Scientific News

An observatory that will allow us to study primordial universe has nearly been completed

Only one last piece is missing to complete the new Simons astronomical observatory, a telescope that will be used to obtain new information on the formation of the universe and its origins.

Engineers, technicians and scientists are making the final touches to the LATR (Large Aperture Telescope Receiver), one of the most important pieces, considered the central detector as well as the “heart” of the entire observatory.

The observatory Simons will rely on a series of telescopes placed in Atacama desert, Chile, and will be used in particular to study deeper into the cosmic microwave background radiation, ie the residual radiation left by the big bang, a group of waves very weak important to know the first moments of the universe.

This is a very weak signal that can be easily disturbed by any “background noise.” Precisely to avoid this disturbance, the LATR detector will operate at very low temperatures, even at absolute zero, a temperature that can only be obtained through cryogenic techniques. This is why the engineers have designed a massive metal shell that will house this central detector.

This is the largest experiment aimed at studying the cosmic ground-based radiation ever made (thus not considering orbiting telescopes), an experiment that can count on sensitivity at least 10 times higher than any other study of this radiation.

The observatory should gather the first data in the spring of 2021.

Scientific News

Teeth can be repaired and regenerated thanks to stem cells

Triggering a natural tooth regeneration on command could be possible in the future thanks to a new discovery made by researchers at the Biotechnology Center of the Technical University of Dresden (BIOTEC) concerning a group of stem cells.

Scientists at the German institute, along with several other colleagues, have in fact discovered a new population of mesenchymal stromal cells that could be useful to repair teeth. This is what researchers observed in some experiments on mice: these cells contributed to the regeneration of dentin, which is the hard and resistant tissue that underlies the structure of the tooth.

When the researchers activated these stem cells through a gene called Dlk1, a signal was activated that caused the cells of the dental tissue to increase or to decrease the number of cells produced.

For the moment the experiments have been carried out only on mice and therefore further research will be necessary to verify that what happened on the teeth of rodents can also occur on human teeth.

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A mystery regarding a glitch in neutron stars has been solved

Neutron stars are the densest stars in the universe (if you don’t consider the black holes as stars) and they rotate very fast and regularly. A small percentage of them, however, show a mysterious behavior that scientists have called a “glitch:” some portions of the interior of the star move outwards and this seems to allow the same stars to rotate faster for short periods.

In a new study, published in Nature Astronomy, a group of researchers analyzed just one of these stars, the Pulsar of the Sails, a neutron star about a thousand light-years away from us.

This is one of the most famous neutron stars not only because it is part of that 5% of the pulsar with the “glitch” but also because this “anomaly” occurs every three years, which allows a more detailed study, despite the cause of this feature was never really explained by astronomers.

Analyzing data from observations made by telescopes, the researchers first confirmed the glitch because the star started at some point to spin faster before slowing down again. They also succeeded in indirectly analyzing the inside of the star by discovering a particular superfluid neutron soup in the inner layer of the crust, as reported by Paul Lasky, one of the authors of the study.

This soup moves outwards hitting the outer crust and making it spin faster. This first phase is followed by a second phase which sees another superfluid soup that reaches the first, during which the normal rotation of the star is re-established.

This is not the solution of the enigma but in any case, this study provides important information to inspire future studies on this mysterious glitch that characterizes some neutron stars.

Scientific News

Remains of five ships wrecked 2000 years ago have been found

The remains of five shipwrecks that occurred over 2000 years ago have been found in the slums of marine areas around the Greek island of Levitha. These are finds that the same researchers consider very important and significant, as also reported in a statement issued by the Ministry of Culture of Greece.

Five wrecks have been identified in total; three of them date back to the II and I century BC, while the other two date back to the II century AD. These were ships loaded with goods, many of which represented by vases and amphorae that contained what were then considered as precious liquids, namely wine and oil.

According to the statement from the Greek ministry, the amphorae came from cities such as Rhodes, Phenicia and Carthage as well as Cnidus and Kos. In this period the antigonid dynasty ruled the marine trade of this part of the Mediterranean which during these centuries was very active so that the Aegean Sea was one of the most “trafficked” in the world.

Three various finds have also been identified as a large anchor, a sort of 400 kg granite anchorage pole about 45 meters long. It is thought that this anchor, which dates back to the sixth century BC, served for a very large ship.

The wrecks were discovered during underwater inspections held from June 15th to 29th assisted by archaeologist George Koutsouflakis.

The area around the island of Levitha will be further inspected over the next few years as well as the marine regions around the islands of Mavria, Glaros and Chinaros.

Scientific News

Scientists reverse aging brain cells in rats

A group of researchers from the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute of the University of Cambridge declares, through a study published in Nature, to have reversed the aging process in brain stem cells of rats.

These are results that, according to the same press release concerning the new research, could have enormous implications for the human aging process and the therapies we put in place to combat it. The researchers analyzed, in particular, the oligodendrocyte progenitor (OPC) cells of rats, a type of brain stem cells whose function decreases with age, which also happens in humans.

The researchers were able to make the loss of function of these cells reversible in elderly rats by transplanting new ones, naturally of the same type, from the brains of younger rats.

To the surprise of the researchers themselves, after the transplantation of these brain cells, the old ones seemed to become younger, behaving like young transplanted cells that were naturally more vigorous.

At this point the researchers removed a protein (called Piezo1) on the surface of old brain stem cells, inducing the latter to perceive the softer and more spongy surrounding environment, which is more like the brain of a young mouse.

This led to the same effect as with the transplant: the older cells “rejuvenated” and returned to their normal regenerative function.

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Researchers discover how the leishmania parasite infects the cells of the human immune system

A group of researchers from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) has published a new study which clarifies the ways in which the Leishmania parasite infects the cells of the human immune system.

This parasite, which causes leishmaniasis, is transmitted to mammals by the bite of a phlebotomine sand fly. The parasite, once inside the mammal’s body, acts through two key molecules to infect cells. These two molecules are the GP63 metalloprotease and the lipophosphoglycan (LPG), also known as virulence factors.

The parasite Achieving the goal by sabotaging the macrophage defense system and thus canceling or otherwise making the immune response less effective. The researchers found that to do this the Leishmania parasite exploits an intracellular transport mechanism, present in the macrophages themselves, to spread virulence factors.

As Albert Descoteaux explains, lead author of the study conducted together with other colleagues, “It is as if there were a train traveling between the different intracellular compartments that parasites use to transport their virulence factors inside the infected cells.”

It is the first time that the Leishmania parasite is shown to transfer its virulence factors from the vacuole to the cytoplasm of the cell.

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Hookahs: study highlights health hazards

Health risks regarding hookah use have been highlighted in a new study published on Aerosol Science and Technology by researchers at the University of California at Irvine.

By analyzing the emissions during various sessions of smokers who used hookahs, the researchers noticed the presence of various toxic and harmful chemicals in addition to nicotine. Among the various compounds, they also noted the presence of irritating carbonyl compounds and carbon monoxide.

“And because of the greater volume inhaled for each puff and the longer duration of a smoking session, the hookah often provides a greater dose of these chemicals to the smoker,” says Veronique Perraud, a researcher at the chemistry department of that university.

The research team also investigated the effect of a nicotine-free herbal blend marketed as a healthier alternative to classic tobacco. They discovered that with the latter there were even higher levels of toxic substances present than smoke.

Among the various tools that the researchers used there is also a pair of mass spectrometers, including a unique model designed by the Smith Group at the same university, to accurately measure the chemical composition of the gases and solids emitted during the sessions of smoke with the almost real hookah.

It is a different method than the previous ones to highlight toxic compounds of smoke: the “classic” method sees the collection of samples from a filter at the end of the session. However, this new technique made it possible to carry out measurements during various steps of the session, at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of it: “We were able to demonstrate that a smoker is exposed to a greater quantity of ultrafine particles during the 10 minutes ahead of the rest of the time,” says Perraud herself.

The same scientist also disproves the myth about the use of hookah that should see the water in the bowl filter toxic chemicals providing a sort of protection for smokers: “In the study, we show that this is not the case with most gas and that, probably due to its cooling effect, water actually promotes the formation of ultrafine particles.”