Wednesday, November 19, 2014

U.S. Senate Fails to Pass Keystone XL Pipeline Bill
Keystone XL Pipeline - BX8531
The Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.  The proposed pipeline would transport an estimated 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil each day from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Nebraska. Supporters of the bill say the project would create 42,000 jobs over the two-year construction period and reduce the cost of domestic oil.  The EPA and environmentalists have warned about the risks of chemicals seeping into the soil and ground water in fragile ecosystems and local communities, and that the pipeline would ultimately nullify attempts to curb carbon emissions.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly BJ6430
Millions of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) migrate south to over-winter deep inside the Michoacan forests of Mexico. When the forest warms during the late morning, the butterflies take wing and move down the mountain, where they congregate in the meadows, landing to drink from the dew-covered plants.

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Overwintering Monarch Butterflies 7N7835

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Robotic Probe Makes Historic Landing on Comet

Philae lander - SP9507
After a 10-year journey across four billion miles, the Rosetta satellite launched by the European Space Agency was able to carry the Philae robotic probe to its ultimate destination: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  It took about seven hours after being dropped from the Rosetta satellite for the probe to reach the comet surface.  However after its first landing, Philae bounced hundreds of meters and remained in flight for nearly two hours as the comet rotated beneath it.  The probe successfully landed by its third attempt, albeit far off from the intended landing zone.

Challenges may arise for ensuring the probe is securely fastened to the comet surface and receives enough sunlight for its solar panels.  Nevertheless, scientists are ecstatic over the data and photographs already collected from the expedition to the four billion year old comet.  The information gathered would hopefully shed more light onto the formation of our solar system and possibly the origins of life on our planet.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Scientists Develop New Alternative to Antibiotics

Antibiotic research - SL8867
Scientists and health officials agree that it's only a matter of time before conventional antibiotics fail to combat bacterial infections like MRSA, E. coli, salmonella or tuberculosis.  After decades of overuse, many bacterial strains have since mutated and developed a resistance to antibiotics like penicillin or carbapenem, drugs often saved as a "last resort" when fighting infections.  However, researchers recently tested a new drug in the Netherlands which may offer a long lasting solution to the problem of antibiotic resistance. 

The trial involved the use of endolysins, naturally occurring enzymes found in viruses known as bacteriophages.  As bacteria mutate, their cell membranes become more resilient to prevent traditional drugs from entering the cell.  However the modified endolysins are able to bind to the cell surface of specific bacteria and tear them apart, while leaving harmless or beneficial microbes unaffected.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Does Drinking Coffee Improve Liver Function?

Healthy liver, artwork - RC7464
A recent study, published by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, showed that people who drank three cups of coffee a day had lower liver enzyme levels circulating in the blood compared to those who didn't drink coffee.  Similar effects were seen in those who only drank decaffeinated coffee as well.  The study took into account dietary factors, age, sex, race, smoking and alcohol consumption among the 27,793 participants.  The reason for these effects are still unknown, but may involve one or more of the thousands of natural compounds found in coffee.

The liver is a vital organ responsible for detoxifying the blood and plays a large role in digestion and metabolism.  Liver enzymes are used as markers during blood tests to tract healthy liver function, and can often signal the presence of certain diseases like hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver cancer or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease if enzyme levels become too high.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Beavers and the Environment

"BUTTE, Mont. - Once routinely trapped and shot as varmints, their dams obliterated by dynamite and bulldozers, beavers are getting new respect these days. Across the West, they are being welcomed into the landscape as a defense against the withering effects of a warmer and drier climate." - Jim Robbins, Reversing Course on Beavers, The New York Times, October 27, 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cell Transplant Helps Paralyzed Man Walk Again

The brain and cervical spinal cord - FC3882
A 40 year old Polish man, who was paralyzed from the chest down in 2010, has regained his ability to walk after a team of Polish surgeons and British scientists transplanted sensory nerve cells into his injured spinal cord.  The treatment involves regenerative olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC's) found on olfactory bulbs, the sensory nerves responsible for our sense of smell.  Surgeons grew OEC's in a cell culture after removing one of the patient's olfactory bulbs, and grafted thin strips of nervous tissue harvested from his ankle to bridge a gap in the injured spinal cord.  The OEC's were injected into the spine, stimulating a pathway for spinal cord cells to regenerate along the harvested nerve grafts.

Six months after the treatment, the patient's legs had regained enough muscle and sensation for him to take his first steps using supportive rails and leg braces.  After two years of intensive physical rehabilitation, he can now walk on his own and has recovered some bladder and bowel sensation, as well as sexual function.  Since the transplant involved the patient's own cells, researchers note that there is no risk of rejection or need for immunosuppressive drugs, as seen in other transplant surgeries.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

American Life Expectancy Increases

Health in old age - SQ3597
A report from the National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS) on mortality rates in the U.S. showed that in 2012, life expectancy for Americans over 65 continued to increase.  It's estimated that men over 65 could live an additional 17.9 years, while women over 65 could expect to live up to 20.5 years longer.  In 1960, the average life expectancy of Americans over 65 was only 14.4 years.  Researchers note that differences in life expectancy related to race or ethnicity are also narrowing.

Fewer deaths from heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and pneumonia, were all seen to decrease in 2012 compared to 2011.  As more patients learn to manage their disabilities or chronic illnesses more effectively, advances in medical technology and better treatment options may attribute to the increased longevity.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Your Genes Influence Academic Achievement

Genetic individuality, male Head with DNA - RC8897
In the past, scientists have identified certain genes which can influence a person's IQ.  However a higher IQ doesn't guarantee better grades and tests scores in school, which relies on a combination of preparedness, confidence, motivation, and a myriad of other traits that contribute to intelligence.  Researchers from King's College London analyzed the personalities and academic success of more than 11,000 twins, surveying overall happiness to how much they liked school or how hard they worked.

The study found that certain hereditary traits seen in identical twins affecting personality, correlated with higher standardized test scores.  Educators hope that understanding the influence genetics plays on not only intelligence, but a child's motivation to learn, would stress the importance of personalized classrooms where students can become more engaged.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First U.S. Case of Ebola Diagnosed in Texas

Ebola Virus, TEM - BY2124
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that an airline passenger who arrived in Dallas from Liberia on September 20, has been diagnosed with Ebola.  He did not present any symptoms while boarding the flight because the full incubation period for the disease after exposure is around 21 days.  Since the virus can only spread through direct contact with bodily fluids after symptoms develop, no other passengers on the flight would have been infected at the time.  However, the CDC is tracking down and monitoring family and friends who may have been in close contact with the patient when he became ill. 

As the outbreak of Ebola unfolded in West Africa, officials assumed the virus would inevitably make its way to American soil.  As a result, U.S. hospitals were already well prepared to safely handle cases that require isolation protocols for treating infectious diseases.  The virus is responsible for the deaths of over 3,000 people in Africa, with no proven vaccine or cure.  Two U.S. aid workers recovered after receiving an experimental vaccine, but current treatment mainly involves supportive care until the patient recovers on their own.

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