The world’s smallest accelerometer created with graphene

A group of researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology has created what was defined as the world’s smallest accelerometer, a device that could revolutionize the wearable device compartment or that of video games.

The researchers used the nano material of the moment, graphene, to create the transducer, which can also be manufactured at low cost. It is an ultra-small accelerometer defined by Xuge Fan, a researcher at the Department of Micro and Nanosystems of KTH, “the smallest electromechanical accelerometer in the world” made thanks to the possibility of using thick components on an atomic scale such as those made of graphene.

The researchers have created a piezo-resistant NEMS (nano-electromechanical systems) accelerometer that, despite being very small, maintains the level of sensitivity required by these devices with a size measurable in a few millimeters for a device at least two orders of magnitude smaller than conventional accelerometers made with silicon, even the most advanced.

What are the possible uses? Monitoring systems for cardiovascular diseases as well as devices for the acquisition of data on ultra-sensitive and portable motion, able to monitor even the smallest movements of the human body, video game peripherals, resonators, gyroscopes and microphones.


DNA mutations accelerate biological age and aging

Research suggests that DNA changes can be one of the causes of serious age-related diseases, including heart disease and other age-related diseases.

Researchers have analyzed somatic mutations, that is DNA alterations that usually affect the work done by stem cells within the blood. According to the researchers, these very mutations, and the pathologies they can cause, accelerate the biological age of the individual regardless of the chronological age.

The biological age and the age that can be attributed to a person depending on his or her physical condition in relation to various reference standards and that can be unrelated to age.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow. The researchers analyzed more than 1000 elderly people aged between 80 and 90 years.

The results showed that 6% of the participants with somatic mutations were almost four years older than the biological age of the participants without mutations.

The study was published in Current Biology.


Impact of climate change on banana cultivation studied

A new study analyses the impact that climate change is having and will have on banana related agricultural production. Produced by Dan Bebber of the University of Exeter, the study analyses this impact on 27 countries representing 86% of world banana production.

Since 1961, these countries have seen an average increase in crop yields due to climate change, largely due to higher heat levels in many regions, which naturally led to more favorable growth conditions. However, the same study shows that by 2050, if climate change continues at today’s rate, these yield gains will be almost completely offset.

This also applies to India, the world’s largest producer of bananas, and Brazil, the fourth. Only a few countries, including Ecuador and Honduras, could see an overall benefit in the quantity of the harvest.

Bebber himself, Professor of Life Sciences at Exeter University, says: “We are very concerned about the impact of diseases such as fusarium on bananas, but the impacts of climate change have been largely ignored. There will be winners and losers in the coming years and our study could stimulate vulnerable countries to prepare through investment in technologies such as irrigation.”


Squirrels listen to birds’ verses to understand the presence of predators

An interesting discovery was made by a group of researchers, which concerns the relationship between squirrels and birds. According to the researchers, who published their work on PLOS, the grey squirrels feel reassured by the “chatter” of the nearby singing birds, verses that in a way makes them feel safer.

Birds usually “sing” to communicate various simple basic signals, such as the absence of danger or sharing their position. Obviously squirrels have learned these same lines to understand in turn that there is no imminent threat. Researchers have analyzed in particular 54 oriental grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) present in various green areas of Ohio.

They then alternately reproduced recordings to simulate a threat, specifically the cry of a red-tailed falcon (Buteo jamaicensis) and the verses of the birds themselves. This park is a common predator for both species. At the same time, they monitored the behavior of the squirrels.

When listening to the recorded verse of the hawk, all the squirrels showed the typical behavior they adopt in the presence of predators, such as immobility, the look up or the flight. However, when the researchers also started recording the different birds, the squirrels themselves performed fewer “vigilance” behaviors, basically showing that they felt a little more “relaxed.”

This is the demonstration that squirrels themselves use the birds’ verses to understand the presence and imminence of danger.

The research was carried out by Marie V. Lilly, Emma C. Lucore and Keith A. Tarvin.


Super monosex shrimps created in the laboratory to prevent the spread of parasites

Super monosex shrimps created in the laboratory that could reduce the spread of an important parasite as well as increase the results of aquaculture: this is the purpose that is being carried out by a group of researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of Negev (BGU).

In a study published in Scientific Reports, the group talks about a “super shrimp” that produces only female offspring. This is precisely the reason for the increase in results in terms of aquaculture.
This is an interesting biotechnological result that could have important implications also in the economic field.

The researchers, by transplanting androgenic gland cells, were able to cause complete sex reversal in females of Macrobrachium rosenbergii shrimps that have become functional males. Through the latter, an all-female progeny without the Z chromosome can be produced.

Tom Levy is one of the researchers involved in the project together with Professor Amir Sagi. Levy himself speaks of the usefulness of this research also with regard to the fight against parasites: “Shrimps serve as effective biocontrol agents against parasite-carrying snails. And because we can now use monosex shrimps, which do not reproduce, it reduces the risk of the shrimp becoming an invasive species.”

The snails that shrimp feed on, in fact, can carry parasites that cause schistosomiasis, a disease that can have bad effects on the human urogenital system.

The results have also been achieved without the use of hormones or genetic modifications.


Researchers analyze walnut shells under a microscope and discover a new cell

A group of researchers discovered the secret of nuts and their shells, which are sometimes very difficult to break. The study appeared in Advanced Science.

Walnuts have an extremely strong shell made from layers of cells that in turn have very hard walls and separation fibers that form a polygonal pattern. The researchers have in particular analyzed the shells of classic walnuts, those produced by plants of the genus Juglans, whose shell is made of very dense tissue in which the same forms that the cells create are difficult to recognize even with a high degree of magnification.

The researchers isolated the single cells of these shells thanks to a particular organic polymer and examined them with the microscopes. They identified a new type of cell, never classified before, which they called the polylobate sclereid cell (polylobate sclereid).

It is a particular cell that has irregular lobes and contours sometimes concave, sometimes convex. The result is a scheme in which each cell has 14 other cells close together in a very complex scheme which, however, makes the shell very strong, almost woody, and resistant to traction.

The results obtained could be of help in creating an equally light and resistant material based on the same type of structure.


Gene identified that makes cereal plants resistant to drought

A gene that is considered to be responsible for the drought resistance of cereal plants has been identified by a group of scientists at Heriot-Watt University.

According to the press release, this discovery could lead to “future-proof cereals”, i.e. cereals that can better withstand the ongoing climate changes that are expected to lead to increasingly frequent droughts in cultivation.

The study, published in the Journal of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, describes how researchers over nearly five years have identified the HvMYB1 gene.

This gene manages stress tolerance in various cereal plants, including barley itself. This is the first study that associates the HvMYB1 gene with a plant’s resistance to drought.

Peter Morris of the Institute of Earth and Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University explains the meaning of the research he has carried out: “As climate change is accelerating and we are experiencing more extreme seasons, it is essential to maintain continuity of supply. This is significant for key sectors such as Scotch whisky, one of the UK’s major export items. Our project focused specifically on barley; one of the three ingredients used in the production of Scotch whisky.

It was not an easy task considering that barley has more than 39,000 genes, twice as many as human genes.