Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Inheriting Markers of Trauma

"These are, in fact, extraordinary claims, and they are being advanced on less than ordinary evidence."
"This is a malady in modern science: the more extraordinary and sensational and apparently revolutionary the claim, the lower the bar for the evidence on which it is based, when the opposite should be true."
Kevin Mitchell, associate professor, genetics and neurology, Trinity College, Dublin

"The effects we've found have been small but remarkably consistent, and significant."
"This is the way science works. It's imperfect at first and gets stronger the more research you do."

Moshe Szyf, professor of pharmacology, McGill University, Montreal

"These are clear, consistent findings."
"The field has advanced dramatically in just the past five years."
Tracy Bale, professor, pharmacology, psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Director, Center for Epigenetic Research in Child Health and Brain Development

"It’s either the stress of war or the malnutrition of war or both."
"The stress on the system moves the machinery to put down or not put down epigenetic markers."
Randy L. Jirtle, epigenetics researcher. North Carolina State University
The team’s work is the clearest sign yet that life experience can affect the genes of subsequent generations.
The team’s work is the clearest sign yet that life experience can affect the genes of subsequent generations. Photograph: Mopic/Alamy
A study of American Civil War prisoners led by researchers in California led to an odd conclusion; that male children of war prisoners who suffered abuse were more likely to die than their peers in any given year after middle age by a factor of ten percent. An "epigenetic explanation" appears the only reasonable conclusion that it is conceivable that trauma will leave a chemical mark on genes subsequently passed down to following generations.

The gene won't be damaged leaving a mutation, but alters the mechanics where the gene becomes converted into functioning expressions.

A decade earlier, scientists reported that children exposed in the womb to the Dutch Hunger Winter -- representing a time of famine toward the end of World War II -- carried a distinguishing chemical mark, or epigenetic signature, on one of their genes. That finding was later linked to differences in health in later life of those children; among distinguishing markers, higher than-average body mass. This new field of study has generated additional studies including those of Holocaust survivors' children.

Studies of the descendants of Holocaust survivors post hints at the heritability of trauma through generations where it is suggested by the studies that some trace of parents' and grandparents' experience with an emphasis on suffering, modifies the following generations' health and that, in turn of the generations that follow; from grandparents to parents to children. Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital and colleagues concluded in 2016 that Holocaust survivors and their children had evidence of methylation on a region of a gene associated with stress, suggesting that the survivors’ trauma was passed onto their offspring.
Children in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images

There are tantalizing hints of the heritability of trauma where studies appear to suggest that some trace of our parents' and grandparents' experience is inherited, and most particularly their suffering in turn modifying the health of descendants, and continuing on to affect their descendants' children. Not all researchers are convinced, however; critics among them contend that biological alterations such studies imply are quite simply implausible. On the other hand, epigenetics researchers insist the solid evidence is more than convincing.

Studies of mice have been cited in support of evidence of trauma-transmission in this debate revolving around genetics and biology. Unlike direct effects, as when a pregnant woman heavily imbibes in alcohol causing fetal alcohol syndrome, the issue is one of stress wearing on a pregnant mother's body, being shared to an extent with her fetus; interfering directly with the normal developmental stages in utero.

The trouble is that no researchers are as yet able to explicate precisely how brain cell changes caused by abuse might be communicated to sperm or egg cells prior to conception.

Following conception, when sperm meets egg the process of cleansing or 'rebooting' occurs when most chemical marks on the genes are stripped away. As the fertilized egg grows and develops, genetic reshuffling takes place with cells specializing into various components of functionality such as brain cells, skin cells and so on. The big question: How is it possible that a signature trauma might survive all these processes?

Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have raised male mice in difficult environments, such as periodically tilting cages or leaving lights on throughout the night hours which effects alter subsequent behaviour of the affected mice's genes, known to alter how the mice manage surges of stress hormones. It is that change, associated with alterations in the manner in which their offspring handle stress that is notable.

According to Dr. Bale who led that research, young mice become less reactive with their hormones in comparison to the behaviours of control animals. The generational changes are not inevitable, however; nutritional intervention can alter the course of those behavioural changes. For example, should the father be possessed of generational markers and the mother the benefit of good nutrition the child born to them can be free of such markers.
"By no means is it saying that whenever there’s trauma, that means it’s going to be transmitted."
"The epigenetic story is optimistic because it allows for the possibility of reversibility through maternal nutrition."
Professor Dora Costa, lead author, Civil War study, economist, UCLA
A Civil War reenactment in 2013     Gary Cameron / Reuters

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Fit Minus FitBit

"[One pound of body fat equals 3,500 calories] so depending on your weight and workout intensity, you could lose about one pound per week simply by completing an extra 10,000 steps each day." 
"[Ten thousand daily steps should be able] to reduce your risk for disease and help you lead a longer healthier life."
Fitbit advertising

"There's no real evidence that the 10,000 steps threshold actually means anything."
"It just seems to have caught on. We human beings like nice round numbers. But there's nothing essentially magical about it. It doesn't mean you're going to have negative health outcomes if you don't hit it, or that if you go beyond it you'll be better off."
"People look at a plate of food and think that has 200 or 400 calories and it ends up having 800 calories. Or if you ask people, 'How many calories did you just burn on your half-hour walk', they'll say, 'Oh, I probably burned, like, 2,000 calories' when it's probably closer to 300."
"I don't think we need to overly obsess about an actual threshold number."
Christopher Labos, cardiologist, epidemiologist, Montreal

"It [the Fitbit device] does a really good job at tracking and monitoring patterns of behaviour."
"So, I wear my Fitbit, and I notice that today I had fewer steps than I did yesterday. That's probably an accurate indication that I did fewer steps."
Lynne Feehan, clinical associate professor, department of physical therapy University of British Columbia

"It's not like I'd tell anybody who is taking 10,000, 11,000 or 12,000 [steps] to slow down to 7,500."
"Keep doing what you're doing -- awesome, but get at least 7,500."
"If you were to take 10,000 or 12,000 steps a day I know for sure you are doing purposely fast walking, because you just can't rack up those numbers going back and forth to the bathroom."
"This is the kind of pace which you naturally ascend to when you’re doing purposeful walking. But this is just the beginning of this area of research: looking at how healthy people are not just by how many steps they’ve taken, but the rate at which they’ve done it."
Catrine Tudor-Locke, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Most people who count how many steps they walk every day are focused on the goal of 10,000, but Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke says there is nothing magical about that number. (Shutterstock)

According to Ms. Tudor-Locke, people should walk at a pace of 100 steps per minute, but according to Leigh Vanderloo, an exercise scientist at ParticipACTION, step counting is too narrow a gauge. Swimming, rowing or other 'non-step activity is left out of the equation. Recommendations are, as well, that adults have at least two days of strength training activities on a weekly basis. And then there's Dr. Labos's common-sense observation that people would be further ahead simply by abstaining, refusing to eat extra calories to begin with, rather than trying to burn them off as penance.

Exercise for the sake of exercising makes good sense, rather than focusing on body-worn motion sensors. When people start from "zero to something" theirs is the benefit. As for the obsession with 10,000 steps as a meaningful commitment to exercise and losing weight in the process, it all started when a marketing campaign that began in the 1960s arose in Japan when a Japanese company produced a commercial pedometer called Man-po-Kei (kei meaning meter and manpo, 10,000 steps).
An advert for the original manpo-kei or ‘10,000-step meter’. An advert for the original manpo-kei or ‘10,000-step meter’.

Academic Dr. Joshiro Hatano, concerned with rising rates of obesity, discovered that the average Japanese took between, 3,500 and 5,000 steps daily and calculated that if that number were to be increased to ten thousand steps a reduction in blood pressure and glucose levels would be attained, thus lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Following that, in the mid-1990s the first English-language scientific article saw publication with 24 obese Japanese with Type 2 diabetes.

People, the article pointed out, who walked at least 10,000 steps on a flat field daily realized greater weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity than others were able to achieve with diet alone. It took Fitbit to bring the concept to a popular revolution in exercise, fitness and weight loss, with its default goal of 10,000 daily steps; a rough equivalent, the company claims, to the U.S. Surgeon General's (and Canadian physical activity) recommendations to acquire 30 physical activity minutes daily; alternately at least 150 minutes per week.

Dr. Labos broke the issue down in a recent article published for McGill University's Office for Science and Society when he wrote that an otherwise-healthy individual who fails to exercise regularly might take 6,000 to 7,000 steps a day, and a 30-minute walk would serve to add another 3,000 to 4,000 steps, stride-dependent. A study published early in 2018 by researchers at University of British Columbia concluded that Fitbit devices overestimate steps in "free-living"; i.e. outside a lab.
A woman counts her steps.
A woman counts her steps. Photograph: LittleCityLifestylePhotography/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In real world settings the tendency for the device is to capture movement such as arm swinging motions, counting that as a step when in fact it is not. The devices are most likely to provide accurate measures of steps when worn on the torso "while walking at normal or self-paced walking speeds", the researchers concluded.  According to lead author Lynne Feehan, 10,000 steps has become a popular metric since it corresponds with people who commit to meeting physical activity guidelines.

A study produced in 2017 involved 111 postal workers in Glasgow, both male and female that suggested 15,000 steps daily could represent the ideal. Those who walked on average 15,000 steps or more daily -- or who spend over seven hours a day upright -- according to the researchers, had less abdominal fat, lower BMIs and improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels as compared to postal workers who sat more.

A 2010 literature review commissioned by the Public Health Agency of Canada concluded that 7,000 to 8,000 steps a day met public health guidelines for a minimal amount of recommended MVPA -- moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Step counter illo

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Viral Virus Alert!

"The modus operandi was to send a pop-up on people's systems using a fake Microsoft logo."
Ajay Pal Sharma, senior police superintendent, Gautam Budh Nagar suburb, Delhi

"The success of the legitimate industry [call centers in India] has made it easier for the illegitimate industry [to operate and appear genuine]."
Courtney Gregoire, assistant general counsel, Microsoft digital crimes unit
Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York State published a study of tech-support scams last year, estimating in their summation that a 142-web-domain pop-up campaign succeeded in enriching its participants by ten million dollars in the space of two months of operation. It was, according to Najmeh Miramirkhani, the paper's lead author, a complex network of entities, some of whom made their own calls while others outsourced calls to India: "This is an organized crime."

A computer user clicks on the 'wrong' site and suddenly they face a frozen screen, sometimes appearing glaring red with an alarming message that Microsoft Windows has detected a nasty virus and is isolating it, waiting to hear from you. The message warns, do nothing other than call Microsoft directly at the telephone number that appears on the screen., it also warns. You call that number and a sympathetic, professional at Microsoft confirms that your computer has been blocked.

However, the person you're speaking to explains that it can be unblocked, once again giving you access to all you hold dear and depend upon. All you have to do to get the gears going is provide them with the authorization to unblock your computer which can be done through purchase of services. It's up to you, dear computer-owner; want your computer back? ... Microsoft is offering a package of services; chose one of several, ranging in cost from $99 to $1,000 for the deluxe service and the problem is fixed.

If the suspicion crosses your mind that this doesn't sound like Microsoft, well you're right. It doesn't and it isn't, and you're being had. Shut down your computer, and it'll have to be an 'illegal' shut-down because remember, everything is frozen. Microsoft will indeed do the rest. The system will evaluate itself and automate Microsoft's protective services to eliminate the threat and restore your system. Panic gone. All's right with the world. You've done the right thing.

Many, however have not. The scam works among many who allow themselves to be completely fazed and discombobulated by this surprise; a wholly unexpected intrusion into the inner sanctum of their computer. The alert that appeared so genuine wasn't, but you have the 'proof' in your disabled computer and the panic-anxiety that leads you to agree to their terms that will restore it to you -- and you've been successfully victimized.

One in five recipients of that viral threat will fall victim to a fake tech-support center while six percent among them will end up paying the extortion to "fix" the problem that really doesn't exist, as far as a recent consumer survey undertaken by Microsoft attests. Microsoft receives about 11,000 complaints about the scams monthly. Its own Internet monitors spot some 150,000 pop-up ads for the services on a daily basis.

Working with Microsoft, law enforcement authorities traced many of these boiler room enterprises to New Delhi, the capital of India where last month police from two Delhi suburbs raided sixteen fake tech-support centers, arresting over 30 people. In similar raids on ten call centers, authorities arrested another 24 people back in October. Fifty police officers swooped down on eight centers on November 28 in one of those suburbs where scammers had extracted money from thousands, mostly Americans and Canadians.

Posing as a Microsoft employee, an operator responding to a victim's contacting the call center would inform the caller their system had been hacked or attacked by a virus, most unfortunately. That's when the package of services to solve the problem would be proffered. U.S. authorities have busted similar scams in the United States, but the majority of such illicit centers come out of India reflecting the country's experience in operating many of the world's call centers where about 1.2 million people are employed generating about $28-billion in annual revenues.


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Sunday, December 23, 2018

China's 'Indiana Jones'

"Basically we are reconstructing the evolutionary tree of life."
"If you have more species to study, you have more branches on that tree, more information about the history of life on Earth."
"The developer [of a construction project] was really not happy with me [when Chinese law kicked in to allow archaeology to inspect the site]."
"To publish papers and discover new species, you need new data -- you need new fossils [finding new species isn't something a scientist can plan]."
"My experience tells me that you really need luck, besides your hard work. Then you can make some important discoveries."
Xu Xing, paleontologist, Beijing, China
china dinosaur
In this Sept. 13, 2018, photo, paleontologist Xu Xing brushes away sediment to examine fossils recovered from a dig site in Yanji, China. The excavation, led by Xu, begun after construction crews erecting new apartment buildings accidentally uncovered dinosaur bones and other fossils, dating back 100 million years. (AP Photo/Christina Larson)

China's building boom is unprecedented, anywhere in the world, as the country's vast geography is impacted by growing urbanization caused by rural dwellers moving in great numbers from farms and countryside to newly growing cities. To accommodate this huge transfer of population migration cities are expanding, the building boom in new apartment complexes leading to the areas being exposed to steam shovels becoming archaeological dig sites. And China's foremost paleontologist Xu Xing, is prepared to respond to as many of those new sites as he possibly can.

In this one year coming to an end alone, he has been responsible for unearthing seven new species of dinosaur, one that is 200 million years old among them, representing the most ancient specimen he has so far discovered. In his career all told, Xu has named over 70 dinosaurs, a number far exceeding claims by any other living paleontologists. And to maintain that record he is dependent on China's construction boom where fossils are continually being churned up as sites are in the process of being prepared for construction.
Paleontologist Xu Xing stands in front of a dig site in Yanji, China.
Christina Larson/The Associated Press

Leads from the building boom has him speeding to present himself everywhere in the country, and as a result he has earned the popular sobriquet of "China's Indiana Jones".

In the past four decades, the populations of Chinese cities has quintupled to close on 900 million people. It is anticipated that by the time 2030 rolls around, one in five city-dwellers in the world will be of Chinese extraction. Some of China's largest, most sprawling metropolises are under pressure to accommodate ever-greater numbers of people. Urban sprawl spreads in major city clusters such as Beijing-Tianjin-Hebel and the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions.

One of Xu's latest finds out of a construction site in Jiangxi province is set to throw light on how the reproductive systems of modern birds evolved from their dinosaur ancestors. School children in countries around the world, introduced by their teachers to the exploits of the man whose celebrity as a world-leading scientist continues to grow, mail him handwritten notes and crayon drawings of dinosaurs. He has hung several in his Beijing office. And astonishingly, he makes an effort to respond to them all.

A paleontologist from the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Japan, Toru Sekiy, assisted on the Yanji dig, and speaks of his Chinese colleague as "a superstar paleontologist" whose discoveries previously include the eight-metre-long gigantoraptor as well as the microraptor, a tiny, four-winged dinosaur weighing about a kilogram.
In this Sept. 12, 2018, photo, a dinosaur model stands near the site of a future dinosaur museum in Yanji, China.    Christina Larson/The Associated Press
Xu is also inspired in an especially creative manner in the naming of species, with the imaginative use of Chinese culture to end up with names such as Mei Long ("Sleeping dragon"), the Dilong Paradoxus ("emperor dragon"), and the Nanyangosaurus whose name was inspired by a city close to its origins which also happens to be the place where a famous military strategist in Chinese history was born.

Xu's 2016 experience in Yanji, located geographically an hour from the border with North Korea. represented an intersection of interests between heritage/archaeology and development, when city authorities obeying a national law saw that construction on adjacent highrise buildings was suspended to enable archaeological exploration to proceed and the builders to cool their heels until the dig was closed eventually.

The city of Yanji accommodatingly built an on-site police station to ensure the unearthed fossils would be guarded from possible theft. At such time as the excavation is complete, a city museum is planned which will display recovered fossils and photographs of Xu's paleontological team at work.

Xu XingIn this Sept. 12, 2018, photo, paleontologist Xu Xing examines an ancient crocodile skull and teeth, recovered from a dig site in Yanji, China. The excavation was begun after construction crews erecting new apartment buildings accidentally uncovered dinosaur bones and other fossils, dating back 100 million years. (AP Photo/Christina Larson)

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Social Anomie, Abandonment of Self

"People can be their own best resource for their health and well-being, when they're connected to each other and the right services."
"Social prescribing changes our lens from seeing individuals as patients with conditions, to understanding them as patients with gifts."
Kate Mulligan, director of policy and communications, Alliance for Healthier Communities,Toronto

"[Social prescribing] engendered feelings of control and self-confidence, reduced social isolation and had a positive impact on health-related behaviours including weight loss, healthier eating and increased physical activity."
2017 U.K. study, BMJ Open

"Is it yet another unwanted role to be foisted onto [general practitioners], or a welcome path away from the medicalization of society?"
Janet Brandling, health researcher, University of the West of England, Bristol

"The prophecy was we are going to create a hyperreality. That prophecy [1960s French philosophy] is coming true."
"In real life, we are no longer just people. We are always an audience. We are always part of this spectacle [of 'authentic' life]."
"We are the content. Social media are not just tools. They are a world. They are an environment. This is an environment we are in."
"It's an experience that can be simulated [emotions], that can be built artificially in a laboratory. Happiness is not just a kind of emotion, a mindset. Essentially, happiness can be conceived as a product, as a business."
"Social media provides us with a 24-hour stage where we must show the best part of ourselves."
"I strongly agree, the Happy Place is everywhere. Because everywhere, generally speaking, people search for ... the opportunity of turning that ordinary experience into an extraordinary experience -- into something with more beauty than the normality, more beauty than the ordinary way of living."
Paolo Granata, assistant professor in media studies, University of Toronto 
The Happy Place makes no pretension to be art and instead cuts directly to the social-media chase.
Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail
Existence, for people, has become extremely difficult. Life has not been kind to us. We are confused between real life and imagined life as it could be, the kind of life that appears so appealing that eludes us and comforts those that have it. And we know that people are happy, exuberant about life and their place in it, those public figures and celebrities who are always smiling, giving advice, flaunting their beauty and talent, inviting envy and gloating over their success. Social media is replete with their images, their sparkling presence. And you can have a bit of it each time you buy a product that they praise.

And then there is everyone else. For whom life and their presence within it is boring, gloomy, miserable, without promise. Depressing. And how the mind feels, the body soon follows. What is there to live for? That imagined height of pleasure in self, certitude in self-value, confidence, that aura of having made it in a world that favours those whose personalities have lifted them above the fray, lauded their accomplishments, laden them with honours, eludes ordinary mortals who can but dream...

The British health system is re-tuning itself, changing gears, recognizing that people who present to their medical practitioners with symptoms of loneliness, despair and poverty of opportunities are in desperate need of new measures for uplifting them from the valley of hopelessness they have descended to enable them to clamber up the slopes of hope to the summit of satisfaction in life. Overburdened family doctors faced with the ever-growing prospect of failing patients begging for some formula to balance life's emotions hardly know where to turn.
At the centre of Happy Place is a giant plastic cookie with chocolate chips that swing open so you can put your head through the hole.   Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Enter an ages-old tried-and-true prescription that urges people to venture outside routine; take a vacation, begin an exercise regimen, take up classes in pottery, cooking, gardening, knitting, take long walks in natural surroundings. Go out to a national gallery of art. In Quebec visits to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts are entrance-free with physician prescriptions. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is preparing a similar launch in collaboration with social workers and health care professionals.

These alternate-to-drugs therapies are being viewed as intuitively effective for elderly people and those that fall into the category of the "worried-well". Mild depression, some digestive and metabolism ailments are known to respond positively to exercise. And then there is the recognition of social isolation representing a deterrent to good health. Social prescriptions are being given a new lease on life, as it were, along with those they help. Studies to gauge their effectiveness in blood chemistry measurements and the efficacy of social connectedness now boost these regimens.

Janet Brandling, a health researcher in Bristol, England, reviewed published science on social prescribing to discover that almost all patients came with a history of mental health problems as "frequent attenders" at doctors' offices; many with chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue. Mostly female, medical interventions had limited benefit to them.

The Alliance for Healthier Communities in Ontario representing a network of community health centres also launched a recent program to measure the use and effectiveness of a strategy of social prescribing.And then there is the "happiness" industry, putting on showpiece displays and charging a hefty price for attendance at their events that guarantee attendees will experience true happiness. "We believe that our world today can use a lot more happiness", organizers of the Happy Place state.
The Happy Place staff member Karlena Waught in the rubber ducky portrait spot.
Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Adults are now paying fees of $40 for entry to events showcasing rooms dedicated to casting a glow of happiness over the viewers who can pose alongside giant candies, swirling confetti within glass domes, colossal artificial flowers, oversized shoes that an oversized adult can clamber into; large, colourful bathtubs surrounded by colourful rubber duckies' chambers full of infinity mirrors, to take selfies and post them on Instagram to achieve an instant glimmer of notice.
The Happy Place appeals to the child in adult visitors.  Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Reality and normalcy was never so much fun. Disneyland and Santa's Villages have become stale simulacrums of innocent childhood delights. That was when childhood discoveries of the world in all its natural splendour was something children living in urban settings were divorced from and an alter-world of fantasy and glamour was the substitute of choice. Substitutions of reality verging into a world of wonder, of the imagination enticing adults to reject reality are now exemplified by social media constructs.

We want the spectacular not the ordinary. Give us Jurassic Park. All the thrills of escaping the world we live in to venture into another world far more special where we can take photographs of ourselves in a background of delight, and experience happiness in the process. Ask not what happiness is, on the other hand, for few know the answers and even fewer may know what it feels like while expressing their delight on feeling it because they're convinced that they should and they will as long as they follow instructions and pay the entrance fee.

The day before The Happy Place opened in Toronto, staff members show off some of the Instagrammable spots.
Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail


Friday, December 21, 2018

The Franklin Terror and Erebus Northwest Passage Expedition

Francois Etienne Musin’s Erebus on Ice (1846) Photograph: National Maritime Museum
"People are superstitious. They feel there is a connection between the deaths and disturbing the wreck sites."
"My late mother told me, even before these wrecks [HMS Terror and Erebus of the 1845 Arctic Franklin expedition] were discovered ... the whole King William Island has non-human people that we cannot see."
"It's a funny feeling when we get on the other side of the island. You sense that somebody's around you, but there's nobody around you."
"It was always like that, even before these shipwrecks were found."
"My mother used to warn me] Don't let them get to you – just do what you have to do."  
Jacob Keanik, president, Nattilik Heritage Centre, Gjoa Haven, King William Island, Nunavut
Louie Kammokak (left) and Jacob Keanik (right) in 2015 at the blessing of the wreck of HMS Erebus. (Parks Canada)

"It is only artifacts that are being taken off wreck sites."
"There are plans in place that if any bodies are found [in and around the wrecked ships' sites on the ocean bottom], they will be left in place."
"We will not bring up or disturb human remains."
Fred Pedersen, Kitikmeot Inuit Association

"This summer, following the tragedies, elders blessed sand from Gjoa Haven and the Terror Guardians brought it to the wreck of HMS Terror, where they sprinkled it over the wreck and performed a blessing."
"Both of these blessings were led by Inuit from Gjoa Haven."
Parks Canada spokesperson Dominique Tessier  
The ship's wheel of HMS Terror. Some in the 1000-member Inuit community link recent deaths with its rediscovery. Parks Canada/Thierry Boyer/The Canadian Press

The search for the fabled Northwest Passage from the Arctic to shorten long sea voyages and connect from the Atlantic to the Pacific consumed the British Royal Navy which sent ship after ship to investigate the presence of the passage -- during times when the Navy wasn't otherwise occupied in fighting various wars -- and to chart the Arctic, to no avail. Finally, a last stab at its location to discover a route through the vast sea-iced Arctic was undertaken by an elderly and unfit Sir John Franklin, his last stab at acquiring notable explorer-status.

Maps showing the route of the Franklin expedition and New York-Hong Kong’s flight trajectory. (Cryopolitics)

His voyage too was destined to end in failure, but it is also known for the tragedy that ensued while he led the expedition when all hands were lost when sea-ice trapped his ships and ultimately the sea claimed them. He died himself of illness before the full tragedy struck, but there were no survivors from the expedition. Ship after ship was dispatched from Britain to search for the missing vessels and every one returned with no hints to solve the mystery of what had occurred to the expedition. It was considered a great disaster with the deaths of 129 crewmen.

Remains were eventually discovered. Along with some grisly evidence that in their desperation to survive cannibalism took place. Through their oral tradition, memory of local Inuit coming across some of the crew in a parlous state was handed down from generation to generation. That memory and its recounting immeasurably helped in the discovery of the wrecks by Canadian divers in 2014 finding Erebus and in 2016 when Terror's preserved underwater presence was discovered.
A 1945 photo of skulls, bleached white by the sun, discovered around King William Island in what is now Nunavut.

Since the wrecks' discovery divers have been carrying off artifacts from the wrecks for historical preservation. Great Britain ceded ownership of the ships and all their artifacts to Canada. The artifacts when fully assembled will be placed on public display. What has disturbed local Inuit is their belief that disturbing the dead will bring their spirits back to life and they will wreak vengeance. Six deaths of natural causes and accidents that occurred in the space of two weeks the past summer led the Inuit community to the conclusion that the wrecks should have been left as they were, undisturbed.

Traditional local Inuit "guardians" performed a formal blessing soon after the Erebus wreck was discovered. Then the realization struck that no blessing had been carried out when the Terror was discovered. Belatedly that blessing was performed and the purpose of it was not only to carry on the traditions respecting history. heritage, and the site of deaths on the island, but in the hope of pacifying the demons the Inuit feel certain occupy the island, and in so doing, putting an end to the "curse" they are convinced has been provoked.

Following the community's tragedies of the six deaths -- two men dead from an all-terrain vehicle accident, another two the result of a boating accident, then the death of a local school staff member who died of a heart attack, and the final death, that of an elder dying of old age -- a traditional ceremony took place where community elders blessed sand taken from Gjoa Haven, to sprinkle it over the wreck of HMS Terror.

The small community of Gjoa Haven is on King William Island in Nunavut. The wreck of HMS Terror was found in an island bay, while HMS Erebus was found further south. (CBC News)

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Yellowstone, America's Geothermal Ecological Wilderness

"You run into visitors and they thank you for the place. They are seeing elk and antelope for the first time in their lives."
"When I first started doing it [poring over weather data three decades ago], I really thought climate change was something that was going to happen to us in the future. But it is one of those things where the more you study it, the more you realize how much is changing and how fast."
"All of a sudden it hits you that this is a really, really big deal and we aren't really talking about it and we aren't really thinking about it."
"This is what we don't want [invasive species to take hold] -- to turn into what it looks like in Gardiner [Montana]. The seeds come in on people's cars and on people's boots. [Cheatgrass can ignite] like tissue paper. It can suck the moisture out of the ground early [in spring]. Then it is gone, so it doesn't sustain animals throughout the summer the way native grasses would."
Ann Rodman, park scientist
A stand of pine trees with pale trunks at the top of a hill
Whitebark pine trees, living on the edge in high elevations, are vulnerable to climate change.
NPS / Diane Renkin

"It is a very interesting mix of land-use change and climate change, possibly leading to quite dramatic shifts in migration and to thousands of elk [ending up migrating in search of food] on private land."
Andrew J. Hansen, Montana State University

"[By the end of the century], the weather like the summer of '88 will likely be there all the time rather than being the very rare exception."
"As the climate is warming, we are getting fires that are happening more often. We are starting to have the young forests burn again before they have had a chance to recover [from previous fires]."
The structure of the forests is going to change. They might become sparse or not recover if we keep doing a double and triple whammy."
Monica G. Turner, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"We can very definitely see warming trends during the summer and fall."
"Stream and river flows are declining as snowpack declines."
Daniel J. Isaak, United States Forest Service
This Nov. 21, 2016, file photo shows Emigrant Peak towering over the Paradise Valley in Montana north of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone has the great distinction of representing the first national park in the United States, declared so in 1872. It is a world heritage site, recognized by UNESCO. But in the area of 89,000 square kilometers of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which includes the park, national forests and Grand Teton National Park, the overall temperature since 1948 has risen about one degree Celsius resulting in a ten-day shorter and less cold typical winter. "For the Northern Rockies, snowpack has fallen to its lowest level in eight centuries", forest and climate change scientist Patrick Gonzalez at the University of Berkeley stated.

Even should rainfall increase in the future, park summers have become warmer, drier and incendiary-prone, so that increased rainfall would evaporate under these conditions more quickly. "By the time my daughter is an old woman, the climate will be as different for her as the last ice age seems to us", explained Michael Tercek, an ecologist whose work in Yellowstone is reflected in a 28-year career. Yellowstone's landscape is volcanic, exemplified in cold streams and hot springs, snow and steam where magma incites boiling water and multihued thermophiles (bacteria which thrive at high temperatures).
Old Faithful eruption.  Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the very epitome of the American wilderness with its vast open skies under which antelope and bison roam. But it is also a place now where nutritious native grasses, burned out after successive fire events have been aggressively replaced with non-nutritive grasses like cheatgrass and desert madwort, the interloping invasive plants taking the place of the ecosystem's native plants.
Bison and elk depend for their browsing on the native plants that grow in the geology that is their habitat. Cheatgrass offers them nothing.

Resulting in lost forage that occurs when drier and hotter summers shorten what is called by ecologists the green wave, where plants green up at various times at different elevations to feed the large animals who in their absence must look elsewhere for their sustenance. That elsewhere can be in valleys outside the park where they nibble at lawns and alfalfa fields. When elk leave the park wolves follow. Yet another threat to the ecology of the system is fires becoming a greater problem echoing conditions that enabled 1988's fires when a third of the park burned.
A forest fire blazes out of control in Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 2, 1988. The blaze eventually burned 36 percent of the park. (Photo: AP)

Repeated fires could conceivably result in more grassland. Forests are known to shade waterways but since young trees have few cones there are fewer seeds to release to regrow new forests if the cones even survive the heat. When fish become concentrated in smaller areas the transmission of disease is eased; the Yellowstone River famous for its fly fishing and cutthroat trout had closed to anglers in 2016 in response to the death of thousands of fish from a kidney disease. The nesting of water birds such as loons, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and trumpeter swans are all affected when swiftly melting snow in early spring turns into torrential waves of meltwater.

The entire ecosystem begins to suffer when climate change starts its inroads on whitebark pine where warmer temperatures has seen the mountain pine beetle surviving winter and moving into high elevations and gaining a longer reproductive season. An estimated 80 percent of whitebark pines in the park in the last three decades have perished by fire, beetle or fungal infections. The trees colonize exposed mountain sites so other understory plants can root in their protective presence. Their wide canopies shelter snowpacks from the warming effect of the sun.

And food is provided  for birds such as the Clark's nutcracker, a bird that creates whitebark pine nurseries by caching nuts. Those nuts represent an important source of food for squirrels, foxes and grizzlies. So that when the availability of nuts is impacted, bears which are omnivores, look elsewhere to fill the food gap and that includes the relisted-as-threatened-species grizzlies searching elsewhere. Elsewhere can include the discarded intestines of hunted-outside-the-park deer and elk, drawing the bears toward human habitat where the challenge of proximity to both humans and bears makes each vulnerable.
A  grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., July 6, 2011. Jim Urquhart, AP

"[The loss of the pines] has far-reaching implications for the entire ecosystem."
"The rest of the landscape, even in the mountainous West, has been so altered that Yellowstone becomes even more important."
Jesse A. Logan, retired Forest Service researcher

Alpine views on the north Side of Electric Peak
Global Observation Research Initiative In Alpine Environments (GLORIA) is a world-wide long-term monitoring network with sites in the park.  National Park Service

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

From Silence to Sound for a Child

"There is a ton of evidence that shows hearing loss is something we need to test for very [in very] young [children]. If we can find hearing loss before six months, we can get the hearing impaired to perform exactly the same as their peers for the rest of their life."
"It has a really big impact. Early is the key."
Marie Pigeon, senior audiologist, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario

"Seeing Francesca look up and smile at us as she hears our voices for the first time is the ultimate Christmas gift."
"We have so much to be thankful for this year."
William Jones, Baby Francesca's father
The day six-month-old Francesca’s cochlear implants were activated was magical for her parents, William Jones and Julia Tirabasso. SickKids

"Almost all the babies that I see who have congenital CMV, there is an older toddler at home who is in daycare. That is a very common presentation: The mom gets her primary infection through her older child who is in daycare and that is when it goes to the baby."
"I think a pregnant woman hears a lot of other messages in pregnancy: She is not supposed to change cat litter, she is not supposed to drink alcohol, she is not supposed to get influenza, but we don't talk that much about CMV prevention."
"I think as people become more aware of CMV and what it can do to babies through this hearing screening program we are going to have a better chance to teach women what they can do to prevent it in the first place."
Dr. Jason Brophy, pediatric infectious disease specialist, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa, Ontario
Francesca smiles at her parents, William and Julia, at her appointment at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), where her cochlear implants were activated on December 10, 2018.

Between ten and fifteen percent of newborns show symptoms of congenital CMV at birth in Ontario. Yearly, roughly 925 babies are born with congenital CMV, in the province. One way to improve timeliness of treatment for infected infants, according to Dr. Pranesh Chakraborty, medical director of Newborn Screening Ontario, a pediatrician at CHEO, is the use of blood tests to screen for congenital CMV. A  new screening program based at CHEO proposes to identify children with hearing loss at an earlier, treatable stage.

The congenital infection can cause developmental delays in children. Babies born with congenital cytomgalovirus (cCMV) recognized as the commonest cause of non-hereditary hearing loss in children are now being routinely screened in a program the province of Ontario has adopted as one of the first jurisdictions in the world to enact a program of its kind. Newborn Screening Ontario has its base at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Six-month-old Francesca Jones was born with the CMV infection. The screening program revealed that infection, and as a result she has become the second-youngest infant to have received cochlear implants at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. The very day the implant surgery took place, the child's mother, Julia Tirabasso said to her daughter: "Ciao Francesca", and the baby responded with a big happy smile, the first time she had ever heard her mother's voice.

The purpose of the new screening program targeting newborns is meant to detect hearing loss in infants at as early a stage as possible to enable proper treatment and support for the child. When mothers during pregnancy are infected with congenital cytomegalovirus, a common virus, it can have devastating effects in some children. This common virus often has mild, or no symptoms whatever. By the time adulthood is reached between 50 and 70 percent of the general public have had CMV, and are immune to its effects.

But 40 percent of women who have never had the virus, then become infected while pregnant, will pass it on to the baby. Pregnant women, warned beforehand, can take preventive measures; for the most part that means avoiding mixing their saliva with that of their babies', as well as taking care to frequently wash hands. Pregnant mothers with toddlers are advised, stresses Dr. Brophy, to kiss their babies on the head, not the lips, and to wash their hands as often as possible.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Word Origin for pulchritude. C15: from Latin pulchritūdō, from pulcher beautiful. Word Origin and History for pulchritude. "beauty," c.1400, from Latin pulchritudo "beauty; excellence, attractiveness," from pulcher "beautiful," of unknown origin.

"When I was thirteen, my mom said she had a dream that I would win Miss Universe in a red dress."
"[Qualifying contestant question; legalizing marijuana] I'm for it being used for medical use, but not so for recreational use."
"Because I think if people will argue, then what about alcohol and cigarettes?"
"Everything is good, but in moderation."
Catriona Gray, Miss Universe 2018
With its lava colour and appearance, her gown's design was influenced by Mayon Volcano in the northeastern province of Albay, from where her Filipina mother hails, Gray said. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press)

"Ms. Gray truly made the entire Philippines proud when she sashayed on the global stage and showcased the genuine qualities defining a Filipina beauty: confidence, grace, intelligence and strength in the face of tough challenges."
"In her success, Miss Philippines has shown to the world that women in our country have the ability to turn dreams into reality through passion, diligence, determination and hard work."
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
The new Miss Universe, Catriona Gray named on Monday in Bangkok, Thailand is of Filipino ancestry on her mother's side. She has an Australian father, and Cairns, Australia, is where she was born and raised. She is an accomplished singer and also a model. Her musical education came through the Berklee College of Music in Boston. So she is rather cosmopolitan, and even so, her attitude toward marijuana legalization reflects that of the president of the Philippines whose mission to battle recreational drugs and the proliferation of drug gangs in his country has been on the brutal side.
Miss Spain Becomes First Transgender Woman To Compete In Miss Universe
Miss Universe 2018: For her national costume, Miss Spain donned a traditional Spanish "bata de cola."

There were beauty contestants representing 94 countries competing for the title of Miss Universe, in Bangkok. Among those contestants was a first, a transgender entrant from Spain, Angela Ponce. That the contest accepted a transgender woman represents a tidal turn of tradition. And as it happens, transgender contestant Angela Ponce's beauty certainly rivals that of the finalists as well as the winner, all born female. Possibly, the world is not yet ready to crown a transgender beauty queen.

Angela Ponce said it was "an honor and pride" to be part of the history of Miss Universe pageant

In the presence of so many beautiful, accomplished women, the judges certainly had their work cut out for them. The crowd that assembled in the Thai capital seemed ecstatic at the choice, crowning a contestant from southeast Asia. As the 67th Miss Universe, 24-year-old Catriona Gray appears a fitting symbol of female accomplishment augmenting beauty. Her red gown, she pointed out, was influenced by the Mayon Volcano in Albay, Philippines. She is the fourth Filipino in the history of the pageant to be crowned.

The contestant from the United States failed spectacularly in an outreach to other contestants, her potential popularity hampered by her mockery of contestants from Cambodia and Vietnam whose English-language skills failed to impress her. Sarah Rose Summers ended up apologizing for her rude manners at a pageant whose theme for 2018 was Empowered Women, judged by seven women including former pageant winners, businesswomen and a fashion designer.

Miss Philippines Catriona Gray is crowned 2018 Miss Universe by outgoing title holder Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters.
Miss Philippines Catriona Gray is crowned 2018 Miss Universe by outgoing title holder Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters. (CR: Frank Micelotta / FOX)

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Monday, December 17, 2018

It's The Placenta!

"The missing link between complications during pregnancy and development of the fetal brain has been hiding in plain sight for a long time. It's the placenta."
"For the first time, we have found an explanation for the connection between early life complications, genetic risk, and their impact on mental illness and it all converges on the placenta." 
"We suggested that placentas of male fetuses seem to be more susceptible at a genetic level. The same story is going to be there for autism, A.D.H.D. and other developmental behavioral problems."
"The surprising results of this study make the placenta the centerpiece of a new realm of biological investigation related to how genes and the environment interact to alter the trajectory of human brain development."
Dr. Daniel R. Weinberger, director, Lieber Institute for Brain Development, Baltimore, Maryland

"Knowing that this starts early in the first trimester, could we then intervene in the first trimester -- identify early, intervene early and prevent the complication?"
Dr. Alfred Z. Abulhamad, specialist, Eastern Virginia Medical School
Autism Linked to Placenta Abnormalities
Credit: Flickr/evilpeacock
If the spiral arteries in the placenta that the developing fetus dominates in feeding itself from its mother are blocked or too narrow, sufficient oxygen may not get through to the fetus, along with enough nutrients to mature the fetus and this is where problems with the placenta appear to arise. The mother's blood pressure may rise dangerously toward pre-eclampsia and this trajectory can arise as early as the first trimester, yet there are few tools available to medical specialists at that stage to diagnose what is occurring.

Three significant studies have recently been published related to the placenta; one with a detailed analysis of all genes expressed or converted into functioning proteins in the placenta; another relates to experiments meant to silence that expression when it is the cause of problems; and the third saw researchers creating mini-placentas, three-dimensional clusters of cells to mimic the real thing in the lab which can then be useful as study models.

Several teams of researchers demonstrated new methods to enable the placenta to be studied in real time, at a recent meeting of the Human Placenta Project in Maryland. Representing work that could be of assistance to doctors diagnosing pregnancy complications, including pre-eclampsia (a type of high blood pressure) and fetal growth restrictions at an early enough date to make intervention efficiently feasible. It may also reveal why it is that boys are significantly more susceptible than are girls to disorders of brain development.

Turette's Syndrome, schizophrenia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) all are traced to something going seriously awry in the placenta, impacting largely on male fetuses. The placenta develops during pregnancy from a few cells into an organ that weighs roughly a half kilogram, 90 percent constructed of cells derived not from the mother but from the fetus itself.

Director of the University of Maryland's Center for Epigenetic Research in Child Health and Brain Development, Tracy Bale has discovered the placenta of a male fetus is more vulnerable to external stress than is the placenta of a female fetus, a vulnerability that may transfer to the embryo. Typically, male fetuses are larger than those of females, but higher rates of spontaneous abortions also ensue along with still-birth, premature birth and neurodevelopmental conditions.

According to an analysis found in the journal Biology of Sex Differences, during the first trimester, 58 genes are expressed differently in male fetuses than they are in female fetuses. Dr. Weinberger's team examined genes implicated in schizophrenia to discover that many of these genes are expressed in the fetal placenta, activated at even higher levels when the pregnancy is under stress where the effect becomes more dramatic in male fetuses than in females.

M.R.I., magnetic resonance imaging scans appear the first choice as the most sensitive detectors of problems as far as some scientists are concerned, useful in measuring oxygen levels in blood to catch emerging problems as early as the second trimester. Dr. Abuhamad, however, at Eastern Virginia Medical School points out that M.R.I.s typically are not used in obstetricians' offices, in comparison with the more common use of ultrasound machines.

Ultrasound machines have been able to indicate structure and location of the placenta, bypassing how well the organ itself is functioning, but it is anticipated that technological advances have succeeded in sharpening the focus of the machine. It is those advances in ultrasoujnd that Dr. Abuhamad's team uses to chart placental health, collecting ultrasound and blood samples of women at eight points during pregnancy.

At the same time other research teams focus on identifying particles which the placenta may release into the bloodstream since that could lead to a simple blood test to diagnose problems. Another group of researchers is in the stages of developing a device to quantify the light reflected back through layers of fat as a measure of blood oxygen.

Looking into the future, pregnant women may be encouraged to see their doctors frequently throughout the first trimester when placental screening identifies a problem, for the obvious enough urgency of early intervention and prevention of complications.

Stanford Childeren's Hospital

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