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Oldest army ant ever discovered reveals iconic predator once raided Europe

Researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Colorado State University have reported the discovery of the oldest army ant on record, preserved in Baltic amber dating to the Eocene (~35 million years ago). Image courtesy: Sosiak et al. 2022, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University; ©President and Fellows of Harvard College.

NEWARK, NJ.- Their nomadic lifestyle and ravenous raiding have taken army ants (Dorylinae) to most continents on Earth, but a rare fossil discovery is now offering first evidence that the infamous predators once swarmed a land they are strikingly absent from today—Europe. In the journal Biology Letters, researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Colorado State University have reported the discovery of the oldest army ant on record, preserved in Baltic amber dating to the Eocene (about 35 million years ago). The eyeless specimen Dissimulodorylus perseus (D. perseus)—named after the mythical Greek hero Perseus, who famously defeated Medusa with the limited use of sight—marks just the second fossil army ant species ever described, and the first army ant fossil recovered from the Eastern Hemisphere. Sized at roughly 3 millimeters in length, researchers say the ant fossil brings to light previously unknown army ant lineages th ... More

525-million-year-old fossil defies textbook explanation for brain evolution   Identifying the brain circuit responsible for locomotor activation and avoidance behavior   Diagnostic marker found for deadly brain disease marked by dementia, movement problems

Artist's impression of an individual 525-million-year-old Cardiodictyon catenulum on the shallow coastal sea floor, emerging from the shelter of a small stromatolite built by photosynthetic bacteria. Image: Nicholas Strausfeld/University of Arizona.

TUCSON, AZ.- Fossils of a tiny sea creature that died more than half a billion years ago may compel a science textbook rewrite of how brains evolved. A study published in Science—led by Nicholas Strausfeld, a Regents Professor in the University of Arizona Department of Neuroscience, and Frank Hirth, a reader of evolutionary neuroscience at King's College London—provides the first detailed description of Cardiodictyon catenulum, a wormlike animal preserved in rocks in China's southern Yunnan province. Measuring barely half an inch (less than 1.5 centimeters) long and initially discovered in 1984, the fossil had hidden a crucial secret until now: a delicately preserved nervous system, including a brain. "To our knowledge, this is the oldest fossilized brain we know of, so far," Strausfeld said. Cardiodictyon belonged to an extinct group of animals known as armored lobopodians, which were abundant early during a period known as the Cambr ... More

CRH neurons in the IPACL region produce a red fluorescent protein that enables visualization. If CRH neurons are connected to the substantia nigra in the midbrain, retrograde labeling additionally stains them green. Image courtesy: Simon Chang.

MUNICH.- In a largely neglected brain region, scientists identified neurons that produce the stress hormone CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone). They showed that the CRH produced in this region plays a role in behavioral arousal, locomotor activation, and avoidance behavior. The findings could be important for the understanding of psychiatric diseases. Jan Deussing, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry (MPI), and his team have identified a region in the brain of mice where neurons produce the stress hormone CRH. This so-called IPACL region (lateral interstitial nucleus of the posterior limb of the anterior commissure) has been largely ignored by scientists until now. It is part of the extended amygdala—a brain region central to behaviors such as fear. The role of CRH originating from this part of the brain was previously unknown. By contrast, it is known that CRH originating from the hypothalamus brain region is a component of the stress axis, which leads to th ... More

Kanta Horie, PhD, (left) and Chihiro Sato, PhD, discuss data in the Tracy Family SILQ Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Image courtesy: Matt Miller/Washington University.

ST. LOUIS, MO.- Zooming in on a single disease and studying it intensely is often the most productive route to finding treatments. But there's no easy way to distinguish among people living with any of the primary tauopathies—a group of rare brain diseases marked by rapidly worsening problems with thinking and movement—because the symptoms are too similar. As a result, most studies on primary tauopathies have included a mix of such diseases, even though researchers know that the diseases differ in important ways and probably require different treatments. Now, however, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found a biomarker that identifies, with up to 89% accuracy, people with a primary tauopathy called corticobasal degeneration (CBD). Traditional diagnostic methods for CBD are only 25% to 50% accurate, the researchers said. The biomarker could be developed into a tool to screen potential volunteers ... More

What octopus and human brains have in common   Catching the dynamic Coronal Web   Rice lab's catalyst could be key for hydrogen economy

Cephalopods playing with microRNAs (yellow): microRNAs may be linked to the emergence of complex brains in cephalopods. Image courtesy: Grygoriy Zolotarov.

BERLIN.- Cephalopods like octopuses, squids and cuttlefish are highly intelligent animals with complex nervous systems. In Science Advances, a team led by Nikolaus Rajewsky of the Max Delbrück Center has now shown that their evolution is linked to a dramatic expansion of their microRNA repertoire. If we go far enough back in evolutionary history, we encounter the last known common ancestor of humans and cephalopods: a primitive wormlike animal with minimal intelligence and simple eyespots. Later, the animal kingdom can be divided into two groups of organisms—those with backbones and those without. While vertebrates, particularly primates and other mammals, went on to develop large and complex brains with diverse cognitive abilities, invertebrates did not. With one exception: the cephalopods. Scientists have long wondered why such a complex nervous system was only able to develop in these mollusks. Now, an international team led by re ... More

The Sun`s atmosphere: Computer simulation of the architecture of the magnetic field in the middle corona on August 17, 2018. Image courtesy: © Nature Astronomy, Chitta et al.

GÖTTINGEN.- Using observational data from the U.S. weather satellites GOES, a team of researchers led by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany has taken an important step toward unlocking one of the Sun’s most persevering secrets: How does our star launch the particles constituting the solar wind into space? The data provide a unique view of a key region in the solar corona to which researchers have had little access so far. There, the team has for the first time captured a dynamic web-like network of elongated, interwoven plasma structures. Together with data from other space probes and extensive computer simulations, a clear picture emerges: where the elongated coronal web structures interact, magnetic energy is discharged - and particles escape into space. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have traditionally concerned ... More

Hossein Robatjazi. Image courtesy: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University.

HOUSTON, TX.- Rice University researchers have engineered a key light-activated nanomaterial for the hydrogen economy. Using only inexpensive raw materials, a team from Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics, Syzygy Plasmonics Inc. and Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment created a scalable catalyst that needs only the power of light to convert ammonia into clean-burning hydrogen fuel. The research was published in the journal Science. The research follows government and industry investment to create infrastructure and markets for carbon-free liquid ammonia fuel that will not contribute to greenhouse warming. Liquid ammonia is easy to transport and packs a lot of energy, with one nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms per molecule. The new catalyst breaks those molecules into hydrogen gas, a clean-burning fuel, and nitrogen gas, the largest component of Earth’s atmosphere. And unlike traditional catalysts, i ... More

UW researchers working to improve and simplify models for how PFAS flows through the ground   Scientists discover southward migration of Arctic Ocean species during the last glacial period   AI tailors artificial DNA for future drug development

Will Gnesda demonstrates a PFAS flow lab experiment. Gnesda is graduate student in the UW–Madison Department of Geosciences and lead author of a new study modeling PFAS flow through the ground. Image courtesy: Will Cushman.

MADISON, WI.- As a growing number of communities are forced to confront PFAS contamination in their groundwater, a key hurdle in addressing this harmful group of chemicals lies in unraveling how they move through a region of the environment called the unsaturated zone — a jumble of soil, rock and water sandwiched between the ground’s surface and the water table below. A new study by University of Wisconsin­–Madison researchers offers a simplified new way of understanding PFAS movement through this zone. PFAS is an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The synthetic chemicals have been used for decades in products ranging from nonstick cookware to firefighting foams. Some PFAS chemicals are associated with health risks and can persist in the environment indefinitely. Modeling their flow through the unsaturated zone — also known as the vadose zone — is important because the chemicals can linger there ... More

An image of Arctic ostracods produced by Scanning electron microscope (SEM). Image courtesy: Dr He Wang.

HONG KONG.- In order to survive, a species must find the most favorable habitat to pass on its genes. Therefore, learning how species migrated with climate change is very important for protecting species from environmental threats. In light of this, a research team led by Dr. He Wang and Dr. Moriaki Yasuhara from the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) and the Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) of The University of Hong Kong studied the impact of East Asian winter monsoon (EAWM). They identified two southward migration events of polar species of Arctic ostracods during the last glacial period and determined the ages of these two events for the first time. The results will help researchers better understand Asian monsoon dynamics and their impacts on the marine ecosystem and polar species, thereby reducing the risk of species extinction. The study has recently been published in Geophysical Research Letters. EAWM is a determining factor of win ... More

AI tailors artificial DNA. Image courtesy: Yen Strandqvist.

GOTHENBURG.- With the help of an AI, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have succeeded in designing synthetic DNA that controls the cells' protein production. The technology can contribute to the development and production of vaccines, drugs for severe diseases, as well as alternative food proteins much faster and at significantly lower costs than today. How genes are expressed is a process that is fundamental to the functionality of cells in all living organisms. Simply put, the genetic code in DNA is transcribed to the molecule messenger RNA (mRNA), which tells the cell's factory which protein to produce and in which quantities. Researchers have put a lot of effort into trying to control gene expression because, among other things, it can contribute to the development of protein-based drugs. A recent example is the mRNA vaccine against COVID-19, which instructed the body's cells to produce the same ... More

Fireworks have long-lasting effects on wild birds   Making the most of quite little: Improving AI training for edge sensor time series   Guess who? Chimpanzee faces reveal family relationships

Arctic migratory geese spend winters in Europe to feed and rest during the cold months. Image courtesy: © Nelleke Buitendijk.

KONSTANZ.- Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany, and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology GPS tracked Arctic migratory geese in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands over the New Year period to examine the long-term impact of fireworks. Movement data from 347 geese showed that on New Year’s Eve, birds suddenly leave their sleeping sites and fly to new areas further away from human settlements. The disturbed birds rested two hours less and flew further, sometimes up to 500 kilometers non-stop, than they did on nights without fireworks. The unusual behaviors didn’t end with the celebrations. For all studied days after the New Year, geese spent more time foraging and never returned to their original sleeping sites. Every year, fireworks are set off around the world to welcome the new year. This nighttime spectacle of light, color, and sound is enjoyable for humans, but less so for animals. As any ... More

Overview of the proposed data augmentation approach. Image courtesy: Tokyo Institute of Technology.

TOKYO.- Engineers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have demonstrated a simple computational approach for improving the way artificial intelligence classifiers, such as neural networks, can be trained based on limited amounts of sensor data. The emerging applications of the Internet of Things often require edge devices that can reliably classify behaviors and situations based on time series. However, training data are difficult and expensive to acquire. The proposed approach promises to substantially increase the quality of classifier training, at almost no extra cost. In recent times, the prospect of having huge numbers of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors quietly and diligently monitoring countless aspects of human, natural, and machine activities has gained ground. As our society becomes more and more hungry for data, scientists, engineers, and strategists increasingly hope that the additional insight which we can derive from ... More

Image courtesy: Dr Catherine Hobaiter.

ST ANDREWS.- Researchers from the University of St Andrews have shown for the first time that not only do wild chimpanzees tend to look like their family members, but also some relationships are easier to detect than others. Facial similarities between parents and children or siblings are easily detected in many human families, but it was less clear whether the same was true in other primates. The new study, published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, was led by researchers from the University of St Andrews, together with an international group from the University of Kent, Budongo Conservation Field Station, Muséum National d'Historie Naturelle, Sorbonne Université, Oxford University, Harvard University, University of Neuchatel, and the Max Planck Institute. Dr. Catherine Hobaiter, from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews, said, "Unfortunately, we couldn't ask the chimpanzees themselves if they ... More

More News
Genome studies uncover a new branch in fungal evolution
EDMONTON.- About 600 seemingly disparate fungi that never quite found a fit along the fungal family tree have been shown to have a common ancestor, according to a University of Alberta-led research team that used genome sequencing to give these peculiar creatures their own classification home. “They don't have any particular feature that you can see with the naked eye where you can say they belong to the same group. But when you go to the genome, suddenly this emerges,” says Toby Spribille, principal investigator on the project and associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. “I like to think of these as the platypus and echidna of the fungal world.” Spribille, Canada Research Chair in Symbiosis, is referring to Australia’s famed Linnaean classification system ... More

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CMU, Berkeley Researchers Design System Creating Robust Legged Robot

On a day like today, Nobel Prize laureate Charles Scott Sherrington was born
December 27, 1857. Sir Charles Scott Sherrington (27 November 1857 - 4 March 1952) was an eminent English neurophysiologist. His experimental research established many aspects of contemporary neuroscience, including the concept of the spinal reflex as a system involving connected neurons (the "neuron doctrine"), and the ways in which signal transmission between neurons can be potentiated or depotentiated. Sherrington himself coined the word "synapse" to define the connection between two neurons. His book The Integrative Action of the Nervous System (1906) is a synthesis of this work, in recognition of which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1932 (along with Edgar Adrian). In addition to his work in physiology, Sherrington did research in histology, bacteriology, and pathology. He was president of the Royal Society in the early 1920s.


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