Will we ever… have safe cigarettes?

There’s an old saying among people who work in public health: Tobacco is the only legal product that, when used as intended, will kill you. Decades of research have thoroughly documented the health problems that result from inhaling tobacco smoke – more than a dozen different types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and other respiratory diseases, among others. Are these risks an inevitable part of smoking? Or is there a way of creating safe cigarettes without any of these hazards?

“I think it’s very unlikely,” says Stephen Hecht from the University of Minnesota Cancer Center, who studies tobacco carcinogens – substances that cause cancer. Tobacco smoke is a complex cocktail of at least 4,000 chemicals including at least 70 known carcinogens. No one has made a “cigarette that is significantly decreased in all of these [chemicals] and is still something people would want to smoke, even though the industry has worked on this for around 50 years,” says Hecht. “There’s no indication that it’s possible.”

 As Hecht says, it’s not that the industry hasn’t tried. Journalist Will Storr recently documented a history of bungled attempts to create a safer cigarette, from one that passed the carcinogenic smoke through a filter made of another carcinogen – asbestos – to another that heated tobacco rather than burning it, but tasted of sulphur, charcoal, and burning plastic.

 The problem is that no single step in the production or consumption process fills cigarette smoke with its dangerous constituents. Some constituents are in the tobacco leaves themselves at the point of harvesting. The plants can absorb metals and metalloids like arsenic and cadmium from fertilisers and the surrounding soil, while sticky hairs on their leaves can gather particles from the air, including radioactive elements like polonium-210.

When the harvested leaves are cured and dried, compounds within them are converted into tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), a class of well-known and intensely studied carcinogens. And when the smoker lights up, chemical reactions in the burning leaves fill the smoke with carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and a cocktail of carcinogens – the infamous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and vapour-borne “volatiles” like formaldehyde and benzene. As long as you’re burning plant matter and inhaling the smoke, you’ll get a lungful of carcinogens. “There’s no getting around that fact,” says Neal Benowitz, a pharmacologist from the University of California, San Francisco.

As always with toxicology, it’s the dose that makes the poison, and a laundry list of ingredients is a poor way of assessing a product’s true risk. But it’s clear that many of the substances in cigarette smoke, particularly the well-studied TSNAs, PAHs and volatiles, are found at significant levels in both the smoke and the bodies of smokers who inhale it. And, they cause similar patterns of DNA damage to those seen in actual tumors.

World's Leggiest Animal Found Near Silicon Valley

The leggiest creature on Earth lives in California. But it's not a movie star or a model. In fact, it's smaller than a human pinky finger. It's a 3-centimeter-long (1.2-inch) millipede with 750 legs.

First seen by scientists in 1928, Illacme plenipes—"the acme of plentiful legs"—keeps such a low profile that for the rest of the 20th century the species was thought to be extinct. Then University of Arizona entomologist Paul Marek spied one near Silicon Valley.

Marek and colleagues' new paper—published Wednesday by the journal ZooKeys—offers the first scientific description of Illacme plenipes, including insights into its strange anatomy.

For one thing, females have up to 750 legs, and males have more than 550. Most other millipede species have between 80 and 100 legs apiece, Marek said. For another thing, Illacme plenipes can spin silk from long hairs that cover its back, thereby creating its own "clothing."

"It's the coolest millipede I've ever heard about," Marek added.

Illacme plenipes has "kind of had a mythical status among millipede people," Marek said.

So in 2005, an intrigued Marek—then a doctoral student—began searching for the legendary invertebrate in a foggy 2.8-square-mile (7.3-square-kilometer) area outside San Francisco.

Over three years Marek and his team turned up 17 specimens, each clinging to sandstone boulders. Though they suspected more millipedes might be found, the team stopped collecting specimens in 2007, so as not to potentially deplete the species in the wild.

Because these burrowing arthropods live deep underground, their legs have adapted to include claws. Marek and other researchers hypothesize that these talons may help Illacme plenipes cling to subterranean rocks.

Other surprising anatomical features include massive antennae (relative to the scale of its body), which the millipede uses to feel its way through the dark; a jagged and translucent exoskeleton; and body hairs that produce a sort of silk that may help Illacme plenipes adhere to the undersides of boulders. And unlike in other millipedes, the mouth of this species is specifically structured for piercing and sucking plant tissues.

But Marek said Illacme plenipes does have at least one thing in common with other millipedes: a name that's "sort of a misnomer." No millipede has ever been known to have a thousand legs, he said (though he concedes that a species with that leg count may exist.

Now that Illacme plenipes has been rediscovered, how much longer does it have left?

Constant development in the area is destroying its habitat, Marek said. It would be a shame, he added, for this "bizarre" species to vanish again before we can learn more about it.

Oldest Fossil of Giant Panda Family Discovered

New fossils found in Spain are thought to be of the oldest recorded ancestor of the giant panda, according to Science Daily.

 The fossils reveal the origins of this unique bear, as described in a paper published Nov. 14 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Juan Abella and colleagues from the National Museum of Natural Sciences and the Catalan Institute of Paleontology, Spain.

The two 11.6 million-year-old fossil jaws and teeth were discovered in southwest Europe and represent a new genus likely to be the oldest known members of the giant panda family. The fossils bear the characteristics of a bear adapted to eating tough plant material like bamboo. The giant panda, native to certain parts of China, is the only living member of this unique bear family with these dietary habits.

Corresponding author Juan Abella adds: "The new genus we describe in this paper is not only the first bear recorded in the Iberian Peninsula, but also the first of the giant panda's lineage."

The Spanish Ministerio de Economı´a y Competitividad (CGL2011-28681, CGL2011-25754, and RYC-2009-04533 to DMA), the research group BSCH-UCM 910607, and the Generalitat de Catalunya (2009 SGR 754 GRC) supported this research. Fieldwork at ACM was funded by CESPA Gestio´n de Residuos, S.A.U.

Two weird animals



This one is the favorite species by far. It lives on an island off the coast of Panama. They hang out in the mangrove swamps where they like to eat a special algae that scientists have discovered contains a chemical that has a similar effect to Valium. So these sleepy sloths don't just look stoned, they are stoned.






The echidna is an ancient termite-eating mammal from the topsy-turvy island of Australia that still shares features with our reptile ancestors. Instead of giving birth to live young, the females still lay eggs. But the oddness doesn't end there. Most of the year it is hidden inside but in breeding season it pops out, like a rubber glove, ready for action.

 Maher Taki

The Syrian Environment Society: together, for a Clean Environment




The Syrian Environment society is a nongovernmental organization, established in 2001 with a mission to call for the creation of a clean and healthy environment through volunteer social works and through exerting efforts to raise the level of environment awareness, which depends on work  ethics , responsible citizenship and respect for the self and others.

The main activities of the society are concentrating on raising awareness in schools by using modern methods to capture students interest, encourage discussions, provide teaching aids and activate environmental topics within the school health curricula and  holding cleaning campaigns in public parks like Tishreen park in Damascus. The activities are carried out by volunteers with the aim of preserving the cleanliness of parks and improving  garbage  collecting methods,  taking part in exhibitions including the book exhibition, and the flower shows, by organizing art activities for children, getting  the schools in Damascus involved in  a world contest for waste recycling, working in cooperation with Damascus  city council and municipality , in order  to establish an environmental friendly garden , adjoining  the castle of Damascus , and to convert the neglected and margined lands into a Damascene garden.

Among the  society's remarkable activities was the campaign which aimed at  reviving the Barada river. The event was carried out  in cooperation with the  Japanese embassy in Damascus. The society  ran a campaign aimed at raising the  awareness  of citizens  and urging them to keep Barada clean by not disposing waste and  polluted water into it and by using its water wisely. The activity included , visiting the sensitive sites in villages situated on the banks of the river, investigating the river situation there and holding public awareness raising awareness. Several  cleanup campaigns  were also held for the river, involving the participation of locals and volunteers  with the aim of raising awareness and advocating  proper behavior to save the Barada river with the help of municipalities concerned.

Of no less important objective of the society is to maintain networking  with local, regional and  international counterpart societies, that are concerned with environmental issues, sustainable development and the production of a national heritage and establishing a data bank research on the environment and sustainable development and disseminating the findings to the public.

T. Fateh