April 30, 2014

A protein in coral may be able to block HIV.     Photo: Getty Images

Protein Found in Coral Might Stop HIV

Prevents virus from entering T cells

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.6 million people died out of the 35.3 million living with HIV in 2012. But scientists at the National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research may have found a solution to preventing HIV going forward. A group of proteins found in coral reefs might be capable of blocking HIV, ScienceWorldReport.com reports

The proteins, also known as cnidarins, were harvested from a feathery coral that grows off the northern coast of Australia. What makes these little guys unique is their mechanism of action—they bind with HIV and stop any fusion with the membrane on the T cells—which is the first step when contracting the virus.

Researchers plan to use the cnidarins in sexual lubricants and gels as a barrier against the infection without causing the virus to become resistant to other HIV drugs. 

"It's always thrilling when you find a brand-new protein that nobody else has ever seen before," says senior investigator Barry O'Keefe, deputy chief of the Molecular Targets Laboratory at the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute. "And the fact that this protein appears to block HIV infection—and to do it in a completely new way—makes this truly exciting."

Though this may sound like a miracle, there is still work to be done regarding the use of the protein. Researchers are testing for side effects and discussing efficient ways to harvest the protein without destroying coral reefs.

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Tornadoes, like this supercell wreaking havoc on the Great Plains, have left a severely high body count in their wake in the Southeast this week.     Photo: Minerva Studio/ThinkStock

How to Weather the Weather: Tornado Preparedness

Just how bad are these Southeastern tornadoes? See for yourself

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says that 46 percent of the U.S. population is not prepared to react intelligently to disasters. In light of a video out of NBC affiliate WTVA in Tupelo, Mississippi, we can safely say that chief meteorologist Matt Laubhan doesn't fall into this category.

As a tornado screeched through Tupelo on April 28, Laubhan—standing in front of a green screen full of tornado-preparedness directions—evenly delivered news of the disaster and encouraged his audience to seek shelter. However, after the green screen malfunctioned and the video feed cut out, Laubhan took charge and ordered his coworkers to abandon ship and seek protection in the station's basement.

Unfortunately, we don't all have Laubhans on hand to funnel us to safety during crises. In consideration of this, FEMA is drawing attention to its educational programs by hosting the America's PrepareAthon! campaign.

FEMA has gotten more than 5 million Americans to sign up for the Spring 2014 PreparaAthon!, a national call to action for people to join the Ready campaign and the National Preparedness Community, since registration opened on March 31. The PrepareAthon! touches down in communities nationwide today in a culminating National Day of Action

Communities have pledged to discuss spring's biggest threats—wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods—using FEMA's plentiful preparedness resources. While FEMA hosts the occasional preparedness training sessions, these campaigns attempt to increase people's self-reliance during disasters. From the PrepareAthon! website:

America's PrepareAthon! provides instructions for educational discussions, simple drills, and exercises for a range of disasters that will help people: understand which disasters could happen in their community; know what to do to be safe and mitigate damage; take action to increase their preparedness; and participate in community resilience planning.

Together, these various FEMA initiatives help people recognize and prepare for disasters. With so many similar yet disconnected campaigns, the PrepareAthon! offers an essential rallying point between them.

If you're the type who gets your panties in a twister at the first sign of danger, consider attending a National Preparedness Community event, taking a preparedness course, or at least reviewing safety materials about tornadoes on FEMA's website.

Tornadoes, which can reach wind speeds of 300 miles per hour over damage paths a mile wide and 50 miles long, have ravaged the Southeast over the past few days. The United States experienced 908 tornadoes in 2013, resulting in 55 deaths, but the death toll for the most recent bout of storms has already reached 36.

More Tornado Coverage from Outside

 

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Can taking a pill switch off hunger?     Photo: Michael Chen/Flickr/Creative Commons

A Pill to Turn Off Hunger

London researchers pinpoint 'satisfaction' molecule

Imperial College is on a roll. After recently unveiling the edible water bottle, researchers at the London institution announced that they might be able to create a pill with the power to switch off hunger. Their theory is based around the molecule acetate, which essentially tells the body when it's time to stop eating. 

Release of acetate is commonly triggered as fiber-rich fruits and vegetables are digested in the colon. It then travels to the brain's hypothalamus region, which controls and monitors hunger. Researchers at Imperial College believe they may be able to create a pill from acetate that would theoretically stifle hunger at its source. 

The study suggests that much of today's obesity epidemic can be attributed to a lack of acetate-stimulating foods in the average diet. Compared to our ancestors, we're getting only a fraction of the fiber necessary to keep the acetate flowing on a consistent basis. "Unfortunately our digestive system has not yet evolved to deal with this modern diet, and this mismatch contributes to the current obesity epidemic," Professor Gary Frost told the Telegraph. "Our research has shown the release of acetate is central to how fiber suppresses our appetite."

Frost added that a pill regimen of acetate is still largely theoretical and that the exact amounts necessary for safely suppressing hunger are still unknown.

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Where to ride—or not—in Los Angeles.     Photo: Strava

Strava's Amazing New Map

Plots millions of runs and rides from users

Ever wonder what Strava does with the data from your morning jog or lunchtime ride? Now we have an answer.

The company has used logs of more than 77 million rides and 19 million runs to generate an interactive global heat map of where its users get outside the most.

The heat map, which draws from more than 220 billion data points, can do a lot. For one, it provides a detailed picture of where people run and bike, information that previously could only be assumed.

Besides being a fascinating novelty, Strava's new map will help existing users plan more rewarding workouts. Looking for your city's most popular ride? Look no further than the map's red lines, which indicate the routes Strava users take most. Are you a jogging hipster or just plain antisocial when you run? Skip over the dark blue lines denoting moderately used routes in favor of the light blue ones where you'll find solitude.

The map will also help orient traveling athletes. With detailed data analyzing specific streets, and even particular lanes on those streets, the heat map provides a useful resource when getting your feet on the ground—literally—in a new city.

You don't need to be a Strava user to enjoy the benefits of this awesome map, but your data won't count unless you have the app. Strava has been working to become more social, releasing a revamped version last month, so in that sense this new resource isn't too surprising.

So, what are you waiting for? Take it for a spin!

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This little piggy may be capable of saving a human's life one day.     Photo: Tommy Alsén/iStock

Pigs: The Next Organ Donors?

Swine heart transplant in baboon shows positive signs

You might remember this fun fact from high school biology: A pig's heart is fairly similar to a human's. In fact, we currently swap human heart valves for those of pigs in certain procedures. We haven't yet reached the point of using an entire pig heart in human transplants, but according to new research presented yesterday, we are now one step closer.

More than a year ago, scientists grafted a pig's heart into a baboon, next to its own heart. Usually these transplants are rejected after six months, but today that heart is still going strong. That's because the scientists tweaked the pig donor's DNA to make it more human-compatible. 

This is good news for the approximately 3,000 people in the United States on the waiting list for a heart transplant. Because pigs have such a rapid breeding cycle, achieving successful pig heart transplants in humans could drastically reduce the wait time for a new ticker. The scientists are hopeful that other pig-to-human transplants (liver, kidney, intestines) will also be possible.

There's still a great deal more research to do before a pig-to-human transplant happens. The next step is to see how the pig's heart performs on its own in a baboon.

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Blue whales: Majestic in water but problematic when beached.     Photo: Getty Images/Hemera Technologies

Dead Whale Could Explode

Corpse washes up on small Newfoundland beach

Residents in Trout River, Newfoundland, are becoming increasingly concerned about a 25-meter (81-foot) blue whale carcass that washed up on shore last week. The animal is believed to have perished in heavy ice.

In the short term, Trout River (population 650) might see a rise in tourism; blue whale sightings are rare, and this posthumous exemplar offers a unique opportunity to behold the world's largest mammal in its entirety. Cetacea corpse peepers might end up being punished for their curiosity, however, as there is a chance of the carcass exploding, due to the buildup of methane gas during the decomposition process. Some sources report that the whale has already bloated to twice its normal size.

Although the threat of explosion has inspired increased viewings of certain YouTube clips—and a number of bad puns—the actual chance of such a spectacle occurring is quite slim, at least according to folks such as Jack Lawson, a scientist from Canada's Fisheries Department.

"At some point, the skin of the animal will lose some of its integrity as all of the connective tissue starts to break down," Lawson said. "Eventually, that gas will seep out. ... It will just deflate like an old balloon."

For residents of Trout River, that still doesn't solve the problem of the less-than-pleasant odor that will emanate as the whale's flesh begins to rot.

Trout River might want to enjoy its tourist influx while it lasts.

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That thin blanket just below the cloud-line is smog over eastern China.     Photo: Getty Images/Stocktrek

Ozone Report Released Stateside

Officials rule around the globe, and it looks hazy

Air pollutants took two major blows on both sides of the globe this week. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of President Obama (and the Environmental Protection Agency) to regulate the soot—referred to as smog or ozone by decision-makers—that drifts through the Midwest, across the Appalachians, and settles into ozone layers on the East Coast.

Dubbed the "war on coal" by Republicans, the six-to-two decision marks a sweeping victory for the Obama administration and America's environmental agenda. Tuesday's decision will allow future administrations to cite this "good neighbor" rule if and when they push to lower the disturbingly high pollution levels reported today by the American Lung Association (ALA).

According to the ALA's new site, State of the Air, half of all Americans breathe highly polluted air. With an information-for-all approach, the site offers air pollution grades searchable by zip code or state, and the outlook is hazy.

Ozone layers in most, if not all, major metropolitan areas—Chicago, Dallas, DC, Los Angeles, New York—got an F. The cleanest cities debuted in dark comedies or surf films (Fargo and Honolulu), but that doesn't say much for the state of the ozone on the other side of the globe.

Street vendors in Beijing closed their carts today after officials banned outdoor grilling, tacking on a fine of up to 20,000 yuan (more than $3,000) in an effort to "blame pollution on everything except cars or coal," as Shanghaiist put it. In 2013, Beijing destroyed 500 of its open-air barbecues, only to have its vain attempt at environmentalism realistically called "meaningless" by the Beijinger.

Stateside, a Supreme Court ruling overturned a—let’s call this one "negligible" in terms of ozone impact—ban on smoking in New York state parks.

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