Established in 2020 Sunday, April 2, 2023

Scientists observe flattest explosion ever seen in space

Slim Boom. Image courtesy: Phil Drury, University of Sheffield.

SHEFFIELD.- An explosion the size of our solar system has baffled scientists, as part of its shape—similar to that of an extremely flat disk—challenges everything we know about explosions in space. The explosion observed was a bright Fast Blue Optical Transient (FBOT)—an extremely rare class of explosion which is much less common than other explosions, such as supernovas. The first bright FBOT was discovered in 2018 and given the nickname "the cow." Explosions of stars in the universe are almost always spherical in shape, as the stars themselves are spherical. However, this explosion, which occurred 180 million light years away, is the most aspherical ever seen in space, with a shape like a disk emerging a few days after it was discovered. This section of the explosion may have come from material shed by the star just before it exploded. It's still unclear how bright FBOT explosions occur, but it's hoped that this observation, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical S ... More

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Prototype taps into the sensing capabilities of any smartphone to screen for prediabetes   Speeding up drug discovery with diffusion generative models   'Exquisite' sabretooth skull offers clues about Ice Age predator

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed GlucoScreen, a system that could enable people to self-screen for prediabetes. Image courtesy: Raymond C. Smith/University of Washington.

SEATTLE, WA.- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one out of every three adults in the United States has prediabetes, a condition marked by elevated blood sugar levels that could lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. The good news is that if it is detected early, prediabetes can be reversed through lifestyle changes such as improved diet and exercise. The bad news? Eight out of 10 Americans with prediabetes don't know that they have it, putting them at increased risk of developing diabetes as well as disease complications that include heart disease, kidney failure and vision loss. Current screening methods typically involve a visit to a health care facility for laboratory testing and/or the use of a portable glucometer for at-home testing, meaning access and cost may be barriers to more widespread screening. But researchers at the University of Washington may have found the sweet spot when it comes to increasing early det ... More

DiffDock generates a series of potential poses for protein-ligand binding, an approach that could lead to dramatic changes in the traditional drug development pipeline. Image courtesy of the researchers.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- With the release of platforms like DALL-E 2 and Midjourney, diffusion generative models have achieved mainstream popularity, owing to their ability to generate a series of absurd, breathtaking, and often meme-worthy images from text prompts like “teddy bears working on new AI research on the moon in the 1980s.” But a team of researchers at MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health (Jameel Clinic) thinks there could be more to diffusion generative models than just creating surreal images — they could accelerate the development of new drugs and reduce the likelihood of adverse side effects. A paper introducing this new molecular docking model, called DiffDock, will be presented at the 11th International Conference on Learning Representations. The model's unique approach to computational drug design is a paradigm shift from curr ... More

Dave Easterla, left, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Biology at Northwest Missouri State University and Matthew Hill, associate professor of anthropology at Iowa State, with a fossilized complete skull from a sabertooth cat.

AMES, IA.- The recent discovery of a sabretooth cat skull in southwest Iowa is the first evidence the prehistoric predator once inhabited the state. The chance of finding any fossilized remains from a sabretooth cat are slim, said Matthew Hill, an associate professor of archaeology at Iowa State and expert on animal bones. The remarkably well-preserved skull found in Page County is even rarer, and its discovery offers clues about the iconic Ice Age species before its extinction roughly 12-13,000 years ago. "The skull is a really big deal," said Hill. "Finds of this animal are widely scattered and usually represented by an isolated tooth or bone. This skull from the East Nishnabotna River is in near perfect condition. It's exquisite." Hill analyzed the specimen in collaboration with David Easterla, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Biology at Northwest Missouri State University. Their findings are newly published in Quaternary Sci ... More

A paper-based sensor to detect pesticides in food quickly and cheaply   Scallop eyes as inspiration for new microscope objectives   AI predicts enzyme function better than leading tools

The sensor detects and quantifies any traces of carbendazim, a fungicide in widespread use in Brazil despite being banned. Image courtesy: José Luiz Bott Neto.

SÃO PAULO.- Researchers at the University of São Paulo in Brazil have developed a kraft paper-based electrochemical sensor that can detect traces of pesticides in fruit and vegetables in real time when coupled to an electronic device. In an apple or cabbage, for example, it can detect carbendazim, a fungicide widely used in Brazil despite being banned. The results were reported in an article published in the journal Food Chemistry. "To find out whether a food sample contains traces of pesticides by conventional methods, you must grind up the sample and submit it to time-consuming chemical processes before any such substances can be detected. Wearable sensors like the one we developed for continuous monitoring of pesticides in agriculture and the food industry eliminate the need for these complex processes. Inspection is much easier, cheaper and reliable for a supermarket, restaurant or importer, for example," said Osvaldo Novais de Oliveira Junior ... More

The Schmidt objektive produces detailed images of neurons in a mouse brain. Image courtesy: Anna Maria Reuss (USZ) & Fabian Voigt (UZH).

ZURICH.- Neuroscientists at the University of Zurich have developed innovative objectives for light microscopy by using mirrors to produce images. Their design finds correspondence in mirror telescopes used in astronomy on the one hand and the eyes of scallops on the other. The new objectives enable high-resolution imaging of tissues and organs in a much wider variety of immersion media than with conventional microscope lenses. Some species of mussels can see. Scallops, for example, have up to 200 eyes that help them detect predators such as an approaching starfish. However, the eyes of scallops differ significantly from the human eye. While in our eyes the combination of cornea and lens creates an image on the retina, in scallop eyes light is focused by a hemispherical mirror. Creating images with mirrors instead of lenses is especially common in astronomical telescopes, in order to capture as much light as possible from planets, stars a ... More

An Illinois research team created an AI tool to predict an enzyme’s function from its sequence using the campus network and resource group servers. Image courtesy: Fred Zwicky.

CHAMPAIGN, IL.- A new artificial intelligence tool can predict the functions of enzymes based on their amino acid sequences, even when the enzymes are unstudied or poorly understood. The researchers said the AI tool, dubbed CLEAN, outperforms the leading state-of-the-art tools in accuracy, reliability and sensitivity. Better understanding of enzymes and their functions would be a boon for research in genomics, chemistry, industrial materials, medicine, pharmaceuticals and more. “Just like ChatGPT uses data from written language to create predictive text, we are leveraging the language of proteins to predict their activity,” said study leader Huimin Zhao, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “Almost every researcher, when working with a new protein sequence, wants to know right away what the protein does. In addition, when making chemicals for any application – biology, medic ... More

Thermal paint: MXene spray coating can harness infrared radiation for heating or cooling   New circuit model offers insights into brain function   Pulsating blood vessels wash your brain while you sleep

Researchers at Drexel University have developed a layered, two-dimensional nanomaterial, called, MXene, that can be applied in a thin coating and harness infrared radiation for passive heating and cooling. Image: Drexel University.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- An international team of researchers, led by Drexel University, has found that a thin coating of MXene—a type of two-dimensional nanomaterial discovered and studied at Drexel for more than a decade—could enhance a material's ability to trap or shed heat. The discovery, which is tied to MXene's ability to regulate the passage of ambient infrared radiation, could lead to advances in thermal clothing, heating elements and new materials for radiative heating and cooling. The group, including materials science and optoelectronics researchers from Drexel and computational scientists from the University of Pennsylvania, recently laid out its discovery on the radiative heating and cooling capabilities associated with MXene in a paper entitled "Versatility of infrared properties of MXene" in Materials Today. "This research reveals yet another facet of MXene materials' versatility," said Yury Gogotsi, Ph.D., Distinguished University and ... More

The thalamus and thalamic reticular nucleus are situated at the heart of the mammalian brain and are known to play a key role in a wide range of functions. Image courtesy: EPFL/Blue Brain Project.

LAUSANNE.- The thalamus and thalamic reticular nucleus are situated at the heart of the mammalian brain and are known to play a key role in a wide range of functions, including the transmission of sensory information to the cortex and the transition between brain states such as sleep and wakefulness. However, alterations in thalamic neuron firing and interconnectivity have been linked to pathological brain rhythms and changes in the rhythmic brain waves that occur during sleep, which have been observed in disorders such as schizophrenia, neurodevelopmental disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer's disease. The new model developed by Blue Brain is the first to capture the complex shapes and biophysical properties of 14,000 neurons connected by 6 million synapses. It can be used to explore the structural and functional complexity of neural circuits. The model also replicates multiple independent network-level experimental findings across different brain states, and provid ... More

Dr. Laura Bojarskaite and associate professor Rune Enger at the University of Oslo. Image courtesy: Cecilie Bakken Hostmark, UiO.

OSLO.- The word "brainwashing" usually triggers negative associations. But our brain health for sure depends on it. Scientists at the University of Oslo have recently made new and important discoveries about how and why this happens when we are sleeping. The blood vessels in the brain constrict and dilate in certain patterns while we sleep and this is likely one of the key mechanisms driving the clearance the harmful waste substances from our brain. "Our discoveries can help us find new ways to treat or even prevent Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. These findings can also help to create strategies to deliver drugs to the brain more efficiently," explains associate professor Rune Enger at the Letten Centre at the University of Oslo. "Brainwashing" or brain waste clearance is a process of removing harmful waste products from the brain. The brain is continually producing waste substances and if too many of them ac ... More

Study reveals that bats experience hearing loss in old age   Pathogenic genetic variations found to boost the risk of H. pylori-related stomach cancer   Across the divide: Manufacturing better batteries

Israeli researchers have discovered that bats experience hearing loss in old age. Image courtesy: Yuval Barkai, 2023.

TEL AVIV.- Many mammals suffer hearing loss in old age, but bats were thought to be immune to this phenomenon because of the importance of hearing for echolocation. However, researchers in Israel have discovered that bats lose their hearing in old age just like humans do. Yet the study, published in the journal Life Science Alliance, suggests that, because they roost in extremely noisy colonies that would quickly damage the hearing of humans and other mammals, bats may have evolved some innate ability to limit this age-associated hearing loss. Many bat species have an extremely long lifespan—over 40 years—compared to other mammals of a similar size, such as mice. "While high-frequency hearing confers a survival benefit for many animals, it is essential for the survival of echolocating bats, which rely on it for orienting in their environment," explains Yossi Yovel, a neuroecologist at Tel Aviv University. "However, to date, no stu ... More

Pathogenic Variant and H. pylori Infection on Gastric Cancer Risk. Image courtesy: RIKEN.

TOKYO.- A large case-control study by international researchers at the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences (IMS) in Japan has found that people who carry certain genetic risk factors for gastric (stomach) cancer have a much greater risk if they have also been infected by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, could contribute to the development of tailored genomic medicine for treating stomach cancer. Stomach cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death worldwide and has both environmental and genetic risk factors. Environmentally, infection by H. pylori increases the risk of stomach cancer. Because the virulence of H. pylori in East Asia is high, the incidence of stomach cancer is higher in countries like Japan. Genetically, while hereditary gene variation is why we have different colored eyes and are unique as individuals, sometimes gene variants are associated with ... More

Materials scientist Cassidy Anderson works in PNNL’s Advanced Battery Facility, where battery experts aim to help move new battery designs from experiment to commercial manufacturing.

RICHLAND, WA.- Next generation lithium-based batteries provide a key component of the global strategy to meet decarbonization goals in transportation and beyond. We know lithium-based batteries provide high energy density. But there's an elephant in the room. How will manufacturers not only meet greatly increased demand for more batteries for electric vehicles, but also produce advanced Li-ion and future batteries. There is no shortage of ideas. New chemistries or discoveries are reported on nearly a daily basis. But then comes the real challenge: scaling laboratory materials and manufacturing processes to industry levels for commercial applications. This scaling up is the elephant in the room, and it is faced head-on in a new review article led by battery researcher Jie Xiao and collaborators in academia and industry. "We are asking the question, 'how can we do research that is relevant to industry manufacturing?'" said Xiao. "We are accustomed to doing fundamental science. But how can the research ... More

The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible. Albert Einstein

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Researchers develop new, patient-friendly hydrogel platform for administering lifesaving biologics
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Biologics, a class of therapeutics derived from living organisms, offer enormous advantages to patients battling challenging diseases and disorders. Treatments based on biologics can boost the immune system to stem attacks from infections or target specific pathways to block the formation of tumors. “These drugs, which have been around for just the last 20 years, do magic,” says Amir Erfani, a postdoc in the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering (ChemE). “They can save millions of people around the world.” But the unrivaled effectiveness of biologics comes at a cost. They can be difficult to administer, often demanding time-consuming intravenous (IV) infusions at clinics. Whether for patients struggling with life-threatening or lifelong conditions, the prospect of spending hours away from home, every few weeks, can prove extremely daunting. Now, new work from an MIT team in collabora ... More

'Taffy Galaxies' collide, leave behind bridge of star-forming material
WASHINGTON, DC.- Galaxy collisions are transformative events, largely responsible for driving the evolution of the universe. The mixing and mingling of stellar material is an incredibly dynamic process that can lead to the formation of molecular clouds populated with newly forming stars. But, a head-on collision between the two galaxies UGC 12914 (left) and UGC 12915 (right) 25–30 million years ago appears to have resulted in a different kind of structure—a bridge of highly turbulent material spanning the two galaxies. Though this intergalactic bridge is teeming with star-forming material, its turbulent nature is suppressing star formation. This pair of galaxies, nicknamed the Taffy Galaxies, is located about 180 million light-years away, in the direction of the constellation Pegasus. This new image, captured with the telescope Gemini North, one half of the International Gemini Observatory, operated by NSF's NOIRLab, showcases the fascinating feature that gave them their name. A tenuous bridg ... More

Ultrasmall swirling magnetic vortices detected in iron-containing material
LEMONT, IL.- Microelectronics forms the foundation of much modern technology today, including smartphones, laptops and even supercomputers. It is based on the ability to allow and stop the flow of electrons through a material. Spin electronics, or spintronics, is a spinoff. It is based on the spin of electrons, and the fact that the electron spin along with the electric charge creates a magnetic field. "This property could be exploited for building blocks in future computer memory storage, brain-like and other novel computing systems, and high-efficiency microelectronics," said Charudatta Phatak, group leader in the Materials Science division at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. A team including researchers at Argonne and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) discovered surprising properties in a magnetic material of iron, germanium and tellurium. This material is in the form of a thin sheet that is o ... More

Flow cytometry tool improves methods to rapidly analyze human, plant, fungal and bacterial metabolism
QINGDAO.- A new platform established by researchers at the Single-Cell Center, Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (QIBEBT/CAS) improves accuracy, throughput, and stability in profiling dynamic metabolic features of cells—the basic building blocks of all life forms on Earth. Their study, published in Advanced Science on March 4, describes how this technology allows scientists to take metabolism-based snapshots of cell populations, including plants (microalgae), yeast, bacteria like E. coli and human cancers. Analyzing metabolic phenotypes—characteristics that arise from factors like diet, lifestyle, gut microbiome and genetics—involves deep analysis of cellular populations through analytical techniques like mass-spectrometry and fluorescence-based flow cytometry. These methods, however, involve labeling the cells with fluorescent dyes or destroying them altogether, w ... More

A 20-year study may upend long-held theory about chromosomes and cancer
BALTIMORE, MD.- Johns Hopkins Medicine scientists say their 20-year study of more than 200 people with premature aging syndromes caused by abnormally short telomeres, or shortened repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes, may upend long-held scientific dogma and settle conflicting studies about how and whether short telomeres contribute to cancer risk. The research, which has the potential to guide treatments and cancer screening among people with short telomere syndromes, appears in the April 10 issue of Cancer Cell. For decades, some studies in animal models and cells have linked the existence of extremely short telomeres with instability of chromosomes, the X-shaped structures that house genes. Such instability is a common feature of cancer cells. The new study suggests that chromosomal instability may not be the reason that people with short telomere syndromes are prone to a small but increased risk of certain types of solid ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate William Lawrence Bragg was born
April 31, 2023. Sir William Lawrence Bragg (31 March 1890 - 1 July 1971) was an Australian-born British physicist and X-ray crystallographer, discoverer (1912) of Bragg's law of X-ray diffraction, which is basic for the determination of crystal structure. He was joint recipient (with his father, William Henry Bragg) of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915, "For their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays"; an important step in the development of X-ray crystallography. Bragg was knighted in 1941. As of 2021, he is the youngest ever Nobel laureate in physics, having received the award at the age of 25 years. Bragg was the director of the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, when the discovery of the structure of DNA was reported by James D. Watson and Francis Crick in February 1953. Bragg was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1921 - "a qualification that makes other ones irrelevant".

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