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Category Archives: Human Reproduction

Houston, We Have a Baby – NEO.LIFE – NEO.LIFE

The year is 3000 and humans have conquered space travel. Weve colonized other planets and built self-sufficient societies on interplanetary spaceships. Most of humanity watches the new millennium dawn by the light of suns in other solar systems.

While many science fiction writers imagine a space-faring civilization as almost an inevitability and have envisioned mind-bending food-printing and advanced propulsion technologies to take us there, theres one major problem thats rarely considered: We dont know if humans can procreate in space or on any other planet. And without offspring, the survival of any space colony would be limited to a single generationfar short of the estimated 73,000 years it would take to reach even the closest star, Proxima Centauri, with currently available technology.

For some animals, making babies in space seems to be no problem. Former guests of past space missions like fruit flies, newts, and Japanese rice fish, have all produced offspring in space. Unfortunately, mammalsand especially humansare a lot more complicated, and studies involving astronauts, animals, and lonely cell cultures in Petri dishes floating in space suggest that reproduction outside of Earth could be very difficult for us.

Even if you were an adult in peak physical fitness living in the protective confines of a space station, your environment would be an almost unimaginably inhospitable one where you float in a tub, deprived of gravity, while bathing in a surplus of exotic cosmic radiation.

That punishing environment would not be a particularly safe place for the delicate tissues of your reproductive system. Studies have shown that even short stints in space shrivel testes, shrink ovaries, and plummet sperm counts. (The majority of these studies involve rodents, since astronauts arent particularly keen to have their testes or ovaries removed for dissection.)

There are some glimmers of hope. For trips where astronauts stay relatively close to Earth, say, to the International Space Station (ISS), spaceflight doesnt seem to induce permanent infertility. There are plenty of examples of both male and female astronauts having had kids after a stint in space. Anecdotally, some female astronauts do seem to have difficulty having children upon returning to Earth, but researchers generally attribute this to age rather than spaceflight.

For longer tripslike future missions to Mars, which if past missions are any indication, we should be able to reach within nine monthsthe radiation of deep space might have longer-term consequences, but with different risks for men and women. While sperm production can be impaired in space, it may recover afterward. The testes in rodents and in humans have so-called germline stem cells called spermatogonia, says Ulrike Luderer, a developmental biologist at the University of California, Irvine. Those spermatogonia are relatively resistant to radiation. So, after the radiation exposure has ceased, those spermatogonia can start repopulating the testes and making new sperm.

This isnt necessarily the case in the female reproductive system. In the ovary, we do not have any germline stem cells, says Luderer. Although the existence of stem cells in the ovaries has been the subject of recent controversy among developmental biologists, with some suggesting they do exist, others hold that women are born with all the eggs theyre ever going to have. If this is the case, then once theyre goneeither through the aging process or by exposure to radiation in spacetheyre not coming back.

Without improvements in protective technology, deep-space radiation could cause permanent infertility in female spacefarers.

Luderer wanted to know what effect the radiation exposure during a Mars mission would have on female astronauts ovaries. To find out, her team exposed female mice to different degrees of simulated deep space radiation and then assessed the effect on the ovarian folliclessmall bundles of tissue that contain the egg cells. Eight weeks after the high dose of radiation, there were essentially no follicles of any kind remaining in the ovaries, Luderer says. The high dose was 50 centigray. The total dose for a mission to Mars is estimated to be about 40 centigray. So, our high dose was about the total dose that an astronaut would receive during a Mars mission.

Though the experiment was limited by the fact that the radiation was administered over a relatively short time period rather than the multi-year timeframe of astronaut exposure, it nevertheless suggests that without improvements in protective technology, deep-space radiation could cause permanent infertility in female spacefarers.

The easiest way to solve the problems of fertility for deep space travel may be to harvest the sperm and fertilize the eggs in advance, nurture them, keep them safe from cosmic radiation, and implant the embryos in the womb. But this raises another question: Would the embryo (and later fetus) be able to develop normally? At present, we can only guess based on what we know about how spaceflight affects adult humans, animals, and cells in Petri dishes.

One of the biggest dangers of spaceflight for adult humans is bone loss. Any astronaut who serves a long tour in space will practice routine, rigorous exercises designed to prevent bone loss, and even then, astronauts can lose as much as 1 percent of their bone density every month they spend in space. Without the stress of gravity on the skeleton, the production of bone-building cells called osteoblasts slows down, which eventually leads to bone loss.

How would this affect a fetus, which needs to grow an entire skeleton from scratch and also, for obvious reasons, cannot practice astronaut bone-protecting exercise programs? Would a child whose skeleton developed in space be strong enough to ever live somewhere with Earth-like gravity?

The cardiovascular system is also negatively impacted by space travel. The heart muscle atrophies, and anecdotal evidence suggests an increased risk of arrythmias. In nine-day-old rats, spaceflight altered the development of the aorta, thinning the wall of this major artery. So would a newborn baby whose cardiovascular system developed in space have a heart or blood vessels strong enough to survive to adulthood? We simply dont know.

Indeed, some scientists have hypothesized that normal fetal development would be impossible in space, predicting that alterations to normal muscle and bone development would cause space-born children to reach developmental milestones like sitting, standing, and walking much later than their Earth-bound counterparts.

Far more fickle may be the brains development. Although we know very little about how spaceflight might alter bone, muscle, and cardiovascular development, we understand even less about how it might affect brain development. Studies on Earth, however, give cause for concern: prenatal radiation exposure is associated with an increased risk of intellectual disability and seizure disorders.

More research needs to be done before we can ethically allow a human fetus to develop in space, but the most dangerous part of space reproduction may not come until the very end. The process of birthwhich can be dangerous enough on Earthis likely to be even more risky in space, an environment which weakens both bone and muscle. Pregnant rats that experienced spaceflight for just 11 days before returning to Earth and giving birth had twice as many labor contractions as rats that stayed on Earth, potentially due to weakening of the muscles needed for giving birth.

Scott Solomon, an evolutionary biologist at Rice University, says that the involuntary muscle contractions during labor are going to be the same whether a woman is giving birth on Earth or in space, but the effect of those forces on a womans body could be very different in space. Those forces could be really dangerous if the woman has a weakened skeleton, he says.

No mammals have ever given birth in space.

Although pregnant rats have been taken to space, none have actually given birth there. In fact, Luderer says, at this time, no mammals have ever given birth in space. Since humans are rarely the first to undergo unknown medical dangers (in the present century, at least), it is perhaps unsurprising that the Dutch startup SpaceLife Origin abruptly aborted its Mission Cradle plan to launch a pregnant woman into space and have her deliver her baby there, which was originally scheduled for 2024.

An earlier Mission Lotus, originally slated for sometime this year, would have sent human sperm and eggs into space to attempt in vitro fertilization, returning the resulting embryos to Earth for transfer into a mothers womb. But this mission was also cancelled. In a statement, SpaceLife Origin CEO Kees Mulder cited serious ethical, safety and medical concerns as the reason for these cancellations. A 2019 Atlantic report noted that the companys top three employees had no background in either medicine or space travel.

Medical experts say its a good thing this mission was cancelled. I couldnt wrap my head around it, says Virginia Wotring, a space medicine researcher at Baylor College of Medicine. Even if you were to just go to the ISS, youd be 250 miles away from medical help in the event of an emergency. And I dont know many pregnant women who would volunteer for that. She says it was too much, too soon to even think about sending women into space to give birth. Mission Lotus was also problematic: Id be really uncomfortable sending something as sensitive as an embryo into space, Wotring says.

Radiation is also a danger, especially in deep space. The type of radiation to which you would be exposed in deep space is unlike anything you will ever experience on Earthit includes high-energy atom fragments from solar flares and ions from beyond our solar system traveling at nearly the speed of light. Even in low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station, our planets magnetic field protects us from this dangerous deep-space radiation that can damage DNA.

But deep space radiation is just the beginning, Wotring says. Spaceflight stresses the human body in a myriad of ways. Your circadian rhythms are disrupted. You are exposed to higher levels of carbon dioxide, prolonged psychological stress, and social isolation. You lack fresh food, use only recycled air and water, and subject your microbiome to unknown stressall of which may affect your fertility and the development of a fetus.

This makes coming up with solutions tricky. For many of the physical effects of spaceflight, Wotring says, we dont know which one of the possible causes is really responsible. And without knowing the etiology of something, its really hard to figure out an appropriate countermeasure or treatment.

Nevertheless, scientists are trying to come up with new technologies to improve radiation shielding and alter the microgravity environment of space vessels, but these are thorny challenges. On Earth, we can use metals such as lead to protect ourselves from radiation in hospitals or industrial settings. But the types of radiation present in space are a completely different beast.

Metal solutions are not very useful when it comes to space radiation, Wotring says. Because with some of the space radiation types, if they encounter a metal ion, they break up and result in actually higher, more dangerous radiation. So, its exactly the wrong thing to do. And then theres the profound payload problem of lifting heavy lead shielding into space. Its just not feasible, Wotring says.

Polyethylene plastics are relatively light and effective for blocking space radiation. Unfortunately, they are not very strong. Astronautical engineers in Italy are experimenting with adding carbon or graphene nanomaterials to polyethylene to see if they can make it stronger while preserving its radiation-blocking properties. Research teams in Europe and Japan are investigating different types of lithium-containing materials, with promising early results. Scientists at NASA and space agencies around the globe are also investigating active shieldingusing magnetic or electric fields to protect spaceships from radiation in the same way that the Earths magnetic field protects terrestrial life. So far, however, these designs have been deemed too heavy to scale up for space travel.

Shielding on other planets, such as Mars, may be slightly easier. Materials that are less efficient at radiation shielding can still be usefulthey just need to be a lot thicker to achieve the proper protection. If we use materials that are already available on Mars, we could use as much as we wanted without worrying about how much fuel it would take to transport them from Earth. People living on Mars might use the Martian regolith (the Martian soil) to block the radiation, Solomon says. They might live underground in lava tubes. Waterwhich is found on Mars and which colonists will need to survive anywayis also effective at blocking radiation.

Scientists are also working on ways to provide artificial gravity using rotational forces. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has developed an artificial gravity system for mice, which seems to ameliorate at least some of the negative effects of spaceflight. But scaling this system up from a mouse-sized enclosure to an entire space station presents several engineering challenges, from the complicated problem of how to dock a ship with a rapidly rotating space station to the issue of motion sickness. However, recent research from scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that starting with slow rotations and letting people acclimate over several weeks can reduce motion sickness. But would this device be safe for a developing fetus? We have no idea: To date, there are no data regarding the effects of these artificial gravity generators for embryonic or fetal development.

Others are working on pharmacological options to help protect astronauts (and perhaps one day their developing offspring) from the dangers of space travel. Animal studies from Luderers lab found that an antioxidant called alpha lipoic acid provided at least partial protection for the ovaries of mice exposed to some (but not all) types of simulated space radiation. We know that a lot of the tissue damage from ionizing radiation is by the generation of reactive oxygen species when the radiation interacts with water in the cell, Luderer says. Reactive oxygen species are a type of unstable molecule that can damage our DNA. And so thats why we thought an antioxidant might be beneficial.

Could something as simple as an antioxidant be the key to preserving a womans fertility during space travel? That is something that I think is certainly worth researching further, Luderer says.

A recent study by researchers at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine found that using pharmaceuticals to block certain signaling proteins in mice not only prevented the loss of bone and muscle mass that usually takes place in microgravity but actually increased their density. Perhaps some in-utero treatment based on a cocktail of such proteins could help a space fetus grow bones and muscles in microgravity, although much more research is needed before this could be determined.

But maybe the answer isnt taking drugs or changing the environmentmaybe we need to change ourselves. Scientists are studying durable organisms like tardigrades and certain forms of yeast, looking for genes that protect their cells from radiation or help repair damage to their DNA after its occurred. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin Madison are blasting bacteria with high doses of ionizing radiation to watch them evolve radiation resistance in real time and study which genes are involved. Geneticists like George Church, cofounder of Harvard Medical Schools Consortium for Space Genetics, have suggested dozens of genes that might benefit space-faring humans.

But Solomon says that knowing which genes confer protection is only the first step. We need to know that any changes we make arent going to have unintended consequences, he says, and to make sure that a gene that helps protect an adult from radiation doesnt have harmful effects on a fetus.

Maybe we need to get even more creative and think outside the womb, so to speak. Perhaps the future of human reproduction in space doesnt occur inside a human at all. Scientists are already working on creating bioengineered ovaries as well as artificial sperm and eggs from other cells in our bodies. Perhaps these artificial gametes could then be implanted in an artificial womb with an artificial placenta. It might be easier to protect this smaller structure from radiation, and an artificial womb isnt affected by stress or circadian rhythm disruption in the same way a womans womb is. This could also protect female astronauts from the dangers of pregnancymorning sickness, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and moreas well as reduce the risks associated with childbirth in space.

Long-term human habitation in space or on other planets might eventually turn us into multiple human species.

But none of this is possible quite yet. Wotring, Solomon, and Luderer agree that we have barely scratched the surface of understanding how living in space or on other planets would affect human reproduction and development. Its early days for these topics, says Wotring. Its far too early to really think about attempting reproduction in space.

However, if we do manage to figure out extraterrestrial reproduction, this will have major implications for the future of our species. Genetic and physiological changesprecipitated by genetic engineering, adaptation to the conditions of space, or to the measures that we took to survive off Earthwill likely occur.

For example, one way to address the difficulty of delivering a baby in space would be to deliver them via Cesarean section, but if all extraterrestrial births had to take place by Cesarean section for the safety of the mother, this changes the evolutionary pressures on human head size, says Solomon. For all of human history, the size of our heads (and therefore the size of our brains) at birth has been limited by the need for the head to be able to squeeze through the birth canal. But without this constraint, Solomon says, the human head would be freed to become larger without the consequence of it being dangerous to the birth of the child and to the mothers life. So, you could then imagine on Mars, if people chose [to have Cesarean sections], that heads could become larger and larger in future generations.

If we ever leave Earth and start to colonize other places in our solar system or beyond, that could trigger evolutionary changes that would be perhaps similar to the types of changes that happen to species here on Earth when they colonize new habitats like islands, says Solomon. Organisms living in drastically different environments dont necessarily stay the same species foreverlong-term human habitation in space or on other planets might eventually turn us into multiple human species. How long this speciation could take is anyones guess: In special circumstances, new species may arise in just a few generations, in other cases, scientists think lasting evolutionary change may occur over a million years.

But to get there, we have to figure out extraterrestrial reproduction first.

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Infertility treatment: When will free IVF be introduced in Ireland? – The Irish Times

In 2019, the government committed to publicly funding infertility services, including IVF. Lynn Enright asks if it will happen this year and speaks to some people about the costs financial, medical and emotional of funding the process privately

Amy Gallagher and James Rowan have always known they would need help to conceive. Rowan had cancer first at age 15, then at 20 and the high-dose chemotherapy used to treat it destroyed his fertility. Before the first course of chemotherapy began, he banked sperm which remained frozen for the best part of two decades. When he and Gallagher got together and decided they wanted to complete their family she has a son from a previous relationship to whom Rowan is a loving stepfather they faced a dearth of information and options.

I asked my GP about it and he just pointed me in the direction of a private clinic, Rowan says. Thats all he could do for me.

The World Health Organisation is clear: infertility is a disease. It affects the male or female reproductive system and is defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. In those of reproductive age, it affects men and women equally, with male-factor infertility accounting for 50 per cent of cases, according to Prof Mary Wingfield, clinical director of the Merrion Fertility Clinic in Dublin.

Yet, in Ireland, people who cant conceive without turning to assisted reproductive technology (ART) receive little or no support within the public health system. Those who need in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and other fertility treatments to start a family will find themselves immediately paying for treatment, a situation that compares unfavourably with most of our European neighbours. In Scotland, for example, eligible patients are offered up to three free cycles of IVF the number most experts agree gives a fair chance of conception. In Ireland, there is no comprehensive State-funded fertility treatment, even when patients are receiving care and treatment for a condition or disease that affects their fertility, such as cancer, colitis or endometriosis.

Forty-year-old Natalie Doyle needed to pursue IVF after her Fallopian tubes became encased in scar tissue following complications relating to colitis. She had been receiving expert care within the public health system but once it came to looking into ART options, a situation she found herself in as a direct result of the disease, she felt completely adrift.

Youre just left on your own to choose a clinic and theres no communication between your fertility clinic and your other doctors, she says. Theres not even a link between your GP and the clinic its just nuts, I cant get my head around it.

Doyle and her partner postponed moving in together, both staying with family while they funded cycle after cycle of failed IVF. Eventually, they conceived their daughter but Doyle is adamant that the Government needs to step in. The costs are too much for many couples to bear, she says.

It feels like youre spending money, just sitting in the waiting room. It bleeds you dry. The Government needs to help with the costs, she says. But they also need to help medically, so that patients like me have a continuity of care. There have to be more regulations, there has to be more support, the mind boggles that nothing has been done yet.

In Ireland, fertility clinics are regulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) but there is no regulatory body that specifically oversees the fertility industry. In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) performs that role, ensuring fertility clinics and research centres comply with the law, as well as providing free, clear and unbiased information on all fertility clinics operating within the jurisdiction. Without such a body here, patients can find themselves feeling bewildered.

Amy Gallagher says she got most of her information from Google, Facebook and Instagram.

I just think there should be some form of support for people, not only financially but emotionally, she says. For people who experience infertility as a result of childhood cancer, theres nothing out there. Theres one Facebook group, thats all Ive found. There needs to be something like the citizens information service, somewhere you can get information. People have no one to turn to. Your GP doesnt know and a fertility doctor will charge at least 250 for a consultation, just to ask them questions. The situation is, she says, deeply frustrating and upsetting.

Prof Wingfield says Ireland desperately needs an equivalent of the HFEA. The industry is regulated by the HPRA but its more from the point of view of the quality procedures surrounding the management of human tissues and cells. Its not about the social, medical, ethical and legal realities. There are plans afoot to introduce such a body as part of an overhaul of the provision of fertility treatment but it is not clear when that will happen.

In October 2017, the cabinet approved the Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Bill, a piece of draft legislation that laid out regulations for AHR and the need for the establishment of a regulatory body.

Two years on, in late 2019, details of a model of care for infertility developed by the Department of Health in conjunction with the HSEs National Women & Infants Health Programme were announced, with the then minister for health Simon Harris receiving Government approval to publicly fund infertility services. The announcement a clear commitment from the then Government was hugely significant and it looked as though Ireland was finally set to join most other wealthy and developed nations in providing care and treatment for infertile people. Harris told reporters at the time that he expected publicly funded IVF to be available in 2021.

The planned scheme would comprise three stages: the first stage would involve patients seeing their GP and if it was deemed necessary, they would proceed to the second stage and be referred to a newly established regional fertility hub (there are plans for six hubs, one in each of Irelands six maternity networks), where tests, diagnostic surgery and some non-invasive forms of ART would take place. The third stage would involve the provision of free IVF.

Now, another year has passed and there has been little progress with this ambitious undertaking.

The commitment is ongoing and the current Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, confirmed in public statements on the most recent Budget that additional funding is being made available in 2021.

Womens health and our maternity services must get more attention, Donnelly said in the Dil last October, noting that, We will . . .open two new regional fertility hubs in Galway and Cork.

In response to questions from The Irish Times, a Department of Health spokesperson said that 2 million has been made available to allow for the establishment of the first four hubs and a further 1 million has been allocated for the final two hubs.

However, while Covid-19 has not impacted the funding available for the project, the establishment of the hubs has been slowed by the pandemic and its impact on the HSE and the provision of elective health services. None of the six regional hubs are operational at present. Meanwhile, the AHR Bill has still not been signed into law - and without that, publicly funded IVF will not take place.

The Department of Health spokesperson says that it is intended that, in line with available resources, [the] model of care for infertility will be rolled out on a phased basis over the course of the coming years. When pushed for a more specific timeframe, the spokesperson said it is not possible at this juncture to give a definitive timeline.

Rowan and Gallagher arent holding their breath. Weve been promised this Government money for years but its just not coming, Rowan says. Every time you hear about it, you think: Oh maybe that will be through soon. But it seems to be taking years. You cant rely on it, you cant put your hope in it. Gallagher fears that any change will come too late for her: It sounds mad because Im only 32, but every year that Im older, our chances are lower.

Prof Wingfield says Ireland absolutely lags behind other developed countries when it comes to the provision of fertility treatment. The cost of fertility drugs prescribed by a consultant are covered by the Drugs Payment Scheme or a Medical Card and private patients can claim tax relief on the costs of fertility treatment but even so, Irish patients receive significantly less support than those in the UK, Germany, Turkey and most European nations. When asked why that is, she says the answer is complicated. In the past, it would have been because it was a difficult subject to discuss from a religious and moral point of view, but thats no longer the case.

However, when you remove any religious concerns from the discussion of fertility treatment, there remains two very powerful taboos: money and womens reproductive systems.

Because, over the years, its only been available privately not just in Ireland but in most parts of the world and the treatment is expensive. There was a perception that it was a luxury, something that only rich people can afford, Prof Wingfield says.

Rowan says that he and Gallagher have encountered an attitude that suggests fertility treatment is somehow extravagant: We have no choice but to do IVF if we want to have a child but sometimes it feels like people dont understand that. Its nearly treated as though Amy is going in for a boob job. People think its a luxury as opposed to a necessity.

A cycle of IVF usually costs between 6,000 and 10,000 depending on which treatment is required and which clinic you are using. There is not always evidence to support expensive add-ons, such as endometrial scratching and assisted hatching, but if you are already spending huge sums of money, it can seem churlish not to attempt to boost your chances by opting in. Treatment can be accessed at a cheaper cost abroad (most Irish patients go to the Czech Republic or Spain) but flights and accommodation will add up and being hundreds of miles from your doctor if something goes wrong is stressful and potentially dangerous.

Generally, only the most expensive private health insurance packages cover infertility treatment and even then, they do not cover the entire cost. The most comprehensive packages at Irish Life and VHI cover up to 2,000 towards a cycle of IVF, which can be accessed only twice per lifetime.

The vast expense can make patients feel that their clinics are rapacious. You have to pay 160 for a blood test to tell you that youre not pregnant. Its horrendous. It can feel like its just about money to them. says Gallagher. Prof Wingfield, however, makes the point that it is a very expensive treatment because its very labour intensive.

For one couple to do IVF, she says, youll have several nurses involved, one or two doctors and several scientists. Then youll have all the administrative staff because record-keeping is so critical. It is a very expensive treatment to provide. The Merrion Clinic is run as a not-for-profit organisation and has charitable status but costs there are not significantly lower than at the private clinics, which are run for profit.

Infertility often has an impact on mental health a study in the United States found that women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or who were recovering from a heart attack and stress about money adds to feelings of anxiety and helplessness.

Louise Hazlett (37) has private health insurance that has covered the surgeries and treatments she needed to treat her endometriosis, but it does not extend to fertility treatment, which she needs as a direct result of the disorder. Over the last four years, she and her husband, Kevin, have had five cycles of IVF. In 2017, she discovered she was pregnant with twins but she went into labour at 22 weeks and her sons died shortly after birth. Since then, she has had three more cycles of IVF.

She explains that they got a loan from the credit union for 20,000 and that went fairly rapidly.

We had to get another loan last year, she says. And we just save. Any spare money goes to fertility. We both work but its not easy. But I feel lucky that we are in a position to save and to pay back loans. Not all couples have that.

People assume that once you get married or reach a certain age that youre going to have kids. They assume its going to be easy. And people say things like, Oh still no sign? And at this stage, I just say, Well, Ive done five cycles of IVF. We hope the sixth one is going to be our lucky one. That shuts people up.

Prof Wingfield says: Most people grow up thinking that they will be able to have children and unless they run into problems, they dont realise that it is such a big issue. People who have not experienced infertility according to the HSE, 85 per cent of people conceive within one year will perhaps struggle to realise just how distressing and expensive the process can be.

Its like an obsession, Doyle says. You see all the people around you getting pregnant and having kids. I had to become distant for the sake of my own mental health I couldnt go to baby showers. People can say that they understand but unless you go through it yourself, you dont, you cant really.

This isolation can be compounded by silence around the subject. People who cant get pregnant sometimes feel that there is something wrong with them and it affects peoples self-esteem, says Prof Wingfield. So its hard to be vocal about it and people can be very private about it. Often peoples friends or family dont even know about it. That is changing and people are becoming more open about it and with that will come the realisation that it is a medical issue.

The people interviewed for this piece said they were keen to speak openly because they believe that raising awareness is vital. Gallagher says she didnt tell her employer during her first cycle because she felt there was a stigma and a lack of compassion: People ask Is it you or him? and How much is it? Those are the two questions I get asked all the time. When going through her second cycle, she was open about it in her workplace but felt like they didnt understand.

It was like: Youre not sick, why do you need time off?

Hazlett hopes publicly-funded infertility treatment will help to improve awareness of infertility and its causes and treatments.

There will be huge challenges to creating a functional and fair State-sponsored system of providing fertility treatment. It will be necessary to decide who is eligible for free fertility treatment and to establish criteria and cut-offs. In the UK, for example, gay women who are in a relationship can access free IVF with a sperm donor but single women are ineligible. The financial, legal and logistical concerns relating to the implementation of the Governments planned three stages will be complex, but if it is achieved it will be a huge step forward for our health system. Prof Wingfield laments the existing system: As a doctor, it is unacceptable to me that medical healthcare should be preferentially available to those in our society who can find the money to pay for it and not available to all.

Doyles daughter Sadie is just about to turn three. When she was 10 months old, Doyle and her partner David Smith could finally move into their own home after years of spending almost everything they earned on fertility treatment. They consider themselves the lucky ones and wish more people could get to experience their joy.

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The Crane Consulting Firm LLC, Partners with Advanced Technologies to Provide a Biosecurity Solution that Significantly Reduces Up to 99.99% of the…

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Ginkgo Trees Were Going Extinct on Their Own; Then Humans Saved These ‘Living Fossils’ So Now They’re Everywhere – Good News Network

Lining the streets of many American city suburbs are living fossils, which unlike many stories of mans interaction with nature, involves nature as the destroyer, and mankind, the savior.

While some people take ginkgoleaf as a nootropic supplement, few people would imagine its the equivalent of eating a horseshoe crab, that is to say its an organism that, unlike every other member of its family, made it out of the time before mammals.

Ginkgo Biloba stands alone in its family Ginkgoaceae;the last of its relatives dying out likely during the last ages of the dinosaurs. Understanding of the trees heritage suggests it would have gone the way of T-rex without a brush withhomo sapien.

The evidence for this comes down to the slow arms race observed in evolution. There are five types of plants which produce seeds on the Earth today. Flowering plants, conifers, cycads, and gnetales are joined by the lonely ginkgo family, which scientists suggest may have contained many different species based on the fossil record, specifically in China.

About 130 million years ago, flowering plants really started stealing the show, developing sweet nectar in their flowers to attract pollinators, and sweet fruit to attract animals for dispersing seeds. Ginkgo on the other hand relied on the wind to blow pollen from male to female trees.

This was hypothesized as being an inconsistent strategy, as ginkgo are sometimes observed to change sex, perhaps a failsafe mechanism to increase the chances of reproduction.

These respective evolutions likely pushed the ginkgo family to the back of the evolutionary bus. By 66 million years ago, according to National Geographic, ginkgo was gone from most of North America and Europe, and by the end of the last Ice Age, clung on only in China.

MORE:For First Time Ever, Scientists Identify How Many Trees to Plant and Where to Plant Them to Stop Climate Crisis

Its theorized that it was the Paleolithic residents of China who, removing the reeking outer layer of the ginkgo nut in search of a food source resembling a pistachio, began eating and replanting them to harvest the nuts.

Ginkgo is now one of the most common trees in cities along the U.S. East Coast after botanists brought the tree back from China in the 17th century. Good for almost nothing, besides offering a bounty of beautiful yellow leaves in fall when they all change in a very short time, it nevertheless is resistant to pollution and can thrive under concrete.

Peter Crane, author of the bookGinkgo and one of the worlds foremost Ginkgo experts, described the human intervention as a rescue from natural oblivion and a great evolutionary [and cultural] story.

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The IUCN still recognizes the tree as Endangered in the Red Listthe worlds largest threatened species catalogue, largely due to a lack of ginkgo trees surviving in the wild in undomesticated forms.

However a 2012 study confirmed there are trees surviving in southeast China that may represent the only truly wild population left.

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The story shows that while humans often receive blame for sending plants and animals into oblivion, we also have a reputation for saving them too.

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Speaking of invasive plants, it’s not easy to uproot them along a river – Concord Monitor

A stretch of tangled, mostly invasive plants that has taken over the Merrimack River riverbank by Fort Eddy Plaza in Concord will be mowed down this winter as the first step of possible eradication, and with any luck, the owners of nearby land will join in.

Im hoping everyone from Einsteins up to NHTI can sign on, said Tom Schurman, project manager with Outside Unlimited, the landscape management firm that has been hired to do the work by the owners of the plaza offExit 14 in Concord. He was referring to a stretch of riverbank owned by the franchised bagel restaurant to the south and the community college to the north.

Schurman said they will be working on about two acres of land on the western bank of the Merrimack River when conditions are right meaning the ground is frozen so that it isnt too muddy for equipment and the river level is lower than right now. The goal, he says, is to control a vast tangle of invasive plants such as barberry, bittersweet, Japanese knotweed and Asian silk grass.

It has just completely taken over. It makes a thick canopy, really restricts native species from taking root underneath, he said. These invasive climates are like jungles. They trap an enormous amount of garbage; native forests are a little more open.

Theres even a human health aspect to fighting these invasives.

Barberry creates a level of humidity underneath them, its so dense and thick they actually increase tick reproduction. The ticks love it, the perfect climate for them to over-winter, he said.

Under the proposal the invasive plants will be cut down this winter, and then will be sprayed with herbicide in the fall, when such spraying is most effective because plants are taking the maximum amount of material down into their roots as preparation for winter. Most invasive plants cannot be controlled by merely cutting them back repeatedly; their ability to quickly regrow is one of the reasons that they can overwhelm native species. The project could cost up to $50,000.

The work could affect some homeless people, who often set up along this stretch of the Merrimack River.

Invasive plants, insects, birds and animals are a problem all over the world. They are non-native species that for various reasons, especially a lack of predators in their new home, spread so quickly that they drive out native species and upset established ecosystems.

Schurman said getting permits to spray along the riverbank took months of meeting with state environmental and wildlife officials, who he said were very helpful.

The permitting process to do any kind of work on the water is an absolute headache, he said. Getting the permit is hard, and then being watched like a hawk after that not a lot of loggers and landscapers will even try.

Schurman said he has found in New Hampshire, at least, its harder to tackle invasive plants on land than invasive in water, such as Eurasian milfoil or water chestnut.

Not a lot of people will pay attention to these land-based invasives, he said. Almost all grants deal with aquatic invasives.

The affected stretch of riverbank includes parcels owned by a number of organizations, including the city, the state and private companies. Increasing the area covered by the project would not only help control the plants, which easily spread, but can also spread out the cost.

Schurman said that he wants to make sure that Concord doesnt end up like parts of Massachusetts where Outside Unlimited often works.

Its overrun down there. It almost looks like theres no native forest left, he said.

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Here are just some of the government’s priorities for the months ahead –

WHILE COVID-19 AND the roll out of the vaccine are likely to dominate much of Dil time this year, the government also has other priorities -32 pieces of legislation, in fact.

Key legislation will be progressed in this term across a broad range of sectors including climate action, housing, health and transport, said Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers this week, adding that Brexit will also be key.

So, what stands out on that priority list, published at the start of term?

A new Affordable Housing Bill, as promised in the Programme for Government, is a little delayed, but is being prioritised this Spring.

The Parents Leave and Benefit (Amendment) Bill will also be prioritised this session. This will extend leave entitlements and also provide adoptive leave and benefits for same sex couples.

The Human Tissue Bill, which has been debated for some time now, will introduce an opt-out system of consent for organ donation. The Nursing Home Support Bill will also be put on the important list, and will place acap on how much farmers and business owners have to contribute towards nursing-home costs.

The much talked about Assisted Human Reproduction Bill which has been put on the long finger in recent years is also on the list.

There has long been criticism that there is no legislative framework for the regulation of assisted human reproduction such as IVF, fertility practices and associated research, and this Bill aims to remedy that.

The Animal Health & Welfare (Prohibition on Fur Farming) Bill is also on the priority list, as is the the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which government say will deliver a raft of reforms in the sector including a new motor insurance database.

There has been much debate about legalising e-scooters over the years, with this government now planning on regulating their use.

New laws will also be introduced to deal with the issue of scrambler bikes being operated in a dangerous manner in communities across the country.

The Competition (Amendment) Bill aims to reform competition enforcement by giving powers to the competition authorities so they can impose civil sanctions. The topic was recently raised at an Oireachtas committee when the issue of Eir and its treatment of customers was being discussed.

Everyone is hopeful for a return of concerts and entertainment event this year, so the Sale of Tickets (Cultural, Entertainment, Recreational and Sporting Events) Bill and its prioritisation will be welcomed.

This proposed legislation aims to stop ticket touting by prohibiting the resale of tickets for events in designated venues for a price exceeding their original sale price.

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Limerick could be in line for a directly elected mayor if the government gets to the Local Government (Directly Elected Mayor Limerick) Billover the line, which will give this person executive functions.

There are a number of justice bills on the list, such as the Criminal Procedure Bill. Ireland has been criticised by Europe for our long delays in either charging people or bringing them to trial, leaving many people and their families in limbo for many years.

The Department of Justice promised to expedite this Bill last year, which provides for measures to reduce delay and improve efficiency in procedural aspects of criminal trials, including by introducing preliminary trial hearings.

Theres also former Transport Minister Shane Ross Bill, which has been modified, but has been much talked about in recent months due to the controversy surrounding the appointment of Supreme Court judge, and former Attorney General, Seamus Woulfe: the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.

This will amend the law in relation to judicial appointments and establish a JudicialAppointments Commission to make recommendations with regard to such appointments.

Since the government came to office in June, it has published 29 Bills and enacted 30 Bills.

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