Established in 2020 Sunday, December 4, 2022

Ancient DNA from medieval Germany tells origin story of Ashkenazi Jews

This image shows a tooth collected from the medieval Jewish cemetery in Erfurt, Germany. Researchers collected 38 teeth from the excavation site, from which they extracted ancient DNA from 33 individuals. Image courtesy: David Reich ancient DNA laboratory / Harvard Medical School.

JERUSALEM.- Excavating ancient DNA from teeth, an international group of scientists peered into the lives of a once thriving medieval Ashkenazi Jewish community in Erfurt, Germany. The findings, published in the journal Cell, show that the Erfurt Jewish community was more genetically diverse than modern day Ashkenazi Jews. About half of Jews today are identified as Ashkenazi, meaning that they originate from Jews living in Central or Eastern Europe. The term was initially used to define a distinct cultural group of Jews who settled in the 10th century in Germany's Rhineland. Despite much speculation, many gaps exist in our understanding of their origins and demographic upheavals during the second millennium. "Today, if you compare Ashkenazi Jews from the United States and Israel, they're very similar genetically, almost like the same population regardless of where they live," shared geneticist and co-author Professor Shai Carmi of the ... More

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New space instrument to peer at light reflecting from Earth, achieve record accuracy   Researchers discover what causes some icicles to form with ripples   New chip-scale laser isolator opens new research avenues in photonics

Engineers at LASP work on the sensor for the CLARREO Pathfinder mission. Image courtesy: LASP.

BOULDER, CO.- In about a year, a new NASA instrument designed and built in Colorado will ride on the International Space Station (ISS). From there, it will look down at Earth to measure the light reflecting off our planet’s puffy clouds, expansive ice sheets, bodies of water, forests, deserts and other land surfaces. Slated to launch in December 2023, the mission—known as the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder—will measure sunlight reflecting from Earth with up to 10 times more accuracy than existing space-based sensors. The almost $70-million effort seeks to lay the groundwork for future space instruments to track the pace of climate change with unprecedented accuracy. “We’re entering a new era of high-accuracy climate observations that will supply a lot of information to the people that set policy on climate change, mitigation and adaptation,” said Peter Pilewskie, professor at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics ( ... More

An icicle cross section under polarized light, showing the crystal structure of the ice shot through with dark regions of unfrozen, impure water. Image courtesy: J. Ladan and S. W. Morris.

TORONTO.- Experimental physicists at the University of Toronto are closer to understanding why some icicles form with ripples up and down their outsides, while others form with smooth, slick, even surfaces. By growing icicles from water samples with different contaminants like sodium chloride (salt), dextrose (sugar) and fluorescent dye, the researchers discovered that water impurities become entrapped within icicles as they form and subsequently create chevron patterns that contribute to a ripple effect around their circumferences. The findings were described in a study published recently in Physical Review E. “Previous theories held that the ripples are the result of surface tension effects in the thin film of water that flows over the ice as it forms,” says Stephen Morris, a professor emeritus in the department of physics in the Faculty of Arts & Science and a co-author of the study. “We now see that the ripple formation do ... More

Close-up of the chip-scale isolator. Image courtesy: Hannah Kleidermacher.

STANFORD, CA.- Lasers are transformational devices, but one technical challenge prevents them from being even more so. The light they emit can reflect back into the laser itself and destabilize or even disable it. At real-world scales, this challenge is solved by bulky devices that use magnetism to block the harmful reflections. At chip scale, however, where engineers hope lasers will one day transform computer circuitry, effective isolators have proved elusive. Against that backdrop, researchers at Stanford University say they have created a simple and effective chip-scale isolator that can be laid down in a layer of semiconductor-based material hundreds of times thinner than a sheet of paper. "Chip-scale isolation is one of the great open challenges in photonics," said Jelena Vučković, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford and senior author of the study appearing Dec. 1 in the journal Nature Photonics. "Every laser needs ... More

Researchers analyze hair to study war trauma among Syrian refugee children   James Webb telescope produces an unparalleled view of the ghostly light in galaxy clusters   Positively charged nanomaterials treat obesity anywhere you want

Through hair analysis, the study found that adolescents, and especially girls, who experience war are at much greater risk of PTSD than those who do not. Image courtesy: Schulich Medicine & Dentistry Communications.

LONDON, ON.- There's more to a strand of hair than meets the eye. This human tissue is a chronological record-keeper of the adversities endured by the human body and mind. A new study co-authored by researchers at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry's Drug Safety Lab analyzes the relationship between war exposure, current living conditions, hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. The study was based on a large cohort of Syrian refugee children, adolescents and their caregivers living in refugee settlements in Lebanon and found adolescents, and especially girls, who experience war are at much greater risk of PTSD than those who do not. "Globally, there's an increase in the number of people being displaced by war and conflict. Most of them are children and adolescents. The findings of this study highlight the need for interventions that address their trauma. We found trauma can lead to long-t ... More

The intracluster light of the cluster SMACS-J0723.3-7327 obtained with the NIRCAM camera on board of JWST. Image courtesy: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI.

SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LA LAGUNA.- In clusters of galaxies there is a fraction of stars which wander off into intergalactic space because they are pulled out by huge tidal forces generated between the galaxies in the cluster. The light emitted by these stars is called the intracluster light (ICL) and is extremely faint. Its brightness is less than 1% of the brightness of the darkest sky we can observe from Earth. This is one reason why images taken from space are very valueable for analyzing it. Infrared wavelengths allow us to explore clusters of galaxies in a different way than with visible light. Thanks to its efficiency at infrared wavelengths and the sharpness of the images of the JWST, IAC researchers Mireia Montes and Ignacio Trujillo have been able to explore the intracluster light from SMACS-J0723.3-7327 with an unprecedented level of detail. In fact the images from the JWST of the center of this cluster are twice as deep as the previous images obtained by the ... More

Illustration of depot-specific targeting of fat by cationic nanomaterials. Image courtesy: Nicoletta Barolini/Columbia University.

NEW YORK, NY.- Researchers have long been working on how to treat obesity, a serious condition that can lead to hypertension, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases. Studies have also revealed a strong correlation of obesity and cancer—recent data show that smoking, drinking alcohol, and obesity are the biggest contributors to cancer worldwide. The development of fat cells, which are produced from a tiny fibroblast-like progenitor, not only activates the fat cells' specific genes but also grows them by storing more lipids (adipocytes and adipose tissue). In fact, lipid storage is the defining function of a fat cell. But the storage of too much lipid can make fat cells unhealthy and lead to obesity. The ability to target fat cells and safely uncouple unhealthy fat formation from healthy fat metabolism would be the answer to many peoples' prayers. A major challenge in obesity treatment is that fat tissue, which is not continuous in the body but is found piece by piece in "depo ... More

Wildlife study: Cheetah marking trees are hotspots for communication among other species as well   New potential mechanism for vision loss discovered   An easy way for dairy farmers to reduce their climate impact

Wildlife camera photos of various species at cheetah marking trees in Namibia. Image courtesy: Cheetah Research Project team.

BERLIN.- Marking trees are important hotspots of communication for cheetahs: Here they exchange information with and about other cheetahs via scent marks, urine and scats. A team from the Cheetah Research Project of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research now showed that several mammalian species on farmland in Namibia maintain a network for intra- and interspecific communication at cheetah trees. Black-backed jackals, African wildcats and warthogs visited and sniffed the cheetahs' "places to be" more frequently than control trees, the team concluded from photos and videos recorded by wildlife camera traps in a paper in the scientific journal Mammalian Biology. A common prey species of the cheetahs, however, avoided these hotspots. Many mammalian species use scent marks, urine or scats to communicate with each other. By doing so, animals leave, receive and exchange information on territory ownership, reproductive r ... More

Microscopic images of lab-grown mini-retinas, so called human retina organoids. Image courtesy: Völkner et al., Nat. Comm., 2022.

DRESDEN.- Visual cells in the human retina may not simply die in some diseases, but are mechanically transported out of the retina beforehand. Scientists from the Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE) and the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) at TU Dresden have now discovered this. For their research, they used miniature human retinas produced in the laboratory, so-called organoids. In the new issue of the journal Nature Communications, they report on their discovery, which paves the way for completely new research approaches, especially in connection with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). "This principle, known as cell extrusion, has not yet been studied in neurodegenerative diseases," says Prof. Mike Karl, who heads the research group. AMD is the main cause of blindness and severe visual impairment in Germany. It is estimated that a quarter of people over the age of 60 suffer from A ... More

Study collaborators held a demonstration of how biochar is created. Image courtesy: Juan Rodriguez.

MERCED, CA.- Adding even a small amount of biochar—a charcoal-like material produced by burning organic matter—to a dairy's manure-composting process reduces methane emissions by 84%, a recent study by UC Merced researchers shows. The dairy industry is one of the main sources of methane in California, making up 50% of the state's methane emissions. Reducing these emissions is a critical part of state and federal efforts to address climate change. "This is a wonderful example of an untapped climate solution," said life and environmental sciences professor Rebecca Ryals. "Biochar reduces pollutant emissions from open burning of biomass and methane emissions from decaying biomass." Though the dairy the researchers worked on used an anaerobic digesters to handle the waste from its livestock, it is not typical for dairies to have that technology. The plan is for most dairies to have digesters by 2030 to meet climate goals, but at the mome ... More

Seeing more with a needle-shaped laser   Discovery of a novel quantum state analogous to water that won't freeze   Swan River dolphins form 'bromances' to secure females, study finds

A diffractive optical element (DOE) used in NB-PAM. Image courtesy: Caltech.

PASADENA, CA.- Photoacoustic microscopy (PAM) is a relatively new imaging technique that uses laser light to induce ultrasonic vibrations in tissue. These ultrasonic vibrations, along with a computer that processes them, can then be used to create an image of the structures of the tissue in much the same way ultrasound imaging works. In the last few years, Lihong Wang, Caltech's Bren Professor of Medical Engineering and Electrical Engineering, has developed PAM technologies that can image changing blood flow in the brain, detect cancerous tissue, and even identify individual cancer cells. However, one limitation of high-resolution (i.e., optical-resolution) PAM has been its narrow depth of field, meaning that it can only focus on a thin layer (approximately 30 micrometers, or about the length of one skin cell, with one to two micrometers of resolution) of tissue at a time. To see something above or below the plane that the device is viewing, it n ... More

Cryostat used to achieve temperatures down to 20 millikelvin. Image courtesy: HZDR/Jürgen Jeibmann.

DRESDEN.- Water that simply will not freeze, no matter how cold it gets—a research group involving the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf has discovered a quantum state that could be described in this way. Experts from the Institute of Solid State Physics at the University of Tokyo in Japan, Johns Hopkins University in the United States, and the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS) in Dresden, Germany, managed to cool a special material to near absolute zero temperature. They found that a central property of atoms—their alignment—did not "freeze," as usual, but remained in a "liquid" state. The new quantum material could serve as a model system to develop novel, highly sensitive quantum sensors. The team has presented its findings in the journal Nature Physics. On first sight, quantum materials do not look different from normal substances—but they sure do their own thing: Inside, th ... More

Move over Goose and Iceman, bottlenose dolphins in Perth’s Swan Canning Riverpark are working together as wingmen, or finmen, to acquire potential mates. Image courtesy: Murdoch University.

PERTH.- Murdoch University marine biologist Dr. Delphine Chabanne has discovered evidence of male alliance in Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, the first time such behavior has been recorded outside of Western Australia's famed Shark Bay. A Research Fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems at Murdoch's Harry Butler Institute, Dr. Chabanne has been studying Perth's dolphins for more than a decade. Her recent discovery suggests male alliances are not unique to the Shark Bay dolphin population and extends the understanding of the evolutionary and ecological processes that drive alliance formation. Dr. Chabanne used long-term photo-identification records and social analyzes to assess whether such alliances also occur in smaller and more isolated settings, and documented behaviors that showed the male alliances occur in a reproductive context. A male dolphin named Bottomslice was observed performing a "rooster strut," a sexual ... More

Nature composes some of her loveliest poems for the microscope and the telescope. Theodore Roszak

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Earthquake lab experiments produce aftershock-like behavior
ITHACA, NY.- Earthquakes are notoriously hard to predict, and so too are the usually less-severe aftershocks that often follow a major seismic event. Greg McLaskey ’05, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in Cornell Engineering, and members of his research group model earthquakes in the Bovay Laboratory Complex, and have developed a method for mimicking the type of delayed seismic activity that follows an earthquake. Using a hybrid sample that combines plastic blocks and powdered rock, McLaskey’s team studied delayed earthquake triggering in an effort to better understand the mechanisms of aftershocks and, ultimately, the forces that foreshadow a major earthquake. McLaskey is senior author of “Creep Fronts and Complexity in Laboratory Earthquake Sequences Illuminate ... More

Amateur scientists have helped astronomers identify nearly a quarter-million galaxies
AUSTIN, TX.- Astronomers on a historically ambitious and massive galaxy-mapping mission have activated more than 10,000 amateur scientists in 85 countries to help in their quest. Now they hope to significantly scale up their volunteer force for a unique project that could reveal for the first time the nature of dark energy. The research project known as HETDEX, or the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment, is based at The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory and relies on volunteers who participate online in a project called Dark Energy Explorers. With a smartphone or computer, participants can experience what it’s like to be an astronomer, teasing apart the mysteries of the universe while helping professional astronomers find distant galaxies and learn more about the mysterious for ... More

Study discovers microbial communities shift while a coral 'sleeps' through the winter
DAVIS, CA.- As winter approaches, many species of animals—from bears and squirrels to parasitic wasps and a few lucky humans—hunker down for some needed rest. The northern star coral (Astrangia poculata) also enters a hibernating state of dormancy, or quiescence, during this time. But what happens to its microbiome while it's sleeping. A study led by University of California, Davis, Assistant Professor Anya Brown found that microbial communities shift while this coral enters dormancy, providing it an important seasonal reset. The work may carry implications for coral in warmer waters struggling with climate change and other environmental issues. "Dormancy, at its most basic, is a response to an environmental stressor—in this case, cold stress," said Brown, who is part of the UC Davis Bodega Marine Labor ... More

Changing the color of quantum light on an integrated chip
BOSTON, MASS.- Optical photons are ideal carriers of quantum information. But to work together in a quantum computer or network, they need to have the same color—or frequency—and bandwidth. Changing a photon's frequency requires altering its energy, which is particularly challenging on integrated photonic chips. Recently, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences developed an integrated electro-optic modulator that can efficiently change the frequency and bandwidth of single photons. The device could be used for more advanced quantum computing and quantum networks. The research is published in Light: Science & Applications. Converting a photon from one color to another is usually done by sending the photon into a crystal with a strong laser shini ... More

Astronomers explore origin of optical variability in emission-line galaxies
SHANGHAI.- New Chinese research suggests that optical variability in emission-line galaxies (ELGs) is likely caused by star-formation activity rather than the activity of supermassive black holes. The study, conducted by astronomers from the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) along with scientists from the University of Science and Technology of China, Yunnan Observatories, and the Polar Research Institute of China, was published in The Astrophysical Journal on Nov. 17. The scientists used a sample of narrowband (NB) images of ELGs in the COSMOS field to study the galaxies' optical variability. The two-epoch images were acquired 12~15 years apart. ELGs are relatively low-mass, efficiently star-forming galaxies with less dust. They are generally rega ... More

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Janavis: new species of toothed bird from the Age of Dinosaurs


On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Manne Siegbahn was born
December 03, 1886. Karl Manne Georg Siegbahn (3 December 1886 - 26 September 1978) was a Swedish physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1924 "for his discoveries and research in the field of X-ray spectroscopy". Manne Siegbahn began his studies of X-ray spectroscopy in 1914. Initially he used the same type of spectrometer as Henry Moseley had done for finding the relationship between the wavelength of some elements and their place at the periodic system. Shortly thereafter he developed improved experimental apparatus which allowed him to make very accurate measurements of the X-ray wavelengths produced by atoms of different elements. Also, he found that several of the spectral lines that Moseley had discovered consisted of more components. By studying these components and improving the spectrometer, Siegbahn got an almost complete understanding of the electron shell.

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