Month: March 2018

31 Mar 2018

It’s Happening: British Man Has Uniquely Resistant Strain of Gonorrhea

It’s not a great feeling to know that you scared your doctors. Unfortunately for a man in the U.K, he recently did so: he displayed a case of gonorrhea that so dramatically resisted treatment that it chilled his physicians.

That’s partially because gonorrhea isn’t the best thing to leave untreated. But another reason: this case is a harbinger of a looming crisis.

Gonorrhea is an infection caused by a bacteria. Usually antibiotics can kill it. But after some time, the bacteria evolves to become resistant to that treatment. It also happens to be one of the world’s most common STDs, with 78 million new cases every year. 30 percent of all gonorrhea infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We’ve known this was coming. In 2017, the WHO raised a worldwide alarm about the rising spread of resistance to older and cheaper antibiotics. Some countries with better monitoring systems, the UN agency said in a statement, found cases of resistance to all known antibiotics.

This case is one of the first of its kind. The man is reported to have visited a clinic earlier this year, and was given a combination of two antibiotics, azithromycin and ceftriaxone, that was known to be effective in getting rid of the disease. After the cocktail failed to wipe out the infection, the patient is now being treated with injections of a stronger antibiotic called ertapenem and will be tested again next month, PHE said in a report.

As reported by The Guardian, the U.K. government agency Public Health England (PHE) revealed that the patient who caught the highly resistant strain had a female partner in the country, but might have been infected during a trip in Southeast Asia. Authorities are tracking down the man’s partners to try and contain the spread of the disease.

“These cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhea is actually more common,” said Teodora Wi, a human reproduction expert with WHO, in a 2017 press release.

New antibiotics are hard to come by. They are expensive to produce, and resistance evolves fast, thanks to their extensive use in agriculture and farming.

And we’re already feeling the effects. Superbugs claim the lives of up to 50,000 people every year in Europe and the U.S. alone, according to the U.K.’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Globally, drug resistant infections kill at least 700,000 people every year.

Those deaths are mostly due to resistance to cheap, widely-available antibiotics. What makes this gonorrhea case notable? So far it has resisted treatments previously considered very effective. Doctors are treating the patient with more powerful antibiotics in the hope they might finally work.

Until we have more effective treatments for gonorrhea and other antibiotic-resistant infections, the only way to avoid catching a potentially untreatable STI is the same that prevents a treatable one: protected sex.

So if you needed an extra reminder to stay safe in the boudoir, well, here you go.

Source: Futurism

29 Mar 2018

Scientists Found a Galaxy With Almost No Dark Matter. Here’s What That Means.

Roughly 65 million light-years away from Earth is a galaxy called NGC 1052-DF2 (DF2 for short). But DF2 may as well be called F-U, because that’s what it’s saying to scientists who thought they understood galaxies, dark matter, and really anything about our universe.

What makes DF2 so special, you may ask? It appears to contain virtually no dark matter.

We’ve never seen dark matter directly. We only believe dark matter exists because we can see how it affects “regular,” or baryonic, matter. Based on these indirect observations, researchers have estimated that dark matter makes up about 27 percent of our universe.

Since dark matter was (sort of) discovered, researchers assumed dark matter was essential to galaxy formation. Dark matter would clump together. Then, the gravity from those clumps would attract baryonic matter, forming the stars, planets, and other objects we can actually see within a galaxy. Easy, right?

Based on this understanding, the team studying DF2 thought they had a pretty good idea how much dark matter it contained. But when they calculated how much dark matter DF2 actually had, they discovered it contained only 1/400th the amount they expected.

“It challenges the standard ideas of how we think galaxies work,” Pieter van Dokkum, a Yale University professor and lead author of a paper on DF2, now published in Nature, said in a press release. “This result also suggests that there may be more than one way to form a galaxy.”

This might seem counterintuitive, but DF2 actually supports the existence of dark matter, which some theories argue doesn’t exist.

“For those kinds of theories, it wouldn’t be possible to ever have a galaxy that looks as though it doesn’t have dark matter,” Jocelyn Monroe, a particle physicist and dark matter expert at Royal Holloway, University of London, who was not involved in the study, told The Verge. “So [this galaxy is] really interesting for the potential it has to exclude some of these ideas.”

The researchers hope to pin down the age of DF2. “At the moment, we only know its older than 10 billion years, but we’d like to know if it’s 10 billion years old or 13 billion years old, which is right after the Big Bang,” van Dokkum told ABC.

If DF2 does end up being 13 billion years old, it could rack in another superlative: the oldest galaxy ever discovered.

Source: Futurism

27 Mar 2018

How Your Gut Controls Your Mind and What to Do About It

Have you ever had that gut feeling? A feeling that makes you suddenly feel anxious or feel like something isn’t right? It’s not just a figure of speech, because there is actually science behind it. This is caused by the microbes in your gut communicating with your brain via something called the vagus nerve, and vice versa. So let’s look at what has to happen in the gut to cause it to start sending signals to the brain that result in problems like depression or anxiety.
Scientific evidence shows a strong connection between chronic diseases and inflammation. Inflammation is most commonly rooted in the gut, where around 70 percent of our immune system resides. Our food choices result in oxidative stress, setting the stage for inflammatory ailments such as depression, anxiety, brain fog, obesity and more. The health of your gut directly impacts the health of your brain.
The gut communicated with our immune system and also communicates with the brain using, among other things, neurotransmitters. One function of neurotransmitters is that they that they send key messages to the brain, resulting in various effects on the body.
Serotonin and dopamine are some well-known neurotransmitters that are typically associated with a good mood. In fact, while many believe that serotonin is primarily produced in the brain, it’s been found that up to 90 percent of serotonin is actually created in the gut.
Dr. Helen Messer, the Chief Medical Officer at Viome, which analyzes the gut microbiome, told Futurism that “the bacteria in the gut make or consume the majority of neurotransmitters in our bodies.”
Essentially, if your gut is producing an adequate amount of mood-improving chemicals like serotonin, then it will send signals to the brain that will result in various benefits such as better sleep and satiety. It’s obviously more complicated than that, but that’s the general rundown. So how do you influence your gut to help it produce the good neurotransmitters and other compounds that make the mind feel better? A lot of it has to do with eating the right diet that your gut needs.

gut mind brain

The foods that we eat affect the composition of our microbes and in turn change the products that our gut produces, Dr. Messier said. A fatty diet, especially, can turn on the bad bacteria that like those types of food. These fast food loving organisms produce inflammatory compounds setting the stage for chronic diseases.
The truth is that your gut is incredibly unique. It’s more unique than your fingerprint. It’s important to understand that there is no food that can be considered universally non-inflammatory. The same food that can heal one person and cause inflammation in another person depending the composition of the gut microbiome, Viome CEO Naveen Jain told Futurism. Your gut can metabolize the same food to produce nutrients that your body needs or can produce harmful toxins that cause inflammation. That spinach you’ve been told to eat your whole life may not actually be healthy for you right now.
A healthy diet personalized for you allows your gut not produce inflammatory compounds and instead produce healthy compounds like butyrate and neurotransmitters that positively affect the brain and mind. It’s not just neurotransmitters, though. The bacteria in your gut also produce vitamins and nutrients your brain needs to function properly.
“Neurotransmitter production in the brain is dependent on specific vitamins,” Dr. Messier said. “Folic acid is an example. Our brain absolutely depends on folic acid, and our bacteria make it for us. If they don’t have the right building blocks that come from the food, they won’t be able to make the things we depend on.”
If your brain does not get the nutrients it needs, then nerve signals slow down, and different parts of the brain start having trouble communicating effectively, Dr. Messier explained. The good news is that the microbiome changes. If someone adequately improves their diet, based on personalized recommendations, Dr. Messier says their gut can be rebalanced in a matter of weeks.
To find out what your unique microbiome needs, it’s best to get your gut tested. Viome, where Dr. Messier works, has developed an RNA sequencing method that is affordable and accurately identifies which organisms are active in your gut. Not only what organisms are there, but also what these organisms are doing and what they are producing. We’ve reported on it in the past. Viome offers personalized food recommendations based on the needs of your gut. Not only will your gut thank you, your brain will thank you too.

Source: Futurism

24 Mar 2018

A Mobile Scanner Reveals Brain Activity of Patients Doing Everyday Tasks

Children with mental and neurological disorders have plenty of challenges in their lives. The last thing they need is to sit still for a while with their heads stuck in a machine — the current technique that scientists use to take pictures of their brain activity. It’s inconvenient and unpleasant, but it’s also pretty limited, because it tells scientists nothing about how the brain behaves when the patient is active, going about their daily lives.

Scientists in the U.K. and U.S. decided it was time to make brain imaging way less stressful for patients, not to mention suitable for patients that struggle to keep still, such as toddlers.

They came up with a (scary-looking but) versatile helmet that allows them to move relatively freely as it scans their brain. The helmet is 3D printed, can be personalized to fit a patient’s head, and weighs less than one kilogram.

The researchers were able to shrink the machine without reducing its function by replacing the conventional sensors, which require a heavy cooling system, with tiny ones that use a different technique to capture the brain’s magnetic field.

As reported by New Scientist, the team tested the helmet on four volunteers. They were asked to move their fingers, to play a ball game and even have a cup of tea (because England). These experiments showed the portable scan worked as precisely and accurately as a conventional static one.

“This has the potential to revolutionize the brain imaging field, and transform the scientific and clinical questions that can be addressed with human brain imaging,” Gareth Barnes, a neuroimaging expert with the University College London and a partner of the project, told The Guardian.

Patients wearing the helmet can’t exactly forget about it — the scanner only works inside a special room designed to suppress the influence of the Earth’s natural magnetic field, which would interfere with the procedure. Oh, and it don’t just sit on the top of the head, but covers part of the face, too.

Still, the device could help researchers study child development, or brain activity of children with epilepsy. Better understanding could allow doctors to catch problems sooner, and treat them better.

Although still experimental, the device’s creators are confident that a mobile brain scanner holds great promises for science. They may do more tests, on people with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, or psychoses, and see if they learn anything new.

They also realize the design isn’t quite where it needs to be. So they’re working on making future iterations look similar to a bike helmet. Perhaps they realized that terrified patients with their heads stuffed in giant devices might not give the most reliable brain scans.

Source: Futurism

22 Mar 2018

The EU Won’t Wait for Global Agreement on Cryptocurrencies: Spain’s Economy Minister

During the G20 summit, the Spanish Minister of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness, Román Escolano Olivares, revealed that he doesn’t see cryptocurrencies as a threat to the global financial system and that the European Union (EU) may not wait for a globally coordinated effort to regulate cryptos.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing summit, the minister pointed to two fundamental issues when it comes to cryptocurrencies – which he prefers to call crypto-assets – which are consumer protection, and their use in illicit activities.

Regarding cryptocurrencies, Olivares stated (roughly translated):

“The general agreement we have reached, is that right now we cannot think that crypto-assets are a risk to global financial stability, but it’s a subject we need to actively monitor.”

Olivares went on to state that consumer protection is an issue and that the Spanish Securities Commission (CNMV) and the country’s central bank have issued statements advising investors to tread carefully.

In addition, he pointed out that it’s important to address the role cryptocurrencies can have in crime and terrorist financing. Per his words, “it is very important that there are clear rules to prevent this kind of activity from developing,” thanks to the anonymity provided by various cryptocurrencies.

He added:

“In this way the FATF [Financial Action Task Force], which is an international body that regulates these activities, has a very clear position in which it is necessary to monitor and propose legislative norms around the world to prevent these activities.”

The minister’s position seemingly reinforces the views of the world’s economic leaders. As covered by CCN, the G20 communique showed “crypto-assets” is a preferred term, and that cryptocurrencies raise issues when it comes to investor protection, tax evasion, market integrity, money laundering, and terrorism financing.

The document goes on to state regulation recommendations are coming in July 2018. These will presumably allow for the development of the digital economy and its technology, while hindering their use for criminal activities.

Notably, Olivares pointed out that the European Union will not wait for a global agreement on cryptocurrencies. The minister revealed that the new digital economy should play its role in the “financing of public goods, the welfare system, and collective needs,” and not just leave it to the “so-called old economy.” He concluded:

“Our position is that we welcome the OECD proposals that have been presented here and we are ready to move forward. Tomorrow (March 21) the European Comission will propose a directive on how this new economy can participate in the financing of public accounts. Spain immediately joins the statements of other European colleagues and we want to move forward without the need to wait for a global agreement. There are huge income distribution problems and the new digital economy can greatly help countries in combating this problem. “

Hat tip to Cassio Gusson and Cristhian Raphael from Criptomoedas Fácil.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Source: CNN

21 Mar 2018

That “Game Changer” Treatment for MS Is Too Good To Be True — Really

A new treatment for the chronic and debilitating disease multiple sclerosis (MS) has doctors throwing around phrases like “game changer.” Newsweek said it could “revolutionize care for one million Americans.” Alphr called it a“breakthrough.”

There are just a few problems, however: The experimental procedure is under scrutiny from regulators, the experiment’s web site may have overstated the effectiveness of the not-yet-proven treatment, and patients have to foot the bill.

Oh, and no one has seen the study yet.

MS causes the immune system to attack a person’s nerve cells. According a press release, the treatment combats the disease by using chemotherapy to suppress their immune system, then “resetting” it with an injection of their own stem cells taken from the blood and bone marrow.

The trial involved over 100 patients with relapsing remitting MS, in whom the disease oscillates between attacks and periods of remission. Patients were recruited from cities all over the world Chicago, United States, Sheffield, United Kingdom, Uppsala, Sweden, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

For at least one patient, it appears to have worked. The BBC met a now symptom-free patient who was once bedridden but is now living free of MS, she says. After the treatment, the 36-year-old woman from Rotherham in the U.K. says she was healthy enough to carry and give birth to her first child — something she thought she would never be able to do.

After a year, only one patient had relapsed in the stem cell group, compared to 39 on the standard treatment, the BBC reports. After three years, the stem cell treatment was ineffective in 6 percent of patients, versus 60 percent in the standard treatment group. The patients who underwent the stem cell transplant saw their symptoms improve overall.

Sounds good, right? But press releases and media reports don’t provide nearly enough information to call something a “breakthrough.”

The study with all the details to answer these questions has not yet been published, nor has it been peer-reviewed. Richard Burt, the chief of immunotherapy and autoimmune diseases at the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and lead researcher on the study, plans to submit the study for publication sometime in May, a press officer from Northwestern University told Futurism.

The results reported in the BBC piece are just the preliminary findings. And that leaves a number of questions still unanswered — are these results permanent? What are the risks? Who isn’t suited to have their immune system wiped out through aggressive chemo?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also flagged some serious issues in the study’s protocol. If that sounds boring and bureaucratic, think of it this way: for a few months, the lead investigator somehow forgot to report a number of nasty side effects of the treatment, including chest infection and the worsening of conditions as diverse as vertigo, narcolepsy, stuttering, and hyperglycemia, among others.

One thing we know for sure? It’s real expensive. The BBC noted it cost patients £30,000 ($42,000) to receive the experimental treatment, but biomedical scientist and science writer Paul Knoepfler, who has been following the trial since last year,says it ran some patients between $100,000 and $200,000.

Clinical trials are expensive, so it’s not totally uncommon for some of the cost to be passed on to patients that want to enroll, as long as they are clear about what they are getting.

But it’s patients’ expectations where things get a little murky. In his article, Knoepfler notes how the trial’s homepage, now password-protected but still visible through Wayback Machine, seems to overpromise: the homepage indirectly references the word “cure” in several places, showcasing headlines that mention it (though in an interview Burt said he wouldn’t use that word). Overall the page makes some awfully big claims for an experimental treatment, Knoepfler notes.

And for people who decide to fork over the astronomical sum needed for the treatment, there’s a handbook offering some helpful fundraising ideas. Options include: “call your local media including the news stations, TV stations, newspapers and radio. Encourage them to do a special feature or human interest story for the cause.” Selling one’s private life to the media seems to benefit the researchers a bit more than the person desperately trying to raise funds for what they see as a life-changing treatment.

And if the treatment does become approved by regulators, those “helpful fundraising ideas” will be even more necessary for patients. In the U.K., Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at the MS Society, told the BBC  that the stem cell transplant “will soon be recognized as an established treatment in England — and when that happens our priority will be making sure those who could benefit can actually get it.” That’s great for British patients that have the country’s National Health Service footing the bill. What about the U.S., where healthcare is not public and definitely not for all?

The preliminary results of the study are exciting, no question. But calling the treatment a “game changer” is, undoubtedly, premature. Until the study is properly peer-reviewed and published, patients looking for a breakthrough intervention for MS should proceed with caution. And keep their personal stories, and their hard-earned cash, to themselves.

Source: Futurism

19 Mar 2018

Growing New Veins Could Make Life Better for People on Dialysis

IN BRIEF

Long-term dialysis patients are subject to infections and other complications, because they need to have a small plastic tube implanted in their arm. Now a company is trying to grow new blood vessels that naturally link to the machine.

The journey awaiting kidney patients in need of a transplant is often long and painful, and can lead to weekly stints undergoing uncomfortable dialysis treatment. A new device, which helps patients grow new veins that make it easier to filter the blood, could mean the world to those who have to endure the procedure every few days for months or even years.

As kidneys fail, they stop cleaning the blood from the impurities that the body normally gets rid of via urine. Although kidney disease can sometimes have few symptoms, it can be fatal, unless doctors intervene and perform the kidneys’ joboutside the body, through the process known as dialysis. During dialysis, patients have their blood pulled out, purified and put back in on a regular basis. The tedious procedure keeps them alive as they wait for a transplant, but it has some serious side effects, including damage to the veins.

Long-term dialysis users have a plastic tube implanted into their arm to facilitate the removal and injection of blood, because human veins are too fragile to endure the procedure every week for a long time. The tiny plastic tubes are meant to protect the veins while also making it easier to extract the blood.

However, “when you leave plastic implants in the body, they tend to occlude [block] quite easily,” explained Silvére Lucquin, CEO of the company Aditlys, to Engadget. His company’s research indicates that these blockages occur in 50 percent of patients within the first year of therapy. For this reason, Aditlys wants to equip patients to better cope with prolonged periods of dialysis, by helping them grow blood vessels that connect more easily to the machine.

They plan to do so by installing a hollow artificial implant into a patient’s veins. Over time, this polymer-based vessel will supports the growth of new tissue that shapes around it. While the implant slowly dissolves, the new veins will form a natural link for the dialysis tube.

Compared with a plastic implant permanently stuck in the arm, the natural junction protects patients from the infections that are very common in this type of procedure. Aditlys plans to use a combination of advanced medical technologies, building on a process of endogenous tissue restoration introduced by a company called Xeltis. While Xeltis mainly worked on restoring heart valves, Lucquin and his team will be focusing on blood vessels.

The idea is still in its early stages, and it still has a long way to go before hitting the market. Yet given that one in three American adults risk getting kidney disease at some point, every improvement that can make their life easier has the potential to make a massive impact.

Source: Futurism

17 Mar 2018

OpenAI Wants to Make Safe AI, but That May Be an Impossible Task

IN BRIEF

We know that true artificial intelligence is on the horizon, and a number of organizations are trying to figure out how we can protect ourselves from it. However, answers are elusive.

True artificial intelligence is on its way, and we aren’t ready for it. Just as our forefathers had trouble visualizing everything from the modern car to the birth of the computer, it’s difficult for most people to imagine how much truly intelligent technology could change our lives as soon as the next decade — and how much we stand to lose if AI goes out of our control.

Fortunately, there’s a league of individuals working to ensure that the birth of artificial intelligence isn’t the death of humanity. From Max Tegmark’s Future of Life Institute to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Future Society, the world’s most renowned experts are joining forces to tackle one of the most disruptive technological advancements (and greatest threats) humanity will ever face.

Perhaps the most famous organization to be born from this existential threat is OpenAI. It’s backed by some of the most respected names in the industry: Elon Musk, the SpaceX billionaire who founded Open AI, but departed the board this yearto avoid conflicts of interest with Tesla; Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator; and Peter Thiel, of PayPal fame, just to name a few. If anyone has a chance at securing the future of humanity, it’s OpenAI.

But there’s a problem. When it comes to creating safe AI and regulating this technology, these great minds have little clue what they’re doing. They don’t even know where to begin.

The Dawn of a New Battle

While traveling in Dubai, I met with Michael Page, the Policy and Ethics Advisor at OpenAI. Beneath the glittering skyscrapers of the self-proclaimed “city of the future,” he told me of the uncertainty that he faces. He spoke of the questions that don’t have answers, and the fantastically high price we’ll pay if we don’t find them.

The conversation began when I asked Page about his role at OpenAI. He responded that his job is to “look at the long-term policy implications of advanced AI.” If you think that this seems a little intangible and poorly defined, you aren’t the only one. I asked Page what that means, practically speaking. He was frank in his answer: “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Page attempted to paint a better picture of the current state of affairs by noting that, since true artificial intelligence doesn’t actually exist yet, his job is a little more difficult than ordinary.

He noted that, when policy experts consider how to protect the world from AI, they are really trying to predict the future. They are trying to, as he put it, “find the failure modes … find if there are courses that we could take today that might put us in a position that we can’t get out of.” In short, these policy experts are trying to safeguard the world of tomorrow by anticipating issues and acting today. The problem is that they may be faced with an impossible task.

Page is fully aware of this uncomfortable possibility, and readily admits it. “I want to figure out what can we do today, if anything. It could be that the future is so uncertain there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

Our problems don’t stop there. It’s also possible that we’ll figure out what we need to do in order to protect ourselves from AI’s threats, and realize that we simply can’t do it. “It could be that, although we can predict the future, there’s not much we can do because the technology is too immature,” Page said.

This lack of clarity isn’t really surprising, given how young this industry is. We are still at the beginning, and so all we have are predictions and questions. Page and his colleagues are still trying to articulate the problem they’re trying to solve, figure out what skills we need to bring to the table, and what policy makers will need to be in on the game.

As such, when asked for a concrete prediction of where humanity and AI will together be in a year, or in five years, Page didn’t offer false hope: “I have no idea,” he said.

However, Page and OpenAI aren’t alone in working on finding the solutions. He therefore hopes such solutions may be forthcoming: “Hopefully, in a year, I’ll have an answer. Hopefully, in five years, there will be thousands of people thinking about this,” Page said.

Well then, perhaps it’s about time we all get our thinking caps on.

Source: Futurism

15 Mar 2018

Happy Pi Day, Here’s Some piCoin, piCoin is Actually a Thing

IN BRIEF

The joy of Pi Day may tempt you into purchasing some pi-based cryptocurrency. As trendy as that sounds, you’d probably be better off sticking with real pie today.

This is not a joke: piCoin is a thing that actually exists. The cryptocurrency launched in 2013 (and then re-launched in 2014) with the aim of creating a crypto with mathematical and educational underpinnings. piCoin’s specifications revolve around the infinite-digit number that gives its name. The maximum number of coins is capped at 31,415,926,535. Its block time (or: how long it takes to solve each transaction in its blockchain) is 314 seconds. And the reward for solving that initial block is 314,159 coins. And so on.

Convinced? Don’t jump for your wallet just yet.

At its launch in March 2014, bloggers seemed to see piCoin as an interesting enough concept. According to a forum post from that time, the founders had lofty goals for this math-oriented concept, hoping to popularize it among “mathematicians, math teachers, math enthusiasts, and every student in the world taking a math course.” And indeed, it had a wild ride! As the coin grew, the founders imagined “opportunities for charitable efforts will arise; math scholarships, education for those in need, and even funding a school in a third world country are all distinct possibilities down the road.”

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Within two months of that 2014 launch, buying had slowed to a dribble, though the coin’s developers claimed to be working on some marketing ideas. Within three months, even enthusiasts of the coin were declaring it officially dead. CryptoSlate currently lists the coin as abandoned.

So it’s probably not a great idea to complete your Pi Day with a heaping slice of piCoin. Instead, use piCoin as a cautionary tale — as crypto continues to surge in popularity and grow as a mainstream interest, it’s probably best to exercise a reasonable amount of caution when approaching new coins with attention-grabby conceits. Or, at the very least, give them more caution that you’d approach, say, an actual pie.

Source: Futurism

12 Mar 2018

Here’s What Scientists Can Learn From Newly-Discovered Deep-Earth Mineral

IN BRIEF

The fourth most abundant material on Earth has never been actually seen in nature — until now. Researchers have confirmed that this deep-Earth mineral hitched a ride to human hands in a sliver of diamond that formed under unique conditions.

It turns out that diamonds are more precious than we gave them credit for. Inside a small sliver of diamond, researchers found calcium silicate perovskite (CaSiO3) — a mysterious deep-Earth mineral that no one had previously seen in nature. While this mineral is the fourth most abundant material on Earth, it becomes unstable when it rises above the high-pressure environments found 650 kilometers (400 miles) or more below the surface.

But here’s the thing — the diamond was found less than 1 km (0.62 miles) below the surface in South Africa’s Cullinan diamond mine, making this not only the first siting of CaSiO3, but also a unique example of how such a mineral could survive a trip to our low-pressure environment.

“Nobody has ever managed to keep this mineral stable at Earth’s surface,” lead researcher Graham Pearson, a geochemist at the University of Alberta, said in a press release. “The only possible way of preserving this mineral at Earth’s surface is when it’s trapped in an unyielding container like a diamond.”

Image Credit: Nester Korolev/University of British Columbia
Image Credit: Nester Korolev/University of British Columbia

The diamond itself is unique as well. While diamonds typically form between 150 and 200 km (93 and 124 miles) below Earth’s surface, researchers estimated that this crystal likely originates from about 700 km (430 miles) below, where CaSiO3 is formed. The pressure was greater at this lower level, allowing the deep-Earth mineral to be trapped and held stably.

Now that scientists not only have proof of this mineral’s existence but a natural physical sample, they can further study it. “The specific composition of the perovskite inclusion in this particular diamond very clearly indicates the recycling of oceanic crust into Earth’s lower mantle. It provides fundamental proof of what happens to the fate of oceanic plates as they descend into the depths of the Earth,” Pearson said in the press release.

This initial study, which is published Wednesday, March 7, in the journal Nature, included spectroscopic analysis to confirm that the substance in the diamond was actually CaSiO3. Researchers at the University of British Columbia will continue this work and expand our knowledge of the mineral’s age and how it originated.

By better understanding both this mineral and the unique diamond it stowed away in, scientists can better understand the inner workings of our planet and how they may impact both our present and our future.

Source: Futurism