US reported maritime protection force in the Red Sea to have limited effect in curbing conflict spillover

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is reportedly set to announce an expanded maritime protection force involving Arab states in the Red Sea in response to the escalating attacks against Israel-bound cargo ships by Yemen’s Houthi rebel group. Chinese analysts said by doing so, Washington aims to force its regional allies to become more involved in curbing the spillover of current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but predicted that the move would play only limited role in pacifying the situation.

Washington should do more to solve the Palestine-Israel conflict than to put in place superficial moves, Chinese experts said, noting that US hypocrisy of calling for cease-fire between Israel and Palestine but constant blocking of UN resolutions on demanding cease-fire in fact fueled Israel’s determination of continued military actions. 

Being the latest Biden administration official to visit Israel, Austin, who arrived in Israel on Monday, is to gain a clearer assessment from Israeli officials on their military operations, CNN reported.

AP said that Austin is also expected to press Israel to wind down major combat operations in Gaza.

Austin is also expected to announce an expanded maritime protection force, to be known as Operation Prosperity Guardian, involving Arab states combatting increasingly frequent Houthi attacks being mounted from Yemen’s ports on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, the Guardian reported. Yet the report revealed no details over which Arab states are expected to join. 

Protection of shipping routes in the Red Sea is probably the key agenda behind Austin’s visit, as the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict has exerted a huge impact on global economy, Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Monday. He said the Houthi rebel group’s attacks have created a dilemma for the US. 

The attacks, targeting a route that allows East-West trade, especially of oil, to use the Suez Canal to save the time and expense of circumnavigating Africa, have pushed some shipping companies to re-route vessels to avoid the area. For example, French shipping group CMA CGM on Saturday said it was pausing all container shipments through the Red Sea after an attack on one of its container ships, MSC Palatium III, one day earlier, per Reuters. 

The US is hoping that regional allies become more involved in curbing the spillover effect of current conflict via the proposed protection force, which in reality will only have limited effect, Liu said. 

Experts noted that the fundamental solution is to continue to call for cease-fire between the conflicting sides, whilst responding violence with violence will only fuel the current conflict. 

France, the UK and Germany -some of Israel’s closest allies- joined global calls for a cease-fire over the weekend, and Israeli protesters have demanded the government relaunch talks with the militant group on releasing more hostages after three were mistakenly killed by Israeli troops while waving a white flag.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will keep fighting until it removes Hamas from power, crushes its military capabilities and returns the hostages, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

Liu noted that the increasing international and domestic pressure are not enough for Israel to change its military action in Gaza as those pressure are mostly at surface level. Moreover, the US is calling for cease-fire in public, yet it is giving Israel green light in the UN by opposing UN’s cease-fire resolutions.

Young swimmers’ rise to prominence boosts China’s dominance in pool

The emerging younger generation of Chinese swimmers have contributed massively to China’s swimming dominance at the Asian Games, as the national swimming team brought their gold medal tally on Monday to 11.

A most outstanding breakthrough came from Pan Zhanle, a 19-year-old freestyle sprint specialist. The young man crushed it with a new lifetime best of 46.97 seconds to take the gold medal in the men’s 100 meters freestyle on Sunday.

But Pan remained unsatisfied with the breakthrough. 

“I felt my performance was mediocre. I was aiming to break the world record before the race,” Pan told reporters after the race. “The Asian record doesn’t feel like anything extraordinary. This is something I should get. It’s a bit disappointing that I missed it by only 0.11 seconds.”

Pan’s performance has set a new Asian record, making him the first Asian swimmer to finish 100 meters under the 47-second barrier and the fifth-fastest swimmer in the discipline in history. Previously his personal best was at 47.22 seconds produced at this year’s Chinese Championships.

The world record remains at the 46.86 seconds Romania’s David Popovici put on the books at the 2022 European Championships.

Pan told the Global Times that the secret behind his triumph lies in the everyday training during which he has paid close attention to improving his flip turns.

“The last two months I have put a lot of effort into improving my jump start and flip turns,” Pan told the Global Times. “Communication with the coach is very important,” he said, before noting he will continue to strive toward the goal of breaking the world record in the future. 

Standing next to Pan on the men’s 100 meters freestyle podium was 18-year-old Wang Haoyu. Speaking of his performance of 48.02 seconds, 1.05 seconds behind Pan’s achievement, Wang said nervousness at the Asian Games thwarted him from attaining a better performance.

“I was a little nervous. It’s impossible not to be [as it’s my first Asian Games]. It was slightly below my expectations,” Wang told reporters. “I got on the podium, but the result could have been better. I still need to fight in the events to come.”

Female breaststroker Tang Qianting, 19, also set up a new Chinese national standard and Asian record in the women’s 50 meters breaststroke.

Firing off a time of 29.92 seconds in the heat, she not only produced the sole outing of the field under the 30-second barrier, but it represented a shiny new lifetime best for the teen and her first-ever foray under the threshold.

Tang’s previous career quickest record was 30.08 seconds she logged at this year’s World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. 

Monday night also saw 18-year-old Chinese swimmer Yu Yiting win the women’s 200 meters individual relay in 2:07.75, setting up a new Asian Games record and outperforming veteran teammate and 2012 Olympic champion Ye Shiwen. 

Yang Junxuan, 21, has also played a key role in securing the women’s 4×100 meters freestyle relay gold medal 

Besides the young swimmers, already crowned world champions Zhang Yufei and Qin Haiyang remain the marquee names in the swimming squad. 

Having publicly announced that she is aiming for the Asian Games MVP award, Zhang told the Global Times that the biggest challenge in achieving the goal is the short-distance sprints.

The previous Asian Games female MVP award winner was Rikako Ikee of Japan who won six gold and two silver medals in eight competitions when she participated in the Jakarta Asian Games in 2018. 

Zhang, who anchored the Chinese women’s 4×100 meters freestyle relay to victory following her 200 meters butterfly title, said she wants to win seven gold medals in Hangzhou.

“I’m hoping to get seven gold medals here. And I feel confident about it. Let’s take it one step at a time,” she told reporters. 

Breaststroke world champion Qin Haiyang lowered the Asian Games record in men’s 100 meters breaststroke to 57.76 seconds to win his first gold medal at the Hangzhou Games. 

The triple world champion has set his sights on setting up a new 50 meters world record, after he crushed Adam Peaty’s 200 meters world record in the worlds. 

“The world record I want to break the most is the 50 meters,” Qin told reporters. 

“It’s an event that I feel more confident in, and I’ve also been putting more effort into training for this one.”

Readers puzzled by proton’s properties

Proton puzzler
Uncertainty over the proton’s size, spin and life span could have physicists rethinking standard notions about matter and the universe, Emily Conover reported in “The proton puzzle” (SN: 4/29/17, p. 22).

Readers wondered about the diameter (or size) of the proton, which has three fundamental particles called quarks rattling around inside. “Still scratching my head over how combining three dimensionless quarks ends up forming a proton with a ‘diameter,’ ” online reader Down_Home wrote. “Maybe that word doesn’t mean what I think it means.”
The three quarks within the proton are only apparent when the proton is probed with high-energy particles, Conover says. At lower energies, particles “see” the entire proton as one entity. “In that case, the proton just behaves like a sphere of positive charge,” she says. Scientists measure the size of this sphere by looking at how electrons are deflected when they come close to the proton. “Researchers disagree on the sphere’s diameter, which makes for a bit of an identity crisis for the proton,” Conover says.

Blooming Arctic
Nearly 30 percent of ice covering the Arctic Ocean at summer’s peak is thin enough to foster sprawling phytoplankton blooms in the waters below, a recent study estimated. These ice-covered blooms were probably uncommon just 20 years ago, Thomas Sumner reported in “Thinning ice creates undersea greenhouses in the Arctic” (SN: 4/29/17, p. 20).

Several online readers wanted to know how the under-ice blooms get the carbon dioxide they need to photosynthesize.
Others wondered about the blooms’ potential effect on climate. “I’m not sure if this is good or bad news,” reader Witch Daemon wrote. More phytoplankton could mean that the Arctic could store more carbon, but the blooms wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for warming and melting ice, Witch Daemon reasoned.
When phytoplankton are trapped under ice, they absorb CO2 that’s dissolved in the upper ocean, says oceanographer and study coauthor Christopher Horvat of Harvard University.

What the blooms might mean for storing carbon in the ocean is uncertain, Horvat says. But if these under-ice blooms occur in addition to the familiar blooms along the edges of the ice, then there’s a chance that more carbon could be stored away.

Shields up
Most of the gases in Mars’ atmosphere may have been stripped away by solar wind, Ashley Yeager reported in “Extreme gas loss dried out Mars” (SN: 4/29/17, p. 20). The loss of so much gas may explain how the planet morphed from a wet, warm world to a dry, icy one.

Online reader Robert Knox wondered how long it took for the solar wind to strip Mars of its atmospheric gases. “Earth is closer to the sun, so the solar wind is more intense,” Knox wrote. “Why did this not happen to Earth?”

Luckily for us, Earth is protected by a magnetic field, Yeager says. This field deflects the solar wind and prevents it from picking away at the planet’s atmospheric particles. Mars lost most of its global magnetic field about 4.2 billion years ago, which allowed the solar wind to sweep away much of the planet’s atmosphere over a few hundred million years, she says.

Spread of misfolded proteins could trigger type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes and prion disease seem like an odd couple, but they have something in common: clumps of misfolded, damaging proteins.

Now new research finds that a dose of corrupted pancreas proteins induces normal ones to misfold and clump. This raises the possibility that, like prion disease, type 2 diabetes could be triggered by these deformed proteins spreading between cells or even individuals, the researchers say.

When the deformed pancreas proteins were injected into mice without type 2 diabetes, the animals developed symptoms of the disease, including overly high blood sugar levels, the researchers report online August 1 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
“It is interesting, albeit not super-surprising” that the deformed proteins could jump-start the process in other mice, says Bruce Verchere, a diabetes researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. But “before you could say anything about transmissibility of type 2 diabetes, there’s a lot more that needs to be done.”

Beta cells in the pancreas make the glucose-regulating hormone insulin. The cells also produce a hormone called islet amyloid polypeptide, or IAPP. This protein can clump together and damage cells, although how it first goes bad is not clear. The vast majority of people with type 2 diabetes accumulate deposits of misfolded IAPP in the pancreas, and the clumps are implicated in the death of beta cells.

Deposits of misfolded proteins are a hallmark of such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as prion disorders like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (SN: 10/17/15, p. 12).

Since IAPP misfolds like a prion protein, neurologist Claudio Soto of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and his colleagues wondered if type 2 diabetes could be transmitted between cells, or even between individuals. With this paper, his group “just wanted to put on the table” this possibility.

The mouse version of the IAPP protein cannot clump — and mice don’t develop type 2 diabetes, a sign that the accumulation of IAPP is important in the development of the disease, says Soto. To study the disease in mice, the animals need to be engineered to produce a human version of IAPP. When pancreas cells containing clumps of misfolded IAPP, taken from an engineered diabetic mouse, were mixed in a dish of healthy human pancreas cells, it triggered the clumping of IAPP in the human cells.
The same was true when non-diabetic mice got a shot made with the diabetic mouse pancreas cells. The non-diabetic mice developed deposits of clumped IAPP that grew over time, and the majority of beta cells died. When the mice were alive, more than 70 percent of the animals had blood sugar levels beyond the healthy range.

Soto’s group plans to study if IAPP could be transmitted in a real world scenario, such as through a blood transfusion. They’ve already begun work on transfusing blood from mice with diabetes to healthy mice, to see if they can induce the disease. “More work needs to be done to see if this ever operates in real life,” Soto says.

Even if transmission of the misfolded protein occurs only within an individual, “this opens up a lot of opportunities for intervention,” Soto says, “because now you can target the IAPP.”

Verchere also believes IAPP is “a big player” in the progression of type 2 diabetes, and that therapies that prevent the clumps of proteins from forming are needed. Whether or not future research supports the idea that the disease is transmissible, the study is “good for appreciating the potential role of IAPP in diabetes.”

Normally aloof particles of light seen ricocheting off each other

Cross two flashlight beams and they pass right through one another. That’s because particles of light, or photons, are mostly antisocial — they don’t interact with each other. But now scientists have spotted evidence of photons bouncing off other photons at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European particle physics lab in Geneva.

“This is a very basic process. It’s never been observed before, and here it is finally emerging from the data,” says theoretical physicist John Ellis of King’s College London who was not involved with the study. Researchers with the ATLAS experiment at the LHC report the result August 14 in Nature Physics.
Because photons have no electric charge, they shouldn’t notice one another’s presence. But there’s an exception to that rule. According to quantum mechanics, photons can briefly transform into transient pairs of electrically charged particles and antiparticles — such as an electron and a positron — before reverting back to photons. Predictions made more than 80 years ago suggest that this phenomenon allows photons to interact and ricochet away from one another.

This light-by-light scattering is extremely rare, making it difficult to measure. But photons with more energy interact more often, providing additional chances to spot the scattering. To produce such energetic photons, scientists slammed beams of lead nuclei together in the LHC. Photons flit in and out of existence in the lead nuclei’s strong electromagnetic fields. When two nuclei got close enough that their electromagnetic fields overlapped, two photons could interact with one another and be scattered away.

To measure the interaction, ATLAS scientists sifted through their data to find collisions in which only two photons — the two that scattered away from the collision — appeared in the aftermath. “That’s the trickiest part of the whole thing,” says physicist Peter Steinberg of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., a member of the ATLAS collaboration. The scientists had to ensure that, in their enormous, highly sensitive particle detector, only two photons appeared, and convince themselves that no other particles had gone unaccounted for. The researchers found 13 such events over 19 days of data collection. Although other processes can mimic light-by-light scattering, the researchers predict that only a few such events were included in the sample.

The number of scattering events the researchers found agrees with the predictions of the standard model, physicists’ theory of particle physics. But a more precise measurement of the interaction might differ from expectations. If it does, that could hint at the existence of new, undiscovered particles.