Science

Staff should start work at 10am to avoid ‘torture’ of sleep deprivation

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Dr Kelley believes that simply moving school times could raise grades by 10 per cent. He was formerly a head teacher at Monkseaton Middle School, in North Tyneside, where he changed the school start day from 8.30am to 10am and found that the number of top grades rose by 19 per cent.

Similarly, companies who force employees to start work earlier are also likely to be hurting their output, while storing up health problems for staff.

alarm clockDr Paul Kelley said work and school starting times should fit with the natural body clock Photo: GETTY

“This is a huge society issue,” Dr Kelley told the British Science a Festival in Bradford. “Staff should start at 10am. You don’t get back to (the 9am) starting point till 55. Staff are usually sleep-deprived. We’ve got a sleep-deprived society.

“It is hugely damaging on the body’s systems because you are affecting physical, emotional and performance systems in the body.

‘It is hugely damaging on the body’s systems because you are affecting physical, emotional and performance systems in the body…’
– Dr Paul Kelley

“Your liver and your heart have different patterns and you’re asking them to shift two or three hours. This is an international issue. Everybody is suffering and they don’t have to.

“We cannot change out 24-hour rhythms. You cannot learn to get up at a certain time. Your body will be attuned to sunlight and you’re not conscious of it because it reports to hypothalamus, not sight.

“This applies in the bigger picture to prisons and hospitals. They wake up people and give people food they don’t want. You’re more biddable because you’re totally out of it. Sleep deprivation is a torture.”

Sleep deprivation has been shown to have major impacts on health. Just one week with less that six hours’ sleep each night leads to 711 changes in how genes function.

Lack of sleep impacts performance, attention, long-term memory and encourages drug and alcohol use.

It also leads to exhaustion, anxiety, frustration, anger, impulsive behaviour, weight gain, risk-taking, high blood pressure, lower immunity, stress and a raft of mental health conditions.

Neuroscientists say teens are biologically predisposed to go to sleep at around midnight and not feel fully awake and engaged until around 10am.

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Dr Kelley said that almost all students were losing around 10 hours of sleep a week because they were forced to get up too early.

“Just by changing the start time you can improve quality of life for whole generations of children,” he added.

“There are major societal problems that are being caused by that. But the opportunities are fantastic. We have an opportunity here to do something that would benefit millions of people on Earth.”

Teenagers are being allowed to start school at 10am to see if it improves their GCSE scores Photo: PA

Tens of thousands of children are starting school at 10am in a ground-breaking experiment by Oxford to prove that later classes can improve exam results.

GCSE students from more than 100 schools across England will take part in the four-year project based on scientific evidence which suggests teenagers are out of sync with traditional school. The team is hoping to publish findings in 2018.

A Department of Education spokesman said: “We have given all schools the freedom to control the length of the school day because they are best placed to know what’s best for their communities.

“Allowing more time for supervised study and extra-curricular activities has been shown to benefit disadvantaged pupils in particular by giving them access to purposeful, character-building activities, which is why we are helping schools offer a longer day.”

US President George HW Bush meeting Margaret ThatcherMargaret Thatcher regularly survived on four hours’ sleep a night Photo: Rex

Sleep habits of those at the top

  • As Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher famously slept for just four hours a night during the week, though she took regular daytime naps.
  • When asked how many hours sleep people need, Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have replied: “Six for a man, seven for a woman, eight for a fool.”
  • US President Barack Obama is understood to only sleep for six hours a night.
  • Business magnate Donald Trump boasts just three to four hours sleep nightly.
  • Sir Winston Churchill managed on just four hours sleep a night during World War Two – but insisted on a two hour nap in the afternoon.
  • Scientist Albert Einstein reportedly slept for 10 hours a night, plus daytime naps.
  • Bill Gates, former chief executive of Microsoft, says he needs seven hours of sleep to “stay sharp”.
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Why being good-looking makes you funnier

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• Health warning: laughter could leave you in stitches

“You tend to associate a sense of humour with them. But actually it’s all about you.

“It’s more to do with how much you like him. If you didn’t like him it wouldn’t matter how funny he was. It’s a very basic response. A lot of what we think of as humour is our reaction to the person telling the joke.

"You will hear women say: he's really attractive, I really fancy him, he's got such a great sense of humour," said Professor Scott. " What they mean is: he's really attractive and I laugh because I fancy him. Chimpanzees and gorillas laugh Photo: ALAMY

“Laughter is very much part of our evolutionary history, it’s in our make-up. When we’re talking to each other we drop into this old mammal behaviour to show how we actually feel about each other.”

Research shows that people are 30 times more likely to laugh if they are with other people rather than on their own. People laugh more with acquaintances and the most with friends or partners.

Laughter is a universal language, which has evolved to be at the heart of social interaction, claims Prof Scott who was speaking at the British Science Festival in Bradford. Work with primitive tribes has shown that laughter is the only positive emotion that is shared throughout the world.

“It has an older evolutionary history than us, we aren’t the only animals that laugh,” she said.

“Chimpanzees and gorillas laugh, and what research exists suggest it may be a widespread phenomena than just primates. If you tickle rats they make a very particular noise and they make the same noise when they are playing.

• The world’s oldest jokes revealed by university research

“If you ask human beings when do you laugh they talk about jokes, but you’re very rarely laughing at jokes. You’re laughing to show you agree with people, that you’re in the same group as them, that you like them. If you didn’t like them you wouldn’t give them your laughter.”

Professor Scott, who is also a part-time stand up comedian said it was important to laugh as often as possible.

“Give yourself as many opportunities to laugh. Don’t that is time wasted, it’s probably one of the best things you can be doing with your time.

“And don’t think that it is silly or trivial or doesn’t matter. It does matter.”

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‘Rivers of acid’ in Zambian villages

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BBC
Image caption A court case will decide if a copper mine has been polluting the water these women are carrying

Zambian villagers are taking a multinational copper mining firm to court in the UK, accusing it of poisoning their water. The BBC’s Nomsa Maseko visited the area which has allegedly been polluted.

Dressed in colourful sarongs and t-shirts, the women of Hippo Pool village collect their water on the banks of the Kafue River on Zambia’s copper belt.

As the sun sets and the weather starts to cool down, they carry the water in large buckets which they balance gracefully on their heads as they walk back home.

It is water they will cook with, clean with, drink and irrigate farms.

But a catastrophe may be looming.

When I visited, I could smell and even taste the pollution.

The communities of Hippo Pool, Kakosa, Shimulala and Hellen say the Mushishima stream and the Kafue have become rivers of acid.

Hundreds of villagers who claim copper mining operations in the area have poisoned their water source and destroyed farmland are taking Zambia’s biggest copper mine, Vedanta Resources Plc, to court.

Leaked documents, that the BBC has seen, appear to show that Vedanta Resources – through its Zambian based Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) – have been spilling sulphuric acid and other toxic chemicals into the water sources.

A whistle-blower, who worked for 15 years with KCM, alleges that since Vedanta bought the mine in 2004, corners have been cut to save the costs of running operations.

“I see an environmental catastrophe coming our way,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “The lives of the people will be shattered.

“I decided to speak out because I could no longer be part of the destruction any more because the next generation will not have kind words for us,”

Konkola Copper Mine (KCM) denied in a statement to the BBC that it had failed to maintain critical equipment adequately or that heavy spillages and massive leakages occurred due to degraded equipment and leaking pumps and pipes.

KCM went on to say that it has spent $530m (£350m) to improve the environmental performance of its operations. This includes replacing slurry waste pipelines to the pollution control dam and putting in a new smelter, which it says captures 99.7% of sulphur emissions.

Destroyed farmland

Image caption Leo Mulenga, left, has noticed his crops won’t grow

The soil in the copper belt used to be rich and highly productive but now produces virtually nothing.

The community believes this is due to pollution entering the stream.

Leo Mulenga’s only source of income used to be farming.

The 65-year-old showed me cassava plants which normally reach up to four meters in height.

His were not even one metre tall and they were dying.

“I used to grow cabbages, potatoes, tomatoes and bananas but now, there’s no future here – only poverty and suffering for everyone because this land is damaged and spoiled,” said Mr Mulenga.

Foul smell

Walking around the dry and dusty farmland, I saw a thick sludge of copper sulphate residue.

Near it was a shallow well from which the community draws their water.

There is only one water source for the children at Shimulala Community School.

Image caption This water pump for school children was near a thick sludge of copper sulphate

We took a sample of the water which was cloudy and had a foul smell.

A few minutes later the colour of the water turned bright orange and the smell was overpowering.

The damage is not just to the farmland and water supplies – people’s health is also being affected.

Floribert Kepapa draws water from the Kafue River.

He spent four months in hospital battling paralysis and stomach pain. He also lost his wife and baby son to illness.

He believes the water is to blame and he holds the copper mine responsible.

“The water was clean before KCM took over. If my children and grandchildren are to survive and live healthy lives here, then KCM has to go,” said Mr Kepapa.

Paralegals from a British law firm Leigh Day recently visited the copper belt to gather testimonies from 1,800 members of the community in Chingola mining town.

The villagers have joined forces to take their pollution claims to the High Court in London, where proceedings have been issued against Vedanta and Konkola Copper Mines KCM.

KCM insist that it is minimising the environmental impact of its operations because, it says it “cares for its employees, the environment and communities around its mining areas”.

But this is not the first time Vedanta has faced facing legal action.

‘Dehumanised by greed’

In 2011, the Lusaka High Court ordered Vedanta Resources and KCM to pay approximately $1.4m (£900,000) to 2,000 residents of Chingola after sulphuric acid and other chemicals spilled into the confluence of the Mushishima stream and the Kafue River in 2006.

In his ruling, the judge said Zambians “should not be dehumanised by greed and crude capitalism which put profit above human life”.

Vedanta later appealed against the judgment, denying that it was responsible for the pollution.

Even though the verdict was upheld, the Supreme Court significantly reduced the compensation to people affected by the leakage.

Resolving these latest claims could take years.

Until this case is heard, and possibly settled, the real price paid for copper could be one of poverty and hardship for communities living in the boom and bust of the Zambian copper belt.

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Cave DNA unravels riddle of the Basque people

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Mattias Jakobsson, of Uppsala University in Sweden, analysed DNA recovered from eight Stone Age skeletons found in a cave in El Portalón, Atapuerca, northern Spain.

They would have lived more than 3500 years ago at a time when south-west Europe had made the switch from hunter-gatherer societies to farming.

The researchers found that these early farmers were the closest ancestors to present-day Basques, according to their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

And their genomes shared a similar story to those of central and northern Europe, where an arriving population of farmers interbred with the local hunter-gatherer populations.

“Our results show that the Basques trace their ancestry to early farming groups from Iberia, which contradicts previous views of them being a remnant population that trace their ancestry to Mesolithic hunter-gatherer groups,” says Prof. Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University, who headed the study.

“The difference between Basques and other Iberian groups is these latter ones show distinct features of admixture from the east and from north Africa.”

The findings contradict existing theories that Basques – because of their distinct culture and language, Euskera, which is unrelated to indo-European langauges – had existed for more than 10,000 years.

Dr Torsten Günther, another author, said: “One of the great things about working with ancient DNA is that the data obtained is like opening a time capsule. Seeing the similarities between modern Basques and these early farmers directly tells us that Basques remained relatively isolated for the last 5,000 years but not much longer.”

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DNA cracks puzzle of Basque origins

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Basque traditional sawing contestImage copyrightAFP
Image caption Two men saw a tree trunk with a “tronza” (traditional Basque saw) during a rural sports championship

DNA from ancient remains seems to have solved the puzzle of one of Europe’s most enigmatic people: the Basques.

The distinct language and genetic make-up of the Basque people in northern Spain and southern France has puzzled anthropologists for decades.

One theory proposed that they were an unmixed pocket of indigenous hunters.

Now, a study in PNAS journal suggests they descend from early farmers who mixed with local hunters before becoming isolated for millennia.

The Basques have unique customs and a language – Euskera – that is unrelated to any other spoken in Europe, or indeed the world.

Nestled in a mountainous corner of Atlantic Europe, they also show distinct genetic patterns to their neighbours in France and Spain.

It seemed logical that they were representatives of an older layer of population settlement, but just how far back their roots went has been a topic of debate.

Mattias Jakobsson from Uppsala University in Sweden analysed the genomes of eight Stone Age human skeletons from El Portalón in Atapuerca, northern Spain.

These individuals lived between 3,500 and 5,500 years ago, after the transition to farming in southwest Europe.

The results show that these early Iberian farmers are the closest ancestors to present-day Basques.

Go west

Comparisons with other ancient European farmers show that agriculture was brought to Iberia by the same migrant groups that introduced it to central and northern Europe. These pioneers expanded from a homeland in the Near East, sweeping across Europe about 7,000 years ago to usher in the period known as the Neolithic.

Once the farmers settled down, they mixed with local hunter-gatherers – the descendants of people who lived in Europe during the last Ice Age.

Indeed, the El Portalón individuals had more hunter-gatherer ancestry than pioneer farmers from Germany, Hungary and Spain who lived several thousand years earlier.

The new study also goes some way to explaining some of the differences between the Basques and their neighbours in France and Spain.

After the initial farmer-hunter mixture was set, the ancestors of the Basques became isolated from surrounding groups – perhaps due to a combination of geography and culture.

“It’s hard to speculate, but we’ve been working with Basque historians and it’s clear from the historical record that this area was very difficult to conquer,” Prof Jakobsson told BBC News.

This means the Basque area was largely unaffected by subsequent migrations that shaped genetic patterns elsewhere in Europe.

Migration and isolation

One of these movements occurred in the Bronze Age, when pastoralists from the Steppe – on the eastern periphery of the continent – travelled west en masse. This migration probably spread Indo-European languages across Europe, affecting the central and northern parts of the continent to a greater extent than the south.

While the genomes of French and Spanish individuals showed evidence of this eastern genetic input, those of Basques did not.

Another migration served to further differentiate Basques from their Spanish neighbours. In AD 711, a Muslim army crossed from North Africa into Iberia, beginning an occupation that lasted more than 700 years.

Again, while a small amount of North African and Sub-Saharan ancestry can be detected in the Spanish, it is largely absent from the Basques.

Previous studies have shown that people native to the Italian island of Sardinia are most genetically similar to the pioneer farmers of central Europe.

The Sardinians also became isolated after the agricultural transition, but they lack the additional hunter-gatherer ancestry that characterises the Basques.

Paradoxically, while archaeology shows that Europe’s earliest farmers hailed from the Near East, populations living in that region today do not particularly resemble them genetically.

This is because genetic patterns in Turkey and the Middle East were re-shaped by migrations from surrounding areas after the Early Neolithic.

The proportion of hunter-gatherer ancestry varies across Europe, peaking at about 30% in Estonians and Lithuanians, but no “pure” indigenous Europeans remain. They appear to have been assimilated by the Neolithic migrants, who probably had greater numbers.

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Evolutionary grandmothers to thank for romantic pairings

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Mind the Gap! Celebrity couples with large age differences

With the support of a grandmother to help the children to find food, mothers could go on to have their next baby sooner.

The grandmother’s longevity was then passed onto more descendants, with their genes helping to increase the number of women surviving beyond the menopause.

The new study, based on computer simulations, links this longevity enabled by grandmothers to the development of tendency of humans to form couple relationships.

“It looks like grandmothering was crucial to the development of pair bonds in humans,” said Prof Hawkes, senior author of the study, which ran computer simulations of human evolution, 30 with grandmothering and 30 without.

Prof Hawkes and her colleagues suggest “that human pair bonds evolved with increasing payoffs for mate guarding, which resulted from the evolution of our grandmothering life history.”

While older, no longer fertile women developed a crucial role as grandmothers, the longer-living men, who remained fertile, were left to compete for mates in order to reproduce.

With more fertile men available than fertile women, males became more protective of their female partners and formed a “pair bond” rather than seeking out new mates, scientists suggest.

As human longevity increased, Prof Hawkes said, there were “lots more old guys, so you have an increasing number of males in the paternity competition, and the only way you can become a father is with a fertile female, which means younger females. So males who had preference for younger females were more likely to leave descendants.”

It became “advantageous for males to guard a female and to develop a pair bond with her”, she added.

Unlike humans, female chimps tend not to live long after their fertility declines, typically between 30 and 40 years old. Male chimpanzees tend to prefer older females.

Another computer simulation by Prof Hawkes in 2012 showed that the influence of grandmothers could extend the chimp’s lifespan to human levels within 24,000 to 60,000 years.

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Orbital ‘peg in the hole’ tests works

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The peg was correctly positioned with the aid of a laser - with sub-millimetre accuracyImage copyrightESA
Image caption The peg was correctly positioned with the aid of a laser – to sub-millimetre accuracy

European astronaut Andreas Mogensen has remotely operated a robot on Earth while flying aboard the International Space Station.

The Dane commanded a rover to drive to an experiment board and, using the vehicle’s robot arm, place a rounded peg into a hole.

Mogensen had a feedback system in his controls that allowed him to “feel” what he was doing 400km below him.

It is the kind of technology astronauts might use one day at Mars.

Building habitations on the surface of the Red Planet, or repairing failed equipment, could require the teleoperation of robots from orbit.

Monday’s experiment had to deal with what is expected to be one of the key challenges: latency.

Video signals and other feedback have to pass through a complex communications network involving ISS mission control, ground antennas, and relay satellites. This 90,000km path introduces about a second’s delay into proceedings.

Nonetheless, Mogensen managed to get the peg to plug the hole with the aid of a laser guided tool.

Image copyrightNASA
Image caption Andreas Mogensen controls a robot in the Netherlands from space

The experiment was developed by the European Space Agency’s Telerobotics and Haptics Laboratory in collaboration with the TU Delft Robotics Institute.

The rover was positioned at Esa’s technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. The current altitude of the ISS is 402km. It is moving around the Earth at roughly 28,000km/h.

Andreas Mogensen is Denmark’s first astronaut. He is making a short, eight-day visit to the space station.

Among his other experimental tasks – he will be testing a water purification system that relies on a new nanotechnology membrane, and wearing a new “skin suit” designed to alleviate back problems.

Image copyrightESA
Image caption It is the kind of work orbiting astronauts might have to do at Mars
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Motion capture animates animals

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Motion capture technology is improving the biomechanical accuracy of animals – particularly horses – in films and gaming.

This mixture of biomechanics and computer science originated as a teaching aid for veterinary students.

Researchers from Bradford University presented their work at the British Science Festival.

Collaborations between the group and international film studios are ongoing.

Traditionally, motion capture is only used to record the movement of humans. Animals are created directly by animators, but they can make mistakes if the biomechanics are not fully understood – and it is time consuming work.

This can lead a film audience into an “uncanny valley”, where focus is shifted from the story to the inaccuracy in the animation.

Motion capture works by placing cameras with infrared LEDs around an area containing an object, person or animal wearing reflective markers.

The light hits the reflective markers and thus the marker’s position is reflected back and recorded.

Image copyrightBradford University
Image caption Markers traced the motion of a horse and its rider

This is not new technology, but the group is using it in a new way.

“We thought, humans have been done a lot – but animals have not. It seemed like a very obvious thing to do,” Karl Abson, lecturer in Biomechanical Animation and Motion Capture, told BBC News.

The group at Bradford has attached markers to a horse and captured a range of motion. This biomechanical understanding can then be embedded into animation software.

This significantly reduces the time required to build an animation, and delivers more realistic results. It is also becoming cheaper, as new types of camera are brought to the market. Abson highlighted the cost benefits for film makers.

Image copyrightBradford University
Image caption The motion of a cat was tracked using the same method

“In Avatar six years ago, they placed one or two markers on the animal to track its position. If you’re paying for the motion capture system you might as well fully utilise it, rather than tracking the position and then getting an animator to do all the work,” he said.

The technique could also be used to build more realistic animations of extinct animals and mythical creatures like dragons and flying horses.

Mr Abson is already working with British, American and Russian film studios, and the gaming company Electronic Arts.

The technique is also proving useful in veterinary science as a teaching aid, which is how the work originated.

Through collection and measurement of data, rather than observation and experience, more accurate diagnoses of animal injuries such as horse lameness can be made.

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‘Decisive year’ for world’s forestry

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Felled forest (Getty Images)Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption The removal of the world’s tree cover remains a concern but deforestation rates are slowing, says the UN report

The world’s forests face a “decisive year” as nations prepare to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals and gather for key climate talks.

In a UN report on forests, senior official Jose Graziano da Silva called slowing deforestation rates “positive”.

But he added that “this positive trend needs strengthening” as the report showed that an area the size of South Africa had been lost since 1990.

The report was published at the World Forestry Congress in South Africa.

“The contribution of forests to the wellbeing of humankind are extraordinarily vast and far-reach,” said Mr Graziano da Silva, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“Forests play a fundamental role in combating rural poverty, ensuring food security and providing decent livelihoods.”

He added that forests were also key components in the natural world’s ability to provide environmental services, such as clean air and water, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.

The UN’s Global Forest Resource Assessment 2015, compiled and published by the FAO, reports that an estimated 129 millions hectares of of forest (an area almost equivalent in size to South Africa) has been lost since 1990.

The assessment, which covered 234 countries and territories, reported the biggest losses of forest cover occurring in Africa, South America and South-East Asia.

However, globally, the study said that the net annual rate of forest loss had slowed from 0.18% in the early 1990s to 0.08% during the period between 2010 and 2015.

While the area of natural forests (which account for an estimate 93% of the globe’s forest cover) continued to decrease, the planted forest area had seen an increase, the report observed.

FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment Team leader Kenneth MacDicken said: “The management of forests has improved dramatically over the past 25 years.

“This includes planning, knowledge sharing, legislation, policies – a whole range of important steps that countries have implemented or are implementing,” he added.

Asia dominate the list of the top 10 nations that have reported the greatest forest area gain between 2010 and 2015, however there are honourable mentions for the US and France.

Biodiversity concerns

Forests are also hotspots for biodiversity, providing a home for half of the world’s terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects.

Despite recent progress in increasing the area offered conservation protection status, the FAO warned that the threat to biodiversity continued.

Mr Graziano da Silva cautioned: “We will not succeed in reducing the impact of climate change and promoting sustainable development if he do not preserve our forests and sustainably use the many resources they offer us.”

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VIDEO: Hidden monument ‘a unique find’

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An international team of archaeologists has discovered a series of at least 100 standing stones buried at a site just a few kilometres from Stonehenge.

The discovery is the pinnacle of a five year project by The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes team, which uses the latest technology to create underground maps of the area around the iconic Neolithic site.

The team presented their findings at the British Science Association festival in Bradford on Monday, and lead researcher Prof Vincent Gaffney explained the findings at the site to BBC News.

The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project is an international collaboration between the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro).

Video journalists: Victoria Gill and Andy Alcroft

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