Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Using nanodiamonds as sensors just got easier

University of Rochester PhD student Dinesh Bommidi (left) and Andrea Pickel, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, used an atomic force microscope to locate and move nanodiamond sensors. University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster

For centuries people have placed the highest value on diamonds that are not only large but flawless.

Scientists, however, have discovered exciting new applications for diamonds that are not only incredibly small but have a unique defect.

In a recent paper in Applied Physics Letters, researchers at the University of Rochester describe a new way to measure temperature with these defects, called nitrogen vacancy centers, using the light they emit. The technique, adapted for single nanodiamonds by Andrea Pickel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Dinesh Bommidi, a PhD student in her lab, allowed them to precisely measure, for the first time, the duration of these light emissions, or “excited state lifetimes,” at a broad range of temperatures.

The discovery earned the paper recognition as an American Institute of Physics “Scilight,” a showcase of what AIP considers the most interesting research across the physical sciences.

The Rochester method gives researchers a less complicated, more accurate tool for using nitrogen vacancy centers to measure the temperature of nanoscale-sized materials. The approach is also safe for imaging sensitive nanoscale materials or biological tissues and could have applications in quantum information processing.

Hungry yeast are tiny, living thermometers

This fluorescence microscopy image shows yeast vacuoles that have undergone phase separation.Luther Davis/Alexey Merz/University of Washington

Membranes are crucial to our cells. Every cell in your body is enclosed by one. And each of those cells contains specialized compartments, or organelles, which are also enclosed by membranes.

Membranes help cells carry out tasks like breaking down food for energy, building and dismantling proteins, keeping track of environmental conditions, sending signals and deciding when to divide.

Biologists have long struggled to understand precisely how membranes accomplish these different types of jobs. The primary components of membranes — large, fat-like molecules called lipids and compact molecules like cholesterol — make great barriers. In all but a few cases, it’s unclear how those molecules help proteins within membranes do their jobs.

In a paper published Jan. 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team at the University of Washington looked at phase separation in budding yeast — the same single-celled fungus of baking and brewing fame — and reports that living yeast cells can actively regulate a process called phase separation in one of their membranes. During phase separation, the membrane remains intact but partitions into multiple, distinct zones or domains that segregate lipids and proteins. The new findings show for the first time that, in response to environmental conditions, yeast cells precisely regulate the temperature at which their membrane undergoes phase separation. The team behind this discovery suggests that phase separation is likely a “switch” mechanism that these cells use to govern the types of work that membranes do and the signals they send.

How a Smart Electric Grid Will Power Our Future

The Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center, located at PNNL, allows researchers to evaluate electric grid scenarios in the context of current industry conditions.
Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

A novel plan that offers partnership in keeping the United States electric grid stable and reliable could be a win-win for consumers and utility operators.

The largest ever simulation of its kind, modeled on the Texas power grid, concluded that consumers stand to save about 15 percent on their annual electric bill by partnering with utilities. In this system, consumers would coordinate with their electric utility operator to dynamically control big energy users, like heat pumps, water heaters and electric vehicle charging stations.

This kind of flexible control over energy supply and use patterns is called “transactive” because it relies on an agreement between consumers and utilities. But a transactive energy system has never been deployed on a large scale, and there are a lot of unknowns. That’s why the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity called upon the transactive energy experts at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to study how such a system might work in practice. The final multi-volume report was released today.

Hayden Reeve, a PNNL transactive energy expert and technical advisor, led a team of engineers, economists and programmers who designed and executed the study.

Novel research identifies fresh 'mixers' in river pollution 'cocktail'

Researchers from the Universities of Manchester, Birmingham and Mahavir Cancer Sansthan collecting field data along the River Ganga in Bihar
Photo - Aman Gaurav

Water quality in rivers is affected by underpinning ‘natural’ hydrogeological and biogeochemical processes, as well as interactions between people and their environment that are accelerating stress on water resources at unprecedented rates.

Pollutants can move at different speeds and accumulate in varying quantities along rivers where the mix of the complex ‘cocktail’ of chemicals that is making its way towards the ocean is constantly changing, a new study reveals.

Researchers have discovered characteristic breakpoints – often found when a tributary joins the main river or significant point sources exist – can change the behavior of some compounds, causing the concentration of these chemicals to change drastically, depending on where they are on their journey down the river.

Experts discovered the phenomenon after piloting a new, systematic approach to understanding hydrogeochemical dynamics in large river systems along the entire length of India’s River Ganges (Ganga) – from close to its source in the Himalayas down to the Indian Ocean.

This new research approach proven successful at the iconic Ganga can be applied to other large river systems across the world – hopefully shedding new light on how to tackle the global challenge of aquatic pollution by multiple interacting contaminants.

Calculating the best shapes for things to come

Wei Lu 
Professor  Mechanical Engineering 
University of Michigan
Maximizing the performance and efficiency of structures—everything from bridges to computer components—can be achieved by design with a new algorithm developed by researchers at the University of Michigan and Northeastern University.

It’s an advancement likely to benefit a host of industries where costly and time-consuming trial-and-error testing is necessary to determine the optimal design. As an example, look at the current U.S. infrastructure challenge—a looming $2.5 trillion backlog that will need to be addressed with taxpayer dollars.

Planners searching for the best way to design a new bridge need to answer a string of key questions. How many pillars are needed? What diameter do those pillars need to be? What should the radius of the bridge’s arch be? The new algorithm can determine the combination that gives the highest load capacity with lowest cost.

The team tested their algorithm in four optimization scenarios: designing structures to maximize their stiffness for carrying a given load, designing the shape of fluid channels to minimize pressure loss, creating shapes for heat transfer enhancement, and minimizing the material of complex trusses for load bearing. The new algorithm reduced the computational time needed to reach the best solution by roughly 100 to 100,000 times over traditional approaches. In addition, it outperformed all other state-of-the-art algorithms.

“It’s a tool with the potential to influence many industries—clean energy, aviation, electric vehicles, energy efficient buildings,” said Wei Lu, U-M professor of mechanical engineering and corresponding author of the study in Nature Communications.

The new algorithm plays in a space called topology optimization—how best to distribute materials within a given space to get the desired results.

“If you really want to design something rationally, you’re talking about a large number of calculations, and doing those can be difficult with time and cost considerations,” Lu said. “Our algorithm can reduce the calculations and facilitate the optimization process.”

Worldwide assessment of protected areas

According to a TUM-led study, mountain habitats as seen here in Pakistan’s Deosai National Park are quite well protected. Many other habitats do not yet have this level of protection.
Image: Ch. Hof / TUM

Protected areas are among the most effective tools for preserving biodiversity. However, new protected areas are often created without considering existing ones. This can lead to an overrepresentation of the biophysical characteristics, such as temperature or topography, that define a certain area. A research group at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has now assessed a global analysis of the scope of protection of various biophysical conditions.

Protected areas are important for maintaining populations of various species. They ensure that many animals and plants do not lose their habitat and thus help to protect endangered species and safeguard biodiversity.

The worldwide protected area network is steadily growing in number and extent. “From a conservation standpoint, this is generally a welcome trend. But the uncoordinated expansion of protected areas can result in wasted resources worldwide if care is not taken to protect as many species communities and environmental conditions as possible,” says Dr. Christian Hof, the director of the junior research group “MintBio – Climate change impacts on biological diversity in Bavaria: Multidimensional Integration for better BIOdiversity projections” under the auspices of the Bavarian climate research network bayklif at TUM.

Do you see faces in things?

Composite image: Dr Jessica Taubert
Seeing faces in everyday objects is a common experience, but research from The University of Queensland has found people are more likely to see male faces when they see an image on the trunk of a tree or in burnt toast over breakfast.

Dr Jessica Taubert from UQ’s School of Psychology said face pareidolia, the illusion of seeing a facial structure in an everyday object, tells us a lot about how our brains detect and recognize social cues.

“The aim of our study was to understand whether examples of face pareidolia carry the kinds of social signals that faces normally transmit, such as expression and biological sex,” Dr Taubert said.

“Our results showed a striking bias in gender perception, with many more illusory faces perceived as male than female.

“As illusory faces do not have a biological sex, this bias is significant in revealing an asymmetry in our face evaluation system when given minimal information.

“The results demonstrate visual features required for face detection are not generally sufficient for the perception of female faces.”

More than 3800 participants were shown numerous examples of face pareidolia and inanimate objects with no facial structure and they were asked to indicate whether each example had a distinct emotional expression, age, and biological sex, or not.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Overweight dogs respond well to high-protein, high-fiber diet

Overfed dogs experience some of the same maladies associated with overweight and obesity in humans. A new study finds that overweight dogs also benefit from a high-protein, high-fiber weight loss regimen. 
Photo by www.pixel.la, CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

A study of overweight dogs fed a reduced calorie, high-protein, high-fiber diet for 24 weeks found that the dogs’ body composition and inflammatory markers changed over time in ways that parallel the positive changes seen in humans on similar diets. The dogs achieved a healthier weight without losing too much muscle mass, and their serum triglycerides, insulin and inflammatory markers all decreased with weight loss.

All such changes are beneficial, said University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign animal sciences professor Kelly Swanson, who led the new research.

Mixed Reality and AI to aid surgeons with keyhole heart valve surgery

Cardiac surgeons could in the future be conducting procedures virtually before even stepping into an operating theatre thanks to researchers from the University of West of England who are working with cardiac surgeons from the University of Bristol on new technology that will allow surgeons to better predict risks and help prevent the conversion of a keyhole heart valve operation to open heart surgery.

The research team from UWE Bristol’s Big Data lab and Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences (HAS) is developing technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to assist cardiac surgeons in planning and preparing for complex keyhole heart valve surgery. The team is initially collaborating with the Bristol Heart Institute (BHI), a Specialist Research Institute at the University of Bristol, whose surgeons will test the system when preparing for minimally invasive cardiac valve surgery (MICVS).

Compared to conventional open-heart surgery involving cutting through the breastbone to reach the heart, MICVS is less intrusive as the heart is accessed through smaller incisions using endoscopic instruments. And patient recovery time is generally quicker after this keyhole surgery.

However, MICVS is complex and requires hours of pre-operative planning and preparation.

Dr Hunaid Vohra, Consultant Cardiac Surgeon and Honorary Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the BHI, who is collaborating with UWE Bristol, said: “In the operating room, despite pre-planning, it is currently very common to find unexpected challenges, as every patient’s height, weight and heart-lung anatomy is different. And patients’ frailty varies.

Mystery of sweet potato origin uncovered

Ipomoea aequatoriensis flowers at
University of Oxford Department of Plant Sciences.
Photographs by Tom Wells

New scientific research from Oxford University's Plant Sciences department transforms our understanding of the origins of the sweet potato - identifying a key piece in the puzzle of the evolutionary history of one of the world’s most important staple crops.

Years of careful taxonomic research by a team led by Robert Scotland, Professor of Systematic Botany at Oxford Plant Sciences, has concluded with the discovery of a new species that is sweet potato’s closest wild relative, Ipomoea aequatoriensis.

"How the sweet potato evolved has always been a mystery. Now, we have found this new species in Ecuador...a fundamental piece of the puzzle to understand the origin and evolution of this top-ten global food crop"
Professor Robert Scotland

This species, which most likely played a key role in the origin of the crop, is the latest in a series of discoveries by the Oxford team and collaborators at USDA and the International Potato Centre Peru, and one that represents an ‘extraordinary discovery in untangling the evolution’ of the plant, according to the researchers.

Professor Scotland says, ‘How the sweet potato evolved has always been a mystery. Now, we have found this new species in Ecuador that is the closest wild relative of sweet potato known to date and is a fundamental piece of the puzzle to understand the origin and evolution of this top-ten global food crop.’

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Researchers discover way to disarm potentially deadly Listeria bacteria

A drug-like inhibitor that stops Listeria from making virulence proteins helps immune cells control and kill the bacteria.
Image: Dr Carmen Mathmann

University of Queensland researchers have unlocked a way of fighting Listeria infections, which can cause severe illness in pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

During the study, researchers discovered a way to block Listeria from making the proteins that allow bacteria to survive and multiply in immune cells.

UQ Diamantina Institute’s Professor Antje Blumenthal said using a small, drug-like inhibitor has improved their understanding of the Achilles heel of Listeria.

“Listeria is found in the soil and sometimes in raw foods. Once ingested it can hide from the immune system and multiply inside immune cells,” Professor Blumenthal said.

“Instead of killing the bacteria, the immune cells are used by the bacteria to multiply and are often killed by Listeria growing inside them.

“Our study showed the bacteria could be cleared with a small drug-like inhibitor that targets the 'master regulator’ of the proteins that help Listeria grow in immune cells. The inhibitor helped the immune cells survive infection and kill the bacteria.”

CRISPR-Cas13 targets proteins causing ALS, Huntington's disease in the mouse nervous system

Spinal cord astrocytes, the cells seen in this fluorescent microscope image, are involved in the progression of ALS. A new CRISPR-Cas13 system targeting mutant protein production in these cells improved outcomes for mice with ALS. 
Image courtesy of Thomas Gaj and Colin Lim

A single genetic mutation can have profound consequences, as demonstrated in neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Huntington’s disease. A new study by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers used a targeted CRISPR technique in the central nervous systems of mice to turn off production of mutant proteins that can cause ALS and Huntington’s disease.

Rather than the popular DNA-editing CRISPR-Cas9 technique, the new approach uses CRISPR-Cas13, which can target mRNA – the messenger molecule that carries protein blueprints transcribed from DNA. The Illinois team developed Cas13 systems to target and cut RNAs that code for mutant proteins that trigger ALS and Huntington’s disease, effectively silencing the mutant genes without disturbing the cell’s DNA, said study leader Thomas Gaj, an Illinois professor of bioengineering. The team published its results in the journal Science Advances.

“Targeting RNA rather than DNA has some unique advantages, including the fact that, in theory, its effects within a cell can be reversed since RNAs are transient molecules,” said Colin Lim, a graduate student who helped lead the study. “Because Cas13 enzymes just target RNA, they also carry minimal risk for introducing any permanent off-target mutations to DNA.”

Researchers will use the world’s most accurate radiation detector in quantum computers

Physicists at Aalto University and VTT have developed a new detector for measuring energy quanta at unprecedented resolution.
Photo: Aalto University.

A radiation detector developed by Aalto University and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland can also be used in ultralow-temperature freezers and terahertz cameras.

In September 2020, researchers at Aalto University and VTT revealed that they had developed a high-speed nano-scale radiation detector—a bolometer—fast enough to read the qubits in a quantum computer.

Now, Professor Mikko Möttönen’s team and their partners have acquired funding to refine the bolometer technology for use not only in quantum computers but also in ultralow-temperature (ULT) freezers and terahertz cameras. The funding is from the Future Makers Funding Program by Technology Industries Finland Centennial Foundation and by Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation. This would be the first time ever that this bolometer is utilized for practical applications.

Möttönen explains that building a nano-scale bolometer was already a significant feat. ‘We wanted to develop the world’s best radiation detector. It took seven years for us to get it to function, and for three years we have been improving it,’ he says.

Scientists Find Previously Unknown Jumping Behavior in Insects

Images courtesy of Matt Bertone and Adrian Smith.
A team of researchers has discovered a jumping behavior that is entirely new to insect larvae, and there is evidence that it is occurring in a range of species – we just haven’t noticed it before.

The previously unrecorded behavior occurs in the larvae of a species of lined flat bark beetle (Laemophloeus biguttatus). Specifically, the larvae are able to spring into the air, with each larva curling itself into a loop as it leaps forward. What makes these leaps unique is how the larvae are able to pull it off.

“Jumping at all is exceedingly rare in the larvae of beetle species, and the mechanism they use to execute their leaps is – as far as we can tell – previously unrecorded in any insect larvae,” says Matt Bertone, corresponding author of a paper on the discovery and director of North Carolina State University’s Plant Disease and Insect Clinic.

While there are other insect species that are capable of making prodigious leaps, they rely on something called a “latch-mediated spring actuation mechanism.” This means that they essentially have two parts of their body latch onto each other while the insect exerts force, building up a significant amount of energy. The insect then unlatches the two parts, releasing all of that energy at once, allowing it to spring off the ground.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Native Fish Population Predicted to Rise After Major Expansion of Texas Port

Red drum fish
Image Source: University of Texas at Austin
Researchers have predicted that expanding the Aransas Pass — the marine pass between Mustang Island and Saint Joseph Island, offshore from the town of Aransas Pass, Texas — would increase the native red drum fish population.

From late summer through autumn, native red drum fish spawn off the Texas coast, where the current carries their larvae through the Aransas Pass into the safety of the bay. The fast-growing red drum can be found in shallow coastal waters (1-4 feet deep) along the edges of bays from Massachusetts to Mexico, where it is a popular sportfish important to many coastal economies, including the Texas Gulf Coast.

The Port of Corpus Christi intends to deepen the Aransas Pass to supply some of the biggest crude-carrying ships in the world. In response, UT Austin’s Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences collaborated with the university’s Marine Science Institute to predict what effect deepening the pass could have on the copper scaled fish for which Redfish Bay was named.

Opponents to deepening the Aransas Pass fear an end to the prolific fishing and bird life that draws tourists to the area. The Marine Science Institute, which funded the research, chose red drum fish as the study’s focus because they have been researched by biologists extensively, and their spawning patterns and locations are well known. The new research, published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, predicts that deepening the Aransas Pass would boost the number of red drum fish larvae that reach their nursery grounds by 0.5% based on the selected model parameters.

The Oden Institute’s Computational Hydraulics Group modeled the transport of red drum fish larvae through the Aransas Pass by plugging tides and meteorological conditions into a coastal circulation model, where red drum larvae ebb and flow as Lagrangian particles due to the circulation.

Device wraps around hot surfaces, turns wasted heat to electricity

A new flexible thermoelectric device can wrap around pipes and other hot surfaces and convert wasted heat into electricity. 
Credit: Pennsylvania State University

The energy systems that power our lives also produce wasted heat — like heat that radiates off hot water pipes in buildings and exhaust pipes on vehicles. A new flexible thermoelectric generator can wrap around pipes and other hot surfaces and convert wasted heat into electricity more efficiently than previously possible, according to scientists at Penn State and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“A large amount of heat from the energy we consume is essentially being thrown away, often dispersed right into the atmosphere,” said Shashank Priya, associate vice president for research and professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State. “We haven’t had cost-effective ways with conformal shapes to trap and convert that heat to useable energy. This research opens that door.”

Penn State researchers have been working to improve the performance of thermoelectric generators — devices that can convert differences in temperature to electricity. When the devices are placed near a heat source, electrons moving from the hot side to the cold side produce an electric current, the scientists said.

In prior work, the team created rigid devices that were more efficient than commercial units in high-temperature applications. Now the team has developed a new manufacturing process to produce flexible devices that offer higher power output and efficiency, the scientists said.

Brain Activity Helps Explain Response to Alcohol

People who need to drink relatively high amounts of alcohol before feeling its effects, a genetically influenced risk factor for future heavy drinking and alcohol problems, may have differences in brain connectivity that impair their ability to interpret facial expressions and recognize their own intoxication, a new study suggests. The paper, in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, is believed to be the first to demonstrate differences in brain connectivity between people with low and high responses to alcohol. Varying levels of responses to alcohol — for example, how many drinks a person consumes before feeling intoxicated — are known to be related to neurobiological processing. Low responders, who drink more alcohol before feeling affected by it, are at greater risk of alcohol use disorder (AUD) than high responders, who feel the effects of fewer drinks. 

Scientists using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are exploring the possibility that low responders are less able to recognize certain modest sensory inputs because of atypical brain connectivity. Previous studies found that low responders are likely to require greater effort than high responders to identify facial emotions, a task that is key to social and emotional functioning. For the new study, researchers at the University of California San Diego showed pictures of happy, angry, and fearful faces to study participants undergoing brain scans. They examined connectivity between the amygdala, a structure involved in processing emotions and reward, and other brain regions, and whether differences between low and high responders were associated with problematic drinking later.

The study involved 108 college students aged 18–25. The students had taken an alcohol challenge and been identified as having either a low or high response to alcohol; none had developed an AUD before testing. They were organized into 54 pairs of low and high responders matched by sex, demographics, and substance use. Each participant underwent two fMRI sessions during which they observed pictures of faces, one after consuming alcohol, the other after a placebo beverage. The investigators measured the students’ accuracy at identifying facial expressions, compared amygdala activity, and used statistical analysis to look for associations between alcohol responses and problematic drinking five years later.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Surveys reveal new insights on masks, at-home test kits and misinformation

As the Biden administration moves to contain the latest ravaging wave of COVID-19 by providing Americans with 1 billion COVID-19 self-test kits and 400 million N95 masks for free, new survey data reveal how many are wearing masks, including which types, and how at-home COVID tests are likely leading to undercounts of those contracting the virus.

These data could shed light on how Americans might — or might not — use these forthcoming masks and tests in the fight to stop COVID-19. They also underscore how doctors and nurses see the misinformation spread via social media as the No. 1 source undermining decisions to get vaccines.

The national polls were conducted by the COVID States Project, a consortium of university researchers from Northwestern, Northeastern, Harvard and Rutgers universities.

James Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and associate director and fellow of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, and one of the project researchers.

Druckman breaks down the top finding from each report.

Most see N95 masks as more protective, but only one in five wears one

Data collected between Dec. 22, 2021, and Jan. 10, 2022, from a total of more than 17,000 Americans on mask use finds that two-thirds (66%) have correctly understood that N95 masks provide more protection than cloth masks, yet only one in five reports wearing one.

Tug of sun, moon could be driving plate motions on ‘imbalanced’ Earth

A study led by geophysicist Anne M. Hofmeister in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis proposes that imbalanced forces and torques in the Earth-moon-sun system drive circulation of the whole mantle.

The new analysis provides an alternative to the hypothesis that the movement of tectonic plates is related to convection currents in the Earth’s mantle. Convection involves buoyant rise of heated fluids, which Hofmeister and her colleagues argue does not apply to solid rocks. They argue that force, not heat, moves large objects. The new research is published in a special paper of the Geological Society of America, as part of a forthcoming collection assembled in honor of geologist Warren B. Hamilton.

Earth’s internal workings are popularly modeled as dissipating heat generated by internal radioactivity and from leftover energy created during collisions when our planet formed. But even mantle convection proponents recognize that that amount of internal heat-energy is insufficient to drive large-scale tectonics. And there are other problems with using convection to explain observed plate motions.

Instead, Earth’s plates might be shifting because the sun exerts such a strong gravitational pull on the moon that it has caused the moon’s orbit around Earth to become elongated.

Mange Outbreak Decimated a Wild Vicuña Population in Argentina

A family of vicuñas prepares to rest for the night in Argentina's San Guillermo National Park before the 2014 mange outbreak that wiped out the local population.
Credit: Hebe del Valle Ferreyra

Mange has decimated the population of wild vicuñas and guanacos in an Argentinian national park that was created to conserve them, according to a study from the Administration of National Parks in Argentina and the University of California, Davis.

The findings, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest domestic llamas introduced to the site may have been the source of the outbreak. Cascading consequences for local predator and scavenger species are expected.

A lone vicuña stands amid the grasslands in Argentina’s
San Guillermo National Park following a mange epidemic.
Credit: Hebe del Valle Ferreyra
Vicuñas and guanacos are species of wild camelids native to Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, where the vicuña is the national animal.

The study investigated the impacts and origins of the outbreak, which began in 2014 in San Guillermo National Park.

Between 2013 and the onset of the study in 2017, populations of guanaco and vicuña were down 95% and 98%, respectively. Nearly three-quarters more were lost between 2017-18 alone. By 2019, researchers could no longer find either animal during the study surveys.

“This part of Argentina used to be the Serengeti of the wild camelids,” said corresponding author Marcela Uhart, who directs the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center’s Latin America Program, within the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and its One Health Institute. “Now you go and it’s empty, and whoever is there is mangy. This disease is not novel. We know mange. It’s a common mite. But significant outbreaks are happening in several wildlife species around the world.”

Consistent asteroid showers rock previous thinking on Mars craters

New Curtin University research has confirmed the frequency of asteroid collisions that formed impact craters on Mars has been consistent over the past 600 million years.

The study, published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, analyzed the formation of more than 500 large Martian craters using a crater detection algorithm previously developed at Curtin, which automatically counts the visible impact craters from a high-resolution image.

Despite previous studies suggesting spikes in the frequency of asteroid collisions, lead researcher Dr Anthony Lagain, from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said his research had found they did not vary much at all for many millions of years.

Dr Lagain said counting impact craters on a planetary surface was the only way to accurately date geological events, such as canyons, rivers and volcanoes, and to predict when, and how big, future collisions would be.

“On Earth, the erosion of plate tectonics erases the history of our planet. Studying planetary bodies of our Solar System that still conserve their early geological history, such as Mars, helps us to understand the evolution of our planet,” Dr Lagain said.

“The crater detection algorithm provides us with a thorough understanding of the formation of impact craters including their size and quantity, and the timing and frequency of the asteroid collisions that made them.”

Fat’s unexpected role in muscle stem cell fate

Satellite cells differentiate into muscle cells or self-renew depending on the level of lipid droplets in the cell. Shihuan Kuang, a Purdue University professor of animal sciences, showed for the first time that fat inside adult muscle stem cells regulates their fate.
Purdue University image/courtesy of Shihuan Kuang

Scientists have shown for the first time that fat inside adult muscle stem cells regulates their fate.

“No one had seen such dynamics of lipid droplets in these muscle stem cells, so this discovery is very exciting,” said Shihuan Kuang, a professor of animal sciences at Purdue University, who led the team of scientists. “To then find that they play such a strong role in the fate of the stem cells is remarkable. It has potential implications for muscular diseases, aging and animal sciences.”

Cells contain various kinds of fat, or lipids, that are essential for energy production, cell membrane composition and chemical signaling. Special structures, called lipid droplets, safely store this cellular fat.

Rather than existing as a static pool of resources, researchers discovered the number of these droplets changes significantly in an individual cell and varies from cell to cell. The number of the droplets also regulates what the stem cells become.

The discovery, coupled with newly identified roles of lipids in other stem cell types – including cancer stem cells - suggest fat may be involved in much more than previously thought, Kuang said. The findings are detailed in a paper in the journal Cell Reports.

Scientists make first detection of exotic “X” particles in quark-gluon plasma


In the first millionths of a second after the Big Bang, the universe was a roiling, trillion-degree plasma of quarks and gluons — elementary particles that briefly glommed together in countless combinations before cooling and settling into more stable configurations to make the neutrons and protons of ordinary matter.

In the chaos before cooling, a fraction of these quarks and gluons collided randomly to form short-lived “X” particles, so named for their mysterious, unknown structures. Today, X particles are extremely rare, though physicists have theorized that they may be created in particle accelerators through quark coalescence, where high-energy collisions can generate similar flashes of quark-gluon plasma.

Now physicists at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science and elsewhere have found evidence of X particles in the quark-gluon plasma produced in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, based near Geneva, Switzerland.

The team used machine-learning techniques to sift through more than 13 billion heavy ion collisions, each of which produced tens of thousands of charged particles. Amid this ultradense, high-energy particle soup, the researchers were able to tease out about 100 X particles, of a type known as X (3872), named for the particle’s estimated mass.

Omicron causes less severe illness in animal models than previous variants

A new study confirms that, compared to earlier versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the omicron variant causes less severe disease in mice and hamsters, which are reliable models for understanding COVID-19.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka
The findings, previously available as a preprint and published following peer review today (Jan. 21) in the journal Nature, align with preliminary data from studies of people infected with the variant and offer insight into the nature of the disease with omicron. The variant emerged in late November 2021 and was first identified by scientists in Botswana and South Africa.

Led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, along with Michael Diamond and Adrianus (Jacco) Boon at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the collaborative effort was the work of the SARS-CoV-2 Assessment of Viral Evolution (SAVE) program of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“SAVE meets four times per week,” Kawaoka explains, and includes teams analyzing sequences from viruses isolated across the world and screening for new variants; teams studying the biology of new variants in animal models; and teams working to isolate viruses for study, examining viral replication and testing how well previous infection or vaccination provides protection against emerging variants. Researchers who typically compete for publications and funding have come together in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

Peter Halfmann
Peter Halfmann, a research associate professor at UW–Madison, was among the first in the world to isolate the omicron variant from human samples for study. The samples came from infected patients in Wisconsin, New York, Georgia and Tokyo, and each contained slight sequence differences.

Once the viruses were isolated from the samples, scientists throughout the SAVE network began to test them in mice and hamsters. Animal studies are an important step in understanding new variants and how well they respond to existing countermeasures, such as vaccines and therapies.

The spike protein of omicron contains more than 30 mutations — a striking number relative to earlier variants. Because current vaccines and antibody treatments are based on these earlier versions, researchers were concerned that vaccines and therapies would be rendered less effective.

Computer models and studies that looked at the binding capacity of the virus to ACE2 receptors, which grant the virus entry into cells, also suggested that omicron would better attach to cells.

The Value of Wind Energy

Video by Graham Bourque | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Two teams of researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have shown that wind energy offers logistical, economic, and environmental value to consumers and utilities from the coast of Oregon to remote villages in Alaska.

In the first study of the grid impacts of offshore wind energy in Oregon, a PNNL team paired offshore wind resource potential from the Oregon coastline with other variable renewable energy sources, including land-based wind and solar. The study helped the team understand how offshore wind could serve electricity demand within Oregon’s transmission network and across the Pacific Northwest.

In the second study, a PNNL team analyzed the value of distributed wind—wind turbines installed near where their energy is consumed, such as for homes, businesses, and communities—for the small, remote community of St. Mary’s, Alaska. The study’s results could help inform utilities of the economic feasibility for installing wind in similar isolated microgrid systems in other remote villages. Additionally, the study revealed potential economic and environmental benefits for the village’s electricity consumers.

Both studies, which were published in the journal Energies, illustrate PNNL’s growing expertise in assessing the value that renewable energy brings for bolstering the grid.

Research team sets new efficiency record for solar cell technology

Asst Prof Hou Yi (right), Dr Chen Wei (left) and their team have developed perovskite/organic tandem solar cells (held by Dr Chen) that achieved a power conversion efficiency of 23.6%.
Source: National University of Singapore.

A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has set a new record in the power conversion efficiency of solar cells made using perovskite and organic materials. This technological breakthrough paves the way for flexible, light-weight, low cost and ultra-thin photovoltaic cells which are ideal for powering vehicles, boats, blinds and other applications.

“Technologies for clean and renewable energy are extremely important for carbon reduction. Solar cells that directly convert solar energy into electricity are among the most promising clean energy technologies. High power conversion efficiency of solar cells is critical for generating more electrical power using a limited area and this, in turn, reduces the total cost of generating solar energy,” explained lead researcher Presidential Young Professor Hou Yi, who is from the NUS Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and also leading a “Perovskite-based Multi-junction Solar Cells group” at the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore at NUS.

“The main motivation of this study is to improve the power conversion efficiency of perovskite/organic tandem solar cells. In our latest work, we have demonstrated a power conversion efficiency of 23.6% - this is the best performance for this type of solar cells to date,” added Dr Chen Wei, Research Fellow at the NUS Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the first author of this work.

Air pollution significantly reduces pollination by confusing butterflies and bees

Credit: James Ryalls
Common air pollutants from both urban and rural environments may be reducing the pollinating abilities of insects by preventing them from sniffing out the crops and wildflowers that depend on them, new research has shown.

Scientists from the University of Reading, the University of Birmingham and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology found that there were up to 70% fewer pollinators, up to 90% fewer flower visits and an overall pollination reduction of up to 31% in test plants when common ground-level air pollutants, including diesel exhaust pollutants and ozone, were present.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, is the first to observe a negative impact of common air pollutants on pollination in the natural environment. The theory is that the pollutants react with and change the scents of flowers, making them harder to find.

Dr Robbie Girling, Associate Professor in Agroecology at the University of Reading, who led the project, said: “We knew from our previous lab studies that diesel exhaust can have negative effects on insect pollinators, but the impacts we found in the field were much more dramatic than we had expected.”

Dr James Ryalls, a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellow at the University of Reading, who conducted the study, said: “The findings are worrying because these pollutants are commonly found in the air many of us breathe every day. We know that these pollutants are bad for our health, and the significant reductions we saw in pollinator numbers and activity shows that there are also clear implications for the natural ecosystems we depend on.”

Dr Christian Pfrang, Reader in Atmospheric Science at the University of Birmingham and a co-author on the study, said: “This truly cross-disciplinary work demonstrated very clearly how atmospheric pollutants negatively impact on pollination with direct consequences for food production as well as the resilience of our natural environment.”

Scientists build ‘valves’ in DNA to shape biological information flows

DNA valve controlling molecular processes along DNA
Credit: Thomas Gorochowski
Scientists at the University of Bristol have developed new biological parts that are able to shape the flow of cellular processes along DNA.

The work, now published in the journal Nature Communications, offers a fresh perspective on how information is encoded in DNA and new tools for building sustainable biotechnologies.

Despite being invisible to the naked eye, microorganisms are integral for our survival. They operate using DNA, often referred to as the code of life. DNA encodes numerous tools that could be useful to us, but we currently lack a complete understanding of how to interpret DNA sequences.

Matthew Tarnowski, first author and a PhD student in Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “Understanding the microbial world is tricky. While reading a microbe’s DNA with a sequencer gives us a window into the underlying code, you still need to read a lot of different DNA sequences to understand how it actually works. It’s a bit like trying to learn a new language, but from only a few small fragments of text.”

To tackle this problem, the Bristol team focused on how the information encoded in DNA is read, and specifically, how the flow of cellular processes along DNA are controlled. These biological information flows orchestrate many of the core functions of a cell and an ability to shape them would offer a way to guide cellular behaviors.

Taking inspiration from nature, where it is known that flows on DNA are often complex and interwoven, the team focused on how these flows could be regulated by creating “valves” to tune the flow from one region of DNA to another.

Suicide Attempts on the Rise, But Help is Hard to Get

The rate of suicidal behavior among Americans increased from 2008 to 2019, but usage of mental health services didn’t budge, reports a team led by UConn Health. The results, reported in JAMA Psychiatry, show that people need help to overcome existing barriers to care.

Suicide overall is still rare, but the rate of people attempting it in the US increased from 2008 to 2019, despite an improving economy during that period. A team of researchers including UConn Health School of Medicine psychiatric epidemiologist Greg Rhee looked at data from a survey done by the National Institutes of Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of 484,732 people across the US.

The survey found rates of attempted suicide rose by 1.8 times from 2008 to 2019 in young people aged 18-25. It also rose among people struggling with substance abuse. Suicide attempts are the single most important risk factor for suicide; the rate of suicide is 100 times greater among people who’ve already made the attempt in the past year compared to the general population. Getting people mental health services soon after a suicide attempt is one of the most effective ways to help them.

The survey also asked respondents if there was a time in the last 12 months when they needed mental health services but did not receive them, and if so, why.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Arthritis-related gene also regenerates cartilage in joints and growth plates

Spine from a healthy mouse (left) and a mouse with
genetically disrupted cartilage progenitor cells 
Image by Dawei Geng and Tea Jashashvili
The IL-6 family of proteins has a bad reputation: it can promote inflammation, arthritis, autoimmune disease and even cancer. However, a new USC-led study published in Communications Biology reveals the importance of IL-6 and associated genes for maintaining and regenerating cartilage in both the joints and in the growth plates that enable skeletal growth in children.

“We show, for the first time, that the IL-6 family, previously almost exclusively associated in the musculoskeletal field with arthritis, bone and muscle loss, and other chronic inflammatory diseases, is required for the maintenance of skeletal stem and progenitor cells, and for the healthy growth and function of the joints and spine,” said the study’s corresponding author Denis Evseenko, who is the J. Harold and Edna LaBriola Chair in Genetic Orthopedic Research, and an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at USC. “Our study establishes a link between inflammation and regeneration, and may explain why stem and progenitors are exhausted in chronic inflammation.”

In the study, first author Nancy Q. Liu from USC and her colleagues took a close look at a key gene activated by IL-6: STAT3. In both lab-grown human cells and in mice, the scientists demonstrated that STAT3 is critical for the proliferation, survival, maturation and regeneration of cartilage-forming cells in the joints and growth plates. When the gene ceased to function, cartilage-forming cells became increasingly dysfunctional over time, resulting in smaller body size, prematurely fused growth plates, underdeveloped skeletons and mildly degenerated joint cartilage.

Mice experienced the same issues when they lacked a protein called glycoprotein 130 (gp130), which all IL-6 proteins use to activate Stat3. Deactivating another gene Lifr, which encodes a protein that works with gp130 to recognize one of the IL-6 proteins called Lif, produced similar but milder skeletal and cartilage changes.

Making the invisible visible: tracing the origins of plants in West African cuisine

Excavated Nok vessels are cleaned and photographed at the Janjala research station, shown in the picture: Dr Gabriele Franke, Goethe University
Credit: Peter Breunig

A team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, in co-operation with colleagues from Goethe University, Frankfurt, has uncovered the first insights into the origins of West African plant-based cuisine, locked inside pottery fragments dating back some 3,500 years ago.

West African cuisine has long been known for its distinct ingredients and flavors, often enhanced by the addition of a large and diverse range of plant foods.

A traditional meal comprises a starchy staple cooked in a pot, served with a sauce prepared from vegetables, fish and/or meat, often accompanied by pulses.

These starchy staples include root crops such as yams, cassava, sorghum, pearl millet and maize. In the northern Sahel and savanna zones, pearl millet is mainly prepared as porridge, while in the southern forest zone, a pounded mash from tuber crops such as yam, called fufu, is the major starch-rich element.

Excavating Nok terracotta pottery vessel at Ifana 3 site
Credit: Peter Breunig
Indigenous vegetables, eaten at almost every West African meal, include eggplant, pumpkin and watermelon, okra (used as a thickener for soups and stews), as well as a staggering variety of both farmed and foraged green leafy vegetables, little known or used outside of the African continent.

These include leaves from the amaranth, roselle and baobab tree. However, investigating the origin of vegetables and leafy greens is difficult as they do not generally survive over archaeological timescales.

The Bristol team carried out chemical analysis of more than 450 prehistoric potsherds from the Central Nigerian Nok culture to investigate what foods they were cooking in their pots. The Nok people are known for their remarkable large-scale terracotta figurines and early iron production in West Africa, around the first millennium BC.

Powerful volcanic blast not the cause for 2018 Indonesian island collapse

The dramatic collapse of Indonesia’s Anak Krakatau volcano in December 2018 resulted from long-term destabilizing processes, and was not triggered by any distinct changes in the magmatic system that could have been detected by current monitoring techniques, new research has found.

The volcano had been erupting for around six months prior to the collapse, which saw more than two-thirds of its height slide into the sea as the island halved in area. The event triggered a devastating tsunami, which inundated the coastlines of Java and Sumatra and led to the deaths of more than 400 people.

A team led by the University of Birmingham examined volcanic material from nearby islands for clues to determine whether the powerful, explosive eruption observed after the collapse had itself triggered the landslide and tsunami. Their results are published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Working with researchers at the Bandung Institute of Technology, the University of Oxford and the British Geological Survey, the team looked at the physical, chemical and microtextural characteristics of the erupted material. They concluded that the large explosive eruption associated with the collapse was probably caused by the underlying magmatic system becoming destabilized as the landslide got underway.

This means the disaster was less likely to have been caused by magma forcing its way to the surface and triggering the landslide. Current volcano monitoring methods record seismic activity and other signals caused by magma rising through the volcano, but since this event was not triggered from within, it would not have been detected using these techniques.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Roman Space Telescope's Simulated Ultra-Deep Field Image

This video demonstrates how Roman could expand on Hubble’s iconic Ultra Deep Field image. While a similar Roman observation would be just as sharp as Hubble’s and see equally far back in time, it could reveal an area 300 times larger, offering a much broader view of cosmic ecosystems.




Also on our You Tube channel 
Source/Credit: 
Video: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center
Music: "Subterranean Secret" and "Expectant Aspect" from Universal Production Music.
Final Editing and Conversion Scientific Frontline

sn011622_01

Researchers discover how deep-sea worms help keep natural gases on ice

Sabellidae, or feather duster worms, are a family
of marine polychaete tube worms
It is well known that natural gas hydrates, crystalline lattices of hydrogen-bonded water molecules that encapsulate small hydrocarbon molecules, on the ocean floors constitute both a potential accelerator of climate change and one of the greatest energy sources on Earth. But whether the huge amounts of natural gas that are so confined remain safely locked in crystalline hydrate cages, or are liberated into the ocean potentially to become atmospheric greenhouse gases, may depend in part on an unusual sea-floor symbiosis between worms and their microbial neighbors.

Researchers at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering discovered that this natural ecosystem involving feather duster worms (Sabellidae, Annelida) and both heat-generating and heat-absorbing bacteria (Archaea) that consume methane enclathrated — or locked into a crystalline structure — by hydrates in deep marine environments play a key role in maintaining equilibrium that keeps hydrates frozen.

Seeking to examine the influence that subtle temperature fluctuations may have on the dynamic stability of the hydrate deposits, the investigators, led by Ryan Hartman, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NYU Tandon, found that feather duster worms, which thrive around crystalline hydrates, by selectively consuming heat-generating bacteria called methanotrophs that metabolize methane, put the brakes on the potential melting of these crystal structures (releasing trapped methane) due to the microbes’ exothermic metabolism.

In a newly published study, “Microbe-Worm Symbiosis Stabilizes Methane Hydrates in Deep Marine Environments,” in Energy & Fuels, researchers including lead author Tianyi Hua, Maisha Ahmad, and Tenzin Choezin, simulated the ecosystem by solving the associated energy balance and methane hydrate dissociation kinetics. They examined and analyzed the dissociation rate — the rate at which frozen hydrates disassembled into molecular components — and found that the symbiosis established among methanogens (methane-producing bacteria), methanotrophs, and feather duster worms indeed stabilizes methane hydrates at depths where the crystals are exposed to the ocean and its living organisms.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Citizen science helps nurture our health through nature

From lifting our moods, to boosting our immune systems, the intrinsic health benefits of being in nature are well known. But as urbanization continues to encroach on green spaces, finding ways to connect with natural environments is becoming more challenging.

Now, University of South Australia researchers are urging governments to consider nature-based citizen science as part of their public health policies in an effort improve the health and wellbeing of people living in urban areas.

By 2050, the United Nations estimates that 88 per cent of the population will be living in urban areas.

Given such mass urbanization, UniSA’s Professor Craig Williams says it’s more important than ever to maintain a connection with natural environments.

“Whether you’re watering the garden, taking a stroll around the block, or simply watching the world go by, getting out into nature is good for your health,” Prof Williams says.

“Natural environments can enhance human performance, improve success at work (or school) and are known to provide significant mental, emotional, and physical health benefits.

“Conversely, urbanization can negatively affect human health by increasing the prevalence of allergic, autoimmune, inflammatory, and infectious diseases, with some of these factors contributing to rise in cancers, depression and cardiovascular disease.

“As cities grow, fewer people have access to natural environments, which is part of the reason urban living can be bad for your health.

World's largest fish breeding area discovered in Antarctica

Fish nests in Weddell Sea 
Photo: PS124, AWI OFOBS team
Near the Filchner Ice Shelf in the south of the Antarctic Weddell Sea, a research team has found the world's largest fish breeding area known to date. A towed camera system photographed and filmed thousands of nests of icefish of the species Neopagetopsis ionah on the seabed. The density of the nests and the size of the entire breeding area suggest a total number of about 60 million icefish breeding at the time of observation. These findings provide support for the establishment of a Marine Protected Area in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. A team led by Autun Purser from the Alfred Wegener Institute publish their results in the current issue of the scientific journal Current Biology.

The joy was great when, in February 2021, researchers viewed numerous fish nests on the monitors aboard the German research vessel Polarstern, which their towed camera system transmitted live to the vessel from the seabed, 535 to 420 meters below the ship, from the seafloor of the Antarctic Weddell Sea. The longer the mission lasted, the more the excitement grew, finally ending in disbelief: nest followed nest, with later precise evaluation showing that there were on average one breeding site per three square meters, with the team even finding a maximum of one to two active nests per square meter.

The mapping of the area suggests a total extent of 240 square kilometers, which is roughly the size of the island of Malta. Extrapolated to this area size, the total number of fish nests was estimated to be about 60 million. "The idea that such a huge breeding area of icefish in the Weddell Sea was previously undiscovered is totally fascinating," says Autun Purser, deep-sea biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and lead author of the current publication. After all, the Alfred Wegener Institute has been exploring the area with its icebreaker Polarstern since the early 1980s. So far, only individual Neopagetopsis ionah or small clusters of nests have been detected here.

Using Only 100 Atoms, Electric Fields Can Be Detected and Changed

A conceptual drawing of the new molecular device. for experiments outside the human body (in vitro), the device would nest on the cell’s membrane: A “reporter” molecule would detect the local electric field when activated by red light; An attached “modifier” molecule would alter that electric field when activated by blue light.
Illustration by katya kadyshevskaya

Bioelectricity, the current that flows between our cells, is fundamental to our ability to think and talk and walk.

In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that recording and altering the bioelectric fields of cells and tissue plays a vital role in wound healing and even potentially fighting diseases like cancer and heart disease.

Now, for the first time, researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have created a molecular device that can do both: record and manipulate its surrounding bioelectric field.

The triangle-shaped device is made of two small, connected molecules — much smaller than a virus and similar to the diameter of a DNA strand.

It’s a completely new material for “reading and writing” the electric field without damaging nearby cells and tissue. Each of the two molecules, linked by a short chain of carbon atoms, has its own separate function: one molecule acts as a “sensor” or detector that measures the local electric field when triggered by red light; a second molecule, “the modifier,” generates additional electrons when exposed to blue light. Notably, each function is independently controlled by different wavelengths of light.

Though not intended for use in humans, the organic device would sit partially inside and outside the cell’s membrane for in vitro experiments.

Researchers discover a new approach to breaking bacterial antibiotic resistance and rescue frontline drug treatments

Dr Erin Brazel from the University of Adelaide’s
Research Center for Infectious Diseases.
Researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), The University of Queensland, Griffith University, The University of Adelaide, and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital (USA), have unlocked a key to making existing frontline antibiotics work again against the deadly bacteria that cause pneumonia.

In a world first, this international team discovered how to repurpose a molecule called PBT2 – originally developed as a potential treatment for disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases – to break bacterial resistance to commonly used frontline antibiotics.

Led by University of Melbourne’s Professor Christopher McDevitt, a laboratory head at the Doherty Institute, this discovery may soon see the comeback of readily available and cheap antibiotics, such as penicillin and ampicillin, as effective weapons in the fight against the rapidly rising threat of antibiotic resistance.

In a paper published today in Cell Reports Professor McDevitt and his collaborators described how they discovered a way to break bacterial drug resistance and then developed a therapeutic approach to rescue the use of the antibiotic ampicillin to treat drug-resistant bacterial pneumonia caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae in a mouse model of infection.

This may become a game-changer against the global health threat of antibiotic resistance. Last year the World Health Organization (WHO) described antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to global health, food security, and development. Rising numbers of bacterial infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used against them are becoming less effective. With few new drugs on the horizon, it is predicted that by 2050 antibiotic resistant infections will cause more deaths than cancers and cardiac disease, accounting for more than 10 million deaths per year.

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