Scientists Explain The Health Risks of Living Inside Them : ScienceAlert

You might have heard of food deserts, areas with few or no healthy food options or supermarkets within a short, walkable distance. Instead, these places are often filled with a glut of convenient takeaway stores, creating ‘food swamps’ that have dire health consequences for residents.

A new study from the US shows how food inequities writ large across the country translate to an increased risk of dying from obesity-related cancers, such as breast, bowel, liver cancer.

Since the term ‘food deserts’ was coined in the early 1990s, some academics have questioned whether they exist. But in the decades since, numerous studies have revealed how social factors – largely determined by geography public policies – influence health.

Wealthy, White neighborhoods in the US contain three to four more supermarkets than poor, Black suburbs do – limiting the latter’s choice of affordable fresh food, especially if public transit is lacking. But when fruits vegetables are made available in local stores, real-world studies show residents are quick to pick them up.

Meanwhile, in Australia, many suburbs of car-dependent Western Sydney have no food outlets at all, when they do, 84 percent of them are fast-food options. Rates of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease are concerningly high in these areas, researchers have found.

To get a clearer picture of how the availability of fresh food stores affects the health of US citizens, a team of public health researchers led by Malcolm Seth Bevel of Augusta University in Georgia mapped national health data from the past decade against data from the US Department of Agriculture Food Environment Atlas spanning roughly the same period.

The Atlas contains information on food services in local areas, while data from the US Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) documents cancer-related deaths, among other health measures.

Food swamps were defined as places where fast-food joints convenience stores outnumber farmer’s markets grocery stores, with no supermarkets within a 1-mile (1.6 kilometers) radius.

“Food deserts food swamps mainly exist in the south or southeastern region, where chronic disease rates are the highest among US adults, including clusters for breast, lung, colorectal, prostate cancers,” write Bevel colleagues in their published paper.

Some 13 different types of cancer are related to obesity, together they account for 40 percent of all cancers in the US.

Among the 3,038 counties studied – representing 96.7 percent of the US – those with high rates of obesity-related cancer deaths had a greater fraction of older people, Black residents, low-income families, higher rates of diabetes obesity.

Overall, age-matched residents in underserved communities had 77 percent greater odds of dying from obesity-related cancer than people residing in areas with ample healthy food options.

After adjusting for ethnic background poverty rates of the area age, this increased risk remained high, with people in food swamps 30 percent more likely to die from obesity-related cancer.

According to researchers not involved in the work, the study findings challenge the long-standing view that diet is a modifiable risk factor that people can improve to reduce their risk of cancer, for example – if only they choose wisely.

Instead, the study demonstrates that where people live work shapes their health in serious ways because they may not have a choice.

“There is growing acknowledgment that one’s zip code neighborhood may have just as much of an association with health outcomes as one’s DNA,” two public health researchers, Karriem Watson Angela Odoms-Young, write in an accompanying commentary.

While the causes of obesity cancer are complex influenced by more than just diet, Watson Odoms-Young have described the new study as a “clarion call” to examine the health implications of food inequities – find solutions to this systemic problem.

“The complexities that prevent healthy food access are rooted in historical structural factors, such as community disinvestment systematic racism,” the duo writes. Only by recognizing these barriers do public health interventions sta chance of reducing health disparities, they add.

Bevel colleagues suggest that making food access equitable is not just about providing more healthy food stores but about creating more walkable neighborhoods so people without cars can get to the shops. Community gardens are another great option shown to have many positive well-being benefits.

The study has been published in JAMA Oncology.

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Artificial Photosynthesis Could Be The Secret to Colonising Space : ScienceAlert

Life on Earth owes its existence to photosynthesis – a process which is 2.3 billion years old. This immensely fascinating (still not fully understood) reaction enables plants other organisms to harvest sunlight, water, carbon dioxide while converting them into oxygen energy in the form of sugar.

Photosynthesis is such an integral part of Earth’s functioning that we pretty much take it for granted. But as we look beyond our own planet for places to explore settle on, it is obvious how rare valuable the process is.

As my colleagues I have investigated in a new paper, published in Nature Communications, recent advances in making artificial photosynthesis may well be key to surviving thriving away from Earth.

The human need for oxygen makes space travel tricky. Fuel constraints limit the amount of oxygen we can carry with us, particularly if we want to do long-haul journeys to the Moon Mars. A one-way trip to Mars usually takes on the order of two years, meaning we can’t easily send supplies of resources from Earth.

There are already ways to produce oxygen by recycling carbon dioxide on the International Space Station. Most of the ISS’s oxygen comes from a process called “electrolysis”, which uses electricity from the station’s solar panels to split water into hydrogen gas oxygen gas, which astronauts breathe in.

It also has a separate system converting the carbon dioxide the astronauts breathe out into water methane.

But these technologies are unreliable, inefficient, heavy, difficult to maintain. The oxygen generation process, for example, requires about one third of the total energy needed to run ISS’s entire system supporting “environmental control life support”.

The components outputs of photosynthesis. (Daniel Mayer/Wikipedia/CC By SA 4.0)

Ways forward

The search for alternative systems which can be employed on the Moon on trips to Mars is therefore ongoing. One possibility is to harvest solar energy (which is abundant in space) directly use it for oxygen production carbon dioxide recycling in only one device.

The only other input in such a device would be water – similar to the photosynthesis process going on in nature. That would circumvent complex set-ups where the two processes of light harvesting chemical production are separated, such as on the ISS.

This is interesting as it could reduce the weight volume of the system – two key criteria for space exploration. But it would also be more efficient.

We could use additional thermal (heat) energy released during the process of capturing solar energy directly for catalyzing (igniting) the chemical reactions – thereby speeding them up. Moreover, complex wiring maintenance could be significantly reduced.

We produced a theoretical framework to analyze predict the performance of such integrated “artificial photosynthesis” devices for applications on Moon Mars.

Instead of chlorophyll, which is responsible for light absorption in plants algae, these devices use semiconductor materials which can be coated directly with simple metallic catalysts supporting the desired chemical reaction.

Our analysis shows that these devices would indeed be viable to complement existing life support technologies, such as the oxygen generator assembly employed on the ISS. This is particularly the case when combined with devices which concentrate solar energy in order to power the reactions (essentially large mirrors which focus the incoming sunlight).

There are other approaches too. For example, we can produce oxygen directly from lunar soil (regolith). But this requires high temperatures to work.

Artificial photosynthesis devices, on the other hand, could operate at room temperature at pressures found on Mars the Moon. That means they could be used directly in habitats using water as the main resource.

This is particularly interesting given the stipulated presence of ice water in the lunar Shackleton crater, which is an anticipated landing site in future lunar missions.

On Mars, the atmosphere composes of nearly 96% carbon dioxide – seemingly ideal for an artificial photosynthesis device. But the light intensity on the red planet is weaker than on Earth due to the larger distance from the Sun.

So would this pose a problem? We actually calculated the sunlight intensity available on Mars. We showed that we can indeed use these devices there, although solar mirrors become even more important.

The efficient reliable production of oxygen other chemicals as well as the recycling of carbon dioxide onboard spacecrafts in habitats is a tremendous challenge that we need to master for long-term space missions.

Existing electrolysis systems, operating at high temperatures, require a significant amount of energy input. And devices for converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars are still in their infancy, whether they are based on photosynthesis or not.

So several years of intense research are necessary to be able to use this technology in space. Copying the essential bits from nature’s photosynthesis could give us some advantages, helping us realizing them in the not-too-distant future.

The returns would be huge. For example, we could actually create artificial atmospheres in space produce chemicals we require on long-term missions, such as fertilizers, polymers, or pharmaceuticals.

Additionally, the insights we gain from designing fabricating these devices could help us meet the green energy challenge on Earth.

We are fortunate enough to have plants algae for producing oxygen. But artificial photosynthesis devices could be used to produce hydrogen or carbon-based fuels (instead of sugars), opening up a green way for the production of energy-rich chemicals which we can store use in transport.

The exploration of space our future energy economy have a very similar long-term goal: sustainability. Artificial photosynthesis devices may well become a key part of realizing it.The Conversation

Katharina Brinkert, Assistant Professor in Catalysis, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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A Single Injection Could Potentially Replace Neutering For Female Cats : ScienceAlert

A single injection of an experimental gene therapy treatment may be all that is required to permanently stop a female cat from reproducing, according to a small, proof-of-concept study.

Of the more than 600 million-some domestic felines that wander our planet, an astounding 80 percent are believed to be strays, void of owners or homes.

This potential new sterilization method could help control stray cat populations more safely efficiently than surgically removing a cat’s ovaries or uterus, which requires trapping, neutering, releasing females.

In this case, the treatment involves the Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), which connects to receptors in the ovary helps regulate ovulation.

Delivered by intramuscular injection, it causes the cells to produce extreme levels of AMH, a technique previously shown to suppress the development of follicles in the ovary in mice induce permanent contraception.

This new study used nine female felines, six of whom (Betty, Dolly, Jacque, Abigail, Barbara, Mary) received the gene therapy treatment. For comparison’s sake, three (Michelle, Nancy, Rosalyn) were not.

A comparison of cats treated with (right) without (left) the gene therapy treatment. (Philippe Godin/Marie-Charlotte Meinsohn)

All nine cats were involved in two 4-month-long mating trials, housed with a male cat on weekdays for eight hours at a time, monitored for breeding interactions, along with weekly ultrasounds to assess whether they were pregnant.

All three control kitties conceived after their first breeding interaction, giving birth to litters of between two four kittens. However, none of the six treated cats became pregnant.

The researchers conclude the sterilizing injections were safe effective at permanently suppressing ovulation in all six cats.

Even better, two years after the cats received their injections, none showed any adverse reactions.

AMH levels in their blood serum were somewhat reduced after the first year, but they remained above a target threshold two years on. Further studies are needed to see how long these effects might last.

“We show that this vectored contraceptive prevents breeding-induced ovulation, results in complete infertility, may constitute a safe durable strategy to control reproduction in the domestic cat,” researchers write.

As well as acting on the ovaries, the surge of AMH might also impact parts of the cat’s brain, possibly inhibiting sexual or reproductive behavior via hormones, too.

“All three control females mated repeatedly with both males, whereas four of the six treated females rebuffed every mating attempt by the breeder males during both mating trials,” researchers write.

Further studies are needed to see how gene therapy treatment changes neural activity in parts of the brain involved with reproductive behavior.

But initial results suggest that gene therapy can suppress ovulation without compromising the other roles that the ovary uterus play in animal health.

For decades, officials have been surgically sterilizing stray cats so as not to euthanize them, but it’s unclear if the policy actually works in reducing stray cat numbers or saving their lives on the streets.

Many of these neglected, free-roaming cats are responsible for killing native wildlife or spreading disease, as they reproduce, their numbers continue to swell.

For each litter of kittens a stray cat has, approximately 75 percent of the offspring die before they reach their sixth month. But there isn’t enough hard data to say whether sterilization programs help that death toll.

In remote areas, the practice is made even more difficult. In Australia, millions of cats out in the bush have been culled with poisonous food as opposed to sterilization for this very reason, yet the public backlash has been extreme.

Over the years, scientists have been exploring more ethical methods of cat control, including contraceptive pills or implants.

Gene therapy injections are another option to explore.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

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Samsung will focus on foldables in its upcoming July Unpacked event

Samsung has historically held Unpacked in various major cities around the world, starting with Las Vegas in 2010, but the company has yet to host the event in its home country’s capital city. Now, the tech giant has announced that it’s holding Unpacked in Seoul for the first time. It has no specific date yet, but it will take place in late July at COEX in Samseong-dong, Gangnam. Samsung says it will unveil its next-gen foldable devices at the event, which means we’ll most likely be seeing the Galaxy Flip 5 the Galaxy Fold 5. 

“This year, Seoul was selected because of its role in influencing global trends with its dynamic culture innovation, while it also reflects Samsung’s strong confidence in the foldable category,” the company wrote in its announcement. 

The Galaxy Flip 5 might have a larger external display, based on the latest rumors, as well as a new hinge design that makes the crease on its display less noticeable. It’ll also reportedly be powered by a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip, just like the Galaxy S23. As for the Galaxy Fold 5, it’s also rumored to have a new hinge design that gets rid of its predecessor’s gap, ensures both sides lie flat on top of each other when folded makes the display crease less visible. The device could be powered by a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, as well. 

We have less than a couple of months to find out if those rumors are true — we’ll update you when Samsung announces a specific date for the event. 

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Is Apple’s Radical New ‘Vision Pro’ Really The Future of Computing? : ScienceAlert

Apple recently unveiled its Vision Pro headset at the Worldwide Developers Conference in California.

With it, Apple is venturing into a market of head-mounted devices (HMDs) – which are usually just displays, but in this case is more of a complete computer attached to your head – as well as the worlds of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR).

The new Apple product will fuel the hopes of many working on these technologies that they will some day be routinely used by the public, just as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch helped bring smartphones, tablets, wearable tech into mainstream use.

But what does the Vision Pro actually do, how much mass appeal will it have?

VR immerses users in an entirely computer-generated world, isolating them to a large degree from their physical surroundings. AR superimposes computer-generated elements onto the real world while the latter remains visible, with the purpose of enhancing the context of our physical surroundings.


A term often used interchangeably with AR is mixed reality, referring to a set of immersive technologies including AR, that provide different “blends” of physical virtual worlds. These three technologies are often collectively referred to as XR.

The blending of VR AR seems to be a key part of Apple’s thinking, with the Vision Pro allowing users to adjust their level of immersion by deciding how much of the real world they can see. This transitioning between the two experiences will probably be a trend for future HMDs.

The physical world is “seen” through an array of 12 cameras located behind a ski-goggle-like glass fascia, acting as a lens. When the Vision Pro is in VR mode, people approaching you in the real world are automatically detected displayed as they get close.

A feature called EyeSight also displays the wearer’s eyes through the glass lens when needed, to enable more natural interaction with people around them – a challenge for many HMDs.

In terms of technical specifications, the Vision Pro is impressive. It uses a combination of the M2 microchip a new chip called the R1. M2 is running visionOS, which Apple calls its first spatial operating system, along with computer vision algorithms computer graphics generation.

R1 processes information from the cameras, an array of microphones a LiDAR scanner – which uses a laser to measure distances to different objects – in order to make the headset aware of its surroundings.

More importantly, the Vision Pro boasts an impressive display system with “more pixels than a 4K TV to each eye”.

Its ability to track where the wearer’s eyes are looking allows users to interact with graphical elements just by looking at them. The headset can receive gesture voice commands features a form of 360-degree sound called spatial audio. The quoted unplugged operating time is two hours.

Wearable ‘ecosystem’

Packed, in typical Apple fashion, in curved aluminum glass, the headset has an eye-watering price of US$3,499 (£2,819) represents a collection of many premium features. But Apple has a history of developing products with increasingly versatile capabilities to sense what’s going on in their real-world surroundings.

Apple also focuses on making its devices interoperable – meaning they work easily with other Apple devices – forming a wearable “ecosystem”. This is what really promises to be disruptive about the Vision Pro. It is also akin to what had been promised hoped for by pioneers in the idea of wearable computing back in the 1990s.

Combining the headset with the iPhone, which still forms the backbone of Apple’s ecosystem, the Apple Watch could help create new uses for augmented reality. Likewise, linking the headset to many programming tools demonstrates the company’s desire to tap into an existing community of developers of augmented reality applications.

Many questions remain, however. For example, will it be able to access mixed reality applications via a web browser? What will it be like to use from an ergonomic point of view?

It’s also unclear when the Vision Pro be available outside the US or whether there will be a non-Pro version – as the “Pro” part of the title implies a more “expert”, or developer market.

The Vision Pro is a gamble, as XR is often seen as something that promises but rarely delivers. Yet, companies such as Apple those that are probably its primary competitors in the XR domain, Meta Microsoft, have the clout to make XR popular for the general public.

More importantly, devices such as the Vision Pro its ecosystem, as well as its competitors could provide the foundation for developing the metaverse. This is an immersive world, facilitated by headsets, that aims for social interaction that’s more natural than with previous products.

Sceptics will say that Vision Pro EyeSight make you appear like a scuba diver in your living room. But this could finally be the time to dive into the deep waters of XR.The Conversation

Panagiotis Ritsos, Senior Lecturer in Visualisation, Bangor University Peter Butcher, Lecturer in Human Computer Interaction, Bangor University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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