Green public spaces decrease depression in city dwellers, study says

Adding some wildlife to vacant lots could be a cost-effective way of improving mental health in United States cities.

A new study suggests that greening vacant urban land decreases feelings of depression and increases overall mental health for residents in its proximity. The interesting findings could have implications for all cities across the United States, where approximately 15 percent of land is considered “vacant.”

“Dilapidated and vacant spaces are factors that put residents at an increased risk of depression and stress, and may explain why socioeconomic disparities in mental illness persist,” said lead author Eugenia South of the University of Pennsylvania. “What these new data show us is that making structural changes, like greening lots, has a positive impact on the health of those living in these neighborhoods. And that it can be achieved in a cost-effective and scalable way—not only in Philadelphia but in other cities with the same harmful environmental surroundings.”

Interestingly, the study revealed that interventions of trash clean-up did not significantly alter self-reported mental health.

“The lack of change in these groups is likely because the trash clean-up lots had no additional green space created,” said co-author John MacDonald, Ph.D., a professor of criminology and sociology at Penn. “The findings support that exposure to more natural environments can be part of restoring mental health, particularly for people living in stressful and chaotic urban environments.”

The study reveals how turning blighted neighborhood environments into green regions can create better trajectories for residents’ mental health.

“Greening vacant land is a highly inexpensive and scalable way to improve cities and enhance people’s health while encouraging them to remain in their home neighborhoods,” said senior author Charles C. Branas of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.

“While mental health therapies will always be a vital aspect of treatment, revitalizing the places where people live, work, and play, may have broad, population-level impact on mental health outcomes,” he added.

The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.

Scientists build a super battery using quantum mechanics

Physicists are using the unique properties of quantum mechanics to develop a new super battery that people will be able to charge instantly.

If you are exasperated by waiting hours for your smartphone to charge, a new research project at the University of Adelaide might change that. Ramsay Fellow, Dr. James Quach, wants to use quantum mechanics’ unique properties to build the fastest charging battery in the world.

Dr. Quach is an expert in the field and he said that the possibility of instantaneous charging is on the horizon. He wants to use the entanglement method.

Entanglement is a phenomenon where two entangled objects share their individual properties with each other, even when spatially separated. Performing an action on one object affects the other object.

This occurs at a molecular level, where normal physics laws do not work. According to Quash, it is because of this property that it is viable to speed up the charging process.

His invention is based on a theory that the more quantum batteries the faster they charge. This does not apply to conventional batteries.

For example, if one quantum battery takes an hour to charge, adding another will decrease the time to 30 minutes. Once developed, it might cut charging times to zero.

“Entanglement is incredibly delicate, it requires very specific conditions – low temperatures and an isolated system – and when those conditions change the entanglement disappears,” Quash said. With the support of the academic community in Adelaide, interstate and globally, his goal is to extend the theory of the quantum battery and build a lab conducive to the conditions for entanglement to materialize.

 

Eagled-eyed machine learning algorithm outperforms human experts

Scientists just trained a machine learning algorithm to best human experts in the analysis and detection of microscopic radiation damage in materials.

University of Wisconsin-Madison and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers just trained artificial intelligence to consistently and quickly analyze and detect microscopic radiation damage in materials considered for nuclear reactors better than human experts.

“Machine learning has great potential to transform the current, human-involved approach of image analysis in microscopy,” said Wei Li, who participated in the research.

“In the future, I believe images from many instruments will pass through a machine learning algorithm for initial analysis before being considered by humans,” said engineering professor Dane Morgan, Li’s graduate school advisor.

The job in question is crucial for the development of safe nuclear materials and could make the time-consuming process more effective and efficient.

“Human detection and identification is error-prone, inconsistent and inefficient. Perhaps most importantly, it’s not scalable,” Morgan said. “Newer imaging technologies are outstripping human capabilities to analyze the data we can produce.”

After training the machine with 270 images, the neural network, in combination with a cascade object detector machine learning algorithm, was able to identify and classify about 86 percent of dislocation loops in a set of sample pictures. In comparison, human experts only found 80 percent of the defects.

“When we got the final result, everyone was surprised, not only by the accuracy of the approach, but the speed,” said Oak Ridge staff scientist Kevin Field. “We can now detect these loops like humans while doing it in a fraction of the time on a standard home computer.”

“This is just the beginning,” Morgan said. “Machine learning tools will help create a cyber infrastructure that scientists can utilize in ways we are just beginning to understand.”

Great Barrier Reef ‘close to collapse’ due to climate change

A new plan suggests that climate change has brought the Great Barrier Reef “close to collapse.”

A plan endorsed by Australian federal and state governments suggests that the current climate change path means that the Great Barrier Reef is heading toward a “collapse.” A “new and improved” Reef 2050 plan released on Friday attempts to acknowledge that climate change poses a huge threat to the reef.

“Coral bleaching is projected to increase in frequency … those coral reefs that survive are expected to be less biodiverse than in the past,” the plan says, recognizing that “holding the global temperature increase to 1.5°C or less is critical to ensure the survival of coral reefs”.

“Respected coral scientists have documented in peer-reviewed journals that most of the world’s coral reefs will not survive unless the global temperature increase is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” it continued.

WWF-Australia head of oceans Richard Leck claims that Australia’s emissions reductions are not in line with limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

“It is simply not good enough for the revised plan to suggest the global community must work to limit warming when Australia is not doing its fair share,” he said.

Australian Marine Conservation Society’s reef campaign director Imogen Zethoven claims that increased climate change recognition must be followed by action, suggesting that bleaching events would happen less often under an average temperature increase of 1.6 degrees Celsius.

“The onset of twice-a-decade bleaching will then become the onset of annual bleaching and eventually [the entire reef] will be affected,” she said.

Whether or not Australia will be able to save the Great Barrier Reef in time is yet to be seen.

Study reveals new clues about Great Dying, Earth’s largest mass extinction

A new study sheds light on the potential cause of the End-Permian Extinction 250 million years ago.

A new study sheds light on the causes of the largest mass extinction in the Earth’s history, also referred to as the End-Permian Extinction and the Great Dying.

The event took place approximately 250 million years ago when a giant volcanic eruption hit what is now Russia’s province of Siberia. The eruption sent almost 90 percent of life into extinction. In geology, the eruption is referred to as the Siberian Flood Basalts, which ran for nearly one million years.

“The scale of this extinction was so incredible that scientists have often wondered what made the Siberian Flood Basalts so much more deadly than other similar eruptions,” said Michael Broadley of the Centre for Petrographic and Geochemical Research in Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy, France, and lead author of the study.

The research was co-authored by the late Lawrence Taylor, who is the former director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“Taylor was instrumental in supplying samples of mantle xenoliths, rock sections of the lithosphere [a section of the planet located between the crust and the mantle] that get captured by the passing magma and erupted to the surface during the volcanic explosion,” Broadley said. “Taylor also provided advice throughout the study.”

The team analyzed samples to determine the lithosphere composition, which revealed that prior to the Siberian Basalt floods, it was loaded with bromine, iodine, and chlorine, all of which belong to the halogen chemical group. After the volcanic eruption, they disappeared.

“We concluded that the large reservoir of halogens that was stored in the Siberian lithosphere was sent into the earth’s atmosphere during the volcanic explosion, effectively destroying the ozone layer at the time and contributing to the mass extinction,” Broadley said.

The findings were published in Nature Geoscience.

Ketamine fights depression by acting like opioid, study says

A new study reveals that ketamine, in addition to its action on the glutamate system, acts on opioid receptors to fight depression.

A new study from Stanford researchers suggests that ketamine fights depression not only by impacting the glutamate system, but also engaging the opioid system. The discovery could have huge implications for plans to turn ketamine into the next big antidepressant.

In recent years, ketamine has turned from an illicit party drug to a focus of research that could turn it into the first new depression drug in over 30 years.

“When we say this is a new generation of drugs, we mean it. This drug is fundamentally different from all the other antidepressants that have been approved so far,” said Shawn Singh, VistaGen’s CEO.

The new study is the first the reveal how ketamine creates is unique effects in the brain.

Alan Schatzberg, a co-author on the paper, hopes that the new study will help drug makers streamline their efforts to create a new antidepressant.

“Before we did the study, I had some doubts about ketamine’s use for treating depression,” Schatzberg said. “Now I’ve seen the drug work, but I’ve also seen it doesn’t work the way people originally thought.”

Ultimately, the study highlights important questions about why and how ketamine fights depression in the brain. Hopefully, it will make the path forward easier for pharmaceutical companies.

“I think this paper points us in the direction that the [opioid system] is an area for potential interest,” Schatzberg said. “The question is, can we have a rational discussion about this in an era when there’s an opioid crisis?”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

New model identifies main factors that shaped evolution

Scientists have created a new model that attempts to identify the primary influences of evolution and climate change.

A new computer simulation takes into account the numerous factors that drive evolutionary extinction and adaptation. The study outlining the model attempts to bring us closer to understanding the complex interactions between climate change and topography, and how these interactions affect the biodiversity and evolutionary histories of species in their natural ecosystems.

“We had hoped to be able to model in the simulation the most fundamental processes that shape the geography of life on Earth,” said Robert Colwell, who led the research with Brazilian colleague Thiago F. Rangel in collaboration with Neil Edwards and Philip Holden in the United Kingdom.

To create their model, the team looked to South America, which is the most biologically diverse continent on the planet. And since the Andes mountain range started developing 25 million years ago, it created an extremely varied landscape that gave rise to a plethora of biodiversity, making it a perfect area to study the evolution and ecology of biodiversity.

“The Andes are the longest mountain range on Earth, and the only trans-tropical one,” Rangel said. “They sit right beside the Amazon, the planet’s largest tropical rainforest and river basin. This is the reason South America has such exuberant biodiversity.”

“Our results demonstrate how intimately the evolution of life depends on the changing physical environment,” said Neil Edwards of The Open University modelling team.

The model comes at a time of unprecedented climate change, highlighting the unique and dynamic power of climate change and the many ways it shapes the evolution of life on Earth.

“The current pace of human driven climate change is much, much faster than anything in our model, but the same processes are happening in terms of species’ range shifts today,” Colwell said.

The findings were published in Science.

Early universe observations reaffirm existence of dark matter and dark energy

New data continues to reaffirm the existence of the inexplicable dark matter and dark energy.

Although dark energy and dark matter are inexplicable, data continues to reaffirm their existence. And with the final data from Europe’s Planck missions released, this continues to be the care.

From 2009 through 2013, the mission mapped the universe’s oldest light in great detail, and the European Space Agency (ESA) claims that the results reaffirm the “standard model of cosmology.”

“This is the most important legacy of Planck,” Jan Tauber, ESA’s Planck project scientist, said in a statement. “So far, the standard model of cosmology has survived all the tests, and Planck has made the measurements that show it.”

The initial release of the data led to some hesitancy, as the team stressed that the results were preliminary.

“We felt the quality of some of the polarization data was not good enough to be used for cosmology,” Tauber said.

But the new release represents a novel method of processing mission data, which lays many doubts to rest.

“Now we really are confident that we can retrieve a cosmological model based solely on temperature, solely on polarization, and based on both temperature and polarization,” said Reno Mandolesi of the University of Ferrara in Italy, a principal investigator of the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI)—one of Planck’s two science instruments. “And they all match.”

Of course, nothing is ever certain when it comes to dark energy and dark matter.

“For the moment, we shouldn’t get too excited about finding new physics; it could well be that the relatively small discrepancy can be explained by a combination of small errors and local effects,” Tauber said. “But we need to keep improving our measurements and thinking about better ways to explain it.”

Global warming might cause insects to eat more crops, study says

Research suggests that global warming might push insects to eat more crops, which will increase crop losses.

A new study suggests that climate warming will increase crop losses for critical food grains due to the increased metabolic rate and population growth of insect pests.

“Climate change will have a negative impact on crops,” said Scott Merrill of the University of Vermont, co-author of the study. “We’re going to see increased pest pressure with climate change.”

The team found that just a 2-degree increase in global temperature averages will cause total crop losses of around 213 million tons for rice, wheat, and maize crops. These losses will stem from increased insect metabolism.

“When the temperature increases, the insects’ metabolism increases so they have to eat more,” Merrill said. “That’s not good for crops.”

However, the connection to population growth is more complicated. Since insects have optimal temperatures for population growth, losses will be highest in temperate regions and less severe in tropics.

“Temperate regions are not at that optimal temperature, so if the temperature increases there, populations will grow faster,” Merrill said. “But insects in the tropics are already close to their optimal temperature, so the populations will actually grow slower. It’s just too hot for them.”

Ultimately, farmers will have to find novel pest management methods, such as adding new crop rotations or boosting pesticide use. However, not all of these strategies will be available to every farmer.

“There are a lot of things richer countries can do to reduce the effect, by increasing pesticide use or expanding integrated pest management strategies,” Merrill said. “But poorer countries that rely on these crops as staple grains will have a harder time.”

The findings were published in Science.

Genetic legacy of first dogs lives on in sexually transmitter cancer

The DNA of the first domesticated dogs of the Americas lives on in a sexually transmitter cancer.

A new study suggests that the domesticated dogs that firsts traveled to the Americas were brought by humans that were migrating from Asia. And although they were eventually wiped out in the 15th century, their genetic legacy appears to live on as a sexually transmitter cancer.

The cancer is called canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT) and has spread around the world. It is essentially a mutated version of animal DNA, which was traced back to the first domesticated American dogs.

“It’s quite incredible to think that possibly the only survivor of a lost dog lineage is a tumor that can spread between dogs as an infection,” said Maire Ní Leathlobhair, a researcher from the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge and co-lead author of the study.

Although the examination into the genetic history of dogs is far from finished, the new data sheds light on more clues.

“I think it’s an important technical achievement to get more ancient dog genomes,” said Krishna Veeramah, a geneticist at Stony Brook University who has studied ancient dog evolution. He also claims that until now, we have only sequenced the nuclear DNA of three other breeds of ancient dog.

“While the study does not really address the ultimate origins of dogs from wolves (this will need older samples from Eurasia), it sheds new light on an important aspect of dog-human history,” he said.

Ultimately, the new data will add to our current archaeological and genetic research and continue painting a picture of the history of the world’s most iconic domestic animals.

The findings were published in Science.