Established in 2020 Monday, December 11, 2023

Ancient Balkan genomes trace the rise and fall of Roman Empire's frontier, reveal Slavic migrations

This photograph shows a Roman aqueduct that supplied water to Viminacium, a large Roman city. Image courtesy: Carles Lalueza-Foz.

NORMAN, OK.- A multidisciplinary study has reconstructed the genomic history of the Balkan Peninsula during the first millennium of the common era, a time and place of profound demographic, cultural and linguistic change. The team has recovered and analyzed whole genome data from 146 ancient people excavated primarily from Serbia and Croatia—more than a third of which came from the Roman military frontier at the massive archaeological site of Viminacium in Serbia—which they co-analyzed with data from the rest of the Balkans and nearby regions. The work, published in the journal Cell, highlights the cosmopolitanism of the Roman frontier and the long-term consequences of migrations that accompanied the breakdown of Roman control, including the arrival of people speaking Slavic languages. Archaeological DNA reveals that despite nation-state boundaries that divide them, populations in the Balkans have been shaped by shared demographic processes. "Archaeogenetics is an indispensable complement ... More

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A new 66 million-year history of carbon dioxide offers little comfort for today   Physicists 'entangle' individual molecules for the first time, hastening possibilities for quantum computing   Immersive VR goggles for mice unlock new potential for brain science

The edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, where recent melting has left bare ground. Image courtesy: Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute.

NEW YORK, NY.- A massive new review of ancient atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels and corresponding temperatures lays out a daunting picture of where the Earth's climate may be headed. The study covers geologic records spanning the past 66 million years, putting present-day concentrations into context with deep time. Among other things, it indicates that the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide consistently reached today's human-driven levels was 14 million years ago—much longer ago than some existing assessments indicate. It asserts that long-term climate is highly sensitive to greenhouse gas, with cascading effects that may evolve over many millennia. The study was assembled over seven years by a consortium of more than 80 researchers from 16 nations. It appears in the journal Science. "We have long known that adding CO2 to our atmosphere raises the temperature," said Bärbel Hönisch, a geochemist at ... More

Laser setup for cooling, controlling, and entangling individual molecules. Image courtesy: Richard Soden, Department of Physics, Princeton University.

PRINCETON, NJ.- For the first time, a team of Princeton physicists have been able to link together individual molecules into special states that are quantum mechanically "entangled." In these bizarre states, the molecules remain correlated with each other—and can interact simultaneously—even if they are miles apart, or indeed, even if they occupy opposite ends of the universe. This research was recently published in the journal Science. "This is a breakthrough in the world of molecules because of the fundamental importance of quantum entanglement," said Lawrence Cheuk, assistant professor of physics at Princeton University and the senior author of the paper. "But it is also a breakthrough for practical applications because entangled molecules can be the building blocks for many future applications." These include, for example, quantum computers that can solve certain problems much faster than conventional computers, quantum simulators ... More

An artist's interpretation of a cartoon mouse wearing VR goggles. Image courtesy: @ rita.

EVANSTON, IL.- Northwestern University researchers have developed new virtual reality (VR) goggles for mice. Besides just being cute, these miniature goggles provide more immersive experiences for mice living in laboratory settings. By more faithfully simulating natural environments, the researchers can more accurately and precisely study the neural circuitry that underlies behavior. Compared to current state-of-the-art systems, which simply surround mice with computer or projection screens, the new goggles provide a leap in advancement. In current systems, mice can still see the lab environment peeking out from behind the screens, and the screens’ flat nature cannot convey three-dimensional (3D) depth. In another disadvantage, researchers have been unable to easily mount screens above mice’s heads to simulate overhead threats, such as looming birds of prey. The new VR goggles bypass all those issues. And, as VR grows in popularity ... More

It turns out, this plant fossil is really a baby turtle fossil   A superconducting junction made from a single 2D material promises to harness strange new physics   Spinning up control: Propeller shape helps direct nanoparticles, researchers say

Drawing highlighting the rib and back bones, superimposed onto the fossil. Image courtesy: Fabiany Herrera and Héctor Palma-Castro; drawing by Edwin-Alberto Cadena and Diego Cómbita-Romero.

CHICAGO, IL.- From the 1950s to the 1970s, a Colombian priest named Padre Gustavo Huertas collected rocks and fossils near a town called Villa de Levya. Two of the specimens he found were small, round rocks patterned with lines that looked like leaves; he classified them as a type of fossil plant. But in a new study, published in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica, researchers re-examined these "plant" fossils and found that they weren't plants at all: they were the fossilized remains of baby turtles. "It was truly surprising to find these fossils," says Héctor Palma-Castro, a paleobotany student at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. The plants in question had been described by Huertas in 2003 as Sphenophyllum colombianum. The fossils come from Early Cretaceous rocks, between 132 and 113 million years ago, during the dinosaurs' era. Fossils of Sphenophyllum colombianum were surprising at this time and place—the other known members of the genus Sphenophyllum died out more than 100 million ... More

A schematic image showing a Josephson junction (central section) made from a single layer of tungsten telluride. The red spheres are electron with spin up, while the blue ones have spin down. Image courtesy: RIKEN Advanced Device Laboratory.

SAITAMA.- Physicists at RIKEN have developed an electronic device that hosts unusual states of matter, which could one day be useful for quantum computation. When a material exists as an ultrathin layer—a mere one or a few atoms thick—it has totally different properties from thicker samples of the same material. That's because confining electrons to a 2D plane gives rise to exotic states. Because of their flat dimensions and their broad compatibility with existing semiconductor technologies, such 2D materials are promising for harnessing new phenomenon in electronic devices. These states include quantum spin Hall insulators, which conduct electricity along their edges but are electrically insulating in their interiors. Such systems when coupled with superconductivity have been proposed as a route toward engineering topological superconducting states that have potential application in future topological quantum computers. Now, Micha ... More

Left to right: Igor Aronson, the Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry and Mathematics, and Ashlee McGovern, doctoral student in chemistry and first author on the paper.

STATE COLLEGE, PA.- Self-propelled nanoparticles could potentially advance drug delivery and lab-on-a-chip systems—but they are prone to go rogue with random, directionless movements. Now, an international team of researchers has developed an approach to rein in the synthetic particles. Led by Igor Aronson, the Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry and Mathematics at Penn State, the team redesigned the nanoparticles into a propeller shape to better control their movements and increase their functionality. They published their results in the journal Small. Due to fabrication challenges, the shape of nanoparticles has previously been limited to rods and donuts, according to Ashlee McGovern, doctoral student in chemistry at Penn State and first author on the paper. With a nanoscribe machine that can 3D print at the nanoscale in Penn State's Materials Research Institute, McGovern experim ... More

Parrots, songbirds have evolved distinct brain mechanisms   AI takes the reins in deep-tissue imaging   Adapting to hypoxia: Zooplankton influence efficiency of biological carbon pump in the Humboldt Current

Budgerigar parrots get a treat of millet in Cornell's Corson Hall aviary. Image courtesy: Chris Kitchen.

ITHACA, NY.- When humans learn to speak a language, we learn to produce new vocalizations and use them flexibly for communication, but how the brain is able to achieve this is an important but largely unanswered question, according to Zhilei Zhao, Klarman Fellow in neurobiology and behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). To explore this question, Zhao and Cornell collaborators compared the brain pathways of songbirds and parrots. The two groups diverged 50 million years ago but both have vocal learning ability. The researchers found drastically different effects in the two species’ brain mechanisms, providing a clue into how parrot – and human – brains allow continuous, flexible vocal learning. “Anterior forebrain pathway in parrots is necessary for producing vocalization with individual signatures” published in Current Biology on Dec. 8 with Zhao as first author. Co-authors from the Department of Neurobiolo ... More

Super-resolution reconstruction of Thy1-ChR2-EYFP using DL-AO through a 250-μm-cut brain section resolving the ultrastructural details of dendrites and spines. Image courtesy: Purdue University /Peiyi Zhang.

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN.- Artificial intelligence is finding more and more applications every day. One of the newest is in the biomedical field, using AI to control and drive single-molecule microscopy in ways no human can. The result is a landmark capacity of nanoscale optical imaging deep into tissue—visualizing 3D ultrastructure of the brain circuitry and plaque-forming amyloid beta fibrils in healthy and diseased brains, promising insights into autism and Alzheimer's disease. Advances in deep-tissue imaging technology represent one of the most exciting developments in science today. They are allowing researchers to see more deeply and with greater resolution into the most elemental biological processes, shedding light on both human development and disease. "Imaging through tissues is challenging, due to the distortion and blurring, called aberration, caused by the highly packed ... More

Deployment of the sediment trap on board the research vessel METEOR. Image courtesy: Jon Roa, GEOMAR.

KIEL.- Marine organisms play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle. Phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it in organic matter that sinks to the deep ocean where it can be stored for long periods of time. Until now, this process—the biological carbon pump—was thought to be particularly efficient in oxygen-poor areas. A new study by researchers at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel suggests that the influence of certain zooplankton species on the biological carbon pump has been underestimated. The scientists have published their findings in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. In the ocean, organic particles from the sunlit surface water sink to the bottom. This process is an important part of the biological carbon pump. It binds carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and provides energy to deep-sea ecosystems. Previous research has suggested that the biological p ... More

Mediterranean green turtles' nesting range will expand under warming climate, modeling study finds   Plasmodium vivax malaria: Infections may be largely underestimated in sub-Saharan Africa   Orangutan male success not due to dominance alone, study finds

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) rehabilitated at the Sea Turtle Research, Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Natural History Museum of Salento (MSNS).

WASHINGTON, DC.- Rising global temperatures could lead to an increase in the nesting range of green turtles in the Mediterranean Sea, according to a modeling study published in Scientific Reports. Under the worst-case climate scenario, the nesting range could increase by over 60 percentage points, spreading west from the current area to include much of the North African, Italian, and Greek coastlines. Human-caused climate change has caused sea surface temperatures to increase globally, with severe impacts on some marine life. Sea turtles are potentially particularly susceptible, as the sex of their offspring is dependent on incubation temperature. Although previous research has investigated the effects of climate change on several different populations of sea turtles worldwide, there has been very little research into the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) population in the Mediterranean Sea. Chiara Mancino ... More

Duffy-negative erythroblasts (at D9 of erythroid progenitor differentiation) infected with a Madagascan isolate of Plasmodium vivax observed by light microscopy (mature stage).

PARIS.- An international research team has revealed how Plasmodium vivax, one of the main causes of malaria, is capable of infecting people in Africa. This is an important discovery, given that until now these populations were considered to be naturally protected due to the absence of the Duffy protein on the surface of their red blood cells. These results suggest that a large number of individuals in sub-Saharan Africa could be silent carriers of Plasmodium vivax and, consequently, that malaria could be largely underestimated in Africa. The results of this research have been published in Cell Host & Microbe. Malaria kills almost 600,000 people worldwide every year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. For some time, epidemiological data suggested that Plasmodium vivax, the second most common Plasmodium species after Plasmodium falciparum, could only infect young red blood cells ... More

A flanged Bornean orangutan. Image courtesy: Suwi / Tuanan Orangutan Project.

RADOLFZELL.- In primates, the biggest, bossiest males usually get to father the most offspring; and for a long time it was thought that this rule applied to orangutans too. Male orangutans openly compete; and it's the older males with hefty cheek pads, known as "flanges," who usually get their way when they want to mate. But for wild orangutans, nobody knew for sure which males actually won the ultimate prize of fathering offspring. Now, the largest paternity study on a natural population has finally provided some answers. The study on Bornean orangutans reveals that simply beating males in competitions, per se, did not lead to siring success. Rather, success was determined by where males chose to spend their time. The work by an international team led by scientists now at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (MPI-AB) has produced the clearest picture yet on how orangutans become fathers in the wild, and the space they need to do so. "Male ... More

The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death. Kurt Vonnegut

More News
Veins of bacteria could form a self-healing system for concrete infrastructure
PHILADELPHIA, PA.- In hopes of producing concrete structures that can repair their cracks, researchers from Drexel University's College of Engineering are putting a new twist on an old trick for improving the durability of concrete. Fiber reinforcement has been around since the first masons mixed horsehair into their mud. However the Drexel research team is taking this method to the next level by turning reinforcing fibers into a living tissue system that rushes concrete-healing bacteria to the site of cracks to repair the damage. Recently reported in the journal Construction and Building Materials, Drexel's "BioFiber" is a polymer fiber encased in a bacteria-laden hydrogel and a protective, damage-responsive shell. The team reports that a grid of BioFibers embedded within a concrete structure can ... More

COVID-19: The persistence of SARS-CoV-2 in the lungs and the role of innate immunity
PARIS.- One to two weeks after contracting COVID, the SARS-CoV-2 virus generally becomes undetectable in the upper respiratory tract. But does that mean that it is no longer present in the body? To find out, a team from the Institut Pasteur specialized in HIV, in collaboration with a French public research institute, the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), conducted a study on lung cells in an animal model. The results show not only that SARS-CoV-2 is found in the lungs of certain individuals for up to 18 months after infection but also that its persistence appears to be linked to a failure of innate immunity (the first line of defense against pathogens). This research was published in the journal Nature Immunology. Some viruses persist in the body in a discreet and undetectable mann ... More

New insights into Zebra mussel attachment fibers offer potential solutions to combat invasive species
MONTREAL.- A recent study from researchers in Canada and Germany has revealed that an unlikely event, occurring over 12 million years ago, played an important role in shaping one of Canada's most damaging invasive species. Zebra and quagga mussels, belonging to the Dreissenid family, are widespread freshwater invasive species throughout North America that present a significant danger to native ecosystems by competing for resources. Using a fibrous anchor called a byssus, Dreissenid mussels contribute to biofouling on surfaces and obstruct intake structures in power stations and water treatment plants. "This new study, which looks into the way these mussels stick to surfaces, may help improve strategies against biofouling, a problem causing millions in damages in Canada alone," says co- ... More

A micro-ring resonator with big potential: Hybrid device significantly improves laser technology
LAUSANNE.- The team at EPFL's Photonic Systems Laboratory (PHOSL) has developed a chip-scale laser source that enhances the performance of semiconductor lasers while enabling the generation of shorter wavelengths. This pioneering work, led by Professor Camille Brès and postdoctoral researcher Marco Clementi from EPFL's School of Engineering represents a significant advance in the field of photonics, with implications for telecommunications, metrology, and other high-precision applications. The study, published in the journal Light: Science & Applications, reveals how the PHOSL researchers, in collaboration with the Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements, have successfully integrated semiconductor lasers with silicon nitride photonic circuits containing microresonato ... More

Structure of a central component of the human immune system revealed
MUNICH.- A central component of the human immune system, the NLRP3 inflammasome plays an important role in fighting off infections. However, its chronic activation is also implicated in a variety of common diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis, gout, and type II diabetes. The NLRP3 inflammasome occurs primarily in specialized immune cells in the blood and elsewhere. It is a dense complex in which several proteins interact with each other. A key protein in this complex is known by the abbreviation ASC. In non-activated immune cells, it is distributed homogeneously throughout the cell. If the NLRP3 inflammasome is activated, all of the ASC protein present in the cell aggregates in the inflammasome complex. Under an ordinary fluorescence microscope, t ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Max Born was born
December 11, 1882. Max Born (11 December 1882 - 5 January 1970) was a German-British physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. He also made contributions to solid-state physics and optics and supervised the work of a number of notable physicists in the 1920s and 1930s. Born was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physics for his "fundamental research in quantum mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave function". In World War I, after originally being placed as a radio operator, his specialist knowledge led to him being moved to research duties on sound ranging. In 1921 Born returned to Göttingen, arranging another chair for his long-time friend and colleague James Franck. Under Born Göttingen became one of the world's foremost centres for physics. In 1925 Born and Werner Heisenberg formulated the matrix mechanics representation of quantum mechanics. The following year, he formulated the now-standard interpretation of the probability density function for ψ*ψ in the Schrödinger equation, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954.

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