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Scientists discover two new species of ancient, burrowing mammal ancestors

This portrait shows the tritylodontid Fossiomanus sinensis (upper right) and the eutriconodontan Jueconodon cheni in burrows; both lived the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota (about 120 million years ago), northeastern China, and showed convergent skeletal features adapted to fossorial lifestyle. Image courtesy: © Chuang Zhao.

NEW YORK, NY.- Paleontologists have discovered two new species of mammal-like, burrowing animals that lived about 120 million years ago in what is now northeastern China. The new species, described in the journal Nature, are distantly related but independently evolved traits to support their digging lifestyle. They represent the first “scratch-diggers” discovered in this ecosystem. “There are many hypotheses about why animals dig into the soil and live underground,” said lead author Jin Meng, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Paleontology. “For protection against predators, to maintain a temperature that’s relatively constant—not too hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter—or to find food sources like insects and plant roots. These two fossils are a very unusual, deep-time example of animals that are not closely related and yet both evolved the highly specialized c ... More





Modern human brain originated in Africa around 1.7 million years ago   First results from Muon g-2 experiment strengthen evidence of new physics   CUHK develops biohybrid soft microrobots with a rapid endoluminal delivery strategy for gastrointestinal (GI) diseases


Skull of early Homo from Dmanisi, Georgia showing internal structure of the brain case, and inferred brain morphology. Image courtesy: M. Ponce de León und Ch. Zollikofer, UZH.

ZURICH.- Modern humans are fundamentally different from our closest living relatives, the great apes: We live on the ground, walk on two legs and have much larger brains. The first populations of the genus Homo emerged in Africa about 2.5 million years ago. They already walked upright, but their brains were only about half the size of today’s humans. These earliest Homo populations in Africa had primitive ape-like brains – just like their extinct ancestors, the australopithecines. So when and where did the typical human brain evolve? An international team led by Christoph Zollikofer and Marcia Ponce de León from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Zurich has now succeeded in answering these questions. “Our analyses suggest that modern human brain structures emerged only 1.5 to 1.7 million years ago in African Homo populations,” Zollikofer says. The researchers used computed tomography to examine the sku ... More
 

Lead fluoride crystals, which are used in detectors designed and constructed at the UW that measure muon decay products for the Muon g-2 experiment. Image courtesy: University of Washington.

SEATTLE, WA.- The first results from the Muon g-2 experiment at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have revealed that fundamental particles called muons behave in a way that is not predicted by scientists’ best theory to date, the Standard Model of particle physics. This landmark result, published April 7 in Physical Review Letters, confirms a discrepancy that has been gnawing at researchers for decades. The strong evidence that muons deviate from the Standard Model calculation might hint at exciting new physics. The muons in this experiment act as a window into the subatomic world and could be interacting with yet-undiscovered particles or forces. “This experiment is a bit like a detective story,” said team member David Hertzog, a University of Washington professor of physics and a founding spokesperson of the experiment. “We have analyzed data from the Muon g-2’s inaugural run ... More
 

Professor Li Zhang states that the microrobotic system has extended the reach of endoscopy to human organ compartments that conventional endoscopes can never reach. This includes the smaller branches of the bile duct and the pancreatic duct.

HONG KONG.- A collaborative research team led by Professor Li Zhang from the Faculty of Engineering, Professor Joseph Jao-yiu Sung and Professor Philip Wai-yan Chiu from the Faculty of Medicine at The Chinese University of Hong Kong has developed biohybrid soft microrobots with an endoscopy-assisted magnetic navigation strategy for rapid endoluminal delivery. This work provides a new enabling technology for medical microrobot-based minimally invasive intervention and has the potential for treating various diseases in tiny and tortuous lumens which are hard-to-reach or inaccessible by regular medical devices. For medical microrobots to navigate in tiny and tortuous lumens inside the human body, there are several key challenges to be extensively investigated for in vivo applications, including multi-functionalities and safety, adaptivity in a dynamic physiological environment with biological barriers, and real-time imaging and ... More



Big beats: Gorilla chest thumps 'signal' body size   French 4,000-year-old carving is oldest map in Europe: study   Team cracks eggs for science


Image: Dušan veverkolog, Unsplash.

by Kelly Macnamara


PARIS (AFP).- A mountain gorilla rises up and pounds its chest to signal for a mate or scare off a foe, but the drumming that resonates through the forest might also reveal details of their physique, according to a study published Thursday. Unlike the croak of a frog or the growl of a lion, the mountain gorilla's chest thumping is unusual because it is not a vocalisation but rather a form of physical communication that can be both seen and heard. This display -- mainly by the male silverbacks who pummel their chests with cupped hands -- is thought to be a way to attract females and intimidate potential rivals. But researchers wanted to find out if the drumming sound, which can carry for a kilometre through the rainforest, also conveys information about the chest beater. They observed and recorded 25 adult male mountain gorillas monitored by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda and found that bigger gorillas produced chest beats with lower peak frequencies than smaller ones ... More
 

The markings on the slab may represent river systems, settlements, fields and barrows. Image courtesy: Bournemouth University.

BREST (AFP).- A Bronze-age slab first uncovered in 1900 in western France is the oldest map in Europe, according to a study released this week. The 4,000-year-old object, known as the Saint-Belec slab, is engraved with markings that represent part of the Black Mountains region of western France, said Yvan Pailler, an archaeologist and one of the authors of the study published in the Bulletin of the French Prehistoric Society. "Today, it is the oldest map of a territory in Europe," he said. "You can see on the slab carvings which, at first sight, are not understandable. "You must really take your time to start to comprehend the way the motifs are organised and structured and the way they are interlinked through lines." Archaeologist Paul du Chatellier discovered the slab at an ancient burial ground in Finistere in 1900, and it was stored for decades at one of his properties. Researchers only began to study the rock -- which measures 2.2 metres by 1.5 metres and weighs a ton -- in 2017. The repeated m ... More
 

Evolution, ecology and behavior professor Mark Hauber studies the relationships between avian brood parasites and their hosts. Image courtesy: L. Brian Stauffer.

CHAMPAIGN, ILL.- Avian brood parasites lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species, forcing the hosts to do the hard work of raising the unrelated young. A team of scientists wanted to simulate the task of piercing an egg – a tactic that only a minority of host birds use to help grasp and eject the foreign eggs. Their study offers insight into some of the physical challenges the discriminating host birds face. The new findings appear in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Take cowbirds, for example. Their eggs look nothing like the host birds’ eggs, “yet most of their hosts do not reject the parasite eggs,” said study co-author Mark Hauber, a professor of evolution, ecology and behavior at the U. of I. and a brood parasitism expert. “One explanation is that the cowbird eggshell is too thick and strong for a small host’s beak to pierce.” To determine whether the difficulty of piercing a brood parasite’s eg ... More



No pain, no gain in exercise for peripheral artery disease   Seeing quadruple   'Bug brain soup' expands menu for scientists studying animal brains


No pain means no gain when it comes to reaping exercise benefits for people with peripheral artery disease (PAD), reports a new Northwestern Medicine study. Image: Angelika Agibalova, Unsplash.

CHICAGO, IL.- No pain means no gain when it comes to reaping exercise benefits for people with peripheral artery disease (PAD), reports a new Northwestern Medicine study. In people with peripheral artery disease, walking for exercise at an intensity that induces ischemic leg pain (caused by restricted blood flow) improves walking performance — distance and length of time walking — the study found. Walking at a slow pace that does not induce ischemic leg symptoms is no more effective than no exercise at all, the study showed. This randomized trial is the first to show that a home-based walking exercise program improved walking ability in people with peripheral artery disease when exercise was conducted at a high intensity that induced ischemic leg symptoms but not when the exercise was conducted at a low intensity without ischemic leg symptoms. “We’ve shown you have to walk to elicit ischemic leg pain to reap the benefits,” sa ... More
 

By modeling these systems and monitoring how the different images vary in brightness over time, astronomers can determine the expansion rate of the universe and help solve cosmological problems. Image courtesy: The GraL Collaboration.

PASADENA, CA.- With the help of machine-learning techniques, a team of astronomers has discovered a dozen quasars that have been warped by a naturally occurring cosmic "lens" and split into four similar images. Quasars are extremely luminous cores of distant galaxies that are powered by supermassive black holes. Over the past four decades, astronomers had found about 50 of these "quadruply imaged quasars," or quads for short, which occur when the gravity of a massive galaxy that happens to sit in front of a quasar splits its single image into four. The latest study, which spanned only a year and a half, increases the number of known quads by about 25 percent and demonstrates the power of machine learning to assist astronomers in their search for these cosmic oddities. "The quads are gold mines for all sorts of questions. They can help determine the expansion rate of the universe, and help address other mysteries, such as dark matter and quasar 'central engines,'" says Daniel Stern, lead author of the ... More
 

The common Eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) with superimposed stained brain image to show the relative size and location of its brain. Image courtesy: Wulfila Gronenberg.

TUCSON, AZ.- Using a surprisingly simple technique, researchers in the University of Arizona Department of Neuroscience have succeeded in approximating how many brain cells make up the brains of several species of bees, ants and wasps. The work revealed that certain species of bees have a higher density of brain cells than even some species of birds, whereas ants turned out to have fewer brain cells than originally expected. Published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study marks the first time the new cell counting method has been applied to invertebrate animals and provides a robust and reproducible protocol for other research groups studying the brains of invertebrate animals. For more than a century, scientists have attempted to measure and compare the brains and brain components of vertebrates across species in efforts to draw conclusions about how brains support the animals' behavioral and cognitive abiliti ... More



Bioengineer wins NIH grant to attack cystic fibrosis   Study reveals uncertainty in how much carbon the ocean absorbs over time   Corals carefully organize proteins to form rock-hard skeletons


Chemical and biomolecular engineer Xue Sherry Gao of Rice University’s Brown School of Engineering has won National Institutes of Health support for a new strategy to fight cystic fibrosis. Image courtesy: Rice University.

HOUSTON, TX.- Chemical and biomolecular engineer Xue Sherry Gao of Rice University’s Brown School of Engineering has won National Institutes of Health support for a new strategy to fight cystic fibrosis. The agency awarded Gao a four-year R01 grant of more than $2 million to adapt tools developed by her lab that increase the accuracy of CRISPR/Cas9-based gene editing to repair mutations responsible for the disease that affects 70,000 people worldwide. Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease that could be caused by single-point mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene that normally regulates chloride and bicarbonate transportation. Medications for the disease merely help treat the symptoms and have to be taken for a lifetime, said Gao, the T.N. Law Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and an assistant professor of bioengineering and of chemistry. “The problem is CFTR i ... More
 

Shown here are white flakes and pellets that typically make up sinking marine material. Image courtesy: © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- The ocean’s “biological pump” describes the many marine processes that work to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transport it deep into the ocean, where it can remain sequestered for centuries. This ocean pump is a powerful regulator of atmospheric carbon dioxide and an essential ingredient in any global climate forecast. But a new MIT study points to a significant uncertainty in the way the biological pump is represented in climate models today. Researchers found that the “gold standard” equation used to calculate the pump’s strength has a larger margin of error than previously thought, and that predictions of how much atmospheric carbon the ocean will pump down to various depths could be off by 10 to 15 parts per million. Given that the world is currently emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an annual rate of about 2.5 parts per million, the ... More
 

Stylophora pistillata, a common stony coral in the Indo-Pacific. Image courtesy: Kevin Wyman/Rutgers University.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ.- Charles Darwin, the British naturalist who championed the theory of evolution, noted that corals form far-reaching structures, largely made of limestone, that surround tropical islands. He didn’t know how they performed this feat. Now, Rutgers scientists have shown that coral structures consist of a biomineral containing a highly organized organic mix of proteins that resembles what is in our bones. Their study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, shows for the first time that several proteins are organized spatially – a process that’s critical to forming a rock-hard coral skeleton. “Our research revealed an intricate network of skeletal proteins that interact spatially, which likely applies to all stony corals,” said Manjula P. Mummadisetti, who led the research while she was a postdoctoral associate in the Rutgers Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Laboratory led by senior ... More



More News
NASA selects innovative, early-stage tech concepts for continued study
WASHINGTON, DC.- NASA encourages researchers to develop and study unexpected approaches for traveling through, understanding, and exploring space. To further these goals, the agency has selected seven studies for additional funding – totaling $5 million – from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The researchers previously received at least one NIAC award related to their proposals. “Creativity is key to future space exploration and fostering revolutionary ideas today that may sound outlandish will prepare us for new missions and fresh exploration approaches in the coming decades,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). NASA selected the proposals through a peer-review process that evaluates innovation and technical viability. All projects are still ... More

Meet "the terminator": UMBC-led research connects solar cycle with climate predictions in a new way
BALTIMORE, MD.- The solar cycle involves periodic changes in activity on the Sun’s surface, and a new way of thinking about it reveals connections between solar activity and weather patterns on Earth. New research in Earth & Space Science led by Robert Leamon, research scientist at the Goddard Planetary Heliophysics Institute, a UMBC partnership with NASA, describes the discovery of a solar cycle phenomenon the authors have dubbed “the terminator.” The researchers found that a La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean quickly follows a terminator event. La Niña and El Niño patterns affect everything from the likelihood of severe hurricanes to the success of the growing season. This means the ability to predict these patterns on the scale of about a decade could help communities and governments prepare for natural disaste ... More

Scientists map "pulse" of groundwater flow through California's Central Valley
SAN DIEGO, CA.- Groundwater is a key resource for water users in California’s Central Valley, a major agricultural hub with an economic output of tens of billions of dollars annually. Surface deformation in the Central Valley has long been linked to changes in groundwater storage, but the timing and movement of water flow beneath the surface has been poorly understood due to a lack of reliable data. Now, for the first time, scientists at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and School of Global Policy and Strategy, as well as the U.S. Geological Survey are using advanced satellite data to map the “pulse” of groundwater flow through the San Joaquin Valley, the southern portion of the Central Valley. In a new study published April 7 in Water Resources Research, the interdisciplinary researchers describe how re ... More

A Swiss Army knife for genomic data
PASADENA, CA.- A good way to find out what a cell is doing—whether it is growing out of control as in cancers, or is under the control of an invading virus, or is simply going about the routine business of a healthy cell—is to look at its gene expression. Though a vast majority of cells in an organism all contain the same genes, how those genes are expressed is what gives rise to different cell types—the difference between a muscle cell and a neuron, for example. In the last decade, technologies to measure gene expression in individual cells have revolutionized biology. No longer do biologists need to average out gene expression over many cells within tissues; now they can detect which genes are active in each cell at any time. Computational power has struggled to keep up with this explosion of data, however. For example, a single experiment can look at ... More

Stanford researchers and others illuminate long-standing mystery of sea turtles' epic migrations
STANFORD, CA.- Known as “the lost years,” it is a little-understood journey that unfolds over thousands of miles and as much as two decades or more. Now, a Stanford-led study illuminates secrets of the North Pacific loggerhead turtles’ epic migration between their birthplace on the beaches of Japan and reemergence years later in foraging grounds off the coast of Baja California. The study, published April 8 in Frontiers in Marine Science, provides evidence for intermittent passages of warm water that allow sea turtles to cross otherwise inhospitably cold ocean barriers. The findings could help inform the design of conservation measures to protect sea turtles and other migratory sea creatures amid climatic changes that are altering their movements. “For decades, our ability to connect the migratory dots for this endangered species has remained elusive,” said ... More



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Flashback
On a day like today, German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck was born
April 09, 1770. Thomas Johann Seebeck (9 April 1770 - 10 December 1831) was a Baltic German physicist, who, in 1822, observed a relationship between heat and magnetism. Later, in 1823, Ørsted called this phenomenon thermoelectric effect. Seebeck was born in Reval (today Tallinn, Estonia) to a wealthy Baltic German merchant family. He received a medical degree in 1802 from the University of Göttingen, but preferred to study physics. From 1821 to 1823, Seebeck performed a series of experiments trying to understand Ørsted's findings from 1820. During his experiments, he observed that a junction of dissimilar metals produces a deflexion on a magnetic needle (compass) when exposed to a temperature gradient. Because Ørsted had discovered that an electric current produces a deflexion on a compass transversal to the wire, Seebeck's results were interpreted as a thermoelectric effect. This is now called the Peltier–Seebeck effect and is the basis of thermocouples and thermopiles.



 


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