Why Does Pain Hurt? Scientists Find the Neurons That Cause Our Aches

By Lacy Schley | January 18, 2019 5:21 pm
what causes our body to feel pain

Pain can light up all regions of the body, making us feel bad. Scientists have now found the brain cells behind that agony. (Credit: Lightspring/shutterstock)

A group of researchers have found the brain cells responsible for the emotional unpleasantness of pain — well, they’ve at least found them in mice. But the results, published in Science, could help scientists develop new treatments for chronic pain if that same cluster of cells exits in humans.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Vaccines & drugs

Here’s How to Watch Sunday’s Total Lunar Eclipse

By Rich Talcott | January 18, 2019 5:00 pm
lunar eclipse times

Sixty-two breathtaking minutes of totality highlight the five-hour total lunar eclipse the night of January 20/21.

A total eclipse of the moon will be visible in its entirety across North and South America this weekend. For more than an hour the night of January 20/21, the colors from all Earth’s sunrises and sunsets bathe the Full moon in an ethereal orange glow.

As sunlight passes through Earth’s atmosphere, our blanket of air strips out the short-wavelength blues and yellows and leaves only the longer-wavelength oranges and reds. It is this light that reaches the moon a quarter of a million miles farther out in space. It’s as if a talented artist has brushed the moon with the warmer colors from her palette.

On the evening of January 20, the Full Moon rises as the sun sets. Its bright glow hides fainter stars. Only the bright constellations of winter — Orion, Taurus, Gemini, and Canis Major — stand out in the southern sky.

The eclipse begins unnoticeably when the moon enters Earth’s outer penumbral shadow at 9:37 p.m. EST. Over the next hour, the moon’s lower limb begins to darken. The effect should be obvious by 10 p.m.

The main partial eclipse begins when our satellite dips into the inner umbral shadow at 10:34 p.m. The shadow appears dusky gray at first, but as more of the moon sinks into the shadow, its orange color becomes noticeable.

As the eclipse progresses over the next hour, the moon slowly dims and the background sky blackens, slowly revealing a star-studded sky. Hanging in place of the once brilliant Full Moon is a stunning orange globe situated near the border between Cancer and Gemini.

Totality starts at 11:41 p.m., when the moon stands about 60° high across the central United States. (It’s a bit higher in the east and lower in the west.) The fainter stars of the winter constellations and the Milky Way now fill the darkened sky. To get the full impact, you’ll want to view the eclipse from under a dark sky.

Totality lasts 62 minutes, wrapping up at 12:43 a.m. The partial phases then play out in reverse. The umbral eclipse ends at 1:51 a.m., and the moon exits the penumbra unnoticeably at 2:48 a.m.

And, if your skies are cloudy but you’d still like to see the show, you can watch the eclipse livestream online here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

China Grew Cotton Plants on the Moon. They Died in the Darkness and the Cold

By Chelsea Gohd | January 18, 2019 4:14 pm
An image returned from the Chang'e-4 mini biosphere experiment on the far side of the Moon on January 7, around 02:00 UTC. Chongqing University/CNS

Cotton plants budding in the Chang’e 4 mini biosphere experiment on the mission’s lunar lander on January 7. Just a couple hundred hours later, these plants have died. (Credit: Chongqing University/CNS)

Dead Plants

Earlier this month, an experiment on China’s Chang’e 4 lander got cotton plants to sprout on the moon for the first time. Well, they’re already dead.

On Jan. 7, China’s space agency released pictures of cotton seeds beginning to grow on the Chang’e 4 lander. But, as reported by GBTimes on Jan. 16, the new sprouts haven’t survived the freezing temperatures on the lunar surface, even in their protective capsule. The cotton seeds sprouted inside of a container as part of the lunar mini-biosphere experiment aboard the lander. And, just over a week later, or some 213 hours, the experiment is over and the plants are dead, GBTimes reported. The seeds of other plants like potato, Arabidopsis, and rapeseed, as well as fruit-fly eggs and yeast were also placed within the experiment’s roughly six pound canister.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

SNAPSHOT: Hoppy Beer Doesn’t Last Long Before Losing Its Aromatic Flavor

By Alison Mackey | January 18, 2019 4:00 pm
beer bottling expiration date

(Credit: FXQuadro/shutterstock)

Keep those craft beers cold and don’t hang on to them for too long. That’s the advice from researchers at the Technical University of Munich’s Leibniz-Institute for Food Systems Biology. Scientists there found that cold-stored craft beers lost more than one-third of an important hop aroma after just three months. The beer lost even more flavor when kept at room temperature.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: food science, plants

What 88 Bee Genomes and 10 Years of Studying Apples Tell Us About the Future of Pollinators

By Anna Groves | January 18, 2019 2:30 pm
A wild bee (Melandrena sp.) visits an apple flower.

A wild bee (Melandrena sp.) visits an apple flower. (Credit: Kent Loeffler)

Stroll through an apple orchard in bloom, and you’ll be surrounded with the buzz of busy bees. But unless the farm manager has rented hives of domesticated honeybees — which are not native to the U.S. — the bees at work will be a highly diverse crew that live in the nearby wild. Big or small, green or striped, shiny or fuzzy, bees come in all types.

While news of bee declines has almost stopped feeling like news, a group of researchers has figured out a new question to ask about these diverse wild bees that pollinate our apple crops. Are the species of bees most in decline closely related? And does it matter if they are? The answers could be a big hint for future research about the causes, consequences and solutions to the perilous state of wild bees.

The team, led by entomologists at Cornell University, studied apple orchards and their bees for ten years. Many of the orchards experienced losses of bee habitat in their surrounding landscapes in that time, and subsequently lost many of their wild bee species. But that’s not the news. When it comes to making apples, it turns out the relatedness of the wild bees makes all the difference.

Are More Bee Species Better?

Normally when ecologists talk about diversity, they’re talking about the number of species. A lot of research has shown that more diverse ecosystems are healthier. Why is that? You can think about healthy ecosystems being a lot like a healthy diet. Everyone knows that eating just donuts every day isn’t good for you. But neither is eating just blueberries. You need to eat many different foods to meet your nutritional requirements. Sure, some foods are probably better for you than others, and maybe you have certain needs or goals. But in general, a balanced diet is what gets the job done.

In the same way, a diverse ecosystem with lots of species is more likely to have all its roles filled and be functioning as it’s supposed to be. All the cogs are turning; everything is in working order.

But we can do even better. Back to our hypothetical diet, let’s say we eat blueberries and donuts (because, diversity) and we’re also going to add a few more foods. Should we add raspberries, strawberries and grapes? Or, should we branch out and add eggs, potatoes and spinach?

See what I did there? Just a little phylogeny humor for you there. That second diet has the same diversity if you just count the species, but it has more phylogenetic diversity — the species are less related. You can see how that will cover more bases, and result in better health.

Phylogenetic Diversity Means Relatedness

That’s why the researchers asked whether looking at the phylogenetic diversity of the bees could help us better understand patterns in bee declines — and their consequences for fruit growers. For example, distantly related bees might be more likely to target different flowers, for instance pollinating only the tops of trees or only the low-hanging flowers.

“If you think about all of the bees that are present in an orchard as being different branches of the tree of life, are we pruning off those tree branches randomly (when we lose them)?” asks Heather Grab, lead researcher on the study, which came out today in Science. “Or, are some branches being pruned much more heavily than others?”

The team surveyed bees in 27 orchards in New York for over 10 years, identifying over 8,700 individual bees. We’re not talking domesticated honey bees — they found an amazing 88 different species of wild native bees.

Over those years, they watched the landscapes around the orchards become more and more cultivated. Natural spaces like woodlands were replaced by alfalfa, corn and soybeans. And they saw fewer and fewer bee species in the orchards as the habitat around them disappeared.

Then they sequenced the genomes of all the species to make a phylogeny — an evolutionary family tree — to see how related the different bees were. They learned that the species that disappeared weren’t a random pick from the 88. Instead, the species lost were closely related to one another. Likewise, the species left behind were closely related to one another. Habitat losses had led to entire branches of the tree of life being pruned away — meaning phylogenetic diversity took a major hit.

The researchers estimate that for every 10 percent of land area that gets converted to agriculture, 35 million years of evolutionary history are lost from the bee community.

More Diverse Bees (Were) Better At Pollinating

They didn’t just track the bees over those 10 years — they also tracked the apples. They looked at metrics that would matter most to an apple farmer: number of seeds per apple, weight of individual apples and any malformation of the fruits. This all has to do with how well the flowers were pollinated.

They found that the number of bee species didn’t matter for pollination. But the phylogenetic diversity did. Their giant dataset allowed them to learn that although more agriculture in the landscape decreases both, the latter is what really hurts the fruit. Cutting away whole branches from the tree of life hurts the whole ecosystem.

These results will hopefully lead to more careful study of the complex relationships between wild bee declines, habitat losses, honey bees and fruit crops — and more emphasis on conservation and restoration of bee habitat in the landscape. Around these orchards, says Grab, the most important native bee habitat is likely woodlands. Part of that may be because today’s important apple pollinators — bees that are active early in the season, when apples are blooming — likely evolved pollinating native early blooming woodland trees like Hawthorne.

Grab talks about habitat loss as “simplification” — going from a diverse landscape with lots of different habitats, to a landscape that’s just agriculture. “We’re basically documenting here that there is a consequence to the way that we have simplified the landscape,” says Grab, “that has consequences not only for biodiversity of bees, but it also has negative effects on the very agricultural systems that are causing this simplification.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: ecology

The Remains of Ancient Lunar Impacts Reveal Earth’s Own Impact History

By Chelsea Gohd | January 18, 2019 2:01 pm
Side view of the Moltke crater taken from Apollo 10.

An image of the Moltke crater taken from Apollo 10. One new study has revealed new details about impact craters on Earth by studying lunar craters. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Lunar Impact Craters

By studying the scars left from long-gone, violent lunar impacts, scientists have revealed  new details about the history of impacts on Earth.

Because the moon is so close to the Earth, it’s thought that impacts there correspond to impacts and craters left on our own world. “The moon and Earth are very close neighbors. The population of impactors that would hit the moon would also hit the Earth,” study author Sara Mazrouei of the University of Toronto said in an email. “Therefore, they should have both experienced a similar history in terms of impact cratering.”

And by observing the moon’s many craters, her research team discovered that about 290 million years ago, the rate of crater-forming impacts on the moon increased dramatically. That implies that more space rocks were also striking Earth at the time.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Gut Bacteria Protects Against Food Allergies

By Megan Schmidt | January 18, 2019 11:44 am
Child With Swelling

Hives and facial swelling are common allergic responses to food. In the most severe cases, a fatal reaction known as anaphylactic shock can occur. (Credit: Vadim Ratnikov / Shutterstock)

Earlier this year, news broke that 11-year-old Cameron Jean-Pierre of New Jersey suffered a fatal allergic reaction to the smell of fish. His family knew about his fish allergy and took precautions to limit his exposure. But after Jean-Pierre and his father stopped by grandma’s house for a New Year’s Day visit, the boy unexpectedly came into contact with fumes from fish cooking on the stove. Within minutes, Jean-Pierre went into anaphylactic shock, which constricted his airways and caused him to pass out. An ambulance took him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. It’s believed that the cooking process likely released proteins into the air that triggered the reaction.

It’s a rare case — most accidental allergic reactions occur by ingestion rather than by inhalation. But it’s a tragic example of the real danger that people with food allergies must live with. There is no cure for food allergies or a daily pill one can take to manage the condition. But new research published in Nature Medicine this week is putting the possibility of life changing — and lifesaving — treatments on the horizon.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Thousands Of New Microbiome Species Found Living on the Human Body

By Roni Dengler | January 17, 2019 5:08 pm
microbiome human body

Microbes live in nearly every part of the human body. Now, scientists have drastically expanded the list of known species. (Credit: Darryl Leja/NHGRI)

In the largest study of its kind, scientists have uncovered thousands of new species inhabiting the human microbiome – -the extensive collection of bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms that reside all over our bodies, influencing our health. And most of the newly discovered bugs live in and on people from non-Westernized populations. The discovery redefines scientists’ understanding of the human microbiome and could shed light on the increasing incidence of allergies, autoimmune diseases and other complex syndromes of the Westernized world, the researchers say.

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MORE ABOUT: evolution, microbiome

Cassini Reveals the Surprisingly Young Age of Saturn’s Rings

By Chelsea Gohd | January 17, 2019 1:00 pm
On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, NASA's Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn's shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings -- and, in the background, our home planet, Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Using observations from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, researchers have found that Saturn’s rings are actually much younger than the planet itself. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Exploring Saturn’s Rings

During NASA’s Cassini spacecraft’s Grand Finale, the craft dove between the planet and its rings. In doing so, it collected new insights into the ringed planet, including the surprising age of Saturn’s rings. According to a new study, scientists have found that Saturn’s rings are actually much younger than the planet itself. And they most likely formed in the last 100 million years.

Before swooping in between the planet and its rings, Cassini orbited the planet outside of its rings. That made it hard to separate the gravitational effect of the rings from the gravity of the planet and, in the process, find the rings’ mass. Scientists have suggested that the mass of Saturn’s rings is directly linked to their age, so that answer had to wait until Cassini’s final days.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

These Bacteria Might Make A Better Mosquito Repellent

By Nathaniel Scharping | January 17, 2019 11:00 am
mosquito spray

A bacterial compound might make for a better natural mosquito repellent. (Credit: MNStudio/Shutterstock)

In the search for new compounds to fight off mosquitos, researchers have struck pay dirt in an increasingly common location: Soil bacteria.

A pair of molecules produced by a species of insect-infecting bacteria appear to convince mosquitos not to feed on human blood, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison report Wednesday in Science Advances. The find could eventually serve an alternative to chemical insect deterrents like DEET. Read More

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