. Scientific Frontline

Monday, February 12, 2024

Researchers identify brain hub with key role in learned response to direct and indirect threats

Diagram of mouse prefrontal cortex showing neural projections to the midbrain (purple) and the amygdala (green), pathways involved in learning about threat.
Image Credit: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

NIH-supported study in mice could inform treatments of trauma- and stress-related psychiatric conditions.

Scientists have identified an area within the brain’s frontal cortex that may coordinate an animal’s response to potentially traumatic situations. Understanding where and how neural circuits involving the frontal cortex regulate such functions, and how such circuits could malfunction, may provide insight about their role in trauma-related and stress-related psychiatric disorders in people. The study, led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a part of the National Institutes of Health, was published in Nature.

“Experiencing traumatic events is often at the root of trauma-related and stress-related psychiatric conditions, including alcohol use disorder (AUD),” said the study’s senior author, Andrew Holmes, Ph.D., senior investigator in NIAAA’s Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience. “Additionally, witnessing others experience traumatic events can also contribute to these disorders.”

SwRI Scientists Identify Water Molecules on Asteroids for the First Time

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy
Image Credit: NASA/Carla Thomas/SwRI

Using data from the retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) — a joint project of NASA and the German Space Agency at DLR — Southwest Research Institute scientists have discovered, for the first time, water molecules on the surface of an asteroid. Scientists looked at four silicate-rich asteroids using the FORCAST instrument to isolate the mid-infrared spectral signatures indicative of molecular water on two of them.

“Asteroids are leftovers from the planetary formation process, so their compositions vary depending on where they formed in the solar nebula,” said SwRI’s Dr. Anicia Arredondo, lead author of a Planetary Science Journal paper about the discovery. “Of particular interest is the distribution of water on asteroids, because that can shed light on how water was delivered to Earth.”

Anhydrous, or dry, silicate asteroids form close to the Sun while icy materials coalesce farther out. Understanding the location of asteroids and their compositions tells us how materials in the solar nebula were distributed and have evolved since formation. The distribution of water in our solar system will provide insight into the distribution of water in other solar systems and, because water is necessary for all life on Earth, will drive where to look for potential life, both in our solar system and beyond.

Research makes key advance for capturing carbon from the air

Vanadium, one of the CO2 capture materials, displaying a brilliant deep purple color
Image Credit: May Nyman, chemistry professor, OSU College of Science

A chemical element so visually striking it was named for a goddess that shows a “Goldilocks” level of reactivity – neither too much nor too little – that makes it a strong candidate as a carbon scrubbing tool.

The element is vanadium, and research by Oregon State University scientists has demonstrated the ability of vanadium peroxide molecules to react with and bind carbon dioxide – an important step toward improved technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The study is part of a $24 million federal effort to develop new methods for direct air capture, or DAC, of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that’s produced by the burning of fossil fuels and is associated with climate change.

Facilities that filter carbon from the air have begun to spring up around the globe but they’re still in their infancy. Technologies for mitigating carbon dioxide at the point of entry into the atmosphere, such as at power plants, are more well developed. Both types of carbon capture will likely be needed if the Earth is to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change, scientists say.

Riverine fish numbers increase amidst environmental challenges

Surprising trends in the abundance and species richness of riverine fish across the globe have been unveiled in a new study.
Photo Credit: Brandon

A new study, conducted by scientists at the University of Sheffield, has found a significant increase in the number and diversity of riverine fish species across the planet over the past 30 years

Contrary to conventional expectations, increases in fish species that live in rivers are concentrated in the most degraded areas

Although researchers found positive trends in riverine fish communities, a surge in the prevalence of non-native species poses a threat to the delicate balance of native fish

Surprising trends in the abundance and species richness of riverine fish across the globe have been unveiled in a new study. 

Until now, it was a common scientific belief that increases in species richness and abundance in freshwater ecosystems were as a result of the recent improvement of water quality in historically industrialized regions.

Researchers identify a new mechanism that could improve the efficiency of diabetes treatments

The study led by the UB and CIBERDEM reveals new strategies to inhibit glucose synthesis in the liver and reduce levels in patients affected by metabolic pathologies.
Image Credit: Gemini Advance AI

A study led by the University of Barcelona and the Biomedical Research Networking Center in Diabetes and Associated Metabolic Disorders (CIBERDEM) reveals how a new mechanism could improve the efficiency of currently available treatments for diabetes. The study, carried out on mice and cell cultures, may open up new ways of approaching metabolic diseases that are a global health problem.

The study, published in the journal Metabolism, focuses on the GDF15 protein, a factor that is expressed at high levels in many diseases, such as heart failure, cancer and fatty liver disease. Obese patients also have elevated levels of this protein, but its function is altered and those affected may develop resistance to GDF15 — that is, a reduction in the effectiveness of its activity.

The study is led by Professor Manuel Vázquez-Carrera, from the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences of the UB, the Institute of Biomedicine of the UB (IBUB), the Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute (IRSJD) and CIBERDEM. The study also highlights the participation of researchers Patricia Rada and Ángela María Valverde, also collaborators at CIBERDEM, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM). The work has the collaboration of Professor Walter Wahli of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), among other experts.

Artificial cartilage with the help of 3D printing

The spheroids in which living cells are grown, can be assembled into almost any shape.
Image Credit: Technische Universität Wien

A new approach to producing artificial tissue has been developed at TU Wien: Cells are grown in microstructures created in a 3D printer.

Is it possible to grow tissue in the laboratory, for example to replace injured cartilage? At TU Wien (Vienna), an important step has now been taken towards creating replacement tissue in the lab - using a technique that differs significantly from other methods used around the world.

A special high-resolution 3D printing process is used to create tiny, porous spheres made of biocompatible and degradable plastic, which are then colonized with cells. These spheroids can then be arranged in any geometry, and the cells of the different units combine seamlessly to form a uniform, living tissue. Cartilage tissue, with which the concept has now been demonstrated at TU Wien, was previously considered particularly challenging in this respect.

Frequency of U.S. blizzards may decline in coming decades

Vehicles in ditches and medians. Nights without power and heat. Injuries suffered. Lives lost.
Photo Credit: Shawn Dearn

For those in the Heartland, where the frying pan of summer gives way to the snow globe of winter, the scenes of a blizzard are familiar for their frequency. Of the nearly 13,000 U.S. blizzards documented between 1996 and 2020, more than 10,000 struck the northern Plains and Upper Midwest.

But the average number of blizzards could decline amid the lighter snowfalls and milder winds of coming decades, says a first-of-its-kind study from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

With help from the same models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Nebraska’s Liang Chen is predicting a decrease in U.S. blizzards through the end of the 21st century. Chen recently presented the findings at the 104th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society.

“Blizzards have a huge impact on a lot of our daily life — infrastructure, transportation,” said Chen, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Nebraska. “In terms of planning for climate change, people want to know: In the future, how will these blizzards change because of the warming climate?

“But there is no study looking at how they will change in the future, based on climate simulations. The major reason is: It’s hard to quantify.”

When the global climate has the hiccups

This chamber has the size of a football pitch and is located deep inside the cave.
Photo Credit: University of Basel, Dominik Fleitmann

Climate changes usually happens over long periods of time, but during the last glacial period, extreme fluctuations in temperature occurred within just a few years. Researchers at the University of Basel have now been able to prove the phenomenon also occurred during the penultimate glacial period.

In recent geological history, the so-called Quaternary period, there have been repeated ice ages and warm periods. Researchers are able to determine past climate variability from the composition of climate records. In the case of the last glacial period 100,000 years ago, ice cores from Greenland in particular provide researchers with detailed data.

For example, Greenland ice cores show that there were repeated rapid increases in temperature. “We are talking about increases of 5 to 10 degrees within 30 to 40 years on average in the case of Europe. A Neanderthal would have experienced increases in the average temperature of several degrees over the course of their life,” explains Prof. Dominik Fleitmann, Professor of Quaternary Geology at the University of Basel. He calls the phenomena “climate hiccups”.

These Dansgaard-Oeschger events are well documented for the last glacial period, but the climate records from Greenland only cover the last 120,000 years. It was therefore previously unknown whether these Dansgaard-Oeschger events also occurred during the penultimate glacial period 135,000 to 190,000 years ago. Frederick Held, a PhD candidate in Fleitmann’s research group, was able to show that Dansgaard-Oeschger events also occurred during the penultimate glacial period using isotopic measurements on stalagmites. He is the lead author of the study which was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Ancient air-breathing fish comes to surface

Life reconstruction of Harajicadectes zhumini, a 40 cm long lobe-finned fish that is not too distantly related to the fishes that gave rise to the earliest limbed tetrapods.
Illustration Credit: Brian Choo, Flinders University

Alice Spring’s Finke River (Larapinta), often cited as one of the oldest rivers in the world, once hosted waters teeming with bizarre animals – including a sleek predatory lobe-finned fish with large fangs and bony scales.

The newly described fossil fish has been named Harajicadectes zhumini by an international team of researchers led by Flinders University paleontologist Dr Brian Choo.

The fossil was named for the Harajica Sandstone Member where the fossils were found in Australia’s ‘Red Centre’ and the ancient Greek dēktēs (“biter”). It also pays homage to Professor Min Zhu, currently at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, who has made some major contributions to the research of early vertebrates.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Ants Recognize Infected Wounds and Treat Them

A Matabele ant tends to the wound of a fellow ant whose legs were bitten off in a fight with termites.
 Photo Credit: Erik Frank / Universität Würzburg

The African Matabele ants are often injured in fights with termites. Their conspecifics recognize when the wounds become infected and initiate antibiotic treatment.

The Matabele ants (Megaponera analis), which are widespread south of the Sahara, have a narrow diet: They only eat termites. Their hunting expeditions are dangerous because termite soldiers defend their conspecifics – and use their powerful mandibles to do so. It is therefore common for ants to be injured while hunting.

If the wounds become infected, there is a significant survival risk. However, Matabele ants have developed a sophisticated healthcare system: they can distinguish between non-infected and infected wounds and treat the latter efficiently with antibiotics they produce themselves. This is reported by a team led by Dr Erik Frank from Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg and Professor Laurent Keller from the University of Lausanne in the journal Nature Communications.

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