Brightsurf Science News & Current Events Archive (2019)

Science news and science current events archive 2019.

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Top Science News & Current Event Articles from 2019

Star tours
Astronomers have a new tool in their search for extraterrestrial life -- a sophisticated bot that helps identify stars hosting planets similar to Jupiter and Saturn.

Life on Mars?
Researchers from Hungary have discovered embedded organic material in a Martian meteorite found in the late 1970s. The scientists were able to determine the presence of organic matter in mineralized form such as different forms of bacteria within the meteorite, suggesting that life could have existed on the Red Planet.

Beat the heat
University of Utah mechanical engineering associate professor Mathieu Francoeur has discovered a way to produce more electricity from heat than thought possible by creating a silicon chip, also known as a 'device,' that converts more thermal radiation into electricity. This could lead to devices such as laptop computers and cellphones with much longer battery life and solar panels that are much more efficient at converting radiant heat to energy.

A varied menu
Freiburg biologists have analyzed in detail for the first time which animals are captured by the carnivorous waterwheel plant

Slime travelers
New UC Riverside-led research settles a longstanding debate about whether the most ancient animal communities were deliberately mobile. It turns out they were, because they were hungry.

From rain to flood
Extreme weather events, such as thunderstorms or heavy rainfall and the resulting floods, influence Earth and environmental systems in the long term. To holistically study the impacts of hydrological extremes -- from precipitation to water entering the ground to discharge to flow into the ocean -- a measurement campaign at Müglitztal/Saxony is about to start under the MOSES Helmholtz Initiative. The measurement campaign is coordinated by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

Rust never sleeps
PNNL researchers have been able to observe in unprecedented detail how rust happens.

Not silent at all
The so-called 'silent' or 'synonymous' genetic alterations do not result in altered proteins. But they can nevertheless influence numerous functions of the cell and thus also disease processes. Scientists from the German Cancer Consortium, German Cancer Research Center, and the University of Freiburg have now created a comprehensive database of all synonymous mutations ever found in cancer. This is a 'reference book' that provides cancer researchers with all available information on each of these supposedly 'silent' mutations at a glance.

Sensing shakes
Every year earthquakes worldwide claim hundreds or even thousands of lives. Forewarning allows people to head for safety and a matter of seconds could spell the difference between life and death. UTokyo researchers demonstrate a new earthquake detection method -- their technique exploits subtle telltale gravitational signals traveling ahead of the tremors. Future research could boost early warning systems.

IMpower131
Patients with Stage IV squamous non-small cell lung cancer enrolled in clinical trial to test the immunotherapy atezolizumab and chemotherapy against chemotherapy alone experienced a longer survival rate, among a subgroup of patients with high PD-LI.

Marine oil snow
Marine snow is the phenomena of flakes of falling organic material and biological debris cascading down a water column like snowflakes. But an oil spill like Deepwater Horizon will add oil and dispersants to the mix, making marine oil snow that is can be toxic to organisms in deep-sea ecosystems.

The age of water
Groundwater in Egypt's aquifers may be as much as 200,000 years old and that's important to know as officials in that country seek to increasing the use of groundwater, especially in the Eastern Desert, to mitigate growing water stress and allow for agricultural projects.

Eating the flu
Given the importance and wide distribution of Influenza A viruses, it is surprising how little is known about infections of wild mammals. A new study led by Alex D. Greenwood and Gábor Á. Czirják of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Berlin sheds light on which species are commonly infected and why.

Insect food webs
Biological diversity stabilizes species interactions.

Meet the tenrecs
Researchers reviewed the conservation priorities for the 31 species of tenrec -- a poorly understood family of small mammals superficially resembling hedgehogs, found only on the island of Madagascar.

Weyl goes chiral
Quasiparticles that behave like massless fermions, known as Weyl fermions, have been in recent years at the center of a string of exciting findings in condensed matter physics. The group of physicist Sebastian Huber at ETH Zurich now reports experiments in which they got a handle on one of the defining properties of Weyl fermions -- their chirality.

Size is everything
The susceptibility of ecosystems to disruption depends on a lot of factors that can't all be grasped. Ulrich Brose from University of Jena (Germany) has therefore developed a new method that provides good results with only a few information about the properties of predators. The model confirms that a large body mass index between predator and prey creates stable systems. It can also predict which predator species play a key role.

Holy crocodiles
Sebastian Brackhane of the University of Freiburg has researched the cultural status of the reptiles in East Timor.

Sources and sinks
For the entire history of our species, humans have lived on a planet capped by a chunk of ice at each pole. But Earth has been ice-free for about 75 percent of the time since complex life first appeared. This variation in background climate, between partly glaciated and ice-free, has puzzled geologists for decades.

Science reveals improvements in Roman building techniques
In research published in EPJ Plus, researchers have carried out scientific analysis of the materials used to build the Atrium Vestae in Rome. They found that successive phases of modification to the building saw improvements, including higher quality raw materials, higher brick firing temperatures, and better ratios between carbonate and silicate building materials.

One among many
Anyone moving in a large crowd, absorbed in their phone and yet avoiding collisions, follows certain laws that they themselves create. The movement of individuals as a condition for the movement of masses is the subject of a recent study by Dr. Andrey Korbut from the Higher School of Economics.

Fragmented turtles
Scientists looked at how fragmentation is affecting critically endangered Dahl's toad headed turtle (Mesoclemmys dahli) a forest-stream specialist found only in Colombia.

Outcompeting cancer
Suppressing the capacity of tumors to destroy the healthy tissue that surrounds them is essential for fighting cancer-induced morbidity and mortality. Now, a new study in human-derived tumors reveals a potential way of doing just that. The study reveals a competition mechanism used by human cancer cells for killing their neighbors and demonstrates that combining substances that block this mechanism with chemotherapy results in more effective tumor elimination. These findings may lead to the development of novel cancer therapies.

Storage wars
One answer to our greenhouse gas challenges may be right under our feet: Soil scientists Oliver Chadwick of UC Santa Barbara and Marc Kramer of Washington State University have found that minerals in soil can hold on to a significant amount of carbon pulled from the atmosphere. It's a mechanism that could potentially be exploited as the world tries to shift its carbon economy.

Good genes
A team of scientists from NAU, Arizona State University, the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts and nine other institutions worldwide to study potential cancer suppression mechanisms in cetaceans, the mammalian group that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. Their findings, which picked apart the genome of the humpback whale, as well as the genomes of nine other cetaceans, in order to determine how their cancer defenses are so effective, were published today in Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed. A new study from Princeton University illuminates precise behavior patterns of E. coli and corrects a longstanding error in predicting their behavior.

From sea to lab
With its vast numbers of different lifeforms, the sea is a largely unexplored source of natural products that could be starting points for new pharmaceuticals, such as the antitumor drugs trabectedin and lurbinectedin. Because only tiny amounts can be obtained from sea organisms, synthetic production is necessary. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, scientists have introduced a new, efficient synthetic route for these two drugs. A key step is the light-controlled activation of a carbon-hydrogen bond.

Sloppy sea urchins
Marine scientists discover an important, overlooked role sea urchins play in the kelp forest ecosystem.

Choosy amphipods
Amphipods of the species Gammarus roeselii guard their chosen mates, often carrying them with them for days and defending them against potential rivals. This behavior requires a lot of time and energy, so that the males make their choice with care. Scientists at Goethe University have now investigated under which circumstances males are prepared to revise their decision.

Robotic 'gray goo'
Researchers at Columbia Engineering and MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), demonstrate for the first time a way to make a robot composed of many loosely coupled components, or 'particles.' Unlike swarm or modular robots, each component is simple, and has no individual address or identity. In their system, which the researchers call a 'particle robot,' each particle can perform only uniform volumetric oscillations (slightly expanding and contracting), but cannot move independently.

Sudden aging
Coralline red algae have existed for 130 million years, in other words since the Cretaceous Period, the time of the dinosaurs. At least this was the established view of palaeontologists all over the world until now. However, this classification will now have to be revised after fossils discovered by researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in conjunction with researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne prove that coralline red algae existed as far back as 430 million years ago.

Wheat myth debunked
Common opinion has it that modern wheat is so reliant on fertiliser and crop protection agrochemicals that the plants now lack the hardiness needed to remain productive under harsher environmental conditions. But comprehensive new research shows that modern wheat varieties out-perform older varieties even when grown under unfavourable conditions that include low agrochemical inputs and drought stress.

Copying made easy
Whether revealing a perpetrator with DNA evidence, diagnosing a pathogen, classifying a paleontological discovery, or determining paternity, the duplication of nucleic acids (amplification) is indispensable. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, scientists have now introduced a new, very simple, yet highly sensitive and reliable method that avoids the usual heating and cooling steps, as well as complicated instruments. The reagents can be freeze-dried, allowing this universal method to be used outside of the laboratory.

Global danger
Freiburg hydrologist presents new results showing how sinking groundwater levels threaten the vitality of riverine ecosystems

Nature hits rewind
The study of evolution is revealing new complexities, showing how the traits most beneficial to the fitness of individual plants and animals are not always the ones we see in nature. Instead, new research by McMaster behavioural scientists shows that in certain cases evolution works in the opposite direction, reversing individual improvements to benefit related members of the same group.

Persistent plume
Thunderstorms generated by a group of giant wildfires in 2017 injected a small volcano's worth of aerosol into the stratosphere, creating a smoke plume that lasted for almost nine months. In a new paper in Science, authors led by Pengfei Yu (CIRES, NOAA, Jinan University), explore implications for climate modeling, including models of nuclear winter and geoengineering.

Following the light
Considering that light is the driving force behind the growth and productivity of reef ecosystems, scientists are interested in understanding the relationship between primary productivity and varying light conditions. In a recent PLoS ONE paper, postdoctoral researcher Yvonne Sawall and her advisor, associate scientist Eric Hochberg (both at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences) present evidence that reefs optimize their photosynthetic capacities to prevailing environmental conditions, such as general availability of light, nutrients, and temperature.

A cosmic pretzel
Astronomers using ALMA have obtained an extremely high-resolution image showing two disks in which young stars are growing, fed by a complex pretzel-shaped network of filaments of gas and dust. Observing this remarkable phenomenon sheds new light on the earliest phases of the lives of stars and helps astronomers determine the conditions in which binary stars are born.

Easy on the eyes
New computer program uses artificial intelligence to determine what visual neurons like to see. Algorithm generates synthetic images that morph into 'super stimulus' for neurons, removing inherent bias of using natural images to gauge preferences. The approach could shed light on learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and other neurologic conditions.

Reef engineers
The next time you find yourself luxuriating in some exotic, Instagrammable vacation spot, thank a parrotfish. That white sand slithering between your toes? It consists mostly of their excrement.

Prehistoric AC
Tyrannosaurus rex, one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs on the planet, had an air conditioner in its head, suggest scientists from the University of Missouri, Ohio University and University of Florida, while challenging over a century of previous beliefs.

A question of time
Researchers show how the immune system distinguishes between self molecules and non-self molecules such as those from pathogens.

Mowing for monarchs
You might think that mowing fields wouldn't benefit monarch butterfly populations. New research from Michigan State University, however, shows that disturbances like mowing -- at key times -- might help boost the iconic butterfly's numbers.

All too human
Professor Rony Paz of the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that our brains are like modern washing machines -- evolved to have the latest sophisticated programming, but more vulnerable to breakdown and prone to develop costly disorders. He and a group of researchers recently conducted experiments comparing the efficiency of the neural code in non-human and human primates, and found that as the neural code gets more efficient, the robustness that prevents errors is reduced.

Coupled proteins
Researchers from Heidelberg University and Sendai University in Japan used new biotechnological methods to study how human cells react to and further process external signals. They focussed on the interaction between so-called G-proteins -- the 'mediators' of signal transmission -- and the receptors known as GPCRs, which trigger signal processes.

Earthquake symmetry
A recent study investigated around 100,000 localized seismic events to search for patterns in the data. University of Tokyo Professor Satoshi Ide discovered that earthquakes of differing magnitudes have more in common than was previously thought. This suggests development of early warning systems may be more difficult than hoped. But conversely, similarities between some events indicate that predictable characteristics may aid researchers attempting to forecast seismic events.

Balancing the gut
Researchers from the Cluster of Excellence 'Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation' in Kiel and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin have uncovered a critical mechanism that controls immune reactions against microorganisms in the intestine. The results of the international study may contribute to the development of new therapies for chronic inflammatory bowel disease. They have been published in the journal Nature Immunology.

Methods and models
It's a well-known fact that the ocean is one of the biggest absorbers of the carbon dioxide emitted by way of human activity. What's less well known is how the ocean's processes for absorbing that carbon change over time, and how they might affect its ability to buffer climate change.

Grains in the rain
Of the major food crops, only rice is currently able to survive flooding. Thanks to new research, that could soon change -- good news for a world in which rains are increasing in both frequency and intensity.

Speed of light: Toward a future quantum internet
University of Toronto Engineering researchers have demonstrated proof-of-principle for a device that could serve as the backbone of a future quantum Internet. U of T professor Hoi-Kwong Lo and his collaborators have developed a prototype for a key element for all-photonic quantum repeaters, a critical step in long-distance quantum communication.

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