Microplastics Found in Human Blood for First Time

Microplastic pollution has been detected in human blood for the first time, with scientists finding the tiny particles in almost 80% of the people tested. The discovery shows the particles can travel around the body and may lodge in organs. The impact on health is as yet unknown. But researchers are concerned as microplastics cause damage to human cells in the laboratory and air pollution particles are already known to enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year. Huge amounts of plastic waste are dumped in the environment and microplastics now contaminate the entire planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. People were already known to consume the tiny particles via food and water as well as breathing them in, and they have been found in the faeces of babies and adults.

The scientists analysed blood samples from 22 anonymous donors, all healthy adults and found plastic particles in 17. Half the samples contained PET plastic, which is commonly used in drinks bottles, while a third contained polystyrene, used for packaging food and other products. A quarter of the blood samples contained polyethylene, from which plastic carrier bags are made.

Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood – ​it’s a breakthrough result,” said Prof Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But we have to extend the research and increase the sample sizes, the number of polymers assessed, etc.” Further studies by a number of groups are already under way, he said.

It is certainly reasonable to be concerned,” Vethaak told the Guardian. “The particles are there and are transported throughout the body.” He said previous work had shown that microplastics were 10 times higher in the faeces of babies compared with adults and that babies fed with plastic bottles are swallowing millions of microplastic particles a day. “We also know in general that babies and young children are more vulnerable to chemical and particle exposure,” he said. “That worries me a lot.”

The new research is published in the journal Environment International and adapted existing techniques to detect and analyse particles as small as 0.0007mm.

Source: https://vu.nl/

How to Fires Up our Synapses

Processing of sensory impressions and information depends very much on how the synapses in our brain work. A team around chemist Robert Ahrends from the University of Vienna and neuroscientist Michael R. Kreutz from Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology in Magdeburg now showed how lipid and protein regulation impact brain’s processing of a beautiful and stimulating environment. The lipids located in the membranes of the synapses are central to signal transmission, the researchers report in “Cell Reports“.

“We usually enjoy a beautiful environment, socializing, a cosy apartment, good restaurants, a park – all this inspires us,” says Robert Ahrends from the Institute of Analytical Chemistry of the University of Vienna and former group leader at ISAS in Dortmund. Previous studies have already shown that such an enriched environment can sometimes have a positive effect on child development or even on the human ability to regenerate, e.g. after a stroke, however the reason for these observations “was not yet clarified at the molecular level“.

Stimulating sensory perceptions are ultimately formed via the activity or regulation of synapses, i.e. those connecting units between our neurons that transfer information from one nerve cell to another. To clarify the underlying molecular principles, the researchers offered the rodents, their model organisms, an enriched environment based on plenty of room to move, a running wheel and other toys.

With the help of post-genomic analysis strategies (multiomics) and using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry and microscopy as well as bioinformatics for data analysis, they investigated the regulation of synapses in the hippocampus of the rodents, more precisely the interaction of the proteins and especially lipids (fats) located in the synaptic membranes.

80 percent of the brain cells are only supporting cells. We have therefore focused on the synapses as central sites of signal transmission and isolated them,” says neuroscientist Michael Kreutz. The team gathered quantitative and qualitative information about the network of molecules regulated at synapses and examined their lipid metabolism, also under the influence of an enriched environment.
The analyses revealed that 178 proteins and 20 lipids were significantly regulated depending on whether the rodents had spent time in an enriched environment or an uncomfortable one.

Source: https://chemie.univie.ac.at/

Bacteria Becomes Resistant When Exposed To Li-Ion Nanoparticles

Over the last two decades, nanotechnology has improved many of the products we use every day from microelectronics to sunscreens. Nanoparticles (particles that are just a few hundred atoms in size) are ending up in the environment by the ton, but scientists are still unclear about the long-term effects of these super-small nanoparticles. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have shown that nanoparticles may have a bigger impact on the environment than previously thought.

Researchers from the National Science Foundation Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, led by scientists at the University of Minnesota, found that a common, non-disease-causing bacteria found in the environment, called Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, developed rapid resistance when repeatedly exposed to nanoparticles used in making lithium ion batteries, the rechargeable batteries used in portable electronics and electric vehicles. Resistance is when the bacteria can survive at higher and higher quantities of the materials, which means that the fundamental biochemistry and biology of the bacteria is changing.

At many times throughout history, materials and chemicals like asbestos or DDT have not been tested thoroughly and have caused big problems in our environment,” said Erin Carlson, a University of Minnesota chemistry associate professor in the University’s College of Science and Engineering and the lead author of the study. “We don’t know that these results are that dire, but this study is a warning sign that we need to be careful with all of these new materials, and that they could dramatically change what’s happening in our environment.”

Carlson said the results of this study are unusual because typically when we talk about bacterial resistance it is because we’ve been treating the bacteria with antibiotics. The bacteria become resistant because we are trying to kill them, she said. In this case, the nanoparticles used in lithium ion batteries were never made to kill bacteria.

The research is published in Chemical Science, a peer-reviewed journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Source: https://twin-cities.umn.edu/

Replacement Meats Within 20 Years

Meat is big business. According to analysis by A.T. Kearney, the global meat market was worth $1,000 billion in 2018, and this is set to grow. The World Economic Forum’s Alternative Proteins report says demand for meat will double before 2050 as our global population increases, becomes wealthier on average, and adopts food choices that are currently restricted to high-income countries.

At the same time, concerns about how to feed this expanded populace, along with the impact meat has on factors including our health, the environment and animal welfare have been steadily rising. Vegetarianism, veganism and flexitarianism are regularly in the news, with more and more people becoming advocates of plant-based eating. A study conducted by the UK research company YouGov found that one in five believes the future is meat-free.

Correspondingly, in recent years we have witnessed a sharp upsurge in the attempt to find viable alternatives. Classic vegan and vegetarian meat replacements have been a standard feature on our supermarket shelves for several years of course, while insect-based meat replacements, while available, occupy a relatively niche position.

More recently, the search has found its way into our laboratories, and start-ups like Impossible Foods, Just and Beyond Meat have brought novel vegan meat replacement, a plant-based product category that imitates the sensory profile of meat, to the table. Looking further ahead, other companies are now using advances in biotechnology to prototype and test cultured meat, which is created using cells extracted from living animals, slaughter-free.

Source: https://www.weforum.org/

‘Epigenetic’ Gene Tweaks Could Trigger Cancer

You could be forgiven for thinking of cancer as a genetic disease. Sure, we know it can be triggered by things you do – smoking being the classic example – but most of us probably assume that we get cancer because of a genetic mutation – a glitch in our DNA. It turns out that this is not quite the end of the story.

We now have the first direct evidence that switching off certain genes – something that can be caused by our lifestyle or the environment we live in – can trigger tumours, without mutating the DNA itself. The good news is that these changes are, in theory, reversible.

All cells contain the same DNA, but individual genes in any cell can be switched on or off by the addition or subtraction of a methyl group – a process known as epigenetic methylation.

For years, researchers have known that mutations to our DNA – either those passed on at birth or those acquired as a result of exposure to radiation, for example – can cause cancer. But epigenetic changes have also been implicated in cancer because abnormal patterns of gene methylation are seen in virtually all types of human tumours.

For example, a gene called MLH1 produces a protein that repairs DNA damage. It is often mutated in colon cancer tumours, but in some tumour samples the gene is healthy, but appears to have been silenced by methylationThe problem is that it has been difficult to test whether abnormal methylation occurs as a result of a tumour or is a cause of its growth.

In genetics you can easily delete a gene and see what the consequence is, but it’s much harder to direct methylation to specific regions of the genome,” says Lanlan Shen of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

To get round this problem, Shen and her colleagues used a naturally occurring sequence of DNA, which draws in methyl groups to methylate nearby genes. They call it their “methylation magnet”.

The team inserted this sequence next to the tumour suppressor gene, p16, in mouse embryonic stem cells. These embryos then developed into mice that carry the “methylation magnet” in all of their cells. The team focused on methylating p16 because it is abnormally methylated in numerous cancers.

They monitored the rodents for 18 months – until they reached the mouse equivalent of middle age. Over this time, 30 per cent of the mice developed tumours around their body, including in their liver, colon, lungs and spleen. None of a control group of genetically identical mice developed tumours.

Some tissues showed faster methylation than others, for example in the liver, colon and spleen, and that’s exactly where we saw the tumours grow,” says Shen. “It seems like methylation predisposed the tissue to tumour development.” She reckons that methylation silences p16, which lifts the break that it normally places on any abnormal cell division.

Source: https://www.newscientist.com/

How To ConVert Waste Heat Into Electricity

Thermoelectric materials, capable of transforming heat into electricity, are very promising when converting residual heat into electrical energy, since they allow us to utilize hardly usable or almost lost thermal energy in an efficient way. Researchers at the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC) have created a new thermoelectric material: a paper capable of converting waste heat into electricity. These devices could be used to generate electricity from residual heat to feed sensors in the field of the Internet of Things, Agriculture 4.0 or Industry 4.0.

This device is composed of cellulose, produced in situ in the laboratory by bacteria, with small amounts of a conductor nanomaterial, carbon nanotubes, using a sustainable and environmentally friendly strategy” explains Mariano Campoy-Quiles, researcher at the ICMAB.

“In the near future, they could be used as wearable devices, in medical or sports applications, for example. And if the efficiency of the device was even more optimized, this material could lead to intelligent thermal insulators or to hybrid photovoltaic-thermoelectric power generation systems” predicts Campoy-Quiles. In addition “due to the high flexibility of the cellulose and to the scalability of the process, these devices could be used in applications where the residual heat source has unusual forms or extensive areas, as they could be completely covered with this material” indicates Anna Roig, researcher at the ICMAB.

Since bacterial cellulose can be home made, perhaps we are facing the first step towards a new energy paradigm, where users will be able to make their own electric generators. We are still far away, but this study is a beginning. We have to start somewhere. “Instead of making a material for energy, we cultivate it” explains Mariano Campoy-Quiles, a researcher of this study. “Bacteria, dispersed in an aqueous culture medium containing sugars and carbon nanotubes, produce the nanocellulose fibers that will end up forming the device, in which the carbon nanotubes are embedded” continues Campoy-Quiles.”We obtain a mechanically resistant, flexible and deformable material, thanks to the cellulose fibers, and with a high electrical conductivity, thanks to the carbon nanotubes,” adds Anna Laromaine, researcher at the ICMAB. “The intention is to approach the concept of circular economy, using sustainable materials that are not toxic for the environment, which are used in small amounts, and which can be recycled and reused,“says Roig.

The study has been published in the Energy & Environmental Science journal.

Source: http://icmab.es/