Study Links Osteoporosis to Air Pollution
Exposure to air pollution is known to cause a vast array of respiratory health problems, but in a new study, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have determined that air pollution can also weaken bones.
The paper, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, is the first to document high rates of hospital admissions for bone fractures in communities with elevated levels of ambient particulate matter (PM2.5).
For the study, researchers analyzed osteoporosis-related fracture hospital admissions among 9.2 million people between 2003 and 2010 and found that even a small increase in PM2.5 concentrations would lead to an increase in bone fractures in older adults.
A further eight-year followup of 692 middle-aged, low-income adults found that participants living in areas with higher levels of PM2.5 and black carbon (the soot that comes from gas and diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and other fossil fuel sources) had lower levels of parathyroid hormone (a key calcium and bone-related hormone) as well as greater decreases in bone mineral density than those exposed to lower levels of the two pollutants.
The study's authors pointed out that the World Health Organization considers osteoporosis the second leading cause of disability globally after cardiovascular disease.
The researchers noted that particulate matter can cause systemic oxidative damage and inflammation, which could accelerate bone loss and increase risk of bone fractures in older individuals. Just think of smoking cigarettes as an example. Smoking contains several particulate matter components and has been identified as a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fracture.
“Decades of careful research has documented the health risks of air pollution, from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, to cancer, and impaired cognition, and now osteoporosis," said Andrea Baccarelli, MD, Ph.D., chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School and the study's senior author.
Baccarelli said that the best way to prevent air-pollution-related diseases is through policies to improve air quality.
"Among the many benefits of clean air, our research suggests, are improved bone health and a way to prevent bone fractures," he said.
Since genetic factors are not a major determinant of osteoporosis, the authors suggested that research on the disease should be broadened to examine the impact of environmental factors.
In recent weeks, the Indian capital of New Delhi has been blanketed by a thick cloud of smog. As EcoWatch reported, the air in New Deli has remained "hazardous" for days. Illegal crop burning, vehicle emissions, industrial pollution and dust from sprawling construction sites have contributed to the pollution emergency. By 11 am on Friday, the U.S. embassy air quality data for PM 2.5 showed levels had reached 550, while the safe limit is 50, according to U.S. embassy standards.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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