Established in 2020 Sunday, April 11, 2021

Egyptologists uncover 'lost golden city' buried under the sands

In this file photo taken on January 17, 2021, Egyptologist Zahi Hawass poses for a picture during the official announcement of the discovery by an archaeological mission he leads of a new trove of treasures at Egypt's Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo. Khaled Desouki / AFP.

CAIRO (AFP).- Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an ancient city in the desert outside Luxor that they say is the "largest" ever found in Egypt and dates back to a golden age of the pharaohs 3,000 years ago. Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass announced the discovery of the "lost golden city", saying the site was uncovered near Luxor, home of the legendary Valley of the Kings. "The Egyptian mission under Dr. Zahi Hawass found the city that was lost under the sands," the excavation team said in a statement Thursday. "The city is 3,000 years old, dates to the reign of Amenhotep III, and continued to be used by Tutankhamun and Ay." The team called the find "the largest" ancient city ever uncovered in Egypt. Betsy Bryan, professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, said the find was the "second most important archeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun" nearly a century ago, according to the team's statement. Items of jewellery have been unearthed, along with col ... More

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Inside Covid vaccine production at BioNTech's new plant   Surgical sutures inspired by human tendons   Pollen wasp genus Quartinia produces silk for nest construction in desert areas

Employees in cleanroom suits test the procedures for the manufacturing of the messenger RNA (mRNA) for the Covid-19 vaccine at the new manufacturing site of German company BioNTech on March 27, 2021 in Marburg. Thomas Lohnes / AFP.

MARBURG (AFP).- Decontamination chambers, tight-fitting protective suits, a controlled atmosphere: vigilance is the order of the day when making Covid-19 vaccines at the new BioNTech plant in Marburg, Germany. From the outside, the facility is an unassuming building on the outskirts of the town north of Frankfurt in central Germany. But that quickly changes when you step inside the rooms of the second European site to manufacture the vaccine developed by BioNTech with US giant Pfizer. Production has been running night and day since the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the site at the end of March, with the facility poised to eventually churn out one billion doses a year. "It takes a lot of manual work and about 50,000 steps to make a batch" of messenger RNA (mRNA), the substance that trains the immune system to protect itself against Covid-19, production manager Valeska Schilling told AFP. From that batch, "we can make some seven or eight million doses of vaccine," said Schilling, who is "extr ... More

Scanning electron microscope image of the cross-section of TGS suture. Image courtesy: Zhenwei Ma, McGill University.

MONTREAL.- Sutures are used to close wounds and speed up the natural healing process, but they can also complicate matters by causing damage to soft tissues with their stiff fibers. To remedy the problem, researchers from Montreal have developed innovative tough gel sheathed (TGS) sutures inspired by the human tendon. These next-generation sutures contain a slippery, yet tough gel envelop, imitating the structure of soft connective tissues. In putting the TGS sutures to the test, the researchers found that the nearly frictionless gel surface mitigated the damage typically caused by traditional sutures. Conventional sutures have been around for centuries and are used to hold wounds together until the healing process is complete. But they are far from ideal for tissue repair. The rough fibers can slice and damage already fragile tissues, leading to discomfort and post-surgery complications. Part of the problem lies in the mismatch between our soft tissues and the rigid sutures that rub against cont ... More

Longitudinal section through a 3D reconstruction of the head of the pollen wasp Quartinia soikai; the newly discovered gland is marked in green, the maxilla in orange. Image courtesy: NHM Wien, Dominique Zimmermann.

VIENNA.- Pollen wasps are a subfamily of vespid wasps with about 300 described species. Like bees, all representatives of these solitary wasps provision their larvae with pollen. Most pollen wasp species dig their nests in firm, clayey soils or use clay to build aboveground free brood cells, e.g., on stones. In contrast, the representatives of the genus Quartinia, which occurs mainly in the Mediterranean region and southern Africa, build their nests in loose sand. The females stabilize the walls by fixing the sand grains inside with silky fibers. While silk production is quite common in larvae, it is rare in adult insects. Previously, it was known that silk threads are applied with the mouth region during nest construction. Comparative morphological studies were conducted to identify the specific structures associated with this behavior. "We compared the heads of females of various species from this genus with those of males and other pollen wasps. This way we were able to identify a previously ... More

800-year-old medieval pottery fragments reveal Jewish dietary practices   Leaking calcium in neurons an early sign of Alzheimer's pathology   Artificial intelligence can accelerate clinical diagnosis of fragile X syndrome

View of excavations at St Aldates, Oxford, showing Carfax Tower in the background. Image courtesy: Oxford Archaeology.

BRISTOL.- A team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, with archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology, have found the first evidence of a religious diet locked inside pottery fragments excavated from the early medieval Jewish community of Oxford. Keeping kosher is one of the oldest known diets across the world and, for an observant Jew, maintaining these dietary laws (known as Kashruth) is a fundamental part of everyday life. It is a key part of what identifies them as Jews, both amongst their own communities and to the outside world. Oxford’s Jewish quarter was established around St. Aldates in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, following William the Conqueror’s invitation to Jews in Northern France to settle in England. Recent excavations by Oxford Archaeology at St Aldates, in the historic heart of Oxford, revealed evidence for two houses, which a medieval census suggested belonged to two Jewish families. One was ow ... More

Tau proteins aggregate to neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. Neurons in the prefrontal cortex require relatively high levels of calcium to perform their cognitive operations, but the calcium must be tightly regulated.

NEW HAVEN, CT.- Alzheimer’s disease is known for its slow attack on neurons crucial to memory and cognition. But why are these particular neurons in aging brains so susceptible to the disease’s ravages, while others remain resilient? In a new study published April 8 in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that susceptible neurons in the prefrontal cortex develop a “leak” in calcium storage with advancing age. This disruption of calcium storage in turns leads to accumulation of phosphorylated, or modified, tau proteins which cause the neurofibrillary tangles in the brain that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. These changes occur slowly, building over many years, and can be seen within neurons in the brains of very old monkeys, the researchers report. “Altered calcium signaling with advancing age is linked to early-stag ... More

Boy with Fragile X syndrome smiling. Machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence that uses computers to analyze large amounts of data quickly and efficiently. Image courtesy: Peter Saxon.

MADISON, WI.- An analysis of electronic health records for 1.7 million Wisconsin patients revealed a variety of health problems newly associated with fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited cause of intellectual disability and autism, and may help identify cases years in advance of the typical clinical diagnosis. Researchers from the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison found that people with fragile X are more likely than the general population to also have diagnoses for a variety of circulatory, digestive, metabolic, respiratory, and genital and urinary disorders. Their study, published recently in the journal Genetics in Medicine, the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), shows that machine learning algorithms may help identify undiagnosed cases of fragile X syndrome based on diagnoses of other physical and mental impairments. “Machine learning is providing new opportun ... More

Hands-free: Monkey plays video game - with its brain   Clever Delft trick enables 20 times faster imaging with electron microscopy   Science has not kept pace with aquaculture

Neuralink demonstrates in the video how they have used their sensor hardware and the brain implant to record a baseline of activity from a macaque named Pager. Screenshot: Neuralink/YouTube.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (AFP).- Elon Musk's startup devoted to meshing brains with computers was closer to its dream on Friday, having gotten a monkey to play video game Pong using only its mind. Musk has long contended that merging minds with machines is vital if people are going to avoid being outpaced by artificial intelligence. A video posted on YouTube by the entrepreneur's Neuralink startup showed a macaque monkey named "Pager" playing Pong by essentially using thought to move paddles that bounce digital balls back and forth on screen. "To control his paddle, Pager simply thinks about moving his hand up or down," said a voice narrating the video. "As you can see, Pager is amazingly good at MindPong." Neuralink devices were implanted on two sides of Pager's brain to sense neuron activity, then the monkey played the game a few minutes using a joystick to let software figure out the signals associated with hand movements. Pager's reward was banana smoothly served through a straw when he successfully batted the dig ... More

The image was taken while a voltage was applied to the specimen holder. Image courtesy: TU Delft.

DELFT.- Researchers at TU Delft have expanded upon a clever trick, thereby increasing the speed of electron microscope imaging by a factor of twenty. A simple adjustment is all that is needed: applying a voltage to the specimen holder. Through this simple intervention, a specimen that would normally take an electron microscope a week to image can now be inspected in a single night or one working day. Electron microscopes are unparalleled when it comes to imaging at the very smallest scale. Unlike an optical microscope that captures light particles, the scanning electron microscope (SEM) shoots an electron beam at the specimen—for example, a thin slice of tissue. The electrons in the beam scatter in the tissue, whereupon the scattered electrons are captured by a sensor. Then a computer creates an image based on how many electrons are scattered at each position the beam scans. Electron microscopes are capable of magnifying objects up to ... More

Aquaculture has reached unprecedented levels of growth in recent years, but largely without consideration of its impact on individual animals. Image: Pixabay.

NEW YORK, NY.- Aquaculture—the farming of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic animals for food—has reached unprecedented levels of growth in recent years, but largely without consideration of its impact on individual animals, finds a new analysis by a team of researchers. “The scale of modern aquaculture is immense and still growing,” says Becca Franks, a research scientist at New York University’s Department of Environmental Studies and the lead author of the paper, which appears in the journal Science Advances. “Yet we know so little about the animals that we are putting into mass production, and the negative consequences of aquaculture’s expansion on individual animals will just continue to accumulate.” The study is the first to systematically examine the scientific knowledge about animal welfare for the 408 aquatic animal species being farmed around the world— ... More

Using molecular sieves to adjust the taste of non-alcoholic beer   All aboard! Next stop space...   Fighting dementia with play

Researcher Deborah Gernat has created a new method to further develop the taste of non-alcoholic beer, in collaboration with Heineken. Image courtesy: TU Delft.

DELFT.- Researcher Deborah Gernat has created a new method to further develop the taste of non-alcoholic beer, in collaboration with Heineken. The technique, which is based on molecular sieves, gives brewers a new tool to bring the taste of non-alcoholic beer closer to that of regular beer. The first tests showed that the sweet 'wort taste' that often characterizes alcohol-free beer can be reduced using this method. On April 9th, Deborah Gernat will defend her thesis on this subject at Delft University of Technology. Looking at the ingredients - water, grain, hops and yeast - you might not realize it, but beer is a complicated drink. It consists of thousands of different molecular components that together form a complex flavour composition. On the one hand, that's the beauty of it: with small adjustments to the ingredients or the brewing process, a completely different end product can be created. But at the same time, this complexity makes ... More

This November 11, 2020, image obtained from Virgin Galactic shows pre-flight operations in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- Several hundred people have already booked their tickets and begun training for a spectacular voyage: a few minutes, or perhaps days, in the weightlessness of space. The mainly wealthy first-time space travellers are getting ready to take part in one of several private missions which are preparing to launch. The era of space tourism is on the horizon 60 years after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. Two companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, are building spacecraft capable of sending private clients on suborbital flights to the edge of space lasting several minutes. Glenn King is the director of spaceflight training at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center, a private company based in Pennsylvania which has already trained nearly 400 future Virgin Galactic passengers for their trips. "The oldest person I trained was 88 years old," King told AFP. The training program lasts two days -- a morning of classroom instruction and tests in a centri ... More

Training with Dividat Senso enhances cognitive skills, such as attention, concentration, memory and orientation, in dementia patients. Image courtesy: Dividat.

ZURICH.- A dementia diagnosis turns the world upside down, not only for the person affected but also for their relatives, as brain function gradually declines. Those affected lose their ability to plan, remember things or behave appropriately. At the same time, their motor skills also deteriorate. Ultimately, dementia patients are no longer able to handle daily life alone and need comprehensive care. In Switzerland alone, more than 150,000 people share this fate, and each year a further 30,000 new cases are diagnosed. To date, all attempts to find a drug to cure this disease have failed. Dementia, including Alzheimer’s – the most common of several forms of dementia – remains incurable. However, a clinical study carried out in Belgium with the involvement of ETH Zurich researcher Eling de Bruin has now shown for the first time that cognitive motor training improves both the cognitive and physical skills of significantly impaire ... More

A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions--as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all. Friedrich Nietzsche

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New EU vaccine probe deepens Europe's Covid woes
PARIS (AFP).- Europe's stuttering vaccine rollout faced multiple shocks on Friday as EU regulators said they were reviewing side effects of the Johnson & Johnson shot and France further limited its use of the AstraZeneca jab. Much of the world is still in the clutches of the pandemic that has killed 2.9 million people -- from Brazil, where the virus is killing more than 4,000 people a day -- to Japan where the government has tightened restrictions once again. India is also suffering, and hotspot Maharashtra state is running out of vaccines as the health system buckles under the weight of the contagion. And across Europe populations are facing some of the world's toughest anti-virus measures, yet the epidemic refuses to be curbed. All of France is subjected to restrictions of some form, and the country has so far doled out jabs to more than ... More

Scientists reveal snow cover distribution in southern Altai Mountains
LANZHOU.- Snow cover is an important indicator of climate change. Snow properties and their changes are crucial to better understanding of hydrological processes, soil thermal regimes, and surface energy balances. There are significant changes in snow cover with the increasing global warming, which has important impacts on hydrology, ecology and social systems. The southern Altai Mountains are the main snow distribution area in China. Snowmelt is one of the important freshwater resources and the main supply of water to river discharges, agricultural irrigation, and water resource utilization. Due to the complex terrain and lack of weather stations in the Altai Mountains, the current snow cover observations are still insufficient, which limits the evaluation of the impact of snow cover on regional hydrological cycles and water resour ... More

Good oral health reduces risk of fatal outcomes from
MONTREAL.- Infected and inflamed gums may result in higher rates of complications and more fatal outcomes for individuals diagnosed with the SARS-COV-2 virus, according to a new international study led by McGill researchers recently published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology. The study suggests that gum disease may be associated with higher risks of complications from COVID-19, including ICU admission and death. Researchers discovered that COVID-19 patients with gum disease were 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit, 4.5 times more likely to need a ventilator, and 8.8 times more likely to die when comparing to those without gum disease. Until now, no other research has been published about the destructive effects of gum disease in patients with COVID-19. “Looking at the conclusio ... More

Research will contribute to the establishment of design methodologies for deep-sea infrastructure
TOKYO.- Ube Industries, Ltd., the Port and Airport Research Institute, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology today announced that a joint research group has established a method for evaluating the mechanical properties of hardened cement mortar and initiated the first-ever in-situ data measurement. The research project aims to contribute to the construction of deep-sea infrastructure. By collecting data on the hydraulic pressure arising inside of hardened cement mortar at a site on the deep-sea floor, the research is expected to yield useful data for the future development of infrastructure materials for deep-sea applications and the establishment of design methodologies for deep-sea structures. The research is report ... More

New study: Goats more 'cognitively flexible' than sheep
HONG KONG.- Goats can adapt to changing environmental conditions more quickly than sheep probably because of different feeding ecologies, according to new study involving Dr Alan McElligott, an expert in animal behaviour and welfare at City University of Hong Kong. The ability to adapt is one of the key factors for survival in an ecosystem, explained Dr McElligott, Associate Professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Public Health at the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences. The study is a collaboration between researchers at CityU, Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany, Canterbury Christ Church University and Queen Mary University of London in the UK. Although sheep and goats are closely related genetically and share a similar body size, soc ... More

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On a day like today, American astronomer William Wallace Campbell was born
April 11, 1862. William Wallace Campbell (April 11, 1862 - June 14, 1938) was an American astronomer, and director of Lick Observatory from 1901 to 1930. He specialized in spectroscopy. In August 1914, Campbell and Erwin Freundlich of the Berlin Observatory were in Russia to photograph a solar eclipse, in an early attempt to test the validity of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity. Campbell, from neutral America, was permitted to continue with his plans, but cloud cover obscured the eclipse. Campbell undertook another attempt to photograph a solar eclipse on June 8, 1918, in Goldendale, in Washington state. But his precision photographic equipment had been retained in Russia four years earlier, and he had to improvise the needed apparatus from existing equipment at the Lick Observatory. The cameras he used were not able to achieve accuracy enough in measurements confirm the deflection of star light predicted by Einstein's theory.

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