SciTech Briefs

5-hour Energy linked to 13 deaths

Over the past four years, the energy shot 5-hour Energy has been shown to be possibly linked to 13 deaths. A summary of FDA records by The New York Times reported that “5-hour Energy has been mentioned in some 90 filings, more than 30 that involved serious or life-threatening injuries like heart attacks, convulsions and, in one case, a spontaneous abortion."

Living Essentials, LLC — the distributor of the product — didn't respond to written inquiries regarding the beverage, and did not disclose how much caffeine it contained. It appears that adverse effects are not limited to 5-hour Energy alone. Last year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 13,000 emergency room visits in 2009 were related to energy drinks.

Source : The New York Times

NASA orders all data to be encrypted after lost laptop

After losing a portable computer two weeks ago, NASA has ordered that all its electronic data be encrypted. The laptop, which was stolen Oct. 31 from NASA headquarters in Washington D.C., contained personal and sensitive information. Although it was locked, it is still susceptible to hacking since the data wasn’t encrypted.

In response, NASA has warned all employees to be wary of potential phishing schemes, such as suspicious emails. To avoid future security breaches, CIO Linda Cureton has set a target to encrypt all of NASA’s portable computers within a month, and has forbidden employees from storing sensitive information on their personal electronic devices.

Source: BBC

Increasing number of strokes among young adults

Although strokes are mainly thought to affect individuals aged 60 and older, recent studies revealed they are becoming more common in younger people. Michelle Nimmerrichter was 20 years old when she suffered a stroke in 2011 that left her in a coma. Her stroke was caused by a blood clot, either induced by a genetic abnormality in her blood or by a blood-thickening hormonal contraceptive she was taking. She underwent three weeks of treatment before recovery.

Doctors say it is important for young people such as Nimmerrichter to recognize signs of a stroke, so they can be treated quickly and effectively. The signs include weakness or numbness in any part of the body; trouble speaking, understanding, seeing, or walking; dizziness; or severe, unusual headaches. It is imperative to remember not to dismiss such signs in young people.

Source: Science Daily

Two companies make advances in biofuel production

Two companies recently announced developments that will allow the large-scale commercial production of biofuel. KiOR, in Columbus, Miss., built a factory that mixes shredded wood waste with a catalyst that removes oxygen from the wood and processes the rest into fuel.

Ineos, an oil and chemical company based in Europe, built a plant in Florida that cooks wood until it breaks down to hydrogen and carbon monoxide. These molecules are pumped into a steel tank filled with bacteria, which will consume them and excrete ethanol. KiOR aims to produce 13 million gallons of fuel and Ineos aims to produce 8 million gallons of ethanol annually.

While the methods used by both companies make biofuel production far more efficient, there is still skepticism as to whether the reliability will outweigh the costs of production.

Source: The New York Times

Light exposure at night linked to depression

A study conducted at Johns Hopkins revealed that excessive exposure to light from lamps and handheld devices at night is linked to depression and slower cognitive function. The research team studied the reaction of mice to a cycle of three-and-a-half hours of light and three-and-a-half hours of darkness.

The mice in the study had an increased level of cortisol — a stress hormone linked to learning issues — and showed signs of depression, such as declining interest in sugar or pleasurable activities. The team believes excessive light exposure will have the same effect on humans since both species have intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, which react to bright light.

Source: Science Daily

Malaria-carrying birds reach Alaskan territory

Mosquitoes that carry plasmodium, a parasite that causes malaria in birds, have been transported throughout North America via birds for millennia. Recently, the mosquitoes have made their way to Fair Banks, Ala. Most species of birds have developed an immunity to the plasmodium.

Due to climate change, the birds which carry mosquitoes with plasmodium are traveling further north, and are expected to reach the Arctic Circle by 2080. While plasmodium does not affect humans, its northern spread is an object of concern because it may affect birds that have never been exposed to the parasite.