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The brains of Neanderthals developed differently from those of modern humans

Fewer chromosome segregation errors in modern human than Neanderthal neural stem cells. Image courtesy: © Felipe Mora-Bermúdez / MPI-CBG.

DRESDEN.- Neanderthals are the closest relatives to modern humans. The neocortex, the largest part of the outer layer of the brain, is unique to mammals and crucial for many cognitive capacities. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have now discovered that neural stem cells – the cells from which neurons in the developing neocortex derive – spend more time preparing their chromosomes for division in modern humans than in Neanderthals. This results in fewer errors when chromosomes are distributed to the daughter cells in modern humans than in Neanderthals or chimpanzees, and could have consequences for how the brain develops and functions. After the ancestors of modern humans split from those of Neanderthals and Denisovans, their Asian relatives, about one hundred amino acids, the building blocks of proteins i ... More

How to turn muscle into a protein factory for advanced gene therapy   Genetic clues to age-related macular degeneration revealed   Smaller, stronger magnets could improve devices that harness the fusion power of the sun and stars

Lila Gierasch (center), professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UMass Amherst. Image courtesy: UMass Amherst.

AMHERST, MA.- In a major new development in the quest to develop better gene therapies with which to treat a host of diseases, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and UMass Chan Medical School recently announced that they have mapped the expression and maturation of the protein alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) with unprecedented clarity. The results, which detail the molecular folding of the protein, were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will help to develop specific therapies to treat an inherited disease known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, as well as more effectively treat a wide range of genetic diseases. A revolution in disease treatment has occurred in recent years. It is now clear that there is an entire range of diseases, such as AAT deficiency, that arise when our own bodies and produce dysfunctional protein at the genetic level. Production of defective AAT or inadequate amounts of AAT c ... More

Fluorescent imaging of retinal pigment epithelium. Image courtesy: Dr Grace Lidgerwood.

DARLINGHURST.- Better diagnosis and treatment of the incurable eye disease age-related macular degeneration is a step closer, thanks to the discovery of new genetic signatures of the disease. Scientists from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the University of Melbourne, the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania and the Center for Eye Research Australia, reprogrammed stem cells to create models of diseased eye cells, and then analyzed DNA, RNA and proteins to pinpoint the genetic clues. "We've tested the way that differences in people's genes impact the cells involved in age-related macular degeneration. At the smallest scale we've narrowed down specific types of cells to pinpoint the genetic markers of this disease," says joint lead author Professor Joseph Powell, Pillar Director of Cellular Science at Garvan. "This is the basis of precision medicine, where we can then look at what therapeutics might be mo ... More

PPPL principal engineer Yuhu Zhai with images of a high-temperature superconducting magnet, which could improve the performance of spherical tokamak fusion devices. Image: Kiran Sudarsanan / PPPL Office of Communications.

PRINCETON, NJ.- Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory have found a way to build powerful magnets smaller than before, aiding the design and construction of machines that could help the world harness the power of the sun to create electricity without producing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The scientists found a way to build high-temperature superconducting magnets that are made of material that conducts electricity with little or no resistance at temperatures warmer than before. Such powerful magnets would more easily fit within the tight space inside spherical tokamaks, which are shaped more like a cored apple than the doughnut-like shape of conventional tokamaks, and are being explored as a possible design for future fusion power plants. Since the magnets could be positioned apart from other machinery in the spherical tokamak's central cavity to corral the hot plasma that fuel ... More

The world's largest omnivore is a fish   Edinburgh astronomers find most distant galaxy   Communication makes hunting easier for chimpanzees

Image courtesy: Andre Rerekura, Australian Institute of Marine Science.

TOWNSVILLE.- Marine scientists have discovered that whale sharks eat plants, making the iconic fish the world's largest omnivore. Whale sharks are filter feeders and have long been observed eating krill at Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef. But when researchers analyzed biopsy samples from whale sharks at the reef, they discovered the animals were actually eating a lot of plant material. "This causes us to rethink everything we thought we knew about what whale sharks eat," said Australian Institute of Marine Science fish biologist Dr. Mark Meekan. "And, in fact, what they're doing out in the open ocean." The finding makes whale sharks—which have been reported up to 18m long—the world's largest omnivore. "On land, all the biggest animals have always been herbivores," Dr. Meekan said. "In the sea we always thought the animals that have gotten really big, like whales and whale sharks, were feeding one step up the food chain on shrimp-lik ... More

A colour image of CEERS-93316, a galaxy discovered 35 billion light-years from Earth. Image courtesy: Sophie Jewell/Clara Pollock.

EDINBURGH.- Early data from a new space telescope has enabled Edinburgh astronomers to locate the most distant galaxy ever found. Observations using the £10 billion James Webb Space Telescope – which began operating in June 2022 – have revealed a galaxy 35 billion light-years from Earth, researchers say. The findings suggest the galaxy, known as CEERS-93316, existed just 235 million years after the Big Bang – the event 13.8 billion years ago that formed the first stars and galaxies in the Universe. The James Webb Space Telescope – NASA’s largest and most powerful space telescope – was launched in December 2021 and is operating around one million miles from Earth. It is far more sensitive than its predecessor – the Hubble Space Telescope, which began operating in 1990 – and enables researchers to directly observe parts of space that have never been seen before. Before data from the new telescope became avail ... More

With specific calls, the so-called "hunting bark", chimpanzees recruit further group members for the hunt. Image courtesy: Kibale Chimpanzee Project.

ZURICH.- Similar to humans, chimpanzees use communication to coordinate their cooperative behavior – such as during hunting. When chimpanzees produce a specific vocalization, known as the “hunting bark”, they recruit more group members to the hunt and capture their prey more effectively, researchers at the University of Zurich and Tufts University have now shown. Chimpanzees don’t only forage for fruit, from time to time they also seek out opportunities to acquire protein-rich meat. To catch their agile monkey prey in the canopy, chimpanzees are better off having companions hunting alongside them. Scientists have found for the first time that communication is key to recruiting group members to join the hunt. By studying more than 300 hunting events recorded over the last 25 years at the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Uganda, researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH) and Tufts University in Boston have discover ... More

Researchers recycle CDs into flexible biosensors   Adsorbent material filters toxic chromium, arsenic from water supplies   Air quality can be better for active commuters than drivers, research shows

A gold CD's thin metallic layer can be separated from the rigid plastic and fashioned into sensors to monitor electrical activity in human hearts and muscles as well as lactate, glucose, pH and oxygen levels. Image courtesy: Matthew Brown.

BINGHAMPTON, NY.- New research from Binghamton University, State University of New York offers a second life for CDs: Turn them into flexible biosensors that are inexpensive and easy to manufacture. In a paper published this month in Nature Communications, Matthew Brown, Ph.D. '22, and Assistant Professor Ahyeon Koh from the Department of Biomedical Engineering show how a gold CD's thin metallic layer can be separated from the rigid plastic and fashioned into sensors to monitor electrical activity in human hearts and muscles as well as lactate, glucose, pH and oxygen levels. The sensors can communicate with a smartphone via Bluetooth. The fabrication is completed in 20 to 30 minutes without releasing toxic chemicals or needing expensive equipment, and it costs about $1.50 per device. According to the paper, "this sustainable approach for upcycling electronic waste provides an advantageous research-based waste stream that does not require cutting- ... More

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory designed an adsorbent material to rapidly remove toxic chromium and arsenic simultaneously from water resources. Image courtesy: Adam Malin/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy.

OAK RIDGE, TN.- Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory are tackling a global water challenge with a unique material designed to target not one, but two toxic, heavy metal pollutants for simultaneous removal. ORNL's Santa Jansone-Popova of the Chemical Sciences Division, and Ping Li, now at Elementis Global, have discovered an adsorbent with high selectivity for chromium and arsenic in real conditions where water resources contain many chemically similar elements. Results published in Small demonstrated the new material captures chromium and arsenic in a balanced 2-to-1 ratio. The fundamental advance creates synergy between chromium and arsenic capture so that the more chromium the material grabs, the more arsenic it can also remove. "It is rare for an adsorbent to capture two pollutants simultaneously, and to work quickly and efficiently in realistic scenarios to address the broad range of water conditions worldwide," ... More

Researchers measured the air quality experienced during different modes of commute in Leicester over a 16-week period. Image courtesy: Leicester City Council.

LEICESTER.- New Leicester research has found that people who commute by car can be subject to higher levels of harmful gases than those who walk or cycle to work. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Leicester in partnership with Leicester City Council, is published in the Journal of Transport & Health. Experts found that in-cabin levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—a key indicator of air quality and harmful when breathed in by humans—were higher for weekday morning commuters traveling by car, compared to their counterparts traveling by bike or on foot. However, the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) was shown to be slightly lower for drivers. Researchers studied four typical routes used by Leicester commuters between city suburbs and the city center, and used air quality sensors in volunteer walkers' and cyclists' backpacks to measure the concentrations of NO2 and PM2.5. The same devices were also fitted in t ... More

Trilobites' growth may have resembled that of modern marine crustaceans   Researchers propose neuromorphic computing with optically driven nonlinear fluid dynamics   New smartphone clip-on can detect Zika virus in blood samples

A Triarthrus eatoni trilobite, order Ptychopariida, family Olenidae, 11 mm long, found in the Frankfort Shale, New York, USA, from the Upper Ordovician. Image courtesy: Dwergenpaartje / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0.

VANCOUVER.- Trilobites, extinct marine arthropods that roamed the world's oceans from about 520 million years ago until they went extinct 250 million years ago at the end of the Permian period, may have grown in a similar fashion and reached ages that match those of extant crustaceans, a new study has found. In a paper published in the journal Paleobiology, researchers from the University of British Columbia and Uppsala University show that the Ordovician trilobite Triarthrus eatoni, some 450 million years ago, reached a length of just above 4 cm in about 10 years, with a growth curve very similar to that of small, slow-growing crustaceans. "T. eatoni lived in low-oxygen environments and, similarly to extant crustaceans exposed to hypoxic conditions, exhibited low growth rates compared with growth under more oxygenated conditions," said Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of UBC's Sea Around Us initiative and lead author of the study. "Low-oxygen ... More

Simulation result of light affecting liquid geometry, which in turn affects reflection and transmission properties of the optical mode, thus constituting a two-way light–liquid interaction mechanism.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- Sunlight sparkling on water evokes the rich phenomena of liquid-light interaction, spanning spatial and temporal scales. While the dynamics of liquids have fascinated researchers for decades, the rise of neuromorphic computing has sparked significant efforts to develop new, unconventional computational schemes based on recurrent neural networks, crucial to supporting wide range of modern technological applications, such as pattern recognition and autonomous driving. As biological neurons also rely on a liquid environment, a convergence may be attained by bringing nanoscale nonlinear fluid dynamics to neuromorphic computing. Researchers from University of California San Diego recently proposed a novel paradigm where liquids, which usually do not strongly interact with light on a micro- or nanoscale, support significant nonlinear response to optical fields. As reported in Advanced Photonics, the researchers predict a substantial light-liquid interaction effect through a proposed nanoscal ... More

Zika virus is primarily transmitted through Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Image courtesy: Julia Pollack.

CHAMPAIGN, IL.- As seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, detection methods that are rapid, simple, accurate, and sensitive are vital for detecting viral pathogens and for controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Unfortunately, laboratory-based methods often require trained personnel and involve complex procedures. In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have combined their efforts to develop an instrument that can be clipped on to a smartphone to rapidly test for Zika virus in a single droplet of blood. Zika virus is primarily transmitted through Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Although the disease is largely asymptomatic or results in mild symptoms in adults, it causes developmental disorders in newborn babies if their mothers are infected during early pregnancy. Currently, the virus is circulating in more than 87 countries, infecting thousands of people annually, necessitating better testing and control measures. "Mosq ... More

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Examining what machines can learn from fables
LOS ANGELES, CA.- If a friend told you they were feeling blue, would you think they were changing color. Although this question may seem facetious, it offers a simple entry into the rich world of analogical reasoning, a tool that enables humans to generalize knowledge from familiar to novel situations. We see it in areas ranging from politics to medicine; it's a cornerstone of our daily cognition. It can be as simple as a child tossing a beach ball, which they recognize is similar to a basketball; and as complex as a physician using previous case studies to determine a care plan for a patient. Now, researchers at the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI) are extending this thought process to machines. A new paper, "Understanding Narratives through Dimensions of Analogy," presented at the Qualitative ... More

Straightening out kinky roots captures carbon and avoids drought stress
ADELAIDE.- Researchers have discovered a new gene in barley and wheat that controls the angle of root growth in soil, opening the door to new cereal varieties with deeper roots that are less susceptible to drought and nutrient stress, thus mitigating the effects of climate change. "The angle at which barley roots grow down into the soil enables them to capture water and nutrients from different soil layers," said Dr. Haoyu (Mia) Lou from the University of Adelaide's School of Agriculture, Food and Wine who was joint first author on the study. "Shallow roots enable plants to capture phosphate and surface water, while deeper, straighter roots can stabilize yield by accessing deeper water and nitrate; they can also bury carbon deeper in the soil." Working alongside scientists from the UK, Italy, Germany and the U.S. the team identif ... More

Some don't like it hot: Thermal conductivity-switching bottleneck resolved
OSAKA.- Mobile phones from a few decades ago look like antiquated plastic toys today. That's an example of the dramatic miniaturization of modern electronics, as well as added functionality. Unfortunately, this miniaturization comes with a problem: the challenge of dissipating heat. This challenge limits the functionality of ultra-small electronic devices. For practical applications, the solution to heat dissipation must incorporate a means of modulating the temperature at which the device changes its speed of heat transmission. Now, in a study recently published in Nano Letters, researchers from Osaka University and collaborating partners have experimentally modulated the thermal switching temperature of block copolymers. This study will help researchers cheaply modulate the temperature of organic electronic dev ... More

Understanding how bacteria have developed a new defense mechanism against phage infection
EAST LANSING, MI.- As antibiotic resistance challenges scientists to find new ways to treat bacterial infections, researchers at Michigan State University have discovered a new way for bacteria to defend themselves against viral infection, known as phage, which could lead to better treatments in the future. When bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, phage therapy has become an effective way to treat bacterial infections. Phage therapy uses a bacterial phage to infect and kill the bacteria. While studying the evolution of the cholera-causing bacteria Vibrio cholerae, Chris Waters, a professor in the colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and Natural Science, along with graduate student Brian Hsueh and Geoff Severin (now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan), discovered that bacteria have developed a new defense ... More

Progress in bioanalytics: Production of RNA chips significantly simplified
VIENNA.- Biochips (microarrays) are modern analytical tools that allow thousands of individual detections to be performed simultaneously in a small amount of sample material. A team led by Mark Somoza from the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna has now presented a new method in Nature Communications. With this method, commercially available DNA chips can be quickly and easily converted into RNA chips, which are otherwise much more difficult to produce. Such RNA microarrays help to elucidate the still unknown functions of RNA molecules in cells—an important prerequisite for advancing the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer. DNA and RNA are both nucleic acids; their best known tasks in our cells are the long-term storage of genetic information in the form of DNA, a ... More

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This ancient giraffe relative head-butted rivals

On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate George de Hevesy was born
August 01, 1885. George Charles de Hevesy (1 August 1885 - 5 July 1966) was a Hungarian radiochemist and Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate, recognized in 1943 for his key role in the development of radioactive tracers to study chemical processes such as in the metabolism of animals. He also co-discovered the element hafnium. In 1922, de Hevesy co-discovered (with Dirk Coster) the element hafnium (72Hf) (Latin Hafnia for "Copenhagen", the home town of Niels Bohr). Supported financially by the Rockefeller Foundation, Hevesy had a very productive year. He developed the X-ray fluorescence analytical method, and discovered the samarium alpha-ray. It was here he began the use of radioactive isotopes in studying the metabolic processes of plants and animals, by tracing chemicals in the body by replacing part of stable isotopes with small quantities of the radioactive isotopes.


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