(Duke University) Children living in homes with all vinyl flooring or flame-retardant chemicals in the sofa have significantly higher concentrations of potentially harmful semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) in their blood or urine than children from homes where these materials are not present, according to new Duke University-led research. The researchers presented their findings Feb. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.
February 17, 2019
(Northwestern University) Researchers are developing a predictive model to help NASA anticipate conflicts and communication breakdowns among crew members and head off problems that could make or break the Mission to Mars.Highlights: Space exploration analogs in US, Russia offer rare opportunity to study teams in isolation, confinement; Mars crew will likely experience decline in creative thinking, problem solving; predictive model may allow NASA to foresee, address team problems before they arise.
February 17, 2019
(ETH Zurich) Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world. In his AAAS session, Crowther describes how such an effort, could absorb as much as 135 gigatons of atmospheric carbon. Crowther will also describe data from thousands of soil samples collected by local scientists that reveal the world's most abundant population of soil organisms in arctic and sub-arctic regions and the most dominant populations of plants and animals in tropical regions.
February 16, 2019
(Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation) New research by scientists at the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation has begun to identify these circumstances by examining relationships between early age of first intoxication (less than 15 years), drinking in different contexts such as one's own home, at friends' homes, or outdoor settings, and problems that arise in those contexts.
February 16, 2019
(Penn State) While the polyester leisure suit was a 1970s mistake, polyester and other synthetic fibers like nylon are still around and are a major contributor to the microplastics load in the environment, according to a Penn State materials scientist, who suggests switching to biosynthetic fibers to solve this problem.
February 16, 2019
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly gives himself a flu shot in 2015 during his nearly yearlong stay on the International Space Station. (NASA Photo) WASHINGTON, D.C. — Almost three years after NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned from spending nearly a year in orbit, researchers are still poring over the data collected during an unprecedented study comparing his health with that of his earthbound twin brother. They say the comparison hasn’t raised any red flags about long-term spaceflight on the International Space Station. “On the whole, it’s encouraging,” Craig Kundrot, director of NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division, said here today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But the studies have raised questions about the potential impact of exposure to weightlessness and space radiation during longer missions to the moon and Mars. “It’s mostly green flags, and maybe a handful of things that are roughly like yellow flags, things just to keep an eye on,” said Christopher Mason, a researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine who serves as the principal investigator for the Twins Study. Those yellow flags include a hyperactive immune system response, a heightened rate of DNA repair in Kelly’s genes and higher levels of mitochondria in his blood. Mason and other researchers , but they still don’t fully understand what’s behind them. “It could be a good, adaptive response to spaceflight, with no permanent consequences, because you’d expect the body to make some adjustments,” Kundrot said. “Or it could be sending things down a path that would be a concern. We just don’t know yet.” Mason noted that Kelly’s immune system kicked into overdrive after he gave himself a flu shot on the space station — as part of an experiment to gauge how the immune system would react. “All indications seem to be that the immune system is functioning fine,” Mason said. “It isn’t even necessarily indicative of disregulation … ‘hyperactivation’ would be how I’d describe it.” Some researchers have wondered whether astronauts should undergo gene therapy to cope with the stresses of long-term spaceflight. “The answer is probably ‘not necessarily,’ because this might be how the body adapts to microgravity,” Mason said. “It’s just something to keep an eye on.” Once , most of the shifts in how his genes were activated — a phenomenon known as gene expression — quickly reverted to the pattern that existed before his yearlong spaceflight. But 7 percent of the changes noted in gene expression persisted all the way up to the end of the study period, six months after the flight ended. (In some quarters, that gave rise to the false impression that) NASA’s Twins Study was designed to compare Scott Kelly’s vital signs and gene expression patterns with those of his identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who also became an astronaut but had retired from NASA by the time Scott began his yearlong stint on the space station. It’s long been known that spaceflight can be hazardous to your health: For example, weightlessness can cause loss of and , and . And that’s not all, Kundrot said. “You have the radiation,” he said. “You have an altered atmospheric environment — there’s higher CO2 levels on board. You have maybe more stress associated with the event. From a cognition perspective, you’re in a very limited environment, the size of a house. … There are a multitude of things.” Radiation could be the biggest cause for concern when astronauts take on long-duration missions to Mars. Previous studies have suggested that, with the result of raising an astronaut’s cancer risk. Even in the Twins Study, Mason said researchers saw heightened gene activation along “the normal DNA pathways that you would observe when DNA is damaged in ionizing radiation.” The detailed findings from the Twins Study will soon come out in a series of peer-reviewed papers. In the meantime, NASA is planning a new set of studies focusing on how organisms adapt to the deep-space environment. Four biological experiments will be packed aboard NASA’s Orion capsule and sent far beyond the moon’s orbit during a three-week test flight currently scheduled for 2020. The uncrewed test flight, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1, will also mark the first launch of a heavy-lift NASA rocket known as the Space Launch System. Today NASA said : Life Beyond Earth: Effect of Spaceflight on Seeds with Improved Nutritional Value: This study, led by Federica Brandizzi of Michigan State University, will characterize how spaceflight affects nutrients in plant seeds, with the goal of gaining new knowledge that will help increase the nutritional value of plants grown in spaceflight. Fuel to Mars: Timothy Hammond of the Institute for Medical Research is planning a set of studies to identify the genes that contribute to the deep-space survival of a type of photosynthetic algae known as Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Investigating the Roles of Melanin and DNA Repair on Adaptation and Survivability of Fungi in Deep Space: The Naval Research Laboratory’s Zheng Wang and colleagues will use the fungus Aspergillus nidulans to investigate the radioprotective effects of melanin and the DNA damage response. Multi-Generational Genome-Wide Yeast Fitness Profiling Beyond and Below Earth’s van Allen Belts: This investigation will use yeast as a model organism to identify genes that help organisms adapt to the conditions of deep-space flight on the EM-1 mission, as well as spaceflight in low Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station. The lead researcher is Luis Zea of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
February 15, 2019
(University of Central Florida) Despite widespread infection, some frog populations are surviving a deadly disease that is the equivalent of mankind's Ebola virus. The reason -- genetic diversity. That's the finding of a new study published this week in the journal Immunogenetics. Anna Savage, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Central Florida, is the lead author of the study.
February 15, 2019
(University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston) Researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have developed a promising drug that has proven to significantly increase muscle size, strength and metabolic state in aged mice, according to a study just published in Biochemical Pharmacology.
February 15, 2019
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine discusses the space agency’s plan to support the development of commercial hardware capable of landing astronauts on the moon. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) WASHINGTON, D.C. — NASA’s leaders put out their pitch today for commercial ventures to build the hardware needed to put American astronauts back on the moon by 2028. “This is really sustainable, this is going to be fast,” Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, told a roomful of space industry executives here at NASA Headquarters today. “We’re going to need the best and brightest from you in industry. We’re going to need the best and brightest from the international partner community to pull all this off.” The mission architecture represents a dramatic shift from the way NASA put humans on the moon 50 years ago. “This time, when we go to the moon, we’re actually going to stay,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters in advance of the industry session. “We’re not going to leave flags and footprints and then come home, to not go back for another 50 years.” As laid out in a document known as a , the procurement plan calls for commercial ventures to propose concepts for a descent module, a space refueling system and a transfer vehicle by March 25, a little more than a month from now. With today’s announcement about partnering with commercial industry to build a human lunar lander, we are preparing for humans to leave Earth’s orbit for the first time since 1972. More: — Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) Several companies would be selected in May for an initial six-month phase of study and development, with up to $9 million paid out to each company. Based on the progress made during that first phase, as many as two companies would be chosen to build hardware for a series of demonstration missions. Those companies could be in line to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in NASA funding. The idea takes its inspiration from the program, or COTS, which supported the development of SpaceX’s and Northrop Grumman’s spacecraft for space station resupply years ago. “COTS is the model,” Bridenstine told GeekWire. NASA says the companies would be required to cover at least 10 to 20 percent of the development costs, depending on the size of the company. “We look for proposers to have some skin in the game,” Nantel Suzuki, a NASA program executive, told industry representatives. Hardware would be launched aboard commercial rockets and NASA’s yet-to-be-built Space Launch System to the , which NASA and its international partners plan to build in lunar orbit during the early 2020s. The first demonstration mission, scheduled for 2024, would involve sending down an uncrewed descent module from the Gateway to the lunar surface. An artist’s conception shows the space platform known as the Gateway in lunar orbit. (NASA Illustration) The second mission, set for 2026, would be an uncrewed demonstration of the descent module, plus an ascent module to get back from the moon to the Gateway. The mission would use a separate transfer vehicle to ferry the spacecraft from the Gateway to a staging orbit about 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the lunar surface. Both the ascent module and the transfer vehicle would be refuelable and reusable. Astronauts would make their first trip to the lunar surface in 2028, using the same three-element infrastructure that was tested without a crew in 2026. NASA’s plan calls for as many as four astronauts to spend as long as seven days on the moon during each mission. Visualizing moon missions: Bridenstine promised that the lunar landings wouldn’t be one-offs. “This architecture is open,” he said. “That means the way we do docking, the way we do data, the way we do communications, the way we do avionics — all of these things are going to be published and available for partners out there that want to join in our sustainable, reusable architecture to get back and forth to the surface of the moon.” The system could support surface operations that include human settlements as well as fuel production facilities that take advantage of the moon’s reserves of frozen water, and could serve as a model for farther frontiers. “We’re going to retire risk, we’re going to improve technology, and then we’re going to take as much of this as possible and replicate it at Mars,” Bridenstine said. As it stands, the architecture meshes well with concepts such as the being developed by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture. Blue Origin executives have said Blue Moon could be ready for flight by around 2023 if NASA provides support — which matches NASA’s timeline. In contrast, the architecture doesn’t match up that well with SpaceX’s plan to build a that’s designed to bypass the Gateway and fly directly to the lunar surface — or to the surface of Mars, for that matter. An artist’s conception shows astronauts standing next to a descent module with its ascent module stacked on top. (NASA Illustration) SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, has said Starship could be ready for trips around the moon and journeys to Mars by the mid-2020s. But as it stands, Starship doesn’t fit the specifications laid out in the Broad Agency Announcement. “That doesn’t say we’re going to take that proposal and then just ignore it totally,” Gerstenmaier said. “We’ll go take that other proposal that’s outside [the current specifications], we’ll figure out another instrument and a way to work with them and see what’s there, and then trade that later against this architecture to see if it’s better, superior, and then move forward.” Bridenstine said NASA wants to move forward quickly with the architecture that it’s spent years developing. “If we’re trying to optimize speed and sustainability, we’ve done a lot of work on this already,” Bridenstine said. “We believe we’re in a good spot with this particular architecture. … If we have 10 different architectures, then we’re going to have no architecture at all.” In the nearer term, NASA is also moving forward with a program aimed at purchasing lunar delivery services for scientific payloads. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, told journalists that he expected the first payload delivery order to be issued in about a month. “That’s a big deal,” Bridenstine said. Next week, NASA is due to list 12 payloads it’ll want delivered to the lunar surface. Zurbuchen provided a sneak preview, saying that the payloads being readied by NASA centers would focus on scientific areas ranging from resource prospecting on the moon to stereo imaging for landing systems. Commercial ventures are being invited to propose lunar payloads as well. When it’s time to decide on delivery, NASA will choose from a that includes established players such as Lockheed Martin as well as startups such as Astrobotic and Moon Express. And in line with NASA’s heightened emphasis on fast moves to the moon, Zurbuchen said there’ll be incentives for vendors who can get payloads launched sooner rather than later. “If we had any wish, we would like to fly this calendar year,” he said.
February 15, 2019