. Scientific Frontline: 2022

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Network neuroscience theory best predictor of intelligence

U. of I. Professor Aron Barbey, pictured, and co-author Evan Anderson found that taking into account the features of the whole brain – rather than focusing on individual regions or networks – allows the most accurate predictions of intelligence.     
Photo Credit: Fred Zwicky

Scientists have labored for decades to understand how brain structure and functional connectivity drive intelligence. Researchers report a new analysis offers the clearest picture yet of how various brain regions and neural networks contribute to a person’s problem-solving ability in a variety of contexts, a trait known as general intelligence, researchers report.

They detail their findings in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

The study used “connectome-based predictive modeling” to compare five theories about how the brain gives rise to intelligence, said Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology, bioengineering and neuroscience at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who led the new work with first author Evan Anderson, now a researcher for Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. working at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“To understand the remarkable cognitive abilities that underlie intelligence, neuroscientists look to their biological foundations in the brain,” Barbey said. “Modern theories attempt to explain how our capacity for problem-solving is enabled by the brain’s information-processing architecture.”

Antimalarial Drug Proves Ineffective at Saving Children’s Lives

A drug used for the initial treatment of malaria failed to improve child survival in real world circumstances.
Photo Credit: Matthis Kleeb, Swiss TPH

Rectal artesunate, a promising antimalarial drug, has no beneficial effect on the survival of young children with severe malaria when used as an emergency treatment in resource-constrained settings. These are the results of a large-scale study conducted by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and local partners in three African countries.

Rectal artesunate (RAS) proves ineffective at saving the lives of young children suffering from severe malaria, according to the results of a new study. A viewpoint about these findings was published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The study, which investigated a large-scale roll-out of RAS in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Uganda, found that when used as an emergency treatment under real-world conditions, RAS did not improve the odds of survival for young children with severe malaria.

Diving birds are more prone to extinction, says new study

Diving birds like puffins are highly adapted for their environment, but that means they can't adapt so well to changing conditions.
Photo Credit: Michael Blum

Diving birds like penguins, puffins and cormorants may be more prone to extinction than non-diving birds, according to a new study by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. The authors suggest this is because they are highly specialized and therefore less able to adapt to changing environments than other birds.

The ability to dive is quite rare in birds, with less than a third of the 727 species of water bird using this way of hunting for food.

Evolutionary scientists Joshua Tyler and Dr Jane Younger studied of the evolution of diving in modern waterbirds to investigate how diving impacted: the physical characteristics of the birds (morphology); how the species evolved to increase diversity (rate of speciation); and how prone the species were to extinction.

The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that diving evolved independently 14 times, and that once a group had evolved the ability to dive, subsequent evolution didn’t reverse this trait.

The researchers found that body size amongst the diving birds had evolved differently depending on the type of diving they did.

More stable states for quantum computers

The properties of gralmonium qubits are dominated by a tiny constriction of only 20 nanometers, which acts like a magnifying glass for microscopic material defects.
Illustration Credit: Dennis Rieger, KIT

Quantum computers are considered the computers of the future. A and O are quantum bits (qubits), the smallest computing unit of quantum computers. Since they not only have two states, but also states in between, qubits process more information in less time. Maintaining such a condition longer is difficult, however, and depends in particular on the material properties. A KIT research team has now produced qubits that are 100 times more sensitive to material defects - a crucial step to eradicate them. The team published the results in the journal Nature Materials.

Quantum computers can process large amounts of data faster because they perform many calculation steps in parallel. The information carrier of the quantum computer is the qubit. With qubits there is not only the information "0" and "1", but also values in between. The difficulty at the moment, however, is to produce qubits that are small enough and can be switched quickly enough to perform quantum calculations. Superconducting circuits are a promising option here. Superconductors are materials that have no electrical resistance at extremely low temperatures and therefore conduct electrical current without loss. This is crucial to maintain the quantum state of the qubits and to connect them efficiently.

Technique for tracking resistant cancer cells could lead to new treatments for relapsing breast cancer patients

Breast cancer cells
Image Credit: Anne Weston - Francis Crick Institute (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Tumors are complex entities made up of many types of cells, including cancer cells and normal cells. But even within a single tumor there are a diverse range of cancer cells – and this is one reason why standard therapies fail.

When a tumor is treated with anti-cancer drugs, cancer cells that are susceptible to the drug die, the tumor shrinks and the therapy appears to be successful. But in reality, a small number of cancer cells in the tumor may be able to survive the treatment and regrow, often more persistently, causing a relapse.

In a study published in eLife, scientists from Professor Greg Hannon’s IMAXT lab at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute at the University of Cambridge have developed a new technique for identifying the different types of cells in a tumor. Their method – developed in mouse tumors – allows them to track the cells during treatment, seeing which types of cells die and which survive.

The IMAXT team was previously awarded £20 million by Cancer Grand Challenges, funded by Cancer Research UK.

Developing antibiotics that target multiple-drug-resistant bacteria

The sphaerimicin analogs (SPMs) inhibit the activity of MraY, and hence the replication of bacteria, with different degrees of effectiveness. The potency of the analog increases as the IC50 decrease Illustration Credit: Takeshi Nakaya, et al. Nature Communications. December 20, 2022

Researchers have designed and synthesized analogs of a new antibiotic that is effective against multidrug-resistant bacteria, opening a new front in the fight against these infections.

Antibiotics are vital drugs in the treatment of a number of bacterial diseases. However, due to continuing overuse and misuse, the number of bacteria strains that are resistant to multiple antibiotics is increasing, affecting millions of people worldwide. The development of new antibacterial compounds that target multiple drug resistant bacteria is also an active field of research so that this growing issue can be controlled.

A team led by Professor Satoshi Ichikawa at Hokkaido University has been working on the development of new antibacterial. Their most recent research, published in the journal Nature Communications, details the development of a highly effective antibacterial compound that is effective against the most common multidrug-resistant bacteria.

Polarity proteins shape efficient “breathing” pores in grasses

One of the two “compass proteins” (POLAR, in pink) orients the future cell division. In grey there are cell outlines on the developing leaf.
Image Credit: ZVG / Courtesy of Michael T. Raissig

A research group at the University of Bern is studying how plants "breathe". They have gained new insights into how grasses develop efficient "breathing pores" on their leaves. If important landmark components in this development process are missing, the gas exchange between plant and atmosphere is impaired. The findings are also important regarding climate change.

Grasses have "respiratory pores" (called stomata) that open and close to regulate the uptake of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis on the one hand and water loss through transpiration on the other. Unlike many other plants, stomata in grasses form lateral "helper cells". Thanks to these cells, the stomata of grasses can open and close more quickly, which optimizes plant-atmosphere gas exchange and thus saves water.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Why Don’t T Cells Destroy Solid Tumors during Immunotherapy?

3-D image of a T cell experiencing cell stress: endoplasmic reticulum (green), mitochondria (purple).
 Illustration Credit: Elizabeth Hunt, Thaxton lab

Led by Jessica Thaxton, PhD, MsCR, UNC School of Medicine scientists and colleagues found that targeting key proteins that control the T cell response to stress could help researchers develop more potent cancer immunotherapies.

The great hope of cancer immunotherapy is to bolster our own immune cells in specific ways to keep cancer cells from evading our immune system. Although much progress has been made, immunotherapy does not always work well. Jessica Thaxton, PhD, MsCR, in the immunotherapy group at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, wants to know why. She thinks one reason is the stress response experienced by T cells once they infiltrate solid cancers.

The Thaxton lab’s latest work, published in the journal Cancer Research, shows in detail how the stress response in T cells can lead to their inability to curtail tumor growth. Thaxton’s group found that T cells exposed to the environment of solid cancers undergo a natural response to stress that shuts off their function, limiting T cell ability to kill tumors. By manipulating multiple proteins in the stress response pathway inside T cells, Thaxton’s team showed that it was possible to overcome the intrinsic T cell stress response to allow the immune system to thwart cancer growth.

The clever glue keeping the cell’s moving parts connected

This liquid droplet is actually made from protein molecules. It acts as a glue that keeps the microtubule attached, via moving motor proteins, to an actin cable – a process essential for cell division to proceed.
 Illustration Credit: Ella Maru Studios, Courtesy of Paul Scherrer Institute

Researchers from Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have discovered how proteins in the cell can form tiny liquid droplets that act as a smart molecular glue. Clinging to the ends of filaments called microtubules, the glue they discovered ensures the nucleus is correctly positioned for cell division. The findings, published in Nature Cell Biology, explain the long-standing mystery of how moving protein structures of the cell’s machinery are coupled together.

Couplings are critical to machines with moving parts. Rigid or flexible, whether the connection between the shafts in a motor or the joints in our body, the material properties ensure that mechanical forces are transduced as desired. Nowhere is this better optimized than in the cell, where the interactions between moving subcellular structures underpin many biological processes. Yet how nature makes this coupling has long baffled scientists.

Now researchers, investigating a coupling crucial for yeast cell division, have revealed that to do this, proteins collaborate such that they condense into a liquid droplet. The study was a collaboration between the teams of Michel Steinmetz at Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and Yves Barral at ETH Zurich, with the help of the groups of Eric Dufresne and Jörg Stelling, both at ETH Zurich.

Scientists use machine learning to gain unprecedented view of small molecules

Metabolites are extremely small – the diameter of a human hair is 100,000 nanometers, while that of a glucose molecule is approximately one nanometer.
Illustration Credit: Matti Ahlgren/Aalto University.

A new tool to identify small molecules offers benefits for diagnostics, drug discovery and fundamental research.

A new machine learning model will help scientists identify small molecules, with applications in medicine, drug discovery and environmental chemistry. Developed by researchers at Aalto University and the University of Luxembourg, the model was trained with data from dozens of laboratories to become one of the most accurate tools for identifying small molecules.

Thousands of different small molecules, known as metabolites, transport energy and transmit cellular information throughout the human body. Because they are so small, metabolites are difficult to distinguish from each other in a blood sample analysis – but identifying these molecules is important to understand how exercise, nutrition, alcohol use and metabolic disorders affect wellbeing.

Learning from habitat ‘haves’ to help save a threatened rattlesnake

The study suggests that a collection of six relatively closely situated but isolated populations of Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in northeast Ohio could grow their numbers if strategic alterations were made to stretches of land between their home ranges.
Photo Credit: Scott Martin

Comparing the genetics and relocation patterns of habitat “haves” and “have-nots” among two populations of threatened rattlesnakes has produced a new way to use scientific landscape data to guide conservation planning that would give the “have-nots” a better chance of surviving.

The study suggests that a collection of six relatively closely situated but isolated populations of Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in northeast Ohio could grow their numbers if strategic alterations were made to stretches of land between their home ranges. The findings contributed to the successful application for federal funding of property purchases to make some of these proposed landscape changes happen.

Reconnecting these populations could not only help restore Eastern massasaugas to unthreatened status, but establish a thriving habitat for other prey and predator species facing threats to their survival – satisfying two big-picture conservation concerns, researchers say.

“We aren’t just protecting massasaugas – we’re protecting everything else that’s there,” said H. Lisle Gibbs, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. “Even though we are focused on this species, protection of the habitat has all these collateral benefits.”

Daylong wastewater samples yield surprises

Rice University engineers compared wastewater “grabs” to daylong composite samples and found the grab samples were more likely to result in bias in testing for the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes.
 Illustration Credit: Stadler Research Group/Rice University

Testing the contents of a simple sample of wastewater can reveal a lot about what it carries, but fails to tell the whole story, according to Rice University engineers.

Their new study shows that composite samples taken over 24 hours at an urban wastewater plant give a much more accurate representation of the level of antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) in the water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance is a global health threat responsible for millions of deaths worldwide.

In the process, the researchers discovered that while secondary wastewater treatment significantly reduces the amount of target ARG, chlorine disinfectants often used in later stages of treatment can, in some situations, have a negative impact on water released back into the environment.

The lab of Lauren Stadler at Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering reported seeing levels of antibiotic-resistant RNA concentrations 10 times higher in composite samples than what they see in “grabs,” snapshots collected when flow through a wastewater plant is at a minimum.

Fossil CSI: Mysterious site was ancient birthing grounds

Adult and young of the ichthyosaur species Shonisaurus popularis chase ammonoid prey 230 million years ago, in what is now Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, Nevada, U.S.A.
Illustration Credit: Gabriel Ugueto 

Today’s marine giants—such as blue and humpback whales—routinely make massive migrations across the ocean to breed and give birth in waters where predators are scarce, with many congregating year after year along the same stretches of coastline. Now, new research from a team of scientists—including researchers with the University of Utah (Natural History Museum of Utah and Department of Geology & Geophysics), Smithsonian Institution, Vanderbilt University, University of Nevada, Reno, University of Edinburgh, University of Texas at Austin, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, and University of Oxford—suggests that nearly 200 million years before giant whales evolved, school bus-sized marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs may have been making similar migrations to breed and give birth together in relative safety.

The findings, published today in the journal Current Biology, examine a rich fossil bed in the renowned Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park (BISP) in Nevada’s Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, where many 50-foot-long ichthyosaurs (Shonisaurus popularis) lay petrified in stone. Co-authored by Randall Irmis, NHMU chief curator and curator of paleontology, and associate professor, the study offers a plausible explanation as to how at least 37 of these marine reptiles came to meet their ends in the same locality—a question that has vexed paleontologists for more than half a century.

The Donnan Potential, Revealed at Last

Staff scientist Ethan Crumlin at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source.
Photo Credit: Marilyn Sargent/Berkeley Lab

The Donnan electric potential arises from an imbalance of charges at the interface of a charged membrane and a liquid, and for more than a century it has stubbornly eluded direct measurement. Many researchers have even written off such a measurement as impossible.

But that era, at last, has ended. With a tool that’s conventionally used to probe the chemical composition of materials, scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) recently led the first direct measurement of the Donnan potential.

“We were naïve enough to believe we could do the impossible.”
Ethan Crumlin, Berkeley Lab staff scientist, Advanced Light Source (ALS)

Crumlin and his collaborators recently reported the measurement in Nature Communications.

Such a measurement could yield new insights in many areas that focus on membranes. The Donnan potential plays a critical role in transporting ions through a cellular membrane, for example, which ties it to biological functions ranging from muscle contractions to neural signaling. Ion exchange membranes are also important in energy storage strategies and water purification technologies.

Alien Planet Found Spiraling to its Doom around an Aging Star

An artist's concept of the Kepler-1658 system. Kepler-1658b, orbiting with a period of just 3.8 days, was the first exoplanet candidate discovered by Kepler. 
Illustration Credit: Gabriel Perez Diaz/Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias

For the first time, astronomers have spotted an exoplanet whose orbit is decaying around an evolved, or older, host star. The stricken world appears destined to spiral closer and closer to its maturing star until collision and ultimate obliteration.

The discovery offers new insights into the long-winded process of planetary orbital decay by providing the first look at a system at this late stage of evolution. Death-by-star is a fate thought to await many worlds and could be the Earth's ultimate adios billions of years from now as our Sun grows older.

"We've previously detected evidence for exoplanets inspiraling toward their stars, but we have never before seen such a planet around an evolved star," says Shreyas Vissapragada, a 51 Pegasi b Fellow at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and lead author of a new study describing the results. "Theory predicts that evolved stars are very effective at sapping energy from their planets' orbits, and now we can test those theories with observations."

Mouse pups cry for help most urgently while active

Mouse pups produce ultrasonic vocalizations, called isolation USVs, when they are separated from the nest. It’s a survival mechanism – baby mice need their parents to regulate their temperature and feed them – that diminishes with age.

But before the USV reflex peters out around 20 days after birth, the rate at which mouse pups cry varies a lot, even within the same individual at the same age, according to Katherine Tschida, the Mary Armstrong Meduski ’80 Assistant Professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Exploring this variation, researchers in the Tschida Lab found a link between mouse pup USV rates and their activity levels; the greater amount of body movement, the higher the rate of vocalizations. The connection is important for understanding mouse neural circuitry and development and provides a richer understanding of behavioral differences in mouse models of communication disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD.)

“Rates of Ultrasonic Vocalizations are More Strongly Related Than Acoustic Features to Non-vocal Behaviors in Mouse Pups” was published Dec. 19 in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. Tschida and doctoral student Nicole Pranic are first authors. Contributions were made by Thomas Cleland, professor of psychology; Chen Yang, programmer and analyst in the Cleland Lab; and by Caroline Kornbrek ’23.

Scientists from NUS and NUHS identify predictive blood biomarker for cognitive impairment and dementia

Prof Barry Halliwell (left) and Dr Irwin Cheah (right), together with their collaborators from the National University Health System, have discovered that low levels of ergothioneine in blood plasma may predict an increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.
Photo Credit: National University of Singapore

Identification of elderly persons at risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia could be made possible by examining ergothioneine levels in the blood

A recent study by a team comprising researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the National University Health System (NUHS) revealed that low levels of ergothioneine (ET) in blood plasma may predict an increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, suggesting possible therapeutic or early screening measures for cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly.

The research teams were led by Professor Barry Halliwell from the Department of Biochemistry under the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Associate Professor Christopher Chen and Dr Mitchell Lai from the Memory, Ageing and Cognition Centre under NUHS. The results of their most recent study were published in the scientific journal Antioxidants.

Samples From Asteroid Ryugu Help Us Learn About Earth's Origins

The elemental composition of the Earth comes from its fiery past, through accretion of various solar system objects. New samples collected by the Hayabusa2 space mission provide insight into the origins of moderately volatile elements such as zinc and copper. Tokyo Tech researchers have linked the material from the Cb-type asteroid, Ryugu, to the elemental composition of the Earth. Their results suggest that Ryugu-type material played a significant role in the genetic heritage of the Earth's elemental composition.

Understanding the origins of Earth's elemental composition offers a glimpse into the history of our planet. One way to learn about this is to investigate the meteorites that would have similar composition with materials that contributed to the accretion of planet Earth in its early development. Meteorites are divided into multiple classes based on their composition. The most primitive and common of these classes includes chondrites, which further includes carbonaceous chondrites (CCs). Of these, Ivuna-type (CI) CCs have an elemental composition that is nearly identical with that of the solar photosphere, which therefore can be used as a key reference for understanding how early solar system processes shaped planets and their building blocks. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft's mission was to collect samples from the Cb-type asteroid (162173), Ryugu. As the elemental composition of returned Ryugu samples is unaffected by further terrestrial processes, the two successful sampling events on Ryugu offer a plethora of unprecedented information.

Critical illness myopathy common condition in intensive care patients

Lars Larsson performing experiments on the ICU models.
Photo Credit: Ya Wen

Critical illness myopathy (CIM) is a common complication affecting ventilator-treated intensive care patients, which can lead to increased mortality/morbidity, prolonged hospital care, impaired patient quality of life, and increased healthcare costs. reported molecular pathogenesis of CIM during prolonged ICU stay, and potential diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets. The study was recently published in Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle.

Over the past 65 years, intensive care units (ICUs) have undergone a significant development that has resulted in improved survival rates. But life-saving efforts are also accompanied by negative consequences for ICU patients, affecting skeletal muscle systems, including the critical illness myopathy (CIM) with muscle wasting and paralysis/paresis. The incidence of CIM is about 30% among ICU patients, and almost 100% in neuro-ICU patients exposed to prolonged controlled mechanical ventilation. Moreover, the negative consequences have become increasingly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New study finds logged tropical forests are surprisingly vibrant and need protection

Logged tropical forests are surprisingly vibrant and need protection.
Photo Credit: Zoe G Davies

A new study by researchers at the University of Oxford, finds that logged rainforests are treasure-troves of healthy ecological function and should not be written off for oil palm plantations.

The study examines the flow of ecological energy across old-growth forests, logged forests and oil palm

Surveys mammal and bird species across these landscapes to calculate food energetic pathways: how photosynthetic energy cascades from sunlight to be distributed among organisms

Relative to energy flow in old-growth forests, study finds 2.5 times more total energy flows in logged forests

The study findings question the use of the word “degraded” to describe logged tropical forests

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Why aren’t all black bears black?

Cinnamon Black Bear
Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Photo Credit: Appalachian Encounters / CC BY 2.0

Sometimes a name is just a name. Take bears, for example. In Yellowstone National Park, black bears outnumber their brownish-colored grizzly bear cousins, and in coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest, if someone says “brown bear,” they mean grizzly bear. But not all brown bears are grizzly bears.

American black bears (Ursus americanus), which one would logically assume are, well, black, actually come in a range of colors, including brown (also known as cinnamon), blond, or bluish-grey. Others have coats that are a mixture of several colors. So, how do you tell a cinnamon-colored Ursus americanus from its brown (grizzly) Ursus arctos cousin? Differences in body shape and size can be subtle. One hypothesis for the cinnamon color of Ursus americanus is that it mimics the appearance of a grizzly bear, helping with camouflage or defense.

Now, researchers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the University of Memphis, and the University of Pennsylvania, have discovered what causes the cinnamon color, which sheds some light on this color confusion.

UCLA-developed soft brain probe could be a boon for depression research

 Illustration of the soft probe with aptamer biosensors implanted in the brain.
Illustration Credit: Zhao, et al., 2022

Anyone familiar with antidepressants like Prozac or Wellbutrin knows that these drugs boost levels of neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin and dopamine, which are known to play an important role in mood and behavior.

It might come as a surprise, then, that scientists still have very little data about the specific relationship between neurotransmitters — chemicals that relay messages from one brain cell to others — and our psychological states. Simply put, monitoring fluctuations of these neurochemicals in living brains has proved a persistent challenge.

Now, for the first time, UCLA scientists have attached nanoscale biochemical sensors, which are tuned to identify specific neurotransmitters, to a soft, implantable brain probe in order to continuously monitor these chemicals in real time. The new brain probe, described in a paper published in ACS Sensors, would allow scientists to track neurotransmitters in laboratory animals — and, ultimately, humans — during their day-to-day activities.

Researchers have identified the origins of a serious illness in children

Egle Kvedaraite, doctor and researcher.
Photo Credit: Sebastien Teissier.

The origins of the serious cancer-like disease LCH have been identified by researchers from Karolinska Institutet in collaboration with Karolinska University Hospital. The findings presented in Science Immunology may lead to new, targeted treatments.

Langerhans’ Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) is a serious type of cancer-like disease that mainly affects children and can be fatal in severe cases. About five to ten children get the disease in Sweden every year, usually before the age of ten.  

The immune cells are affected by cancer mutations

LCH is a disease in which the cancer mutation occurs in the immune cells, which otherwise have the task of detecting and eliminating cancer cells. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

New Research on Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria May Be A Step Toward New Treatments for Infections

 From left to right: NSU Students Gabriela Diaz Tang, Estefania Marin Meneses
Credit: Nova Southeastern University

Antibiotic resistant bacteria pose one of the greatest threats to global public health. In 2019, deaths due to antibiotic resistant bacteria outpaced deaths due to HIV and malaria. Given the lack of innovation in the discovery of new antibiotics, it is critical to determine the mechanisms by which bacteria tolerate existing antibiotics so that we can improve their effectiveness.

One way that bacteria can tolerate antibiotics is through the inoculum effect. Essentially, the higher the density of bacteria in an infection, the more antibiotics are required to treat the infection. While the inoculum effect has been observed for nearly all known antibiotics, and has been documented since the 1960s, a common mechanism to explain inoculum effect for multiple antibiotics has not been found.

Scientists recently discovered that interactions between how fast bacteria grow and the amount of energy (or metabolism) bacteria have can explain the inoculum effect for multiple antibiotics and bacteria species. This new research also shows that providing different nutrients to the bacteria that change growth rate and energy levels can eliminate the inoculum effect.

Scientists discover what was on the menu of the first dinosaurs

Early dinosaurs and their diets. Lesothosaurus is an omnivore, Buriolestes is a carnivore and Thecodontosaurus is an herbivore
Illustration Credit: Gabriel Ugueto

The earliest dinosaurs included carnivorous, omnivorous and herbivorous species, according to a team of University of Bristol paleobiologists.

By looking at the tooth shapes of the earliest dinosaurs and simulating their tooth function with computational modelling, experts were able to compare them to living reptiles and their diets. Their findings, published today in Science Advances, show that many groups of plant-eating dinosaurs were ancestrally omnivorous and that the ancestors of our famous long-necked herbivores, such as Diplodocus, ate meat. This ability to diversify their diets early in their evolution likely explains their evolutionary and ecological success.

The earliest dinosaurs are enigmatic: they were much smaller than their later relatives and for most of the Triassic they were in the shadow of crocodile-like reptiles. It is unknown how diverse they were in terms of diets and ecology, but scientists know something must have happened in the Triassic that allowed dinosaurs to endure the Triassic–Jurassic mass extinction and adapt in its aftermath, becoming the dominant group for the rest of the Mesozoic.

Rosenstiel marine researcher identifies new Bottlenose dolphin subspecies

New subspecies, called the Eastern Tropical Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus nuuanu), is smaller than other common bottlenose dolphins.   
Photo Credit: NOAA/NMFS/SWFSC.

A marine researcher at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science has identified a new bottlenose dolphin subspecies found only in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. “While there is a common belief that all dolphin species are already known, improvements in technologies and methodologies are helping to reveal a greater biodiversity in more recent years,” said Ana Costa, Ph.D., a Rosenstiel lecturer specializing in marine mammalogy.

After examining and analyzing a series of specimens, Costa and collaborators of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that the new subspecies, called the Eastern Tropical Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus nuuanu), is smaller than other common bottlenose dolphins. These dolphins likely prefer deep offshore waters between southern Baja California and the Galapagos Islands, she added.

Bird Diversity Increased in Severely Burned Forests of Southern Appalachian Mountains

Forest burned in high-severity wildfire.
Photo Credit: Chris Moorman

A new study found bird diversity increased in North Carolina mountain forest areas severely burned by wildfire in 2016, reinforcing that while wildfire can pose risks to safety and property, it can be beneficial to wildlife. The study results could help forest managers better predict bird responses to wildfire, and manage forests to benefit birds.

“It’s important for us to understand the relationships between animals and wildfire dynamics as the climate changes because predictions show more of these high-severity wildfires across the landscape in the future,” said study co-author Chris Moorman, professor of forestry and environmental resources at North Carolina State University.

Wildfires burned more than 235 square miles of forest in the southern Appalachians in the fall of 2016, following a period of dry conditions and acts of arson. In the study published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, researchers tracked different levels of burn severity in three forest regions of the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina.

Astronomers discover clues about stellar ‘glitching’

Stars that experience structural "glitches" during their lifetimes may be more common than first thought.

Astronomers have found a way to peer into the physics of some of the brightest stars in the sky.

Using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, an international team of researchers has found new evidence that red giants, dying stars that have exhausted their supply of hydrogen and are in the final stages of stellar evolution, often experience large-scale structural variations, or what are known as “glitches” deep inside their inner core.

The stellar glitches popularized in the media have to do with a star’s rotation, but lead author Mathieu Vrard studies a different kind of defect. The glitches in this study can affect a star’s oscillations, or the frequencies and paths that sound waves travel when passing through a star.

Red clump stars, helium-core burning objects, are often used in astrophysical studies as probes of distance to measure aspects like galaxy density, and to learn more about the physical processes behind stellar chemical evolution. So, it’s vital that scientists understand why these discontinuities happen, said Vrard, a postdoctoral research associate in astronomy at the Ohio State University.

“By analyzing these variations, we can use them to obtain not only the global parameters of the star, but also information on the precise structure of those objects,” he said.

A poison helps to understand hydrogen-producing biocatalysts

Thomas Happe researches biocatalysts that can produce hydrogen in an environmentally friendly way.
 Photo Credit: RUB, Marquard

The toxic cyanide molecule attacks the enzymes, but also enables new insights into catalysis.

In nature, certain enzymes, so-called hydrogenases, are able to produce molecular hydrogen (H2) to produce. Special types of these biocatalysts, so-called [FeFe] hydrogenases, are extremely efficient and therefore of interest for bio-based hydrogen production. Although science already knows a lot about how these enzymes work, some details have not yet been fully clarified. The photobiotechnology working group at the Ruhr University Bochum around Dr. Jifu Duan and Prof. Dr. Close Thomas Happe. The researchers showed that external cyanide binds to the [FeFe] hydrogenases and inhibits hydrogen formation. They were able to demonstrate a structural change in the proton transport path that helps to understand the coupling of electron and proton transport. They report in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Scientists use materials to make stem cells behave like human embryos

Stem cells confined in a circular shape on a soft gel display characteristic of embryonic development.
Photo Credit: University of New South Wales

A serendipitous discovery in the lab has the potential to revolutionize embryo models and targeted drug therapies.

Materials scientists at UNSW Sydney have shown that human pluripotent stem cells in a lab can initiate a process resembling the gastrulation phase – where cells begin differentiating into new cell types – much earlier than occurs in mother nature.

For an embryo developing in the womb, gastrulation occurs at day 14. But in a lab at UNSW’s Kensington campus, Scientia Associate Professor Kris Kilian oversaw an experiment where a gastrulation-like event was triggered within two days of culturing human stem cells in a unique biomaterial that, as it turned out, set the conditions to mimic this stage of embryo development.

“Gastrulation is the key step that leads to the human body plan,” says A/Prof. Kilian.

“It is the start of the process where a simple sheet of cells transforms to make up all the tissues of the body – nerves, cardiovascular and blood tissue and structural tissue like muscle and bone. But we haven’t really been able to study the process in humans because you can’t study this in the lab without taking developing embryonic tissue.

Untangling the Evolution of Complex Life

Dartmouth researchers report octopuses have high numbers of molecules linked to advanced cognition.
Photo Credit: Diane Picchiottino

Octopuses have captured the attention of scientists and the public with their remarkable intelligence, including the use of tools, engaging in creative play and problem-solving, and even escaping from aquariums. Now, their acuity may provide a critical link in understanding the evolution of complex life and cognition, including the human brain.

An international team led by researchers at Dartmouth and the Max Delbrück Center in Germany report in the journal Science Advances that octopuses are the first known invertebrates—creatures that lack a backbone and constitute roughly 95% of animal species—to contain a high number of gene-regulating molecules known as microRNAs.

The genes of two octopus species show an increase in microRNAs—which are linked to the development of advanced cells with specific functions—over evolutionary time that has so far only been found in humans, mammals, and other vertebrates.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Artificial Intelligence in Veterinary Medicine Raises Ethical Challenges

Chimmi (Chimichanga) a few hours before having his spleen removed due to a mass. Detected by Hi-Def Ultrasound by a radiologist. 7/2021
Photo Credit: Heidi-Ann Fourkiller

Use of artificial intelligence (AI) is increasing in the field of veterinary medicine, but veterinary experts caution that the rush to embrace the technology raises some ethical considerations.

“A major difference between veterinary and human medicine is that veterinarians have the ability to euthanize patients – which could be for a variety of medical and financial reasons – so the stakes of diagnoses provided by AI algorithms are very high,” says Eli Cohen, associate clinical professor of radiology at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Human AI products have to be validated prior to coming to market, but currently there is no regulatory oversight for veterinary AI products.”

In a review for Veterinary Radiology and Ultrasound, Cohen discusses the ethical and legal questions raised by veterinary AI products currently in use. He also highlights key differences between veterinary AI and AI used by human medical doctors.

Greenland’s Glaciers Might Be Melting 100 Times As Fast As Previously Thought

A melting glacier on the coast of Greenland.
Photo Credit: Dr. Lorenz Meire, Greenland Climate Research Center.

A computer model has been created by researchers at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin that determines the rate at which Greenland’s glacier fronts are melting.

Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the model is the first designed specifically for vertical glacier fronts – where ice meets the ocean at a sharp angle. It reflects recent observations of an Alaskan glacier front melting up to 100 times as fast as previously assumed. According to the researchers, the model can be used to improve both ocean and ice sheet models, which are crucial elements of any global climate model.

“Up to now, glacier front melt models have been based on results from the Antarctic, where the system is quite different,” said lead author Kirstin Schulz, a research associate in the Oden Institute’s Computational Research in Ice and Ocean Systems Group (CRIOS). “By using our model in an ocean or climate model, we can get a much better idea of how vertical glacier fronts are melting.”

Frequent genetic cause of late-onset ataxia uncovered by a Quebec-led international collaboration

Photo Credit: whitfieldink

Discovery will improve diagnosis and open treatment possibilities for thousands of people with this debilitating neurodegenerative condition worldwide

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports the identification of a previously unknown genetic cause of a late-onset cerebellar ataxia, a discovery that will improve diagnosis and open new treatment avenues for this progressive condition.

Late-onset cerebellar ataxias (LOCA) are a heterogeneous group of neurodegenerative diseases that manifest in adulthood with unsteadiness. One to three in 100,000 people worldwide will develop a late-onset ataxia. Until recently, most patients with late-onset ataxia had remained without a genetic diagnosis.

An international team led by Dr. Bernard Brais, a neurologist and researcher at The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) of McGill University and Dr. Stephan Züchner of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, in collaboration with neurologists from the Universities of Montreal and Sherbrooke, studied a group of 66 Quebec patients from different families who had late-onset ataxia for which an underlying genetic cause had not yet been found. Using the most advanced genetic technologies, the team found that 40 (61 per cent) of the patients carried the same novel disease-causing variant in the gene FGF14, making it the most common genetic cause of late-onset ataxia in Quebec. They found that a small stretch of repetitive DNA underwent a large size increase in patients, a phenomenon known as repeat expansion.

Comet Impacts Could Bring Ingredients for Life to Europa’s Ocean

An artist's concept of a comet or asteroid impact on Jupiter's moon Europa.
Illustration Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Comet strikes on Jupiter’s moon Europa could help transport critical ingredients for life found on the moon’s surface to its hidden ocean of liquid water — even if the impacts don’t punch completely through the moon’s icy shell.

The discovery comes from a study led by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, where researchers developed a computer model to observe what happens after a comet or asteroid strikes the ice shell, which is estimated to be tens of kilometers thick.

The model shows that if an impact can make it at least halfway through the moon’s ice shell, the heated meltwater it generates will sink through the rest of the ice, bringing oxidants — a class of chemicals required for life — from the surface to the ocean, where they could help sustain any potential life in the sheltered waters.

The researchers compared the steady sinking of the massive melt chamber to a foundering ship.

NASA’s Webb Unveils Young Stars in Early Stages of Formation

Image of the Cosmic Cliffs, a region at the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), with compass arrows, scale bar, and color key for reference.  The north and east compass arrows show the orientation of the image on the sky. Note that the relationship between north and east on the sky (as seen from below) is flipped relative to direction arrows on a map of the ground (as seen from above).  The scale bar is labeled in light-years, which is the distance that light travels in one Earth-year. It takes 2 years for light to travel a distance equal to the length of the bar. One light-year is equal to about 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion kilometers.  This image shows invisible near-infrared wavelengths of light that have been translated into visible-light colors. The color key shows which NIRCam filters were used when collecting the light. The color of each filter name is the visible light color used to represent the infrared light that passes through that filter.  Webb’s NIRCam was built by a team at the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center. 
Hi-Res Zoomable Image
Credits SCIENCE: Megan Reiter (Rice University) IMAGE: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI IMAGE PROCESSING: Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI)

Scientists taking a “deep dive” into one of Webb’s iconic first images have discovered dozens of energetic jets and outflows from young stars previously hidden by dust clouds. The discovery marks the beginning of a new era of investigating how stars like our Sun form, and how the radiation from nearby massive stars might affect the development of planets.

The Cosmic Cliffs, a region at the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within the star cluster NGC 3324, has long intrigued astronomers as a hotbed for star formation. While well-studied by the Hubble Space Telescope, many details of star formation in NGC 3324 remain hidden at visible-light wavelengths. Webb is perfectly primed to tease out these long-sought-after details since it is built to detect jets and outflows seen only in the infrared at high resolution. Webb’s capabilities also allow researchers to track the movement of other features previously captured by Hubble.

Scandinavian wolves carry many harmful mutations

Researchers from Uppsala University have discovered that each wolf in the Scandinavian wolf population has an average of approximately 100,000 harmful mutations across the entire genome.
Photo Credit: Hans Veth

In a new scientific study, researchers at Uppsala University have shown that Scandinavian wolves carry around 100,000 harmful mutations in their genome. As long as the harmful mutations can be compensated by a healthy genetic variant, this does not need to pose a problem. However, as there has been a high level of inbreeding in the wolf population, the occurrence of double harmful variants has increased with each generation.

Mutations occur constantly in all organisms, and many of the changes can have a harmful effect on survival and reproduction. However, as there are two copies of each chromosome, individuals are often protected by one of the copies remaining intact. But in the case of inbreeding, it can happen that individuals carry two copies of a harmful mutation, which leads to a problem known as inbreeding depression.

Biodegradable medical gowns may add to greenhouse gas

Photo Credit: National Cancer Institute

The use of disposable plasticized medical gowns – both conventional and biodegradable – has surged since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Landfills now brim with them.

Because the biodegradable version decomposes faster than conventional gowns, popular wisdom held that it offers a greener option by less space use and chronic emissions in landfills.

That wisdom may be wrong.

Biodegradable medical gowns actually introduce harsh greenhouse gas discharge problems, according to new research published Dec. 20 in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

“There’s no magic bullet to this problem,” said Fengqi You, the Roxanne E. and Michael J. Zak Professor in Energy Systems Engineering, in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

“Plasticized conventional medical gowns take many years to break down and the biodegradable gowns degrade much faster, but they produce gas emissions faster like added methane and carbon dioxide than regular ones in a landfill,” said You, who is a senior faculty fellow in the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. “Maybe the conventional gowns is not so bad.”

Scientists find iron cycling key to permafrost greenhouse gas emissions

Iron content gives a reddish hue to an area of ponded water in the Arctic permafrost. ORNL scientists are exploring the importance of the iron cycle on how greenhouse gases are released from thawing Arctic soils.
Photo Credit: David Graham/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

The interaction of elemental iron with the vast stores of carbon locked away in Arctic soils is key to how greenhouse gases are emitted during thawing and should be included in models used to predict Earth’s climate, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists found.

Researchers set out to explore and model the chemistry going on as the Arctic permafrost thaws in response to global warming. Northern permafrost soils contain an estimated 1,460 billion to 1,600 billion metric tons of organic carbon — about twice as much as in the atmosphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Chemical processes in the soil control how organic matter decomposes and is stored in soils and whether it converts to carbon dioxide or the more powerful greenhouse gas methane when released into the atmosphere.

Arctic soils are typically organic-rich and often have a high iron content, frequently visible as rusty deposits in flooded soils in the region, said ORNL modeler and principal investigator Benjamin Sulman. But current Earth system models do not take iron cycling into account when predicting the climate-warming potential of thawing permafrost.

Researchers aim to explore how matter gets its mass by confining quarks

STAR chamber
The research on quark confinement was inspired in part by nuclear research carried out at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the U.S. Pictured here is a giant particle detector that can image subatomic interactions. This apparatus is investigating rapidly rotating quark matter.
Full Resolution Image
Image Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A new way to study quarks, one of the building blocks of the protons and neutrons that make up atomic nuclei, is proposed. This has never been done before and doing so would help answer many fundamental questions in physics. In particular, researchers could use the new approach to determine how matter gets its mass.

The study of matter can seem a bit like opening a stack of Russian matryoshka dolls, each level down revealing another familiar, yet different, arrangement of components smaller and harder to explore than the one before. On our everyday scale, we have objects we can see and touch. Whether water in a glass or the glass itself, these are mostly arrangements of molecules too small to see. The tools of physics (microscopes, particle accelerators, and so forth) let us peer deeper to reveal molecules are made from atoms. But it doesn’t stop there — atoms are made from a nucleus surrounded by electrons.

3D imaging of shark embryos reveals evolution of pelvic fins

Photo Credit: Marcelo Cidrack

Curtin University researchers have revealed how the pelvic fins of fish such as sharks and chimaeras have evolved from their sudden appearance in the fossil record over 410 million years ago.

The team used CT scanning and 3D modelling to study the growth of pelvic fins in fish embryos to help us understand how the skeleton of these fins changed over evolutionary history.

Lead author and PhD candidate Jacob Pears from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences said the research showed what the development of modern animals can tell us about their evolution.

“Our work focused on cartilaginous fish and in particular looked at the pelvic fins of elephant sharks. The fine detail from our imaging revealed the basipterygium (pelvic fin bar), which like the femur and tibia in humans, were formed by the fusion of fin radials during early embryonic development,” Mr. Pears said.

Early humans may have first walked upright in the trees

Photo Credit: Alexa

Human bipedalism – walking upright on two legs – may have evolved in trees, and not on the ground as previously thought, according to a new study involving UCL researchers.

In the study, published in the journal Science Advances, researchers from UCL, the University of Kent, and Duke University, USA, explored the behaviors of wild chimpanzees - our closest living relative - living in the Issa Valley of western Tanzania, within the region of the East African Rift Valley.

Known as ‘savanna-mosaic’ – a mix of dry open land with few trees and patches of dense forest - the chimpanzees’ habitat is very similar to that of our earliest human ancestors and was chosen to enable the scientists to explore whether the openness of this type of landscape could have encouraged bipedalism in hominins.

The study is the first of its kind to explore if savanna-mosaic habitats would account for increased time spent on the ground by the Issa chimpanzees, and compares their behavior to other studies on their solely forest-dwelling cousins in other parts of Africa.

Overall, the study found that the Issa chimpanzees spent as much time in the trees as other chimpanzees living in dense forests, despite their more open habitat, and were not more terrestrial (land-based) as expected.

Scientists Have Figured Out How to Use Silicone to Protect against Radiation

Scientists plan to investigate a broader set of materials that can attenuate radiation.
Photo Credit: Anastasia Farafontova

An international team of scientists has developed a material that can be used in the future as radiation protection against gamma radiation, in particular, it can be used to create radiation protection for Nuclear Power Station workers. The new material is based on silicone using zinc oxide nano powder additions. The results of research on the new material and its properties have been published in the journal Optical Materials. Physicists from Russia (Ural Federal University), Jordan, and Turkey took part in the work.

"Gamma radiation is widespread in the health care, food and aerospace industries. Excessive exposure can be harmful to human health. Gamma radiation is now attenuated or absorbed using lead, concrete, lead-oxide, tungsten, or tin-based materials. These protective materials are not always convenient to use as protection against gamma rays. In addition, they are expensive, too heavy and highly toxic to humans and the environment. This is why it is important to find new materials and optimize their composition for radiation protection, which will ensure human and environmental safety," says Oleg Tashlykov, Associate Professor at the Department of Nuclear Power Plants and Renewable Energy Sources at UrFU.

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