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Change in astronaut's gut bacteria attributed to spaceflight

Northwestern University researchers studying the gut bacteria of Scott and Mark Kelly, NASA astronauts and identical twin brothers, as part of a unique human study have found that changes to certain gut “bugs” occur in space.The Northwestern team is one of 10 NASA-funded research groups studying the Kelly twins to learn how living in space for a long period of time — such as a mission to Mars — affects the human body. While Scott spent nearly a year in space, his brother, Mark, remained on Earth, as a ground-based control.

Controlling electron spin makes water splitting more efficient

One of the main obstacles in the production of hydrogen through water splitting is that hydrogen peroxide is also formed, which affects the efficiency stability of the reaction and the stability of the production. Dutch and Israelian researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology and the Weizmann Institute have succeeded in controlling the spin of electrons in the reaction and thereby almost fully suppress the production of hydrogen peroxide. They published these findings this week in the Journal of the American Society. The efficient production of hydrogen paves the way towards water splitting by solar energy.

A Better Way to Farm Algae

Scientists have long known of the potential of microalgae to aid in the production of biofuels and other valuable chemicals. However, the difficulty and significant cost of growing microalgae have in some ways stalled further development of this promising technology. Bendy Estime, a biomedical and chemical engineering Ph.D. candidate, has devoted his research to this area, and developed a new technology for energy efficient cultivation and harvesting of microalgae.Estime’s research has been published as a peer-reviewed article in Scientific Reports on Jan. 19. He and his research advisors, Distinguished Professor Radhakrishna Sureshkumar, chair of the Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering, and Professor Dacheng Ren, have secured a provisional patent for the technology.

Globe-trotting pollutants raise some cancer risks four times higher than predicted

A new way of looking at how pollutants ride through the atmosphere has quadrupled the estimate of global lung cancer risk from a pollutant caused by combustion, to a level that is now double the allowable limit recommended by the World Health Organization.The findings, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition online, showed that tiny floating particles can grow semi-solid around pollutants, allowing them to last longer and travel much farther than what previous global climate models predicted.

NYC Toddlers Exposed to Potentially Harmful Flame-Retardants

Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) within the Mailman School of Public Health report evidence of potentially harmful flame-retardants on the hands and in the homes of 100 percent of a sample of New York City mothers and toddlers. The study also found that, on average, toddlers in New York City had higher levels of common flame-retardants on their hands compared to their mothers.

High-Tech Maps of Tropical Forest Diversity Identify New Conservation Targets

New remote sensing maps of the forest canopy in Peru test the strength of current forest protections and identify new regions for conservation effort, according to a report led by Carnegie’s Greg Asner published in Science.Asner and his Carnegie Airborne Observatory team used their signature technique, called airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy, to identify preservation targets by undertaking a new approach to study global ecology—one that links a forest’s variety of species to the strategies for survival and growth employed by canopy trees and other plants. Or, to put it in scientist-speak, their approach connects biodiversity and functional diversity.

Study Finds Parrotfish are Critical to Coral Reef Health

An analysis of fossilized parrotfish teeth and sea urchin spines by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego showed that when there are more algae-eating fish on a reef, it grows faster.In the new study, published in the Jan. 23 issue of the journal Nature Communication, Scripps researchers Katie Cramer and Richard Norris developed a 3,000-year record of the abundance of parrotfish and urchins on reefs from the Caribbean side of Panama to help unravel the cause of the alarming modern-day shift from coral- to algae-dominated reefs occurring across the Caribbean.“Our reconstruction of past and present reefs from fossils demonstrates that when overfishing wipes out parrotfish, reef health declines,” said Cramer, a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps and lead author of the study.

Catalyst adds fluorine-containing groups to make new compounds

Drugs that contain one or more fluorine atoms tend to be more stable, more powerful, and easier for the body to absorb. For those reasons, drug developers would like to be able to incorporate fluorine or a fluorine-containing unit known as trifluoromethyl into new experimental drugs, but this has been very difficult to do.Now, a team of chemists at MIT and Boston College has discovered a new type of catalyst that can incorporate a trifluoromethyl group within a variety of organic molecules. The availability of these exceptionally efficient and selective catalysts should allow researchers to rapidly generate potential new fluorinated drugs, including antibiotics and anticancer agents, for testing.

Humans, not climate change, wiped out Australian megafauna

New evidence involving the ancient poop of some of the huge and astonishing creatures that once roamed Australia indicates the primary cause of their extinction around 45,000 years ago was likely a result of humans, not climate change.