Established in 2020 Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Oldest evidence of plague in Britain is over 4,000 years old

The plague found in the Bronze Age skeletons lacked key genes that the strain which caused the Black Death had. Image courtesy: © Wellcome Collection.

LONDON.- The earliest evidence of the plague in Britain has been discovered. Researchers investigating Bronze Age human remains found in Somerset and Cumbria discovered the DNA of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes the plague, inside three skeletons. As this DNA is very easily degraded, it’s also possible that other individuals may have been infected. It’s not clear whether the three known victims were killed by plague or not, but this strain appears to lack virulence genes which later pandemic-causing bacteria would have. Dr Pontus Skoglund, a co-author of the paper and the group leader of the Francis Crick Institute’s Ancient Genomics Laboratory, says, ’This research is a new piece of the puzzle in our understanding of the ancient genomic record of pathogens and humans, and how we co-evolved.’ ’We understand the huge impact of many historical plague outbreaks, such as the Black Death, on human societies and health, but ancient DNA can document infectious d ... More

The Best Photo of the Day

Flexible nanoelectrodes can provide fine-grained brain stimulation   A telescope's last view   New catalyst lowers cost for producing environmentally sustainable hydrogen from water

Robin Kim. Image courtesy: Rice University.

HOUSTON, TX.- Conventional implantable medical devices designed for brain stimulation are often too rigid and bulky for what is one of the body’s softest and most delicate tissues. To address the problem, Rice University engineers have developed minimally invasive, ultraflexible nanoelectrodes that could serve as an implanted platform for administering long-term, high-resolution stimulation therapy. According to a study published in Cell Reports, the tiny implantable devices formed stable, long-lasting and seamless tissue-electrode interfaces with minimal scarring or degradation in rodents. The devices delivered electrical pulses that match neuronal signaling patterns and amplitudes more closely than stimuli from conventional intracortical electrodes. The devices’ high biocompatibility and precise spatiotemporal stimulus control could enable the development of new brain stimulation therapies such as neuronal prostheses for patients with i ... More

The “last light” image taken on Sept. 25, 2018 represents the final page of the final chapter of Kepler’s remarkable journey of data collection. Image courtesy: NASA/Ames Research Center.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- More than 5,000 planets are confirmed to exist beyond our solar system. Over half were discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, a resilient observatory that far outlasted its original planned mission. Over nine and a half years, the spacecraft trailed the Earth, scanning the skies for periodic dips in starlight that could signal the presence of a planet crossing in front of its star. In its last days, the telescope kept recording the brightness of stars as it was running out of fuel. On Oct. 30, 2018, its fuel tanks depleted, the spacecraft was officially retired. Now, astronomers at MIT and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, with the help of citizen scientists, have discovered what may be the last planets that Kepler gazed upon before going dark. The team combed through ... More

Senior chemist Di-Jia Liu inspects catalyst sample inside tube furnace after heat treatment while postdoc Chenzhao Li carries a pressure reactor for catalyst synthesis. Image courtesy: Argonne National Laboratory.

LEMONT, IL.- A plentiful supply of clean energy is lurking in plain sight. It is the hydrogen we can extract from water (H2O) using renewable energy. Scientists are seeking low-cost methods for producing clean hydrogen from water to replace fossil fuels, as part of the quest to combat climate change. Hydrogen can power vehicles while emitting nothing but water. Hydrogen is also an important chemical for many industrial processes, most notably in steel making and ammonia production. Using cleaner hydrogen is highly desirable in those industries. A multi-institutional team led by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has developed a low-cost catalyst for a process that yields clean hydrogen from water. Other contributors ... More

Ingestible capsule to address GI tract diseases   Webb telescope finds towering plume of water escaping from one of Saturn's moons   'You can 3D print one material through another, as if it were invisible': New 3D printing technique

High-tech packaging developed by engineers in the MEMS Sensors and Actuators Laboratory can protect an ingestible capsule as it navigates the GI tract and performs complex diagnostic and therapeutic tasks. Image courtesy: Valerie Morgan.

COLLEGE PARK, MD.- Diagnosing and treating gastrointestinal tract diseases can be notoriously invasive and time-consuming: blood and stool lab work; biopsies, colonoscopies and endoscopies; and X-rays, CT scans and MRI imaging. But what if there was an alternative as simple as popping a Bayer aspirin? Researchers in the University of Maryland's MEMS Sensors and Actuators Laboratory (MSAL) in the A. James Clark School of Engineering have developed an ingestible capsule with a new packaging technology that can protect its tiny components in the sometimes harsh environment of the GI tract, then dissolve at precise moments and locations needed to deliver drugs, reveal sensors or carry out other functions. Their study, published in Microsystems & Nanoengineering, describes how this packaging, called ... More

SwRI contributed to new Cycle 1 JWST findings that show the plume of water escaping from Saturn's moon Enceladus extends 6,000 miles or more than 40 times the moon's size.

SAN ANTONIO, TX.- Two Southwest Research Institute scientists were part of a James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) team that observed a towering plume of water vapor more than 6,000 miles long—roughly the distance from the U.S. to Japan—spewing from the surface of Saturn's moon, Enceladus. In light of this NASA JWST Cycle 1 discovery, SwRI's Dr. Christopher Glein also received a Cycle 2 allocation to study the plume as well as key chemical compounds on the surface, to better understand the potential habitability of this ocean world. During its 13-year reconnaissance of the Saturn system, the Cassini spacecraft discovered that Enceladus has a subsurface ocean of liquid water, and Cassini analyzed samples as plumes of ice grains and water vapor erupted into space from cracks in the moon's icy surface. "Enceladus is one of the most dynamic objects in the solar system and is a prime target ... More

Dr Jose Marques-Hueso from the Institute of Sensors, Signals & Systems at Heriot-Watt University. Image courtesy: Heriot-Watt University.

EDINBURGH.- Scientists have developed an advanced technique for 3D printing that is set to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. The group, led by Dr. Jose Marques-Hueso from the Institute of Sensors, Signals & Systems at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, has created a new method of 3D printing that uses near-infrared (NIR) light to create complex structures containing multiple materials and colors. They achieved this by modifying a well-established 3D printing process known as stereolithography to push the boundaries of multi-material integration. A conventional 3D printer would normally apply a blue or UV laser to a liquid resin that is then selectively solidified, layer by layer, to build a desired object. But a major drawback of this approach has been the limitations in intermixing materials. What is different about this latest project is that the scientists use a NIR light source capable of printing at far greater depths into the resi ... More

Software offers new way to listen for signals from the stars   Rocks beneath Antarctic Ice Sheet reveal surprising past   Shaw Prize for Patrick Cramer

An artist's conception of an alien device that generates repetitive signals. Image courtesy: Breakthrough Listen / Danielle Futselaar.

ITHACA, NY.- The Breakthrough Listen Investigation for Periodic Spectral Signals (BLIPSS), led by Akshay Suresh, Cornell doctoral candidate in astronomy, is pioneering a search for periodic signals emanating from the core of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The research aims to detect repetitive patterns, a way to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) within our cosmic neighborhood. The researchers developed software based on a Fast Folding Algorithm (FFA), an efficient search method offering enhanced sensitivity to periodic sequences of narrow pulses. Their paper, “A 4–8 GHz Galactic Center Search for Periodic Technosignatures,” was published May 30 in The Astronomical Journal. Pulsars -- rapidly rotating neutron stars that sweep beams of radio energy across the Earth -- are natural astrophysical objects that generate periodic signals but humans also use directed periodic transmissions for a variety of applications, includin ... More

The rock cores were taken back to the lab from Thwaites for analysis. Image courtesy: Keir Nichols (Imperial College London).

CAMBRIDGE.- The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is shrinking, with many glaciers across the region retreating and melting at an alarming rate. However, this was not always the case according to new research published last month (April 28) in The Cryosphere. A team of scientists from the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC), including two researchers from British Antarctic Survey, discovered that the ice sheet near Thwaites Glacier was thinner in the last few thousand years than it is today. This unexpected find shows that glaciers in the region were able to regrow following earlier shrinkage. Sea level rise is already putting millions of people in low lying coastal communities around the world at risk from flooding. The contribution from melting Antarctic ice is currently the greatest source of uncertainty in predictions of how much and how quickly sea level will rise in the coming decades and centuries. Together with its immediate neigh ... More

Patrick Cramer is director at the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences in Göttingen and is President-elect of the Max Planck Society. Image courtesy: © MPG / David Ausserhofer.

MUNICH.- Patrick Cramer shares the prestigious award in the life sciences with Eva Nogales from the University of California, Berkeley. Both scientists have made significant contributions to elucidating gene transcription, one of the fundamental processes to life, through the lens of structural biology. With the help of this copying process, living cells create copies of their genes, which subsequently function as blueprints for protein production. Patrick Cramer's research has shed light on how so-called RNA polymerases control this process. The Shaw Prize, which is awarded annually in the domains of life sciences, mathematics, and astronomy, is endowed with one million US dollars in each category. The question of how genes are regulated is one of the profound mysteries in the field of biology. Inside cells, only active genes are transcribed into lengthy RNA molecules, which then serve as the building ... More

A novel blood serum assay to diagnose neurodegenerative diseases   Essential process for SARS-CoV-2 viral replication visualized   Team develops a revolutionary unpiloted aerial vehicle inspired by science fiction

The IP/RT-QuIC assay efficiently detects minute concentrations of serum α-synuclein seeds, enabling quicker diagnosis of specific neurodegenerative disorders. Image: Professor Hattori and his team from Juntendo University School of Medicine.

TOKYO.- Synucleinopathies are a group of neurodegenerative diseases caused by the abnormal accumulation α-synuclein, a protein normally found in the brain and neurons. Incorrect folding of α-synuclein leads to formation of "seeds," which attract more α-synuclein proteins to form larger clumps. Although, α-synuclein seeds have been found in various tissues and blood of patients with synucleinopathies, its potential as a biomarker is ambiguous. Recently, in a study published in Nature Medicine, Associate Professor Ayami Okuzumi along with Senior Associate Professor Taku Hatano, both from the Juntendo University School of Medicine, Senior Assistant Professor Gen Matsumoto at the Nagasaki University School of Medicine, and Professor Nobutaka Hattori from Juntendo University Faculty of Medicine /RIKEN Center ... More

A new study provides insight into how a long string of connected proteins called a polyprotein in the SARS-CoV-2 virus is cleaved apart by a protease called Mpro, an important step during virus replication. Image: Murakami Laboratory / Penn State.

STATE COLLEGE, PA.- During the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a long string of connected proteins is cleaved apart into individual proteins. This process is interrupted by an FDA-approved drug to treat COVID-19; however, the mechanistic details of this cleavage process are still unclear. Now, a team led by researchers at Penn State has produced the most detailed images to date of this process, revealing that these proteins are cleaved in a consistent order likely dictated by the structure of the protein string. The results, published in a paper appearing in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, could support the development of more efficient drugs to treat COVID-19. Retroviruses and many other RNA viruses—including SARS-CoV-2—translate their RNA genomes into a long string of connected proteins called a polyprotein ... More

Structure of PULSAR. Image courtesy: The University of Hong Kong.

HONG KONG.- Imagine a world where science fiction meets reality, where cutting-edge technology brings to life the awe-inspiring scenes from movies like Prometheus. This is the groundbreaking research led by Dr. Fu Zhang, Assistant Professor of Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering, the University of Hong Kong, who has developed a Powered-flying Ultra-underactuated LiDAR-Sensing Aerial Robot (PULSAR) that is poised to redefine the world of unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs). UAVs are already playing an increasingly vital role in search and rescue, cave surveying, and architectural mapping. The PULSAR, aptly named for its similarities to an astronomical pulsar's self-rotation and scanning pattern, takes UAV technology to new heights. With a micro-computer and a LiDAR sensor, PULSAR boasts full onboard perception, mapping, planning, and control capabilities in both indoor and outdoor environments, all without requiring any e ... More

My view is that if your philosophy is not unsettled daily then you are blind to all the universe has to offer. Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Research team designs brain-inspired device for optoelectronic computing
NEW YORK, NY.- Perfect recall, computational wizardry and rapier wit: That's the brain we all want, but how does one design such a brain? The real thing is comprised of ~80 billion neurons that coordinate with one another through tens of thousands of connections in the form of synapses. The human brain has no centralized processor, the way a standard laptop does. Instead, many calculations are run in parallel, and outcomes are compared. While the operating principles of the human brain are not fully understood, existing mathematical algorithms can be used to rework deep learning principles into systems more like a human brain would. This brain-inspired computing paradigm—spiking neural networks (SNN)—provides a computing architecture well-aligned with the potential advantages of systems using ... More

Pinpointing the cause of a mysterious heart disease affecting women
SYDNEY.- Scientists from UNSW Sydney and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute are working to shed light on the number one cause of heart attacks for women under the age of 50. Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is a serious condition, mainly occurring in women, when a tear forms in one of the blood vessels of the heart. This can slow or block blood flow to the heart, leading to a heart attack. Many people who develop SCAD are otherwise fit and healthy. Unlike traditional heart attacks, SCAD is not associated with a plaque build-up and a blockage of the arteries and until recently very little was known about this disease. Now, a global collaboration including Conjoint Associate Professor Eleni Giannoulatou, Professor Robert Graham and Professor Jason Kovacic is working to pinpoint ... More

Unique 'bawdy bard' act discovered, revealing 15th-century roots of British comedy
CAMBRIDGE.- An unprecedented record of medieval live comedy performance has been identified in a 15th-century manuscript. Raucous texts—mocking kings, priests and peasants; encouraging audiences to get drunk; and shocking them with slapstick—shed new light on Britain's famous sense of humor and the role played by minstrels in medieval society. The texts contain the earliest recorded use of "red herring" in English, extremely rare forms of medieval literature, as well as a killer rabbit worthy of Monty Python. The discovery changes the way we should think about English comic culture between Chaucer and Shakespeare. Throughout the Middle Ages, minstrels traveled between fairs, taverns and baronial halls to entertain people with songs and stories. Fictional minstrels are common in medie ... More

Study shows light conveyed by signal-transmitting sucrose controls growth of plant roots
FREIBURG.- Plant growth is driven by light and supplied with energy through photosynthesis by green leaves. It is the same for roots that grow in the dark—they receive the products of photosynthesis, in particular sucrose (sugar), via the central transportation pathways of phloem. In their study published in Current Biology, Dr. Stefan Kircher and Prof. Dr. Peter Schopfer from the University of Freiburg's Faculty of Biology have now shown in experiments using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) that the sucrose not only guarantees the supply of carbohydrates to the roots, it also acts as a signal transmitter for the formation of light-dependent root architecture. It does this in two ways: firstly, sucrose directly guides elongation of the primary root. Secondly, the sucrose that is transported to the ... More

New high resolution X-ray imaging technique can image biological specimens without causing damage
HAMBURG.- A pollen grain showing the nanofoam within or a diatom with the individual geometric structures inside clearly visible: Using high-energy X-rays from the PETRA III synchrotron light source at DESY, a team led by CFEL scientists Saša Bajt and Henry Chapman has managed to image these structures without damaging them. Their new technique generates high resolution X-ray images of dried biological material that has not been frozen, coated, or otherwise altered beforehand—all with little to no damage to the sample. This method, which is also used for airport baggage scanning, can generate images of the material at nanometre resolution. Using high energy X-rays that are intensely focused through a set of novel diffractive lenses, the special technique allows imaging to be performed at less t ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate John Robert Schrieffer was born
May 31, 1931. John Robert Schrieffer (May 31, 1931 - July 27, 2019) was an American physicist who, with John Bardeen and Leon Cooper, was a recipient of the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physics for developing the BCS theory, the first successful quantum theory of superconductivity. Schrieffer recalled that in January 1957 he was on a subway in New York City when he had an idea of how to describe mathematically the ground state of superconducting electrons. Schrieffer and Bardeen's collaborator Cooper had discovered that electrons in a superconductor are grouped in pairs, now called Cooper pairs, and that the motions of all Cooper pairs within a single superconductor are correlated and function as a single entity due to phonon-electron interactions. Schrieffer's mathematical breakthrough was to describe the behavior of all Cooper pairs at the same time, instead of each individual pair.

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