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Science Reporting

Air polluted by fuel combustion alters blood vessels in the lungs

Breathing in the small carbon particles produced by combustion, particularly that of fossil fuel fuels, can lead to a significant increase in peripheral blood vessels. This is shown by research published in the European Respiratory Journal, which points out, if there is still a need, how serious can be the air pollution produced by the combustion of fossil fuels.

The study, according to the researchers, clearly shows that exposure to pollutants such as that caused by the combustion of diesel can, even at doses considered as low, lead to subtle changes in the lungs which can then lead to chronic lung disease.

According to the researchers, people exposed to higher levels of black carbon, a component of particulate matter formed by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, saw effects comparable to those associated with smoking a packet of cigarettes a day for 15 years.

To arrive at the results, researchers analyzed data from 3000 people in six different U.S. metropolitan areas. In particular, they also used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitoring database, as well as traffic data, weather models and land use data.

By analyzing the participants’ pulmonary blood vessels, taking into account various other personal factors, the researchers estimated that they had been exposed to annual levels of black carbon at 0.8 micrograms per cubic meter and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at 11 micrograms per cubic meter.

These limits are lower than those set by the institutions in the United States and the European Union but despite this analysis showed that they are associated with a greater volume of blood vessels in the lungs.

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Science Reporting

Food sensors will replace expiry dates in the future

In the not too distant future, sensors that precisely detect the degree of freshness of foods could replace the expiration dates on food products. Such a technology would cut sharply the enormous food waste that occurs in the world, naturally to a greater extent in the industrialized world.

Many consumers, in fact, throw perfectly healthy or not at all dangerous food in the trash just because the expiry date has been reached but a calculation reveals that 60% of the food that is thrown away in the UK alone, for example, is safe to eat. A new research group based at Imperial College London is therefore developing new sensors, incorporated into the packaging of food products themselves, at minimal cost (at the moment the cost is two cents each) that are able to detect even the smallest traces of gas that can develop from deteriorating food.

These gases can be, for example, ammonia and trimethylamine in products such as meat and fish. These paper-based electrical gas sensors (PEGs) can then be easily elected by a smartphone by simply passing the device on the packaging. Researchers have created these sensors by printing carbon electrodes on cellulose paper, making them biodegradable and non-toxic materials that are perfectly safe for food packaging.

These sensors boast small NFC microchips that can also be chosen by common mobile devices. Compared to other similar sensors already in existence, the PEGs have, during the test phases, detected small traces of gas to a better and more precise extent, according to the researchers. In addition, these new sensors work effectively even at the highest humidity levels, environmental conditions where most of them fail.

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Science Reporting

Creating a single artificial intelligence algorithm emits as much carbon as 5 cars

A new study produced by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, surprises us with regard to the fact that the artificial intelligence industry is a contributor of environmental pollution.

According to the results achieved by the researchers, developing a single software based on artificial intelligence can lead to the emission of more than 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent. It is the average material emitted into the air by five cars in the United States during their entire course of use.

What consumes the most, and therefore causes the most emissions in the environment, is the training phase of the software based on machine learning: the latter must in fact overcome a long initial phase during which are inserted in the program large sets of data, increasingly large and massive, to ensure that the same algorithm is “instructed” and then works properly when put into operation.

Obviously this phase needs a lot of hours and days of work, a period during which the energy consumed by the computers reaches the peaks. This is without counting the use of all kinds of hardware, for example by the robotics and automation industry, which involves even more expensive testing phases in this regard.

Naturally, thanks to artificial intelligence, very efficient neural networks have been created, very useful in many contexts and very advantageous also with regard to the context of pollution, but this analysis sensitizes and provides an answer to those who believe that automation through software is unassailable in this sense. And perhaps this data could be used in the future to push researchers to develop increasingly efficient software and algorithms.

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Science Reporting

Portable DNA sequencers will allow millions of new species to be discovered

Today, determining the existence of new animal species has become easier because it is “enough” to identify the DNA profile to be sure of being faced with a new species, a differentiation that until a few years ago could only be made after long and difficult tests.

However, DNA analysis is a process that can only be carried out in the laboratory, which means that researchers who go “on an adventure,” ie those who wander around the various habitats and environmental ecosystems in search of new species, may find it very difficult to capture the species and take them to the laboratory for analysis.

It is in this context that a project carried out by researcher Paul Hebert of the University of Guelph in Canada could prove very important. The researcher, together with his team, will lead various expeditions that will use a sort of portable genomic laboratory that will allow you to analyze the samples “in the field.” The researchers intend to identify more than 2 million new species of multi-cellular creatures in a global effort funded to the tune of 180 million dollars.

“Biodiversity science is entering a very golden age,” Hebert himself says in an article on the Science website. To understand if a specimen is part of a new species could take away now only a few hours of time and especially a few cents in cost.

It will be a sort of analysis like the one done with bar codes, in this case done with portable DNA sequencers, fast and cheap: just analyze a single portion of DNA and find the markers of differentiation of the species.

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Science Reporting

Study launches the alarm regarding pollution inside houses

When we talk about pollution, we very often think of natural environments degraded and influenced by human presence. However, pollution is also present in our homes and in the closed environments that we frequent daily and it damages us even when we least expect it.

A study that appeared in Building and Environment deals with this aspect: researchers at Washington State University have analyzed the indoor environments frequented by people, primarily U.S. homes, and have found quite worrying levels of pollutants. Among the latter, in fact, they found formaldehyde and mercury inside the houses analyzed.

The levels of these pollutants varied during the day and their effects increased with increasing temperature. The study shows that heat dates and ongoing climate change heavily affect indoor air quality and will do so even more in the future. For example, in a house built in the early 1970s they found a plaster panel that emitted high levels of formaldehyde and mercury when heated.

At the moment there is virtually no regulation of indoor pollution, unlike outdoor pollution where increasingly strict laws are proposed by the institutions. There are regulations regarding the construction of houses and their structure but nothing about the emission rates that exist inside, emission rates well present as this study shows.

The sources of these emissions are varied. Pollutants can come from the same building materials as well as from the chemicals used in the home or kitchen. The only way to tackle the problem, in addition to paying attention to the chemicals used in the home, is to regularly ventilate the rooms leaving windows and balconies open.