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

Pregnancy in old age: journals contribute to the belief that it is possible

A study published in the Journal of Women’s Health shows that the most popular journals are used to showing pregnant celebrities at an advanced age without mentioning any risk regarding the same pregnancy in old age or related to the technologies and methods used today to achieve pregnancy when you are a certain age.

According to the study, these journals unconsciously contribute to the diffusion of the belief, on the part of women, that they can safely give birth even after a certain age and therefore to be able to postpone conception too easily.

“Age is just a number”: this is the cover title of one of these journals that, for example, is mentioned in the article presenting the study. In fact, as far as conception is concerned, age is not just a number but a risk factor well certified by various studies.

In this case, researchers looked at 416 journals, mostly aimed at women of reproductive age, and found that more than 120 different pregnant and elderly celebrities were mentioned on the cover. However, only two mentions of the risks with regard to pregnancy in old age were found.

One-third of advanced pregnancies concerned celebrities aged forty years or more and in almost all cases there was no mention of the interventions or methods used to achieve this pregnancy, such as in-vitro fertilisation or the need to donate gametes.

“It is often not reported that there are expensive and extraordinary measures, assisted reproduction technologies and risks associated with these pregnancies in old age,” reports Susan G. Kornstein, editor of the Journal of Women’s Health, in relation to the study.

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

Food sensors will replace expiry dates in the future

In the not too distant future, sensors that precisely detect the degree of freshness of foods could replace the expiration dates on food products. Such a technology would cut sharply the enormous food waste that occurs in the world, naturally to a greater extent in the industrialized world.

Many consumers, in fact, throw perfectly healthy or not at all dangerous food in the trash just because the expiry date has been reached but a calculation reveals that 60% of the food that is thrown away in the UK alone, for example, is safe to eat. A new research group based at Imperial College London is therefore developing new sensors, incorporated into the packaging of food products themselves, at minimal cost (at the moment the cost is two cents each) that are able to detect even the smallest traces of gas that can develop from deteriorating food.

These gases can be, for example, ammonia and trimethylamine in products such as meat and fish. These paper-based electrical gas sensors (PEGs) can then be easily elected by a smartphone by simply passing the device on the packaging. Researchers have created these sensors by printing carbon electrodes on cellulose paper, making them biodegradable and non-toxic materials that are perfectly safe for food packaging.

These sensors boast small NFC microchips that can also be chosen by common mobile devices. Compared to other similar sensors already in existence, the PEGs have, during the test phases, detected small traces of gas to a better and more precise extent, according to the researchers. In addition, these new sensors work effectively even at the highest humidity levels, environmental conditions where most of them fail.

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

Drinking alcohol, even during conception, can damage the placenta

That alcohol can be a strongly negative factor for the development of the fetus during pregnancy has been ascertained by various studies but few of them have analyzed the effects that the same alcohol can have in the period related to conception (immediately before and shortly after fertilization).

A new study, conducted by the researchers Jacinta Kalisch-Smith and Karen Moritz of the University of Queensland in Australia, tries to fill this gap by studying the impact that alcohol can have on the fetus and in general on pregnancy if taken during the period of conception. Precisely for this reason, the two researchers performed experiments on rats by having the females consume alcohol during the period of conception, specifically between four days before and four days after fertilization.

The results of the study, published in Development, showed that the placenta was significantly reduced. Alcohol, in fact, reduced the formation of blood vessels in the placenta and this, in turn, caused a lower intake of nutrients to the embryo. The size of the placenta was reduced by up to 17% and blood vessel formation by up to 32%.

This is important information about understanding the various often undetected causes behind the low birthweight of the child, which in turn is a risk factor for various diseases in adulthood.

Science Reporting

Larger mitochondrial genome sequenced

A group of Brazilian scientists claim to have sequenced the largest mitochondrial genome of those already sequenced previously. The mitochondrial genome (mitogenome) is represented by the DNA contained in the mitochondria, the cellular organelles that in turn are found in the eukaryotic cells. It is only a small portion of the DNA of an animal eukaryotic cell since most of it is found in the nucleus of the cell (in this case we speak of nuclear genome or nuclear DNA).

Scientists at the University of São Paulo (FCL-UNESP), Assis, Brazil, have in fact sequenced the mitochondrial genome of Isarachnanthus nocturnus, a tubular sea anemone only 15 cm long but which boasts, in relation to its body, a long mitochondrial genome consisting of 80,923 base pairs (the human mitochondrial genome includes only 16,569 base pairs).

The results, published in Scientific Reports, therefore confirm that the mitogenome of the I. nocturnus is almost five times larger than the human one, as stated by Sérgio Nascimento Stampar, professor at FCL-UNESP and principal author of the study, who adds: “We tend to think that we are molecularly more complex, but in reality our genome has been more ‘filtered’ during our evolution. Maintaining this giant genome is probably more expensive in terms of energy expenditure.”

Among other things, this same sequencing puts on the table the possibility of a reclassification of the species of cnidarians (jellyfish, octopus, corals and sea anemones) since the tubular anemones analyzed seem to form a group separated from corals and other sea anemones and show similarities with jellyfish.

More data and more studies will be needed, perhaps focusing on the sequencing of the nuclear genome of these species, a result that Stampar intends to achieve by the end of 2020.

Science Reporting

Scientists discover that antibiotic for acne also fights hardening of the arteries

A drug used to treat acne may also be useful to counteract the hardening of the arteries according to a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge and King’s College London. The researchers found that minocycline, an antibiotic used to treat acne, can prevent, at least in rats, the accumulation of calcium in the circulatory system and thus the hardening of the arteries.

There is currently no treatment for this condition. The hardening is caused by the accumulation of calcium deposits, accumulations that stiffen the arteries limiting the flow of blood to organs and tissues. The hardening of the arteries, a sort of biomineralisation, occurs for practically every human being as he gets older but can be accelerated under different conditions, for example in dialysis patients.

Guiding this calcification, as the scientists behind this study have discovered, is a particular molecule, called Poly ADP-ribose (PAR), a molecule that was thought to be only associated with DNA repair. PAR is produced by the enzymes PARP1 and PARP2, which in turn are expressed in response to DNA damage and oxidative stress. In an attempt to find a way to block or inhibit PARP, researchers after years of work identified six molecules contained in the antibiotic minocycline that prevented hardening.

The study, published in Cell Reports, shows how this antibiotic is highly effective in preventing hardening of the arteries and calcification of blood vessels. The researchers now hope to carry out the first experiments on patients in the coming months in order to realize potential treatments.