Established in 2020 Thursday, October 6, 2022

Astronomers find a "cataclysmic" pair of stars with the shortest orbit yet

An artist’s illustration shows a white dwarf (right) circling a larger, sun-like star (left) in an ultra-short orbit, forming a “cataclysmic” binary system. Image courtesy: M.Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Nearly half the stars in our galaxy are solitary like the sun. The other half comprises stars that circle other stars, in pairs and multiples, with orbits so tight that some stellar systems could fit between Earth and the moon. Astronomers at MIT and elsewhere have now discovered a stellar binary, or pair of stars, with an extremely short orbit, appearing to circle each other every 51 minutes. The system seems to be one of a rare class of binaries known as a “cataclysmic variable,” in which a star similar to our sun orbits tightly around a white dwarf — a hot, dense core of a burned-out star. A cataclysmic variable occurs when the two stars draw close, over billions of years, causing the white dwarf to start accreting, or eating material away from its partner star. This process can give off enormous, variable flashes of light that, centuries ago, astronomers assumed to be a resu ... More

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CUHK researchers develop novel RNA nanoparticles for targeting and alleviating atherosclerotic plaque   New RNA-based tool can illuminate brain circuits, edit specific cells   Stanford's Carolyn Bertozzi wins Nobel in chemistry

Dr Shirley Bai Qian-qian, first author of the publication and PhD graduate in the Faculty of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. Image courtesy: CUHK.

HONG KONG.- The blockage of blood vessels caused by atherosclerosis is a major cause of stroke and ischemic heart disease. However, current treatments such as surgery are invasive, while lipid-lowering drugs can only slow down disease progression. Gene regulation is an emerging therapeutic approach to atherosclerosis, but delivery of therapeutic gene cargoes to atherosclerotic plaques is still inefficient. A team led by Professor Jonathan Choi Chung-hang, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, has developed a novel RNA nanoparticle to offer a potentially safe, effective treatment for atherosclerosis. Research has shown that this RNA nanoparticle can naturally target receptors of plaque cells for delivering genes to atherosclerotic plaques, while alleviating atherosclerosis by modulating genes related to atherogenesis, consequently r ... More

Tagging and illuminating only the inhibitory “brake” cells (green) in human brain tissue is just one of many things the new tool, CellREADR, can do. Image courtesy: Derek Southwell, Duke University.

DURHAM, NC.- Duke University researchers have developed an RNA-based editing tool that targets individual cells, rather than genes. It is capable of precisely targeting any type of cell and selectively adding any protein of interest. Researchers said the tool could enable modifying very specific cells and cell functions to manage disease. Using an RNA-based probe, a team led by neurobiologist Z. Josh Huang, Ph.D. and postdoctoral researcher Yongjun Qian, Ph.D. demonstrated they can introduce into cells fluorescent tags to label specific types of brain tissue; a light-sensitive on/off switch to silence or activate neurons of their choosing; and even a self-destruct enzyme to precisely expunge some cells but not others. The work appears Oct. 5 in Nature. Their selective cell monitoring and control system relies on the ADAR enzyme, which is found in every animal’s cells. While these are early days for CellREADR (Cell access through RNA sensing by En ... More

Carolyn Bertozzi. Image courtesy: Andrew Brodhead.

STANFORD, CA.- Carolyn Bertozzi received an early birthday gift this year. Bertozzi, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a professor of chemistry, with courtesy appointments in Chemical & Systems Biology and Radiology, has won the 2022 Nobel Prize in chemistry — just a few days before her 56th birthday next Monday. She shares the $10 million Swedish kronor (about $1 million USD) prize equally with Morten Meldal, professor at University of Copenhagen; and K. Barry Sharpless, PhD ’68, professor at Scripps Research “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry.” The Nobel Prize in chemistry is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Bertozzi was recognized for founding the field of bioorthogonal chemistry, a set of chemical reactions that allow researchers to study molecules and their interactions in living things without interfering with natural biological processes. Bertozzi’s lab first developed ... More

Algorithms predict sports teams' moves with 80% accuracy   Engineers develop a new kind of shape-memory material   Mummified bird gets second life in multisensory exhibition

Doctoral student Junyi Dong works with her colleagues and fellow doctoral students in their lab in Upson Hall. Image courtesy: Ryan Young/Cornell University.

ITHACA, NY.- Algorithms developed in Cornell’s Laboratory for Intelligent Systems and Controls can predict the in-game actions of volleyball players with more than 80% accuracy, and now the lab is collaborating with the Big Red hockey team to expand the research project’s applications. The algorithms are unique in that they take a holistic approach to action anticipation, combining visual data – for example, where an athlete is located on the court – with information that is more implicit, like an athlete’s specific role on the team. “Computer vision can interpret visual information such as jersey color and a player’s position or body posture,” said Silvia Ferrari, the John Brancaccio Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who led the research. “We still use that real-time information, but integrate hidden variables such as team strategy and player roles, things we as humans are able to i ... More

Diagrams show the two different ways that the atomic structure of the shape-memory material, zirconia ceramic, can be configured. Image courtesy: Edward Pang.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Shape-memory metals, which can revert from one shape to a different one simply by being warmed or otherwise triggered, have been useful in a variety of applications, as actuators that can control the movement of various devices. Now, the discovery of a new category of shape-memory materials made of ceramic rather than of metal could open up a new range of applications, especially for high-temperature settings, such as actuators inside a jet engine or a deep borehole. The new findings were reported in the journal Nature, in a paper by former doctoral student Edward Pang PhD ’21 and professors Gregory Olson and Christopher Schuh, all in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Shape-memory materials, Schuh explains, have two distinct shapes, and can switch back and forth between them. They can be easily triggered by temperature, mechanical stress, or electric or magnetic fie ... More

Eric Ledbetter, professor and section chief of ophthalmology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Image courtesy: Amy S. Li/College of Veterinary Medicine.

ITHACA, NY.- Since late 2021, Carol Anne Barsody, a master’s student in archaeology, has been working to unravel the mysterious origins of a mummified sacred ibis that has been stored at Cornell for nearly 100 years, most recently as part of the Anthropology Collections in the College of Arts and Sciences. The mummy bird – and Barsody’s research into its historical context and extraordinary afterlife – will be on display in a new exhibition, “A Tale of Two Mummies: Multisensory Experience,” that runs Oct. 7-9, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., in Upson Hall’s Lounge 116. The exhibition is both an exploration of the role of the sacred ibis in ancient Egyptian burials as well as an experiment in 21st century museum-going. Barsody has built two identical versions of the exhibition. Each will provide background information about the sacred ibis, from its popularity as a religious votive – due to its association with dea ... More

Why women may be more susceptible to Alzheimer's disease   New avenues to reduce long-term complications in preterm infants   Climate change affects size of tree swallows

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researchers identify mechanism in brain tissue that may explain disparity between men and women. Image: Steven HWG, Unsplash.

CLEVELAND, OH.- Case Western Reserve University researchers have identified a mechanism in brain tissue that may explain why women are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease—a finding that they say could help lead to new medicines to treat the disease. Specifically, the researchers found that the female brain shows higher expression of a certain enzyme compared to males, resulting in greater accumulation of a protein called tau. The tau protein is responsible for the formation of toxic protein clumps inside brain nerve cells of Alzheimer’s disease patients. The enzyme, known as ubiquitin-specific peptidase 11 (USP11), is X-linked, meaning it is found in genes on the X chromosome, one of the two sex chromosomes in each cell. “We are particularly excited about this finding because it provides a basis for the development of new neuroprotective medicines,” said David Kang, the Howard T. Karsner Professor in Pathology at the Case West ... More

Some GnRH neurons (green) express NOS1 (red) during their migration from the nose to the brain during fetal life. The GnRH + NOS1 double-labeled cells appear in yellow. Image courtesy: Vincent Prévot/Inserm.

PARIS.- Children born prematurely have a higher risk of cognitive and sensory disorders, but also infertility in adulthood. In a new study, a team of researchers from Inserm, University Hospital Lille and Université de Lille at the Lille Neuroscience and Cognition laboratory has opened up interesting avenues to improve their prognosis. By conducting research into a rare disease known as congenital hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, the scientists have discovered the key role that an enzyme plays and the therapeutic potential of the neurotransmitter that it synthesizes—nitric oxide—in reducing the risk of long-term complications in the event of prematurity. Their findings are described in Science Translational Medicine. A clinical trial has also been launched at the Lille University Hospital in partnership with a hospital in Athens (Greece) in order to go further and measure the effect of nitric oxide on premature infants. Conge ... More

A female and male tree swallow. Image courtesy: Cameron Rognan/Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

ITHACA, NY.- In an adaptation to climate change, tree swallows have become smaller over the last three decades, an ongoing study based in Tompkins County has found. Changing conditions on nonbreeding grounds may be linked to a greater number of small adults from this population surviving the winter, according to the study, “Selection Counteracts Developmental Plasticity in Body-Size Responses to Climate Change,” which published August. 29 in Nature Climate Change. “For this study, we looked at specific stages in the tree swallow’s life cycle,” said lead author Ryan Shipley, Ph.D. ’18. “The model that best explained the increased survival rate of smaller adults pointed to conditions on their non-breeding grounds. For this population, that’s Florida, where they gather in big, noisy roosts during the winter months.” Shipley worked with the Tompkins County swallows and conceived the study while earning his Ph.D. from ... More

Climate risks for Gulf of Mexico coral reefs spelled out in study   Survival is a mixed matter for deadliest of pancreatic cancers   How the secrets of the 'water bear' could improve lifesaving drugs like insulin

The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary about 100 miles offshore from Texas and Louisiana is home to some of the healthiest coral reefs in the United States. Image courtesy: G.P. Schmahl/NOAA.

HOUSTON, TX.- Ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are on pace to surpass critical thresholds for coral health by mid-century, but rapid action to significantly reduce emissions could slow warming, giving corals and coral conservation programs as much as 20 more years to adapt, according to new research. Climate scientists and marine biologists from Rice University, the University of Colorado Boulder and Louisiana State University used computer models to simulate climate warming from 2015-2100 under both a “business as usual” scenario with very high emissions and a scenario in which emissions were reduced to high levels. Their study and analysis of ocean warming and ocean acidification levels for specific regions in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean under each scenario is published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. The researchers found reducing emissions could delay the onset of critically w ... More

Pancreatic cancer cells (nuclei in blue) are shown growing as a sphere encased in membranes (red). Image courtesy: University of California San Diego.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is the most common and most lethal form of pancreatic cancer. The overall 5-year survival for patients with PDAC is just 7.1 percent. All cancers are different. A unique feature of PDAC is extensive tumor desmoplasia or fibrous connective tissue within the tumor, which is caused by infiltration of the tumor mass by fibroblasts and the extracellular matrix they secrete. The main component of the matrix is type I collagen or Col 1, a protein broadly used in the body to form the basic structure of bone, skin, blood vessels and connective tissues. The effect of Col 1 on PDAC development and its response to therapy has been a matter of intense debate among researchers, with some arguing that Col 1 promotes tumor growth and spread and others contending that it restricts tumor growth and protects the cancer cells from immune attack. In a new study, published October 5, 2022, in Nature, co-first authors Hua Su, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of se ... More

UCLA chemist Heather Maynard. Image courtesy: Heather Maynard.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- UCLA chemist Heather Maynard had to wonder: How do organisms like the tardigrade do it? This stocky microscopic animal, also known as a water bear, can survive in environments where survival seems impossible. Tardigrades have been shown to endure extremes of heat, cold and pressure — and even the vacuum of space — by entering a state of suspended animation and revitalizing, sometimes decades later, under more hospitable conditions. If she could understand the mechanism behind this extraordinary preservation, Maynard reckoned, she might be able to use the knowledge to improve medicines so that they remain potent longer and are less vulnerable to typical environmental challenges, ultimately broadening access and benefiting human health. It turns out that one of the process protecting tardigrades is spurred by a sugar molecule called trehalose, commonly found in living things from plants to microbes to insects, some of which us ... More

The greatest blessing granted to mankind come by way of madness, which is a divine gift. Socrates

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Researchers pioneer nanoprinting electrodes for customized treatments of neurological disorders
PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Mellon University researchers have pioneered the CMU Array—a new type of microelectrode array for brain computer interface platforms. It holds the potential to transform how doctors are able to treat neurological disorders. The ultra-high-density microelectrode array (MEA), which is 3D-printed at the nanoscale, is fully customizable. This means that one day, patients suffering from epilepsy or limb function loss due to stroke could have personalized medical treatment optimized for their individual needs. The collaboration combines the expertise of Rahul Panat, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Eric Yttri, assistant professor of biological sciences. The team applied the newest microfabrication technique, Aerosol Jet 3D printing, to produce arrays that solved ... More

Utilizing chemo-mechanical oscillations to mimic protocell behavior in manufactured microcapsules
PITTSBURGH, PA.- The complexity of life on Earth was derived from simplicity: From the first protocells to the growth of any organism, individual cells aggregate into basic clumps and then form more complex structures. The earliest cells lacked complicated biochemical machinery; to evolve into multicellular organisms, simple mechanisms were necessary to produce chemical signals that prompted the cells to both move and form colonies. Replicating this behavior in synthetic systems is necessary to advance fields such as soft robotics. Chemical engineering researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have established this feat in their latest advancement in biomimicry. The research, "Lifelike behavior of chemically oscillating mobile capsules," was published in the journal Matt ... More

Researchers identify flu-fighting pathways and genes essential for influenza a immune defense
NEW YORK, NY.- Researchers have identified the gene TDRD7 as a key regulator against influenza A virus (IAV), which causes respiratory tract infections in 5 to 20 percent of the human population. These findings could facilitate the development of novel therapeutic interventions against influenza virus infection. The study, led by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in collaboration with other institutions, was published in Science Advances on October 5. IAV is responsible for 250,000-500,000 deaths per year worldwide. When IAV infects its host, an immunological response composed of a series of molecular processes begins. IAV can infect several different species, and physiological and genetic differences among these species can contribute to different host responses, although some res ... More

Scientists use machine learning to accelerate materials discovery
LEMONT, IL.- A new computational approach will improve understanding of different states of carbon and guide the search for materials yet to be discovered. Materials—we use them, wear them, eat them and create them. Sometimes we invent them by accident, like with Silly Putty. But far more often, making useful materials is a tedious and expensive process of trial and error. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have recently demonstrated an automated process for identifying and exploring promising new materials by combining machine learning (ML)—a type of artificial intelligence—and high performance computing. The new approach could help accelerate the discovery and design of useful materials. Using the single element carbon as a prototype ... More

A new route to evolution: how DNA from our mitochondria works its way into our genomes
CAMBRIDGE.- Scientists have shown that in one in every 4,000 births, some of the genetic code from our mitochondria – the ‘batteries’ that power our cells – inserts itself into our DNA, revealing a surprising new insight into how humans evolve. In a study published in Nature, researchers at the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London show that mitochondrial DNA also appears in some cancer DNA, suggesting that it acts as a sticking plaster to try and repair damage to our genetic code. Mitochondria are tiny ‘organelles’ that sit within our cells, where they act like batteries, providing energy in the form of the molecule ATP to power the cells. Each mitochondrion has its own DNA – mitochondrial DNA – that is distinct to the rest of the human genome, which is comprised of nuclear DN ... More

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Voyage of discovery to Australia's Cocos (Keeling) Islands


On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Francis Peyton Rous was born
October 05, 1879. Francis Peyton Rous (October 5, 1879 - February 16, 1970) was an American pathologist at the Rockefeller University known for his works in oncoviruses, blood transfusion and physiology of digestion. A medical graduate from the Johns Hopkins University, he was discouraged to become a practicing physician due to severe tuberculosis. After three years of working as an instructor of pathology at the University of Michigan, he became dedicated researcher at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research for the rest of his career. His discovery in 1911 that a chicken tumor was caused by a virus (later named Rous sarcoma virus) led to more discoveries and understanding of the role of viruses in the development of certain types of cancer. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in 1966, 55 years after his initial discovery and he remains the oldest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology.

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