. Scientific Frontline: October 2021

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sun Emits X-class Flare


The Sun emitted a significant solar flare peaking at 11:35 a.m. EDT on Oct. 28, 2021. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the Sun constantly, captured an image of the event.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

To see how such space weather may affect Earth, please visit NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center http://spaceweather.gov/, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, watches, warnings, and alerts. NASA works as the research arm of the nation’s space weather effort. NASA observes the Sun and our space environment constantly with a fleet of spacecraft that study everything from the Sun’s activity to the solar atmosphere, and to the particles and magnetic fields in the space surrounding Earth.

This flare is classified as an X1.0-class flare.

X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. Flares that are classified X10 or stronger are considered unusually intense.

Earlier in the week, from late-afternoon on October 25th through mid-morning on the 26th, a different active region on the Sun gave a show of small flares and eruptions of plasma.

Source/Credit: Video: NASA/GSFC/SDO

Final Editing: Scientific Frontline


Friday, October 29, 2021

Scientists identify the cause of Alzheimer’s progression in the brain

SumaLateral Whole Brain
Image  Credit: National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health

The international team, led by the University of Cambridge, found that instead of starting from a single point in the brain and initiating a chain reaction which leads to the death of brain cells, Alzheimer’s disease reaches different regions of the brain early. How quickly the disease kills cells in these regions, through the production of toxic protein clusters, limits how quickly the disease progresses overall.

The researchers used post-mortem brain samples from Alzheimer’s patients, as well as PET scans from living patients, who ranged from those with mild cognitive impairment to those with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, to track the aggregation of tau, one of two key proteins implicated in the condition.

In Alzheimer’s disease, tau and another protein called amyloid-beta build up into tangles and plaques – known collectively as aggregates – causing brain cells to die and the brain to shrink. This results in memory loss, personality changes and difficulty carrying out daily functions.

By combining five different datasets and applying them to the same mathematical model, the researchers observed that the mechanism controlling the rate of progression in Alzheimer’s disease is the replication of aggregates in individual regions of the brain, and not the spread of aggregates from one region to another.

Detector Advance Could Lead to Cheaper, Easier Medical Scans

PET scanners such as this EXPLORER scanner at UC Davis are useful tools in medical diagnosis. New work by biomedical engineers at UC Davis and Hamamatsu Photonics, Japan, could lead to cheaper, easier medical imaging. (Photo by UC Davis Health)

Researchers in the U.S. and Japan have demonstrated the first experimental cross-sectional medical image that doesn’t require tomography, a mathematical process used to reconstruct images in CT and PET scans . The work, published in Nature Photonics, could lead to cheaper, easier and more accurate medical imaging.

The advance was made possible by development of new, ultrafast photon detectors, said Simon Cherry, professor of biomedical engineering and of radiology at the University of California, Davis, and senior author on the paper.

“We’re literally imaging at the speed of light, which is something of a holy grail in our field,” Cherry said.

Experimental work was led by Sun Il Kwon, project scientist in the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering and Ryosuke Ota at Hamamatsu Photonics, Japan, where the new photon detector technology was developed. Other collaborators included research groups led by Professor Yoichi Tamagawa at the University of Fukui, and by Professor Tomoyuki Hasegawa at Kitasato University.

Research unlocks the technology to produce unbreakable screens

Luminating composite glasses
Cracked phone screens could become a thing of the past thanks to breakthrough research conducted at The University of Queensland.

The global team of researchers, led by UQ’s Dr Jingwei Hou, Professor Lianzhou Wang and Professor Vicki Chen, have unlocked the technology to produce next-generation composite glass for lighting LEDs and smartphone, television and computer screens.

The findings will enable the manufacture of glass screens that are not only unbreakable but also deliver crystal clear image quality.

Dr Hou said the discovery was a huge step forward in perovskite nanocrystal technology as previously, researchers were only able to produce this technology in the bone-dry atmosphere of a laboratory setting.

“The emitting materials are made from nanocrystals, called lead-halide perovskites,” he said.

“They can harvest sunlight and concert it into renewable electricity - playing a vital role in low-cost and high-efficiency new generation solar cells and many promising applications like lighting.

“Unfortunately, these nanocrystals are extremely sensitive to light, heat, air and water – even water vapor in our air would kill the current devices in a matter of minutes.

“Our team of chemical engineers and material scientists has developed a process to wrap or bind the nanocrystals in porous glass.

New results deal a blow to the theoretical sterile neutrino

Teams prepare to move the MicroBooNE cryostat from DZero to the Liquid Argon Test Facility (LArTF).  Credit: Cindy Arnold, Fermilab

The results were gathered by an international team at the MicroBooNE experiment in the United States, with leadership from a UK team including researchers from the University of Cambridge.

The two most likely explanations for anomalies that were seen in two previous physics experiments: one which suggests a sterile neutrino, and one which points at limitations in those experiments, have been ruled out by MicroBooNE.

The fourth neutrino

For more than two decades, this proposed fourth neutrino has remained a promising explanation for anomalies seen in earlier physics experiments. In these previous experiments, neutrinos were observed acting in a way not explained by the Standard Model of Physics – the leading theory to explain the building blocks of the universe and everything in it.

Neutrinos are the most abundant particle with mass in our universe, but they rarely interact with other matter, making them hard to study. But these elusive particles seem to hold answers to some of the biggest questions in physics – such as why the universe is made up of more matter than antimatter.

A 170-ton neutrino detector the size of a bus was created to study these particles – and became known as MicroBooNE. The international experiment has close to 200 collaborators from 36 institutions in five countries, and is supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in the UK.

Climate change increases fluvial sediment in the high mountains of Asia

The Laigu Glacier in southeastern High Mountain Asia. (Photo credit: Dongfeng Li)

The findings have far reaching implications for the region’s hydropower, food and environmental security

High Mountain Asia (HMA), which refers to the Tibetan Plateau and the surrounding high Asian mountains, is home to the world’s third-largest ice reservoir and the origin of many of Asia’s large rivers. In fact, these rivers are crucial lifelines for a third of the world’s population. The rivers in HMA are experiencing increased runoff and sediment fluxes from amplified climate change, glacier melt and permafrost thaw.

To examine the impact of these phenomena on HMA, Professor Lu Xixi and Dr. Dongfeng Li from the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences led an international team of researchers to conduct a new analysis of observations of headwater rivers in the area. The study revealed that fluvial sediment loads have been increasing substantially, even much faster than river water discharge. This is due to the recent warmer and wetter climate, and has important implications for water quality, hydropower development and maintenance, and for the riverine carbon cycle.

Dr Li, Research Fellow from the NUS Department of Geography and the study’s lead author, said “Climate change is accelerating glacier retreat and permafrost thaw, resulting in the previously frozen landscapes becoming more erodible. Our study shows that emerging process, such as glacier retreat and permafrost thaw, will enhance the transport of sediments from slopes to river systems, especially when regional extreme rainstorms are also increasing. This has significant knock-on effects on the region’s hydropower, food and environmental security, potentially affecting millions of people in HMA and downstream regions.”

Study finds the SARS-CoV-2 virus can infect the inner ear

Many Covid-19 patients have reported symptoms affecting the ears, including hearing loss and tinnitus. Dizziness and balance problems can also occur, suggesting that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may be able to infect the inner ear.

A new study from MIT and Massachusetts Eye and Ear provides evidence that the virus can indeed infect cells of the inner ear, including hair cells, which are critical for both hearing and balance. The researchers also found that the pattern of infection seen in human inner ear tissue is consistent with the symptoms seen in a study of 10 Covid-19 patients who reported a variety of ear-related symptoms.

The researchers used novel cellular models of the human inner ear that they developed, as well as hard-to-obtain adult human inner ear tissue, for their studies. The limited availability of such tissue has hindered previous studies of Covid-19 and other viruses that can cause hearing loss.

“Having the models is the first step, and this work opens a path now for working with not only SARS-CoV-2 but also other viruses that affect hearing,” says Lee Gehrke, the Hermann L.F. von Helmholtz Professor in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, who co-led the study.

Konstantina Stankovic, a former associate professor at Harvard Medical School and former chief of otology and neurotology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, who is now the Bertarelli Foundation Professor and chair of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, co-led the study. Minjin Jeong, a former postdoc in Stankovic’s laboratory at Harvard Medical School, who is now at Stanford Medical School, is the lead author of the paper, which appears today in Communications Medicine.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Researchers set ‘ultrabroadband’ record with entangled photons

Researchers in the lab of Qiang Lin at the University of Rochester have generated record ‘ultrabroadband’ bandwidth of entangled photons using the thin-film nanophotonic device illustrated here. At top left, a laser beam enters a periodically poled thin-film lithium niobate waveguide (banded green and gray). Entangled photons (purple and red dots) are generated with a bandwidth exceeding 800 nanometers.
(Illustration by Usman Javi and Michael Osadciw)

The engineers have achieved unprecedented bandwidth and brightness on chip-sized nanophotonic devices.

Quantum entanglement—or what Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance”— occurs when two quantum particles are connected to each other, even when millions of miles apart. Any observation of one particle affects the other as if they were communicating with each other. When this entanglement involves photons, interesting possibilities emerge, including entangling the photons’ frequencies, the bandwidth of which can be controlled.

Researchers at the University of Rochester have taken advantage of this phenomenon to generate an incredibly large bandwidth by using a thin-film nanophotonic device they describe in Physical Review Letters.

The breakthrough could lead to:

  1. Enhanced sensitivity and resolution for experiments in metrology and sensing, including spectroscopy, nonlinear microscopy, and quantum optical coherence tomography
  2. Higher dimensional encoding of information in quantum networks for information processing and communications

“This work represents a major leap forward in producing ultrabroadband quantum entanglement on a nanophotonic chip,” says Qiang Lin, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “And it demonstrates the power of nanotechnology for developing future quantum devices for communication, computing, and sensing,”

Heatwaves like ‘the Blob’ could decrease role of ocean as carbon sink

A major two-year heatwave may have temporarily dampened the Pacific’s ability to sequester carbon, according to research from the University of British Columbia and University of Southern Denmark. Credit: Jody Wright

Researchers have found the two-year heatwave known as ‘the Blob’ may have temporarily dampened the Pacific’s ‘biological pump,’ which shuttles carbon from the surface ocean to the deep sea where it can be stored for millennia.

Canadian and European researchers, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, conducted a large-scale study of the impact of one of the largest marine heatwaves on record – colloquially known as the Blob – on Pacific Ocean microorganisms. Their observations suggest that it’s not just larger marine life that is affected by abrupt changes in sea temperature.

“Heatwaves such as the Blob may decrease the ocean’s biological role as a carbon sink for fixed atmospheric carbon,” said Dr. Steven Hallam (he/him), a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia and author of the paper published in Nature Communications Biology.

This ‘biological pump’ process is an important mechanism for buffering the impact of human activity on Earth’s climate, said co-author Dr. Colleen Kellogg (she/her), a research scientist with the Hakai Institute. “The ocean is a huge global reservoir for atmospheric carbon dioxide. If marine heatwaves reduce the capacity for carbon dioxide to be absorbed into the ocean, then this shrinks this reservoir and leaves more of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.”

Ways to make equestrian sport safer for horses and riders

Photo by Jean van der Meulen from Pexels

In the first study of horse falls for over 20 years, University of Bristol academics have identified some simple interventions to reduce the risk of injury in equestrian sport - making it safer for both horses and riders.

The study pinpointed characteristics associated with an increased risk of falls in eventing, such as higher-level events, longer courses, more starters at cross-country phase and less experienced horses and athletes.

Identifying these risk factors allows riders and event organizers to assess the level of risk for individual horse, rider and event combinations. The study, published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, recommends simple mitigations such as adjusting minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) to ensure horses and riders always compete at a level appropriate to their ability.

Led by Bristol Veterinary School’s Dr. Euan Bennet and Professor Tim Parkin, with Dr Heather Cameron-Whytock of Nottingham Trent University, and funded by Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), it is the first large scale study using a global data set of every FEI eventing competition over an 11-year period.

Engineering molecules to turn off inflammation

Stylized scientific image of the anti-inflammatory
molecule, Interleukin-37
In a long-term collaboration between researchers and industry, an exciting first step has been made in the creation of a new generation of medicines for auto-immune diseases such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease using one of our body’s own anti-inflammatory off-switch molecules.

Our body’s own immune system produces many highly potent anti-inflammatory molecules, but they are often highly fragile, short-lived, and do not have drug-like properties. Interleukin-37 is one such molecule produced by the body to turn off inflammation.

Together with partner F. Hoffmann-La Roche (Roche), the multidisciplinary research team from the Monash University Biomedicine Discovery (BDI) Institute, Monash University’s Department of Pediatrics and the Hudson Institute of Medical Research have harnessed their Fc-fusion platform to engineer the next generation of Interleukin-37, one that retains anti-inflammatory potency, is highly stable and has an excellent therapeutic likeness.

The findings from the research collaboration have now been published in Cell Chemical Biology.

A little bit of inflammation can be a good thing and is often the body's immune system doing its job. However, when inflammation persists, or the immune system starts attacking the body’s own cells, this can lead to disease.

One of the study’s lead authors Dr. Andrew Ellisdon from the Monash BDI says many human diseases, including autoimmune diseases such as arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease, are characterized by too much inflammation. There is a gap in producing new generations of potent anti-inflammatory therapeutics.

Urgent changes needed to global guidelines designed to stop surgical infection

Wound infections are the most common problem after surgery, particularly in developing countries, but promised innovations to tackle the issue do not work and global guidance needs changing, a new study reveals.

Both World Health Organization (WHO) and the UK’s National Institute of Health Research guidelines recommend that surgeons use alcoholic chlorhexidine skin preparation and triclosan coated sutures to prevent Surgical Site Infection (SSI).

However, the world’s largest wound infection trial could not demonstrate superiority of these interventions over lower cost alternatives.

Carried out in Benin, Ghana, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa, the FALCON trial was funded by the UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Publishing their findings today in The Lancet, researchers participating in this study are calling for guidelines recommending these measures, either specifically to Low- and Middle-income Countries (LMIC) or at a general global level, to be revised.

Co-author Mr. Aneel Bhangu, from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Surgical site infection is the world’s most common postoperative complication - a major burden for both patients and health systems. We have delivered the biggest trial of its kind, where we could not demonstrate the superiority of these interventions over cheaper alternatives.

First overview of archaea in vertebrates

View of an archea colony in the scanning electron microscope. 
© MPI f. Developmental Biology
Uncovering how host relatedness influences the diversity of archaea in the vertebrate gut

Archaea are often mistaken as bacteria, given that both are small, single-cell organisms. However, archaea are as genetically different from bacteria as humans are from bacteria. While archaea are found in most environments, including the human gut microbiome, relatively little is known about them. An international team of researchers from Germany and Austria, led by Nicholas Youngblut at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, has compiled the first large scale assessment of archaeal diversity in the vertebrate gut. The study shows that the diversity of archaea in the vertebrate gut is greater than previously thought. Moreover, the study shows how the relatedness of animals and their diets affects archaeal diversity.

Archaea are the third domain of life, separate from the domains of bacteria and eukaryotes. While bacteria and archaea are both unicellular organisms that lack a nucleus, they are very different in key ways. For instance, archaea uniquely generate methane by consuming the waste products of bacterial fermentation. Unlike bacteria, no pathogenic species of archaea have been discovered, which is a major reason why more attention is paid to bacteria in the animal microbiome. As a result, little is known about the diversity of archaea in the vertebrate gut and what factors influence this diversity.

Like a biological fingerprint, specific groups of microbes colonize the guts of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish. In a new paper, researchers revealed how archaea fit into this picture. "We were amazed by the specificity but also diversity of the archaeal species we found in the gut of vertebrates. Among them was the archaeon Methanothermobacter," explained Nicholas Youngblut of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, who is lead author of the study. "Methanothermobacter is known to occur only in hot environments of about 60 degrees Celsius, so its detection in a large number of different vertebrates was surprising. We saw the archaeal genus particularly common and widespread among birds, which may be due to their higher body temperature of about 40 degrees Celsius or warmer."

Researchers invent chemical reaction that could accelerate drug discovery

Tim Cernak
Medicines come from chemical reactions, and better chemical reactions lead to better medicines.

Yet, the most popular reaction used in drug discovery, called the amide coupling, makes an inherently unstable amide bond. Because the body excels at metabolizing medication, one of the most important and difficult goals of drug research is to invent metabolically stable molecules, so we can take one pill a day instead of every 15 minutes.

To that end, researchers at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy hacked the popular amide coupling to produce a carbon-carbon bond instead of an amide. The carbon-carbon bond is the most prevalent bond arrangement in nature and in synthetic drugs, and it’s also typically more stable than the amide bond, said Tim Cernak, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and principal investigator of the study that appears online in the Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

The discovery of the carbon-carbon bond-forming reaction opens the door to more stable medicines, and is particularly applicable to biological probes and new medical imaging agents, Cernak said.

“It’s actually really, really difficult to invent a molecule that has that stability so that you can take just one pill a day,” he said. “If we don’t put all this optimization into stabilization of molecules, we’d have to take one pill every 15 minutes or 20 minutes. It would be very inconvenient.”

The common amide bond is formed by coupling an amine and a carboxylic acid. To form a carbon-carbon bond, researchers identified a catalyst that deaminates the amine and decarboxylates the carboxylic acid, forming a carbon-carbon bond in the process.

Joining an amine and a carboxylic acid to make a carbon-carbon bond is also advantageous because these reagents are available in the highest diversity, and are typically less expensive than other raw ingredients that could be used to make a carbon-carbon bond.

Triple-drug combo could prove key weapon in fight against cancer

Combining three existing drugs – a commonly-used anti-epileptic, a contraceptive steroid and a cholesterol-lowering agent – could form an effective and non-toxic treatment for a range of aggressive blood cancers, a new study reveals.

The discovery by University of Birmingham scientists has led to a £1 million funding award from Blood Cancer UK to run a randomized clinical trial to test the new drug combo against another experimental agent (Danazol) in patients living with Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS).

Over 7,000 people in the UK have MDS and many patients die because their disease transforms into acute myeloid leukemia (AML) - an even more aggressive blood cancer. The general outlook for AML is poor, but when AML arises from MDS it is worse.

Left untreated, AML kills patients quickly by crippling production of normal blood cells. AML is most prevalent in elderly people – many of whom cannot tolerate ‘traditional’ treatment of intensive chemotherapy because of their age and frailty.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham had already discovered that mixing bezafibrate (BEZ - cholesterol-lowering) with medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA - contraceptive steroid) eased a range of blood cancers including AML, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Giant pandas’ distinctive black and white markings provide effective camouflage

Giant Panda Credit: Anssi Nokelainen

Researchers at the University of Bristol, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Jyväskylä have used state-of-the art image analysis techniques to demonstrate, counterintuitively, that the unique colorings work to disguise the giant panda. The results have been published today in Scientific Reports.

While most mammals are drab browns and greys, there are a small number of well-known and intriguing exceptions such as zebras, skunks, and orcas. Perhaps the most famous of all however is the giant panda.

The international team analyzed rare photographs of the giant pandas, taken in their natural environment. They discovered that their black pelage patches blend in with dark shades and tree trunks, whereas their white patches match foliage and snow when present. Also, infrequent pale brown pelage tones match ground color, providing an intermediate color which bridges the gap between the very dark and very light visual elements in the natural habitat. The results are consistent whether viewed by human, felid or canine vision models; the last two represent panda predators.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

This device could usher in GPS-free navigation

A compact device designed and built at Sandia National Laboratories could become a pivotal component of next-generation navigation systems.
(Photo by Bret Latter)

Don’t let the titanium metal walls or the sapphire windows fool you. It’s what’s on the inside of this small, curious device that could someday kick off a new era of navigation.

For over a year, the avocado-sized vacuum chamber has contained a cloud of atoms at the right conditions for precise navigational measurements. It is the first device that is small, energy-efficient and reliable enough to potentially move quantum sensors — sensors that use quantum mechanics to outperform conventional technologies — from the lab into commercial use, said Sandia National Laboratories scientist Peter Schwindt.

Sandia developed the chamber as a core technology for future navigation systems that don’t rely on GPS satellites, he said. It was described earlier this year in the journal AVS Quantum Science.

Countless devices around the world use GPS for wayfinding. It’s possible because atomic clocks, which are known for extremely accurate timekeeping, hold the network of satellites perfectly in sync.

But GPS signals can be jammed or spoofed, potentially disabling navigation systems on commercial and military vehicles alike, Schwindt said.

So instead of relying on satellites, Schwindt said future vehicles might keep track of their own position. They could do that with on-board devices as accurate as atomic clocks, but that measure acceleration and rotation by shining lasers into small clouds of rubidium gas like the one Sandia has contained.

When spacecraft explode, this engineer looks for answers in the debris left behind

Carolin Frueh, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics,
enjoys solving math problems that just keep getting harder the
more that she discovers about how space junk behaves.
(Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)
Much of the space junk orbiting Earth won’t clean up itself – or tell you how it got there.

Purdue University’s Carolin Frueh and her team are investigating what causes spacecraft to become space junk. Their findings are revealing ways to prevent spacecraft from breaking apart into thousands of pieces of debris that pose a threat to space stations and satellites.

Since 1957, there have been more than 570 incidents of spacecraft fragmenting in Earth’s orbit because they exploded, detonated or collided with each other.

Companies have begun testing technology that may help clean up the mess, but it’s not often clear how spacecraft fragment in the first place. Frueh’s team has undertaken the extremely complicated math needed to get answers.

“I like harsh, challenging problems that don’t have obvious solutions,” said Frueh, an associate professor in Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Because space objects are too far away to easily do experiments on or with them, we just observe these objects with a telescope. But even then, we don’t have much data on the objects, as they are not always visible or they’re too small to detect. The question is, ‘What can I still find out about this object with the little data that I can collect?’”

Unraveling the mystery behind a spacecraft’s explosion

Some of the biggest culprits of space debris resulting from fragmentation are upper stages of rockets. The upper stage, which burns last in a mission, tends to stay in space after propelling satellites into orbit. U.S. spacecraft are recommended to deorbit within 25 years of end-of-mission, but not all comply.

A spacecraft can shatter into hundreds of pieces – many the size of a quarter inch or smaller. At altitudes of about 22,000 miles above Earth, Frueh and her collaborators track fragmentation pieces larger than six inches. The problem is speed: Space debris tends to travel faster than a bullet out of a gun (upwards of 15,000 mph). This speed makes even smaller pieces more harmful when they collide with other objects.

Oral hookworm vaccine could save millions around the world

An artist's impression of hookworm
 inside a human intestine.
There’s been a significant breakthrough in the development of a vaccine to prevent hookworm infection – a parasite which causes serious disease in tens of millions of people globally.

Trials of the vaccine candidate in mice, led by researchers at The University of Queensland, indicate that it is more than twice as effective than existing alternatives and marks a leap forward in the battle against the highly contagious parasite.

Professor Istvan Toth from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biology said the ease with which the vaccine could be administered – via tablet, liquid or powder – would be a gamechanger for developing countries.

“Our vaccine candidate can be orally self-administered, bypassing the need for trained medical staff, and means there’s no requirement for special storage, enabling it to reach large, isolated populations,” Professor Toth said.

“Vaccination can be carried out at a significantly reduced cost, which not only improves the health of those affected and at high risk, but also helps improve economic growth in disease-endemic areas.”

Hookworm currently infects around half a billion people globally and lives within the human intestine, using the host’s blood as its source of nourishment, digested through a special set of enzymes.

It’s often found in regions with poor water quality, sanitation, and hygiene – greatly impacting on the physical and cognitive development of children and increasing the risk of mortality and miscarriage.

New research identifies who should be offered testing for coeliac disease

Targeted testing of individuals with a range of signs and symptoms could improve diagnosis of coeliac disease, a new National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded study led by the University of Bristol and published in PLOS ONE has found. Signs and symptoms include family history of coeliac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, anemia, type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis and chronic liver disease.

The researchers, based at the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) West, the University of Bristol, University of Southampton, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, University College London and York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, undertook an analysis of the results from 191 studies, reporting on 26 signs, symptoms and risk factors to inform their findings.

Around one in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease, where a person’s immune response to gluten attacks the tissues in their digestive system. Diagnosing the disease can be difficult. Some patients may not have symptoms, while others have non-specific symptoms such as indigestion or bloating. It’s thought only one in three people with coeliac disease are actually diagnosed. The only treatment available is a gluten free diet.

Guidelines recommend that adults and children “at high risk” of coeliac disease should be offered testing. However, it has not been clear until now which groups are at high enough risk to justify routine testing or which symptoms should lead to testing.

Dark-field X-ray technology

PD Dr. med. Andreas Sauter evaluating the X-ray images. Image: A. Heddergott / TUM

Dark-field X-ray technology improves diagnosis of pulmonary ailments New X-ray technology first used with patients

For the first time, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have successfully used a new X-ray method for respiratory diagnostics with patients. Dark-field X-rays visualize early changes in the alveolar structure caused by the lung disease COPD and require only one fiftieth of the radiation dose typically applied in X-ray computed tomography. This permits broad medical application in early detection and treatment follow-up of respiratory ailments.

There are millions of cases in which serious respiratory system illnesses place limitations on quality of life. Every year more than four million people die of serious respiratory ailments worldwide. Partially destroyed alveoli and an over-inflation of the lungs (emphysema) are typical of the life-threatening ailment Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

However, the fine distinctions between healthy and diseased tissue are barely visible on conventional chest X-rays. Detailed diagnostic information is only available using three-dimensional computed tomography approaches, in which the computer assembles many individual images. Until now there has been no fast and cost-effective option for early detection and follow-up examinations with a low radiation exposure as used in plain chest X-rays.

A procedure developed at the Technical University of Munich could now fill this gap: dark-field chest X-rays. In the current issue of "Lancet Digital Health" a research team led by Franz Pfeiffer, Professor for Biomedical Physics and Director of the Munich Institute of Biomedical Engineering at TUM, is now presenting the results of an initial clinical patient study, which used the new X-ray technology for the diagnosis of the lung disease COPD.

Researchers discover a way to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics

A multi-disciplinary project driven by EMBL Australia researchers at Monash University and Harvard University has found a way to make antibiotics more effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria - also known as ‘superbugs.

Antimicrobial resistance to superbugs has been evolving and is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity, according to the World Health Organization.

This new research will provide a pathway to increasing the effectiveness of antibiotics, without clinicians having to resort to risky strategies of giving patients higher doses or relying on the discovery of new types of antibiotics.

During a bacterial infection, the body uses molecules called chemoattractants to recruit neutrophils to the site of the infection. Neutrophils are immune cells with the ability to encapsulate and kill dangerous bacteria, critical to the immune response. Researchers attached a chemoattractant to an antibiotic, enabling them to enhance the recruitment of immune cells and improve their killing ability.

The findings have now been published in Nature Communications.

What is drawing humpback whale super-groups to the African coast?

Super-groups of up to 200 humpback whales appearing off the coast of South Africa are following changing ocean currents and phytoplankton blooms, a new study has found.

Researchers at Griffith University were part of an international team led by the University of Cape Town (UTC) which combined satellite observations and a physical ocean model to intricately map the ocean circulation and productivity using chlorophyll levels in the region over the past 10 years in order to understand environmental drivers of these behavioral changes in feeding humpbacks.

“While humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere are known for annual migrations between the summer high-latitude Southern Ocean feeding grounds and the winter mating and calving grounds in subtropical coastal waters, feeding in such dense packs is unprecedented,” said Dr. Olaf Meynecke, a whale researcher and Manager of the Griffith Whales and Climate Program.

Dr. Subhra Prakash Dey from the Department of Oceanography UCT said the formation of whale super-groups in recent years suggested a potential change in oceanographic or ecological characteristics which provide the conditions for this new feeding strategy.

“Through the development of fine scale ocean models our team was able to reveal these oceanographic and ecological changes in the area, the Southern Benguela Upwelling System (SBUS) off South Africa, that had previously remained hidden,” Dr. Meynecke said.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Urgent action needed to reduce uncertainty on CO2 storage prospects

(From left to right)
Dr Chris Greig, Dr Joe Lane and Professor Andrew Garnett
An urgent increase in policy support and investment would be needed for carbon capture and storage (CCS) to achieve the scale needed to meet global decarbonization goals, according to University of Queensland and Princeton University researchers.

The study’s lead author, Dr Joe Lane, said CCS was regarded as a key technology for reducing energy and industrial sector emissions and for achieving negative emissions when coupled with bioenergy or direct air capture of carbon dioxide.

“Most scenarios for deep decarbonization of the global economy rely on massive scale CCS to be compliant with the Paris Agreement - which means between three and 20 gigatons of CO2 per year being captured and stored, world-wide by 2050,” Dr Lane said.

“Even the lower targets imply an extremely challenging pace and scale of CCS deployment across all major economies.”

UQ Centre for Natural Gas Director Professor Andrew Garnett said more information is needed globally to support such high expectations.

“Those scenarios typically assume that there is more than enough storage volume available in porous geological reservoirs around the world,” Professor Garnett said

“But the essence of our abatement challenge is not the volume of storage available, it’s the rate at which CO2 can be safely injected and permanently contained that counts.

Clues from the ancient past can help predict abrupt climate change

Climate ‘tipping points’ can be better understood and predicted using climate change data taken from the ancient past, new research led by scientists from the universities of Birmingham and Bristol shows.

Current understanding of tipping points, in which the climate system exceeds a threshold beyond which large and often irreversible changes occur, is limited. This is because such an event has not occurred in recent times and certainly not since scientists started to record climate data.

Earth System models, routinely used to estimate and predict climate, are taken from our understanding of the physical, chemical and biological processes that work together to shape our planet.

Scientists know that these models do not provide a complete picture, however, because they fail to simulate known climate events from the past.

In a new study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Birmingham and the University of Bristol demonstrate how knowledge of climate reconstructions from thousands of years ago can be used to fine-tune Earth System models to provide a more accurate understanding of climate system thresholds.

Senior author, Dr Peter Hopcroft, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: “Climate modelling is the only way we have to predict future climate change, but when models are developed, they are only evaluated with weather observations from the past 150 years or so.

Erie researchers identify new threat to American chestnut trees

Emily Dobry, a graduate student conducting research at the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center, has identified a new fungal threat to the American chestnut tree. 
Image Credit: Penn State Behrend

For lumber companies, the American chestnut was a nearly perfect tree — tall, straight, rot-resistant and easy to split. It also was prolific, sending up new shoots that grew quickly.

In the early 1900s, the species made up a substantial portion of eastern hardwood forests. There were nearly four billion American chestnut trees in the United States, each growing up to 100 feet, with trunks four to seven feet thick. Healthy trees lived for 400 to 600 years, producing several bushels of nuts every year.

Today, however, it can be difficult to find a healthy American chestnut. A fungal pathogen on trees imported from Japan and China wiped the species out in less than 40 years. That loss is considered to be the greatest ecological disaster to ever strike the world’s forests.

“The pathogen is native to Chinese and Japanese chestnuts, so the two co-evolved,” said Emily Dobry, a Penn State Behrend graduate now in Penn State’s plant sciences horticulture master’s-degree program. She is doing research work at the University’s Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC) in North East. “The American chestnut had never been exposed to it before, however, so it had little natural resistance. Think of it as smallpox for trees.”

Environmentally hazardous coal waste diminished by citric acid

Sandia National Laboratories researcher Guangping Xu adds coal ash into a citric acid mixture. This solution will be fed into a reactor — operating at about 70 times atmospheric pressure — where supercritical carbon dioxide aids citric acid in extracting rare-earth metals.
(Photo by Rebecca Lynne Gustaf)

In one of nature’s unexpected bounties, a harmless food-grade solvent has been used to extract highly sought rare-earth metals from coal ash, reducing the amount of ash without damaging the environment and at the same time increasing an important national resource.

Coal ash is the unwanted but widely present residue of coal-fired power. Rare-earth metals are used for a variety of high-tech equipment from smartphones to submarines.

The separation method, which uses carbon dioxide, water and food-grade citric acid, is the subject of a Sandia National Laboratories patent application.

“This technique not only recovers rare-earth metals in an environmentally harmless manner but would actually improve environments by reducing the toxicity of coal waste dotting America,” said Guangping Xu, lead Sandia researcher on the project.

“Harmless extraction of rare-earth metals from coal ash not only provides a national source of materials essential for computer chips, smart phones and other high-tech products — including fighter jets and submarines — but also makes the coal ash cleaner and less toxic, enabling its direct reuse as concrete filler or agricultural topsoil,” he said.

The method, if widely adopted, could make coal ash, currently an environmental pariah, into a commercially viable product, Xu said.

COVID-19 risks explained with new tool

A calculator to help people understand their risk factors for COVID-19 infection and vaccination has been launched by the Immunization Coalition in collaboration with Australian researchers.

The tool’s three co-lead researchers are University of Queensland virologist Dr Kirsty Short, CoRiCal instigator from Flinders University Associate Professor John Litt and GP Dr Andrew Baird.

Dr Kirsty Short said the Immunization Coalition COVID-19 Risk Calculator (CoRiCal) was an online tool to support GPs and community members in their discussions about the benefits and risks of COVID-19 vaccines.

"This tool is really designed to help people make an informed decision around vaccination based on their current circumstances and also see their risk for getting COVID-19 under different transmission scenarios," Dr Short said.

"Users can access the tool and input their age, sex, community transmission and vaccination status to find out their personalized risk calculation.

"For example, you can find out your chance of being infected with COVID-19 versus your chance of dying from the disease.

"You can also find out your chance of developing an atypical blood clot from the AstraZeneca vaccine and see this data in the context of other relatable risks – like getting struck by lightning or winning OzLotto."

AstraZeneca’s vaccine dosing ‘mistake’ led to new dosage finding in mice


A dosing error made during an AstraZeneca-University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial has led to a new dosage finding in mice, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

During the AstraZeneca-Oxford trial, some human participants erroneously received a half dose of their first shot, followed by a full dose for their second shot. Paradoxically, the trial showed that volunteers who got a lower dose of the first shot were better protected against COVID-19 than those who received two full doses.

However, it was not clear if the improvement of the low-dose vaccine was due to the dose itself or the fact that people who received the lower dose had also had a longer time between the first and the second shot, known as an extended prime-boost interval.

Scientists from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine tested the effect of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine prime dose in mice and found that a lower-dose first shot, followed by a full-dose booster shot, significantly improved the potency of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. The booster shot produced more antibodies and T-cells in the mice, allowing them to develop much more robust immune responses against SARS-CoV-2, the study found.

The findings were recently published in the journal Science Immunology.

Researchers find a way to stabilize a promising material for solar panels

This image shows the difference between an ordinary perovskite solar cell, top, and a perovskits solar cell with a water-repellent molecular-thin layer, below.

One of the solar energy market’s most promising solar cell materials—perovskite—is also the most frustrating. A research team in Sweden reports a possible solution to the environmental instability of perovskite—an alternative to silicon that’s cheap and highly efficient, yet degrades dramatically when exposed to moisture.

The team from KTH Royal Institute of Technology developed a new synthetic alloy that increases perovskite cells’ durability while preserving energy conversion performance. The researchers published their findings in Nature’s Communications Materials.

“Perovskite usually dissolves immediately on contact with water,” says co-author James Gardner, associate professor at KTH. “We have proven that our alloyed perovskite can survive for several minutes completely immersed in water, which is over a 100 times more stable than the perovskite alone. What’s more, the solar cells that we have built from the material retain their efficiency for more than 100 days after they are manufactured.”

Saturday, October 23, 2021

1 day. 3 rockets. 23 experiments

Sandia National Laboratories conducted three sounding rocket launches for the Department of Defense on Oct. 20. The launches supported research for hypersonic weapons programs.
(Photos by Mike Bejarano and Rana Weaver)

One year to design, build and test three rockets. Six weeks to unpack, assemble and test them at the flight range. One day to launch them.

Sandia National Laboratories launched three sounding rockets in succession for the Department of Defense on Wednesday. The triple launch was conducted at NASA’s launch range at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to hasten development of 23 technologies for the nation’s hypersonic modernization priority, including the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike and the Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon programs.

This was the first mission for the High Operational Tempo for Hypersonics rocket program, funded by the Department of Defense. Experiments were supplied by Sandia, entities within the Defense Department and partner institutions. Other collaborators included Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University and several defense contractors.

Machine learning predicts antibiotic resistance spread

Genes aren’t only inherited through birth. Bacteria have the ability to pass genes to each other, or pick them up from their environment, through a process called horizonal gene transfer, which is a major culprit in the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Cornell researchers used machine learning to sort organisms by their functions and use this information to predict with near-perfect accuracy how genes are transferred between them, an approach that could potentially be used to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance.

The team’s paper, “Functions Predict Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Emergence of Antibiotic Resistance,” published Oct. 22 in Science Advances. The lead author is doctoral student Hao Zhou.

“Organisms basically can acquire resistance genes from other organisms. And so it would help if we knew which organisms bacteria were exchanging with, and not only that, but we could figure out what are the driving factors that implicate organisms in this transfer,” said Ilana Brito, assistant professor and the Mong Family Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering, and the paper’s senior author. “If we can figure out who is exchanging genes with who, then maybe it would give insight into how this actually happens and possibly even control these processes.”

Many novel traits are shared through gene transfer. But scientists haven’t been able to determine why some bacteria engage in gene transfer while others do not.

Friday, October 22, 2021

A new vision for farming would help the world tackle climate change and restore biodiversity

A coalition of agroecological and regenerative farming organizations are calling on leaders to be bold on sustainable agriculture in tackling the climate and nature emergency at COP26 in Glasgow.

The coalition is pleased to see the Government publish its Net Zero Strategy this week. There are certainly many elements that are welcome, particularly around agroforestry and tree planting, as well as a focus on the need to curtail excess nitrogen from slurry and synthetic fertilizers.

However, the Strategy failed to recognize the power of agroecology to help reduce emissions and the value of species-rich grasslands as a nature-based solution. Whilst a step in the right direction, the strategy lacks ambition and vague statements on emerging technology take priority over concrete commitments.

The Government’s Net Zero Strategy echoed the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations for land use outlined in their 6th Carbon Budget. Both documents demonstrate siloed thinking that could be detrimental to nature’s recovery and the transition to sustainable farming. Both demonstrate siloed thinking that could be detrimental to nature’s recovery and the transition to sustainable farming.

The coalitions briefing outlines how farming and land use can deliver for climate, nature and public health, while still providing food security through the wider adoption of agroecology and regenerative farming.

Pioneering new process creates versatile moldable wood

Structures and vehicles built with sustainable materials are in high demand to meet today’s needs and for future generations.

Natural wood already boasts an inherently lower life cycle cost than other materials and is a naturally strong, lightweight, and durable composite material that could offer an attractive alternative to commonly used polymers, metals and alloys, if its properties and functionality could be improved.

Previous approaches, such as delignification and densification, have been tried and so far failed to provide the same formability offered by metals and plastics.

That’s why the development of an innovative new technique, using a rapid ‘water-shock’ process, able to create strong and moldable wood is so exciting and made the cover story of Science.

After extracting the lignin – a polymer which binds the cell walls inside wood that give it strength – which softens it, and then closing the fibers via evaporation, the research team, involving the University of Bristol, re-swelled the wood by "shocking" it with water.

"The rapid water-shock process forms a distinct partially open, wrinkled cell wall structure that provides space for compression as well as the ability to support high strain, allowing the material to be easily folded and molded," said lead author Professor Liangbig Hu, Director of the Center of Materials Innovation, University of Maryland.

Infant planet discovered

Discovery image of planet, which lies about 100 times the Earth-Sun distance from its parent star.

One of the youngest planets ever found around a distant infant star has been discovered by an international team of scientists led by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa faculty, students, and alumni.

Thousands of planets have been discovered around other stars, but what sets this one apart is that it is newly-formed and can be directly observed. The planet, named 2M0437b, joins a handful of objects advancing our understanding of how planets form and change with time, helping shed new light on the origin of the Solar System and Earth. The in-depth research was recently published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“This serendipitous discovery adds to an elite list of planets that we can directly observe with our telescopes,” explained lead author Eric Gaidos, a professor in the UH Mānoa Department of Earth Sciences. “By analyzing the light from this planet we can say something about its composition, and perhaps where and how it formed in a long-vanished disk of gas and dust around its host star.”

A third of leukemia patients do not generate any antibody response to two doses of COVID-19 vaccination

A University of Birmingham-led study has shown that a third of patients with the most common type of leukemia fail to generate any measurable antibody response following two doses of COVID-19 vaccination.

Furthermore, the research showed that in the two thirds of patients who do develop antibodies, levels are much lower than compared to healthy people and also have a profoundly reduced ability to ‘neutralize’ the globally dominant Delta variant.

The largest study of its kind, the research identified a number of important new findings which researchers say will be crucial to shaping future management and public health policy for patients with this type of blood cancer, who are immunosuppressed and at an increased clinical risk from SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Key new findings are:

  • Only 67% of the leukemia patients generated any measurable antibody response to double COVID-19 vaccination, compared to 100% of the age-matched healthy population.
  • In those patients with leukemia who did have an antibody response, antibody levels were 3.7 times lower than that seen in the healthy control group.
  • Antibody levels declined by 33% at four months after leukemia patients’ second vaccine.
  • No difference in antibody responses were observed between those participants receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and those receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
  • Antibody responses showed weak ability to neutralize the spike protein from the now globally dominant SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant compared to healthy controls.

500 patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia - the most common leukemia in adults - were recruited to the study. 41% had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, whilst 59% had received two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The average age of participants was 67 and 53% of the cohort was male. Their antibody response to double COVID-19 vaccination was compared to that of 94 age-matched healthy ‘controls’. Blood samples were obtained from all study participants between two to three weeks following their second vaccination, and again up to 30 weeks later.

Subconscious Bias Drives Negative Attitudes Toward Snakes

Baby copperhead snake. Credit: Peter Pattavina, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Snakes rank among Americans’ top animal phobias, and are among the most disliked animals globally. A new study from North Carolina State University finds that the dislike of snakes is subconscious and, to some extent, learned.

“Snakes are important,” said the study’s first author Audrey Vaughn, a former graduate student at NC State. “They serve as both important predators and sources of prey for other wildlife. They can also serve as important ecological indicators. This disdain that people have for them is something that impacts our ability to make sure they are well conserved. That in and of itself is a reason to better understand these attitudes and to try to figure out what can be done about them.”

In the study, researchers used the implicit association test (IAT) to understand the attitudes of 175 people, including adults and children, toward snakes versus songbirds. They compared results for parents aged 21 to 76 years, and children 7 to 17 years, and attitudes between households. They used a software system developed at NC State to deliver the test, which has been used to test people for subconscious gender and racial biases.

“Studies can be divided into two types: explicit studies, which often use surveys and allow people to think and have a rationale for why they feel a certain way, and the other is implicit, which is subconscious,” said study co-author Nils Peterson, a professor in NC State’s Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology program. “The test is somewhat of an imperfect tool in large part because implicit attitudes aren’t great predictors of what people actually do.”

Bat study reveals secrets of the social brain

In one experiment, the researchers used an infra-red camera to track the positions of the bats as they socialized within a darkened enclosure. They found that, while most bats preferred to spend most of their time tightly clustered with other bats, a few “less friendly” bats would often break away from the group — and, when these less friendly bats vocalized, their calls did not cause the brain waves of the other bats to “sync up” as well as did calls from the friendlier bats.
 (Video courtesy the NeuroBat Lab)

Whether chatting with friends at a dinner party or managing a high-stakes meeting at work, communicating with others in a group requires a complex set of mental tasks. Our brains must track who is speaking and what is being said, as well as what our relationship to that person may be — because, after all, we probably give the opinion of our best friend more weight than that of a complete stranger.

A study published in the journal Science provides the first glimpse into how the brains of social mammals process these types of complex group interactions.

In the study, neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, used wireless neural recording devices to track the brain activity of Egyptian fruit bats as they freely interacted in groups and occasionally vocalized to each other through high-pitched screeches and grunts.

“Most studies of communication, particularly vocalization, are typically performed with single animals or with pairs of animals, but basically none have been conducted in actual group settings,” said study co-first author Maimon Rose, a graduate student in the NeuroBat Lab at UC Berkeley. “However, many social mammals, including humans, typically interact in groups. Egyptian fruit bats, specifically, like to interact within large colonies.”

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Lab-grown ‘mini brains’ hint at treatments for neurodegenerative diseases

Mini brain organoids showing cortical-like structures 
Credit: Andras Lakatos
A common form of motor neuron disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often overlaps with frontotemporal dementia (ALS/FTD) and can affect younger people, occurring mostly after the age of 40-45. These conditions cause devastating symptoms of muscle weakness with changes in memory, behavior and personality. Being able to grow small organ-like models (organoids) of the brain allows the researchers to understand what happens at the earliest stages of ALS/FTD, long before symptoms begin to emerge, and to screen for potential drugs.

In general, organoids, often referred to as ‘mini organs’, are being used increasingly to model human biology and disease. At the University of Cambridge alone, researchers use them to repair damaged livers, SARS-CoV-2 infection of the lungs and model the early stages of pregnancy, among many other areas of research.

Typically, researchers take cells from a patient’s skin and reprogram the cells back to their stem cell stage – a very early stage of development at which they have the potential to develop into most types of cell. These can then be grown in culture as 3D clusters that mimic particular elements of an organ. As many diseases are caused in part by defects in our DNA, this technique allows researchers to see how cellular changes – often associated with these genetic mutations – lead to disease.

'Raptor-like’ dinosaur revealed to be a timid vegetarian

A life-reconstruction of herbivorous dinosaurs based on 220-million-year-old fossil footprints from Ipswich, Queensland, Australia.Image credit: Anthony Romilio.

The dinosaur footprint is on display at the
Queensland Museum, Brisbane.
Fossil footprints found in an Ipswich coal mine have long been thought to be that of a large ‘raptor-like’ predatory dinosaur, but scientists have found they were instead left by a timid long-necked herbivore.

University of Queensland paleontologist Dr Anthony Romilio recently led an international team to re-analyze the footprints, dated to the latter part of the Triassic Period, around 220 million-year-ago.

“For years it’s been believed that these tracks were made by a massive predator that was part of the dinosaur family Eubrontes, with legs over two meters tall,” Dr Romilio said.

“This idea caused a sensation decades ago because no other meat-eating dinosaur in the world approached that size during the Triassic period.

“But our research shows the tracks were instead made by a dinosaur from the Evazoum family – vegetarian dinosaurs that were smaller, with legs about 1.4 meters tall and a body length of six meters.”

The research team suspected there was something not-quite-right with the original size estimates and there was a good reason for their doubts.

A crab’s inland odyssey

Researchers have discovered the oldest known modern crab — trapped in amber since the time of the dinosaurs.

The 100-million-year-old fossil of the crab, Cretapsara athanata, comes from Myanmar, in Southeast Asia. It fills a major gap in the fossil record for crabs and resets the timetable for when marine crabs made their way inland.

Yale and Harvard paleontologists led the research, which appears in the journal Science Advances.

“This discovery, in a pristine and spectacular 3D preservation — including fine details of the eyes, antennae, mouthparts, and even the gills — represents the oldest evidence of incursions into land and freshwater by crabs,” said co-lead author Javier Luque, a former Yale researcher who is now a research associate at Harvard. “Crabs are primarily a marine group that only conquered land and freshwater much later, about 75 to 50 million years ago. They are largely known by bits and pieces of their claws — never in the stunning detail of our new discovery.”

The researchers said the new species, Cretapsara, was most likely neither a marine crab nor a fully terrestrial creature. Rather, Cretapsara was a freshwater-to-amphibious crab that lived either on the forest floor or in shallow bodies of water near the forest floor.

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