Heat extremes increase despite global warming hiatus – scientists

Hot weather extremes have increased around the world in the past 15 years despite a slowdown in the overall pace of global warming, a study has shown. Heat extremes are among the damaging impacts of climate change as they can raise death rates, especially among the elderly, damage food crops and strain everything from water to energy supplies.

“Observational data show a continued increase of hot extremes over land during the so-called global warming hiatus,” scientists in Switzerland, Australia and Canada wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

A Russian heatwave in 2010 killed more than 55,000 people and a 2003 European heatwave killed 66,000. Pakistan recorded a temperature of 53.5 degrees Celsius (128 Fahrenheit) in 2010, the highest in Asia since 1942.

The average pace of warming at the planet’s surface has slowed from the 20th century in what scientists link to factors such as absorption of more heat by the oceans, more sun-dimming pollution or volcanic eruptions. This hiatus has heartened those who doubt that governments need to make big, urgent investments to shift from fossil fuels towards renewable energies. Almost 200 nations have agreed to work out a deal by the end of 2015 to combat climate change.

The report found that the area of the world’s land surface with 10, 30 and 50 extreme heat days a year had risen since 1997 from a 1979-2010 average, sometimes more than doubling, with big swings from year to year. Strongest gains were in the Arctic and mid-latitudes. It was unclear why heat extremes had continued rising despite the hiatus. One possibility was that the oceans had soaked up heat from the atmosphere and slowed overall global warming, even as the land had been exposed to extremes.

“There is no reason to expect the (trend towards more hot extremes) to stop,” lead author Sonia Seneviratne, of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich, said.

The report follows other signs of more extreme weather as greenhouse gas emissions rise to new peaks. A World Meteorological Organization (WMO) review last year showed that 56 countries reported a hot temperature record from 2001-10, while just 14 reported a new cold record. England had a record 38.5 C (101.3F) in 2003, while northern Ireland had a record low -11.3 C (11.7 F) in 2010.

In Geneva, Michel Jarraud, head of the WMO, told a meeting that 13 of the 14 warmest years on record had been since 2000. “We are not seeing what I would call a pause in global temperature increases,” he said.


Adult Stem Cells Suppress Cancer While Dormant

Researchers have discovered a mechanism in adult stem cells by which the cells suppress their ability to initiate cancer during their dormant phase, an understanding that could be exploited for better cancer prevention strategies.

The study, conducted at UCLA’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, was led by Andrew White, post-doctoral fellow, and William Lowry, associate professor of molecular.

Hair follicle stem cells (HFSC), the tissue-specific adult stem cells that generate the hair follicles, are also the cells of origin for cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a common skin cancer. These HFSCs cycle between periods of activation, during which they can grow, and quiescence, when they remain dormant.

Using mouse models, White and Lowry applied known cancer-causing genes (oncogenes) to HFSCs and found that during cell quiescence, the cells could not be made to initiate SCC. Once the HFSC were in their active period, they began growing cancer.

“We found that this tumor suppression via adult stem cell quiescence was mediated by Pten, a gene important in regulating the cell’s response to signaling pathways,” White said, “therefore, stem cell quiescence is a novel form of tumor suppression in hair follicle stem cells, and Pten must be present for the suppression to work.”

Source: Nature Cell Biology


Western Union faces probe for fraud-induced money transfers

(Reuters) – Money-transfer company Western Union Co is being probed by the Federal Trade Commission and a U.S. district court over fraud-induced money transfers, the company said in a regulatory filing on Monday.

UK-WESTERNUNION-PROBE:Western Union faces probe for fraud-induced money transfers
Reuters A Western Union branch is seen in New York July 30, 2013.REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The company said it received a civil investigative demand from the FTC on February 21, requesting documents related to consumer complaints regarding fraud-induced money transfers sent from or received in the United States since 2004.

Western Union also said it has received multiple subpoenas since November 25 from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The inquiries have sought documents related to complaints made by consumers to Western Union relating to fraud-induced money transfers since January 1, 2008, as well as information about Western Union’s agents, the company said in the filing.

“The government’s investigation is ongoing and the company may receive additional requests for information as part of the investigation,” Western Union said.

Western Union has been battling the FTC over a civil investigative demand for information about consumer complaints in December 2012. A federal judge in New York ordered the company to comply with the request last December.

The world’s largest money-transfer company reported a 27 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit, largely due higher costs linked to tightened regulations to prevent money laundering.


G20 countries to start auto exchange by end of 2015

Finance ministers of the G20 countries have agreed to begin the general automatic exchange of tax information by the end of 2015.

In a communique issued after their weekend meeting in Sydney, they requested all jurisdictions to follow suit and adopt the OECD protocol on information exchange if they are able to.

The communique also threatened ‘tougher incentives’ for jurisdictions that have failed their OECD tax transparency evaluations.

Some 14 jurisdictions have not been permitted to progress to phase 2 of the OECD peer reviews, meaning that their banking secrecy laws do not permit foreign tax authorities to request disclosure of accountholder information.

The use of the word ‘incentive’ in the G20 communique suggests that financial sanctions may be on the way for these jurisdictions.

• The G20 leaders also committed to the OECD’s plan to counter profit shifting by multinational companies. Practical measures affecting all industries, not just the ‘digital economy’, are expected to come into effect by the G20 Brisbane summit in September. Completion of the so-called Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project is scheduled for the end of 2015.


Biomaterials Get Stem Cells To Transform Into Bone-Building Cells

With the help of biomimetic matrices, a research team has discovered how calcium phosphate can coax stem cells to become bone-building cells.

UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering professor Shyni Varghese and colleagues have traced a surprising pathway from these biomaterials to bone formation. Their findings will help them refine the design of biomaterials that encourage stem cells to give rise to new bone.

The researchers said their study may also point out new targets for treating bone defects and bone metabolic disorders such as major fractures and osteoporosis.

The materials are built to mimic the body’s own cellular niches, in which undifferentiated or “blank slate” stem cells from bone marrow transform into specific bone-forming cells.

“We knew for years that calcium phosphate-based materials promote osteogenic differentiation of stem cells, but none of us knew why,” Varghese said. “As engineers, we want to build something that is reproducible and consistent, so we need to know how building factors contribute to this end.”

The researchers found that when phosphate ions gradually dissolve from these materials, they are taken up by the stem cells and used for the production of ATP, a key metabolic molecule. An ATP metabolic product called adenosine then signals the stem cells to commit to becoming bone-forming cells.


New stem cell method may eliminate need for blood donations to maintain platelet supply

Platelets, whose primary function is to prevent bleeding, are vital for treating various forms of trauma and blood diseases. However, they can only be obtained through blood donations at present. Researchers reporting online February 13 in the Cell Press journal Cell Stem Cell recently found a way to create platelets without the need for donated blood, an advance that could possibly erase supply shortages and ensure platelet treatments for all who need them.

The supply of donated platelets, which have a short shelf life and must be kept at room temperature, is often insufficient to meet clinical needs. In addition, while transfused platelets do not typically need to be immune-matched to patients, repeated transfusion of unmatched platelets leads to an immune reaction that eventually renders patients unresponsive to platelet transfusion therapy.

To address these limitations, investigators from Japan developed a strategy to derive functional platelets from human induced pluripotent stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells can be generated from various types of cells in the body, and they can in turn be coaxed to develop into nearly any other cell type. In the current study, the approach involved genetically manipulating such stem cells to become stable immortalized lines of platelet-producing cells called megakaryocyte progenitors.

The megakaryocyte progenitors could produce large quantities of platelets with clotting capabilities that were similar to those of donated platelets. Unlike freshly donated platelets, though, the immortalized megakaryocyte progenitors could be expanded and frozen for long-term storage.

“Here we established a method to achieve the long-term self-replication of megakaryocyte progenitors as an immortalized cell line, which could eventually contribute to large-scale cultivation and production of platelets,” says senior author Dr. Koji Eto of Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo.

Source: ScienceDaily