Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Headline Science

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Headline Science

Article excerpt

Space Travel Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

As if space travel weren't already hazardous enough, a new study shows that cosmic radiation--which would bombard astronauts on a mission to Mars--could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

"Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts," said professor M. Kerry O'Banion of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and senior author of the study. The possibility that radiation exposure in space might give rise to cancer has long been recognized. This study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation could speed up changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Earth's magnetic field generally protects the planet and people in low Earth orbit from cosmic radiation. However, astronauts beyond Earth's orbit are exposed to a constant shower of various radioactive particles. With appropriate warning, astronauts can be shielded from dangerous radiation associated with solar flares. But other forms of cosmic radiation cannot be effectively blocked.

This concerns NASA as the agency plans manned missions to a distant asteroid in 2021 and to Mars in 2035. The round-trip to the red planet, in particular, could take as long as three years.

For over 25 years, NASA has been funding research to determine the potential health risks of space travel in an effort to both develop countermeasures and determine whether the risks outweighed the benefits of sending men and women on extended missions beyond Earth's orbit.

Several studies have demonstrated the potential cancer, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal impact of galactic cosmic radiation. The new study for the first time examines the potential impact of space radiation on neuro-degeneration, in particular, the biological processes in the brain that contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers studied the impact of a particular form of radiation called high-mass, high-charged (HZE) particles. These particles--propelled through space at high speeds by the force of exploding stars--come in many different forms. For this study the researcher chose iron particles.

Unlike hydrogen protons, which are produced by solar flares, the mass of HZE particles like iron, combined with their speed, enable them to penetrate solid objects such as the wall and protective shielding of a spacecraft.

"Because iron particles pack a bigger wallop, it is extremely difficult from an engineering perspective to effectively shield against them," said O'Banion. "One would have to essentially wrap a spacecraft in a six-foot block of lead or concrete." (University of Rochester Medical Center)


New Species of Venomous Primate At Risk

A venomous primate with two tongues would seem safe from the pet trade, but its big-eyed, teddy-bear face has made the slow loris (Nycticebus kayan) a target for illegal pet poachers throughout the animal's range in southeastern Asia and nearby islands. A University of Missouri doctoral student and her colleagues recently identified three new species of slow loris. The primates had originally been grouped with another species. Dividing the species into four distinct classes means the risk of extinction is greater than previously believed for the animals but could help efforts to protect the unusual primate.

"Four separate species are harder to protect than one, since each species needs to maintain its population numbers and have sufficient forest habitat," said lead author Rachel Munds, MU doctoral student in anthropology. "Unfortunately, beside habitat loss to deforestation, there is a booming black market demand for the animals. They are sold as pets, used as props for tourist photos, or dismembered for use in traditional Asian medicines."


According to Munds, slow lorises are not domesticated and are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. …

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