Established in 2020 Thursday, January 28, 2021

Models suggest galactic collisions can starve massive black holes

Artist's impression of gas being pulled away from a galactic nucleus. Image courtesy: © 2021 Miki et al.

TOKYO.- It was previously thought that collisions between galaxies would necessarily add to the activity of the massive black holes at their centers. However, researchers have performed the most accurate simulations of a range of collision scenarios and have found that some collisions can reduce the activity of their central black holes. The reason is that certain head-on collisions may in fact clear the galactic nuclei of the matter which would otherwise fuel the black holes contained within. When you think about gargantuan phenomena such as the collision of galaxies, it might be tempting to imagine it as some sort of cosmic cataclysm, with stars crashing and exploding, and destruction on an epic scale. But actually it is closer to a pair of clouds combining, usually a larger one absorbing a smaller one. It’s unlikely any stars within them would collide themselves. But that said, when galaxies collide, the consequences can be enormous. Galaxies collide in different ways. Sometimes a smal ... More

The Best Photo of the Day

Regeneron works on UK, S.African Covid variants: company   A little soap simplifies making 2D nanoflakes   Micro-brewing goes more micro

A woman wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus dissease walks along a street in the Urals city of Perm on January 27, 2021. Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- Regeneron's synthetic antibody treatment remains effective against the British and South African variants of the novel coronavirus, the US biotechnology company announced Wednesday. The therapy used on ex-president Donald Trump has had emergency approval since November for people with mild to moderate symptoms and a high risk of becoming seriously ill. REGEN-COV -- featuring potent neutralizing antibodies called imdevimab and casirivimab -- remained effective against both variants, the company said in a statement, although casirivimab's potency against the South African variant was "reduced." Scientists from New York's Columbia University arrived at the same conclusion, and their study has been submitted for peer review. Regeneron expects its antibody treatment will also be effective against the new Brazilian variant, since its mutations are similar to those of the British variant. Studies are underway to confirm this. "These data show the continued ability of REGEN-COV to neutralize e ... More

The image displays the exfoliation of hexagonal boron nitride into atomically thin nanosheets aided by surfactants, a process refined by chemists at Rice University. Illustration courtesy: Ella Maru Studio.

HOUSTON, TX.- Just a little soap helps clean up the challenging process of preparing two-dimensional hexagonal boron nitride (hBN). Rice University chemists have found a way to get the maximum amount of quality 2D hBN nanosheets from its natural bulk form by processing it with surfactant (aka soap) and water. The surfactant surrounds and stabilizes the microscopic flakes, preserving their properties. Experiments by the lab of Rice chemist Angel Martí identified the “sweet spot” for making stable dispersions of hBN, which can be processed into very thin antibacterial films that handle temperatures up to 900 degrees Celsius (1,652 degrees Fahrenheit). The work led by Martí, alumna Ashleigh Smith McWilliams and graduate student Cecilia Martínez-Jiménez is detailed in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Nano Materials. “Boron nitride materials are interesting, particularly because they are extremely resistant to heat,” ... More

UQ PhD candidate Ed Kerr comparing an enormous 23-litre brewing instrument, with his new 1.5-millilitre test. Image courtesy: The University of Queensland.

BRISBANE.- A PhD student and ‘beer scientist’ has inadvertently discovered a way to conduct extremely small-scale brewing experiments, potentially leading to better beer. It came about when University of Queensland PhD candidate Edward Kerr hit a hurdle when he completed a beer brewing experiment for a paper. “I was looking at barley protein changes during the mashing stage of beer brewing, when one of the paper’s reviewers asked if the changes were caused by temperature or time spent mashing the barley,” Mr Kerr said. “It was a good question, but to find out I’d need to brew all over again, with an instrument that would hold at least 23 litres of brew, including five kilograms of malt for each brew – it would have taken another three months. “To be honest, I was feeling a little lazy, so decided to see if I could do the same experiment on a much smaller scale. “The result was surprising – ... More

Five or six doses? Controversy over Pfizer vaccine vials   Purported phosphine on Venus more likely to be ordinary sulfur dioxide, new study shows   Genetically modified mosquitoes key to stopping Zika virus spread

Immunisation Nurse Debbie Briody prepares the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine prior to administration, at the NHS Louisa Jordan temporary hospital at the SEC Campus in Glasgow, Scotland on January 23, 2021. Andy Buchanan / AFP.

PARIS (AFP).- The US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which is manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Germany's BioNTech, now considers each vial contains six doses compared to five previously. The difficulty in obtaining that sixth dose in practice means many countries are at loggerheads with Pfizer and facing a drop in supply. Until recently, each vial of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine was considered to officially contain five doses. After being thawed, the contents of each vial are diluted with 1.8 ml of saline solution, creating a total of 2.25 ml of injectable solution. With each dose 0.3 ml, in theory there are just over seven doses. But theory and practice are different. Medical personnel are unable to measure so precisely the doses to get seven doses they can inject into people. But the found they could -- with the right equipment -- reliably get six doses out of the vials. Both EU and US regulators now consider that the vials contain six doses and have authorised the use of the sixth dose ... More

An image of Venus compiled using data from the Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

SEATTLE, WA.- In September, a team led by astronomers in the United Kingdom announced that they had detected the chemical phosphine in the thick clouds of Venus. The team’s reported detection, based on observations by two Earth-based radio telescopes, surprised many Venus experts. Earth’s atmosphere contains small amounts of phosphine, which may be produced by life. Phosphine on Venus generated buzz that the planet, often succinctly touted as a “hellscape,” could somehow harbor life within its acidic clouds. Since that initial claim, other science teams have cast doubt on the reliability of the phosphine detection. Now, a team led by researchers at the University of Washington has used a robust model of the conditions within the atmosphere of Venus to revisit and comprehensively reinterpret the radio telescope observations underlying the initial phosphine claim. As they report in a paper accepted to the Astrophysical Journ ... More

Aedes aegypti feeding in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Image courtesy: Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

COLUMBIA, MO.- In 2016, the World Health Organization called the Zika virus epidemic a “public health emergency of international concern” due to the virus causing birth defects for pregnant women in addition to neurological problems. Since then, researchers have wrestled with different strategies for controlling the spread of Zika virus, which gets transmitted to humans from female mosquito bites. One approach, which was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in May, will release more than 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022. These "suicide mosquitoes" are genetically-altered to produce offspring that die before emerging into adults and therefore cannot bite humans and spread disease. However, wiping out future generations of mosquitoes may cause environmental complications, such as potentially disrupting food chains. A new research study at the University of Missouri offers another o ... More

Scientists jump-start two people's brains after coma   Ultra-absorptive nanofiber swabs could improve SARS-CoV-2 test sensitivity   Genome-editing tool TALEN outperforms CRISPR-Cas9 in tightly packed DNA

Scientists used a small device to aim ultrasound at the thalamus in the brain. Image courtesy: Martin Monti/UCLA.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- In 2016, a team led by UCLA’s Martin Monti reported that a 25-year-old man recovering from a coma had made remarkable progress following a treatment to jump-start his brain using ultrasound. Wired U.K. called the news one of the best things that happened in 2016. At the time, Monti acknowledged that although he was encouraged by the outcome, it was possible the scientists had gotten a little lucky. Now, Monti and colleagues report that two more patients with severe brain injuries — both had been in what scientists call a long-term “minimally conscious state” — have made impressive progress thanks to the same technique. The results are published online in the journal Brain Stimulation. “I consider this new result much more significant because these chronic patients were much less likely to recover spontaneously than the acute patient we treated in 2016 — and any recovery typically occurs slowly over s ... More

A new type of nanofiber swab could improve sample collection and test sensitivity for SARS-CoV-2 and other biological specimens; ruler at left shows centimeters. Image: Adapted from Nano Letters 2021, DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.0c04956.

WASHINGTON, DC.- Rapid, sensitive diagnosis of COVID-19 is essential for early treatment, contact tracing and reducing viral spread. However, some people infected with SARS-CoV-2 receive false-negative test results, which might put their and others’ health at risk. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Nano Letters have developed ultra-absorptive nanofiber swabs that could reduce the number of false-negative tests by improving sample collection and test sensitivity. Currently, the most sensitive test for COVID-19 involves using a long swab to collect a specimen from deep inside a patient’s nose, and then using a method called reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA. But if the viral load is low, which can occur early in the course of infection, the swab might not pick up enough virus to be detectable. Jingwei Xie and colleagues wanted to develop a nanofiber swab that could absorb ... More

Researchers used single-molecule imaging to compare the genome-editing tools CRISPR-Cas9 and TALEN. Composite photo by L. Brian Stauffer.

CHAMPAIGN, ILL.- Researchers used single-molecule imaging to compare the genome-editing tools CRISPR-Cas9 and TALEN. Their experiments revealed that TALEN is up to five times more efficient than CRISPR-Cas9 in parts of the genome, called heterochromatin, that are densely packed. Fragile X syndrome, sickle cell anemia, beta-thalassemia and other diseases are the result of genetic defects in the heterochromatin. The researchers report their findings in the journal Nature Communications. The study adds to the evidence that a broader selection of genome-editing tools is needed to target all parts of the genome, said Huimin Zhao, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who led the new research. “CRISPR is a very powerful tool that led to a revolution in genetic engineering,” Zhao said. “But it still has some limitations.” CRISPR is a bacterial molecule that detects invading vir ... More

Dramatic shark decline leaves 'gaping hole' in ocean: study   Scientists reveal dynamic mechanism of lead-free quadruple perovskite nanocrystals   Major discovery helps explain coral bleaching

Image: Gerald Schömbs, Unsplash.

by Sara Hussein

TOKYO (AFP).- Overfishing has savaged populations of some sharks and rays by more than 70 percent in the last half-century, leaving a "gaping, growing hole" in ocean life, according to a new study. Decades of data show an alarming decline in species ranging from hammerhead sharks to manta rays. Among the worst-affected is the oceanic whitetip, a powerful shark often described as particularly dangerous to man that now hovers on the edge of extinction because of human activity. Targeted for their fins, oceanic whitetips are also the victims of indiscriminate fishing techniques. Their global population has dropped 98 percent in the last 60 years. "That's a worse decline than most large terrestrial mammal populations, and getting up there or as bad as the blue whale decline," Nick Dulvy, a professor at Simon Fraser University's department of biological sciences, told AFP. Dulvy and a team of scientists spent years collecting and analysing information from scientific studies and fisheries data to build ... More

Efficient luminescent halide quadruple-perovskite nanocrystals via trap-engineering for highly sensitive photodetectors. Image courtesy: Yang Bin and Bai Tianxin.

DALIAN.- In recent years, lead-free halide perovskite nanocrystals have drawn more and more attention due to their low toxicity, high stability and chemical diversity. It's important to reveal the carrier dynamics of lead-free perovskite nanocrystals to apply them effectively in the field of optoelectronic devices. A research group led by Prof. HAN Keli from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences revealed the luminescence enhancement mechanism of a series of new lead-free quadruple halide perovskite nanocrystals, and prepared high-performance photodetectors. This study was published in Adv. Mater. on Jan. 25. The researchers reported for the first time a series of quadruple perovskite colloidal nanocrystals with ordered vacancies. By alloying Cs4MnBi2Cl12 nanocrystals, the fluorescence quantum yield could be increased by nearly 100 times. Through carrier ultrafast dynamics studies, the researchers fou ... More

An EPFL scientist has made a major breakthrough in the understanding of coral bleaching – a process that causes corals to lose their color and eventually leads to their death. Image courtesy: © Nils Rädecker.

LAUSANNE.- Corals, like all animals, must eat to live. The problem is that most corals grow in tropical waters that are poor in nutrients, sort of like ocean deserts; it’s this lack of nutrients that makes the water around coral reefs so crystal clear. Because food is not readily available, corals have developed a remarkable feeding mechanism that involves a symbiotic relationship with single-celled algae. These algae grow inside the corals, using the coral tissue as shelter and absorbing the CO2 that the corals produce. In exchange, the algae provide corals with nutrients they produce through photosynthesis. These algae contain a variety of pigments, which give the coral reefs the colors they’re known for. Over the past 35 years, tropical oceans have experienced multiple major heat waves. Scientists have observed that during these episodes, the algae – stressed by the warmer temperatures – release compounds that are toxic to the coral, prompting the coral to expel the algae f ... More

I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will. Antonio Gramsci

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Oceans warmed steadily over 12,000 years: study
PARIS (AFP).- Earth's oceans have been warming consistently throughout the last 12,000 years, according to research published Wednesday that authors said showed clearly humanity's profound effect on the climate. Previous estimates of sea temperatures stretching back millennia have traditionally been based on analysis of preserved rock, and concluded that oceans hit their temperature peak around 6,000 years ago before gradually cooling. This is at odds with global air temperature records, which tell the tale of a consistent warming trend, accelerating at the onset of the industrial era. Researchers in the US and China reassessed sea temperature models and found that they usually represented seasonal temperature variations rather than the annual average. Adjusting for these seasonal ... More

A protein that can melt tumors discovered at Vanderbilt
NASHVILLE, TN.- For the second time, cancer researchers at Vanderbilt have discovered a protein that—when genetically manipulated to impede it from interacting with a gene responsible for cancer genesis—effectively melts tumors in days. The article, “MYC regulates ribosome biogenesis and mitochondrial gene expression programs through interaction with Host Cell Factor-1,” was published in the journal eLIFE on Jan. 8. William Tansey, professor of cell and developmental biology and biochemistry, is dedicated to understanding how the oncogene MYC works. The highly conserved, noodle-like protein performs important functions in normal human development, and it often becomes reactivated in the deadliest and most difficult to treat cancers. “MYC becomes the nitro in the tank, driving relentless rou ... More

New research on carbon cracks open secrets deep inside exoplanets
ROCHESTER, NY.- Carbon is one of the most prevalent elements in existence. As the fourth most abundant element in the universe, it’s a building block for all known life and forms the interior of carbon-rich exoplanets. Decades of research has shown that carbon’s crystal structure has a significant impact on a material’s properties. In addition to graphite and diamond—the most common carbon structures found at ambient pressures—scientists have predicted that there are several new structures of carbon that could be found at pressures above 1,000 gigapascals (GPa). The pressures, which are approximately 2.5 times the pressure in Earth’s core, are important for studying and modeling the interiors of exoplanets. However, it has historically been difficult to achieve such pressures in a laboratory setting and impossi ... More

MU Research Reactor to supply radioisotope for targeted cancer therapy
COLUMBIA, MO.- The University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR®) has entered into an exclusive multi-year agreement with Advanced Accelerator Applications International, SA (AAA), a Novartis company, to provide a key ingredient in a targeted therapy for certain types of cancerous tumors. The agreement covers medical markets in the U.S. and around the world, standing as another example of the industry collaborations and advancements made possible by the University of Missouri System’s NextGen Precision Health initiative. Under the terms of the agreement, AAA will have the ability to use or sublicense the associated intellectual property in order to separately manufacture ‘no-carrier added’ Lutetium-177. Lutetium-177 (Lu-177), a radioisotope, is a key ingredient in Advanced Accelerator Applicati ... More

Juicing technique could influence healthfulness of fresh-squeezed juice
WASHINGTON, DC.- With the New Year, many people are making resolutions to eat healthier, by eating more vegetables, for example. But those who don’t like the taste or texture of some vegetables might prefer to drink them in a home-squeezed juice. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Food Science & Technology have found that the choice of household juicing technique can influence the phytochemical content and antioxidant activity of common vegetable juices. Home juicing machines have become popular in recent years, with different types available. For example, blenders crush vegetables with fast, spinning blades, and the resulting juice is typically thick, with much pulp and dietary fiber. In contrast, high-speed centrifugal juicers quickly pulverize veggies and separate out pulp and fiber, making for a thinne ... More

A mild way to upcycle plastics used in bottles into fuel and other high-value products
WASHINGTON, DC.- Plastic is ubiquitous in people’s lives. Yet, when plastic-containing items have fulfilled their missions, only a small amount is recycled into new products, which are often of lower quality compared to the original material. And, transforming this waste into high-value chemicals requires substantial energy. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ JACS Au have combined a ruthenium-carbon catalyst and mild, lower-energy reaction conditions to convert plastics used in bottles and other packaging into fuels and chemical feedstock. Global production of sturdy, single-use plastic for toys, sterile medical packaging, and food and beverage containers is increasing. Polyolefin polymers, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, are the most common plastics used in these products because the polymers’ mo ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Robert W. Holley was born
January 28, 1922. Robert William Holley (January 28, 1922 - February 11, 1993) was an American biochemist. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1968 (with Har Gobind Khorana and Marshall Warren Nirenberg) for describing the structure of alanine transfer RNA, linking DNA and protein synthesis. Holley's research on RNA focused first on isolating transfer RNA (tRNA), and later on determining the sequence and structure of alanine tRNA, the molecule that incorporates the amino acid alanine into proteins. Holley's team of researchers determined the tRNA's structure by using two ribonucleases to split the tRNA molecule into pieces. Each enzyme split the molecule at location points for specific nucleotides. By a process of "puzzling out" the structure of the pieces split by the two different enzymes, then comparing the pieces from both enzyme splits, the team eventually determined the entire structure of the molecule.

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