Tag Archives: Brown

Wind power.

Gov. Brown doubles-down on California’s already ambitious pledge — it will be carbon-neutral by 2045

Earlier this month, we were telling you how California’s pledge to generate 100% green energy for its grid by 2045 made it past the state’s Senate. All it needed to be enshrined into law was Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. I’m very pleased to announce that Gov. Brown went above and beyond the signature of duty.

Wind power.

Image credits Peter Wiegel.

After approving the bill (on Monday), today Brown went on to issue an executive order by which he required the state to become carbon-neutral by 2045. The move essentially takes California’s pledge to the next level  — whereas, originally, the goal was to power the grid exclusively through renewable energy, the golden state now has to remove as much greenhouse gas as it pumps out in the atmosphere.

Brown’s green push

“The achievement of carbon neutrality will require both significant reductions in carbon pollution and removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, including sequestration in forests, soils, and other natural landscapes,” Brown’s executive order states.

The move definitely propels California to the forefront of decarbonization efforts. It is the second U.S. state to formally include such a pledge in its legislation (the first one was Hawaii). It’s also one of the most populous U.S. states and the most powerful economy in the world to embark on such a dramatic ecological campaign to date.

Still, that’s not to say it’s going to be a walk in the park. Although California has phased coal out of its statewide energy mix, it still draws massively on natural gas plants for its electricity needs. For it to have any chance of achieving the desired target by 2045, the state will need to draw heavily on wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power. Seeing as the state recently moved to close its last nuclear power plant, it’s unlikely atom-splitting will help power California.

On the other hand, it will also have to increase its energy capacity and design incentive schemes to improve energy efficiency at all levels — industrial, commercial, as well as residential.

The exact wording of the original bill also leaves officials a much-needed fallback space. It states that electricity production has to be zero-emissions so, in theory, it could use carbon capture technologies to still reach that goal should the state run into any problems decommissioning its natural gas plants. Despite leaving them some room to maneuver, the bill doesn’t leave officials any room to cheat — the bill specifically forbids California from increasing the carbon emissions of another state to get cheap energy.

So, for example, the state could buy power from a coal plant based in Nevada if that electricity had been supplied prior to the bill’s passing, but not from a new gas-powered source in Arizona.

Needless to say, it’s a mammoth undertaking from an economy larger than the UK‘s. Gov. Brown’s executive order only makes it that more ambitious. Pile the order’s express requirement that “all policies and programs undertaken to achieve carbon neutrality shall seek to improve air quality and support the health and economic resiliency of urban and rural communities, particularly low-income and disadvantaged communities,” on top, and you get a seemingly insurmountable task.

And yet, it feels like the right thing to do, doesn’t it?

Brown bear.

Brown bear saliva kills a bacteria that current antibiotics are unable to treat

An international research team reports that the saliva of a Siberian brown bear (Ursus arctos collaris) subspecies can kill Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, a strain that is rapidly becoming resistant to all current antibiotics.

Brown bear.

Image credits Oksanna Briere.

One subspecies of the Siberian brown bear can kill S.aureus with its bare saliva, a new paper reports. The animal’s range includes Mongolia, Siberia, and parts of northern China. While generally vegetarian, the bears also dine on caribou, elk, and fish. This wide menu has a profound impact on the subspecies’ microbiome, the team writes — including its surprising disinfectant ability.

‘Drool over this, please’

The discovery comes as part of a larger project aiming to study the microbiome of several wild animals. The project’s goal is to find naturally-occurring chemicals which can kill bacteria that also infect humans, especially the strains that are becoming or have become resistant to antibiotic treatments.

The team captured several specimens of the bear subspecies in the taiga — the forested parts of Siberia — and harvested saliva swabs for analysis. Using “state of the art screening techniques,” the team was able to identify the chemical make-up and microbiota of the samples.

One bacteria swimming its merry way in that saliva is Bacillus pumilus, a strain that secretes an antibiotic compound known as amicoumacin A. The team believes the bears obtain this bacterium when they munch on certain types of vegetation.

After finding B.pumilus in the saliva samples, the team looked to see how it interacts with other antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as S.aureus — which is associated with skin infections in humans. That’s how they discovered that the strain can effectively deal with the staphylococcus.

The findings could go a long way in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which are struggling to remove the deadly bacteria. A naturally-occurring chemical that can help us fight staph would be quite valuable.

The team plans to continue the project in hopes of finding even more new compounds that can help us keep bacteria at bay.

The paper “Ultrahigh-throughput functional profiling of microbiota communities” has been published in the journal PNAS.

Artist's representation of what a Y-class brown dwarf might look like.

Researchers spot the biggest brown dwarf ever, trailing at the edge of the Milky Way

An international research team has found the largest brown dwarf we’ve ever seen, and it has ‘the purest’ composition to boot. Known as SDSS J0104+1535, the dwarf trails at the edges of the Milky Way.

An artists' representation of a brown dwarf with polar auroras.

An artists’ representation of a brown dwarf with polar auroras.
Image credits NASA / JPL.

Brown dwarfs — they’re like stars, but without the spark of love. They’re much too big to be planets but they’re too small to ignite and sustain fusion, so they’re not (that) bright and warm and so on. Your coffee is probably warmer than some Y-class brown dwarfs, which sit on the lower end of their energy spectrum. The coldest such body we know of, a Y2 class known as WISE 0855−0714, is actually so cold (−48 to −13 degrees C / −55 to 8 degrees F) your tongue would stick to it if you could lick it.

But they can still become really massive, as an international team of researchers recently discovered: nestled among the oldest of stars in the galaxy at the halo of our Milky Way, some 750 light years away from the constellation Pisces, they have found a brown dwarf which seems to be 90 times more massive than Jupiter — making it the biggest, most massive brown dwarf we’ve ever seen.

Named SDSS J0104+1535, the body is also surprisingly homogeneous as far as chemistry is concerned. Starting from its optical and near-infrared spectrum measured using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, the team says that this star is “the most metal-poor and highest mass substellar object known to-date”, made up of an estimated 99.99% hydrogen and helium. This would make the 10-billion-year-old star some 250 times purer than the Sun.

Artist's representation of what a Y-class brown dwarf might look like.

Y u so cold?
Image credits NASA / JPL-Caltech.

 

“We really didn’t expect to see brown dwarfs that are this pure,” said Dr Zeng Hua Zhang of the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands, who led the team.

“Having found one though often suggests a much larger hitherto undiscovered population — I’d be very surprised if there aren’t many more similar objects out there waiting to be found.”

From its optical and infrared spectrum, measured using the Very Large Telescope, SDSS J0104+1535 has been classified as an L-type ultra-cool subdwarf — based on a classification scheme established by Dr Zhang.

The paper “Primeval very low-mass stars and brown dwarfs – II. The most metal-poor substellar object” has been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

This protein might be the key to developing the fabled slim-pill — that actually works

Either because of the quality of our environments or due to the radical shifts in diet and lifestyle we’ve seen since the industrial revolution, more and more people around the world are becoming overweight. This translates into a growing number of patients suffering from associated conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. As most of us can’t muster enough motivation to exercise (sans drugs, that is) many pin their hopes on the pharmaceutical industry finding a pill to burn love handles right off.

And such a pill could be available sooner rather than later — an international team has discovered that by inhibiting Gq protein production in adipose tissue, cells can be re-purposed from storing fat to burning it.

Prof. Dr. Alexander Pfeifer and Katarina Klepac from the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at University of Bonn.
Image credits Barbara Frommann/Uni Bonn

Adipose or fat tissue is usually made up of white cells that store energy, brown cells that burn it to heat us up when we’re cold and beige cells that can perform either role. In the case of significantly overweight people this type of tissue contains a large number of white cells but lacks the brown variety. Prof. Dr. Alexander Pfeifer from the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Bonn has spent the last few years researching a way to make the cells switch from one role to the other.

“We are looking for targets for new pharmaceutical products to one day be able to effectively combat obesity as the cause of numerous widespread diseases, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease,” Pfeifer said.

Pfeifer worked closely with a team made up of members from San Diego and Bethesda, USA, Gothenburg, Sweden and the Universities of Heidelberg and Leipzig in Germany. They observed that mouse and human brown fat cells have a particularly high number of Gq protein receptors. As this protein is known to function as a medium for information transfer within the body, the team decided to test if it could perform the switch they were looking for.

When they activated the Gq protein in mouse fat cells, the number and quality of the brown cells decreased.

“On the other hand, if Gq is blocked with an inhibitor, more brown fat cells mature,” says Ph.D. student Katarina Klepac from Prof. Pfeifer’s team.

This also holds true for beige cells, and the team now has their hopes pinned on them. As they don’t have a fixed role in adipose tissue, blocking the Gq protein causes them to develop primarily into fat-burning mechanisms. The team re-checked their theory using human cells cultured in the laboratory, with the same effect.

“Even in human fat cells, it was shown that brown fat cells can grow much better once Gq proteins were blocked,” says Prof. Pfeifer.

According to him, this could be the starting point for the development of active substances which boost fat burning in obese patients. But their work is still in an early phase, and more work has to be done before it can lead to a safe and efficient drug.

“To date, there are no drugs which directly cause white fat cells to convert into brown fat cells. However, we still have a long way to go,” Pfeifer concludes.

The full paper, titled “The Gq signalling pathway inhibits brown and beige adipose tissue” has been published online in the journal Nature Communications and can be read here.

 

Trying to lose weight? (of course you are) — fish oil to the rescue

The fatty acids in fish oil (such as omega-3) help with a wide range of conditions, with WebMD detailing benefits ranging from improving the health of the heart and circulatory system all the way to fighting dyslexia, kidney disease and improving your child’s IQ.

Adding to this already impressive list of benefits, scientists from the Kyoto University found that feeding fish oils to lab mice made them gain considerably less weight than their fish-less counterparts. Their work suggests that fish oil determines the transition of fat-storing cells to fat-burning cells; should the same process occur in humans, fish oil could help us reduce weight gain and counteract the body’s natural loss of fat-burning cells as we age.

Fish oil capsules.
Image via sciencealert

Most of our fatty tissue’s primary function is to store energy for our other cells to dine on in case food is scarce but it isn’t limited to acting as a pantry. Where white fat cells store fat, brown fat cells are specialized in breaking it down — metabolizing it to keep our body’s temperature stable. These cells are more prevalent in our youth and they make it easier for us to burn through our adipose reserves, but their numbers go down as we age.

Researchers have also discovered a third type of fat cell they named beige fat cells. They function much like the brown variety of fat cells in both humans and mice, and are also known to become scarcer as we age. And this is where fish oil comes into play.

“We knew from previous research that fish oil has tremendous health benefits, including the prevention of fat accumulation,” said food scientist Teruo Kawada from Kyoto University. “We tested whether fish oil and an increase in beige cells could be related.”

Multilocular or Brown Fat tissue, a special adipose tissue involved in burning fat reserves to maintain body temperature.
Image via allposters

For the study, the team fed one control group of mice fatty food, and the other with the same diet with fish oil additives mixed in. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, detail the weight changes of the animals and show that the group that had fish oil included in their diet gained between 5 to 10 percent less weight in total and 15 to 25 percent less fat. Not bad for a little oil, but why does it happen?

Their theory is that the oil activates sympathetic receptors in the digestive system that directs storage cells to metabolize fat. In essence, the fish oil determines the transformation of white cells to beige cells, increasing the rate at which the tissue burns fat and leading to a spike in energy expenditure — and all this energy comes from the white cells, reducing the rate of fat accumulation and ultimately, weight gain.

The results of the mice experiments are very encouraging, but right now we don’t really know if the findings also apply to humans. Further studies are needed to determine this, but the team believes that fish oil could become an effective treatment for obesity.

“People have long said that food from Japan and the Mediterranean contribute to longevity, but why these cuisines are beneficial was up for debate,” said Kawada. “Now we have better insight into why that may be.”