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Genome analysis reveals unknown ancient human migration in Europe

The Niche 1 sector (left) and the Main sector (right) during the excavations of Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria, in 2016. The cement area in the foreground was previously excavated in the 1970s. New excavations picked up where these excavations left off. Image courtesy: © MPI-EVA/ Nikolay Zaheriev.

by Sara Hussein

TOKYO (AFP).- Genetic sequencing of human remains dating back 45,000 years has revealed a previously unknown migration into Europe and showed intermixing with Neanderthals in that period was more common than previously thought. The research is based on analysis of several ancient human remains -- including a whole tooth and bone fragments -- found in a cave in Bulgaria last year. Genetic sequencing found the remains came from individuals who were more closely linked to present-day populations in East Asia and the Americas than populations in Europe. "This indicates that they belonged to a modern human migration into Europe that was not previously known from the genetic record," the research, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, said. It also "provides evidence that there was at least some continuity between the earliest modern humans in Europe and later people in Eurasia", the study added. The findings "shifted our previous understanding of early human migrations into Europe", said Mateja Hajd ... More

First Covid vaccine shot alone not protective: Chile study   Radio telescope reveals thousands of star-forming galaxies in early Universe   The ulti-mutt pet? Chinese tech company develops robo-dogs

A passenger is seen at Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport in Santiago on April 05, 2021, after Chile closed its borders amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Martin Bernetti / AFP.

SANTIAGO (AFP).- A study in Chile, which has one of the furthest-advanced vaccination campaigns in South America -- mainly with China's Coronavac, has found that a first dose alone does not protect against coronavirus infection. The study by the University of Chile found inoculation to be 56.5 percent effective in protecting recipients two weeks after the second dose, and 27.7 percent effective within the first two weeks. But for a single dose, efficacy in the 28 days between the first and second dose was only three percent -- on par with the margin of error in such studies, it said. Researchers looked at the combined effect of Coronavac, which accounts for about 93 percent of doses being administered, and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It estimated Coronavac's efficacy in real-life conditions at 54 percent -- in line with trial results in Brazil. The Pfizer jab has been estimated to be about 94 percent effective in an Israeli study. Chile has so far given at least one shot to 7.07 million people, and bo ... More

Images of radio galaxies from a deep LOFAR image, overlaid on an optical image of the sky. Image courtesy: Cyril Tasse/LOFAR surveys team/PA.

PARIS (AFP).- The images capture drama billions of years ago in the early Universe -- glinting galaxies, glowing with stars that have exploded into supernovas and blazing jets fired from black holes. Europe's giant LOFAR radio telescope has detected stars being born in tens of thousands of distant galaxies with unprecedented precision, in a series of studies published Wednesday. Using techniques that correspond to a very long exposure and with a field of view about 300 times the size of the full moon, scientists were able to make out galaxies like the Milky Way deep in the ancient Universe. "The light from these galaxies has been travelling for billions of years to reach the Earth; this means that we see the galaxies as they were billions of years ago, back when they were forming most of their stars," said Philip Best, of Britain's University of Edinburgh, who led the telescope's deep survey in a press release. The LOFAR telescope combines signals from a huge network of more than 70,000 individual a ... More

This picture taken on April 2, 2021 shows Ma Jie, chief technology officer for Weilan Intelligent Technology Corporation, walking an AlphaDog quadruped robot at the company workshop in Nanjing, China's Jiangsu province. Wang Zhao / AFP.

NANJING (AFP).- It's whip fast, obeys commands and doesn't leave unpleasant surprises on the floor -- meet the AlphaDog, a robotic response to two of China's burgeoning loves: pets and technology. The high-tech hound uses sensors and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to 'hear' and 'see' its environment -- and can even be taken for walks. "It's really very similar to a real dog," says Ma Jie, chief technology officer at Weilan, the company behind the product. The Nanjing-based creators say their robot dog -- which moves at a speed of almost 15 kilometres (nine miles) per hour and spins on the spot like an excited puppy -- is the fastest on the market. With four metal legs it is more stable than a real dog, Ma explains as one of his team swiftly kicks it to prove the point. "It can predict the friction and height of the ground (to) adjust its height, adjust the stride frequency, and adapt to the environment," he tells AFP, as the robot slowly navigates going up a set of stairs. Its creators are us ... More

Five things to know about Gagarin's journey to space   Tokyo, as you've never seen it before   Chain length determines molecular colour

In this file photo Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is seen in 1961. He became the first human to travel in space aboard Vostok I and the first to orbit the earth on April 12, 1961. TASS / AFP.

MOSCOW (AFP).- Sixty years ago on Monday cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space, securing victory for Moscow in its race with Washington and marking a new chapter in the history of space exploration. Decades later, his journey has become shrouded in myth after many details about the historic mission were for years kept secret by the Soviets. A trained steel worker turned military pilot, Gagarin was selected from thousands of candidates to undergo the rigorous training required for a space flight. Apart from showing excellent results in his tests, Gagarin, then aged 27, also reportedly stood out by removing his shoes before entering the Vostok spacecraft designated for the mission, a custom in Russia when entering a home. On April 12, 1961, as Gagarin's flight took off from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan, he exclaimed his iconic catchphrase "Poekhali!", or "Let's go!" in Russian. The flight lasted just 108 minutes as the Vostok completed one loop around the Earth. Once Gagarin s ... More

This picture taken on December 14, 2020 shows a 3-D model of the Japanese capital Tokyo in a miniaturised 1:1,000 scale version, presented by the Urban Lab project at Tokyo's Mori Building. Charly Triballeau / AFP.

TOKYO (AFP).- It's Tokyo, but unlike you've ever seen it before -- a miniaturised 1:1,000 scale version of one of the world's biggest capitals, displaying everything from sea levels to population densities. Pairing a 3-D model with projection mapping, the Urban Lab project at Tokyo's Mori Building aims to display information about the Japanese capital in different and visually arresting ways. "We usually can't grasp the whole picture of the city in a bird's-eye view, but looking at it this way, we can see how attractive Tokyo is as well as its challenges," Shinji Takeda, senior manager at Mori Building, told AFP at the facility. Launched in 2019, the project covering 13 of Tokyo's 23 districts is intended to help researchers and private developers think about the city. Visitors can spot landmarks including the red-and-white Tokyo Tower and endless apartment blocks in precise 3-D detail, replicating a sprawling 230 square kilometres (90 square miles). Projection-mapping on top of the model offers a r ... More

These polymers, seen here under UV light, are composed of the exact same components. The only difference is their chain length. Image courtesy: Suiying Ye / ETH Zurich.

ZURICH.- Around the world, a huge amount of research and development work is currently being done on carbon-​containing, or organic, molecules that emit coloured light after appropriate excitation. This research field is driven by the display industry and the development of biomedical imaging techniques. While precise colour tuning in organic fluorescent dyes has so far usually been achieved by mixing different molecules, ETH researchers have now developed an approach that can generate a broad palette of colours by way of chemical adjustments within the molecules themselves. Yinyin Bao, a group leader in the group of ETH professor Jean-​Christophe Leroux, and his team of scientists turned to fluorescent organic polymers for this work. These polymers can best be thought of as moving chains of varying lengths. “The chains have a symmetrical structure, and two components within them contribute to the fluorescence,” Bao exp ... More

1 in 3 Covid survivors suffer mental, neurological problems: study   Shaking the foundations of life   Polar bears forced to forage eggs as warming shrinks hunting grounds

A man wearing a face mask walks along a street of Havana, on April 6, 2021. Yamil Lage / AFP.

PARIS (AFP).- One in three people who overcome Covid-19 suffer from a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis six months on, according to the largest study so far published on the mental toll that long-Covid takes on survivors. Authors said the research, printed Wednesday in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, proved that Covid-19 patients were significantly more likely to develop brain conditions than those suffering from other respiratory tract infections. Studying the health records of more than 230,000 patients who had recovered from Covid-19, they found that 34 percent were diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric condition within six months. The most common conditions were anxiety (17 percent of patients) and mood disorders (14 percent). For 13 percent of patients the disorders were their first diagnosis of a mental health issue. Incidence of neurological disorders such as brain haemorrhage (0.6 percent), stroke (2.1 percent) and dementia (0.7 percent) was lower overall than for psychiatric disor ... More

Soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus. Evolution never stops, and disruptions can speed up the process. Now ETH researchers are delving deeper into the secrets of evolutionary change. Image courtesy: Gregory J. Velicer.

ZURICH.- The evolution of life on Earth has taken a long, long time. Protocells – the precursors of today’s unicellular organisms – formed around four billion years ago, eventually evolving into bacteria and archaea. The first eukaryotes emerged two billion years ago, providing the basis for more complex, multicellular organisms. As life evolved, it faced numerous disruptions in the form of meteorites, volcanic eruptions, ice ages and periods of great heat. Our planet has experienced at least five mass extinction events over its long history – yet still life has continued, undaunted. Change is one of the driving forces behind evolution: all organisms, from bacteria to elephants, must constantly change and adapt to deal with challenges such as increasing competition for food and space, food scarcity, environmental changes and climate change. Failure to adapt means extinction. Bacteria are ideal for investigating evolutionary processes because they are small and have very shor ... More

Image: Hans-Jurgen Mager, Unsplash.

by Kelly Macnamara

PARIS (AFP).- Hungry polar bears are increasingly foraging on seabird eggs as climate change shrinks their Arctic hunting grounds, but research published Wednesday on the phenomenon highlights the struggle these apex predators have to adapt to their rapidly changing environment. The climate change threat to polar bears is well known, driven by the extraordinary pace of change in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the planet as a whole. This is already leading to dwindling sea ice, cutting short the time they have to hunt seals, their preferred prey. With a growing imperative to find alternative sustenance, polar bears have been pushed further afield in search of food, including scavenging in areas populated by humans. Some bears are also coming ashore at the same time seabirds are nesting and are snacking on their eggs. To measure how efficient these top-of-the-food-chain predators were at this foraging -- and therefore how useful the eggs are to provide energy in their diets -- researche ... More

From Sputnik-1 to Sputnik V: Russian scientific achievements   Two strange planets   'Green hydrogen' forecast to cost less than natural gas by 2050

A medical worker holds a vial of the second dose of the Russian Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine during a vaccination campaing at the State Hospital in Cailungo, San Marino, on March 29, 2021. Andreas Solaro / AFP.

MOSCOW (AFP).- Russia boasts a rich history of scientific invention across a wide variety of fields, from the Sputnik satellite to the coronavirus vaccine of the same name. On the 60th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space, here are some of the country's most notable scientific and technological achievements: In one of the most significant modern inventions, Russia launched the first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957. At the time, the beep-beep sent back to Earth from Sputnik-1 represented the start of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. Sent to space by an intercontinental ballistic missile, which forced Washington to realise that Moscow would be able to strike its territory. The Soviets maintained their lead in the initial years of the race. They boasted the first manned flight to space by Gagarin on April 12, 1961, the first spacewalk four years later by Alexei Leonov and the first lunar probe in 1966. But ... More

Neptune and Uranus are the outermost two planets of our solar system and two gas giants. Image courtesy: NASA.

ZURICH.- The two large gas planets Uranus and Neptune have strange magnetic fields. These are each strongly tilted relative to the planet's rotation axes and are significantly offset from the physical centre of the planet. The reason for this has been a longstanding mystery in planetary sciences. Various theories assume that a unique inner structure of these planets could be responsible for this bizarre phenomenon. According to these theories, the skewed magnetic field is caused by circulations in a convective layer, which consists of an electrically conductive fluid. This convective layer in turn surrounds a stably layered, non-​convective layer in which there is no circulation of the material due to its high viscosity and thus no contribution to the magnetic field. Computer simulations show that water and ammonia, the main components of Uranus and Neptune, enter an unusual state at very high pressures and temperatures: a “superionic state”, which has the properties of both a s ... More

Green hydrogen is produced via electrolysis -- an electrical current passing through water -- with wind, solar or hydroelectric power providing the electricity. Image: Pixabay.

PARIS (AFP).- "Green hydrogen" produced using renewable energy will soon plunge in cost, becoming cheaper than natural gas in many areas, according to a study released Wednesday by the research group BloombergNEF. Hydrogen is considered a leader in the race to develop sustainable energy sources and slash carbon emissions. But it is expensive to produce and the electricity needed generates a lot of carbon dioxide emissions or other pollutants. Green hydrogen is produced via electrolysis -- an electrical current passing through water -- with wind, solar or hydroelectric power providing the electricity. BloombergNEF (BNEF) researchers forecast its cost will fall steadily in the future, in large part due to lower prices for solar photovoltaic power (PV). "We now think that PV electricity will be 40 percent cheaper in 2050 than what we had thought just two years ago," BNEF specialists said in a report. "The costs of producing 'green' hydrogen from renewable electricity should fall by up to 85 percent fro ... More

More News
AstraZeneca vaccine: what we know and don't know
PARIS (AFP).- A European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommendation Wednesday that a dangerous type of blood clot should be listed as a "very rare side effect" of the AstraZeneca jab stopped just short of saying there is a causal link between the vaccine and the deadly condition. Questions have persisted for weeks on whether highly unusual blood clots among those getting the AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19 were more frequent than in the general population, and what causes them if they were. As of April 4, national health authorities have reported 222 cases of a rare thrombosis affected the brain or abdomen among some 34 million people in Europe who have received the AstraZeneca jab, according to the EMA. As of March 22, by which time 86 such cases had been logged, 18 had resulted in death. "This thrombosis of large veins ... More

Study finds those late night snacks may be hurting you at work
RALEIGH, NC.- A recent study finds that unhealthy eating behaviors at night can make people less helpful and more withdrawn the next day at work. “For the first time, we have shown that healthy eating immediately affects our workplace behaviors and performance,” says Seonghee “Sophia” Cho, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. “It is relatively well established that other health-related behaviors, such as sleep and exercise, affect our work. But nobody had looked at the short-term effects of unhealthy eating.” Fundamentally, the researchers had two questions: Does unhealthy eating behavior affect you at work the next day? And, if so, why? For the study, researchers had 97 full-time employees in the United States answer a series of questions three times a day for 10 ... More

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Determining the three-dimensional atomic structure of an amorphous solid

On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Melvin Calvin was born
April 08, 1911. Melvin Ellis Calvin (April 8, 1911 - January 8, 1997) was an American biochemist known for discovering the Calvin cycle along with Andrew Benson and James Bassham, for which he was awarded the 1961 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He spent most of his five-decade career at the University of California, Berkeley. Using the carbon-14 isotope as a tracer, Calvin, Andrew Benson and James Bassham mapped the complete route that carbon travels through a plant during photosynthesis, starting from its absorption as atmospheric carbon dioxide to its conversion into carbohydrates and other organic compounds. In doing so, Calvin, Benson and Bassham showed that sunlight acts on the chlorophyll in a plant to fuel the manufacturing of organic compounds, rather than on carbon dioxide as was previously believed. Calvin was the sole recipient of the 1961 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for what is sometimes known as the Calvin–Benson–Bassham Cycle.


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