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Using light to monitor cancer

The cancer exosome is detected when the light interacts with the silicon nanostructures. Image courtesy: © Yasaman Jahani / 2021 EPFL.

LAUSANNE.- Medical doctors examine body fluids of their patients, such as blood, urine, saliva, or nasal swabs, for diagnostics. This is because substances in such biofluids may provide vital information about one's health state. Biosensors are emerging devices capable of analyzing such biosamples and look for substances indicative of disease. COVID-19 tests are the most current examples of biosensors. From body fluids, they can detect various substances such as the biomolecules on the surface of the virus (proteins), viral genetic material (RNA/DNA), or even the body's immune response to the virus (antibodies). These biological substances, which may mark the presence of a disease, are called biomarkers. In this regard, biosensors are quintessential for health care by supporting the management of infectious diseases for preventing pandemics and the diagnosis of life-threatening conditions such as cancer. As the second leading cause of death worldwide, cancer accounts for more than 9 million death ... More

Two Viking relatives reunited in Denmark after 1,000 years   Researchers improve efficiency and accessibility of CRISPR   CIBER-2 takes its first flight

An employee from The National Museum of Denmark unpacks the skeleton of a man found in a mass grave in Oxford, England on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 in Copenhagen. Ida Marie Odgaard / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP.

COPENHAGEN (AFP).- Separated for 1,000 years, two Viking warriors from the same family were reunited on Wednesday at Denmark's National Museum, as DNA analysis helps shed light on the Vikings' movements across Europe. One of the Vikings died in England in his 20s in the 11th century, from injuries to the head. He was buried in a mass grave in Oxford. The other died in Denmark in his 50s, his skeleton bearing traces of blows that suggest he took part in battles. DNA mapping of skeletons from the Viking era -- from the eighth to the 12th century -- enabled archaeologists to determine by chance that the two were related. "This is a big discovery because now you can trace movements across space and time through a family," museum archeologist Jeanette Varberg told AFP. Two of her colleagues spent more than two hours on Wednesday piecing together the skeleton of the man in his 20s, from the remains freshly arrived from Oxford. The 150 bones have been lent to the Danish museum by the Oxfordshire Museum in Brita ... More

The team's design also bypasses the need for using a U6 promoter, thereby enabling CRISPR-Cas9-based editing across multiple species. Image courtesy: Caltech.

PASADENA, CA.- One of the most powerful tools available to biologists these days is CRISPR-Cas9, a combination of specialized RNA and protein that acts like a molecular scalpel, allowing researchers to precisely slice and dice pieces of an organism's genetic code. But even though CRISPR-Cas9 technology has offered an unprecedented level of control for those studying genetics and genetic engineering, there has been room for improvement. Now, a new technique developed at Caltech by biology graduate student Shashank "Sha" Gandhi in the lab of Marianne Bronner, Distinguished Professor of Biology and director of the Beckman Institute, is taking CRISPR-Cas9 accessibility to the next level. In a paper appearing in the journal Development, Gandhi and members of Bronner's lab describe the new technique, which has been designed specifically to disable or remove genes from a genome. This is known as "knocking out" a gene. Gene knockout is an important metho ... More

A view of the CIBER-2 primary mirror. The instrument to measure a cosmic infrared glow will take multiple short flights aboard a sounding rocket. Image courtesy: NSROC III/NASA.

PASADENA, CA.- The Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment-2 (CIBER-2) took its first flight late on June 6 Pacific Time, soaring into space for a short time aboard a NASA rocket. The experiment is measuring a mysterious glow of infrared light that fills our skies called the cosmic infrared background. The origins of CIBER go back to 2007, when NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope made measurements of the cosmic infrared background, which appears as a splotchy pattern on the sky. The splotches trace where galaxies have clustered together due to gravitational attraction. However, the team using Spitzer found more total light than what would be expected from known galaxy populations alone, leading them to propose that the excess light could be coming from the very first stars in the early universe. Later, in 2012, another team analyzed the Spitzer data and came to a different conclusion: that some of the light might be coming from stray stars lying between galaxies. The first CIBER experiment, led by Jamie Boc ... More

Drug commonly used as antidepressant helps fight cancer in mice   Asteroid 16 Psyche might not be what scientists expected   SARS-CoV-2 detectable - though likely not transmissible - on hospital surfaces

UCLA researchers discover MAOIs could activate immune system to shrink various types of tumors. Image: Frenjamin Benklin, Unsplash.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- A class of drug called monoamine oxidase inhibitors is commonly prescribed to treat depression; the medications work by boosting levels of serotonin, the brain’s “happiness hormone.” A new study by UCLA researchers suggests that those drugs, commonly known as MAOIs, might have another health benefit: helping the immune system attack cancer. Their findings are reported in two papers, which are published in the journals Science Immunology and Nature Communications. “MAOIs had not been linked to the immune system’s response to cancer before,” said Lili Yang, senior author of the study and a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA. “What’s especially exciting is that this is a very well-studied and safe class of drug, so repurposing it for cancer isn’t as challenging as developing a completely new drug would be.” Recent advances in ... More

An artist’s concept of asteroid 16 Psyche. Image courtesy: Maxar/ ASU/ P.Rubin/ NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

TUCSON, AZ.- The widely studied metallic asteroid known as 16 Psyche was long thought to be the exposed iron core of a small planet that failed to form during the earliest days of the solar system. But new University of Arizona-led research suggests that the asteroid might not be as metallic or dense as once thought, and hints at a much different origin story. Scientists are interested in 16 Psyche because if its presumed origins are true, it would provide an opportunity to study an exposed planetary core up close. NASA is scheduled to launch its Psyche mission in 2022 and arrive at the asteroid in 2026. UArizona undergraduate student David Cantillo is lead author of a new paper published in The Planetary Science Journal that proposes 16 Psyche is 82.5% metal, 7% low-iron pyroxene and 10.5% carbonaceous chondrite that was likely delivered by impacts from other asteroids. Cantillo and his collaborators estimate that 16 Psyche's bulk density  ... More

A member of the research team swabs the hospital floor to help determine where SARS-CoV-2 is, and isn’t. Image courtesy: UC San Diego.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- Watching what was happening around the world in early 2020, University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers knew their region would likely soon be hit with a wave of patients with COVID-19, the infection caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. They wondered how the virus persists on surfaces, particularly in hospitals, and they knew they had only a small window of time to get started if they wanted to capture a snapshot of the “before” situation — before patients with the infection were admitted. After a call late one Sunday night, a team assembled in the hospital lobby the next day, ready to swab. In the resulting study, described June 8, 2021 in Microbiome, researchers swabbed patient room surfaces before, during and after occupancy, and repeatedly collected samples from the skin, noses and stool of COVID-19 patients and their health care workers over time. In total, they tested ... More

Organic molecules offer clues about dying stars and outskirts of the Milky Way   Partial eclipse sweeps over northern hemisphere   Archaeologists investigate past impact of sea-level changes at Israeli Coastal sites

ALMA sits atop a plateau in Chile's Atacama Desert, 16,500 feet above sea level, where the atmosphere is undisturbed and allows for clear observing. Image courtesy: C. Padilla, NRAO/AUI/NSF.

TUCSON, AZ.- University of Arizona researchers have observed, in unprecedented detail and spatial resolution, organic molecules in planetary nebulae, or the aftermath of dying stars. Their work sheds new light on how stars form and die. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, UArizona Regents Professor Lucy Ziurys and her collaborators observed radio emissions from hydrogen cyanide, formyl ion and carbon monoxide in five planetary nebulae: M2-48, M1-7, M3-28, K3-45 and K3-58. The researchers presented their findings during the virtual 238th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Tuesday. Planetary nebulae are bright objects produced when stars of a certain type reach the end of their evolution. Most stars in the galaxy, including the sun, are expected to end their lives this way. As a dying star sheds large amounts of mass into space and becomes a white dwarf, it usually emits strong ultraviolet radiation. That radiation was ... More

The sun rises behind the skyline during an annular eclipse on June 10, 2021 in Toronto, Canada. Mark Blinch/Getty Images/AFP.

PARIS (AFP).- People across Earth's northern hemisphere viewed an annular solar eclipse Thursday with parts of Canada and Siberia privy to the best view of the celestial event. The eclipse was partly visible to observers in North America, parts of Europe including France and the UK, and some of northern Asia. In London, where the moon covered 20 percent of the sun as the eclipse reached totality, sky-gazers glimpsed the event through cloud cover. Observers on the east coast of the United States were treated to a rare eclipsed sunrise. In northern Canada, northern Russia, northwest Greenland and the North Pole, the sun was 88 percent obscured by the moon. Many live stream views from various locations broadcast on YouTube were also subject to cloud cover. However, those with maximum visibility -- and the necessary protective eyewear -- would have seen the moon's silhouette ringed by the sun for a few minutes of the two-hour event. Ahead of the eclipse, experts warned people not to try and look at the ... More

Examples of new archaeological constructions used in the current study for establishing relative sea level. Image courtesy: UC San Diego.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- A multinational team of archaeologists and scientists is reassessing the history of sea-level change in the Eastern Mediterranean based on underwater excavation and photogrammetry at sites on Israel’s Carmel coast. The new findings, published in the open-source journal PLOS ONE*, are based on archaeological constructions near Tel Dor dating back to the Middle Bronze Age roughly 3,800 years ago up to the end of the Roman period (1,800 years ago). “Our observations and analysis of submerged buildings and infrastructure have allowed us to establish a more reliable relative sea level for the Carmel coast and Southern Levant,” said principal investigator Assaf Yasur-Landau, director of the University of Haifa’s Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies. “Understanding sea-level change is critical because this coastline has been inhabited continuously for thousands of years.” “This is the first study of sea levels in Israel which included new data on the ... More

US state reports first litter of wolf pups in 80 years   Ready to travel abroad again? Watch out for superbugs, study says   World-first discovery could fuel the new green ammonia economy

Image: Federico Di Dio photography, Unsplash.

by Issam Ahmed

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- Colorado has reported its first litter of gray wolf pups in 80 years, a major milestone in the US state's efforts to reintroduce the iconic species even as it stands imperiled in other parts of the country. Between June 4 and June 8, a state biologist and a wildlife manager independently reported visual confirmation that "John" and "Jane," known collared wolves, were seen with three young. The observations were made at dusk or dawn from a distance of around two miles from the den site, so as not to interfere with the pack. It is not known if the three pups spotted are the only offspring. Litters typically consist of four to six pups. "Colorado is now home to our first wolf litter since the 1940s," said Governor Jared Polis in a statement Wednesday. "We welcome this historic den and the new wolf family to Colorado." Coloradans narrowly voted last year in favor of a law to reintroduce the predator by 2023, the first time a state's voters forced their government to protect a species. A qu ... More

Bacteria are streaked on dishes with white disks, each impregnated with a different antibiotic. Clear rings, such as those on the left, show that bacteria have not grown—indicating that these bacteria are not resistant. Image: Dr Graham Beards.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- Newly vaccinated travelers enjoying a return to trips abroad may find a drug-resistant "superbug" hitching a ride in their gut, a study in Genome Medicine says. US and Dutch researchers studying the effects of travel on the bacteria in our stomachs were unnerved to find that a third of their subjects who traveled to Southeast Asia carried a bacterial gene resistant to "last resort" antibiotics for infections such as pneumonia and meningitis. "These findings provide strong support that international travel risks spreading antimicrobial resistance globally," said Alaric D'Souza, a researcher studying microbial genomics and ecology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis who co-authored the study published this week. The team, which studied the feces of 190 Dutch travelers before and after travel to parts of Africa and Asia, found international travelers to be "reservoirs and spreaders" of drug-resistant superbugs. When the travelers returned home, their fecal test kit ... More

Liquid ammonia bottle. Each metric tonne of ammonia produced today contributes to roughly 1.9 metric tonnes of greenhouse emissions. Image courtesy: Nadina Wiórkiewicz.

MELBOURNE.- Ammonia (NH3) is a globally important commodity for fertiliser production to help sustain food production. It is currently produced via a metal catalysed reaction between nitrogen gas and hydrogen from natural gas, using an established technology known as the Haber-Bosch process. The production of each metric tonne of ammonia contributes to the emission of roughly 1.9 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, and accounts for roughly 1.8 per cent of global carbon emissions. A team of Monash University scientists, led by Professor Doug MacFarlane, Dr Bryan Suryanto and Dr Alexandr Simonov, have discovered a process based on phosphonium salts that represents a breakthrough in overcoming this carbon-intensive problem. The research, published in the prestigious journal Science, unlocks the potential to produce ammonia and fertilisers from renewable energy in reactors, as small as a refrigerator, that could be rolled out at the individual farm or ... More

More News
Expanding the limits of ferroelectrics
ZURICH.- Today, electronic devices like computers or smartphones rely on two physical principles: electric materials to process information and magnetic materials to store it. However, magnetic data storage consumes a substantial amount of energy, since it requires magnetic fields generated from comparatively large magnets. In contrast, the generation of electric fields requires much less energy, and an electric memory could drastically reduce the energy demand of future electronic devices. That’s why Marie Curie Fellow Chiara Gattinoni and her colleagues in the materials theory group of ETH professor Nicola Spaldin investigate so-​called ferroelectrics. As materials theorists, they aim to design new materials with functionalities that do not yet exist. In this respect, ferroelectrics are of particular interest because they possess a special feature ... More

Endangered blue whales recorded off southwest coast of India
SEATTLE, WA.- Research from the University of Washington shows that endangered blue whales are present and singing off the southwest coast of India. The results suggest that conservation measures should include this region, which is considering expanding tourism. Analysis of recordings from late 2018 to early 2020 in Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 36 low-lying islands west of the Indian state of Kerala, detected whales with a peak activity in April and May. The study was published in May in the journal Marine Mammal Science. “The presence of blue whales in Indian waters is well known from several strandings and some live sightings of blue whales,” said lead author Divya Panicker, a UW doctoral student in oceanography. “But basic questions such as where blue whales are found, what songs do they sing, what do they eat, how long do they spend i ... More

Climate models can predict decadal rainfall variations on Tibetan Plateau
BEIJING.- Summer rainfall on the Tibetan Plateau is highly predictable on multiyear timescales in large ensemble predictions, according to a research team led by Zhou Tianjun from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The study, published in Science Advances on June 9, shows evidence that the predictable signal of summer rainfall across the hinterland of the Tibetan Plateau is substantially underestimated in state-of-the-art decadal prediction models. The predictable signal is so weak that it can be concealed by unpredictable noise. "The too weak predictable signal arises from the low signal-to-noise ratios in models in comparison with the real world," said Zhou, corresponding author of the study. "This phenomenon is a kind of deficiency in climate models, but it also urges us to again recognize the decadal predictability in the p ... More

Tulane to launch multicenter drug study to improve outcomes after atrial fibrillation procedures
NEW ORLEANS, LA.- Tulane University will lead a multicenter clinical trial to study whether atrial fibrillation (AFib) patients who undergo cardiac ablation to correct an irregular heart rhythm have better long-term outcomes when taking an anti-arrhythmic drug. The trial will explore whether the drug Dronedarone helps decrease the scarring of the heart associated with the development of AFib and a common cause of its reoccurrence after treatment. It will also test whether patients taking the drug after their ablation procedure have lower risks for stroke, heart failure or other heart-related complications. The Effect of Dronedarone on Atrial fibrillation progression and atrial fibrillation Recurrence post-Ablation (EDORA) trial, which is supported by Sanofi, will recruit 330 patients across 15 centers in the United States. AFib affects more than 2.7 million America ... More

Uncovering how low-protein diets might reprogram metabolism
MADISON, WI.- In 2014, Dudley Lamming was reading a study out of Australia that looked at how mice responded to dozens of controlled diets when one thing caught his attention: The mice fed the least amount of protein were the healthiest. “That was really interesting, because it goes against a lot of health information that people get,” says Lamming, a metabolism researcher in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Since then, Lamming and graduate students in his laboratory have been trying to answer the question the Australian study raised: Why would low-protein diets make animals healthier? They have discovered a little-known but robust pattern across both animal models and humans. Diets high in the three branched chain amino acids, BCAAs, are associated with diabetes, obesity and other metabolic illnesses ... More

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The key to understanding solar explosions

On a day like today, French physicist and academic Charles Fabry was born
June 11, 1867. Maurice Paul Auguste Charles Fabry (11 June 1867 - 11 December 1945) was a French physicist. In optics, he discovered an explanation for the phenomenon of interference fringes. Together with his colleague Alfred Pérot he invented the Fabry–Pérot interferometer in 1899. He and Henri Buisson discovered the ozone layer in 1913. In 1921, Fabry was appointed Professor of General Physics at the Sorbonne and the first director of the new Institute of Optics. In 1926 he also became professor at the École Polytechnique. He was the first general director of the Institut d'optique théorique et appliquée and director of "grande école" École supérieure d'optique (SupOptique). In 1929, he received the Prix Jules Janssen, the highest award of the Société astronomique de France, the French astronomical society.


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