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First Australians ate giant eggs of huge flightless birds, ancient proteins confirm

Detail from an illustration of Genyornis being chased from its nest by a Megalania lizard in prehistoric Australia. Image courtesy: Peter Trusler.

CAMBRIDGE.- Scientists settle debate surrounding 'Thunder bird' species, and whether its eggs were exploited by early Australian people around 50,000 years ago. Proteins extracted from fragments of prehistoric eggshell found in the Australian sands confirm that the continent’s earliest humans consumed the eggs of a two-metre tall bird that disappeared into extinction over 47,000 years ago. Burn marks discovered on scraps of ancient shell several years ago suggested the first Australians cooked and ate large eggs from a long-extinct bird – leading to fierce debate over the species that laid them. Now, an international team led by scientists from the universities of Cambridge and Turin have placed the animal on the evolutionary tree by comparing the protein sequences from powdered egg fossils to those encoded in the genomes of living avian species. “Time, temperature and the chemistry of a fossil all dictate how much information w ... More

UChicago scientists assemble largest-ever family tree for primates   Error-free quantum computing gets real   Tiny robotic crab is smallest-ever remote-controlled walking robot

A Spectral tarsier, relaxing on a tree branch. Image courtesy: Pavel Kirillov.

CHICAGO, IL.- Scientists at the University of Chicago and the University of Leeds have assembled the largest and most comprehensive family tree of the order primates, including both living and extinct species. Covering more than 900 species—about half living and half extinct—the new tree can help scientists understand the history of monkeys, apes, gorillas and humans, and how species originated and spread around the globe. “What this allows us to do is to ask some basic, but big-picture questions about the evolution of this group,” said UChicago geophysical scientist Anna Wisniewski, a graduate student and first author on the paper. If you want to make a family tree for apes (or any other species), there are essentially two approaches. You can assemble all the fossils you have—which might not be very many. Or you can examine the DNA of modern species and work backward to estimate how the species evolved—though this ... More

Fundamental building blocks for fault-tolerant quantum computing demonstrated. Image courtesy: Uni Innsbruck/Harald Ritsch.

INNSBRUCK.- In modern computers, errors during processing and storage of information have become a rarity due to high-quality fabrication. However, for critical applications, where even single errors can have serious effects, error correction mechanisms based on redundancy of the processed data are still used. Quantum computers are inherently much more susceptible to disturbances and will thus probably always require error correction mechanisms, because otherwise errors will propagate uncontrolled in the system and information will be lost. Because the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics forbid copying quantum information, redundancy can be achieved by distributing logical quantum information into an entangled state of several physical systems, for example multiple individual atoms. The team led by Thomas Monz of the Department of Experimental Physics at the University of Innsbruck and Markus Müller of RWTH Aachen University and Forschungs ... More

Close-up image of half-millimeter-size robot. Image courtesy: Northwestern University.

EVANSTON, IL.- Northwestern University engineers have developed the smallest-ever remote-controlled walking robot — and it comes in the form of a tiny, adorable peekytoe crab. Just a half-millimeter wide, the tiny crabs can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn and even jump. The researchers also developed millimeter-sized robots resembling inchworms, crickets and beetles. Although the research is exploratory at this point, the researchers believe their technology might bring the field closer to realizing micro-sized robots that can perform practical tasks inside tightly confined spaces. The research was published in the journal Science Robotics. Last September, the same team introduced a winged microchip that was the smallest-ever human-made flying structure (published on the cover of Nature). “Robotics is an exciting field of research, and the development of microscale robots is a fun topic for academic exploration,” said John A. R ... More

A helping hand for robotic manipulator design   Secrets of thymus formation revealed   Early urbanism found in the Amazon

MIT researchers have created an integrated design pipeline that enables a user with no specialized knowledge to quickly craft a customized 3D-printable robotic hand. Image courtesy: Lara Zlokapa.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- MIT researchers have created an interactive design pipeline that streamlines and simplifies the process of crafting a customized robotic hand with tactile sensors. Typically, a robotics expert may spend months manually designing a custom manipulator, largely through trial-and-error. Each iteration could require new parts that must be designed and tested from scratch. By contrast, this new pipeline doesn’t require any manual assembly or specialized knowledge. Akin to building with digital LEGOs, a designer uses the interface to construct a robotic manipulator from a set of modular components that are guaranteed to be manufacturable. The user can adjust the palm and fingers of the robotic hand, tailoring it to a specific task, and then easily integrate tactile sensors into the final design. Once the design is finished, the software automatically generates 3D printing and machine knitting fil ... More

The fine tissue structure of the stimulated thymus organ does not differ from that of an unstimulated organ. Image courtesy: © MPI of Immunobiology & Epigenetics, Boehm.

FRANKFURT AM MAIN.- Many immune cells crucial for our immune system develop in a small organ next to our heart: the thymus. With age, however, the thymus shrinks, and the number of effective immune cells declines. Max Planck Research groups from Freiburg and Würzburg have now identified the processes that control the development and composition of thymic tissue throughout life. Moreover, they discovered new potential therapeutic approaches for slowing down age-related thymus shrinkage and counteracting autoimmune diseases. The thymus is a crucial organ of the immune system. In the thymus, the well-known T cells mature: As killer cells, they recognize and destroy virus-infected or malignant cells, and as so-called helper T cells they assist the body in antibody formation. In the last decades, Thomas Boehm’s research group at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg has identified the genetic switches required for T cell m ... More

The authors of the paper together with the crew in front of the helicopter flying the lidar scanner over the area. Image courtesy: DAI.

BONN.- More than 20 years ago, Dr. Heiko Prümers from the German Archaeological Institute and Prof. Dr. Carla Jaimes Betancourt from the University of Bonn, at that time a student in La Paz, began archaeological excavations on two "mounds" near the village of Casarabe in Bolivia. The Mojos Plains is a southwestern fringe of the Amazon region. Even though the savannah plain, which flooded several months a year during rainy season, does not encourage permanent settlement, there are still many visible traces of the time before Spanish colonization at the beginning of the 16th century. Next to the "mounds," these traces include mainly causeways and canals that often lead for kilometers in a dead straight line across the savannahs. "This indicated a relatively dense settlement in pre-Hispanic times. Our goal was to conduct basic research and trace the settlements and life there," says Heiko Prümers. In earlier studies, the researchers already ... More

New study reveals how bat brains are organized for echolocation and flight   Tunable quantum traps for excitons   A novel environmental DNA monitoring method for identifying rare and endangered fish species sold in markets

Graphical abstract. Image courtesy: Current Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.04.094.

DAVIS, CA.- A new study shows how the brains of Egyptian fruit bats are highly specialized for echolocation and flight, with motor areas of the cerebral cortex that are dedicated to sonar production and wing control. The work by researchers at UC Davis and UC Berkeley was published May 25 in Current Biology. Professor Leah Krubitzer's lab at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience studies how evolution produces variation in brain organization across a wide variety of mammals, including opossums, tree shrews, rodents and primates. This comparative neurobiology approach shows how both evolution and development influence brain organization. Although bats represent a quarter of all living mammalian species, this is the first time the full motor cortex of any bat has been mapped, said first author Andrew Halley, a postdoctoral researcher in Krubitzer's lab. The researchers used electrodes to stimulate different areas of the motor cortex in anesthetize ... More

A laser beam (orange) creates excitons (purple) that are trapped inside the semicondcutor material by electric fields. Image courtesy: Puneet Murthy / ETH Zurich.

ZURICH.- Researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded for the first time in trapping excitons - quasiparticles consisting of negatively charged electrons and positively charged holes – in a semiconductor material using controllable electric fields. The new technique is important for creating single photon sources as well as for basic research. In semiconductor materials, electric current can be conducted both by electrons and by positively charged holes, or missing electrons. Light hitting the material can also excite electrons to a higher energy band, leaving behind a hole in the original band. Through electrostatic attraction, the electron and the hole now combine to create a so-​called exciton, a quasiparticle that, as a whole, behaves like a neutral particle. Because of their neutrality, so far is has been difficult to hold excitons at a specific point inside a material. A team of scientists led by Ataç Imamoğlu, professor at ... More

Epinephelus fuscoguttatus, a type of brown marbled grouper which is listed as vulnerable and decreasing according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) were detected in the study. Image: The University of Hong Kong.

HONG KONG.- In a paper recently published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, researchers in the Conservation Forensics Lab at The University of Hong Kong have outlined a powerful new tool for monitoring trade of rare and endangered fish species in Hong Kong wet markets. Using environmental DNA (eDNA) present in the drain runoff water of fish markets, researchers were able to extract and sequence enough DNA to identify over 100 species of fish that had passed through the market. Various types of vulnerable or endangered species were detected by the eDNA method in the study, including Epinephelus fuscoguttatus, a type of brown marbled grouper which is listed as vulnerable and decreasing according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and three eel species including Anguilla japonica and Anguilla rostrata, which are listed as endangered by IUCN, as well as CITES(Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild ... More

Diatoms are under threat of decline due to ocean acidification, study shows   Cryogenic electron microscopy reveals drug targets against common fungus   App uses artificial intelligence to track healing wounds in real time

Biological oceanographer Jan Taucher is working on a mesocosm. Image courtesy: Ulf Riebesell / GEOMAR.

KIEL.- While calcifying organisms like oysters and corals have difficulty forming their shells and skeletons in more acidic seawater, diatoms have been considered less susceptible to the effects of ocean acidification—a chemical change triggered by the uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2). The globally widespread tiny diatoms use silica, a compound of silicon, oxygen and hydrogen, as a building material for their shells. That diatoms are nevertheless under threat has now been demonstrated for the first time by researchers from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Limited New Zealand and the University of Tasmania in a study published in Nature. For the study, researchers linked an overarching analysis of various data sources with Earth system modeling. The findings provide a new assessment of the global impact of ocean acidification. As a result of ocean acidification, the silic ... More

Inhibitor CHX (purple structure) in the ribosome E-site, with the original structure in blue and the structure with the proline to glutamine mutation in beige. Image courtesy: J. Whittaker, University of Groningen.

GRONINGEN.- Most people carry the fungus Candida albicans on their bodies without it causing many problems. However, a systemic infection with this fungus is dangerous and difficult to treat. Few antimicrobials are effective, and drug resistance is increasing. An international group of scientists, including Albert Guskov, associate professor at the University of Groningen, have used single-particle cryogenic electron microscopy to determine the structure of the fungal ribosome. Their results, which were published in Science Advances on 25 May, reveal a potential target for new drugs. Candida albicans usually causes no problems, or just an itchy skin infection that is easily treated. However, in rare cases, it may cause systemic infections that can be fatal. Existing antifungal drugs cause a lot of side effects and are expensive. Furthermore, C. albicans is becoming more drug-resistant, so there is a real need for new drug targets. "We noted that no ... More

Biomedical engineering innovator Robert Burrell is leading a team of students developing a mobile app that uses AI to track how well wounds are healing and alert users if they need to seek medical help. Image courtesy: Jason Franson.

EDMONTON.- Three U of A engineering students have developed a mobile app that tracks the progress of a healing wound. The app calculates whether treatments are working as they should based on descriptions of size, depth and shape along with more subjective impressions of pain and irritation, says programmer Connor Povoledo. Accurate tracking can predict infection and other complications and allow patients, particularly in remote areas, to decide whether urgent care is needed. “Wound tracking in general is currently somewhat archaic,” says Povoledo, a third-year student in biomedical engineering, who developed the app with students Jacob Damant and Daniel Brick. “If you put a wound in front of a doctor, who sat there and stared at it until it healed, they could give you a splendid analysis. But that’s unrealistic,” he says. “For the most part, wound tracking ends at the hospital doors, maybe with one fol ... More

More News
Researchers use CRISPR technology to modify starches in potatoes
COLLEGE STATION, TX.- Humble potatoes are a rich source not only of dietary carbohydrates for humans, but also of starches for numerous industrial applications. Texas A&M AgriLife scientists are learning how to alter the ratio of potatoes' two starch molecules—amylose and amylopectin—to increase both culinary and industrial applications. For example, waxy potatoes, which are high in amylopectin content, have applications in the production of bioplastics, food additives, adhesives and alcohol. Two articles recently published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences and the Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture journals outline how CRISPR technology can advance the uses of the world's largest vegetable crop. Both papers include the work done by Stephany Toinga, Ph.D., who was a graduate ... More

A new approach to therapy-resistant tumors targets a specific cell-death pathway
CHARLESTOWN, MA.- In a paper appearing in Nature today, an international group of scientists report a new way to kill hard-to-treat cancers. These tumors resist current immunotherapies, including those using Nobel Prize-winning checkpoint-blocking antibodies. The approach exploits Z-DNA. Rather than twisting to the right like B-DNA, Z-DNA has a left-handed twist. One role for Z-DNA is to regulate the immune response to viruses. The response involves AADR1 and ZBP1, two proteins that specifically recognize Z-DNA. They do so through a Zα domain that binds to the Z-DNA structure with high affinity. The Zα domain was originally discovered by Dr. Alan Herbert of InsideOutBio, a communicating author on the paper. The ADAR1 Zα domain turns off the autoimmune response, while the other ZBP1 Zα turns on pathway ... More

Twisted soft robots navigate mazes without human or computer guidance
RALEIGH, NC.- Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Pennsylvania have developed soft robots that are capable of navigating complex environments, such as mazes, without input from humans or computer software. “These soft robots demonstrate a concept called ‘physical intelligence,’ meaning that structural design and smart materials are what allow the soft robot to navigate various situations, as opposed to computational intelligence,” says Jie Yin, corresponding author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State. The soft robots are made of liquid crystal elastomers in the shape of a twisted ribbon, resembling translucent rotini. When you place the ribbon on a surface that is at least 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahre ... More

Toward customizable timber, grown in a lab
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Each year, the world loses about 10 million hectares of forest — an area about the size of Iceland — because of deforestation. At that rate, some scientists predict the world’s forests could disappear in 100 to 200 years. In an effort to provide an environmentally friendly and low-waste alternative, researchers at MIT have pioneered a tunable technique to generate wood-like plant material in a lab, which could enable someone to “grow” a wooden product like a table without needing to cut down trees, process lumber, etc. These researchers have now demonstrated that, by adjusting certain chemicals used during the growth process, they can precisely control the physical and mechanical properties of the resulting plant material, such as its stiffness and density. They also show that, using 3D bioprin ... More

Artificial cilia could someday power diagnostic devices
ITHACA, NY.- Cilia are the body's diligent ushers. These microscopic hairs, which move fluid by rhythmic beating, are responsible for pushing cerebrospinal fluid in your brain, clearing the phlegm and dirt from your lungs, and keeping other organs and tissues clean. A technical marvel, cilia have proved difficult to reproduce in engineering applications, especially at the microscale. Cornell researchers have now designed a micro-sized artificial cilial system using platinum-based components that can control the movement of fluids at such a scale. The technology could someday enable low-cost, portable diagnostic devices for testing blood samples, manipulating cells or assisting in microfabrication processes. The group's paper, "Cilia Metasurfaces for Electronically Programmable Microfluidic Manipulation," published May 25 in Na ... More

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Why did this Megalodon need a dentist?

On a day like today, American physicist and astronaut Sally Ride was born
May 26, 1951. Sally Kristen Ride (May 26, 1951 - July 23, 2012) was an American astronaut and physicist. Born in Los Angeles, she joined NASA in 1978, and in 1983 became the first American woman and the third woman in space, after cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. She was the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space, having done so at the age of 32. After flying two missions on the Space Shuttle Challenger, Ride left NASA in 1987. Ride worked for two years at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control, then at the University of California, San Diego, primarily researching nonlinear optics and Thomson scattering. She served on the committees that investigated the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters, the only person to participate in both.


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