Science Reporting

Site of the greatest meteorological impact in the United Kingdom analyzed

The site of what has already been defined as the largest meteor impact crater in the UK has been identified and analyzed and confirmed (it was already discovered in 2008) by a group of researchers from the universities of Oxford and Aberdeen. The traces related to the site, located near Ullapool, Scotland, were produced 1.2 billion years ago by a meteorite with an estimated width of one mile.

Although the precise point of impact, which is now in the sea about 20 km away from the Scottish coast, is still unknown today, there are many details and information that scientists have collected and then published in the Journal of the Geological Society. The identification of the crater itself, however, required various analyses and was quite difficult because the impact occurred at a point that was then covered by the sea over time. The main traces, therefore, are now found under the seawater of the Minch basin.

It is, in any case, an “exciting discovery,” as reported by Ken Amor, one of the authors of the study, because despite this various interesting traces have been preserved thanks to the fact that most of the meteorite ended up in an ancient valley where then the sediments have covered them and in a way preserved. According to the scientists, attending such an event “would have been a real spectacle,” as the debris scattered by the impact of the meteorite was mostly thrown into an arid landscape and a large area.

There were no witnesses, however: at that time (more than 1.2 billion years ago) there were still no living beings on Earth and life was still only in the sea. The territory that is now part of Scotland, moreover, at that time was located near the equator and was characterized by an arid environment and a “Martian” landscape. According to scientists, there is also the possibility that such an event may occur in the future since objects with a diameter of about one kilometer that impact on Earth arrive on average every 100,000-1 million years (estimates are quite variable).

Science Reporting

Sun-exposed oyster fungi can counteract tuberculosis

In an attempt to combat tuberculosis, one of the most deadly infectious diseases in the world, especially among the low-income groups and in the poorest areas, a group of researchers wanted to confirm whether oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), one of the most famous fungal species in the world, also known in Italy as “mumps,” could be of effective help.

These fungi, once exposed to the sun, turn out to be an excellent source of vitamin D, a feature that, along with others, can help patients with tuberculosis respond better to drugs.

As Tibebeselassie Seyoum Keflie, researcher at the University of Hohenheim, Germany, one of the authors of the study together with Hans Konrad Biesalski, explains, “This source of vitamin D is ideal for low-income countries because the fungi can be easily distributed and administered in a safe way, at low cost, easy to replicate.”

Research has confirmed that vitamin D helps the body create a particular anti-microbial compound that strongly counteracts the bacterial cause of tuberculosis. Oyster fungi, in such a context, provide a safe and affordable source of vitamin D that is easily absorbed by the body.

The confirmation came from tests carried out by some people fed every morning for four months by wholemeal bread containing a quantity of vitamin D taken from oyster fungi exposed to the sun. Patients who fed on this “fortified” bread showed a sharp increase in vitamin D in the body and clear improvements in immunological responses.

Science Reporting

Protein responsible for cell death in Alzheimer’s disease in mice discovered

A group of researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan, discovered a new protein that is involved in Alzheimer’s disease. This protein, called CAPON, already known because it is linked to risk factors for other psychiatric disorders, facilitates the connection between the two known culprits of Alzheimer’s disease: amyloid plaques and Tau proteins.

The interactions between amyloid plaques and Tau proteins cause the death of brain cells, the first symptoms of dementia.

In their work, published in Nature Communications, the researchers explain how they identified the CAPON gene in the brain of a mouse, specifically they found the accumulation of CAPON in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is very important for memory. In the presence of amyloid plaques, the accumulation of CAPON was even greater.

By creating an artificial over-expression of CAPON in the brain of mice, researchers found that mice showed significant levels of neurodegeneration and hippocampal shrinkage.

Takaomi Saido, a RIKEN researcher and one of the authors of the study, states in relation to this discovery: “Neurodegeneration is complex but we think CAPON is an important mediator between amyloid-β and cell death. Breaking this link with a drug is a promising way to treat Alzheimer’s disease.”

Science Reporting

Heat-retaining material inspired by polar bear fur

Animals have always been a source of inspiration for materials with characteristics of all kinds. Polar bears are no exception. The hairs and fur that covers the body of these animals have always been analyzed in the laboratory in an attempt to artificially recreate the isolation provided by this fur, which also uses the fat below so that the animal can survive cold and harsh environments in the Arctic. A material inspired by the fur of polar bears would in fact be able to block the heat so efficiently as to be a breaking point in all attempts to combat cold and frost.

A group of Chinese researchers, who published their work in the magazine Chem, claims to be inspired by this animal to create a synthetic thermal insulation.

Shu-Hong Yu, professor of chemistry at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) also explains: “The polar bear’s hair has been optimized in an evolutionary way to help prevent heat loss in cold and wet conditions, making it an excellent model for synthetic thermal insulation. By letting the tube aerogel escape from the carbon tubes, we can design a similar elastic and lightweight material that traps heat without degrading significantly over its lifetime.”

But what is the particularity of polar bear hair that makes fur so efficient? The main feature is that, unlike human hair and many other mammals, the hairs of the polar bear are internally empty: they are long cylindrical cores perforated directly in the center and it is precisely this cavity that is responsible for the efficiency of the insulation of the heat of the body that is retained. And as if that were not enough, these hairs also make the fur very water-resistant and generally very elastic, all essential characteristics in the environments in which the polar bear lives.

The material created by Chinese researchers, based on carbon nanotubes, cannot yet be easily produced in series, but the researchers themselves promise to overcome these limits so that it can be used in extreme aerospace applications.

Science Reporting

Red and white meat equally bad for cholesterol according to a new study

New research by researchers at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) reverses the belief about the consumption of red and white meat. According to the “popular belief” consuming white meat has a lesser effect on the increase in cholesterol level than consuming red meat. However, the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was the first to surprise the researchers themselves.

According to their findings, there would be no difference between consuming high levels of red meat or white poultry. Both contributed to higher blood cholesterol levels than, for example, the consumption of a comparable amount of plant proteins during observations. And this regardless of the high levels of saturated fat in the diet of the patients examined: “Their effects on cholesterol are identical when the levels of saturated fat are equivalent,” reports Ronald Krauss, the senior author of the study and professor of medicine at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland.

According to the results, consuming large amounts of saturated fat increases the concentrations of large cholesterol-enriched LDL (low-density lipoprotein) particles that still have a weaker connection with cardiovascular disease than smaller LDLs. Also according to the results, both red and white meat increased the quantities of large LDLs.

These results contrast with the various recommendations regarding the use of white meat compared to red meat, which has become quite unpopular in recent years among health professionals and those who are more attentive to nutrition. In any case, this “equality” between red meat and white meat can currently only be linked to their effects on blood cholesterol: other possible negative effects of eating red meat compared to white meat, such as a greater contribution to heart disease, would still be at stake.