Putin in Space
“The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.”
– Vladimir Putin, September 11, 2013, The New York Times
President Putin should have listened to himself and not invaded Ukraine. After repeated pressure from the rest of the world, except for Syria's Assad and North Korea's Kim Jong-on, Putin annexed Crimea and may keep going. In a bizarre chest-thumping speech on Tuesday, he touted Russian might. In addition to essentially outlawing homosexuality and journalism, censoring the Internet, Putin's Russia put up statues of Stalin. As Angela Merkel told President Obama, Putin seems to be "in another world." What does that mean for Western astronauts who are currently high above our world, and depend on Russia to come home?
As humans on Earth try to resolve human rights crises, scientific research in Space must be, forgive the pun, above being used as a bargaining chip. As Kremlin observers like to point out, Putin's behavior is consistent. And that behavior is consistently crazy. Russia provides the West's only means of transportation to and from the International Space Station, "a $100-billion orbiting science laboratory." Can we trust Putin to continue to honor his agreement with NASA?
Matt Gurney at The National Post is optimistic:
The Russians have reasons to not rock this boat either, of course. Money being a big one: NASA signed a contract worth three-quarters of a billion dollars with Russia to handle all the transportation to and from the station, as well as provide rescue capabilities should they ever be needed, through to 2016. This represents a sizable chunk of Russia’s space exploration budget, which, at US$5.6-billion a year, is far from what it was during the heyday of the Soviet space program. And the Russians would think twice before doing anything that would make anyone wary of partnering with them on future space ventures. Trust, once lost, is hard to replace.
So our already dwindling space program may be safe. After Putin bit off Crimea, which has a diverse population that's less than 60% Russian, the West must enact harsher sanctions than the “warning shot” fired earlier this week. It's not the potential threat to our scientific research that's preventing them. “Money talks, value walks,” one EU insider told BuzzFeed, citing fear of losing Russian business for why Europe offered sanctions that were little more than a slap on the wrist.
In our increasingly interdependent global economy, sanctions may indeed be a complicated issue, but when holding a brazen despot accountable they shouldn't be. What should absolutely be off-the-table is a country's space program, and luckily Putin is too vain to deny his country the glory and the resources Russia needs (from us) to remain in Space.
Image credit: AZRainman
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.
- Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
- Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
- The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
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