Featured

Stanford researcher declares that the sixth mass extinction is here

There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.

That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

“[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” Ehrlich said.

Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss. Read more »

World

A third of the world’s biggest groundwater basins are in distress

Two new studies led by UC Irvine using data from NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites show that civilization is rapidly draining some of its largest groundwater basins, yet there is little to no accurate data about how much water remains in them.

The result is that significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, the researchers conclude. The findings appear today inWater Resources Research.

“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

The studies are the first to characterize groundwater losses via data from space, using readings generated by NASA’s twin GRACE satellites that measure dips and bumps in Earth’s gravity, which is affected by the weight of water.

For the first paper, researchers examined the planet’s 37 largest aquifers between 2003 and 2013. The eight worst off were classified as overstressed, with nearly no natural replenishment to offset usage. Another five aquifers were found, in descending order, to be extremely or highly stressed, depending upon the level of replenishment in each – still in trouble but with some water flowing back into them.

The most overburdened are in the world’s driest areas, which draw heavily on underground water. Climate change and population growth are expected to intensify the problem.

“What happens when a highly stressed aquifer is located in a region with socioeconomic or political tensions that can’t supplement declining water supplies fast enough?” asked the lead author on both studies, Alexandra Richey, who conducted the research as a UCI doctoral student. “We’re trying to raise red flags now to pinpoint where active management today could protect future lives and livelihoods.”

The research team – which included co-authors from NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, National Taiwan University and UC Santa Barbara – found that the Arabian Aquifer System, an important water source for more than 60 million people, is the most overstressed in the world.

The Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan is the second-most overstressed, and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa is third. California’s Central Valley, utilized heavily for agriculture and suffering rapid depletion, was slightly better off but still labeled highly stressed in the first study.

“As we’re seeing in California right now, we rely much more heavily on groundwater during drought,” Famiglietti said. “When examining the sustainability of a region’s water resources, we absolutely must account for that dependence.”

In a companion paper published today in the same journal, the scientists conclude that the total remaining volume of the world’s usable groundwater is poorly known, with often widely varying estimates, but is likely far less than rudimentary estimates made decades ago.

By comparing their satellite-derived groundwater loss rates to what little data exists on groundwater availability, they found major discrepancies in projected “time to depletion.” In the overstressed Northwest Sahara Aquifer System, for example, this fluctuated between 10 and 21,000 years.

“We don’t actually know how much is stored in each of these aquifers. Estimates of remaining storage might vary from decades to millennia,” Richey said. “In a water-scarce society, we can no longer tolerate this level of uncertainty, especially since groundwater is disappearing so rapidly.”

The study notes that the dearth of groundwater is already leading to significant ecological damage, including depleted rivers, declining water quality and subsiding land.

Groundwater aquifers are typically located in soil or deeper rock layers beneath Earth’s surface. The depth and thickness of many make it tough and costly to drill to or otherwise reach bedrock and learn where the moisture bottoms out. But it has to be done, according to the authors.

“I believe we need to explore the world’s aquifers as if they had the same value as oil reserves,” Famiglietti said. “We need to drill for water the same way that we drill for other resources.”

Health

Pinaverium shows promising results for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

Pinaverium offers quick and effective relief of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, according to clinical trial results published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association.

Pinaverium bromide (pinaverium), an antispasmodic, is used widely in many countries around the world, including European countries, Canada and Mexico. However, original clinical studies on pinaverium are scarce and there has been no convincing evidence for its effectiveness and safety. As such, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved this treatment for use in the U.S.

“There is no cure for IBS, and no gold standard of treatment. To help our patients suffering from this disorder, we need to gather reliable data to evaluate the effectiveness and safety profile of new treatment options,” said lead study author Liang Zheng from the department of gastroenterology, the Second Jiangsu Provincial Hospital of Chinese Medicine, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine. “This study confirms that pinaverium is an effective and safe option for IBS patients, making it a viable first-line therapy for patients. Hopefully, our findings will help FDA in its evaluation of pinaverium to potentially bring this drug to patients in the U.S.”

Researchers conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of pinaverium. Patients with IBS, based on Rome III criteria, were assigned randomly to groups given pinaverium or placebo at four hospitals in China, from August 2012 through December 2013. A significantly higher percentage of patients receiving pinaverium reported that their IBS symptoms improved (60 percent) than in the placebo group (34 percent). In the pinaverium group, 29 percent of patients believed that their IBS symptoms stayed the same and 11 percent said they worsened.

Pinaverium was not associated with severe adverse effects; common side effects included nausea (3.7 percent), dizziness (3.2 percent), increased blood pressure (2.3 percent) and abdominal discomfort (2.3 percent).

Pinaverium is a type of antispasmodic, an agent that improves IBS symptoms (abdominal pain, bloating and disturbed defecation) by directly relaxing the colonic smooth muscle cells or antagonizing the excitatory neuromuscular neurotransmission. Antispasmodics remain one of the most commonly prescribed groups of medications for the treatment of IBS, with few adverse effects.

There are currently five approved treatments for IBS in the U.S. Most recently, FDA approved Viberzi and Xifaxan for diarrhea-predominant IBS in May 2015.

IBS is the most common chronic (life-long in some patients) and highly recurrent gastrointestinal disorder, with an estimated worldwide prevalence of 10 to 15 percent. Learn more about irritable bowel syndrome on the AGA website.

US News

Air pollution below EPA standards linked with higher death rates

A new study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that death rates among people over 65 are higher in zip codes with more fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) than in those with lower levels of PM2.5. It is the first study to examine the effect of soot particles in the air in the entire population of a region, including rural areas. The harmful effects from the particles were observed even in areas where concentrations were less than a third of the current standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Most of the country is either meeting the EPA standards now, or is expected to meet them in a few years as new power plant controls kick in,” said senior author Joel Schwartz, professor of environmental epidemiology. “This study shows that it is not enough. We need to go after coal plants that still aren’t using scrubbers to clean their emissions, as well as other sources of particles like traffic and wood smoke.”

The study appears online June 3, 2015 in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Previous studies have linked both short- and long-term exposure to PM2.5 with increased mortality, through mechanisms such as heart disorders, increased blood pressure, and reduced lung function.

The researchers used satellite data to determine particle levels and temperatures in every zip code in New England. This allowed them to examine the effects of PM2.5 on locations far from monitoring stations, and to look at the effects of short-term exposures and annual average exposures simultaneously. They analyzed health data from everyone covered by Medicare in New England – 2.4 million people – between 2003 and 2008 and followed them each year until they died.

They found that both short- and long-term PM2.5 exposure was significantly associated with higher death rates, even when restricted to zip codes and times with annual exposures below EPA standards. Short-term (two-day) exposure led to a 2.14% increase in mortality per 10 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5 concentration, and long-term (one-year) exposure led to a 7.52% increase in mortality for each 10 µg/m3 increase.

“Particulate air pollution is like lead pollution, there is no evidence of a safe threshold even at levels far below current standards, including in the rural areas we investigated,” said Schwartz. “We need to focus on strategies that lower exposure everywhere and all the time, and not just in locations or on days with high particulate levels.”

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Featured

Stanford researcher declares that the sixth mass extinction is here

There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence. That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a... Read more »


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Air pollution below EPA standards linked with higher death rates

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