How Your Body Uses Energy

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How Your Body Uses Energy


How Elements in Fireworks Make the Human Body Work (Infographic)

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How Elements in Fireworks Make the Human Body Work (Infographic)

How Elements in Fireworks Make the Human Body Work (Infographic)

Fireworks get their colors from elements that the human body requires.

Credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

Fireworks get their colors from metal salts in the explosive mixture. Some of the elements used in fireworks are also present in the human body, and without them, life would be impossible.

Potassium, an element in purple fireworks, also plays a role in managing heart rhythm. In addition, it balances water and mineral content in the body, helps to build muscle, and controls blood pressure.
Calcium is the most plentiful mineral in the human body and is used to make orange fireworks. Calcium enables a range of body functions, including bone and tooth maintenance, muscle contraction and heartbeat regulation.
Copper, an element in bright-blue fireworks, is a partner that some proteins need to do their jobs. For example, the protein that makes the body’s energy-carrying ATP molecules requires copper to function. Copper is also necessary to form collagen, the most abundant protein in humans and the main component of connective tissue.
Lithium is an element in red fireworks and is thought to affect the release of the chemical messenger serotonin. Lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder and depression.
Iron, an element in gold fireworks, is vital to immune function, energy production and oxygen transport in the body.
By mass, about 96 percent of the human body is made from four elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen.

Lithium Medication: Dosage & Side Effects

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Lithium Medication: Dosage & Side Effects
Three forms of lithium medications. Top left: Lithobid brand extended-release tablet. Bottom left: generic oral tablet. Right: generic capsule.

Credit: NIH.

Lithium is used in medications prescribed for people with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that causes episodes of depression, mania and other abnormal moods. Lithium medications are used to treat and possibly prevent episodes of mania, which is described as a “frenzied, abnormally excited mood,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Lithium, in a class of drugs called antimanic agents, works by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain. Doctors hypothesize that it stabilizes the membranes of nerve cells in the brain.

Cell membranes influence the release of neurotransmitters, chemical signals that allow nerve cells to communicate with one another, said Dr. Katherine Brownlowe, a psychiatrist with a specialty in neuropsychiatry at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, in Columbus, Ohio.

“If the cell surface is more excitable, it’s going to release neurotransmitters more quickly or in a less organized way,” Brownlowe said.

Lithium’s exact mechanisms are unknown, but experts think that it helps to stabilize cell membranes, making them less reactive and more organized, she said.

Lithium medications are often prescribed as a long-term treatment, not to be stopped when the patient feels better. They are also sometimes prescribed for blood disorders, depression, schizophrenia, impulse control disorders, certain mental illnesses in children and schizoaffective disorder, a condition that is a combination of schizophrenia and mood disorder.

Lithium helps to prevent suicide in people with affective disorder, depression, major depression and mood disorder, according to a 2007 review of eight studies published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. It can also treat severe cases of depression in people with bipolar disorder, Brownlowe said.

Various compounds of lithium, the third element on the Periodic Table of Elements, are used in the medications. The most commonly prescribed is lithium carbonate, which is sold under various brand names, including Eskalith CR and Lithobid. Lithium citrate is also prescribed as a mood stabilizer. The soft drink 7Up was originally called “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda” because it contained lithium citrate.

Lithium orotate is a dietary supplement touted as a natural treatment for mental health problems. It is sometimes promoted as an alternative to lithium and its side effects. However, lithium orotate has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of any medical condition.

The prescribed dose of lithium medications varies from person to person and from phase to phase of illness. Doctors may increase or decrease the dose of medication during treatment, and is important to follow the most current directions. Furthermore, bipolar disorder is sometimes treated with more than one drug, so lithium dosage can depend on the presence of other drugs.

Lithium medications are available as tablets, capsules, extended-release tablets, and liquids taken by mouth. All but the extended-release tablet are usually taken three to four times a day. Extended-release tablets are usually taken two to three times per day. They should not be split, chewed or crushed; extended-release tablets should be swallowed whole. Medications should be taken around the same time every day.

Some people experience nausea or diarrhea when they take lithium, and their doctors may adjust the medication type accordingly.

“If somebody is on the immediate-release [tablet] and they’re experiencing nausea, we’ll switch to the extended release, so it’s kicking in further down in the stomach tract,” Brownlowe said. “If somebody is having diarrhea, sometimes we switch to the immediate release so that it’s absorbed sooner.”

Lithium medications can help control bipolar symptoms, but will not cure the disorder. It usually takes several weeks for the medications to begin working, and it is important to continue to take them even if the symptoms cease.

Lithium works best if it is kept at a constant level in your body, so doctors may suggest drinking eight to 12 glasses of water per day and maintaining a consistent amount of salt in your food. Both fluid and salt can affect the levels of lithium in the blood, so it is important to consume a consistent amount every day.

“I advise my patients that they need to stay very well hydrated,” Brownlowe said. “And I often will say, ‘You want your urine to be light yellow.'”

When people taking lithium get dehydrated, their lithium levels increase. “That’s when we start to see dangerous signs of toxicity,” such as confusion, tremulousness and unsteadiness, Brownlowe said.

People experiencing toxic effects of lithium should go to the hospital and tell emergency room doctors they’re taking lithium.

Women who might become pregnant should not take lithium unless they are on an effective birth control plan.

Lithium, if taken while pregnant, is associated with a rare congenital heart defect in children called Ebstein’s anomaly.

Lithium should not be taken with certain blood pressure medications, such as hydrochlorothiazide. Nor should it be taken with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen, often marketed as Advil, and naproxen, including Aleve. These medications can increase lithium levels in the blood, and should be avoided when people are taking lithium, Brownlowe said.

Lithium medications may cause side effects. Doctors typically want patients to take regular blood tests during lithium use because it can affect kidney or thyroid functioning.

The NIH recommends telling a doctor if any of the following side effects become severe or do not go away:

  • restlessness
  • fine hand movements that are difficult to control
  • loss of appetite
  • stomach pain or bloating
  • gas
  • indigestion
  • weight gain or loss
  • dry mouth
  • excessive saliva in the mouth
  • tongue pain
  • change in the ability to taste food
  • swollen lips
  • acne
  • hair loss
  • unusual discomfort in cold temperatures
  • constipation
  • depression
  • joint or muscle pain
  • thin, brittle fingernails or hair

The following side effects are serious and, if they appear, a doctor should be consulted immediately:

  • tiredness
  • shaking of a part of your body that you cannot control
  • muscle weakness, stiffness, twitching, or tightness
  • loss of coordination
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • excessive thirst
  • frequent urination
  • giddiness
  • ringing in the ears
  • slow, jerky movements
  • movements that are unusual or difficult to control
  • blackouts
  • seizures
  • slurred speech
  • fast, slow, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
  • chest tightness
  • confusion
  • hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • crossed eyes
  • painful, cold, or discolored fingers and toes
  • headache
  • pounding noises inside the head
  • changes in vision
  • paleness
  • itching
  • rash
  • swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, throat, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs

Additional reporting by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer. Follow her on Twitter @LauraGeggel. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook &Google+

6 Important Elements You’ve Never Heard Of

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6 Important Elements You’ve Never Heard Of

An emerald crystal found in Muzo, Colombia. Emerald crystals are one form of the element beryllium.

Credit: Creative Commons | M.M.

Unless you’re a real science geek, chances are you never knew these eight elements even existed. Nonetheless, many of them form the foundations of modern life.

Here’s a sample of the elements you’d rather not live without.

Europium (Eu)

Next time you’re traveling through Europe, take note of some euro paper banknotes. They contain tiny amounts of europium, a hard, silvery metal, as an anti-counterfeiting measure. [Elementary, My Dear: 8 Elements You Never Heard Of]

There are a handful of places in the world where europium-containing ore is mined, but deposits of the rare element europium (atomic number 63) are in short supply. Few people cared until the invention of the television.

Early color television programs were barely colored: The blues were muted, yellows appeared somewhat bleached out and whites were dingy and grayish. The reason? Nobody could find a way to reproduce a strong, rich red color, so the other colors were toned down to maintain some balance.

Then, once it was discovered that europium reproduced a robust red in television (And later, computer) screens, the scramble for europium supplies was on. Mines in China, Russia and a small mine in California supply most of the world’s europium.

Scandium (Sc)

First discovered in 1879, scandium (atomic number 21) was named for Scandinavia by chemist Lars Fredrik Nilson. Though it’s fairly common in the Earth’s crust, nobody had any real use for this silvery metal until about 100 years after its discovery.

But in the 1970s, metallurgists found that aluminum-scandium alloys are strong and lightweight, making it useful in aerospace components. It wasn’t long before sporting-equipment manufacturers started using the alloys in everything from baseball bats to lacrosse sticks.

Beryllium (Be)

In Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi story “Sucker Bait,” scientists struggle to understand why all the colonists of the planet known as Junior died after settling on its surface. Finally, one mutinous renegade realizes that high levels of beryllium in the soil caused the colonists to slowly die of berylliosis.

The dangers of beryllium aren’t just the stuff of fiction, however: The element (atomic number 4) is recognized as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.In another form, however, beryllium is highly desirable, even priceless. When combined with trace amounts of chromium, beryllium takes on a beautiful green hue as the gemstone commonly known as the emerald.

Gallium (Ga)

Few elements are weirder than gallium: A relatively soft, glittering metal, it’s widely used today in semiconductors and other electronics, as well as in the pharmaceutical industry.

But in years past, gallium (atomic number 31) was a key part of a favorite parlor trick for magicians because it melts when it’s just slightly warmer than room temperature. Thus, spoons that are made of gallium look normal, but when dipped into a cup of hot tea will instantly dissolve. Even holding a gallium spoon in your hand too long will create a drippy, metallic mess.

Tellurium (Te)

Tellurium, a silvery-white metal first discovered in Transylvania, is often used in solar panels, computer memory chips and rewritable optical discs. Its name comes from the Latin word for earth (tellus).

Tellurium (atomic number 52) is considered by most experts to be mildly toxic, though it’s unusual to find someone who has suffered serious harm from it. How to tell if someone has been exposed to high levels of tellurium? As their body metabolizes telluride, their breath will have a pungent, garlic-like odor — as befits an element first found in Dracula’s legendary homeland.

Dysprosium (Dy)

“Hoarding gold is for libertarians. Bitcoin mining is for nerds,” wrote Jonathon Keats in Wired. “Really adventurous investors — especially fans of the stranger stretches of the periodic table — ought to consider stockpiling something more intense, like industrially valuable exotic elements.”

High on the list of rare, valuable elements is dysprosium (atomic number 66), which is named after the ancient Greek dysprositos, meaning “hard to get,” appropriately enough. The soft, metallic substance is in big demand for electric motors, especially those in electric vehicles and wind turbines, which has earned dysprosium a place on the U.S. Department of Energy’s list of critical materials for the green economy.

Follow Marc Lallanilla on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience,Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Facts About Lithium

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Facts About Lithium

Many electronic devices use batteries that contain lithium metal or lithium compounds.

Credit: AlexLMX | Shutterstock

The lightest known metal can also lighten your mood. Lithium, atomic number 3, is an element of many uses. It’s used in aircraft manufacture and in certain batteries. It’s also used in mental health: Lithium carbonate is a common treatment of bipolar disorder, helping to stabilize the wild mood swings caused by the illness.

Lithium has a flashy discovery story — literally. A Brazilian naturalist and statesman, Jozé Bonifácio de Andralda e Silva, discovered the mineral petalite (LiAISi4O10) on the Swedish isle Utö in the 1790s, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). The mineral is white to gray, but when thrown into fire, it flares bright crimson.

In 1817, Swedish chemist Johan August Arfvedson discovered that petalite contained a previously unknown element. He wasn’t able to isolate the metal entirely, but did isolate one of its salts. The name, lithium, is from “lithos,” the Greek for “stone.”

It took until 1855 for someone to isolate lithium: British chemist Augustus Matthiessen and German chemist Robert Bunsen ran a current through lithium chloride in order to separate the element.

According to the Jefferson National Linear Accelerator Laboratory, the properties of lithium are:

  • Atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus): 3
  • Atomic symbol (on the Periodic Table of Elements): Li
  • Atomic weight (average mass of the atom): 6.941
  • Density: 0.534 grams per cubic centimeter
  • Phase at room temperature: Solid
  • Melting point: 356.9 degrees Fahrenheit (180.5 degrees Celsius)
  • Boiling point:  2448 degrees Fahrenheit (1342 degrees Celsius)
  • Number of isotopes (atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons): 10; 2 stable
  • Most common isotopes: Li-7 (92.41 percent natural abundance), Li-6 (7.59 percent natural abundance)
The lithium atom has three protons and three electrons.
The lithium atom has three protons and three electrons.

Credit: Boris15, Andrei Marincas Shutterstock

Lithium is a special metal in many ways. It’s light and soft — so soft that it can be cut with a kitchen knife and so low in density that it floats on water. It’s also solid at a wide range of temperatures, with one of the lowest melting points of all metals and a high boiling point.

Like its fellow alkali metal, sodium, lithium reacts with water in showy form. The combo of Li and H2O forms lithium hydroxide and hydrogen, which typically bursts into red flame.

Lithium makes up a mere 0.0007 percent of the Earth’s crust, according to the Jefferson Lab, and it’s only found locked up in minerals and salts. Those salts have the power to change the brain: lithium salts were the first drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat mania and depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Today, lithium carbonate is the compound most often sold as a pharmaceutical. Oddly, no one knows exactly how lithium works to stabilize mood. Studies show multiple effects on the nervous system. In 2008, for example, researchers reported in the journal Cell that lithium interrupts the activity of a receptor for the neurotransmitter dopamine. It also appears to plump up brain volume, according to a 2011 study in the journal Biological Psychiatry (though this research is hotly contested).

  • Lithium-ion batteries are the key to lightweight, rechargeable power for laptops, phones and other digital devices. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Argentina and Chile increased their lithium production 15 percent each in 2014 alone to meet the growing demand. Worldwide, production jumped 6 percent that year.
  • The United States has one lithium mine, in Nevada, according to the USGS. Chile and Australia produce the most lithium in the world.
  • Naturally occurring lithium in drinking water correlates with lower levels of suicide, according to a 2009 study that highlights lithium’s role in the brain. But psychiatrists are careful about prescribing lithium in high doses, particularly because it can pass through the placenta and have unknown effects on the developing fetus.
  • Lithium was one of the three elements produced in large quantities in the Big Bang, according to physicists. The others were hydrogen and helium.

Lithium has a problem — or astrophysicists do. The amount of lithium that should have been produced in the Big Bang is about three times as high as actually seen in the oldest stars.

This discovery was first made in the 1980s, said Pasquale Serpico, a cosmologist at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Savoy Mont Blanc in France. It created a “tension,” Serpico said, between what the Big Bang data and the star observations were telling researchers about lithium’s abundance.

“The community started to look for possible loopholes or overlooked effects that might reconcile this tension,” Serpico told Live Science.

It’s a search that’s still going on. There are two basic possibilities, Serpico said: One is that scientists are missing something about the primordial conditions of the universe that would explain the absent lithium. This is a tough explanation to find. Researchers at the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics (LUNA), an underground accelerator in Italy, recently experimented with recreating the conditions of the Big Bang and found that the amounts of helium and hydrogen created matched with observations seen in the universe, while lithium stubbornly stayed too high. Lithium remains an outlier in an otherwise functional explanation for how the universe formed.

Another possibility is that there is a “new physics” explanation for the missing lithium in the universe today, Serpico said. In other words, the lithium was created in the expected amounts at the Big Bang, but something mysterious and unknown has been destroying it more rapidly than expected ever since.

“We just found out that a loophole in standard physics in the way people approximated the description of a standard physical phenomenon might make a new physics explanation less challenging,” Serpico said.

The researchers focused on a phenomenon common in the early days of the universe, when space was humming with energetic photons (light particles). Against these “hot” conditions, elementary particles, the building blocks of atoms, were born. Now, in a study published in March 2015 in the journal Physical Review Letters, Serpico and his colleagues have identified an overlooked sweet spot in this phenomenon. At a certain energy level, injecting new energetic photons into the mix efficiently destroys beryllium-7, the precursor to lithium-7, without affecting other nuclei. Those other nuclei remain at the same levels seen in the star observations. Suddenly, the potential for a Big Bang reaction with less lithium than previously expected starts to make sense.

“Now our problem is, is this just a curiosity, or can it be a viable mechanism?” Serpico said.

The question could be answered with probes such as NASA’s PIXIE mission, which aims to map the energy spectrum of the cosmic microwave background of the universe, which is the heat left over from the Big Bang, with unprecedented precision. Depending on the specific model, there is also hope that particle colliders like the Large Hadron Collider or the proposed Search for Hidden Particles (SHiP) project at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) could provide indirect hints, he said.

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Additional resources

Facts About Platinum

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Facts About Platinum
Two ultrapure platinum crystals, about 1 centimeter each. Together, they weigh about 1 gram. Photo from

Credit: Images of Platinum

Platinum, a highly valued and desired metal, has a wide range of uses, including jewelry, catalytic converters, electrical contacts, pacemakers, drugs and magnets. Because it is rare — there are only about 5 parts per billion by weight in Earth’s crust, according to Chemicool— platinum tends to be very pricey, as anyone looking to buy a platinum wedding ring might discover.

Platinum is a silver-white metal — it was once known as “white gold.” It is extremely resistant to tarnishing and corrosion (which makes it known as a “noble metal”) and is very soft and malleable, making it easy to shape; ductile, making it easy to stretch into wire; and unreactive, which means it doesn’t oxidize and is unaffected by common acids.

Platinum is one of the transition metals, a group that includes gold, silver, copper and titanium — and most of the elements in the middle of the periodic table. The atomic structure of these metals means they can bond easily with other elements.

It is also one of the densest elements at 12.4 ounces per cubic inch (21.45 grams per cubic centimeter), a little more than 21 times the density of water or 6 times the density of a diamond according to Chemicool. These properties lead to many uses for this very rare and precious metal.



Credit: Andrei Marincas Shutterstock

  • Atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus): 78
  • Atomic symbol (on the periodic table of elements): Pt
  • Atomic weight (average mass of the atom): 195.1
  • Density: 12.4 ounces per cubic inch (21.45 grams per cubic cm)
  • Phase at room temperature: solid
  • Melting point: 3,215.1 degrees Fahrenheit (1,768.4 degrees Celsius)
  • Boiling point: 6,917 F (3,825 C)
  • Number of natural isotopes (atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons): 6. There are also 37 artificial isotopes created in a lab.
  • Most common isotopes: Pt-195 (33.83 percent of natural abundance), Pt-194 (32.97 percent of natural abundance), Pt-196 (25.24 percent of natural abundance), Pt-198 (7.16 percent of natural abundance), Pt-192 (0.78 percent of natural abundance), Pt-190 (0.01 percent of natural abundance)

In ancient times, people in Egypt and the Americas used platinum for jewelry and decorative pieces, often times mixed with gold. The first recorded reference to platinum was in 1557 when Julius Scaliger, an Italian physician, described a metal found in Central America that wouldn’t melt and called it “platina,” meaning “little silver.”

In 1741, British scientist Charles Wood published a study introducing platinum as a new metal and described some of its attributes and possible commercial applications, according to Peter van der Krogt a Dutch historian. Then, in 1748, Spanish scientist and naval officer Antonio de Ulloa published a description of a metal that was unworkable and unmeltable. (He originally wrote it in 1735, but his papers were confiscated by the British navy.)

Back in the 18th century, platinum was the eighth known metal and was known as “white gold,” according to van der Krogt. (Previously known metals included iron, copper, silver, tin, gold, mercury and lead.)

In the early 1800s, friends and colleagues William Hyde Wollaston and Smithson Tennant, both British chemists, produced and sold purified platinum that they isolated using a technique developed by Wollaston, according to van der Krogt This technique involves dissolving platinum ore in a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids (known as aqua regia). After the platinum was separated from the rest of the solution, palladium, rhodium, osmium, iridium, and later ruthenium were all discovered in the waste.

Today, platinum is still extracted using a technique similar to that developed by Wollaston. Samples containing platinum are dissolved in aqua regia, are separated from the rest of the solution and byproducts, and are melted at very high temperatures to produce the metal.

  • A cylindrical hunk of platinum and platinum alloy is used as theinternational standard for measuring a kilogram. In the 1880s, about 40 of these cylinders, which weigh about 2.2 lbs. or 1 kilogram, were distributed around the world.
  • Platinum, iridium, osmium, palladium, ruthenium, and rhodium are all members of the same group of metals (called the platinum metals) and share similar properties. These metals are often used together to create highly durable parts for various machines, tools and jewelry.
  • Platinum is used in several anti-cancer drugs because of its very low reactivity levels. About 50 percent of cancer therapy patients currently use platinum-containing drugs, according to a 2014 study by Johnstone, Park, and Lippard Some of these drugs, such as cisplatin, are also used to treat tumors and cancer in animals, according to veterinarian Barbara Forney.
  • Platinum is also used in pacemakers, dental crowns, and other equipment used within the human body because of its resistance to corrosion from bodily fluids and lack of reactivity to bodily functions, according to
  • The majority (about 80 percent) of platinum is mined in South Africa. Approximately 10 percent is mined in Russia, and the rest is found in North and South America, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Because platinum and other platinum metals usually aren’t found in large amounts, they are often byproducts from mining other metals.
  • Nearly 14 times more gold than platinum is mined per year — about 1,800 tons (1,633 metric tons) of gold compared to 130 tons (118 metric tons) of platinum, according to Science for Kids
  • According to Total Materia, nearly half of the platinum that is mined is used in catalytic converters, the part of the automobile that reduces toxic gases into less-toxic emissions. Platinum and other platinum metals can withstand the high temperatures required for the oxidation reactions that reduce the emissions.
  • Platinum combined with cobalt creates strong, permanent magnets, according to Chemicool. These magnets have many uses, including in medical instruments, motors, watches, and more.
  • Platinum is often used as a catalyst in the production of several solutions and byproducts (that end up in substances such as fertilizers, plastics and gasoline and in fuel cells, increasing their efficiency according to
  • Many investors buy and sell platinum, even though the price can fluctuate greatly during economic growth and decline even more than the prices of other precious metals (because of its many uses).
  • Approximately 30 percent of mined platinum is used in jewelry, according to Total Materia. Most of the famous diamonds in the world, such as the Hope Diamond (according to Famous Diamonds) and many items in Elizabeth Taylor’s collection (according to Bulgari), are set in platinum.
The international prototype kilogram is a cylinder of platinum and platinum-iridium alloy, which is kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) near Paris.
The international prototype kilogram is a cylinder of platinum and platinum-iridium alloy, which is kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) near Paris.

Credit: Image Courtesy BIPM

Researchers are continuing to find new uses and applications for platinum. For example, platinum is used in the development of anti-cancer drugs.

In 1844, Michele Peyrone, an Italian chemist, accidently discovered that platinum has anti-neoplastic properties (which means it prohibits the development of tumors, according to MedicineNet). Research continued, and in 1971 the first human cancer patient was treated with platinum-containing drugs.

Today, about 50 percent of cancer patients receive treatments that include this rare metal, according to a 2016 article published in the journal Chemical Reviews. These drugs include cisplatin, carboplatin and oxaliplatin, and several others in trial stages.

The article discussed some of the next-generation platinum-containing cancer drugs and delivery systems that they say will be more effective in fighting cancer cells. The authors call this a “dual threat” — platinum-containing drugs within a platinum-delivery system.

These so-called platinum “warheads” target cancer cells and can be programmed in a variety of ways to interact with the cancer cells that contain many receptors on their surfaces, which are responsible for many actions of the cell including growth, the authors explained. Because cancerous cells divide very rapidly, they need an excess of nourishment (such as glucose or folic acid), and these targeting systems can search the body for these various traits and deposit the medications directly within the cells, the authors said. Once the platinum is within the cells, it works with other chemotherapy drugs to prevent the cancer cells from continuously dividing, they explained.

Another benefit of using these nanodelivery systems is that they can remain in the bloodstream for longer periods of time, thus leading to better distribution and delayed releases of the medications, the article said.

Due to the large amount of platinum needed to study these anticancer drugs, refining companies were eager to become involved very early on, as described by the authors. And although the use of refined platinum in cancer drugs is beneficial to many, those who work on platinum mines do have to be careful because inhaling or coming into direct contact with platinum salts (created from the purifying process and prior to being melted into metal) can have the opposite effect by potentially causing adverse health affects such as allergic reactions, damage to internal organs, or even cancer, according to

Several studies, including a 2006 study published in the journal Water, Air, and Soil Pollution and a 2009 study presented at the Canadian Metallurgical Society’s annual conference have shown associations between platinum mining and adverse environmental and health effects, although more research is needed to prove the links.

Additional resources

Eerie Time-Lapse Footage Shows Exactly How Coral Self-Destructs

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Eerie Time-Lapse Footage Shows Exactly How Coral Self-Destructs

Yesterday 4:10pm

Earlier this year, record warm ocean waters triggered a massive coral die off in the Great Barrier Reef, prompting a flurry of scientific research into the underlying cause. Now, for the first time, biologists have captured the process of coral bleaching as it happens, showing us how corals kill themselves in gory scientific detail.

The coral that build the colorful, tropical reefs we know and love are a complex symbiosis: a squishy animal wrapped in a crunchy limestone exoskeleton and infested with microscopic plants called zooxanthellae. This unique partnership has allowed corals to build enormous reef systems that provide habitat to roughly a quarter of all marine species. Unfortunately, the relationship is now starting to break down, in part because of a strange behavior corals engage in when they become uncomfortably warm.

Image: Brett Lewis, QUT
Image: Brett Lewis, QUT

When the water temperature rises just a few degrees to above optimal, corals evict their zooxanthellae. This causes the animals to turn a ghostly white—hence the term “bleaching”—but more problematically it cuts off their food supply. (In exchange for shelter, zooxanthellae provide their hosts with sugars via photosynthesis.) If temperatures remain hot for too long, the algae won’t return and the coral will starve. That’s exactly what happened across the Great Barrier Reef earlier this year, in a record bleaching event that causedup to 50 percent mortality along the reef’s northern margin.

To gain insight into how bleaching works, biologists at Queensland University of Technology placed the coral Heiiofungia actiniformis in aquaria, raised the temperature, and captured time-lapse videos over the course of eight days using digital cameras and microscopes.

Like a pair of bellows belching toxic green gas, the videos show unhappy corals expelling their algal partners within hours of the temperature being raised from 26 to 32 degrees Celsius (79 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit). “What’s really interesting is just how quickly and violently the coral forcefully evicted its resident symbionts,” Brett Lewis, a co-author on the study published recently in Coral Reefs, said in a statement.

Image: Brett Lewis, QUT

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, the researchers believe the “pulsed inflation” method H. actiniformis uses to expel its algae may help the animal survive hot spells compared with corals that do not bleach so ostentatiously. Hopefully, by continuing to examine coral under the microscope, scientists can pinpoint the mechanisms behind bleaching survival strategies, and figure out how to promote temperature resilience more widely.

Let’s hope so, because the global heat wave shows no signs of slowing down.

[Coral Reefs]