Brief #13 - okładka

Aging reversed

Researchers from the Harvard Medical School restored vision in old mice by reversing their biological clock. They focused on the so-called epigenetic changes within cells which accumulate as the organism ages. The scientists think that the “epigenetic noise” is disrupting the cell’s ability to regenerate. It is responsible for the degenerative process we know as natural aging – causing tissue dysfunction and finally death. The new approach is to reprogram cells, so they come back to the earlier, “younger” stage – possible because “mammalian tissues retain a record of youthful epigenetic information”.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison identified gen of crucial importance in biological aging. Their research relies on cellular reprogramming which aims to reverse cell aging through mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) rejuvenation. The findings could prove critical towards developing new pharmacological therapies needed to treat osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, cartilage degeneration, and heart diseases.

The new microscope allows seeing “through skulls” to detect diseases. Developed by the research team at the Centre for Molecular Spectroscopy and Dynamics in Seoul, the tool can create a microscopic map of neural networks in a mouse’s brain through the animal’s skull. Called the “reflection matrix microscope”, it uses both its hardware and a computational adaptive optics algorithm to correct faults in the image. This way, the number of errors it can correct is ten times greater than that of standard systems.

Getting rid of the Nazi letters and the swear words ranking

Names of many climbing routes are offensive, according to 91% of respondents who took part in a poll made by “Snews”, an outdoor-industry magazine. That is why BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) climbers strive to change names, especially of climbing and mountain biking routes. As one example, the “Slavery Wall” in Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming, U.S. became the “Downpour Wall”.

Germany will alter the German phonetic alphabet, to eliminate words added by the Nazis. Experts from the German Institute for Standardization work on devising new terms for the problematic letters. “Z” won’t stand for “Zeppelin” anymore, similarly with other words that were introduced in 1934, to get rid of the Jewish-related names, like “D for David” or “S for Samuel”. The new phonetic alphabet should be adopted by late 2022.

The British communications regulator, Office of Communications, created an official rank of every British swear word, classifying its offensiveness. General swears, words related to race and ethnicity, body parts and health conditions, religious insults, sexual references, and even certain hand gestures now have their official rating. More than 200 people rated 150 terms, placing them in the spectrum of mild-medium-strong-strongest.

Elections in Kashmir, Romania and Namibia – issues behind

Every third Romanian citizen (six million people altogether) lives on the verge of poverty. Despite that, there was no space for addressing their hardships in the recent parliamentary elections campaign. Marginalized people do not trust the government because many politicians despise their poverty and see it as a fault of those affected. The political parties get their votes for promises never kept and casual support offered just before elections. A quarter of citizens of this E.U. country have to use outdoor toilets, and one in ten kids go to sleep hungry.
Municipal elections in Namibia, which became world-famous because of the candidate named Adolf Hitler Uunoma, are a sign of change in the country’s politics. Last year, the SWAPO party – in power since 1990 – for the first time lost the supermajority in the parliament. Now they fell from full control in 52 (out of 57) to just 20 municipalities. Henning Melber from the University of Pretoria thinks it will be a test to Namibian democracy – as some SWAPO members already suggested to financially starve regions governed by other parties.

The upcoming local elections in Kashmir are the Indian’s government attempt to show normalization in the region but they lack credibility, according to analysts. Last August India’s nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked article 370 of the constitution of India, taking away Kashmir’s autonomy, own constitution, ability to make laws, and even the Kashmir’s flag. The newly elected politicians will have little power as the region is run directly from New Delhi.

Vulnerability to digital marketing and the fashion industry in trouble

People with mental health issues are twice as likely to fall to digital marketing tricks than usual customers – warns the British charity, Money and Mental Health. Companies rely on the help of consumer psychologists to persuade clients to “impulse buys” – spontaneous shopping that generates a billion pounds monthly in the U.K. alone. Among common tactics are: creating a sense of urgency (i.e. only one room left, five people are viewing it), social proof (i.e. by showing the customer what his Facebook friends bought/liked), and frictionless or one-click payment. Money and Mental Health postulates adoption of “ethical marketing and advertising policies”.

The coronavirus emergency fund for small businesses offered by the U.S. Treasury Department didn’t end up landing in the hands of the small-scale recipients after all. The top 5% of loaners got more than half of the total 522 billion dollars of loans while the top 1% received over a quarter of that sum. Around 600 of the companies, many national chains included, got the maximum help from the program – 10 million dollars. Only 28% of the money was distributed in amounts less than 150 000 dollars, provoking voices that the emergency fund helped the well-lawyered, not the small ones.

The fashion industry noted a 93% decline in profit in 2020, according to McKinsey. The most resilient were the companies that went digital, operated in Asian markets and sports and leisure sectors. The future of fashion is digital, according to the McKinsey expert, with consumers moving to those channels of distribution. We can also expect that the market will follow the trend of so-called “super winners” – a fraction of companies gaining higher and higher profits.

Solar energy stored for winter and the mining industry going green

The scientists from Lancaster University have discovered a material that is capable of storing solar energy gathered during the summer and release it as heat during winter. They came to the discovery while studying a type of crystalline, often used in desalination and water filtering. The material can be used in buildings’ coating or car windshields – in the latter case for quick defrosting. The researchers stored solar energy for four months at room temperature, but they think the material can hold it even for four and a half years.

Around three hundred homes in the Scottish Fife area will get new boilers, heaters, and cooking appliances – all of them using zero-emission hydrogen. The initiative will last at least four years and comes as a part of a test intended to establish the importance of hydrogen (made with water and renewable energy) in meeting Britain’s climate goals. Eco-friendly hydrogen could be a key part of the U.K. government’s plan to diverge from fossil fuels as it can be used the same way as fossil fuel gas and even rely on the same infrastructure but without carbon emissions.

Mining and processing rare earth metals and minerals, crucial for the renewable energy sector, are undergoing major changes. Nickel, cobalt, copper, lithium, and gold are extensively used in wind turbines, electric grids, and cars. Now, some of the companies supplying those materials want to make innovations, so they become equally friendly to the environment as the green energy industry they work with.

The economic and military grwoth of China

It will take China only fifteen years before it develops capabilities to fight extended foreign wars. A report to the U.S. Congress informs that over the next five years China will work on its capabilities of performing large-scale military operations within “its maritime periphery”. From then on, in 10 to 15 years, it will develop the power to participate in a limited war overseas, mainly to protect its interest in countries participating in the Belt and Road initiative. By “mid-century” it will acquire an ability to operate its military anywhere in the world.

China surpassed the U.S. as the biggest trade partner of the E.U. and as a top market for Asia-Pacific firms. The change in trade came after the three quarters into 2020 and has been a result of the quick China recovery from the pandemic resulting in fast restoration of trade. At the same time, the exchange between the U.S. and Europe declined by over 10%.

The Chinese growth comes with tensions as the diplomatic relations between Australia and China are the worst in 50 years. Last week, Chinese officials criticized the Australians for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, a move that came together with the attack in Chinese state media. Both countries clash over a variety of issues. The conflict is on the rise at least since 2017, when Australia banned foreign political donations in the aura of China intending to affect elections. Later Australia was the first country to ban Huawei from its 5G network, with China significantly raising tariffs on imports from Australia in response.