'Celtic curse' condition linked to disease risk

Scientists have revealed that the western world’s most common genetic disorder is much more dangerous than previously thought.

Haemochromatosis, a medical condition caused by an overload of iron in the body, may cause high levels of serious disease and disability, according to research.

In Ireland, it is known as the “Celtic curse”, although it is common throughout northern Europe and also occurs at a lower level in southern Europe and is common in Australia and the US.

Two major studies revealed the condition quadruples the risk of liver disease and doubles the risk of arthritis and frailty in older age groups.

It also causes higher risk of diabetes and chronic pain.

Professor David Melzer, who led the research, said: “The haemochromatosis mutations were thought to only rarely cause health problems.

“We’ve shown that hereditary haemochromatosis is actually a much more common and stealth disease, including in older people.

“We now need to test ways of screening and diagnosing haemochromatosis earlier.

“It’s exciting to think that better care might prevent so much unnecessary disease.”

The number of deaths from liver cancer in men with the faulty genes was significantly higher than expected, although the overall number of deaths was small, the studies in UK Biobank data found.

Led by the universities of Exeter and Connecticut, the research suggests that routine screening may be needed for people at risk of haemochromatosis.

The condition causes people to absorb too much iron their diet, which accumulates around the body over time, damaging organs and eventually causing disease.

Image: Haemochromatosis is a medical condition caused by an overload of iron in the body

It is the most common genetic disorder in the UK, with an estimated 250,000 people of European ancestry in the country having the disease.

It is caused when people have two particular faulty genes, and symptoms can include feeling tired all the time, muscle weakness and joint pain.

Treatment initially involves the regular removal of blood, known as a venesection, and this is usually carried out every few weeks.

The team analysed data from 2,890 people with the two genetic mutations.

Of that group, one in five men and one in 10 women with the mutations developed additional diseases, compared to those without mutations.

The condition doubles the risk of arthritis and frailty in older age groups, according to two major studies

Image: The condition doubles the risk of arthritis and frailty in older age groups, according to two major studies

Scottish father Andy McLennan was forced to give up drinking after being diagnosed with haemochromatosis while living in New York in 2012.

The 42-year-old said it was a “shaky time” before his diagnosis.

“I vividly recall coming home each night, having put any worries to the back of my mind during the working day, holding my 10-month-old daughter and pacing the floor saying to my wife ‘What is up with me? Is it diabetes? Would I know if I had cancer? Could it be leukaemia? What if it’s something serious?’,” he said.

“I like nothing more than a steak, pint of Guinness or glass of red wine, but health came first and I immediately ceased drinking.”

Long distance runner Ruth Jones, 38, said it took nine months of tests before she was finally diagnosed with condition after a “catalogue of errors”.

The mother-of-two from Stamford, Lincolnshire runs up to 70 miles a week and was seeking an explanation for her plummeting energy levels and slower speeds.

“I was feeling exhausted all the time. I was finding running much harder, for no obvious reason. It went well beyond what other runners experience as part of getting older,” she said.

She added that there isn’t enough knowledge about the condition in the medical profession.

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Dr Luke Pilling, a member of the research team, said: “We found that diagnosis of haemochromatosis is often delayed or missed. That’s not surprising as symptoms such as joint pains and tiredness are frequently mistaken as signs of ageing.

“Yet it is likely that these potentially deadly health risks could be treated and avoided, transforming lives, especially at older ages.”

World's permafrost soils are warming with global climate

The world’s permafrost soils, some of which are more than a thousand years old and extend 1.6km (one mile) into the ground, are warming at the same rate as the climate, according to a new study.

Despite a large international commitment to follow the developments of surface-level and atmospheric climate change, there are few international bodies looking at the changes occurring deeper within the world’s soils.

New research by the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost and published in the journal Nature Communications has shown temperature increases in all regions with permafrost soils.

The temperature of the frozen ground at a depth of more than 10 metres (32ft) in both of the Earth’s polar regions has risen by 0.3C between 2007 and 2016.

According to the scientists, Siberia was the most severely hit, with temperatures increasing by nearly 1C.

Permafrost regions are defined as places where the soil has remained permanently frozen for at least two consecutive years.

In most of those regions, the ice penetrated the ground more than a thousand years ago, holding the rocks and dirt there together with ice.

Although the layer of soil at the top of permafrost regions can thaw during the summer months allowing plants to grow, the ground beneath it is permanently frozen.

Roughly a sixth of the entire land area of the planet is considered a permafrost region – but much of this land is beginning to thaw.

Image: Thawing permafrost fell into the ocean in Alaska’s Arctic Coast. Pic: Geological Survey

In the Arctic the permafrost provides solid bedrock for cities and is the foundation for buildings, pipelines and ever airports – but global warming is jeopardising the integrity of these constructions.

It is in the Arctic that the most dramatic risks were located by the team.

“There, in regions with more than 90% permafrost content, the soil temperature rose by an average of 0.30C within 10 years,” said the paper’s first author Dr Boris Biskaborn.

Dr Biskaborn is a member of the research group Polar Terrestrial Environmental Systems at the Potsdam facilities of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Germany.

His team found that in northeast and northwest Siberia the temperature increase nudged closer to 1C – a greater increase than the air temperature rise.

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“All this data tells us that the permafrost isn’t simply warming on a local and regional scale, but worldwide,” said Professor Guido Grosse, who heads the permafrost research section at AWI.

This is “virtually the same pace as climate warming, which is producing a substantial warming of the air and increased snow thickness, especially in the Arctic,” added Professor Grosse.

'Harmful' chemicals found in nearly all receipts

Shop receipts tested in the US nearly all contained chemicals that have been linked to changes in human hormones and damage to foetuses, according to a study.

“Employees who handle receipts or other thermal paper repeatedly in their jobs are at especially high risk,” according to the research by Michigan’s Ecology Center.

It says the chemicals, which are coated on the face of the receipt, can be absorbed through the skin.

“After a work shift, their urinary and blood levels of BPA and BPS are significantly higher than the general population.

“Combined with exposure from other sources like food packaging and adhesives, workers in particular can exceed tolerable intake values,” say the study’s authors.

Some 208 receipts from various businesses were tested and 93% tested positive for BPA or BPS.

BPA (Bisphenol A) is used in the linings of some plastic food and drink containers.

Previous research has said it could harm the development of foetuses and children, as well as cause a spike in blood pressure in adults.

European and US food agencies have said current levels of BPA in food packaging are safe however, but many manufacturers have still stopped using it.

BPS (Bisphenol S) is intended to be a replacement, but the Ecology Center says studies have shown it is at “least as detrimental” as BPA.

The receipts collected in its research found 75% showed up BPS and 18% BPA.

Businesses should consider switching to a “phenol-free” way of printing receipts, say the study’s authors, or use a new type of paper with a coating that does not come off.

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They also recommend more use of email receipts, workers wearing disposable gloves, shoppers washing their hands after handling receipts, or folding them to avoid contact with the printed side.

In Europe, the European Commission has banned the use of BPA in thermal paper by 2020 and the effects of BPS will also be looked at.

YouTube bans dangerous prank videos after Bird Box challenges

YouTube has banned prank and dangerous challenge videos after people started wearing blindfolds while driving.

The Google owned platform has updated its guidelines after the Netflix film Bird Box saw people start pulling blindfolds over their eyes to perform tasks.

One teenager crashed her car in the US after pulling her hat over her eyes while driving.

YouTube said it can be a home for light-hearted pranks but reinforced that stunts which put people in danger were against its site policy.

In a new post to the FAQ section on its website, the company said: “YouTube is home to many beloved viral challenges and pranks, like Jimmy Kimmel’s Terrible Christmas Presents prank or the water bottle flip challenge.

Netflix begs Bird Box fans: Don’t try this at home

“That said, we’ve always had policies to make sure what’s funny doesn’t cross the line into also being harmful or dangerous. Our Community Guidelines prohibit content that encourages dangerous activities that are likely to result in serious harm, and today (we are) clarifying what this means for dangerous challenges and pranks.”

A follow up post stated: “Challenges that present an apparent risk of death are not allowed on YouTube. Content that features a child participating in dangerous challenges that pose an imminent risk of injury or bodily harm are also not allowed on YouTube.

“We also don’t allow pranks that lead victims to believe that they are in physical danger or that can cause real physical harm. Dangerous or abusive pranks that may cause emotional distress to children are not allowed.”

'Bird Box Challenge': Teen crashes after driving car blindfolded

‘Bird Box Challenge’: Teen crashes after driving car blindfolded

Last year a public awareness campaign was launched in the US after an increase in reports of poisoning when a challenge to eat Tide detergent pods went viral.

YouTube clarified that challenges like the Tide pod or the fire challenge had no place on the site.

The site had been accused of failing to properly police its platform, and UK and US governments warned they could introduce legislation if firms do not become more proactive.

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YouTube said it had worked with child psychologists to develop the guidelines around the types of pranks which would be acceptable on the site.

YouTube users can report videos they believe are dangerous by flagging them on the platform.

Striped body painting may protect from horsefly bites

For years we have known that the black and whites stripes on a zebra’s body were a vital deterrent to horseflies.

But scientists think that the stripes may also protect humans from the blood-sucking insects.

Many of the indigenous tribes in Africa, Australia and Papua New Guinea who paint stripes on their bodies also live in places where horseflies are widespread.

The stripes are for decoration, emotional expression or as markers of identity or group affiliation but maybe they also know something about repelling insects that the rest of the world did not.

Scientists in Hungary set out to prove the theory using plastic mannequins covered in glue.

The models were coloured brown or beige to mimic dark and fair skin and were then left in a horsefly-infested meadow.

Image: The zebra’s stripes keep blood-sucking horseflies away

They counted the number of horseflies stuck in the glue on each mannequin and, no matter what colour “skin” the model had, the striped ones attracted fewer horseflies.

The brown model attracted 10 times as many horseflies as the white-striped one.

The beige model got twice as many horseflies as the striped brown model.

Models lying down reflected polarised light, which attracts horseflies seeking water, while the models standing up mimicked dark objects which attract female horseflies looking for food.

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the researchers said: “The results of our field experiment support the theory that the use of striped body painting may be related to protection against dangerous parasitic pests.

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“We found that striped body painting reduces the visual attractiveness of bodies to horseflies.

“However, we would like to emphasise that the primary reasons for the use of body paintings are social and cultural.”

Huawei founder denies spying and praises Trump

In a rare media appearance Huawei’s founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei has denied his company would assist Chinese state espionage and praised President Donald Trump.

Though normally considered something of a private figure, Mr Ren gave an interview to respond to a number of scandals which have rocked public perception of his company in recent months.

Mr Ren’s daughter Meng Wanzhou, who is also the company’s chief financial officer, is currently facing extradition to the US after being arrested in Canada in relation to suspected sanctions violations.

Ms Meng is suspected of involvement in Huawei’s alleged transfer of telecommunications equipment to Iran.

In what was widely perceived to be a response to Ms Weng’s detention, China recently sentenced a Canadian drug smuggler to death despite initially handing him 15 years in 2016.

Mr Ren, a former engineer in the Chinese army, told reporters that he missed his daughter very much but denied being in regular contact with Beijing.

Image: Meng Wanzhou is a long-serving executive at Huawei. Pic: Huawei

In what appeared to be a move of cordiality with the US – which has internationally been advocating for caution regarding the adoption of Huawei’s equipment – Mr Ren told journalists: “Trump is a great president. He dares to massively cut taxes, which will benefit business.”

“Huawei is only a sesame seed in the trade conflict between China and the US,” he added.

He also addressed suggestions that Huawei posed an espionage or cyber security risk to critical infrastructure in western countries.

“I love my country, I support the Communist Party, but I will not do anything to harm any country in the world,” he told reporters.”

“I don’t see a close connection between my personal political beliefs and the businesses of Huawei,” he added.

Concerns over the company have grown in recent months, with countries expressing fears that its technology could be manipulated by Beijing to support China’s aggressive spying efforts.

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping

Image: Mr Ren praised Donald Trump, pictured with Chinese premiere Xi Jinping

But Mr Ren dismissed those concerns, saying “no law in China requires any company to install mandatory backdoors [that could be used for spying]” and adding that there had been “no serious security incidents” at Huawei.

He said there was “no evidence” of Huawei equipment posing a threat to any country’s critical infrastructure, and claimed he would deny any requests from Beijing to access its clients’ sensitive information.

Last month, the UK, US, and more than a dozen affected allies denounced Beijing and indicted members of a cyber espionage group for a hacking campaign targeting western business.

Poland is among those considering a prohibition on the use of Huawei products after one of the company’s employees, a Chinese citizen, was arrested in the country on suspicion of espionage, alongside a Polish former counter-intelligence officer.

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In the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre has warned that it “has concerns around a range of technical issues” affecting Huawei, and “has set out improvements the company must make”.

The NCSC is due to publish its annual analysis of how Huawei is meeting these improvements in February.

3D printing helps heal spinal cord injuries in rats

Humans with severe spinal cord injuries have been offered hope by scientists who have successfully treated rats with the same condition.

Using 3D printing to create the scaffolding around which stem cells can implanted, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, helped rats to regain significant motor control in their hind legs.

The implants contain dozens of tiny channels, just 200-micrometres wide, which guide neural stem cells and axon growth along the spinal cord injuries.

Due to the biocompatible design of the scaffolding, the body’s blood vessel system can naturally grow so that the nerve fibres are kept alive and fed with nutrients as well as discharge waste.

According to the team, the printing technology it used was capable of creating each implant in less than two seconds per each device – whereas traditional printers would have taken several hours.

Their work was published in the journal Nature and explains how the team printed a spinal cord which was loaded with neural stem cells.

In the tests on rats, the scaffolds helped the animals regrow tissue and the stem cells nerve fibres inside of the scaffolding expanded out into the host spinal cord.

Image: The 3D printed implant used as scaffolding. Pic: Jacob Koffler, Wei Zhu, UC San Diego

Professor Mark Tuszybski, a trained doctor and scientist who directs the Translational Neuroscience Institute at UC San Diego School of Medicine and senior co-author of the paper, hailed the study.

“In recent years and papers, we’ve progressively moved closer to the goal of abundant, long-distance regeneration of injured axons in spinal cord injury, which is fundamental to any true restoration of physical function,” said Professor Tuszynski.

The team describes axons as “the long, threadlike extensions on nerve cells that reach out to connect to other cells”.

“The new work puts us even closer to real thing,” added Dr Kobi Koffler, a co-author of the paper and an assistant project scientist in Professor Tuszynski’s lab.

It puts research even closer to the real thing “because the 3D scaffolding recapitulates the slender, bundled arrays of axons in the spinal cord,” Dr Koffler said.

“It helps organise regenerating axons to replicate the anatomy of the pre-injured spinal cord.”

Professor Shaochen Chen, another of the paper’s co-authors and a professor of nanoengineering and a faculty member in the Institute of Engineering in Medicine at UC San Diego, explained the printing technology.

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“Like a bridge, it aligns regenerating axons from one end of the spinal cord injury to the other,” said Dr Chen.

“Axons by themselves can diffuse and regrow in any direction, but the scaffold keeps axons in order, guiding them to grow in the right direction to complete the spinal cord connection.”

China sprouts first plants on the moon

Seeds taken to the far side of the moon as part of China’s lunar exploration mission have sprouted in a first for growing biological matter on the satellite.

The lunar atmosphere is too thin to sustain life itself, but it had not previously been known whether it was possible for plants to grow within controlled conditions.

Now, in the first ever biological experiment to take place on the moon, cotton seeds housed in a sealed container on board the Chang’e 4 lander have begun to sprout.

Alongside them in a seven-inch bucket in the lander’s cargo are rapeseed, potato and arabidopsis seeds, as well as yeast, fruit fly eggs, air and water.

The Chinese National Space Administration said that it hopes the crops will form a miniature biosphere, essentially a ecosystem which is capable of sustaining itself.

Image: The moon lander Chang’e 4. Pic: CLEP

According to CNSA, the biological species screened to be sent on the moon mission had to pass strict requirements due to the extremely limited size allowed in the cargo.

They were also selected to be able to adapt to the harsh conditions of the moon, where they will have to withstand powerful temperatures – both high and low – as well as radiation.

If the sprouts thrive they would form the first ever green leaves on the moon.

There is still a long way to go before a sustainable habitat could be developed on the lunar surface, but the experiments could be fairly considered to have started that project.

Pic: CLEP

Image: China’s lunar rover Jade Rabbit 2. Pic: CLEP

“We have given consideration to future survival in space. Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base,” said Professor Liu Hanlong, who is heading the experiment.

Although only the picture of the cotton sprouts was released by the space agency, Professor Hanlong said that rapeseed and potato seeds were sprouting.

China is also aiming to send a spacecraft to Mars next year, following its successful mission to the far side of the moon.

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Lunar rover Jade Rabbit 2 and explorer Chang’e 4 landed on the moon in recent days and have now taken pictures of each other for scientists to study.

Officials at the Chinese space agency say they now plan to send a probe to Mars in 2020 and aim to follow that up with manned missions to the planet.

China plans Mars mission after lunar success

China is aiming to send a spacecraft to Mars next year, following its successful mission to the far side of the moon.

Lunar rover Jade Rabbit 2 and explorer Chang’e 4 landed on the moon in recent days and have now taken pictures of each other for scientists to study.

Officials at the Chinese space agency say they now plan to send a probe to Mars in 2020 and aim to follow that up with manned missions to the planet.

Chang’e 4 and its three predecessors were named after a Chinese goddess, who legend says has lived on the moon for thousands of years.

According to the deputy director of the country’s space agency, Wu Yanhua, the successful mission marked a turning point for Chinese space exploration.

Image: The moon lander Chang’e 4. Pic: CLEP

Its first mission to Mars, Yinghuo, ended in failure in 2012 when the spacecraft carrying the probe disintegrated after failing to enter orbit around Earth.

However, now the Chinese National Space Administration reports that its space missions are proceeding as planned, with the spacecraft working well after landing on the far side of the moon.

Mr Yanhua said that the CNSA was keen to partner with outside organisations in the future: “We welcome international collaboration in developing devices aboard the spacecraft as well as domestic and foreign investment.”

The first part of CNSA’s Mars mission will involve putting a probe into orbit around the planet, but not at the expense of continued lunar activity.

Pic: CLEP

Image: China’s lunar rover Jade Rabbit 2. Pic: CLEP

“We are studying the programme of sending astronauts to the moon but it’s still in very early stages,” said Mr Yanhua, adding: “We haven’t got the approval yet.”

CNSA will also seek to construct a research station at the lunar south pole as China aims to assert itself as the equal of the US in space exploration.

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“China trailed others when it came to space missions, until Chang’e 4, humankind’s first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon,” said Wu Weiren, the chief scientist of the Chang’e 4 programme.

He explained the sense of national pride in the mission: “It proves that China can do something that no other country has achieved in space exploration.”

World's longest aircraft to go into production

The world’s longest aircraft is set to go into production and will offer intrepid holidaymakers “luxury expeditions” around the globe.

It comes after the 302ft (92m) long prototype of the Airlander 10 was retired following successful final testing.

Bedford-based firm Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) said it had reached a “significant milestone” after being granted production organisation approval (POA) by the Civil Aviation Authority.

A prototype of the aircraft built in 2012 was named Martha Gwyn after the company chairman’s wife, but it became popularly known as “the flying bum” due to its shape.

Image: Airlander 10 features glass floors so passengers can take in the views. Pic: Design Q/Airlander/Cover Images

The prototype was damaged in 2016 when it nose-dived and crashed during a test flight in 2016.

It also collapsed in November 2017 after coming loose from its moorings, with both incidents happening at its former base at Cardington Airfield, Bedfordshire.

Crashed Airlander 1:10

Video: August 2016: Airlander 10 prototype crashes during second test flight

HAV now hopes the full commercial model will take to the skies with its first paying passengers “in the early 2020s”, although there is no word yet on the price of a ticket.

The combined plane and airship will feature en-suite bedrooms, fine dining, and seating areas with “horizon to horizon views”.

HAV and Design Q unveiled the Airlander 10 passenger cabin at the Farnborough Airshow in 2018.

In the prototype-stage it was reported that the aircraft will have a maximum speed of around 91mph.

A luxury lounge area on the Airlander 10. Design Q/Airlander/Cover Images

Image: A luxury lounge area on the Airlander 10. Design Q/Airlander/Cover Images

The tourism-focused, eco-friendly aircraft is intended to offer a leisurely voyage of the skies.

Some of the cabins will have glass floors allowing passengers to take in the views from 16,000ft.

A HAV spokesperson said: “Passengers on Airlander will have luxurious private en-suite bedrooms and will be able to enjoy horizon-to-horizon views in the aircraft’s extensive Infinity Lounge.

A total of 18 guests can enjoy fine dining in the skies. Design Q/Airlander/Cover Images

Image: A total of 18 guests can enjoy fine dining in the skies. Design Q/Airlander/Cover Images

“The Altitude Bar will offer drinks with the ultimate view, while 18 guests can enjoy fine dining in the skies.”

The firm claims the part-plane, part-airship will be able to take-off and land on “virtually any flat surface”, as well as being able to visit locations which cannot be reached by existing transport methods.

HAV chief executive Stephen McGlennan said: “Air travel has become very much about getting from A to B as quickly as possible. What we’re offering is a way of making the journey a joy.”

A bedroom cabin on the luxury aircraft. Pic: Design Q/Airlander/Cover Images

Image: A bedroom cabin on the luxury aircraft. Pic: Design Q/Airlander/Cover Images

The company believes Airlander 10 could also be used for surveillance, communications, delivering aid and search and rescue missions.

David Lindley, HAV’s head of aviation safety and quality assurance, said: “The POA approval is a significant milestone for HAV. It is the culmination of months of hard work and focused effort.

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“It demonstrates that the safety, quality assurance, and supply chain management processes are in place, along with the production facility.

HAV was offered design organisation approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency for the project in October 2018.