#9 — An atlas of the human brain

Scientists now understand how over 85 billion neurons in the human brain cooperate to shape our thoughts and emotions.

#9 — An atlas of the human brain
Scientists have generated an extensive atlas of the human brain, with immediate implications for our understanding of how it shapes our thoughts and emotions.

A group of international scientists and researchers has made significant strides in unraveling the mysteries of how the over 85 billion neurons in the human brain cooperate to shape our thoughts and emotions. They've compiled a comprehensive atlas of the intricate molecular processes within the Rhesus macaque and human brains, offering promising insights for neuroscience research. By dissecting brain cells and their genetic profiles, they've identified hundreds of distinct brain cell types and their functions, shedding light on conditions like Alzheimer's and mental health disorders. This atlas serves as a valuable resource for future research into brain evolution and potential treatments for neurological conditions.

Read more at Brain Initiative, Salk, Mount Sinai and the research papers at Science and Science Advances.

Fanzors - new DNA cutting tools 🧬

Fanzors - new DNA cutting enzymes.

Scientists have discovered thousands of natural Fanzor enzymes, which are RNA-guided DNA-cutting enzymes similar to those in the CRISPR system. These enzymes offer a diverse set of programmable tools for research and medicine. Fanzors were previously only found in eukaryotic organisms, including plants, animals, and fungi, making them particularly interesting. They have the potential to function efficiently and safely in the cells of other eukaryotes, including humans. This discovery expands the known diversity of Fanzor enzymes and reveals their evolutionary history, suggesting they may have originated from bacterial enzymes. Further research may lead to the development of advanced genome editing tools using Fanzors.

Read the research paper at Science Advances.

How "green slime" forms unique patterns

Researchers have uncovered the physical mechanism behind the geometric patterns formed by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. These ancient microorganisms played a crucial role in Earth's evolution by developing photosynthesis and introducing oxygen into the environment. The study used advanced microscopy techniques and theoretical models to reveal that the algae's web-like patterns result from interactions between their thread-like filaments, guided by simple rules. This understanding can lead to insights into how various bacteria self-organize into structures, with potential applications in fields like human infections, environmental science, and bioengineering.

Read more at the Nottingham Trent University and Physical Review Letters.

"Little Garba" was an ancient Homo erectus infant

The jawbone of an ancient Homo erectus infant, Little Garba. Credit: Mussi et al., Science (2023).

Scientists have uncovered strong evidence that an infant jawbone, known as "Little Garba," found in the Ethiopian highlands belongs to a Homo erectus child. To identify the species, the researchers used synchrotron imaging to examine the teeth and compared them to those of other hominin species. This analysis indicated that the closest match was with Homo erectus. The layers of sediment in which the jawbone was found were approximately 2 million years old, making it one of the oldest known Homo erectus fossils. The study also looked at stone tools found at the same site, showing a transition from Oldowan tools to more advanced Acheulean tools, which aligned with a 2-million-year timeline. The researchers suggest that when Homo erectus populations arrived in the highlands, they had to adapt to the thinner air and geographical conditions. This adaptation included improving tools and weapons for hunting and processing prey, as well as for practical use in the cooler highland environment.

Read the research paper at Science.

Mitochondria are key in ageing

Researchers have unveiled some of the secrets behind the ageing process in a new study. They found that as we age or undergo cancer treatments, our cells produce inflammatory proteins that contribute to ageing and hinder cancer therapies. The research pinpointed mitochondria, the cell's energy-producing organelles, as a key player in this process. When mitochondria become leaky, they release DNA that promotes inflammation and ageing. By preventing this leakage, the researchers believe we could target mitochondrial-driven inflammation for healthier ageing and improved cancer therapy responses.

Read more at the University of Glasgow and the research paper at Nature.

First genetic causes of Raynaud's phenomenon discovered

Scientists made a significant discovery related to Raynaud's phenomenon. This condition, which affects 2-5% of people, causes fingers and toes to turn white in cold or stressful conditions. Using data from the UK Biobank study, the scientists identified a genetic cause for the condition. They found variations in two genes, one associated with the alpha-2A-adrenergic receptor for adrenaline (ADRA2A) and the other with the transcription factor IRX1. These findings help explain why the blood vessels in patients with Raynaud's constrict quickly and offer potential directions for treatment.

Read the research paper at Nature Communications.

Europe is pushing to create a new internet based on quantum physics

Europe is making significant strides towards creating a quantum internet infrastructure, which relies on the principles of quantum physics. Dr. Benjamin Lanyon at the University of Innsbruck recently achieved a crucial milestone by transferring quantum information over a 50-kilometre optical fibre. This could lead to a more secure form of internet, making it difficult for eavesdroppers to go undetected. The Quantum Internet Alliance (QIA), an EU project, is working to bring the quantum internet closer to reality with €24 million in funding over three and a half years. Quantum entanglement, a key concept in quantum physics, enables secure communications, with potential applications in medicine, astronomy, and more. Although a full-scale quantum internet's timeline remains uncertain, Europe is also advancing its quantum computing capabilities to stay at the forefront of quantum technologies. China and the U.S. are also making strides in quantum computing and the quantum internet.

Read more at QIA.

Roundup herbicide connected to chronic kidney disease

A study by Duke University researchers has potentially linked glyphosate, the active compound in Roundup, to chronic kidney disease of uncertain origin (CKDu) in rural Sri Lanka. Roundup is a glyphosate-based herbicide used to control weeds and other pests. They found higher glyphosate levels in wells within affected areas, possibly due to the herbicide's persistence in hard water regions. Glyphosate has long been believed to break down quickly, but the study suggests it may linger when it forms complexes with trace metal ions found in hard water. This finding raises concerns about exposure to glyphosate and its possible connection to CKDu, calling for further research into potential contaminants' roles in kidney damage.

Read more at ACS.

Humans settled in the Americas, 7000 years earlier than thought 🤯

Recent research conducted by scientists at Duke University challenges conventional wisdom about the timing of human settlement in the Americas. While past thinking held that humans arrived in the North American interior around 14,000 years ago, this new study suggests that people were present in the Americas as early as 23,000 years ago. This finding is based on radiocarbon dating of fossilised pollen grains, which revealed ancient footprints in New Mexico to be approximately 23,000 years old. The study's results may reshape our understanding of early human migration patterns and their relationship with the last Ice Age. The research team's use of flow cytometry, typically employed in medical science, allowed them to efficiently process and date thousands of tiny pollen grains to validate their findings. The evidence from this study has the potential to reshape the narrative of human settlement in the Americas.

Read the article on The Conversation and the research paper in Science.

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