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Fossil overturns more than a century of knowledge about the origin of modern birds

The Cambridge research team (L-R): Pei-Chen Kuo, Klara Widrig, Daniel Field, Juan Benito. Image courtesy: University of Cambridge.

CAMBRIDGE.- Fossilised fragments of a skeleton, hidden within a rock the size of a grapefruit, have helped upend one of the longest-standing assumptions about the origins of modern birds. Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Natuurhistorisch Museum Maastricht found that one of the key skull features that characterises 99% of modern birds – a mobile beak – evolved before the mass extinction event that killed all large dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. This finding also suggests that the skulls of ostriches, emus and their relatives evolved ‘backwards’, reverting to a more primitive condition after modern birds arose. Using CT scanning techniques, the Cambridge team identified bones from the palate, or the roof of the mouth, of a new species of large ancient bird, which they named Janavis finalidens. It lived at the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs and was one of the last toothed birds to ever live. The arrangeme ... More

Male orb-weaving spiders fight less in female-dominated colonies   3D analyses of vascular network morphology reveal how lymph nodes are supplied with blood   Study explores link between shark nose shape, size and sensitivity of smell

Cole Heramb (left), Catherine Wu and Chaiti Bhagawat observing orb-weaving spiders in Peru. Image courtesy: Gregory Grether/UCLA.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Birds do it. Bees do it. Even spiders in their webs do it: cooperate for more peaceful colonies. That’s one of the surprising findings of a new study by UCLA undergraduates of orb-weaving spiders in Peru. The study also revealed that when there are more females than males in colonies of orb-weaving spiders, males fight less with each other — and that females fight less in female-dominated colonies than in male-dominated ones, leading to colonies that are somewhat more peaceful. The spiders also showed little hostility to individuals from different colonies, a discovery that has not been previously documented for colonial spiders. The research was published in the Journal of Arachnology. “We’re used to thinking of animals like honeybees and elephants living cooperatively,” said the paper’s senior author, Gregory Grether, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “But spiders usually live s ... More

Researchers can now better understand the system of lymph nodes and their blood vessels. Image courtesy: Paul Schütz.

GEESTHACHT.- When our immune system runs, it sets in motion antibodies, white blood cells and phagocytes. But all the details of how this works are not yet understood—specifically, in the lymph nodes, which are important elements of the immune system. It is unclear, for example, how the blood supply to and within the nodes works specifically. This question has now been unraveled by an interdisciplinary research team with the participation of a team at Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon. Researchers have obtained 3D images that show the vascular system of the nodes with previously unattained resolution—and contradict the current textbook knowledge. The team presents its results in Frontiers in Immunology. Every person has around 600 to 700 lymph nodes. They are distributed over the entire body and measure between 3 and 30 millimeters each. These nodes play an essential role in our immune defense: They activate white blood cells, the ly ... More

CT scan of a bonnethead shark (Sphyrna tiburo), with the rosettes highlighted in aqua. Image courtesy: Aubrey Clark and the FAU High School Owls Imaging Lab.

BOCA RATON, FL.- Sharks have reputations as "super smellers" that use olfaction to detect odors related to finding prey and mates, communicating with their own species and avoiding predators. Their olfactory system is unique because it is separate from the respiratory system, unlike humans. Sharks and other fish use gills to facilitate the uptake of oxygen, while two nares or nostrils on the shark's head take in odors from the environment. Despite general similarities among elasmobranch species' (sharks, rays and skates) olfactory systems, the morphology or structure of their olfactory organ, or "rosette," differs substantially. Located in their snouts, the multi-lamellar (layered tissue) rosette is covered with both non-sensory and sensory tissue that responds to distinct odor molecules in an aquatic environment. The number, size and arrangement of lamellae differ among elasmobranch species, but the functional consequences for these differences are not fully understood. Researchers have not yet been a ... More

Communications system achieves fastest laser link from space yet   Engineered nanoparticles could help store excess carbon dioxide in the ocean   New cancer 'tracer' promises to detect more tumours earlier

The TBIRD communications payload, pictured above, is showcasing unprecedented data rates for space-to-ground laser communications. Image courtesy: Lincoln Laboratory.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- In May 2022, the TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) payload onboard a small CubeSat satellite was launched into orbit 300 miles above Earth's surface. Since then, TBIRD has delivered terabytes of data at record-breaking rates of up to 100 gigabits per second — 100 times faster than the fastest internet speeds in most cities — via an optical communication link to a ground-based receiver in California. This data rate is more than 1,000 times higher than that of the radio-frequency links traditionally used for satellite communication and the highest ever achieved by a laser link from space to ground. And these record-setting speeds were all made possible by a communications payload roughly the size of a tissue box. MIT Lincoln Laboratory conceptualized the TBIRD mission in 2014 as a means of providing unprecedented capability to science missions at low cost. S ... More

Seeding the oceans with nano-scale fertilizers could create a much-needed, substantial carbon sink. Image courtesy: Stephanie King | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

RICHLAND, WA.- The urgent need to remove excess carbon dioxide from Earth's environment could include enlisting some of our planet's smallest inhabitants, according to an international research team led by Michael Hochella of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Hochella and his colleagues examined the scientific evidence for seeding the oceans with iron-rich engineered fertilizer particles near ocean plankton. The goal would be to feed phytoplankton, microscopic plants that are a key part of the ocean ecosystem, to encourage growth and carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake. The analysis article appears in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. "The idea is to augment existing processes," said Hochella, a Laboratory fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Humans have fertilized the land to grow crops for centuries. We can learn to fertilize the oceans responsibly." In nature, nutrients from the land reach oceans through rive ... More

U of A researchers’ easier-to-produce compound for cancer diagnostic imaging is ready for patient use and may soon reduce wait times in Alberta. Image courtesy: Ramona Czakert Franson.

EDMONTON.- For people waiting for imaging tests to diagnose neuroendocrine cancer, time is of the essence. Now, thanks to researchers at the University of Alberta, a new medical imaging agent for PET scans promises to reduce wait times, while costing less to produce and possibly revealing more of some types of cancer tumours. Ralf Schirrmacher, an oncology imaging professor and member of the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta, and his team at the Medical Isotope and Cyclotron Facility on the U of A’s South Campus have been using a state-of-the-art cyclotron — a machine that already supplies the province with medical isotopes used in diagnostic scans — to create a new imaging compound that will reveal cancer tumours when patients receive a PET or PET-MRI scan. The use of extremely low amounts of radioactive material as diagnostic “tracers” in cancer imaging is not new, but researchers are continual ... More

Strongest Arctic cyclone on record led to surprising loss of sea ice   Astrophysicists hunt for second-closest supermassive black hole   New data suggests COVID vaccine design ideas with better variant resilience

A ship-based view of the Arctic Ocean in October 2015, when the ocean’s surface is beginning to freeze. Image courtesy: Ed Blanchard-Wrigglesworth/University of Washington.

SEATTLE, WA.- A warming climate is causing a decline in sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, where loss of sea ice has important ecological, economic and climate impacts. On top of this long-term shift due to climate change are weather events that affect the sea ice from week to week. The strongest Arctic cyclone ever observed poleward of 70 degrees north latitude struck in January 2022 northeast of Greenland. A new analysis led by the University of Washington shows that while weather forecasts accurately predicted the storm, ice models seriously underestimated its impact on the region’s sea ice. The study, published in October in the Journal of Geophysical Research–Atmospheres, suggests that existing models underestimate the impact of big waves on ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. “The loss of sea ice in six days was the biggest change we could find in the historical observations since 1979, and the area of ice lost was 30% greater than ... More

The ultra-faint Milky Way companion galaxy Leo I appears as a faint patch to the right of the bright star, Regulus. Image courtesy: Scott Anttila Anttler.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Two astrophysicists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have suggested a way to observe what could be the second-closest supermassive black hole to Earth: a behemoth 3 million times the mass of the Sun, hosted by the dwarf galaxy Leo I. The supermassive black hole, labeled Leo I*, was first proposed by an independent team of astronomers in late 2021. The team noticed stars picking up speed as they approached the center of the galaxy—evidence for a black hole—but directly imaging emission from the black hole was not possible. Now, CfA astrophysicists Fabio Pacucci and Avi Loeb suggest a new way to verify the supermassive black hole's existence; their work is described in a study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "Black holes are very elusive objects, and sometimes they enjoy playing hide-and-seek with us," says Fabio Pacucci, lead author of the ApJ Letters study. "Rays of light cannot escap ... More

John Bowen conducting research in David Veesler's lab at UW Medicine in Seattle, where he participates in studies of coronavirus infectivity mechanisms and antibody targeting of specific domains on the coronavirus spike proteins.

SEATTLE, WA.- Latest research findings show that vaccine-elicited neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 are mostly directed against one of the two main domains of the viral entry machinery. The findings also point out a key role of the same domain of the spike in eliciting a broad antibody response against many variants, as well as related viruses. Both findings suggest strategies for clinical development of variant-resistant vaccines and sarbecovirus vaccines as part of future pandemic preparedness. Spike proteins, which give the virus its crown-like appearance, provide the means for the virus to enter host cells. One subunit of the spike protein engages with a receptor on the host cell and recognizes when a proper landing has occurred. The spike also adopts a spring-loaded configuration. Its shape changes as it forces the fusion of the virus to the host cell, thereby initiating infection. Antibodies try to ward off a SARS-CoV-2 invasion of cells by binding to sites on the viral spike protein. ... More

The role of Newtic1 protein in limb regeneration in adult newts   Researchers publish 31,618 molecules with potential for energy storage in batteries   Squirrel sperm and feet tell a different climate change story

Image courtesy: University of Tsukuba.

TSUKUBA.- The animal kingdom exhibits a plethora of unique and surprising phenomena or abilities that include, for some animals, the ability to regenerate body parts irrespective of age. Now, researchers from Japan have discovered that the mechanisms behind this peculiar ability in newts have a few surprises of their own. In a study recently published in Biomedicines, a research group led by the University of Tsukuba has further clarified the role of a gene, Newtic1, previously discovered in adult fire-bellied newts (Cynops pyrrhogaster), and found that it plays a different role during limb regeneration than initially thought. Newts have the unique ability to regenerate lost limbs as adults. In early life, most vertebrate animals (including humans) are able to regrow body parts or complex tissues after trauma, but lose most or all of this ability in adulthood. Instead of regenerating, the affected area undergoes healing involving scarri ... More

Artist's impression of DIFFER's research on 31,618 molecules with potential for energy storage in redox flow batteries. Image courtesy: DIFFER/Süleyman Er.

EINDHOVEN.- Scientists from the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research have created a database of 31,618 molecules that could potentially be used in future redox-flow batteries. These batteries hold great promise for energy storage. Among other things, the researchers used artificial intelligence and supercomputers to identify the molecules' properties. Today, they publish their findings in the journal Scientific Data. In recent years, chemists have designed hundreds of molecules that could potentially be useful in flow batteries for energy storage. It would be wonderful, researchers from DIFFER in Eindhoven (the Netherlands) imagined, if the properties of these molecules were quickly and easily accessible in a database. The problem, however, is that for many molecules the properties are not known. Examples of molecular properties are redox potential and water solubility. Those are important since they are related to the power generatio ... More

A Cape ground squirrel grooming in Namibia. Image courtesy: Jane Waterman.

WINNIPEG.- Perhaps it's time to replace the canary in a coal mine metaphor with a squirrel in the ground. Because two University of Manitoba studies found that climate change is altering ground squirrels' sperm and feet, and this warns of big consequences potentially coming to endangered ecosystems. These subtle squirrel changes concern UM researchers Jane Waterman and Miya Warrington, who tuned into them only recently and published their latest findings in the Journal of Mammalogy. It began last year when they found that some male Richardson's ground squirrels, a species found throughout the Canadian prairies, emerged from hibernation during a particularly warm winter with non-motile sperm. This non-lethal effect of climate change fortunately did not result in fewer young that year, although other negative consequences of males "shooting blanks" may emerge in other species or situations. Intrigued by this finding, they then looked at what non-l ... More

More News
Simulations of impact crater show small asteroids are probably young
BERN.- The impact experiment conducted on the asteroid Ryugu by the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission that took place two years ago resulted in an unexpectedly large crater. With the use of simulations, a team led by the University of Bern and the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS has recently gained new insights from the experiment regarding the formation and development of asteroids. These insights are also important for the DART mission of NASA. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft was developed in order to study the history of the asteroid Ryugu, and it collected samples and returned them to earth for laboratory analysis. The project participants are Dr. Martin Jutzi and Dr. Sabina Raducan, both from the Physical Institute of the University of Bern, Department for Space Research ... More

More than two million photos provide important insight into mammal behavior
WAGENINGEN.- Most of us are active in the day and sleep at night. We favor daylight while darkness poses constraint. Animals too have to balance their use of time to their requirements and constraints: finding food, avoiding predators, socializing and staying warm without overheating. In a new study in Nature Communications an international team of researchers explored if there were consistent patterns across sites and regions regarding how different animals use their day. Professor Douglas Sheil from Wageningen University & Research who helps lead the project explained the idea: "At first sight the faunas of different tropical regions are distinct. There are no gorillas or elephants in the tropical forests of the Americas, no tapirs in Africa and no armadillos in Asia. This is the result of the detailed histories of species exchange, ... More

Scientists construct novel quantum testbed one atom at a time
LEMONT, IL.- With atomic precision, scientists built a testbed to manipulate electrons in entirely new ways with potential applications in quantum computing. Electrons are tiny objects that can carry electricity and information across materials and between devices. They are often visualized as discrete spheres, either moving through a circuit or connected to an atom. While this classical model works well for many scenarios, quantum mechanics paints a radically different picture of the nature of electrons involving waves, clouds and a lot of math. As scientists gain more understanding of quantum mechanics, they are looking beyond our current methods to engineer materials with unique electronic properties that allow them to store and manipulate information in entirely new ways. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Ene ... More

Protons fix a long-standing issue in silicon carbide electronics
NAGOYA.- Silicon carbide (SiC) is a semiconductor material that outperforms pure silicon-based semiconductors in several applications. Used mostly in power inverters, motor drives, and battery chargers, SiC devices offer benefits such as a high power density and reduced power losses at high frequencies even at high voltages. Although these properties and its relatively low cost make SiC a promising contender in various sectors of the semiconductor market, its poor long-term reliability has been an insurmountable barrier for the past two decades. One of the most pressing issues with 4H-SiC—a SiC type with superior physical properties—is bipolar degradation. This phenomenon is caused by the expansion of stacking faults in 4H-SiC crystals. Put simply, small dislocations in the crystal structure g ... More

Single-cell-driven, tri-channel encryption meta-displays
POHANG.- Pockets of the POSTECH campus are turning into metaverse-ready spaces. Leveraging lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, POSTECH has employed metaverse learning to enable students to conduct experiments and receive training the same way they do in the physical classroom. All they have to do is wear a virtual reality (VR) device before entering a laboratory or taking a tour of a nuclear power plant. Taking it a step further, what if the professor and the students can simultaneously see different content tailored to each other in class? A POSTECH research team led by Professor Junsuk Rho (Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Chemical Engineering) with Ph.D. candidates Joohoon Kim and Junhwa Seong (Department of Mechanical Engineering) developed a tri-channel encry ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate George Minot was born
December 02, 1885. George Richards Minot (December 2, 1885 - February 25, 1950) was an American medical researcher who shared the 1934 Nobel Prize with George Hoyt Whipple and William P. Murphy for their pioneering work on pernicious anemia. Minot became professor of medicine at the Harvard University, and was appointed director of the Thorndik Memorial Laboratory at Boston City Hospital. In 1930, Minot was awarded the Cameron Prize for Therapeutics of the University of Edinburgh with William P. Murphy. Minot shared the 1934 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with William P. Murphy and George H. Whipple given for their work on the treatment of blood anemia. They all discovered an effective treatment for pernicious anemia, which was a terminal disease at the time, with liver concentrate high in vitamin B12, later identified as the critical compound in the treatment.


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