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Researchers discover new type of ancient crater lake on Mars

Raised ridges spidering across the floor of a Martian crater were likely created by runoff from a long-lost glacier that once draped the planet's southern highlands. Image courtesy: NASA.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- Researchers from Brown University have discovered a previously unknown type of ancient crater lake on Mars that could reveal clues about the planet’s early climate. In a study published in Planetary Science Journal, a research team led by Brown Ph.D. student Ben Boatwright describes an as-yet unnamed crater with some puzzling characteristics. The crater’s floor has unmistakable geologic evidence of ancient stream beds and ponds, yet there’s no evidence of inlet channels where water could have entered the crater from outside, and no evidence of groundwater activity where it could have bubbled up from below. So where did the water come from? The researchers conclude that the system was likely fed by runoff from a long-lost Martian glacier. Water flowed into the crater atop the glacier, which meant it didn’t leave behind a valley as it would have had it flowed directly on the ground. The water eventually emptied into ... More

Scientists unlock the secrets of glacier-fed streams   A safer way to deploy bacteria as environmental sensors   14.5 million-year-old shark-attack on manatee documents oldest predator-prey interaction

Paraskevi Pramateftaki, technical specialist, analyses the samples in the laboratory. Image courtesy: © Alain Herzog / EPFL.

LAUSANNE.- The field scientists working on the Vanishing Glaciers project aren’t afraid of heights. They climb to the icy peaks of mountain ranges from the Himalayas to the Alps, equipped with vials, pipettes, thermometers and liquid-nitrogen cylinders (which they’ve nicknamed Dido and Fido). Their goal is to collect samples of the microorganisms living in glacier-fed streams and bring them back to EPFL for analysis by their colleagues. “We need to act now, before it’s too late” As the world’s glaciers disappear, they are taking with them well-kept secrets. Glacial melting is one of the most visible signs of climate change and will eventually cause glacier-fed streams to dry up – destroying an important, unique ecosystem. Scientists at EPFL’s Stream Biofilm and Ecosystem Research Laboratory (SBER) are working hard to learn those secrets before it’s too late. “These streams drain the roof of our ... More

MIT engineers have devised a way to encapsulate bacterial sensors into a tough hydrogel sphere, which prevents them from interacting with other microbes in the environment. Image courtesy: Christine Daniloff, MIT.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- In recent years, scientists have developed many strains of engineered bacteria that can be used as sensors to detect environmental contaminants such as heavy metals. If deployed in the natural environment, these sensors could help scientists track how pollutant levels change over time, over a wide geographic area. MIT engineers have now devised a way to make this kind of deployment safer, by encasing bacterial sensors in a tough hydrogel shell that prevents them from escaping into the environment and potentially spreading modified genes to other organisms. “Right now there are a lot of whole-cell biosensors being developed, but applying them in the real world is a challenge because we don’t want any genetically modified organisms to be able to exchange genetic material with wild-type microbes,” says MIT graduate student Tzu-Chieh Tang, one of the lead authors of the new study. Tang and ... More

Researcher of the NHM Vienna identified a fossilized skeleton of a manatee. Öl auf Leinwand von Fritz Messner 2021. Image courtesy: © Universalmuseum Joanneum Graz.

VIENNA.- Teeth and bones are often the only evidence of ancient life that “survive” the transition from the bio- to the lithosphere becoming fossils. The reconstruction of past environments and their inhabitants relies exclusively on well-preserved fossils, which in rare cases even reveal evidence of predator-prey interactions several million years ago. Based on bite marks on a 14.5-million-year-old manatee skeleton from the Styrian Basin in Austria, a new study has unearthed the oldest such interaction between tiger sharks and manatees. The well-preserved manatee skeleton was found by Gerhard Wanzenböck (Bad Vöslau) and excavated by a team of the Palaeontological-Geological Department of the Joanneum Graz (Styria) in 2012. However, only the subsequent precise preparation of Norbert Winkler (Joanneum Graz) revealed the extraordinary rare find: Bite marks on the fossilized bones! A scientific team led by Iris Feichtinger and Ursula Göhlich from the ... More

Sounds of survival: How the unique hearing of the Ganges river dolphin may have prevented its extinction   Like peas in a pod: UVA astronomer's survey of young stars published   Cancer discovery could revive failed treatments for solid tumors

The Ganges river dolphin relies so heavily on echolocation that it has effectively become blind. Image courtesy: © Zahangir Alom/ Marine Mammal Commission/ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/ Wikimedia Commons.

LONDON.- One of the more unusual members of this group is the Ganges river dolphin, one of only two remaining species of its lineage, the platanistoids. The dolphin is primarily found in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. These often murky and muddied rivers make echolocation essential for the dolphins to find their fish prey. Now a team, including researchers from London’s Natural History Museum, have tried to uncover why this species has survived where others did not. Senior author Dr Travis Park, a researcher from the Natural History Museum, explains, ‘The Ganges river dolphin is an unusual looking animal. It has a different body shape to the oceanic dolphins we are more familiar with and a long thin snout.’ ‘The animal is almost blind and so it’s use of echolocation is essential to it’s survival and it was the evolution of this specialized ability that we set out to study.’ ... More

A collection of gas and dust over 500 light-years across, the Perseus Molecular Cloud hosts an abundance of young stars. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.- An international research group led by a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Virginia’s Department of Astronomy identified a rich organic chemistry in young disks surrounding 50 newly formed stars. Relying on observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope in Chile – known as ALMA – the findings offer astronomers a greater understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the formation of organic molecules in space, at the dawn of planet formation. The variety of organic molecules identified also raises an important question for astronomers: How common is the chemical heritage of these disks? Since disks around young stars are known to be the sites of future planet formation, understanding their prebiotic potential is key. The findings of the Star and Planet Formation Laboratory of Japan’s RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research were published March 23 by the American Astr ... More

Research from UVA’s Jogender Tushir-Singh explains why antibody approaches effectively killed cancer tumors in lab tests but proved ineffective in people. Image courtesy: Dan Addison, University Communications.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.- New research from the UVA Cancer Center could rescue once-promising immunotherapies for treating solid cancer tumors, such as ovarian, colon and triple-negative breast cancer, that ultimately failed in human clinical trials. The research from UVA’s Jogender Tushir-Singh explains why antibody approaches effectively killed cancer tumors in lab tests, but proved ineffective in people. He found that the approaches had an unintended effect on the human immune system that potentially disabled the immune response they sought to enhance. The new findings allowed Tushir-Singh to increase the approaches’ effectiveness significantly in lab models, reducing tumor size and improving overall survival. The promising results suggest the renewed potential for the strategies in human patients, he and his team report. “So far, researchers and protein engineers around the globe, including our research group, were focused on ... More

Putting up a good fight: Regenerating the body's natural defenses by restoring lymphatic networks   What a glacial river reveals about the Greenland ice sheet   Canadian-built laser chills antimatter to near absolute zero for first time

Laura Alderfer and Donny Hanjaya-Putra. The team is combining this knowledge with polymer science and mechanical engineering to build new lymphatic cord-like structures. Image courtesy: University of Notre Dame.

NOTRE DAME, IN.- The human body is an incredibly designed machine, and mechanical processes such as those in the lymphatic system play major roles in maintaining healthy tissue and organs. Donny Hanjaya-Putra is an assistant professor whose work lies at the intersection of engineering and medicine. He studies the lymphatic system — the part of the immune system that rids the body of toxins and other unwanted materials. He looks at how to restore dysfunctional lymphatic networks, which are associated with a wide range of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological conditions and metabolic syndromes. Now Hanjaya-Putra and his team — bioengineering doctoral student Laura Alderfer, along with Elizabeth Russo, a 2019 graduate; Adriana Archilla, a student from Syracuse University; and Brian Coe, class of ’19 — have demonstrated how extracellular matrix stiffness affects lymphatic vessel function. The team is combining this knowledge with polymer science and ... More

A drone's-eye view of a meltwater lake on Greenland's Russell Glacier. Image courtesy: Northern Change Research Laboratory, Brown University.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- With data from a 2016 expedition, a team of scientists from Brown University and NASA are shedding more light into the complex processes under the Greenland ice sheet that control how fast its glaciers slide toward the ocean and contribute to sea level rise. On the surface of the ice sheet, bottomless sinkholes called moulins can funnel meltwater into the base of the ice. As that water reaches the ice sheet’s underlying bed, it can make the ice detach slightly and flow more rapidly. Glaciers that slide faster can eventually lead to the ice sheet melting a bit faster than expected, also increasing the amount of ice calved into the ocean. With a vast surface area roughly the size of Mexico, Greenland’s melting ice is the largest contributor to global sea level rise. In a new study, published on Monday, April 5, in Geophysical Research Letters, the authors concluded that the one important factor influencing the speed of a slid ... More

Makoto Fujiwara stands in front of ALPHA Experiment apparatus at CERN in Switzerland. Image courtesy: Maximilien Brice.

VANCOUVER.- Researchers with the CERN-based ALPHA collaboration have announced the world’s first laser-based manipulation of antimatter, leveraging a made-in-Canada laser system to cool a sample of antimatter down to near absolute zero. The achievement, detailed in an article featured on the cover of the journal Nature, will significantly alter the landscape of antimatter research and advance the next generation of experiments. Antimatter is the otherworldly counterpart to matter; it exhibits near-identical characteristics and behaviours but has opposite charge. Because they annihilate upon contact with matter, antimatter atoms are exceptionally difficult to create and control in our world and had never before been manipulated with a laser. “Today’s results are the culmination of a years-long program of research and engineering, conducted at UBC but supported by partners from across the country,” said Dr. Takam ... More

AstraZeneca UK vaccine trial in children paused as clot link probed   Topological data analysis can help predict stock-market crashes   Ancient atmospheric oxygen sleuthing with ocean chromium

A health worker prepares a jab of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, in Bogota on April 5, 2021. Raul Arboleda / AFP.

LONDON (AFP).- A British trial of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine on children has been paused, Oxford University said Tuesday, as global regulators rush to assess its possible link to rare blood clots in adults. The university, which helped develop the embattled vaccine, said in a statement that there were "no safety concerns" in the trial, but acknowledged fears over a potential link to clots by saying that it was awaiting additional data from Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before restarting the study. "Parents and children should continue to attend all scheduled visits and can contact the trial sites if they have any questions," it added. It is the latest drama to hit AstraZeneca, which has been embroiled in controversy over its failure to deliver promised doses to the European Union, and over the jab's efficacy and safety profile. The MHRA is one of many bodies across the globe analysing real world data from the AstraZeneca rollout to see if there is a def ... More

By closely monitoring a system’s data point clouds, scientists can identify the system’s normal state. Image: Maxim Hopman, Unsplash.

LAUSANNE.- Topological data analysis (TDA) involves extracting information from clouds of data points and using the information to classify data, recognize patterns or predict trends, for example. A team of scientists from EPFL’s Laboratory for Topology and Neuroscience, L2F (an EPFL spin-off), and HEIG-VD, working on a project funded in part by an Innosuisse grant, used TDA to develop a model that can predict when a system is about to undergo a major shift. Their model, called giotto-tda , is available as an open-source library and can help analysts identify when events like a stock-market crash, earthquake, traffic jam, coup d’etat or train-engine malfunction are about to occur. Catastrophes and other unexpected events are by definition aberrations – that’s what makes them hard to predict with conventional models. The research team therefore drew on methods from TDA to come up with a novel approach based on the fact that ... More

Tianyi Huang takes seawater samples from Niskin bottles. Image courtesy: Kelsy Cain, MIT.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Found in jewelry, car parts, pigments, and industrial chemical reactions, the metal chromium and its compounds are often employed for their color, finish, and anti-corrosive and catalytic properties. Currently, geoscientists and paleoceanographers from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are looking to add another use to that list: as a way to examine chemical shifts in ancient Earth’s oceans and atmosphere that are preserved in the seafloor’s paleorecord. More specifically, they want to reconstruct rising atmospheric oxygen levels, which began around 2.4 billion years ago, and their effect on the seas. Since biology and the environment are intimately intertwined, this information could help illuminate how the Earth’s life and climate evolved. While researchers have widely applied chromium as a tool to understand the rock record around this ... More

More News
Overfishing of Atlantic cod likely did not cause genetic changes
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ.- Overfishing likely did not cause the Atlantic cod, an iconic species, to evolve genetically and mature earlier, according to a study led by Rutgers University and the University of Oslo – the first of its kind – with major implications for ocean conservation. “Evolution has been used in part as an excuse for why cod and other species have not recovered from overfishing,” said first author Malin L. Pinsky, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “Our findings suggest instead that more attention to reducing fishing and addressing other environmental changes, including climate change, will be important for allowing recovery. We can’t use evolution as a scapegoat for avoiding the hard work ... More

Researchers demonstrate first human use of high-bandwidth wireless brain-computer interface
PROVIDENCE, RI.- Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are an emerging assistive technology, enabling people with paralysis to type on computer screens or manipulate robotic prostheses just by thinking about moving their own bodies. For years, investigational BCIs used in clinical trials have required cables to connect the sensing array in the brain to computers that decode the signals and use them to drive external devices. Now, for the first time, BrainGate clinical trial participants with tetraplegia have demonstrated use of an intracortical wireless BCI with an external wireless transmitter. The system is capable of transmitting brain signals at single-neuron resolution and in full broadband fidelity without physically tethering the user to a decoding system. The traditional cables are replaced by a small transmitter about 2 inches in its largest dimension an ... More

Study links prenatal phthalate exposure to altered information processing in infants
CHAMPAIGN, ILL.- Exposure to phthalates, a class of chemicals widely used in packaging and consumer products, is known to interfere with normal hormone function and development in human and animal studies. Now researchers have found evidence linking pregnant women’s exposure to phthalates to altered cognitive outcomes in their infants. Most of the findings involved slower information processing among infants with higher phthalate exposure levels, with males more likely to be affected depending on the chemical involved and the order of information presented to the infants. Reported in the journal Neurotoxicology, the study is part of the Illinois Kids Development Study, which tracks the effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals on children’s physical and behavioral development from birth to middle childhood. Now in its seventh y ... More

Mapping North Carolina's ghost forests from 430 miles up
DURHAM, NC.- Emily Ury remembers the first time she saw them. She was heading east from Columbia, North Carolina, on the flat, low-lying stretch of U.S. Highway 64 toward the Outer Banks. Sticking out of the marsh on one side of the road were not one but hundreds dead trees and stumps, the relic of a once-healthy forest that had been overrun by the inland creep of seawater. “I was like, ‘Whoa.’ No leaves; no branches. The trees were literally just trunks. As far as the eye could see,” said Ury, who recently earned a biology Ph.D. at Duke University working with professors Emily Bernhardt and Justin Wright. In bottomlands throughout the U.S. East Coast, trees are dying off as rising seas and higher storm surges push saltwater farther inland, poisoning soils far from shore. While these “ghost forests” are becoming a more common sight in North ... More

A male baboon's dominance gives him babies, but costs him years
DURHAM, NC.- Some guys have it all: the muscle, the power, the high social status, the accelerated aging. But wait. Faster aging? Who wants that? For male baboons, it’s the price they pay to be at the top. New research appearing April 6 in eLife by Jenny Tung, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology and biology at Duke University, and her colleagues shows that male baboons that climb the social ladder age faster than males with lower social standing. If a male drops in social status, his estimated rate of aging drops as well. Using blood samples from 245 wild baboons in the Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya, the team analyzed chemical modifications to DNA known as DNA methylation marks. “These marks change with age in a clock-like fashion,” Tung said. “However, environmental stressors can make the clock tick faster.” This would ... More

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Nature of Robotics - An Expanded Field

On a day like today, French physicist and mathematician Jacques Charles died
April 07, 1823. Jacques Alexandre César Charles (November 12, 1746 - April 7, 1823) was a French inventor, scientist, mathematician, and balloonist. Charles wrote almost nothing about mathematics, and most of what has been credited to him was due to mistaking him with another Jacques Charles, also a member of the Paris Academy of Sciences, entering on May 12, 1785. He was sometimes called Charles the Geometer. Charles and the Robert brothers launched the world's first unmanned hydrogen-filled gas balloon in August 1783; then in December 1783, Charles and his co-pilot Nicolas-Louis Robert ascended to a height of about 1,800 feet (550 m) in a manned gas balloon. Their pioneering use of hydrogen for lift led to this type of balloon being named a Charlière (as opposed to a Montgolfière which used hot air). Charles's law, describing how gases tend to expand when heated, was formulated by Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac in 1802, but he credited it to unpublished work by Jacques Charles.


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