Same-sex marriage linked to decline in teen suicides

A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that the legalization of same-sex marriage is associated with a reduction in the proportion of high school students who reported making a suicide attempt. This study indicates that governmental policies regarding non-normative sexuality may have an influence on mental health outcomes for adolescents.

The study used data from the state-level Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which tracks dangerous and risky behaviors exhibited by teenagers. Its authors used data from forty-seven states, including thirty-two states that implemented same-sex marriage policies between 2004-2015. They looked at suicide behaviors in the full population of high school students and then did a secondary analysis using the subset of students who self-identified as belonging to a sexual minority (gay, lesbian, bisexual, or unsure about their sexual identity).

One limitation of using this type of data is that it depends on self-reporting of suicide attempts, which is tricky because suicide attempts are typically under-reported. This approach also means that the researchers did not include any information about teens who died from their suicide attempts; it only captures teens who attempted suicide but survived. This methodological limitation may seem like a big one, but the proportion of suicide attempts that result in teen deaths is very small, so suicide attempts are reasonable proxy for overall teen mental health.

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New malaria vaccine is fully effective in very small clinical trial

Malaria, a potentially deadly mosquito-borne infection, remains a problem in many parts of the world. Reducing infections has been challenging because no vaccine is currently available. Prevention efforts have mostly concentrated on eliminating the transmission vector, mosquitoes. A recent study published in Nature shows that a new vaccine for malaria is well tolerated by humans and can provide significant immunity to malaria.

Malaria is caused by infection of the protozoan parasite Plasmodium falciparum. These are complex cells that have a number of means to evade the immune system, which has made the creation of vaccines challenging. To make this new vaccine, the parasites were first rendered harmless via radiation and then rapidly frozen for preservation. Healthy adult volunteers were given three doses of this vaccine at 28-day intervals before being challenged with exposure to the malaria parasite. Under these conditions, nine out of the nine immunized participants avoided a malaria infection.

Additionally, subjects who received non-optimized concentrations of the vaccine dose still exhibited some protection against infection, with one-third or two-thirds of vaccinated people demonstrating immunity, depending on the dose.

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A fasting-diet may trigger regeneration of a diabetic pancreas

In mice with either type I or type 2 diabetes, an intense, four-day fasting diet seemed to regenerate pancreas cells and restore insulin production. Researchers reported this finding on Thursday in Cell.

In Petri dish experiments, human pancreas cells from patients with type 1 diabetes also showed altered gene expression and kick-started insulin production after being exposed to blood from people on a fasting diet.

The results of the early work are promising for potential dietary treatments of both types of diabetes. Type I is caused by a loss of insulin production, while type 2 is caused by diminished production or insensitivity to insulin, a hormone that triggers the breakdown of sugar in the blood.

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Theoretical battle: dark energy vs. modified gravity

Two decades ago, scientists found that the Universe’s expansion is accelerating. This was the complete opposite of what had been expected: the expansion should be slowing down due to gravity, not speeding up.

At first, researchers didn’t know how to account for it. But they went back to Einstein’s equations for his General Theory of Relativity and discovered that a term he’d abandoned as his “biggest blunder”—the cosmological constant—actually described this expansion pretty well. There was only one problem: we can’t see the energy that’s driving the expansion. Nonetheless, researchers have gravitated to the idea that the energy is there, and they’ve labeled it dark energy. With time, dark energy has become a cornerstone of our current model of the Universe.

But not everyone was convinced. Some wondered if there was another way to explain the Universe’s accelerating expansion. One possibility is that gravity doesn’t work the same way on cosmological scales as it does on local scales. The idea is appealing in that it doesn’t require the existence of a vast amount of stuff that we can’t figure out how to observe. While the idea hasn’t gained much traction, it also hasn’t been ruled out.

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As CA bill aims for 100% renewable by 2050, utility starts 30MW battery system

SDG&E

On Friday, Southern California utility San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) held a small press conference in Escondido to show off its brand new energy storage facility, a 30MW battery system capable of storing 120MWh of energy, which can serve 20,000 customers for four hours. SDG&E also introduced a 7.5MW battery system built in El Cajon, CA.

The two projects were built after state energy officials ordered power companies to add lithium-ion battery storage to their grids this past summer following a massive methane leak at Aliso Canyon in California that put the region in jeopardy for natural gas shortages. AES Energy Storage, a Virginia-based company that has been building utility-grade batteries since 2008, built the system for SDG&E.

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NASA measuring risks and “significant” cost of crew on maiden SLS launch

Earlier this month, NASA disclosed that the White House asked the agency to consider flying astronauts on the maiden launch of the massive Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), instead of using it as a test flight. On Friday, senior managers at the agency told reporters during a teleconference that they were “encouraged” by the opportunity to study this possibility, but they were also carefully weighing the risks against the rewards.

“We recognize this will be an increased risk,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate. “We take that increased risk, and we take it against the benefits we gain by doing this, and we say, ‘Is that something that is worthwhile for us to go and do?’ Then we have an agency-wide discussion on whether this is an appropriate risk for us to take.”

The study should be complete in about a month, Gerstenmaier said. During the call, he and NASA’s lead manager for the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, Bill Hill, provided some additional information about the mission. It will fly just two astronauts, instead of four or six, on an eight- or nine-day mission into lunar orbit and back. The flight plan will also include multiple opportunities to return to Earth earlier if some unexpected problem occurs.

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With patients’ own microbes, doctors find antibiotics and treat skin disease

Looking to find the most effective probiotics? You may need to look no further than your own body.

Scientists could rid eczema patients’ arms of disease-spurring Staphylococcus aureus simply by picking out rare but helpful bacteria also on their skin, growing it up to large quantities, and mixing it with off-the-shelf lotion that the patients slathered on. The finding, reported this week in Science Translational Medicine, is another example of harnessing the protective and disease-fighting potential of the human microbiome. Researchers are optimistic that in future clinical trials, the personal bacteria boosts will prove useful in longterm treatment for eczema, without the risks that come with antibiotics.

“This approach is inherently superior to current pharmaceutically derived antibiotics,” the authors conclude. Unlike bottled antibiotics that may kill microbes indiscriminately—friends or foes—the patient’s skin bacteria selectively killed off harmful S. aureus and left the protective community intact.

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The value of duck sex research versus a skeptical Congress

BOSTON—”The national debt is a big structural problem,” former Representative Brian Baird told his audience at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And that, according to Baird, is one reason scientific research comes under fire. “If you can’t solve something big,” he went on, “distract people by attacking something small.” All too often, that something small has been scientific research.

Two of the researchers who found their work under fire were on hand to describe the experience and talk a bit about the lessons they learned.

Does that treadmill look expensive to you?

One of them was David Scholnick of Pacific University who produced the video above, showing a shrimp going for a run on an underwater treadmill. It’s hard to tell just how many people have ended up viewing the video, given that it has been cloned, set to various music, and appeared in news reports that have also made their way onto YouTube—it’s fair to say that it’s quite popular. Scholnick wasn’t looking for that popularity. He had just put the video up on his faculty webpage; someone else grabbed it and stuck it on YouTube.

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