Your source for the latest research news

Monday, 9 March 2020

Researchers created new type of mouth-dissolving vaccine


In the midst of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus epidemic, immunologists are working harder to develop an effective vaccine as quickly as possible. Once developed, this vaccine must be produced, packaged and distributed worldwide so that it can be administered to populations. However, a vaccination campaign is not without its pitfalls: it is necessary to make suitable bottles, store the vaccines in refrigerated containers, produce hundreds of thousands of needles, etc. These prerequisites are time consuming and costly. This is why a team of researchers has recently developed a whole new type of vaccination, taking the form of a small film dissolving in the mouth. The vaccine film, fast and very inexpensive to produce, does not require any needle or refrigerated storage.

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The research group has developed a novel method to stabilize live viruses and other biological medicines in a rapidly dissolving film that does not require refrigeration and can be given by mouth. Since the ingredients to make the film are inexpensive and the process is relatively simple, it could make vaccine campaigns much more affordable. Large quantities could be shipped and distributed easily given its flat, space saving shape.

Globally, vaccination rates have improved over the past decade, but are still too low – 13.5 million children were not vaccinated in 2018. This new technology, recently published in the journal Science Advances, has the potential to dramatically improve global access to vaccines and other biological medicines.



A technique inspired by hard candy

The research team began developing this technology in 2007, when the National Institutes of Health asked us to develop a needle-free, shelf-stable delivery method for a vaccine.

The idea of developing a film was inspired by a documentary about how the DNA of insects and other living things can be preserved for millions of years in amber. This got them into thinking about hard candy.

It was a simple idea, yet no one had tried it. So they went to work mixing a variety of formulations containing natural ingredients like sugars and salts and testing them for their ability to form a solid amber-like candy.

The vaccine film created by the researchers is simple and inexpensive to produce. In addition, it can be stored at room temperature. Credit: Maria Croyle


Initially, many of the preparations they tested either killed the organism as the film formed or crystallized during storage, shredding the virus or the bacteria they were trying to preserve.

But finally, after about 450 tries over the course of a year, they found a formulation that could suspend viruses and bacteria in a peelable film.

As they gained more experience with the production process, they worked to simplify it so extensive technical training would not be needed to make it. Additionally, they tweaked the ingredients so they would dry faster, enabling one to make a batch of vaccine in the morning and ship it after lunch.

All stored vaccines lose their potency over time. The rate at which they do so mostly depends on the temperature at which they are kept. Keeping vaccines continuously refrigerated is difficult and expensive – and in some parts of the world, nearly impossible. So creating a vaccine that can be stored and transported at room temperature is a huge advantage.

Vaccine films: they keep viruses stable and are easy to administer

The biggest breakthrough in this project came when the researchers finished their work on the Ebola vaccine and found films containing the virus made three years ago, stored in a sealed container on the laboratory bench. On a whim, they rehydrated and tested them to determine if the vaccine was still capable of inducing an immune response. Over 95% of the viruses in the film were still active. Achieving this type of shelf life for an unrefrigerated vaccine was amazing.

Structure of the vaccine film. Credits: Irnela Bajrovic et al. 2020

The ecological footprint left by global immunization campaigns is not often considered. The 2004 Philippine Measles Elimination Campaign, which immunized 18 million children in one month, generated 19.5 million syringes, or 143 tons of sharps waste and nearly 80 tons of nonhazardous waste – empty vials, syringe wrappers, caps, cotton swabs and packaging. The implications for a larger campaign are significant.

“Our film, by contrast, can be distributed by health workers equipped with only an envelope containing the vaccine. Once taken, it will leave no trace, except for a healthy global population.” the author said.




Bibliography:

Novel technology for storage and distribution of live vaccines and other biological medicines at ambient temperature

Irnela Bajrovic, Stephen C. Schafer, Dwight K. Romanovicz and Maria A. Croyle

Science Advances  04 Mar 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 10, eaau4819

DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau4819

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Research: Social isolation could cause physical inflammation


Social isolation not only affects mood, it also affects the body. As a meta-analysis now shows, a lack of social contacts seems to go hand in hand with increased inflammatory reactions. Feeling loneliness also affects the inflammatory process in the organism - but differently than the actual isolation from other people.

Those who live isolated from other people or feel lonely do not only suffer psychologically. The perceived or actual social isolation can also have tangible physical effects. Studies have shown that lonely people sleep less, feel more stress and perceive pain and symptoms of illness as worse . In addition, loneliness weakens the immune system - as a result, those affected get sick more easily and may even age prematurely.

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Social isolation could be associated with increased inflammation in the body new research from the University of Surrey and Brunel University London has found.

Relation to inflammation markers

In the largest study of its kind researchers investigated the link between social isolation and loneliness with inflammation in the body.  Analysing 30 previous studies in this area researchers found that social isolation could be linked to increased inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the body's way of signalling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defending itself against viruses and bacteria. Inflammation can eventually start damaging healthy cells, tissues and organs and lead to an increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease.



Researchers found that social isolation, the objective state of being isolated from other people, was associated with the presence of C-reactive protein, a protein substance released into the bloodstream within hours of a tissue injury, and increased levels of the glycoprotein fibrinogen, which is converted into fibrin-based blood clots.

Interestingly, researchers also identified that the link between social isolation and physical inflammation was more likely to be observed in males than females. Further work is needed to clarify why this might be, but previous work suggests that males and females might respond differently to social stressors.

Feeling loneliness works differently

The link between loneliness and inflammation was less clear-cut with results indicating a possible link between loneliness and the pro inflammatory cytokine IL-6. However, this finding was not consistent across the studies examined. Taken in combination with previous knowledge the researchers propose that it is likely that loneliness changes how the inflammatory system responds to stress rather than directly impacting inflammatory response.

Dr Kimberley Smith, Lecturer in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “Loneliness and social isolation have been shown to increase our risk of poorer health. Many researchers propose that part of the reason for this is because they influence the body’s inflammatory response.

“The evidence we examined suggests that social isolation may be linked with inflammation, but the results for a direct link between loneliness and inflammation were less convincing. We believe these results are an important first step in helping us to better understand how loneliness and social isolation may be linked with health outcomes.”



Christina Victor, Professor of Gerontology and Public Health at Brunel, added: “Our results suggest loneliness and social isolation are linked with different inflammatory markers. This shows how important it is to distinguish between loneliness and isolation, and that these terms should neither be used interchangeably nor grouped together.”


Bibliography:

The association between loneliness, social isolation and inflammation: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Kimberley J.Smith, Shannon Gavey, Natalie E.RIddell, Panagiot Kontari, Christina Victor

Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.02.002

Saturday, 7 March 2020

What Really Works to Keep The Coronavirus Away?



The World Health Organization has declared that COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has a higher fatality rate than the flu. As of March 4, 2020, nine deaths have been reported in the U.S. Brian Labus, a professor of public health, provides essential safety information for you, from disinfectants to storing food and supplies.

1. What can I do to prevent becoming infected?

When people are sick with a respiratory disease like COVID-19, they cough or sneeze particles into the air. If someone is coughing near you, the virus could easily land on your eyes, nose or mouth. These particles travel only about six feet and fall out of the air rather quickly. However, they do land on surfaces that you touch all the time, such as railings, doorknobs, elevator buttons or subway poles. The average person also touches their face 23 times per hour, and about half of these touches are to the mouth, eyes, and nose, which are the mucosal surfaces that the COVID-19 virus infects.

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We public health professionals can’t stress this enough: Proper hand-washing is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from a number of diseases including COVID-19. While hand-washing is preferred, hand sanitizers with at least a 60% alcohol concentration can be an effective alternative to always using soap and water, but only if your hands are not visibly soiled.


2. Wouldn’t it be easier just to clean surfaces?

Not really. Public health experts don’t fully understand the role these surfaces play in the transmission of disease, and you could still be infected by a virus that landed directly on you. We also don’t know how long the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can survive on hard surfaces, although other coronaviruses can survive for up to nine days on hard surfaces like stair railings.

Frequent cleaning could remove the virus if a surface has been contaminated by a sick person, such as when someone in your household is sick. In these situations, it is important to use a disinfectant that is thought to be effective against the COVID-19 virus. Although specific products have not yet been tested against COVID-19 coronavirus, there are many products that are effective against the general family of coronaviruses. Cleaning recommendations using “natural” products like vinegar are popular on social media, but there is no evidence that they are effective against coronavirus.



You also have to use these products properly in accordance with the directions, and that typically means keeping the surface wet with the product for a period of time, often several minutes. Simply wiping the surface down with a product is usually not enough to kill the virus.

In short, it isn’t possible to properly clean every surface you touch throughout your day, so hand-washing is still your best defense against COVID-19.

3. What about wearing masks?

While people have turned to masks as protection against COVID-19, masks often provide nothing more than a false sense of security to the wearer. The masks that were widely available at pharmacies, big-box stores and home improvement stores – until a worried public bought them all – work well at filtering out large particles like dust. The problem is that the particles that carry the COVID-19 virus are small and easily move right through dust masks and surgical masks. These masks may provide some protection to other people if you wear one while you are sick – like coughing into a tissue – but they will do little to protect you from other sick people.

N95 masks, which filter out 95% of the small, virus-containing particles, are worn in health care settings to protect doctors and nurses from exposure to respiratory diseases. These masks provide protection only if they are worn properly. They require special testing to ensure that they provide a seal around your face and that air doesn’t leak in the sides, defeating the purpose of the mask. People wearing the mask also must take special steps when removing the mask to ensure that they are not contaminating themselves with the viral particles that the mask filtered out. If you don’t wear the mask properly, don’t remove it properly or put it in your pocket and reuse it later, even the best mask won’t do you any good.



4. Should I stockpile food and supplies?

As a general preparedness step, you should have a three-day supply of food and water in case of emergencies. This helps protect from disruptions to the water supply or during power outages.

While this is great general preparation advice, it doesn’t help you during a disease outbreak. There is no reason to expect COVID-19 to cause the same damage to our infrastructure that we Americans would see after an earthquake, hurricane or tornado, so you shouldn’t plan for it in the same way. While you don’t want to run out of toilet paper, there is no reason to buy 50 packages.

A Wuhan-type quarantine is extremely unlikely, as a quarantine won’t stop the spread of a disease that has been found all over the world. The types of disruptions that you should plan for are small disruptions in your day-to-day life. You should have a plan in case you or a family member gets sick and you can’t leave the house for a few days. This includes stocking up on basic things you need to take care of yourself, like food and medicines.



If you do get sick, the last thing you are going to want to do is run to the grocery store, where you would expose other people to your illness. You shouldn’t wait until you are out of an important medication before requesting a refill just in case your pharmacy closes for a couple days because all their employees are sick. You also should plan for how to handle issues like temporary school or day care closures. You don’t need to prepare anything extreme; a little common-sense preparation will go a long way to make your life easier if you or your loved ones become sick.

Source

Friday, 6 March 2020

For the first time, physicists have succeeded in “dividing” one photon into three


The very nature of light fascinates ordinary people as much as scientists. The undulatory properties of the photon are no longer to be proven, just like its corpuscular properties. Light would theoretically be an alternating mixture of these two characteristics, a principle known as wave-particle duality. Recently, researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo (Canada), have achieved an exciting feat with an optical system: the first direct “division” of a photon into three separate photons.

This success could teach us more about the corpuscular nature of the photon and contribute to various technological applications, such as quantum computing.

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The occurrence, the first of its kind, used the spontaneous parametric down-conversion method (SPDC) in quantum optics and created what quantum optics researchers call a non-Gaussian state of light. A non-Gaussian state of light is considered a critical ingredient to gain a quantum advantage.

In a standard SPDC system, the downconversion generates two photons from a “pump” photon. The two photons produced are entangled and have a total energy and momentum equal to that of the original photon. Credits: Wikipedia

"It was understood that there were limits to the type of entanglement generated with the two-photon version, but these results form the basis of an exciting new paradigm of three-photon quantum optics," said Chris Wilson, a principle investigator at IQC faculty member and a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Waterloo. "Given that this research brings us past the known ability to split one photon into two entangled daughter photons, we're optimistic that we've opened up a new area of exploration."



Spontaneous downward parametric conversion for quantum computing

"The two-photon version has been a workhorse for quantum research for over 30 years," said Wilson. "We think three photons will overcome the limits and will encourage further theoretical research and experimental applications and hopefully the development of optical quantum computing using superconducting units."

Chris Wilson's laboratory. Credits: University of Waterloo

Wilson used microwave photons to stretch the known limits of SPDC. The experimental implementation used a superconducting parametric resonator. The result clearly showed the strong correlation among three photons generated at different frequencies. Ongoing work aims to show that the photons are entangled.

"Non-Gaussian states and operations are a critical ingredient for obtaining the quantum advantage," said Wilson. "They are very difficult to simulate and model classically, which has resulted in a dearth of theoretical work for this application."



This laboratory feat brings us closer to ultra-high-performance optical systems, laying the technological foundations for tomorrow's quantum computing and hopefully, mainstream quantum computers.


Bibliography:

Observation of Three-Photon Spontaneous Parametric Down-Conversion in a Superconducting Parametric Cavity.

C. W. Sandbo Chang, Carlos Sabín, P. Forn-Díaz, Fernando Quijandría, A. M. Vadiraj, I. Nsanzineza, G. Johansson, C. M. Wilson.

Physical Review X, 2020;

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevX.10.011011

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Researchers discovered link between complex numbers and superstring theory



Number theory is a branch of mathematics studying the properties of whole numbers. It is an active area of ​​research in fundamental mathematics because it is located at the interconnection of all other disciplines. By precisely analyzing a particular analytical function of the theory, the modular form, a duo of researchers showed that in certain cases, this function could be described by means of quantum observables in the theory of superstrings. A result that could help confirm certain properties of this theory.

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A collaboration of a mathematician and a physicist has shown that the modular forms associated with elliptic curves with complex multiplications are expressed in terms of observables in superstring theory. The study was published in the journal Communications in Mathematical Physics.

The concept of numbers can be extended from integers and rational numbers to include all real numbers and complex numbers, all at once.



But it is also possible to extend the concept gradually, by adding the roots of polynomials with rational number coefficients (such as the square root of 2 and the square root of 3) little by little. This special class of complex numbers are referred to as "numbers." The precise details of how the concept of numbers can be extended has been considered as one of the important themes in number theory.

Extension of the concept of integral “numbers”. Black dots are the ordinary integers represented in a complex plane. Adding or multiplying any pair of black dots results in another black point. All the red dots and the blue dots in this figure are solutions to certain quadratic equations with integer coefficients. Purple dots are solutions to certain quantum equations with integer coefficients. We can therefore consider these points as part of the "numbers". The operations of addition and multiplication between the black or red points remain in the “numbers” indicated in black or red points, and similarly, these operations of the black-red-blue or purple points remain in the “numbers” in points black-red-blue or purple. In this way, it is possible to gradually expand the set of integral “numbers”. Credits: Kavli IPMU


The invariance of the inverse Mellin transform of the function L

For several decades, researchers have tried to address and understand this problem. One could specify a geometric object by equations using the "numbers" first, and then consider the set of points in the geometric object whose values are the "numbers." As the concept of numbers is gradually extended, and the set of "numbers" expanded, more and more points in the geometric object come to be counted.

A geometric object given by y² = 4x 3 - x is represented by a thin blue curve. In this object, the three black dots have their values ​​in ordinary integers. On the other hand, the three points in the red triangles have their values ​​in a larger set of "numbers" (the coordinates x are of the form (p + q√2) with rational numbers p and q; the coordinates are more complicated). As the concept of "numbers" is expanded, the number of points with their values ​​in "numbers" increases, even for a given geometric object. Credits: Kavli IPMU


The idea is that the way the number of points in the geometric object increases will shed light on how the set of "numbers" expands. Furthermore, this information of the growth rate of the number of points in the geometric object is packed into a function called the inverse Mellin transform of the L-function, which is a function containing the information of how fast the number of points in a geometric object grows as the concept of numbers is extended. This function has been expected to be a modular form, a function that remains invariant under certain operations. This conjecture is known as Langlands conjecture.

Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) Associate Professor and particle theorist Taizan Watari and arithmetic geometry researcher at Middle East Technical University Northern Cyprus Campus and Kavli IPMU Visiting Scientist Satoshi Kondo dared to ask why such functions are invariant under certain operations.

Modular forms that can be described in terms of observables in superstring theory

In string theory, it is known that a class of observables (a) are invariant under the operations (x) that have been referred to already. The invariance under the operations is an indispensable property in the theoretical construction of superstring theory.

Summary of this study. Credit: Kavli IPMU


So, the researchers showed that the inverse Mellin transforms of the L-functions of geometry objects (b) are expressed in terms of the above class of observables (a) in superstring theory with those geometric objects set as the target spaces. As a result, it follows that the functions containing the information of how the concept of numbers is extended, the inverse Mellin transforms, (b) should be invariant under certain operations, which should be modular forms, (x) for reasons from the perspective of superstring theory.



It should be noted that the result above is obtained only for the class of geometric objects called elliptic curves with complex multiplications. The question remains open to whether the functions for more general class of geometric objects (b) are expressed in terms of observables in superstring theory (a).


Bibliography:

String-Theory Realization of Modular Forms for Elliptic Curves with Complex Multiplication

Satoshi Kondo & Taizan Watari

Communications in Mathematical Physics

volume 367, pages89–126(2019)

https://doi.org/10.1007/s00220-019-03302-0

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Physicists film the quantum transition of an atom



Measuring a quantum system causes it to change -- one of the strange but fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics. Researchers have now been able to demonstrate how this change happens.

Quantum physics describes the inner world of individual atoms, a world very different from our everyday experience. One of the many strange yet fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics is the role of the observer – measuring the state of a quantum system causes it to change.

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Despite the importance of the measurement process within the theory, it still holds unanswered questions: Does a quantum state collapse instantly during a measurement? If not, how much time does the measurement process take and what is the quantum state of the system at any intermediate step?

A collaboration of researchers from Sweden, Germany and Spain has answered these questions using a single atom – a strontium ion trapped in an electric field. The measurement on the ion lasts only a millionth of a second. By producing a “film” consisting of pictures taken at different times of the measurement they showed that the change of the state happens gradually under the measurement influence.



Superposition preserved

Atoms follow the laws of quantum mechanics which often contradict our normal expectations. The internal quantum state of an atom is formed by the state of the electrons circling around the atomic core. The electron can circle around the core in an orbit close or further away. Quantum mechanics, however, also allows so called superposition states, where the electron occupies both orbits at once, but each orbit only with some probability.

The result of the experiment can be summarized in an animated GIF that shows what happens to the quantum state of the ion during that millionth of a second. The state can be visualized using a three-dimensional board. The heights of the bars indicate the degree of superposition of the possible quantum states. The film shows how during the measurement some of the superpositions are lost – and how this loss is gradual – while others are preserved as they should be in an ideal quantum measurement. Source: F. Pokorny et al., "Tracking the dynamics of an ideal quantum measurement", Physical Review Letters 2020.


“Every time when we measure the orbit of the electron, the answer of the measurement will be that the electron was either in a lower or higher orbit, never something in between. This is true even when the initial quantum state was a superposition of both possibilities. The measurement in a sense forces the electron to decide in which of the two states it is”, says Fabian Pokorny, researcher at the Department of Physics, Stockholm University.

The “film” displays the evolution during the measurement process. The individual pictures show tomography data where the height of the bars reveal the degree of superposition that is still preserved. During the measurement some of the superpositions are lost – and this loss happens gradually – while others are preserved as they should be for an ideal quantum measurement.

Important for quantum computers

“These findings shed new light onto the inner workings of nature and are consistent with the predictions of modern quantum physics”, says Markus Hennrich, group leader of the team in Stockholm.

These results are also important beyond fundamental quantum theory. Quantum measurement are an essential part of quantum computers. The group at Stockholm University is working on computers based on trapped ions, where the measurements are used to read out the result at the end of a quantum calculation.




Bibliography:

Tracking the Dynamics of an Ideal Quantum Measurement

Fabian Pokorny, Chi Zhang, Gerard Higgins, Adán Cabello, Matthias Kleinmann, Markus Hennrich.

Physical Review Letters, 2020;

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.080401

Monday, 2 March 2020

Discovery of a billion-year-old green algae, the ancestor of all plants


Virginia Tech paleontologists have made a remarkable discovery in China: 1 billion-year-old micro-fossils of green seaweeds that could be related to the ancestor of the earliest land plants and trees that first developed 450 million years ago.

The oldest green seaweed on record, the ancestor of all land plants, lived about 1 billion years ago, a new study finds.

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Scientists have discovered the fossils of what may be the oldest green algae ever known. The newfound seaweed — called Proterocladus antiquus — lived about a billion years ago. And even though it was tiny, about 0.07 inches (2 millimeters) in length, the algae had a big role: It could produce oxygen through photosynthesis.

"Its discovery indicates that green plants we see today can be traced back to at least 1 billion years ago, and they started in the ocean before they expanded their territory to the land," study lead researcher Qing Tang, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech, have told Live Science in an email.



Proterocladus antiquus : it confirms that green algae already lived a billion years ago

Until now, researchers didn't have hard proof that green algae lived that long ago. Rather, computer models, including those based on molecular clocks, indicated that photosynthesizing plants arose between the Paleoproterozoic era (2.5 billion to 1.6 billion years ago) and the Cryogenian period (720 million to 635 million years ago).

Now that researchers have a fossil, they can confidently say that photosynthesizing plants, a group known as Viridiplantae, lived at least 1 billion years ago, and that they were multicellular, Tang said.

Fossil of green alga P. antiquus . Credits: Qing Tang et al. 2020


"Previously, the oldest widely accepted fossilized green algae was about 800 million years old," said Timothy Gibson, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, who was not involved with the study. "This work confirms what many have expected based on the existing, though sparse fossil record, which is that green algae likely existed about a billion years ago."

Green algae: they played an important role in maintaining primitive ecosystems

Tang and his colleagues discovered the fossils near Dalian City in Liaoning province of northern China. They had heard there was "a thick pile of well-exposed sedimentary rocks" from the Nanfen Formation dating to about a billion years ago. So, Tang took some of these ancient rocks, mostly mudstone and shale, back to the lab at Virginia Tech.

Tang was "really excited" when he saw the algae fossil under the microscope. In all, he identified 1,028 specimens. "I showed it to my supervisor [Shuhai Xiao, a professor in the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech], and we immediately agreed that this was going to be a very interesting discovery," he said.

Like modern algae, P. antiquus has a branched structure and a root system. Credits: Qing Tang et al. 2020

Life on Earth is dependent on photosynthesizing plants and algae for food, yet land plants did not evolve until about 450 million years ago, Tang said. "The new fossil suggests that green seaweeds were important players in the ocean long before their descendants, land plants, took control," he said.

Better understand the appearance and evolution of plants

These fossils came from an ancient ocean, but there is still a debate about where green algae originated. "Not everyone agrees with us; some scientists think that green plants started in rivers and lakes, and then conquered the ocean and land later," Xiao said in a statement.



Moreover, green algae isn't the oldest algae on record. "There is strong fossil evidence that red algae existed over a billion years ago, and we know the red and green algae diverged from a common ancestor," Gibson told Live Science in an email. "So, although this doesn't fundamentally change the way I'll think about the evolution of life, the discovery of this green algal fossil helps fill an important gap and strengthens an emerging timeline for the evolution of early, complex life."


Bibliography:

A one-billion-year-old multicellular chlorophyte

Tang, Q., Pang, K., Yuan, X

Nat Ecol Evol, 2020

DOI: 10.1038/s41559-020-1122-9

The perfect music to relax and calm cats


Taking a cat to the vet can be a stressful, even traumatic, experience for the pet as well as the owner. Today, we highlight a study published in the JFMS (Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery), having shown that making the cat listen to a specific type of music during the visit can help it to be less stressful.

The use of music has become increasingly popular in human medicine, with numerous studies showing a range of benefits, ranging from improved motor and cognitive function in stroke patients, to reduction of anxiety associated with medical examinations, diagnostic procedures and surgery. Now there is evidence to show that the benefits of music are also seen in cats and other animals.

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Research published previously in the JFMS had already indicated that cats, under the effect of general anesthesia, remain physiologically sensitive to music: in addition, they seem to be in a more relaxed state when they hear so. classical music, compared to pop or heavy metal.

Relaxing your cat and reducing anxiety with music is possible

In this latest study, researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU) in the United States took the analysis of the impact of different types of music a step further, exploring the calming effects of composed music. specifically for cats.



It should be noted that the compositions considered to be pleasant to the human ear often have a rhythm similar to the frequency of the human pulse at rest and often contain frequencies of the human vocal range.

Therefore, the researchers based themselves on this principle to create music specifically pleasant for cats, composed of vocalizations of affiliated cats (such as purring and nursing sounds), as well as frequencies similar to the vocal range. feline (two octaves above that of humans).

Then, in order to assess the effects of music specific to cats, 20 company specimens enrolled in the LSU study listened to it for 20 minutes:


The researchers also played classical music (“Elegy”, from Fauré), or no music (silence) in a random order. All of these tests were carried out each time during a visit to the veterinarian, two weeks apart.

They thus assigned “stress scores” to cats, based on their behavior and posture, as well as “average treatment scale scores” (based on cats' reactions to actions performed by their owner). These scores were assigned from video recordings of the exams. The neutrophil / lymphocyte ratios of the blood samples were also measured to look for a response to physiological stress.

Positive results

The study found that cats appeared to be less stressed during the examination (as indicated by stress scores and average treatment scale scores for cats) when they could hear cat-specific music, compared to to classical music and the absence of music.

This effect was not reflected in the neutrophil / lymphocyte ratio, but scientists suggest that 20 minutes may not have been enough to affect this measurement.



By lowering stress levels, researchers conclude that music specially designed for cats can not only have benefits for the well-being of the cat, but also that it would reassure owners during a visit to the veterinarian, allowing their animal to live a less unpleasant experience.

Do you have one or more cats? Do not hesitate to make them listen to this extract and write to us explaining his reaction!


Bibliography:

Effects of music on behavior and physiological stress response of domestic cats in a veterinary clinic

Amanda Hampton, Alexandra Ford, Roy E Cox, III, Chin-chi Liu, Ronald Koh

First Published February 12, 2019

https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X19828131

Saturday, 29 February 2020

New stem cell procedure cured mice with diabetes


Stem cell therapies have been studied for many years by biologists, as their therapeutic potential for various diseases is great. This is especially the case with diabetes, where the differentiation of stem cells into insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells could help stabilize or even reverse the disease. Recently, a team of researchers made a new breakthrough in the field: pluripotent stem cells differentiated into pancreatic beta cells made it possible to quickly cure mice suffering from diabetes. Although the results are not yet applicable to humans, they remain extremely promising.

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In a study, researchers figured out a new way to coax human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) into pancreatic beta cells that make insulin. When these insulin-producing cells were transplanted into mice induced to have an acute form of diabetes, their condition was rapidly cured.

“These mice had very severe diabetes with blood sugar readings of more than 500 milligrams per deciliter of blood — levels that could be fatal for a person — and when we gave the mice the insulin-secreting cells, within two weeks their blood glucose levels had returned to normal and stayed that way for many months,” said principal investigator Jeffrey R. Millman, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and of biomedical engineering at Washington University.



Transform pluripotent stem cells into pancreatic beta cells

Pluripotent stem cells are essentially blank, undifferentiated cells with the ability to grow into other kinds of cells that exist all throughout the body. Harnessing that potential, in the diabetic context, means researchers could devise ways of tweaking stem cells to become the insulin-producing cells that diabetics lack, helping them to control high blood sugar and stay healthy.

Protocol for differentiating pluripotent stem cells into pancreatic beta cells used by researchers. Credits: Nathaniel J. Hogrebe et al. 2020


Scientists have been investigating how to do this for years, reporting a number of incremental successes in animal models as our understanding of the processes behind stem cell manipulation increases.

Millman's lab has been busy too. In 2016, they devised a way to produce insulin-secreting cells – derived from patients with type 1 diabetes – that functioned in response to glucose. A few years later, they learned how to augment the level of insulin secretion in stem-cell-derived pancreatic beta cells.

Better master the differentiation of pluripotent stem cells

Now, the researchers have shown a new technique they developed can more efficiently convert human stem cells into insulin-producing cells that more effectively control blood sugar.

“A common problem when you’re trying to transform a human stem cell into an insulin-producing beta cell — or a neuron or a heart cell —is that you also produce other cells that you don’t want,” Millman said. “In the case of beta cells, we might get other types of pancreas cells or liver cells.”

Off-target pancreas and liver cells don’t hurt anything when implanted into a mouse, but they don’t fight diabetes either.

However, a new technique now looks like it can keep cell differentiation on target. In the new study, the team found that transcription factors that drive stem cells towards becoming pancreatic cells are linked to the state of the cell's cytoskeleton, a support structure inside cells that acts as a kind of skeleton, made up of microfilaments of various protein fibres.

Actin: it plays a key role in cell differentiation

One of these proteins is called actin, which plays an important role in cellular function, and, it turns out, cell differentiation as well.

"We found that manipulating cell–biomaterial interactions and the state of the actin cytoskeleton altered the timing of endocrine transcription factor expression and the ability of pancreatic progenitors to differentiate into stem-cell-derived beta cells," the authors explain in their paper.

Actin, a cytoskeleton protein, plays a key role in cell differentiation. It is present in two forms: as an actin monomer (actin G, high) and as an actin filament (actin F, low). Credit: Thomas Splettstoesser

"We were able to make more beta cells, and those cells functioned better in the mice, some of which remained cured for more than a year," Millman explains; control animals, who were not given the cell transplants, ended up dying, such was the severity of their induced diabetes.

That's not all. The same cytoskeletal manipulations also showed potential to better control the differentiation of other kinds of cells, including liver, oesophagus, stomach, and intestine cells, the researchers say. If so, the technique might enhance stem cell treatments for other kinds of pathologies, not just diabetes.



He explained that there still is much to do before this strategy can be used to treat people with diabetes. They will need to test the cells over longer periods of time in larger animal models and work to automate the process to have any hope of producing beta cells that can help the millions of people who currently require insulin injections to control their diabetes. But the research is continuing.


Bibliography:

Targeting the cytoskeleton to direct pancreatic differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells.

Hogrebe NJ, Augsornworawat P, Maxwell KG, Velazco-Cruz L, Millman JR

Nature Biotechnology

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-020-0430-6

Friday, 28 February 2020

Biological and artificial neurons communicated with each other over the Internet


For several decades, scientists have been trying to artificially recreate the functioning of the human brain through AI and artificial neural networks. In addition to this research, they are also trying to link brain functions to machines via brain-computer interfaces. But recently, an international team of researchers has taken a new step: communicating biological and artificial neurons over the Internet. This scientific achievement should allow the development of new interconnected neuroprosthetic and neuroelectronic technologies.

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Research on novel nanoelectronics devices led by the University of Southampton has enabled brain neurons and artificial neurons to communicate with each other. This study has for the first time shown how three key emerging technologies can work together: brain-computer interfaces, artificial neural networks and advanced memory technologies (also known as memristors). The discovery opens the door to further significant developments in neural and artificial intelligence research.

Brain functions are made possible by circuits of spiking neurons, connected together by microscopic, but highly complex links called ‘synapses’. In this new study, published in the scientific journal Nature Scientific Reports, the scientists created a hybrid neural network where biological and artificial neurons in different parts of the world were able to communicate with each other over the internet through a hub of artificial synapses made using cutting-edge nanotechnology.



Bi-directional communication in real time between biological and artificial neurons

This is the first time the three components have come together in a unified network. During the study, researchers based at the University of Padova in Italy cultivated rat neurons in their laboratory, whilst partners from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich created artificial neurons on Silicon microchips. The virtual laboratory was brought together via an elaborate setup controlling nanoelectronic synapses developed at the University of Southampton. These synaptic devices are known as memristors.

Biological neurons and artificial neurons were able to communicate with each other through the Internet via memristors. Credits: University of Southampton

The Southampton based researchers captured spiking events being sent over the internet from the biological neurons in Italy and then distributed them to the memristive synapses. Responses were then sent onward to the artificial neurons in Zurich also in the form of spiking activity. The process simultaneously works in reverse too; from Zurich to Padova. Thus, artificial and biological neurons were able to communicate bidirectionally and in real time.

(a) Diagram of the various components of the communication circuit. ANpre and ANpost are the artificial neurons on silicon; MR1 and ME2 the memristors; the neurons of rats are cultured on the surface in TiO2. (b) Operational diagram of the communication circuit. Credits: Alexantrou Serb et al. 2020

Themis Prodromakis, Professor of Nanotechnology and Director of the Centre for Electronics Frontiers at the University of Southampton said “One of the biggest challenges in conducting research of this kind and at this level has been integrating such distinct cutting edge technologies and specialist expertise that are not typically found under one roof. By creating a virtual lab we have been able to achieve this.”

Towards new connected neuroprosthetic and neuroelectronic technologies

The researchers now anticipate that their approach will ignite interest from a range of scientific disciplines and accelerate the pace of innovation and scientific advancement in the field of neural interfaces research. In particular, the ability to seamlessly connect disparate technologies across the globe is a step towards the democratisation of these technologies, removing a significant barrier to collaboration.

Professor Prodromakis added “We are very excited with this new development. On one side it sets the basis for a novel scenario that was never encountered during natural evolution, where biological and artificial neurons are linked together and communicate across global networks; laying the foundations for the Internet of Neuro-electronics. On the other hand, it brings new prospects to neuroprosthetic technologies, paving the way towards research into replacing dysfunctional parts of the brain with AI chips.”




Bibliography:

Memristive synapses connect brain and silicon spiking neurons

Alexantrou Serb, Andrea Corna, Richard George, Ali Khiat, Federico Rocchi, Marco Reato, Marta Maschietto, Christian Mayr, Giacomo Indiveri, Stefano Vassanelli, Themistoklis Prodromakis.

Scientific Reports, 2020;

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-58831-9

Thursday, 27 February 2020

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


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

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

The need to develop a rapid treatment for COVID-19

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



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

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

Remdesivir: a double-blind human clinical trial

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

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

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

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



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

Source (NIH)

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Researchers create new state of light


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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


Bibliography:

Generation of spatiotemporal optical vortices with controllable transverse orbital angular momentum

Andy Chong, Chenhao Wan, Jian Chen & Qiwen Zhan

Nature Photonics (2020)

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

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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


Bibliography:

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

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

PNAS first published February 24, 2020

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

Monday, 24 February 2020

Superresolution provides unexpected insights into the dynamic structure of mitochondria


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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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



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


Bibliography:

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

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

EMBO reports, 2020;

DOI: 10.15252/embr.201949776

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