Sunday November 18, 2018

Microplastics Found In 100 Percent Of Humans Studied: Research

Plastic is apparently showing up in all of us

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Microplastics, plastic
Plastic bottles and other plastics, including a mop, lie washed up on the bank of the River Thames in London, Britian. VOA
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In the first study of its kind, Austrian researchers have tracked the movement of microplastics into human beings. The results show that the plastic that is a ubiquitous element of human life is now also a constant element in the human body.

The research was presented at this week at UEG Week in Vienna, Austria, the largest gastroenterology meeting in Europe.

Follow the plastics

Two Austrian researchers, Dr. Philipp Schwabl from the Medical University of Vienna, and Dr. Bettina Liebmann, from the Environment Agency Austria, studied participants from countries including Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the UK and Austria.

Microplastics are particles of plastic less than 5 mm in size. They are often tiny plastic beads that are put in cosmetic products. A few nations, including the U.S., the UK and South Korea, have banned microbeads. But microplastics also are created when larger pieces of plastic break down over time, and plastic in general is everywhere. The U.N. estimates that about 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year. And the World Economic Forum estimated that Americans threw away over 33 million metric tons of plastic in 2014.

Microplastics
Courtesy – Philipp Schwabl. VOA

But this study, which was small, suggests that plastic, whether it’s bad for us or not, is already in all of us.

Study participants were asked to keep a food diary for seven days prior to taking part in the test. Then they turned over stool samples to the researchers who then looked for microplastics.

And they found them. Every single stool sample tested positive for the presence of microplastic, and up to nine different plastic types were identified.

Where is the plastic coming from? In the cases of this study, the plastic that showed up in people is associated with eating plastic wrapped foods, and drinking from plastic bottles. But most of the participants also ate fish, so Schwabl says that right now, “no exact conclusion on plastic origin can be made” on exactly where the plastic is coming from. Future studies should narrow that down.

Microplastics
Courtesy – Philipp Schwabl. VOA

What is it doing to us?

So is all that plastic making us sick? Schwabl says, for now, there are no definitive studies that suggest a danger to humans. But he says that in “animal studies, it has been shown that microplastics may cause intestinal damage, remodeling of the intestinal villi, distortion of iron absorption and hepatic stress.”

And the concern is “what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases,” Schwabl says. “While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver.”

Also Read: A Data Project to Predict Human Trafficking Before It Occurs By Corporate Giants

He was surprised, he says, to find that plastic is apparently showing up in all of us, and he expects the amount collecting in our bodies to keep increasing, unless the world drastically changes its use of plastic. (VOA)

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Are We Alone In The Universe? Scientists Contemplate

This is a question that impacts not only science but theology, philosophy and other areas. It’s a curiosity. It’s part of being human.

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galaxy, universe
Hubble's view of a galaxy in Ursa Major, 65 million light-years away. VOA

The Hubble Telescope has given us spectacular pictures from space, from the dramatic image of the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500 to 7,000 light years from Earth, to a snapshot of nearly 10,000 galaxies, including some that may be among the most distant known, existing when the universe was just 800 million years old.

Awe-inspiring though they are, they are not detailed enough to help us in our search for life in the trillions of galaxies across the universe. And physicist Justin Crepp says the prospects for finding life out there are very good.

“If tens of a percent of stars have planets that could resemble the earth and potentially have life, then the implications are that there are billions of them just within our Milky Way Galaxy.”

Crepp, an associate professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame, has been hard at work answering the age-old question, “Are we alone in the universe?” As a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Exoplanet Science Strategy, his job is to make recommendations on how and what the U.S. will explore in space over the next decade.

In September, the committee released its initial 260-page report detailing seven recommendations. First, it encourages NASA to fly a space-based mission to directly image and characterize earth-like planets around other stars and take pictures of them. But Crepp says that’s a very challenging technical problem.

“If you try to image a planet, you run into several difficulties,” he explains. “One is that their separation is very small on the sky. So, you need to spatially resolve and isolate the signal of the planet. So, you need a certain size telescope to do that. The problem is earth’s atmosphere blurs out the images, and so it exacerbates the issue.”

Another issue is that the starlight is so bright, scientists need to find a way to block it to see the planets around it. The committee thinks the technology to do that exists, but they must be able to get above the earth’s atmosphere with the right equipment to make it happen.

 

WFIRST, universe
WFIRST, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, shown here in an artist’s rendering, will provide astronomers with Hubble-quality images of large swaths of the sky. VOA

 

Better eyes on the skies

That leads to the committee’s second recommendation, this one, for the National Science Foundation: complete work on the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, and start to build the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii. The new technology in these super telescopes will produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble, even though they are ground-based.

Their highly sophisticated equipment will also allow scientists to greatly enhance the work of the third recommendation: completing the partially funded Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope or WFIRST. When launched into space, it will search for and gather information on planets hundreds of light years away.

Crepp says that data will help scientists learn what the planets are made of.

“Is it a giant puffy atmosphere, or is it a rock or somewhere in between? Is it a water world? We don’t know the answers to these yet, but we’re just starting to get the first hints and inclinations what these worlds might be like around other stars,” Crepp said.

WFIRST, universe
Cosmic Crash with Dwarf Galaxy Reshaped Milky Way: Study. (IANS)

More importantly, scientists will try to determine if there are any signs of life.

The panel’s other recommendations include building new highly sensitive equipment, creating new ways for multidisciplinary teams all over the world to collaborate on various aspects of the project, and forming a profitable investor program to further laboratory, ground-based and theoretical telescopic research.

The big question

Crepp notes that people have wondered for millennia if our planet was unique in the universe, whether we are truly alone.

Also Read: NASA Hubble Completes First Science Operations

“This is a question that impacts not only science but theology, philosophy and other areas. It’s a curiosity. It’s part of being human. Is our world special? Is it isolated? Are there other planets out there that have life? Can we communicate with them? Are they our distant brethren? How are we related to one another? If so, what can we learn from one another? So, that’s the motivation for a lot of people on our panel to go to work on a daily basis.”

The report from the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Exoplanet Science Strategy will be reviewed by Congress. Portions of it may be included in the final 2020-2030 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, which will fund the continuing search for exoplanets and the study of extraterrestrial life. (VOA)