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Thursday, 6 February 2020

A specific type of cancer treatment improves night vision, and we finally know why

Following a specific cancer treatment called photodynamic therapy, some patients have reported experiencing differences in their night vision, including the ability to see more clearly or to distinguish objects better in the dark. Photodynamic therapy uses light to destroy cancer cells, and its interaction with certain photosensitive proteins is believed to be the cause of this mysterious side effect.

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In a recent study, researchers show their understanding of what would be the cause of this photosensitivity change: rhodopsin, a light-sensitive protein in the retina, interacts with a photosensitive compound called chlorine e6, a crucial component of this type of cancer treatment.

The work is based on what scientists already know about the retinal organic compound, which is located in the eye and is generally not sensitive to infrared light. The results were published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters .

An interaction between rhodopsin and chlorine e6

Visible light causes the rhodopsin to separate from the retina. This is then converted into electrical signals, which our brain interprets to form an image. Although little visible light is available overnight, it turns out that this mechanism can also be triggered with another combination of light and chemical reaction: under infrared light and with an injection of chlorine e6, the retina undergoes the same reactions as under visible light.

"This explains the increase in nighttime visual acuity," said chemist Antonio Monari, from the University of Lorraine in France, to CNRS. “However, we did not know precisely how rhodopsin and its active retinal group interacted with chlorine. It is this mechanism that we have now managed to elucidate via molecular simulation”.

Enhanced color scanning electron micrograph showing rods (in red) and human eye cones (x2500 magnification). Rods are long nerve cells that react to a small amount of light. Cones are shorter cells that detect color. Rods and cones transmit visual signals to the brain through the optic nerve. In theory, rods are not sensitive to infrared radiation, which predominates at night. Credits: Science Source / BSIP

Model the movements of individual atoms to understand the mechanism involved

In addition to certain chemical calculations, the team used molecular simulation to model the movements of individual atoms (in terms of respective attraction and repulsion), as well as the breaking or creation of chemical bonds.

The simulation, which is the subject of millions of calculations, lasted several months before being able to accurately model the chemical reaction caused by infrared radiation. In reality, this reaction would occur in a few nanoseconds.

Screen capture of the digital molecular simulation performed during these experiments. The chemical interaction between the chlorine e6 molecule used for phototherapy and the rhodopsin present in the receptors of the eye is visible. Credits: LPCT / University of Lorraine - CNRS

"For our simulation, we placed a virtual rhodopsin protein inserted into its lipid membrane in contact with several molecules of chlorine e6 and water, involving tens of thousands of atoms," said Monari.

As chlorine e6 absorbs infrared radiation, it interacts with oxygen in the eye tissue, transforming it into singlet oxygen (excited metastable state) very reactive and destroying cancer cells. Molecular simulation shows that singlet oxygen can also react with the retina and temporarily improve night vision.

Treating certain types of blindness or excessive sensitivity to light

Now that researchers are familiar with the chemistry behind this strange side effect, they may be able to limit the risk of this happening in patients undergoing photodynamic therapy, some of whom have reported seeing silhouettes and outlines otherwise. invisible in the dark.

This chemical reaction could also ultimately be used to help & treat certain types of blindness or excessive sensitivity to light. For the moment however, exploiting this still little understood phenomenon to offer a superhuman night vision is more than contraindicated…

"Molecular simulation is already used to shed light on fundamental mechanisms - for example, why certain DNA lesions are better repaired than others?" It also allows the selection of potential therapeutic molecules, by mimicking their interaction with a chosen target, "said Monari.


Induced Night Vision by Singlet-Oxygen-Mediated Activation of Rhodopsin

Marco Marazzi, Hugo Gattuso, Angelo Giussani, Hong Zhang, Miriam Navarrete-Miguel, Christophe Chipot, Wensheng Cai, Daniel Roca-Sanjuán, François Dehez, Antonio Monari

J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2019, 10, 22, 7133-7140

Publication Date:October 25, 2019

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

New Graphene Device Detects and Amplifies Terahertz Waves

In recent years, physicists and engineers have learned to detect and control almost the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from UVs to infrared to gamma rays. However, a range of frequencies still escaped scientists: the terahertz frequency (THz). But recently, a team of researchers has developed a THz graphene detection device capable of amplifying THz waves. A real scientific feat that could lead to a whole new technological era.

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Terahertz (THz) waves lie between microwaves and infrared in the electromagnetic frequency spectrum, but due to their low energy, scientists have not been able to exploit their potential. The riddle is known in scientific circles as the "terahertz divide".

Being able to detect and amplify THz waves (T rays) would open up a new era of medical, communication, satellite, cosmological and other technologies. A major application would be a safe and non-destructive alternative to X-rays. However, so far, the wavelengths involved, which vary between 3 mm and 30 μm, have proven to be impossible to use due to relatively weak signals from from all existing sources.

Place THz waves in the electromagnetic spectrum. Credits: Y. Chassagneux

A THz wave amplifier based on graphene

A team of physicists has created a new type of optical transistor - a functional THz amplifier - using graphene and a high-temperature superconductor. The physics behind the amplifier is based on the properties of graphene, which is transparent and not sensitive to light and whose electrons are “massless”. It is made up of two layers of graphene and a superconductor which trap the “massless” electrons of graphene between them like a sandwich.

THz radiation hits the device and is re-emitted with amplified energy. Credits: Loughborough University

The device is then connected to a power source. When THz radiation hits the outer graphene layer, the trapped particles inside it attach to the outgoing waves, amplifying them. Professor Fedor Kusmartsev of the Loughborough Physics Department explains: “When the THz light hits the sandwich, it is reflected like a mirror. The main point is that there will be more reflected light than that which hit the device."

"It works because external energy is supplied by a battery or by light hitting the surface from other higher frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. THz photons are transformed by graphene into massless electrons, which, in turn, are transformed back into reflected and energized THz photons. Because of such a transformation, THz photons get their energy from graphene - or the battery - and weak THz signals are amplified.”

Towards control of the THz frequency and the advent of a new technological era

The study was published in the journal Physical Review Letters . The team continues to develop the device and hopes to have prototypes ready for testing soon. Professor Kusmartsev said he hopes to have an operational amplifier ready to go on the market in about a year. He added that such a device would greatly improve current technology and allow scientists to reveal more about the human brain.

The THz amplifier is small enough to fit into many technologies. Credits: Loughborough University

“The universe is full of terahertz radiation and signals. In fact, all biological organisms absorb and emit them. I hope that with such an amplifier available, we will be able to discover many mysteries of nature. For example, how chemical reactions and biological processes happen, or how our brain works at the thought level,” says Kusmartsev.

"It has properties that would greatly improve vast scientific fields such as imaging, spectroscopy, tomography, medical diagnosis, health monitoring, environmental monitoring and chemical and biological identification. The device we have developed will allow scientists and engineers to exploit this bandwidth and create the next generation of medical equipment, detection equipment and wireless communication technology,” he adds.


Optical transistor for amplification of radiation in a broadband terahertz domain

Phys. Rev. Lett.

K. H. A. Villegas, F. V. Kusmartsev, Y. Luo, and I. G. Savenko

This thread from human skin cells could be used to make implantable graft tissue

This thread is made from human skin cells. | Magnan et al., Acta Biomater

Researchers from Inserm de Bordeaux have designed a medical thread from human skin cells. It could notably be used to make implantable "human textiles" for tissue transplants and organ repairs.

"We can sew pockets, create tubes, valves and perforated membranes ," says Nicholas L'Heureux, who led the work of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux. " With this thread, any textile approach is possible: knitting, braiding, weaving, even crochet".

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Be aware that the synthetic materials used for stitches and scaffolds for growing cells for tissue transplantation can often trigger an immune response, causing inflammation that can complicate healing.

Surgeons can then use dissolvable materials to reduce this risk, but these are not suitable for reconstructing complex tissue if they fail prematurely.

Illustrations summarizing the manufacturing process and potential uses, ranging from simple suturing to the creation of vascularized graft tissue. Human skin cells are first cultivated in a special matrix and then cut into strips. The strips are then twisted together to create threads for different uses. Credits: N. L'Heureux / Inserm

A thread not targeted by the immune system

The human thread designed by Inserm researchers prevents this by remaining undetected by the immune system. The design builds on previous work by the L'Heureux team, which used human skin fibroblast cells to produce sheets of material that can be rolled into tubes to make artificial blood vessels.

To create the thread, the team cut these sheets into ribbons and twisted them to form strands. These were then intertwined to create wires of different mechanical strengths, which could be dried and wound up until they were used.

The human skin threads made are strong enough to be knotted together. Therefore, they could even be used for sutures. Credits: Magnan et al., Acta Biomater

To show its potential, the researchers seeded individual wires with different blood vessel cells and braided them together. They also used the thread as a suture for an injury to a rat, which healed in 14 days.

Optimized implantable graft tissue

Another experience involved a tailor-made loom in order to weave a solid and implantable textile tube. When it was transplanted into a sheep's artery, it had no leaks and allowed blood to flow normally. " With a textile approach, once the assembly is finished, it's ready to wear, " said L'Heureux.

“This intriguing investigation represents a first step towards mechanically solid constructions, on the appropriate scale, which will be discreetly integrated into the repair of the host and will even be part of it. A combination that has so far escaped the attention of bio-engineers,” says Jeffrey Ruberti, who studies collagen-based biomaterials at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.


Human Textiles: a cell-synthesized yarn as a truly “bio” material for tissue engineering applications.

Laure Magnana, Gaëlle Labruniea, Mathilde Fénelona, Nathalie Dusserrea, Marie-Pierre, FoulcbMickaël, Lafourcadeb, Isabelle, SvahncEtienne, Gontierc, Jaime H.Vélez V.d Todd N.McAllistere, NicolasL'Heureux

A particularly lazy cave salamander would have stayed in the same spot for 7 years

The eel proteus ( Proteus anguinus ), olm, or “cave salamander”, is a salamander known to be able to live in a very restricted area for years, without ever moving. Recently, researchers discovered an extreme case: a specimen remained in the same place for 7 years without ever venturing outside of its small “comfort” zone.

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"They hang around, they do almost nothing," says Gergely Balázs, of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. Olms are salamanders that live in European caves, known for their particularly slow lifestyle. They have adapted to living in total darkness: their skin is pale and their eyes do not develop, which makes them blind. Their life expectancy can reach decades, even centuries.

Their particular way of life makes them difficult to study in nature, explains Balázs, so that most of the observations are made on captive specimens.

One of the first long-term studies on wild olms

In an attempt to elucidate certain behavioral aspects of the animal, Balázs and his team carried out one of the first long-term studies on wild olms.

The researchers followed the olms living in the Vruljak 1 cave in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Between 2010 and 2018, the team entered the cave several times and marked the salamanders by injecting a unique, black pigment in their caudal fins. When they returned (regular and often spaced several months apart), they tried to find out where the marked olms were. A total of 19 specimens were tracked.

Most of them have moved less than 10 meters, although they have been recaptured years after being tagged. Most salamanders only moved an average of 5 meters per year! The most active olm had moved 38 meters in 230 days. On the other hand, another was found in exactly the same place after 2,569 days, more than seven years. The results of the study are available in the journal Journal of Zoology.

However, olms may be more active than the data suggests, says Gábor Herczeg, a colleague at Balázs. " We don't know the daily activity of these animals, " he says, noting that visits to the cave were often spaced several months apart. Olms can move in a tight space, he adds.

However, an inactive lifestyle would make sense to them. In fact, they are predators who use a “waiting strategy”, explains Balázs. Their prey is small crustaceans, which are not common. To save energy, the olm can sit still and slow down its metabolism until one of them approaches. "They can survive without food for years," he says.

Although the very slow lifestyle of olms is suitable for their underground habitat, it also makes them vulnerable to dramatic changes in their environment. If the conditions in their cave become inhospitable, for example due to the increase in floods due to climate change, they may find it difficult to move to a new habitat.


Extreme site fidelity of the olm (Proteus anguinus) revealed by a long‐term capture–mark–recapture study

G. Balázs  B. Lewarne  G. Herczeg

First published:28 January 2020

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

The smell of a rose during sleep would improve learning

Improving the ability to learn (or remember) during sleep is the dream of many people. In the past, it has already been proven in the laboratory that the presence of particular odors (both during learning and sleep) has a supporting effect. Recently, researchers from the University of Friborg have shown that this effect can also be obtained very easily outside the laboratory.

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As part of the new study, students in two classes learned English vocabulary with and without incense sticks during the learning period and also at night. Result: the pupils remembered much better the vocabulary learned under the influence of a perfume.

"We have shown that the supporting effect of perfumes works very reliably in everyday life and can be used in a targeted way," said study director Dr. Jürgen Kornmeier, head of the research group. on perception and cognition at the IGPP in Freiburg, in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Freiburg, in Germany. The results of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports .

The smell of roses during learning and sleep

For the study, the first author and student teacher Franziska Neumann conducted several experiments with 54 students from two classes of 6th grade from a school in southern Germany. The young test group participants were asked to place rose scented incense sticks on their home desks while learning English vocabulary, as well as on the bedside table next to the bed overnight.

In another experiment, they also placed the incense sticks on the table next to them during a vocabulary test at school. The results were compared to those of tests in which no incense stick had been used during one or more phases.

"The students showed a significant increase in learning success (by around 30%) if the incense sticks were used during the learning and sleeping phases," says Neumann. The results also suggest that the additional use of incense sticks during the vocabulary test promotes access to memory.

The study took place in four stages: (I) Initial presentation of the material at school (II). Learning at home. (III) Sleep (7 nights) and (IV), take a vocabulary test at school 7 days after the learning unit. No odor emitter was applied in condition N. In condition LT, students in the test group were exposed to the odor during home learning (L) and during the vocabulary test (T) seven days after the learning unit at school. In the LS condition, they were exposed to the odor during learning and during sleep for seven successive nights at home. Finally, in the LST condition, they were exposed to odor during learning at home, during sleep at home and during the final vocabulary test at school. Students in the control group learned the same vocabulary as the test group, but received no odor recall during learning, sleep, or testing. Credits: Dr. Jürgen Kornmeier / University of Friborg

Results suitable for everyday use

"A particular conclusion beyond the basic initial study was that the scent also works when present overnight," says Kornmeier. This makes the results suitable for everyday use.

Previous studies had assumed that the scent should only be present during a particularly sensitive sleep phase. However, since this sleep phase must be determined by an effective measurement of brain activity using an electroencephalogram (EEG) in a sleep laboratory, this discovery was not suitable for daily use.

“Our study shows that we can facilitate learning during sleep. And who would have thought that our nose could significantly help in this regard,” says Kornmeier.


How odor cues help to optimize learning during sleep in a real life-setting

Franziska Neumann, Vitus Oberhauser & Jürgen Kornmeier

Scientific Reports volume 10, Article number: 1227

Anti-solar cell: a photovoltaic cell that works at night

One of the major drawbacks of photovoltaic solar panels is that they do not produce electricity at night. The energy generated during the day must therefore be stored for use in the evening. What if we could develop solar panels that generate electricity at night? Jeremy Munday, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC Davis, says it is entirely possible. A specially designed photovoltaic cell could generate up to 50 watts of energy per square meter under ideal conditions at night, about a quarter of what a conventional solar panel can generate during the day.

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Munday, who recently joined UC Davis, is developing prototypes of these nocturnal solar cells capable of generating small amounts of energy. The researchers now hope to improve the power output and the efficiency of the system.

The operation would be similar to that of a normal solar cell, but involves a reverse process. An object that is warm relative to its surroundings will emit heat in the form of infrared light. A conventional solar cell is cold (compared to solar radiation), so it absorbs light.

Space is an extremely cold place, so if a hot object is pointed at the sky, it will radiate heat towards it. This phenomenon has been used in particular for night cooling for hundreds of years. "Over the past five years, there has been a lot of interest in devices that can generate energy during the day (by harnessing sunlight)," said Munday.

A conventional photovoltaic cell (left) absorbs photons from sunlight and generates an electric current. A thermoradiative cell (on the right) generates an electric current when it radiates infrared light (heat) towards the extreme cold of deep space. UC Davis engineers suggest that such cells could generate a significant amount of energy and help balance the power grid over the day-night cycle. Credits: Tristan Deppe / Jeremy Munday, UC Davis

Generate energy by radiating heat

There is another type of device called a “thermoradiative cell”, which generates energy by radiating heat to its environment. Researchers have notably explored its use to capture residual heat from engines.

"We said to ourselves, what if we took one of these cells and placed it in a hot area with the sky pointing at it," said Munday. This thermoradiative cell pointed towards the night sky would emit infrared radiation because it is hotter than outer space.

“An ordinary solar cell generates energy by absorbing sunlight, which causes voltage to appear across the device and the flow of current. In these new devices, the light is rather emitted and the current and voltage go in the opposite direction, but it still generates energy," said Munday. "It requires different materials, but the physics is the same."

The device would also work during the day, as long as direct sunlight is blocked. Because this new type of solar cell could potentially operate 24 hours a day, it is an attractive option for balancing the electrical network on the day-night cycle.


Nighttime Photovoltaic Cells: Electrical Power Generation by Optically Coupling with Deep Space

Tristan Deppe Jeremy N. Munday*

ACS Photonics 2020, 7, 1, 1-9

Publication Date:November 20, 2019

The formation and dynamics of the ice cap of the South Pole of Mars finally explained

Although it has been studied for decades, the red planet still contains mysteries. For many years, a particular structure has caught the attention of planetologists, its origin remaining a mystery: an ice cap, composed of ice water and CO2, covering the South Pole of Mars. Recently, a team of NASA astrophysicists, using simulations, was able to confirm the generally advanced hypothesis to explain the formation and dynamics of this ice structure.

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The main assumption  is that these layers stacked on top of each other during variations in the tilt of the axis of Mars during its orbit around the Sun, and new simulations published in the journal confirm this idea. The ice cap in question is about a kilometer deep and is believed to contain as much CO2 as the Martian atmosphere today, and a combination of factors has produced this unusual layer pattern.

“Usually when you run a model, you don't expect the results to match as closely as you observe. But the thickness of the layers, determined by the model, perfectly matches the radar measurements of satellites in orbit,” explains Peter Buhler, planetologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Structural graph of the ice cap of the South Pole of Mars. Credits: PB Buhler et al. 2020

CO2 ice stabilized thanks to the dynamics of Mars

What makes the South Pole ice cap so strange is that it really shouldn't be there - water ice is more thermally stable and darker than CO2 ice, so planetologists would expect that the CO2 ice is destabilized when it is trapped under the water ice.

CO2 ice cycle on the ice cap of the South Pole of Mars. The dynamics of this ice are subject to climatic and atmospheric variations on the planet. Credits: PB Buhler et al. 2020

According to the new model, three factors prevented this from happening: the changing tilt of Mars as it orbits the Sun, the differences in how these two types of ice reflect sunlight, and the change in atmospheric pressure. which occurs when the CO2 ice turns to gas.

Oscillations of the obliquity of Mars responsible for the CO2 ice cap

The "oscillations" of Mars on its axis of rotation would change the amount of sunlight reaching the South Pole, forming CO2 ice during certain periods and sublimating it (by passing it from a solid to a gas) during other periods.

During periods of ice formation, water ice would be trapped alongside the CO2. As sublimation occurs, this more stable ice would remain behind, forming the layers now present at the South Pole of Mars.

(A and D): Graphs showing the variations in mass of CO2 as a function of the variations in obliquity of Mars. (E) Image showing the structure of the ice cap of the South Pole of Mars with comparison between the observations and the authors' model. Credits: PB Buhler et al. 2020

Over time, climate change on the red planet has not resulted in a systematic sublimation of CO2, piling up successive layers of CO2 ice and water ice. Models show that this process changes atmospheric pressure - between a quarter and twice the level it is today - just as Leighton and Murray predicted in the 1960s.

This has been going on for around 510,000 years, suggest the authors - since the last period of extreme solar illumination, when all of the CO2 had been sublimated in the Martian atmosphere. " Our determination of the history of the large pressure fluctuations of Mars is fundamental to understanding the evolution of the planet's climate, including the history of the stability and habitability of liquid water near the surface  " Buhler concludes.


Coevolution of Mars’s atmosphere and massive south polar CO2 ice deposit

P. B. Buhler, A. P. Ingersoll, S. Piqueux, B. L. Ehlmann & P. O. Hayne

Nature Astronomy (2019)

Monday, 3 February 2020

New study estimates more than 75,000 people in Wuhan infected with coronavirus

Since its emergence in December 2019, the 2019-nCoV coronavirus epidemic has infected just over 9,500 people in China, including around 6,000 people in Hubei province, according to official reports. However, a new study estimates that the cases of people infected in Wuhan could actually amount to more than 75,000. A number which, if confirmed, means that the previously announced death rate would be much lower than expected.

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"We estimate that 75,815 people were infected in Wuhan as of January 25, 2020," reports a team led by Gabriel Leung of the University of Hong Kong in the journal The Lancet . As of January 31, the Chinese government has declared that the number of confirmed cases has exceeded 9,700 for the whole of China, including 213 deaths.

For Hubei province - including Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China - the official figure was nearly 6,000 confirmed cases and just over 200 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday that the epidemic was a global health emergency, but said it did not recommend restrictions on international trade or travel.

An increase in cases due to incubation and screening times

"The apparent discrepancy between our modeled estimates of infections at 2019-nCoV and the actual number of confirmed cases in Wuhan could be due to several factors," says Leung. A time lag between infection and onset of symptoms, delays in medical treatment of infected people, and the time it takes to confirm cases with laboratory tests "could all affect the recording and listing of cases".

A) Cumulative number of confirmed cases infected with the new coronavirus 2019 as of January 28, 2020 in Wuhan, in mainland China and outside mainland China. (B) The main outgoing air and rail transport routes from Wuhan during chunyun 2019. The darker and thicker edges represent a larger number of passengers. Outbound international air travel (in yellow) accounted for 13.5% of all outbound air travel, and the top 40 domestic air routes (in red) accounted for 81%. The islands of the South China Sea are not shown. Credits: Joseph T Wu et al. 2020

The study found that each person who contracted the virus, which emerged in December, could have infected an average of two to three people, and that the epidemic had doubled in size every 6.4 days. If the virus spreads so quickly nationwide, "it is possible that epidemics are already developing in several major Chinese cities, with a lag of one to two weeks behind Wuhan" says Joseph Wu, professor at the University from Hong Kong.

A potentially lower mortality rate than previously estimated

If the new case estimate is correct, it would mean that the 2019-nCoV virus death rate is significantly lower than the preliminary figures suggested, with far less than one percent of cases found to be fatal.

But a low death rate can still lead to a large number of deaths if the virus spreads widely. Seasonal flu, for example, kills between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the United States, the death rate among people infected with the flu is 0.13%, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The 2002/03 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic started in Guangdong province and killed 774 people out of a total of 8096 infected people.

The 2012 MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic killed 858 of the 2,494 people infected. The respective mortality rates of patients with SARS and MERS were 9.5 and 34.5%, much higher than for the new coronavirus.


Nowcasting and forecasting the potential domestic and international spread of the 2019-nCoV outbreak originating in Wuhan, China: a modelling study

Prof Joseph T Wu, Kathy Leung, Prof Gabriel M Leung, 

Published:January 31, 2020


Smart dressing detects and treats bacterial infections independently

In recent years, more and more optimized and reactive dressings have been developed. From the nanofiber mesh dressing to ward off bacteria from a wound, via the anti-burn dressing preventing bacteria from multiplying, many devices are now used to fight infections. But recently, researchers have taken a new step: an intelligent dressing with variable colorization indicating the presence of an infection, its intensity, the presence of bacteria resistant or not to antibiotics and able to deliver the right type of antibiotic directly at the site of infection.

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Scientists have developed a new type of smart dressing that can signal the type of bacterial infection in the bandaged wound, and then deliver the right therapeutic molecule. Researchers hope it could help fight antibiotic resistance, as well as heal wounds faster. The dressing is described in the journal ACS Central Science.

The dressing can take three colors with several variations: green means no bacteria or a low concentration of bacteria, yellow means drug-sensitive bacteria (DS) responding to standard antibiotics (and triggers the release of antibiotics), and red means resistant to antibiotics (DR), bacteria that need extra help to get rid of them. The more intense the color, the higher the concentration of bacteria.

The intelligent colorimetric dressing changes color depending on the type of bacteria detected: sensitive (DS) or resistant (DR) to antibiotics. Credits: ACS Central Science 2020

The delivery of treatment adapted to the type of infection detected

By testing the dressing on mice, the research team successfully treated both DS and DR E. coli infections using the new method. If drug resistance is detected, an intense beam of light can be used to activate the release of a highly reactive type of oxygen to weaken the bacteria, making them more sensitive to the antibiotics in the dressing.

Diagram explaining the operation of the dressing. When it detects an infection sensitive to antibiotics (pink bacteria), it delivers the right antibiotic, thus neutralizing the bacteria. And in the case of a resistant bacteria (purple bacteria), it delivers a light pulse activating an oxygenation reaction weakening the bacteria. Credits: Yuhuan Sun et al. 2020

Antibiotics are released as soon as the infection is detected, and because antibiotic resistance can also be detected, this means that additional treatments can be applied before the bacteria have a chance to mutate and defend themselves further.

“Detecting bacterial infections and monitoring drug resistance is very important for the selection of treatment options. However, common methods of detecting resistance are limited by time, there is need for professional personnel, and expensive instruments. In addition, the abuse of antibiotics causes the accelerated process of bacterial resistance,” write the researchers.

A rapid, informative therapeutic reaction without the need for nursing staff

The basic dressing can be easily transported and dispensed, and attacks bacteria immediately, with no special equipment or personnel required. Treatment does not have to wait for a doctor to make a diagnosis, and the dressing can get the right kind of medication applied as soon as possible.

In addition, the person wearing the dressing receives real-time information about what is going on with the infection, if there is one. Researchers say it offers many advantages over existing treatments that use light, including photodynamic therapy or PDT.

"Compared to traditional antibacterial strategies based on PDT, our design can mitigate off-target side effects, maximize therapeutic efficacy and monitor drug resistance in real time with the naked eye."


Colorimetric Band-aids for Point-of-Care Sensing and Treating Bacterial Infection

Yuhuan SunChuanqi Zhao Jingsheng NiuJinsong RenXiaogang Qu

ACS Cent. Sci. 2020,
Publication Date:January 29, 2020

Will cervical cancer be totally eliminated in the next century?

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in women in several Third World countries, and also affects many women in more developed countries. Caused by prolonged exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV), it can be detected by screening smears and the HPV vaccine decreases the risk of developing cancer. According to an international team of researchers, if the combination of screening and vaccination is applied correctly, cancer of the cervix could be eradicated in a hundred years.

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Cervical cancer could be eliminated in the next century. This is the conclusion of two studies published in the journal The Lancet by an international consortium of researchers co-led by Professor Marc Brisson of the Faculty of Medicine at Laval University and the Research Center of the CHU de Québec-Université Laval. Researchers are even more optimistic about North America, saying the disease could be almost completely eliminated by 2040.

The study used the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and uterine screening targets defined in the WHO draft strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer. The plan calls for 90% of women to be vaccinated against HPV by 2030. The plan also plans for 70% of women to be screened for cervical cancer once or twice in their lifetime, and 90% of women with precancerous lesions or cancer of the cervix receive appropriate treatment.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) observed under an electronic transmission microscope. Credits: Laboratory of Tumor Virus Biology

Screening and vaccination: a disappearance of cervical cancer over the next century

Researchers' analyzes show that with vaccination alone, cervical cancer cases will drop 89% in a century in the 78 countries most affected by the disease, with 60 million cancer cases averted as a result.

By adding the two screening tests and the treatment of precancerous cervical lesions, cervical cancer cases will drop 97% and 72 million cervical cancer cases will be prevented over the next century. In addition, with the extension of appropriate cancer treatment, 62 million deaths from cervical cancer will be prevented.

"For the first time, we have estimated how many cases of cervical cancer could be avoided if the WHO strategy was deployed and when elimination could occur. Our results suggest that to eliminate cervical cancer it will be necessary to achieve both high immunization coverage and a high rate of screening and treatment, especially in countries with a high burden of disease. higher,” says Brisson.

The results were used to develop the WHO cervical cancer elimination strategy to be presented for adoption at the World Health Assembly in May 2020.

"If the strategy is adopted and implemented by member states, cervical cancer could be eliminated in high-income countries by 2040 and around the world in the next century, which would be a phenomenal health win women. However, this can only be achieved with considerable international financial and political commitment, in order to extend prevention and treatment,” adds Brisson.


ARTICLE: Impact of HPV vaccination and cervical screening on cervical cancer elimination: a comparative modelling analysis in 78 low-income and lower-middle-income countries

Prof Marc Brisson,  Prof Jane J Kim, Karen Canfell, Mélanie Drolet, Guillaume Gingras, Emily A Burger

Published:January 30, 2020


Sunday, 2 February 2020

The laws of physics that explain political polarization in elections

The study of political polarization, which has emerged around the world, may have much to gain from the use of some tools and formulas used by physics. [Image: MIT]

It may seem surprising, but theories and formulas derived from physics can be useful tools for understanding how democratic elections work, including how these systems fail to deliver on their promises and how they can be improved.

Alexander Siegenfeld (MIT) and Yaneer Bar-Yam (New England Institute of Complex Systems) took political-electoral data and analyzed it using various well-known laws of physics as tools. And they demonstrated how these laws can be used to describe the behavior of the data.

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The application of several of the physics formulas to the US electoral system revealed that the elections went through a transition in 1970, from a condition in which the election results reasonably captured the electorate's greatest political preferences, to a period of increasing instability, in which very small changes in voter preferences have led to significant changes towards more extreme political results in both directions.

The two physicists found that the Ising model , developed to explain the behavior of ferromagnets and other physical systems, is mathematically equivalent to certain election models and accurately describes the onset of instability in electoral systems.

In this regime of "unstable" elections, "a small change in voter opinion can dramatically alter the outcome of the election, just as the direction of a small push on a rock at the top of a hill can dramatically change its final location," said Siegenfeld .

"What happened in 1970 is a phase transition just like boiling water. The elections went from stable to unstable," added Bar-Yam.

Negative representation

The analysis shows that this instability can be associated with an unexpected situation in which the results oscillate in the opposite direction of how people's real preferences are changing. In other words, a small movement in the predominant opinions towards the left can result in a result more to the right and vice versa - a situation that the researchers call "negative representation".

"Our country seems more divided than ever, with the election results looking like a pendulum swinging with increasing strength," said Siegenfeld.

This long-term shift from a stable electoral situation to one marked by instability is similar to what happens with ferromagnetic metal exposed to a magnetic field, adds Siegenfeld, and can be described by the same mathematical formulas.

Predict the whole without knowing the parts

But why can the derived formulas for such different subjects be relevant to the political field?

Siegenfeld says that it is because in Physics it is not always necessary to know the details of the underlying objects or mechanisms in order to produce useful and significant results. He compares this to how physicists were able to describe the behavior of sound waves - which are essentially the aggregate movements of atoms - with great precision, long before they knew about the existence of atoms.

"When we apply physics to understand the fundamental particles of our Universe, we don't really know the underlying details of the theories," he said. "However, we can still make incredibly accurate predictions."

Likewise, researchers do not need to understand the reasons and opinions of each individual voter in order to conduct a meaningful analysis of their collective behavior.

As the pair's article states, "understanding the collective behavior of social systems can benefit from methods and concepts in physics, not because humans are similar to electrons, but because certain behaviors on a large scale can be understood without understanding small-scale details."


Article: Negative representation and instability in democratic elections

Authors: Alexander F. Siegenfeld, Yaneer Bar-Yam

Magazine: Nature Physics

DOI: 10.1038 / s41567-019-0739-6

New method turns any carbon waste into graphene

Every day, several million tons of carbonaceous waste are thrown away to be stored in landfills and to be burned, or simply stored awaiting treatment. Despite the improvement of recycling techniques, a large part of this waste is definitively destroyed, an often polluting and costly process. But recently, a team of engineers has developed a new method, very inexpensive and very little polluting, allowing to quickly transform any carbonaceous waste - from banana peels to tires through wood - into graphene. This material, whose qualities are no longer to be demonstrated, can then be used in numerous applications.

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The “graphene flash” technique, described in the journal Nature , is fast and inexpensive and consists of heating the waste to 2727 ° C. This breaks the carbon bonds inside the target materials, which are then reconstructed as graphene in a few milliseconds. Not only does this provide a means to use waste that would otherwise be thrown away, but it is an efficient and inexpensive way to produce graphene, which can then be used in different environmentally friendly ways.

"We have already proven that any solid carbon-based material, including mixed plastic waste and rubber tires, can be transformed into graphene," said chemist James Tour of Rice University. Existing graphene production processes produce either low quality graphene or high quality graphene in low volumes. Here, the scientists were able to develop a technique that makes it possible to obtain a decent quantity of good quality, in a shorter time and at a lower cost.

Graphene flash: the key role of temperature

At the center of the operation is a method known as Joule heating, where a rapid discharge of electricity is used to generate intense heat. It is a process that has already been used by engineers to create metallic nanoparticles.

(A, B, C): Structure and operation of the Joule effect heating device. (E): Different graphene structures synthesized from various sources. Credits: Duy X. Luong et al. 2020

The technique described could help convert materials such as food waste, plastic waste, petroleum coke, coal, scrap wood and biochar into precious graphene. It should also be relatively easy to scale up. Temperature is the key - it accelerates the evolution of carbon to its ground state of graphite, but also stops this evolution at exactly the right time to harvest high-quality graphene.

A fast, inexpensive and environmentally friendly recycling technique

If graphene can be generated cheaply, it means it can be used for more applications - to help in the production of cars or clothing, for example, or in cement to bond concrete (a responsible process about 8% of human-made CO2 each year).

Image of the Joule effect heater used for the synthesis of flash graphene. Credits: Rice University

“By reinforcing the concrete with graphene, we could use less concrete for construction, and it would be cheaper to manufacture and transport. Essentially, we are trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane that food waste would have emitted into landfills. We convert these carbons to graphene and add this graphene to the concrete, thereby reducing the amount of carbon dioxide generated in the manufacture of concrete. It's a win-win environmental scenario using graphene.”

No solvent or chemical additive is required for the process, and elements other than carbon are released as gases. In addition, the process produces very little excess heat and the containment device is cool to the touch within a few seconds. Graphene has already proven itself in a multitude of applications, covering electronics, manufacturing and cleaning of pollutants. Scientists can now make it cheaply, while reusing materials that would otherwise be wasted.


Article: Gram-scale bottom-up flash graphene synthesis

Duy X. Luong, Ksenia V. Bets, Wala Ali Algozeeb, Michael G. Stanford, Carter Kittrell, Weiyin Chen, Rodrigo V. Salvatierra, Muqing Ren, Emily A. McHugh, Paul A. Advincula, Zhe Wang, Mahesh Bhatt, Hua Guo, Vladimir Mancevski, Rouzbeh Shahsavari, Boris I. Yakobson & James M. Tour

Nature volume 577, pages647–651(2020)

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Genetically modified butterflies could herald a new era in crop protection

New study highlights successful test including field release of genetically modified butterflies. Scientists believe this success could pave the way for an effective and sustainable approach to pest control in crops.

The butterfly in question is the cruciferous moth ( Plutella xylostella ), or cabbage moth, a species of moth (butterfly) of the family Plutellidae. The agricultural industry has been trying for decades to find organic and environmentally friendly ways to fight the cruciferous moth, a species largely resistant to insecticides.

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In order to counter this, a strain of these moths has been newly designed and field trials (in the United States), conducted by Cornell University, have been successfully conducted. These results are promising for future biotechnology crop protection applications and are also a potential solution for this global agricultural pest. In fact, this moth is very harmful to crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and canola.

But now this new modified cruciferous moth strain, developed by Oxitec Ltd, has been specially designed to target and control these pests in agricultural crops. The new study showed that the modified strain had behaviors (towards cultures) similar to those of unmodified ringworms.

Scientists have genetically modified Plutella xylostella to develop a new sustainable strategy to protect agricultural crops from this otherwise harmful species. Credit: Shutterstock

In other words, the so - called Oxitec self-limiting butterfly is modified to control its harmful counterparts in the field.

How does it work?

After the release of males from this modified strain, the latter find and mate with unmodified and harmful females. Then, the self-limiting gene transmitted to the offspring prevents the female caterpillars from surviving. Scientists explain that with these prolonged releases, the pest population will be targetedly suppressed, in addition to being an environmentally sustainable solution. Indeed, after the cessation of discharges, the self-limiting insects decline and disappear from the environment in a few generations.

The field test is based on previously published work, which had been carried out in greenhouses, by Professor Shelton and his colleagues, who thus demonstrated that prolonged releases of the self-limiting strain effectively suppressed populations of pests and prevented resistance to an insecticide, a win-win situation for pest control. Note that this study was led by Professor Anthony Shelton, of the Entomology Department of AgriTech at Cornell University in New York. "Our research is based on the sterile insect management technique that was developed in the 1950s," reports Professor Shelton. "The use of genetic engineering is simply a more effective method to achieve the same goal,” he said.

Modified male butterflies as a crop protection solution

By observing the results in the field, in the laboratory, as well as by using mathematical modeling, the researchers gathered relevant information regarding the genetically modified cruciferous moth strain, whose unmodified wild counterparts cause considerable damage to around the world.

This study is the first in the world to release self-limiting agricultural insects in an open field. “To carry out the field study, we used the 'mark-release-recapture' method, which has been used for decades to study the movement of insects in the fields. Each strain was sprinkled with a fluorescent powder to label each group before release, then captured in pheromone traps and identified by the color of the powder and a molecular marker in the modified strain," explained Shelton.

Pest test results

"When released into a field, male self-limiting insects behave in the same way as their unmodified counterparts in terms of factors relevant to their future application in crop protection, such as survival and distance traveled Shelton reports."Our mathematical models indicate that the release of the self-limiting strain would control a pest population without the use of additional insecticides, as has been demonstrated in our greenhouse studies," he added.

According to Dr. Neil Morrison, chief agricultural officer of Oxitex and co-author of the study, the latter demonstrates the immense potential of this technology as an effective pest control tool, which could well help protect cultures from around the world in an environmentally sustainable way.


First Field Release of a Genetically Engineered, Self-Limiting Agricultural Pest Insect: Evaluating Its Potential for Future Crop Protection

Anthony M. Shelton, Stefan J. Long, Adam S. Walker, Michael Bolton, Hilda L. Collins, Loïc Revuelta, Lynn M. Johnson and Neil I. Morrison

Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol., 29 January 2020

In a binary system, a rapidly rotating white dwarf carries space-time with it

From black holes to gravitational waves to the effects of gravitational lenses, Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity has made many predictions that have been validated experimentally over time. However, some of these predictions are less known than others. This is the case of the Lense-Thirring effect, which describes a phenomenon of space-time training around very dense objects in very fast rotation. Launched in 2004, NASA's Gravity Probe B satellite made it possible to confirm this phenomenon experimentally in 2011. And recently, astrophysicists have once again been able to confirm the Lense-Thirring effect around a white dwarf as part of a binary system.

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In everyday life, this phenomenon is both undetectable and inconsequential, because the effect is ridiculously small. Detecting the spacetime entrainment caused by Earth's rotation requires satellites such as the $ 750 million Gravity probe B and detecting angular changes in gyroscopes equivalent to one degree every 100 '000 years approximately.

Fortunately, the Universe contains many natural gravitational laboratories where physicists can observe Einstein's predictions in detail. This new study, published in the journal Science , reveals evidence of the Lense-Thirring effect on a much more noticeable scale, using a radio telescope and a unique pair of compact stars rotating around each other. on the other at dizzying speeds.

A white dwarf and a pulsar to confirm the Lense-Thirring effect

The movement of these stars would have made astronomers perplexed at Newton's time, because they move in a distorted space-time, and require the general theory of relativity of Einstein to explain their trajectories. One of his least known predictions of this theory is that rotating bodies carry with them space-time. The faster an object turns and the more massive it is, the more powerful the drive.

White dwarfs are a great place to study this process. They are similar in size to Earth but hundreds of thousands of times more massive. They can also rotate very quickly, up to one revolution per minute. The training caused by such a white dwarf would be about 100 million times more powerful than that of Earth.

Illustration showing the Lense-Thirring effect as part of a white-pulsar dwarf binary system. Credits: Mark Myers / OzGrav ARC Center of Excellence

Twenty years ago, the CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope discovered a unique star pair made up of a white dwarf (the size of Earth but about 300,000 times more massive) and a radio-pulsar. Pulsars are made up of closely related neutrons , which makes them incredibly dense. In addition, they spin much faster than white dwarfs: 150 revolutions / minute for the pulsar studied by the authors.

PSR J1141-6545: an ideal gravitational laboratory for studying general relativity

This means that, 150 times per minute, a beam of radio waves emitted by this pulsar scans our point of observation here on Earth. Astrophysicists can use it to map the trajectory of the pulsar as it orbits the white dwarf, timing when its pulse arrives at the telescope, and knowing the speed of light. This method revealed that the two stars orbit each other in less than 5 hours.

This pair, officially called PSR J1141-6545, is an ideal gravitational laboratory. Since 2001, researchers have used Parkes several times a year to map the orbit of this system, which has a multitude of gravitational effects.

Although PSR J1141-6545 is several hundred quadrillion kilometers (one quadrillion represents a million billion), the data shows that the pulsar rotates 2.54 times per second, and that its orbit varies in space. This means that the plane of its orbit is not fixed, but rotates slowly.

Binary system: the companion star accelerates the rotation of the white dwarf

When pairs of stars are born, the most massive one dies first, often creating a white dwarf. Before the second star dies, it transfers matter to its white dwarf companion. A disc forms when this material falls towards the white dwarf, and over tens of thousands of years, it accelerates the latter, until it makes a complete revolution every few minutes.

Many binary systems involve a giant star and a white dwarf, the latter accreting matter from the former. This accretion leads to an acceleration of the rotation of the white dwarf. Credit: Pearson Ed

In rare cases like this, the second star can then explode as a supernova, leaving behind a pulsar. The rapidly spinning white dwarf carries space-time with it, rocking the pulsar's orbital plane as it moves. This inclination is what astrophysicists have observed through the mapping of the orbit of the pulsar.


Lense–Thirring frame dragging induced by a fast-rotating white dwarf in a binary pulsar system

V. Venkatraman Krishnan, M. Bailes, W. van Straten, N. Wex, P. C. C. Freire, E. F. Keane, T. M. Tauris, P. A. Rosado, N. D. R. Bhat, C. Flynn, A. Jameson1, S. Osłowski

Science  31 Jan 2020:

Vol. 367, Issue 6477, pp. 577-580

DOI: 10.1126/science.aax7007

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