Dyslexia: scientists claim cause of condition may lie in the eyes

In people with the condition, light receptor cells are arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may confuse the brain

French scientists claim they may have found a physiological, and seemingly treatable, cause for dyslexia hidden in tiny light-receptor cells in the human eye.

In people with the condition, the cells were arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may be to blame for confusing the brain by producing mirror images, the co-authors wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In non-dyslexic people, the cells are arranged asymmetrically, allowing signals from the one eye to be overridden by the other to create a single image in the brain.

Our observations lead us to believe that we indeed found a potential cause of dyslexia, said the studys co-author, Guy Ropars, of the University of Rennes.

It offers a relatively simple method of diagnosis, he added, by simply looking into a subjects eyes.

Furthermore, the discovery of a delay (of about 10 thousandths of a second) between the primary image and the mirror image in the opposing hemispheres of the brain, allowed us to develop a method to erase the mirror image that is so confusing for dyslexic people using an LED lamp.

Like being left- or right-handed, human beings also have a dominant eye. As most of us have two eyes, which record slightly different versions of the same image, the brain has to select one of the two, creating a non-symmetry.

Many more people are right-eyed than left, and the dominant eye has more neural connections to the brain than the weaker one. Image signals are captured with rods and cones in the eye the cones being responsible for colour.

The majority of cones, which come in red, green and blue variants, are found in a small spot at the centre of the retina of the eye known as the fovea. But there is a small hole (about 0.1-0.15 millimetres in diameter) with no blue cones.

In the newstudy, Ropars and colleague Albert le Floch spotted a major difference between the arrangement of cones between the eyes of dyslexic and non-dyslexic people enrolled in an experiment.

In non-dyslexic people, the blue cone-free spot in one eye the dominant one, was round and in the other eye unevenly shaped. In dyslexic people, both eyes have the same, round spot, which translates into neither eye being dominant, they found.

The lack of asymmetry might be the biological and anatomical basis of reading and spelling disabilities, said the studys authors.

Dyslexic people make so-called mirror errors in reading, for example confusing the letters b and d.

For dyslexic students their two eyes are equivalent and their brain has to successively rely on the two slightly different versions of a given visual scene, they added.

The team used an LED lamp, flashing so fast that it is invisible to the naked eye, to cancel one of the images in the brains of dyslexic trial participants while reading. In initial experiments, dyslexic study participants called it the magic lamp, said Ropars, but further tests are required to confirm the technique really works.

About 700 million people worldwide are known to have from dyslexia about one in 10 of the global population.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/18/dyslexia-scientists-claim-cause-of-condition-may-lie-in-the-eyes

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Exclusive: Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agencys headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that its having on wildlife, to be concerned, said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. If its impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that its not going to somehow impact us?

A
A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

A separate small study in the Republic of Ireland released in June also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples. We dont know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are, said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour. If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we cant measure, she said. Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying. The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

Plastic fibres found in tap water across the world

Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release. His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in peoples homes.

This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at Kings College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation. Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

The new research tested 159 samples using a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

How microplastics end up in drinking water is for now a mystery, but the atmosphere is one obvious source, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air.

We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs, said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Creteil, who did the Paris studies. What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.

Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent study finding that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 fibres into the environment. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one, said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

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This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said: There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

Almost 300m tonnes of plastic is produced each year and, with just 20% recycled or incinerated, much of it ends up littering the air, land and sea. A report in July found 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, with the researchers warning that plastic waste has become ubiquitous in the environment.

We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late, said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

Mahon said the new tap water analyses raise a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts.

She said plastics are very useful, but that management of the waste must be drastically improved: We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

Canary Island tourists warned to avoid toxic ‘sea sawdust’ algae

Global warming helping spread of micro-algae, forcing the closure of several beaches including popular Teresitas at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Tourists have been warned to avoid blooms of toxic micro-algae that have been proliferating in hot weather in the sea off Spains Canary Islands.

Tenerife in particular is awash with visitors at this time of year but some of those having a dip in the Atlantic ocean have come out scratching themselves after brushing up against the tiny algae.

The spreading algae have produced a greenish-brown hue in the waters off some beaches in the tourist haven.

Since the end of June we have seen episodes of massive efflorescence, or bloom, of microalgae, sometimes reaching as far as bathing beaches, said Jose Juan Aleman, director of public health for the Canaries.

The algae are a type of bacteria, trichodesmium erythraeum, also known as sea sawdust, said Aleman.

Its proliferation is a natural, temporary phenomenon which is going to disappear in due course, he added, suggesting global warming was helping the algae spread.

The bacterium contains a toxin which can lead to skin irritation, dermatitis, hence one must avoid coming into contact with it in the water and on the sand.

With the islands last year welcoming more than 13 million foreign tourists, local authorities were keen to reassure sun-seekers.

Generally it has not been necessary to close the beaches, said Aleman.

Bill Entwistle (@bemahague)

No swimming, algae alert @playasanjuan @tenerife pic.twitter.com/0sqIeAblqu

July 22, 2017

However, AFP found that several have been closed to swimmers over recent weeks, including the popular Teresitas beach at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Marta Sanson, professor of plant biology at Tenerifes La Laguna university, said that ideal conditions are allowing proliferation of these micro-algae.

Those include an increase in water temperature as well as a dust cloud sweeping in off the Sahara which is rich in iron, a nutrient which micro-organisms like.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/08/canary-island-tourists-warned-to-avoid-toxic-sea-sawdust-algae

Challenges to Silicon Valley wont just come from Brussels

Fine of 2.4bn levied on Google is a sign of the continued erosion of US tech firms domination of the internet

The whopping 2.4bn fine levied by the European commission on Google for abusing its dominance as a search engine has taken Silicon Valley aback. It has also reignited American paranoia about the motives of European regulators, whom many Valley types seem to regard as stooges of Mathias Dpfner, the chief executive of German media group Axel Springer, president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers and a fierce critic of Google.

US paranoia is expressed in various registers. They range from President Obamas observation in 2015 that all the Silicon Valley companies that are doing business there [Europe] find themselves challenged, in some cases not completely sincerely. Because some of those countries have their own companies who want to displace ours, to the furious off-the-record outbursts from senior tech executives after some EU agency or other has dared to challenge the supremacy of a US-based tech giant.

The overall tenor of these rants (based on personal experience of being on the receiving end) runs as follows. First, you Europeans dont get tech; second, you dont like or understand innovation; and third, youre maddened by envy because none of you schmucks has been able to come up with a world-beating tech company.

The charge sheet underpinning American paranoia says that the EU has always had it in for US companies. Microsoft, for example, has been done over no fewer than three times for various infringements of competition rules: 500m in 2004, 600m in 2008 and 561m in 2013. Intel was fined 1.6bn in 2009. Now Google has been socked for 2.4bn; and Facebook has already been fined 110m for providing the European commission with misleading information about its acquisition of WhatsApp. And then of course there is the commissions insistence that Apple should repay the 13bn in back taxes that it owes the Irish government because of overgenerous tax breaks provided to the company. (Ireland is vigorously contesting that ruling, making it the first government in history to turn down a windfall that would fund its health service for an entire year.)

This allegedly biased record needs to be seen in a wider context, however. Its hardly surprising that the tech companies in the frame are American given that all the global tech giants are US-based. But in fact the European commission has also come down hard on local infringers of competition rules. In July 2016, for example, European truck manufacturers were fined 2.93bn for colluding on prices for 14 years. In 2008 several European car glass manufacturers were fined 1.35bn for illegal market sharing and exchanging commercially sensitive information. In 2007 the Spanish telco Telefnica was fined 151m for setting unfair prices in its domestic broadband market. And so on, so that if you include all years since 1990, the total amount of fines imposed by the European commissions competition regulator comes to 26.75bn.

Given that record, you could say that the commission is actually a rather good regulator. But its also clear that there are significant differences between the European and American approach to competition law and antitrust. Some years ago, for example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US investigated Google for the same behaviour that has landed it with the current huge fine. But in the end the FTC decided not to press charges. The European commission, provided with much the same evidence, reached the opposite conclusion.

An
An Amazon warehouse in Germany. Photograph: Christoph Schmidt/EPA

How come? Basically there is a different regulatory culture in the US. There, the prevailing concern is with consumer welfare which, in the end, is about prices. As long as industrial power doesnt lead to increased prices, then its deemed OK which is why Amazon has thrived despite becoming a colossus. The European commission, in contrast, is focused on competition: monopolistic behaviour is considered illegal if it restricts competitors.

As the commissions statement explains: Market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules. However, dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets. Otherwise, there would be a risk that a company once dominant in one market (even if this resulted from competition on the merits) would be able to use this market power to cement/further expand its dominance, or leverage it into separate markets.

Google was found to have abused its dominance as a search engine by giving illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service. Way back in 2002, the company had launched a price-comparison service called Froogle, later renamed Google Shopping. In 2008 it changed how it worked by systematically giving prominence to its own shopping-comparison results (for which it received payment from advertisers) and thereby in effect downgrading other shopping-comparison sites that might otherwise have figured highly in search results. This the commission deemed illegal.

And so it is. But to lay observers theres something quaint about the actual nub of the dispute shopping-comparison sites. I mean to say, theyre soooo yesterday. Nowadays, half of all shopping-related queries begin not on Google, but on Amazon. So the complaints about anti-competitive behaviour that resulted in last weeks ruling started in 2008 nine years (about 63 internet years) ago. What this episode highlights is the growing time lag between the detection of illegal behaviour on the part of tech companies and its eventual punishment a lag determined by the inevitably slow pace of detailed legal investigation (often slowed further by intensive political lobbying) and the pace of tech-industry change. If societies are to be able to bring companies such as Google under effective democratic control, then we have to speed up this regulatory process. Otherwise we will continually be locking the door long after the horse has bolted.

Which of course is exactly the way Silicon Valley likes it. This is a culture, remember, whose motto is move fast and break things (the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerbergs original exhortation to his developers, withdrawn only when he discovered that one of the things that might get broken is democracy). In the tech industry, corporate leaders are hooked on the virtues of disruption, creative destruction and the belief that it is easier to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission. Most of them subscribe to the famous dictum of Scott McNealy, made when he was chief executive of Sun Microsystems: You have zero privacy get over it.

Given that mindset, its not surprising that the industry is not just irritated but baffled by European scepticism and regulatory pushback. Although most Silicon Valley moguls see themselves as progressives they dont seem to understand cultural differences. (They dont understand politics, either.) Witness the Facebook bosss touching belief that the worlds problems could be solved if everyone were part of the Facebook community. Or the view of Googles former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, that the presence of communication technologies will chip away at most autocratic governments, since the odds against a restrictive, information-shy regime dealing with an empowered citizenry armed with personal fact-checking devices get progressively worse with each embarrassing incident. When he tried that on Cambridge students a few years ago, some of them wondered what he had been smoking.

Eric
Eric Schmidt, Googles former executive chairman. Photograph: Getty

Silicon Valley is a reality distortion field whose inhabitants think of it as the Florence of Renaissance 2.0. (Rapidly acquired wealth has powerful hallucinatory effects on people.) In a strange way, they share the former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfelds view of our continent as old Europe, a civilisation whose time has come and gone. So when German citizens object vigorously to having their homes photographed by Google Street View, or the Bundestag considers a law that would impose swingeing fines on social media companies that do not promptly remove hate speech from their services, or the European commission imposes a fine equivalent to 3% of Googles global revenue, they fume into their almond-coconut Frappuccinos and vow revenge.

If thats how they see things, then its time they recalibrated. They are all children of a hegemony thats begun to erode. The era when Europeans and their governments quailed before American corporate power may be ending. The French were always a bit resistant to it (but then, being French, they would be, wouldnt they?) but now even the Germans have concluded that Europe can no longer rely on the US (or the UK) and must fight for its own destiny. In a way, the US-based digital giants should thank their lucky stars that Europe, for the most part, still consists of societies where the rule of law counts for something. Even when the companies dont like the outcome of our legal processes, they should be grateful that at least we follow them.

The same cannot be said for other parts of the world that Google & co hope to dominate. China and Russia do things their own way, for example, and are entirely untroubled by legal niceties. As far as China is concerned, in 2010 Google was given the choice of obeying government demands or shutting down its Chinese search engine; it chose the latter option and is having to agree to government controls if it is to be allowed back. In Russia, Google reached a settlement with the local regulator to loosen restrictions on search engines built into its Android mobile operating system, to allow Russian competitors a share of the pie. Similar concessions will be required to operate in Iran and other Middle Eastern states. These regimes are the real enemies that US paranoids should fear. So while the 2.4bn fine may be unpalatable (though easily affordable) for Google, it should thank its lucky stars. At least it got a hearing.

John Naughton is professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University. He writes a weekly column in The New Review.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/01/google-fine-challenges-to-silicon-valley

Prime Minister May offer: EU citizens will be able to stay in UK

(CNN)In a Brexit divorce deal offering, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday said European Union citizens will be given the opportunity to stay in the United Kingdom after it leaves the EU.

May and other European officials are meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to begin negotiations for a UK exit from the EU after the country voted last year to leave. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty outlines the voluntary departure.
According to May’s office, any EU citizen living in the UK for five years or more by a yet-to-be specified cutoff date will be granted UK “settled status,” which gives them the same rights as British citizens to health care, education, welfare and pensions

      Was the Queen’s hat an anti-Brexit message?

    EU citizens living in the country for less than five years can stay and obtain residency status after reaching the five-year mark.
    “The UK’s position represents a fair and serious offer,” May told EU leaders in Brussels. “One aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK, building careers and lives and contributing so much to our society.”
    May’s offer will be put forth before Parliament next week.
    Speaking to journalists on Thursday night, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says May’s EU citizens’ rights proposal is a “good start,” but there will be many other questions to be discussed.
    The June 2016 Brexit vote in the hotly contested referendum exposed deep division across the country.
    Earlier this year, the UK government formally served divorce papers on the EU, marking the beginning of the end of a relationship that has endured for 44 years. May confirmed then that UK had triggered Article 50, beginning the legal process that must end in two years’ time with Britain leaving the EU.
    The UK must work out a number of issues after triggering Article 50 — including trade, migration, education and health care. Even if some terms of divorce are not settled, the UK will fall out of the union on March 29, 2019. They can split earlier if both parties agree.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/22/europe/theresa-may-brexit-rights/index.html

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