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A pair of lizard 'kings' from the old, old West

This photograph shows two blocks containing the holotype of Microteras borealis. It consists of a portion of the snout (left) and the braincase (right). Image courtesy: Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

NEW HAVEN, CT.- Yale researchers have identified the oldest-known, definitive members of the lizard crown group that includes all living lizards and their closest extinct relatives. The two new species, Eoscincus ornatus and Microteras borealis, fill important gaps in the fossil record and offer tantalizing clues about the complexity and geographic distribution of lizard evolution. The new lizard “kings” are described in a study published in Nature Communications. “This helps us time out the ages of the major living lizard and snake groups, as well as when their key anatomical features originated,” said Chase Brownstein, first author of the study. Brownstein, a Yale senior, collaborated on the study with Yale paleontologists Jacques Gauthier and Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar. Gauthier is a professor of Earth and planetary sciences in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Science and curator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Bhulla ... More

New chemistry toolkit speeds analyses of molecules in solution   Unlocking the organic chemistry of anhydrous dinitrogen trioxide through continuous flow process technology   Compliant and conductive carbon nanomaterial for on-skin electronics

Emory graduate student Ariel Gale. Image courtesy: Emory University.

ATLANTA, GA.- A new open-source toolkit automates the process of computing molecular properties in the solution phase, clearing new pathways for artificial-intelligence design and discovery in chemistry and beyond. The Journal of Chemical Physics published the free, open-source toolkit developed by theoretical chemists at Emory University. Known as AutoSolvate, the toolkit can speed the creation of large, high-quality datasets needed to make advances in everything from renewable energy to human health. "By using our automated workflow, researchers can quickly generate 10, or even 100 times, more data compared to the traditional approach," says Fang Liu, Emory assistant professor of chemistry and corresponding author of the paper. "We hope that many researchers will access our toolkit to perform high-throughput simulation and data curation for molecules in solution." Such datasets, Liu adds, will provide a foundation for applying sta ... More

N2O3 : a potent, yet unstable, nitrosation reagent. Image courtesy: Michaël Schmitz, CiTOS.

LIÈGE.- Researchers at CiTOS—Center for Integrated Technology and Organic Synthesis (University of Liège, BE) led by Jean-Christophe Monbaliu have devised an on-demand flow platform for the generation of anhydrous dinitrogen trioxide (N2O3), a very potent nitrosation reagent notoriously challenging to prepare and to use. This project unlocks the potential of N2O3 for the preparation of high value-added organic molecules. The results of this study are now published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition as a research paper. Small cyclic molecules containing nitrogen atoms (N-heterocycles) are common structures in bioactive compounds, especially in active pharmaceutical ingredients. Developing new methods for the incorporation of nitrogen into cyclic structures is therefore a timely and significant goal. Among these methods, nitrosation is one of the most useful approaches to introduce nitrogen atoms ... More

KAUST materials scientists have developed a wearable electronic that is so thin and flexible, it can be worn on human skin as a biosensor. Image courtesy: KAUST, Vincent Tung.

THUWAL.- A soft and flexible electronic "e-skin," so sensitive it can detect the minute temperature difference between an inhaled and an exhaled breath, could form the basis of a new form of on-skin biosensor. The ultrathin material is also sensitive to touch and body motion, suggesting a wide array of potential applications. "The skin plays a vital role in our interactions with the world," says Vincent Tung from KAUST, who led the work. "Recreating its properties in an e-skin could have profound implications for wearable electronics, as well as for sensory prosthetics, soft robotics and human-machine interfaces," he says. Despite considerable research effort, however, it has been very challenging to create suitable materials, which must be strong and highly sensitive, yet imperceptible when applied to the skin. A carbon nanomaterial called hydrogen-substituted graphdiyne (HsGDY) could be ideal for the task, as Tung and his collaborators ... More

Studying muonium to reveal new physics beyond the Standard Model   Silent synapses are abundant in the adult brain   Three new biomarkers identified to detect consumption of emerging synthetic cannabinoid

By making precise measurements in an exotic atom known as muonium, Crivelli and Prokscha are aiming to understand puzzling results using muons, which may in turn reveal gaps in the laws of physics as we know them.

VILLIGEN.- By studying an exotic atom called muonium, researchers are hoping misbehaving muons will spill the beans on the Standard Model of particle physics. To make muonium, they use the most intense continuous beam of low energy muons in the world at Paul Scherrer Institute PSI. The research is published in Nature Communications. The muon is often described as the electron's heavy cousin. A more appropriate description might be its rogue relation. Since its discovery triggered the words "who ordered that" (Isidor Isaac Rabi, Nobel laureate), the muon has been bamboozling scientists with its law-breaking antics. The muon's most famous misdemeanor is to wobble slightly too much in a magnetic field: its anomalous magnetic moment hit the headlines with the 2021 muon g-2 experiment at Fermilab. The muon also notably caused trouble when it was used to measure the radius of the proton—giving rise to a wildly different value to previous measurem ... More

MIT researchers have discovered that the adult mouse brain contains millions of silent synapses, located on tiny structures called filopodia. Image courtesy: Dimitra Vardalaki and Mark Harnett.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- MIT neuroscientists have discovered that the adult brain contains millions of “silent synapses” — immature connections between neurons that remain inactive until they’re recruited to help form new memories. Until now, it was believed that silent synapses were present only during early development, when they help the brain learn the new information that it’s exposed to early in life. However, the new MIT study revealed that in adult mice, about 30 percent of all synapses in the brain’s cortex are silent. The existence of these silent synapses may help to explain how the adult brain is able to continually form new memories and learn new things without having to modify existing conventional synapses, the researchers say. “These silent synapses are looking for new connections, and when important new information is presented, connections between the relevant neurons are stre ... More

Synthetic cannabinoid consumption is often identified via the detection of biomarkers in urine. Image courtesy: NUS.

SINGAPORE.- A team of scientists from the National University of Singapore has successfully identified the urinary biomarkers of an emerging subclass of synthetic cannabinoids, called OXIZID, to monitor potential abuse. OXIZIDs were the new synthetic cannabinoids identified in Singapore in 2021. In the past decade, the abuse of new psychoactive substances, particularly synthetic cannabinoids, has posed a significant risk to public health. The emergence of these synthetic cannabinoids has also posed a challenge to drug policy. Although governments have imposed legislative bans on these substances, illicit manufacturers have produced novel synthetic cannabinoids to evade forensic detection. One of these is OXIZID, which has a unique molecular scaffold and is unregulated by existing laws which results in potential abuse. Synthetic cannabinoid consumption is often identified via the detection of biomarkers in urine. These biomarkers are often metab ... More

High-performance and compact vibration energy harvester created for self-charging wearable devices   Cell division enzyme earmarked as potential new cancer therapeutic target   Important discovery could help extinguish disease threat to koalas

The new harvester can amplify power generated from human walking vibrations by about 90 times while remaining as small as conventional harvesters. Image courtesy: Yoshimura, Osaka Metropolitan University.

OSAKA.- Walking can boost not only your own energy but also, potentially, the energy of your wearable electronic devices. Osaka Metropolitan University scientists made a significant advance toward self-charging wearable devices with their invention of a dynamic magnifier-enhanced piezoelectric vibration energy harvester that can amplify power generated from impulsive vibrations, such as from a human walking, by about 90 times, while remaining as small as currently developed energy harvesters. The results were published in Applied Physics Letters. These days, people carry multiple electronic devices such as smartphones, and wearable devices are expected to become increasingly widespread in the near future. The resulting demand for more efficient recharging of these devices has increased the attention paid to energy harvesting, a technology that converts energy such as heat and light into electricity that can power small devices. One form o ... More

Mitotic spindles with microtubules (red) attached to chromosomes (blue) during cell division. Image courtesy: Isabelle Vernos/CRG.

BARCELONA.- To make new cells, we have to divide existing ones. This is a continuous, frequent and ubiquitous process which starts at conception and ends at death. There are an estimated 37 trillion cells in the tissues and organs of the human body, each of which originates from one cell dividing into two. When cell division goes wrong, it can lead to the creation of new cells with an abnormal number of chromosomes, a phenomenon known as aneuploidy. The frequency at which chromosome segregation errors occur is known as chromosomal instability (CIN). In some cases, for example a developing embryo, this can promote spontaneous abortion and in others, it can contribute to human diseases such as cancer. Aneuploidy and CIN are hallmarks of particularly aggressive tumors. Researchers study cell division to understand how chromosome segregation occurs without mistakes every time a cell divides. They also investigate why and how mistakes can occur and generate aneuploid cells. Faithful chromosome segregat ... More

Retrovirus is more prevalent in New South Wales and Queensland koalas, compared to animals in New South Wales and South Australia. Image courtesy: Bev Millican.

BRISBANE.- University of Queensland virologists are a step closer to understanding a mysterious AIDS-like virus that is impacting koala populations differently across state lines. Dr Michaela Blyton and Associate Professor Keith Chappell from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) and School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, have uncovered another piece of the puzzle in their quest to halt the koala retrovirus known as KoRV - a condition strongly associated with diseases that cause infertility and blindness. “We’ve learned that the retrovirus is far more prevalent in New South Wales and Queensland koalas, compared to the southern populations in Victoria and South Australia,” Dr Blyton said. “Uncovering crucial patterns like these helps us learn how the disease is evolving, how it’s spreading, and how we can contain the damage through anti-viral medication or koala breeding programs.& ... More

Live fast, avoid extinction: Fast-lived species may be more resilient to human influences   Mysteriously bright flash is a black hole jet pointing straight toward Earth, astronomers say   The brain's immune cells can be triggered to slow down Alzheimer's disease

Stoat, an animal with a fast live-history, native to the U.K. and much of the northern hemisphere but also invasive to New Zealand, including in protected areas. Image courtesy: Professor Tim Blackburn, UCL.

LONDON.- Animals that live fast—that is, frequent or abundant reproduction and short lifespans—are more resilient to human-driven land use changes than those with slow life-histories, finds a new study led by UCL researchers. Across the globe, in areas that have experienced rapid expansion of cropland or bare soil, fast-lived species have increased in numbers in recent decades while slow-lived species are in decline, according to the findings published in Global Change Biology. The research team analyzed the effects of land cover and temperature changes on 1,072 animal populations recorded in the Living Planet Database. The data spanned between 1992 and 2016, and included 461 species (273 birds, 137 mammals and 51 reptiles) from across Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Oceania. The researchers compared the success of animals with fast life-history traits—those that reproduce quickly or in large numbers but may ... More

Astronomers identified an extremely bright black hole jet, halfway across the universe, pointing straight toward Earth. Image courtesy: Dheeraj Pasham, Matteo Lucchini, and Margaret Trippe.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Earlier this year, astronomers were keeping tabs on data from the Zwicky Transient Facility, an all-sky survey based at the Palomar Observatory in California, when they detected an extraordinary flash in a part of the sky where no such light had been observed the night before. From a rough calculation, the flash appeared to give off more light than 1,000 trillion suns. The team, led by researchers at NASA, Caltech, and elsewhere, posted their discovery to an astronomy newsletter, where the signal drew the attention of astronomers around the world, including scientists at MIT. Over the next few days, multiple telescopes focused in on the signal to gather more data across multiple wavelengths in the X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, and radio bands, to see what could possibly produce such an enormous amount of light. Now, the MIT astronomers along with their collaborators have determined a likely source for ... More

Joana B. Pereira, researcher at Lund University and Karolinska Institutet who is first author of the study. Image courtesy: Lund University.

LUND.- The brain's big-eating immune cells can slow down the progression of Alzheimer's disease. This is shown by a study that is now published in Nature Aging. The brain's own immune cells are called microglia and are found in the central nervous system. They are big eaters that kill viruses, damaged cells and infectious agents they come across. It has long been known that microglial cells can be activated in different ways in several neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Depending on how they are activated, they can both drive and slow disease development. Researchers from Lund University and Karolinska Institutet have now shown that a certain type of activation of the microglial cells triggers inflammatory protective mechanisms in the immune system: “Most people probably think that inflammation in the brain is something bad and that you should inhibit the inflammatory system in case of illnes ... More

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Controlling nematode worm behavior using two different light-sensitive proteins called opsins
OSAKA.- Is it possible to control an animal's or a cell's behavior using light? In recent years, remarkable progress in optogenetics has been made as research methods come close to realizing this goal. A research group led by Professors Mitsumasa Koyanagi and Akihisa Terakita of the Graduate School of Science, and Professor Eriko Kage-Nakadai of the Graduate School of Human Life and Ecology at Osaka Metropolitan University has revealed a new system that allows them to control the behavior of the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, using two different light-sensitive proteins called opsins. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A light-sensitive opsin isolated from mosquitos was introduced into C. elegans' sensory cells responsible for ... More

Study examines scale of impact of maternal Zika virus infection on offspring in early life
LONDON.- Approximately one third of children born to mothers infected with Zika virus during their pregnancy present with at least one abnormality consistent with Congenital Zika Syndrome in the first years of their life, according to new research. The findings—based on the pooled analysis of 13 studies investigating pediatric outcomes among more than 1,500 pregnancies affected by Zika virus during the 2015–2017 epidemic in Brazil—improve our understanding of the risks associated with prenatal Zika virus infections, with important public health implications. Following the emergence of a microcephaly epidemic in Brazil in 2015, the possibility of an association between increased transmission of Zika virus and potential birth defects emerged. Although studies have investigated potential adverse pregnancy o ... More

Researchers discover root exudates have surprising and counterintuitive impact on soil carbon storage
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Ecosystem ecology studies often focus on what's happening to plants above ground, for instance exploring photosynthesis or water loss in leaves. But what is happening below the ground in plant roots is equally important when evaluating ecosystem processes. In a new study in Nature Geoscience researchers in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University examined root exudates and their impact on soil carbon storage revealing surprising and counterintuitive results. Root exudates are organic carbon compounds (such as simple sugars, organic acids, and amino acids) released from living plant roots into the soil. These small molecules can bind directly to soil minerals, making them important regulators of soil carbon formation and loss. Unlike plant litter (suc ... More

South African fossils reveal the lost world of ancient invertebrates
LONDON.- When it comes to fossils, it's normally the big animals that get the most attention. But a site in South Africa is showing that small finds can be impressive too. Though they remain to be described in detail, the fossils found at the newly revealed site, known as Onder Karoo, appear to set a number of firsts. They include what may be the earliest-known freshwater leech, and exquisitely preserved water mites - pushing back the confirmed occurrence of this group of arachnids by 150 million years. Together, these fossils help to fill in the gaps around the large animals we know existed in the past, and create a picture of what they would have seen and experienced. Dr Rosemary Prevec, who has led a new paper detailing discoveries at the site, says, 'The fossils we are finding are very ancient but are beautifully pr ... More

A targeted approach to reducing the health impacts of crop residue burning in India
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- To clear the way for planting wheat in November, a farmer in Punjab, India, sets aflame the leftover straw, or stubble, of a harvested rice paddy crop in October. The burning residue fills the air with carbon monoxide, ozone, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that will make it harder to breathe for days afterward and for miles around. It’s a scene that’s replicated on about 2 million farms in the Punjab and Haryana states of northwest India every autumn (and every spring after the wheat harvest), raising health risks — particularly of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases — and premature death rates downwind in India and throughout South Asia. To date, government regulations, largely imposed at the state and national level, have been ineffective in curtailing crop residue burning in India. The practi ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Martin Rodbell was born
December 01, 1925. Martin Rodbell (December 1, 1925 - December 7, 1998) was an American biochemist and molecular endocrinologist who is best known for his discovery of G-proteins. He shared the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Alfred G. Gilman for "their discovery of G-proteins and the role of these proteins in signal transduction in cells." In December 1969 and early January 1970, Rodbell was working with a laboratory team that studied the effect of the hormone glucagon on a rat liver membrane receptor—the cellular discriminator that receives outside signals. Rodbell discovered that ATP (adenosine triphosphate) could reverse the binding action of glucagon to the cell receptor and thus dissociate the glucagon from the cell altogether. He then noted that traces of GTP (guanosine triphosphate) could reverse the binding process almost one thousand times faster than ATP.


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