Archive for the ‘biological’ category

Nov 1, 2020

How Coronavirus Can Be Stopped: 3D Atomic Map of COVID-19’s Viral Replication Mechanism

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, chemistry, particle physics

To better understand how the novel coronavirus behaves and how it can be stopped, scientists have completed a three-dimensional map that reveals the location of every atom in an enzyme molecule critical to SARS-CoV-2 reproduction.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory used neutron scattering to identify key information to improve the effectiveness of drug inhibitors designed to block the virus’s replication mechanism. The research is published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, expresses long chains of proteins composed of approximately 1,900 amino acid residues. For the virus to reproduce, those chains have to be broken down and cut into smaller strands by an enzyme called the main protease. The active protease enzyme is formed from two identical protein molecules held together by hydrogen bonds. Developing a drug that inhibits or blocks the protease activity will prevent the virus from replicating and spreading to other cells in the body.

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Oct 30, 2020

Nitrogen-Fixing Microbes Found in Antarctic Sea

Posted by in category: biological

The discovery puts a nail in the coffin of a long-held assumption about the limits of where the essential process can occur.

Oct 30, 2020

How France overcame the odds to build a research mega-campus

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, particle physics

The result is a science park and university campus that offers degrees at all levels. It hosts more than 300 labs and advanced research equipment, such as the SOLEIL synchrotron. About 100 companies and 6 of France’s public research organizations, including the national research agency CNRS, have a presence there. That combination — of the university with national facilities — is powerful, says Price. The park accounts for an estimated 15% of France’s public and private research. About 30,000 people work or study at Saclay, and this is projected to rise to 80,000 by 2030.

The lab has no overall scientific project, and has added an extra layer of management, says Fayard, although he concedes that the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the lab’s first months. “I fear the lab will have to work hard not to fall between two stools — it is too big to be efficient, but not big enough to invest alone in major local infrastructures.”

But Oliver Brüning, a particle physicist at CERN, Europe’s particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland, who spent time working at LAL, says he thinks the new lab has greater weight and influence than did LAL alone.

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Oct 30, 2020

Slower Biological Aging In People On A Calorie Restricted Diet

Posted by in categories: biological, food, life extension

Here’s my latest video!

Calorie restriction (CR) is well known to extend average and maximal lifespan in a variety of animal models, but what about in people? In this video, I present evidence showing that CR slows biological aging, which suggests that CR will positively affect lifespan in people.

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Oct 30, 2020

Guppy Evolution Fast Forwards

Posted by in categories: biological, evolution, genetics, singularity

The great powerful guppy can essentially evolve 10 million times faster than usual. Which could lead to humans evolving faster too leading to a biological singularity.

Although natural selection is often viewed as a slow pruning process, a dramatic new field study suggests it can sometimes shape a population as fast as a chain saw can rip through a sapling. Scientists have found that guppies moved to a predator-free environment adapted to it in a mere 4 years—a rate of change some 10,000 to 10 million times faster than the average rates gleaned from the fossil record. Some experts argue that the 11-year study, described in today’s issue of Science,* may even shed light on evolutionary patterns that occur over eons.

A team led by evolutionary biologist David Reznick of the University of California, Riverside, scooped guppies from a waterfall pool brimming with predators in Trinidad’s Aripo River, then released them in a tributary where only one enemy species lurked. In as little as 4 years, male guppies in the predator-free tributary were already detectably larger and older at maturity when compared with the control population; 7 years later females were too. Guppies in the safer waters also lived longer and had fewer and bigger offspring.

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Oct 28, 2020

Scientists discover new organic compounds that could have helped form the first cells

Posted by in categories: biological, chemistry, evolution

Chemists studying how life started often focus on how modern biopolymers like peptides and nucleic acids contributed, but modern biopolymers don’t form easily without help from living organisms. A possible solution to this paradox is that life started using different components, and many non-biological chemicals were likely abundant in the environment. A new survey conducted by an international team of chemists from the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) at Tokyo Institute of Technology and other institutes from Malaysia, the Czech Republic, the U.S. and India, has found that a diverse set of such compounds easily form polymers under primitive environmental conditions, and some even spontaneously form cell-like structures.

Understanding how life started on Earth is one of the most challenging questions seeks to explain. Scientists presently study modern and try to see what aspects of their biochemistry are universal, and thus were probably present in the organisms from which they descended. The best guess is that life has thrived on Earth for at least 3.5 billion of Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history since the planet formed, and most scientists would say life likely began before there is good evidence for its existence. Problematically, since Earth’s surface is dynamic, the earliest traces of life on Earth have not been preserved in the geological record. However, the earliest evidence for life on Earth tells us little about what the earliest organisms were made of, or what was going on inside their cells. “There is clearly a lot left to learn from prebiotic chemistry about how life may have arisen,” says the study’s co-author Jim Cleaves.

A hallmark of life is evolution, and the mechanisms of evolution suggest that common traits can suddenly be displaced by rare and novel mutations which allow mutant organisms to survive better and proliferate, often replacing previously common organisms very rapidly. Paleontological, ecological and laboratory evidence suggests this occurs commonly and quickly. One example is an invasive organism like the dandelion, which was introduced to the Americas from Europe and is now a commo weed causing lawn-concerned homeowners to spend countless hours of effort and dollars to eradicate.

Oct 28, 2020

How a Common Mutation Leads to ‘Night Owl’ Sleep Disorder

Posted by in categories: biological, genetics

Summary: A mutation in a gene associated with circadian rhythm extends the clock period, causing people to stay up late at night and sleep late in the mornings.

Source: UC Santa Cruz

A new study by researchers at UC Santa Cruz shows how a genetic mutation throws off the timing of the biological clock, causing a common sleep syndrome called delayed sleep phase disorder.

Oct 27, 2020

These biological batteries generate renewable energy from the ground

Posted by in categories: biological, habitats, sustainability

Bioo uses microorganisms in the soil to power lights—and maybe one day, your whole house.

Oct 25, 2020

Microbes of the Universe — Could our Solar System be rife with Pathogens?

Posted by in categories: alien life, biological, environmental, ethics, existential risks, habitats, health, space travel

In a recent study of the upper atmosphere of Venus, finding the chemical fingerprint of phosphine has led to speculation that it may be tied to airborne life high in the clouds of our sister planet [1]. We harbour similar suspicion of microbial life on Mars [2], Saturn’s moon Enceledus [3], and Europa, the icy Galilean of the Jovian system [4]. The dwarf planet Ceres of the asteroid belt could be added to that list also, with recent evidence of oceanic water [5], while more exotic variations of life may exist on Titan, which is known to be teeming with organic materials [6]. Should we be more wary of our Solar System as an environment to explore, and the potential of pathogens we may encounter?

If one rewinds 500 years, to when exploration of new worlds involved sailing the oceans, the discovery of the Americas introduced viruses which decimated the native population at that time [7]. That in itself was far from a unique event in history, of course. There have been many occurrences throughout history where travel between distant lands has resulted in the introduction of devastating plagues to one population or the other — not least the Black Death, which arrived in Europe from commercial travel with Asia in the 1300s [8]. Meanwhile, 2020 has reminded us how a novel virus can prove virtually unstoppable from spreading worldwide in a matter of months and reaching pandemic level, once introduced to our now interconnected world [9].

Indeed when the first astronauts returned from the Moon in the 60s, they had to undergo weeks of quarantine as a precaution against introducing a lunar pathogen to Earth [10]. We now know the Moon to be a sterile world, but this should not give us a false sense of security when visiting and returning from other worlds, which are far more likely to harbour microbial life. It is quite plausible to consider that any microbes which have evolved to survive in the harsh environments on other worlds could multiply out of control if introduced to a more fertile environment on Earth. The likelihood of any such foreign microbes being capable of becoming infectious pathogens to our species is difficult to measure, but one could still cause problems regardless, by undermining Earth’s ecosystem in competing with native microbial life as a runaway invasive species.

Fortunately, due to the vast distances involved in inter-planetary travel, returning astronauts would likely show symptoms of infection from any dangerous pathogen long before reaching home, as such a journey would be expected to take many months, even with more advanced propulsion technology than we use in space travel today. That is not to say they could not inadvertently return with microbial life on board — or even on the exterior of craft: Earth’s tardigrades, for example, have proven quite durable in journeys into outer space [11].

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Oct 25, 2020

Extreme events in quantum cascade lasers

Posted by in categories: biological, climatology, computing, neuroscience, quantum physics

Extreme events occur in many observable contexts. Nature is a prolific source: rogue water waves surging high above the swell, monsoon rains, wildfire, etc. From climate science to optics, physicists have classified the characteristics of extreme events, extending the notion to their respective domains of expertise. For instance, extreme events can take place in telecommunication data streams. In fiber-optic communications where a vast number of spatio-temporal fluctuations can occur in transoceanic systems, a sudden surge is an extreme event that must be suppressed, as it can potentially alter components associated with the physical layer or disrupt the transmission of private messages.

Recently, extreme events have been observed in quantum cascade lasers, as reported by researchers from Télécom Paris (France) in collaboration with UC Los Angeles (USA) and TU Darmstad (Germany). The giant pulses that characterize these extreme events can contribute the sudden, sharp bursts necessary for communication in neuromorphic systems inspired by the brain’s powerful computational abilities. Based on a quantum cascade laser (QCL) emitting mid-infrared light, the researchers developed a basic optical neuron system operating 10,000× faster than biological neurons. Their report is published in Advanced Photonics.

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