This small-scale study may have uncovered a new link between the peripheral nerve system and autism.
- Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the CDC, autism impacts an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States.
- An October 2020 study suggests that the peripheral nervous system may play a role in autism.
- The parameters of the study may not show the entire picture —more research is needed in this area.
The nerves that sense touch and pain may play a role in autism, new research suggests<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a41b00d7960f360bf4674a021f7480fd"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QdhwsK7E6cc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>An October 2020 study suggests that the peripheral nervous system (the nerves that control our sense of touch, pain, and other sensations), may play a role in autism.</p><p>Study author Sung-Tsang Hsieh, M.D., Ph.D., of National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201014160516.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">explains to Science Daily</a>: <em></em>"More than 70% of people with autism have differences in their sensory perception. For some people, even a light touch can feel unbearable while others may not even notice a cut on their foot. If larger studies can confirm these results, it is possible that further insight into the peripheral nervous system could help us understand how this disorder develops and potentially light the way for treating these distressing sensory symptoms that most people with autism experience."</p><p>The study involved 32 men with autism (with an average age of 27). They were compared to 27 men and women (with an average age of 33) who did not have autism or any diseases that would impact their peripheral nerves. </p><p>The people with autism completed questionnaires on their sensory symptoms. All of the participants then had tests of their sensory nerves, including skin biopsies to look for damage to the small fibers of their nerves. Then, another test was administered, where heat pulses were applied to the skin so researchers could look at the electrical signals produced by the nerves to see how they responded to the heat.</p><p><strong>53 percent of people with autism had reduced nerve fiber density. </strong></p><p>The results of the skin biopsy tests showed 53 percent of people with autism had reduced nerve fiber density, while all of the people in the control group (participants without autism) had levels in the normal range. </p><p>"This indicates that the nerves have degenerated, similar to what happens for people with the condition of peripheral neuropathy, where the threshold for feeling heat and other sensations is higher than for other people," said Hsieh.</p><p><strong>The response to touch differed among people with autism according to whether or not they had nerve fiber damage. </strong></p><p>According to the results, people who had undamaged nerves were more likely to say they disliked being touched and were uncomfortable with some textures, while people with nerve fiber damage were more likely to say that they preferred going barefoot and could be unaware that they had gotten scratched or bruised. </p><p>"This indicates that the nerves have degenerated, similar to what happens for people with the condition of peripheral neuropathy, where the threshold for feeling heat and other sensations is higher than for other people," Hsieh <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201014160516.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">explained in his interview</a>. </p><p>The parameters of the study may not show the entire picture—more research is needed in this area. </p>
Scientists find a new species of flower in a remote part of Hawaii.
- Botanists have discovered a new species of flower on a remote slope in Hawaii.
- The new plant is called Cyanea heluensis and features white, curved flowers.
- The plant is so rare, there is only one of its kind found so far.
Botanist climbing up steep slopes in West Maui.
Credit: Hawaii DNR
The steep slopes of the area where the new plant was found.
Credit: Hawaii DNR
At the height of the first wave, many people took heart from the drop in air pollution resulting from global lockdowns.
Experts agree that the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for years, even after the immediate threat has passed.
Source: Oxfam<h3>5. Immunization has been set back by the pandemic</h3><p>While the world has been focused on fighting coronavirus, deadly diseases have not gone away. But <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/07/immunization-disruption-covid-19/" target="_blank">efforts to combat them by immunization have taken a back seat</a> to combatting COVID-19, and the results could be serious unless inoculations pick up the pace.</p><p><a href="https://data.unicef.org/resources/immunization-coverage-are-we-losing-ground/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">UNICEF estimates that 80 million children under the age of one could go unvaccinated</a> due to the disruption of immunization programmes. "Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health," <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/22-05-2020-at-least-80-million-children-under-one-at-risk-of-diseases-such-as-diphtheria-measles-and-polio-as-covid-19-disrupts-routine-vaccination-efforts-warn-gavi-who-and-unicef" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director-General</a>.</p><p>"Disruption to immunization programmes from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles," he adds. <a href="https://data.unicef.org/resources/immunization-coverage-are-we-losing-ground/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">UNICEF agrees</a>: "As we recover from COVID-19, our aim should not be to just make up lost ground, but to break through the long stagnation that has held us back for the last decade."</p>
More evidence that we're drowning in microplastic particles.
- Italian researchers have discovered microplastic particles in human placenta.
- Out of six collected placentas, four contained colored plastic microparticles.
- That petrochemical pollutants are present in such a critically important organ is alarming.
The study<p>The authors of the Italian study collected placentas from six mothers. They did this in a plastic-free environment so as to avoid contamination. Doctors and midwives wearing cotton gloves performed the collection from mothers covered only in cotton towels. Metal clippers and scalpels were used.</p><p>The six placentas were evaluated using microspectroscopy. Samples from four of the placentas contained colored microplastics. A total of 12 pieces, between 5 and 10 micrometers, were collected — at this size, the contaminants were small enough to be carried in the mother's or child's bloodstream.</p><p>Considering that the samples constituted just about 4 percent of the organs, it's reasonable to suspect that the researchers' findings represent just the tip of the iceberg.</p><p>Four of the pieces were found in tissues on the maternal side, the outside of the placenta, and five were found in the space in which the fetus had been. The remaining three were located in the fine membrane wall surrounding the amniotic fluid in the placenta.</p><p>All of the microplastics were colored, dyed red, blue, orange, and pink, but beyond that the researchers were only partially able to identify the materials with greater specificity, writing, "All of them were pigmented; three were identified as stained polypropylene a thermoplastic polymer, while for the other nine it was possible to identify only the pigments, which were all used for man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, finger paints, polymers and cosmetics and personal care products."</p><p>Understanding how the microplastics found their way in the mothers' placentas is beyond the scope of the research, but there's plenty of evidence that plastics are everywhere, from the products we use to the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/11/climate/airborne-plastic-pollution.html" target="_blank">air we breathe</a>, and so on. One study found that after babies are born, the infusion of microplastics begins right away— <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/19/bottle-fed-babies-swallow-millions-microplastics-day-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">millions of particles</a> a day are swallowed by infants drinking form plastic bottles.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk5NTgxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTMzNzcwMX0.iqK3zk_b6F757ckJ1LFT4eDOTiv48oBPFtNHvP5e2d0/img.jpg?width=980" id="6f6b7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d10819af3722b3233e75cbc68255c452" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="1080" />
Credit: Jonathan/Adobe Stock
A critical environment<p>The placenta plays a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/health/the-push-to-understand-the-placenta.html" target="_blank">critical role</a> in the development of a fetus, delivering nutrition and oxygen, handling waste disposal, and generally doing the job of keeping the fetus alive until its own organs develop enough to take over. The placenta also keeps the infant free of contaminants, or is supposed to, filtering out pathogens. It is also believed to be instrumental in facilitating the myriad chemical process involved in fetal development.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Due to the crucial role of placenta in supporting the foetus's development and in acting as an interface with the external environment, the presence of potentially harmful plastic particles is a matter of great concern. Further studies need to be performed to assess if the presence of microplastics may trigger immune responses or may lead to the release of toxic contaminants, resulting in harm." — Ragusa, et al.</p><p>Study leader Antonio Ragusa, of the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome <a href="https://www.repubblica.it/salute/2020/12/09/news/trovate_per_la_prima_volta_microplastiche_nella_placenta_umana-277658153/" target="_blank">says</a>, "It is like having a cyborg baby: no longer composed only of human cells, but a mixture of biological and inorganic entities." He adds, "The mothers were shocked."</p><p>Chemists Elizabeth Salter Green tells <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/22/microplastics-revealed-in-placentas-unborn-babies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Guardian</a>, "Babies are being born pre-polluted. The study was very small but nevertheless flags a very worrying concern."</p>
Researchers from Harvard receive permission for a test that may help cool Earth and fight global warming.
- Swedish space agency allows Harvard researchers to test a stratospheric balloon next year.
- The balloon may eventually be used to release particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight.
- The goal would be to cool Earth and fight back against global warming but the approach has critics.
Finding the right "dose" for solar geoengineering<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="14d9d611a13c13f7076db25b4786bf35"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N50tIzzPlg8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
SCoPEx: Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment