Stress alters children’s genomes

Pasieka/Science Photo Library

Telomeres (shown in red) protect the ends of chromosomes from fraying over time.

Growing up in a stressful social environment leaves lasting marks on young chromosomes, a study of African American boys has revealed. Telomeres, repetitive DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes from fraying over time, are shorter in children from poor and unstable homes than in children from more nurturing families.

When researchers examined the DNA of 40 boys from major US cities at age 9, they found that the telomeres of children from harsh home environments were 19% shorter than those of children from advantaged backgrounds. The length of telomeres is often considered to be a biomarker of chronic stress.

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, brings researchers closer to understanding how social conditions in childhood can influence long-term health, says Elissa Epel, a health psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the research.

Participants’ DNA samples and socio-economic data were collected as part of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, an effort funded by the US National Institutes of Health to track nearly 5,000 children, the majority of whom were born to unmarried parents in large US cities in 1998–2000. Children’s environments were rated on the basis of their mother’s level of education; the ratio of a family’s income to needs; harsh parenting; and whether family structure was stable, says lead author Daniel Notterman, a molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University in Hershey.

The telomeres of boys whose mothers had a high-school diploma were 32% longer compared with those of boys whose mothers had not finished high school. Children who came from stable families had telomeres that were 40% longer than those of children who had experienced many changes in family structure, such as a parent with multiple partners.

Genetic links

The link between stressful home environments and telomere length is moderated by genetic variants in pathways that process two chemical transmitters in the brain, serotonin and dopamine, the study found. Previous studies have correlated variants in some of the genes studied, such as TPH2, with depression, bipolar disorder and other mental-health issues. Variants of another gene, 5-HTT, reduce the amount of the protein that recycles serotonin in nerve synapses. Some alleles of these genes are thought to increase the sensitivity of carriers to external risks.

In the latest study, the researchers found that the ‘sensitizing’ variants of these genes protected telomeres in children from nurturing environments, and caused greater telomere damage in children from disadvantaged homes. Those who lacked these alleles had little difference in their telomeres, regardless of living conditions.

But boys with more than two sensitizing alleles were strongly influenced by their home environments. They had the shortest telomeres in stressful homes, and the longest telomeres in advantaged environments. Although these variants were known to influence chemical responses to stress in the brain, they were not previously linked to telomere length, says Notterman.

The team plans to expand its analysis to approximately 2,500 children and their mothers to see if these preliminary findings hold. However, because the effects of stress are tangible by the age of 9, Notterman suggests that early intervention practices may help to moderate the effects of adversity on children’s health.

“This was a small study testing a big theory,” says Epel. “It is a first but important step in understanding how social disparities get under the skin to affect lifelong health.”

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Panasonic Presents "SLIDING NATURE" Concept at the Milano Salone del Mobile 2014


Panasonic Corporation today announced the opening of its “SLIDING NATURE” concept installation at this year’s Milano Salone Del Mobile, one of the largest and most influential design exhibitions in the world, held in Milan. The installation this year was designed by noted architects, TORAFU ARCHITECTS. Images and videos from the event will be available on the company’s Milano Salone del Mobile 2014 site.

The main presentation, exhibited in the courtyard of the University of Milan, is a house shaped structure made with sliding doors. These sliding doors on all four sides move in response to music. Sometimes they move regularly and other times, randomly. The lighting in the installation, made up of a projector which lights up the ceiling of the home, 120 synchronized color controllable LED architectural lights in the ground and first floor corridors, and 175 LED lamps scattered throughout the yard, shines in synchronization with the moving doors, creating a variety of living environments. In addition, 50 surface-emitting LED lamps are suspended from the ceiling in the entrance to the corridor that surrounds the courtyard. The brightness and color of these lamps can be adjusted as desired.

With this installation that fuses Panasonic’s cutting-edge technologies into the culture of traditional Japanese housing, the company proposes new value for spaces combining the living environment and nature. On the first floor, Panasonic is also exhibiting a variety of kitchen equipment for business users (B2B customers).

The “SLIDING NATURE” Concept of the Exhibit
Japanese houses traditionally use “Fusuma” or “Shoji” paper sliding doors to take the gifts of nature into homes, such as pleasant breezes and soft sunlight. Thanks to the sliding doors, people can also enjoy the surrounding scenery.

Panasonic is developing an energy management business that combines “active” and “passive” energy management. Active energy management involves housing equipment, such as solar panels and storage batteries, in addition to energy efficient appliances, while passive energy management aims to efficiently control the benefits of nature by designing housing structures to its best advantage and employing heat-insulating materials.

In this installation, Panasonic is using sliding doors, based on the concept of passive energy management, which can welcome the blessings of nature, while closing out the cold and the heat. This is combined with LED lighting, a component of active energy management, to both conserve energy and achieve better spatial value by matching lighting to people’s lifestyle.

In its “SLIDING NATURE” installation, Panasonic is proposing a new relationship between people’s living environments and nature.

Event Detail
Exhibition concept: SLIDING NATURE
Date: April 7 (Mon) – 13 (Sun), 2014 9:00 – 24:00 (Local time)
Place: Università degli Studi di Milano, Cortile Farmacia Via Festa del Perdono, 7 – Milano
Space: Approximately 1,000㎡
Venue composition: TORAFU ARCHITECTS
Key items: Building materials (sliding doors), LED lighting, wiring devices (switches), etc.

Related Links
Panasonic’s special website
[Video Report] SLIDING NATURE at Milano Salone 2014
[Interview Video] About the Design Concept
Press kits (Available to download the press release, photos, images, and videos)
Feature Story

Photos/Multimedia Gallery Available:


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Does environmental protection help or hurt the poor?

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Ladybug Ball draws thousands

Despite the forecast, thousands of people buzzed around Southdown Plantation in Houma for the free festival, which aims to teach local children about nature and the environment.

The event, sponsored each year by Re/Max Good Earth Realty in Houma, offers booths of nature-themed crafts, games and activities for kids.

Event chairwoman Linda Faulk said she hopes the festival encourages more children to learn about the environment.

“Kids today are starved for the outdoors,” she said. “They don’t have a lot of experiences with the outdoors, and they don’t realize what they’re missing.”

Faulk, who founded the festival years ago, even sprinkled ladybugs in her hair during the party as event organizers released 100,001 ladybugs and 201 butterflies at various spots on the plantation grounds.

Adeline Percle, 3, carried her new ladybugs in a jar as she walked around the festival with her mother.

Fern Percle of Larose said she’s attended the Ladybug Ball with Adeline for the past three years.

“We look forward to this every year,” she said. “I tell everybody to come to the Ladybug Ball.”

Percle said she likes that the event is outside so families get a chance to enjoy the outdoors.

“They can run around and play as much as they want,” she said. “It’s all about nature.”

She said she also enjoys the Ladybug Ball because it’s filled with low-cost games and crafts for her daughter.

“Now that she’s 3, she’s able to do a lot of the activities,” she said. “They really keep the cost down so that everyone can participate.”

Jada and Erich Fuhrmann, of Houma, brought their three children to the festival to enjoy the nice weather while it lasted.

“There’s a lot of stuff for the kids to do,” Erich Fuhrmann said. “They’ve had a lot of fun.”

Two of their children, Bruce, 6, and Sasha, 5, said the both plan to put their ladybugs in their garden at home.

“They’re nice,” Sasha said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Terrebonne Parish Councilwoman Arlanda Williams served as this year’s master of ceremonies.

“I come every year to release bugs,” Williams said. “It’s an outstanding event, and I really love it.”

Williams said she hopes the festival’s fun-filled activities will inspire more children to love nature.

“It’s the true feeling of Terrebonne Parish,” she said. “Family and friends getting together and having a great time.”

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İstanbul’s mega projects to kill nature and environment

TEMA has actually been a bit late in coming out with this report, which is a scientific focus on three projects presented to the public as “crazy” (but in a positive light, as in “crazily ambitious”): the third bridge over the Bosporus, the third airport and the Kanal İstanbul project.  

The report is the result of seven months of research and study by 16 scientists who are knowledgeable on these issues. The report was officially presented at a press conference on March 25. Present at the press conference were, among others, Professor Nuran Zeren Gülersoy (İstanbul Technical University [İTÜ] architecture faculty, city and regional planning department); Professor Doğanay Tolunay (İTÜ forestry faculty, forestry engineering faculty); Professor Emin Özsoy (Middle East Technical University [ODTÜ] Sea Sciences Institute); Professor Haluk Gerçek (İTÜ construction faculty, department of construction engineering); and the head of the TEMA board, Deniz Ataç.

Though there had been hope that the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs would consider the content of the report in regards to the ongoing projects, the release of the report was met with an unexpected reaction from the ministry. In fact, at a brief press conference held by the ministry after the report was released, it was alleged that the report had been prepared with “political intentions.” In the ministry statement, it was asserted that permission had been given for a 2,542 hectare area of forestland and that only 70,692 hectares had been used for the road platform. But in fact, despite the fact that the third bridge is an investment that has potential effects not only on the immediate city of İstanbul but for the entire region, no real environmental report had been prepared. What happened instead was that loopholes in the laws were played around with so that no environmental report would be done. What this situation really shows is that neither the Ministry of Environment and City Planning nor the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs are being accorded the true respect they deserve. When the third bridge project first came onto the agenda, these ministries asserted that no exit to the city from the bridge would be allowed and that it would be simply a transit road. Later, when the details connected to this project were more deeply discussed, these promises were forgotten.

In the TEMA report, it is noted that included with the third bridge and its connector roads are some 26 intersections between Kınalı-Gebze. These intersections will provide greater access to the northern reaches of İstanbul, land that possesses much in the way of water resources, agricultural areas, forested areas and pastoral land; this in turn will clear the way for these to be turned into new residential areas for the city. And thus, just as it did with the first and second bridges, İstanbul will continue developing northwards. It was in fact expected that the new statements from the ministry on the third bridge would put forward a reassurance that the third bridge would not open the way to new zoning and building regulations. In the public statement from the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs, it is noted that pre-permission had been granted for a 6,173 hectare area of forestland to be used in the building of the third airport, though no deforestation has even taken place on this land. The ministry’s statement goes on to say: “Some 70 percent of this area is occupied by forested land. Around here, there is mining activity that has occurred and is still occurring.”  

The statements made by the ministry on this front actually contradict some of the content of the Environmental Impact Report (ÇED) prepared by the construction companies involved in the building of the new airport. The ÇED report claims that the area for the project is 7,650 hectares and that 6,173 hectares of this is forested land. It also says that 1,180 hectares are open to mining and other such activities. According to the same report, there are 660 hectares of lakes, 236 hectares of pastoral land, 60 hectares of agricultural land and two hectares of marshland. In addition, it is a fact that when a piece of land does not have forest on it, it cannot be called forested land.

In its public statements about the land with the 70 large and small lakes on it, the ministry has displayed a very anachronistic approach to the environment and environmental matters. In fact, the ministry claimed that there were no natural lakes in the region, asserting instead that the lakes mentioned in the TEMA report were water-filled hollows that were the result of widespread mining activity in the area. In fact, the ministry went even further in its statements, showing the same approach that one could see in the very first years of the republic era, when people were not aware of just how vital water sources were; incredibly, the ministry said that plans to “rehabilitate” these lakes were under way, as they presented a threat to public health.

Up until today, there have been three separate ÇED reports prepared on the third airport. In the first report, it was stressed that the lakes that are a result of regional mining activity have become part of the local ecosystem over the past 40 years and are thereby linked to the general chain of life in the area. These assertions, however, were removed from the next ÇED report to emerge.

The ministry then further states that it is continuing its work to increase the amount of forested land in İstanbul. But of course, planned and human-planted forested land can never equal the value of natural forest. Cutting down natural forests and then praising the implementation of human-planted forests simply does not work on a scientific level.

In the next section, there is another contradiction in the ministry’s words, “The ÇED report has promised that the careful examination of the ecosystem characteristics of the lakes that have resulted from mining activities will be done.” But in previous statements, it had been claimed that in fact these “water-filled hollows” had no real ecological value.

In the context of these contradictory and insufficient statements from the ministry, the TEMA report sheds light on a detail that the decision-making mechanisms at work in the state couldn’t even grasp. This “detail” is that during decision-making processes about new investments that threaten the environment, factors like air, water, land and the life on this land are not seen as something of direct value. In other words, there is really no strategic environmental impact analysis being done. Financial profit has become the main aim of investment projects.  

After stressing this important detail, the TEMA report talks about the risks presented by the third bridge, the third airport and the Kanal İstanbul project. These projects all threaten the pastoral land located in Büyükçekmece, Küçükçekmece, the Terkos Lakes, the Ömerli Basin and the pastoral land of western İstanbul. The sand in Kilyos and Ağaçlı on the shores of the Black Sea, the Alibeyköy Dam area, the pastoral land of western İstanbul, the Terkos Basin, the Bosporus, the Şile coastline, the Ömerli Basin and the Pendik Valley; these are all important ecosystems in their own right and will all be negatively affected. The area of forested land set to be cut down for the third airport and the third bridge will be as much as 8,715 hectares. This means somewhere around 8,000 football fields.  

In all the plans for the airport buildings and its runways, aprons and various bases, it is not only natural forested land that will be devastated, but also around 70 small and large lakes. The rivers and streams that feed into the very important Terkos Lake will be harmed, as will local agricultural areas and pasturelands. In addition, various bird migration roads will be negatively affected, thereby presenting a real risk to the lives of precious wildlife. The risk of plane accidents will also be increased. Due to changes that take place environmentally because of these projects, immediately the local and then the wider regional climate will be affected. Not only this, but local city heat islands will be created due to changes in the distribution of local heat and moisture streams, and these changes will affect the cloud and evaporation patterns.

Finally, the entire Kanal İstanbul project presents a serious threat to İstanbul, which is already faced with limited amounts of water. Kanal İstanbul will damage the vital underground water basins in Silivri, Çatalca and Büyükçekmece, which have such potential to help with agricultural irrigation. Kanal İstanbul will also trigger intense new construction in the area. By disrupting the balance of the Marmara Sea, Kanal İstanbul will essentially turn the area around İstanbul into an unlivable region. 

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Visit to invite Yang di-Pertua Negeri to officiate at the earth-breaking ceremony

ONE UP FOR NATURE: Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Resource Planning and Environment Datu Sudarsono Osman (third left) led an entourage to pay a courtesy call on Yang di-Pertua Negeri Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud (fourth left) at Demak Jaya in Kuching yesterday. The entourage comprised representatives from government departments and agencies, as well as from Shell and Petronas The main purpose of the visit was to invite Taib to officiate at the earth-breaking ceremony to convert Piasau Camp in Miri into a nature reserve on May 10. — Photo by Penerangan

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Getting personal with a meteorite in mid-air

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