. Scientific Frontline: July 2022

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Analyzing sediments to investigate global warming occurring 56 million years ago

Aitor Payros
Credit: Unai Zorriketa. UPV/EHU

The Department of Geology of the UPV/EHU has examined sediments dating back 56 million years in the Tremp-Graus basin (on the border between Lleida and Huesca). It can be deduced from the study that the global warming episode at that time consisted of three phases in which the distribution of precipitation was different. The data from the study can be used to adjust mathematical models used to predict the effects of current climate change.

Major carbon emissions into the atmosphere and oceans took place 56 million years ago; that led to intense global warming known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, and is regarded as an ancient analogue of today's anthropogenic warming. “Although the origin or cause of the warming at that time was different, the process was very similar to today’s warming, so it is considered to be similar to today's global warming. The climate is known to have warmed, but other alterations besides warming may occur with climate change. In particular, we wanted to analyze how the hydro-climatic conditions in terms of rainfall changed at that time,” said Aitor Payros, who gained a PhD in Geology at the UPV/EHU.

The UPV/EHU’s Department of Geology has investigated the mid-latitude alluvial and hydro-climatic changes recorded in the Tremp-Graus basin (on the border between Lleida and Huesca) during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, and has concluded that what happened then could in some way be similar to what is already happening today in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula. To do this, they collected historical data from the region, and discovered geographical as well as hydro-climatic similarities.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Orchid helps insect get a grip

Figure 1: The white egret orchid (Habenaria radiata) resembles a dancing white egret.
Credit: Suetsugu Kenji / Kobe University

The wild orchid Habenaria radiata’s pure white petals resemble a white egret in flight (hence its common name white egret orchid). H. radiata has been loved by people since ancient times but the adaptive significance of the flower’s characteristic jagged shape has been unclear until now. A multi-institutional research group has been working for three years to solve this mystery by conducting field experiments in which the feather-like fringe was removed, and detailed behavioral observations of the orchid’s pollinators.

The research collaboration consisted of Associate Professor Suetsugu Kenji and student Abe Yusuke (who completed his Master’s degree in the 2021 academic year) of Kobe University Graduate School of Science, Asai Takeshi and Matsumoto Shuji of Himeji Tegarayama Botanical Garden, and Hasegawa Masahiro of Osaka Museum of Natural History.

From the results, they discovered that in their natural habitat, white egret orchids with the fringe removed produced fewer healthy seeds per individual fruit than intact plants. Hawkmoths, which are major pollinators of this orchid, normally grasp onto the fringe with their mid-legs to steady themselves when they drink its nectar, however the researchers observed that the hawkmoth was often unable to do this on plants with the fringe removed. In other words, this fringe functions as a supportive platform for the pollen-carrying hawkmoth. It was previously thought that hawkmoths mainly hover while drinking nectar.

Although the white egret orchid utilizes hawkmoths to transport its pollen, these important findings indicate that the eye-catching fringe is more than a visual aid for pollinators, and has evolved to support the hawkmoth while it feeds on the nectar.

These research results were published online in the international journal Ecology.

New Optical Switch Could Lead to Ultrafast All-Optical Signal Processing

An artist's illustration of an optical switch, splitting
 light pulses based on their energies.
Credit: Y. Wang, N. Thu, and S. Zhou
Engineers at Caltech have developed a switch—one of the most fundamental components of computing—using optical, rather than electronic, components. The development could aid efforts to achieve ultrafast all-optical signal processing and computing.

Optical devices have the capacity to transmit signals far faster than electrical devices by using pulses of light rather than electrical signals. That is why modern devices often employ optics to send data; for example, think of the fiberoptic cables that provide much faster internet speeds than conventional Ethernet cables.

The field of optics has the potential to revolutionize computing by doing more, at faster speeds, and with less power. However, one of the major limitations of optics-based systems at present is that, at a certain point, they still need to have electronics-based transistors to efficiently process the data.

Now, using the power of optical nonlinearity (more on that later), a team led by Alireza Marandi, assistant professor of electrical engineering and applied physics at Caltech, has created an all-optical switch. Such a switch could eventually enable data processing using photons. The research was published in the journal Nature Photonics on July 28.

Switches are among the simplest components of a computer. A signal comes into the switch and, depending on certain conditions, the switch either allows the signal to move forward or halts it. That on/off property is the foundation of logic gates and binary computation, and is what digital transistors were designed to accomplish. However, until this new work, achieving the same function with light has proved difficult. Unlike electrons in transistors, which can strongly affect each other's flow and thereby cause "switching," photons usually do not easily interact with each other.

Octopus lures from the Marianas are the oldest in the world

UOG archaeologist Michael Carson at the 2013 excavation of Sanhalom in Tinian, near the House of Taga. The excavation uncovered an octopus lure artifact from a layer that Carson has since carbon dated to 1500–1100 B.C., making it the oldest known artifact of its kind in the world.
Credit: MARC | University of Guam

A University of Guam archaeological study has determined that cowrie-shell artifacts found throughout the Marianas were lures used for hunting octopuses and that the devices, which have been found on islands across the Pacific, are the oldest known artifacts of their kind in the world.

The study used carbon dating of archaeological layers to confirm that lures found in Tinian and Saipan were from about 1500 B.C., or 3,500 years ago.

“That’s back to the time when people were first living in the Mariana Islands. So, we think these could be the oldest octopus lures in the entire Pacific region and, in fact, the oldest in the world,” said Michael T. Carson, an archaeologist with the Micronesian Area Research Center at UOG.

The study, titled “Let’s catch octopus for dinner: Ancient inventions of octopus lures in the Mariana Islands of the remote tropical Pacific,” is published in World Archaeology, a peer-reviewed academic journal. Carson, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, is the lead author of the study, assisted by Hsiao-chun Hung from The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

The fishing devices were made with cowrie shells, a type of sea snail and a favorite food of octopuses, that were connected by a fiber cord to a stone sinker and a hook.

They have been found in seven sites in the Mariana Islands. The oldest lures were excavated in 2011 from Sanhalom near the House of Taga in Tinian and in 2016 from Unai Bapot in Saipan. Other locations include Achugao in Saipan, Unai Chulu in Tinian, and Mochom at Mangilao Golf Course, Tarague Beach, and Ritidian Beach Cave in Guam.

Bumblebees Appear to Feel Pain

Bees were given the choice between either unheated or noxiously-heated (55°C) feeders with different sucrose concentrations and marked by different colors.
Credit Pippa Ager

New research by a team at Queen Mary University of London shows that bumblebees can modify their response to ‘noxious’ (painful) stimuli in a manner that is viewed in other animals as consistent with the ability to feel pain.

The researchers showed that bumblebees are capable of modifying their response to ‘noxious’ (painful) stimuli in order to get a higher sugar reward. The possibility of insect pain and suffering should therefore be taken seriously, they say.

Queen Mary’s Professor Lars Chittka, author of the new book The Mind of a Bee, who led the research, said “Insects used to be regarded as simple reflex automatons, responding to damaging stimuli only by withdrawal reflexes. Our new work shows that bees’ responses are more flexible and that they can suppress such reflexes when it suits them, for example if there is an extra-sweet treat to be had. Such flexibility is consistent with the capacity of a subjective experience of pain”

Study first-author Matilda Gibbons, PhD student at Queen Mary University of London said, “Scientists traditionally viewed insects as unfeeling robots, which avoid injury with simple reflexes. We've discovered bumblebees respond to harm non-reflexively, in ways that suggest they feel pain. If insects can feel pain, humans have an ethical obligation not to cause them unnecessary suffering. But the UK's animal welfare laws don't protect insects - our study shows that perhaps they should.”

The brains of Neanderthals developed differently from those of modern humans

Fewer chromosome segregation errors in modern human than Neanderthal neural stem cells. Left side: microscopy image of the chromosomes (in cyan) of a modern human neural stem cell of the neocortex during cell division. Right side: same type of image, but of a cell where three amino acids in the two proteins KIF18a and KNL1, involved in chromosome separation, have been changed from the modern human to the Neanderthal variants. These “neanderthalized” cells show twice as many chromosomes separation errors (red arrow). 
Credit: Felipe Mora-Bermúdez / MPI-CBG

Neanderthals are the closest relatives to modern humans. The neocortex, the largest part of the outer layer of the brain, is unique to mammals and crucial for many cognitive capacities. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have now discovered that neural stem cells – the cells from which neurons in the developing neocortex derive – spend more time preparing their chromosomes for division in modern humans than in Neanderthals. This results in fewer errors when chromosomes are distributed to the daughter cells in modern humans than in Neanderthals or chimpanzees, and could have consequences for how the brain develops and functions.

After the ancestors of modern humans split from those of Neanderthals and Denisovans, their Asian relatives, about one hundred amino acids, the building blocks of proteins in cells and tissues, changed in modern humans and spread to almost all modern humans. The biological significance of these changes is largely unknown. However, six of those amino acid changes occurred in three proteins that play key roles in the distribution of chromosomes, the carriers of genetic information, to the two daughter cells during cell division.

A paper battery with water switch

The paper battery is composed of two electrochemical cells – at both ends of the paper strip – separated by a water barrier (between the letters "m" and "p") and connected in series.
Credit: Empa

A team of researchers at Empa developed a water-activated disposable paper battery. The researchers suggest that it could be used to power a wide range of low-power, single-use disposable electronics – such as smart labels for tracking objects, environmental sensors and medical diagnostic devices – and minimize their environmental impact. The proof-of-principle study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The battery, devised by Gustav Nyström and his team, is made of at least one cell measuring one centimeter squared and consisting of three inks printed onto a rectangular strip of paper. Salt, in this case simply sodium chloride or table salt, is dispersed throughout the strip of paper and one of its shorter ends has been dipped in wax. An ink containing graphite flakes, which acts as the positive end of the battery (the cathode), is printed onto one of the flat sides of the paper while an ink containing zinc powder, which acts as the negative end of the battery (the anode), is printed onto the reverse side of the paper. Yet another ink containing graphite flakes and carbon black is printed on both sides of the paper, on top of the other two inks. This ink makes up the current collectors connecting the positive and negative ends of the battery to two wires, which are located at the wax-dipped end of the paper.

When a small amount of water is added, the salts within the paper dissolve and charged ions are released, thus making the electrolyte ionically conductive. These ions activate the battery by dispersing through the paper, resulting in zinc in the ink at the anode being oxidized thereby releasing electrons. By closing the (external) circuit these electrons can then be transferred from the zinc-containing anode – via the graphite- and carbon black-containing ink, the wires and the device – to the graphite cathode where they are transferred to – and hence reduce – oxygen from ambient air. These redox reactions (reduction and oxidation) thus generate an electrical current that can be used to power an external electrical device.

It Doesn’t Matter Much Which Fiber You Choose – Just Get More Fiber!

There are lots of choices on the drug store shelves, but which fiber supplement is the right one for you? All of them help, say Duke researchers.
Credit: Duke photo

That huge array of dietary fiber supplements in the drugstore or grocery aisle can be overwhelming to a consumer. They make all sorts of health claims too, not being subject to FDA review and approval. So how do you know which supplement works and would be best for you?

A rigorous examination of the gut microbes of study participants who were fed three different kinds of supplements in different sequences concludes that people who had been eating the least amount of fiber before the study showed the greatest benefit from supplements, regardless of which ones they consumed.

“The people who responded the best had been eating the least fiber to start with,” said study leader Lawrence David, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University.

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber -- dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest -- is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

“We’ve evolved to depend on nutrients that our microbiomes produce for us,” said Zack Holmes, former PhD student in the David lab and co-author on two new papers about fiber. “But with recent shifts in diet away from fiber-rich foods, we’ve stopped feeding our microbes what they need.”

New DNA repair-kit successfully fixes hereditary disease in patient-derived cells

Image of patient derived podocyte kidney cells repaired with novel baculovirus-vectored approach pioneered by the Berger team. Podocin (colored in green) is restored to the cell surface as in healthy podocytes.
Credit: Dr Francesco Aulicino, University of Bristol

Genetic mutations which cause a debilitating hereditary kidney disease affecting children and young adults have been fixed in patient-derived kidney cells using a potentially game-changing DNA repair kit. The advance, developed by University of Bristol scientists, is published in Nucleic Acids Research.

In this new study, the international team describe how they created a DNA repair vehicle to genetically fix faulty podocin, a common genetic cause of inheritable Steroid Resistant Nephrotic Syndrome (SRNS).

Podocin is a protein normally located on the surface of specialized kidney cells and essential for kidney function. Faulty podocin, however, remains stuck inside the cell and never makes it to the surface, terminally damaging the podocytes. Since the disease cannot be cured with medications, gene therapy which repairs the genetic mutations causing the faulty podocin offers hope for patients.

Typically, human viruses have been utilized in gene therapy applications to carry out genetic repairs. These are used as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to enter cells carrying the errors. Currently dominating systems include lentivirus (LV), adenovirus (AV) and adeno-associated virus (AAV), which are all relatively harmless viruses that readily infect humans. However, these viruses all share the same limitation in that they are restricted in space within their viral shells. This in turn constrains the amount of cargo they can deliver, namely the DNA kit required for efficient genetic repair, which significantly limits the scope of their application in gene therapy.

COVID vaccine patch fights variants better than needles

A vaccine patch
Credit: University of Queensland

A needle-free vaccine patch could better fight COVID-19 variants, such as Omicron and Delta, than a traditional needle vaccine according to a University of Queensland study in mice.

The research, conducted in partnership with Brisbane biotechnology company Vaxxas, tested the Hexapro SARS-CoV-2 spike vaccine using the Vaxxas high-density microarray patch (HD-MAP) technology, and the results found the patch was far more effective at neutralizing COVID-19 variants.

UQ’s Dr Christopher McMillan said the vaccine patch appeared to counteract new variants more effectively than the current SARs-CoV-2 vaccine delivered by injection.

“The high-density microarray patch is a vaccine delivery platform that precisely delivers the vaccine into the layers of the skin which are rich in immune cells,” Dr McMillan said.

"We found that vaccination via a patch was approximately 11 times more effective at combatting the Omicron variant when compared with the same vaccine administered via a needle."

He said the results extended further than just the Hexapro vaccine.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

How elephants adapt to human development in cities versus farm life

Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Source: Radboud University Nijmegen

The movement of elephants through wildlife corridors is directly impacted by differing forms of human pressures and development, new research by Elephants Without Borders (EWB) and Radboud University shows. Their study, published today in Frontiers in Conservation, is the first that takes an in-depth look at how varying land-use affects elephants and their use of wildlife corridors.

From 2012 to 2019, the researchers monitored elephants' movements through six wildlife corridors using of motion-detected camera traps in two different human-dominated landscapes: the townships of Kasane and Kazungula, and the farming villages of the Chobe Enclave, both located in the Chobe District.

The study shows that various land-use seemingly affects when elephants use wildlife corridors on an hourly basis. Elephants in agricultural areas largely moved through the corridors predominantly nocturnally, when humans are less active, compared to the urban corridors, where humans and elephants actively mostly overlap.

Carbon Removal Using ‘Blue Carbon’ Habitats “Uncertain and Unreliable”

Restoring coastal vegetation – so called ‘blue carbon’ habitats – may not be the nature-based climate solution it is claimed to be, according to a new study.

In their analysis researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA), the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the OACIS initiative of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, challenge the widely held view that restoring areas such as mangroves, saltmarsh and seagrass can remove large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

The findings of their review, published today in the journal Frontiers in Climate, identify seven reasons why carbon accounting for coastal ecosystems is not only extremely challenging but risky.

These include the high variability in carbon burial rates, vulnerability to future climate change, and fluxes of methane and nitrous oxide. The authors, who also looked at information on restoration costs, warn that extra measurements can reduce these risks, but would mean much higher costs.

However, they stress that blue carbon habitats should still be protected and, where possible, restored, as they have benefits for climate adaptation, coastal protection, food provision and biodiversity conservation.

Lead author Dr Phil Williamson, honorary reader in UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “We have looked into the processes involved in carbon removal and there are just too many uncertainties. The expected climate benefits from blue carbon ecosystem restoration may be achieved, yet it seems more likely they will fall seriously short.

New rabies vaccine candidate demonstrates promising immune response and safety

Artist's impression of the rabies virus
Source: University of Oxford

Researchers from the University of Oxford have today reported new findings from a Phase 1 clinical trial studying the immune response and safety of their newly-developed single shot rabies vaccine, ChAdOx2 RabG - with promising results identified.

The RAB001 trial was conducted at the University and is the first time the novel rabies vaccine has been used in human volunteers. The aim of the study was to look at safety and measure immune responses from the vaccine by analyzing levels of rabies neutralizing antibodies – a powerful marker of successful rabies vaccination.

In their findings (published in The Lancet Microbe), the researchers reported that 12 volunteers were recruited into the study in total, with three receiving a low dose, three receiving a medium dose and six receiving a high dose of ChAdOx2 RabG. Strong immune responses against rabies were generated by the vaccine, with all volunteers who received a medium or high dose developing levels of rabies neutralizing antibodies above the World Health Organization protective threshold (0.5 International Units / ml) within two months.

No serious adverse events or safety concerns were reported during the trial. Expected levels of common short-lived vaccine side effects such as soreness at the injection area or feverishness were observed in volunteers, mainly in the medium- and higher-dose groups.

Additionally, the researchers assessed longer term immune responses. Six of the seven middle- and high-dose recipients who returned for an additional follow-up one year after vaccination maintained neutralizing antibody levels above the protective threshold, demonstrating that the immune response from the vaccine persists over time.

Coming wave of opioid overdoses 'will be worse than ever been before'

Source/Credit: Northwestern University

Over the past 21 years of opioid overdose deaths—from prescription drugs to heroin to synthetic and semisynthetic opioids such as fentanyl—geography has played a role in where opioid-involved overdose deaths have occurred, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

"For the first time, there is a convergence and escalation of acceleration rates for every type of rural and urban county.”
Lori Post
Director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

But the coming wave will not discriminate between rural and urban areas, the study findings suggest. Every type of county—from the most rural to the most urban—is predicted to see dramatic increases in deaths from opioid-involved overdoses. The reason opioid overdoses have reached historical highs comes from combining synthetic opioids with stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines, a lethal cocktail that is hard to reverse during an overdose, the study authors said.

“I'm sounding the alarm because, for the first time, there is a convergence and escalation of acceleration rates for every type of rural and urban county,” said corresponding author Lori Post, director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Not only is the death rate from an opioid at an all-time high, but the acceleration of that death rate signals explosive exponential growth that is even larger than an already historic high.”

MIT engineers develop stickers that can see inside the body

Ultrasound imaging is a safe and noninvasive window into the body’s workings, providing clinicians with live images of a patient’s internal organs. To capture these images, trained technicians manipulate ultrasound wands and probes to direct sound waves into the body. These waves reflect back out to produce high-resolution images of a patient’s heart, lungs, and other deep organs.

Currently, ultrasound imaging requires bulky and specialized equipment available only in hospitals and doctor’s offices. But a new design by MIT engineers might make the technology as wearable and accessible as buying Band-Aids at the pharmacy.

In a paper appearing today in Science, the engineers present the design for a new ultrasound sticker — a stamp-sized device that sticks to skin and can provide continuous ultrasound imaging of internal organs for 48 hours.

The researchers applied the stickers to volunteers and showed the devices produced live, high-resolution images of major blood vessels and deeper organs such as the heart, lungs, and stomach. The stickers maintained a strong adhesion and captured changes in underlying organs as volunteers performed various activities, including sitting, standing, jogging, and biking.

The current design requires connecting the stickers to instruments that translate the reflected sound waves into images. The researchers point out that even in their current form, the stickers could have immediate applications: For instance, the devices could be applied to patients in the hospital, similar to heart-monitoring EKG stickers, and could continuously image internal organs without requiring a technician to hold a probe in place for long periods of time.

Boeing, U.S. Air Force Celebrate 50 Years of F-15 Innovation

F-15 Tower flyby
Credit: Boeing

On July 27, 1972, the Boeing [NYSE: BA] F-15 flew for the first time with Chief Test Pilot Irv Burrows at the controls. Fifty years later, the undefeated F-15 continues to evolve and add advanced capability to the U.S. Air Force fighter fleet.

“Boeing is proud of the F-15’s proven performance and of our shared legacy on this platform with the U.S. Air Force and operators around the world,” said Prat Kumar, vice president of F-15 Programs. “With its unrivaled combat performance, five decades-long production run and continuous evolution, the F-15 has a remarkable history and continues today to be a critical asset for U.S. and allied forces. And with the development of new, advanced capabilities and the evolution of the F-15EX, the best is yet to come.”

Boeing’s F-15 program was initiated at the request of the U.S. Air Force, which needed a fighter jet designed to maintain the country’s air superiority. Through its variants, the F-15 has also served that mission internationally with numerous global customers including Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and Qatar.

Creating an “Adult-like” Mature Human Cardiac Tissue

Heart muscle structure, computer illustration. Heart muscle is composed of spindle-shaped cells grouped in irregular bundles. Boundaries between individual cells are faintly visible here. Each cell contains one nucleus, visible as a dark stained spot. Cardiac muscle is a specialized muscle tissue that can contract regularly and continuously without tiring.

Researchers in the Biomedical Engineering Department at UConn have developed a new cardiac cell-derived platform that closely mimics the human heart, unlocking potential for more thorough preclinical drug development and testing, and model for cardiac diseases.

The research, published in Cell Reports by Assistant Professor Kshitiz in collaboration with Dr. Junaid Afzal in the cardiology department at the University of California San Francisco, presents a method that accelerates maturation of human cardiac cells towards a state suitable enough to be a surrogate for preclinical drug testing.

“There is a very strong need to create human cardiac constructs for all sorts of applications. Small animal models just do not recapitulate human heart biology, and human samples are scarce,” says Kshitiz. “This matters because all drugs need to be tested for their toxicity to heart. It is widely believed that a large number of them unnecessarily fail clinical trials because we do not have human samples to test them with.”

Kshitiz and Afzal first identified the need to create a mature human cardiac tissue during their time together at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Monash microbiologist to convert greenhouse gases into sustainable pet food

(L-R) Dr Rachael Lappan and A/Prof Chris Greening
Credit: Monash University

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has announced today that Monash University will receive $5 million funding to lead a new Research Hub to develop cutting-edge technologies to transform greenhouse gas emissions from the energy and manufacturing sectors into valuable products.

Monash University will partner with seven national and international academic organizations, as well as 22 industry partners including Woodside Energy, to form the ARC Research Hub for Carbon Utilization and Recycling.

Monash will use new electrochemical, thermochemical, and biochemical methods to convert the climate-active gases carbon dioxide and methane into useful products. It will also drive new policy mechanisms to support early-stage market development of products and technologies to help drive industry transformation.

The Monash arm of the biochemical conversion node will be led by Associate Professor Chris Greening, an award-winning microbiologist who heads Monash BDI’s Health in a Changing World Program.

His team will convert gases produced by the energy, agriculture, and waste sectors into protein-rich pet and fish foods. To do so, they will use bacteria that grow on gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen alone.

AI tackles the challenge of materials structure prediction

The researchers from Cambridge and Linkoping Universities, have designed a way to predict the structure of materials given its constitutive elements. The results are reported in the journal Science Advances.

The arrangement of atoms in a material determines its properties. The ability to predict this arrangement computationally for different combinations of elements, without having to make the material in the lab, would enable researchers to quickly design and improve materials. This paves the way for advances such as better batteries and photovoltaics.

However, there are many ways that atoms can ‘pack’ into a material: some packings are stable, others are not. Determining the stability of a packing is computationally intensive, and calculating every possible arrangement of atoms to find the best one is not practical. This is a significant bottleneck in materials science.

“This materials structure prediction challenge is similar to the protein folding problem in biology,” said Dr Alpha Lee from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who co-led the research. “There are many possible structures that a material can ‘fold’ into. Except the materials science problem is perhaps even more challenging than biology because it considers a much broader set of elements.”

A Nanokelvin Microwave Freezer for Molecules

A close view inside the main vacuum chamber of the NaK molecules experiment. In the middle four high-voltage copper wires are routed to an ultrahigh-vacuum glasscell where the ultracold polar molecules were produced.
Credit: Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have developed a novel cooling technique for molecular gases. It makes it possible to cool polar molecules down to a few nanokelvin. The trick used by the team in Garching to overcome this hurdle is based on a rotating microwave field. It helps to stabilize the collisions between the molecules during cooling by means of an energetic shield. In this way, the Max Planck researchers succeeded in cooling a gas of sodium-potassium molecules to 21 billionths of a degree above absolute zero. In doing so, they set a new low-temperature record. In the future, the new technique will allow us to create and explore many forms of quantum matter that have not been experimentally accessible until now.

When a highly diluted gas is cooled to extremely low temperatures, bizarre properties are revealed. Thus, some gases form a so-called Bose-Einstein condensate - a type of matter in which all atoms move in unison. Another example is supersolidity: a state in which matter behaves like a frictionless fluid with a periodic structure. Physicists expect to find particularly diverse and revealing forms of quantum matter when cooling gases consisting of polar molecules. They are characterized by an uneven electrical charge distribution. Unlike free atoms, they can rotate, vibrate and attract or repel each other. However, it is difficult to cool molecular gases to ultra-low temperatures.

A team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching has now found a simple and effective way to overcome this roadblock. It is based on a rotating field of microwaves.

Ural Scientists Found Earliest Evidence of Hyenas Toxocariasis

Image of a hyena coprolite taken with a microscope. In the center is a toxocara egg.
Credit: Dmitry Gimranov

Ural paleontologists, together with Permian parasitologists, found helminth eggs in coprolites (fossil excrement) of the giant short-faced hyena Pachycrocuta. This is the earliest finding indicating that this species of hyena was infected with parasites and had toxocariasis. A description of the finding and analysis of the specimens is published in Doklady Biological Sciences.

"During excavations in the Tavrida cave we found the remains of large mammals, including at least two dozen individuals of Pachycrocuta hyena, dated to the early Pleistocene (1.5-1.8 million years). We believe that hyenas used the cave Tavrida as a den for quite a long time, because here, in the southern corridor of the cave, there were a huge number of coprolites of hyenas, both single and in large assemblies. The massive teeth and especially strong enamel structure allowed hyenas to gnaw the bones of even large hoofed animals. Therefore, the Pachycrocuta could utilize the carcasses of large herbivores," says Dmitry Gimranov, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology of Ural Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences and Laboratory of Natural Science Methods in Humanities at Ural Federal University.

Scientists analyzed three samples of coprolites, in one of which they found parasite eggs. Based on the size and morphology, paleontologists determined that these were helminth eggs. Scientists believe that toxocariasis was a widespread disease among extinct hyenas. This is also confirmed by the data of other researchers. Eggs of helminths of 1.2 million years old were found in coprolites of the same hyena species from the Haro site in Pakistan and 0.3-0.5 million years old at the Menez-Dregan site in France. There are also finds in Italy (Costa San Gicomo site) dated at 1.5 million years. The find in Tavrida will not only help to complete the list of parasites of ancient animals and compare it with helminths of modern hyenas, but also to clarify other features of ancient animals.

"Ancient animal coprolites are unique fossils reflecting biological features that cannot be demonstrated by studying bone remains. Coprolites can be a valuable source of paleoclimate data because they may contain pollen and spore remains of ancient plants. Coprolites may also contain remains of ancient parasites, which provides a unique opportunity to obtain additional information about the ecology of extinct species," adds Daniyar Khantemirov, Laboratory of Natural Science Methods in Humanities researcher.

Note that the research team included employees of the Ural Federal University, the Institute of plant and animal ecology Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Perm State Agro-Technological University named after Academician D.N. Pryanishnikov.

Toxocariasis is an infection caused by animal ascarid larvae. Other helminth eggs of toxocarias mature in the soil and infect dogs, cats and other animals. The source of the disease, toxocara was discovered by the German scientist Werner in 1782. Only in 1950 lesion with these helminths was isolated as a separate disease. Eggs from toxocars can be found in the ground and contaminated water.

Source/Credit: Ural Federal University


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Scientists use copper nanowires to combat the spread of diseases

Left: Scanning electron microscopy image of the CuNW network on a copper-sprayed surface. Right: Up-close image of CuNW nanowire, which is about 60 nm in diameter, approximately 100x smaller than a human hair.
Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Credit: Ames National Laboratory

An ancient metal used for its microbial properties is the basis for a materials-based solution to disinfection. A team of scientists from Ames National Laboratory, Iowa State University, and University at Buffalo developed an antimicrobial spray that deposits a layer of copper nanowires onto high-touch surfaces in public spaces. The spray contains copper nanowires (CuNWs) or copper-zinc nanowires (CuZnNWs) and can form an antimicrobial coating on a variety of surfaces. This research was initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the findings have wider-reaching applications.

People have taken advantage of copper’s antimicrobial properties since 2400 B.C. to treat and prevent infections and diseases. It has been proven effective for inactivating viruses, bacteria, fungi, and yeasts when they are directly in contact with the metal. According to Jun Cui, a scientist at Ames Lab and one of the lead researchers on the project, “copper ion can penetrate the membrane of a virus and then insert itself into the RNA chain, and completely disable the virus from duplicating itself.”

Amidst the pandemic, “The DOE asked researchers, what can you do to help to mitigate this COVID situation?” Cui said. Ames Lab is known for work in materials science, not a field that often intersects with disease research. However, Cui’s team came up with the idea to apply copper’s antimicrobial properties to help reduce the spread of COVID.

Cui explained their idea came from a separate project they were working on, which is a copper ink designed for printing copper nanowires used in flexible electronic devices. “So, the thinking is, this is ink, and I can dilute it with water or even ethanol, and then just spray it. Whatever the surface, I spray it once and coat it with a very light layer of copper nanowire,” he said.

NIST Develops Genetic Material for Validating Monkeypox Tests

A vial of the positive control material from NIST that can be used to help ensure the accuracy of tests for monkeypox.   
Credit: R. Press/NIST

In an effort to help speed the expansion of monkeypox testing in the U.S., the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has produced a material that can help ensure the accuracy of tests for the disease. NIST is making the material, which contains gene fragments from the virus that causes the disease but is noninfectious and safe to handle, freely available for use by test manufacturers and testing laboratories.

Monkeypox is spread by close contact and can cause fever, flu-like symptoms and skin lesions. More than 3,500 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the United States since the outbreak began in late May, and the World Health Organization has declared monkeypox to be a global health emergency.

Testing is necessary to identify the extent of an outbreak and contain it, and to properly care for people who have caught the disease and those who may have been exposed. The monkeypox test, like the most sensitive test for COVID-19, uses a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to detect genetic sequences from the virus that causes the disease.

Because the material from NIST contains those genetic sequences, laboratories can use it as a positive control — that is, a sample that should cause a positive result if their test is working properly. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works to expand the nation’s testing capacity, the material from NIST will fill a growing need.

What bats can teach us about stopping the next pandemic

Tulane researcher Hannah Frank was part of a team of scientists looking at the complex connections between bats and coronaviruses, and how they evolved together.
Credit: Rusty Costanza

Why are bats often linked to incubating coronaviruses such as those behind COVID-19, SARS and other highly contagious respiratory diseases?

A new Tulane University study suggests that the link between bats and coronaviruses is likely due to a long-shared history, and that their genetic information can help us prevent and manage future pandemics.

Hannah Frank, PhD, a bat expert in the Tulane University School of Science and Engineering, led the effort in collaboration with David Enard (University of Arizona) and Scott Boyd (Stanford University).

“This study gives us greater insight into how mammals, particularly bats, have evolved with coronaviruses. It also highlights broad patterns in susceptibility that may prove useful for managing this and future pandemics.”
Tulane assistant professor Hannah Frank, PhD

“We found that bats have been under unusual pressure from coronaviruses compared to other mammals, supporting the idea that bats are rich sources of coronaviruses and may yield insights for future prevention or treatment,” said Frank, an assistant professor in the Tulane Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Oldest DNA from domesticated American horse lends credence to shipwreck folklore

This tooth is all that remains from one of the first horses introduced to the Americas, and its DNA is helping rewrite the history of one of the best-known horse breeds in the United States: The Chincoteague pony.
Credit: Jeff Gage

An abandoned Caribbean colony unearthed centuries after it had been forgotten and a case of mistaken identity in the archaeological record have conspired to rewrite the history of a barrier island off the Virginia and Maryland coasts.

These seemingly unrelated threads were woven together when Nicolas Delsol, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History, set out to analyze ancient DNA recovered from cow bones found in archaeological sites. Delsol wanted to understand how cattle were domesticated in the Americas, and the genetic information preserved in centuries-old teeth held the answer. But they also held a surprise.

“It was a serendipitous finding,” he said. “I was sequencing mitochondrial DNA from fossil cow teeth for my Ph.D. and realized something was very different with one of the specimens when I analyzed the sequences.”

That’s because the specimen in question, a fragment of an adult molar, wasn’t a cow tooth at all but instead once belonged to a horse. According to a study published this Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, the DNA obtained from the tooth is also the oldest ever sequenced for a domesticated horse from the Americas.

Scientists develop effective intranasal mumps-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate

Researchers used a modified live attenuated mumps virus, illustrated above, to develop a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Credit: Alissa Eckert | CDC

New research has advanced COVID-19 vaccine work in several ways: using a modified live attenuated mumps virus for delivery, showing that a more stable coronavirus spike protein stimulates a stronger immune response, and suggesting a dose up the nose has an advantage over a shot.

Based on these combined findings in rodent experiments, Ohio State University scientists envision one day incorporating a coronavirus antigen into the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine as a way to produce COVID-19 immunity in kids.

“We were pushing to make a vaccine for infants and children with the idea that if we could incorporate the mumps COVID vaccine into the MMR vaccine, you’d have protection against four pathogens – measles, mumps, rubella and SARS-CoV-2 – in a single immunization program,” said Jianrong Li, senior author of the study and a professor of virology in Ohio State’s Department of Veterinary Biosciences and Infectious Diseases Institute.

“If infants and children could develop immunity against COVID infection with the MMR vaccine, that would be great – no extra immunization needed.”

The research is published today (July 27, 2022) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To create the antigen that stimulates immunity in this vaccine candidate, researchers used a prefusion version of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein – the shape it is in on the surface of the virus before the virus infects a cell. The spike was locked into this form by changing six of its amino acids to prolines, an inflexible amino acid.

100000 and Counting Atomic Modeling Silicon

Jim Chelikowsky and recent Oden Institute PhD graduate, Kai-Hsin Liou, sitting in the Professor's Oden Institute office.
Credit: Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences

A new record has been set by the Oden Institute’s Center for Computational Materials for calculating the energy distribution function, or “density of states,” for over 100,000 silicon atoms, a first in computational materials science. Calculations of this kind enable greater understanding of both the optical and electronic properties of materials.

Jim Chelikowsky leads the Center for Computational Materials, which set a new standard for the number of atoms that can be modeled. They didn’t just raise the bar though. They smashed it – multiplying the previously held record number by a factor of 10.

Chelikowsky along with Oden Institute PhD graduate, Kai-Hsin Liou and postdoctoral fellow, Mehmet Dogan, led the team behind this significant technical advancement in atomic modeling. Working with silicon atoms, they increased the number that could be modeled simultaneously from around 10,000 to over 100,000.

One mathematical way to approach such complex systems is by describing solutions in sines and cosines. This is useful for crystalline matter because it is periodic and we know that the properties of a little piece of a crystal will inform the whole crystal.

Parasites may take a heavier toll on mammal populations than previously thought

Tapeworm infection is caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with tapeworm eggs or larvae.
 Credit: University of Alberta

A new study looking at research on parasitic worms suggests the pesky but pervasive creatures have a far greater impact on the health of mammal populations than previously known.

“Parasites don't have to kill the animal to control a population,” says Kyle Shanebeck, a PhD student in the Faculty of Science’s Department of Biological Sciences who led the research review.

Shanebeck’s analysis shows that helminths — large parasites such as tapeworms, flatworms and flukes — have negative effects on the energetic condition, or total body health, of their mammal hosts that can impair systemic functioning, repair, growth, environmental adaptability and reproduction.

“They can affect the animal’s ability to absorb nutrients, which can affect digestive health and behavior, making them more aggressive and even changing where they forage,” notes Shanebeck, whose research is supervised by assistant professor Stephanie Green. “Helminth parasites also suppress immune action or weaken it, as the body spends energy to mount an immune response to fight them which can make a secondary infection worse.”

As Shanebeck explains, assessing population health in wildlife typically focuses on pathogenic diseases — the often-fatal illnesses that can spread between species, and potentially from animals to humans. Parasites, on the other hand, don’t kill their hosts so they tend to be ignored in conservation and management models.

Scientists develop greener, more efficient method for producing next-generation antibiotics

With the addition of a murine-derived biocatalyst (green), this engineered protein can add a fluoride atom to create macrolide analogs (structure, right). This approach offers a greener, more efficient method for creating new antibiotics.
Credit: Martin Grininger and Rajani Arora

An international team of researchers has developed a method for altering one class of antibiotics, using microscopic organisms that produce these compounds naturally.

The findings, published in Nature Chemistry, could lead to more efficient production of antibiotics that are effective against drug-resistant bacteria.

The team started with a microorganism that is genetically programmed to produce the antibiotic erythromycin. Scientists from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Chemical

Biology at Germany’s Goethe University wondered if the system could be genetically altered to assemble the antibiotic with one additional fluorine atom, which can often improve pharmaceutical properties.

“We had been analyzing fatty acid synthesis for several years when we identified a part of a mouse protein that we believed could be used for directed biosynthesis of these modified antibiotics, if added to a biological system that can already make the native compound,” said Martin Grininger, professor for biomolecular chemistry at Goethe University.

Model developed to predict landslides along wildfire burn scars

Drought, wildfires and intensified precipitation can lead to debris flows, a fast-moving, highly destructive landslide.
Credit: Tierney Acott/Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern

A wildfire followed by an intense rainstorm is often a recipe for disaster. Without vegetation to cushion rainfall, water runoff can turn into a fast-moving, highly destructive landslide, called a “debris flow,” which often has the power to wipe out cars, homes and highways — sometimes resulting in casualties.

Northwestern University researchers have augmented a physics-based numerical model to investigate and predict areas susceptible to debris flows. This augmented model eventually could be used in an early warning system for people living in high-risk areas, enabling them to evacuate before it’s too late. Information from model simulations also could be used to design new infrastructure — such as diversion bars that deflect fast-moving water away from homes and roads — for high hazard zones.

The research was published today (July 27) in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

“People want to know about their immediate and future risk,” said Northwestern’s Daniel Horton, the study’s senior author. “Although it’s not yet to operational standards, this modelling framework could one day be instrumental in forecasting where debris flows are likely to occur and deciding who needs to be evacuated.”

Horton is an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, where he also leads the Climate Change Research Group. Chuxuan Li, a Ph.D. candidate in Horton’s laboratory, is the paper’s first author.

Viruses help combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Prof. Gil Westmeyer (l.) and his research team, in collaboration with Kilian Vogele (r.) and the start-up Invitris, have developed a new controlled production method to create bacteriophages for therapeutic use.
Credit: A. Heddergott / TUM

More and more bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Bacteriophages are one alternative in the fight against bacteria: These viruses attack very particular bacteria in a highly specific way. Now a Munich research team has developed a new way to produce bacteriophages efficiently and without risk.

The World Health Organization (WHO) regards multi-resistant germs as among the largest threats to health. In the European Union alone, 33,000 people die each year as the result of bacterial infections which cannot be treated with antibiotics. Alternative treatments or drugs are therefore urgently needed.

Bacteriophages, the natural enemies of bacteria, are one promising solution. There are millions of different types of these viruses on earth, each of which specializes in certain bacteria. In nature, the viruses use the bacteria to reproduce; they insert their DNA into the bacteria, where the viruses quickly multiply. Ultimately, they kill off the cell and move on to infect new cells. Bacteriophages work as a specific antibiotic by attacking and destroying a particular type of bacterium.

"Bacteriophages offer an enormous potential for the highly effective, personalized therapy of infectious bacterial diseases," observes Gil Westmeyer, Professor of Neurobiological Engineering at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Director of the Institute for Synthetic Biomedicine at Helmholtz Munich. "However, in the past, it wasn't possible to produce bacteriophages in a targeted, reproducible, safe and efficient manner – although these are exactly the decisive criteria for the successful production of pharmaceuticals."

New sensing platform deployed at controlled burn site, could help prevent forest fires

Argonne scientists conduct a controlled burn on the Konza prairie in Kansas using the Sage monitoring system. 
Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Credit: Rajesh Sankaran/Argonne National Laboratory.

Smokey Bear has lots of great tips about preventing forest fires. But how do you stop one that’s started before it gets out of control? The answer may lie in pairing multichannel sensing with advanced computing technologies provided by a new platform called Sage.

Sage offers a one-of-a-kind combination. This combination involves both multiple types of sensors with computing ​“at the edge”, as well as embedded machine learning algorithms that enable scientists to process the enormous amounts of data generated in the field without having to transfer it all back to the laboratory. Computing ​“at the edge” means that data is processed where it is collected, in the field, while machine learning algorithms are computer programs that train themselves how to recognize patterns.

Sage is funded by the National Science Foundation and developed by the Northwestern-Argonne Institute for Science and Engineering (NAISE), a partnership between Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

Hot on the trail of the causes of rapid ice sheet in­stabil­it­ies in cli­mate his­tory

The re­search ves­sel MARIA S. MERIAN leav­ing the har­bor of St. John’s (Canada). As a par­ti­cipant on Ex­ped­i­tion MSM 39 (2014), Lars Max, along with other re­search­ers, ob­tained the sample ma­ter­ial for this study.
Credit: MARUM – Cen­ter for Mar­ine En­vir­on­mental Sci­ences, Uni­versity of Bre­men; D. Kieke

Extreme cooling events during the last glacial, known as Heinrich Events in the North Atlantic, are a good example of how local processes change the global climate. While the impacts of Heinrich Events on the global glacial environment are well-documented in the scientific literature, their causes are still unclear. In a new study, researchers from Bremen, Kiel, Köln and São Paulo (Brazil) have now shown that an accumulation of heat in the deeper Labrador Sea caused instabilities in the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which covered much of North America at the time. The Heinrich Events were triggered as a result. The researchers demonstrated this by reconstructing past temperatures and salinities in the North Atlantic. Their results have now been published in Nature Communications.

Hein­rich Events or, more ac­cur­ately, Hein­rich Lay­ers, are re­cur­rent con­spicu­ous sed­i­ment lay­ers, usu­ally ten to 15 cen­ti­meters thick, with very coarse rock com­pon­ents that in­ter­rupt the oth­er­wise fine-grained oceanic de­pos­its in the North At­lantic. Dis­covered and de­scribed for the first time in the 1980s by geo­lo­gist Hart­mut Hein­rich, U.S. geo­chem­ist Wally Broecker later of­fi­cially named them Hein­rich Lay­ers, which has be­come a stand­ard term in pa­leocean­o­graphy.

The pres­ence of Hein­rich Lay­ers has been es­tab­lished throughout the North At­lantic, from off Ice­land, south­ward to a line run­ning from New York to North Africa. Such coarse rock debris could only have been trans­por­ted such a great dis­tance from its point of ori­gin in the Hud­son Bay by ice­bergs.

Gaming does not appear harmful to mental health, unless the gamer can't stop

Video gaming: Although today’s research suggests gaming may only be a negative influence only for those who feel compelled to game, rather than all users, there is much more to be learned, according to the Oii research.
Credit: Ella Don on Unsplash

Societies may tremble when a hot new video game is released, but the hours spent playing popular video games do not appear to be damaging players’ mental health, according to the largest-ever survey of nearly 40,000 gamers and their gaming habits, which was conducted over six weeks by a team from Oxford’s Internet Institute. That does not mean, however, that the research did not throw up some concerns – and, the team argues, much more information is needed before tech regulators can really rest easy.

The research, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, found no ‘causal link’ between gaming and poor mental health – whatever sort of games are being played. But Professor Andrew K. Przybylski, OII Senior Research Fellow, says the research did show a distinct difference in the experience of gamers who play ‘because they want to’ and those who play ‘because they feel they have to’.

He maintains, ‘We found it really does not matter how much gamers played [in terms of their sense of well-being]. It wasn’t the quantity of gaming, but the quality that counted…if they felt they had to play, they felt worse. If they played because they loved it, then the data did not suggest it affected their mental health. It seemed to give them a strong positive feeling.’

"It wasn’t the quantity of gaming, but the quality that counted…if they felt they had to play, they felt worse. If they played because they loved it, then the data did not suggest it affected their mental health"
Professor Andrew K. Przybylski

Towards High-Quality Manganese Oxide Catalysts with Large Surface Areas

The octahedral molecular sieve (OMS-1) is a very powerful manganese oxide-based catalyst, and researchers from Tokyo Tech have found a remarkably simple way to synthesize it. By using a low-crystallinity precursor and a straightforward solid-state transformation method, they managed to produce high-quality OMS-1 nanoparticles. Their unprecedented catalytic performance and durability prove the potential of this novel synthesis approach for developing efficient catalysts and functional materials.

Manganese oxides have received much attention from materials scientists due to their widespread applications including electrodes, catalysts, sensors, supercapacitors, and biomedicine. Further, manganese is widely abundant and has many oxidation states, which allows it to form various interesting crystalline structures.

One such structure is the "todorokite-type manganese oxide octahedral molecular sieve (OMS-1)," a crystal whose unit cells (simplest repeating units of the crystal) consist of three-by-three MnO6 octahedral chains. Though promising as a catalyst, the potential of OMS-1 is limited by two reasons. First, its conventional synthesis methods are complex multi-step crystallization processes involving hydrothermal or reflux treatment. Second, these processes tend to create crystals with a higher particle size and a lower surface area, features detrimental to catalytic performance.

Shape-Memory Polymers

Ilya Starodumov as a member of an international team, is developing a technology for creating "smart" polymers.
Credit: Ilya Safarov

Biocompatible polymers based on a "smart" material poly (ε-caprolactone) that keeps its shape may appear in Russia. An international team of scientists from Russia, Israel, and Japan, including physicists from Ural Federal University, work on the technology of its creation. The research is supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research.

Polymeric materials based on poly (ε-caprolactone) are suitable for biomedical purposes: for surgery, cell engineering, regenerative medicine. Such material can be used to make devices for minimally invasive surgery (with minimal incisions), self-tightening surgical sutures, etc. A description of this material was published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

"A special feature of polymers with shape memory is the ability to return to the original shape when the temperature changes. It looks like this: a polymer product with a certain "programmed" shape is made. Then this product is deformed in any manner, for example, stretched or curled, like surgical sutures. When heated to a certain temperature, the memory mechanism in the polymer is activated at the molecular level, and the product restores its original shape," says Ilya Starodumov, Head of the Laboratory of Multiphase Physico-Biological Environment Simulation at UrFU.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Could we eavesdrop on communications that pass through our solar system?

Communications across interstellar distances could take advantage of a star’s ability to focus and magnify communication signals through an effect called gravitational lensing. A signal from—or passing through—a relay probe would bend due to gravity as it passes by the star. The warped space around the object acts somewhat like a lens of a telescope, focusing and magnifying the light. A new study by researchers at Penn State investigated our solar system for communication signals that might be taking advantage of our own sun.
Credit: Dani Zemba / Penn State

Communications across the vastness of interstellar space could be enhanced by taking advantage of a star’s ability to focus and magnify communication signals. A team of graduate students at Penn State is looking for just these sorts of communication signals that might be taking advantage of our own sun if transmissions were passing through our solar system.

A paper describing the technique — explored as part of a graduate course at Penn State covering the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) — has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal and is available on the preprint server arXiv.

Massive objects like stars and black holes cause light to bend as it passes by due to the object’s gravitational pull, according to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. The warped space around the object acts somewhat like a lens of a telescope, focusing and magnifying the light — an effect called gravitational lensing.

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