20 – 26 April 2015
The Week in Review is a weekly column that highlights some interesting, outraging, and heartwarming events and stories of the past week. Its ambition is not to be exhaustive or to recap major political events; it’s more of a personal take on news or stories that made the author react strongly.
Picture of the Week
On 25 April, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal, including the capital Kathmandu, the city of Pokhara, and the slopes of Mount Everest, where the quake caused an avalanche which claimed 18 lives. More than 3,000 people were killed in the earthquake, followed hours later by a terrifying 6.7 aftershock. The material damage was also extremely important, with many old Kathmandu neighborhoods thoroughly destroyed.
Efforts continue to find survivors trapped under rubble and collapsed buildings, while many have taken to sleeping outside for fear of other aftershocks. Supplies and medical personnel from neighboring countries have already begun arriving, but roads blocked by landslides are preventing rescue workers from accessing key areas, and it is still difficult to establish a final death toll and assess the damage made by the quake.
Nepal is particularly susceptible to earthquakes, as it is located above the exact line where the two land masses of India and Asia collided 25 million years ago, and continue to push against each other at a rate of 2 inches a year. This initial collision triggered the formation of one of Earth’s most beautiful sights, the Himalayas.
Discovery of the week
Depression may change your DNA. This, quite simply, is the astonishing phenomenon confirmed by Na Cai and a team of Elsevier scientists on 23 April.
The team’s finding shows that individuals suffering from depression have more mitochondrial DNA and shorter telomeres than other individuals. Mitochondria, which the human body needs in order to produce energy for cells, become less efficient when a person is under a lot of stress, while short telomeres are synonymous with shorter life spans. These two elements are manifestations of the effects of depression on the human metabolism.
The team used mice to figure out that stress and stress hormones alter DNA. Left to their own devices and free of stress, the mice and their DNA returned to their initial state, from which the study draws the conclusion that these changes “are in part reversible and represent switches in metabolic strategy”. However, while the effects of one occurrence of stress can vanish, the DNA of depressed people, who suffer distress over long periods of time, might have a harder time reverting to its normal state.
Read more on Cell.com.
Depressing news of the week
A recent study reported on by Mother Jones this week makes a shocking finding: as you read this, over 70% of all forests in the world are within 1km of a forest edge. This means that a majority of forests are so close to other species, to humans and their activities, and to altered microclimate that their ecosystems will only degrade at a faster pace. Indeed, the article reports that “breaking up habitats to this degree has reduced biodiversity by as much as 75 percent in some areas”.
According to the Science Advances study quoted by Mother Jones, “the largest contiguous remaining forests are in the Amazon and the Congo River Basin”.
While this may mean that my lifelong nightmare of finding myself forever lost in a forest might never come true, it is also just another heartbreaking statistic on human-caused deforestation, the pace of which has dramatically increased over the past decades.
Non-personal matter that made me cry this week
April 13, 2015 marked the tragic 40-year anniversary of the 1975 Lebanese Civil War, which claimed 120,000 lives and devastated the country to no end. In the past two weeks, many Lebanese have shared memories and images of this terrible era. In this context, Lebanese blog Hummus for Thought shared poignant images taken from “Lebanon shot twice”, a photography exhibition and book by Zaven Kouyoumdjian. The project features portraits taken during the devastating fifteen year long civil war alongside portraits of the same individuals taken in the 2000s or 2010s.
During his childhood, Zaven Kouyoumdjian cut out pictures of the war he found in newspapers and magazines. Years later, after the end of the conflict, he wondered where the persons appearing in those images were, and what their lives were now like. He set out to find and photograph them, a door-to-door quest of two years only complicated by the anonymity of the pictures.
Forty years later, reminders of the conflict are still visible throughout the Lebanese capital and in other cities, where shelled walls and destroyed buildings are only the visible part of the iceberg: much of the political strife has remained, as Lebanon is still struggling with profound political, confessional and governmental issues, in a regional context more complex than ever.
You can view more photos and purchase the book here.
Video of the week
Now that we have got you completely depressed (which will most definitely reflect in your DNA), time for a few laughs! This week marked the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Every edition brings its shares of self-deprecation and dry humor, not least from the United States’ Commander in Chief himself. I will leave you with a personal favorite Obama joke, as reported by Slate
“I tease Joe Biden, but you know he has been by my side for seven years. I love that man. He’s not just a great vice president, he is a great friend. We’ve gotten so close, in some places in Indiana they won’t serve us pizza anymore”.
But perhaps the best quote of the evening belongs to comedian Cecily Strong, with the following:
“Let’s give it up for the Secret Service. They’re the only law enforcement agency that will get in trouble if a black man gets shot”.
Watch President Obama’s full remarks below, in our video of the week: