. Scientific Frontline

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Covid-19 studies should record women’s menstrual changes, recommend researchers

Large scale COVID-19 studies and clinical trials should collect data on menstrual changes, according to new research which evaluated current evidence. The findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and led by University of Bristol researchers, say there is an important public health imperative for accurate scientific investigation of menstrual changes in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers from the universities of Bristol, Edinburgh and Oxford sought to evaluate the existing anecdotal and scientific literature on menstrual cycle feature changes in the COVID-19 pandemic and provide suggestions for future research. They conducted a comprehensive review of current literature and found just 12 studies that had reported on menstrual changes in relation to the pandemic in general and/or COVID-19 specifically. None of the COVID-19 vaccine trials has collected data on menstrual changes.

Anecdotes shared online and data from the MHRA’s Yellow Card scheme for adverse drug reactions, suggested that many women and people who menstruate have experienced disruptions to their menstrual cycles since the start of the pandemic, either due to pandemic-related factors like stress and behavior changes and/or due to COVID-19 illness itself or COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

However, the researchers say from what is known about how the menstrual cycle works and how it can be disrupted by factors like stress, weight changes, infection, and inflammation (e.g. following vaccination), they strongly suspect that any pandemic-related changes will be short term with no serious or lasting effect on health and fertility.

Lunar radar data uncovers new clues about moon’s ancient past

A full moon is pictured above the Earth's horizon as the International Space Station orbited 262 miles over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan.
Credit: NASA

The dusty surface of the moon — immortalized in images of Apollo astronauts’ lunar footprints — formed as the result of asteroid impacts and the harsh environment of space breaking down rock over millions of years. An ancient layer of this material, covered by periodic lava flows and now buried under the lunar surface, could provide new insight into the Moon’s deep past, according to a team of scientists.

“Using careful data processing, we found interesting new evidence that this buried layer, called paleoregolith, may be much thicker than previously expected,” said Tieyuan Zhu, assistant professor of geophysics at Penn State. “These layers have been undisturbed since their formation and could be important records for determining early asteroid impact and volcanic history of the moon.”

The team, led by Zhu, conducted new analysis of radar data collected by China’s Chang’e 3 mission in 2013, which performed the first direct ground radar measurements on the moon.

The researchers identified a thick layer of paleoregolith, roughly 16 to 30 feet, sandwiched between two layers of lava rock believed to be 2.3 and 3.6 billion years old. The findings suggest the paleoregolith formed much faster than previous estimates of 6.5 feet per billion years, the scientists said.

Interactive tool helps people decide how best to protect themselves and others from COVID-19

Credit: Will Stahl-Timmins, The BMJ
A new interactive graphic developed by UK researchers and published by The BMJ will help people decide what to do in everyday situations to protect themselves, and others, from COVID-19.

Based on estimates provided by 26 international experts, it shows the different pathways that may be taken by the virus that causes COVID-19 when it transfers between two people.

It is designed to help illustrate the risks of catching COVID-19 in different scenarios - and what can be done to reduce those risks - based on the available evidence.

As well as the areas of scientific consensus, it also conveys the uncertainties and the disagreement that exists between experts about how the virus behaves, how it is transmitted, and how we can best reduce the likelihood of transmission through personal and social measures.

The researchers say the tool should support decision-makers and the public to make informed decisions about how to reduce virus transmission in different contexts, such as how to make a workplace or a public area as safe as it can be while still being open and functional.

To create the tool, the researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, consulted 26 experts from a range of disciplines and countries, asking them for every value needed to underpin the graphic.

Initiatives aimed at reversing deterioration of the Baltic Sea

Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden participated in a Baltic Tech Initiative seminar at the KTH Library where she was joined by, from left, KTH Deputy President Mikael Östling, Development Office Director Philip von Segebaden and David Nilsson, scientific coordinator of the Baltic Tech Initiative.

The marine environment is worsening at a fast rate and KTH researchers are now working to reverse the trend in the Baltic Sea.

“We want to solve the problems by, among other ways, electronically monitoring the state of the sea. Data is critical for the ocean use revolution the world is facing,” says David Nilsson, scientific coordinator of the KTH Baltic Tech Initiative. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden has attended a KTH presentation of the initiative.

The Baltic Sea has been in a poor state for a long time, primarily due to over-fertilization, overfishing and toxic pollution. The problems are not only apparent in research reports—more and more fishers and residents of the Stockholm archipelago attest to empty nets, polluted swimming spots and overgrown bays.

Already before the pandemic, KTH researchers initiated an international environmental cooperation through the EU-initiative Clean Stormwater, which reduces toxins in water from cities and regulates the run-off to the oceans, David Nilsson says.

Whack-a-mole vaping policies do not protect youth

New flavored vaping products have been developed
that aren't regulated by current legislative restrictions,
Stanford Medicine researchers report.
Courtesy of the Stanford Tobacco Prevention Toolkit
The Food and Drug Administration’s approach to controlling specific e-cigarette devices and flavors has failed to prevent teens and young adults from vaping, according to a Stanford Medicine study. Instead, young people are migrating to widely available flavored vaping products, including new products that circumvent FDA policies.

The findings, which will be published online Nov. 30 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, suggest that, rather than adopting policies that target particular device types and flavors, the FDA should implement comprehensive regulations covering all tobacco and nicotine-containing products to reduce nicotine use by young people.

“Our goal was to understand, in a time after policies were announced, which tobacco products and flavors youth were able to access and use,” said the study’s senior author, Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine.

“What we found was exactly what we were afraid of: Some young people were still using flavors and products that were purportedly restricted, and even more were using products that were completely uncontrolled,” she said. “Unless we regulate all vaping products — and all nontobacco flavors of products, including menthol — young people will simply go to another nicotine-based product.”

The study’s lead author is Shivani Gaiha, PhD, instructor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine.

Stemming the tide of invasive weeds with world-first herbicide capsules

An innovative herbicide delivery system could revolutionize the way agricultural and environmental managers battle invasive weeds.

The ingenious method uses herbicide-filled capsules drilled into the stems of invasive woody weeds and is safer, cleaner and as effective as herbicide sprays, which can have negative health impacts on workers and surrounding areas.

PhD candidate Amelia Limbongan from The University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences said the method was highly effective against a wide variety of weed species, which pose a major threat to farming and grazing systems.

“Woody weeds such as Mimosa bush stifle pasture growth, impede mustering and cause physical and financial damage to animals and property,” Ms Limbongan said.

“This method of weed control is practical, portable and far more convenient than other methods and we’ve already seen several professional operators and councils adopting the approach.”

The portability and convenience of the system, coupled with its proven efficacy and safety, meant the encapsulated herbicide could be used in a variety of settings and locations worldwide.

“This method uses 30 per cent less herbicide to kill weeds, and is just as effective as more labor-intensive approaches, which will save valuable time and money for farmers and foresters,” Ms Limbongan said.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Texas Astronomers Discover Strangely Massive Black Hole in Milky Way Satellite Galaxy

McDonald Observatory astronomers have found that Leo I (inset), a tiny satellite galaxy of the Milky Way (main image), has a black hole nearly as massive as the Milky Way's. Leo I is 30 times smaller than the Milky Way. The result could signal changes in astronomers' understanding of galaxy evolution. Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC; SDSS (inset) McDonald Observatory astronomers have found that Leo I (inset), a tiny satellite galaxy of the Milky Way (main image), has a black hole nearly as massive as the Milky Way's. Leo I is 30 times smaller than the Milky Way. The result could signal changes in astronomers' understanding of galaxy evolution.
Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC; SDSS (inset)

Astronomers at The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory have discovered an unusually massive black hole at the heart of one of the Milky Way’s dwarf satellite galaxies, called Leo I. Almost as massive as the black hole in our own galaxy, the finding could redefine our understanding of how all galaxies — the building blocks of the universe — evolve. The work is published in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The team decided to study Leo I because of its peculiarity. Unlike most dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, Leo I does not contain much dark matter. Researchers measured Leo I’s dark matter profile — that is, how the density of dark matter changes from the outer edges of the galaxy all the way into its center. They did this by measuring its gravitational pull on the stars: The faster the stars are moving, the more matter there is enclosed in their orbits. In particular, the team wanted to know whether dark matter density increases toward the galaxy’s center. They also wanted to know whether their profile measurement would match previous ones made using older telescope data combined with computer models.

Particle accelerator magnet sets record using high-temperature superconductor

Henryk Piekarz of Fermilab’s Accelerator Division
controls the flow of cryogens in the high-temperature
superconductor magnet prototype.
Photo: Ryan Postel, Fermilab
Cost- and energy-efficient rapid cycling magnets for particle accelerators are critical for particle physics research. Their performance determines how frequently a circular particle accelerator can receive a bunch of particles, propel them to higher energy, send them to an experiment or target station, and then repeat all over again.

A small team of physicists, engineers and technicians at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Particle Accelerator Laboratory, led by Henryk Piekarz, just demonstrated the world’s fastest magnetic ramping rates for particle accelerator magnets. Noteworthy, they achieved this record by using magnets made with energy-efficient, high-temperature superconducting material.

What is the best conductor?

Despite the many attractive features of superconducting wire, the fastest-ramping high-energy particle accelerators still use magnets with copper conductors operating at room temperature. Examples include the 3 GeV proton ring at JPARC in Japan, which features a magnetic field that changes at a rate of 70 tesla per second (T/s) and reaches a peak magnetic field of 1.1 tesla, and the 8 GeV Booster ring at Fermilab, which achieves a ramping rate of 30 T/s and a peak field of 0.7 tesla.

Most of the powerful superconducting magnets employed in modern-day particle accelerators are relatively slow when it comes to increasing the magnetic field. Their main goal is to ramp up to a high peak magnetic field to steer particles around a ring while electric fields propel the particles to higher and higher energy. The higher the energy, the stronger the magnetic field must be to keep the particles in their track as they go around the ring.

KvarkenSat, the first small satellite in the Kvarken region

KvarkenSat is a joint small satellite between the Ostrobothnian provinces and Västerbotten, which is due to be launched into space in just over a year.

The design and implementation of the KvarkenSat small satellite is part of the 'New Space Digital Economy Innovation Center' project funded by the EU's Interreg Botnia-Atlantica programme, the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia and the province of Västerbotten. The project is abbreviated as KvarkenSpaceEco.

KvarkenSpaceEco is a project focusing on the new space economy, implemented by 10 universities and research institutes on both sides of the Kvarken. The actors in the project are involved in developing an ecosystem around space data and economy in the Kvarken region, as well as the Kvarken Space Center.

'The project will make space data available to the region's residents, companies, schools and other actors, as well as introduce them to the opportunities brought by the new space economy,' says the director responsible for the project, Professor Heidi Kuusniemi from the University of Vaasa.

In the KvarkenSpaceEco project, a ground station has been built on the university campus in Vaasa, which receives data transmitted by satellites and, in time, will control the region's own small satellite. The ground station will become part of the space data laboratory of the University of Vaasa to be built in the Technobothnia research center.

Evol­ution happens faster than ex­pec­ted

A microscopic image of a ciliate
Credit: B. Sonntag
It is a relatively new finding that evolution occurs fast enough to play an important role in population dynamics. Some recently published research shows how prey organisms adapt evolutionarily to escape predation pressure. But how important is this process? New research at the University of Innsbruck's Research Department for Limnology in Mondsee demonstrates that in predator-prey dynamics, not only does the prey adapt through evolution, but so do the predators. The study was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution and funded by the University of Innsbruck's Young Investigator Grant.

The classic predator-prey model

Individuals of the same species who live and reproduce together in a relatively enclosed area form a population. The size of this population can be subject to gentle or extreme fluctuations, due to various environmental influences. This decrease and increase in individuals over time is called population dynamics.

Population dynamics are often explained in terms of purely ecological processes, as can be seen in the example of predator-prey relationships. Here, population dynamics are primarily determined by prey growth rates and predator feeding rates.

Classical predator-prey models assume that prey organisms evolve unaffected until a predator arrives and decimates the prey. Predators find abundant food and also become more abundant. Increased predation pressure reduces prey densities, which causes predator densities to decrease until prey recovers. Thus, when prey is depleted by the predator, an overall population collapse occurs. This model only represents ecological dynamics. However, predator-prey relationships are also an important cause of evolutionary adaptation.

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