Established in 2020 Friday, May 27, 2022

Why did Mars dry out? New study points to unusual answers

Billions of years ago, a river flowed across this scene in a Mars valley called Mawrth Vallis. A new study examines the tracks of Martian rivers to see what they can reveal about the history of the planet’s water and atmosphere. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL Caltech/University of Arizona.

CHICAGO, IL.- Mars once ran red with rivers. The telltale tracks of past rivers, streams and lakes are visible today all over the planet. But about three billion years ago, they all dried up—and no one knows why. “People have put forward different ideas, but we’re not sure what caused the climate to change so dramatically,” said University of Chicago geophysical scientist Edwin Kite. “We’d really like to understand, especially because it’s the only planet we definitely know changed from habitable to uninhabitable.” Kite is the first author of a new study that examines the tracks of Martian rivers to see what they can reveal about the history of the planet’s water and atmosphere. Previously, many scientists had assumed that losing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helped to keep Mars warm, caused the trouble. But the new findings, published May 25 in Science Advances, suggest that the change w ... More

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First Pompeiian human genome sequenced   Palaeospondylus: Long-standing mystery of vertebrate evolution solved using powerful X-rays   Researchers teleport quantum information across rudimentary quantum network

Gabriele Scorrano and colleagues examined the remains of two individuals who were found in the House of the Craftsman in Pompeii and extracted their DNA. Image: Pixabay.

POMPEII.- The first successfully sequenced human genome from an individual who died in Pompeii, Italy, after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE is presented this week in a study published in Scientific Reports. Prior to this, only short stretches of mitochondrial DNA from Pompeiian human and animal remains had been sequenced. Gabriele Scorrano and colleagues examined the remains of two individuals who were found in the House of the Craftsman in Pompeii and extracted their DNA. The shape, structure, and length of the skeletons indicated that one set of remains belonged to a male who was aged between 35 and 40 years at the time of his death, while the other set of remains belonged to a female aged over 50 years old. Although the authors were able to extract and sequence ancient DNA from both individuals, they were only able to sequence the entire genome from the male's remains due to gaps in the sequences obtained from the female's remains. Comparisons of the male individual's DNA with DNA ob ... More

Palaeospondylus as reconstructed by synchrotron radiation x-ray computed tomography. Image courtesy: RIKEN.

SAITAMA.- The Evolutionary Morphology Laboratory led by Shigeru Kuratani at the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR) in Japan, along with collaborators, has found evidence that the mysterious ancient fish-like vertebrate Palaeospondylus was likely one of the earliest ancestors of four-limbed animals, including humans. Published May 25 in the scientific journal Nature, the study unmasks this strange animal from the deep past and sets its position on the evolutionary tree. Palaeospondylus was a small fish-like vertebrate, about 5 cm long, which had an eel-like body and lived in the Devonian period about 390 million years ago. Although fossils are abundant, its small size and the poor quality of cranial reconstructions—by both CT scan and wax models—have made placing it on the evolutionary tree difficult ever since its discovery in 1890. It's been thought to share features with both jawed and jawless fish and its body has prese ... More

Researchers work on one of the quantum network nodes, where mirrors and filters guide the laser beams to the diamond chip. Image courtesy: Marieke de Lorijn for QuTech.

DELFT.- Researchers in Delft have succeeded in teleporting quantum information across a rudimentary network. This first of its kind is an important step towards a future quantum internet. This breakthrough was made possible by a greatly improved quantum memory and enhanced quality of the quantum links between the three nodes of the network. The researchers, working at QuTech—a collaboration between Delft University of Technology and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO)—are publishing their findings this week in the scientific journal Nature. The power of a future quantum internet is based on the ability to send quantum information (quantum bits) between the nodes of the network. This will enable all kinds of applications such as securely sharing confidential information, linking several quantum computers together to increase their computing capability, and the use of highly precise, linked quantum sensors. ... More

Smart, dissolving pacemaker communicates with body-area sensor and control network   Tracking chirality in real time   Hot-blooded T. rex and cold-blooded Stegosaurus: Chemical clues reveal dinosaur metabolism

The under-side of the haptic-feedback device, showing its four actuators. Image courtesy: Northwestern University.

EVANSTON, IL.- Last summer, Northwestern University researchers introduced the first-ever transient pacemaker — a fully implantable, wireless device that harmlessly dissolves in the body after it’s no longer needed. Now, they unveil a new, smart version that is integrated into a coordinated network of soft, flexible, wireless, wearable sensors and control units placed around the upper body. The study was published in the journal Science. The work was led by Northwestern’s John A. Rogers, Igor R. Efimov and Rishi Arora. The sensors communicate with each other to continuously monitor the body’s various physiological functions, including body temperature, oxygen levels, respiration, muscle tone, physical activity and the heart’s electrical activity. The system then uses algorithms to analyze this combined activity in order to autonomously detect abnormal cardiac rhythms and decide when to pace the heart and at what rate ... More

Artist's impression of a time-resolved circular dichroism measurement of a photoexcited spin-crossover complex. Image curtesy: Ella Maru Studio, Inc.

LAUSANNE.- Chiral molecules exist in two forms, called enantiomers, which are mirror images of each other and non-superimposable—much like a pair of hands. While they share most chemical and physical properties, enantiomers can have adverse effects in (bio)chemical phenomena. For example, a protein or enzyme may only bind one enantiomeric form of a target molecule. Consequently, identification and control of chirality is often key to designing (bio)chemical compounds, e.g., in the food, fragrance, and pharmaceutical industries. A most common technique for detecting chirality is called circular dichroism, which measures how chiral samples absorb left- and right-circularly polarized light differently to directly identify pairs of enantiomers. Circular dichroism can also help resolve the conformation of a molecule through its chiral response—a feature that has made it a popular analytical tool in (bio)chemical sciences. However, circular dichroism has so far been limited in time-resolution ... More

Schematic drawing of a subset of the animals that were investigated as part of the study. Image courtesy: J. Wiemann.

CHICAGO, IL.- For decades, paleontologists have debated whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded, like modern mammals and birds, or cold-blooded, like modern reptiles. Knowing whether dinosaurs were warm- or cold-blooded could give us hints about how active they were and what their everyday lives were like, but the methods to determine their warm- or cold-bloodedness—how quickly their metabolisms could turn oxygen into energy—were inconclusive. But in a new paper in Nature, scientists are unveiling a new method for studying dinosaurs' metabolic rates, using clues in their bones that indicated how much the individual animals breathed in their last hour of life. "This is really exciting for us as paleontologists—the question of whether dinosaurs were warm- or cold-blooded is one of the oldest questions in paleontology, and now we think we have a consensus, that most dinosaurs were warm-blooded," says Jasmina Wiemann, the paper's lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at the California Ins ... More

Team develops mechanism to control actuation, cooling and energy conversion for soft robotics   Showing that species thrive through social connections   Professional 'guilds' of bacteria gave rise to the modern microbiome

A transducer combining liquid crystal elastomers with a thermoelectrical device provides advantages like active cooling and regenerative energy harvesting for soft robotics. Image courtesy: Soft Machines Lab, Carnegie Mellon University.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- The shape memory polymers known as liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) are increasingly popular for uses in soft robotics, haptics, and wearable computing. Functioning as actuators, they can allow materials to contract, expand, change shape, and perform like biological muscles do. Because the action is controlled through heating and passive cooling, efforts to speed up these processes and increase energy efficiency are critical to advancing the work. A multidisciplinary team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Mechanical Engineering, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, and Robotics Institute sought to tackle this challenge by combining LCEs with a thermoelectric device (TED). The collaborators developed a soft, flexible mechanism capable of electrically controlled actuation, active cooling, and thermal-to-electrical energy conversion. They also introduced a new manufacturing process for stretchable and bendabl ... More

Analysis of interaction networks reconstructed from environmental DNA time series. Image courtesy: KyotoU/Global Comms.

KYOTO.- The term biodiversity invites images of lush rainforests, dynamic estuaries, and other biomes where a kaleidoscope of species interact within their communities. We could assume the same holds true for biodiversity at the microscopic level. Studies in the past have suggested that species interactions and community diversity are interdependent. But how the interspecies interactions are affected by community diversity has not been thoroughly researched. Now, a KyotoU study has shown that even though biodiversity increases with an increased number of interactions between different species as would be expected, the mean interaction strength decreases. "The total interaction strength experienced by a single species is a limiting factor, resulting in weakened interspecific interactions in a high-diversity community," says lead author Masayuki Ushio. He proposed the interaction capacity hypothesis which might help understand and predic ... More

University of British Columbia evolutionary microbiologists collecting marine invertebrate samples off Calvert Island, British Columbia, Canada. Image courtesy: University of British Columbia.

VANCOUVER.- Even the smallest marine invertebrates—some barely larger than single-celled protists—are home to distinct and diverse microbial communities, or microbiomes, according to new research from University of British Columbia biologists. The study underscores that a vast diversity of animals have microbiomes, just as humans do. But more surprisingly, there's little correlation between how closely related most animals are and how similar their microbiomes are—something widely assumed to be true based on the study of humans, larger mammals, and insects. "This says a lot about how microbiomes originated and how they evolve today," says UBC evolutionary microbiologist Dr. Patrick Keeling, senior author of the paper published in Nature Microbiology. "People might intuitively think the purpose of a microbiome is to be of benefit to the host animal, and that they co-evolve together. But the bacteria could care less about helping the a ... More

UCLA study identifies how the brain links memories   New discovery about distant galaxies: Stars are heavier than we thought   Hawks' eyes may not help the world's only nocturnal hawk hunt at night

Graphic with brain and question marks. Image: Pixabay.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Our brains rarely record single memories. Instead, they store memories in groups so that the recollection of one significant memory triggers the recall of others that are connected chronologically. As we age, however, our brains gradually lose this ability to link related memories. Now, UCLA researchers have discovered a key molecular mechanism behind this memory linking. They’ve also identified a way to restore this brain function genetically in aging mice — and an FDA-approved drug that achieves the same thing. Published in the journal Nature, the findings suggest a new method for strengthening human memory in middle age and a possible early intervention for dementia. “Our memories are a huge part of who we are,” said Alcino Silva, an author of the research and a distinguished professor of neurobiology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “The ability to link related experiences tea ... More

At each redshift, the distribution is individually normalized in order to emphasize the temperature distribution at all redshifts. Image courtesy: The European Physical Journal E (2022). DOI: 10.1140/epje/s10189-022-00183-5.

COPENHAGEN.- A team of University of Copenhagen astrophysicists has arrived at a major result regarding star populations beyond the Milky Way. The result could change our understanding of a wide range of astronomical phenomena, including the formation of black holes, supernovae and why galaxies die. For as long as humans have studied the heavens, how stars look in distant galaxies has been a mystery. In a study published in The Astrophysical Journal, a team of researchers at the University of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute is challenging previous understandings of stars beyond our own galaxy. Since 1955, it has been assumed that the composition of stars in the universe's other galaxies is similar to that of the hundreds of billions of stars within our own—a mixture of massive, medium mass and low mass stars. But with the help of observations from 140,000 galaxies across the universe and a wide range of advanced models, the team has tested whether the same distribution of stars apparent in t ... More

A Letter-winged kite flying at daylight. Image courtesy: Michael Jury.

BEDFORD PARK.- Australia's Letter-winged kite may not be any better at seeing in the dark than its closest, day-hunting relatives. An international study led by Flinders University's Weisbecker Lab has revealed that the rarely-observed kite's visual system is no different to that of its close relatives that are active during the day, challenging many decades of speculation that the Letter-winged Kite might be becoming more like an owl than a hawk. "Letter-winged kites hunt at night and must be able to navigate obstacles in the dark while tracking down their favorite prey, the Long-tailed Rat," says Assoc. Prof. Vera Weisbecker. "It has therefore long been speculated that their visual system shows adaptations for seeing in the dark, and particularly that they are similar to owls in having larger eyes than other hawks, and larger image processing centers in the brain. However, we found that this wasn't the case." Dr. Karine Mardon, from The Nat ... More

The more I learn about the universe, the less convinced I am that there's any sort of benevolent force that has anything to do with it, at all. Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Secrets of tree hyraxes in Kenya uncovered with new research techniques
HELSINKI.- Tree hyraxes are medium-sized mammals living in the canopies of tropical forests. They are shy and only move at night, which is why next to nothing has been known about their living habits or behavior so far. However, researchers from the University of Helsinki have now, by combining various techniques, been able to observe the life of a local tree hyrax species living in the fragmented mountain forests of Taita Hills in Kenya. The movements of nocturnal tree hyraxes were monitored with the help of a thermal imaging camera. The camera revealed which tree and vine species were particularly favored by the tree hyraxes, which species' leaves they ate and which species provided them with suitable hiding places for the day. Among other things, the new data revealed that tree hyraxes are social ... More

A quantum drum that stores quantum states for record-long times
COPENHAGEN.- Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, have improved the coherence time of a previously developed quantum membrane dramatically. The improvement will expand the usability of the membrane for a variety of different purposes. With a coherence time of one hundred milliseconds, the membrane can for example store sensitive quantum information for further processing in a quantum computer or network. The result has now been published in Nature Communications. As a first step, the team of researchers has combined the membrane with a superconducting microwave circuit, which enables precise readouts from the membrane. That is, it has become "plugged in," as required for virtually any application. With this development, the membrane can be c ... More

How the universe got its magnetic field
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- When we look out into space, all of the astrophysical objects that we see are embedded in magnetic fields. This is true not only in the neighborhood of stars and planets, but also in the deep space between galaxies and galactic clusters. These fields are weak — typically much weaker than those of a refrigerator magnet — but they are dynamically significant in the sense that they have profound effects on the dynamics of the universe. Despite decades of intense interest and research, the origin of these cosmic magnetic fields remains one of the most profound mysteries in cosmology. In previous research, scientists came to understand how turbulence, the churning motion common to fluids of all types, could amplify preexisting magnetic fields through the so-called dynamo process. But this rem ... More

Researchers identify novel factors involved in silencing fetal hemoglobin
PHILADELPHIA, PA.- The genetic blood disorders sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia are caused by errors in the genes for hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. In utero, the gamma-globin gene produces fetal hemoglobin, but after birth, this gene is switched off and the beta-globin gene is turned on, producing adult hemoglobin. Patients with sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia have mutations in the beta-globin gene, which leads to mutant hemoglobin production and serious health complications, ranging from delayed growth to chronic pain and stroke. Since the gamma-globin gene in these patients is not mutated and produces functional hemoglobin, there has been interest among researchers in reversing the switch from fetal to adult h ... More

New database to 'SpUR' on cancer research
THUWAL.- An interactive web portal developed by scientists at KAUST offers a platform for cancer researchers to interrogate how RNA splicing in noncoding parts of genes fuels the growth of different types of tumors. The new resource, named SpUR (short for Splicing in Untranslated Regions) and freely available online, details more than 1,000 splicing events found frequently in cancers in noncoding regions of mRNA located just downstream of protein-coding stop signals. The sites and expression levels of these events are cataloged and visualized for nearly 8,000 samples across 10 cancer types and corresponding normal tissues. With the tool, independent research teams can now further probe the role of individual splice events in cancer development and progression. "These events could become candidate ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate John Cockcroft was born
May 27, 1897. Sir John Douglas Cockcroft (27 May 1897 - 18 September 1967) was a British physicist who shared with Ernest Walton the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1951 for splitting the atomic nucleus, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power. Ernest Rutherford accepted Cockcroft as a research student at the Cavendish Laboratory, and Cockcroft completed his doctorate under Rutherford's supervision in 1928. With Ernest Walton and Mark Oliphant he built what became known as a Cockcroft–Walton generator. Cockcroft and Walton used this to perform the first artificial disintegration of an atomic nucleus, a feat popularly known as splitting the atom. From 1959 to 1967, he was the first Master of Churchill College, Cambridge. He was also chancellor of the Australian National University in Canberra from 1961 to 1965.

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