In today’s science news, we learn about the impact air quality has on office employee’s performance, the worsening vital signs of our planet and approaches to combat it, and finally how we benefit from a living fossil that lives in the waters of Michigan.
Article Nr. 1: Office air quality may affect employees’ cognition, productivity
SD-Date: 9th September, 2021
Et-Date: 13th September, 2021
ScienceDaily Summary: „The air quality within an office can have significant impacts on employees‘ cognitive function, including response times and ability to focus, and it may also affect their productivity, according to new research.“
Method of Research
A one-year study was conducted across six countries with more than 300 office workers enrolled in it. The participants were between the ages 18 and 65, worked at least three days a week in an office building and had a permanent workstation within the office.
In their workspace, an environmental sensor was placed that monitored in real-time concentrations of PM2.5 (particulate matter, very small particles in the air that measure 2.5 micrometers) and Co2, as well as temperature and relative humidity. Each participant was also equipped with a custom-designed app on their mobile phones through which cognitive tests and surveys could be administered.
The tests and surveys were conducted at prescheduled times or when the environmental sensors detected levels of PM2.5 and CO2 that fell below or exceeded certain thresholds.
There were two different tests; (1) to evaluate cognitive speed and inhibitory control, meaning the ability to focus on relevant stimuli when irrelevant stimuli are also present.
(2) to assess cognitive speed and working memory through basic arithmetic questions.
- In the first test, the response time was slower as the PM2.5 and Co2-levels increased.
The accuracy was affected by PM2.5 and Co2 as well.
- The arithmetic test received slower response time when the Co2-level increased, but not PM2.5.
- As both pollutants increased, however, the participants completed fewer questions in their assigned tests.
Article Nr. 2: Earth’s vital signs worsen amid business-as-usual mindset on climate change
SD-Date: 28th July, 2021
Et-Date: 13th September, 2021
ScienceDaily Summary: „Twenty months after declaring a climate emergency and establishing a set of vital signs for the Earth, a coalition of researchers says the updated vital signs „largely reflect the consequences of unrelenting business as usual.“„
The paper by William Ribble, Christopher Wolf and collaborators came out shortly before the sixth IPCC report on August 9. As the title has already given away, it is about the vital signs of our planet which worsen in the business-as-usual mindset on climate change. However, in the paper they also propose objectives to combat it and adhere to the 1.5 °C goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement.
Earth’s Vital Signs
- 2020 was the second hottest year in history, with the five hottest years occuring since 2015
- The three greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide set records in atmospheric concentration in 2020 and 2021
- The highest global average concentration of carbon dioxide was recorded in April 2021 (416 parts per million)
- Ribble also said that „there is growing evidence we are getting close to or have already gone beyond tipping points associated with important parts of the Earth system, including warm-water coral reefs, the Amazon rainforest and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets“
Next to the already mentioned vital signs, the authors highlight these as well:
- Ruminant livestock now number more than 4 billion, and their total mass is more than that of all humans and wild animals combined.
- Brazilian Amazon annual forest loss rates increased in both 2019 and 2020, reaching a 12-year high of 1.11 million hectares deforested in 2020.
- Ocean acidification is near an all-time record. Together with thermal stress, it threatens the coral reefs that more than half a billion people depend on for food, tourism dollars and storm surge protection.
From the text, I extracted following measurements that should be taken:
- Halt unsustainable exploitation of natural habitats to reduce zoonotic disease transmission risks, protect carbon stocks and conserve biodiversity
- Focus on social justice to reduce inequality and prioritize basic human needs
- Climate change education to be included in the curriculums of schools around the world for greater awareness of the ‚climate emergency‘ and ‚empower the learners to take action‘
- ‚Three-pronged near-term policy approach‘ which includes a ’serious‘ carbon price that is implemented globally, phasing out of fossil fuels and eventually banning them, as well as strategic climate reserves to ’safeguard and restore natural carbon sinks and biodiversity‘
- Including new climate policies in Covid-19 recovery plans
And to finish it with a quote of Ripple: „It’s time for us to join together as a global community with a shared sense of cooperation, urgency and equity.“
The researchers of the Oregon State University are joined by Thomas Newsome of the University of Sydney; Timothy Lenton of the University of Exeter; Ignacio Palomo of the University of Grenoble Alps; Jasper Eikelboom of Wageningen University and Research; Saleemul Huq of Independent University Bangladesh; Philip Duffy of the Woodwell Climate Research Center; and Johan Rockström of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
About a week ago, at the time of this writing, an article was published that also fits in here.
It’s title: „Over 200 health journals call on world leaders to address ‚catastrophic harm to health‘ from climate change“, you can read it here.
ScienceDaily Summary: „Over 200 health journals across the world have come together to simultaneously publish an editorial calling on world leaders to take emergency action to limit global temperature increases, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health.“
And the following paragraph seems important to include: „The editorial is published in leading titles from every continent including The BMJ, The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, the East African Medical Journal, the Chinese Science Bulletin, the National Medical Journal of India, the Medical Journal of Australia, and 50 BMJ specialist journals including BMJ Global Health and Thorax.“
Source (of Article Nr. 2)
Article Nr. 3: Learning from a ‚living fossil‘
SD-Date: 30th August, 2021
Et-Date: 13th September, 2021
ScienceDaily Summary: „As we live and breathe, ancient-looking fish known as bowfin are guarding genetic secrets that that can help unravel humanity’s evolutionary history and better understand its health.“
Before, the researcher had only the pieces of the Bowfin’s genome, or as Braasch – an assistant professor of integrative biology in the College of Natural Science – described it: „If you think of the genome like a book, what we had in the past was like having all the pages ripped out in pieces. Now, we’ve put them back in the book.
Method of Research
Ingo Braasch and Andrew Thompson from the Michigan State University led a project that included more than two dozen researchers and spanned three continents.
They were able to decode some of it by completing the genome picture of the Bowfin.
Bowfins are native to Michigan and were caught there for genome sequencing.
- Gas Bladder
Due to the research done by the international team, the ‚Spartan researchers‘ were able to see that a certain genetic process has triking similarities to what’s known about human lung development. The gar is another ‚living fossil‘, and with both of them they were able to locate where the genetic elements linked to gas bladder and lung formation were hiding out in the modern teleost fishes.
Through that, the researchers were able to improve the bridge between the established modern fish model organisms and the biology of humans. As it is pointed out by Braash in the article: „„You don’t want to base that bridge on one species,“ said Braasch, who added this finding also strengthens the implications for evolutionary history. „This is another piece of the puzzle that suggests the common ancestor of fish and humans had an air-filled organ and used it for breathing at the water surface, quite similar to what you see in bowfin and gar.“„
As you may already know, lots of research is done on model organisms regarding human health (such as therapies and vaccines). The mice and zebrafish (a teleost fish), for instance.
The difficulty arises when an important gene is identified in a zebrafish and the elements that regulate said gene, because it can be hard to find their equivalents in humans.
Here, the bowfin comes into play. It is easier to go from zebrafish to bowfin to human, due to the bowfin’s slow evolution and therefore greater similarity.