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Octopuses May Be Adapting to The Rising Acidity of Our Oceans, Study Suggests

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We know that all the excess CO2 we’re pumping into the air – alongside a host of other damaging effects – is driving up the acidity of the oceans as it sinks and dissolves into the water, but it seems as though the hardy octopus can find ways to adapt to its rapidly changing environment.


Previous research into the impact of ocean acidification on cephalopods such as octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid has shown some indication increased carbon dioxide in the water could negatively impact this type of marine life.

However, in a new study, a group of Octopus rubescens – a species of octopus common to the west coast of North America – were observed adjusting their routine metabolic rate (RMR) over a series of weeks in response to lowering pH levels in the surrounding water.

“Challenges to an organism’s physiology are often reflected in changes in energy use and therefore can be observed as changes in aerobic metabolic rate,” write the researchers in their paper.

A total of 10 octopuses were studied under controlled lab conditions, with RMR measured immediately after exposure to acidic water, after one week, and after five weeks. Critical oxygen pressure – a measure of whether not not animals are getting enough oxygen – was monitored at the same time.

To begin with, high levels of metabolic change were detected in the creatures – a sort of shock reaction that actually conflicts with earlier research into cephalopods, which had recorded a reduction in metabolic change in similar scenarios.


However, RMR had returned to normal after one week, and remained the same five weeks later, suggesting some adaptation had occurred. The increased acidity did have an impact on the ability of the octopuses to function at low oxygen levels, however.

“This response in RMR suggests that O. rubescens is able to acclimate to elevated CO2 over time,” write the researchers. “The observed increase in RMR may be the result of multiple acute responses to hypercapnia [increased CO2 in the blood], possibly including both behavioural and physiological strategies.”

Those strategies could include preparing to move to find a new stretch of water to inhabit, for example, the researchers suggest (something that wasn’t possible here). The short RMR boost might also reflect the octopuses making quick adjustments to their biological processes to suit the new acid level.

The study is the first to look at both short-term (one week) and longer-term (five week) changes in metabolism rates in cephalopods in response to ocean acidification. We know these creatures are tough, and it seems they even have coping strategies that might allow them to adapt to humans destroying the natural environment all around them.

None of this means that we should be okay with the current climate crisis though, or not be trying to make major changes to reverse it. When we don’t take proper care of the planet, it’s not just ourselves that we’re potentially dooming to extinction.

Also, these tests were done in controlled laboratory conditions that don’t take into account many other interlinking factors in the animals’ natural environment. For instance, even if the octopus themselves are able to adjust, what about their food supply?

“While this species may be able to acclimate to near-term ocean acidification, compounding environmental effects of acidification and hypoxia may present a physiological challenge for this species,” write the researchers.

The research has been published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.


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‘Surge Upon a Surge’ of Virus Cases Now Threatens to Decimate The US For One Reason

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America should prepare for a “surge upon a surge” in coronavirus cases as millions of travelers return home after the Thanksgiving holiday, top US scientist Anthony Fauci warned Sunday.


The United States is the worst-affected country, with 266,074 COVID-19 deaths, and President Donald Trump’s administration has issued conflicting messages on mask-wearing, travel and the danger posed by the virus.

“There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel,” Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union.

Travel surrounding Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday made this the busiest week in US airports since the pandemic began.

“We may see a surge upon a surge” in two or three weeks, Fauci added. “We don’t want to frighten people, but that’s the reality.”

The trend is ominous, Fauci and other government scientists said, with the Christmas holidays soon bringing more travel and family gatherings.

Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, noted a surge in COVID-19 after a holiday weekend in May.

“Now we’re entering this post-Thanksgiving surge with three, four and 10 times as much disease across the country,’ she told CBS’s Face the Nation.

The US surgeon general, Jerome Adams, was equally blunt.

“I want to be straight with the American people,” he told Fox News Sunday. “It’s going to get worse over the next several weeks.”


Desperate wait for vaccine

Elsewhere, thousands of health workers marched in Madrid in support of the public health system in Spain, one of the European countries hardest hit by the pandemic.

And guards opened fire to quell a prison riot in Sri Lanka, where four inmates were killed while protesting a surge of coronavirus infections.

In France, the highest administrative court ordered the government to loosen rules allowing no more than 30 people at religious services, in the face of angry objections from church leaders.

Around 9,000 runners – some wearing face masks – took part in the Shanghai International Marathon, according to Chinese media, a mass-participation sports event rare during the pandemic.

And New York City again took a small step back toward normality, as Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that elementary schools would reopen for in-person instruction on December 7.

The US news media, meantime, reported that first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 – one of the first to claim high effectiveness, along with a Moderna product – had arrived in the United States from a Pfizer lab in Belgium.


Pfizer was using charter flights to pre-position vaccine for quick distribution once it receives US emergency authorization – expected as early as December 10 – the Wall Street Journal and other media reported.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both said to be safe and perhaps 95 percent effective, have introduced a glimmer of hope after months of gloomy news.

“This is the way we get out of the pandemic. The light is at the end of the tunnel,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the US official overseeing coronavirus testing, told CNN.

But like Fauci and the other scientists, he expressed grave concerns about the months immediately ahead.

“About 20 percent of all people in the hospital have COVID, so this is a really dangerous time,” Giroir said.

Europe struggles to reopen

Until large numbers of Americans have been vaccinated – Giroir said half the eligible population might be by March – much will still depend on people taking precautions, including mask-wearing and distancing, he and Fauci said.

Giroir said it might take until the second or third quarter of next year for most Americans to be vaccinated, but that substantial benefits would accrue much sooner.


By first vaccinating those at highest risk, he said, “we can absolutely get 80 percent of the benefit of the vaccine by only immunizing a few percent of the population.”

Adams, the US surgeon general also expressed cautious optimism, saying, “We are mere weeks away from starting to vaccinate the vulnerable, and we can significantly protect people who are at risk for this virus.

“So hang on just a little bit longer.”

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,453,074 people worldwide since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Sunday.

Europe on Saturday crossed a grim barrier, registering 400,649 deaths.

Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, reached on Friday the mark of more than one million cases.

© Agence France-Presse


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A Record Number of People in The US Are Currently Hospitalised With COVID-19

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More people than ever are currently hospitalized in the US due to the coronavirus, and a record of 150,526 new cases were reported on Thursday, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.


This week alone, one in 378 US residents has tested positive for COVID-19, the group said.

Over 1,100 new deaths were also reported on November 12. Over the last week, an average of 1,052 people died each day from COVID-19.

This number of people currently hospitalized, as reported by The COVID Tracking Project, 67,096, is nearly double what it was two weeks ago.

“The current national case surge has been underway for nine weeks,” The COVID Tracking Project said in a blog post explaining the new data, “hospitalizations have risen for seven weeks, and deaths have risen for five.”

Cases are also increasing at the fastest rate since the pandemic began, and not just because there is more testing.

Indeed, the number of cases reported this week is up 41 percent from last, compared to a 13 percent increase in new tests.

Over 234,000 people have now died from the coronavirus. By December 5, that number could be as high as 282,000, according to an analysis by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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How COVID-19 Symptoms Differ From Allergies, Cold And Flu, in One Chart

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Is it COVID-19 or just a cold?

It’s a question many Americans are asking themselves as fall and winter bring more cases of the common cold and seasonal flu. The symptoms may be hard to distinguish, given that all three conditions can result in a cough.


But each has its own hallmarks.

An August study from the University of Southern California identified a distinct order of symptoms among COVID-19 patients: Most symptomatic patients start with a fever, followed by a cough. For seasonal influenza, it’s typically the opposite – people generally develop a cough before a fever.

If you get a common cold, meanwhile, that’s more likely to start with a sore throat as the first symptom, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here’s how to distinguish the novel coronavirus from the seasonal flu, allergies, and common cold.


However, these symptom lists – and the order in which they arrive – aren’t foolproof. Plenty of COVID-19 patients don’t develop a fever at all, and some flu patients never come down with a cough.

That’s why it’s also helpful to consider how quickly symptoms appear and how long they last.

How COVID-19, flu, cold, and allergies manifest and progress

Coronavirus cases tend to develop more gradually than the flu. While some people start showing COVID-19 symptoms within two days of being infected, the disease’s symptoms can take up to two weeks to manifest. On average, people start to feel sick five days after they were infected.

People with the flu, on the other hand, usually feel sick one to four days after exposure. Most patients then fully recover within less than two weeks, often as quickly as a few days.


Many coronavirus patients recover within two weeks as well, but a growing share of patients have reported symptoms that last for months.

Common cold symptoms, by contrast, usually reach their peak within within two to three days of infection – but, like the coronavirus, they often come on more gradually. Some cold symptoms last longer than others: Patients with a typical cold may have a sore throat for eight days, a headache for nine to 10 days, and congestion, a runny nose, or cough for more than two weeks.

Allergies tend to last longer – about two to three weeks per allergen – and won’t resolve until the allergen leaves the air. Seasonal allergies also tend to be more severe in the spring, though.

The most common symptoms of each illness

Coronavirus cases run the gamut from asymptomatic to mild to severe.

“I’ve never seen an infection with this broad range of manifestations,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in July.

Many patients have reported conditions that don’t appear on the official CDC list, including hair losshiccupsrashes, and purple, swollen toes.


A large share of COVID-19 patients lose their sense of taste or smell – this is perhaps the strongest predictor of a coronavirus infection, according to a June study from scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and King’s College London.

Spanish case study similarly found that nearly 40 percent of patients with COVID-19 developed smell and/or taste disorders, compared to just 12 percent of patients with the flu.

Symptoms like a fever or headache could help rule out allergies or the common cold as well. People with colds, meanwhile, are more likely to develop a runny or stuffy nose than COVID-19 patients. And cold symptoms are milder overall.

One of the hallmarks of allergies – itchy eyes – isn’t associated with any of the other three illnesses.

Ultimately, the best way to know if you have COVID-19 is to get a diagnostic test. Until results come back negative, people should stay home if they’re feeling sick or were exposed to someone confirmed to have the virus.

Everyone should also get a flu shot to minimise the risk of overcrowding at hospitals.

“This will be, in my opinion, the most important flu season of our lifetimes,” US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said at a September Senate hearing. “Less flu and fewer hospitalizations will help conserve precious healthcare resources.”

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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What You Need to Know About The Sirtfood Diet, Adele’s New Fave

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The Sirtfood diet has been in the news again this week after singer Adele showed off her slimmed-down figure on US comedy show Saturday Night Live.

Adele has previously credited her significant weight loss to the Sirtfood diet. Following her appearance on SNL, there was a spike in people searching the diet on Google.


But what exactly is the Sirtfood diet, and does it work?

What’s the premise?

Two nutritionists in the United Kingdom launched the Sirtfood diet in 2016.

The premise is that a group of proteins called sirtuins, which are involved in regulation of metabolism, inflammation and ageing, can be accelerated by eating specific foods rich in a class of phytonutrients called polyphenols.

Phytonutrients are chemical compounds plants produce to help them grow well or defend themselves. Research is continuing to shed light on their potential benefits for human health.

The idea is that eating foods rich in polyphenols, referred to as “Sirtfoods”, will increase the body’s ability to burn fat, boosting metabolism and leading to dramatic weight loss.

Common Sirtfoods include, apples, soybean, kale, blueberries, strawberries, dark chocolate (85 percent cocoa), red wine, matcha green tea, onions and olive oil. The Sirtfood diet gets some of its fame because red wine and chocolate are on the list.

Two phases

The diet involves two phases over three weeks. During the first three days, total energy intake is restricted to 4,200 kilojoules per day (or 1,000 Calories).

To achieve this, you drink three sirtfood green juice drinks that include kale, celery, rocket, parsley, matcha green tea and lemon juice. You also eat one “Sirtfood” meal, such as a chicken and kale curry.


On days four to seven, you have 2-3 green juices and one or two meals up to a total energy intake of 6,300 kJ/day (1,500kcal).

During the next two weeks — phase two — total energy intake should be in the range of 6,300-7,500 kJ/day (1,500-1,800 kcal) with three meals, one green juice, and one or two Sirtfood snacks.

There’s a diet book available for purchase which gives you the recipes.

After three weeks, the recommendation is to eat a “balanced diet” rich in Sirtfoods, along with regular green juices.


The idea of losing a lot of weight in just three weeks will appeal to many people.

The eating plan encourages a range of polyphenol-rich foods that are also good sources of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, and would be recommended in a range of diets designed to assist with weight management, or as part of a healthy, balanced eating plan.

A weight loss diet will be effective if it achieves sustained total daily energy restriction. So the biggest benefit of the Sirtfood diet is the daily energy restriction — you are likely to lose weight if you stick to it.


Also, the exclusion of energy-dense, ultra-processed “junk” foods will help lower the risk for chronic disease.

But there are drawbacks to consider too.


It would be wise to watch the portion size for some of the foods listed, such as red wine and chocolate.

Like most restrictive diets, phase one may be challenging and is not recommended for people with underlying health conditions without the supervision of a health professional.

The rapid weight loss in the first phase will reflect a loss of water and glycogen, the stored form of energy in muscles and the liver, rather than being all body fat.

Rapid weight loss can increase the risk of gallstones and amenorrhoea (missing menstrual periods).

The food list includes specific products that may be hard to locate in Australia, such as lovage, a European leafy green plant whose leaves can used used as a herb, roots as a vegetable and seeds as a spice. Some other items on the list can be expensive.

Sirt science

Most research has looked at the sirtuin-mediated effects of energy restriction in worms, mice or specific body tissues. No studies have tested the effect of diets that vary polyphenol content on the action of sirtuins in mediating weight loss.

A search on PubMed, the scientific database of research studies, didn’t locate any human trials of the Sirtfood diet. So the short answer about whether the Sirtfood diet works or not is we don’t know.


The authors’ claims about effectiveness are based on anecdotal information from their own research and from personal testimonials, such as the one from Adele.

Considering the hype surrounding the Sirtfood diet against a checklist on spotting a fad diet sounds alarm bells. For example:

  • does it promote or ban specific foods?

  • does it promote a one-size-fits-all approach?

  • does it promise quick, dramatic results?

  • does it focus only on short-term results?

  • does it make claims based on personal testimonials?

Looking at the Sirtfood diet, the answers to most of these questions seem to be “yes”, or at least a partial yes.

The best diet for weight loss is one that meets your nutrient requirements, promotes health and well-being, and that you can stick with long-term.The Conversation

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle; Lee Ashton, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Newcastle, and Rebecca Williams, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Newcastle.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. 


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Feeling More Tired Than Usual During Lockdown? Psychologists Explain Why

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A lot of people have been posting on social media saying they have been feeling tired earlier than usual while on lockdown. Normally able to stay up into the small hours, they are hitting the pillow at 10 o’clock now. Many are wondering how this can be when we are all doing less.


The feelings of fatigue that you are experiencing are more likely to be related to the mental workload associated with COVID-19 rather than the physical burden. Fatigue can have both physical and non-physical causes. After we have completed a 5 kilometre run we deserve a rest, or after an illness we can feel run down and tired for a few weeks.

But research has also shown that tiredness can be caused by psychological states, such as stress and anxiety. In the current situation, it could even be the monotony of the situation that causes us to feel tired.

Therefore, dealing with the psychological strain associated with coronavirus could be wearing us out. So how do we go about getting our energy back?

The phases of adjustment

When we look at major changes, such as students starting university or people moving to a new country, a period of adaptation and transition is needed. This takes time and comes in phases.

The first week of adapting involves disengaging from former ways of living and working, and establishing new interactions. These are usually achieved by the fourth or fifth day, after which life begins to become more settled and predictable.


People in the first few weeks of lockdown may feel low and could be tearful. This is a normal adaptation stage. Please don’t worry too much but be reassured that this will pass for most people and next week you will feel better.

Transition to a new environment can be helped by writing a reflective journal. It can be helpful to note down your thoughts and feelings. You can then review your progress and see how you adjust.

Full functional adaptation to a new way of life will happen after about three months. However, there is one period to be aware of that can occur around three weeks after the start, when a person can succumb abruptly to a bout of melancholy and a loss of morale.

The worry in this case may be that the lockdown situation has now become permanent. But once this phase has passed these feelings of despondency tend not to return.

Prioritising structure

The next lesson on how to keep your energy up comes from observing people in survival situations. To avoid a drift into a state of apathy and feeling low and unmotivated, it is important to establish a clear structure to your day.

Structure allows us to gain some control over our lives. It helps prevent a buildup of “empty” time that could make you very aware of confinement, and cause a growing sense of “drift”. This can make people feel withdrawn and apathetic, sleep badly and neglect their personal hygiene.


One extreme case from the survival world shows the benefits of structure when we are suddenly faced with time to fill. In 1915, when Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance became trapped in the Antarctic ice, he imposed strict routines on his crew.

He was well aware of a previous expedition ship, the RV Belgica, which had become trapped over winter in the Antarctic ice in 1898. The captain did not establish any routine and as a result the crew suffered from low morale, especially after the death of the ship’s cat, Nansen.

Shackleton insisted on strict meal times and ordered everyone to gather in the officers’ mess after dinner to have an enforced period of socialisation. These scheduled activities prevented a social monotony that can occur when a small group of people are confined together for significant periods.

So although it might feel good to have the odd morning lie-in, it is better for your energy levels to set up your day with a clear structure and make time for social activities, even if they need to be undertaken online.

Another non-physical cause of fatigue is anxiety. The pandemic has made people confused and uncertain, and given some a sense of trepidation. All these feelings can lead to poor sleep quality, which in turn can make people more tired and anxious.

To break this cycle, exercise is a useful tool. Going for a walk or doing an online exercise class can make you feel physically tired but in the longer-term it will reduce feelings of fatigue as your sleep quality improves.

Planning ahead and setting goals is now both possible and necessary. Aim for a set future date for release from the lockdown but be prepared to reset that date as necessary. Being optimistic about the future and having things to look forward to can also help reduce anxiety and reduce fatigue.The Conversation

Sarita Robinson, Principal Lecturer in Psychology, University of Central Lancashire and John Leach, Visiting Senior Research Fellow in Survival Psychology, University of Portsmouth.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Johns Hopkins Experts Are Trying a Clever Antibody Method From The 1890s on COVID-19

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Blood from recovered coronavirus patients could be used in a vital stop-gap treatment to help protect humanity from the COVID–19 pandemic currently spreading around the world, researchers propose.


In a new paper, infectious disease experts explain how viral antibodies, contained in the blood serum of patients who have already recovered from the new coronavirus, could then be injected into other people, offering them short-term protection.

This long-established medical remedy – called passive antibody therapy – dates back to the late 19th century, and was widely used during the 20th century to help stem outbreaks of measles, polio, mumps, and influenza.

Much as it aided us before, it could be a crucial and practical tool now in the fight against COVID–19, a team from Johns Hopkins University argues in the new study, adding that antibody therapies can also be made available with urgency.

“Deployment of this option requires no research or development,” says immunologist Arturo Casadevall.

“It could be deployed within a couple of weeks since it relies on standard blood-banking practices.”

For the treatment to work, recovered coronavirus patients would need to donate their blood after recovering from COVID–19 and while still convalescing from the disease. During this phase, the blood serum would contain high amounts of natural antibodies produced to combat the SARS-CoV–2 virus.


Once the body produces them in response to pathogens, such antibodies can remain circulating in the blood for months and even years after an infection.

But these antibodies aren’t just useful for the recovered individual. If we extract and process them, antibodies can be injected into other people to provide a short-term benefit; this could be used for patients at serious risk, uninfected family members of an infected patient, or to bolster the immunity of medical workers at greater exposure to the pathogen.

“Passive antibody administration is the only means of providing immediate immunity to susceptible persons,” the researchers explain in their paper.

“Depending on the antibody amount and composition, the protection conferred by the transferred immunoglobulin can last from weeks to months.”

Using modern blood banking techniques – which can screen for other kinds of infectious agents that might be contained in blood – the therapy is arguably low risk for healthy people, the researchers say, especially in comparison to the threats inherent in the COVID–19 outbreak, for which there are no vaccines or drugs currently available.


Against that backdrop, the team proposes that the use of convalescent sera should be considered as an emergency response to help protect against COVID–19, just as it was trialled against other coronavirus diseases of this century, including SARS1 and MERS.

Of course, COVID–19, being a pandemic, is on a much larger scale to those smaller outbreaks – but that sad reality will actually help the making of convalescent sera supplies, as there will be a much greater number of recovered coronavirus patients who could supply their blood.

At time of writing, over 77,000 people have already recovered from COVID–19, according to John Hopkins University’s latest statistics on the outbreak (which are updated frequently); their blood could readily help make vital antibodies for others, whereas other sorts of antiviral treatments and a much-hoped-for vaccine are expected to take considerably longer to develop.

“In addition to public health containment and mitigation protocols, this may be our only near-term option for treating and preventing COVID–19, and it is something we can start putting into place in the next few weeks and months,” Casadevall says.

To that end, John Hopkins University is funding efforts to begin setting up antibody therapy operations for COVID–19 in the Baltimore area in the coming weeks. Doctors in New York are also investigating the treatment, Casadevall says, while internationally, Japan’s largest pharmaceutical company is looking at developing an antibody-based drug to combat coronavirus.

There are still a lot of unknowns, including how much convalescent serum is needed to be effective to protect people, but early, unconfirmed media reports from China suggest this therapy is already working there.

Nobody is expecting passive antibody therapy to become a silver bullet for the new coronavirus, but as something that could help us flatten the curve while other treatments are developed, it could make a huge difference, if we all act together – and act quickly.

“Clearly, the use of convalescent serum would be a stopgap measure that could be used in the midst of the current epidemic,” the authors write.

“However, even local deployment will entail considerable coordination between different entities… Hence, as we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, we recommend that institutions consider the emergency use of convalescent sera and begin preparations as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.”

The findings are reported in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.


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The Coronavirus Outbreak Is Having an Unexpected Effect on The Environment, Too

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The coronavirus epidemic that has paralysed the Chinese economy may have a silver lining for the environment.

China’s carbon emissions have dropped by least 100 million metric tonnes over the past two weeks, according to a study published on Wednesday by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) in Finland.


That is nearly six percent of global emissions during the same period last year.

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus  which has killed over 2,000 and infected more than 74,000 people across China  has led to a drop in demand for coal and oil, resulting in the emissions slump, the study published on the British-based Carbon Brief website said.

Over the past two weeks, daily power generation at coal power plants was at a four-year low compared with the same period last year, while steel production has sunk to a five-year low, researchers found.

China is the world’s biggest importer and consumer of oil, but production at refineries in Shandong province  the country’s petroleum hub  fell to the lowest level since autumn 2015, the report said.

Economic activity in China usually picks up after the Lunar New Year holiday, which began on January 25.

But authorities extended the holidays this year  by a week in many parts of the country including Shanghai  in an effort to contain the epidemic by keeping people at home.

“Measures to contain coronavirus have resulted in reductions of 15 percent to 40 percent in output across key industrial sectors,” the report said.


“This is likely to have wiped out a quarter or more of the country’s CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions over the past two weeks, the period when activity would normally have resumed after the Chinese New Year holiday.”

But environmentalists have warned that the reduction is temporary, and that a government stimulus  if directed at ramping up production among heavy polluters  could reverse the environmental gains.

“After the coronavirus calms down, it is quite likely we will observe a round of so-called ‘retaliatory pollutions’  factories maximising production to compensate for their losses during the shutdown period,” said Li Shuo, a policy adviser for Greenpeace China.

“This is a tested and proven pattern.”

Meanwhile, China’s nitrogen dioxide emissions  a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion in vehicles and power plants  fell 36 percent in the week following the Lunar New Year holidays, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to another study by CREA that used satellite data.

© Agence France-Presse


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Here’s How Long It Actually Takes to Break a Habit, According to Science

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From daily tooth-brushing to the 11am coffee, we all have dozens of habits that get us through our daily routine.

Some are great – weekly gym visits are often encouraged – others not so much, like smoking a pack a day, or dialling the number of the pizza place way too often.


Because we recognise our habits as useful or detrimental behaviours, we often strive to shape them accordingly.

There’s no shortage of apps out there designed to help you form a habit, and many of those are built on the assumption that all you need is 21 days.

This number comes from a widely popular 1960 book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who noticed his patients seemed to take about 21 days to get used to their new faces.

However, according to a 2009 study, the time it takes to form a habit really isn’t that clear-cut.

Researchers from University College London examined the new habits of 96 people over the space of 12 weeks, and found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days; furthermore, individual times varied from 18 to a whopping 254 days. 

The take-away message here is that if you want to develop a new behaviour, it will take at least two months, and you shouldn’t despair if three weeks doesn’t do the trick – for most people that’s simply not enough.


Stick with it for longer, and you’ll end up with a habit you can keep without thinking.

But what about trying to break an unwanted habit? 

It turns out the two – habit forming and breaking – can be quite closely linked.

As psychologist Timothy Pychyl explains to Alison Nastasi at Hopes and Fears, they’re two sides of the same coin: “Breaking a habit really means establishing a new habit, a new pre-potent response. The old habit or pattern of responding is still there (a pattern of neuron responses in the brain), but it is less dominant (less potent).”

“It’s much easier to start doing something new than to stop doing something habitual without a replacement behaviour,” says neuroscientist Elliot Berkman.

“That’s one reason why smoking cessation aids such as nicotine gum or inhalers tend to be more effective than the nicotine patch.”

Experts agree that there’s no typical time frame for breaking a habit, and the right recipe is going to be a mix of personality, motivation, circumstances, and the habit in question.

“People who want to kick their habit for reasons that are aligned with their personal values will change their behaviour faster than people who are doing it for external reasons such as pressure from others,” says Berkman


According to psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne, sometimes a habit can be broken quickly: “In extreme cases, the habit can be broken instantly, such as if you happen to become violently ill when you inhale cigarette smoke or nearly get hit by a bus when texting and walking.”

But in most cases it’s going to take longer than that, and you should probably allow for at least two months.

To successfully break a habit, you need to think of your strongest motivation, which will drive you along.

Think of a ‘replacement behaviour’ for the habit, but make sure it’s a positive one – replacing smoking with snacking is a common trap, for example.

And be patient. The longer you’ve had a habit, the longer it will take to get rid of it.

“Longtime habits are literally entrenched at the neural level, so they are powerful determinants of behavior,” explains Berkman.

“The good news is that people are nearly always capable of doing something else when they’re made aware of the habit and are sufficiently motivated to change.”

So stay strong, you can do it. 

A version of this article was first published in September 2015.


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Snorting Powdered Toad Secretions Just Once Is Linked to Feeling Happier For a Month

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In the last few years, evidence has been emerging that several psychedelics seem to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Now scientists have tested a new compound – and early trials indicate that it, too, has potential.


As with many other psychedelics, this one comes from nature, too. Specifically, we’re talking 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), secreted by the Colorado River toad (Incilius alvarius).

Among a small group of people, researchers led by Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that inhaling dried-and-powdered toad secretions resulted in increased life satisfaction, better mindfulness, and a decrease in psychopathological symptoms for the duration of the four-week-long study.

According to the team, this result shows more research is needed into the potential beneficial effects of 5-MeO-DMT.

“A recent survey among users of 5-MeO-DMT (toad, synthetic, or plant derived) indicated that most respondents used 5-MeO-DMT for spiritual exploration and reported mystical-type experiences of moderate-to-high intensity,” the researchers write in their paper.

“Interestingly, those respondents who reported a psychiatric disorder mentioned that 5-MeO-DMT had helped them reduce their symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress, or effectively deal with alcoholism and drug abuse.”

Users, the researchers noted, have reported that toad goo produces a more intense psychedelic effect than plant- or fungus-based psychedelics. This includes such substances as LSD (from ergot fungus), mescaline (from the peyote cactus), psilocybin (from mushrooms) and ayahuasca (from a vine).


To investigate this stronger effect, the team set out to conduct an observational study of the potential antidepressant properties the toad psychedelic might have.

Forty-two participants from around the world completed baseline tests before inhaling a vapour of dried toad dust, and then did the tests again within 24 hours of the inhalation.

Then, 24 of those participants completed a final round of testing four weeks later. Of those 24, most reported feeling better about their life, more mindful, and less depressed, anxious and stressed even four weeks after that single dose. And the stronger their psychedelic experience, the more pronounced were the prolonged effects.

It is important to note that this is not necessarily indicative of the whole gamut of experiences, the researchers said, since nearly half of the participants who completed the 24-hour survey did not return for the final tests.

“Their reasons for not completing the assessments are unknown but potentially could be driven by disappointments that emerged over the experience,” they write in their paper.

“Most participants listed either ‘understanding myself’ or ‘solving problems’ as their motivation for attending the sessions. Other motivations included self-development, the search for a spiritual experience or spiritual healing and curiosity.


“It is unknown whether the experience from inhaling vapour from dried toad secretion containing 5-MeO-DMT fulfilled the expectations and motivations of all participants.”

It’s also possible to have a bad trip on 5-MeO-DMT, leading to feelings of increased anxiety and paranoia, the researchers noted. So it’s possible that the participants who did not return may have had a bad experience.

Thus, if only the people who had a good experience completed the assessments, that could have introduced a selection bias into the results, since there was no control group. Additionally, the doses were eyeballed rather than strictly weighed, adding another limitation to the study.

“The present findings can therefore only be taken as a preliminary indication of the impact of inhaling vapour from dried toad secretion containing 5-MeO-DMT on mental health parameters,” the team writes.

The researchers do emphasise that the study was done to determine if further research into the potential therapeutic benefits of 5-MeO-DMT is worth pursuing.

“This study suggests that a single administration of vapour from toad secretion containing 5-MeO-DMT produces rapid and persistent improvements in satisfaction with life, mindfulness and psychopathological symptoms, and that these changes are associated to the strength of the psychedelic experience,” the researchers wrote.

“These results provide evidence supporting further research examining the potential therapeutic effect of 5-MeO-DMT.”

The research has been published in the journal Psychopharmacology.


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