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Hunting of straight-tusked elephants was widespread among Neanderthals 125,000 years ago, finds study

Pelvic bone of a Palaeoloxodon antiquus found in Gröbern. Image courtesy: Lutz Kindler, LEIZA.

MAINZ.- Hunting the now extinct straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) was widespread among Neanderthals, concludes a research team consisting of members of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), the Leibniz-Zentrum für Archäologie (LEIZA), also based in Mainz, and Leiden University in the Netherlands. The study has recently been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers closely examined the bones of elephants that are approximately 125,000 years old that were discovered in Gröbern in Saxony-Anhalt and Taubach in Thuringia, Germany, decades ago. They were able to identify cut marks made by stone tools used by the Neanderthals that indicate that the animals must have been hunted before they were extensively butchered. It was two years ago, during the analysis of bones found at the Neumark-Nord site in a former lignite mine in Saxony-Anhalt, that the same team discovered the very first ... More

Building boom boosts malaria-carrying, invasive mosquito in Ethiopia, evidence shows   Unlocking neutron star rotation anomalies: Insights from quantum simulation   'Shocking' discovery: Electricity from electric eels may transfer genetic material to nearby animals

Solomon Yared, left, from Jigjiga University and Esayas Aklilu of Addis Ababa University, center, discuss findings in the lab. Image courtesy: Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec.

ATLANTA, GA.- A malaria-carrying mosquito that thrives in urban environments is moving into Africa where a construction boom may be one factor helping the newcomer feel at home. The Lancet Planetary Health published the findings on the ecology of the invasive Anopheles stephensi mosquito led by Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec, a professor in Emory University's Department of Environmental Sciences. The invasion of stephensi poses a major threat to urban populations in Africa, where malaria has primarily been a rural disease. While most of the limited data available on stephensi in Africa has been gathered during the rainy season, this study focused on the city of Jigjiga in eastern Ethiopia during the peak of the dry season. Stephensi was first detected in Jigjiga in 2018 and has persisted there despite harsh dry seasons of around three rainless months. "We found that during this period of low-water availability, Anopheles stephensi is prim ... More

Ultracold quantum gases made of dipolar atoms form an ideal platform for simulating mechanisms inside neutron stars. Image courtesy: Elena Poli, Universität Innsbruck.

INNSBRUCK.- A collaboration between quantum physicists and astrophysicists, led by Francesca Ferlaino and Massimo Mannarelli, has achieved a significant breakthrough in understanding neutron star glitches. They were able to numerically simulate this enigmatic cosmic phenomenon with ultracold dipolar atoms. This research, now published in Physical Review Letters, establishes a strong link between quantum mechanics and astrophysics and paves the way for quantum simulation of stellar objects from Earth. Neutron stars have fascinated and puzzled scientists since the first detected signature in 1967. Known for their periodic flashes of light and rapid rotation, neutron stars are among the densest objects in the universe, with a mass comparable to that of the sun but compressed into a sphere only about 20 kilometers in diameter. These stellar objects exhibit a peculiar behavior known as a "glitch," where the star suddenly speeds up its spin. This phenomenon suggests that neutron stars might be partly su ... More

DNA of zebrafish larvae have been modified (shown in green) by the electricity from the eel. (Zebrafish and highlighted GFP images are overlayed). Image courtesy: Shintaro Sakaki.

NAGOYA.- The electric eel is the biggest power-making creature on Earth. It can release up to 860 volts, which is enough to run a machine. In a recent study, a research group from Nagoya University in Japan found electric eels can release enough electricity to genetically modify small fish larvae. They published their findings in PeerJ. The researchers' findings add to what we know about electroporation, a gene delivery technique. Electroporation uses an electric field to create temporary pores in the cell membrane. This lets molecules, like DNA or proteins, enter the target cell. The research group was led by Professor Eiichi Hondo and Assistant Professor Atsuo Iida from Nagoya University. They thought that if electricity flows in a river, it might affect the cells of nearby organisms. Cells can incorporate DNA fragments in water, known as environmental DNA. To test this, they exposed the young fish in their laboratory to a DNA solution ... More

Radio signals unveil secrets of massive galaxies: study finds   Astronomers determine the age of three mysterious baby stars at the heart of the Milky Way   Exposure to soft robots decreases human fears about working with them

Monash astronomers have found radio waves from the most massive of galaxies using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). Image courtesy: CSIRO.

MELBOURNE.- Black holes - the cosmic behemoths known for powering some of the brightest radio wave sources in the Universe - were the focal point of a study led by Associate Professor Michael Brown, from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Monash University. The researchers delved into the mysteries of radio waves emitted by the most massive black holes using the cutting-edge Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). In their pursuit to answer the question of whether radio waves are consistently emitted by the most massive black holes, the astronomers measured radio waves from the largest galaxies in the nearby Universe. The comprehensive survey leveraged the Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey (RACS). Associate Professor Brown said ASKAP was capable of surveying vast swathes of the sky and was more sensitive than previous comparable radio survey. While acknowledging that the formation of new stars in galaxies can also produce radio wa ... More

The image, taken with ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile, shows a high-resolution view of the innermost parts of the Milky Way. Image courtesy: ESO.

LUND.- Through analysis of high-resolution data from a ten-metre telescope in Hawaii, researchers at Lund University in Sweden have succeeded in generating new knowledge about three stars at the very heart of the Milky Way. The stars proved to be unusually young with a puzzling chemical composition that surprised the researchers. The study, which has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, examined a group of stars located in the nuclear star cluster that makes up the heart of the galaxy. It concerns three stars that are difficult to study because they are extremely far away from our solar system, and hidden behind enormous clouds of dust and gas that block out light. The fact that the area is also full of stars makes it very complicated to discern individual stars. In a previous study, the researchers put forward a hypothesis that these specific stars in the middle of the Milky Way could be unusually young. “We ... More

Washington State University doctoral student Justin Allen demonstrates a picker attachment being developed to advance soft robot technologies. Image courtesy: Dean Hare, Washington State University Photo Services.

PULLMAN, WA.- Seeing robots made with soft, flexible parts in action appears to lower people's anxiety about working with them or even being replaced by them. A Washington State University study found that watching videos of a soft robot working with a person at picking and placing tasks lowered the viewers' safety concerns and feelings of job insecurity. This was true even when the soft robot was shown working in close proximity to the person. This finding shows soft robots hold a potential psychological advantage over rigid robots made of metal or other hard materials. "Prior research has generally found that the closer you are to a rigid robot, the more negative your reactions are, but we didn't find those outcomes in this study of soft robots," said lead author Tahira Probst, a WSU psychology professor. Currently, human and rigid robotic workers have to maintain a set distance for safety reasons, but as this study indicates, proximity to soft robots ... More

Prohibition may have extended life for those born in dry counties   Chemists create organic molecules in a rainbow of colors   Study proposes new explanation for California anchovy booms and busts

Jason Fletcher. Image courtesy: University of Wisconsin–Madison.

MADISON, WI.- Although widely considered a blunder of public policy, the alcohol prohibition laws of early 20th century America may have led to increased longevity for those born in places where alcohol was banned, according to new research from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The study — recently published in the journal Economics and Human Biology and co-authored by Jason Fletcher of UW’s La Follette School of Public Affairs — is the first to research the long-term effects of Prohibition Era on longevity, adding to the understanding of the longer-term costs of alcohol exposure during pregnancy. The findings come as we mark the 90th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition on Dec. 5, 2023. They also come at a time when the rate of women who drink during pregnancy has recently increased from 9.2 percent in 2011 to 11.3 percent in 2018, according to the study. A 2022 CDC report found that number now stands at nearly 14 perce ... More

MIT chemists have come up with a way to make molecules known as acenes more stable. Here, an artist’s interpretation shows stylized acenes emitting red, orange, yellow, green, and blue light. Image courtesy: Jose-Luis Olivares, MIT.

CAMBRIDGE, MA.- Chains of fused carbon-containing rings have unique optoelectronic properties that make them useful as semiconductors. These chains, known as acenes, can also be tuned to emit different colors of light, which makes them good candidates for use in organic light-emitting diodes. The color of light emitted by an acene is determined by its length, but as the molecules become longer, they also become less stable, which has hindered their widespread use in light-emitting applications. MIT chemists have now come up with a way to make these molecules more stable, allowing them to synthesize acenes of varying lengths. Using their new approach, they were able to build molecules that emit red, orange, yellow, green, or blue light, which could make acenes easier to deploy in a variety of applications. “This class of molecules, despite their utility, have challenges in terms of their r ... More

A Northern Anchovy larva (25 mm long) collected during biological surveys and preserved in formalin. Image courtesy: Rasmus Swalethorp.

LA JOLLA, CA.- New research from Scripps and NOAA scientists has discovered ecological correlations that could help explain the booms and busts of California's anchovy population. If the correlations hold up to further research, they could one day help inform management of California's anchovy fishery and improve conservation. The Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax) is a crucial food source for much of California's most conspicuous marine life—including droves of sea lions, pods of dolphins, lucrative tuna fisheries, and throngs of whales. But one of the hallmarks of the anchovy population off California is the cycle of booms and busts that can last for more than a decade. These ups and downs reverberate through the entire marine ecosystem, with busts at times contributing to starving sea lion pups or leading brown pelicans to abandon their chicks. Exactly what drives these booms and busts has remained elusive despite decades of scientific ... More

SP80 boat ready to take off   Why regional differences in global warming are critical   'Friendly' hyenas are more likely to form mobs, research shows

The boat's two pilots, Mayeul van den Broek (at the front), who operates the main controls and Benoît Gaudiot, who handles the kite. Image courtesy: © 2023 EPFL/SP80-Guillaume Fischer.

LAUSANNE.- The SP80 team has just attached a kite to its sailboat, in another step towards its goal of breaking the current world record and reaching a speed of 150 km/h. The SP80 venture, now in its fifth year, is pooling the skills of EPFL students and alumni to build an ultra-fast sailboat powered only by the wind. The SP80 team has swapped the endless concrete slabs of the Renens industrial park for the scenic coastal town of Leucate in southern France. That’s where the team is now based – and where it hopes to beat the world sailing speed record next year. The current record of 65.45 knots (121.21 km/h) was set by Paul Larsen and his crew back in 2012. More specifically, the team hopes to achieve a speed of 80 knots (150 km/h) in the waters off Rouet beach. They’ve just attached an innovative kite to their boat. The goal of setting a new world record is galvanizing the team, pushing them to think creatively, run models, bui ... More

Planktonic foraminifera are microorganisms that live in the uppermost water layers of all oceans. Image courtesy: MARUM-Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen; M. Kucera.

BREMEN.- Tiny fossils in marine sediments verify that climate models provide accurate calculations of average ocean temperatures during the last glacial maximum around 20,000 years ago, but that the spatial distribution of simulated temperatures is too uniform and thus only partially valid for predicting future climate. A new method now shows how past climate model simulations can be better assessed. Dr. Lukas Jonkers of MARUM—Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen, and his team of colleagues, have now published their results in the journal Nature Geoscience. Scientists use climate models to simulate past climate, in order to determine how and why it has changed. As a result of man-made climate change, it is not possible to apply models directly to the future, because the boundary conditions have changed. "We thus have to simulate the past in order to test the models. Simulations of climate from ... More

Three spotted hyenas surround a lioness. Image courtesy: Brittany Gunther.

EAST LANSING, MI.- After more than 35 years of surveillance, Michigan State University researchers are exposing some of the secret workings of mobs. To be clear, these mobs are made up of spotted hyenas. Publishing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the MSU team revealed that relationships and social interactions between hyenas can influence when two or more animals decide to work together to attack lions. This type of cooperative behavior is called mobbing. "Social relationships can overcome barriers to mobbing and let hyenas achieve cooperation," said Tracy Montgomery, a lead author of the new report. Montgomery started the project while earning her doctorate in the lab of Kay Holekamp at MSU. "If hyenas greet each other, they're more likely to mob," said Montgomery, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and the University of Konstanz in Germany. "If they have strong social bonds, they're more l ... More

More News
The silver bullet that wasn't: Glyphosate's declining weed control over 25 years
CHAMPAIGN, IL.- It has been a quarter century since corn and soybeans were engineered to withstand the withering mists of the herbicide glyphosate. Initially heralded as a "silver bullet" for weed control, the modified crops and their herbicide companion were quickly and widely adopted across corn and soybean-growing regions of North America. In the following years, though, weeds targeted for eradication quietly fomented a rebellion. A new PNAS Nexus study led by scientists from the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign takes a retrospective look at glyphosate efficacy after the engineered crops were commercialized. Amassing data from annual herbicide evaluation trials at land-grant universities across the U.S. and Canada, the researchers show a significant and rapid decline in glyphosate control for all seven major weed species they examined. "Our analysis represents one of the largest cumulati ... More

Bacteria's mucus maneuvers: Study reveals how snot facilitates infection
STATE COLLEGE, PA.- Sniffles, snorts and blows of runny noses are the hallmarks of cold and flu season—and that increase in mucus is exactly what bacteria use to mount a coordinated attack on the immune system, according to a new study from researchers at Penn State. The team found that the thicker the mucus, the better the bacteria are able to swarm. The findings could have implications for treatments that reduce the ability of bacteria to spread. The study, recently published in the journal PNAS Nexus, demonstrates how bacteria use mucus to enhance their ability to self-organize and possibly drive infection. The experiments, performed using synthetic pig stomach mucus, natural cow cervical mucus, and a water-soluble polymer compound called polyvidone, revealed that bacteria coordinate movement better in thick mucus than in watery substances. The findings provide insight into how bacteria colonize mucus and mucosal surfaces, researchers said. The fi ... More

Major Antarctic glacier passed a tipping point in the last 80 years, research reveals
NEWCASTLE.- Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica has gone through an irreversible retreat, passing a tipping point within the last 80 years, researchers have found. The findings, which are published in the influential journal Nature Climate Change, have emerged when world leaders gather in Dubai to debate the impacts of climate change at the COP28 conference. While numerical model simulations have been used for some time to study the behaviour of glaciers and ice sheets, researchers from Northumbria University and Bangor University combined these for the first time with real-world satellite observations to identify whether a tipping point has been crossed in the past. They have now been able to confirm that Pine Island Glacier underwent a rapid, unstable retreat at some point between the 1940s and 1970s, leading to an irreversible loss of ice over several decades. Pine Island Glacier, together with its neighbour Thwaites Glacier, have ... More

How a mutation in microglia elevates Alzheimer's risk
CAMBRIDGE, MA.- A rare but potent genetic mutation that alters a protein in the brain’s immune cells, known as microglia, can give people as much as a threefold greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A new study by researchers in The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT details how the mutation undermines microglia function, explaining how it seems to generate that higher risk. “This TREM2 R47H/+ mutation is a pretty important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” says study lead author Jay Penney, a former postdoc in the MIT lab of Picower Professor Li-Huei Tsai. Penney is now an incoming assistant professor at the University of Prince Edward Island. “This study adds clear evidence that microglia dysfunction contributes to Alzheimer’s disease risk.” In the study in the journal GLIA, Tsai and Penney’s team shows that human microg ... More

Deep brain stimulation improves cognition after injury
ITHACA, NY.- Five people who had life-altering, seemingly irreversible cognitive deficits following moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries showed substantial improvements in their cognition and quality of life after receiving an experimental form of deep brain stimulation (DBS) in a phase 1 clinical trial. The trial, reported Dec. 4 in Nature Medicine, was led by investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine, Stanford University, the Cleveland Clinic, Harvard Medical School and the University of Utah. The findings pave the way for larger clinical trials of the DBS technique and offer hope that cognitive deficits associated with disability following traumatic brain injury (TBI) may be treatable, even many years after the injury. The DBS stimulation, administered for 12 hours a day, targeted a brain region called the thalamus. After three months of treatment, all the participants scored higher on a standard test of executive function that involv ... More

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Kavli Exploration Award: Carbon Nanotube Synthesis

On a day like today, German physiologist and biologist Theodor Schwann was born
December 07, 1810. Theodor Schwann (7 December 1810 - 11 January 1882) was a German physician and physiologist. His most significant contribution to biology is considered to be the extension of cell theory to animals. Other contributions include the discovery of Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system, the discovery and study of pepsin, the discovery of the organic nature of yeast, and the invention of the term "metabolism". In examining processes such as muscle contraction, fermentation, digestion, and putrefaction, Schwann sought to show that living phenomena were the result of physical causes rather than "some immaterial vital force". Schwann used newly powerful microscopes to examine animal tissues. This enabled him to observe animal cells and note their different properties. His work complemented that of Matthias Jakob Schleiden in plants and was informed by it; the two were close friends.


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