Genetics: Yes, the environment can influence our DNA

Epigenetic research discovers how the environment communicates with genes and educates their activity. This communication includes a system that uses specific molecules produced by cellular metabolism to modify the histone proteins that organize DNA chemically. An international collaboration has just highlighted a new way of communicating with genes by characterizing the function of chemical modifications of histones unknown until now.

Our cells organize the DNA carrying our genes into a compact structure within the nucleus of our cells using specific proteins, histones. Intense research over the last few decades has revealed chemical changes in histones that constitute a real language instructing the function of associated genes.

Specific molecular systems have been identified that implement, recognize, interpret and remove these changes. All these systems cooperate to direct the functioning of genes according to their molecular environment. However, cellular metabolism strongly conditions this environment.

One of the first chemical modifications identified and intensely studied is acetylation. It is placed by enzymes, histones-acetyltransferases (HAT), and is recognized by proteins with a particular domain, bromodomain: it is removed by other enzymes, histones-deacetylases (HDAC). HATs use acetyl-CoA, a small molecule produced by metabolism, to direct the acetylation of histones. It can directly modify the packaging of genes by histones or signal the action of other proteins on genes. This system therefore directly links the functioning of genes to the production of acetyl-CoA in cells and, as a result, relates gene activity to metabolism.

 

Modification of histones, these specific proteins

 

Collaborative research by French, American and Chinese scientists shows that histone acetylation has a competitor, butyrylation, a modification that also has its source in metabolism. Surprisingly, it has been observed that the most active genes are not only marked by acetylation of histones, but also by butyrylation of the same histones. They also show that the enzyme that acetyls histones also directs butyrylation.

Butyrylation, like acetylation of histones, directly activates gene expression, but on the other hand, prevents proteins that recognize acetylation from binding to histones. As a result, the researchers discovered an aspect of active gene expression that is based on a successive alternation of different chemical modifications of histones with opposite functional consequences. This system creates a dynamic state of return of factors at the gene level, necessary to maintain their active expression.

 

Better understand the control of gene expression.

 

The discovery of this system brings new concepts to understand better how genes work and how the environment communicates with them. Indeed, a change in the ratio of acetylation and butyrylation of histones, both from metabolism, could durably affect the state of gene expression. It could explain how a metabolic disorder could drastically alter genome expression.

The prospects for a thorough understanding of the control of gene expression, the effect of the environment on gene expression and the occurrence of diseases, as well as the identification of mechanisms for the transgenerational transmission of information from the environment, stem from this work published in the journal Molecular Cell.

Oceans: the effects of plastics on animals and the environment

The first effect of plastic waste is a visual impact: debris washed up on the banks of rivers, beaches, piles of floating objects at sea. But some less directly apparent effects are also more severe.

Every second, hundreds of tons of waste (out of the 4 billion generated annually) ends up at sea, much of it plastic. Floating objects or microparticles, this plastic waste is deposited on beaches, dispersed at sea and found on the seabed. What effects do they have on man and his environment?

Highly resistant, abandoned or accidentally lost nets constitute a significant cause of mortality in animals; associations estimate that 100,000 marine mammals and one million birds die from strangulation or choking in these traps around the world each year. 

Transport of invasive species via plastic

Not many studies have been conducted, but the risk is there, with its environmental, health and economic consequences (invasive algae, bacteria in oyster or fish farming areas).
The recent discovery of the insect Halobates sericeus living on floating plastics in the Pacific is a perfect illustration. A 2007 study showed that the spread of species in subtropical waters has almost doubled due to debris. It tripled in temperate waters.

The real danger is the alteration of ecosystem balance caused by the transport of invasive species over long distances. Some wastes are useful floating supports for bacteria (specific pathogens for marine organisms such as humans, vibrios for example), unicellular or invertebrates, worms, insects, capable of acclimatizing in an area other than their original biotope, especially concerning climate change 

Ingestion of plastic waste by animals

The ingestion of plastic waste is another cause of mortality, affecting about 660 species. Seabirds sting floating pieces of plastic, and turtles confuse them with jellyfish.

Due to their components (plasticizers, additives) and the possible release of adsorbed contaminants, plastics are also suspected to be a source of water contamination. But in reality, the measured concentrations are too low for the substances released during their degradation to constitute a significant toxicity risk. The level of chemical contaminants remains limited but more dangerous for the filtering of marine organisms that accumulate them.

Large whales filter seawater, ingesting large quantities of microplastics. Molluscs, such as mussels, filter m3 of water containing microparticles. Plankton, invertebrates or small fish can also ingest Microwaste. However, the rate of ingestion remains very anecdotal for the species consumed (less than 0.01% of commercial fish), and there is no trace of it on our plates. Although micro waste can block the digestive and respiratory systems of some individuals, it is not digested due to the lack of suitable enzymatic equipment.

Black & Decker FSMH1621 The Most Versatile Premium Steam Cleaner

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At Plurel, we do care about the environment and wanted to introduce our readers to a great piece of tech that will have a minimal impact on your beloved planet!

Presentation and Features

The Black & Decker FSMH1621 is not just a simple steam cleaner and mop, as its removable tank can be transformed into a hand-held steam cleaner.

ghksbgkbkvbskbkbfkwbfbwkbqThis 2-in-1 function, made possible by the addition of a flexible hose on the tank, makes it possible to clean much more than just the floors. Several accessories are provided to be able to wash, also, the tiled walls of the bathroom, for example, but also to clean the windows of the house or even to open up all the joints.

Useful as a portable cleaner, it is also valuable for its primary function as a steam brush. With Autoselect technology, the steam flow rate is adjustable according to the floor (it is effective on all types of floors since an adapter for carpets and carpets is available).

To cope with certain more encrusted tasks, its Boost Steam button allows you to generate 50% more steam for 10 seconds. Also, thanks to its 3.5kg once filled and 180° swivel head, it is quite maneuverable, and it finally has a “parking” position that makes it stand on its own and automatically puts it in standby mode.

It can be used very quickly, its heating time is only 15 seconds, and with its 0.35L tank, it offers an autonomy of up to 16 minutes. Equipped with an anti-limestone filter, it can be filled with tap water or demineralized water, and the two microfibre and nylon pads provided are machines washable.

Advantages and disadvantages

agshgdshjfsruheswwwwwwwThe Black & Decker FSMH1621 is a well-designed steam brush, regarding power, ease of use and versatility. With a pressure of up to 4 bar, it disinfects quickly and effectively removes even the driest and most encrusted stains on the floor. Also, with the three different settings present directly on its handle (tile/lino/parquet), it can be used everywhere very quickly.

It’s hard not to be seduced by the removable tank, which is transformed into a handheld steam cleaner. With its wide range of accessories, it can be used anywhere in the house: for example, you can use chemical-free cleaning inside the oven, but you can also use steam to clean all the windows.
The squeegee is undoubtedly a little small (for glass windows, mainly), but at least it is a great help to carry out this other regular household task more quickly!

The only regrettable detail in this device is its small tank and low range. With only about fifteen minutes of use, it is necessary to fill the tank several times during a major cleaning operation. We console ourselves by thinking that at least, with only 15 seconds of waiting, the heating time is very fast and that it doesn’t waste too much time.

Conclusion

Our rating is 4,3 of 5

With its 2-in-1 function, the Black & Decker FSMH1621 is an ideal steam brush for cleaning and disinfecting far more than the home floor. Well designed and equipped with many accessories, it is easy to use in any situation.

And although the tank is a little too small, it is understandable that the manufacturer wants to keep it light and manageable once in the steam hand wash mode. A steam brush that is fast, efficient and versatile, and can justify the financial investment it requires.

Water management and the objective of sustainable development

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Water is a vital and yet so scarce resource.

More than 65% of the earth’s water covers the planet earth in various forms: fresh or salt water, liquid or ice, green water. 30% of the world’s population does not have access to drinking water. Because on the blue planet, only fresh water is viable.
However “being unevenly distributed across the globe and its use being sometimes inadequately managed, some regions are characterized by water scarcity or are already in short supply.

Water scarcity will be one of the most critical problems of the 21st century. Droughts, water stress, desertification, polluted water and climate change exacerbate this situation. The lake Chad, which is supposed to supply nearly 20 million people, has seen its level so dangerously reduced (from 22,000 km2 to 2,500 km2), that it should benefit from a filling project to preserve its social and economic role.

Recent disasters could also cast doubt on this scarcity. The quantity of water that appears, combined with an inadequate piping system and anarchic constructions, transforms the water source of life into a means of destruction. In the rainy season, Cotonou, Benin’s economic capital, is underwater. And for a good reason, Cotonou, or the swamp of death in the local language, is a natural reservoir of water. In Côte d’ Ivoire, the populations have renamed their commune Koumassi “Koum-Beach,” ironically masking their distress. In Sierra Leone, floods and mudslides killed nearly 400 people. The pattern is repeated around the world: Miami, Saint Martin, Haiti, etc.

afnancnxbaxxcxccccccFaced with a situation that seems to persist from generation to generation, the population remains helpless. This abundant water that accumulates in neighborhoods and houses could at least partly be reused for other uses.

Water, therefore, becomes scarce. Not because there are fewer, but because needs are increasing and the quality of the resource is deteriorating, and potential effects of climate change could change its availability. This scarcity is mostly the result of poor management: management that does not provide incentives to use water sparingly; that does not systematically allocate water where it is most useful, and that does not contain sufficient incentives to preserve the quality of the resource.

In Cotonou, a project hopes to soon contribute to channeling this water so that it no longer acts as a brake on the economic and social development of the city.

The Sehomi Group hopes to take up the first level of challenge by developing a solar pumping solution that would make it possible to clean up flooded areas, and then recycle rainwater for non-hygienic uses such as urban tidying and industrial cleaning. Thus, water resulting from floods and perceived so far as a threat can be transformed into an opportunity for people.

How Europe’s biggest cities fight pollution

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Despite all the anti-climate change enthusiasts out there, pollution is a major deal in most of the European cities these days.

London Urban Tollbooth

In London, polluting vehicles can still access the centre if they pay for it. 11.50 pounds per day (12.9 euros). This urban toll, introduced in 2003, is in effect between 7 a. m. and 6 p. m., Monday to Friday. Drivers can pay by phone, SMS, Internet or in a fully equipped shop. Some of them are exempt, such as motorcycles, taxis, those running on alternative fuels…

Surveillance cameras are automatically reading license plates. Any delay will result in an increase.
The British capital is also developing bicycle paths. The public transit authority, Transport for London (TfL), is working on an urban development plan and in June released a map of 25 lanes in the capital for cyclists based on potential demand. The country will ban diesel cars by 2040.

european map of pollution

The centre of Madrid is pedestrianised

The mayor, Manuela Carmena, promised at the end of 2016 the near-pedestrianisation by May 2019 of the Gran Via, one of the city’s symbols. This central avenue will only be accessible to cyclists, buses and taxis. This decision is part of the plan to ban cars from part of its city centre, 2 km², by 2020. Urban planners are working on the transformation of 24 busy streets into pedestrian areas. Drivers who break the rules will pay at least 90 euros in fines and the most polluting drivers will have to pay more to park in car parks.

Cycling is king in Copenhagen

The city has set itself the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2025. It targets 50% of cycling by 2025. The Danish capital has planned to invest 134 million euros in ten years. In particular, it has drawn up a plan for bicycle superhighways, which will extend to the nearby suburbs. The first of the 28 planned routes opened in 2014, with a further 11 roads expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

New street furniture is also being designed – railings to avoid putting your feet on the ground at the fire, bins tilted towards the slopes… Intermodality is encouraged: bicycles are transported free of charge in regional trains. The generalisation of the speed limit to 40 km/h and the disappearance of car parks completes the system, in order to dissuade motorists.

Oslo tackles parking lots

paris under the fogThe Norwegian capital had announced in 2015 that it would ban cars from its city centre by 2019. This ban is accompanied by a public transport investment plan and the replacement of 56 kilometres of roads with cycle paths. In June, the city council planned to dissuade motorists by closing parking spaces.

Oxford relies on electricity

Oxford, the first British city to ban all non-electric vehicles, wants to create a zero-emission zone in part of the city centre. Six streets will be closed to combustion-powered vehicles by 2020, including buses and taxis. The area will be gradually extended to the entire city centre and all vehicles by 2035. In addition, users of electric cars will pay less for parking. Total cost of the measure: approximately £7 million (EUR 7,9 million) for the city, county, bus, taxi and other companies. An equivalent amount of money will be spent on infrastructure, including surveillance cameras capable of reading license plates. Fines will be automatically sent to offenders.

Brussels, giant pedestrian zone

It is the largest pedestrian zone in Europe, covering more than 50 hectares. Since June 2015, from Place De Brouckère to Place Fontainas, the boulevards and adjacent streets have been permanently closed to traffic. The city continues to expand its pedestrian zones. The Belgian capital launched its first “Mobility Week” in 2002, to encourage residents to take public or alternative transport.

Berlin monitors its emissions

In 2008, the German capital created an 88 km² low-emission urban area in the centre of the city, which affects about a third of its inhabitants. All gasoline and diesel vehicles that do not meet the established criteria are prohibited. Berlin also announced in March a plan to build a dozen “superhighway” roads for cyclists, which will be launched at the end of the year.

Urbanization in Africa: Veolia pleads for co-creation

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The Continent is transforming itself in giant steps, and the number of its inhabitants is increasing. This demographic development, which has led to rapid urbanization, poses the public authorities with a huge challenge: to offer populations the best possible access to resources while preserving the environment.

Veolia, the world leader in optimised resource management, is one of the most important partners of the African public authorities in helping them meet this challenge.

Africa is changing speed and changing at a high rate. In just ten years, it has established itself as the continent of growth, investment, and attractiveness. By gaining 1 billion people by 2050 to reach 2 billion people, the continent is poised to experience an unprecedented urban revolution. The figures are edifying. Two out of three Africans will live in one city, while today already 52 African cities have more than 1 million inhabitants. This demographic growth favors the emergence of new connected middle classes that boost economic growth.

Over the last ten years, Africa has recorded a growth rate of almost 5%. It is expected to grow at similarly high levels in the coming years. But this growth brings with it significant challenges that must be met.

Growth that must be helped

Urban expansion and population growth inevitably lead to tensions over municipal resources. Tensions are first of all over drinking water, and then over the consequences of the discharge of wastewater, which increases in proportion to the number of inhabitants and the water consumed, but also over energy sources, which are becoming increasingly scarce and whose exploitation becomes insufficient to meet the needs of a growing population.

There is, therefore, no need to emphasize the importance of investing in these strategic sectors. Investment needs in sub-Saharan Africa’s cities are estimated at more than $35 billion per year. African cities, which have the highest growth rate in the world, need to catch up in this area because there is a delay and its consequences can be catastrophic.

When urban growth occurs without infrastructure and uncontrolled, it creates friendly neighborhoods that are not connected to essential services and become sources of inequality, soil pollution, and social tensions. Cities without solid and well-thought-out infrastructure are time-delayed health and environmental bombs.

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Tailor-made to serve Africa

The construction of tomorrow’s metropolises requires not only the establishment of real urban infrastructures for transport, waste collection, access to energy and drinking water in particular, but also the clarification of land rights to facilitate the emergence of a formal real estate market. How to meet the challenge?

There is no miracle recipe in Africa or abroad. Several conditions must be met: stable and robust governance of countries; decentralization of responsibilities for the management and piloting of infrastructures; access to international financing; and local responses to local problems. More than that, it is necessary to innovate by proposing tailor-made offers in response to domestic challenges and above all by developing pragmatic and agile solutions.

Forty or so mayors from around the world in Paris for climate change forums

Paris will host eight closed-door forums on Sunday and Monday dedicated to the environment, bringing together some forty mayors from around the world, under the aegis of Anne Hidalgo.

Some forty mayors including those of London, Bogota, Cape Town, Tokyo or Los Angeles, will gather Sunday and Monday in Paris for forums devoted to the environment and the fight for air quality, said Tuesday, the organizers.

Organized by the C40, the international network of mayors, chaired by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a forum,”Together4Climate” (Together for Climate) will bring together mayors and leaders of large companies on Sunday in camera to “forge the necessary alliance” to accelerate the ecological transition.

Energy, mobility and urban planning are on the agenda. The aim will be to exchange and highlight the solutions to be proposed, with a particular focus on energy, mobility, and urban planning. One-third of greenhouse gas emissions in C40 cities come from transport, and traffic is the most important source of air pollution, recalls this organization, which will bring together public and private innovators working in the city of tomorrow on Monday, with new technologies at the service of urban innovation.

Commitments announced Monday. On Monday, mayors will announce commitments from their cities to fight air pollution and climate change. At the same time, again at the initiative of the C40, Paris is hosting an annual summit of innovators from all over the world on Sunday and Monday Citylab, meeting this year on the theme of “urban solutions for global challenges.”