Frontera, the fifth fastest supercomputer in the world, has been opened at the University of Texas

The University of Texas has officially “inaugurated” Frontera, the fastest supercomputer available in any university in the world and generally the fifth most powerful computer in the world.

Located in the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) of the Texas faculty, this computer joins Stampede2, the second-fastest supercomputer available for any American university, also located in the same faculty.

These two computers make the University of Texas in Austin one of the leading institutions in the field of supercomputers. The same press release speaks of a “new era” in academic supercomputing with a resource that will help the nation’s best scientists to explore science on a large scale and make the next generation of discoveries.

The Frontera supercomputer has firmly placed fifth in the ranking of the fastest supercomputers in the world reaching 23.5 PetaFLOPS. The computer uses over 16,000 processors and a total of almost half a million cores.

However, the supercomputer has already been used by several researchers in recent months. For example, Olexandr Isayev, a chemist from the University of North Carolina, used it to perform more than 3 million atomic force field calculations in less than 24 hours.

But it is in the field of quantum mechanics that, according to the researchers themselves, this supercomputer will shine. “We are really looking forward to performing large-scale calculations that were not possible before,” says Isayev himself.

Links/Sources:

https://fronteraweb.tacc.utexas.edu/

Scientists discover how typhoid bacterium causes DNA breakage

A team of researchers at the University of Sheffield studied how the pathogen Salmonella typhi, which causes typhoid, accelerates the aging of body cells by “hijacking” molecules for DNA repair.

Typhoid fever, also known as “typhus,” affects more than 21 million people worldwide each year, killing about 168,000 people. The disease is particularly widespread in Southeast Asia.

Researchers have infected human cells with Salmonella typhi in the laboratory and used fluorescent microscopes to understand how this pathogen damaged DNA. They then discovered that it induced a particular form of damage to the DNA itself by taking control of DNA repair machines and making cells more susceptible to infection, in practice accelerating their aging.

DNA repair “machines” are molecules inside the cells that constantly protect our DNA when it is threatened by environmental factors such as ultraviolet light or smoke. By attacking these molecules, the typhoid pathogen causes serious damage that damages cellular DNA.

Daniel Humphreys, one of the authors of the study, comments on the results: “Our results have shown that pathogenic bacteria can accelerate cell aging through a toxin and take advantage of it to establish infections. This makes sense because infections are often more difficult to fight and recover as we age, which is partly due to cellular aging, but the fact that bacterial pathogens affect this phenomenon was unexpected.”

Another author of the study, Sherif El-Khamisy, a researcher at the Healthy Lifespan Institute at the University of England, comments: “Until now, how Salmonella typhi’s typhoid toxin contributed to the infection was a mystery. If we want to fight typhoid, understanding how the toxin causes breakage in the DNA of human cells and promotes infection is key and we hope this discovery will be the first step in developing new strategies to control typhoid, which affects some of the most vulnerable communities in the world.”

Researcher Angela Ibler was also involved in the research.

Links/Sources:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-12064-1

Even monkeys can figure out where others are looking

The ability to understand the direction of someone’s gaze is not a prerogative of human beings according to a new study carried out by researchers from the University of St Andrews, the National University of Singapore and the University of Leiden.

Understanding where others look was considered a feature found only in humans but researchers found that chimpanzees and bonobo can do the same. The wrong conviction, according to the press release on the website of the uniqueness of St Andrews, was born from the physical conformation of our eyes: the white part of the pupil, the sclera and the colored irises allow you to easily understand the direction of the look differently from the eyes of the monkeys.

The latter, in fact, often have a darker sclera and for this reason their gaze has always been considered “hidden” if not even cryptic.

Cat Hobaiter, primatologist and researcher at the University of St Andrews, explains the meaning of the study: “Understanding where someone looks seems to be the key to understanding what they are interested in, what they are thinking. For a long time researchers have suggested that the color of the eyes of monkeys means that they hide this information; we have shown that it is not so.”

The researcher noted that bonobo have a lighter sclera and darker irises, like humans, while chimpanzees have a very dark sclera and lighter irises. Both these models, after the researcher, show practically the same type of contrast that can be seen in the human eyes and therefore also these monkeys can understand where they are looking at the other individuals.

Links/Sources:

Pets help to counter the risk of depression in elderly people who have lost a spouse

The company of a pet can be of great help in countering the risk of depression and loneliness in older people after the loss of a spouse. This is the result of a study published in The Gerontologist and funded by the Gerontological Society of America and the WALTHAM Center for Pet Nutrition.

The researchers used data from various adults who participated in a survey on the interaction between animals and humans conducted by the University of Michigan in 2012. The researchers compared people who had suffered the loss of a spouse with married people who had not suffered this loss.

In general, they found that all people who had lost a spouse experienced a higher risk of depression. However, they also found that those who did not have a pet (in the study it was considered dogs or cats) saw an increase in depressive symptoms as well as a greater feeling of loneliness than those who did have an animal in the house.

“Our findings suggest that pets could help people avoid the negative consequences of loneliness after a loss,” says Dawn Carr, a researcher at Florida State University and lead author of the study.

This study, therefore, confirms the possibility of using pets to treat people, such as those living in facilities for the elderly, who suffer from high levels of loneliness or even depression due to the loss of a family member.

Links/Sources:

https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/geront/gnz109/5557850

Boy goes blind because he only eats junk food

The case of a young patient who lost his sight due to an excessively but deliberately poor diet was the subject of a study by a group of researchers at the University of Bristol who published their findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

According to the same researchers, this was nutritional optic neuropathy, a dysfunction of the optic nerve caused by poor nutrition that can lead to permanent loss of vision but that is still reversible if it is detected in advance.

Usually the most common causes of this disease are related to intestinal problems or drugs that can interfere with the absorption of nutrients by the stomach. In this study we are faced with a particular case in which the disease, and the subsequent blindness, was caused by a diet carried out intentionally.

The patient, a teenager, had visited the family doctor complaining of a certain tiredness but the link between his nutritional status and the state of his visual system was not detected until many months after this first visit. In the meantime, the visual deficit became reversible.

Tests initially showed macrocytic anemia and low levels of vitamin B12. It was later discovered that the 17-year-old had for a long time been on a diet of foods such as chips, white bread and some processed pork meat, foods considered by the researchers themselves as “junk food.”

The same researchers believe that similar cases may still occur in the future precisely because of the spread of this type of diet. Such a disease with similar causes can occur in parts of the world where the supply of food is not sufficient or is not of good quality, for example in regions where war is going on or in poor areas subject to malnutrition.

Links/Sources:

https://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/2749497/blindness-caused-junk-food-diet

Scientists analyze how people feel about initiatives for environmental sustainability

People tend to be skeptical about the changes society will have to make to sustain the environment. In particular, according to a study by Paul Bain and Tim Kurz of the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, most people are skeptical that we can achieve a more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable world at the same time.

In essence, people believe that the efforts being made to combat climate change and reduce pollution will have a significant cost in terms of quality of life. This is an additional obstacle that those who are responsible for carrying out these same changes will have to overcome in order to achieve the goal of achieving a more sustainable world in general.

The study, published in Nature Sustainability, analyzed the responses of over 2100 people from 12 developed and developing countries. The questions concerned the objectives that the countries are proposing to achieve this goal.

“A minority of people believe that everything can be achieved, but most people believe that not all problems can be solved at once, and wherever we direct our resources will have consequences elsewhere.”

The results of this study could help to design better communication policies to overcome public skepticism that a more sustainable world is actually achievable and that it does not have to conflict with quality of life.

Links/Sources:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-019-0365-4

Fake shrimps made from algae and vegetable proteins will come on the market

Shrimps made with layers of algae and vegetable proteins very similar, at least aesthetically, to the original ones: this is the purpose of New Wave Foods, one of the many new companies that are entering a rapidly growing market, namely that of “impossible” foods, imitations that may be acceptable from a visual point of view and possibly also from a taste point of view, of real foods.

Michelle Wolf, a materials scientist and biomedical engineer, as well as one of the people responsible for the technology linked to the production of these fake shrimps, says that the latter have the typical consistency and the characteristic “pop” when you bite the shrimps: “so much work has been dedicated to this,” she reports.

The algae and vegetable proteins used contain the eight amino acids found in shrimp meat, a characteristic that should not cause the taste of this imitation to differ too much from that of real shrimps. These “shrimps” would also provide a lower intake in terms of calories and salt.

New Wave Food was founded in 2015 by Wolf herself together with Dominique Barnes, an oceanographer.

But why shrimps? The fact is that the production of these crustaceans in aquaculture can be seriously damaging to different ecosystems and some scientists have already published a study in the past about the fact that the rapid growth of the shrimp market could have a direct impact on climate change.

Discriminatory shrimp fishing itself also leads to significant problems in terms of sustainability, first and foremost the unintended capture of other often protected or endangered species.

Links/Sources:

https://www.newwavefoods.com/

Wolf dogs are spreading more and more accelerating the extinction of wolves

Herds of wolfdogs can pose serious difficulties and even lead to the extinction of wolves according to a new study produced by researchers of the University of Exeter. The wolf dogs, crossbreeds between dogs and wolves, could in fact drive out wolves from many regions of Europe, further reducing their habitats, until they accelerate their extinction.

The hybridization itself between dogs and wolves has been mostly driven by human activities. Humans have destroyed wolves’ habitats and encouraged an increasing spread of dogs in the wild, which has led to increasingly frequent crossings between the two species.

The study was based on the opinions of more than 40 scientists and experts on the subject, most of whom agree that it is a problem even though not everyone agrees on the methods to be used to address it. Not everyone agrees, for example, on the forced removal of dogs in freedom or on the fact that they should be kept in special facilities or sterilized or even suppressed.

The main author of the study, Valerio Donfrancesco, a researcher at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter, states that these disagreements “have emerged from divergent ethical values among scientists from different backgrounds, such as ecologists and geneticists, from the lack of data on the effectiveness of different interventions and from the concern of some scientists that, on a practical level, allowing the removal of hybrids could open a legal loophole for the killing of wolves.

According to the other author of the study, Paolo Ciucci, of the Sapienza University of Rome, although the situation is indeed complex, there is still room for consensus “if further research will address topical issues such as the effectiveness and feasibility of control measures and their social acceptability”.

The study was published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Links/Sources:

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2019.00175/full

Researchers decode the pea genome

A team of researchers from the University of Western Australia has decoded the entire pea genome. The study, published in Nature Genetics, may be useful not only to understand how this legume evolved but also to improve the level of collection.

And, given that we are talking about one of the most consumed foods in the world, obtaining an improvement in crops may be a weapon against world hunger. The result was obtained by professors David Edwards and Jacqueline Batley of the School of Biological Sciences of the UWA and various other colleagues.

The entire genome of the pea extends for about 4.45 billion letters, as reported by Edwards and the same complete decoding has been possible only thanks to technological innovations that have taken place in recent years in the field of genome sequencing. A result that would have been impossible only 10-15 years ago.

According to the abstract of the study, compared to other genomes already sequenced of other legumes, this pea shows “an intense genetic dynamic” that is probably due to the expansion of the size of the genome itself when the Fabeae began to diverge in evolutionary level from the sister tribes.

Links/Sources:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41588-019-0480-1

Each Filipino student will have to plant 10 trees if they want to graduate.

This is an idea that can certainly be considered as innovative comes from the Philippines to combat deforestation and therefore also the reduction of carbon dioxide in the air. According to a new law already approved by the legislative council of the Philippine Parliament, each student before graduating will have to prove that they have planted at least 10 trees.

According to calculations provided by experts to the Philippine parliament itself, if this bill is approved by the president who has yet to sign it, there will be an increase in the number of trees of about 172 million units per year. In a single generation, naturally counting the level of reproduction of the plants themselves, experts estimate an increase of 525 billion new trees.

The Philippine Parliament, as well as large sections of the population, is particularly concerned about the environment as the islands are among the most deforested areas in the world. It is thought that the forest-covered territories in the Philippines have decreased from 70% to 20% in just a few years. This will not only bring problems in the medium and long term but has already caused several problems such as landslides and floods in areas most prone to geological instability.

Students will not be able to plant trees wherever they want. The authorities will indicate the areas in which the new trees will have to be planted, such as residential areas, industrial zones, spaces in front of schools, hospitals, universities, etc. The authorities will indicate the areas in which the new trees will have to be planted.

Links/Sources:

http://congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/first_17/CR01007.pdf