Scientists analyse quantities of water on 19 exoplanets and find less water than theorised

A study examining the amounts of water present in the atmospheres of 19 exoplanets was carried out by a team of astrophysicists at the University of Cambridge. The researchers concluded that although water, mainly in the form of water vapour, is common in exoplanet atmospheres, the level of presence is lower than expected.

As explained on Space.com Nikku Madhusudhan, one of the authors of the study, the chemical substances that were most commonly found in the atmospheres of other planets were sodium and potassium, whose amounts were consistent with expectations unlike water vapor. It was precisely the amount of water that surprised Madhusudhan himself, who, together with his colleagues, examined the atmospheres of the 19 exoplanets thanks to the data collected by various space and terrestrial telescopes.

The planets analyzed had surface temperatures ranging from 20° to 2000° centigrade and various sizes, from mini-Neptune with 10 times the Earth’s mass to gaseous supergiants with 600 times the Earth’s mass, so a good catalogue of planets although the number analyzed (19) was not so high.

At present, however, forecasts remain uncertain as to how much water can actually hide on average in exoplanets, also because it is not so easy to detect it in gaseous planets. An example could be Jupiter in our solar system: as explained by Luis Welbanks, another author of the study and astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, Jupiter is so cold that water vapour begins to condense and is no longer visible in the thick gaseous atmosphere. On Jupiter there could be a lot of water or very little water, but with the tools we have available today it is not yet known.

This should not, however, weaken the research of extraterrestrial life: as the researchers explain, in fact on Earth there is not that much water at mass level. According to Madhusudhan the Earth itself could be considered “slightly below sufficient” as far as the amount of water is concerned so the fact that there is a smaller amount of water on exoplanets compared to the theories previously formulated should not necessarily represent bad news as far as their habitability is concerned.

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/

A new dinosaur in Japan that lived 72 million years ago was just classified

A new Hadrosaurus dinosaur that lived in the late Cretaceous was classified by a group of Japanese researchers.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, talks about the methods of analysis performed by researchers on a fossil found in the formation of Hakobuchi, an island of Hokkaido.

The new dinosaur has been named Kamuysaurus japonicus. The first term refers to “Kamuy,” a deity of the Ainu, an indigenous population of the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The second term refers to Japan.

The discovery, made by Yoshitsugu Kobayashi and colleagues, is related to an adrosaur of about eight meters long that lived about 72 million years ago. It can be considered an average-sized adult hadrosaur weighing 4 tonnes or 5.3 tonnes, depending on whether it was walking on two or four legs.

Unique features found by researchers include a small crest on the head and a row of neural spines pointing forward. According to the researchers, the Kamuysaurus japonicus is related to other adrosaurs whose fossils have been found in the Far East. Among the latter are the Chinese Laiyangosaurus and the Russian Kerberosaurus.

Important discovery

This is an important discovery because it could allow a better understanding of the evolution of the Hadrosaurids during the late Cretaceous period, from 100.5 to 66 million years ago, that is until the period of the very disappearance of the dinosaurs.

Moreover, the fact that it was found near the sea, makes this fossil an important finding in relation to the understanding of the development and evolution of the same adrosaurids in such environments. This discovery, in fact, suggests that the members of the adrosaurids and its subfamilies, Hadrosaurinae and Lambeosaurinae, preferred to live near the coasts.

Links/Sources:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-48607-1

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

Classified trout genome: researchers now hope to solve taxonomic issues

A group of researchers completed the genomic sequencing of trout (Salmo trutta), one of the most discussed fish at the taxonomic classification level.

Different species of trout have adapted to exploit particular biological niches and very often can be characterized by very different behavioral patterns. Many scientists believe that it is not possible to group all trout populations into one species. For this very reason, in recent years there have been many subspecies of trout proposed for a new classification and for several of them the elevation to the rank of species has been proposed.

In addition to helping to explain the various genetic properties of this animal, this complete sequencing may be useful to clarify these taxonomic issues, in particular by making comparisons between the genomes of different species having a reference genome.

“Now that we have the genome, we can start learning more about how trout adapt to different conditions, helping to manage wild and farmed fish stocks in the future,” says Tom Hansen, of the Marine Research Institute in Norway, one of the researchers involved in the study.

Paolo Prodohl, a researcher at the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University in Belfast, said in his press release: “The new trout genome is a turning point for us. We will finally be able to resolve the debate on how many species of trout there are. If you think in terms of conservation, if you manage several species as one species, it actually undermines what you’re trying to do. Because you can’t protect what you don’t know if it exists.”

Links/Sources:

https://www.cambridgenetwork.co.uk/news/brown-trout-genome-will-help-explain-species-genetic-superpowers

The gene of “laziness” has been identified in mice

A gene related to physical inactivity in mice has been discovered by researchers at the University of Missuori. This discovery could be useful to develop new methods to counteract sedentary behavior even in humans.

As is well known, regular physical activity is essential for a good level of health and sedentariness is one of the main characteristics that can trigger certain diseases. It is not the first research to show that genes can play a role in physical inactivity but no particular gene has ever been identified.

Frank Booth, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, was able to discover, together with colleagues, the Alpha gene inhibitor of protein kinase, a genus that according to the same researchers “plays a significant role” in the context of physical inactivity.

Experiments have been carried out on several dozen mice. Over the past 10 years, the researcher has selected cats by dividing them into those that ran more or ran less on wheels. After obtaining a sufficient level of selection between active and “lazy” mice, the researcher checked for any differences in their genetic composition and found that the Alpha protein kinase inhibitor gene was much less present in lazy rats.

Most likely there are other genes involved but these results may pave the way for future research to identify all genes involved in physical inactivity in humans as well. Once identified, therapies could be developed to prevent the occurrence of diseases even before they develop.

Links/Sources:

https://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2019/0905-is-laziness-a-choice-or-genetic-trait/

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12035-018-1171-0

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