Friday, 27 May 2016 15:50

WWII submarine found with 71 dead bodie

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A long lost British Second World War submarine that vanished 73 years ago has been found with 71 dead bodies of crew off the coast of Italy.

The 1,290 tonne vessel was found by a diving team at a depth of 100 metres, close to the island of Tavolara, off the northeast coast of Sardinia.

The submarine vanished without a trace around Janaury 2, 1943 and is believed was hit by a mine in the Gulf of Olbia.

"Immediately I thought of the destiny of the men who met their deaths down there. It was a fate shared by so many men, submariners in particular, fighting on all both sides of the conflict," diving team leader Massimo Domenico Bordone told Italian media.

The submarine had left Malta on December 28, 1942 for its first mission to destroy two Italian battleships when they lay anchor at the port of La Maddalena.

But after sending a signal on December 31 the vessel disappeared without a trace. Military officials assumed the submarine had been sunk, 'Daily Express' reported.
The wreck was found in excellent condition with only a small amount of damage from the explosion.

"It looks like she probably went down with air sealed inside, meaning the crew eventually died of oxygen deprivation. It's important to have the utmost respect for wrecks in cases like this," Bordone said.

The Royal Navy said it expects the wreck to be treated with respect while they work to confirm the identity of the submarine.

"We are examining our records to determine whether or not this is a Royal Navy submarine," a Royal Navy spokesperson said.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Friday, 27 May 2016 15:46

Potential trigger to kill cancer discovered

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Scientists, including      zMM one of Indian-origin, have discovered a new way of triggering cell death, a finding that may lead to drugs for treating cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Programmed cell death, also called apoptosis, is a natural process that removes unwanted cells from the body. Failure of apoptosis can allow cancer cells to grow unchecked or immune cells to inappropriately attack the body.

The protein known as Bak is central to apoptosis. In healthy cells Bak sits in an inert state but when a cell receives a signal to die, Bak transforms into a killer protein that destroys the cell.

Researchers from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia and colleagues have discovered a novel way of directly activating Bak to trigger cell death.

The researchers, including Sweta Iyer, discovered that an antibody they had produced to study Bak actually bound to the Bak protein and triggered its activation.

"We were excited when we realised we had found an entirely new way of activating Bak," said Ruth Kluck, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. She hopes to use this discovery to develop drugs that promote cell death.

"There is great interest in developing drugs that trigger Bak activation to treat diseases such as cancer where apoptosis has gone awry," she said.

"This discovery gives us a new starting point for developing therapies that directly activate Bak and cause cell death," she said.

The researchers used information about Bak's 3D structure to find out precisely how the antibody activated Bak.

"It is well known that Bak can be activated by a class of proteins called 'BH3-only proteins' that bind to a groove on Bak. We were surprised to find that despite our antibody binding to a completely different site on Bak, it could still trigger activation," Kluck said.

Drugs that target this new activation site could be useful in combination with other therapies that promote cell death by mimicking the BH3-only proteins.

"The advantage of our antibody is that it can't be 'mopped up' and neutralised by pro-survival proteins in the cell, potentially reducing the chance of drug resistance occurring," Kluck said.

The researchers are now working with collaborators to develop their antibody into a drug that can access Bak inside cells.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Scientists have found a record of the most recent Martian ice age in the red planet's north polar ice cap that ended about 400,000 years ago, by using radar data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The new results agree with previous models that indicate a glacial period ended about 400,000 years ago, as well as predictions about how much ice would have been accumulated at the poles since then.

A seasonal cover of carbon dioxide ice and snow is observed to advance and retreat over the poles during the Martian year.

During summertime in the planet's north, the remaining northern polar cap is all water ice; the southern cap is water ice as well, but remains covered by a relatively thin layer of carbon dioxide ice even in southern summertime.

Mars also undergoes variations in its tilt and the shape of its orbit over hundreds of thousands of years. These changes cause shifts in the planet's climate and ice ages.

Scientists used data from MRO's Shallow Subsurface Radar (SHARAD) to produce images called radargrams that are like vertical slices though the layers of ice and dust that comprise the Martian polar ice deposits.

For the new study, researchers analysed hundreds of such images to look for variations in the layer properties.

They identified a boundary in the ice that extends across the entire north polar cap. Above the boundary, the layers accumulated very quickly and uniformly, compared with the layers below them.

"The layers in the upper few hundred meters display features that indicate a period of erosion, followed by a period of rapid accumulation that is still occurring today," said Isaac Smith, who led the work while at Southwest Research Institute in the US.

Martian ice age occurs when - as a result of the planet's increased tilt - its poles become warmer than lower latitudes.

During these periods, the polar caps retreat and water vapour migrates towards the equator, forming ground ice and glaciers at mid-latitudes.

As the warm polar period ends, polar ice begins accumulating again, while ice is lost from mid-latitudes.

An increase in polar ice following a mid-latitude ice age is also expected from climate models that show how ice moves around based on Mars' orbital properties, especially its tilt.

These models predict the last Martian ice age ended about 400,000 years ago. Models suggest that since then, the polar deposits would have thickened by about 300 metres.

The upper unit reaches a maximum thickness of 320 metres across the polar cap. That is essentially the same as model predictions made by other researchers in 2003 and 2007.

"This suggests that we have indeed identified the record of the most recent Martian glacial period and the regrowth of the polar ice since then," said Smith, who is now at the Planetary Science Institute in the US.

The study was published in the journal Science.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Nearly one trillion species could be living on Earth, yet 99.999 per cent of them remain undiscovered, according to the largest-ever analysis of microbial data.

Researchers combined microbial, plant and animal community datasets from government, academic and citizen science sources, resulting in the largest compilation of its kind.

These data represent over 5.6 million microscopic and non-microscopic species from 35,000 locations across all the world's oceans and continents, except Antarctica.

"Estimating the number of species on Earth is among the great challenges in biology," said Kenneth J Locey, a postdoctoral fellow at Indiana University in the US.

"Our study combines the largest available datasets with ecological models and new ecological rules for how biodiversity relates to abundance. This gave us a new and rigorous estimate for the number of microbial species on Earth," said Locey.

"Until recently, we've lacked the tools to truly estimate the number of microbial species in the natural environment," he said.

"Many earlier attempts to estimate the number of species on Earth simply ignored microorganisms or were informed by older datasets that were based on biased techniques or questionable extrapolations," said Jay T Lennon, associate professor at the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology.

"Until now, we haven't known whether aspects of biodiversity scale with something as simple as the abundance of organisms," Locey added.

"As it turns out, the relationships are not only simple but powerful, resulting in the estimate of upwards of one trillion species," he said.

The results also suggest that identifying every microbial species on Earth is an almost unimaginably huge challenge.

The Earth Microbiome Project - a global multidisciplinary project to identify microscope organisms - has so far catalogued less than 10 million species.

"Of those catalogued species, only about 10,000 have ever been grown in a lab, and fewer than 100,000 have classified sequences," Lennon said.

"Our results show that this leaves 100,000 times more microorganisms awaiting discovery - and 100 million to be fully explored. Microbial biodiversity, it appears, is greater than ever imagined," said Lennon.

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


 India is home to four of the five cities in the world with the worst air pollution, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

But while WHO experts acknowledge India faces a "huge challenge", many countries are so bad that they have no monitoring system and cannot be included in its ranking.

The dirtiest air was recorded at Zabol in Iran, which suffers from months of dust storms in the summer, and which clocked a so-called PM2.5 measure of 217. The next four were all Indian: Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna and Raipur.

India's capital New Delhi was the survey's ninth worst city, measured by the amount of particulate matter under 2.5 micrograms found in every cubic metre of air, with an annual average PM2.5 measurement of 122.

Tiny particulate matter can cause lung cancer, strokes and heart disease over the long term, as well as triggering symptoms such as heart attacks that kill more rapidly. The WHO says more than 7 million premature deaths occur every year due to air pollution, 3 million of them due to outdoor air quality.

New Delhi was ranked worst in 2014 with a PM2.5 reading of 153. It has since tried to tackle its toxic air by limiting the use of private cars on the road for short periods.

Maria Neira, head of public health, environmental and social determinants of health at the WHO, praised India's government for developing a national plan to deal with the problem when others have been unable to.

"Probably some of the worst cities that are the most polluted ones in the world are not included in our list, just because they are so bad that they do not even have a good system of monitoring of air quality, so it's unfair to compare or give a rank," she said.

Common causes of air pollution include too many cars, especially diesel-fuelled vehicles, the heating and cooling of big buildings, waste management, agriculture and the use of coal or diesel generators for power.

On average, pollution levels worsened by 8 percent between 2008 and 2013, although most cities in rich countries improved the state of their air over the same period.

The WHO data, a survey of 3,000 urban areas, shows only 2 percent of cities in poorer countries have air quality that meets WHO standards, while 44 percent of richer cities do.

The WHO database has almost doubled in size since 2014, and the trend towards more transparency translated into more action to deal with the problem, Neira said.

However, there was still very sparse data on Africa, she said.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Scientists have made a 3D map of 3,000 galaxies 13 billion light years from Earth, and found that Einstein's general theory of relativity is valid even far into the universe.

Since it was discovered in the late 1990s that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate, scientists have been trying to explain why.

The mysterious dark energy could be driving acceleration, or Einstein's theory of general relativity, which says gravity warps space and time, could be breaking down.

To test Einstein's theory, researchers including those from the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics (Kavli IPMU) and University of Tokyo in Japan, used data on more than 3,000 distant galaxies to analyse their velocities and clustering.

Their results indicate that even far into the universe, general relativity is valid, giving further support that the expansion of the universe could be explained by a cosmological constant, as proposed by Einstein in his theory of general relativity.

"We tested the theory of general relativity further than anyone else ever has. It's a privilege to be able to publish our results 100 years after Einstein proposed his theory," said Teppei Okumura, Project Researcher at Kavli IPMU.

"Having started this project 12 years ago it gives me great pleasure to finally see this result come out," said Karl Glazebrook, Professor at Swinburne University of Technology.

No one has been able to analyse galaxies more than 10 billion light years away, but the team managed to break this barrier thanks to the FMOS (Fibre Multi-Object Spectrograph) on the Subaru Telescope, which can analyse galaxies 12.4 to 14.7 billion light years away.

Courtesy - Deccan Herald

 In the largest finding of planets to date, NASA has announced the discovery of 1,284 new planets outside our solar system, more than doubling the number of exoplanets found by the Kepler space telescope.

Nine of the newly found planets may be potentially habitable, NASA said.
"This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth," said Ellen Stofan, chief scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"This announcement more than doubles the number of confirmed planets from Kepler," said Stofan.

Analysis was performed on the Kepler space telescope's July 2015 planet candidate catalogue, which identified 4,302 potential planets.

For 1,284 of the candidates, the probability of being a planet is greater than 99 per cent - the minimum required to earn the status of "planet".

An additional 1,327 candidates are more likely than not to be actual planets, but they do not meet the 99 per cent threshold and will require additional study.

The remaining 707 are more likely to be some other astrophysical phenomena. This analysis also validated 984 candidates previously verified by other techniques.

"Before the Kepler space telescope launched, we did not know whether exoplanets were rare or common in the galaxy," said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA.

"Thanks to Kepler and the research community, we now know there could be more planets than stars," said Hertz.

"This knowledge informs the future missions that are needed to take us ever-closer to finding out whether we are alone in the universe," he said.

Kepler captures the discrete signals of distant planets - decreases in brightness that occur when planets pass in front of, or transit, their stars.

Since the discovery of the first planets outside our solar system more than two decades ago, researchers have resorted to a one-by-one process of verifying suspected planets.

The latest findings are based on a new method that can be applied to many planet candidates simultaneously.

In the newly-validated batch of planets, nearly 550 could be rocky planets like Earth, based on their size.

Nine of these orbit in their sun's habitable zone, which is the distance from a star where orbiting planets can have surface temperatures that allow liquid water to pool.

With the addition of these nine, 21 exoplanets now are known to be members of this exclusive group.

"This work will help Kepler reach its full potential by yielding a deeper understanding of the number of stars that harbour potentially habitable, Earth-size planets - a number that's needed to design future missions to search for habitable environments and living worlds," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at NASA.

Of the nearly 5,000 total planet candidates found to date, more than 3,200 now have been verified, and 2,325 of these were discovered by Kepler.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


Scientists have developed a new non-invasive, personalised 3D virtual heart assessment tool to help doctors determine whether a patient faces a risk of life-threatening arrhythmia.

When electrical waves in the heart run amok in a condition called arrhythmia, sudden death can occur, researchers said.

To save the life of a patient at risk, doctors currently implant a small defibrillator to sense the onset of arrhythmia and jolt the heart back to a normal rhythm.

However, it is difficult to decide which patients truly need the invasive, costly electrical implant.

"Our virtual heart test significantly outperformed several existing clinical metrics in predicting future arrhythmic events," said Natalia Trayanova from Johns Hopkins University in the US.

"This non-invasive and personalised virtual heart-risk assessment could help prevent sudden cardiac deaths and allow patients who are not at risk to avoid unnecessary defibrillator implantations," said Trayanova.

Researchers formed its predictions by using the distinctive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) records of patients who had survived a heart attack but were left with damaged cardiac tissue that predisposes the heart to deadly arrhythmias.

The study involved data from 41 patients who had survived a heart attack and had an ejection fraction - a measure of how much blood is being pumped out of the heart - of less than 35 per cent.

Researchers used a pre-implant MRI scans of the recipients' hearts to build patient-specific digital replicas of the organs.

Using computer-modeling techniques, the geometrical replica of each patient's heart was brought to life by incorporating representations of the electrical processes in the cardiac cells and the communication among cells.

In some cases, the virtual heart developed an arrhythmia, and in others it did not. The result, a non-invasive way to gauge the risk of sudden cardiac death due to arrhythmia, was dubbed VARP, short for virtual-heart arrhythmia risk predictor, researchers said.

The method allowed the researchers to factor in the geometry of the patient's heart, the way electrical waves move through it and the impact of scar tissue left by the earlier heart attack.

"We demonstrated that VARP is better than any other arrhythmia prediction method that is out there," said Trayanova.

"By accurately predicting which patients are at risk of sudden cardiac death, the VARP approach will provide the doctors with a tool to identify those patients who truly need the costly implantable device, and those for whom the device would not provide any life-saving benefits," she said.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.   

Courtesy – Deccan Herald


Air bubbles trapped in 2.7 billion-year-old rocks suggest that early Earth's air weighed less than half of today's atmosphere, researchers including one of Indian-origin have found.

The research from the University of Washington reverses the commonly accepted idea that the early Earth had a thicker atmosphere to compensate for weaker sunlight.

The finding also has implications for which gases were in that atmosphere, and how biology and climate worked on the early planet, researchers said.

"For the longest time, people have been thinking the atmospheric pressure might have been higher back then, because the sun was fainter," said Sanjoy Som, who did the work as part of his UW doctorate in Earth and space sciences.

"Our result is the opposite of what we were expecting," said Som.

Researchers used bubbles trapped in cooling lava as a "paleobarometer" to determine the weight of air in our planet's youth.

To measure air pressure farther back in time, researchers needed a site where truly ancient lava had undisputedly formed at sea level.

In the field site in Western Australia, discovered by Tim Blake of the University of Western Australia, the Beasley River has exposed 2.7 billion-year-old basalt lava.

The lowest lava flow has "lava toes" that burrow into glassy shards, proving that molten lava plunged into seawater. The team drilled into the overlying lava flows to examine the size of the bubbles.

A stream of molten rock that forms a lava quickly cools from top and bottom, and bubbles trapped at the bottom are smaller than those at the top. The size difference records the air pressure pushing down on the lava as it cooled, 2.7 billion years ago.

Rough measurements in the field suggested a surprisingly lightweight atmosphere. More rigorous X-ray scans from several lava flows confirmed the result: The bubbles indicate that the atmospheric pressure at that time was less than half of today's.

Earth 2.7 billion years ago was home only to single-celled microbes, sunlight was about one-fifth weaker, and the atmosphere contained no oxygen.

But this finding points to conditions being even more different than previously thought, researchers said.

A lighter atmosphere could affect wind strength and other climate patterns, and would even alter the boiling point of liquids, they said.

The study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.


Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Wednesday, 11 May 2016 12:30

Scientists produce jet fuel in "one-pot" recipe

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Scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have engineered a strain of bacteria that enables a "one-pot" method for producing advanced biofuels from a slurry of pre-treated plant material.

The Escherichia coli (E coli) is able to tolerate the liquid salt used to break apart plant biomass into sugary polymers, researchers said.

Since the salt solvent, known as ionic liquids, interferes with later stages in biofuels production, it needs to be removed before proceeding, a process that takes time and money. Developing ionic-liquid-tolerant bacteria eliminates the need to wash away the residual ionic liquid.

The achievement is a critical step in making biofuels a viable competitor to fossil fuels because it helps streamline the production process, researchers said.

"Being able to put everything together at one point, walk away, come back, and then get your fuel, is a necessary step in moving forward with a biofuel economy," said Aindrila Mukhopadhyay from the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"The E coli we have developed gets us closer to that goal. It is like a chassis that we build other things onto, like the chassis of a car," said said Mukhopadhyay.

"It can be used to integrate multiple recent technologies to convert a renewable carbon source like switchgrass to an advanced jet fuel," she said.

The basic steps of biofuel production start with deconstructing the cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin that are bound together in the complex plant structure.
Enzymes are then added to release the sugars from that gooey mixture of cellulose and hemicellulose, a step called saccharification.

Bacteria can then take that sugar and churn out the desired biofuel. The multiple steps are all done in separate pots.

Researchers pioneered the use of ionic liquids, salts that are liquid at room temperature, to tackle the deconstruction of plant material because of the efficiency with which the solvent works.

However, what makes ionic liquids great for deconstruction also makes it harmful for the downstream enzymes and bacteria used in biofuel production.

They established that an amino acid mutation in the gene rcdA, which helps regulate various genes, leads to an E coli strain that is highly tolerant to ionic liquids.

They used this strain as the foundation to build on earlier work - including the ionic-liquid-tolerant enzymes - and take the steps further to the one-pot biofuel finishing line.
The findings were published in the journal Green Chemistry.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

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