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Sarah Parsons' Posts

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Scientists use glow-in-the-dark fish to track hormone-disrupting chemicals

Photo by University of Exeter.

Imagine if your body could tell you where and when a certain chemical is impacting your health. Scientists at the University of Exeter have done just that -- with green-glowing zebrafish, that is.

Researchers genetically engineered young zebrafish to produce a fluorescent glow in the presence of hormone-disrupting chemicals like bisphenol-A. By exposing fish to endocrine disruptors and observing when individual body parts light up, researchers can learn exactly how and at what concentrations these chemicals impact various organs and tissues. They can then make certain inferences on how endocrine disruptors impact human health.

For instance, observing the glowing fish confirmed previous findings, such as a link between bisphenol A and heart problems.

"We do see in this fish that the heart glows particularly in response to bisphenol A," Charles Tyler, the study's leader, said. "So we can target the heart and try to look at the mechanics of what is happening."

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Adorable alert: Live BABY PANDA cam!

Photo by joelrivlin.

What's black and white and so cute you'll want to squeal like a Bieber-obsessed tween? A baby panda. And now you can see one any time you want.

Read more: Animals

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New research shows Big Tobacco targets black kids

Photo by Fried Dough.

Big Tobacco agreed way back in 1998 to stop marketing [PDF] cigarettes to kids. Turns out cigarette companies are still up to their old tricks -- they’re just being slightly more stealth about it.

Researchers from California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program recently examined the advertising of menthol and Newport-brand cigarettes in the state. They found a much greater prevalence of cigarette advertising in areas near high schools with significant populations of African American students.

“There is a systematic targeting (of disadvantaged communities) by the tobacco industry, which is an extraordinary public health problem,” said Lisa Henriksen of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who presented the research at a legislative briefing in Sacramento last week. “The addition of menthol to cigarettes makes it easier to smoke and more difficult to quit.”

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James Cameron wants to mine asteroids for precious metals. Seriously.

James Cameron is really starting to take his movies too seriously. Last month, the director descended the Mariana Trench in a submarine all beginning-of-Titanic style. Now Cameron and a bunch of other super-rich dudes say they are bankrolling a project to mine space asteroids for precious metals and rare minerals. (Remember Avatar? A bunch of greedy Americans invade a pristine alien planet to extract natural resources. Chaos -- and alien/human love -- ensue.)

Cameron joins Google execs Eric Schimdt and Larry Page, Peter Diamandis (of X Prize fame), Eric Anderson, and other multi-millionaires in launching Planetary Resources, a new company focused on space exploration and innovation. The long-term plan is for the company to mine asteroids for precious metals. Apparently asteroids are veritable treasure troves -- a 98-foot asteroid can hold anywhere from $25 billion to $50 billion worth of platinum.

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Modern day Moby Dick? Check out this super rare, all-white killer whale

Swim aside, Moby Dick -- there’s a new white whale in town. Researchers recently spotted what is believed to be the only all-white adult orca whale in existence. The Moby Dick doppelganger is making quite a splash in the wildlife community.

White whales of various species are occasionally seen; but the only known white orcas have been young, including one with a rare genetic condition that died in a Canadian aquarium in 1972.

Researchers know that this white whale -- whom they’ve named “Iceberg” -- is definitely an adult: His two-meter-long (6.5-feet-long) dorsal fin proves that he’s at least 16 years old.

Read more: Animals

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Deadly tree disease could wipe out California’s citrus industry

Photo by Yellow. Cat.

Hide ya’ lemons, hide ya’ limes -- a deadly disease is coming for California’s citrus trees.

State ag experts recently found a tree that tested positive for Huanglongbing--and yes, it is way more serious than its sing-songy name suggests. The bacteria, also known as citrus greening or yellow dragon disease, attacks a trees’ vascular system and kills them off within a few years. The disease has no known cure, and it's had disastrous impacts on citrus trees in China, Brazil, and Florida.

For now scientists have only spotted the infection in a lonely tree, but the situation is understandably sending state officials into full-blown panic mode. California produces 80 percent of America’s citrus fruits and the majority of its fresh-market oranges. Killing citrus trees would wipe out a $2 billion industry in the state.

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Texas college turns football field into awesome urban farm

If your football team can’t hack it on the field, perhaps they can grow some kick-ass kale.

At least that’s the sentiment from Dallas’ Paul Quinn College. After the university cut its football program, President Michael Sorrell decided to transform the unused field into a working farm.

The WE Over Me Farm, which covers 57,000 square feet, was a response to the lack of healthy food options in the economically depressed area. Highland Hills, the neighborhood where Paul Quinn is located, is a designated food desert.

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Raging hormone disruptors: Common chemicals cause trouble even in small amounts

Cigarettes and old Nalgene bottles: both are hazardous. (Nalgene began phasing out water bottles with BPA in 2008. This photo, by Regan Walsh, was taken in 2007.)

The BPA in your water bottle may be even more dangerous than you think.

A major new paper is raising the alarm about low-level exposure to endocrine disruptors, substances like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates that interfere with hormones in the human body. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are found in a vast array of everyday products like plastics, household cleaners, cosmetics, pesticides, upholstery, and paper receipts.

“The dose makes the poison” is a widely accepted tenet in the field of toxicology, suggesting that a substance’s impact on the body increases with the amount of exposure. Case in point: A drop of arsenic in a well may not produce any noticeable health problems; a generous pour mixed into lemonade can kill a man.

Get ready for a change in accepted dogma: A paper published in the journal Endocrine Reviews found that low doses of EDCs — amounts that average people are exposed to through consumer products every day — can have serious negative health impacts.

Read more: Food, Living, Pollution

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Wooden skyscrapers are like log cabins on steroids

No, this is not the world’s biggest Jenga game. (Image by Michael Green Architects.)

When most folks think “wooden building,” they conjure up images of rustic log cabins or ye olde fashioned outhouses. Architect Michael Green wants to whittle something decidedly more modern out of wood: skyscrapers.

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James Cameron descends the Mariana Trench

James Cameron is apparently missing his Titanic fame, and he’s willing to go pretty far to recapture it -- like nearly seven miles straight down to the bottom of the ocean. (Hey, it worked for the ship.) Cameron is travelling in a submersible to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the lowest known point on Earth.

Cameron recently started descending 6.8 miles below the surface of the water in a vessel that he helped design, the Deepsea Challenger. The trip takes nine hours one-way, which would normally prompt a lot of “are we there yets?” but Cameron is making the voyage by himself. He’s only the third person to make the journey down the Mariana Trench, and the first to do it solo.