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Monday, 10 February 2020

A bereaved mother finds her deceased child in Virtual Reality (+ VIDEO)

Jang Ji-sung lost his daughter when she was only seven years old. It was in 2016 that everything changed for her, when her little Nayeon died of an incurable disease. Three years later, the bereaved South Korean mother was able to find her daughter in some way, in a virtual world created for a television documentary.

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Last Thursday, the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation shared on its YouTube channel an extract from a special documentary entitled "I Met You", showing a moving sequence linking the real world to the virtual.

In the first scene, Jang stands in front of a large green screen with a VR headset and haptic gloves. In the second scene, we can see the young mother chatting with her daughter. They hold hands and even plan a birthday party.

The VR meeting is, as you can imagine, extremely moving. Jang begins to cry as soon as she sees the virtual version of her daughter Nayeon, while the rest of the family - Nayeon's father, brother and sister - witness the reunion between dark emotions and occasional tears.

"It may be a real paradise," said Jang of his RV reunion. “I met Nayeon, who called me with a smile. It was very short, but very joyful. I think I had the waking dream that I always wanted.”

Eight months of development

According to Aju Business Daily , the production team spent eight months on the project. The developers designed the virtual park after a real place that Jang had gone with his daughter. They then used motion capture technology to record the movements of a child actor, which they could then use as a model for the virtual Nayeon.

The process may not be simple and the end product may not be perfect, but it has resulted in technology that can recreate real people in VR, convincingly enough to move their relatives. And the implications are simply impossible to predict.

It took a whole team of experts to produce "I Met You", but we're clearly getting closer to a platform that one day would allow anyone to easily download images of a deceased loved one and interact then with a virtual version of it.

What impact will this technology have on the grieving process? Will being able to meet a loved one in VR help loved ones to pass the course and move forward after a death? Will some people become addicted to this virtual world?

Besides, with the evolution of robotics, we could also imagine that such applications could one day extend to humanoid robots. So is this a first step towards androids designed to imitate our deceased loved ones both in appearance and in personality, as in the episode of the Black Mirror series “Be Right Back”?

Several startups have already prepared the ground for this future, in particular by compiling data on living and deceased people in order to produce real “digital avatars”. Other companies are already producing robot clones of real people .

The Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back”:

A therapeutic framework?

Nevertheless, it is obvious that the reunion in VR could constitute positive experiences. We could also see this as a 21st century version of a photo album.

"Since you know the person is gone, you accept the virtual equivalent for what they are - a 'comforting remnant'," Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano told Dell Technology. "There is nothing wrong or unethical."

However, perhaps regulation would be necessary. Rather than allowing startups to freely offer the public the opportunity to interact with virtual versions of their deceased loved ones, perhaps we could make the technology available only to people who have undergone an assessment with a psychologist, for example.

Interacting with a convincing version of the deceased in virtual reality is unexplored territory, and now that we have officially entered this era, many questions arise. We will therefore have to respond as quickly as possible in order to best introduce this technology.


Sunday, 9 February 2020

Relativistic drag predicted by Einstein is confirmed

Artistic representation of the "reference drag": two stars orbiting each other twisting space and time

A century after it was theorized, astronomers detected the effects of the Lense-Thirring precession - a drag effect of relativistic references - on the movement of a binary star system, composed of a white dwarf and a pulsar.

Vivek Krishnan and colleagues from four countries analyzed twenty years of observational data from the binary to finally confirm this prediction, made by Einstein's general theory of relativity.

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When a massive object spins, general relativity predicts that it pulls space-time around it, a phenomenon known as frame drag.

This phenomenon causes the precession of the orbital movement of gravitationally coupled objects, such as the two bodies of a binary system - precession is the change in the axis of rotation of an object induced by another star, a very subtle gyroscopic effect, but one that can be imagined like a clumsy top that threatens to fall.

Although the trail of references has already been detected by artificial satellite experiments in the Earth's gravitational field, in these cases the effect is tremendously small and difficult to measure. More massive objects, such as white dwarfs or neutron stars, offer a better opportunity to observe the phenomenon under much more intense gravitational fields.

Artistic representation of a rapidly rotating neutron star and a white dwarf dragging the fabric of space-time around its orbit.


Vivek Krishnan and his colleagues observed PSR J1141-6545, a young pulsar spinning rapidly in a tight orbit around a huge white dwarf.
The pulsar is located 10,000 to 25,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Musca (the fly), which is near the famous Southern Cross constellation.

A pulsar is a fast-spinning neutron star that emits radio waves along its magnetic poles. (Neutron stars are corpses of stars that died in catastrophic explosions known as supernovas; the gravity of these remnants is powerful enough to crush protons together with electrons to form neutrons.)

PSR J1141-6545 circles a white dwarf with a mass about the same as the sun's. White dwarfs are the superdense Earth-size cores of dead stars that are left behind after average-size stars have exhausted their fuel and shed their outer layers. Our sun will end up as a white dwarf one day, as will more than 90% of all stars in our galaxy.

The pulsar orbits the white dwarf in a tight, fast orbit less than 5 hours long, hurtling through space at about 620,000 mph (1 million km/h), with a maximum separation between the stars barely larger than the size of our sun,

They measured the arrival times of the pulses - a pulsar flashes as if it were a cosmic beacon - with an accuracy of 100 microseconds, over a period of almost twenty years, which allowed them to identify a long-term deviation in orbital parameters.

After eliminating other possible causes of this orbital drift, the team concluded that it is the result of the Lense-Thirring precession (Josef Lense [1890-1985] and Hans Thirring [1888-1976]) due to the rapid rotation of the white dwarf's companion.

These results confirm the prediction of general relativity and allowed the authors to improve the accuracy of the calculations of the speed of rotation of the white dwarf.


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

Authors: Vivek Venkatraman Krishnan, M. Bailes, W. van Straten, N.Wex, PCC Freire, EF Keane, TM Tauris, PA Rosado, NDR Bhat, C. Flynn, A. Jameson, S. Osowski

Magazine: Science

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

DOI: 10.1126 / science.aax7007

CANCER. Clinical trial suggests CRISPR genetic editing may be viable treatment

In addition to conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, doctors are looking for new ways to fight the disease. One area of ​​research is particularly concerned with the genetic editing of immune cells to make them more efficient and less vulnerable to fighting cancer cells. The CRISPR genetic editing tool is one of the mechanisms used, and in a recent clinical trial, researchers showed that its use presented no danger or side effect.

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Immune cells edited by the CRISPR gene were injected into three people with advanced cancer without any serious side effects, the first such test in the United States. It is also the first CRISPR cancer trial in the world to publish its results. Rather encouraging, they will open the way to many other trials. The study was published in the journal Science .

"This is an important step," said Waseem Qasim at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health in the United Kingdom, who is conducting a similar trial there. The purpose of the American test was only to assess safety. All three participants had tumors that had not responded to other treatments and had only received one dose of genetically modified cells.

Improve the effectiveness of genetic modification treatments

Many cancers involving blood cells are now treated by removing immune cells from individuals, adding a gene that directs them against cancer cells, and replacing them in the body. But this treatment does not work for everyone. And for some, it works at first, but then they relapse.

The hope is that using genetic editing to suppress genes in addition to adding the targeting gene will make this approach even more effective. For example, immune cells have a safety switch, called PD-1, that other cells can activate to say "don't hurt me." Many cancers exploit this to avoid immune attacks.

Diagram illustrating the genetic modification of T lymphocyte by CRISPR. Credits: Edward A. Stadtmauer et al. 2020

In this trial, the team removed the immune cells from three people who had tumors with the same protein on their surface. A virus has been used to add a gene so that immune cells target this protein. Then, three genes, including PD-1, were deleted using CRISPR. After six weeks, the cells were replaced in individuals, where they survived for at least 9 months.

CRISPR: a genetic edition without danger or side effect

There were two major security concerns. First, CRISPR can cause unintended changes in genomes that could turn healthy cells into cancer cells. Deleting three genes means cutting around each one in three places in the genome, for example, and the wrong ends can be joined. It happened in some cells, but there was no sign of cancer.

The other concern was that the persistent traces of the CRISPR protein used for gene editing could trigger an immune reaction, since it is a bacterial protein. But there was no sign of that.

The trial, however, will not continue because its gene editing technology (from 2016) is already out of date, says Carl June of the University of Pennsylvania. In particular, a new form of CRISPR called basic edition can be used to inactivate genes without cutting DNA, which should further reduce the risk of cancer.

Towards the development of optimized anti-cancer genetic engineering

There are also many other ways to modify immune cells to make them more efficient, says Stadtmauer. "The possibilities are limitless according to our imagination and our scientific orientation".  In particular, Stadtmauer wants to create "ready to use" cells that could be injected into any patient, rather than modifying each patient's own cells. This would speed up treatments and significantly reduce costs.

The Qasim team has already saved lives in an ongoing trial at Great Ormond Street Hospital using standard cells created by an old form of gene editing called TALEN. But these cells must be administered as part of a drastic treatment, which is followed by a bone marrow transplant which kills the edited cells. Stadtmauer wants to create cells that can survive in the body indefinitely.

The risk of modified cells becoming cancerous or starting to attack healthy cells would be higher if they survive longer. But it is also possible to add a self-destruct mechanism triggered by a specific drug to kill them if necessary. There have been a number of immune cell trials published by CRISPR for the treatment of cancer in China, but no results have yet been published.


CRISPR-engineered T cells in patients with refractory cancer

Edward A. Stadtmauer, Joseph A. Fraietta, Megan M. Davis, Adam D. Cohen, Kristy L. Weber, Eric Lancaster, Patricia A. Mangan, Irina Kulikovskaya, Minnal Gupta, Fang Chen, Lifeng Tian, Vanessa E. Gonzalez, Jun Xu, In-young Jung, J. Joseph Melenhorst, Gabriela Plesa, Joanne Shea, Tina Matlawski, Amanda Cervini, Avery L. Gaymon, Stephanie Desjardins, Anne Lamontagne, January Salas-Mckee, Andrew Fesnak, Donald L. Siegel, Bruce L. Levine, Julie K. Jadlowsky, Regina M. Young, Anne Chew, Wei-Ting Hwang, Elizabeth O. Hexner, Beatriz M. Carreno, Christopher L. Nobles, Frederic D. Bushman4, Kevin R. Parker, Yanyan Qi, Ansuman T. Satpathy, Howard Y. Chang, Yangbing Zhao, Simon F. Lacey, Carl H. June

Science  06 Feb 2020:

DOI: 10.1126/science.aba7365

Saturday, 8 February 2020

A new quasiparticle is discovered: Pi-ton

Two electrons and two gaps, conjugated by the injection of a photon, remain together, forming the quasiparticle Π-ton.

There are very different types of particles: Elementary particles are the fundamental blocks of matter. Atoms, for example, are "linked" - or associated - states that consist of several minor constituents, such as quarks.

And there are so-called "quasiparticles" - excitations in a system formed by many particles, but which behave together exactly as if they were a single particle.

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It is one of those complex particles - dubbed Π-ton - that was discovered by Anna Kauch and her colleagues at the Vienna University of Technology, Austria.

In addition to describing the behavior of Pi-ton in simulations, the team also indicated the way for experimentalists to detect it in the laboratory.


The simplest and most well-known quasiparticle is the Hole, the carrier of positive charge. When an electron, which carries the negative charge, moves, it leaves a Hole in its place. There doesn't seem to be anything concrete there - hence the name Hole - but that "absence of electron" behaves in many ways as if it were a particle.

However, unlike an electron, which can also be seen outside a crystal, the Hole exists only in conjunction with the other particles. It is for these and others thinhs that it is interpreted as a quasiparticle.

But there are more complex quasiparticles, such as excitons , that play a central role in semiconductor physics , at the basis of the functioning of various hardware components. Exciton is a bonded state of an electron and a Hole, which is created when light hits a material. Instead of the electron and the Hole annihilating, they form a bond, and that bonded state is a quasiparticle.

Sketch of the physical processes (top) and Feynman diagrams (bottom) behind an exciton (left) and a  π -ton (right). The yellow wiggled line symbolizes the incoming (and outgoing) photon, which creates an electron-hole pair denoted by open and filled circles, respectively. The Coulomb interaction between the particles is symbolized by a red wiggled line; dashed line indicates the recombination of the particle and hole; dotted line denotes the creation of a second particle-hole pair (right); black lines the underlying band structure (top panels).


Anna and her colleagues Petra Pudleiner and Katharina Astleithner were just studying the excitons when they realized that their calculations were showing something much broader than expected: electrons and Holes don't have to bond just in pairs.

In fact, the calculations showed the possibility that two electrons could bind to two Holes, forming an unprecedented quasiparticle: they called it Pi-ton, or Π-ton.

"The name pi-ton comes from the fact that the two electrons and the two Holes are held together by charge density fluctuations or spin fluctuations that always invert their character 180 degrees from one point in the crystalline network to the next - or that is, by an angle of pi, measured in radians, "said Anna.

"This constant shift from more to less can be imagined as a shift from black to white on a chessboard," illustrated Petra.

Like exonium, pi-ton is created spontaneously when the material absorbs a photon. When the quasiparticle falls apart, a photon is emitted again.

"Although we are constantly surrounded by countless quasiparticles, the discovery of a new species of quasiparticle is something very special. In addition to exxciton, now there is also pi-ton. Anyway, this contributes to a better understanding of the coupling between light and solids. , a topic that plays an important role not only in basic research, but also in many technical applications - from semiconductor technology to photovoltaic energy," said Professor Karsten Held.


Article: Generic Optical Excitations of Correlated Systems: π-tons

Authors: Anna Kauch, Petra Pudleiner, Katharina Astleithner, P. Thunström, T. Ribic, Karsten Held

Magazine: Physical Review Letters

Vol .: 124, 047401

DOI: 10.1103 / PhysRevLett.124.047401

Carcinogenic chemicals constantly emanate from the seats of many vehicles

While much research on car pollution focuses on external air pollutants entering the interior of vehicles and thereby affecting passengers, a new study shows that chemicals emanating directly from the interior could also be of concern. At least, this is the conclusion of a new study by UC Riverside, published this month in the journal Environment International.

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The study reveals in particular that the longer the journey, the more you are exposed to a known carcinogenic chemical flame retardant, which has in particular been eliminated from certain furniture. Although there are other chemicals that are commonly used in the manufacture of automobiles, this flame retardant has just been added to the list of products to avoid or prohibited.

Some scientists have assumed that the chemical, called TDCIPP or "tris chlorinated", ceased to be used after it was placed on the Proposition 65 list in California in 2013. However, it is still widely used in the foam of car seats. The study shows that not only is your car a source of exposure to TDCIPP, but that less than a week of journeys leads to high exposure to it.

David Volz, associate professor of environmental toxicology at UCR (California), said the results were unexpected. "I was pretty skeptical at first because I didn't think we were going to find any significant concentration in this short period of time, let alone the importance of travel time," said Volz. "So we were surprised twice, which was really unusual."

Impact on fetal development, infertility and risk of cancer

For the past decade, Volz has studied how various chemicals affect the trajectory of early development. Using zebrafish and human cells as models, the Volz laboratory has been studying the toxicity of a new class of flame retardants called organophosphorus esters since 2011.

Little is known about the toxicity of these organophosphorus esters - of which TDCIPP is a part, but be aware that they replaced the old flame retardant chemicals, which persisted longer in the environment and took longer to metabolize.

Using the zebrafish as a model, Volz discovered that TDCIPP prevents an embryo from developing normally. Other studies have reported a strong association between TDCIPP and infertility in women undergoing fertility treatments.

Knowing that its use is still widespread in vehicles, Volz wondered whether the total exposure of a person was linked to the duration of the journey. Undergraduate students at UC Riverside have made excellent subjects for study, as the majority of them make long daily car trips.

The research team included collaborators from Duke University and was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Participants included approximately 90 students, each of whom had journey times varying from less than 15 minutes to more than two hours round trip. All received silicone bracelets to wear continuously for five days. The molecular structure of silicone makes it ideal for capturing airborne contaminants.

A study participant wearing the silicone bracelet used to capture TDCIPP fumes. Credits: David Volz / UCR

Since TDCIPP is not chemically linked to foam, it is expelled over time and ends up in the dust (which is inhaled), according to Aalekyha Reddam, a graduate student from the Volz laboratory.

Strong correlation with travel time

Several organophosphorus esters were tested, but the TDCIPP was the only one to show a strong positive association with travel time. "Your exposure to TDCIPP increases the more time you spend in your vehicle," said Reddam.

Although Volz and his team did not take urine samples to verify that the chemical had migrated into the participants' bodies, the latter was a certainty for them. "We assume this is the case because of the difficulty in avoiding ingestion and inhalation of dust," said Volz. In addition, other studies have looked at the accumulation of TDCIPP in the urine, but not by travel time.

In the future, the research team would like to repeat the study with a larger group of people, whose ages would be more varied. They would also like to explore ways to protect motorists from this exposure, as well as from other toxic compounds.

Until more specific reduction methods can be identified, the team encourages frequent dusting of vehicle interiors and follow guidelines from the United States Environmental Protection Agency to reduce exposure to contaminants.

Until safer alternatives are identified, more research is needed to fully understand the effects of TDCIPP on commuters.

"If we were able to achieve meaningful results in just five days, what does this mean for long-term chronic exposure, for people who travel long distances throughout the year, for decades?" Asks Volz.


Environment International
Volume 136,

Longer commutes are associated with increased human exposure to tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate

Aalekhya Reddam David C.Vol

Now Fingerprint will help in finding out if someone has handled or ingested cocaine

In many countries, the use of hard drugs such as cocaine is illegal and punishable by law. When authorities suspect cocaine use, blood tests are the norm. However, these tests require time and a complex supply chain before obtaining the first results. Recently, a team of researchers has developed a device capable of distinguishing, on the basis of a fingerprint, whether the person concerned has ingested or simply handled cocaine, all in less than two minutes.

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A single fingerprint can discriminate if someone has recently touched or actually ingested cocaine. This test can be done in less than 2 minutes, much faster than blood tests, and could be used for forensic investigations or drug testing. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Melanie Bailey of the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom and her colleagues have developed a technique that detects traces of cocaine, as well as signs of cocaine use, on human skin. In addition to cocaine, the test detects a molecule called benzoylecgonine, which is excreted through the skin after a person has ingested cocaine. The chemical is also present as an impurity in some samples of cocaine sold on the street.

Mass spectrometry to detect traces of benzoylecgonine

But a person who has ingested cocaine will continue to excrete the molecule through sweat, so even after washing their hands, it is detectable in a fingerprint.

Bailey and his team took fingerprints of people who had touched 99% purity cocaine samples as well as much less pure street samples. They took the fingerprints immediately after handling the medication and again after the participants washed their hands.

Diagram of the mass spectrometry (MS) detection process. Credits: M. Jang et al. 2020

They also took the fingerprints of 26 people at a drug addiction clinic, who said they had used cocaine in the past 24 hours. For the test, the individual presses his finger on a piece of specialized paper for 10 seconds. The paper is then analyzed using a technique called mass spectrometry, to detect the presence of cocaine or benzoylecgonine.

Accurate, fast and reliable detection

In the 86 samples, the fingerprinting technique was 95% accurate. The team found that detection was possible up to 48 hours after contact or ingestion. Unlike blood tests, which are the current standard for testing cocaine use, fingerprint analysis can be done in less than 2 minutes.

(Top): Results of cocaine detection in the fingerprint of three volunteers (D1, D2, D3) at different times during 48 hours after touching 2 mg of 99% pure cocaine (A). And at different times for 12 days after touching 0.5 mg and 2 mg of 99% pure cocaine, respectively (B). (Bottom): Results of cocaine detection in the fingerprints of three volunteers (D1, D2, D3) at different times after washing their hands, after touching 0.5 mg (A) and 2 mg (B) 99% pure cocaine. Credits: M. Jang et al. 2020

The technique is now commercially available and could be used for drug testing. It could also be used in the future as a forensic tool to determine the presence of cocaine in fingerprints left at a crime scene, although the method may require further validation by then, explains David Berry, independent toxicology consultant in the UK.


On the relevance of cocaine detection in a fingerprint

M. Jang, C. Costa, J. Bunch, B. Gibson, M. Ismail, V. Palitsin, R. Webb, M. Hudson & M. J. Bailey

Scientific Reports

volume 10, Article number: 1974 (2020)

New revolutionary mapping of cancer mutations is a medical breakthrough

When the Pan-Cancer project began, the researchers have a simple objective: to fully sequence the genomes of different types of cancer and compare them in order to obtain a detailed map of the cellular mutations and alterations at the origin of the most common cancers. And recently, the international team of oncologists, geneticists, immunologists and biochemists, published a complete set of data on this sequencing. The results are unprecedented and considered a real medical breakthrough. They should make it possible to considerably improve cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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The Pan-Cancer project brought together more than 1,300 researchers around the world to tackle the gigantic task of sequencing the genomes of 38 types of cancer in nearly 2,800 patients. Their work has produced a host of new discoveries - the number and location of pilot mutations that cause cells to reproduce uncontrollably, with surprising similarities between cancers found in different types of tissue.

The results have been published in nearly two dozen articles in the journal Nature and represent the largest and most comprehensive study ever done on the genomes of several types of cancer.

"Thanks to the knowledge we have acquired about the origins and evolution of tumors, we can develop new tools and therapies to detect cancer earlier, develop more targeted therapies and treat patients more successfully" says Lincoln Stein , member of the project steering committee.

A wide variety of genomes, mutations and cancer processes

Among the main conclusions of the work is the wide variety of cancer genomes. "The most striking result is how different the genome of a person's cancer is from that of another." The study found thousands of combinations of mutations in individual cancers, as well as more than 80 processes that cause the mutations, some related to age and others inherited or linked to lifestyle factors such as smoking.

The study found more than 80 cancer processes. This diagram shows some types of genomic alteration classified according to whether they act as cut / paste or copy / paste. Credits: Yilong Li, et al. 2020

Research has shown that the early development of certain cancers can occur decades before diagnosis, sometimes even in childhood. Research has also revealed that patterns of mutations, and where they occur, can help identify about 1 to 5% of cancers that cannot be identified by regular diagnoses. A sequenced genome can even reveal misdiagnosis on a type of cancer.

Most of the work on cancer genome sequencing has focused on around 2%, known as “protein coding genes”. But the Pan-Cancer study sequenced whole genomes, discovering new carcinogenic pilot mutations in the remaining 98%, called “non-coding genes”.

A complete mapping of mutations for better diagnoses and treatments

Researchers have found a huge variation in the number of mutations in a given cancer, from very few in some cancers seen in children up to 100,000 in lung cancer samples. And in about five percent of the cases, no known pilot mutation has been found, which implies that there are mutations that have not yet been identified.

The Pan-Cancer project sequenced coding genes as non-coding, targeting the entire genome in search of all the genomic elements targeted by cancer mutations. Credits: ICGC / TCGA Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes Consortium, 2020

Sequencing helps to map the many types of mutations - from changes in simple DNA letters to much larger genetic code insertions or deletions - that can cause cancer. Study also revealed that cancers in different parts of the body are sometimes much more similar than previously thought.

In practical terms, the results will help identify hard-to-diagnose cancers, allow more targeted treatment based on specific pilot mutations behind a particular cancer, and potentially allow earlier diagnosis of developing tumors.


Pan-cancer analysis of whole genomes
The ICGC/TCGA Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes Consortium

Nature volume 578, pages82–93(2020)

Friday, 7 February 2020

Portable bio-printer can treat severe burns by "printing" skin

Severe burns are often complicated lesions to treat. The greater the extent, the more complex the conventional treatment by skin grafting and may even prove impossible in certain cases. In addition, the topology and shape of the burn can also complicate the process. Recently, a team of researchers has developed a portable dermal printer capable of printing a biofilm infused with precursor dermal cells directly on burns, allowing rapid and reliable regrowth of all layers of the skin, and showing better therapeutic results. than other standard treatments.

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A team of researchers in Canada has successfully tested a new portable 3D skin printer that treats severe burns by "printing" new skin cells directly to a wound.

Although the new system is in the early stages of development, it could potentially provide a way to treat patients whose burns are too large to allow skin grafts. The results were published in the journal IOP Publishing Biofabrication .

Skin grafting and collagen structuring: limited standard treatments

Lead author, University of Toronto professor Axel Günther explains: "Skin grafts, where damaged tissue is removed and replaced with skin taken from another area of ​​the patient's body, is standard treatment for severe burns. However, in cases where a patient has extensive full-thickness burns - which destroys both the upper and lower layers of the skin - there is not always enough healthy skin to use.”

Skin grafting and collagen restructuring are the two conventional treatments for burns. But depending on the extent and severity of the sores, they can be limited. Credit: LeFigaro

"While there are alternatives - including scaffolds using bovine collagen or artificial skin substitutes grown in vitro - none is ideal. Collagen scaffolds depend on the tissue and cells surrounding the wound to heal completely, while in vitro skin substitutes can take several weeks to prepare and are difficult to successfully apply to a patient when the burn area is large.”

Dermal printer: it provides fast, reliable healing for all types of wounds

To overcome these challenges, the research team designed a portable device to deposit precursor sheets directly on wounds of any size, shape or topography.

It uses a biological link based on fibrin - a protein involved in blood clotting - infused with mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs), which support the growth of local cells and help the body's immune response. The sheets are "printed" directly on the wound from the flexible roller of the device.

(a): Schematic illustration of how the device is used. (b): Image showing how the device delivers biofilm directly to the wound surface. Credits: Richard Y Cheng et al. 2020

Marc Jeschke, medical director of the Ross Tilley Burn Center at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, says: “In general, the wound surfaces for which we designed this device are not flat or oriented horizontally. One of the most important advantages of the device is that it should allow the uniform deposition of a bio-bonding layer on inclined surfaces. In this study, we tested whether the device could do this effectively by using it to treat full-thickness burns in pigs.”

“We found that the device successfully deposited the 'skin sheets' on the wounds in a uniform, safe and reliable manner, and they stayed in place with very little movement. More importantly, our results showed that wounds treated with MSC healed extremely well, with reduced inflammation, scarring and contractions compared to untreated wounds and those treated with collagen scaffold.”


PAPER: Handheld instrument for wound-conformal delivery of skin precursor sheets improves healing in full-thickness burns

Richard Y Cheng, Gertraud Eylert, Jean-Michel Gariepy, Sijin He, Hasan Ahmad, Yizhou Gao, Stefania Priore4, Navid Hakimi, Marc G Jeschke, and Axel Günther

Published 4 February 2020

Biofabrication, Volume 12, Number 2

SpaceX launches its online space launch reservation service. Prices start at a million dollars…

SpaceX has launched a new online booking tool. The service, already announced last year by the company, plans to mainly operate the most successful launcher so far, the Falcon 9. The prices for the “space carpooling” services that SpaceX offers on its website start at 1 million dollars for payloads up to 200 kg, with an additional cost of 10,000 dollars per additional kg.

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The selection tool asks to specify the desired orbit (synchronous with the Sun, low Earth or polar) as well as the minimum date of preparation (ie the closest at which the payload can be ready). The first dates proposed are in June 2020. The total mass of the load must then be entered in order to obtain an estimate of the cost.

We then access a series of screens where it is possible to add a 15 or 24 inch port if necessary (which largely depends on the volume and mass), as well as to choose the specific rocket on which one wishes to book the flight (from scheduled missions to come).

Home screen of the online booking tool. Credits: SpaceX

Other options include accessories such as port adapters to meet the standard dimensions used by SpaceX, as well as a separation system provided by SpaceX, with on-site fueling options if the spacecraft being dispatched has its own propulsion system. Insurance covering a maximum value of $ 2 million is also offered.

Credits: SpaceX

An instant booking tool

It is important to note that this is not just a simple lead generation form. In fact, once all the options have been selected and it is confirmed that you are not subject to any action or restriction on international arms trafficking (ITAR) imposed by the United States government, the system requests a number credit card to instantly deposit $ 5,000 as a deposit. The rest of the payment can then be made in three installments, after confirmation of the acceptance of your request by SpaceX.

A user guide, which provides more details on the program, including technical requirements, details on environmental testing, legal considerations and much more, is also available online.

Credits: SpaceX

Credits: SpaceX

This reservation system clearly shows how SpaceX is revolutionizing the space sector, in particular by making it more accessible to private companies. Indeed, it becomes almost as easy (as long as you have the necessary funds) to send an object into orbit aboard a reusable rocket as it is to reserve a car. To test the tool (or to book a real launch…), it's Here.

Reservation Link

Coronavirus 2019-nCoV: Healed people may not develop immunity to the virus

At a time when the coronavirus epidemic that started at the end of December in China continues to spread , virologists are trying to better understand the virus and its effects on infected people. In many cases of infections, people develop antibodies that give them immunity when the same antigen (bacteria, virus, etc.) appears again. However, in the case of the new 2019-nCoV coronavirus, virologists warn that infected people who have recovered may not have developed this immunity, as the antibodies do not persist long enough in the body.

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The new coronavirus 2019-nCoV identified at the end of December has officially infected more than 30,000 people worldwide. The epidemic began in the central city of Wuhan, China. The China Health Commission said on Sunday that of the infected, 475 people have fully recovered and currently 565 have died. The rest are still being processed.

Zhan Qingyuan, director of pneumonia prevention and treatment at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, said that even people who have recovered may not be immune to the virus. “For those patients who have been cured, there is a likelihood of relapse. The antibody will be generated; however, in some individuals, the antibody cannot persist long enough.”

Vaccines and antibodies: they confer immunity to infectious diseases

The largest family of coronaviruses includes the viruses that cause SARS, MERS and the common cold. Most coronaviruses cause mild to moderate upper respiratory infections, and many - including the new strain - spread to humans from animals. When a virus enters a human body, it tries to attach to and infect host cells.

Diagram explaining innate and adaptive immunities. In the case of adaptive immunity, when the antigen presents itself again, the antibodies recognize it and allow its direct destruction. Credits: Séverine Zirah

In response, our immune system produces antibodies: proteins that recognize and kill viruses. This is how humans become immune to certain diseases. Children who have contracted chickenpox, for example, are immune to the disease as adults. Vaccines are another way to build immunity.

Immunity and coronavirus 2019-nCoV: antibodies may be too weak or not persistent enough

“With many infectious diseases, a person can develop immunity against a specific strain after exposure or infection. Often this person will not fall ill again after a subsequent exposure. Regarding this specific strain of coronavirus, scientists are working to answer this question,” explains Amira Roess, professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University.

Doctors and virologists do not yet know enough about Wuhan coronavirus to know if humans develop full immunity after contracting the disease. According to Zhan, doctors aren't sure if the antibodies the patients develop are strong enough or durable enough to keep them from getting the disease again. Viruses can also mutate quickly, so immunity to one strain does not guarantee immunity to another.

Video of the intervention of virologist Zhan Qingyuan:

In the liquid state, water molecules actually have two different structures

From the oceans to the cells passing through the atmosphere, water is omnipresent on Earth. In the liquid state, it is a solvent necessary for life. Which makes it one of the most studied molecules by chemists. However, there is still much to discover about it. By studying it through X-rays, a team of researchers recently discovered that water molecules adopt two different structures in the liquid state. A result that could have important implications in terms of biochemistry and industry.

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Researchers at the University of Tokyo have used calculation methods and analysis of recent experimental data to demonstrate that water molecules have two distinct structures in the liquid state.

The team studied the X-ray scattering through water samples and showed a hidden bimodal distribution under the first diffraction peak resulting from the tetrahedral and non-tetrahedral arrangements of the water molecules.

This work can have important implications in many scientific and technological fields, but especially with regard to living systems, such as proteins and cellular structures, which are strongly affected by the surrounding water molecules. Given the omnipresence of water on our planet and the central role it plays in all known life, it can be difficult to believe that there is still something to learn about this molecule.

An unusual liquid because of its structure and molecular arrangements

A simple molecule composed of only two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, water still hides fundamental mysteries that remain to be elucidated. For example, water has unusually high melting and boiling points and expands even when it freezes (unlike most liquids that contract). These and other unusual properties make it very different from almost all other liquids, but also allow life as we know it to exist.

Water has a tetrahedral molecular arrangement where a molecule of H2O is linked to 4 other molecules via hydrogen bonds. Credits: Qwerter / Wikimedia Commons

The strangeness of water can be better understood by thinking of the unique interactions between H2O molecules - the hydrogen bond. Water tends to form four hydrogen bonds with its four neighbors, which leads to tetrahedral arrangements. Such arrangements can be largely deformed under thermal fluctuations. However, the question of whether the distortion leads to the coexistence of separate tetrahedral and non-tetrahedral arrangements has remained controversial.

Liquid water: X-rays reveal that it actually has two structures

Now, scientists at The University of Tokyo have combined computer simulations and the analysis of scattering experimental data to find the "structure factor" of water -- the mathematical function that represents the paths of dispersed X-rays when they scatter off the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The analysis showed two overlapping peaks hiding in the first diffraction peak of the structure factor. One of these peaks corresponded to the distance between oxygen atoms as in ordinary liquids, while the other indicated a longer distance, as in a tetrahedral arrangement. "The combination of new computational methods and analysis of recent X-ray scattering data allowed us to see what was not visible in previous work," first author of the study Rui Shi explains.

Analysis of the X-ray diffraction by the oxygen and hydrogen atoms has shown a double peak indicating the existence of two distinct molecular structures. Credits: Rui Shi and Hajime Tanaka

One of these peaks corresponds to the distance between the oxygen atoms, as in ordinary liquids, while the other indicates a longer distance, as in a tetrahedral arrangement. This discovery can have enormous implications in many scientific fields. Knowing the exact structural order of water is essential for a complete understanding of molecular biology, chemistry and even many industrial applications.


Direct Evidence in the Scattering Function for the Coexistence of Two Types of Local Structures in Liquid Water

Rui Shi, Hajime Tanaka

J. Am. Chem. Sac

Publication Date:January 21, 2020

Thursday, 6 February 2020

New type of symmetry discovered, hidden in artificial materials

Autodual symmetries emerge at critical points, causing two completely different materials to conduct sound in the same way.

It is not every day that you discover a new type of symmetry in nature.
Even less discover symmetries hidden in man-made artificial materials.
And the discovery has numerous immediate practical applications.

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A trio of researchers from the University of Chicago, USA, discovered a symmetry hidden inside the solids when using sound waves to study the interior of the materials. They used Lego blocks to build regular structures and assess how they react to sound.

What they found is that completely different structures can produce the same sound - something like hitting a green watermelon and a ripe watermelon and hearing the same sound.

"What excited us was the fact that we cannot explain our findings using existing concepts, such as spatial symmetries," said Professor Vincenzo Vitelli, recalling that physicists have used these concepts for decades to describe and predict the properties of an object with based on their spatial symmetries.

The new explanation that has emerged is what the researchers call "duality", a hidden symmetry associating apparently unrelated parts of the solid.

"We observed that pairs of distinct configurations along the mechanism have the same vibrational spectrum and related elastic modules. We demonstrated that these intriguing properties arise from a duality between pairs of configurations on both sides of a critical mechanical point," wrote the team. In other words, it is a self-duality, which emerges when a duality becomes recurrent in a periodic material.

In the past few years, there has been an explosion of interest in a field called metamaterials. These are artificial structures engineered to have characteristics not normally expected in nature. For example, much thought has gone into realizing an "invisibility cloak" using composite materials that bend incoming light around them by virtue of their internal geometry.

Fruchart and Vitelli imagined using this approach to take a particle such as a phonon—essentially a particle of heat—and give it properties that it doesn't usually have.

The discovery of this duality promises to have a great impact on the design of metamaterials , allowing to design artificial materials that have specific properties.

Most metamaterials have been designed to handle light, but this new symmetry paves the way for the design of artificial materials that manipulate sound - phonons, which are "particles of heat", rather than photons, particles of light.

Electrons have a property called "spin", which is used as the basis for some of the latest high-tech electronics. Phonons, in turn, do not have an intrinsic spin, but if it is possible to shape the structure of materials, it is possible to give phonons a "pseudo-spin". Vitelli and his colleagues called this concept "mechanical spintronics".

This would allow us to use these materials in phononic devices - similar to electronics, but with different skills, enabling phononics, or "heat electronics".

"Our approach also applies to other waves, not just phonons - for example, waves of light and matter," said researcher Michel Fruchart.


Article: Dualities and non-Abelian mechanics

Authors: Michel Fruchart, Yujie Zhou, Vincenzo Vitelli

Magazine: Nature

Vol .: 577, pages 636-640

DOI: 10.1038 / s41586-020-1932-6

New HIV antibody therapy improves immune function

Most people living with HIV control the virus thanks to antiretroviral therapy (ART). Although this medication is highly effective, the presence of latent viral reservoirs in their bodies means they require lifelong therapy. Studies have demonstrated that immunotherapy combining two anti-HIV antibodies can also suppress HIV, similar to ART. Now an international team of researchers from the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM), the Rockefeller University (United States) and the University of Cologne (Germany) has shown that the use of these antibodies during ART interruption has an effect on the immune system of HIV-infected individuals.

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In a study published in Nature Medicine, the researchers describe how injection of these potent anti-HIV antibodies, known as neutralizing antibodies, is associated with enhanced T cell responses that specifically recognize the virus. T cells are important white blood cells (lymphocytes) that help control chronic infections like HIV. This study shows an unsuspected interaction and a potential influence between the two arms of the human immune system: humoral immunity (antibodies) and cell-mediated immunity (T cells).

"It is really a proof of concept," said Dr. Daniel E. Kaufmann, a CRCHUM researcher and a professor at Université de Montréal. "Here, we analyzed blood samples from participants in a clinical trial conducted by our collaborators that used laboratory-produced monoclonal antibodies to block the virus. All participants maintained viral suppression for at least 15 weeks after the ART therapy was stopped."

He added: "We observed what happened to other immune cells that target the virus. In this study, we documented the increase of the T cell immune response on nine HIV-infected study participants. But are these T cell responses more effective at controlling HIV than before this intervention? This remains to be demonstrated."

A Phase 1b clinical trial

Two days before their ART therapy was stopped, nine individuals living with HIV and harbouring viruses sensitive to antibodies received a first injection of a cocktail of two antibodies. Recruited by the international research team, this cohort of individuals received new injections of antibodies after three and six weeks of follow-up. Blood tests were carried out every week to check if the virus returned.

Using sophisticated cell analysis techniques, Julia Niessl, the study's first author and a doctoral student in Kaufmann's lab, observed that the activity level of CD4 and CD8 T cells responding specifically to HIV was augmented during the period of antibody therapy combined with ART interruption.

Antibodies work differently than drugs. They are not passive; in addition to blocking the virus, they "engage" the immune system and influence it.

"In the future," said Kaufmann, "this kind of antibody therapy will be studied in larger clinical trials for HIV prevention or treatment, as antibodies are very well tolerated by humans and can efficiently block the virus for many weeks."

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 37.9 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2018.


Authors: Niessl, J., Baxter, A.E., Mendoza, P.

Article: Combination anti-HIV-1 antibody therapy is associated with increased virus-specific T cell immunity.

Nat Med (2020).

What does the language of African penguins have in common with human language?

Although it is a dream for most people living with pets, communicating intelligently with our favorite animals turns out to be relatively impossible. Quite simply because inter-species communication is extremely difficult, each animal having its own language. However, this does not mean that some animals do not comply with the linguistic standards followed by different human languages. Indeed, a team of researchers has demonstrated that the language of African penguins conforms to the two main linguistic laws that govern human languages.

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A team of researchers from France and Italy discovered that the vocalizations of African penguins conformed to the linguistic laws to which human languages ​​conform. In their article published in the journal Biology Letters , the group describes their study of penguin voice recordings and what they learned from them.

The laws of Zipf and Menzerath-Altmann: linguistic laws governing human languages

In 1945, linguist George Kingsley Zipf developed what is known as Zipf's brevity law, which states that the more a word is used, the shorter it tends to be, regardless of the language. Later work by other linguists in the following years not only confirmed this conclusion, but showed that its law was true for all human languages.

Several years later, Paul Menzerath and Gabriel Altmann developed what is called the Menzerath-Altmann law, which stipulates that the increase in the size of linguistic constructions leads to a decrease in the size of their constituents - very long words. usually have short syllables. However, the law states that the opposite is also true. Previous research has shown that other animal communications than humans (mainly by primates) also comply with both laws.

Language of African penguins: it conforms to human linguistic laws

The authors found that the African penguin calls were also consistent with them. The endangered African penguin is known for its distinctive calls - some have described them as similar to a roaring donkey, which has led to the nickname “jackass penguins”. The researchers wanted to know more about the birds' calls, so they collected and analyzed 590 vocalizations from 28 adult males living in Italian zoos.

Previous research had shown that the vocalizations of African penguins are constructed using sequences of three types of clean sounds, which are similar to syllables in human languages. The analysis revealed that the birds' baits conformed to the two linguistic laws developed to explain the functioning of human languages.

The first sound is a little croak made at the expiration of the bird, which lasts 0.18 seconds. The second is a longer noise at expiration which lasts 1.14 seconds. These are the most and least common noises made during songs, respectively. "This is the first notable proof of compliance with linguistic laws in the vocal sequences of a non-primate species. As expected, we saw that the duration of the syllables was inversely correlated with the frequency of occurrence.”

Researchers suggest that language laws are a sign of energy conservation - people and other animals who communicate in the most concise manner are more likely to succeed in efforts such as mating - a skill passed on to the offspring.


Research article:
Do penguins’ vocal sequences conform to linguistic laws?

Livio Favaro, Marco Gamba, Eleonora Cresta, Elena Fumagalli, Francesca Bandoli, Cristina Pilenga, Valentina Isaja, Nicolas Mathevon and David Reby

Published:05 February 2020

Human activities are responsible for the gradual disappearance of fireflies

When night falls and they dot the landscape with their bioluminescence, the fireflies and glow worms offer a truly magnificent spectacle. However, this magic of nature is on hold. The development of urbanization, deforestation, the use of pesticides and light pollution are all factors contributing to the progressive decline of fireflies all over the world. And recently, the alarm signal concerning their extinction was raised by the Group of Specialists of Fireflies of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Fireflies are in serious trouble, with many species threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and exposure to pesticides, according to the first major review of their global status. Their natural luminosity is also stifled by artificial light pollution, report researchers in the journal BioScience .

More than 2,000 species of fireflies - which are actually beetles - light up wetlands, marshes, grasslands, forests and city parks around the world. A few, such as Photinus pyralis in the United States, appear to be thriving. "These insects can survive just about anywhere," says Sara Lewis, a biologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

But other varieties - glow worms from southern England, synchronous fireflies from Malaysia, and the blue ghost of the Appalachians, both of which attract tourists - are dying out due to human activity. "Some species are particularly affected by the loss of habitat because they need specific conditions to complete their life cycle."

Urbanization: a major factor in the disappearance of fireflies

The Malaysian firefly ( Pteroptyx tener ), for example, lives during its larval phase in the riparian mangroves, many of which have been uprooted to make way for oil palm plantations and fish farms.

The glow-worm ( Lampyris noctiluca ) has another problem: females are unable to fly, which means that they simply cannot move to a new location when their habitat is destroyed by a suburb, crop or road the country.

Deforestation, the construction of new housing and light pollution, in the context of exponential urbanization, are the main factors behind the disappearance of fireflies. Credits: Sara M Lewis et al. 2020

Other species of fireflies, which only eat during their larval phase, have "specialized diets", which means that they survive on one or two types of snails, earthworms or other body prey soft. When orchards in Mediterranean Spain are abandoned or give way to urbanization, like snails consumed by Lampyris iberica , firefly larvae have nothing to eat.

Meanwhile, adult Pteroptyx in Malaysia congregate for nocturnal courtship displays in specific trees along the mangrove rivers. Many of these trees have been felled.

Out of 10 possible extinction factors, experts have identified habitat loss as the main threat worldwide - except in East Asia and South America. In these two regions, artificial light was considered to be the greatest threat to luminescent beetles in the world.

Light pollution, insecticides and tourism: they worsen the overall situation of fireflies

"In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms, light pollution has a negative impact on firefly mating rituals" explains Avalon Owens, biologist. Many species of fireflies depend on their ability to light up to find and attract partners. To make matters worse, this window of opportunity is very narrow: while the larval firefly phase lasts for months or years, adults generally only live a few days.

Around the world, fireflies and glow worms are threatened by habitat loss, insecticides, light pollution and water pollution. Credits: Sara M Lewis et al. 2020

Sparkling beetles are so focused on reproduction that they don't even eat. The investigation found that fireflies are also being wiped out by commonly used insecticides, the third major threat. "Organophosphates and neonicotinoids are designed to kill pests, but they also have non-targeted effects on beneficial insects."

Fireflies light up by triggering a chemical reaction - involving oxygen, calcium and an enzyme called luciferase - inside special organs in their abdomen, a process called bioluminescence. Tourism focused on fireflies (long popular in Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan) is also wreaking havoc, with fragile ecosystems damaged by too much pedestrian traffic.


A Global Perspective on Firefly Extinction Threats

Sara M Lewis, Choong Hay Wong, Avalon C S Owens, Candace Fallon, Sarina Jepsen, Anchana Thancharoen, Chiahsiung Wu, Raphael De Cock, Martin Novák, Tania López-Palafox

BioScience, biz157,

Published: 03 February 2020

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