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Hubble Space Telescope spots double quasars in merging galaxies

An artist’s conception shows the brilliant light of two quasars residing in the cores of galaxies in the chaotic process of merging. The gravitational tug-of-war between the two galaxies stretches them, forming long tidal tails and igniting a firestorm of star birth. Graphic courtesy: NASA, the European Space Agency and J. Olmstead of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

CHAMPAIGN, ILL.- NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is seeing double, uncovering two very close pairs of quasars that existed 10 billion years ago. The objects are close together because astronomers believe they resided in a pair of merging galaxies. Research led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign astronomy and National Center for Supercomputing Applications professor Yue Shen offers a new way to probe collisions among galaxies in the early universe and the pairing of their supermassive black holes. The new study is published in the journal Nature Astronomy. Quasars are beacons of intense light from the centers of galaxies that can outshine their entire galaxies. Powered by supermassive black holes, they feed on infalling matter and unleash a torrent of radiation. “We estimate that in the distant universe, for every 1,000 quasars, there is one double quasar,” Shen said. “So finding these double quasars is like finding a needle i ... More

Penn study uncovers possible COVID-19 drugs - including several that are already FDA-approved   How the Chicxulub impactor gave rise to modern rainforests   Skin seep: New study suggests aquatic skin adaptations of whales and hippos evolved independently

A woman with a face mask walks past graffiti that promotes hand washing and wearing face masks as preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Kibera, Nairobi. Simon Maina / AFP.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- A team led by scientists in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has identified nine potential new COVID-19 treatments, including three that are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating other diseases. The team, whose findings were published in Cell Reports, screened thousands of existing drugs and drug-like molecules for their ability to inhibit the replication of the COVID-19-causing coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. In contrast to many prior studies, the screens tested the molecules for anti-coronaviral activity in a variety of cell types, including human airway-lining cells that are similar to the ones principally affected in COVID-19. Of the nine drugs found to reduce SARS-CoV-2 replication in respiratory cells, three already have FDA approval: the transplant-rejection drug cyclosporine, the cancer drug dacomitinib, and the antibiotic salinomycin. These could be rapidly tested i ... More

Zingiber flower. Flowers began to diversify long ago, but only after the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs did flowering plants take over tropical forests. Image courtesy: Beth King, STRI.

PANAMA CITY.- Tropical rainforests today are biodiversity hotspots and play an important role in the world’s climate systems. A new study published in Science sheds light on the origins of modern rainforests and may help scientists understand how rainforests will respond to a rapidly changing climate in the future. The study led by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute shows that the asteroid impact that ended the reign of dinosaurs 66 million years ago also caused 45% of plants in what is now Colombia to go extinct, and it made way for the reign of flowering plants in modern tropical rainforests. “We wondered how tropical rainforests changed after a drastic ecological perturbation such as the Chicxulub impact, so we looked for tropical plant fossils,” said Mónica Carvalho, first author and joint postdoctoral fellow at STRI and at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia. “Our team examined over 50,000 fossil ... More

Paintings of dolphin (top), early extinct cetacean (middle), and hippo (bottom). Image courtesy: Carl Buell.

NEW YORK, NY.- A new study shows that the similarly smooth, nearly hairless skin of whales and hippopotamuses evolved independently. The work suggests that their last common ancestor was likely a land-dwelling mammal, uprooting current thinking that the skin came fine-tuned for life in the water from a shared amphibious ancestor. The study is published in the journal Current Biology and was led by researchers at the American Museum of Natural History; University of California, Irvine; University of California, Riverside; Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics; and the LOEWE-Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (Germany). “How mammals left terra firma and became fully aquatic is one of the most fascinating evolutionary stories, perhaps rivaled only by how animals traded water for land in the first place or by the evolution of flight,” said John Gatesy, a senior research scientist in the American Museum of Natu ... More

Rise of the 'robo-plants', as scientists fuse nature with tech   Reopen and regenerate: Exosome-coated stent heals vascular injury, repairs damaged tissue   New 3D microbatteries stand up to industry standard thin-film counterparts

Luo Yifei, PhD student at Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of Materials Science and Engineering, picking up an electrode to be attached on the surface of a Venus flytrap plant at a laboratory in Singapore. Roslan Rahman / AFP.

SINGAPORE (AFP).- Remote-controlled Venus flytrap "robo-plants" and crops that tell farmers when they are hit by disease could become reality after scientists developed a high-tech system for communicating with vegetation. Researchers in Singapore linked up plants to electrodes capable of monitoring the weak electrical pulses naturally emitted by the greenery. The scientists used the technology to trigger a Venus flytrap to snap its jaws shut at the push of a button on a smartphone app. They then attached one of its jaws to a robotic arm and got the contraption to pick up a piece of wire half a millimetre thick, and catch a small falling object. The technology is in its early stages, but researchers believe it could eventually be used to build advanced "plant-based robots" that can pick up a host of fragile objects which are too delicate for rigid, robotic arms. "These kinds of nature robots can be interfaced with other artificial robots (to make) hybrid systems," Chen Xiaodong, the lead author of a stu ... More

Exosomes (magenta) released from a stent in the blood vessel. Image courtesy: Cheng Lab.

RALEIGH, NC.- Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed an exosome-coated stent with a “smart-release” trigger that could both prevent reopened blood vessels from narrowing and deliver regenerative stem cell-derived therapy to blood-starved, or ischemic, tissue. Angioplasty – a procedure that opens blocked arteries – often involves placing a metal stent to reinforce arterial walls and prevent them from collapsing once the blockage is removed. However, the stent’s placement usually causes some injury to the blood vessel wall, which stimulates smooth muscle cells to proliferate and migrate to the site in an attempt to repair the injury. The result is restenosis: a re-narrowing of the blood vessel previously opened by angioplasty. “The inflammatory response that stents cause can decrease their benefit,” says Ke Cheng, corresponding author of the research. “Ideally, if we could stop smooth m ... More

Illinois postdoctoral researcher Pengcheng Sun and his colleagues have developed a way to make more powerful microbatteries using different materials and fabrication techniques. Image courtesy: L. Brian Stauffer.

CHAMPAIGN, ILL.- The thin-film lithium-ion batteries used in microdevices such as portable and medical electronics may supply a good amount of power relative to their mass, but do not provide enough power for many devices due to their limited size. Researchers have introduced a fabrication process that builds microbatteries with thick, 3D electrodes using lithography and electrodeposition – and seals each unit in a gel electrolyte-filled package. The new prototype shows the highest peak power density of any reported microbatteries, the researchers said. The new study, led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign postdoctoral researcher Pengcheng Sun and materials science and engineering professor Paul Braun, is published in the journal Advanced Materials. Most microbatteries have very thin, flat anodes and cathodes, which are great for saving space but do not pack the punch needed for the wireless transmission needs of today’s technologies ... More

Lightning strikes to spark more Arctic fires: study   Mysterious "nuclear speckle" structures inside cells enhance gene activity, may help block cancers   A single injection reverses blindness in patient with rare genetic disorder

The permafrost of North America and Siberia contains enough carbon dioxide to roughly double all the carbon currently in Earth's atmosphere, and there are fears it will melt significantly as temperatures rise. Image: Brandon Morgan, Unsplash.

PARIS (AFP).- Lightning strikes inside the Arctic circle may double this century, sparking widespread tundra fires and increasing the risk of setting off the carbon time bomb held within permafrost, new research showed Monday. The permafrost of North America and Siberia contains enough carbon dioxide to roughly double all the carbon currently in Earth's atmosphere, and there are fears it will melt significantly as temperatures rise. Researchers in the United States analysed NASA satellite data on lightning strikes in northern and Arctic regions stretching back more than 20 years. They then modelled how the strike rate was likely to increase as temperatures rise, using a business-as-usual projection that sees no significant reduction in carbon pollution this century. They found that the frequency of lightning strikes could increase by roughly 100 percent compared with current levels. "We projected how lightning in high-latitude boreal forests and Arctic tundra regions will change across North America ... More

This image of cells shows p53 induction of a key p53 target. Image courtesy: University of Pennsylvania.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- A team led by scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has illuminated the functions of mysterious structures in cells called “nuclear speckles,” showing that they can work in partnership with a key protein to enhance the activities of specific sets of genes. The discovery, which is published in Molecular Cell, is an advance in basic cell biology; the key protein it identifies as a working partner of speckles is best known as major tumor-suppressor protein, p53. This avenue of research may also lead to a better future understanding of cancers, and possibly better cancer treatments. “This study shows that nuclear speckles work as major regulators of gene expression, and suggests that they have a role in some cancers,” said study senior author Shelley Berger, PhD, the Daniel S. Och University Professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. Nuclear speckles, tiny ... More

Penn Medicine researchers have found that a mutation-specific RNA therapy improved vision with lasting effects. Image: Victor Freitas, Unsplash.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- A Penn Medicine patient with a genetic form of childhood blindness gained vision, which lasted more than a year, after receiving a single injection of an experimental RNA therapy into the eye. The clinical trial was conducted by researchers at the Scheie Eye Institute in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Results of the case, detailed in a paper published today in Nature Medicine, show that the treatment led to marked changes at the fovea, the most important locus of human central vision. The treatment was designed for patients diagnosed with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) — an eye disorder that primarily affects the retina — who have a CEP290 mutation, which is one of the more commonly implicated genes in patients with the disease. Patients with this form of LCA suffer from severe visual impairment, typically beginning in infancy. “Our results set a new standard of what biologi ... More

A new way to prevent childhood obesity   New blueprint of brain connections reveals extensive reach of central regulator   Fit, function, fashion, sustainability - fiber science and apparel design researchers address face mask improvement

For the first time in Australia, researchers can accurately predict if babies are at risk of childhood obesity by the age of eight to nine years of age. Image: Filip Mroz, Unsplash.

BRISBANE (AFP).- For the first time in Australia, researchers can accurately predict if babies are at risk of childhood obesity by the age of eight to nine years of age. Researchers from The University of Queensland have developed and validated the i-PATHWAY model, which uses simple risk factors mostly gathered during routine doctor visits at 12 months of age to predict future childhood obesity. Dr Oliver Canfell, Research Fellow and dietitian with the UQ Centre for Health Services Research said i-PATHWAY could calculate the risk of childhood obesity with 74.6 per cent accuracy. “Risk factors used are the baby’s weight change in the first year, mother’s pre-pregnancy height and weight, father’s height and weight, baby’s sleep pattern in the first year, premature birth, if the mother smoked during pregnancy and if the baby is female,” Dr Canfell said. Dr Canfell said obesity prevention was most effective in the first 1000 ... More

Shown here in red are branches, or axons, from cells in the substantia nigra brain region that connect to the superior colliculus region. Image courtesy: Lauren McElvain / Kleinfeld lab / UC San Diego.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- Thousands of our daily activities, from making coffee to taking a walk to saying hello to a neighbor, are made possible through an ancient collection of brain structures tucked away near the center of the cranium. The cluster of neurons known as the basal ganglia is a central hub for regulating a vast array of routine motor and behavior functions. But when signaling in the basal ganglia is weakened or broken, debilitating movement and psychiatric disorders can emerge, including Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Despite its central importance in controlling behavior, the specific, detailed paths across which information flows from the basal ganglia to other brain regions have remained poorly charted. Now, researchers at the University of California San Diego, Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute and their colleagues have generated ... More

The silhouette on the right shows air paths (and leakage) to the glasses and the bottom of face masks for children. Image courtesy: Cornell University.

ITHACA, NY.- Even as the vaccine roll-out picks up speed, the end of face masks in public could be a year or more away as questions of transmissibility post-vaccine and effectiveness against emerging strains remain. One thing is clear: when it comes to fit, function, fashion, and sustainability, current face masks leave a lot of room for improvement. Multiple ongoing research projects in the College of Human Ecology’s Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD) aim to improve the efficiency, breathability, comfort and environmental costs of face masks. The six projects, five funded through the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, highlight the depth and breadth of the research done in the only Ivy League department that brings fiber scientists, design experts, fashion creatives, fiber artists, and social scientists together in one program. Dropped or discarded disposable face masks are a commonplace sight these days. Made of ... More

More News
Aluminum-anode batteries offer sustainable alternative
ITHACA, NY.- The cost of harvesting solar energy has dropped so much in recent years that it’s giving traditional energy sources a run for their money. However, the challenges of energy storage – which require the capacity to bank an intermittent and seasonally variable supply of solar energy – have kept the technology from being economically competitive. Cornell researchers led by Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering and the James A. Friend Family Distinguished Professor of Engineering, have been exploring the use of low-cost materials to create rechargeable batteries that will make energy storage more affordable. These materials could also provide a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to lithium-ion batteries, which currently dominate the market but are slow to charge and have a knack for catching fire ... More

Stanford researchers unite art and science as they study the development of leaves
STANFORD, CA.- How do we become a complex, integrated multicellular organism from a single cell. While developmental biologists have long researched this fundamental question, Stanford University biologist and HHMI investigator Dominique Bergmann’s recent work on the plant Arabidopsis thaliana has uncovered surprising answers. In a new study, published April 5 in Developmental Cell, led by Bergmann and postdoctoral scholar Camila Lopez-Anido, researchers used single-cell RNA sequencing technologies to track genetic activity in nearly 20,000 cells as they formed the surface and inner parts of an Arabidopsis leaf. Through this highly detailed technique, the researchers captured transient and rare cell states and found a surprising abundance of ambiguity in how cells traversed various identities, particularly early on within the stem cell po ... More

Climate change driving marine species poleward
PARIS (AFP).- Warming waters have driven thousands of ocean species poleward from the equator, threatening marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of people who depend on them, researchers reported Monday. Comparison of data on nearly 50,000 species over three 20-year periods up to 2015 revealed that the exodus from tropical waters is accelerating, they reported in the journal PNAS. The tropics have long harboured an outsized proportion of marine life, but could see that diversity disappear if climate change is not brought to heel, the authors warned. "Global warming has been changing life in the ocean for at least 60 years," senior author Mark Costello, a professor of marine biology at the University of Auckland, told AFP. "Our findings show a drop of about 1,500 species at the equator," he added. "This will continue throughout the century, but th ... More

Raindrops also keep fallin' on exoplanets
BOSTON, MASS.- One day, humankind may step foot on another habitable planet. That planet may look very different from Earth, but one thing will feel familiar — the rain. In a recent paper, Harvard researchers found that raindrops are remarkably similar across different planetary environments, even planets as drastically different as Earth and Jupiter. Understanding the behavior of raindrops on other planets is key to not only revealing the ancient climate on planets like Mars but identifying potentially habitable planets outside our solar system. “The lifecycle of clouds is really important when we think about planet habitability,” said Kaitlyn Loftus, a graduate student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and lead author of the paper. “But clouds and precipitation are really complicated and too complex to model completely. We’re looking for ... More

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On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Feodor Felix Konrad Lynen was born
April 06, 1911. Feodor Felix Konrad Lynen (6 April 1911 - 6 August 1979) was a German biochemist. In 1964 he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine together with Konrad Bloch for their discoveries concerning the mechanism and regulation of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism while he was director of the Max-Planck Institute for Cellular Chemistry in Munich. In 1964 he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine together with Konrad Bloch for their discoveries concerning the mechanism and regulation of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism. These discoveries took many years to work out. The Nobel Committee felt that this was important because understanding the metabolism of sterols and fatty acids could reveal how cholesterol affects heart disease and stroke. His Nobel Lecture on 11 December 1964 was 'The pathway from "activated acetic acid" to the terpenes and fatty acids'.


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