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Research pieces ancient ecosystems together to reveal new details about the end-Triassic mass extinction

Skeleton of the early dinosaur Coelophysis bauri from the Late Triassic. The protracted restructuring of Early Jurassic terrestrial ecosystems coincided with the diversification of dinosaurs. Image courtesy: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Startling new insights into the catastrophic impact of one of the most devastating events in Earth's history have been revealed by a team led by researchers with the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. More than deepening our understanding of the end-Triassic mass extinction, their findings offer critical lessons for today's environmental challenges. About 200 million years ago, Earth experienced its fourth major mass extinction event. Triggered by a dramatic rise in greenhouse gases due to volcanic activity, the event led to rapid global warming and a significant shift in the planet's biosphere, ending the Triassic period and launching the Jurassic. Many scientists now believe Earth is in the midst of another mass extinction, driven in large part by similar climate changes. Earth scientists at USC Dornsife took a unique approach to analyzing the impact of this extinction event on both ocean and land ecosystems, using a ... More

Researchers safely integrate fragile 2D materials into devices   How drugs can target the thick 'scar tissue' of pancreatic cancer   UCLA researchers lay groundwork to study effects of maternal diabetes on fetal metabolism and development

Here, lead author Peter Satterthwaite uses a modified alignment tool in MIT.nano to do a patterned, aligned integration. Image courtesy: Weikun Zhu.

CAMBRIDGE, MA.- Two-dimensional materials, which are only a few atoms thick, can exhibit some incredible properties, such as the ability to carry electric charge extremely efficiently, which could boost the performance of next-generation electronic devices. But integrating 2D materials into devices and systems like computer chips is notoriously difficult. These ultrathin structures can be damaged by conventional fabrication techniques, which often rely on the use of chemicals, high temperatures, or destructive processes like etching. To overcome this challenge, researchers from MIT and elsewhere have developed a new technique to integrate 2D materials into devices in a single step while keeping the surfaces of the materials and the resulting interfaces pristine and free from defects. Their method relies on engineering surface forces available at the nanoscale to allow the 2D material ... More

The abundance of cancer-associated fibroblasts (magenta) in the microenvironment with pancreatic cancer cells (green). Image courtesy: Salk Institute.

LA JOLLA, CA.- Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers—only about one in eight patients survives five years after diagnosis. Those dismal statistics are in part due to the thick, nearly impenetrable wall of fibrosis, or scar tissue, that surrounds most pancreatic tumors and makes it hard for drugs to access and destroy the cancer cells. Now, researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered how a class of anti-cancer drugs called HDAC inhibitors can help treat pancreatic cancer by modulating the activation of fibroblasts—the cells that make up that wall of scar tissue. The new research was published in Nature Communications on December 6, 2023. "These drugs turn out to be hitting both the tumor itself as well as the fibrotic tissue around it. This could be a very effective way to treat pancreatic cancers, which have typically been very difficult to reach," says senior ... More

Image of developing fetus and placenta. Image courtesy: Cesar Perez-Ramirez.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- UCLA scientists examined how exposure to higher levels of glucose alter fetal tissue metabolism, using a technique they pioneered to trace in utero carbon-13 in fetal tissues. Their paper, “Atlas of Fetal Metabolism During Mid-to-Late Gestation and Diabetic Pregnancy,” published in Cell today, reveals the impact of maternal hyperglycemia on fetal tissues. If left unchecked, pregnant women with diabetes are more likely to face preterm birth and stillbirth — and they’re also more likely to deliver babies with congenital defects of the brain and heart. For example, diabetic mothers are five times more likely to give birth to a baby with cardiovascular defects. And to date, we do not know exactly why this happens. Today, UCLA scientists published a foundational study that opens the door to understanding how high levels of maternal blood glucose alters the metabolism of the fetus ... More

New research paints a dynamic picture of how we respond to high or low oxygen levels   Research lays groundwork for promising new gene therapy approach for genetic heart disease: Clinical trials imminent   First map of human limb development reveals unexpected growth processes and explains syndromes found at birth

Gladstone Assistant Investigator Isha Jain, PhD, senior author of the new study, discusses the research with first author Kirsten Xuewen Chen. Image courtesy: Gladstone Institutes.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- It only takes holding your breath for slightly too long to understand that too little oxygen is bad for you. But can you also have too much? Indeed, breathing air with a higher oxygen level than your body needs can cause health problems or even death. But with scant research on the topic, scientists have known little about how the body senses too much oxygen. Now, a new study from Gladstone Institutes has greatly expanded the scientific body of knowledge about the mechanisms at play, and why it matters for health. Their findings, reported in the journal Science Advances, explain how breathing air with different levels of oxygen—from too little, to just right, or too much—affects the creation and degradation of different proteins in the lungs, heart, and brain of mice. Notably, the study also highlights a particular protein that may play a central role in regulating ... More

Microscopy image showing heart muscle cells (gray) in a mouse heart. The plakophilin-2 protein (green) is present in the desmosomes connecting adjacent heart muscle cells. Image courtesy: Eirini Kyriakopoulou. Hubrecht Institute.

UTRECHT.- Researchers at the Hubrecht Institute have laid the foundation for the development of a gene therapy for the genetic heart disease arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy (ACM). Their approach, based on replacement of the PKP2 gene, led to significant structural and functional improvements in laboratory models of the disease. The study by the group of Eva van Rooij was published on 7 December 2023 in Nature Cardiovascular Research. Multiple clinical trials will start in 2024 in the United States to explore the clinical potential of this approach in ACM patients with PKP2 mutations. ACM is a genetic heart disease that affects 1 in 2,000 to 1 in 5,000 people worldwide. It is characterized by arrhythmias and can lead to sudden cardiac arrest. Current treatment of the disease usually consists of antiarrhythmic drugs ... More

Showing gene expression patterns. Image courtesy: DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-00000-0.

CAMBRIDGESHIRE.- Human fingers and toes do not grow outward; instead, they form from within a larger foundational bud, as intervening cells recede to reveal the digits beneath. This is among many processes captured for the first time as scientists unveil a spatial cell atlas of the entire developing human limb, resolved in space and time. Researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Sun Yat-sen University, EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute and collaborators applied cutting-edge single-cell and spatial technologies to create an atlas characterizing the cellular landscape of the early human limb, pinpointing the exact location of cells. This study is part of the international Human Cell Atlas initiative to map every cell type in the human body, to transform understanding of health and disease. The atlas, published in Nature, provides an openly available resource that captures the intricate processes governing the limbs' rapid development dur ... More

Comparable memory strategies found in birds and humans   Cancer therapy bexmarilimab awakens immune cells to attack tumors that have avoided detection, research finds   Researchers discover new lipid nanoparticle that shows muscle-specific mRNA delivery, reduces off-target effects.

Birds and humans use similar memory strategies when they need to remember something. Image courtesy: SFB 874, Susanne Troll.

BOCHUM.- Working memory is a crucial element of higher cognition in both primates—which include humans—and corvids. In their studies, with the help of two jackdaws, researchers at Ruhr University Bochum have now discovered remarkable parallels in the memory optimization of primates and corvids. Their findings suggest that the ability to divide continuous stimuli into categories plays a key role in optimizing working memory. The results were published on November 6, 2023, in the journal Communications Biology. In order to analyze the memory performance of jackdaws, the researchers led by first author Aylin Apostel and Prof. Dr. Jonas Rose carried out various tests. Two birds were trained to remember colors as accurately as possible. Depending on how accurate they were in their response, they were given different amounts of food. The authors used various manipulations to modify the demands on working memory. For example, th ... More

The image shows cancer cells and macrophage immune cells. The macrophages are depicted in red whereas the cancer cells are the white-grey spots. The nuclei are shown in blue. Image courtesy: Jenna Rannikko.

TURKU.- Researchers at the University of Turku, Finland, have uncovered how the new bexmarilimab therapy alters the function of immune cells so that they can infiltrate the tumor in cancer patients who do not respond to any other current therapies. Bexmarilimab is a new cancer drug developed by Faron Pharmaceuticals in Turku, Finland. The research was published in the journals Cell Reports Medicine and Cancer Immunology Research. Cancer immunotherapy utilizes the body's own defense machinery, the immune system, to fight against cancer. Novel immunotherapies are being developed to help patients whose immune cells fail to attack cancer even with the aid of currently available therapies. One potential future cancer therapy, bexmarilimab, changes macrophage behavior to promote anti-tumor immune defense. Macrophages are highly plastic immune cells that cancer ... More

A team of researchers has discovered a novel ionizable lipid nanoparticle, iso-A11B5C1, that enables muscle-focused mRNA delivery while minimizing off-target delivery to other tissues. Image courtesy: Steve Southon, University of Toronto.

TORONTO.- A team of researchers based at the University of Toronto's (U of T) Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy has discovered a novel ionizable lipid nanoparticle that enables muscle-focused mRNA delivery while minimizing off-target delivery to other tissues. The team also showed that mRNA delivered by the lipid nanoparticles investigated in their study triggered potent cellular-level immune responses as a proof-of-concept melanoma cancer vaccine. The study, led by Bowen Li, assistant professor, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, U of T, was published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Called iso-A11B5C1, the new lipid nanoparticle demonstrates exceptional mRNA delivery efficiency in muscle tissues while also minimizing unintended mRNA translation in organs such as the liver and spleen. Additionally, study ... More

Improving thunderstorm prediction by watching lightning flashes from space   MIT engineers design a robotic replica of the heart's right chamber   New research reveals a fishing threshold for reef resilience

Fengyun-4 geostationary meteorological satellite, with China's first onboard lightning detector, was launched in 2016. Image courtesy: National Satellite Meteorological Center of China Meteorological Administration.

NORMAN, OK.- In a study published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences (AAS) on Dec. 6, Prof. Ming Xue and his team from the University of Oklahoma spearhead research focusing on harnessing the power of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite "R-series" (GOES-R) lightning flash observations to improve thunderstorm forecasting through numerical weather prediction models. A geostationary satellite, stationary relative to the Earth over the equator, offers an extensive view spanning approximately 100 degrees in longitude, covering a large area between about 50 degrees North and South latitude. Equipped with a lightning mapper capable of detecting and recording lightning flashes every 20 seconds, day and night, with high spatial resolutions across land and oceans, this satellite-derived information is invaluable in detecting rapidly developing ... More

A new bio-robotic model developed by MIT engineers simulates the function of the heart’s lesser-known right ventricle (illustrated here in cross-section, as seen from a front view, on the left). Image courtesy of the researchers.

CAMBRIDGE, MA.- MIT engineers have developed a robotic replica of the heart’s right ventricle, which mimics the beating and blood-pumping action of live hearts. The robo-ventricle combines real heart tissue with synthetic, balloon-like artificial muscles that enable scientists to control the ventricle’s contractions while observing how its natural valves and other intricate structures function. The artificial ventricle can be tuned to mimic healthy and diseased states. The team manipulated the model to simulate conditions of right ventricular dysfunction, including pulmonary hypertension and myocardial infarction. They also used the model to test cardiac devices. For instance, the team implanted a mechanical valve to repair a natural malfunctioning valve, then observed how the ventricle’s pumping changed in response. They say the new robotic right ventricle, or RRV, can ... More

New research reveals that the fishing of herbivore species such as surgeonfishes and parrotfishes to less than 80% of their unfished local density compromises coral reef resilience through the overgrowth of algae that these fish consume.

TEMPE, AZ.- Coral reefs are the most biodiverse systems in the sea and central to the life of many coastal human communities. Half a billion people rely on coral reefs for protection from storms, provision of seafood as well as promotion of tourism and recreation. But climate change is compromising the health of coral reefs globally. Increasing sea temperatures are driving coral bleaching and death. So, the resilience of reefs in the face of climatic challenges is crucial to our collective future, and new research led by Arizona State University has delivered greater understanding of a key aspect of reef health. In a paper published on December 6, 2023, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, ASU Assistant Professor Mary Donovan and colleagues report that the fishing of herbivore species such as surgeonfishes and parrotfishes to less than 80% of their unfished local density ... More

More News
Astronomers discover galaxies have bipolar gas outflows reaching far into intergalactic space
LEIDEN.- Astronomers have observed, for the first time in three dimensions, that gas from spiral galaxies is blown upward and downward at high velocity, far out of the galaxy. The observations confirm the prevailing theory of galaxy evolution that says that star-forming galaxies drive intergalactic winds by venting their gas along the poles. The astronomers have published their findings in Nature. Gas flows are important in models that describe the formation of galaxies. Galaxies grow by the inflow of gas from their surroundings. Such growth, it is thought, is inhibited by young stars and supermassive black holes that blow gas far out into space through shock waves. Exactly what happens is unknown, but without strong gas flows, galaxies would become much too massive. Researchers have now ... More

Time-tested magnesium oxide: Unveiling CO2 absorption dynamics
OAK RIDGE, TN.- Magnesium oxide is a promising material for capturing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and injecting it deep underground to limit the effects of climate change. But making the method economical will require discovering the speed at which carbon dioxide is absorbed and how environmental conditions affect the chemical reactions involved. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory analyzed a set of magnesium oxide crystal samples exposed to the atmosphere for decades, and another for days to months, to gauge the reaction rates. They found that carbon dioxide is taken up more slowly over longer time periods because of a reacted layer that forms on the surface of the magnesium oxide crystals. The findings were published ... More

Cradle of possible Earth-like planets found in harsh environment
HEIDELBERG.- Planets like our Earth could form even in the harshest known star-forming environments, drenched by hard UV light from massive stars. That is a main result of analyses of new observations of such an environment with the James Webb Space Telescope. The observations are the first of their kind – before James Webb, this kind of detailed observation had not been possible. This is good news for Earth-like planets, and for life in the universe: there is a great variety of environments in which such planets can form. Water and carbon-bearing molecules have been discovered in a disk of gas and dust surrounding a young solar-type star, which is located in one of the most extreme environments in our Galaxy. Such disks are where planets form around nascent stars. A team of astronomers led by Marí ... More

Training algorithm breaks barriers to deep physical neural networks
LAUSANNE.- EPFL researchers have developed an algorithm to train an analog neural network just as accurately as a digital one, enabling the development of more efficient alternatives to power-hungry deep learning hardware. With their ability to process vast amounts of data through algorithmic ‘learning’ rather than traditional programming, it often seems like the potential of deep neural networks like Chat-GPT is limitless. But as the scope and impact of these systems have grown, so have their size, complexity, and energy consumption – the latter of which is significant enough to raise concerns about contributions to global carbon emissions. And while we often think of technological advancement in terms of shifting from analog to digital, researchers are now looking for answers to this problem in physica ... More

Plant-inspired liquid metal actuators unlock new potential for flexible robotics
HEFEI.- A research team led by Prof. Tian Xingyou and Prof. Zhang Xian from the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science (HFIPS) of the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) have utilized liquid metal to construct Liquid metal/Polyimide/Polytetrafluoroethylene (LM/PI/PTFE) programmable photothermal actuators based on asymmetric thermal expansion. The study was published in Advanced Functional Materials as a front cover. "We were inspired by the way a plant's tip-sensitive region contracts on one side to form tendrils," said Dr. Li Xiaofei, first author of the paper, "The tendril-like actuator has customizable initial morphology." Liquid metals, as emerging flexible photothermal materials that toughen without reinforcing polymers, are replacing traditional photothermal materials to prepare photothermal actua ... More

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Early-stage stem cell therapy trial shows promise for treating progressive MS

On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate John Cornforth died
December 08, 2013. Sir John Warcup Cornforth Jr. (7 September 1917 - 8 December 2013) was an Australian–British chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975 for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalysed reactions, becoming the only Nobel laureate born in New South Wales. Cornforth investigated enzymes that catalyse changes in organic compounds, the substrates, by taking the place of hydrogen atoms in a substrate's chains and rings. In his syntheses and descriptions of the structure of various terpenes, olefins, and steroids, Cornforth determined specifically which cluster of hydrogen atoms in a substrate were replaced by an enzyme to effect a given change in the substrate, allowing him to detail the biosynthesis of cholesterol. For this work, he won a share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975, alongside co-recipient Vladimir Prelog, and was knighted in 1977.


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