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The good role fat cells play in protecting us from disease

When it comes to skin infections, a healthy and robust immune response may depend greatly upon what lies beneath. In a new paper published in the January 2, 2015 issue of Science, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report the surprising discovery that fat cells below the skin help protect us from bacteria. 

Richard Gallo, MD, PhD, professor and chief of dermatology at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues have uncovered a previously unknown role for dermal fat cells, known as adipocytes: They produce antimicrobial peptides that help fend off invading bacteria and other pathogens. 

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Could life thrive on an aquaplanet?

Nearly 2,000 planets beyond our solar system have been identified to date. Whether any of these exoplanets are hospitable to life depends on a number of criteria. Among these, scientists have thought, is a planet’s obliquity — the angle of its axis relative to its orbit around a star.

Earth, for instance, has a relatively low obliquity, rotating around an axis that is nearly perpendicular to the plane of its orbit around the sun. Scientists suspect, however, that exoplanets may exhibit a host of obliquities, resembling anything from a vertical spinning top to a horizontal rotisserie. The more extreme the tilt, the less habitable a planet may be — or so the thinking has gone.

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Declining Monarch Butterfly Population Warrants Federal Protection

As conservationists continue to worry about the possibility of a world without monarchs, they’ve gotten some hope with an announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that federal protection may be warranted for these iconic butterflies. In August, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower filed a legal petition with the FWS seeking protection for monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

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Plastic bag ban may be delayed in California

California Senate Bill 270, passed by the state legislature and signed into law in September, would ban many retail stores from dispensing single-use plastic bags as of July 1, 2015. But in another example of a special interest perverting democracy when it does not get its way, the Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI) has announced it has collected over 800,000 signatures to qualify for a statewide up-or-down vote in November 2016. Once that tally is confirmed, the July ban would be postponed until the following year.

You probably saw the sign gatherers at stores such as Target, where I was greeted with an appeal to sign my name and take sides with the “American Progressive Bag Alliance” in order to reverse this “backdoor deal” — until the fellow with the clipboard saw my reusable bags. “Oh, you’re one of those,” he said with an eye-roll, because as you know, someone like me who likes to wear labels, shops at Costco and makes mac-and-cheese out of a box (when no one is looking) is such a hippie.

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Tropical forests may reduce global warming rate

A new study led by NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) shows that tropical forests may be absorbing far more human-emitted carbon dioxide than many scientists thought. The study estimates that tropical forests absorb 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of a total global absorption of 2.5 billion, in response to rising atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas. This means, if left undisturbed, the tropical trees should be able to continue reducing the rate of global warming.

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Flavor and quality of wine impacted by Climate Change

It has been a challenge at times to get well-heeled and sometimes highly influential people to care about climate change. After all, having a great deal of money can serve to insulate someone from problems that afflict those less fortunate. Food prices going up, for example, not that big a deal. Coastal areas flooding out, go somewhere else for vacation. Many of those at the top of the heap are finding that business-as-usual is working very well for them, thank you very much. Besides, they might have significant investments in industries that could be threatened by changing to a more sustainable model. Perhaps, what is needed to get their attention is something that hits closer to home. Here is an item in England’s The Telegraph that might fit the bill: Apparently, rising temperatures in areas like France, Italy and Spain are affecting the flavor of certain wines. 

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Don't put old electronic items in the trash!

Chances are, many Americans received shiny, new gadgets for the holidays — meaning their old electronics will either collect dust in a closet somewhere or get tossed out.

These unwanted laptops, tablets and printers contribute to the enormous amount of electronic waste, or “e-waste,” that continually piles up in our landfills. According to the EPA, 3.4 million tons of tech gear was trashed in 2012, and unfortunately, only 12.5 percent of e-waste is currently recycled.

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Trawling makes for skinny fish

Trawling the seabed doesn't just remove some of the fishes living there; it also makes some of the survivors thinner and less healthy by forcing them to use more energy finding less nutritious food. That's the conclusion of a new paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, based on the work Dr Andrew Frederick Johnson undertook while studying for his PhD at Bangor University.

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Penguins Affected by Tourism in Antarctica

A trip to Antarctica might not be a dream vacation for everyone, but it’s on the list for many who are clearly willing to trek to there. While tourists are busy exploring the scenery and greeting the penguins who live there, scientists are raising concerns about how exposure to us could increase their risk of contracting infectious diseases. Scientists and disease experts believe the immune systems of penguins, and other species in the region, are less able to deal with pathogens that are commonplace in the rest of the world because they’ve been isolated for so long with few visitors.

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Road salt not good for streams

This is the time of year when it's not uncommon to see big trucks barreling down highways and streets spreading road salt.

Steve Corsi, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says that translates into high levels of chloride concentrations for rivers like the Milwaukee in Wisconsin or 18 other streams near urban areas in Illinois, Ohio, Colorado and several other states.

"At many of the streams, concentrations have now exceeded those that are harmful to aquatic life," he says.

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