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Atmospheric CO2 levels defy the pandemic to hit record high

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Scientists measuring concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere at the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory have reported the highest levels on record, and ones not seen on Earth in more than four million years. The average atmospheric CO2 levels of 419.13 parts per million (ppm) across May are far in excess of what experts consider safe, and demonstrate that it will take a lot more than the type of lockdowns seen recently across the globe to address this alarming trend.

Each May before plants in the Northern Hemisphere begin to absorb large amounts of CO2 as part of a yearly cycle, atmospheric scientists take measurements to observe the greenhouse gas at its highest levels. Two years ago these observations produced record readings, revealing levels of 415.26 ppm, a concentration that had never been reached before.

May last year then saw an average concentration of 416.2 ppm, in spite of the stringent coronavirus-related shutdowns across much of the globe. This might seem counterintuitive, as these lockdowns did lead to significant declines in some types of air pollution, including dips in carbon emissions in some locations.

But in some ways it is the perfect illustration of how real-time carbon emissions are a very separate phenomenon to the buildup of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere through decades and decades of fossil fuel use, where it persists for thousands of years. It also shows how these small declines are difficult to distinguish amidst the natural variability of the carbon cycle, which is influenced by plants, soils, humidity and temperature, among many other factors.

The upward trajectory of CO2 in the atmosphere as measured at the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory
The upward trajectory of CO2 in the atmosphere as measured at the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory

NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

“We are adding roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere per year,” says Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory. “That is a mountain of carbon that we dig up out of the Earth, burn, and release into the atmosphere as CO2 – year after year. If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the highest priority must be to reduce CO2 pollution to zero at the earliest possible date.”

According to the NOAA scientists, the types of atmospheric levels of CO2 we are now experiencing have not been seen on Earth for somewhere between 4.1 and 4.5 million years, during the Pliocene Climatic Optimum. At that time, the average temperature was around 7 °F (3.9 °C) warmer than pre-industrial times, and sea levels were around 78 ft (23.7 m) higher.

“The solution is right before our eyes,” says Tans. “Solar energy and wind are already cheaper than fossil fuels and they work at the scales that are required. If we take real action soon, we might still be able to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

Source: NOAA

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Source: https://newatlas.com/environment/atmospheric-co2-pandemic-record-concentrations/

NEWATLAS

Age-related cognitive decline may be linked to key blood cell protein

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New research published in the journal PLOS Biology is describing the discovery of a link between cognitive decline and a protein in red blood cells. The research found mice depleted of this protein suffered from rapid cognitive decline, and a potential new anti-aging therapeutic target could be possible if the same observation can be validated in humans.

“Red blood cells have an irreplaceable function to deliver oxygen to maintain bioenergetics of every single cell within our body,” explains lead author on the new study, Yang Xia. “However, their function in age-related cognition and hearing function remains largely unknown.”

The new research is based on the hypothesis that a progressive decrease in oxygen supply to tissues is a key factor in aging. Adenosine receptor A2B (ADORA2B) is a protein that aids the release of oxygen from red blood cells, and to test what effect reduced levels of this protein has on cognition, the researchers developed mouse models engineered to lack this vital protein.

Using a number of cognitive and physiological tests the animals were compared healthy mice. The mice lacking ADORA2B displayed faster declines in memory and hearing as they aged compared the control animals, and when the animals were deprived of oxygen in a simulated hypoxia scenario, this age-related cognitive decline accelerated even more rapidly.

The researchers hypothesize ADORA2B is vitally important at maintaining tissue oxygenation in the brain and as we age levels of the key protein decline. This means brain aging could potentially be slowed by finding ways to maintain levels of this protein.

The idea that decreasing tissue oxygenation plays a role in the onset of brain aging and cognitive decline is still unproven. However, this new research does offer some mechanism to explain prior studies finding transplanting blood from young mice into old mice improves cognition. The research also offers clues to explain how hyperbaric oxygen treatments can generate anti-aging effects.

“Our findings reveal that the red blood cell ADORA2B signaling cascade combats early onset of age-related decline in cognition, memory and hearing by promoting oxygen delivery in mice and immediately highlight multiple new rejuvenating targets,” adds Xia.

It is still very early days for this research avenue so don’t expect a novel anti-aging treatment to stem from these findings any time soon. There are clues that very mild oxygen deprivation occurs with aging in human brains but much more work will be needed to explore how much of a role this plays in age-related cognitive decline. It is also unclear whether modulating ADORA2B in humans is a safe or effective anti-aging therapy. But nevertheless, this new discovery offers researchers a novel pathway to explore potential anti-aging treatments in the future.

The new study was published in the journal PLOS Biology.

Source: PLOS

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Source: https://newatlas.com/science/aging-brain-cognitive-decline-red-blood-cell-protein-tissue-oxygen/

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NEWATLAS

Review: 2021 Kia K5 takes over from the Optima

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Kia has dropped the Optima and replaced it with the K5, a more sport-themed design. The K5 is, for all intents, a “new” Optima in that it has an all-new design, but takes lots of cues from the outgoing model.

At a Glance

  • More upscale and appealing than the outgoing Optima
  • Good powertrain base with a significant upgrade option
  • Smart tech inside, with one odd caveat
  • Well-priced

For the 2021 model year, the all-new K5 joins the Rio, Forte, and Stinger in Kia’s sedan lineup. The only Kia remaining with a letter-number name (the K900, along with the Cadenza, was dropped this year due to slow sales and cross competition with the Genesis luxury brand owned by Kia’s partner Hyundai), the K5 comes in five trim levels with front-wheel drive as standard and all-wheel drive as an option on two of the mid-range trims. We drove the GT-Line mid-level trim, which adds sporty aesthetics, 18-inch wheels, and that AWD option.

The 2021 Kia K5 has a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that outputs 180 horsepower (134 kW) to an eight-speed automatic transmission. For more power, Kia offers the K5 in the GT model with a turbocharged 2.5-liter that outputs 290 hp (216 kW) to a nine-speed automated dual-clutch transmission.

The K5 has a lot going for it. It’s a well-sized sedan with seating for up to five. The sloping rear roofline, which looks really good, can make getting in and out of the rear seats a challenge for taller people, but the wide-opening doors and low sills help make up for that. The interior of the K5 is smart, includes well-chosen modern materials, and is comfortable to ride in. The K5 is quiet on the road and just tech-savvy enough to make most users happy.

The 2021 K5 comes standard with forward collision mitigation, a lane keeping system, and driver attention monitoring. The GT-Line we drove adds keyless entry and ignition, remote monitoring via smartphone app, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alerts, and an unusual rear passenger safe exit system. That system keeps the rear doors from opening if the car senses another vehicle approaching from behind to prevent passengers from opening their doors into oncoming traffic.

A rear passenger exit safety system keeps the rear doors from opening if the car senses another vehicle approaching from behind to prevent passengers from opening their doors into oncoming traffic
A rear passenger exit safety system keeps the rear doors from opening if the car senses another vehicle approaching from behind to prevent passengers from opening their doors into oncoming traffic

Aaron Turpen / New Atlas

Infotainment in the Kia K5 is good, with a right-sized 8.5-inch touchscreen that can be upgraded to 10.25-in. The standard screen does not have Kia’s advanced voice recognition system, but does have wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay whereas the larger screen upgrade adds the voice recognition upgrade and downgrades to wired-only CarPlay and Auto. This is an odd either-or choice that seems out of place. But either choice has Kia’s well-executed infotainment screens with fast responses and easily understood icons. Our test ride also had the 12-speaker Bose audio upgrade, which was appreciated.

Around town and in most driving situations, the 1.6L engine, while not punchy, is definitely adequate for keeping confidence while driving. On the onramp or in high acceleration situations, though, it does feel sluggish. So while the style and feel of the Kia K5 may have gone towards the Stinger’s look, the car itself isn’t a Stinger. For that, the more expensive GT would have to be opted for, and it may or may not live up to that potential.

Our overall feel is that Kia has done a solid job of making the 2021 K5 a more desirable when compared to the Optima it replaces. Value-wise, the K5 is well-priced at US$23,590 for the base model, $30,335 for the GT-Line (with upgrades) that we drove, and $30,490 for the top-of-the-range GT model without any upgrades.

Product Page: 2021 Kia K5

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Source: https://newatlas.com/automotive/review-2021-kia-k5/

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NEWATLAS

Bacteria converts degraded plastic bottles into vanilla flavoring

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Developing forms of plastic that don’t take centuries to break down after use is a common objective among eco-conscious material scientists, and lately we’re seeing how bacteria might offer a helping hand. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have taken this idea one step further, by demonstrating how an engineered form of E. coli bacteria can be used to turn plastic bottles into vanillin, the primary compound of vanilla flavoring.

Discoveries in recent years have demonstrated how bacteria might help us tackle the monumental problem of plastic waste. These have included the unearthing of enzymes produced by bacteria that lurk around recycling centers in Japan and feed on the material as an energy source, and the use of bacterial biofilms that can trap difficult-to-trace microplastic particles. Lately, we’ve also seen how embedding enzymes in plastic during production can enable the material to break down in days, or even keep itself clean.

The new research from University of Edinburgh scientists is pioneering in that it doesn’t just seek to quickly break down single-use plastics, but use bacteria to turn it into something useful. The team focused on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic typically used for packaging of everything from food, to shampoos to soda bottles, and generates around 50 million tonnes of waste each year.

While PET can be converted into its original building blocks that are used to produce more PET plastics through current recycling methods, the authors of the new study sought to turn it into something else entirely. They developed a technique that uses an engineered form of E. coli bacteria to take aim at a PET waste product called terephthalic acid (TA). With fine-tuning of the chemical reactions, the bacteria was added to degraded PET plastic bottles and was able to convert 79 percent of the TA to vanillin.

“This is the first example of using a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical and this has very exciting implications for the circular economy,” says first author of the study Joanna Sadler. “The results from our research have major implications for the field of plastic sustainability and demonstrate the power of synthetic biology to address real-world challenges.”

While vanillin is the main chemical component of extracted vanilla beans, it has wide-ranging applications beyond just the food industry, also serving as an ingredient in herbicides, cosmetics, cleaning products and anti-foaming agents. So, if the scientists can demonstrate how their technique can be scaled up, it could offer a new source for a product the world uses tens of thousands of tonnes of each year.

“This is a really interesting use of microbial science at the molecular level to improve sustainability and work towards a circular economy,” says Dr Ellis Crawford Publishing Editor at the Royal Society of Chemistry. “Using microbes to turn waste plastics, which are harmful to the environment, into an important commodity and platform molecule with broad applications in cosmetics and food is a beautiful demonstration of green chemistry.”

The research was published in the journal Green Chemistry.

Source: University of Edinburgh

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Source: https://newatlas.com/materials/bacteria-converts-pet-plastic-waste-vanilla-flavoring/

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What is the Delta variant and how is it altering the course of the pandemic?

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UK health authorities are reporting 90 percent of new coronavirus infections are due to the Delta variant. In the US the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn the variant will likely become predominant in the coming months. What is the Delta variant, why is it posing such a problem, and will our vaccines still provide protection against it?

The Delta variant was first recorded in India in December 2020. It is one of three lineages of the B.1.617 variant and by June 2021 had been detected in around 80 countries.

While it is still unclear exactly how the Delta variant is more infectious than prior iterations of the virus, epidemiological studies in the UK are seeing it dramatically outperform the previously dominant Alpha variant (also known as the UK variant). Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, expects the Delta variant to overtake the Alpha variant in the US over the next few months.

“The UK variant was more transmissible,” Walensky said recently in an interview with CNN. “That is now nearly 70 percent of the virus here. We know that the Delta variant is even more transmissible than the UK variant, and I anticipate that will be the predominant variant in the months ahead.”

Earlier this year, as the Alpha variant was increasing in prominence around the world, researchers estimated it to be anywhere from 40 to 70 percent more transmissible compared to the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. UK health authorities are now indicating the Delta variant is at least 40 percent more transmissible than the Alpha.

“There is in vitro evidence suggestive of increased replication in biological systems that model human airway,” states a recent report from Public Health England. “It is highly likely that Delta is significantly more transmissible than Alpha.”

Is it deadlier?

“Early evidence from England and Scotland suggests there may be an increased risk of hospitalization compared to contemporaneous Alpha cases,” reports Public Health England. “A large number of cases are still within the follow up period. In some areas, hospital admissions show early signs of increasing, but the national trend is not clear.”

The current UK surge is coming mostly from infections in young and unvaccinated people. Most recent cases are aged under 40, an age group already less likely to suffer from severe COVID-19. This makes it challenging to ascertain whether the Delta variant is more deadly than prior variants, however, Steven Riley from Imperial College London warns the increased case load will inevitably lead to more infections in older vulnerable groups.

“Even though we are seeing the highest infection prevalence in younger people who are less susceptible to COVID-19, if this growth continues it will drive up infections in older, more vulnerable people, as the vaccines are not 100 percent effective and not everyone has been fully vaccinated,” says Riley. “This would lead to more hospitalizations and deaths, and risks straining the NHS, which is why it’s vital that people take up their vaccine offer and continue to stick to the rules.”

Recent COVID-19 cases in the UK have concentrated in younger cohorts
Recent COVID-19 cases in the UK have concentrated in younger cohorts

ZOE COVID Symptom Study

Do vaccines still work?

Yes.

Early epidemiological studies are finding our current COVID-19 vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant. Perhaps most importantly, however, it seems completing a full two-dose course of vaccination is vital to gain effective protection against this new variant.

A Public Health England study found the Pfizer vaccine is 96 percent effective against hospitalization from the Delta variant and a study out of Scotland found the Pfizer vaccine was 79 percent effective at preventing Delta variant infection. This is a slight reduction in vaccine effectiveness compared to prior SARS-CoV-2 strains, but Anthony Fauci says the good news is vaccines still, “work really quite well” against this variant.

“Importantly, the protection against severe disease resulting in hospitalization and death is over 90 percent, 93, 94 percent,” says Fauci. “So if you are vaccinated, you’re going to be protected, which is another very good reason to encourage people strongly to get vaccinated, because if you are not vaccinated, you are at risk of getting infected with the virus that now spreads more rapidly and gives more serious disease.”

Are the symptoms different?

Tim Spector, a researcher from King’s College London running an ongoing project called the Zoe COVID Symptom study, recently said the Delta variant seems to be presenting with a slightly different set of symptoms.

Previously, symptoms such as cough or loss of smell were incredibly prominent signs of COVID-19, but the Delta variant is presenting more often with symptoms such as headache and runny nose. Spector notes these “cold-like” symptoms may result in younger people not realizing they have COVID-19 since people are generally tuned to expect other symptoms.

“COVID is acting differently now. It’s more like a bad cold in this younger population,” explains Spector. “This means that people might think they have just got some sort of seasonal cold, they still go out to parties and they might spread it around to six other people.”

“It completely changes the game”

It may be too early to understand what impact the Delta variant will ultimately have on hospitalizations and deaths, but researchers are noting this strain could change the course of the entire pandemic. Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist from Melbourne University, points out the recent rise in UK COVID-19 cases suggests a high proportion of the population needs to be fully vaccinated to overcome the Delta variant.

Looking at the UK, for example, currently around 80 percent of the adult UK population has had one vaccine dose, but under 50 percent have completed the two-dose regime. In the US, 45 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated but rates vary dramatically from state to state. Vermont has strikingly high numbers with 64 percent of the population fully vaccinated, while states such as Alabama, Wyoming and Arkansas all struggle to reach even half of that number. This varying coverage could be a problem if the Delta variant continues to spread across the country.

“It completely changes the game,” says Blakely of the Delta variant. “Vaccination is getting more and more important, not just for protecting people against mortality or severe disease, but to get herd immunity up and to damp down infectious spread.”

Zoe Hyde, an Australian epidemiologist, points to a recent Delta variant outbreak in a school in Israel as an indication the nature of pandemic may be shifting. On twitter she argues more attention to measures preventing airborne transmission and starting the process of vaccinating children will be necessary to stifle the spread of Delta.

“The delta variant has fundamentally changed the nature of the pandemic,” Hyde says.

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Source: https://newatlas.com/health-wellbeing/covid-coronavirus-delta-variant-infection-vaccines-pandemic-future/

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