Science Reporting

Millennials more at risk of suicide or overdose than previous generations

According to a report by the Stanford Centre on Poverty and Inequality, millennials are more at risk of dying from suicide or overdose than previous generations. The report, prepared by various US experts on poverty and social inequality, examined various factors including education, health, employment and income as well as race and gender.

According to David Grusky, professor of sociology and director of the Stanford Centre on Poverty and Inequality, “millennials are the first generation to fully experience the social and economic problems of our time.” This is because young people born in the 2000s are those who try to enter the labour market during or immediately after the Great Recession that began at the end of the 2000s

They are also those who have to face, compared to the children of previous generations, ten-year economic issues, first of all the decline of economic mobility, which only today are having their real effects. According to the researchers, this is a particularly difficult period for the younger generations compared with previous generations.

Furthermore, according to the report, mortality rates among young adults (25-34 years old) have increased significantly, by more than 20% according to data analyzed by researchers. Deaths are mainly due to an increase in suicides and drug overdoses.

The report also found that millennia have a wider range of social identities to refer to but this does not mean that they are more likely to accept people other than themselves than previous generations.

With regard to the issue of racism and social prejudice, in fact, the report shows that things have not changed so much since the 1950s or 1960s, at least as far as the United States is concerned.

Science Reporting

Scientists investigate how to combat the spread of viruses from mosquitoes

A research group is testing a new method to combat the spread of viruses by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can be responsible for the spread of serious diseases such as yellow fever, dengue fever and the Zika virus.

Research by Beth McGraw, professor of entomology at the State University of Pennsylvania, gives new hope of using a particular bacterium, called Wolbachia, which is present in about half of all insects, to block the replication of the virus within mosquitoes.

The article published in Virus Evolution describes in particular how this bacterium can be used to stop the spread of dengue fever and how the virus seems not to develop resistance to it, at least in laboratory experiments. Many mosquitoes carrying this virus, however, do not have this bacterium and some laboratory work is needed to place it inside the cells of these mosquitoes.

However, once this step was taken, the researchers realized that the dengue viruses grown with the Wolbachia bacterium were much less effective in infecting mosquito cells and had a reduced ability to replicate than viruses grown without the bacterium.

Since the mosquito populations are very large and these are only laboratory experiments on a few small numbers, it is possible that once this method is applied in nature the virus can quickly develop resistance to the bacterium.

In any case, the fact that there is a bacterium that almost completely blocks the dengue fever virus is very attractive information, also because this bacterium seems to spread very quickly and very efficiently among mosquitoes.

This is because it causes a curious effect on males: those containing this bacterium can no longer reproduce with females without the bacterium. This means that males with the bacterium inside their cells prevent females without the bacterium from reproducing and that each generation of mosquitoes has more and more specimens containing the bacterium.

Currently, several releases of Wolbachia are already underway in tropical and subtropical areas where the mosquito of the species Aedes aegypti, considered as the main vector of the dengue virus, is more present. These releases will help to understand whether the virus can actually develop resistance in nature.

A resistance that however has not been developed by the virus in the laboratory, something that gives hope, as McGraw herself reports: “I am constantly surprised by Wolbachia. I thought we would have dengue variants that would develop resistance: Wolbachia is doing a better job than I expected in controlling viral replication in cells.”

Science Reporting

Scientists find how cholera bacterium use a hooked appendix for various purposes

Vibrio cholerae is the bacterium that causes cholera: it infects the small intestine and causes diarrhoea and dehydration. This bacterium often lives on the shells of crustaceans, exoskeletons composed of a sugar polymer, called chitin, which the bacterium feeds on.

To hold on to the shells, but also to perform other tasks, these bacteria use an appendix as if it were a sort of grappling hook thanks to which the Vibrio cholerae, and several other species of bacteria, detect the surfaces and stick to them for feeding.

With regard to this particular characteristic of these bacteria, a group of researchers carried out research published in Nature Microbiology, a study that obtained important new information on how bacteria colonize surfaces and how they distinguish the individuals around them, considered fundamental biological issues.

With these “grappling hooks,” called type IV hairs, they can also take DNA from neighboring bacteria and perform other basic tasks for their survival including the recognition of other members of their own species. “The idea is that bacteria can throw these long ropes, hook onto something and rewind it to themselves,” reports David Adams, one of the researchers. How they work exactly and what else they are able to do, in addition to being able to stick to DNA, is still partly unknown.

Now, however, researchers have managed to directly observe the pili in live cholera bacteria using a technique called cysteine labeling. According to one of the researchers involved in the study, Melanie Blokesch, this is an “important milestone: even though we had established some time ago that these structures were there, seeing them moving in real time was something very special.”

They discovered that different strains of V. cholerae produce slightly different variants of the pili and that they naturally form a dense network of self-interacting pili that bind closely to the surface of the chitin and are necessary for the bacterium to remain attached during the flow of water.

Science Reporting

Rotation of the Earth moves the waters of Lake Garda and contributes to its ecosystem

An interesting study by a research group from the universities of Trento and Utrecht confirms that the rotation of the Earth can also strongly influence medium-sized water bodies such as lakes. Specifically, researchers have obtained confirmation by analyzing Lake Garda, a body unique for its physical and environmental characteristics, just for this object of strong tourist flows.

Researchers have discovered that the rotation of our planet modifies, and does so in a fairly significant way, the movement of the water of the lake influencing the mixing of deep waters. Movements that among other things are of fundamental importance for the ecosystem of the lake itself.

The researchers, who studied various hydrodynamic aspects of the lake from 2017 to 2018, discovered that “when the wind blows along the main axis of Lake Garda, the rotation of the Earth causes a secondary circulation that moves the water laterally, from one coast to another. This creates a difference in water temperature between the east coast (Veneto) and the west coast (Lombardy).”

These aspects are important for the ecosystem of the lake because they contribute to the movement of oxygen but also to the movement of nutrients for fish and for the living beings of the lake, making it possible for them to move from the surface to the deeper layers and vice versa in a continuous cycle.

The phenomenon can be observed in particular in the period between February and April, a period during which the water temperature reaches its minimum. During these weeks, this vertical movement reaches its peak, causing these substances to pass from the surface to the bottom of the lake, at a maximum depth of 350 meters.

Among other things, it is a phenomenon that is typical of coastal areas of oceans or very large lakes and the same researchers state that they did not expect to be able to observe it on Lake Garda, a lake that can be considered of medium size.

The study was conducted by Italian researcher Marco Toffolon and Dutch researcher Henk Dijkstra.

Science Reporting

Six billion people may be at risk of dengue fever by the end of the century

A new study takes into account the great threat of dengue fever that is spreading alarmingly in various parts of the world. According to the research, which appeared in Nature Microbiology, the relevant virus could be a source of real risk for more than 6 billion people by the end of this century. Specifically, 20% of the world’s population could contract the virus in 2080 in the most terrible, but also the most pessimistic, hypothesis.

The areas where the spread could increase, and in a fairly massive way, are the southeastern United States, the coastal areas of China and Japan and the internal regions of Australia. These results were obtained by a research group that analyzed in particular data on climate change, urbanization and the planet’s resources to understand the indirect spread of the virus.

In any case, the major changes, at the level of spread, are expected in those areas where dengue fever is already a very real danger and where the disease can be defined as endemic. There is talk of various areas of the African continent, in particular the regions of the Sahel and southern Africa. Surprisingly, the data analyzed does not show a future greater spread of the disease in Europe compared to other areas further away from Africa and less subject to illegal immigration from the latter.

In fact, climate change will contribute to the expansion of dengue, as Oliver Brady, assistant to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and one of the authors of the study, points out, but other important factors will also be the increase of the human population and urbanization in tropical areas. All these factors will allow mosquitoes to spread and thrive and therefore the virus it carries will do the same.

Science Reporting

Scientists convert type A blood into universal blood by means of intestinal bacteria

The problem with blood donation very often does not lie in the lack of donors but in the lack of compatible blood. For a transfusion to be successful, the blood of the donor and the recipient must be compatible. The differentiations are established on the basis of particular sugar molecules on the surface of the red blood cells and if a person receives non-compatible blood special blood antigens are set in motion causing the immune system to eliminate it.

However, type O blood lacks these antigens and is therefore considered as “universal” because it can also be donated to patients with blood groups A, B and AB. It is in fact quite important in cases of first aid, that is in those cases in which it is not possible to use compatible blood but it is necessary to perform an emergency transfusion. Blood group O is, however, much rarer than the others.

Now, a new research group has tried to transform type A blood into universal blood by removing its own antigens using enzymes present in particular bacteria living in the human intestine.

These bacteria usually attach themselves to the internal walls of the intestine to feed on mucinae, particular substances coated with sugars and proteins. These sugars are very similar to those that differentiate blood groups.

Based on this knowledge, the research group of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, has cut pieces of DNA of the intestinal bacterium in question, the Flavonifractor plautii, performing laboratory tests to understand the feasibility of induced removal of these sugars.

The researchers were successful: the enzymes of the bacteria also performed their work in human blood. These results are very promising in relation to the possibility of creating universal blood from major blood groups, although much more work and research is needed to safely remove all antigens.

Science Reporting

Scientists discover that carnivorous plants also catch salamanders

When we think of carnivorous plants, we think of meals made with insects, at most spiders, which can fall into the clutches of this type of plant. However, new research confirms that these plants can also feed on small vertebrates, specifically salamanders.

A research group of the University of Guelph has analyzed a group of carnivorous plants that grow in the wetlands of Canada and that are characterized by a particular mechanism of capture. Their leaves form a sort of deep cavity that is filled with digestive fluid. Once attracted to the insect or spider, by means of visual baits such as pigments, special pigments or distilling glands of sweet nectar, they make it drown in this liquid thanks to which the prey slowly but surely melts.

In the study, published in Ecology, the researchers describe “an unexpected and fascinating case of plants that eat vertebrates.” Studying various specimens of the species Sarracenia purpurea purpurea located near a small pond in the autumn of 2018, the researchers discovered that almost one in five contained, inside their cavity filled with liquid, young specimens of salamanders.

These were salamanders that had recently come out of the larval state inside the pond and ventured into the outside world by crawling for the first time. Obviously very inexperienced, these small and young salamanders ended up being trapped by the plants. Usually, they died in 3-4 days but according to the researchers, who analyzed the plants at length and for several months, some of the victims had remained inside the liquid for 19 days.

This time is necessary for the digestive enzymes in the plant liquid to do their job by decomposing the body of the prey. According to the researchers, some of these salamanders may have ended up in the trap set by the plants to escape from other predators. In addition, other factors that can contribute to faster death of prey once captured are the heat that is created inside the cavity, hunger and infection by pathogens.