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Scientists find evidence the early solar system harbored a gap between its inner and outer regions

This image shows an artist’s interpretation of a protoplanetary disk. Image courtesy: National Science Foundation, A. Khan.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- In the early solar system, a “protoplanetary disk” of dust and gas rotated around the sun and eventually coalesced into the planets we know today. A new analysis of ancient meteorites by scientists at MIT and elsewhere suggests that a mysterious gap existed within this disk around 4.567 billion years ago, near the location where the asteroid belt resides today. The team’s results, published in Science Advances, provide direct evidence for this gap. “Over the last decade, observations have shown that cavities, gaps, and rings are common in disks around other young stars,” says Benjamin Weiss, professor of planetary sciences in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). “These are important but poorly understood signatures of the physical processes by which gas and dust transform into the young sun and planets.” Likewise the cause of such a gap ... More

Energy-efficient AI detects heart defects   Lewy body dementia exacerbated by immune response   The butterfly effect: How Torres Strait butterflies could help conservation efforts

To use algorithms like Bohté's in everyday applications, special neuromorphic computer chips are needed. Image courtesy: IMEC.

EINDHOVEN.- CWI researchers Bojian Yin and Sander Bohté, together with their colleague Federico Corradi of Stichting Interuniversitair Micro-Elektronica Centrum in Eindhoven, have achieved a mathematical breakthrough in the computation of so-called spiking neural networks. Thanks to this breakthrough, special chips that are suitable for this artificial intelligence (AI) can recognize speech, gestures and electrocardiograms (ECGs) a factor of twenty to a thousand more efficiently than traditional AI techniques. Such chips are on the verge of practical, everyday applications. The results of the research were published in the scientific journal Nature Machine Intelligence. Over the past decade, AI has gained more and more everyday applications, including for recognizing images and spoken word. This is done with deep neural networks, which are highly simplified mimics of the way the human brain processes information. For mobile applications, ho ... More

A T-cell (red) interacting with an alpha-synuclein Lewy neurite (green) adjacent to a dopaminergic neuron (magenta) in a Parkinson’s disease brain. Image courtesy: Northwestern University.

EVANSTON, IL.- T-cells respond to buildups of alpha-synuclein, the aggregated protein clumps that are a feature of neurodegenerative diseases including dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson's disease (PD), according to a Northwestern Medicine study published in Science. This autoimmune response proves harmful, and inhibiting signaling pathways that trigger the response may represent a future therapeutic target, according to David Gate, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology and lead author of the study. "These findings have established a detrimental role of the immune system in Lewy body dementias," Gate said. Intracellular clumps of debris—misfolded proteins, damaged lipids and pieces of partly digested organelles—are one of the hallmarks of Lewy body dementias (LBD). One major component of these clumps—the eponymous Lewy bodies—is a misfolded protein called alpha-synuclein. Genetic mutation ... More

A male Pearl owl butterfly (Taenaris artemis) from Dauan Island landed on a papaya fruit. Image courtesy: The University of Queensland.

BRISBANE.- A University of Queensland researcher has spent decades compiling a first-of-its-kind database of the butterfly species of the Torres Strait Islands, boosting biosecurity and conservation measures in the region. Working closely with the Torres Strait Island Regional Council, Dr Trevor Lambkin said the database, listing 227 butterfly species will help local officials address the impacts of climate change, other human threats and weeds. “My work has created detailed checklists and distribution maps of butterfly populations on each island for the first time, and this specific information will assist in future conservation measures,” Dr Lambkin said. “As butterflies are prone to move from place to place, they’re very good yardsticks for use in predicting invasions of pest species.” Dr Lambkin has made more than 30 visits to the islands over the past 38 years, discovering that several species of butterflies are no ... More

Russians return to Earth after filming first movie in space   Cooling radio waves to their quantum ground state   Mammals on the menu: Snake dietary diversity exploded after mass extinction 66 million years ago

Russian actress Yulia Peresild spent 12 days on the International Space Station shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit. Andrey Shelepin Russian Space Agency Roscosmos/AFP.

MOSCOW (AFP).- A Russian actress and a film director returned to Earth Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS) shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit. Yulia Peresild, 37, and Klim Shipenko, 38, landed as scheduled on Kazakhstan's steppe at 0436 GMT, according to footage broadcast live by Russia's Roscosmos space agency. Shipenko appeared distressed but smiling as he exited the capsule, waving his hand to cameras before being carried off by medical workers for an examination. Peresild, who plays the film's starring role and was selected from some 3,000 applicants, was extracted from the capsule to applause and a bouquet of flowers. The actress said she is "sad" to have left the ISS. "It seemed that 12 days was a lot, but when it was all over, I didn't want to leave," she told Russian television. "This is a one-time experience." The team was ferried back to terra firma by cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who had been on the space station for the past six months. The filmmak ... More

The device made use of a recently developed technique the authors call photon pressure coupling. Image courtesy: Delft University of Technology.

DELFT.- Researchers at Delft University of Technology have found a new way to cool radio waves all the way down to their quantum ground state. To do so, they used circuits that employ an analog of the so-called laser cooling technique that is frequently used to cool atomic samples. The device used a recently developed technique the researchers call photon pressure coupling, which is predicted to be of use in detecting ultra-weak magnetic resonance (MRI) signals or for quantum-sensing applications that can help the search for dark matter. The results were published in Science Advances. The radio waves we usually encounter in our daily lives, such as those that we listen to in our car or those that send signals to our baby monitors in our house, are hot: they contain noise that comes from the random motion of the atoms in the things they are emitted from and even in the antenna you are using to listen to them. This is one of the reasons why y ... More

A blunt-headed tree snake (Imantodes inornatus) eating its way through a batch of treefrog eggs. Image courtesy: John David Curlis, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

ANN ARBOR, MI.- Modern snakes evolved from ancestors that lived side by side with the dinosaurs and that likely fed mainly on insects and lizards. Then a miles-wide asteroid wiped out nearly all the dinosaurs and roughly three-quarters of the planet's plant and animal species 66 million years ago, setting the stage for the spectacular diversification of mammals and birds that followed in the early Cenozoic Era. A new University of Michigan study shows that early snakes capitalized on that ecological opportunity and the smorgasbord that it presented, rapidly and repeatedly evolving novel dietary adaptations and prey preferences. The study, which combines genetic evidence with ecological information extracted from preserved museum specimens, was published online in the journal PLOS Biology. "We found a major burst of snake dietary diversification after the dinosaur extinction—species were evolving quickly and rapidly acquiring the ability to eat new ... More

Eight months later: Researchers compare immune responses elicited by three COVID-19 vaccines   Evidence of superionic ice provides new insights into the unusual magnetic fields of Uranus and Neptune   Only one in four Western Roman emperors died of natural causes

All three vaccines demonstrated broad cross-reactivity to variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Image: Pixabay.

BOSTON, MASS.- Based on the strength of clinical trial data showing the vaccines conferred robust protection against COVID-19, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to the mRNA-based vaccines known as BNT162b2 (BioNTech, Pfizer) and mRNA-1273 (Moderna) in December 2020, and to the Ad26.COV2.S (Johnson & Johnson) single-shot vaccine in February 2021. To date, nearly 200 million Americans have received a COVID-19 vaccine, and as some approach the one-year anniversary of their immunization, questions remain about the vaccines' long-term efficacy. In a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team of experts at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center compared immune responses induced by the three vaccines over an eight-month follow-up period. The investigators evaluated the 61 participants' levels of various antibodies, T cells and other immune products at two to four weeks following complete immunization ... More

The magnetic field of Neptune, like that of the Earth, is not static but varies over time. Pictured is a snapshot from August 2004. Image courtesy: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.

CHICAGO, IL.- Not all ice is the same. The solid form of water comes in more than a dozen different—sometimes more, sometimes less crystalline—structures, depending on the conditions of pressure and temperature in the environment. Superionic ice is a special crystalline form—half solid, half liquid—and electrically conductive. Its existence has been predicted on the basis of various models and has already been observed on several occasions under extreme laboratory conditions. However, the exact conditions at which superionic ices are stable remain controversial. A team of scientists led by Vitali Prakapenka from the University of Chicago, which also includes Sergey Lobanov from the German Research Center for Geosciences GFZ Potsdam, has now measured the structure and properties of two superionic ice phases (ice XVIII and ice XX). They brought water to extremely high pressures and temperatures in a laser-heated diamond anvil ... More

Only 24.8% of the 69 rulers of the Western Empire died of natural causes. Image: iam_os, Unsplash.

SAO PAULO.- The Roman Empire was ruled by 175 men, from Augustus (63 BCE-19 CE) to Constantine XI (1405-53), including the Eastern or Byzantine Empire after the split in 395 CE, but excluding those who did not rule in their own right because they were minors during regencies or co-emperors. Only 24.8% of the 69 rulers of the Western Empire died of natural causes. The rest died a violent death on the battlefield or in palace plots. Considering all 175, 30% were murdered, committed suicide or died in battle. Researchers at the University of São Paulo's Institute of Mathematical and Computer Sciences in São Carlos (state of São Paulo, Brazil) investigated the underlying mathematical patterns associated with the reigns of the Roman emperors, showing that they followed what statisticians call a "power law." An article on the study was published in Royal Society Open Science, a peer-reviewed scientific journal of the UK's Royal Society. "Alt ... More

Study shows fragile X treatment can incur resistance, suggests ways around it   Team demonstrates great promise of all-inorganic perovskite solar cells for improving solar cell efficiency   Scientists uncover a circadian rhythm in heart cells that affects their daily function

Drugs that inhibit a brain cell receptor, mGluR5, showed promise for treating fragile X syndrome, but patients showed signs of acquiring resistance. Image: Towfiqu barbhuiya, Unsplash.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Mark Bear, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, recalls the “eureka moment” 20 years ago when he realized that a severe developmental brain disorder — fragile X syndrome — might be treated with drugs that inhibit a neurotransmitter receptor called mGluR5. The idea, that mGluR5 stimulates excessive protein synthesis in fragile X neurons that disrupts their functions, became well-validated by experiments in his lab and others worldwide using several animal models of the disease. “There was great anticipation that this would be a breakthrough treatment for this disease,” says Bear, a faculty member of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. “Thus, it was a profound disappointment when the first human clinical trials using mGluR5 negative modulators failed to show a benefit.” This finding ... More

All-inorganic perovskites compare well with their hybrid counterparts in terms of efficiency. Image courtesy: Xie Zhang.

SANTA BARBARA, CA.- Hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites have already demonstrated high photovoltaic efficiencies of greater than 25%. The prevailing wisdom in the field is that the organic (carbon- and hydrogen-containing) molecules in the material are crucial to achieving this impressive performance because they are believed to suppress defect-assisted carrier recombination. New research in the UC Santa Barbara materials department has shown not only that this assumption is incorrect, but also that all-inorganic materials have the potential for outperforming hybrid perovskites. The findings are published in the article "All-inorganic halide perovskites as candidates for efficient solar cells," which appears on the cover of the October 20 issue of the journal Cell Reports Physical Science. "To compare the materials, we performed comprehensive simulations of the recombination mechanisms," explained Xie Zhang, lead researcher on the study. "When light shi ... More

Heart clocks regulate the daily variation in heart rate. Each heart cell has a clock that regulates the frequency of firing rate between day and night. Image courtesy: Copyright MRC LMB.

CAMBRIDGE.- A new study has shown how circadian rhythms in heart cells help to change heart function over the course of the day and may explain why shift workers are more vulnerable to heart problems. Scientists have shown for the first time that heart cells regulate their circadian rhythms through daily changes in the levels of sodium and potassium ions inside the cell. The different levels of sodium and potassium ions inside and outside heart cells allow the electrical impulse that causes their contraction and drives the heartbeat. Cellular ion concentrations were thought to be fairly constant, but scientists have now found heart cells actually alter their internal sodium and potassium levels across the day and night. This anticipates the daily demands of our lives, allowing the heart to better accommodate and sustain increased heart rate when we're active. It is already known there are daily clocks in heart cells, and other tissues; normally synchronized by hormonal signals that align our inter ... More

More News
How to make an exosuit that helps with awkward lifts
ATLANTA, GA.- In the last few years, mechanically assistive exosuits, long depicted in works of popular science fiction and film, have finally started to see commercial deployment, according to Aaron Young, researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Most of these exosuits have a so-called passive design, assisting the wearer with unpowered elements like springs. Active exosuits that incorporate electronics and powered motors are yet to be broadly applied. They tend to be big and heavy, and rely on rigid exoskeletons to transfer weight from body to ground. Exoskeletons add a great deal of stiffness, as well, Young said. Putting on most active exosuits is a little like becoming one with a forklift, restricting a wearer to lifting weights in a vertical plane. For all these reasons, Young's Asymmetric Back eX ... More

Quick detection of uranium isotopes helps safeguard nuclear materials
OAK RIDGE, TN.- Analytical chemists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a rapid way to measure isotopic ratios of uranium and plutonium collected on environmental swipes, which could help International Atomic Energy Agency analysts detect the presence of undeclared nuclear activities or material. "This method builds on a commercial microextraction probe to directly sample solids and subsequently extract the analytes from a surface and into a flowing solution," said ORNL's Benjamin Manard. He led the proof-of-concept study, which demonstrated that this sampling mechanism was effective at extracting actinide material (e.g., uranium and plutonium) from environmental swipes. The paper made the front cover of the journal Analytical Chemistry. This innovation ... More

How to program DNA robots to poke and prod cell membranes
SYDNEY.- Scientists have worked out how to best get DNA to communicate with membranes in our body, paving the way for the creation of ‘mini biological computers’ in droplets that have potential uses in biosensing and mRNA vaccines. UNSW’s Dr Matthew Baker and the University of Sydney’s Dr Shelley Wickham co-led the study, published recently in Nucleic Acids Research. It discovered the best way to design and build DNA ‘nanostructures’ to effectively manipulate synthetic liposomes – tiny bubbles which have traditionally been used to deliver drugs for cancer and other diseases. By modifying the shape, porosity and reactivity of liposomes, there are far greater applications, such as building small molecular systems that sense their environment and respond to a signal to release a cargo, such as a drug ... More

Misinformation on stem cell treatments for COVID-19 linked to overhyped science, researchers argue
BUFFALO, NY.- The global race to develop new stem cell-based COVID-19 treatments during the pandemic was filled with violations of government regulations, inflated medical claims and distorted public communication, say the authors of a new perspective published in the journal Stem Cell Reports. While stem cell therapy—using stem cells to promote regeneration, repair or healing—may be used to treat a limited number of diseases and conditions, there are currently no clinically tested or government-approved cell therapies available for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 or its long-term effects. However, this has not stopped the emergence of clinics offering unproven and unsafe "stem cell" therapies that promise to prevent COVID-19 by strengthening the immune system or improving overall health, says lead a ... More

Sea otter populations found to increase eelgrass genetic diversity
BURLINGTON, VT.- A team of researchers affiliated with a host of institutions in Canada and one in the U.S. has found that eelgrass genetic diversity increases when sea otters live in eelgrass meadows. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their study of eelgrass meadows under different conditions. Joe Roman, with the University of Vermont, has published a Perspectives piece in the same journal issue outlining the work by the researchers in this new effort. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the shores off the western coast of North America were filled with sea otters. Sadly, hunters drove them to near extinction over the ensuing century. In this new effort, the researchers have looked at the impact that sea otters have on eelgrass meadows when they are reintroduced by environmentalists. E ... More

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A cryptography game-changer for the development of precision medicine

On a day like today, German physicist and theorist Pascual Jordan was born
October 18, 1902. Ernst Pascual Jordan (18 October 1902 - 31 July 1980) was a German theoretical and mathematical physicist who made significant contributions to quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. He contributed much to the mathematical form of matrix mechanics, and developed canonical anticommutation relations for fermions. Jordan algebra is employed for and is still used in studying the mathematical and conceptual foundations of quantum theory, and has found other mathematical applications. Together with Max Born and Werner Heisenberg, Jordan was a coauthor of an important series of papers on quantum mechanics. Jordan devised a type of nonassociative algebras, now named Jordan algebras in his honor, in an attempt to create an algebra of observables for quantum mechanics and quantum field theory.


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