. Scientific Frontline: January 2023

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

How sound waves trigger immune responses to cancer in mice

The 700kHz, 260-element histotripsy ultrasound array transducer used in Prof. Xu’s lab.
Photo Credit: Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, Michigan Engineering

Technique pioneered at the University of Michigan could improve outcomes for cancer and neurological conditions

When noninvasive sound waves break apart tumors, they trigger an immune response in mice. By breaking down the cell wall “cloak,” the treatment exposes cancer cell markers that had previously been hidden from the body’s defenses, researchers at the University of Michigan have shown.

The technique developed at Michigan, known as histotripsy, offers a two-prong approach to attacking cancers: the physical destruction of tumors via sound waves and the kickstarting of the body’s immune response. It could potentially offer medical professionals a treatment option for patients without the harmful side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

Until now, researchers didn’t understand how histotripsy was activating the immune system. A study from last spring showed that histotripsy breaks down liver tumors in rats, leading to the complete disappearance of the tumor even when sound waves are applied to only 50% to 75% of the mass. The immune response also prevented further spread, with no evidence of recurrence or metastases in more than 80% of the animals.

Astronomers reveal new map of dark matter, mass in universe

Victor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope, left, at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile houses the camera used by the Dark Energy Survey.
Image Credit: Dark Energy Survey

For decades, cosmologists have mapped the distribution of mass in the universe, both visible material and the mysterious dark matter, in an effort to improve our understanding of these fundamental building blocks. Astronomer Eric Baxter from the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy co-authored new research that traces the mass distribution in the universe in three dimensions. The updated analysis was published in Physical Review D.

Baxter and his University of Chicago collaborators, Chihway Chang and Yuuki Omori, compiled data using two different sky surveying methods. This new analysis shows that there is six times as much dark matter in the universe compared to matter that is visible—a finding that was already well-known. However, the team also found that the matter is not as clumpy as previously expected when compared to the current best model of the universe.

The researchers claim the findings could add to a growing body of evidence that there may be something missing from the existing standard model of the universe.

Common heart medicine is linked to a reduced risk of committing violent crimes

Yasmina Molero.
Photo Credit: Niklas Faye-Wevle Samuelson

Beta blockers, commonly used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure, can be linked to a reduced risk of committing violent crimes. It shows a new registry study from Karolinska Institutet and the University of Oxford published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Beta blockers lower blood pressure by blocking the effect of hormones like adrenaline. The medicine is used to treat a variety of conditions including high blood pressure, cardiovascular events, heart failure and anxiety. It has also been suggested to work for clinical depression and aggression, but some studies have found a link to increased suicidal tendencies and the results are contradictory.

In the current study, the researchers investigated the relationship between beta blockers and hospitalization for mental illness, suicidal tendencies, suicide and reports of violent crime. They studied 1.4 million individuals in Sweden and compared periods with and without beta blockers in the same individual over an eight-year period (2006-2013). In this way, the researchers were able to control factors that can affect relationships, such as genetics or disease history.

Periods of medication were associated with a 13 percent lower risk of being charged with violent crime. Since it is an observational study, conclusions about causation should be interpreted with caution.

One way to deal with aggression

- If the results are confirmed in other studies, including randomized controlled trials, beta blocks may be considered as a way to manage aggression in individuals with psychiatric diagnoses, say Yasmina Molero, researchers at Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Institutet.

Use of beta-blockers was also linked to eight percent lower risk of hospitalization due to mental illness and eight percent increased risk of being treated for suicidal tendencies or dying in suicide. However, these relationships were inconsistent.

- The risk of hospitalization and suicidal tendencies varied depending on psychiatric diagnosis and previous mental health problems, but also on the severity and type of heart problems that the beta blockers were used to treat. This indicates that there are no links between beta blockers and these outcomes, says Yasmina Molero.

Heart problems are associated with depression

Previous research has linked serious heart events to an increased risk of depression and suicide. This may indicate that the mental disorders and other disabilities associated with serious heart problems, rather than the treatment with beta blockers, increase the risk of serious mental illness, according to the researchers.

Funding: The study was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Forte, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Karolinska Institutet's funds. Co-author Henrik Larsson has received grants from Shire Pharmaceuticals, Medice Speaker Fees, Shire / Takeda Pharmaceuticals and Evolan Pharma as well as sponsorship for a conference on adhd from Shire / Takeda Pharmaceuticals, all outside the current study.

Published in journalPLOS Medicine

Source/CreditKarolinska Institutet

Reference Number: ns013123_02

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Deer carry SARS-CoV-2 variants that are extinct in humans

White-tailed deer
Photo Credit: Heidi-Ann Fourkiller | SFLORG

White-tailed deer ­– the most abundant large mammal in North America – are harboring SARS-CoV-2 variants that once widely circulated but are no longer found in humans.

Whether or not deer could act as long-term reservoirs for these variants that have become obsolete in people is unknown, as scientists need more time and study to verify if it’s true.

The study, “White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) May Serve as a Wildlife Reservoir for Nearly Extinct SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern,” which published Jan. 31 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represents one of the most comprehensive studies to date to assess the prevalence, genetic diversity and evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in white-tailed deer. The study focused on the white-tailed deer population in New York.

“One of the most striking findings of this study was the detection of co-circulation of three variants of concern – alpha, gamma and delta – in this wild animal population,” said Dr. Diego Diel, associate professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences and director of the Virology Laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine’s (CVM) Animal Health Diagnostic Center. 

Over the course of the pandemic, deer have become infected with SARS-CoV-2 through ongoing contact with humans, possibly from hunting, wildlife rehabilitations, feeding of wild animals or through wastewater or water sources, though no one knows for sure.

Understanding plants can boost wildland-fire modeling in uncertain future

How a fire burns and whether the vegetation survives or dies depend on how the live fuels — plants — use water and carbon. New research creates a framework for bringing those dynamics into wildland-fire models to more accurately predict wildfire and prescribed-burn behavior and resulting effects.
Photo Credit: Pixabay

A new conceptual framework for incorporating the way plants use carbon and water, or plant dynamics, into fine-scale computer models of wildland fire provides a critical first step toward improved global fire forecasting.

“Understanding the influences of vegetation structure and physiology on wildland fire is crucial to accurately predicting the behavior of fire and its effects,” said L. Turin Dickman, a plant ecophysiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dickman is corresponding author of a paper on plants and fire modeling in the journal New Phytologist. “Our research can be used to improve models that fire managers need to navigate an uncertain future.”

How to make hydrogels more injectable

MIT and Harvard researchers have developed computational models that can predict the properties of materials made from squishy hydrogel blocks.
Image Credit: Courtesy of the researchers

Gel-like materials that can be injected into the body hold great potential to heal injured tissues or manufacture entirely new tissues. Many researchers are working to develop these hydrogels for biomedical uses, but so far very few have made it into the clinic.

To help guide in the development of such materials, which are made from microscale building blocks akin to squishy LEGOs, MIT and Harvard University researchers have created a set of computational models to predict the material’s structure, mechanical properties, and functional performance outcomes. The researchers hope that their new framework could make it easier to design materials that can be injected for different types of applications, which until now has been mainly a trial-and-error process.

“It’s really exciting from a material standpoint and from a clinical application standpoint,” says Ellen Roche, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and a member of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science at MIT. “More broadly, it’s a nice example of taking lab-based data and synthesizing it into something usable that can give you predictive guidelines that could be applied to things beyond these hydrogels.”

Groundbreaking Biomaterial Heals Tissues From the Inside Out

The biomaterial is based on a hydrogel that Christman's lab developed.
Photo Credit: University of California, San Diego

A new biomaterial that can be injected intravenously, reduces inflammation in tissue and promotes cell and tissue repair. The biomaterial was tested and proven effective in treating tissue damage caused by heart attacks in both rodent and large animal models. Researchers also provided proof of concept in a rodent model that the biomaterial could be beneficial to patients with traumatic brain injury and pulmonary arterial hypertension.

“This biomaterial allows for treating damaged tissue from the inside out,” said Karen Christman, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California San Diego, and the lead researcher on the team that developed the material. “It’s a new approach to regenerative engineering.”

A study on the safety and efficacy of the biomaterial in human subjects could start within one to two years, Christman added. The team, which brings together bioengineers and physicians, presented their findings in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Lockheed Martin’s First LM 400 Multi-Mission Spacecraft Completed, Ready For Final Testing

Lockheed Martin’s first LM 400 mid-sized, multi-mission spacecraft will launch in 2023 as a technology demonstrator.
Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin Corporation

The first Lockheed Martin LM 400, a flexible, mid-sized satellite customizable for military, civil or commercial users, rolled off the company’s digital factory production line and is advancing toward its planned 2023 launch.

The agile LM 400 spacecraft bus design enables one platform to support multiple missions, including remote sensing, communications, imaging, radar and persistent surveillance. Lockheed Martin invested in common satellite designs to support demand for more proliferated systems, high-rate production and affordable solutions. The LM 400 is scalable and versatile starting at the size of the average home refrigerator, with capability to grow for higher power and larger payloads and packaged to enable multiple satellites per launch.

The LM 400 bus can operate in low, medium or geosynchronous earth orbits, providing greater flexibility than other buses in this class. The LM 400 space vehicle is compatible with a wide range of launch vehicles in a single, ride-share or multi-launch configuration.

Focused ultrasound mediated liquid biopsy in a tauopathy mouse model

Hong Chen and her collaborators found that using focused-ultrasound-mediated liquid biopsy in a mouse model released more tau proteins and another biomarker for neurodegenerative disorders into the blood than without the intervention. This noninvasive method could facilitate diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders.
Illustration Credit: Chen lab

Several progressive neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, are defined by having tau proteins in the brain. Researchers are seeking to identify the mechanisms behind these tau proteins to develop treatments, however, their efforts to detect biomarkers in blood has been hampered by the protective blood-brain barrier.

At Washington University in St. Louis, new research from the lab of Hong Chen, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering and of radiation oncology in the School of Medicine, and collaborators found that using focused-ultrasound-mediated liquid biopsy in a mouse model released more tau proteins and another biomarker into the blood than without the intervention. This noninvasive method could facilitate diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders, the researchers said.

The method, known as sonobiopsy, uses focused ultrasound to target a precise location in the brain. Once located, the researchers inject microbubbles into the blood that travel to the ultrasound-targeted tissue and pulsate, which safely opens the blood-brain barrier. The temporary openings allow biomarkers, such as tau proteins and neurofilament light chain protein (NfL), both indicative of neurodegenerative disorders, to pass through the blood-brain barrier and release into the blood.

New blood test could save lives of heart attack victims

NPY receptors (in green) on human iPS cardiomycytes
Image Credit: Ms Carla Handford, Dr Kun Liu, Dr Dan Li | Herring Group

Researchers from the Herring group in Oxford's Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics have developed a blood test that measures stress hormone levels after heart attacks. The test – costing just £10 – could ensure patients receive timely life-saving treatment.

Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death in the UK. One of the most common ways in which that manifests is through heart attacks. Clinicians treat around 100,000 patients with very large heart attacks using an emergency procedure called primary percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). While some of these patients do very well, around a third do not, and some 25,000 people die from heart attacks each year.

New research from Herring lab researchers shows that routine testing for the stress hormone Neuropeptide Y (NPY) in the hours after a heart attack has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Honey bee colony loss in the U.S. linked to mites, extreme weather, pesticides

A new study by Penn State researchers is is the first to concurrently consider a variety of potential honey bee stressors at a national scale and suggests several areas of concern to prioritize in beekeeping practices.
Photo Credit: Pixabay

About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, yet the insect is dying off at alarming rates. In one year alone, between April of 2019 and April of 2020, one study reported a 43% colony loss in honey bees across the United States.

A new study led by Penn State researchers provides preliminary insight on the potential effects of several variables, including some linked to climate change, on honey bees. Their findings show that honey bee colony loss in the U.S. over the last five years is primarily related to the presence of parasitic mites, extreme weather events, nearby pesticides, as well as challenges with overwintering. The study took advantage of novel statistical methods and is the first to concurrently consider a variety of potential honey bee stressors at a national scale. The study, published online in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests several areas of concern to prioritize in beekeeping practices.

A fresh look at restoring power to the grid

Sandia National Laboratories computer scientists Casey Doyle, left, and Kevin Stamber stand in front of an electrical switching station. Their team has developed a computer model to determine the best way to restore power to a grid after a disruption, such as a complete blackout caused by extreme weather.
Photo Credit: Craig Fritz

Climate change can alter extreme weather events, and these events have the potential to strain, disrupt or damage the nation’s grid.

Sandia National Laboratories computer scientists have been working on an innovative computer model to help grid operators quickly restore power to the grid after a complete disruption, a process called “black start.”

Their model combines a restoration-optimization model with a computer model of how grid operators would make decisions when they don’t have complete knowledge of every generator and distribution line. The model also includes a physics-based understanding of how the individual power generators, distribution substations and power lines would react during the process of restoring power to the grid.

“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we go beyond simply looking at this as a multi-layered optimization problem,” said project lead Kevin Stamber. “When we start to discuss disruptions to the electric grid, being able to act on the available information and provide a response is critical. The operator still has to work that restoration solution against the grid and see whether or not they are getting the types of reactions from the system that they expect to see.”

The overarching model also can simulate black starts triggered by human-caused disruptions such as a successful cyberattack.

Carnivorous plants change their diet: traps as toilet bowls

Pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes on the island of Borneo.
Photo Credit: Antony van der Ent.

In tropical mountains, the number of insects declines with increasing altitude. This intensifies in high altitudes competition between plant species that specialize in catching insects as an important source of nutrients. How creatively some of these plant species have reacted to this situation is shown by an international research team with Prof. Dr. Gerhard Gebauer from the University of Bayreuth in the "Annals of Botany". In mountain regions on Borneo, some species of the pitcher plant Nepenthes have changed their diet: With their traps, which originally served to capture insects, they catch the excrement of mammals and are thus even better supplied with nutrients than before.

An action plan to prevent Alzheimer’s disease

As the population ages, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease in Europe will double by 2050.
Image Credit: Gerd Altmann

A task force led by UNIGE and HUG is laying the foundations for a preventive protocol.

Memory loss, behavioral changes, cognitive deficits: Alzheimer’s disease leads to a dramatic loss of autonomy for those affected and has a heavy impact on health costs. Its prevention has become a real social challenge. An international task force, led by the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG), is setting out guidelines for innovative services to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. These will soon be an integral part of second-generation memory clinics. These guidelines are detailed in an article published in the Lancet Regional Health - Europe.

With 10 million people affected in Europe, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease. It is characterized by progressive disabling memory loss and cognitive deficits caused by an accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain. Its social and economic impact is considerable. On a global scale, it is estimated to be worth around USD 1,500 billion per year* and in Switzerland CHF 11.8 billion per year**.

Monitoring an ‘anti-greenhouse’ gas: Dimethyl sulfide in Arctic air

Sumito Matoba (left) and Yoshinori Iizuka (right) on the southeastern dome in Greenland, drilling the ice core used in the study
Photo Credit: Sumito Matoba

Data stored in ice cores dating back 55 years brings new insight into atmospheric levels of a molecule that can significantly affect weather and climate.

Dimethyl sulfide (C2H6S) is a small molecule released by phytoplankton in the ocean, which can play a big role in regulating the Earth’s climate. It encourages cloud formation above the sea, and is often called an ‘anti-greenhouse gas’, since clouds block radiation from the sun and lower sea surface temperatures. At least some blocked heat will be retained in the atmosphere, however, so the effects can be complex. Researchers at Hokkaido University have charted evidence for increasing dimethyl sulfide emissions linked to the retreat of sea ice from Greenland as the planet warms. They reported their findings in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Short-term bang of fireworks has long-term impact on wildlife

Photo Credit: Jill Wellington

Popular fireworks should be replaced with cleaner drone and laser light shows to avoid the “highly damaging” impact on wildlife, domestic pets and the broader environment, new Curtin-led research has found.

The new research, published in Pacific Conservation Biology, examined the environmental toll of firework displays by reviewing the ecological effects of Diwali festivities in India, Fourth of July celebrations across the United States of America, and other events in New Zealand and parts of Europe.

Examples included fireworks in Spanish festivals impacting the breeding success of House Sparrows, July firework displays being implicated in the decline of Brandt’s Cormorant colonies in California, and South American sea lions changing their behavior during breeding season as a result of New Year’s fireworks in Chile.

Lead author Associate Professor Bill Bateman, from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said fireworks remained globally popular despite the overwhelming evidence that they negatively impacted wildlife, domestic animals and the environment.

Scientists Document Two Separate Reservoirs of Latent HIV in Patients

Rebound DNA sequences from the blood (red) and the CSF (blue)
Illustration Credit: Ron Swanstrom | UNC Center for AIDS Research | Swanstrom lab

This research, led by UNC School of Medicine scientists Laura Kincer, Sarah Joseph, PhD, and Ron Swanstrom, PhD, with international collaborators, shows that in addition to HIV’s ability to lay dormant in the blood/lymphoid system, the virus may also lay dormant in the central nervous system, delineating another challenge in creating a cure.

When people living with HIV take antiviral therapy (ART), their viral loads are driven so low that a standard blood test cannot detect the virus. However, once ART is stopped, detectable HIV re-emerges with new cells getting infected. This is called “rebound” virus, and the cells that release the virus to re-ignite the infection come from a small population of HIV-infected CD4+ T cells that had remained dormant in blood and lymph tissue while individuals were on ART.

It’s a problem called latency, and overcoming it remains a major goal for researchers trying to create curative therapies for HIV—the special focus of the UNC HIV Cure Center.

The 'brown food web': dead vegetation plays essential role in desert ecosystems

Researchers from UNSW say these insights could be used by the conservation managers of arid ecosystems in Australia.
Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Photo Credit: Prof. Mike Letnic.

A reduction in decaying vegetation can have significant impacts on the desert food chain, UNSW scientists have found.  

It’s well understood that overgrazing by herbivores like kangaroos can change ecosystems dramatically, but the impact excessive grazing has on the cover of dead vegetation – and cascading effects on small vertebrates like lizards, desert frogs and dunnarts – hasn’t been extensively studied.

Now, scientists at UNSW Sydney have shown that overgrazing can disrupt the desert food webs that exist between dead plant material, termites and animals that rely on termites as their main food source. This latest discovery has important implications for the conservation of biodiversity in arid Australia.

Researchers from the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences carried out field work in the arid region of South Australia and published their findings in the journal Ecosystems

Children have not recovered learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic

Learning online: 'We find a substantial overall learning deficit…which arose early in the pandemic and persists over time… The pooled effect…implies that students lost out on about 35% of what they would have learned in a normal school year…This confirms initial concerns the pandemic would cause substantial harm to student learning.'
Photo Credit: Amr

Each year during the pandemic, school children lost one third of what they would have learned – and this has still not been recovered, according to a study published today in Human Nature Behaviour.

According to the paper, A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning, ‘We find a substantial overall learning deficit…which arose early in the pandemic and persists over time… The pooled effect…implies that students lost out on about 35% of what they would have learned in a normal school year…This confirms initial concerns the pandemic would cause substantial harm to student learning.’

In particular, the paper finds, Math learning has been affected as well as children from lower income groups, ‘The pandemic has exacerbated educational inequalities between children from different socio-economic backgrounds, which were already large before the pandemic.’

Second Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept Launched From B-52 Accomplishes "All Test Objectives"

Artist’s concept of the DARPA and Lockheed Martin Hypersonic Air Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).
Illustration Credit: Lockheed Martin

DARPA's Latest HAWC Flight Test Demonstrates Mature, Affordable Hypersonic Systems Design and Manufacturing Techniques

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne team accomplished their primary objectives during its second Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) flight test doubling the amount of scramjet powered vehicle data.

Launching from a B-52, the HAWC system's first stage boosted it to the targeted engine ignition envelope, where the Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet engine fired and accelerated the system to speeds in excess of Mach 5. The system performed as predicted travelling more than 300 nautical miles and reaching altitudes above 60,000 feet. 

New type of solar cell is being tested in space

Magnus Borgström Professor, Solid State Physics Lund University
Photo Credit: Lund University

Physics researchers at Lund University in Sweden recently succeeded in constructing small solar radiation-collecting antennas – nanowires – using three different materials that are a better match for the solar spectrum compared with today’s silicon solar cells. As the nanowires are light and require little material per unit of area, they are now to be installed for tests on satellites, which are powered by solar cells and where efficiency, in combination with low weight, is the most important factor. The new solar cells were sent into space a few days ago.

A group of nanoengineering researchers at Lund University working on solar cells made a breakthrough last year when they succeeded in building photovoltaic nanowires with three different band gaps. This, in other words, means that one and the same nanowire consists of three different materials that react to different parts of solar light. The results have been published in Materials Today Energy and subsequently in more detail in Nano Research.

“The big challenge was to get the current to transfer between the materials. It took more than ten years, but it worked in the end,” says Magnus Borgström, professor of solid-state physics, who wrote the articles with the then doctoral student Lukas Hrachowina.

Earth likely to cross critical climate thresholds even if emissions decline

Already, the world is 1.1 degrees Celsius hotter on average than it was before fossil fuel combustion took off in the 1800s. More extreme rainfall and flooding are among the litany of impacts from that warming.
Photo Credit: Chris Gallagher

Artificial intelligence provides new evidence our planet will cross the global warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius within 10 to 15 years. Even with low emissions, we could see 2 C of warming. But a future with less warming remains within reach.

A new study has found that emission goals designed to achieve the world’s most ambitious climate target – 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – may in fact be required to avoid more extreme climate change of 2 degrees Celsius.

The study, published Jan. 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides new evidence that global warming is on track to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages in the early 2030s, regardless of how much greenhouse gas emissions rise or fall in the coming decade.

The new “time to threshold” estimate results from an analysis that employs artificial intelligence to predict climate change using recent temperature observations from around the world.

Marburg vaccine shows promising results in first-in-human study

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Marburg virus particles (blue) both budding and attached to the surface of infected VERO E6 cells (orange).
Image Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

A newly published paper in The Lancet shows that an experimental vaccine against Marburg virus (MARV) was safe and induced an immune response in a small, first-in-human clinical trial. The vaccine, developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, could someday be an important tool to respond to Marburg virus outbreaks.

This first-in-human, Phase 1 study tested an experimental MARV vaccine candidate, known as cAd3-Marburg, which was developed at NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center (VRC). This vaccine uses a modified chimpanzee adenovirus called cAd3, which can no longer replicate or infect cells, and displays a glycoprotein found on the surface of MARV to induce immune responses against the virus. The cAd3 vaccine platform demonstrated a good safety profile in prior clinical trials when used in investigational Ebola virus and Sudan virus vaccines developed by the VRC.

Mating causes ‘jet lag’ in female fruit flies, changing behavior

A seminal fluid protein transferred from male to female fruit flies during mating changes the expression of genes related to the fly’s circadian clock, Cornell research has found.
Photo Credit: Erik Karits

A seminal fluid protein transferred from male to female fruit flies during mating changes the expression of genes related to the fly’s circadian clock, an innovative technique has revealed.

The finding, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help explain how this protein, called sex peptide, alters the female’s behavior.

Post-mating, sex peptide has been shown to elicit increased egg-laying, aggression, activity and feeding, while reducing sleep and interest in mating in previously unmated females.

“Flies like to eat at certain times of day,” said Mariana Wolfner ’74, professor of molecular biology and genetics and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow in the College of Arts and Sciences, and one of the paper’s senior authors. “They sleep at certain times, and the circadian clock machinery controls when flies are likely to do these things.

Climate Change May Cut U.S. Forest Inventory by a Fifth This Century

Mountain forests.
Photo Credit  Alek Kalinowsk

A study led by a North Carolina State University researcher found that under more severe climate warming scenarios, the inventory of trees used for timber in the continental United States could decline by as much as 23% by 2100. The largest inventory losses would occur in two of the leading timber regions in the U.S., which are both in the South.

Researchers say their findings show modest impacts on forest product prices through the end of the century, but suggest bigger impacts in terms of storing carbon in U.S. forests. Two-thirds of U.S. forests are classified as timberlands.

“We already see some inventory decline at baseline in our analysis, but relative to that, you could lose, additionally, as much as 23% of the U.S. forest inventory,” said the study’s lead author Justin Baker, associate professor of forestry and environmental resources at North Carolina State University. “That’s a pretty dramatic change in standing forests.”

Boeing Awarded U.S. Air Force Contract for 15 KC-46A Tankers

KC-46A Pegasus tanker
Photo Credit: Boeing

The U.S. Air Force has awarded Boeing a $2.3 billion contract for the ninth production lot of 15 KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft, expanding its fleet of the world’s most advanced multi-mission aerial refueler. To date, 128 KC-46A Pegasus are on contract with the U.S. Air Force, with 68 delivered and operationally deployed worldwide.

“The combat-ready KC-46A is transforming the role of the tanker for the 21st century,” said James Burgess, vice president and KC-46 program manager. “We’re proud to work side-by-side with the Air Force ensuring the Pegasus provides unmatched capabilities and continues to evolve for the U.S. and its allies’ global mission needs.”

The KC-46A Pegasus delivers crucial fuel and data for the fleet, as well as cargo, personnel and aeromedical transportation for joint force rapid mobility, global reach and agile combat employment.

Researchers can ‘see’ crystals perform their dance moves

Wenbin Li (left) and Aditya Mohite.
Photo Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Rice University researchers already knew the atoms in perovskites react favorably to light. Now they can see precisely how those atoms move.

A breakthrough in visualization supports their efforts to squeeze every possible drop of utility out of perovskite-based materials, including solar cells, a long-standing project that only recently yielded an advance to make the devices far more durable.

A study published in Nature Physics details the first direct measurement of structural dynamics under light-induced excitation in 2D perovskites. Perovskites are layered materials that have well-ordered crystal lattices. They are highly efficient harvesters of light that are being explored for use as solar cells, photodetectors, photocatalysts, light-emitting diodes, quantum emitters and more.

“The next frontier in light-to-energy conversion devices is harvesting hot carriers,” said Rice University’s Aditya Mohite, a corresponding author of the study. “Studies have shown that hot carriers in perovskite can live up to 10-100 times longer than in classical semiconductors. However, the mechanisms and design principles for the energy transfer and how they interact with the lattice are not understood.”

RUDN University Chemists Create Substances for Supramolecules Self-assembly

Illustration Credit: RUDN University

RUDN University chemists derived molecules that can assemble into complex structures using chlorine and bromine halogen atoms. They bind to each other as “Velcro” — chlorine “sticks” to bromine, and vice versa. As a result, supramolecules are assembled from individual molecules. The obtained substances will help to create supramolecules with catalytic, luminescent, conducting properties.

Supramolecules are the structures made of several molecules. Individual molecules are combined, for example, by self-assembly or without external control. The resulting structure has properties that the molecules did not have individually. That is the way to create new materials, catalysts, molecular machines for drug delivery, conductors, and so on. To get a material with the specified properties, you need to choose the right starting molecules and auxiliary substances that will ensure their unification. One of the ways to control self-assembly is halogen-halogen interactions. These are the chemical bonds forming between two halogens (for example, chlorine, fluorine, bromine). RUDN University chemists have created a molecule with a halogen bond that can form supramolecules by itself or provide the required self-assembly with other substances. They will help to create substances for the chemical industry, medicine, and electronics.

Researchers revisit potent drug as promising treatment for acute leukemia

Photo Credit: Louis Reed

The two-pronged attack of a “forgotten drug” simultaneously targets two cancer-causing pathways of leukemia to stop the disease in its tracks

A team of researchers from the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore) at the National University of Singapore, led by Associate Professor Takaomi Sanda and Dr Lim Fang Qi, has breathed new life into an existing drug — combatting a type of blood cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or T-ALL.

The drug, called PIK-75, was initially discovered over a decade ago but was dismissed in favor of newer ones. Now, it has made a comeback that deems it unmissable — the researchers established that the drug could block not just one but two crucial cancer-causing pathways of T-ALL, enabling them to develop new treatments that could effectively stem the disease.

The increase of fungal infection

A strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at a CDC laboratory.
Photo Credit: Shawn Lockhart / Centers for Disease Control / Public Domain

Late last year the WHO published a report highlighting the first-ever list of fungal "priority pathogens" – a catalogue of the 19 fungi that represent the greatest threat to public health. The premise behind the publication is both because fungi are a significant and increasing threat to public health and because there is little global R&D into fungi or their treatment.

According to Professor Ana Traven, from the Biomedicine Discovery Institute, fungi can range from the benign (skin and nail infections and vaginal thrush) to the deadly (Candida, Aspergillus), “and they have been largely ignored because deadly fungal infections predominantly target people who are immunosuppressed, they are generally not transmitted in human-to-human contact.”

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Discovering Unique Microbes Made Easy with DOE Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase)

Overview of Metagenome-Assembled Genome Extraction data and analysis workflow using KBase apps.
Image courtesy of Chivian, D. et al. Metagenome-assembled genome extraction and analysis from microbiomes using KBase. Nature Protocols 18 (2022).

Microbes are foundational for life on Earth. These tiny organisms play a major role in everything from transforming sunlight into the fundamental molecules of life. They help to produce much of the oxygen in our atmosphere. They even cycle nutrients between air and soil. Scientists are constantly finding interactions between microbes and plants, animals, and other macroscopic lifeforms. As genomic sequencing has advanced, researchers can investigate not only isolated microbes, but also whole communities of microorganisms – known as microbiomes – based on DNA found in an environment. The genomes extracted from these communities (metagenomic sequences) can identify the organisms that carry out biogeochemical processes, contribute to health or disease in human gastrointestinal microbiomes, or interact with plant roots in the rhizosphere. The Department of Energy Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase) recently released a suite of features and a protocol for performing sophisticated microbiome analysis that can accelerate research in microbial ecology.

Ancestral variation guides future environmental adaptations

A sea campion in its natural habitat on the coast.
Photo Credit: Bangor University

The humble sea campion flower can show us how species adapt.

The speed of environmental change is very challenging for wild organisms. When exposed to a new environment individual plants and animals can potentially adjust their biology to better cope with new pressures they are exposed to - this is known as phenotypic plasticity.

Plasticity is likely to be important in the early stages of colonizing new places or when exposed to toxic substances in the environment. New research published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, shows that early plasticity can influence the ability to subsequently evolve genetic adaptations to conquer new habitats.

Friday, January 27, 2023

A.I. used to predict space weather like Coronal Mass Ejections

 Dr Andy Smith of Northumbria University
Photo Credit: Northumbria University/Simon Veit-Wilson.

A physicist from Northumbria University has received over £500,000 to create AI that will safeguard the Earth from destructive space storms.

Coronal Mass Ejections, which are solar eruptions from the Sun, can send plasma hurtling towards Earth at high speeds. These space storms can cause severe disruptions to power grids and communication systems.

With our increasing reliance on technology, solar storms pose a serious threat to our everyday lives, leading to severe space weather being added to the UK National Risk Assessment for the first time in 2011.

Researcher and his team analyzed huge amounts of data from satellites and space missions over the last 20 years to gain a better understanding of the conditions under which storms are likely to occur.

Patients with brain cancer may benefit from treatment to boost white blood cells

A new study led by Washington University School of Medicine reveals at least one cause of low white blood cell counts in patients treated for glioblastoma and demonstrates a potential treatment strategy that improves survival in mice.
Photo Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko

Patients with glioblastoma, a devastating brain cancer, receive treatment that frequently leads to the unfortunate side effect of low white blood cell counts that lasts six months to a year. The low numbers of white blood cells are associated with shorter survival — but the specific reason for the prolonged drop in white blood cells and the link with shorter survival has vexed scientists.

A new study led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reveals at least one cause of low white blood cell counts in patients treated for glioblastoma and demonstrates a potential treatment strategy that improves survival in mice.

The study is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Patients with this cancer typically do not survive longer than 18 months. The standard treatment is radiation and chemotherapy, after which many patients develop severely low numbers of lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell — in the bloodstream. The cause of these low lymphocyte counts has been something of a mystery because the therapy does not target the bone marrow, where these cells originate, and not all patients experience the problem.

Volcano-like rupture could have caused magnetar slowdown

An artist's impression of a magnetar eruption. 
Illustration Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

On Oct. 5, 2020, the rapidly rotating corpse of a long-dead star about 30,000 light years from Earth changed speeds. In a cosmic instant, its spinning slowed. And a few days later, it abruptly started emitting radio waves.

Thanks to timely measurements from specialized orbiting telescopes, Rice University astrophysicist Matthew Baring and colleagues were able to test a new theory about a possible cause for the rare slowdown, or “anti-glitch,” of SGR 1935+2154, a highly magnetic type of neutron star known as a magnetar.

In a study published this month in Nature Astronomy, Baring and co-authors used X-ray data from the European Space Agency’s X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission ( XMM-Newton) and NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer ( NICER) to analyze the magnetar’s rotation. They showed the sudden slowdown could have been caused by a volcano-like rupture on the surface of the star that spewed a “wind” of massive particles into space. The research identified how such a wind could alter the star’s magnetic fields, seeding conditions that would be likely to switch on the radio emissions that were subsequently measured by China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope ( FAST).

Not just mood swings but premenstrual depression

The scientists took images of the womens’ brain with positron emission tomography (PET) at different cycle times. 
Image Credit: © MPI CBS

Researchers find serotonin transporter in the brain increased

Scientists led by Julia Sacher from Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and Osama Sabri from the Leipzig University Hospital have discovered in an elaborate patient study that the transport of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain increases in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) shortly before menstruation. Their findings provide the basis for a more targeted therapy of this specific mood disorder, in which patients only have to take antidepressants for a few days.

PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is now a familiar term to many - about 50 per cent of all women experience these symptoms a few days before onset of their menstruation. The more severe form, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), affects eight percent of women of childbearing age and is associated with physical symptoms such as sleep disturbances or breast pain as well as psycho-emotional symptoms, including depression, loss of control, irritability, aggressiveness and concentration problems. As a result, many women with PMDD experience disruptions in their personal and professional lives.

New method to control electron spin paves the way for efficient quantum computers

Researchers at the University of Rochester developed a new method for manipulating information in quantum systems by controlling the spin of electrons in silicon quantum dots. Electrons in silicon experience a phenomenon called spin-valley coupling between their spin (up and down arrows) and valley states (blue and red orbitals). When researchers apply a voltage (blue glow) to electrons in silicon, they harness the spin-valley coupling effect and can manipulate the spin and valley states, controlling the electron spin.
Illustration Credit: Michael Osadciw / University of Rochester

The method, developed by Rochester scientists, overcomes the limitations of electron spin resonance.

Quantum science has the potential to revolutionize modern technology with more efficient computers, communication, and sensing devices. Challenges remain in achieving these technological goals, however, including how to precisely manipulate information in quantum systems.

In a paper published in Nature Physics, a group of researchers from the University of Rochester, including John Nichol, an associate professor of physics, outlines a new method for controlling electron spin in silicon quantum dots—tiny, nanoscale semiconductors with remarkable properties—as a way to manipulate information in a quantum system.

“The results of the study provide a promising new mechanism for coherent control of qubits based on electron spin in semiconductor quantum dots, which could pave the way for the development of a practical silicon-based quantum computer,” Nichol says.

The coupling of two quantum dots was successful for the first time

Arne Ludwig was responsible for the design and manufacture of the semiconductor structures for the experiment.
Photo Credit: RUB, Kramer

This means a big step towards the technical applicability of quantum technology, for example for arithmetic operations.

A tiny change means a big breakthrough in quantum physics: an international research team from Bochum and Copenhagen has managed to couple two quantum dots in one nanochip. After exciting a quantum point using a laser, a signal is sent out, the origin of which can no longer be related to one of the quantum points, as if both had each sent half of the signal in the form of a single photon. "At first that sounds like a little success, but this signal entanglement, which sits on a single photon, is more than the sum of its parts," says Dr. Arne Ludwig from the Chair of Solid-State Physics at the Ruhr University Bochum. “It represents a big step towards the usability of quantum technology for computer operations. "Together with researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, the Bochum team published the results in the journal Science from 27. Published January 2023.

Machine learning identifies drugs that could potentially help smokers quit

Penn State College of Medicine researchers helped identify eight medications that may be repurposed to help people quit smoking. A team of more than 70 researchers contributed to the analysis of genetic and smoking behavior data from more than 1.3 million people.
Image Credit: Scientific Frontline

Medications like dextromethorphan, used to treat coughs caused by cold and flu, could potentially be repurposed to help people quit smoking cigarettes, according to a study by Penn State College of Medicine and University of Minnesota researchers. They developed a novel machine learning method, where computer programs analyze data sets for patterns and trends, to identify the drugs and said that some of them are already being tested in clinical trials.

Cigarette smoking is risk factor for cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory diseases and accounts for nearly half a million deaths in the United States each year. While smoking behaviors can be learned and unlearned, genetics also plays a role in a person’s risk for engaging in those behaviors. The researchers found in a prior study that people with certain genes are more likely to become addicted to tobacco.

Using genetic data from more than 1.3 million people, Dajiang Liu, Ph.D., professor of public health sciences, and of biochemistry and molecular biology and Bibo Jiang, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health sciences, co-led a large multi-institution study that used machine learning to study these large data sets — which include specific data about a person’s genetics and their self-reported smoking behaviors.

Targeting cancer with a multidrug nanoparticle

MIT chemists designed a bottlebrush-shaped nanoparticle that can be loaded with multiple drugs, in ratios that can be easily controlled.
Illustration Credit: Courtesy of the researchers. Edited by MIT News.

Treating cancer with combinations of drugs can be more effective than using a single drug. However, figuring out the optimal combination of drugs, and making sure that all of the drugs reach the right place, can be challenging.

To help address those challenges, MIT chemists have designed a bottlebrush-shaped nanoparticle that can be loaded with multiple drugs, in ratios that can be easily controlled. Using these particles, the researchers were able to calculate and then deliver the optimal ratio of three cancer drugs used to treat multiple myeloma.

“There’s a lot of interest in finding synergistic combination therapies for cancer, meaning that they leverage some underlying mechanism of the cancer cell that allows them to kill more effectively, but oftentimes we don’t know what that right ratio will be,” says Jeremiah Johnson, an MIT professor of chemistry and one of the senior authors of the study.

A study on the rotation of the Earth’s solid core confuses the mainstream media. Scientists of the Royal Observatory of Belgium clarify it

Earth Structure
Illustration Credit: Courtesy of Royal Observatory of Belgium

An article in Nature Geoscience on the rotation of the Earth’s core (more precisely its solid inner core) was recently published. However, the media have been misled by the press release of the science journal into thinking that the inner core stopped rotating or was even rotating in the opposite direction to that of the Earth surface, which is not the case at all. Scientists of the Royal Observatory of Belgium specialized in the rotation of the Earth and planets clarify the study and provide some information on the structure and rotation of the Earth.

Internal structure and rotation of the Earth

The interior of the Earth is divided into concentric layers. A few tens of kilometers below the surface begins the solid mantle, which extends to a depth of about 2900 km. Below that is the Earth’s core, which consists mainly of iron. The core is subdivided into an upper liquid layer down to a depth of about 5150 km and a central solid inner core with a radius of about 1220 km. The article in Nature Geoscience article is about the solid inner core.

The Earth revolves around its axis of rotation in 24 hours. Movements in the Earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere and liquid core can cause small variations in the rotational period, so-called “length-of-day variations”, which can be on the order of milliseconds. The different layers that make up the Earth are linked by gravity and the frictional force and the electromagnetic force between the core and the solid parts. Therefore, the rotational period of the solid inner core can show small variations compared to the rotation of the mantle.

UNSW eco-friendly aviation research project receives CRC-P funding

Dr Branislav Hredzak and Professor John Fletcher have been awarded funding from Round 13 of the CRC Project scheme in collaboration with Dovetail Electric Aviation
Photo Credit: Dovetail Electric Aviation

An innovative UNSW research and development project focused on making regional commuter services greener and cheaper has been awarded a CRC-P grant.

Two UNSW Sydney researchers in collaboration with industry partners have been awarded $3 million in funding from the federal government’s Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) program. This is part of a $12.8 million project that will convert a turboprop plane to electric propulsion, providing regional commuter services.

UNSW Senior Lecturer Dr Branislav Hredzak and Professor John Fletcher at the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications secured the funding from Round 13 of the CRC Project scheme, for the project 'Electric Conversion to Fast Track Zero Emissions Commercial Aviation', together with Dovetail Electric Aviation, Sydney Seaplanes, Memko Aviation, Aerospace and Defense and CSIRO.

The project will develop, flight test and certify the conversion to electric propulsion of a turboprop aircraft, which will make regional commuter services eco-friendlier and more affordable with a focus on emissions-free aircraft for use on regional routes in the future.

Farming more seaweed for food, feed and fuel

Seaweed farmers in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
Photo Credit: Eldo Rafael

A University of Queensland-led study has shown that expanding global seaweed farming could go a long way to addressing the planet’s food security, biodiversity loss and climate change challenges.

PhD Candidate Scott Spillias, from UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Science, said seaweed offered a sustainable alternative to land-based agricultural expansion to meet the world’s growing need for food and materials.

“Seaweed has great commercial and environmental potential as a nutritious food and a building block for commercial products including animal feed, plastics, fibers, diesel and ethanol,” Mr. Spillias said.

“Our study found that expanding seaweed farming could help reduce demand for terrestrial crops and reduce global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by up to 2.6 billion tons of CO2-equivalent per year.”

Researchers mapped the potential of farming more of the 34 commercially important seaweed species using the Global Biosphere Management Model.

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