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Immune system genes may change with the season

© photoclicks/iStockphoto
Genes suppressing inflammation are more active in the Australian summer, while those promoting inflammation are more active in winter.
Our mood, metabolism and sex lives are dependent on the seasons, and now it seems, so is our immune system.

In a study published today, British and German researchers find almost a quarter of human genes are more or less active depending on the season.

The researchers say the discovery could help explain why people tend to be healthier in summer and diseases known to be seasonal such as cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis are more evident in winter.

"It helps explain why so many diseases, from heart disease to mental illness, are much worse in the winter months, but no one had appreciated the extent to which this actually occurred," says senior author Professor John Todd of the University of Cambridge.

The international team of researchers analysed blood and fat tissue samples from more than 16,000 people living in the northern and southern hemispheres including in the UK, the US, Iceland, Australia and the Republic of the Gambia.

The study, published in Nature Communications , found 23 per cent of human genes -- 5136 out of 22,822 genes tested -- change their expression levels depending on the season.

Genes that promoted inflammation were more active in the European winter months of December, January and February were less active in the same months in Australia, but more highly expressed in the southern hemisphere winter months of June, July and August. Meanwhile, genes that suppressed inflammation were more active in the summer months of each hemisphere.

Seasonality also affects the make-up of blood and fat tissue.

Family

Children from multilingual homes better at interpreting a speaker's meaning and perspective

© University of Chicago
This image shows the game the study participants played. The monolingual children moved the correct object about 50 percent of the time. But mere exposure to another language improved children's ability to understand the adult's perspective and select the correct objects. The children in the exposure group selected correctly 76 percent of the time, and the bilingual group took the adult's perspective in the game correctly 77 percent of the time.
Young children who hear more than one language spoken at home become better communicators, a new study from University of Chicago psychologists finds. Effective communication requires the ability to take others' perspectives. Researchers discovered that children from multilingual environments are better at interpreting a speaker's meaning than children who are exposed only to their native tongue. The most novel finding is that the children do not even have to be bilingual themselves; it is the exposure to more than one language that is the key for building effective social communication skills.

Previous studies have examined the effects of being bilingual on cognitive development. This study, published online May 8 by the journal Psychological Science, is the first to demonstrate the social benefits of just being exposed to multiple languages.

"Children in multilingual environments have extensive social practice in monitoring who speaks what to whom, and observing the social patterns and allegiances that are formed based on language usage," explained Katherine Kinzler, associate professor of psychology and an expert on language and social development. "These early socio-linguistic experiences could hone children's skills at taking other people's perspectives and provide them tools for effective communication."

Comment: Researchers have discovered that speaking more than one language improves cognitive ability. Those who are bilingual have been shown to have better problem-solving skills, improved ability to think creatively and that they process information more efficiently and easily. Bilingualism also tends to forestall the onset of Alzheimer's by about five years.


Galaxy

Researchers discover Delta Cephei has a 'secret companion'

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/M
Bow shock around star Delta Cephei.
To measure distances in the universe, astronomers use cepheids, a family of variable stars whose luminosity varies with time. Their role as distance calibrators has brought them attention from researchers for more than a century. While it was thought that nearly everything was known about the prototype of cepheids, named Delta Cephei, a team of researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), the Johns Hopkins University, and the European Space Agency (ESA), have now discovered that this star has a hidden companion. They have published an article about the discovery in The Astrophysical Journal.

Delta Cephei, prototype of the cepheids, which has given its name to all similar variable stars, was discovered 230 years ago by the English astronomer John Goodricke. Since the early 20th century, scientists have been interested in measuring cosmic distances using a relationship between these stars' periods of pulsation and their luminosities (intrinsic brightness), discovered by the American Henrietta Leavitt. Today, researchers from the Astronomical Observatory of UNIGE, Johns Hopkins University and the ESA show that Delta Cephei is, in fact, a double star, made up of a cepheid-type variable star and a companion that had thus far escaped detection, probably because of its low luminosity. Yet, pairs of stars, called binaries, complicate the calibration of the period-luminosity relationship, and can bias the measurement of distances. This is a surprising discovery, since Delta Cephei is one of the most studied stars, of which scientists thought they knew almost everything.

Comment: Despite recent studies supporting the binary star system hypothesis, these researchers are still "shocked" at this discovery.

It may be time to incorporate the data they do have into the winning Electric Universe theory and review what they thought they knew about how the cosmos actually works.

Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection

It could be that such twin's are not always 'in sight'. Perhaps our own sun has a 'dark companion' - Nemesis?

Nemesis: Does the Sun Have a 'Companion'?


Info

Ceres' white spots multiply in latest Dawn photos

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Montage by Tom Ruen
Where there were two, now there are 10! Ceres photographed on May 3 and 4 by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft show multiple white spots inside the 57-mile-wide crater located in the asteroid’s northern hemisphere.
We don't know exactly what those mysterious white spots on Ceres are yet, but we're getting closer to an explanation. Literally. The latest images from the Dawn spacecraft taken a mere 8,400 miles from the dwarf planet Ceres reveal that the pair of spots are comprised of even more spots.

"Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice," said Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dawn recently concluded its first science orbit, making a 15-day full circle around Ceres while gathering data with its suite of science instruments. This past Saturday, May 9, its ion engine fired once again to lower the spacecraft to its second science orbit which it will enter on June 6. On that date, the probe will hover just 2,700 miles (4,400 km) above the dwarf planet and begin a comprehensive mapping of the surface. Scientists also hope the bird's eye view will reveal clues of ongoing geological activity.

Eye 2

Our personal microbiome has unique fingerprints that could be used to identify us, no human DNA required

© Eric Franzosa
Four microbial features inferred from metagenomic sequencing collectively distinguish the starred individual from the population (?1 features are not detected in each other individual).
A new study shows that the microbial communities we carry in and on our bodies -- known as the human microbiome -- have the potential to uniquely identify individuals, much like a fingerprint. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers and colleagues demonstrated that personal microbiomes contain enough distinguishing features to identify an individual over time from among a research study population of hundreds of people.

The study, the first to rigorously show that identifying people from microbiome data is feasible, suggests that we have surprisingly unique microbial inhabitants, but could raise potential privacy concerns for subjects enrolled in human microbiome research projects.

Info

Scientists find volcanic activity can be induced by external noise

© Reuters / Sergio Candia
Volcanoes are considered chaotic systems. They are difficult to model because the geophysical and chemical parameters in volcanic eruptions exhibit high levels of uncertainty. Now, Dmitri V. Alexandrov and colleagues from the Ural Federal University in Ekaterinburg, in the Russian Federation, have further extended an eruption model—previously developed by other scientists—to the friction force at work between the volcanic plug and volcanic conduit surface. The results, published in EPJ B, provide evidence that volcanic activity can be induced by external noises that would not otherwise have been predicted by the model.

Arrow Down

Patents for technology to read people's minds hugely increasing

© The Independent, UK
Patents include technology to artificially alter people’s mood and control video games, as well as more conventional healthcare applications.
Companies are taking out a huge amount of patents related to reading brainwaves, according to analysis, with a range of different applications.

Fewer than 400 neuro-technology related patents were filed between 2000-2009. But in 2010 alone that reached 800, and last year 1,600 were filed, according to research company SharpBrains.

The patents are for a range of uses, not just for the healthcare technology that might be expected. The company with the most patents is market research firm Nielsen, which has 100. Microsoft also has 89 related patents.

Cassiopaea

Mysterious supernova still astounds astronomers

© NASA/ESA/Hubble
Supernova SN 1987A.
This is Supernova SN 1987A, one of the brightest stellar explosions since the invention of the telescope more than 400 years ago.

Supernova 1987A exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy about 168,000 light-years away. The light from the supernova arrived here in 1987. Dominating the image are three glowing loops of stellar material, formed when the fast expanding supernova collided with the dense, slower moving material in the stellar wind.

This stellar wind was ejected by the former star about 20,000 years before it went supernova. These collisions cause intense heating and the production of powerful optical and X-ray energy emissions.

Outer, ejected materials lit up first, followed by the innermost materials powered by radioactive isotopes, such as cobalt-56, which decayed into iron-56.

There are still many mysteries surrounding these structures, and their origin remains largely unknown. Another mystery is that of the missing neutron star at the heart of the supernova.

The star that exploded to create SN1987A was a blue supergiant known as Sanduleak -69° 202. Blue supergiants can have surface temperatures of over 50,000°C, and can be a million times as luminous as the Sun.

The violent death of a high-mass star, such as SN 1987A, leaves behind a stellar remnant in the form of either a neutron star or a stellar mass black hole.

However astronomers have been unable to find a neutron star in the remnants of SN1987A, possibly because it's surrounded by an extremely dense cloud of thick dust. It's also possible that so much material fell back onto the neutron star that it further collapsed into a stellar mass black hole.

Health

Revolutionary machine extends lung transplant window to 24 hours

© Reuters/Carlos Barria
A new technique is enabling a patient's lung to keep breathing for up to a day outside their body. Doctors are hailing it as a success that could see the number of transplants in a year double and allow them to save hundreds more lives.

Until now, donor organs have had to be placed in a refrigerated box and stored in ice to keep them working as new as they were being ferried to and from hospitals. But that only allowed the organ to live for six hours.

The machine at London's Royal Brompton and Harefield hospital can stretch this to 24 hours.

The Organ Care System, or OSC, not just stores the organ, but keeps it in the same condition as it exists in the body. It consists of a sealed plastic box, a pump that feeds blood to the organ and a device to inflate and deflate the lung.

The technology could also improve the lung's condition, the developers say. That in itself increases the likelihood of the lung's suitability for a patient; it should be noted that, at present, only about 20 percent of donor lungs are good.

Mars

Martian sunset observed in color by Curiosity rover

Image
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Curiosity Mars rover recorded this sequence of views of the Sun setting at the close of the mission's 956th Martian day, or sol (April 15, 2015), from the rover's location in Gale Crater. It was the first sunset observed in color by Curiosity.