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Remains of two victims of 79 AD volcanic eruption unearthed at Pompeii

The researchers believe the figures are those of a young slave and a richer older man, around 40 and presumed to be his owner, based on the vestiges of clothing and their physical appearance. Image courtesy: Pompeii - Parco Archeologico.

POMPEII (AFP).- The remains of two victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago have been unearthed at a grand villa on the fringes of Pompeii, officials at the archaeological site said Saturday. "Two skeletons of individuals caught in the fury of the eruption have been found," the officials at the Italian site near Naples said in a statement. The researchers believe the figures are those of a young slave and a richer older man, around 40 and presumed to be his owner, based on the vestiges of clothing and their physical appearance. The ruined city of Pompeii was submerged in ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It is now Italy's second-most visited tourist attraction after Rome's Colosseum, receiving nearly 4 million visits last year. The massive site that spreads over 44-hectares (110-acres) is what remains of one of one the richest cities in the Roman empire. Layers of ash buried many buildings and objects in a nearly pristine state, including curled-up corpses of ... More

Climate change devastated dinosaurs not once, but twice   Deep learning helps robots grasp and move objects with ease   Fish carcasses deliver toxic mercury pollution to the deepest ocean trenches

Scientists have found evidence of this traumatic event some 179 million years ago in plant fossils in Argentine Patagonia. Image courtesy: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain.

PARIS (AFP).- Most people know that land-dwelling dinosaurs were wiped out some 66 million years ago when an asteroid roughly twice the diameter of Paris crashed into Earth. If the explosive fireball didn't get them, the plunge in global temperature on a planet with little or no ice -- caused by a blanket of heat-shielding debris in the atmosphere -- did. What most people don't know is that more than 100 million years earlier, another climate change cataclysm devastated a different set of dinosaur species, with many going extinct. Except this time, it was global warming rather than global cooling that did them in, with the planet heating up more quickly than the dinos' capacity to adapt. Scientists have found evidence of this traumatic event some 179 million years ago in plant fossils in Argentine Patagonia. They also discovered a previously unknown dinosaur. The species, called Bagualia alba, is in the family of massive, long-necked sauropods, the largest animals to walk the Earth. Before the globa ... More

UC Berkeley engineers have created new software that combines neural networks with motion planning software to give robots the speed and skill to assist in warehouse environments.

BERKELEY, CA.- In the past year, lockdowns and other COVID-19 safety measures have made online shopping more popular than ever, but the skyrocketing demand is leaving many retailers struggling to fulfill orders while ensuring the safety of their warehouse employees. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have created new artificial intelligence software that gives robots the speed and skill to grasp and smoothly move objects, making it feasible for them to soon assist humans in warehouse environments. The technology is described in a paper published online in the journal Science Robotics. Automating warehouse tasks can be challenging because many actions that come naturally to humans — like deciding where and how to pick up different types of objects and then coordinating the shoulder, arm and wrist movements needed to move each object from one location to another — are actually quite difficult for robots. Robotic motio ... More

An illuminated snailfish collected from the Kermadec Trench in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Image courtesy: Jeff Reid.

ANN ARBOR, MI.- The sinking carcasses of fish from near-surface waters deliver toxic mercury pollution to the most remote and inaccessible parts of the world’s oceans, including the deepest spot of them all: the 36,000-foot-deep Mariana Trench in the northwest Pacific. And most of that mercury began its long journey to the deep-sea trenches as atmospheric emissions from coal-fired power plants, mining operations, cement factories, incinerators and other human activities. Those are two of the main conclusions of a University of Michigan-led research team that analyzed the isotopic composition of mercury in fish and crustaceans collected at the bottom of two deep-sea trenches in the Pacific. The team reports its findings in a study scheduled for publication Nov. 16 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Mercury that we believe had once been in the stratosphere is now in the deepest trench on Earth,” said U-M environmental geoc ... More

US approves Regeneron antibody treatment given to Trump   Researchers find that a type of RNA monitors the genome to help ensure its integrity   Zebra finches amazing at unmasking the bird behind the song

In this file photo taken on July 20, 2020 a sign for the Food And Drug Administration is seen outside of the headquarters in White Oak, Maryland. Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images North America / AFP.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- A Covid-19 antibody therapy used to treat President Donald Trump was approved by the US drug regulator on Saturday for people who aren't yet hospitalized by the disease but are at high risk. The green light for drugmaker Regeneron came after REGEN-COV2, a combination of two lab-made antibodies, was shown to reduce Covid-19-related hospitalizations or emergency room visits in patients with underlying conditions. "Authorizing these monoclonal antibody therapies may help outpatients avoid hospitalization and alleviate the burden on our health care system," said Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron's president and CEO, added the move was "an important step in the fight against COVID-19, as high-risk patients in the United States will have access to a promising therapy early in the course of their infection." Regeneron's antibody treatment is the second synthetic antibody treatment to receive an emergency use approval (EUA) from ... More

A hairpin loop from a pre-mRNA. Highlighted are the nucleobases (green) and the ribose-phosphate backbone (blue). This is a single strand of RNA that folds back upon itself. Image courtesy: Vossman.

ANN ARBOR, MI.- Deep inside your cells, DNA provides the instructions to produce proteins, the essential molecules that grow and maintain your body. RNA is the intermediary nucleic acid that carries these instructions from DNA to ribosomes, where proteins are produced within the cell. But in humans and in plants, only a tiny fraction of DNA produces the RNA that carries out protein-building instructions. In humans, almost 98% of the genome does not encode proteins. However, it often gives rise to RNA that does not produce proteins, called noncoding RNA. So what does this portion of the genome do? “Over the years, studies have found that more than 80% of the genome may be involved in transcription, or producing noncoding RNA,” said Andrzej Wierzbicki, a professor in the University of Michigan Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. “So the dilemma was: Is all this noncoding RNA functional? Is it important for something ... More

Study finds that zebra finches possess superior auditory memory. Image courtesy: Frederic Theunissen.

BERKELEY, CA.- If songbirds could appear on “The Masked Singer” reality TV competition, zebra finches would likely steal the show. That’s because they can rapidly memorize the signature sounds of at least 50 different members of their flock, according to new research from UC Berkeley. In findings just published in the journal Science Advances, these boisterous, red-beaked songbirds, known as zebra finches, have been shown to pick one another out of a crowd (or flock) based on a particular peer’s distinct song or contact call. Like humans who can instantly tell which friend or relative is calling by the timbre of the person’s voice, zebra finches have a near-human capacity for language mapping. Moreover, they can remember each other’s unique vocalizations for months and perhaps longer, the findings suggest. “The amazing auditory memory of zebra finches shows that birds’ brains are highly adapted for sophist ... More

Kyoto University's seemingly random photonic crystals greatly improve laser scanning   Biofriendly protocells pump up blood vessels   New process narrows the gap between natural and synthetic materials

A seemingly random line of photonic crystals allows for laser beams to be emitted in various angles, allowing for more versatile and compact LiDAR technology. Image courtesy: Kyoto University/Noda Lab.

KYOTO.- Scanning lasers -- from barcode scanners at the supermarket to cameras on newer smartphones -- are an indispensable part of our daily lives, relying on lasers and detectors for pinpoint precision. Distance and object recognition using LiDAR -- a portmanteau of light and radar -- is becoming increasingly common: reflected laser beams record the surrounding environment, providing crucial data for autonomous cars, agricultural machines, and factory robots. Current technology bounces the laser beams off of moving mirrors, a mechanical method that results in slower scanning speeds and inaccuracies, not to mention the large physical size and complexity of devices housing a laser and mirrors. Publishing in Nature Communications, a research team from Kyoto University's Graduate School of Engineering describe a new beam scanning device utilizing 'photonic crystals', eliminating the need for moving parts. Instead of arranging the lattic ... More

Enzyme-mediated Nitric Oxide Production in Vasoactive Erythrocyte Membrane-enclosed Coacervate Protocells. Image courtesy: Nature Chemistry (2020).

BRISTOL.- An international team of researchers from Bristol and China has prepared biocompatible protocells that generate nitric oxide gas – a known reagent for blood vessel dilation - that when placed inside blood vessels expand the biological tissue. In a new study published in Nature Chemistry, Professor Stephen Mann and Dr Mei Li from Bristol’s School of Chemistry, together with Associate Professor Jianbo Liu and colleagues at Hunan University and Central South University in China, prepared synthetic protocells coated in red blood cell fragments for use as nitric oxide generating bio-bots within blood vessels. Coating the protocells led to increased levels of biocompatibility and longer blood circulation times. Critically, the team trapped an enzyme inside the protocells which, in the presence of glucose, produced hydrogen peroxide. This was then used by haemoglobin in the protocell membrane to degrade the drug molecule hydroxyurea into nitric oxide gas. When placed inside small pi ... More

Skin and cartilage are both strong and flexible – properties that are hard to replicate in artificial materials. But a new fabrication process, developed by scientists at EPFL, brings lifelike synthetic polymers a step closer. Image courtesy: 2020 EPFL.

LAUSANNE.- Natural materials like skin, cartilage and tendons are tough enough to support our bodyweight and movements, yet flexible enough that they don’t crack easily. Although we take these properties for granted, replicating this unique combination in synthetic materials is much harder than it sounds. Now, scientists at EPFL have developed a new way of making strong, supple composite polymers that more closely mimic materials found in the natural world. Their breakthrough, described in a paper appearing in Advanced Functional Materials, could have applications in fields such as soft robotics and cartilage prosthetic implants. Normally, synthetic hydrogels fall into two very different material categories. The first type, which includes window glass and some polymers, are hard and load-bearing but notoriously poor at absorbing energy: even the slightest crack can spread through the structure. Materials in the second group are better abl ... More

Energy drinks can raise stillbirth risk and caffeine guidance confuses mums-to-be, new research warns   New project aims to develop a new treatment option for brain cancer   Sugar work: U-M study finds sugar remodels molecular memory in fruit flies

When caffeine crosses the placenta, babies can’t process it like adults, and it can endanger their lives. Image: Clay Banks, Unsplash.

MANCHESTER.- Stillbirth experts warn that expectant parents need to know more about caffeine, as a new study from Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at the University of Manchester shows 1 in 20 women increased their intake during pregnancy, despite evidence that some caffeinated drinks can endanger babies’ lives. In the UK, 1 in every 250 pregnancies ends in stillbirth (when a baby dies after 24 weeks gestation). Research has identified various things that can raise the risk of stillbirth, from a mother’s age and ethnicity to consumption of cigarettes and alcohol, but this study aimed to clarify the mixed evidence on caffeine – a key issue in a country where 80% of the population drinks coffee and the average person consumes 211.5 litres of (often highly caffeinated) soft drinks a year. Scientists from Tommy’s stillbirth research centre at the University of Manchester studied more than 1,000 mothers ... More

Scanning electron micrograph of brain cancer stem cells exposed to a carbon-type nanocarriers (cancer stem cell body (blue), nucleus (pink), nanocarriers (yellow). Image courtesy: King's College London.

LONDON.- Brain cancer remains one of the hardest diseases to treat in the history of oncology with a median patient survival of 12-15 months after diagnosis. The current treatments including surgical resection followed by radio/chemotherapy prolong survival, however a cure has not yet been found. This project aims to develop a new treatment option for brain cancer by using a class of chemotherapeutic drugs known for their ability to trigger a specific mechanism of cell death, referred to as immunogenic cell death (ICD). Further, in combination with ICD, researchers working on this project aim to use gene silencing approaches to reduce the presence of a ‘don’t eat me’ CD47 protein receptor which cancer cells use to escape clearance by immune cells. This 3-year project “Can immunogenic cell death be exploited in brain cancer?”, funded by Brain Research UK, is a cross-School collaboration between Professor Khuloud Al-Jamal, Dr Julie Wang, Dr Adam Walters and Dr James Arnol ... More

Lordiphosa andalusiaca, location: The Netherlands. Researchers found that a high-sugar diet reprogrammed cells located in the mouths of fruit flies that sense sweetness, leading them to malfunction. Image courtesy: Dick Belgers.

ANN ARBOR, MI.- A high-sugar diet reprograms the taste cells in fruit flies, dulling their sensitivity to sugar and leaving a “molecular memory” on their tongues, according to a University of Michigan study. Examining fruit flies, researchers Monica Dus, Anoumid Vaziri and collaborators found that high-sugar diets completely remodeled the flies’ taste cells, leaving a molecular memory that lasts even when the flies were switched back to healthy diets. The molecular memory of the previous diet could lock animals into a pattern of unhealthy eating behavior. Their findings were published in Science Advances. “When we eat food, it just takes a few bites for it to go away. We don’t really think of it being something that could have this kind of lasting effect on our brain,” said Dus, U-M professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and senior author of the study. “But when the animals were moved to a different ... More

More News
New found ability to change baby brain activity could lead to rehabilitation for injured brains, say researchers
LONDON.- Researchers from the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences have identified the brain activity for the first time in a newborn baby when they are learning an association between different types of sensory experiences. Using advanced MRI scanning techniques and robotics, the researchers found that a baby’s brain activity can be changed through these associations, shedding new light on the possibility of rehabilitating babies with injured brains and promoting the development of life-long skills such as speech, language and movement. Published in Cerebral Cortex, the researcher builds on the fact that learning associations is a very ... More

The immune system and stem cells join forces to repair your teeth
LONDON.- Cavities, also called tooth decay or caries, permanently damage the hard, mineral surface of teeth. Once it reaches the inner soft tissue of the tooth, the pulp, the tooth becomes infected and further issues arise. Stem cells are present in the pulp and are stimulated by damage to differentiate into specialised cells (odontoblasts) that act to replace lost mineral and repair the tooth. Building on previous research into tooth repair, in a paper published in Scientific Reports, researchers from King’s College London have revealed how macrophages, specialised cells of the immune system, and stem cells interact following tooth damage to promote repair. The research was carried out in the Centre for Craniofacial & Regenerative Biology at the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Cranio ... More

Biologists at U of T and University of Illinois shed light on how microbes evolve and affect hosts
TORONTO.- The need to constantly wash and sanitize one’s hands in the era of COVID-19 has brought microbes to new levels of scrutiny, particularly for their impact on an individual’s health. While associations between microbes and their hosts – from beneficial relationships such as probiotics in yogurt to harmful ones such as illness-causing viruses – are not new, relatively little is known about how microbes evolve and how their evolution affects the health of their hosts. Now, researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign have found that as microbes evolve and adapt to their unique hosts, they become less beneficial to hosts of other genotypes. The findings, recently published in the journal Science, suggest there is probably not one universa ... More

NASA, US and European partners launch mission to monitor global ocean
WASHINGTON, DC.- A joint U.S.-European satellite built to monitor global sea levels lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Saturday at 9:17 a.m. PST (12:17 p.m. EST). About the size of a small pickup truck, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will extend a nearly 30-year continuous dataset on sea level collected by an ongoing collaboration of U.S. and European satellites while enhancing weather forecasts and providing detailed information on large-scale ocean currents to support ship navigation near coastlines. "The Earth is changing, and this satellite will help deepen our understanding of how," said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA's Earth Science Division. "The changing Earth processes are affecting ... More

Can animals use iridescent colours to communicate?
MELBOURNE.- A new paper from the University of Melbourne reveals how animals use beautiful but unreliable iridescent colours as communication signals. Special adaptations enable animals to control how these shifting colours appear so that they can convey reliable information. The new work now published in Trends in Evolution and Ecology draws together studies from across the animal kingdom to discover how animals control the appearance of iridescent colours in nature. “Iridescence is tricky to study because the hue that you see depends on the position of the viewer and the direction of light,” said senior author, Dr Amanda Franklin from the School of BioSciences. “That means that iridescent colours change constantly, so it’s hard to see how they can convey reliable information ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Johannes Diderik van der Waals was born
November 23, 1837. Johannes Diderik van der Waals (23 November 1837 - 8 March 1923) was a Dutch theoretical physicist and thermodynamicist famous for his pioneering work on the equation of state for gases and liquids. Van der Waals started his career as a school teacher. He became the first physics professor of the University of Amsterdam when in 1877 the old Athenaeum was upgraded to Municipal University. Van der Waals won the 1910 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the equation of state for gases and liquids. His name is primarily associated with the van der Waals equation of state that describes the behavior of gases and their condensation to the liquid phase. His name is also associated with van der Waals forces (forces between stable molecules), with van der Waals molecules (small molecular clusters bound by van der Waals forces), and with van der Waals radii (sizes of molecules). As James Clerk Maxwell said, "there can be no doubt that the name of Van der Waals will soon be among the foremost in molecular science."


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