Science: What Geeks are talking about from EurekAlert

Robot couple Xiaolan (L) and Xiaotao carry trays of food at a restaurant in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China. The restaurant has two robots delivering food for customers. REUTERS/Stringer

Here is the latest Science News from EurekAlert.

Missing links brewed in primordial puddles?
The crucibles that bore out building blocks of life may have been, in many cases, not fiery cataclysms, but modest puddles. Researchers working with that hypothesis have achieved a significant advancement toward understanding the evolutionary mystery of how components of RNA and DNA formed from chemicals present on early Earth before life existed. In surprisingly simple reactions they have produced good candidates for their precursors that even spontaneously joined up to look like RNA.

Research opens new treatment strategies for specific form of psoriasis
Psoriasis is a long-lasting autoimmune disease that is characterized by patches of abnormal and inflamed skin. It is generally thought to have a genetic origin, which can be further triggered by environmental factors. People with specific mutations in the CARD14 gene have a high probability of developing psoriasis. A VIB/UGent research team now reveals the molecular signaling mechanism by which mutations in CARD14 lead to increased inflammation in patients with psoriasis.

Role of animals in mitigating climate change varies across tropical forests
Large animals play a key role in mitigating climate change in tropical forests across the world by spreading the seeds of large trees that have a high capacity to store carbon, new research co-led by the University of Leeds has said.

Top tobacco control experts to FDA: Studies of e-cigs suggest more benefit than harm
Seven top international tobacco control experts are prompting regulators at the US Food and Drug Administration to have a broad ‘open-minded’ perspective when it comes to regulating vaporized nicotine products, especially e-cigarettes.

New study finds laundry detergent packets more dangerous than other types of detergent
Exposure to laundry detergent packets is more dangerous to young children than exposure to other types of laundry and dishwasher detergent.The study found that from January 2013 through December 2014 Poison Control Centers in the US received 62,254 calls related to laundry and dishwasher detergent exposures among children younger than 6 years old.

Novel anti-biofilm nano coating developed at Ben-Gurion U.
‘Our solution addresses a pervasive need to design environmentally friendly materials to impede dangerous surface bacteria growth,’ the BGU researchers from the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering explain. ‘This holds tremendous potential for averting biofilm formed by surface-anchored bacteria and could have a tremendous impact.’

‘Mediterranean’ diet linked to lower risk of heart attacks & strokes in heart patients
A ‘Mediterranean’ diet, high in fruit, vegetables, fish and unrefined foods, is linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke in people who already have heart disease, according to a study of over 15,000 people in 39 countries around the world published in the European Heart Journal. The research also showed that eating greater amounts of healthy food was more important for these people than avoiding unhealthy foods — a ‘Western’ diet.

Study shows dinosaur families chose to exit Europe
Researchers have used ‘network theory’ for the first time to visually depict the movement of dinosaurs around the world during the Mesozoic Era — including a curious exodus from Europe.

Citizen seismologists multiply the impacts of earthquake studies
From matchbook-sized sensors plugged into a desktop computer to location-tagged tweets, the earthquake data provided by ‘citizen seismologists’ have grown in size and quality since 2000, according to the field’s researchers.

The Lancet: Smoking cessation medications do not appear to increase risk of neuropsychiatric side effects, study finds
The smoking cessation medications varenicline and bupropion do not appear to increase the incidence of serious neuropsychiatric side effects compared to placebo, according to a study published in The Lancet today.

Smoking cessation drugs do not elevate risk of serious neuropsychiatric adverse effects
Compared to the nicotine patch and a placebo, the smoking cessation aids varenicline (marketed as Chantix in the US) and bupropion (Zyban) do not show a significant increase in neuropsychiatric adverse events, reports an international team of researchers in a study published online April 22 in the journal The Lancet.

New survey shows Americans believe civility is on the decline
A recent survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 74 percent of Americans think manners and behavior have deteriorated in the United States over the past several decades. A large majority believe that politicians should be held to a higher standard than the general public. The Republican campaign is viewed as rude and disrespectful by nearly twice as many Americans as those who characterize the fight for the Democratic nomination in that way (78 percent vs. 41 percent).

High alpine dairying may have begun over 3000 years ago
The discovery of dairy fats on ancient pottery may indicate dairying high in the Alps occurred as early as the Iron Age over 3000 years ago, according to a study published April 21, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Francesco Carrer from the University of York, UK, and colleagues.

First gene therapy successful against human aging
Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of Bioviva USA Inc. has become the first human being to be successfully rejuvenated by gene therapy, after her own company’s experimental therapies reversed 20 years of normal telomere shortening.

Corals most important for building reefs are now in sharp decline
Staghorns, the very corals responsible for establishing today’s reefs, are now some of the most threatened coral species due to climate change and other man-made stressors.

Old-growth forests may provide buffer against rising temperatures
The soaring canopy and dense understory of an old-growth forest could provide a buffer for plants and animals in a warming world, according to a study from Oregon State University published today in Science Advances.

Estrobolome disparities may lead to developing biomarkers that could mitigate cancer risk
Investigating disparities in the composition of the estrobolome, the gut bacterial genes capable of metabolizing estrogens in both healthy individuals and in women diagnosed with estrogen-driven breast cancer may lead to the development of microbiome-based biomarkers that could help mitigate the risk of certain cancers, according to a review paper published April 22 in the JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Beyond milkweed: Monarchs face habitat, nectar threats
In the face of scientific dogma that faults the population decline of monarch butterflies on a lack of milkweed, herbicides and genetically modified crops, a new Cornell University study casts wider blame: sparse autumnal nectar sources, weather and habitat fragmentation.

Research shows certain genes, in healthy environments, can lengthen lifespan
Researchers at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions have discovered how a gene in the brain’s dopamine system can play an important role in prolonging lifespan: it must be coupled with a healthy environment that includes exercise.

ORNL researchers discover new state of water molecule
Neutron scattering and computational modeling have revealed unique and unexpected behavior of water molecules under extreme confinement that is unmatched by any known gas, liquid or solid states.

Study links hypoxemia from obstructive sleep apnea with renal complications in type 2 diabetes
Examining the poorly understood link between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and type 2 diabetes complications, researchers identified specific measures of low blood oxygenation that are associated with impaired kidney function and diabetic nephropathy. The study by Linong Ji, M.D., and colleagues, Peking University People’s Hospital and Peking University Health Science Center, is published in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics.

Mobility assessment tool may help predict early postoperative outcomes for older adults
A quick, reliable and cost-effective mobility assessment tool may help to identify elderly patients at risk for adverse post-surgery outcomes, according to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers.

NASA sees Tropical Cyclone Amos threatening American Samoa
As the seven islands of American Samoa were bracing for Tropical Cyclone Amos, NASA’s Aqua satellite saw the storm affecting the Southwestern Pacific Islands of Wallis and Futuna. Warnings were already in effect for American Samoa on April 22 as the storm continued moving east toward the islands.

Scientists discover new reef system at mouth of Amazon River
A new reef system has been found at the mouth of the Amazon River, the largest river by discharge of water in the world. As large rivers empty into the world’s oceans in areas known as plumes, they typically create gaps in the reef distribution along the tropical shelves–something that makes finding a reef in the Amazon plume an unexpected discovery.

Zika is test case for brain organoid mini-reactors
The Zika virus epidemic comes at a time when new stem cell techniques for studying the brain are being refined and tested. On April 22 in Cell, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers unveil brain-region-specific organoids that show in three dimensions how the virus affects the human brain. The organoid data support that Zika prefers to infect neural stem cells and that the extent of damage differs depending on time of infection.

The unique challenges of conserving forest giants
The redwood and sequoia trees in California, the baobab trees in Madagascar, and the rose gum Eucalyptus trees in northeastern Australia are only a few of the spectacular large, old trees still growing today. Protecting these trees, some hundreds or thousands of years old, requires thinking long-term about concerns such as their unique habitat needs and the impacts of climate change, researchers write in a Forum published April 22 in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

Sophisticated ‘mini-brains’ add to evidence of Zika’s toll on fetal cortex
Studying a new type of pinhead-size, lab-grown brain made with technology first suggested by three high school students, Johns Hopkins researchers have confirmed a key way in which Zika virus causes microcephaly and other damage in fetal brains: by infecting specialized stem cells that build its outer layer, the cortex.

Danish investigators reduce sugar content of yogurt without reducing sweetness
A team from a Danish food ingredients company has manipulated the metabolic properties of yogurt-producing bacteria to sweeten the yogurt naturally, while reducing sugar in the final product. Similar manipulations have also all but eliminated lactose, so that those with lactose intolerance can enjoy the yogurt. They have accomplished all of this using microbiological methods that predate the era of genetic technologies.

Researchers develop magnifying smartphone screen app for visually impaired
Researchers from the Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School have developed a smartphone application that projects a magnified smartphone screen to Google Glass, which users can navigate using head movements to view a corresponding portion of the magnified screen. They have shown that the technology can potentially benefit low-vision users, many of whom find the smartphone’s built-in zoom feature to be difficult to use due to the loss of context.

ACS-Military Health System partnership prioritizes surgeon readiness and trauma systems
The Military Health System Strategic Partnership American College of Surgeons is working on a course curriculum to prepare surgeons before they are deployed to war zones or other areas affected by disasters.

Field Museum expedition captures animal selfies in Amazon Rainforest
A team of scientists from The Field Museum and their collaborators set up camera traps in Medio Putumayo-Algodón, Peru to record the biodiversity of that area of the Amazon Rainforest.

NASA sees Tropical Cyclone Fantala slowing
On April 21, Fantala’s maximum sustained wind speeds started to decrease since making a ‘U-turn’ and moving southeastward to a position northeast of Madagascar and the storm maintained strength on April 22. NASA’s RapidScat instrument measured winds around the system while NASA-JAXA’s Global Precipitation Measurement or GPM core satellite analyzed rainfall rates with the hurricane.

Zinc deficiency may contribute to increased inflammation among HIV-positive individuals
In a new study, University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers Krishna Poudel and colleagues report that zinc deficiency may contribute to chronic inflammation among HIV-positive individuals. Theirs is believed to be the first investigation to explore the association between serum zinc levels and inflammation among people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, while taking their anti-retroviral therapy into account.

Queen’s researcher explores effectiveness of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative
Queen’s University political researcher Nathan Andrews has co-authored a report on the effectiveness of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in improving transparency and domestic government in resource rich countries suffering from the ‘resource curse.’

UMMS scientists identify genes that control smooth muscle contraction
Researchers at UMass Medical School have identified a new molecular pathway critical for maintaining the smooth muscle tone that allows the passage of materials through the digestive system.

Research team realizes 3-color photodetector
There’s a new approach to design results in a device that can detect different infrared wavebands, which could lead to applications in imaging and entertainment.

Cell death mechanism may — paradoxically — enable aggressive pancreatic cells to live on
The most aggressive form of pancreatic cancer — often described as one of the hardest malignancies to diagnose and treat — thrives in the presence of neighboring tumor cells undergoing a particular form of ‘orchestrated cell death.’ This is according to a major study from researchers at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center and recently published in the journal Nature.

Drug-overdose deaths hold steady in some high drug trafficking areas
Areas in the US with the highest drug-overdose death rates are not always places with high drug trafficking, according to a new University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analysis. Drug-overdose mortality rates have increased an average of 6.7 percent per year since 1979 but held relatively steady in most US border counties, indicating that drugs appear to pass through these counties without affecting the death rates of their residents.

Bourbon or rye? You can’t tell the difference, new study says
When asked to sort American whiskeys, consumers were more influenced by alcohol content, age at bottling and product brand, a Drexel University food scientist found.

Bakery switches to propane vans
A switch to propane from diesel by a major Midwest bakery fleet showed promising results, including a significant displacement of petroleum, a drop in greenhouse gases and a fuel cost savings of 7 cents per mile, according to a study recently completed by the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

Paperbark tree to unlock climate change
Synonymous with the Australian landscape, the paperbark tree is most recognized for its distinctive bark, but it is the leaves that have found themselves at the center of research which could provide crucial insights into climate change.The research, completed by a consortium of researchers including Griffith University School of Engineering Professor Margaret Greenway, found Melaleuca leaves preserved in ancient wetlands could be used to reconstruct past rainfall activity.

USC study shows how skeletal stem cells form the blueprint of the face
Timing is everything when it comes to the development of the vertebrate face. In a new study published in PLoS Genetics, USC Stem Cell researcher Lindsey Barske from the laboratory of Gage Crump and her colleagues identify the roles of key molecular signals that control this critical timing.

Higher muscle mass associated with lower mortality risk in heart disease patients
Research finds that cardiovascular disease patients who have high muscle mass and low fat mass have a lower mortality risk than those with other body compositions. The findings also suggest that regardless of a person’s level of fat mass, a higher level of muscle mass helps reduce the risk of early death. This research could explain the ‘obesity paradox,’ which holds that people with a higher BMI have lower mortality levels.

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