Scientific News

Gas hydrates stored at the bottom of the European seas could be the energy of the future

An interesting study carried out by researchers at the University of Southampton confirms the existence of large deposits of gas hydrate to bridge the gap between fossil fuels and renewable sources if only the latter were to be used. Gas hydrate, or “gas hydrate,” also known as “burning ice,” is a gas usually stored in large quantities in a solid ice-like form. It consists of water and natural gas (often methane) and is usually found under the sea bed or near the coast.

Recent research had already shown that this gas could play a role in coal replacement in the coming decades, at least until the level of renewable energy is sufficient overall. This study represents a sort of “inventory” of gas hydrate deposits and was created in the context of the European Commission funded project called MIGRATE (Marine Gas Hydrates: An Indigenous Resource of Natural Gas for Europe).

The researchers have identified several sites where there are direct or indirect indications of the presence of hydrated gas. These sites are located on the west and east coasts of Greenland, in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, off the coast of Norway and the west of Ireland and in some limited areas of the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.

“We have found that gas hydrates are particularly widespread around Svalbard, off Norway and in the Black Sea, but the hydrate systems have only been well analyzed in some areas, so there may still be a lot to discover,” says Tim Minshull, a researcher at the University of Southampton who led the study team.

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Coyote in cities are more aggressive due to a garbage-based diet

Coyotes are becoming more aggressive because they are increasingly present in the urban context and because they are increasingly nourished by junk food: this is the conclusion reached by a new study conducted by researcher Scott Sugden.

The researcher analyzed the intestinal microbiome of 76 coyotes, endemic to both urban and suburban contexts, and compared them. He discovered that those who used to live more in urban environments showed a diet much lower in protein, those proteins in game that are part of the natural diet of coyotes living in wilder environments.

In the stomachs of the animals the researcher has found various traces that undoubtedly showed the origin of the food: hamburgers, leftovers from fast-food, burritos and more, food that is certainly not very nutritious for a coyote. He also analyzed the bacterial groups present in the intestines, finding in particular a smaller amount of Fusobacterium.

Already in the past some research has vaguely associated a smaller amount of this bacterium in the intestines to aggression in dogs and it is therefore natural to make the same connection also with regard to coyotes.

Moreover, in the coyote stomachs of “city” the researcher has found a greater prevalence, of about twice, of the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis, a parasite that pet dogs could easily introduce into their bodies through coyote faeces.

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Artificial intelligence and satellites used to predict volcanic eruptions

Researchers and scientists are resorting to artificial intelligence to predict, or at least detect in time, volcano eruptions. Considering that there are more than 800 million people living close to active volcanoes, such research takes on a certain importance.

Using satellite images, the MOUNTS project (Monitoring Unrest from Space) currently monitors 18 active volcanoes, including Etna, and does so by analyzing satellite images. However, the data sets provided by the satellites are so large and full-bodied, and are updated almost daily, that manual checks are not possible and computer algorithms must be used.

The images also reflect the smallest changes related to the deformation of the terrain near volcanoes. Just to make the “control” phase more efficient, the researchers developed artificial neural networks, a type of artificial intelligence, to automatically detect important ground deformation events, signals that suggest that the magma itself is moving underneath the terrain.

In essence, researchers, as reported by Andreas Ley, a researcher at the Technical University of Berlin involved in the MOUNTS project, do not want to continuously monitor volcanoes, they want computers to report when something interesting is happening.

The system has already been able to detect early signals of different eruptions. Last month, for example, he detected a deformation of the land connected to an evolution which then took place on the island of Reunion concerning the volcano Piton de la Fournaise.

On this occasion, the system itself sent automatic emails not only to the researchers but also to the users who had registered with the appropriate website to get updates.

The deformations of the ground detectable by the satellites do not cover all situations and for this reason, the researchers decided to integrate these important data with other equally important data such as those related to gas emissions near the cone and to volcano temperature increases or of the area around it. This data is naturally collected via ground sensors. Now, with all this data, it is possible to work on algorithms based on automatic learning to predict eruptions more and more efficiently.

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Malaria discovered on the salivary gland of mosquitoes

There is a sort of “bottleneck” in the body of the mosquitoes that cause malaria and that causes the parasites of this disease are not transmitted all over the body of people when mosquitoes bite them.

The discovery was made by a group of scientists from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine that parasites inside mosquitoes are stopped by a “road block” during their escape attempt in the insect’s salivary glands during the sting. It is estimated that less than a tenth of the parasites present in the mosquito’s salivary gland at the time of puncture is transmitted into the body of humans, as stated by Michael Wells, a researcher engaged in the study.

The researchers analyzed, in particular, the salivary gland of the Anopheles mosquito. This gland is made up of three lobes of cells that produce saliva enclosed in a sort of protective film called the basement membrane. The parasites, to enter the body of humans, must cross this membrane, penetrate into a layer of salivary cells and then “swim” in an area called the secretory cavity to finally reach the salivary duct. Researchers have discovered that few manage to reach the latter conduit.

This discovery could naturally serve to devise new strategies to reduce malaria infection, one of the most serious diseases, especially in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, as well as one of the most widespread so that it is estimated that there are 220 million people who they have contracted all over the world. It could also serve as regards the contrast to other diseases transmitted by the same mosquitoes, first of all Zika fever.

Deborah Andrew, professor of cell biology at Johns Hopkins University and one of the main authors of the study, comments as follows: “Our results add substantial details to the role of mosquito salivary glands as access organs to diseases spread by them insects. By improving the transmission barriers that naturally exist in mosquitoes, we can potentially block the spread of malaria and other deadly mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika fever.”

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Black hole dating back 850 million years after the big bang found

A group of researchers from the State University of Pennsylvania have announced the discovery of a black hole that they say existed 850 million years after the big bang.

The researchers, who used the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, underscore the importance of the discovery of a “primordial” black hole like this: “It is extraordinarily demanding to find quasars in this cloaked phase because much of their radiation it is absorbed and cannot be detected by current instruments,” says Fabio Vito, a researcher at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile who led the study.

Probably the quasar PSO 167-13, discovered for the first time by the telescope in optical light to the Hawaii Pan-STARRS, a very bright supermassive black hole that probably lies at the center of its galaxy directing its gravity. According to the researchers, in fact, the black hole is obscured by the dense cloud of gas that would also have contributed to its growth.

As you may have noticed we are inserting many “probably” also because the authors are not sure if the X-ray emissions they have received, which are in themselves very weak, are really inherent to PSO 167-13 or to another quasar of another galaxy nearby.

If it is PSO 167-13, then we need to explain why it appears “obscured” to X-rays but not in optical light. There may have been a large and rapid, but also unusual, increase in the dimming of the quasar over the three years between the first observation with the Hawaiian telescope in optical light and the second X-ray observation with the space telescope.

However, if it is not PSO 167-13, then it means that we are faced with two very close quasars, the most distant pair of quasars ever detected.

“We suspect that most of the supermassive black holes in the primordial universe are hidden: it is, therefore, essential to identify them and study them to understand how they could grow to reach masses of a billion suns so rapidly,” says Roberto Gilli of INAF, one of the authors of the research published on Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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Mice to recognize fake videos? Research team believes it is possible

Mice to recognize deep fakes: it’s the bizarre idea that came to a team from the Oregon Institute of Neuroscience.

The researchers believe they can train mice so that they can recognize or otherwise have particular reactions to some irregularities in the speeches that are recorded to make these fake videos that so much fear are unleashing even in world governments as well as in public opinion.

Following a training phase, the mice would, in fact, be able to discern any errors in human speech with an accuracy of 80% as stated by Jonathan Saunders, one of the researchers is participating in the project.

The final goal is obviously not to use hordes of mice to analyze the audio of the thousands or millions of deepfake videos that are already running on the net but to understand the ways in which they can recognize these errors to understand if they can be profitably implemented then in computers. At the moment they have already taught rats to recognize differences between various similar words such as “buh” and “guh.”

“Because they can learn this problem very complex to categorize the different sounds of speech, we think it should be possible to train the rats to detect a fake and real speech,” Saunders says.

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New species of medicinal leech identified in the USA

A new species of medicinal leech has been discovered in freshwater wetlands in southern Maryland. Called Macrobdella mimicus, the new leech has been classified by an international team of museum scientists led by Anna Phillips, one of the curators of the US National Museum of Natural History.

Phillips herself explains the discovery as follows: “We found a new species of medicinal leech less than 50 miles from the National Museum of Natural History – one of the world’s largest biodiversity libraries. A discovery like this clarifies how much diversity is still to be discovered and documented, even right under the nose of scientists.”

The leeches are parasitic worms that until 1800 were used in medicine to treat various ailments because it was believed, a belief later revealed to be wrong, that it could eliminate the infected or in any case bad blood from the patient’s body. The so-called “medicinal leech” is that which is able to feed even with human blood.

The researcher had collected this specimen of leech from a Maryland swamp. After Ricardo Salas-Montiel, a student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, carried out DNA sequencing, the researchers realized that it did not belong to known species, in particular it did not belong to the Macrobdella decorates species, as the researchers themselves thought when they had discovered it.

In addition to genetic differences, there is a visible physical difference between the two species: the new one, the mimicus, boasts reproductive pores along the body (organs also known as gonopores) in a different position.

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Exposure to lavender oil contributes to abnormal breast growth in girls

Exposure to lavender essential oil may be linked to normal breast growth in girls according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

This is the first study to report abnormal breast growth in adolescents in relation to lavender exposure although previous studies had associated breast growth in male boys with the use of lavender-containing fragrances.

According to the experiments conducted by the researchers behind this study, breast growth in both girls and boys was interrupted after the interruption of the use of perfumed products containing lavender. The researchers also determined that some components in essential oils may block the testosterone of boys or mimic estrogen in girls and this, according to the researchers, could explain the observed breast growth in the cases they analyzed.

The study was conducted by J. Tyler Ramsey, a second-year medical student at Campbell University as well as a researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Ramsey himself analyzes the results: “The public should be aware of these results and consider all the tests before deciding when to use essential oils. It is also important that physicians are aware that lavender and tea tree oils contain tea endocrine-disrupting chemicals and should be considered in assessing premature breast development in girls and boys and in children swelling of breast tissue in adult men.”

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Bacterium that causes diarrhea is evolving to take advantage of hospital environments

The adaptation to the environment and therefore also to the action of contrast put in place by human beings is refined generation after generation in bacteria. A new study, conducted by a group of researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, confirms this.

The researchers this time studied the effects of the Clostridium difficile bacterium on the intestine. These bacteria can infect it and represent one of the main causes of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in humans.

In fact, when certain antibiotics are not taken, millions of other bacteria in the human intestine keep Clostridium difficile under control. However, with antibiotics many of the good bacteria are eliminated and this leaves the person vulnerable to the action of Clostridium difficile. The latter, in fact, is very difficult to treat taken individually as a species.

Precisely for the reasons mentioned above, this bacterium thrives in hospitals where, of course, antibiotics are for daily use. The researchers found that it is evolving into two separate species. The new species would have deviated towards a new evolutionary line for two reasons: to adapt to the diets of human beings increasingly characterized by sugar intake and to adapt to health practices and hospital environments.

In fact, it is developing more resistant spores that allow it to stay alive longer when placed on surfaces, which naturally facilitates its diffusion among people.

Researchers analyzed 906 Clostridium difficile strains taken from the body of people or animals or from the environment in the laboratory. They sequenced their DNA and then compared it to find that it is evolving into two separate species.

Nitin Kumar, the study’s first author, explains this in a press release published on the Sanger Institute website: “Our large-scale genetic analysis has allowed us to discover that C. difficile is currently forming a new species with a specialized group in the diffusion in hospital environments. This emerging species has existed for thousands of years, but this is the first time that someone has studied C. difficile genomes in this way to identify it. This particular bacterium was triggered to exploit modern health practices and human diets, even before hospitals existed.”

This study confirms how bacteria can evolve in relation to human behavior.