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Vibrations of coronavirus proteins may play a role in infection

New research at MIT shows that vibrations of the protein spikes on coronaviruses, including the one that causes Covid-19, play a crucial part in allowing the virus to penetrate human cells. Image courtesy: Markus Buehler and Yiwen Hu/MIT.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- When someone struggles to open a lock with a key that doesn’t quite seem to work, sometimes jiggling the key a bit will help. Now, new research from MIT suggests that coronaviruses, including the one that causes Covid-19, may use a similar method to trick cells into letting the viruses inside. The findings could be useful for determining how dangerous different strains or mutations of coronaviruses may be, and might point to a new approach for developing treatments. Studies of how spike proteins, which give coronaviruses their distinct crown-like appearance, interact with human cells typically involve biochemical mechanisms, but for this study the researchers took a different approach. Using atomistic simulations, they looked at the mechanical aspects of how the spike proteins move, change shape, and vibrate. The results indicate that these vibrational motions could account for a strategy ... More

Fauci says Pfizer, Moderna Covid vaccine data is 'solid'   NASA-funded project uses images from space to study underwater volcanoes   Researchers discover secret social lives of giant poisonous rats

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases look on during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on November 19, 2020.

WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- The United States' top infectious disease official said Thursday that two coronavirus vaccines being tested were "solid," and that the speed at which they were developed has not compromised safety or integrity. Anthony Fauci spoke at a rare briefing from the White House virus task force to reassure some public concerns about the two vaccines -- one from Pfizer/BioNTech and the other by Moderna -- after both companies announced successful trials. "The process of the speed did not compromise at all safety nor did it compromise scientific integrity. It was a reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances in these types of vaccines which allowed us to do things in months that actually took years before," he said. And he sought to address fears that the vaccine announcements may have been politically driven. "It was actually an independent ... More

Deepest ever filmed submarine volcano, West Mata, May 2009. Image courtesy: NOAA/National Science Foundation.

NASHVILLE, TN.- Vanderbilt Earth scientists have received funding from NASA to use satellite imagery to examine underwater volcanic eruptions’ ripple effect on the planet’s atmospheric processes. According to Kristen Fauria, assistant professor of Earth and environmental sciences, more than 80 percent of volcanic eruptions occur in the oceans. Despite their significant impact on the environment, she said, they are disproportionately understudied. During an eruption, plumes of ash and toxic sulfur dioxide can spew into the sky. Afterward, rafts of pumice—floating volcanic rock—can drift over the water’s surface, disturbing the atmosphere and affecting marine life. Underwater, molten lava can heat nutrient-rich water from the seafloor, allowing them to rise toward the surface. This creates a breeding ground for phytoplankton proliferation—as was seen ... More

The African crested rat is the only mammal known to sequester lethal plant toxins. Image courtesy: Stephanie Higgins.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The African crested rat (Lophiomys imhausi) is hardly the continent’s most fearsome-looking creature—the rabbit-sized rodent resembles a gray puffball crossed with a skunk—yet its fur is packed with a poison so lethal it can fell an elephant, and just a few milligrams can kill a human. Researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, University of Utah and National Museums of Kenya found the African crested rat is the only mammal known to sequester plant toxins for chemical defense, and they uncovered an unexpected social life—the rats appear to be monogamous and may even form small family units with their offspring. “It’s considered a ‘black box’ of a rodent,” said Sara Weinstein, lead author, Smithsonian-Mpala postdoctoral fellow and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah. “We initially wanted to confirm the toxin sequestration behavior wa ... More

Clearing the course for glycans in development of flu drugs   Drug eases recovery for those with severe alcohol withdrawal   Can high-intensity exercise slow Parkinson's?

Rommie Amaro, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, San Diego. Image courtesy: University of California, San Diego.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- There is no hole-in-one drug treatment when it comes to the flu, but that doesn’t stop scientists from trying to sink one. Especially since as many as one in five Americans gets the flu. The reported estimated cost of this illness is $10 billion each year in medical expenses and another $16 billion in lost earnings in America alone, according to researchers at UC San Diego. Teeing up on the science behind the flu virus is Rommie Amaro and J. Andrew McCammon, both professors of chemistry and biochemistry, and graduate student Christian Seitz. Together with co-workers Lorenzo Casalino, Robert Konecny and Gary Huber, they studied the effect of glycans—groups of sugar molecules—on the binding of antiviral drugs to viral neuraminidase. An enzyme found on the surface of flu viruses, neuraminidase enables the viruses to exit their diseased host cells and infect and replicate in new, previously healthy host cells. The glycans help ... More

Prazosin was originally developed to treat high blood pressure and is still used to treat prostate problems in men, among other conditions.

NEW HAVEN, CT.- A drug once used to treat high blood pressure can help alcoholics with withdrawal symptoms reduce or eliminate their drinking, Yale University researchers report Nov. 19 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. In a double-blind study, researchers gave the drug prazosin or a placebo to 100 people entering outpatient treatment after being diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. All of the patients had experienced varying degrees of withdrawal symptoms prior to entering treatment. According to the researchers, subjects with more severe symptoms — including shakes, heightened cravings and anxiety, and difficulty sleeping — who received prazosin significantly reduced the number of heavy drinking episodes and days they drank compared to those who received a placebo. The drug had little effect on those with few or no withdrawal symptoms. “There has been no treatment readily available for people who experience severe withdrawal sym ... More

A man with Parkinson's disease displaying a flexed walking posture pictured in 1892. Image courtesy: Albert Londe.

EVANSTON, ILL.- Endurance exercise is an important treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease, Northwestern Medicine research has shown. But is high-intensity or moderate-intensity exercise the most effective in slowing the progression of the disease? A new Phase 3 multi-site clinical research trial from Northwestern Medicine will test if high-intensity treadmill exercise is more effective in decreasing the signs of Parkinson's disease in individuals who have not initiated medication for Parkinson’s. This is the first time high-intensity endurance exercise is being studied across a large number of sites in both the U.S. and Canada and in a diverse population. “Endurance exercise is the only treatment with evidence for slowing Parkinson’s disease progression,” said study principal investigator Daniel Corcos, professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medic ... More

'Search of a lifetime' for supersymmetric particles at CERN   Experimenting in space to help prevent mudslides here on Earth   New effective and safe antifungal isolated from sea squirt microbiome

Physicist Tova Holmes in the ATLAS counting room, where much of the data acquisition and trigger infrastructure lives. Image courtesy: The University of Chicago.

CHICAGO, IL.- A team of researchers at the University of Chicago recently embarked on the search of a lifetime—or rather, a search for the lifetime of long-lived supersymmetric particles. Supersymmetry is a proposed theory to expand the Standard Model of particle physics. Akin to the periodic table of elements, the Standard Model is the best description we have for subatomic particles in nature and the forces acting on them. But physicists know this model is incomplete—it doesn’t make room for gravity or dark matter, for example. Supersymmetry aims to complete the picture by pairing each Standard Model particle with a supersymmetric partner, opening up a new class of hypothetical particles to detect and discover. In a new study, UChicago physicists have uncovered limitations for what properties these superpartners, if they exist, could have. “Supersymmetry really is the most promising theory we have for solving as many probl ... More

Damaged buildings are surrounded by mud in La Conchita, California, where winter storms on Jan. 15, 2005. Image courtesy: John Shea / FEMA News Photo.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- What can the International Space Station teach us about mudslides here on Earth. Here is the connection: UC San Diego engineers are trying to better understand the role gravity plays in mudslides. That is why in 18 months, they will launch an experiment to the ISS via SpaceX and NASA to study mudslides in micro gravity. Back here on Earth, structural engineer Ingrid Tomac and her team at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego will conduct under Earth’s gravity the same experiments that are happening in space in microgravity. “Gravity plays a big role in mudslides, but we do not understand it,” said Tomac, who is a professor in UC San Diego’s Department of Structural Engineering. “The idea is to test in space in microgravity so we can get a baseline.” Tomac’s ultimate goal is to develop technologies to prevent mudslides. This is particularly important in places where wildfires burn away vegetati ... More

Pharmacy professor Tim Bugni has led a UW–Madison effort to identify novel antimicrobials from understudied ecosystems. Image courtesy: School of Pharmacy.

MADISON, WI.- By combing the ocean for antimicrobials, scientists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have discovered a new antifungal compound that efficiently targets multi-drug-resistant strains of deadly fungi without toxic side effects in mice. The new molecule was discovered in the microbiome of a sea squirt from the Florida Keys as part of an effort to identify novel antimicrobials from understudied ecosystems. Scientists named the antifungal turbinmicin, after the sea squirt from which it was isolated, Ecteinascidia turbinate. Disease-causing fungi continue to evolve resistance to the small number of drugs available to thwart them. As a result, more people are dying from previously treatable diseases, such as candidiasis or aspergillosis, which are caused by common fungi that sometimes turn virulent. Identifying compounds like turbinmicin is key to developing new and effective drugs. However, while turbinmicin is a promising drug candidate, additional study of the molecule and extens ... More

Tulane researcher launches study on how infants learn about their bodies   New technique seamlessly converts ammonia to green hydrogen   Regularly getting a good night's sleep lowers risks of heart failure

An Infant localizes and reaches to a target she feels on her forehead. Image courtesy: professor Jeffrey Lockman.

NEW ORLEANS, LA.- Tulane University psychology Professor Jeffrey Lockman is hoping to gain some insight from the mouths of babes – or at least from their actions. Lockman, The Lila L. and Douglas J. Hertz Chair in Psychology, will use a grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation (JSMF) to initiate a line of study on body knowledge among infants. He and his team will research the everyday experiences that infants generate about their bodies through self-touch. “This ability is critical in daily life,” Lockman said. “We use this localization ability to remove dangerous stimuli from our bodies, or merely to scratch an itch. But how this knowledge about the self develops is largely unknown.” "We hope to motivate a new wave of research on body knowledge that is situated in the everyday lives of children.” - Jeffrey Lockman, Tulane psychology professor “Our overall goal is to investigate the ‘how’ of body knowledg ... More

Ball-and-stick model of the tetraamminediaquacopper(II) cation, [Cu(NH3)4(H2O)2]2+. Image courtesy: Ben Mills and Jynto.

EVANSTON, ILL.- Northwestern University researchers have developed a highly effective, environmentally friendly method for converting ammonia into hydrogen. Outlined in a recent publication in the journal Joule, the new technique is a major step forward for enabling a zero-pollution, hydrogen-fueled economy. The idea of using ammonia as a carrier for hydrogen delivery has gained traction in recent years because ammonia is much easier to liquify than hydrogen and is therefore much easier to store and transport. Northwestern’s technological breakthrough overcomes several existing barriers to the production of clean hydrogen from ammonia. “The bane for hydrogen fuel cells has been the lack of delivery infrastructure,” said Sossina Haile, lead author of the study. “It’s difficult and expensive to transport hydrogen, but an extensive ammonia delivery system already exists. There are pipelines for it. We deliver lots of amm ... More

Lead study author Dr. Lu Qi, epidemiology professor and director of the Obesity Research Center at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Image courtesy: Sally Asher.

NEW ORLEANS, LA.- Adults with the healthiest sleep patterns had a 42% lower risk of heart failure regardless of other risk factors compared to adults with unhealthy sleep patterns, according to new Tulane University study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation. Healthy sleep patterns are rising in the morning, sleeping 7-8 hours a day and having no insomnia, snoring or excessive daytime sleepiness. Heart failure affects more than 26 million people, and emerging evidence indicates sleep problems may play a role in its development. The study examined the relationship between healthy sleep patterns and heart failure and included data on 408,802 UK Biobank participants, ages 37 to 73. Researchers recorded 5,221 cases of heart failure during a median follow-up of 10 years. Researchers analyzed sleep quality as well as overall sleep patterns. The measures of sleep quality included sleep duration, insomnia and snoring and other s ... More

More News
Arecibo telescope, star of the astronomy world, to be decommissioned
WASHINGTON, DC (AFP).- The renowned Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico will be dismantled after 57 years of service due to the rupture of cables that have led to the threat of collapse, the US National Science Foundation announced Thursday. Two cables supporting the 900-ton instruments for the telescope above a radio dish 1,000 feet (305 meters) in diameter broke on August 10 and November 6. Engineers are concerned other cables could also break at any time, making any attempt at repair excessively dangerous. The telescope is one of the largest in the world and has been a tool for many astronomical discoveries. The foundation "prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory's staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate," said NSF ... More

Field geology at Mars' equator points to ancient megaflood
ITHACA, NY.- Floods of unimaginable magnitude once washed through Gale Crater on Mars’ equator around 4 billion years ago – a finding that hints at the possibility that life may have existed there, according to data collected by NASA’s Curiosity rover and analyzed in joint project by scientists from Jackson State University, Cornell, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Hawaii. The research, “Deposits from Giant Floods in Gale Crater and Their Implications for the Climate of Early Mars,” was published Nov. 5 in Nature Scientific Reports. The raging megaflood – likely touched off by the heat of a meteoritic impact, which unleashed ice stored on the Martian surface – set up gigantic ripples that are tell-tale geologic structures familiar to scientists on Earth. “We identified megafloods ... More

UCLA receives $6.4 million to fund cannabis research
LOS ANGELES, CA.- UCLA has received seven grants totaling $6.4 million from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. The awards will fund studies on topics ranging from the toxicity of inhaled and second-hand cannabis smoke to employment conditions in California’s cannabis industry. The grants were awarded to faculty from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and several research centers. “The grants exemplify the breadth of cannabis research being conducted at UCLA,” said Ziva Cooper, director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative and an associate professor at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. “The awards offer UCLA the opportunity to showcase its interdiscip ... More

Vanderbilt researchers bring paradigm-shifting technology to endoscopic procedures
NASHVILLE, TN.- A collaboration between international and Vanderbilt University researchers is helping to update a tried-and-true medical technology for the 21st century. The development of an intelligent and autonomous Magnetic Flexible Endoscope holds the promise of making colonoscopies safer, less painful, more widely available and less expensive. The article “Enabling the future of colonoscopy with intelligent and autonomous magnetic manipulation” was published in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence on Oct. 12. Despite tens of millions of colonoscopies performed in the U.S. and Europe annually—and the procedure’s well documented success in detecting early stage colorectal cancer, colitis and Crohn’s disease—nothing much about the uncomfortable and complex procedure ... More

Does air pollution increase women's risk of dementia? Study finds high levels associated with brain shrinkage
LOS ANGELES, CA.- Older women who live in locations with high levels of air pollution may have more Alzheimer’s-like brain shrinkage than women who live in places with cleaner air, according to a new USC study. Researchers looked at fine particle pollution and found that breathing in high levels of this kind of air pollution was linked to shrinkage in the areas of the brain vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. The findings suggest that further tightening of air quality standards could potentially reduce the risk of dementia in older populations. The research appears in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Fine ... More

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On a day like today, German physicist Otto von Guericke was born
November 20, 1602. Otto von Guericke (November 20, 1602 - May 11, 1686 [Julian calendar]; November 30, 1602 - May 21, 1686 [Gregorian calendar]) was a German scientist, inventor, and politician. His pioneering scientific work, the development of experimental methods and repeatable demonstrations on the physics of the vacuum, atmospheric pressure, electrostatic repulsion, his advocacy for the reality of "action at a distance" and of "absolute space" were remarkable contributions for the advancement of the Scientific Revolution. Like all scholars and researchers of the European Age of Enlightenment, von Guericke was a very pious man in the Dionysian tradition and attributed the vacuum of space to the creations and designs of an infinite divinity. Von Guericke described this duality "as something that 'contains all things' and is 'more precious than gold...more joyous that the perception of bountiful light' and 'comparable to the heavens' ".


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