Science and Disease – Curing Diabetes with a Pill

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that develops when the body becomes unable to process insulin correctly. Insulin is the hormone that is responsible for regulating the amount of sugar in our bloodstream. In the first stages of the disease, the body overproduces the hormone in an attempt to regulate the system. After a while the receptors will burn out and stop producing the insulin altogether.

People develop diabetes based on genetics, as well as lifestyle factors, that affect the way that their system functions. It is most common in those that are middle aged, or older, and medical practitioners believe that almost 1/3 of the population will develop type 2 diabetes due to poor eating habits and a lack of exercise. Medications currently used to treat diabetes, filter the excess glucose produced from the bloodstream. Top medical doctors, and nutritionists, believe that Type 2 diabetes is completely reversible, however, and scientists are trying to find an easy, reliable method of doing this.

A team of researchers from the University of California, have recently developed a drug which can restore insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes. It would be administered via a single pill taken daily, and works by inhibiting LMPTP (low molecular weight protein tyrosine phosphatase) which contributes to the reduction in cell sensitivity to insulin. Decreasing the amount of the enzyme in the body, causes the cells (especially those in the liver), to become receptive to insulin once again. This then restores the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, ultimately reversing the condition.

The researchers used lab mice to conduct their experiment. The rodents were initially fed a high-fat diet, causing them to become obese and subsequently develop high blood glucose levels. After this they received a dose of the drug daily, and their insulin levels were successfully restored. Researchers did not notice any adverse side effects develop from the use of the medication. Further tests will still need to be conducted to ensure that the drug is completely safe for human use. The team, however, are confident that it will be a huge step in reversing diabetes by simply taking a pill.

The concept of reversing diabetes is not a new one, and has previously been achieved using a combination of drugs, a strict diet and a regular exercise regime. Scientists at Cornell University have also found that probiotic pills, containing live bacteria, can help reverse the effects of Type 2 diabetes by ‘rewiring’ the body. The probiotic pill was also tested on rodents, and managed to shift the control of the body’s blood sugar levels from the pancreas (which normally controls glucose levels within the body) to the upper intestine. By shifting where the blood sugar levels are controlled, scientists found that the animals’ insulin levels increased by up to 30%. They believe that a higher dose of this probiotic pill may become a cure for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Autonomous Farming – The Future of Food Production

Having technology which can run itself makes production quicker and easier in all areas, including farming. The autonomous tractor has recently been displayed by Case IH, and is designed with safety features that make it possible for the vehicle to be operated remotely. The world’s population is constantly increasing and with it the need for more food. The autonomous tractor would be able to maximise the efficiency of fields and growing produce, by working 24 hours per day and in adverse weather conditions.

Case IH has played a major role in the development of farming with their introduction of a form of GPS, in the 1990s, which showed the amount of produce that each field yielded. This system has been improved with technological advancements, and is still used by farmers to show where planting adjustments need to be made.

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More recently, self-steering systems have been included in farming vehicles to decrease the amount of overlapping and missing areas that occurs during planting crops. This minimizes wastage and workload, yet still requires qualified drivers to operate. Finding them is becoming more difficult, as the hours can be long and tedious. Autonomous machines can be used alongside existing ones, significantly decreasing the amount of labor needed to run a farm.

As they would be remotely controlled, the tractors have been designed without a cab. The vehicles are also able to warn operators of possible threats, by stopping when there is an item that might damage them in the vicinity. The operator is alerted, and will then decide whether it should continue or change paths. The tractors are programmable, and can make their way to and from different fields. Their progress can be viewed through the mapping system, controlled by an app, or remotely accessed via ‘tractor view’ through its feed.

Developers are working on ways that the vehicles will be able to interpret external data, such as weather conditions, and use it to decide what is the best time to plant and reap crops, independent of human input. This attention to detail would save on wastage, as it would control the planting of the crops as well as weeding between rows to reduce the use of pesticides.

The tractor’s designers are currently working with farmers to test the technology. They are demonstrating the way in which its use will affect all aspects of the business, including labour and farm management. Other autonomous features will be integrated into current farm vehicles, and these can be adapted for use on small as well as large-scale farms. As the technology becomes more readily available, costs are expected to decrease and more areas will be able to use it for widespread food production. The current expectation is that this will help to decrease hunger worldwide.

Amazing Algae – Survival in Space

Earth’s atmosphere is designed for the survival of millions of organisms. Once most of these leave the planet’s protective covering, however, they would perish within minutes, if not seconds. Scientists are always looking for ways that will allow us to survive in the harsh environment of space, to facilitate our universal expansion. As they have discovered many times in the past, sometimes the smallest things provide the biggest answers.

shutterstock_385473715One of the simplest plants in our atmosphere is algae, which has proven its resilience repeatedly due to the extreme earthly environments in which they can exist. As a part of the Biology and Mars Experiment (Biomex), scientists decided to put the plant’s durability to the test. They released algae into the universe next to the International Space Station, located outside of the earth’s perimeter, for a total of 16 months.

Biomex is a project aimed at figuring out the possibility of survival on the surface of one of Earth’s closest neighbours, Mars. Here the temperature is extremely low and there is almost no protective covering from the sun’s harmful UV rays. The conditions that the algae had faced in space would have been impossible to replicate on Earth, and would not have provided the most accurate results.

shutterstock_320049485-1Even though the plants were exposed to extreme temperature changes, and both cosmic and UV radiation, the algae were retrieved alive and many of the strands even thriving. Further tests of the species will be crucial to future space travel, as they will demonstrate some of the conditions that may be faced by astronauts and show possible ways to overcome them. Algae might also be used as a source of food for these explorers, as it can be eaten when grown in large quantities. The plant can be transported to Mars, and many scientists believe it might be the key to breathable air on the planet, as algae survives by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, which is essentially to human and animal life.

The plants survival also supports the theory that organisms can travel around the universe on comets, asteroids and other moving particles. When one of these crashes into a planet that has life on it, organisms become trapped in it and are carried to the particle’s next destination. The theory that life on Earth developed in this way has been proposed and, even though it doesn’t provide conclusive evidence, the algae’s survival shows that this is possible.

Paving the Way – The Production of Ceramic Tiles from Waste

With the world’s levels of discarded materials constantly increasing, every industry faces a greater need to pay attention to environmental concerns. This means that many manufacturers are turning to different forms of recycling to help save the planet, as well as to boost business by increasing profits.  One industry that creates a lot of waste during production is the manufacturing of building material. There is an estimated three million tons of waste produced annually from the process of making ceramic tiles alone.

shutterstock_162339047The normal production method used has previously made it impossible to put the waste back into the production process. Lifeceram is a project which has been undertaken to change this, and was formed with two main objectives. These are:

  1. To develop a new type of tile from the waste created that would be appropriate for outdoor paving, due to both durability and weather resistance.
  2. Create a suitable method of making these tiles, which would incorporate 100% of waste materials. It would also need to be sustainable by the manufacturing companies themselves, to make it as convenient as possible.

The Lifeceram project has been successful and those involved have reported developing a process to create tiles which have the mechanical resistance, environmental properties and porosity that they planned to achieve. The method that has been proposed will not only recycle the waste but can also be easily undertaken by existing industrial installations, without the need for changes to their equipment or current manufacturing.

shutterstock_525990229The major benefits that companies will achieve using this new process are:

  1. A Reduction in Carbon Emissions

One of the worse influences of manufacturing building material on the environment is the emission of carbon which Lifeceram believes will be reduced by at least 30% once their process is implemented.

  1. Production Savings

Tile manufacturers will now be able to save 30% on energy costs and an additional 65% on their use of water. Saving on production costs is beneficial in any industry as it means that funds can be reinvested to build the business, or there can be an increase in profits. 

  1. Eliminating Waste

As reported, the process can reuse 100% of the waste which was previously created during the manufacturing of tiles. This can decrease the need to buy additional materials as well as company output.

Project Lifeceram is being introduced to manufacturing companies, which are embracing it and the benefits that can be achieved. Project developers are confident that many companies worldwide will be using their method of production shortly.

The Future of Money – The Basics of Blockchain Technology

Throughout the history of the world there have been thousands of currencies developed, including silver, gold and brass coins as well as paper money. With technology beginning to dominate international growth, and the need for transparency in transactions, there has been a great movement towards producing emoney as well.

shutterstock_349952822The first form of digital currency to be developed was Bitcoin, from an idea proposed by Satoshi Nakamoto. Created and held electronically, this type of money is known as cryptocurrency and is based on blockchain technology. It is produced using software designed to solve mathematical problems. One of the major differences between Bitcoin and paper currency is the fact that it can’t be decentralised, meaning that no single institution would be able to control the network. The currency is created digitally by a group of people that anybody can join, and a limit has been placed on the number of Bitcoins that can be ‘mined’ in this controlled online environment. To encourage transparency, the mathematical formula which is used for Bitcoin production is available for everybody to view online.

Bitcoin’s success has inspired the creation of other forms of emoney, most notably in several African countries. After Tunisia launched their blockchain technology based currency, Senegal quickly followed suit and announced that they will be using online currency alongside their paper one. Even though created from blockchain technology, it will still be controlled and distributed by the government and central banking system. This means that the amount that is in circulation will be easily monitored and regulated. Senegal’s e-currency, known as eCFA, has already passed the emoney regulations which have been set by the West African Economic and Monetary Union and is expected to be introduced into the system shortly.

shutterstock_461973784These currencies have set Africa apart as the pioneers of a new era of financial stability. The security and transparency of the blockchain technology, means that the system cannot be tampered with and the economy will be allowed to thrive. After being introduced into circulation in Senegal the eCFA will be introduced in other countries that currently use the West African franc including: Ivory Coast, Benin and Niger.

Other forms of emoney is also being explored and developed on an international level and countries are adapting the technology to suit their specific requirements including China, Singapore and Sweden. Many banks have already started using blockchain technology to record and handle transactions, and other industries which require high levels of security and monitoring are researching ways of moulding it to suit their needs.

Limited Time Left on Earth – Stephen Hawking’s Prediction for Humanity

Even though scientists have considered the possibility of humans being able to live on another planet, most of our space exploration to this point has been to satisfy our immense curiosity. Is it possible, however, that the survival of our species will rely on us finding a home outside of Earth? World renowned, and greatly respected, scientist Stephen Hawking has recently expressed this exact concern. He has publicly stated that humanity will be unable to continue living on this ‘fragile’ planet for more than another 1000 years.

Hawking, who made this announcement at the Oxford Union, said that his conclusion was based on several contributing factors. These include: overpopulation, a growing resistance to antibiotics which will possibly cause worldwide pandemics, habitat destruction and what seems to be our most unnecessary human compulsion – war. Nuclear and autonomous weapons are sources of widespread, uncontrollable destruction, and even the creators of many new weapons are unaware of the full extent of the damage that their designs may have on the Earth.

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Koca Vehbi / Shutterstock.com

As an intelligent species we have also taken steps towards creating artificial lifeforms, in our own image. The consequence of this to humanity has been predicted in many science fiction films and books, and is now becoming a high possibility. This is the fact that our artificial intelligence is so advanced that they may turn on the humans that created them. If this ever happened, due to their combined intellect, strength and longevity, robots would be a force that humans would be unable to control after letting loose on the earth.

The reasons that the scientist based his beliefs on are not just those controlled by humanity, but also a factor outside of our planet. This would be a possible result of actually making contact with extra-terrestrial beings. We have no idea whether they will be friend or foe, and how destructive they might be to our species and planet once we have approached them. Hawking’s scientific opinion is that they will be either the best thing, or the worst that has ever happened to us. Many other scientists also share the view that any alien species that is able to communicate with us may either surpass us in intellect, and therefore uninterested in us for more than experimental purposes, or may be violent and determined to attack Earth rather than befriend those on it.

Based on his certainty that our planet will soon be inhabitable, Hawking has taken steps towards finding humanity a future possible home. He advises ‘remember to look up at the stars, and not down at your feet,’ and is one of the major investors in the Breakthrough Starshot program currently exploring our nearest star system. Stephen also urges us to continue to enjoy our life on earth as ‘2016 is a great time to be alive.’ Even though there are many that disagree with his thoughts about the future of mankind on the planet, it would be hard not to agree with his belief that we are certainly living in an exciting era.