It turns out that rather than bone-drilling worms, describing the tiny creatures as acid spewing, bone-dissolving worms might be more accurate.

The acid is produced by proton pumps -- protein-containing cells abundant in the front end of the worm's body. Martin Tresguerres, a marine physiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. said he has studied these acid-secreting structures in other fish but has never seen anything like what the zombie worm has.


Goldman Sachs’ huge profits become election fodder in Malaysia

The outsize profits of Goldman Sachs have been a political hot potato in the United States ever since the financial crisis. But now the firm known to its detractors as the “vampire squid” has landed right in the middle of Sunday’s bitterly close Malaysian election.

Malaysian opposition candidates claim that Goldman suckered the government in a recent bond deal in which the investment bank served as both advisor and purchaser—typical, they say, of a corrupt and incompetent regime that has been in power for five decades.

The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal both have in-depth accounts of the controversial Goldman deal, but these are the basics: 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a state-controlled fund that reports to Prime Minister Najib Razak, issued government bonds with a face value of $3 billion that were purchased by Goldman in a private placement for only $2.71 billion. Unusually, the bonds were sold before receiving a credit rating—Standard & Poor’s was consulted only after the bonds were purchased by a Goldman trading desk known as the Principal Funding and Investing Group.

Why the rush? Wong Chen, trade and investment bureau chairman for the opposition PKR party, noted that the sale came on March 29, only three days before the prime minister dissolved parliament in the run-up to the election. “If our local banks had arranged for this exercise, they will only charge a nominal fee as it is considered a national duty to work on government backed bonds,” he told the Free Malaysia Today news site. “But instead, Goldman Sachs was hired and was reported to have been paid about RM220 million ($72 million). Local banks would have only charged about six figures.”

Those fees would come on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars that Goldman’s trading desk could make by selling the bonds closer to face value. Goldman told the Journal that it performs “the same consistently high global standards of due diligence and business selection in connection with all securities offerings.”



A new problem for fracking: Drillers are running out of water

Could severe water shortages short-circuit the US shale gas boom? With 64% of the country in drought, water is looming as the next hot-button issue in the debate over hydrofracturing, also known as fracking, which involves injecting chemical-laden water under high pressure to create fissures in subterranean rock formations so gas and oil can be extracted.

A comprehensive survey of fracking and water availability, due to be released Thursday, found that 47% of oil and gas wells are located in high or extremely high water-stressed areas. The report compiled by Ceres, the Boston-based nonprofit that promotes corporate sustainability, is based on water consumption information from 25,450 wells reported by drillers to a database called FracFocus between January 2011 and September 2012.

When Ceres researchers drilled down into the data by correlating the water consumption data with water stress maps created by the World Resources Institute, they found widespread water shortages in some of the US’s most gas-rich states.

In Colorado, 92% of 3,862 wells were in areas designated as extremely high water stressed, meaning that 80% of the available water is already being drawn down for residential consumption or for industrial and agriculture use.



Driving Mars Rovers: ‘It can get a little boring’

Nasa driver who has clocked up most miles on the Red Planet reveals what it’s really like to be behind the wheel of a space rover.

I met a man employed on Mars. Not just watching it from a distance, but doing things on its surface. Paolo Bellutta is his name and he drives Nasa’s Curiosity and Opportunity Rovers – the only working cars in space. As he proudly tells me, “I’m one of the few people who has an interplanetary driver’s licence.” For further clarification he’s also wearing a bright red jacket with “Mars Rover Driver” emblazoned across the back.

Let me back up a bit. Despite the 30-year old Lou Reed hit Satellite of Love predicting that Mars would soon “be filled with parking cars”, so far only four have made it to the planet. Bellutta has driven all but the first, the tiny Sojourner rover landed there by Nasa’s Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997 that lasted three months before losing contact.

He’s a leading figure in both the ongoing Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission – which landed Spirit and Opportunity in 2004 – and in the most recent Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which last year used a fiendishly complicated and previously untried “sky crane” to lower the nearly one tonne nuclear-powered, family-car-sized Curiosity almost exactly on target in the Gale Crater, a site he’d helped select. On the day of the landing last August, Bellutta admits he was in pieces, although he’s adamant he wasn’t worried that Curiosity might be too. The team responsible for getting the rover down to the surface in one working piece had his complete trust: “they’re really, really smart people,” he says with a grin, “so I bet my work on them.” Nevertheless for all the work he’d done in advance, and all that he was preparing to do on Mars, the descent itself was out of his hands. He claims to have been so nervous that despite having brought in his camera specially he failed to take a single picture.

The landing worked out almost exactly as planned. Things on Mars often don’t. Even though it happened nearly four years ago, Bellutta is still visibly upset and seems almost lost for words trying to describe how Spirit became stuck in soft soil and why they couldn’t find any way to get the stricken rover back on track. His team spent months attempting to simulate the conditions – not easy when you’ve got to mimic the low gravity as well as the terrain – and went through every combination of forward and backwards motion for the wheels, even using them as paddles to attempt to swim Spirit out (something which proved surprisingly effective, but came too late to save it/her). “We tried everything”, he says. But what, I ask, if you’d known what you know now and done things in a different sequence? “Perhaps,” Bellutta says wistfully. You can tell it’s the perhaps which still needles him.

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