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Friday, 14 February 2020

Young woman born without her half brain has above-average reading skills

Eighteen years ago, a young woman was born without part of her brain (the entire left hemisphere) but still has above average reading skills. Note that the left hemisphere is generally the part of the brain used in the field of language. She also has a slightly above average IQ.

Brain scans (which assess cerebral perfusion using complex molecules labeled with technetium-99m, capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier) revealed that the young woman had more brain tissue involved in reading than what is usually found in the majority of individuals. Tests of her brain activity indicate that the right side of her brain has taken over some of the functions that the left hemisphere usually does, showing that the organ has adapted to compensate for the missing tissue.

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The parents of the young woman, known here as C1, noticed that something was out of the ordinary when she was 7 months old. Indeed, most babies stop clenching their thumbs with their fists around this age, but C1 continued to do so with his right hand. It was when C1 was 10 months old that a scintigraphy revealed that there was a pocket of liquid where the left hemisphere of his brain should have been.

C1 has been diagnosed with hemi-hydranencephaly, an extremely rare disease in which a large part of the cerebral cortex is missing. To date, only 9 cases have been reported worldwide.

At the age of 14 months, C1 was enrolled in a research project: a team of scientists, based at the University of Chicago, followed her progress until she was 16 years, as well as those of 64 other children with a brain said to be normal (full) and 40 children who had had a stroke in the weeks before or after birth.

Brain compensation that increases over time

Their linguistic, reading, spatial and mathematical skills were tested every four months until the age of almost 5 years. At first, C1's language skills were below average compared to developing children of the same age, and her vocabulary was severely limited. But she has improved over the years and developed average oral skills by the time she was 4 and a half years old.

Then, his vocabulary and syntax also improved. Approaching her fifth birthday, C1 had caught up with her peers: "In the performance of most tasks, she was in the normative average when she entered primary school," explained Salomi Asaridou of the University of Oxford, which studied the development of C1.

But C1 did not stop there: it also excelled in other areas. Indeed, when, between 5 and 7 years old, the researchers tested her ability to recognize and reorganize sounds into words, C1 even surpassed her peers! She also achieved exceptional reading results and was "in the upper range, and was significantly better than the group showing typical development," adds Asaridou.

In addition, according to the researchers, C1's language skills do not seem to have developed at the expense of other cognitive skills . Her IQ is in the “medium to high” range, and she has typical spatial skills. C1 is exceptionally good at short-term memory tests, which involve, for example, remembering sequences of numbers.

Scientists were able to learn more about her brain through brain scans. When she was 14, they used functional MRI (fMRI) to study her brain activity while she was listening to stories. Asaridou and his colleagues then compared the results of C1 with those of 30 developing children, generally aged 12 to 14 years.

"C1's pattern of activity looked like what we saw in the left hemisphere of typical developing children," says Asaridou. This proves that the right hemisphere of C1 has adapted to assume some of the functions usually managed by the left side, like language processing for example.

A second series of scans, taken at the same age, revealed that his brain had more white matter (the tissue that connects regions of the brain and allows them to communicate) than what is usually found in a human brain. More precisely: C1 has more white matter in the regions known to be involved in language skills, ranging from sound mapping to articulation through reading.

An extremely rare case

"C1 is a rare case in people with hemi- hydranencephaly," says Asaridou. Among the other known cases, only two of the six people tested had no language development problems.

Asaridou and the other researchers think that his environment could have helped him: C1's family is easy, so that his parents could afford, from an early age, to provide her with physical and oral therapies. In addition, C1 has a (younger) brother who is also particularly good at language testing, "which suggests there may also be a genetic factor," says Asaridou. "But these are just speculations. This is a complicated case with a unique contribution from different factors”.

At present, C1 is still having difficulty moving the right side of his body, but according to the team that follows him, she seems to be doing well in life in general and has passed her school exams.


New record: researchers have tangled quantum memory for more than 50 kilometers

Chinese scientists have succeeded in obtaining two quantum memories entangled on 50 kilometers of fiber optic cables, almost 40 times the previous record! This feat makes the idea of ​​an ultra-fast and ultra-secure quantum Internet much more plausible.

You should know that quantum communication is based on quantum entanglement : where two particles become inextricably linked and depend on each other, even if they are not in the same place. Indeed, in quantum mechanics, quantum entanglement is a phenomenon in which two particles (or groups of particles) form a linked system and have quantum states dependent on each other whatever the distance between them.

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In other words, quantum memory is the quantum equivalent of conventional computer memory:  to store information for later use, and if we ever want to develop and use practical and useful quantum computers, we must understand how to use this memory.

"The main purpose of this article is to extend the entanglement distance in [optical] fiber between quantum memories across the city," said Jian-Wei Pan, of the University of Science and Technology of China, head of the research team. The study was published in the journal Nature.

Quantum entanglement over a long distance

With regard to the entanglement of photon particles (light), scientists today know how to manage it in an empty space as well as at great distances. However, adding quantum memory to this equation makes the process much more complicated. Therefore, the researchers suggest that another type of approach might be preferable for this: the entanglement between atoms and photons on successive nodes (where the atoms are the nodes and the photons transmit the messages).

In other words, it is entanglement of photons with a twist, where atomic matter is added to the mixture to obtain a gain of efficiency, reliability and stability. According to scientists, with a good network of such nodes, we could create better basic technology for a future quantum Internet than with quantum entanglement using only photons.

During the experiment, the team used two storage units for quantum memory, which concretely were rubidium atoms cooled to a low energy state. Associated with entangled photons, they are then each part of an entangled system. Unfortunately, the more the photons have to travel by moving between the atoms, the more risks there are for the system to be disturbed. This is why this new record is so impressive.

According to the researchers, the key to this improvement and this record distance lies in a technique called “cavity improvement”, which reduces the loss of photon coupling during entanglement. The method involves placing the atoms of quantum memory in special rings, which reduces random noise that could interfere and destroy memory. The cavity has the additional advantage of improving the recovery of quantum information.

Thus, the coupled atoms and the photons produced by the improvement of the cavity constitute the node. Then, the photons are brought to a frequency suitable for transmission, through telecommunications networks (in this specific case, a network the size of a city).

You should know that Pan's scientific team has already established a quantum entanglement record, transmitting entangled photons between a satellite and the Earth over a distance of 1200 km, in 2017. This satellite system works well in space, but in the Earth's atmosphere, with all the interference present, it is less efficient and results in a loss of signal.

Diagram of the system for generating remote entanglement between atomic sets. Two distant quantum memory nodes are connected by a fiber optic channel and an intermediate station for photon measurement. In node A (B), an atomic set of 87Rb is placed inside a ring cavity. All atoms are first prepared in the basic state. A local entanglement is first created between the atomic set and a writing photon by applying a writing pulse (blue arrow). Then, the writing photon is collected clockwise (reverse) from the cavity and sent to the QFC module. Using a PPLN waveguide chip (PPLN-WG) and a 1950 nm pump laser (green arrow), the 795 nm (wavelength) writing photon is converted in O telecommunications band. After filtering the noise, two write photons are transmitted through long fibers, interfering in a base station and detected by two devices (SNSPD), with an efficiency of around 50%. The effective interference in the central station announces the entanglement of two sets. Fiber polarization controllers (PC) and polarization beam splitters (PBS) before interference from the base station are designed to actively compensate for polarization offset in long fiber. To recover the state of the atom, the researchers apply a read pulse (red arrow) in counter-propagation to the write pulse. Thanks to the phase correspondence between the spin wave and the improvement of the cavity, the atomic state is effectively recovered in a counter-clockwise direction from the ring cavity. Credits: Jian-Wei Pan / University of Science and Technology of China Fiber polarization controllers (PC) and polarization beam splitters (PBS) before interference from the base station are designed to actively compensate for polarization offset in long fiber. To recover the state of the atom, the researchers apply a read pulse (red arrow) in counter-propagation to the write pulse. Thanks to the phase correspondence between the spin wave and the improvement of the cavity, the atomic state is effectively recovered in a counter-clockwise direction from the ring cavity. Credits: Jian-Wei Pan / University of Science and Technology of China Fiber polarization controllers (PC) and polarization beam splitters (PBS) before interference from the base station are designed to actively compensate for polarization offset in long fiber. To recover the state of the atom, the researchers apply a read pulse (red arrow) in counter-propagation to the write pulse. Thanks to the phase correspondence between the spin wave and the improvement of the cavity, the atomic state is effectively recovered in a counter-clockwise direction from the ring cavity. Credits: Jian-Wei Pan / University of Science and Technology of China researchers apply a read pulse (red arrow) in counter-propagation to the write pulse. Thanks to the phase correspondence between the spin wave and the improvement of the cavity, the atomic state is effectively recovered in a counter-clockwise direction from the ring cavity. Credits: Jian-Wei Pan / University of Science and Technology of China researchers apply a read pulse (red arrow) in counter-propagation to the write pulse. Thanks to the phase correspondence between the spin wave and the improvement of the cavity, the atomic state is effectively recovered in a counter-clockwise direction from the ring cavity. Credits: Jian-Wei Pan / University of Science and Technology of China

During this experiment, the nodes of the atoms were in the same laboratory, but the photons still had to travel through cables extending over 50 kilometers. It is difficult to separate atoms more, but the proof of concept is there: "Despite enormous progress, at present, the maximum physical separation achieved between two nodes is 1.3 km, and challenges for longer distances remain,” explain the researchers.

"Our experiment could be extended to nodes physically separated by similar distances, which would thus form a functional segment of the atomic quantum network, opening the way to the establishment of an atomic entanglement on many nodes and on much longer distances.», They add.

Towards a quantum Internet?

This is where things get really interesting: while quantum memories could be the equivalent of computer memory in classical physics, the quantum version should be able to do a lot more, like for example processing more information in less time, or even solve problems that go far beyond those handled by our current computers.

When it comes to data communication, quantum technology promises to improve transmission speeds and secure data transfers thanks to the laws of quantum physics, provided we can make them work reliably over long distances.

According to the researchers, a quantum Internet that would connect remote quantum processors should allow a number of revolutionary applications, such as globalized quantum computing. "Its realization will be based on the entanglement of quantum memories over long distances", concluded the researchers.


Entanglement of two quantum memories via fibres over dozens of kilometres.

Nature 578, 240–245 (2020).

New study shows how long coronaviruses live on different surfaces and how to disinfect them

Two months after its appearance, virologists are still trying to better understand the Wuhan coronavirus, now officially named COVID-19. Important information to know is notably the lifespan of the virus when it is deposited on surfaces or objects. In view of its resemblance to the other known human coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, researchers recently suggested that COVID-19 could remain active for more than a week on the surfaces where it is deposited. Results that demonstrate how necessary it is to disinfect any surfaces that patients may have been in contact with.

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By examining the scientific literature on all human and veterinary viruses available in this family, including 22 studies, the researchers found that human pathogens can persist on surfaces and remain infectious at room temperature for up to nine days. (To put this in perspective, the measles virus can live on contaminated surfaces for up to two hours).

This is certainly the upper end of the lifespan of a coronavirus, but on average, researchers say that this family of viruses can survive between four and five days on various materials such as aluminum, wood, paper, plastic and glass. Some of the veterinary coronaviruses - those that can only infect animals - may even persist for more than 28 days.

Thoroughly disinfect all surfaces potentially harboring the virus

"Low temperatures and high air humidity further increase their lifespan," explains doctor Günter Kampf from the Greifswald University Hospital. To reduce the spread of coronaviruses in general, the authors of the new study, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection , suggest that hospitals carefully disinfect surfaces with various solutions based on sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide or d ethanol.

Table showing the lifespan of different strains of coronavirus on several types of surfaces. Credits: Günter Kampf et al. 2020

In their study, they found that these specific WHO recommendations were "very effective" against SARS and MERS. The results were originally intended for a future manual, but in these circumstances, the authors felt that it was better to publish their results in advance. They believe that these could also extend to COVID-19.

Results for SARS and MERS applied to COVID-19

"Different coronaviruses were analyzed and the results were all similar," explains virologist Eike Steinmann of Leibniz University. However, none of the viruses was COVID-19, and the team indicated that they did not have data to determine whether the hands may be contaminated with coronavirus after contact with the patient or after touching contaminated surfaces.

Although MERS is not as easily transferred from one person to another as other coronaviruses, SARS is spread rather effectively each time an infected person sneezes or coughs. If the mucus lands on a surface affected by a person later, then they can become infected, even if contact occurs days after the initial exposure.

Given the threat it could pose to COVID-19, washing your hands often and ensuring that public spaces are disinfected seems to be a small price to pay. "In hospitals, for example, they can be door handles, but also call buttons, bedside tables, bed frames and other objects in the immediate vicinity of patients, which are often made of metal or plastic”.


Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents

Günter Kampf, Daniel Todt, Stephanie Pfaender,Eike Steinmann

PlumX Metrics


Thursday, 13 February 2020

As seen in Movies, Holograms can be used as a communication tool

For the time being the team has only managed to transmit letters and small messages, but the future is promising, as seen in this art. [Image: Nanoscale Horizons]

Those who  have watched the film Black Panther saw people from the Wakanda Kingdom communicating through holograms. And that specific scene of fiction can become a reality sooner than you might imagine, allowing you to exchange different information with people from different locations.

This possibility is being made possible by the creation of "meta-holograms", which are modified versions of the same holograms used to prevent counterfeiting, in notes and credit cards.

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The difference is that the meta-holographic structures are capable of showing one image when the incident light is in one direction, and another different image when the light is coming from the other direction.

In addition, the meta-holograms created now by a team at Pohang University in South Korea are thin and light, making them easier to apply in practice - they fall into the field of metamaterials , the same ones that manipulate light to create the mantles of invisibility.

Televisions and beam projectors can only transmit intensity of lights but holographic techniques can save light intensity and its phase information to play movies in three-dimensional spaces. At this time, if metamaterials are used, a user can change nano structures, size, and shapes as desired and can control light intensity and phase at the same time. Meta-hologram has pixel sizes as small as 300 to 400 nanometers but can display very high resolution of holographic images with larger field of view compared to existing hologram projector such as spatial light modulator.

Device illustration (left) and real images transmitted to one side and the other (right) - consider that the meta-surface is in the center of the black square.

To get ahead, the team used two different types of meta-surfaces - essentially flat metamaterials. The first meta-surface was designed to have phase information when the incident light is in the "forward" direction, while the other operates when the light is in the "back" direction.

As a result, different images are displayed in real time, depending on the direction of the light - or, in other words, transmitting different information to different locations.

In addition, the team applied dual magnetic resonances and antiferromagnetic resonances, which are phenomena occurring in silicon nanopillars, to nanostructure design to overcome low efficiency of the conventional meta-hologram. This newly made meta-hologram demonstrated diffraction efficiency higher than 60% (over 70% in simulation) and high-quality and clear images were observed.

Furthermore, the new meta-hologram uses silicon and it can be easily produced by following through the conventional semiconductor manufacturing process.

Junsuk Rho who is leading research on metamaterials said, 'Microscopic, ultrathin, ultralightweight flat optical devices based on a metasurface is an impressive technique with great potentials as it can not only perform the functions of the conventional optical devices but also demonstrate multiple functions depending on how its metasurface is designed. Especially, we developed a meta-hologram optical device that operated in forward and backward directions and it could transmit various visual information to multiple users from different locations simultaneously. We anticipate that this new development can be employed in multiple applications such as holograms for performances, entertainment, exhibitions, automobiles and more."


Article: Engineering spin and antiferromagnetic resonances to perform an efficient direction-multiplexed visible meta-hologram

Authors: Muhammad Afnan Ansari, Inki Kim, Ivan D. Rukhlenko, Muhammad Zubair, Selcuk Yerci, Tauseef Tauqeer, Muhammad Qasim Mehmood, Junsuk Rho

Magazine : Nanoscale Horizons

DOI: 10.1039 / D0NH90006K

Are animals immune systems prepared for climate change?

The accelerated melting of polar ice, the upsurge in natural fires or the slowing of ocean currents, are among the most remarkable consequences of climate change. However, more "silent" consequences must also be considered. This has been demonstrated by Swedish researchers by showing that the immune systems of many animals, especially birds, depend on their preferred environment and the climate there. As a result, climate change could lead to the emergence of new diseases that animals' immune systems may not be able to manage.

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Researchers have for the first time found a link between the immune systems of different bird species and the different climatic conditions in which they live. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden believe that, as the climate changes, some birds may be exposed to diseases that they are not equipped to manage.

The results of the study, published in the journal PRSB: Biological Sciences , indicate that evolution has calibrated the immune system of a number of bird species over millions of years, enabling them to cope with diseases specific to the particular environment and climate in which they live.

An immune system potentially vulnerable to climate change

Rapid climate change increases the risk that these tailor-made immune systems will be weak, not just in birds. Emily O'Connor, one of the study's biologists, thinks that the results could also apply to some other animals because the immune system genes they examined are common to all vertebrates .

“Evolution may not be able to 'keep up' with climate change. There is a risk that many animals will simply not be able to cope with changes in the number and type of pathogens to which they will be exposed,” she explains.

Number of complex histocompatible alleles (allelic diversity) as a function of precipitation (A) and temperature (C). The data show that the immune genome is directly dependent on the climate. Credits: Emily A. O'Connor et al. 2020

As the climate changes and, for example, northern Europe becomes warmer and wetter, diseases that did not previously exist in temperate climates may begin to appear. This can be a challenge for some animals.

Emily O'Connor and her colleagues studied 37 different bird species living in different climatic regions. They studied the diversity of genes in the immune system of each species, which influences their effectiveness in fighting disease.

An immune genome directly linked to the environment and its climate

They also looked at temperature and precipitation for different regions from 1901 to 2017. In this way, they demonstrated that the diversity of genes in a species' immune system is linked to the climate in which it lives.

Species that live their whole lives in tropical regions, areas rich in precipitation and which do not move, have the most varied immune system genes. This great diversity allows these species to resist more pathogens.

Number of complex histocompatible alleles (allelic diversity) according to the resident or migratory character (A) and the climate (B). Credits: Emily A. O'Connor et al. 2020

Migratory birds which spend their winters in tropical regions and breed in temperate climates have an immune system similar to that of resident European birds. According to the researchers, this could be due to the fact that they are able to escape the disease by moving around.


Wetter climates select for higher immune gene diversity in resident, but not migratory, songbirds

Emily A. O'Connor, Dennis Hasselquist, Jan-Åke Nilsson, Helena Westerdahl and Charlie K. Cornwallis

Published:29 January 2020

Coronavirus 2019-nCoV: British researchers started testing an experimental vaccine in mice

With more than a thousand deaths now and more than 30 countries affected, the 2019-nCoV coronavirus epidemic continues to spread around the world, forcing virologists to work ever faster to stem the spread. Imperial College London recently announced that it has begun testing an experimental vaccine in mice. They hope to be able to develop a vaccine applicable to humans by the end of the year.

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A team of British immunologists has started animal testing of a vaccine against the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV, which has already killed more than 1,360 people and has spread worldwide, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases. Researchers at Imperial College London said their ultimate goal was to have an effective and safe way to stop the spread of the virus strain by the end of the year.

“For the moment, we have just injected the vaccine that we have generated from bacteria in mice. We hope that over the next few weeks, we will be able to determine the response we can see in these mice, in their blood, ie their response in terms of antibodies to the coronavirus,” explains the researcher. Paul McKay.

Towards an effective vaccine available at the end of the year?

Virologists around the world are fighting to find a way to eliminate the new 2019-nCoV strain. This strain is mostly identical to that of SARS, for which experimental vaccines had been developed, but none had succeeded. Imperial College is not yet aware of any other tests performed on the mouse, although sources (unconfirmed) have suggested that the University of Shanghai is conducting the same tests.

The 2019-nCoV coronavirus observed under the electron microscope. Credits: CDC Chine

Britain has registered eight cases of the virus and has been forced to close two branches of a medical center in the south-eastern city of Brighton, where at least two staff members have tested positive. But developing a vaccine is a painstaking process that usually involves years of animal testing and human clinical trials. Authorities must then ensure that the vaccine is both safe and effective enough to be mass produced.

Imperial College London hopes that research on the SARS coronavirus almost two decades ago can speed things up. “We hope to be the first to rapidly test this vaccine in human clinical trials. Once the phase I trial is completed - which may take a few months - a human efficacy trial can be started immediately, which will also take a few months. So maybe at the end of this year, there will be a tested and viable vaccine,” says McKay.

Coronavirus vaccine 2019-nCoV: an international collaboration

Much of the current global research on the new strain is funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The group was formed at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos to help pharmaceutical companies and universities join forces to eliminate dangerous and preventable diseases.

Imperial College London does not work with any of the current teams in partnership with CEPI and therefore needs its own sources of funding. Its researchers hope that a successful animal experiment will help secure investments, which will allow clinical trials to start between June and August.

McKay says it would be unfair to say that various universities and companies are competing to become the first to develop a vaccine. "There has been so much cross-sharing with all of this information - I mean the Chinese, as soon as the genome was sequenced, shared it freely with everyone. So seeing a competitive side to this is probably not correct. I would rather say that it is a collaborative race”.


Imperial researchers in race to develop a coronavirus vaccine

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Discovery of a new Tyrannosaurus dinosaur in Canada

Julius Csotonyi / The University of Calgary and Ro

About 80 million years ago, a formidable Saurian predator from the T. rex family roamed the plains of present-day Canada, meticulously tracking down its prey with spectacular efficiency. This dinosaur, discovered by a team of Canadian paleontologists, received the name of "reaper of death". This important discovery will allow paleontologists to reconstruct the Tyrannosaurus lineage in more detail.

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Canadian paleontologists have announced the discovery of a new species of dinosaur closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex , which roamed the plain of North America about 80 million years ago. Thanatotheristes degrootorum (from the Greek for "death harvester") is the oldest member of the T. rex family discovered to date in northern North America and has reached a length of about 8 meters. T. degrootorum is the tenth tyrannosaurid species identified in North America.

“We have chosen a name that embodies what this tyrannosaurus was: the only known large predator of its time in Canada, the reaper of death. The nickname has become Thanatos,” said Darla Zelenitsky, study co-author and professor of dinosaur paleobiology at the University of Canada.

While T. rex - the most famous of all dinosaur species - tracked its prey about 66 million years ago, Thanatos dates back at least 79 million years. The specimen is the first new tyrannosaurus species found in Canada in 50 years.

Artist's impression of the new dinosaur. Credits: Julius Csotonyi / The University of Calgary and Ro

“There are very few species of tyrannosaurids. Due to the nature of the food chain, these large top predators were rare compared to herbivorous or herbivorous dinosaurs," said Zelenitsky in an article published in the journal Cretaceous Research .

The study found that Thanatos had a long, deep snout, similar to that of the more primitive tyrannosaurs that lived in the southern United States. The researchers suggested that the difference in skull shape of the tyrannosaurs between regions could have been due to differences in diet and also in prey available at the time.


A new tyrannosaurine (Theropoda:Tyrannosauridae) from the Campanian Foremost Formation of Alberta, Canada, provides insight into the evolution and biogeography of tyrannosaurids

Authors: Jared T.Vorisa, Caleb M.Brown ....

Cretaceous Research

Discovery of a mysterious virus in Brazil whose genome is almost completely unknown

Paulo VM Boratto et al. 2020

With almost 5000 species currently described, viruses are ubiquitous on Earth. From the bottom of the oceans to the human blood via the atmosphere, these acaryotic infectious agents can adopt extremely simple as well as extremely complex structures; as such, virologists have been studying them for many years, focusing more and more on viral genomes. And recently, a team of researchers discovered a virus whose genome is unlike any other known viral genome.

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The Yaravirus , named after Yara - or Iara, a figure of water queen in Brazilian mythology -, was recovered from Lake Pampulha, an artificial lake in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. The Yaravirus ( Yaravirus brasiliensis ) constitutes a new line of amoebic viruses with a confusing origin and phylogeny, according to the research team.

Virologists Bernard La Scola from the University of Aix-Marseille in France and Jônatas S. Abrahão from the Federal University of Brazil Minas Gerais, however, are not beginners. Two years ago, the duo helped discover another aquatic viral novelty: the Tupanvirus, a potentially giant virus found in extreme aquatic habitats.

Giant viruses: that can perform complex biological tasks

Giant viruses, unlike the regular variety, are so called because of their huge capsids (protein shells that encapsulate virions). These much larger viral forms were only discovered this century, but they are not only remarkable for their size. They also have more complex genomes, giving them the ability to synthesize proteins, and therefore to perform complex tasks such as DNA repair, as well as DNA replication, transcription and translation.

Before their discovery, it was thought that viruses could not do such things, being considered as relatively inert and non-living entities, only capable of infecting their hosts. We now know that viruses are much more complex than previously believed, and in recent years scientists have discovered other types of viral forms that also challenge our thinking about how viruses can spread. and operate. The new discovery, the Yaravirus, does not appear to be a giant virus, made up of small 80 nm particles.

Transmission electron microscopy images of the Yaravirus (A) and its infection cycle (B, C, D, E). Credits: Paulo VM Boratto et al. 2020

Yaravirus: an almost completely new genome virus

But what is remarkable is how unique its genome is. “Most of the known amoeba viruses have been seen to share many features that ultimately prompted the authors to classify them into common evolving groups. Contrary to what is observed in other viruses isolated from the amoeba, the Yaravirus is not represented by a giant size and a complex genome, but at the same time carries a significant number of genes not previously described", write the authors.

Circular representation of the Yaravirus genome. Only six genes (red arrows) in total are identical to known viral genes. Credits: Paulo VM Boratto et al. 2020

In their investigations, the researchers discovered that more than 90% of the genes of Yaravirus had never been described before, constituting what are called orphan genes (ORFans). Only six genes found by far resembled known viral genes documented in public scientific databases, and a search among more than 8,500 metagenomes available to the public gave no clue as to what the Yaravirus could be closely linked to.

Giant viruses with more reduced viral forms?

“Using standard protocols, our very first genetic analysis could not find any recognizable capsid or other conventional viral genes sequences in the Yaravirus. According to current metagenomic protocols for viral detection, the Yaravirus would not even be recognized as a viral agent”.

As for what Yaravirus really is , the researchers can only speculate for the moment, but suggest that it could be the first isolated case of an unknown group of amoebic viruses, or potentially of a distant type giant virus that could have evolved into a reduced form.


A mysterious 80 nm amoeba virus with a near-complete “ORFan genome” challenges the classification of DNA viruses

Paulo V. M. Boratto, Graziele P. Oliveira, Talita B. Machado, Ana Cláudia S. P. Andrade, Jean-Pierre Baudoin, Thomas Klose, Frederik Schulz, Saïd Azza, Philippe Decloquement, Eric Chabrière, Philippe Colson, Anthony Levasseur, Bernard La Scola, Jônatas S. Abrahão


Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Physicists proposed a theory to get rid of Dark Energy

The Dark Energy theory, which would explain the acceleration and expansion of the Universe, has seen its number of followers drop dramatically.
The drop in popularity is no accident: All attempts to find any basis in reality for Dark Energy have so far failed.

Until the end of the last century, scientists believed that space is filled with ordinary matter — stars, planets, asteroids, comets and highly rarefied intergalactic gas. But, if this is so, then accelerated expansion is contrary to the law of gravity, which says that bodies are attracted to each other. Gravitational forces tend to slow down the expansion of the universe, but cannot accelerate it.

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But then the telescopes improved and measurements began to indicate that very distant stars and galaxies would be moving away from us at  faster rate - which indicates that the Universe is not just expanding, but expanding with acceleration.

“And then the idea was born that the Universe is filled for the most part not with ordinary matter, but with some “dark energy,” which has special properties. No one knows what is it and how it works, so it named “Dark Energy” as something unknown. And 70% of the Universe consists of this Energy.” contextualizes Professor Artyom Astashenok, from Immanuel Kant University, in Russia.

As the observational results to support this theory do not appear, Astashenok and his colleague Alexander Tepliakov went to look for explanations for the acceleration and expansion of the Universe that can work without having to appeal to Dark Energy or any other unknown entity.

And they found something that makes sense, just adding an idea that is not entirely foreign to physicists either: the proposal that the Universe has "edges".

Frontiers of the Universe

In their article, the pair presents a mathematically solid model of the Universe in which there is an additional repulsion capable of explaining the acceleration of expansion, and in which there is no contradiction between the fact that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating and the law of gravitation. universal.

Professor Astashenok himself explains the new theory:  “The so-called Casimir effect (named after the Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir), which consists in the fact that two metal plates placed in a vacuum are attracted to each other, has long been known. It would seem that this cannot be, because there is nothing in the vacuum. But in fact, according to quantum theory, particles constantly appear and disappear there, and as a result of their interaction with plates, which indicate certain boundaries of space (which is extremely important), a very small attraction occurs. And there is an idea according to this, approximately the same thing happens in space. Only this leads, on the contrary, to additional repulsion, which accelerates the expansion of the Universe. That is, there is essentially no “Dark Energy,” but there is a manifestation of the boundaries of the Universe. This, of course, does not mean that it ends somewhere, but some kind of complex topology can take place. You can draw an analogy with the Earth. After all, it also has no boundaries, but it is finite. The difference between the Earth and the Universe is that in the first case we are dealing with two-dimensional space, and in the second — with three-dimensional.”

This is not the first time that an attempt has been made to create a way to dispense with dark energy , and it probably will not be the last.

After all, a whole generation of scientists graduated from this theory, the scientific community gave it the highest honor - the Nobel Prize in Physics - and millionaire projects are underway, which means that not everyone is willing to abandon the idea of ​​finding evidence of the so famous unknown energy.


Article: Some models of holographic dark energy on the Randall-Sundrum brane and observational data

Authors: Artem V. Astashenok, Alexander S. Tepliakov

Magazine: International Journal of Modern Physics D

DOI: 10.1142 / S0218271819501761

Hawking radiation: researchers finally think they know how to detect and confirm it

In 1974, the physicist Stephen Hawking, while working on the thermodynamics of black holes , highlighted a theoretical process taking place on the edge of the event horizon: the radiation of Hawking . In the environment of a black hole , the gravitational field is so intense that it separates the pairs of particle-antiparticle resulting from the quantum fluctuations of the vacuum, one particle being absorbed and the other re-emitted. Possessing the electromagnetic characteristic of black body radiation, this radiation is still entirely theoretical. However, the gravitational data from the GW170817 event could contain indications of its presence.

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The existence of this radiation would mean that black holes evaporate slowly, resolving the information paradox. But, just like gravitational waves until just a few years ago, it is too weak to be detected by our current instruments.

However, two cosmologists have recently shown that gravitational waves could contain echoes of Hawking radiation. the study was published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

Echoes of Hawking radiation in gravitational waves

The analogs of black holes developed in the laboratory seem to suggest that the Hawking radiation is real . But gravitational waves could play a role in the process. Because if Hawking's radiation is real, there should be a quantum “blur” around the outside of the event horizon of a black hole. And this “quantum fog” should produce an echo in the generated gravitational waves.

Spatiotemporal representation of the echoes of the gravitational waves of a membrane on the stretched horizon, following the gravitational collapse coming from a fusion of binary neutron stars . Credits: Jahed Abedi and Niayesh Afshordi

“Scientists have not been able to determine experimentally whether a material escapes from black holes until the very recent detection of gravitational waves. If the quantum blur responsible for the Hawking radiation exists around the black holes, the gravitational waves could bounce on it, which would create smaller gravitational wave signals after the main gravitational collision event, similar to repeated echoes.” Says Niayesh Ashfordi, astrophysicist at the University of Waterloo.

Potential echo cues to take with caution

This is what Afshordi and his colleague, the cosmologist Jahed Abedi of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany, think they could have detected in the gravitational data. Their results, they say, correspond to simulated echoes predicted by fuzzy black hole models emitting Hawking radiation. But there are some precautions to take.

Representation of the amplitude-frequency of the first echo peak 1 second after the fusion of the two Hawkings radiation stars (GW170817). The blue area between 63 Hz and 92 Hz is the frequency range in which an echo peak was most likely to occur. Credits: Jahed Abedi and Niayesh Afshordi

For one thing, an analysis last year of the gravitational wave data from GW150914 found no evidence of Hawking radiation. Additionally, another study from last year included a concerted analysis of all gravitational wave signals collected to date, looking for evidence of gravitational wave echoes and, by extension, Hawking radiation. The authors found no statistically significant evidence of echoes.

But it is quite possible, in fact, that our instruments are still not sensitive enough to detect Hawking radiation. And Afshordi recognizes that the signal detected by the team could in reality simply be a spurious noise in the data. The way to find out would be to look for similar signals in other gravitational wave data sets.


Echoes from the Abyss: A highly spinning black hole remnant for the binary neutron star merger GW170817

Jahed Abedi, Niayesh Afshordi


New Electricity generator powers 100 small LED bulbs with a single drop of water

City University HK

Liquid water is omnipresent on Earth, from rivers to oceans through rain. However, the energy potential it contains is still insufficiently exploited. Recently, a team of Chinese engineers has developed a new method capable of harnessing the kinetic energy of water movements, such as falling raindrops, and converting it into electricity. A single drop of rain could thus power 100 LED bulbs.

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A single drop of rain can now power 100 small LED bulbs, setting a new milestone for energy generation technologies. The droplet-based electricity generator developed has a high energy conversion efficiency and a power density a thousand times greater than its counterparts. The study was published in the journal Nature .

The developers hope the technology will help tackle the global energy crisis by providing new ways to use the environmental energy that surrounds us in water and rain. The generator could be used in a variety of contexts where water meets a solid surface - such as on boat hulls, along coasts and even above shelters or umbrellas.

“Our research shows that a drop of 100 microliters of water released from a height of 15 centimeters can generate a voltage of more than 140 volts. The power generated can light up 100 small LED bulbs,” said Zuankai Wang, engineer at City University of Hong Kong.

Limited current hydroelectric technologies

Although the concept of hydroelectricity is not new - hydroelectric dams and tidal power plants operate around the world, the limitations of current technology have prevented us from taking full advantage of the available energy from waves and raindrops. This power is in the form of low frequency kinetic energy. “The kinetic energy caused by waterfalls is due to gravity and can be considered free and renewable. It should be used better.”

Conventional droplet energy generators take advantage of the triboelectric effect, in which electricity is generated when certain materials come into contact with each other, friction causing them to exchange electrons . Unfortunately, the size of the charge that can be generated on such surfaces is generally very limited, leading to very low energy conversion efficiency. The researchers' new energy recovery method overcomes these limitations in two different ways.

Optimized electricity generation thanks to polytetrafluoroethylene

First, the team used a material called polytetrafluoroethylene (or PTFE), which has an almost permanent electrical charge. They found that when drops hit the PTFE, the charges on its surface gradually accumulated until reaching a saturation point - which allowed them to overcome the bottleneck presented by the previous approaches, which could not accumulate only small charges.

(Left): the technology uses the kinetic energy generated by the drop of the drops on the electrodes in order to generate electricity. (Right): diagram of the structure of the PTFE-based device. Credits: City University HK

The second characteristic of the new method is its resemblance to a field effect transistor - a basic element of modern electronics and for which the 1956 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded. The design of the power generator includes two electrodes - one made of aluminum, the other made of tin and indium oxide with a PTFE coating, on which the charge is generated.

Many potential applications

When droplets fall on this last surface, they connect the two electrodes, transforming the original configuration into an electric circuit in a closed loop, releasing the stored charge and generating an electric current to power the LEDs. The researchers also found that the technique is not affected by lower relative humidities - and that it works with both rainwater and seawater.

According to the researchers, the concept could be used on various surfaces where liquids come into contact with solids, to fully exploit the low frequency kinetic energy that can be found in water. Professor Wang said he hopes the technology will help harvest energy from water to tackle the global problem of renewable energy shortages. Researchers have patented their technology in the United States and mainland China.


Article: A droplet-based electricity generator with high instantaneous power density.

Authors: Wanghuai Xu, Huanxi Zheng, Yuan Liu, Xiaofeng Zhou, Chao Zhang, Yuxin Song, Xu Deng, Michael Leung, Zhengbao Yang, Ronald X. Xu, Zhong Lin Wang, Xiao Cheng Zeng & Zuankai Wang

Nature (2020).

Research: Wuhan coronavirus also spreads via feces

Faeces (especially when it comes to diarrhea) could be a secondary route of transmission for the new 2019-nCoV coronavirus, Chinese researchers said after publishing their study of patients with abdominal symptoms and loose stools . Therefore, the first symptoms can be of intestinal origin, and not only respiratory.

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The main routes of transmission are droplets of saliva and mucus ejected from an infected person's cough. During the early stages of the epidemic, researchers therefore focused particularly on patients with respiratory symptoms and, as a result, may have ignored those with digestive disorders.

In total, 14 of 138 patients (10%) from a Wuhan hospital who were studied in the new Chinese study initially had diarrhea and nausea a day or two before the development of fever and breathing. difficult. The cases were notably described in the new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The first American patient diagnosed with 2019-nCoV also had loose stools for two days, after which the virus was detected in them. Other cases of this type in China have been documented in the Lancet, although rarely.

This illustration, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals the ultrastructural morphology exposed by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Note the peaks that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which give the appearance of a crown surrounding the virion when viewed under an electron microscope. The protein particles E, S, M and HE, also located on the outer surface of the particle, have all been indicated. Credits: Wikipedia

"It is important to note that 2019-nCoV has been reported elsewhere in the feces of patients with atypical abdominal symptoms, similar to SARS which has also been excreted in the urine, suggesting a route of faecal transmission that is highly transmissible", said William Keevil at the UK Science Media Center, professor of environmental health at the University of Southampton.

Tomographic images of the chest of a 52-year-old patient infected with the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). A: chest tomography images obtained on January 7, 2020, showing opacity in both lungs, on the 5th day after the onset of symptoms. B: images taken on January 21, 2020, showing the absorption of bilateral opacity after extracorporeal membrane oxygenation treatment from January 7 to 12, in the intensive care unit. Credits: Zhiyong Peng / Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University

This possibility is not really surprising for scientists, given that the new virus belongs to the same family as SARS. In 2003, faecal transmission of SARS contributed to the infection of hundreds of people in the Amoy Gardens subdivision in Hong Kong. A plume of warm air from the bathrooms had contaminated several apartments and had been blown by wind to the adjacent buildings of the complex.

According to the literature, "the 2019-nCoV virus found in stool can be transmitted by fecal spread," added Jiayu Liao, bio-engineer at the University of California at Riverside. "But we still don't know how long this virus can survive outside the body - for example, HIV can only survive for about 30 minutes - and what temperature range the 2019-nCoV is sensitive to," a he added.

The spread of feces could present new challenges for containment of the virus, but is more likely to be a problem inside hospitals, which can become “amplifiers” of epidemics, said David Fisman, epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.

Benjamin Neuman, a virology expert at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, warned that while fecal transmission was "certainly worth considering," "the droplets and touching contaminated surfaces and then rubbing them eyes, nose or mouth” were probably the main way the virus was transmitted based on current data.


Clinical Characteristics of 138 Hospitalized Patients With 2019 Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia in Wuhan, China

Dawei Wang, MD1; Bo Hu, MD1; Chang Hu, MD1; et alFangfang Zhu, MD1; Xing Liu, MD1; Jing Zhang, MD1; Binbin Wang, MD1; Hui Xiang, MD1; Zhenshun Cheng, MD2; Yong Xiong, MD3; Yan Zhao, MD4; Yirong Li, MD5; Xinghuan Wang, MD6; Zhiyong Peng, MD1

JAMA. Published online February 7, 2020.


Monday, 10 February 2020

New droplet-based electricity generator Produces 1000 times more electricity than convectional systems

Researchers have designed a system that generates electricity from falling water drops. A drop is enough to light up 100 small LEDs. This is made possible by a combination of Teflon, the semiconductor indium tin oxide and an aluminum electrode. If a drop hits this ensemble, electrical current is generated. This opens up completely new ways of generating electricity, the researchers report in the journal "Nature".

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Electrical energy can be obtained from water - as evidenced by hydroelectric power plants at dams , run-of-river power plants or tidal power plants. Water can also be used to store energy. However, all of these systems require larger amounts of water to work efficiently. This is different with test systems that are based on the triboelectric effect : In these, the contact of certain materials with water causes an electrostatic charge and thus generates electricity - albeit in very small quantities.

Teflon, a semiconductor and a few pieces of aluminum

But there is another way: Researchers led by Zuankai Wang from City University Hong Kong have now developed a generator that generates electricity from individual drops of water - and this is a thousand times more efficient than previous approaches of this kind Drop generator on the interaction of water drops with certain materials.

Structure of the drop generator in the diagram and in the photo.

The device consists of a layer of indium tin oxide (ITO), on which the polymer polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is applied - better known as Teflon. This electrically insulating material is a so-called electret, which can store electrical charges or accumulate, for example, through friction. A small piece of aluminum connects both layers and serves as an electrode.

Accumulating charges

If a drop of water falls on this ensemble, it spreads out on the water-repellent Teflon surface and creates an electrical charge through electrochemical interactions. In contrast to previous drop generators, this electrical energy is not lost after every drop, but accumulates. "With an increasing number of water drops hitting the surface, the charge increases," report Wang and his team. "After around 16,000 drops, the surface charge reaches a stable value of around 50 nanocoulombs."

Now a second process comes into play: The water spreading on the surface forms a bridge between the aluminum electrode and the ITO and Teflon layer. This creates an electrical circuit through which the charge can flow. As the researchers explain, the functioning of the system is similar to that of a field effect transistor. According to her, the drop generator achieves an energy density of 50 watts per square meter.

One drop lights up 100 LEDs

In initial tests, a prototype of this drop generator already generated a thousand times more energy than conventional systems: "A drop of 100 microliters of tap water that falls from a height of 15 centimeters can generate a voltage of 140 volts and a current of 270 microamperes," report Wang and his team. "This electrical energy is sufficient to make a hundred small LEDs light up."

According to the researchers, their drop generator can be used not only with tap water, but also for sea water and raindrops. They adapted the design for use in the rain so that the rainwater is first collected and then divided into small, regularly falling droplets by a capillary. Seawater can be dosed in a similar way.

"By adjusting the diameter of the capillary and the drop height, we can control the size and speed of the drops and thus the amount of energy generated," explains Wang and his colleagues.

Renewable, decentralized energy

According to the scientists, this technology opens up new possibilities for using the energy of water. "The kinetic energy of the falling water comes from gravity and can therefore be viewed as freely available and renewable," says Wang. “It should therefore be used better. Electricity from drops of water instead of oil or nuclear power could advance the sustainable development of the world."

The drop generator is particularly suitable for decentralized power generation. Wherever rain falls or there is water, it could be used to generate electrical energy - even on the hull of a ferry or on the surface of an umbrella.


Xu, W., Zheng, H., Liu, Y. et al.

A droplet-based electricity generator with high instantaneous power density.

Nature (2020).

How will a driverless car hear a siren?

Teaching cars to listen: The acoustic sensor system includes microphones, which go outside the car, a control unit and the software.

Cars with Ears 

There have been concerns about the silence of electric cars, which can pose a risk to pedestrians.

But, electric or not, when the cars become autonomous - that is, when they dispense with the drivers to guide them - those vehicles that self-drive will need to be "aware" of the traffic noise around them.

Be it the siren of an ambulance or a fire truck, the whistle of a guard, or even a danger call from a passerby, cars without a driver will definitely need to have ears.

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A team from the Institute of Technology of Digital Media, in Germany, has already anticipated this need, and has just built the first prototype of a "vehicle hearing system". In addition to traditional microphones, the device includes a processing center, whose software is already able to identify the most common noise in traffic, such as sirens.

"Despite the enormous potential of such applications, no autonomous vehicle has yet been equipped with a system capable of perceiving external noise," said engineer Danilo Hollosi, head of the acoustic event recognition group at the German institute. "These systems will be able to immediately recognize the siren of an oncoming emergency vehicle, for example, so that the autonomous vehicle then knows how to move to one side of the highway and form an access lane for rescue services."

To filter out continuous city and highway noise, the team used artificial intelligence techniques to train the algorithm that runs in the "automotive ear". "We use machine learning. And to train the algorithms, we use a whole range of archived noise," explained Hollosi.

The team believes that the first cars with ears are unlikely to reach the market before 2025 - the processing system will still need to be optimized - but they bet their technology will be used in many other areas, such as safety systems, quality control in the industry, personal care and consumer products.


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