Established in 2020 Sunday, July 25, 2021

InSight mission: Mars unveiled

Artist's impression of the internal structure of Mars. Image courtesy: © IPGP / David Ducros.

PARIS.- Using information obtained from around a dozen earthquakes detected on Mars by the Very Broad Band SEIS seismometer, developed in France, the international team of NASA's InSight mission has unveiled the internal structure of Mars. The three papers published on July 23, 2021 in the journal Science, involving numerous co-authors from French institutions and laboratories, including the CNRS, the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, and Université de Paris, and supported in particular by the French space agency CNES and the French National Research Agency ANR, provide, for the first time, an estimate of the size of the planet's core, the thickness of its crust and the structure of its mantle, based on the analysis of seismic waves reflected and modified by interfaces in its interior. It makes this the first ever seismic exploration of the internal structure of a terrestrial planet other than Earth, and an important step towards understa ... More

The Best Photo of the Day

Using snakes to monitor Fukushima radiation   Eyes wide shut: How newborn mammals dream the world they're entering   New composite material has potential for medical use

A Japanese rat snake crossing a rural road in the Fukushima Evacuation Zone in Japan. Image courtesy: Hannah Gerke.

ATHENS, GA.- Ten years after one of the largest nuclear accidents in history spewed radioactive contamination over the landscape in Fukushima, Japan, a University of Georgia study has shown that radioactive contamination in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone can be measured through its resident snakes. The team’s findings, published in the recent journal of Ichthyology & Herpetology, report that rat snakes are an effective bioindicator of residual radioactivity. Like canaries in a coal mine, bioindicators are organisms that can signal an ecosystem’s health. An abundant species in Japan, rat snakes travel short distances and can accumulate high levels of radionuclides. According to the researchers, the snakes’ limited movement and close contact with contaminated soil are key factors in their ability to reflect the varying levels of contamination in the zone. Hanna Gerke, an alumna of UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and the Warn ... More

Retinal waves in neonatal mice. A new Yale study suggests that, in a sense, mammals dream about the world they are about to experience before they are even born. Image courtesy: Yale University.

NEW HAVEN, CT.- As a newborn mammal opens its eyes for the first time, it can already make visual sense of the world around it. But how does this happen before they have experienced sight? A new Yale study suggests that, in a sense, mammals dream about the world they are about to experience before they are even born. Published in Science, a team led by Michael Crair, the William Ziegler III Professor of Neuroscience and professor of ophthalmology and visual science, describes waves of activity that emanate from the neonatal retina in mice before their eyes ever open. This activity disappears soon after birth and is replaced by a more mature network of neural transmissions of visual stimuli to the brain, where information is further encoded and stored. “At eye opening, mammals are capable of pretty sophisticated behavior,” said Crair, senior author of the study, who is also vice provost for research at Yale.” But how do the circuits for ... More

Professor Gajanan Bhat holds an elastic nonwoven material. Image courtesy: Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA.

ATHENS, GA.- University of Georgia researchers have developed a new material with properties ideal for medical products such as masks and bandages. It’s also better for the environment than the materials in current use. Using nonwoven fabrics—fabrics produced by bonding fiber without weaving or knitting—the team led by Gajanan Bhat was able to make composite materials that are stretchable, breathable and absorbent, properties ideal for medical products. Incorporating cotton also makes the resulting material comfortable on the skin (an important factor in medical applications) and easier to compost, hence more sustainable compared to similar products currently in the market. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the researchers tested different combinations of cotton and nonwoven fabrics—for properties such as breathability, water absorbency and stretchability—along with the original nonwoven fabrics. The composite f ... More

Soft skin patch could provide early warning for strokes, heart attacks   Autonomous self-healing seen in piezoelectric molecular crystals   Stanford researchers develop tool to drastically speed up the study of enzymes

Ultrasound patch wired to its full experimental setup. Image courtesy: University of California San Diego.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- Engineers at the University of California San Diego developed a soft and stretchy ultrasound patch that can be worn on the skin to monitor blood flow through major arteries and veins deep inside a person’s body. Knowing how fast and how much blood flows through a patient’s blood vessels is important because it can help clinicians diagnose various cardiovascular conditions, including blood clots; heart valve problems; poor circulation in the limbs; or blockages in the arteries that could lead to strokes or heart attacks. The new ultrasound patch developed at UC San Diego can continuously monitor blood flow—as well as blood pressure and heart function—in real time. Wearing such a device could make it easier to identify cardiovascular problems early on. A team led by Sheng Xu, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, reported the patch in a paper published July 16 in Nature Biomedic ... More

The work by the team involved studying piezoelectric molecular crystals—a type of crystal that is capable of converting mechanical energy into electricity.

KOLKATA.- A team of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Kolkata, the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and RWTH Aachen University, has found a type of piezoelectric molecular crystal that is capable of autonomous self-healing. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their work with piezoelectric molecular crystals and the crystals they grew that could heal themselves. As the researchers note, self-healing materials have become the object of intense research in recent years. Such efforts have yielded some results—polymers, gels and other materials have been developed which, when injured, can heal themselves to some degree. To date, such successes have all had one thing in common—they are all soft. In this new effort, the researchers tackled a much more difficult task: finding or developing a self-healing hard material. In this case, that meant figuring out ... More

HT-MEK – short for High-Throughput Microfluidic Enzyme Kinetics – combines microfluidics and cell-free protein synthesis technologies to dramatically speed up the study of enzymes. Image courtesy: Daniel Mokhtari.

STANFORD, CA.- For much of human history, animals and plants were perceived to follow a different set of rules than the rest of the universe. In the 18th and 19th centuries, this culminated in a belief that living organisms were infused by a non-physical energy or “life force” that allowed them to perform remarkable transformations that couldn’t be explained by conventional chemistry or physics alone. Scientists now understand that these transformations are powered by enzymes – protein molecules comprised of chains of amino acids that act to speed up, or catalyze, the conversion of one kind of molecule (substrates) into another (products). In so doing, they enable reactions such as digestion and fermentation – and all of the chemical events that happen in every one of our cells – that, left alone, would happen extraordinarily slowly. “A chemical reaction that would take longer than the lifetime of the universe to happen on its own can occur in seconds with the aid o ... More

'Feel good' brain messenger can be willfully controlled, new study reveals   Satellites track "bog breathing" to help monitor peatlands   Discovery of unknown brain-repair process could lead to new epilepsy treatments

Neuroscientists show that mice can learn to manipulate random dopamine impulses for reward. Illustration courtesy: Julia Kuhl.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- From the thrill of hearing an ice cream truck approaching to the spikes of pleasure while sipping a fine wine, the neurological messenger known as dopamine has been popularly described as the brain’s “feel good” chemical related to reward and pleasure. A ubiquitous neurotransmitter that carries signals between brain cells, dopamine, among its many functions, is involved in multiple aspects of cognitive processing. The chemical messenger has been extensively studied from the perspective of external cues, or “deterministic” signals. Instead, University of California San Diego researchers recently set out to investigate less understood aspects related to spontaneous impulses of dopamine. Their results, published July 23 in the journal Current Biology, have shown that mice can willfully manipulate these random dopamine pulses. Rather than only occurring when presented with pleasurable, or reward-based expectations, UC ... More

Long term trends in peat surface motion at Flanders Moss 5 years of data at 80m pixel resolution (03/2015-03/2020). Image courtesy: © University of Nottingham.

NOTTINGHAM.- Using satellite technology to look at how bogs “breathe” could help build a better picture of peatland condition and restoration progress in Scotland. New research, published on International Bog Day, demonstrates the potential for measuring “bog breathing” - or peatland surface motion – to monitor restoration sites in future. A collaboration between the University of Nottingham, NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland, and University of the Highlands and Islands, the research uses Interferometric satellite radar (InSAR), which can map the movement of the ground’s surface – a technique developed with University of Nottingham spinout company Terra Motion Ltd. The way that bogs move, or breathe, can be influenced by many factors, including water level, vegetation composition, micro-topography and land management. By measuring the motion over time, the technique is able to assess the condition of ... More

Neuroscience researcher Ukpong Eyo studies important immune cells called microglia as part of the UVA Brain Institute and UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. Image courtesy: Dan Addison, University Communications.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.- University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers have discovered a previously unknown repair process in the brain that they hope could be harnessed and enhanced to treat seizure-related brain injuries. Common seizure-preventing drugs do not work for approximately a third of epilepsy patients, so new and better treatments for such brain injuries are much needed. UVA’s discovery identifies a potential avenue, one inspired by the brain’s natural immune response. Using high-powered imaging, the researchers were able to see, for the first time, that immune cells called microglia were not just removing damaged material after experimental seizures, but actually appeared to be healing damaged neurons. “There has been mounting generic support for the idea that microglia could be used to ameliorate seizures, but direct, visualized evidence for how they could do this has been lacking,” said researcher Ukpong B. Eyo o ... More

Do vaccinated people need to go back to masking?   A device that cracks milk protein   Researchers discover that protein switches functions to regulate DNA replication

A photographer wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks under a disinfection system installed at the International Press Center for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Tokyo on July 21, 2021. Yuri Cortez / AFP.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- With the Delta variant pushing US Covid cases back up, fully vaccinated people are wondering whether they need to start masking indoors again. Covid vaccines remain extremely effective against the worst outcomes of the disease -- hospitalization and death -- and breakthrough infections remain uncommon. But experts told AFP that one size doesn't fit all, and people should consider factors like community transmission, personal risk levels, and their own risk tolerance to help decide what's right for them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its mask guidance for vaccinated people in May. At the time, cases were plummeting and the administration of President Joe Biden was keen to declare a return to normal on the back of a vaccination campaign that was still going strong. On Thursday the country registered more than 50,000 cases, a surge driven by the now overwhelmingly dominant Delta variant, the most contagious strain to date, and centered in low-vaccination regions. ... More

The so-called Vortex Fluidic Device has previously been used in an array of experiments to successfully 'un-boil' egg protein and even break the molecular bonds of one of the world's hardest material, carbon nanotubes. Image: Pixabay.

BEDFORD PARK.- After gaining world attention by 'unboiling' egg protein, Flinders University scientists have now used an Australian-made novel thin film microfluidic device to manipulate Beta-lactoglobulin (β-lactoglobulin), the major whey protein in cow, sheep and other mammal milks. The so-called Vortex Fluidic Device has previously been used in an array of experiments to successfully 'un-boil' egg protein and even break the molecular bonds of one of the world's hardest material, carbon nanotubes. In the latest application, published in Molecules, College of Science and Engineering experts have combined the capabilities of the VFD with a new form of biosensor called TPE-MI, which is an aggregation-induced emission luminogen (AIEgen). "In the human body, protein folding is a regular process which in some cases may involve misfolding and aggregation such as in gene mutation, which can upset the balance," says Professor Youhong Tang, whos ... More

The journal cover features artwork by graduate student Archana Krishnamoorthy, the first author of the paper published in the July 15 issue.

NASHVILLE, TN.- One protein. One mechanism of action. Two biologically opposite effects. “It’s conceptually unexpected and interesting for a protein to switch biological functions without actually changing what it’s doing,” said David Cortez, PhD, professor and chair of Biochemistry, of his team’s recent discoveries about the protein RADX. Cortez, who holds the Richard N. Armstrong, PhD Chair for Innovation in Biochemistry, and his colleagues first identified RADX several years ago and linked it to a process cells use during DNA replication to respond to sites of damage. Now, in two papers published recently in Molecular Cell, the researchers have clarified what RADX does and how it does it. RADX works at sites of DNA synthesis, called replication forks, where Cortez’s team previously found that it regulates a process called “fork reversal.” Fork reversal happens when the DNA replication machinery encounters a problem and backs up — like a train might if so ... More

I consider it an extremely dangerous doctrine, because the more likely we are to assume that the solution comes from the outside, the less likely we are to solve our problems ourselves. Carl Sagan

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Early-life social connections influence gene expression, stress resilience
BOULDER, CO.- Having friends may not only be good for the health of your social life, but also for your actual health—if you’re a hyena, that is. Strong social connections and greater maternal care early in life can influence molecular markers related to gene expression in DNA and future stress response, suggests a new CU Boulder study of spotted hyenas in the wild. Researchers found that more social connection and maternal care during a hyena’s cub and subadult, or “teenage,” years corresponded with lower adult stress hormone levels and fewer modifications to DNA, including near genes involved in immune function, inflammation and aging. Published this week in Nature Communications, the study is one of the first to examine the association between early-life social environments and later effects on markers of health and stress response ... More

Supercomputer-generated models provide better understanding of esophageal disorders
SAN DIEGO, CA.- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, more commonly known as GERD, impacts around 20 percent of U.S. citizens, according to the National Institutes of Health. If left untreated, GERD can lead to serious medical issues and sometimes esophageal cancer. Thanks to supercomputers, advances in imaging the swallowing process of GERD patients have been modelled on Comet at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego and Bridges-2 at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC). Northwestern University researchers from the McCormick School of Engineering and the Feinberg School of Medicine teamed up and recently published these novel models in Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology. Their work resulted in a new computational modeling system, called FluoroMech, that could help identify physio-markers ... More

For more precise drug treatments, 'squeeze' the genome: study finds
NASHVILLE, TN.- Large-scale studies will be required to identify the complexity of genetic variations that affect how patients respond to a given drug and whether they will have side effects, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Such studies are needed both to find new gene variants and to fulfill the promise of precision medicine to improve health, the researchers concluded in a paper published last month in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. “At Vanderbilt we’ve gotten really good at using genetic information to help predict drug response,” said the paper’s corresponding author, Sara Van Driest, MD, PhD, associate professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at VUMC. “The question is whether we’ve squeezed all the information we can out of the genome,” Van Driest said. “If we throw more genes, more variants, into ... More

An autonomous system to assemble reconfigurable robotic structures in space
MUNICH.- Large space structures, such as telescopes and spacecraft, should ideally be assembled directly in space, as they are difficult or impossible to launch from Earth as a single piece. In several cases, however, assembling these technologies manually in space is either highly expensive or unfeasible. In recent years, roboticists have thus been trying to develop systems that could be used to automatically assemble structures in space. To simplify this assembly process, space structures could have a modular design, which essentially means that they are comprised of different building blocks or modules that can be shifted to create different shapes or forms. Researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Technische Universität München have recently developed an autonomous planner that could be used to assemble reconfigurable structur ... More

Gene therapy may preserve vision in retinal disease and serious retinal injury
NEW YORK, NY.- Gene therapy in mouse models showed promise in preventing vision loss or blindness from serious retinal injury including optic nerve damage, and from retinal disease including diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma, Mount Sinai researchers report. Their study, published in the July 22 online publication of Cell, could transform treatment for those at risk of major vision loss from retinal degenerative diseases, which currently have no cure. The researchers focused on retinal ganglion cells, which process visual information by sending images to the brain. These cells can degenerate as a result of retinal injury and retinal disease. The team of researchers demonstrated how reactivation of a key enzyme known as CaMKII and its downstream signaling in retinal ganglion cells through a gene therapy approach provided robust protection against further ... More

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On a day like today, English biophysicist and chemist Rosalind Franklin was born
July 25, 1920. Rosalind Elsie Franklin (25 July 1920 - 16 April 1958) was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely recognised posthumously, for which she has been variously referred to as the "wronged heroine", the "dark lady of DNA", the "forgotten heroine", a "feminist icon", and the "Sylvia Plath of molecular biology". Franklin is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA while at King's College London, particularly Photo 51, taken by her student Raymond Gosling, which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix for which Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962.

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