Tag Archives: Irish debt

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 9th May 2016

Irish households continue to cut its debt by repaying loans

Latest figures from Central Bank show households still third most indebted in the EU

    

Household debt has declined continuously for the last 29 quarters and has fallen by 26.6% since its peak. 

Irish household debt fell by 1.1% in the fourth quarter of last year as borrowers focused on repaying loans.

The latest figures from the Central Bank show household debt continued to decrease, falling by €1.6bn, or 1.1%, to €149.6bn.

This represented a household debt per capita of €32,269. Household debt is now at its lowest level since the first quarter of 2006.

The Central Bank said the decline over the quarter reflected net debt repayments (-€1.1bn) and debt write-downs (-€0.6bn), which were slightly offset by positive reclassifications (€0.1bn).

Household net worth increased by 1.4% to €626.1bn, or €135,078 per capita, during the same period. This increase was largely driven by a rise in housing asset values (€6.3bn), as well as a further decline in household liabilities (€1.6bn).

Compared to a post-crisis low of €444.0bn in the second quarter of 2012, household net worth has risen by 41%. However, it is still 12.8% lower than its pre-crisis peak of €718bn in the second quarter of 2007.

Household debt has declined continuously for the last 29 quarters and has fallen by 26.6% since its peak of €203.7bn in the third quarter of 2008.

Indicators of household debt sustainability continued to improve during the same period. Debt as a proportion of disposable income fell from 159.8% to 155.1%, reflecting both the decline in household debt, as well as strong growth in annualised disposable income.

Overall, the ratio of household debt to disposable income has fallen by 60.2% since its peak of 215.3% in the second quarter of 2011.

Debt as a proportion of total assets also decreased, falling to from 19.5% to 19.1% over the quarter.

Despite a “significant decline” in debt as a proportion of disposable income over the year to Q4, Irish households continued to be the third most indebted in the European Union. Irish household debt fell by 25.1 per points over the year.

The Central Bank noted this was “significantly more” than any other country examined.

Spanish and Portuguese household debt also fell considerably over the year declining by 6.1%% and 4.6% respectively.

Household investment in financial assets rose to €1.9bn. This represented the highest level of investment in financial assets by households since the third quarter of 2009.

The increase in financial assets over the quarter largely reflected transactions into deposits.

Investigation launched after death of a man in his (70s) in Garda custody

GSOC confirm Gardaí administered CPR after man ‘became unwell with breathing difficulties’ in a Garda cell.

   

The Garda Ombudsman has confirmed that they are investigating the death of a man in custody.

The man, who was in his 70s, was discovered dead in a cell at Westport Garda station in Co Mayo at 11am.

The man was detained earlier today and sources have indicated he may have suffered a heart attack.

A spokeswoman for the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has confirmed that a team is on their way to the scene where an investigation will be carried out.

A referral was made to the body under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

This evening GSOC released a statement about the incident.

A statement?

A spokeswoman confirmed: “The Garda Ombudsman is examining the circumstances surrounding the death of a man in his 70s while in custody at Westport Garda Station, Co. Mayo.

“The incident was referred to GSOC by the Garda Síochána under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act at about 12.30pm this afternoon.

“The man who was under arrest became unwell with breathing difficulties and CPR was administered by gardaí. A doctor and the emergency services were called and the man was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The State Pathologist has been informed and a post-mortem is scheduled to take place in Castlebar in the coming days.

“GSOC Investigators are at the scene and an independent examination is underway to establish the facts of the situation.”

The published Panama Papers reveals thousands of secret offshore companies

A searchable database displays more than 200,000 entities from the Panama Papers

     

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) tonight publishes a searchable database (https://offshoreleaks.icij.org) that strips away the secrecy of nearly 214,000 offshore entities created in 21 jurisdictions, from Nevada to Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands.

The data, part of the Panama Papers investigation, is the largest ever release of information about offshore companies and the people behind them. This includes, when available, the names of the real owners of those opaque structures.

The database also displays information about more than 100,000 additional offshore entities the ICIJ had already disclosed in its 2013 Offshore Leaks investigation.

The Panama Papers database.  

(https://offshoreleaks.icij.org)

The ICIJ is publishing the information in the interest of the public .

The data the ICIJ is now making public represents a fraction of the Panama Papers, a trove of more than 11.5 million leaked files from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the world’s top creators of hard-to-trace companies, trusts and foundations.

The consortium is not publishing the totality of the leak, and it is not disclosing raw documents or personal information en masse. The database contains a great deal of information about company owners, proxies and intermediaries in secrecy jurisdictions, but it does not disclose bank accounts, email exchanges and financial transactions contained in the documents.

In all, the database reveals more than 360,000 names of people and companies behind secret offshore structures. As the data are from leaked sources and not a standardised registry, there may be some duplication of names.

The data was originally obtained from an anonymous source by reporters at the German newspaper Süeddeustche Zeitung, who asked ICIJ to organise a global reporting collaboration to analyse the files.

More than 370 reporters (https://panamapapers.icij.org/about.html) in nearly 80 countries investigated the files for a year. Their investigations uncovered the secret offshore holdings of 12 world leaders, more than 128 other politicians and scores of fraudsters, drug traffickers and other criminals whose companies had been blacklisted in the US and elsewhere.

Their status as outlaws or public officials did not prevent them from obtaining shell companies in locales where secrecy laws often make it impossible for prosecutors and other investigators to trace their assets.

The files revealed, for example, that associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies.

The Global reaction? 

The reaction to the Panama Papers was immediate and viral.

Outraged citizens took to the streets in Reykjavik, Malta and London while the hashtag #panamapapers trended on Twitter for days after the story broke on April 3rd.

The prime minister of Iceland resigned over the British Virgin Islands company he co-owned with his wife, while other world leaders scrambled to explain their secret holdings.

It took UK’s prime minister David Cameron three days to publicly acknowledge he had profited from an investment fund, created by his father, that was incorporated in Panama and managed in the Bahamas.

In Spain a minister resigned after being caught in a series of lies about his connections to offshore, and in Uruguay police arrested five individuals suspected of laundering money for a powerful Mexican drug cartel.

The Panama Papers underscore the fundamental injustices and inequalities created by the offshore system, media commentators and political leaders say.

“When taxes are evaded, when state assets are taken and put into these havens, all of these things can have a tremendous negative effect on our mission to end poverty and boost prosperity,”

Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, said as he opened the spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Washington soon after ICIJ and more than 100 other news organisations, including The Irish Times, began revealing the results of the media collaboration’s investigation.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, pointed out that the biggest problem was that many of the schemes revealed by the Panama Papers were legal. “It’s not that they’re breaking the laws, it’s that the laws are so poorly designed,” he said.

The revelations reignited the debate about the need for public registries in which information about who ultimately controls a company be accessible to all. The UK has made disclosure of beneficial owner data mandatory and public, but British Overseas Territories such the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, some the busiest offshore havens, have agreed to share that information by law enforcement.

Citing the Panama Papers, the US government also announced on Thursday that it has sent legislation to Congress to create a centralised federal registry of the actual owners of any newly created company.

The registry would help law enforcement authorities ferret out the real people behind anonymous companies used in money laundering and other wrongdoing.

The governments of Australia and Germany have said that they too intend to create public registries of company owners.

On Friday, the anonymous leaker of the Panama Papers, known only as “John Doe, ” spoke publicly for the first time in a written statement and called out for concrete steps to combat tax havens .

“In the European Union, every member state’s corporate register should be freely accessible, with detailed data plainly available on ultimate beneficial owners,” the source wrote. Doe added that the US “can clearly no longer trust its fifty states to make sound decisions about their own corporate data.”

Exploring the database? 

(https://offshoreleaks.icij.org)

The searchable database that ICIJ publishes today allows users to explore the networks of companies and people that used – and sometimes abused – the secrecy of offshore locales with the help of Mossack Fonseca and other intermediaries. The leaked data covers nearly 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015.

The data, which includes postal addresses, displays links to more than 200 countries and territories, from China to Chile.

Users can filter the information by country and by offshore jurisdiction. They can also explore the role of banks, law firms and other gatekeepers of the financial system in facilitating the creation of offshore companies for high net worth individuals.

For the first time, they can see details about shadowy Panamanian private foundations, including when available information about who controls them.

While the database opens up a world that has never been shown in this much detail, not every owner of a company that appears in the Panama Papers shows up in the public database.

This is because ownership information is often buried in emails, power-of-attorney letters and internal notes of Mossack Fonseca employees and cannot easily be extracted in a systematic manner.

In addition, Mossack Fonseca often failed to collect the necessary information about the ultimate owners of companies, relying instead on banks and other intermediaries to keep track of that essential data.

Still, it is expected that Panama Papers revelations will continue to surface as regulators and ordinary citizens from around the globe probe the newly available data and find new connections that may have escaped reporters. Concerned citizens are encouraged to share tips with ICIJ and the Panama Papers journalists who continue to investigate the documents. The full dataset is also available for download: https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/pages/database.

“Transparency is not going to move backward,” Kim said in his World Bank spring meetings remarks, warning that those trying to avoid taxes or steal money from public treasuries should be “very careful” because they will eventually be tracked down.

“The world is only going to become more and more transparent as we move forward.”

Aldi and Lidl prove incredibly astute at tapping into what Irish consumers want

Irish consumers moving to own-brand offerings is no surprise

    

Irish consumers are now discarding brand names more in favour of the own-brand offerings on the shelves of Aldi and Lidl in greater numbers than ever should come as no surprise.

The share of the Irish grocery market held by the German discounters Aldiand Lidl has just increased dramatically, with confirmation due on Monday that nearly one in four Irish consumers do their shopping in either one of the two stores.

Last month, figures from industry analysts Kantar Worldpanel painted a very different picture.

Those figures put Supervalu on 24.9% of the Irish market, while Tesco had 23.9% -just 0.4% ahead of Dunnes Stores.

Lidl and Aldi had 8.5% and 8.4% market share respectively – good certainly, but nowhere as near as good as the new figures suggest.

The change is due to a recalibration from Kantar rather than any shift in spending.

There is no change in the running order, with Supervalu still in the number one position and Aldi still in fifth – but the combined market share of Aldi and Lidl is 22.1%. Lidl now has 11.5% of the Irish market, while Aldi is just behind it on 11.2%.

Aldi is arguably the better performing of the pair, because it has an almost identical market share with significantly fewer stores.

Brand names:  That Irish consumers are eschewing brand names in favour of the own-brand offerings on the shelves of Aldi and Lidl in greater numbers than ever should come as no surprise.

In the mid-1990s, Lidl and Aldi were unfamiliar to most Irish shoppers. Then, in 1998, Lidl arrived and was joined the following year by Aldi.

In the early days growth was slow, with Irish people reluctant to swap branded products for unfamiliar labels, while Irish suppliers and producers were reluctant to do business with untested chains who were not highly regarded among shoppers.

People were amused by the pair’s eclectic weekly special offer – but the allure of delights such as jackhammers jostling for position with canoes, luridly coloured onesies and flat-pack gazebos was not enough to bring people through their doors in significant numbers.

Their Spartan shelves did Lidl and Aldi no favours either. A big Tesco outlet might have more than 20,000 different items on their shelves, while the discounters contented themselves with around 1,000.

Then the bubble burst – and everything changed. The growth of both retailers has been relentless ever since but it would be wrong to suggest that growth has been simply down to cash strapped times. Far from it.

Both Aldi and Lidl have proved themselves to be incredibly astute at tapping into what Irish consumers want. They tweaked their product lines to offer more Irish produce, their ranges improved dramatically and they established very good relationships with Irish suppliers.

Crucially, both Aldi and Lidl were also able to prove that people who did their shopping in their stores saved money, a lot of money.

Canny shoppers realised they could easily knock over a third off their annual grocery spend by shopping with the Germans, without sacrificing anything significant in terms of quality.

The perception of both companies is also very good. Both featured in the top 10 most respected companies in the Republic in a survey published last month by the Reputations Agency, while a separate survey from Amárach on consumers’ attitudes published late last year rated Aldi fourth most highly rated company in Ireland in a poll of more than 2,700 people.

“That really surprised me,” said Gerard O’Neill of Amárach when the survey was published.

“We lived through the recession and watched as the discounters changed the retail rules and relentlessly pushed down prices, but now they are changing the rules again. They are aiming for better prices, better experiences, and better service.”

Speaking yesterday, O’Neill elaborated. “The recession gave them [discounters] a foothold – but there is more to it than that. They have completely changed the conversation about value and made people realise it is not all about price.

“It is about affordability, but also about the sense of how a person feels shopping. Aldi and Lidl have made people who shop in their stores feel prudent, discerning, more astute – almost German.”

O’Neill said the two had been “very clever in how they have dealt with their competition. It has been like a bait and switch. They made the conversation about price and then switched it to Irishness and community.

“If a Martian was to arrive in Ireland they would be sure that both Aldi and Lidl were indigenous companies, so embedded in the local communities do they appear,” he suggested.

Customer experience

He pointed out that customer experience “is driven not by value for money – because we rationalise that after the fact – but by something more emotional. We like to come away from the shopping experience feeling smug – in the nice sense of the word – and safe in the knowledge that we have got a bargain. Aldi and Lidl understand that.”

It is not just by offering good value and toying with our emotions that Aldi and Lidl have grown so strongly. Both have opened stores at a phenomenal rate.

Last Thursday, the former opened its 124th – and largest – store in Sallynogginin Co Dublin, while Lidl has 147 stores.

Both have plans for more openings in the months ahead.

Damian O’Reilly, who lectures in retail management in the Dublin Institute of Management, described how effectively the discounters have been playing the retail game in recent years, capitalising on changing economic conditions, improving consumer knowledge and very effective store design and stock maintenance.

He pointed out that their modular units were very cheap to put up – a store can be opened for about €3 million – and their compact size means they can be squeezed into small spaces in rural towns which has allowed them to take on Supervalu in areas where that retailer used to be traditionally untouchable.

And, he said, Aldi and Lidl have been outspending their rivals on television and newspaper ads over the last two years, working relentlessly to promote their Irishness.

They also have some canny tricks they play. “They have longer conveyor belts leading to the cash registers, so shoppers think they are nearly there when they start putting their shopping out – even though there might still be three people ahead of them. The staff have to scan 30 items a minute – so the check-out process moves very quickly.”

But where to next? “In terms of market share I think they are nearly there,” O’Reilly says. “They might be able to grow another couple of per cent but the rate at which they are opening stores is slowing and that will put a limit on how much they will grow.”

O’Neill agreed, although he suggested the Germans could get to 30% of the market. “They will be constrained by the amount of real estate they can buy and the competition is not just going to sit there and watch as they grow bigger.”

Full moons influence less sleep in children

    

The full moon can somehow influence children’s behaviour and even affect their sleep? although it is not enough to strengthen ancient belief on the lunar phases’ effects on human biology.

A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics showed that children are no more active during full moon than in any other phase of the moon. The full moon, on the other hand, may interfere with their sleeping time, potentially owing to its brightness particularly “if the window curtain is not sufficiently opaque.”

“[S]leep duration was 1 percent shorter at full moon compared to new moon, while activity behaviours were not significantly associated with the lunar cycle in this global sample of children,” wrote the researchers, with this specific finding translating to around five minutes less sleep.

According to researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Canada, the study offers “solid evidence” that the links between moon phases and children’s sleep duration and activity behaviors do not come across as meaningful from a public health perspective.

The team analyzed data from over 5,800 children, who were ages 9 to 11 and came from 12 countries. Unlike previous research relying on human judgment, subjects wore accelerometers, which are akin to fitness trackers recording body movements or monitoring sleep for 24 hours a day for at least seven days.

The kids got five minutes shorter sleep on nights with a full moon, deemed an effect “unlikely to be important.” And it remains unclear why children had less shuteye on full-moon nights.

 It could be that the full moon’s brightness was interfering with sleep, although the researchers considered this implausible given the abundance of artificial light – such as from smartphones and mobile devices – in modern societies.

The team urged future studies to see if the human body is somehow synchronized with the moon’s cycles, or if the full moon has a more pronounced effect on certain groups of people.

The belief that the moon affects people’s behavior dates back ancient times, although studies have seen little evidence to back up this idea. The moon mystery, suffice it to say, has fascinated many civilizations and generations.

For instance, no peer-reviewed study yet has seen any notable association between the full moon and epileptic seizures, psychiatric ward visits, or emergency room cases. Even when it comes to menstrual cycles, there is no research so far that makes a significant correlation between lunar phases and the condition across a huge swath of participants.

In addition, the effects of the moon on the ocean are notable not only during the full moon – the tides, too, are highest during the new moon.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday/Thursday 19th & 20th August 2015

Irish household debt falls by 2.3% on 1st quarter & most in five years

Central Bank figures show total household debt fell to €154.6 billion or €33,530 per capita

 

Irish household debt fell by the most in five years during the first quarter of 2015, according to the Central Bank.

Its latest Quarterly Financial Accounts show debt total household debt fell to €154.6 billion or €33,530 per capita during the period, representing a fall of €3.7 billion or 2.3% on the previous quarter.

This was the largest decline in debt since the second quarter of 2010.

Though Irish household debt has decreased significantly in recent years in tandem with recovery elsewhere in the economy, it still remains high relative to other countries, the Central Bank said.

It noted that only Denmark and the Netherlands had higher household debt relative to disposable income during the first quarter of 2015.

The figures also indicated that non-financial corporation debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) fell from 205 per cent in the final quarter of 2014 to 194 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

“However, the decline reflected both an increase in the value of annualised GDP, as well as, a €10.4 billion fall in the stock of debt.

New Irish mobile operator iD launches today

  

iD, Ireland’s newest mobile operator, goes live across Ireland today.

Irish customers will be able to build their own plans, picking and choosing elements that suit their needs. Customers can choose anywhere from 100 to 5,000 minutes, 100 to 5,000 texts, and a data cap of 125MB to 20GB. 4G is included in all plans by default.

There will be no roaming packages initially. iD says that its roaming prices will be competitive with the market.

Not only will customers be able to tailor a plan to suit themselves, but they’ll also be able to decide how much to pay for a new phone upfront and how long to pay the handset off for.

These costs are separate, so once a customer pays off the phone their monthly bill will be cheaper.

iD will offer 20 handsets initially, the majority of which will be 4G-enabled. Apple fans will have to wait to make the move to this new operator; the iPhone is not being offered at launch.

The average SIM-only plan will cost €20.81 per month. Analysts expect that iD’s launch will lead to price reductions across the board as other mobile operators react to lower prices.

iD is operated by Dixon’s Carphone and is piggybacking on Three Ireland’s network. The new mobile operator is aiming to secure around 6% of the Irish market within five years.

AIB’s credit card redress bill likely to be small

   

AIB yesterday launched a redress scheme for 110,000 credit card customers who paid for insurance they didn’t need.

However, it is likely the Government-owned bank will pay less than half of the estimated bill of up to €7m owing to affected users.

The Central Bank said it had been working with AIB for the lender to pay back insurance to credit card customers who had bought credit card protection insurance from Pinnacle Insurance because the card holders were already covered for parts of any losses.

AIB had been selling the insurance cover at an annual premium of €16 since August 2006, and repayments will therefore be calculated on the number of years customers have paid out for the insurance cover.

It believes the average payment per customer will be €66 and the total cost, if every customer were to apply, would reach over €6.6m.

AIB says it will be contacting affected customers and explaining to them how they can apply to get their money back under the redress scheme.

But experience of other redress schemes involving excessive credit card insurance payments show that at most 40% of affected customers will end up applying.

In recent months, the Central Bank had issued guidance to 161,000 customers affected by a separate redress scheme for credit card customers at Bank of Ireland, MBNA, and Ulster Bank.

Affected customers at these banks had been sold insurance cover through Homecare Insurance Ltd (HIL), but again parts of the insurance were already covered by the card providers.

Only €9m was claimed under the three banks’ redress scheme, meaning that around €10m was left unclaimed by card users.

It is believed that the Central Bank will continue to urge customers of the three banks to seek compensation even though the deadline for applying under the redress scheme has officially passed.

“We require all firms to make full disclosure to consumers of all relevant material information when selling any financial product,” said Bernard Sheridan, director of consumer protection at the Central Bank.

“It is important that consumers can have confidence that firms are acting in their best interests and that they are not sold any cover which they do not need,” he said.

“Where this has occurred it is our priority to ensure that consumers receive full redress. We encourage all affected consumers to make a claim.”

An AIB spokeswoman said that it was following procedures used in earlier schemes to compensate customers.

Study shows prolonged sitting as bad as smoking for health

 

Researchers find sitting for long periods linked to an increased risk of heart disease and early death

Sitting for long periods of time is just as dangerous for your health as smoking, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.

Sitting for long periods of time is just as dangerous for your health as smoking, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.

Researchers from the university found prolonged sitting was linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and an early death.

They said it was as big a threat to public health as smoking.

Dr Mark Tully, from the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen’s, said most people sit for an “inordinate” amount of time at work, driving or at home watching television.

“One of the biggest threats to health is the amount of time spent sitting. On average people spend over nine hours, or up to 80 per cent of their waking day, sitting down,” he said.

Dr Tully said levels of sedentary behaviour increased as peopled aged.

“Public health scientists have recognised the need to develop effective interventions to address the high levels of inactivity across ages, with sitting regarded as ‘the new smoking’,” he said.

The four-year-study, which is being carried out in conjunction with researchers in Scotland, Germany,France, Denmark and Spain, is looking at developing new ways to help older adults be more active and will test the new methods on 1,300 people in Europe.

Carbon nano-fibres made from CO2 in the air

  

Out of thin air we get carbon nanofibres

Scientists in the US have found a way to take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and make carbon nano-fibres, a valuable manufacturing material.

Their solar-powered system runs just a few volts of electricity through a vat full of a hot, molten salt; CO2 is absorbed and the nano-fibres gradually assemble at one of the electrodes.

It currently produces 10g in an hour.

The team suggests it could be scaled up and make an impact on CO2 emissions, but other researchers are unsure.

Nonetheless, it could offer a cheaper way of making carbon nano-fibres than existing methods.

“Until now, carbon nano-fibres have been too expensive for many applications,” said Prof Stuart Licht of George Washington University. He was speaking at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Carbon nano-fibres are already used in high-end applications such as electronic components and batteries, and if costs came down they could be used more extensively – improving the strong, lightweight carbon composites used in aircraft and car components, for example.

The question is whether the “one-pot” reaction demonstrated by Prof Licht and his team could help to drop that cost.

At the moment 10g of nano-fibres – like this sample Dr Licht brought to the conference – can be made per hour

The idea of turning CO2 from the air into useful products is a popular one, and the field is strewn with many more unfulfilled promises than success stories.

But Prof Licht is confident his design can succeed. “It scales up very easily – the entire process is quite low energy.”

He also suggested that the system could provide “a reasonable path to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere”.

This would involve adopting the reactors on a colossal scale and the idea has raised some eyebrows.

Dr Katy Armstrong, a chemical engineer at the University of Sheffield, said the process was “promising and very interesting on a lab scale” but that Prof Licht’s bigger vision might be problematic.

“As they are capturing CO2 from the air, the process will need to deal with huge volumes of gas to collect the required amount of carbon, which could increase process costs when scaled up,” she told the BBC.

Dr Paul Fennell, a chemical engineer and clean energy researcher at Imperial College London, said: “If they can make carbon nano-fibres, that is a laudable aim and they’re a worthwhile product to have.

“But if your idea is to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and produce so many carbon nano-fibres that you make a difference to climate change – I’d be extremely surprised if you could do that.” Prof Licht insists it is worth trying.

“There aren’t any catches; there’s a necessity to work together, to test this on a larger scale, to apply some societal resources to do that.”

Meanwhile, other chemists were impressed by the simple fact that Prof Licht’s team had produced nano-fibres from atmospheric carbon.

The carbon nano-fibres gradually build up on one of the device’s electrodes

Dr Dario Corradini was also at the American Chemical Society meeting, presenting his theoretical work on absorbing CO2 with a similar type of electrochemical cell.

“These cells are relatively inexpensive in terms of energy consumption – it’s definitely a realistic approach to producing the nano-fibres,” he said.

Humans would have had chicken brains (literally) if it weren’t for one tiny molecular change

 

Scientists may have finally uncovered the reason why us humans aren’t birdbrains (literally!).

We kid you not, researchers believe the reason why the human brain is much more powerful than a chicken is all down to a single molecular event.

Losing a tiny fragment of protein is thought to have spurred the evolution of the complex mammalian central nervous system, and without that change we could all literally be birdbrains.

A tiny fragment of protein (a lack of it, to be precise) is the reason why our brains aren’t like those of chickens.

The reason why mammals are so brainy compared with other vertebrates such as birds, lizards and frogs is a mystery since all these groups share similar genes.

The answer could lie in a biological process called alternative splicing (AS), part of the assembly system that attaches together the building blocks of proteins from genetic instructions.

During AS in mammals, a small fragment of a protein found in all vertebrates called PTBP1 is left off – like a single brick omitted from a Lego model.

Scientists believe that a biological process called alternative splicing is the reason why the human brain evolved.

Scientists found that in mammalian cells, the new shorter version of PTBP1 unleashed a cascade of events leading to the generation of neurons.

When chicken cells were genetically engineered to produce the mammalian form of PTBP1, similar events were triggered.

When scientists genetically engineered chicken cells to produce the mammalian form of PTBP1, they noticed a more complex brain development.

“One interesting implication of our work is that this particular switch between the two versions of PTBP1 could have affected the timing of when neurons are made in the embryo in a way that creates differences in morphological complexity and brain size,” said Professor Benjamin Blencowe, lead scientist from the University of Toronto in Canada.