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The Hunt for Space Viruses

Despite the fact that viruses are extremely pervasive on Earth, few studies have attempted to search for them in space. But that may soon change. (Credit: NIAID)

Considering viruses are thought to be the most prevalent biological entities on Earth, you would expect that plenty of research has focused on finding them in space, right?

Wrong.

To date, almost no research has looked into the possibility of viruses “living” in space or on other worlds. But now, Portland State University biology professor Ken Stedman wants to kick-start the search.

According to an article published in the February 2018 issue of Astrobiology, Stedman and his colleagues argue that it’s time for astronomers to broaden their cosmic search for life by also combing space for viruses. “More than a century has passed since the discovery of the first viruses,” said Stedman, “entering the second century of virology, we can finally start focusing beyond our own planet.”

There are 10 to 100 times more viruses on Earth than there are of any other cellular organism, Stedman says. And this could also hold true for other planets and moons as well. Furthermore, many researchers suspect that viruses played a major role in the creation of life. According to a report from the American Academy of Microbiology, “Without viruses, life on Earth would be very different, or perhaps there would be no life at all.”

“With this paper,” Stedman said, “we hope to inspire integration of virus research into astrobiology and also point out pressing unanswered questions in astrovirology, particularly regarding the detection of virus biosignatures and whether viruses could be spread extraterrestrially.”

This article originally appeared in Astronomy.com.

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A Functioning Fake Womb

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Chemicals in Non-Stick Pans May Contribute to Weight Gain

Uhoh: Those non-stick pans you love cooking with are often made with a chemical that could contribute to weight gain. (Credit: Shutterstock)

More than 38 percent of American adults and 17 percent of American children are obese. And while there are numerous ways to shed pounds, it’s often difficult for many people to keep them off. It turns out some common items regularly used by people across the world could be the culprit.

A study released Tuesday in PLOS Medicine suggests that perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) could be contributing to weight gain and lead to obesity. Since the 1950s, these environmental chemicals have been used in food packaging, non-stick cookware, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, water-repellent clothing, and even some cosmetics. These manmade compounds’ effects on humans aren’t well known, but past studies on animals have shown they may disrupt the endocrine system, or the collection of glands that produce hormones. PFASs have also been linked to cancer, immune issues and high cholesterol.

Down and Up

Over the course of two years, researchers put 621 obese and overweight men and women on energy-restricted diets and tracked their weights. Measuring the plasma concentrations of PFASs, they were able to gather metabolic information including body weight and resting metabolic rate (RMR).

Researchers found that those with higher levels of PFASs at the beginning of the experiment were associated with regaining the pounds they lost, especially in women. Participants lost on average 14 pounds (6.4 kg) in the first six months, regaining almost half of the weight throughout the study. The weight gain could be due to a decline of RMR over the first six months.

“These chemicals may lead to more rapid weight gain after dieting,” Qi Sun, co-author of the study, told the Guardian. “It is very hard to avoid exposure to PFASs, but we should try to. It’s an increasing public health issue.”

With that said, the authors can’t definitively link PFAS chemicals to the weight regain. Some potentially important influences weren’t measured including socioeconomic and psychosocial factors and potential relapses to prior diets weren’t considered. Still, the authors hope this study will lead to further research of environmental chemicals and their possible impact on obesity.

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