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Thursday, 27 February 2020

Coronavirus: US begins trial of Gilead's remdesivir in Covid-19 patients


A clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the experimental antiviral Remdesivir in hospitalized adults diagnosed with COVID-19, has started at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). The trial director is the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is the first clinical trial in the United States to evaluate an experimental treatment for COVID-19.

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The first participant in the trial is an American who was repatriated after being quarantined on the cruise ship Diamond Princess , which docked in Yokohama, Japan, and volunteered to participate in the study. The research can be adapted to assess additional investigative treatments and to enroll participants at other sites in the United States and around the world.

The need to develop a rapid treatment for COVID-19

There is no specific therapeutic treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat people with COVID-19. The infection can cause mild to severe respiratory illness, and symptoms may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. As of February 24, the World Health Organization (WHO) had reported 77,262 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,595 deaths in China, as well as 2,069 cases and 23 deaths in 29 other countries.



According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States and another 39 cases among people repatriated to the United States.

Remdesivir, developed by Gilead Sciences Inc., is an experimental broad-spectrum antiviral treatment. It has already been tested in humans against the Ebola virus and has shown promise in animal models for the treatment of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Clinical trials of remdesivir are also underway in China.

Remdesivir: a double-blind human clinical trial

All potential participants will undergo a basic physical exam before receiving treatment. Eligible study participants will then be randomly assigned to either the experimental treatment group or the placebo group. The study is double-blind, which means that trial investigators and participants do not know who is receiving Remdesivir or a placebo.

Chemical structure of the broad-spectrum antiviral remdesivir. Credit: Gilead

Participants in the experimental treatment group will receive 200 milligrams (mg) of intravenous remdesivir on the first day of study enrollment. They will receive another 100 mg per day for the duration of hospitalization, for a maximum of 10 days. The placebo group will receive, at equal volume, a solution that resembles remdesivir but contains only inactive ingredients.

Clinicians will regularly monitor participants and assign them daily scores based on a predefined scale of clinical outcomes, which takes into account factors such as temperature, blood pressure and the use of supplemental oxygen, among other things. Participants will also be asked to provide blood samples and swabs from the nose and throat approximately every two days. Researchers will test these specimens for SARS-CoV-2.



Initially, the investigators will compare the results of participants on day 15 in the remdesivir group and the placebo group to see if the investigational drug increased clinical benefit compared to placebo. Results are scored on a seven-point scale from full recovery to death. Investigators will reassess this scale after examining the data from the first 100 participants.

Source (NIH)

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Researchers create new state of light


Scientists have known for decades that light rotates around a longitudinal axis parallel to the direction in which it travels. However, some specialist researchers are currently trying to establish whether there are other forms and states, and to what extent it would be possible to control this. Recently, researchers from the University of Dayton managed to create a new “state of light”, by making it “rotate” around a transverse axis perpendicular to the displacement.

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After two years dedicated solely to their study, Andy Chong and Qiwen Zhan, researchers from the University of Dayton in the United States, have for the first time managed to create a new “state of light”. As part of their experiment, they show that a beam of light can also rotate around a transverse axis perpendicular to the direction in which it moves, like a vortex. The results of the study were published on February 24 in the specialized journal Nature Photonics.

"The sabbatical allowed us the time to fully concentrate on this research and was very instrumental in putting us in a position to make this discovery," Chong said.

Zhan and Chong didn't go into their research with preconceived notions on what to look for or what they would find.



"It was more of a curiosity. Can we do this or make light do that?," said Zhan, a professor of electro-optics and photonics and managing director of the UD-Fraunhofer Joint Research Center. "Once we discovered we're able to do this, we then asked 'what's next?'"

"What's next?" may be a while off for the researchers and others who will examine the pair's basic research findings for applications, but they surmise this new state of light could be used to improve the transmission of large amounts of data with greater security, among many other potential applications.

a) Experimental device for generating and measuring spatiotemporal vortices (ST) of light; BS: beam splitter. b) Diagram showing the method of measuring the phase of light. The figures in italics represent the relative phases for the vortexes. The numbers in italics represent phases relating to various places. Note that the phase increases clockwise. Credits: Andy Chong, Chenhao Wan / University of Dayton

The researchers demonstrate in particular that a three-dimensional wave packet that is a spatiotemporal (ST) optical vortex with a controllable purely transverse OAM. Contrary to the transverse SAM, the magnitude of the transverse OAM carried by the ST vortex is scalable to a larger value by simple adjustments.

Since the ST vortex carries a controllable OAM uniquely in the transverse dimension, it has strong potential for novel applications that may not be possible otherwise. The scheme reported here can be readily adapted for other spectral regimes and different wave fields, opening opportunities for the study and applications of ST vortices in a wide range of areas.



"We don't know yet? But the sky's the limit," Zhan said. The duo is most interested in how the light interacts with materials. "We want to better understand how this state of light interacts with materials in space and time," said Chong, associate professor of physics and electro-optics and photonics.


Bibliography:

Generation of spatiotemporal optical vortices with controllable transverse orbital angular momentum

Andy Chong, Chenhao Wan, Jian Chen & Qiwen Zhan

Nature Photonics (2020)

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41566-020-0587-z

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Scientists discovered The First-Ever Animal That Doesn't Need Oxygen to Survive

Some truths about the Universe and our experience in it seem immutable. The sky is up. Gravity sucks. Nothing can travel faster than light. Multicellular life needs oxygen to live. Except we might need to rethink that last one.

The nuclei and membranes of a parasite that does not use oxygen (H. salminicola), highlighted by a fluorescent dye. | Stephen Douglas Atkinson

Scientists have just discovered that a jellyfish-like parasite doesn't have a mitochondrial genome - the first multicellular organism known to have this absence. That means it doesn't breathe; in fact, it lives its life completely free of oxygen dependency.

This discovery isn't just changing our understanding of how life can work here on Earth - it could also have implications for the search for extraterrestrial life.

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Life started to develop the ability to metabolise oxygen - that is, respirate - sometime over 1.45 billion years ago. A larger archaeon engulfed a smaller bacterium, and somehow the bacterium's new home was beneficial to both parties, and the two stayed together.

That symbiotic relationship resulted in the two organisms evolving together, and eventually those bacteria ensconced within became organelles called mitochondria. Every cell in your body except red blood cells has large numbers of mitochondria, and these are essential for the respiration process.



They break down oxygen to produce a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, which multicellular organisms use to power cellular processes.

We know there are adaptations that allow some organisms to thrive in low-oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions. Some single-celled organisms have evolved mitochondria-related organelles for anaerobic metabolism; but the possibility of exclusively anaerobic multicellular organisms has been the subject of some scientific debate.

That is, until a team of researchers led by Dayana Yahalomi of Tel Aviv University in Israel decided to take another look at a common salmon parasite called Henneguya salminicola.

Henneguya Slminicola is a common parasite of salmon. It is part of the same family as corals and jellyfish. Its genome, however, has just been mapped for the first time. Credit: Stephen Douglas Atkinson

It's a cnidarian, belonging to the same phylum as corals, jellyfish and anemones. Although the cysts it creates in the fish's flesh are unsightly, the parasites are not harmful, and will live with the salmon for its entire life cycle.

Tucked away inside its host, the tiny cnidarian can survive quite hypoxic conditions. But exactly how it does so is difficult to know without looking at the creature's DNA - so that's what the researchers did.

They used deep sequencing and fluorescence microscopy to conduct a close study of H. salminicola, and found that it has lost its mitochondrial genome. In addition, it's also lost the capacity for aerobic respiration, and almost all of the nuclear genes involved in transcribing and replicating mitochondria.

Like the single-celled organisms, it had evolved mitochondria-related organelles, but these are unusual too - they have folds in the inner membrane not usually seen.

The same sequencing and microscopic methods in a closely related cnidarian fish parasite, Myxobolus squamalis, was used as a control, and clearly showed a mitochondrial genome.

These results show that here, at last, is a multicellular organism that doesn't need oxygen to survive.

Exactly how it survives is still something of a mystery. It could be leeching adenosine triphosphate from its host, but that's yet to be determined.

But the loss is pretty consistent with an overall trend in these creatures - one of genetic simplification. Over many, many years, they have basically devolved from a free-living jellyfish ancestor into the much more simple parasite we see today.


They've lost most of the original jellyfish genome, but retaining - oddly - a complex structure resembling jellyfish stinging cells. They don't use these to sting, but to cling to their hosts: an evolutionary adaptation from the free-living jellyfish's needs to the parasite's. You can see them in the image above - they're the things that look like eyes.

The discovery could help fisheries adapt their strategies for dealing with the parasite; although it's harmless to humans, no one wants to buy salmon riddled with tiny weird jellyfish.

But it's also a heck of a discovery for helping us to understand how life works.



"Our discovery confirms that adaptation to an anaerobic environment is not unique to single-celled eukaryotes, but has also evolved in a multicellular, parasitic animal," the researchers wrote in their paper.

"Hence, H. salminicola provides an opportunity for understanding the evolutionary transition from an aerobic to an exclusive anaerobic metabolism."


Bibliography:

A cnidarian parasite of salmon (Myxozoa: Henneguya) lacks a mitochondrial genome

Dayana Yahalomi, Stephen D. Atkinson, Moran Neuhof, E. Sally Chang, Hervé Philippe, Paulyn Cartwright, Jerri L. Bartholomew, and Dorothée Huchon

PNAS first published February 24, 2020

https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1909907117

Monday, 24 February 2020

Superresolution provides unexpected insights into the dynamic structure of mitochondria


Researchers have discovered an exciting property of mitochondria - the power plants of our cells. Their experiments show that the inner membranes of these cell power plants change their structure every few seconds. In this way, the team apparently can dynamically adapt to the energy requirements in the cell.

As power plants and energy stores, mitochondria are essential components of almost all cells in plants, fungi and animals. Until now, it has been assumed that these functions underlie a static structure of mitochondrial membranes. Researchers at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have now discovered that the inner membranes of mitochondria are by no means static, but rather constantly change their structure every few seconds in living cells.

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This dynamic adaptation process further increases the performance of our cellular power plants. "In our opinion, this finding fundamentally changes the way our cellular power plants work and will probably change the textbooks," says Prof. Dr. Andreas Reichert, Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I at the HHU. The results are described in a publication in EMBO Reports.



Mitochondria are extremely important components in cells performing vital functions including the regulated conversion of energy from food into chemical energy in the form of ATP. ATP is the energy currency of cells and an adult human being produces (and consumes) approximately 75 kilograms of ATP per day. One molecule of ATP is produced about 20,000 times a day and then consumed again for energy utilization.

This immense synthesis capacity takes place in the inner membrane of the mitochondria, which has numerous folds called cristae. It was previously assumed that a specific static structure of the cristae ensured the synthesis of ATP. Whether and to what extent cristae membranes are able to dynamically adapt or alter their structure in living cells and which proteins are required to do so, was unknown.

MIC13‐SNAP shows that CJs and cristae undergo remodelling at a timescale of seconds


The research team of Prof. Dr. Andreas Reichert with Dr. Arun Kondadi and Dr. Ruchika Anand from the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I of the HHU in collaboration with the research team of Prof. Dr. Orian Shirihai and Prof. Dr. Marc Liesa from UCLA (USA), also supported by the Center for Advanced Imaging (CAi) of HHU, succeeded for the first time in showing that cristae membranes in living cells continuously change their structure dynamically within seconds within mitochondria.

This showed that the cristae membrane dynamics requires a recently identified protein complex, the MICOS complex. Malfunctions of the MICOS complex can lead to various serious diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and a form of mitochondrial encephalopathy with liver damage. After the identification of the first protein component of this complex (Fcj1/Mic60) about ten years ago by Prof. Andreas Reichert and his research group, this is another important step to elucidate the function of the MICOS complex.



"Our now published observations lead to the model that cristae, after membrane fission, can exist for a short time as isolated vesicles within mitochondria and then re-fuse with the inner membrane. This enables an optimal and extremely rapid adaptation to the energetic requirements in a cell," said Prof. Andreas Reichert.


Bibliography:

Cristae undergo continuous cycles of membrane remodelling in a MICOS ‐dependent manner

Arun Kumar Kondadi, Ruchika Anand, Sebastian Hänsch, Jennifer Urbach, Thomas Zobel, Dane M Wolf, Mayuko Segawa, Marc Liesa, Orian S Shirihai, Stefanie Weidtkamp‐Peters, Andreas S Reichert.

EMBO reports, 2020;

DOI: 10.15252/embr.201949776

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Walls made of human bones found under the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium


By excavating places considered conventional, archaeologists can sometimes make unexpected finds. This is the case of a team of Belgian archaeologists who, excavating the underground areas of the Gothic Saint Bavo church, discovered several walls constructed with human bones - only bones of the lower limbs and skulls. A specificity that questions researchers.

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Archaeologists recently discovered walls constructed from human bones, including broken skulls, during the excavation of the grounds of Saint Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. At the end of the excavation, archaeologists had discovered nine walls, built mainly with adult femurs and shins. The intermediate areas were filled with skulls, many of which were fragmented, according to Ruben Willaert.

Bones from the cleaning of an old cemetery

These horrific structures were probably the work of people who, hundreds of years ago, cleaned up an old cemetery to make room for new bodies or the renovation of a church, says archaeologist Janiek De Gryse, Ruben Willaert staff member and excavation project manager.



“When cleaning up a cemetery, the skeletons cannot just be thrown away. Since the faithful believed in a resurrection of the body, the bones were considered the most important part," adds Gryse. Safeguarding human remains was so important that sometimes stone houses were built against the walls of city cemeteries to house skulls and long bones in what is called an ossuary.

The bony walls were discovered on the north side of Saint-Bavon cathedral, formerly known as Saint-Jean-Baptiste or Saint-Jan church. Radiocarbon dating of the bones suggests that they date from the second half of the 15th century, but the walls were probably built later, in the 17th or early 18th century. Historical documents support these dates. A source notes that the church cemetery was cleaned during the first half of the 16th century and again, after 1784, when he stopped accepting new bodies.

Smaller bones like the vertebrae, the bones of the hands or feet were not used for the construction of the walls. Credit: Ruben Willaert

Walls made entirely of lower limb bones and skulls

Whatever the date, these walls are a unique find. Most historic cemeteries are made up of large pits or layers filled with human bones. “We have no comparison in Belgium. We have never seen structures, like walls, intentionally constructed with human bones,” says de Gryse.

Those who built these walls had to be in a hurry, because they did not bother to pick up small or fragile bones, such as vertebrae, ribs or bones of the hands or feet. Curiously, archaeologists also did not find a humerus or radius (main arm bones).



“The walls are made up only of bones of the lower limbs. Is it only a practical thing (stacking bones very compactly) or is there also a religious / spiritual dimension? Asks Gryse. Although there are bones of adult men and women, the bones of children appear to be missing from the walls, which conflicts with the known life expectancy of this period, when children often died of disease.

Source

New material doubles the battery life of electric vehicles


The anodes currently constituting most energy storage systems are made from graphite. However, this material is not the most optimal for ensuring long-term storage and stability during the many charge / discharge cycles. The alternative is silicon, a much more effective material, but suffering from certain defects preventing its commercialization. Recently, a team of Korean researchers has developed a series of very simple procedures using corn starch, making it possible to correct these defects and opening the way for a massive use of silicon in future batteries.

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Hun-Gi Jung and his research team at the Center for Energy Storage Research at the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) announced the development of silicon anodes that can quadruple the capacity of a battery, compared to graphite anode materials, and which allow rapid charging to over 80% of capacity in just five minutes. When applied to electric vehicle batteries, the new materials are expected to more than double their range.

The batteries currently installed in standard electric vehicles use graphite materials, but their low capacity contributes to the fact that electric vehicles have a shorter range than vehicles with internal combustion engines. Consequently, silicon, with an energy storage capacity 10 times greater than graphite, has attracted attention as a new generation material for the development of long-range electric vehicles.



Improving silicon capabilities with carbon-silicon composites

However, the silicon materials have not yet been marketed because their volume increases rapidly and the storage capacity decreases considerably during the charge and discharge cycles, which limits marketing. A number of methods have been suggested to improve the stability of silicon as an anode material, but the cost and complexity of these methods have prevented silicon from replacing graphite.

To improve the stability of silicon, Jung and his team focused on the use of common materials in our daily lives, such as water, oil and starch. They dissolved starch and silicon in water and oil, respectively, and then mixed and heated them in order to produce carbon-silicon composites. A simple thermal process used for frying food was employed to firmly fix the carbon and silicon, preventing the silicon anode materials from expanding during charge and discharge cycles.

Higher performance than graphite anodes
The composite materials developed by the research team demonstrated a capacity four-times greater than that of graphite anode materials (360mAh/g - 1,530mAh/g) and stable capacity retention over 500 cycles. It was also found that the materials enable batteries to charge to more than 80% capacity in only five minutes.  The results were published in the journal Nano Letters.


Structure and properties of the carbon-silicon hybrid developed by the researchers. Credits: Hyun Jung Kwon et al. 2020

Carbon spheres prevent the usual volume expansion of silicon, thereby enhancing the stability of silicon materials. Also, the use of highly conductive carbon and the rearrangement of the silicon structure resulted in a high output.

"We were able to develop carbon-silicon composite materials using common, everyday materials and simple mixing and thermal processes with no reactors," said Dr. Jung, the lead researcher of the KIST team. He continued, "The simple processes we adopted and the composites with excellent properties that we developed are highly likely to be commercialized and mass-produced. The composites could be applied to lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage systems (ESSs)."





Bibliography:

Nano/Microstructured Silicon–Carbon Hybrid Composite Particles Fabricated with Corn Starch Biowaste as Anode Materials for Li-Ion Batteries

Hyun Jung KwonJang-Yeon HwangHyeon-Ji ShinMin-Gi JeongKyung Yoon ChungYang-Kook Sun, Hun-Gi Jung

Nano Lett. 2020, 20, 1, 625-635
Publication Date:December 11, 2019

https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.9b04395

A powerful antibiotic discovered thanks to the artificial intelligence


A powerful antibiotic was discovered for the very first time thanks to machine learning (literally “machine learning”), a field of study of artificial intelligence which is based on mathematical and statistical approaches to give computers the ability to learn from data, that is, to improve their performance in solving tasks without being explicitly programmed for them.

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Now, thanks to artificial intelligence , a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) claims that halicin (the powerful antibiotic in question) kills some of the most dangerous strains of drug-resistant bacteria in the world.

This drug works differently from existing antibacterials and is the first of its kind to be discovered by AI browsing large digital libraries of pharmaceutical compounds.



Tests by researchers have shown that the drug successfully eliminates a range of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains, including Acinetobacter baumannii and Enterobacteriaceae, two of the three pathogens to be given high priority and that the World Health Organization Health (WHO) also classifies as "critical".

The culture plate on the right contains bacteria resistant to all the antibiotics tested so far. Credit: Science History Images / Alamy

"In terms of antibiotic discovery, this is absolutely a first," said Regina Barzilay, project lead researcher and machine learning specialist at MIT. "I think it's one of the most powerful antibiotics discovered to date," added James Collins, a bioengineer on the MIT team. "It has remarkable activity against a wide range of pathogens resistant to current antibiotics."

Be aware that antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria mutate and evolve to bypass the mechanisms that antimicrobial drugs use to kill them. Experts say that without new antibiotics to fight resistance, 10 million lives around the world could be threatened by infections each year by 2050.

AI to discover potential new antibiotics

In order to discover new antibiotics, the researchers first trained a “deep learning” algorithm to identify the types of molecules that kill bacteria. To do this, Scientists trained it to analyse the structure of 2,500 drugs and other compounds to find those with the most anti-bacterial qualities that could kill E. coli.

Once the algorithm learned which molecular features make good antibiotics, scientists let it browse a library of more than 6,000 compounds being studied to treat various human diseases.

And, rather than looking for potential antimicrobials, the algorithm focused on compounds that seemed effective, but were different from existing antibiotics. Therefore increased the chances that these drugs will act in a radically new way and that bacteria have not yet developed resistance to them.

Jonathan Stokes, the first author of the study, said it took a matter of hours for the algorithm to assess the compounds and come up with some promising antibiotics. One, which the researchers named “halicin” after Hal, the astronaut-bothering AI in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, looked particularly potent.

Very promising positive results!

Since this discovery, researchers have been able to treat many drug-resistant infections with halicin, a compound that was originally developed to treat diabetes, but which ultimately did not work. Tests on bacteria collected from patients have shown that halicin can eradicate Mycobacterium tuberculosis , the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis, as well as strains of enterobacteriaceae resistant to carbapenems, a group of antibiotics considered to be the last resort for such infections.

Halicin has also successfully eliminated difficult infections and multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii infections in mice. To research new drugs, the team then turned to a large digital database of around 1.5 billion compounds. They adjusted the algorithm so that the latter analyzes 107 million of these compounds. Then, three days later, the program returned a shortlist of 23 potential antibiotics, two of which appear to be particularly potent.

Use AI to find other more targeted antibiotics

Now scientists plan to search more databases for potential antibiotics. Stokes stated that it would have been impossible to screen all of the compounds by conventional means of obtaining or manufacturing the substances, and then to test them in the laboratory. "Being able to perform these experiments on a computer greatly reduces the time and cost of examining these compounds," he said.

Barzilay now wants to use the algorithm to find more selective antibiotics in the bacteria they kill. This would mean that taking the antibiotic would kill only the bacteria causing an infection, and not also all the healthy bacteria that live in the gut in particular.

Even more ambitious, scientists aim to use the algorithm to design powerful new antibiotics from scratch. "This work is truly remarkable," said Jacob Durrant, who works on computer-aided drug design at the University of Pittsburgh. “Their approach highlights the power of computer-aided drug discovery. It would be impossible to physically test 100 million compounds to determine antibiotic activity.”



Indeed, if we take into account all the typical costs of drug development, in terms of time and money, any method that can accelerate discovery, as is the case here thanks to artificial intelligence, has the potential to have a very significant impact.


Bibliography:

A Deep Learning Approach to Antibiotic Discovery

Jonathan M. Stokes, Kevin YangKyle Swanson, Wengong Jin, Andres Cubillos-Ruiz, Nina M. Donghia, Craig R. MacNair, Shawn French, Lindsey A. Carfrae, Zohar Bloom-Ackerman, Victoria M. Tran, Anush Chiappino-Pepe, Ahmed H. Badran, Ian W. Andrews, Emma J. Chory, George M. Church, Eric D. Brown, Tommi S. Jaakkola, Regina Barzilay, James J. Collins

VOLUME 180, ISSUE 4, P688-702.E13,

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2020.01.021

Saturday, 22 February 2020

For the first time, atoms have been individually manipulated and observed interacting


Understanding atomic interactions in detail is essential to refine the current chemical models concerning the construction and structuring of molecules. Until now, to study these interactions, chemists had to be content with groups of atoms in which they calculated and determined mean correlations, giving a vague idea of ​​the individual behavior of atoms during the formation of molecules. But recently, a team of researchers has developed a technique for manipulating individual atoms in order to observe them forming molecules.

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One way to analyze such exchanges is to grab single atoms with the equivalent of a tiny pair of tweezers, immobilize them, and record the changes as they meet. Fortunately, such a pair of tweezers exists. Made from specially aligned polarized light, these laser tweezers can serve as optical traps for tiny objects.



Manipulate individual atoms with optical tweezers

With sufficiently short light waves, an experimenter has a good chance of trapping something as small as an individual atom in these clamps. Of course, the atoms must first be cooled to make them easier to catch, and then separated in an empty space.

"Our method involves the individual trapping and cooling of three atoms to a temperature of about one millionth of a Kelvin using highly focused laser beams in a hyper-evacuated (vacuum) chamber, the size of a grid. -bread. We slowly combine the traps containing the atoms to produce controlled interactions which we measure”, explains the physicist Mikkel F. Andersen.

Experimental procedure for directly observing collisions of cold atoms. The researchers isolate three 85Rb atoms in separate optical tweezers and confirm their presence by fluorescence imaging. A collision and compression stage allows the atoms to interact. Credits; LA Reynolds et al. 2020

The atoms in this case were all rubidium atoms, which bond to form dirubidium molecules, but two atoms are not enough to achieve this. "Two atoms alone cannot form a molecule, you need at least three to do chemistry," says physicist Marvin Weyland.

Better understand the formation of molecules on the atomic scale

Modeling how it works is a real challenge. It is clear that two atoms must get close enough to be able to form a bond, while a third one tears off part of this bond energy to leave them connected. The three-body recombination between atoms should, in theory, force them out of their trap, which usually adds another problem to physicists trying to study the interactions between several atoms.

Rubidium atomic cloud cooled by laser and observed via the camera developed by the researchers. Credits: University of Otago

Using a special camera to amplify the changes, the team captured the moment the rubidium atoms moved closer together, revealing a different rate of loss than that predicted by the models. Indeed, it also means that molecules do not bind as quickly as existing models explain. The results were published in the journal Physical Review Letters .

"This is the first time that this basic process has been studied in isolation, and it turns out that it has produced several surprising results that were not expected from previous measurements in large clouds of atoms. With further development, this technique could provide a way to build and control unique molecules of particular chemicals,” says Weyland. Other experiments will help refine these models to better explain how groups of atoms work together to meet and bond under various conditions.




Bibliography:

Direct Measurements of Collisional Dynamics in Cold Atom Triads

L. A. Reynolds, E. Schwartz, U. Ebling, M. Weyland, J. Brand, and M. F. Andersen

Phys. Rev. Lett. 124, 073401 –
Published 18 February 2020

DOI:https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.073401

Friday, 21 February 2020

Scientists Study on 'Flammable Ice' Offers Clues To Life On Other Planets

Mineral aggregates recovered from dissociated hydrate are relatively pure dolomite. (a) Light microscopy of single-grained dolomites showing dark inclusions (UTCW J25R, 53.9 mbsf, Mg/Ca = 0.91). (b) Single and paired “dumbbell” grains, showing layering in the internal dark portions (UTCW J22R, 28.7 mbsf, Mg:Ca = 0.92. (c) Shallow dumbbell grain (UTCW J21R, 12.2 mbsf, Mg:Ca = 0.74). Shallow grains (<20mbsf) show rough surfaces comprised of ~5 μm dolomite rhombs and low Mg/Ca ratios. (d) Deeper grains consist of smooth intergrown dolomite plates ~15 μm. The overall size of the deep grains ranges from 20 μm to > 150 μm and Mg:Ca ratios approaching 1 (UTCW J25R, 57 mbsf, Mg:Ca = 0.97). (e) Broken chain structure (UTCW J25R, 67.4 mbsf) shows smooth intergrowth of dolomite rhombs on the outer surface. (f) Close-up of previous grain showing concentric porous rings on the inside of the broken surface, possibly consisting of organic matter or residual fluid.


British and Japanese scientists, who were studying the so-called " flammable ice " in the Sea of ​​Japan, made a surprising discovery: There is life in the microscopic bubbles of frozen combustible material, researchers has found bacterial communities within microscopic spheroidal aggregates of dolomite, oil and water found in sheets of frozen methane and ice, known as ‘flammable ice,’ in Joetsu Basin, Japan Sea.

“We’re melting hydrate to study methane gas when we noticed an unusual powder consisting of microscopic spheroids with mysterious dark cores,” said Dr. Glen T. Snyder, a researcher at the Meiji University Global Front, Japan.

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“In combination with the other evidence collected by my colleagues, my results showed that even under near-freezing temperatures, at extremely high pressures, with only heavy oil and saltwater for food-sources, life was flourishing and leaving its mark,” said Dr. Stephen Bowden, a researcher at the University of Aberdeen.



“But what we never expected to find was microbes continuing to grow and produce these spheroids, all of the time while isolated in tiny cold dark pockets of saltwater and oil,” Dr. Snyder continued.

“It certainly gives a positive spin to cold dark places, and opens up a tantalising clue as to the existence of life on other planets.” said Bowden.

(a) Flammable ice, as collected from the seabed. (b) Detail of one of the test pieces. (c) Methane hydrate after heating and centrifuged for analysis, showing oil on top and granules containing micro-habitats on the bottom.


"Alien" Life on Earth

The tiny bubbles are scattered inside large hydrate plates, known as "flammable ice" - or methane hydrate - that are formed when ice retains methane in its molecular structure.

There has been great interest in the exploration of this material as a fuel, with Japan and China leading this research.

Glen Snyder and colleagues from several Japanese and UK universities were melting hydrates to study methane gas when they noticed an unusual powder made up of microscopic spheroids with very peculiar dark nuclei.

Analytical techniques allowed to verify that the dark nuclei consist of oil that was being degraded in the microenvironments formed inside the bubbles of the methane hydrate.

"It is known that methane [present] in methane hydrate forms as microbes degrade organic matter on the seabed. But what we never expected to discover was that microbes would continue to grow and produce these spheroids during all the time they were isolated in small dark and cold bags of salt water and oil. That certainly changes everything about dark and cold places, and reveals a tantalizing clue about the existence of life on other planets," said Snyder.



"It certainly changes the way I think about things. As long as they have ice and a little heat, all those cold, frozen planets at the edge of the entire planetary system could host tiny microhabitats with microbes building their own 'death stars. 'and creating its tiny atmospheres and ecosystems, as we found out here," said Professor Stephen Bowden, a member of the team.


Bibliography:

Article: Evidence in the Japan Sea of ​​microdolomite mineralization within gas hydrate microbiomes

Authors: Glen T. Snyder, Ryo Matsumoto, Yohey Suzuki, Mariko Kouduka, Yoshihiro Kakizaki, Naizhong Zhang, Hitoshi Tomaru, Yuji Sano, Naoto Takahata, Kentaro Tanaka, Kentaro Tanaka Stephen A. Bowden, Takumi Imajo

Magazine: Nature Scientific Reports

Vol .: 10, Article number: 1876

DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-020-58723-y

Special gravitational waves could explain the mystery of the existence of the Universe


According to the standard cosmological model, at the time of the Big Bang, matter and antimatter are created in identical proportions. They should therefore have annihilated themselves, leaving an empty universe. However, today, it is a universe composed mainly of matter that we observe. This defect in antimatter is called matter-antimatter asymmetry and constitutes one of the most active research themes in particle physics. Several hypotheses have been put forward: one of them suggests that neutrinos played a key role in this mechanism. And recently, physicists have proposed a way to test this hypothesis.

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The neutrino hypothesis suggests that about a million years after the Big Bang, the Universe has cooled and undergone a phase transition. This phase change caused the neutrinos to decay into more matter than antimatter, implying a violation of CP symmetry.

But according to Jeff Dror, lead author of the new study and postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, there is no simple way to probe this theory and understand if this process actually happened in the Universe. primitive. The results of the study were published in the journal Physical Review Letters.



A phase transition at the origin of the creation of cosmic strings

But Dror and his team, through theoretical models and calculations, found a way to see this phase transition. They proposed that the change would have created extremely long and thin strands of energy called cosmic cords , which are still present in the Universe today.

According to the authors, the phase transition at the origin of the matter-antimatter asymmetry would also have created particular structures called cosmic cords which, today, would be at the origin of detectable gravitational waves. Credits: R. Hurt / Caltech-JPL, NASA, and ESA Credit: Kavli IPMU

Cosmic cords are topological defects. Topological defects are hypothetical structures presumed stable which would have formed in the first moments of the Universe.

Theories implying the formation of topological defects predict that they would have appeared at the end of the inflationary period. More precisely, topological defects are deemed to have formed during the various phase transitions of the primitive universe.

In the Standard Model, these phase transitions are accompanied by different spontaneous symmetry breaks. The cosmic cords therefore appeared when, at the end of the inflationary period, cylindrical and axial symmetries were broken.

These are one-dimensional topological defects of linear form. The number of cosmic strings in the universe cannot be determined with certainty, however, Kibble's calculations indicate that there would be approximately one cosmic cord per Hubble volume, i.e., one cosmic cord every 10^31 cubic light years .

Cosmic strings: potential sources of gravitational waves

Dror and his team suggest that these cosmic cords are very likely to be the source of gravitational waves. The strongest gravitational waves occur when a supernova emerges; when two massive stars rotate around one another; or when two black holes merge. But the potential gravitational waves caused by cosmic cords would be much weaker than those detected so far.

Frequency and amplitude at which gravitational waves produced by cosmic strings can be detected. The detection sensitivities of current and future instruments are also indicated. Credits: Jeff A. Dror et al. 2020

However, when the team modeled this hypothetical phase transition under various temperature conditions that could have occurred during this phase transition, they made an encouraging discovery: In all cases, cosmic strings would create gravitational waves that would be detectable by future observatories, such as NASA's Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), the European Space Agency's proposed Big Bang Observer and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Deci-hertz Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (DECIGO).

"If these strings are produced at sufficiently high energy scales, they will indeed produce gravitational waves that can be detected by planned observatories," concludes Tanmay Vachaspati, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University




Bibliography:

Testing the Seesaw Mechanism and Leptogenesis with Gravitational Waves

Jeff A. Dror, Takashi Hiramatsu, Kazunori Kohri, Hitoshi Murayama, and Graham White

Phys. Rev. Lett. 124, 041804

DOI:https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.041804

A woman cured of cancer gives birth to a baby from a 5 year old frozen egg


In many cases, chemotherapy treatments leave patients sterile or with reproductive disorders. Typically, doctors suggest that patients take eggs before treatment, then ripen them in vitro and freeze them for later use. Until now, no pregnancy had been able to be triggered via this process, the failures being systematic. But as part of a world first woman cured of cancer successfully carried out a pregnancy triggered via a frozen egg several years earlier. A success of a team of French researchers considered it  as a real medical breakthrough by the scientific community.

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A woman made sterile by cancer treatment gave birth after one of her immature eggs was matured, frozen and - five years later - thawed and fertilized. The study, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, describes how the baby was born to a 34-year-old French woman who had been treated with chemotherapy for breast cancer.



In vitro maturation and freezing: functional eggs several years later

Before treatment started, doctors removed seven immature eggs from her ovaries and used a technique called in vitro maturation (IVM) to allow the eggs to develop further in the laboratory. To date, there have been no successful pregnancies in cancer patients with eggs who have undergone IVM and freezing. However, some children were born following an IVM immediately followed by fertilization and transfer to the patient.

Professor Michaël Grynberg, head of the Department of Reproductive Medicine and Fertility Preservation at the Antoine Béclère University Hospital, near Paris, France, is the first author of the letter.

“I saw the 29-year-old patient following her diagnosis of cancer and provided fertility counselling. I offered her the option of egg freezing after IVM and also freezing ovarian tissue. She rejected the second option, which was considered too invasive a couple of days after cancer diagnosis.”

Infographic describing the procedure used by doctors. Credits: M. Grynberg et al. 2020

Cryopreservation of ovarian tissue is an experimental method in which the outer layer of an ovary - which contains immature eggs - is removed from the body and frozen for future use. In the case of the French patient, the ultrasound revealed that there were 17 small bags filled with liquid containing immature eggs in her ovaries. But using hormones to stimulate the ovaries and ripen the eggs would have taken too long and could have made her cancer worse, leaving the recovery of immature eggs and freezing as the best option.

Towards an optimized and less invasive in vitro fertilization procedure

After five years, the patient had recovered from breast cancer but found the chemotherapy had made her infertile as she had been unable to conceive within a year. Stimulating her ovaries to prompt them to produce more eggs ran the risk that the hormones used could cause the breast cancer to recur, so she and her doctors decided to use her frozen eggs. All six eggs survived the thawing process and they were fertilised using ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection); five fertilised successfully and one embryo was transferred to the patient’s womb. She became pregnant and nine months later she gave birth to a healthy baby boy called Jules on 6 July 2019.

Prof Grynberg said: “We were delighted that the patient became pregnant without any difficulty and successfully delivered a healthy baby at term. My team and I trusted that IVM could work when ovarian stimulation was not feasible. Therefore, we have accumulated lots of eggs that have been vitrified following IVM for cancer patients and we expected to be the first team to achieve a live birth this way. We continue offering IVM to our patients in combination with ovarian tissue cryopreservation when ovarian stimulation cannot be considered. This success represents a breakthrough in the field of fertility preservation.”



He concluded: “Fertility preservation should always be considered as part of the treatment for young cancer patients. Egg or embryo vitrification after ovarian stimulation is still the most established and efficient option. However, for some patients, ovarian stimulation isn’t feasible due to the need for urgent cancer treatment or some other contraindication. In these situations, freezing ovarian tissue is an option but requires a laparoscopic procedure and, in addition, in some diseases it runs the risk of re-introducing malignant cells when the tissue is transplanted back into the patient.


Bibliography:

First birth achieved after fertility preservation using vitrification of in vitro matured oocytes in a woman with breast cancer’ by M Grynberg et al. was published in Annals of Oncology at 00:01 UK time on Wednesday 19th February.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annonc.2020.01.005

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Coronavirus protein has just been mapped, paving the way for a vaccine



The “tip” protein of the coronavirus has just been mapped, potentially paving the way for the development of a vaccine. In fact, it is this protein that the virus uses to infect human cells.

Scientists around the world are currently doing everything they can to develop vaccines and potential drugs to fight the new coronavirus, now known as SARS-CoV-2 (SARS-CoV- 2 in French).

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We remind you that from now on, the name Covid-19 must be used to speak of the current epidemic (the disease) and that the coronavirus itself must be called SARS-CoV-2, a very scientific qualifier in which "CoV" means "coronavirus" and "SARS" (or SARS in French) is an acronym for "severe acute respiratory syndrome". Therefore, the name "SARS-CoV-2" was chosen by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses to make it clear that this coronavirus is from the same family as SARS-CoV, which is at the origin of the epidemic of SARS between 2002 and 2003, which killed 774 people worldwide, including 349 in mainland China.

But now a group of researchers has discovered the molecular structure of a key protein that the coronavirus uses to invade human cells, potentially opening the door for vaccine development, according to new findings.



Discovery of a so-called “cutting-edge” protein that could be a game-changer

Previous research has shown that coronaviruses invade cells through so-called “spiked” proteins, but these proteins take different forms in different coronaviruses. Therefore, "determining the shape of the peak protein in SARS-Cov-2 is the key to determining how to target the virus," said Jason McLellan, lead author of the study and associate professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

Although the coronavirus uses many different proteins to replicate and invade human cells, the spike protein is the main surface protein it uses to bind to a receptor (another protein that acts as a gateway to a human cell). Then, after the virus protein binds to the human cell receptor, the viral membrane fuses with the human cell membrane, allowing the genome of the virus to enter human cells and begin infection.

Because of this, "if we can prevent attachment and fusion, we can prevent entry," said McLellan. But of course, to target this protein, you must already know what it looks like.

In pictures, on an atomic scale, the molecular structure of the “tip” of the SARS-2-CoV protein that the virus uses to invade human cells. Credits: Jason McLellan / University of Texas at Austin

Earlier this month, researchers released the SARS-Cov-2 genome. And it was by using this genome that McLellan and his team, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), identified the specific genes that encode the advanced protein. They then passed this information on to a company that created genes and sent them back. The group then injected the latter into mammalian cells in a laboratory box, and these cells then produced the peak proteins.

Then, using a very detailed microscopy technique called cryogenic electron microscopy, the group created a real three-dimensional “map” of the proteins in question.

The plan revealed the structure of the molecule, mapping the location of each of its atoms in space. "It is impressive that these researchers were able to get the structure so quickly," said Aubree Gordon, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, who was not part of the study. "This is a very important step forward that could help in the development of a vaccine against SARS-COV-2," added Gordon.

Stephen Morse, a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, who was also not part of the study, also agrees. The advanced protein "would be the likely choice for the rapid development of vaccine antigens and treatments," he said. Knowing the structure of this advanced protein would indeed be "very useful for developing vaccines and antibodies with good activity, as well as the production of higher quantities of these proteins".

Towards a vaccine or a treatment to fight against the coronavirus

Now the researchers are sending their atomic discovery to dozens of research groups around the world, which are working to develop vaccines and drugs to target SARS-CoV-2. Meanwhile, McLellan and his team also hope to use the advanced protein map as the basis for a vaccine.

You should know that when foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses invade the body, immune cells respond by producing proteins called antibodies. These antibodies bind to specific structures of the foreign invader, called an antigen. But producing antibodies can take time. Vaccines are dead or weakened antigens that cause the immune system to make these antibodies before the body is exposed to the virus.

Because of this, in theory, the spike protein itself "could be the vaccine or vaccine variants," said McLellan. Indeed, if we injected this vaccine with advanced proteins, "humans would make antibodies against this advanced protein, and then if they expose themselves one day to the virus, the body would already be prepared", he adds.

Mutations and changes to create an even more stable molecule

In addition, building on previous research they have done on other coronaviruses, the researchers have introduced mutations and changes to create a more stable molecule.



“The molecule looks really good; she behaves really well; the structure somehow demonstrates that the molecule is stable and confirms what we hoped for," said McLellan. "So now we and others will use the molecule we created as the basis for the vaccine antigen." Their colleagues at NIH will now test these proteins to find out how well they can trigger the production of antibodies.

Thanks to this new discovery, researchers believe that a vaccine is likely to be released within 18 to 24 months. "It's pretty quick compared to the normal development of a vaccine, which could take around 10 years ...," said McLellan. A case to follow closely.


Bibliography:

Cryo-EM structure of the 2019-nCoV spike in the prefusion conformation

Daniel Wrapp, Nianshuang Wang, Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Jory A. Goldsmith, Ching-Lin Hsieh, Olubukola Abiona, Barney S. Graham, Jason S. McLellan

Science  19 Feb 2020:
eabb2507

DOI: 10.1126/science.abb2507

Green tea extract combined with exercise would improve liver health



New research highlights that green tea extract, combined with exercise, can reduce fatty liver disease in mice. Namely, fatty liver is a lesion of the liver corresponding to an overload of fat in the cytoplasm of hepatocytes. Today, in developed countries, the prevalence of fatty liver disease is estimated between 20 and 30% (and it tends to increase with the increase in the obese or diabetic population).

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New combination of green tea extract and exercise reduces the severity of fatty liver disease (linked to obesity) by 75% in mice fed a rich diet, says new research from Penn State researchers in fat.

This study could therefore well indicate a future potential health strategy for human beings. "This result is important," says Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science, because " nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a significant global health problem, which is expected to worsen in the years to come. Due to the high prevalence of risk factors such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease is expected to affect more than 100 million people by 2030. And there is currently no validated treatment for the disease", he added.



Green tea extract and exercise for a healthier life

As part of the study, mice fed a high-fat diet for 16 weeks who consumed green tea extract by regularly exercising by running on a wheel, were found to have only 'a quarter of the lipid deposits in their liver, compared to the control group of mice.

The mice that were treated with green tea extract alone or who were only exercising (without green tea extract) had about half the fat in their liver compared to the control group.

The results of the experiment are clearly indicated on these slides showing the liver tissue: the mice which consumed green tea extract and exercised regularly had only a quarter of the lipid deposits in their liver, by compared to those of a control group. The mice that were treated with green tea extract alone or that were only exercising had about half the fat in their liver compared to the control group. Credit: Joshua Lambert research group / Penn State

In addition to analyzing the liver tissue of the mice, the researchers also measured the protein and fat content of their stools. They found that mice that consumed green tea extract and exercised had higher lipid and fecal protein levels.

Processes nutrients differently

"By examining the livers of these mice after the study concluded and by screening their feces during the research, we saw that the mice that consumed green tea extract and exercised actually were processing nutrients differently -- their bodies were handling food differently," Lambert said.

"We think the polyphenols in green tea interact with digestive enzymes secreted in the small intestine and partially inhibit the breakdown of carbohydrates, fat and protein in food," he added. "So, if a mouse doesn't digest the fat in its diet, that fat and the calories associated with it pass through the mouse's digestive system, and a certain amount of it ends up coming out in its feces."

It may be significant, Lambert explained, that mice treated with both green tea extract and exercise had higher expression of genes related to the formation of new mitochondria. That gene expression is important, he said, because it provides markers that will help researchers understand the mechanism by which green tea polyphenols and exercise might work together to mitigate fatty liver deposits.

"We measured the expression of genes that we know are related to energy metabolism and play an important role in energy utilization," Lambert said. "In the mice that had the combination treatment, we saw an increase in the expression of genes that wasn't there before they consumed green tea extract and exercised."

Of course, more research is still needed to see if there is a synergy created by green tea extract and exercise, to reduce the fat deposited in the liver, or if the effects are simply additive. Note that the group of researchers led by Lambert, from the College of Agricultural Sciences (United States), have been studying for 12 years the health benefits of polyphenols (often called antioxidants) from green tea, cocoa, avocados and still other sources.

Towards improved cardiovascular health

In previous related research, Lambert and colleagues demonstrated that green tea extract and exercise together sharply reduced body mass and improved cardiovascular health of high-fat-fed mice. But because no human trials assessing the health benefits and risks of green tea combined with exercise have been conducted, he urges caution for people who decide to experiment with the health strategy on their own.



"I believe people should engage in more physical activity, and replacing high-calorie beverages with decaffeinated, diet green tea -- which has no calories -- is a smart move," he said. "Combining the two might have health benefits for people, but we don't have the clinical data yet." he added.


Bibliography:

Mitigation of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in high-fat-fed mice by the combination of decaffeinated green tea extract and voluntary exercise.

Weslie Y. Khoo, Benjamin J. Chrisfield, Sudathip Sae-tan, Joshua D. Lambert.

The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2020; 76: 108262

DOI: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2019.108262

For the first time oxygen has been detected in another galaxy


Although it is ubiquitous on Earth, molecular oxygen (also called oxygen) is not so easy to find outside of our planet. By just two times, astrophysicists have detected them outside the Solar System. But recently, their instruments have identified traces of O2 even further, more than 500 million light years from Earth, outside the Milky Way. This important discovery, the first detection of dioxygen outside our galaxy , should help astrophysicists better understand the complex molecular dynamics of galactic regions.

Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the Universe, behind hydrogen and helium. Thus, its chemistry and its abundance in interstellar clouds are important for understanding the role of molecular gas in galaxies.

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Astronomers have searched for oxygen again and again, using millimetre astronomy, which detects the radio wavelengths emitted by molecules; and spectroscopy, which analyses the spectrum to look for wavelengths absorbed or emitted by specific molecules.

But these searches have turned up a puzzling lack of oxygen molecules. Which means "a comprehensive picture of oxygen chemistry in different interstellar environments is still missing," wrote a team of astronomers led by Junzhi Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in a new paper.




Release of dioxygen into space: the molecular shock hypothesis

One place where molecular oxygen has already been detected is the Orion Nebula, it's been hypothesised that out in space, oxygen is bound up with hydrogen in the form of water ice that is clinging to dust grains.

But the Orion nebula is a stellar nursery, and it's possible that the intense radiation from very hot young stars shocks the water ice into sublimation and splits the molecules, releasing the oxygen. Astrophysicists then turned to the Markarian 231 galaxy.

In 2011, data from the Herschel satellite showed the presence of molecular oxygen in the Orion nebula. Credits: ESA

Markarian 231 is special. It is located 561 million light years away and contains a quasar. It is an extremely bright galactic nucleus with an active supermassive black hole in the center. These are the brightest objects in the Universe, and Markarian 231 contains the closest quasar to Earth. In fact, astronomers believe that Markarian 231 could have two active supermassive black holes in its center, swirling around each other.


Galactic molecular oxygen: potential interactions between molecular fluxes and molecular clouds

An active galactic nucleus induces molecular fluxes, producing such continuous shocks, which could release oxygen from the water in molecular clouds. Molecular fluxes from Markarian 231 are particularly rapid, so Wang and his colleagues went there to get oxygen. Using the 30-meter IRAM radio telescope in Spain, they made observations of the galaxy for four days, over several wavelengths.

Dioxygen spectrum in the Markarian 231 galaxy, established thanks to observations from the IRAM telescope for 4 days. Credits: Junzhi Wang et al. 2020

In those data, they found the spectral signature of oxygen, in line with the shock hypothesis.

"With deep observations toward Markarian 231 using the IRAM 30 meter telescope and NOEMA, we detected [molecular oxygen] emission in [an] external galaxy for the first time," the researchers wrote in their paper.

"The detected O2 emission is located in regions about 10 kpc (32,615 light-years) away from the center of Markarian 231 and may be caused by the interaction between the active galactic nucleus-driven molecular outflow and the outer disc molecular clouds."

The team's measurements revealed that the abundance of oxygen compared to hydrogen was around 100 times higher than that found in the Orion nebula, so the galaxy could be undergoing a more intense version of the same molecule-splitting process.

As Markarian is a starburst galaxy, undergoing furious star formation, this could be possible. Just one region in the galaxy is forming new stars at a rate of over 100 solar masses a year. The Milky Way, by contrast, is pretty quiet, with a star formation rate of around 1 to two solar masses.

Better understand the complex dynamics of galactic oxygen

On the other hand, these results could also mean that more observations need to be made to confirm the detection of oxygen. If the results are valid, the phenomenon could be used to better understand both molecular oxygen in galaxies and the molecular flow of an active galactic nucleus.



"This first detection of extragalactic molecular oxygen provides an ideal tool to study active galactic nucleus-driven molecular outflows on dynamic timescales of tens of megayears," they wrote.

"O2 may be a significant coolant for molecular gas in such regions affected by active galactic nucleus-driven outflows." conclude the authors.


Bibliography:

Molecular Oxygen in the Nearest QSO Mrk 231

Junzhi Wang, Di Li, Paul F. Goldsmith, Zhi-Yu Zhang, Yu Gao, Yong Shi8, Shanghuo Li, Min Fang, Juan Li, and Jiangshui Zhang

Published 2020 January 30

The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 889, Number 2

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