Irish scientists find arthritis ‘off’ switch; Chinese space station falling to Earth; New organ found; Holding on to memories in Alzheimer’s using implants

Chinese Space Station

The 9.4 tonne Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is set to fall to Earth over the easter weekend, but scientists are not sure exactly where (Photo: NBC News)

Listen to weekly round up of science news broadcast on East Coast FM: 29th March 2018

Money can buy happiness; stem cell patch to heal hearts; why exhibit animals in zoos?; prosthetic hands now feel real

The Zoo

Is keeping animals in Zoos morally justifiable? [source: Paignton Zoo]

Broadcast on The Morning Show at East Coast FM – 15th March 2018

Featured stories:

Money CAN buy you happiness, scientists say http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5493825/Science-says-buy-happiness-does-cost.htm

Stem cell patch to heal hearts damaged by cardiac arrest https://futurism.com/stem-cell-patch-heal-hearts-damaged-cardiac-arrest/

Why do we continue to exhibit animals in zoos https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/why-do-we-continue-to-exhibit-animals-in-zoos-1.3376662

Prosthetic hands feel more real thanks to ‘good vibrations’ http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/03/prosthetic-hands-feel-more-real-thanks-some-good-vibrations

 

 

brain ‘pacemaker’ for Alzheimer’s; attractive people more right wing; friends on the same wavelength

Attractive People

Attractive people tend to be more right wing in their political views researchers have found

Listen below to piece broadcast on East Coast FM on 1st Feb 2018

The Mayo woman aiming to be first Irish astronaut in space

Norah Patten, from Ballina, has dreamed of travelling into space since she was in primary school [Credit: http://www.planetzebunar]

Listen below to the interview piece for Drivetime on RTE Radio 1, broadcast on 8/01/’18

 

Experts explain why Ireland must act now on climate change

Huge waves slamming into 150 cliffs off the west coast of Ireland [Credit: Chris Murray]

Climate change in Ireland will have many impacts – some of which will be life-threatening – according to a range of experts based here. This means, they all agree, that action can no longer be delayed.

This report features contributions Dr Ina Kelly, consultant in public health medicine, HSE; Dr Audrey Morley, ocean scientist NUIG; Dr Jimmy Murphy, coastal erosion engineer at UCC MaREI and Dr Ruth Kelly, zoologist, TCD, and was first broadcast on Drivetime on RTE Radio 1 on 20th December ’17.

 

My weekly science news round up on East Coast FM: weight loss; mindfulness; ancient Egypt; super volcano; Chinese space station

The latest science news from around the world 

Broadcast on The Morning Show on East Coast FM (20/10/2017)

A group of scientists say there is no evidence for many of the benefits claimed for mindfulness (Source: http://www.positivepsychologyprogram.com)

 

Every two lbs overweight knocks nine weeks off your life

Source: Telegraph, UK

  • Study of 600,000 people study link between longevity and lifestyle
  • Smoke pack of cigs per day, die seven years earlier on average
  • Edinburgh University researchers did this as a so-called big data project, which means analysing and cross referencing vast amounts of data.
  • If you are two stone overweight, then it will take, on average, six months off your life.
  • Data came from Europe, North America and Australia, via the UK Biobank.
  • But… also found that life is extended by one year for every year a person stays in education after school, on average. That’s a massive effect.
  • Life expectancy continuing to increase, and in the UK it stands now at 79.5 years for a man, on average, and 83.1 for a woman.
  • But, Public Health England found this year that the average ‘healthy’ average life expectancy – the number of years a person can live largely free of illness – is less than the age people get the state pension

Little proof mindfulness meditation works, say scientists

Source: Scientific American

  • Scientists in the US now asking where is the proof that mindfulness works? Question asked by a group of 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
  • Lots of studies have been done on mindfulness and it has been reported to relieve stress, pain and even slow ageing.
  • But, these researchers are critical of these studies because they say they are poorly designed, they have inconsistent definitions are what mindfulness actually is, and often do not use a control group to rule out the placebo effect.
  • Only some 9 per cent of studies on mindfulness has been tested in clinical trials, one report said, and meta analysis of mindfulness research not impressive.
  • In 2014, a review of 47 meditation trials, involving over 3,500 people found that no evidence mindfulness enhanced enhanced attention, curtailed substance abuse, helped sleep or controlled weight.
  • Mindfulness meditation and training is now a huge industry, so there are vested interests promoting its effectiveness, the scientists state.
  • Less than 25 per cent of trials on mindfulness monitor potential negative effects and that is causing worry among scientists too.
  • The 2014 review did find some benefits, modest benefits, for anxiety, depression and pain from the use of mindfulness.
  • A reputable trial this year found that mindfulness attention training reduced self perceived stress, but not the stress hormone cortisol. What does it mean?
  • Another trial found that mindfulness increased the thickness of the prefrontal cortex around of the brain, which is associated with complex behaviour, decision making and shaping the personality.

Ancient Egypt brought down by volcanoes and climate change

Source: Independent UK

  • Volcanic eruptions caused riots and rebellions against Ptolemaic rule and Cleopatra was one of those leaders.
  • Ancient Egypt relied on monsoon weather to provide water irrigate the nile delta region, as does 70 per cent of the globe still today
  • Researchers at TCD and Yale looked at the historical records and used climate modelling methods (working backwards) to do this study.
  • Summer floods helped crops to grow, fed population and were the fundamental basis for the wealth of ancient Egypt at this time 350BC to 30 BC or so.

Yellowstone Super Volcano could erupt inside decades causing global volcanic winter

Source: Independent UK

  • The last time it erupted was 630,000 years ago and created the Yellowstone caldera, which is 40 miles wide.
  • The volcano is so big that if it erupted, it could choke the Earth’s entire atmosphere with ash, blocking out a lot of sunlight, causing temperatures to dip, and this would continue for years.
  • That last massive eruption, scientists at Arizona State have found, occurred following two influxes of fresh magma into the magma chamber.
  • The temperatures increased around the volcano as this happened over decades, not centuries, as previously thought.
  • This shows that the the yellowstone volcano could become dangerous inside decades, at any point, when temperatures start to rise.
  • Large parts of the USA would be covered in dangerous ash if it erupted, the Earth would dramatically cool, sunlight would struggle to get through and the impact would last more than a decade. Life would get very tough, esp in US.

Chinese space station will crash to Earth in months

Source: Guardian UK

  • The 8.5 tonne orbiting laboratory (two large male bull elephants) is now out of control, and in a death spiral, and the ISS will follow perhaps as earth as 2020.
  • The Tiangong-1, or heavenly palace, lab was launched in 2011 as part of China’s push to become a space superpower.
  • Visited by taikonauts including China’s first female taikonaut Liu Yang in 2012.
  • Much of the craft will burn up in the atmosphere, but scientists in the west estimate that pieces as large as 100kg (16 stone man) will crash to Earth anytime between now and April 2018.
  • Impossible to predict when and where the pieces will fall scientists say.
  • No-one has been hurt by space debris falling to Earth, but in 1979 NASA’s 77-tonne Skylab space station crashed to the ground with some large pieces landing outside Perth.

 

Women make better surgeons; Trump plans Moon return; Women brain’s wired to be selfless; voice key to emotional state

Patients are 12 less likely to die 30 days post-op if the operation was performed by a female surgeon (Source: gender.stanford.edu)

Broadcast on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan on East Coast FM 12/10/17

 

CRISPR: Ireland’s role in the DNA splicing revolution

Broadcast on Drivetime on 4th August 2017

CRISPR is, some believe, as important to science as the invention of the microscope (Credit: natural.society.com)

A new gene-editing tool that can precisely ‘cut and paste’ DNA to remove segments that cause disease or insert pieces that promote health benefits is, some scientists believe, as important a scientific invention as the microscope.

Scientists in Ireland are part of the what’s being called the CRISPR revolution and many biological researchers are using this technology has the potential to change the world.

From the ground-shaking discovery of the double-helix of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953 so much followed in the years, and decades since. We have learned how DNA passing  from one generation to the next, how it transmits signals to the cells, and the body, and how, when DNA building blocks get laid down in the wrong way, that it can cause sometimes deadly genetic diseases.

We are now at another historic moment in biological science, because scientists have in their hands a tool, which enables them to precisely manipulate DNA in a way that was never possible before. This tool is CRISPR and some scientists predict it could lead to the end of all genetic diseases, and perhaps even the eradication of all diseases, whether genetic or not.

Luke O’Neill is a professor of biochemistry at Trinity College, and one of the world’s leading immunologists. He is using CRISPR to study specific genes in the immune system, to change them, or modify them and see if they are important.

Breandan Kennedy, is a professor at the School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science at UCD. He is using CRISPR to try and correct vision loss, blindness due to faulty genes and even non-inherited forms of cancer.

Dr Niall Barron is based at National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training, or NIBRT in Dublin. He is using CRISPR to make the manufacture of highly effective, but expensive biologically-based drugs such as Enbrel made  by Pfizer in Dublin and Humira, made by Abbvie in Sligo. Both are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Meanwhile, at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, Dr Terry Prendiville, a consultant paediatric cardiologist, is using CRISPR, along with colleagues based at NUI Galway, to try and repair inherited cardiac defects in children.

Dr Prendiville points out that it could be some years before CRISPR can be used to help repair the hearts of children with inherited defects.

CRISPR is described by Luke O’Neill as being as important to science as the invention of the microscope, and it has the potential to eradicate many of the debilitating and deadly diseases that are today considered incurable.

Ireland ‘switches on’ to astronomy in historic event at Birr Castle

Broadcast on RTE Radio 1 Drivetime, 27th July 2017

I-LOFAR, Ireland’s radio telescope at Birr Castle, pictured, was switched on today in a historic moment for astronomy here (Credit: RTE)

The most important telescope ever built in Ireland, one capable of revealing  the most closely guarded secrets of the Universe, was switched on by Minister John Halligan today (27th July 2017) in Birr Castle Co Offaly.

The scientists behind Ireland’s LOFAR radio telescope say that it can listen in to signals coming from even the most distant parts of space, and could conceivable, one day, detect a signal from an extraterrestrial civilisation.

 

Extraterrestrial radio 

Up to today, if ET was going to send a signal to the Earth via radio – which many believe would be his preferred option for technical reasons – Ireland certainly would not be the first place to pick up the historic transmission.

After today, it is entirely possible that Birr Castle, which is now proudly home to Ireland’s LOFAR radio telescope, could be the location where the world’s press gather to hear of the first radio contact from another civilisation.

The person that has, more than any other, put Irish astronomy back on the map, in a way that it hasn’t been since the 19th century, is Peter Gallagher, professor in astrophysics at Trinity College Dublin.

Peter led the countdown to the switching on of I-LOFAR this morning, and even heavy rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of a crowd of scientists, locals, journalists, as well as Minister Halligan and his officials.

History 

It is entirely fitting that Birr Castle is home to I- LOFAR as it is also home to the Leviathan of Parsonson, an enormous hulking optical, or light-based telescope, that sits in a field adjacent to the new arrival. The Leviathan, was the world’s largest and most famous telescope between the years 1845 and 1917.

It was built, designed and operated by William Parsons, the Third Earl of Rosse, a brilliant scientist, who used his remarkable telescope, and eyesight, to make out the distinctive spiral shape of what became known as a whirlpool galaxy, because of its distinctive shape, called M51. That was in 1845.

This discovery was huge, because it meant that there was more than one galaxy outside our own, the Milky Way and meant the Universe was a lot larger than we had thought up to then. The telescope and Lord Rosse attracted visitors from around the world who came to look in awe on the remarkable man and his machine.

The switching on of I-LOFAR today as a proud and emotional day for the current Lord Rosse, Brendan Parsons, the 7th Earl.

 

 

 

Exciting 
Today was a historic and exciting day for Irish astronomy, and puts it back on the international map in a way it hasn’t been since the 19th century. Scientists here, using I-LOFAR, will, as of today, be able to hunt for new planets, try and unravel some of the Universe’s most deeply held secrets, and even, one day, perhaps, receive a signal from whatever intelligent life form may wish to send a radio signal our way.

Let the astronomical games begin!

Creative thoughts linked to movement; Cynics earn less; Large Hadron fires up again; A wrist band that tells wearer they have had enough Sun

Many people get creative ideas while out walking, and science may have found an answer why (Credit: Rackett Hall Country House)

It is hard to force creativity, just ask any writer that suffered ‘writers block’ or a songwriter looking for a catchy line.

Scientists studying the brain may have found an answer why so many people report that they get their best, most creative, ideas, while out walking or running.

A cynical attitude to life and work is costly, according to new research, which found that cynics earn about $300 less than people who had a better view of their fellow man and were more willing to co-operate and collaborate.

A wrist band that changes colour when its wearer has had enough Sun, has been invented by scientists at Queen’s University in Belfast. It is important that people get some sun, as this helps our skin to produce Vitamin D, which is needed for bone health.

The band was developed by scientists Dr David Hazafy and Professor Andrew Mills and they have set up SunCatalyst Laboratories to commercialise it.

In other news, the Large Hadron Collider has powered up again, after a two year absence. It power levels have been increased, and the hope is that particles will be found that can shed more light on the nature of the Universe.

Listen to a discussion on these topics below, on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan

This item was first broadcast on East Coast FM on 4th June 2015.