Established in 2020 Thursday, May 13, 2021

Egypt discovers 250 tombs, 4,200 years old

Mostafa Waziri, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said one tomb dating back to the Old Kingdom had faint remains of hieroglyphic inscriptions and a chamber for "sacrifices".

CAIRO (AFP).- Egyptian archaeologists have discovered around 250 tombs in the country's southern province of Sohag, dating back about 4,200 years, the antiquities ministry said Tuesday. The graves "include some with a well or several burial wells and other cemeteries with a sloping corridor that ends with a burial room," the ministry said in a statement. They range in age "from the end of the Old Kingdom to the end of the Ptolemaic period," it added. The Old Kingdom, spanning around 500 years, ended in 2200 BC, while Egypt's Ptolemaic dynasty lasted for 300 years an ended with the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC. Mostafa Waziri, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said one tomb dating back to the Old Kingdom had faint remains of hieroglyphic inscriptions and a chamber for "sacrifices". Mohamed Abdel-Badie, a senior antiquities official who led the excavation, said pottery and votive objects had also been found, dedicated to ancient Egyptian deities. Small alabaster vessels, animal and human bone ... More

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NASA's giant Webb telescope succeeds in key pre-launch test   A comprehensive map of the SARS-CoV-2 genome   Glyphosate inhibits symbiotic bacteria in beetles

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope -- the world's largest and most powerful space telescope is scheduled to launch into space in October. Image courtesy: Maggie Masetti, Flickr.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- The world's largest and most powerful space telescope unfolded its giant golden mirror for the last time on Earth on Tuesday, a key milestone before the $10 billion observatory is launched later this year. The James Webb Space Telescope's 21 feet 4 inch (6.5 meter) mirror was commanded to fully expand and lock itself into place, NASA said -- a final test to ensure it will survive its million-mile (1.6 million kilometer) journey and is ready to discover the origins of the Universe. "It's like building a Swiss watch at 40-feet-tall... and getting it ready for this journey that we take into the vacuum at minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit (-240 Celsius), four times further than the Moon," said Scott Willoughby of lead contractor Northrop Grumman. He was speaking at the company's spaceport in Redondo Beach, California, from where the telescope will be shipped to French Guiana to be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket, with NASA targeting October 31 for liftoff. Webb's primary mirror is made of 18 hex ... More

MIT researchers generated what they describe as the most complete gene annotation of the SARS-CoV-2 genome. Image courtesy: MIT News.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- In early 2020, a few months after the Covid-19 pandemic began, scientists were able to sequence the full genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the Covid-19 infection. While many of its genes were already known at that point, the full complement of protein-coding genes was unresolved. Now, after performing an extensive comparative genomics study, MIT researchers have generated what they describe as the most accurate and complete gene annotation of the SARS-CoV-2 genome. In their study, which appears today in Nature Communications, they confirmed several protein-coding genes and found that a few others that had been suggested as genes do not code for any proteins. “We were able to use this powerful comparative genomics approach for evolutionary signatures to discover the true functional protein-coding content of this enormously important genome,” says Manolis Kellis, who is the senior autho ... More

Saw-toothed grain beetle Oryzaephilus surinamensis on oat flakes. Image courtesy: © Julian Kiefer, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz.

FRANKFURT AM MAIN.- Organisms exist not in isolation but in an intricate network of ecological interactions. These interactions must be kept in mind when judging the impact of human activities. Insects in particular benefit in diverse ways from microbial symbionts, mostly via supplemented nutrients and chemical defenses. However, the benefits derived from such symbiotic associations may also make the insect more vulnerable. Insect hosts often become so reliant on their microbial partners that they can hardly survive alone. Without symbiosis, insects’ development may be delayed or prevented, their susceptibility to natural enemies may be increased, their reproductive potential and competitiveness with conspecifics may be impaired, or they may die. Glyphosate is currently one of the most widely used pesticides in agriculture, despite increasing controversy about its potentially harmful side-effects. It is supposed to selectively suppress the growth of plants by inhibiting the biosynthesis of aromatic a ... More

Indian Covid-19 variant found in 44 countries: WHO   Nearly a fifth of Earth's surface transformed since 1960   Controlling cholesterol in microglia alleviates chronic pain, opioid-free

Relatives wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) arrive for the funeral of their relative who died due to Covid 19 coronavirus, at a crematorium in New Delhi on May 11, 2021. Prakash Singh / AFP.

GENEVA (AFP).- The World Health Organization said Wednesday that a variant of Covid-19 behind the acceleration of India's explosive outbreak has been found in dozens of countries all over the world. The UN health agency said the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19, first found in India in October, had been detected in more than 4,500 samples uploaded to an open-access database "from 44 countries in all six WHO regions". "And WHO has received reports of detections from five additional countries," it said in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic. Outside of India, it said that Britain had reported the largest number of Covid cases caused by the variant. Earlier this week, the WHO declared B.1.617 -- which counts three so-called sub-lineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics -- as a "variant of concern". It was therefore added to the list containing three other variants of Covid-19 -- those first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa. The variants are seen as more dangerou ... More

Crewmembers on the International Space Station are treated to Earth views that are constantly changing. Image courtesy: NASA.

PARIS (AFP).- Whether it's turning forests into cropland or savannah into pastures, humanity has repurposed land over the last 60 years equivalent in area to Africa and Europe combined, researchers said Tuesday. If you count all such transitions since 1960, it adds up to about 43 million square kilometres (16.5 square miles), four times more than previous estimates, according to a study in Nature Communications. "Since land use plays a central role for climate mitigation, biodiversity and food production, understanding its full dynamics is essential for sustainable land use strategies," lead author Karina Winkler, a physical geographer at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, told AFP. Plants and soil -- especially in tropical forests -- soak up about 30 percent of manmade carbon pollution, so large-scale landscape changes could spell success or failure in meeting Paris Agreement temperature targets. The 2015 climate treaty enjoins nations to stop global heating at "well below" two de ... More

Space-filling model of the Cholesterol molecule. Cholesterol is essential for brain function, both during development and in adult life. Image courtesy: RedAndr.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- Chemotherapy can induce a painful peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), a chronic condition and common adverse effect for cancer patients undergoing treatment. Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues elsewhere, have used a mouse model to demonstrate the pivotal role of cholesterol in CIPN, and proposed a novel therapeutic approach to reverse it. The findings were published in the May 10, 2021, online issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine. The study was a collaboration between the laboratories of senior study author Yury Miller, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, and Tony Yaksh, PhD, professor of anesthesiology and pharmacology, both at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Miller studies cholesterol metabolism and cardiovascular and neuro inflammation. Yaksh specializes in neuropathic pain. “It was truly gratifying to work at the intersection of two disciplines and ide ... More

Gene therapy offers potential cure to children born without an immune system   Canadian researchers lead development and testing of promising treatment for COVID-19 variants   Designer alterations to brain cells reduce anxious behavior in monkeys, hold promise for new treatments

Dr. Donald Kohn, distinguished professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA. Image courtesy: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- An experimental form of gene therapy developed by a team of researchers from UCLA and Great Ormond Street Hospital in London has successfully treated 48 of 50 children born with a rare and deadly inherited disorder that leaves them without an immune system. Severe combined immunodeficiency due to adenosine deaminase deficiency, or ADA-SCID, is caused by mutations in the ADA gene that creates the enzyme adenosine deaminase, which is essential to a functioning immune system. For children with the condition, even day-to-day activities like going to school or playing with friends can lead to dangerous, life-threatening infections. If untreated, ADA-SCID can be fatal within the first two years of life. The investigational gene therapy method involves first collecting some of the child’s blood-forming stem cells, which have the potential to create all types of blood and immune cells. Next, using an approach developed by the research te ... More

SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7, also called the UK variant. The green depicts viral DsRNA and red shows viral nucleocapsid protein – these are both viral biomarkers, and indicate that the cell shown is infected by SARS-CoV-2.

VANCOUVER.- A new anti-viral drug could improve COVID-19 outcomes and survival rates — and is highly effective against multiple variants — according to a new study led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Université de Sherbrooke. The drug, called N-0385, blocks the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells through its favoured cell gateways. The results of the study are under review for publication in a scientific journal and have been uploaded as a preprint. “In this study, we report a novel and highly potent small-molecule drug called N-0385, that acts as the most effective entry inhibitor to date,” says Dr. François Jean, a project lead and professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at UBC. “We demonstrate that N-0385 is broadly protective against infection and mortality in mice, and believe N-0385 has potential as a viable early treatment option against emerging SARS-CoV-2 VOCs. ... More

Ned Kalin, chair of the psychiatry department at UW–Madison and a longtime clinician and anxiety researcher. Image courtesy: University of Wisconsin-Madison.

MADISON, WI.- Using a technique that could point to a new way to help people with severe anxiety and other treatment-resistant psychiatric illnesses, researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison successfully dialed down anxious monkeys’ overactive response to a potential threat by installing a custom chemical switch in their brain cells. About 30 percent of people with anxiety and mood disorders do not find sufficient relief in available treatments like medications and psychotherapy, leaving many to live with severe and chronic symptoms of anxiety and depression, and a significant risk of suicide. Some of them are helped by more invasive treatment options including deep brain stimulation, in which small electrodes are implanted deep into the brain. “Treatments such as DBS are not commonly used, but when used in some cases can be very helpful,” says Ned Kalin, chair of the psychiatry department at UW–Madison and a long ... More

Worried your vaccinated pre-teen will become infertile? Don't be.   New genetic 'CopyCatchers' detect efficient and precise CRISPR editing in a living organism   Higher antibiotic doses may make bacteria 'fitter': study

A staff member prepares a syringe with the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at a military vaccination centre in Brest, western France, on May 11, 2021, amid a campaign of vaccination against the coronavirus. Fred Tanneau / AFP.

EVANSTON, ILL.- Now that Pfizer has received emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow adolescents ages 12 to 15 to receive its COVID-19 vaccine, the next step will be overcoming vaccine hesitancy in this group, including addressing the myth that the vaccine leads to infertility, said Northwestern Medicine infectious diseases expert Dr. Robert Murphy. “It will be somewhat of a challenge, but let’s face it: kids are the ones who get all the vaccines, so why are you going hold this one back? This is the one (virus) that can kill your grandma. It doesn’t make sense to pick on this vaccine,” said Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Only 50% of parents are saying they will get their 12- to 15-year-olds vaccinated, but people eventually will realize school will be so much easier without being in quarantine,” h ... More

Red fluorescent detector proteins in fruit flies reveal detection from an actual copying experiment. Image courtesy: Zhiqian Li.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- Researchers at the University of California San Diego have laid the groundwork for a potential new type of gene therapy using novel CRISPR-based techniques. Working in fruit flies and human cells, research led by UC San Diego Postdoctoral Scholar Zhiqian Li in Division of Biological Sciences Professor Ethan Bier’s laboratory demonstrates that new DNA repair mechanisms could be designed to address the effects of debilitating diseases and damaged cell conditions. The scientists developed a novel genetic sensor called a “CopyCatcher,” which capitalizes on CRISPR-based gene drive technology, to detect instances in which a genetic element is copied precisely from one chromosome to another throughout cells in the body of a fruit fly. Gene-drive technology is being developed to copy and distribute desired traits in reproductive cells of the body (sperm and eggs), which allows these traits to be spread throughout populations&# ... More

Image: Pixabay.

by Patrick Galey

PARIS (AFP).- Using higher doses of antibiotics in a bid to tackle the growing problem of drug resistance may end up strengthening certain bacteria, according to research released on Wednesday that highlights a previously unthought-of risk. Antimicrobial resistance has been labelled by the United Nations as "one of the greatest threats we face as a global community" and is predicted to cause 10 million deaths annually by 2050. Previous research has shown that inflicting higher antibiotic doses on bacteria can slow its ability to develop resistance, yet little attention has been paid to how those higher doses impact the overall health of microbes. A team of Britain- and Europe-based researchers looked at how populations of E. coli reacted to varying concentrations of three common antibiotics. They found that while higher antibiotic doses slowed the rate at which the bacteria developed resistance, they also gave rise to bacteria with "higher overall fitness" -- meaning it had a higher rate of reproduc ... More

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.  John Dewey

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Study finds ghost forest 'tree farts' contribute to greenhouse gas emissions
RALEIGH, NC.- A new study from North Carolina State University finds that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from standing dead trees in coastal wetland forests – colloquially called “tree farts” – need to be accounted for when assessing the environmental impact of so-called “ghost forests.” In the study, researchers compared the quantity and type of GHG emissions from dead tree snags to emissions from the soil. While snags did not release as much as the soils, they did increase GHG emissions of the overall ecosystem by about 25 percent. Researchers say the findings show snags are important for understanding the total environmental impact of the spread of dead trees in coastal wetlands, known as ghost forests, on GHG emissions. “Even though these standing dead trees are not emitting as much as the soils, they’re still emitting something, and they ... More

Penn researchers use arcuate organoids to study development and disease of the hypothalamus
PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Human brain organoids are remarkable platforms for modeling features of human brain development and diseases. Building on methods to generate organoids to model different brain regions such as the cortex and the midbrain, researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have generated the first organoids of the arcuate nucleus (ARC), an essential structure in the hypothalamus that sends signals of hunger and feeling full. This part of the hypothalamus exhibits a tremendous amount of cell diversity, and is far more complex than previously modeled parts of the brain. In a recent paper in Cell Stem Cell, researchers at Penn report generating arcuate organoids (ARCOs) that model the ARC of the hypothalamus. Previous studies have generated 2D hypothalamic-like neurons and 3D hypo ... More

Pathway behind muscle breakdowns in Duchenne muscular dystrophy discovered
PHILADELPHIA, PA.- An overactive genetic pathway in muscle stem cells was found to shorten the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres, resulting in DNA damage that impedes the normal healing response, according to a new study by researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers believe this finding unveils the body’s origin point for the chronic muscle injuries associated with diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This work was published in Cell Reports. The specific pathway the researchers studied, NF-kB, is tied both to DNA transcription and inflammation response, among other things. It is the first genetic pathway found to directly affect telomere shortening. Shortened telomeres were previously identified as a key feature of patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a severe muscle disea ... More

New system cleans messy data tables automatically
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- MIT researchers have created a new system that automatically cleans “dirty data” — the typos, duplicates, missing values, misspellings, and inconsistencies dreaded by data analysts, data engineers, and data scientists. The system, called PClean, is the latest in a series of domain-specific probabilistic programming languages written by researchers at the Probabilistic Computing Project that aim to simplify and automate the development of AI applications (others include one for 3D perception via inverse graphics and another for modeling time series and databases). According to surveys conducted by Anaconda and Figure Eight, data cleaning can take a quarter of a data scientist's time. Automating the task is challenging because different datasets require different types of cleaning, and common-sense judgment calls about objects i ... More

Anesthesia doesn't simply turn off the brain - it changes its rhythms
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- In a uniquely deep and detailed look at how the commonly used anesthetic propofol causes unconsciousness, a collaboration of labs at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT shows that as the drug takes hold in the brain, a wide swath of regions become coordinated by very slow rhythms that maintain a commensurately languid pace of neural activity. Electrically stimulating a deeper region, the thalamus, restores synchrony of the brain’s normal higher frequency rhythms and activity levels, waking the brain back up and restoring arousal. “There’s a folk psychology or tacit assumption that what anesthesia does is simply ‘turn off’ the brain,” says Earl Miller, Picower Professor of Neuroscience and co-senior author of the study in eLife. “What we show is that propofol dramatically changes and controls the dynamics of the brai ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate William Giauque was born
May 12, 1895. William Francis Giauque (May 12, 1895 - March 28, 1982) was a Canadian-born American chemist and Nobel laureate recognized in 1949 for his studies in the properties of matter at temperatures close to absolute zero. He spent virtually all of his educational and professional career at the University of California, Berkeley. He became interested in the third law of thermodynamics as a field of research during his experimental research for his Ph.D. research under Professor George Ernest Gibson comparing the relative entropies of glycerine crystals and glass. The principal objective of his researches was to demonstrate through range of appropriate tests that the third law of thermodynamics is a basic natural law. In 1926, he proposed a method for observing temperatures considerably below 1 Kelvin (1 K is -457.87 °F or -272.15 °C). His work with D.P. MacDougall between 1933 and 1935 successfully employed them.

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