. Scientific Frontline: June 2023

Monday, June 19, 2023

Fighting Climate Change Isn’t an Automatic Win for Environmental Justice

Photo Credit: SD-Pictures

Some simulated pathways for reducing emissions in the U.S. maintained or exacerbated existing racial inequities

In the United States in 2017, people of color were exposed to 10% more particulate matter air pollution compared to white people. This well-documented inequity has been baked into the fabric of American life by racist housing policies like redlining and has left a legacy of negative health outcomes for communities of color across the nation.

The kind of sweeping cuts to greenhouse gas emissions needed to fight climate change are expected to improve air quality because burning fossil fuels also produces air pollution. But a new study from researchers at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and School of Global Policy and Strategy shows that while reducing greenhouse gases will likely improve overall air quality, reducing emissions could maintain or even exacerbate environmental inequality.

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and supported by the National Science Foundation as well as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, used computer models to simulate more than 300 paths to reduce emissions that all achieved the U.S. Paris Climate Agreement goal of a 50-52% net greenhouse gas emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. While all the simulated paths to reducing emissions improved overall air quality, some actually widened the air quality gap between people of color and white people in the U.S.

“These disparities can go up or down depending on how you implement climate policy,” said climate scientist Pascal Polonik, 2023 Scripps PhD graduate and lead author of the study. “It’s not a given that any climate policy that succeeds in reducing emissions also succeeds when it comes to environmental justice.”

Screening in zebrafish identifies a drug to potentially improve recovery from spinal cord injury

Zebra fish
Photo Credit: © Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden / Technische Universität Dresden

Scientists from the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) at TUD Dresden University of Technology, the University of Edinburgh, and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, investigated potential drugs to improve recovery from spinal cord injury. After testing over a thousand molecules, they identified cimetidine, an existing drug, to improve spinal repair in zebrafish and mice. Their work uncovers a promising route to new treatments and highlights the potential of zebrafish to screen for molecules that aid in spinal repair. The work was published in the journal Theranostics.

Sudden impacts to the spinal cord, such as those caused by a car accident, can cause lifelong injuries. The healing of an injury can be prolonged or even prevented by inflammation caused by an overreaction of the body’s immune system. Reducing inflammation with existing anti-inflammatory drugs suppresses the immune response as a whole, inhibiting the immune cells that are beneficial and promote injury repair.

In a new study, scientists from the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) at TUD Dresden University of Technology, the University of Edinburgh, and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre tested more than a thousand drugs in zebrafish larvae for their ability to prevent excessive inflammation during an immune response. Through this screening process, the research team identified an existing drug – cimetidine – that improved spinal cord repair in zebrafish.

Brain receptor patterns separate sensory and cognitive networks

Receptor patterns define key organizational principles in the brain, scientists have discovered.
Photo Credit: Pete Linforth

An international team of researchers, studying macaque brains, have mapped out neurotransmitter receptors, revealing a potential role in distinguishing internal thoughts and emotions from those generated by external influences.

The comprehensive dataset has been made publicly available, serving as a bridge linking different scales of neuroscience - from the microscopic to the whole brain.

Lead author Sean Froudist-Walsh, from the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science explained: “Imagine the brain as a city. In recent years, brain research has been focused on studying its roads, but in this research, we've made the most detailed map yet of the traffic lights - the neurotransmitter receptors - that control information flow.

“We've discovered patterns in how these 'traffic lights' are arranged that help us understand their function in perception, memory, and emotion.

“It's like finding the key to a city's traffic flow, and it opens up exciting possibilities for understanding how the normal brain works.

“Potentially in the future, other researchers may use these maps to target particular brain networks and functions with new medicines.

Clean, sustainable fuels made ‘from thin air’ and plastic waste

Carbon capture from air and its photoelectrochemical conversion into fuel with simultaneous waste plastic conversion into chemicals. 
Photo Credit: Ariffin Mohamad Annuar

Researchers have demonstrated how carbon dioxide can be captured from industrial processes – or even directly from the air – and transformed into clean, sustainable fuels using just the energy from the sun.

The researchers from the University of Cambridge developed a solar-powered reactor that converts captured CO2 and plastic waste into sustainable fuels and other valuable chemical products. In tests, CO2 was converted into syngas, a key building block for sustainable liquid fuels, and plastic bottles were converted into glycolic acid, which is widely used in the cosmetics industry.

Unlike earlier tests of their solar fuels technology however, the team took CO2 from real-world sources – such as industrial exhaust or the air itself. The researchers were able to capture and concentrate the CO2 and convert it into sustainable fuel.

Although improvements are needed before this technology can be used at an industrial scale, the results, reported in the journal Joule, represent another important step toward the production of clean fuels to power the economy, without the need for environmentally destructive oil and gas extraction.

GE Aerospace runs one of the world’s largest supercomputer simulations to test revolutionary new open fan engine architecture

CFM’s RISE open fan engine architecture.
Image Credit: GE Aerospace

To support the development of a revolutionary new open fan engine architecture for the future of flight, GE Aerospace has run simulations using the world’s fastest supercomputer capable of crunching data in excess of exascale speed, or more than a quintillion calculations per second.

To model engine performance and noise levels, GE Aerospace created software capable of operating on Frontier, a recently commissioned supercomputer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory with processing power of about 37,000 GPUs. For comparison, Frontier’s processing speed is so powerful, it would take every person on Earth combined more than four years to do what the supercomputer can in one second.  

By coupling GE Aerospace’s computational fluid dynamics software with Frontier, GE was able to simulate air movement of a full-scale open fan design with incredible detail.

“Developing game-changing new aircraft engines requires game-changing technical capabilities. With supercomputing, GE Aerospace engineers are redefining the future of flight and solving problems that would have previously been impossible,” said Mohamed Ali, vice president and general manager of engineering for GE Aerospace.

“Predatory bacteria” provide hope for chlorine-free drinking water

The inside of a water pipe
Photo Credit: Krisjtan Pullerits / Lund University

In a unique study carried out in drinking water pipes in Sweden, researchers from Lund University and the local water company tested what would happen if chlorine was omitted from drinking water. The result? An increase in bacteria, of course, but after a while something surprising happened: a harmless predatory bacteria grew in numbers and ate most of the other bacteria. The study suggests that chlorine is not always needed if the filtration is efficient - and that predatory bacteria could perhaps be used to purify water in the future.

Just as human intestines contain a rich bacterial flora, many types of bacteria thrive in our drinking water and the pipes that transport them. On the inside of pipe walls is a thin, slippery coating, called a biofilm, which protects and supports bacteria. These bacteria have adapted to life in the presence of chlorine, which otherwise has the primary task to kill bacteria, particularity bacteria that can make humans sick.  

An ordinary glass of drinking water contains a lot of harmless bacteria. Chlorine, however, which in the studied piping system was added in the form of monochloramine, is not wholly unproblematic.

Climate impact of natural gas often worse than assumed

Dr. Florian Dietrich (blue shirt) and prof. Jia Chen check the measuring systems on the roof of the TUM.
Photo Credit: Andreas Heddergott / Technical University of Munich

Heating and cooking with natural gas often has a greater impact on the climate than commonly believed. This is a conclusion of a new calculation model developed by researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The difference: the researchers’ model also takes into account the enormous quantities of unused gas released into the atmosphere.

“We wanted to know whether – when gas leakage is also considered – gas or electricity is more climate friendly for heating and cooking,” explains Dr. Florian Dietrich, a researcher at the TUM Associate Professorship of Environmental Sensing and Modeling. In collaboration with researchers at ETH Zurich, the University of Utrecht and the Dutch organization for applied research in natural sciences TNO, the international team used a high-tech measurement station to capture carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide. They also used laser spectrometers for onsite methane measurements. They then combined all variables in a specially designed calculation model. The results were published and verified in a peer review process.

Simple maintenance can reduce hospital Legionella risks

Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures

Hospital water systems are a significant source of Legionella, resulting in the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease – but Flinders University researchers have proven simple maintenance that involves running hot water regularly and flushing the pipes has a huge effect in reducing the risk of the disease.

One of the biggest challenges for Legionella management within large hospital systems is that under unfavorable conditions, Legionella transforms itself into a state (called viable but non culturable – VBNC) that cannot be detected using standard methods.

To understand the extent of the problem, Flinders University researchers conducted the first comprehensive study that quantified all Legionella, including those in the VBNC state, and free-living amoebae from a hospital water system under dynamic flow and temperature conditions.

“We took a different approach because we didn’t know how often the standard method was returning false negative results for Legionella and it’s really hard to determine the optimal management approach if you can’t trust your testing method,” says Flinders University’s Associate Professor Harriet Whiley.

Gravity foundations: A marine-friendly future for wind turbines

Photo Credit: Tom Swinnen

Gravity-base structures may offer a porpoise and dolphin-friendly construction alternative to traditional pile-driven wind turbine foundations, new research suggests.

Marine scientists from Newcastle University investigated short- and long-term impacts of this new wind turbine installation method on cetaceans off Blyth, Northumberland. The response of dolphins and harbor porpoises was investigated using cetacean echolocation recorders over a three-year period, covering one year before, during and after the installation.

The findings revealed that wind turbine installation using gravity-base foundations had no long-term effects on the occurrence of dolphins or porpoises.

“Our findings are important in light of the global expansion of offshore wind farms and the need to find installation methods that have less impact to the marine environment”, says lead author and master’s graduate Kelsey Potlock. “These findings are promising for conservationists, marine environmental managers, and for the future of offshore renewable energy.”

Physicists Have Presented a New Way to Control Wheat Quality

Russia is one of the world's largest grain producers
Photo Credit: Andriy Nestruiev

A team of scientists from the Ural Federal University and the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences has tested a new method that can be used to verify whether wheat has been irradiated and how safe the consequences are for consumers. Without documentation and sophisticated equipment, it is difficult to determine whether grain has been treated. Currently, there are methods for testing irradiated products, but they are more expensive and not as accurate, physicists say. The method of verification proposed by the scientists can make the analysis easier and cheaper, because the products themselves will act as an alternative to the detector in the radiation treatment. The study was supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (project № 20-58-26002). The experimental results were published in the journal Radiation Physics and Chemistry.

Ionizing radiation of agricultural products is an effective method of disinfecting and neutralizing harmful microorganisms. This method is widely used in many countries and is approved by international organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. After irradiation, the product is safe and does not lose its beneficial properties. Moreover, the destruction of harmful microorganisms (for example, mold) can increase the safety of the same wheat for further planting. In Russia, radiation treatment of agricultural products is allowed by law. There are several facilities in the country that use this type of decontamination. However, this type of food decontamination is not as widespread as, for example, in the United States or China.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Chemistry without detours: TUD researchers introduce a two-step process for producing phosphorus-containing chemicals

Example of a complex biomolecule from the group of functionalized nucleotides, achieved through the method developed by the Weigand Research Group using conventional phosphoric acid.
Image Credit: © Weigand Group

Professor Jan J. Weigand and his team from the TUD Dresden University of Technology have achieved a ground breaking advancement in the production of phosphorus-containing chemicals. In a recent publication in the renowned scientific journal Nature Synthesis, they present an innovative synthesis method that requires only two process steps for the previously complex production of functionalized phosphates. This promising innovation not only contributes to environmental protection but also saves significant time and costs. Furthermore, it offers the industry the opportunity to become less dependent on third countries. The research team has already filed two patents for this new process.

Phosphorus and its compounds are essential components of life and indispensable in our daily lives. In the human body, this element plays a crucial role in energy transfer and numerous cellular functions. Phosphorus compounds are used in fertilizers, detergents, medications, and many other products. Additionally, phosphorus is an essential ingredient in flame retardants, battery electrolytes, and catalysts. On Earth, phosphorus exists exclusively in the form of phosphates. The production of phosphorus-containing chemicals typically involves a complex and energy-intensive multi-step process. Initially, highly toxic white phosphorus (P4) is produced via a redox pathway and then further processed into phosphorus trichloride (PCl3) and other problematic and sometimes highly toxic intermediate products. Phosphorus chemistry based on P4 is associated with significant challenges but plays an indispensable role in the chemical industry due to its great importance.

Diagnosis of rare, genetic muscle disease improved by new approach

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed an approach that could help doctors distinguish between the many subtypes of limb girdle muscular dystrophy, a rare, genetic muscle disease. With new therapies poised to enter the clinic, identifying the precise subtype is necessary to ensure that people get access to the treatment most likely to benefit them.
Image Credit: ANIRUDH

It’s not easy to distinguish between the dozens of subtypes of limb girdle muscular dystrophy — a rare, genetic muscle disease characterized by weakness in the hips and shoulders that causes difficulty walking and lifting the arms. Until now, determining the subtype has not been critical in caring for patients, because no specific treatments have been available. But gene therapies are on the horizon, and such therapies are targeted to specific genetic variants, so pinpointing the genetic roots of each patient’s disease has taken on a new importance.

In new research, a team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has developed an approach that could help doctors make more precise diagnoses. The study is published June 15 in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Hundreds of genes are associated with limb girdle muscular dystrophy. While genetic testing may identify a handful of rare genetic variants in each patient with the condition, there’s no way to know without painstaking, time-consuming additional experiments which, if any, of those variants is responsible for a patient’s symptoms. Unfortunately, no comprehensive catalog exists yet of all the variants of all the genes linked to limb girdle muscular dystrophy, and whether each of those variants can cause disease or is harmless.

Pharmacy researcher develops intervention for metabolic diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease

Photo Credit: Michal Jarmoluk

An investigator with the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy has filed an invention disclosure, part of a provisional patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, for a treatment that could apply to heart disease, stroke and a host of other human diseases related to metabolism.

Liqin Zhao, KU associate professor of pharmacology & toxicology and investigator at the Life Span Institute2, has researched the human ApoE gene for years. A major focus of her work centers on how the ApoE2 variant — one of three major isoforms of ApoE gene — might protect people from Alzheimer’s disease3.

Now, based upon a discovery made during her Alzheimer’s-disease work, Zhao is patenting a way to leverage rhApoE2 to regulate blood lipids. Lipids, like fats and oils, are building materials of life at the cellular level that also are tied to heart disease and other metabolic diseases.

“In essence, we found that rhApoE2 significantly lowered blood levels of a number of ceramides,” Zhao said. “Moreover, rhApoE2 increased blood levels of a variety of ‘good triglycerides’ — triglycerides that contain health-promoting, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid, EPA and DHA, and lowered levels of ‘bad triglycerides,’ or triglycerides that contain saturated or monosaturated fatty acids that can impose a cardiovascular risk.”

Post-traumatic stress affects more than one in 10 cardiac device patients

Image Credit: Joshua Chehov

Nearly one-third of patients with an implanted device to prevent sudden death have anxiety in the first year, while depression affects one in five. That’s the finding of a study published this week in EP Europace, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

Lead author Professor Hannah Keage from the University of South Australia says implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are effective at extending patients’ lives, “but we need to make sure that is a good quality life”.

“Rates of mood disorders in people with an ICD are much higher than in the general population, suggesting that psychological assessment and therapy should be integrated into the routine care of these patients,” Prof Keage says.

An ICD is recommended for people at high risk of a life-threatening heart rhythm and those who have had a cardiac arrest. Anxiety and depression are associated with a higher likelihood of premature death in patients with an ICD.

The study compiled the best available evidence to determine levels of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in patients with an ICD.

The Egyptian vulture is a threatened bird of prey worldwide.

The Egyptian vulture is a threatened bird of prey worldwide.
Photo Credit: Conservation Biology Group, University of Barcelona

If urban landfills disappear under the new European regulation, some endangered birds such as the Egyptian vulture will need alternatives to their feeding patterns in order to survive in the future. This is one of the main conclusions of a study published in the journal Movement Ecology, led by Professor Joan Real, director of the UB Conservation Biology Group (EBC-UB) of the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona. The study includes the collaboration of teams from the Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes (CEAB-CSIC) and the University of Seville.

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is one of the smallest vultures and a threatened bird of prey worldwide, which is included in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List as an Endangered Species. In the Iberian Peninsula, this species has been in regression for years, with the exception of some areas such as Catalonia, where there has been a progressive increase in its populations.

This Trans-Saharan migratory species spends the winter in Mali, Senegal and Mauritania and returns to the Iberian Peninsula during spring and summer to breed. It usually feeds on small carrion and dead animals found in the countryside, especially extensive livestock dead animals as well as wildlife. Therefore, it is an indicator species of the environmental status and it helps to eliminate organic remains from our ecosystems.

New insights on bacteria that causes food poisoning

The pathogenic genes of Providencia rustigianii can be transferred to Enterobacteriaceae as well.
   Illustration Credit: Shinji Yamasaki, Osaka Metropolitan University

Latest research reveals the properties of a type of food poisoning bacteria, and paves way for establishment of preventive methods.

The transfer of pathogenic genes between not only same bacterial species but also different species

Recently, Providencia spp. which have been detected in patients with gastroenteritis, and similar to enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli. O157 and Salmonella spp., have been attracting attention as causative agents of food poisoning. For children with low immunity, food poisoning can be lethal as it causes severe symptoms such as diarrhea and dehydration, so clarifying the source of infection and pathogenic factors of Providencia spp., and establishing preventive methods are urgent issues worldwide.

Researchers created a new and improved way to view the mechanics of life

RESORT. A diagram to show the basic overview of the system. Firstly, the sample is labeled with the photoswitchable Raman probe. It’s then irradiated with two-color infrared laser pulses, ultraviolet light, and a special donut-shaped beam of visible light to constrain the area where Raman scattering can occur. As a result, the probe can be detected at a very precise point for high spatial resolution images.
Illustration Credit: ©2023 Ozeki et al.
(CC BY 2.0)

There are various ways to image biological samples on a microscopic level, and each has its own pros and cons. For the first time, a team of researchers, including those from the University of Tokyo, has combined aspects from two of the leading imaging techniques to craft a new method of imaging and analyzing biological samples. Its concept, known as RESORT, paves the way to observe living systems in unprecedented detail.

For as long as humanity has been able to manipulate glass, we have used optical devices to peer at the microscopic world in ever increasing detail. The more we can see, the more we can understand, hence the pressure to improve upon tools we use to explore the world around, and inside, us. Contemporary microscopic imaging techniques go far beyond what traditional microscopes can offer. Two leading technologies are super-resolution fluorescence imaging, which offers good spatial resolution, and vibrational imaging, which compromises spatial resolution but can use a broad range of colors to help label many kinds of constituents in cells.

Pregnancy hormone repairs myelin damage in MS mouse model

Photo Credit: Yassine Khalfalli

Treating a mouse model of multiple sclerosis with the pregnancy hormone estriol reversed the breakdown of myelin in the brain’s cortex, a key region affected in multiple sclerosis, according to a new UCLA Health study.

In multiple sclerosis, inflammation spurs the immune system to strip away the protective myelin coating around nerve fibers in the brain’s cortex, hampering electrical signals sent and received by the brain. Atrophy of the cortex in MS patients is associated with permanent worsening of disability, such as cognitive decline, visual impairment, weakness and sensory loss.

No currently available treatments for MS can repair damage to myelin. Instead, these treatments target inflammation to reduce symptom flare-ups and new nerve tissue scarring. Previous UCLA-led research found that estriol, a type of estrogen hormone produced in pregnancy, reduced brain atrophy and improved cognitive function in MS patients.

In the new study, researchers treated a mouse model of MS with estriol and found that it prevented brain atrophy and induced remyelination in the cortex, indicating that the treatment can repair damage caused by MS, rather than just slow the destruction of myelin.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Altered gut bacteria may be early sign of Alzheimer’s disease


Alzheimer’s disease causes changes to the brain that begin two decades or more before symptoms appear. A study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reveals that the bacteria that live in the gut also change before Alzheimer’s symptoms arise, a discovery that could lead to diagnostics or treatments for Alzheimer’s disease that target the gut microbiome.
Image Credit: Gerd Altmann

People in the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s disease — after brain changes have begun but before cognitive symptoms become apparent — harbor an assortment of bacteria in their intestines that differs from the gut bacteria of healthy people, according to a study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The findings, published June 14 in Science Translational Medicine, open up the possibility of analyzing the gut bacterial community to identify people at higher risk of developing dementia, and of designing microbiome-altering preventive treatments to stave off cognitive decline.

“We don’t yet know whether the gut is influencing the brain or the brain is influencing the gut, but this association is valuable to know in either case,” said co-corresponding author Gautam Dantas, PhD, the Conan Professor of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine. “It could be that the changes in the gut microbiome are just a readout of pathological changes in the brain. The other alternative is that the gut microbiome is contributing to Alzheimer’s disease, in which case altering the gut microbiome with probiotics or fecal transfers might help change the course of the disease.”

Illusions are in the eye, not the mind

The bar in the middle is all one grey level, but it appears lighter on the left and darker on the right due to the background.
Image Credit Jolyon Troscianko

Numerous visual illusions are caused by limits in the way our eyes and visual neurons work – rather than more complex psychological processes, new research shows.

Researchers examined illusions in which an object’s surroundings affect the way we see its color or pattern.

Scientists and philosophers have long debated whether these illusions are caused by neural processing in the eye and low-level visual centers in the brain, or involve higher-level mental processes such as context and prior knowledge.

In the new study Dr Jolyon Troscianko, from the University of Exeter, co-developed a model that suggests simple limits to neural responses – not deeper psychological processes – explain these illusions.

“Our eyes send messages to the brain by making neurons fire faster or slower,” said Dr Troscianko, from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.  

Navigating underground with cosmic-ray muons

Navigating inside with muons. The red line in this image represents the path the “navigatee” walked, while the white line with dots shows the path recorded by MuWNS.
Illustration Credit: ©2023 Hiroyuki K.M. Tanaka

Superfast, subatomic-sized particles called muons have been used to wirelessly navigate underground in a reportedly world first. By using muon-detecting ground stations synchronized with an underground muon-detecting receiver, researchers at the University of Tokyo were able to calculate the receiver’s position in the basement of a six-story building. As GPS cannot penetrate rock or water, this new technology could be used in future search and rescue efforts, to monitor undersea volcanoes, and guide autonomous vehicles underground and underwater.

GPS, the global positioning system, is a well-established navigation tool and offers an extensive list of positive applications, from safer air travel to real-time location mapping. However, it has some limitations. GPS signals are weaker at higher latitudes and can be jammed or spoofed (where a counterfeit signal replaces an authentic one). Signals can also be reflected off surfaces like walls, interfered with by trees, and can’t pass through buildings, rock or water.

Tethering of Shattered Chromosomal Fragments Paves Way for New Cancer Therapies

Like pieces of broken safety glass, shattered chromosomal fragments are tethered together during cell division, allowing them to be reassembled into a rearranged chromosome that’s prone to cancerous mutations.
Photo Credit: Marzena P.

Healthy cells work hard to maintain the integrity of our DNA, but occasionally, a chromosome can get separated from the others and break apart during cell division. The tiny fragments of DNA then get reassembled in random order in the new cell, sometimes producing cancerous gene mutations. 

This chromosomal shattering and rearranging is called “chromothripsis” and occurs in the majority of human cancers, especially cancers of the bones, brain and fatty tissue. Chromothripsis was first described just over a decade ago, but scientists did not understand how the floating pieces of DNA were able to be put back together. 

In a study published in Nature, researchers at University of California San Diego have answered this question, discovering that the shattered DNA fragments are actually tethered together. This allows them to travel as one during cell division and be re-encapsulated by one of the new daughter cells, where they are reassembled in a different order.

UD study evaluates how climate shocks impact the planted and harvested areas for crops

Dongyang Wei (left), a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences, and Kyle Davis, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences and the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, as well as a resident faculty member with UD’s Data Science Institute, led a new study that focused on crop production shocks and how they are affected by variations in planted and harvested areas.
Photo Credit: Evan Krape

As the world faces more climate variability and extremes in the face of global warming, sudden environmental changes add an extra layer of stress to food production in the United States and around the world. It is critical, then, to figure out how the areas in which crops are planted and harvested respond to these stressors, which can bring on ‘shocks’ in production — or, put differently, sudden and statistically significant crop declines. 

These production shocks are a big concern in terms of food stability and many crops in the United States — such as corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat — are all experiencing more frequent production reductions as a result of these shocks.

A new study published in the scientific journal Nature Sustainability led by the University of Delaware’s Dongyang Wei looked at these production shocks and, specifically, how they are affected by variations in planted and harvested areas. 

New study reveals strong connection between heart and brain health

A growing amount of evidence points to interactions between heart health and brain health.

Cardiovascular diseases serve as a crucial backdrop for brain diseases like stroke, dementia, cerebral small vessel disease and cognitive impairment. Studies have shown, for example, that atrial fibrillation, even in stroke-free individuals, is associated with an increased incidence of dementia and silent cerebral damage. Heart failure has been linked to cognitive impairment and dementia due to reduced cerebral blood flow caused by a failing heart. Conversely, mental disorders and negative psychological factors may contribute to the onset and progression of cardiovascular diseases. Individuals with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy or depression are more prone to cardiovascular diseases.

Despite this growing knowledge, previous studies on heart-brain interactions and associated risk factors have been limited in scope, focusing on specific diseases or utilizing small sample sizes. Consequently, the overall understanding of the structural and functional links between the heart and brain remains incomplete.

A new study conducted by researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Pennsylvania and Purdue University leverages large magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data to shed light on the close relationship between cardiovascular diseases and brain diseases such as stroke, dementia and cognitive impairment, unraveling the underlying genetic signatures and inter-organ connections between the heart and brain.

This salty gel could harvest water from desert air

MIT engineers have synthesized a superabsorbent material that can soak up a record amount of moisture from the air, even in desert-like conditions. Pictured are the hydrogel discs swollen in water.
 Photo Credit: Gustav Graeber and Carlos D. Díaz-Marín

MIT engineers have synthesized a superabsorbent material that can soak up a record amount of moisture from the air, even in desert-like conditions.

As the material absorbs water vapor, it can swell to make room for more moisture. Even in very dry conditions, with 30 percent relative humidity, the material can pull vapor from the air and hold in the moisture without leaking. The water could then be heated and condensed, then collected as ultrapure water.

The transparent, rubbery material is made from hydrogel, a naturally absorbent material that is also used in disposable diapers. The team enhanced the hydrogel’s absorbency by infusing it with lithium chloride — a type of salt that is known to be a powerful dessicant.

The researchers found they could infuse the hydrogel with more salt than was possible in previous studies. As a result, they observed that the salt-loaded gel absorbed and retained an unprecedented amount of moisture, across a range of humidity levels, including very dry conditions that have limited other material designs.

Tropical butterflies’ wings could help them withstand climate change

Photo Credit: Courtesy of University of Cambridge

Tropical butterflies with bigger, longer and narrower wings are better able to stay cool when temperatures get too hot.

In fact, tropical species’ ability to keep cool at higher air temperatures mean they are more able to “thermoregulate” and keep a balanced body temperature compared to their evolutionary cousins in milder climates.  

Scientists say that the strategies of butterflies from Central America to stay cool mean they could actually be better equipped to deal with global warming than previously thought.

The team behind the latest study argue that conservation researchers should be careful not to assume creatures in hotter parts of the world will suffer most under rising temperatures – rather, some butterflies in temperate regions, such as Western and central Europe, could be at greater risk.

Equipped with hand-held nets, ecologists took the temperature of over 6,800 butterflies in Panama, Austria, the Czech Republic and the UK using a tiny thermometer-like probe. They compared the butterfly’s temperature to that of the surrounding air or the vegetation it was perched on.

Bowel cancer: Researchers find possible cause for chemoresistance

Human colorectal cancer cells
Image Credit: National Cancer Institute

Large quantities of the protein IGF2BP2 not only make bowel cancer grow faster, they also make it resistant to common forms of chemotherapy. This discovery was made by a research team led by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in cooperation with Saarland University. For its new study, published in the scientific journal Molecular Cancer, the team analyzed more than 140 tissue samples from bowel cancer patients and found there was a link between the concentration of IGF2BP2 and the characteristics of the tumors. The findings could help to develop better diagnostic procedures and possibly new forms of therapy in the future.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Germany. In 2019, 58,967 men and women were diagnosed with it. "If caught early, bowel cancer can be removed quite well by surgery and it is therefore often curable," says the leader of the study, Professor Sonja Kessler from the Institute of Pharmacy at MLU. Once the disease has progressed, surgery is often no longer an option. In some cases, tumors can develop resistance to common forms of chemotherapy, which means they no longer respond to treatment. "We still do not know how and why some tumors develop this resistance. Currently, there are no reliable tests that can predict this at an early stage," Kessler adds. 

Energy Harvesting Via Vibrations: Researchers develop highly durable and efficient device

The principle, structural design, and application of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer-enhanced piezoelectric nanocomposite materials.
Illustration Credit: ©Tohoku University

An international research group has engineered a new energy-generating device by combining piezoelectric composites with carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP), a commonly used material that is both light and strong. The new device transforms vibrations from the surrounding environment into electricity, providing an efficient and reliable means for self-powered sensors.

Details of the group's research were published in the journal Nano Energy.

Energy harvesting involves converting energy from the environment into usable electrical energy and is something crucial for ensuring a sustainable future.

"Everyday items, from fridges to street lamps, are connected to the internet as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), and many of them are equipped with sensors that collect data," says Fumio Narita, co-author of the study and professor at Tohoku University's Graduate School of Environmental Studies. "But these IoT devices need power to function, which is challenging if they are in remote places, or if there are lots of them."

Dietary supplementation shown to improve nutrition biomarkers in study of older men

Photo Credit: Andrea

A six-month study of healthy older men demonstrated that daily multivitamin/multimineral supplementation had a positive effect on key nutrition biomarkers.

The research led by Oregon State University’s Tory Hagen and Alexander Michels also showed that the changes in nutrition status could have direct connections to cellular function, measured by the oxygen consumption of the study participants’ blood cells.

The findings, published in the journal Nutrients, suggest that supplementation may be a key tool to help people stay healthier as they age.

“Many older adults take multivitamins, thinking it will help them stay healthy,” said Michels, a research associate at OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute. “However, previous studies have shown mixed results when it comes to multivitamins and disease risk. We wanted to know why there was so much uncertainty. Is it possible that multivitamins aren’t as effective at changing nutrition biomarkers in older adults?”

Elimination of type of bacteria suggests treatment for endometriosis

Fusobacterium (white dots) is highly expressed near the uterus (endometrium) of endometriosis patients.
Image Credit: Professor Yutaka Kondo

A research group from the Graduate School of Medicine and iGCORE at Nagoya University in Japan, has discovered that using an antibiotic to target Fusobacterium reduced the formation of lesions associated with endometriosis, a gynecological disorder characterized by endometrial tissue usually found inside the uterus being found outside it. Their findings suggest an alternative treatment for this disorder. The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.

Endometriosis affects one in ten women between the ages of 15 and 49. The disorder can cause lifelong health problems, including pelvic pain and infertility. Although it can be treated using hormone therapy and surgical resection, these procedures sometimes lead to side effects, recurrence, and a significant impact on pregnancy.

The group led by Professor Kondo (he, him) and Assistant Professor Ayako Muraoka (she, her) from the Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine, in collaboration with the National Cancer Center, found that the uterus of mice infected with Fusobacterium had more and heavier lesions. However, mice that had been given an antibiotic to eradicate Fusobacterium saw improved lesion formation.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

UC Irvine scientists create long-lasting, cobalt-free, lithium-ion batteries

“We are basically the first group that started thinking about the supply chain, or the pain point, that nickel will bring to the EV industry in a matter of, I would say, three to five years,” says Huolin Xin, UCI professor of physics & astronomy, lead author of a paper in Nature Energy on a new way to use nickel in lithium-ion batteries.
Photo Credit: Steve Zylius / UCI

In a discovery that could reduce or even eliminate the use of cobalt – which is often mined using child labor – in the batteries that power electric cars and other products, scientists at the University of California, Irvine have developed a long-lasting alternative made with nickel.

“Nickel doesn’t have child labor issues,” said Huolin Xin, the UCI professor of physics & astronomy whose team devised the method, which could usher in a new, less controversial generation of lithium-ion batteries. Until now, nickel wasn’t a practical substitute because large amounts of it were required to create lithium batteries, he said. And the metal’s cost keeps climbing.

To become an economically viable alternative to cobalt, nickel-based batteries needed to use as little nickel as possible.

“We’re the first group to start going in a low-nickel direction,” said Xin, whose team published its findings in the journal Nature Energy. “In a previous study by my group, we came up with a novel solution to fully eliminate cobalt. But that formulation still relied on a lot of nickel.”

Photosynthesis, Key to Life on Earth, Starts with a Single Photon

A cutting-edge experiment has revealed the quantum dynamics of one of nature’s most crucial processes
Illustration Credit: Jenny Nuss/Berkeley Lab

Using a complex cast of metal-studded pigments, proteins, enzymes, and co-enzymes, photosynthetic organisms can convert the energy in light into the chemical energy for life. And now, thanks to a study published today in Nature, we know that this organic chemical reaction is sensitive to the smallest quantity of light possible – a single photon.

The discovery solidifies our current understanding of photosynthesis and will help answer questions about how life works on the smallest of scales, where quantum physics and biology meet.

“A huge amount of work, theoretically and experimentally, has been done around the world trying to understand what happens after a photon is absorbed. But we realized that nobody was talking about the first step. That was still a question that needed to be answered in detail,” said co-lead author Graham Fleming, a senior faculty scientist in the Biosciences Area at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley.

In their study, Fleming, co-lead author Birgitta Whaley, a senior faculty scientist in the Energy Sciences Area at Berkeley Lab, and their research groups showed that a single photon can indeed initiate the first step of photosynthesis in photosynthetic purple bacteria. Because all photosynthetic organisms use similar processes and share an evolutionary ancestor, the team is confident that photosynthesis in plants and algae works the same way. “Nature invented a very clever trick,” Fleming said.

Plate tectonics not required for the emergence of life

Plate tectonics involves the horizontal movement and interaction of large plates on Earth’s surface. New research indicates that mobile plate tectonics—thought to be necessary for the creation of a habitable planet—was not occurring on Earth 3.9 billion years ago.
Illustration Credit: Michael Osadciw / University of Rochester

The finding contradicts previous assumptions about the role of mobile plate tectonics in the development of life on Earth.

Scientists have taken a journey back in time to unlock the mysteries of Earth’s early history, using tiny mineral crystals called zircons to study plate tectonics billions of years ago. The research sheds light on the conditions that existed in early Earth, revealing a complex interplay between Earth’s crust, core, and the emergence of life.

Plate tectonics allows heat from Earth’s interior to escape to the surface, forming continents and other geological features necessary for life to emerge. Accordingly, “there has been the assumption that plate tectonics is necessary for life,” says John Tarduno, who teaches in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Rochester. But new research casts doubt on that assumption.

New Clues About Origin of Complex Life Trace Roots to Common Ancestor

According to this latest study, all complex life forms (a.k.a. eukaryotes) trace their roots back to a common ancestor among a group of microbes called the Asgard archaea.
Illustration Credit: The University of Texas at Austin.

Thor, the legendary Norse god from the mythological city of Asgard, is not alone. According to groundbreaking research published in the journal Nature, we humans — along with eagles, starfish, daisies and every complex organism on Earth — are, in a sense, Asgardians.

Analyzing the genomes of hundreds of different microbes called archaea, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and other institutions have discovered that eukaryotes — complex life forms with nuclei in their cells, including all the world’s plants, animals, insects and fungi — trace their roots to a common Asgard archaean ancestor. That means eukaryotes are, in the parlance of evolutionary biologists, a “well-nested clade” within Asgard archaea, similar to how birds are one of several groups within a larger group called dinosaurs, sharing a common ancestor. The team has found that all eukaryotes share a common ancestor among the Asgards.

No fossils of eukaryotes have been found from farther back than about 2 billion years ago, suggesting that before that, only various types of microbes existed.

“So, what events led microbes to evolve into eukaryotes?” said Brett Baker, UT Austin associate professor of integrative biology and marine science. “That’s a big question. Having this common ancestor is a big step in understanding that.”

New Insights into the Liquid Core of Mars

The RISE instrument on the InSight lander (artist’s concept).
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

New results from the radio-science instrument of the NASA InSight mission on Mars are published today in the scientific journal Nature. With the data accumulated during the first two and a half years of the mission, a team of planetary scientists mainly from the Royal Observatory of Belgium has precisely measured the rotation of Mars. They detected a signature that can only be explained by the presence of a liquid core. These variations in rotation provide important information about the deep interior of Mars.

In November 2018, the NASA InSight mission successfully touched down in the region of Elysium Planitia on the surface of Mars. As suggested by its acronym (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport), this mission was the first of its kind, dedicated to the exploration of the deep interior of Mars. InSight was equipped with a seismometer and a radio-science transponder named RISE (Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment). The mission concluded in December 2022.

The RISE experiment was specifically designed to measure the nutations of Mars. Nutations are the periodic oscillations, also called wobbles, of the spin axis in space. Sébastien Le Maistre, the lead author explains: “The RISE transponder has the ability to establish communication with gigantic (up to 70 m dish) radio-telescopes on Earth and of measuring the tiniest variations of the distance between a lander on Mars and Earth, caused by the orbital and rotational movements of the two planets. For the first time, we detected at such a large distance, hundreds of millions of km, the 40 cm oscillations due to the presence of the Martian liquid core. These oscillations are affected by a resonant behavior that only occurs when the core is liquid.”

Scientists Discover Small RNA That Regulates Bacterial Infection

Pseudomonas aeruginosa clumps grown in synthetic cystic fibrosis sputum.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology

People with weakened immune systems are at constant risk of infection. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common environmental bacterium, can colonize different body parts, such as the lungs, leading to persistent, chronic infections that can last a lifetime – a common occurrence in people with cystic fibrosis.

But the bacteria can sometimes change their behavior and enter the bloodstream, causing chronic localized infections to become acute and potentially fatal. Despite decades of studying the transition in lab environments, how and why the switch happens in humans has remained unknown.

However, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have identified the major mechanism behind the transition between chronic and acute P. aeruginosa infections. Marvin Whiteley – professor in the School of Biological Sciences and Bennie H. and Nelson D. Abell Chair in Molecular and Cellular Biology – and Pengbo Cao, a postdoctoral researcher in Whiteley’s lab, discovered a gene that drives the switch. By measuring bacterial gene expression in human tissue samples, the researchers identified a biomarker for the transition.

Their research findings, published in Nature, can inform the development of future treatments for life-threatening acute infections.

A New Magnetizable Shape Memory Alloy with Low Energy Loss, Even at Low Temperatures

Image Credit: Scientific Frontline

Shape memory alloys (SMA) remember their original shape and return to it after being heated. Similar to how a liquid transforms into a gas when boiled, SMAs undergo a phase transformation when heated or cooled. The phase transformation occurs with the movement of atoms, which is invisible to the naked eye.

SMAs are utilized in a diverse array of applications, including as actuators and sensors. However, the need to cool or heat SMAs means there is a delay in their phase transformation.

As a recently invented type of SMA, metamagnetic shape memory alloys (MMSMA) negate this limited response rate thanks to their ability to undergo phase transformation when exposed to an external magnetic field. Yet to date, MMSMAs have failed to solve another common problem with most SMAs: the fact that they lose a large amount of energy when phase transforming - something that worsens substantially in low temperatures.

Alcohol harm reduction can also reduce other substance use

Photo Credit: cottonbro studio

Quitting alcohol or drugs was not a top priority for people experiencing homelessness in a harm reduction treatment study, yet participants still reduced their use of both.

A different approach than traditional abstinence-based programs, harm reduction treatment for alcohol use disorder, also called HaRT-A, has patients set their own goals. In a study of 308 people experiencing homelessness, the participants receiving harm reduction treatment set goals of meeting basic needs and improving quality of life well above quitting alcohol and other substances.

Yet harm reduction treatment still led to more reduced use compared to a control group who received regular services. The findings are detailed in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

“It’s a good reminder that all people have the same basic goals: we all want to be safer, healthier and happier, and when we help people experiencing homelessness achieve those goals, they might end up doing the things that treatment providers want them to do anyway,” said Susan Collins, a Washington State University psychology professor and the study’s senior author. “They might end up cutting down their use; they might end up quitting, but it’s on their own terms and their own timeline, so it’s more sustainable.”

Collins and first author Nicki Mostofi analyzed data from an earlier clinical study focused on harm reduction and alcohol use. That study involved people with alcohol use disorder from three Seattle homeless shelters who were divided into different groups: one received harm reduction treatment alone, another treatment with naltrexone which reduces alcohol cravings, and a third group had the treatment and a placebo. A fourth control group received traditional services.

Towards the New-Space Era with Foldable Phased-Array Transmitters for Small Satellites

A foldable phased-array transmitter for LEO satellites By varying the number of liquid crystal polymer layers, the proposed design incorporates foldable creases, contributing to a smaller form factor and lower weight.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tokyo Institute of Technology

A new design for a foldable phased-array transmitter can help make satellites lightweight, smaller, and cost-efficient to launch, report scientists at Tokyo Tech. The transmitter is made of stacked layers of liquid crystal polymer and incorporates flexible creases, which provide flexibility and deployability. The new design could make research and implementation of space technologies more accessible to private companies and startups.

By varying the number of liquid crystal polymer layers, the proposed design incorporates foldable creases, contributing to a smaller form factor and lower weight.

There has been a recent shift in the space industry towards what is now called the "new-space era." The term refers to how space is no longer dominated exclusively by government agencies such as NASA but has instead become a playground for many private companies and startups interested in exploring and deploying space technologies. While this opens up a vast ocean of possibilities for space research, exploration, and telecommunications, launching satellites remains an expensive endeavor.

In general, low earth orbit (LEO) satellites are both low cost and low latency. However, modern antenna designs for LEO satellites are heavy, leading to a trade-off between making satellites compact and achieving a large antenna aperture for better performance. Such issues increase launch costs significantly and are regarded as major hurdles to overcome in the new-space era.

A marine mystery: finding the link between climate change and sea sponge loss

The latest findings suggest that thermal stress disturbs sponge-microbes symbiosis, which likely causes the sponge to die.
Photo Credit: Heidi Luter.

Microbes could hold the key to explaining how climate change affects sea sponges, warn scientists from UNSW Sydney. 

Sea sponges are essential to marine ecosystems. They play critical roles in the ocean, as they provide shelter and food to a plethora of marine creatures, recycle nutrients by filtering thousands of liters of sea water daily, and are hosts to microbes that may be the key to some of the most pressing medical challenges we face today. 

Now, scientists from UNSW have discovered that when a tropical sea sponge is exposed to warmer temperatures, it loses an important microbe, which could explain why the sponge tissue dies.  

The latest study, published in ISME Communications, has revealed that by exposing sea sponges to a temperature increase of 3°C, one essential microbe abandons the sponge, potentially causing tissue poisoning.   

The collaboration between researchers from UNSW, Heidi Luter from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Bell from the Victoria University of Wellington, has added an important piece to the puzzle on the impact of climate change on sponge populations around the world. 

Paleontologists Discovered Unique Remains of Paleogene Reptiles in the Urals

Rare remains have been found in the Sverdlovsk and Kurgan Regions
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ural Federal University

At the river Miass (Kurgan Region) paleontologists of the Ural Branch of the Institute of Ecology of Animals and Plants of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ural Federal University discovered rare for the Urals and Siberia finds - vertebrae of a sea snake and a piece of a turtle shell. Approximate dating of bones - 45-35 million years, but the exact figures have not yet been established. The findings were sent to the Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow for further research.

"This is the second such unique find, and we were lucky to study both of them. The fact is that fossil remains of Paleogene snakes from the territory of Western and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia are quite well described, but such finds are not known in the Urals and Western Siberia. Last year we managed to find a vertebra of a sea snake on the Dernei River in the Sverdlovsk Region. This year, our friend and paleontology enthusiast Alexey Sofrygin showed us a snake vertebra from a new spot - the Miass River. Unfortunately, we did not find any other vertebrae when we conducted a complete study of the Miass River sediments. However, we did find a piece of a turtle shell. This is also an extremely rare find," says Dmitry Gimranov, Head of Research, Senior Researcher at the Laboratory of Natural Science Methods in Humanities of the Ural Federal University.

Featured Article

Autism and ADHD are linked to disturbed gut flora very early in life

The researchers have found links between the gut flora in babies first year of life and future diagnoses. Photo Credit:  Cheryl Holt Disturb...

Top Viewed Articles