SciTech Briefs

White House to fight antibiotic resistance

Though the problem of antibiotic resistance has troubled hospitals and communities for decades, new genome-sequencing technologies that inspect bacterial genomes can be used to sketch out a molecular family tree, which could provide researchers with more data regarding antibiotic resistance. To support genome-sequencing technology and develop a new national strategy to fight resistant bacteria, President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Sept. 18 recognizing antibiotic resistance and creating a task force to combat the issue. The order came as a response to a report released on the same day by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology encouraging further research on this topic. The White House also announced a $20 million prize for the development of rapid tests that can identify antibiotic-resistant infections.

Source: Scientific American

Single dose of antidepressant changes the brain

SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are one of the most common kinds of antidepressants prescribed. However, it is unclear what the exact effect of the drug is on the brain. A recent study conducted by Julia Sacher of the Max Plank Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences suggests that a single dose of antidepressant not only dramatically changes brain connectivity but also does so in a matter of hours.

In the study, participants were monitored in a brain scanner as they were allowed to let their mind wander for about 15 minutes and then monitored again after taking a single dose of escitalopram, better known as Lexapro. By comparing 3–D images of connections occurring in the participants’ brains, the researchers found that one dose of Lexapro reduces the level of connectivity in most of the brain.

Source: Science Daily

Theory of relativity applicable to superheavy elements

Researchers have recently created the first chemical compound whose behavior can only be explained with Einstein’s theory of relativity. Researchers at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany have combined the 106th element of the periodic table, seaborgium, with six carbon monoxide molecules. Although other superheavy elements have never exhibited relativistic behavior before, this one seems different. As the team measured its volatility and reactivity, the values were similar to those for compounds of molybdenum and tungsten — which are in the same group as seaborgium in the periodic table — with carbon monoxide. This behavior can agree with the theoretical model only if Einstein’s theory of relativity is taken into account. The researchers plan to perform further tests on heavier elements to test such relativistic effects.

Source: New Scientist

New materials used for computer processors

A recent processor designed by researchers from several universities around the world uses phase change materials (PCMs), which may be able to change computers in the future. The calculations performed by most electronics today are carried out by silicon-based logic devices. However, PCMs have the advantage of being able to reversibly switch between two electrical states in mere billionths of a second. These materials have the potential to make the processing speed of future computers 1,000 times faster than they are now.

PCMs were first developed in the 1960s and were used in optical-memory devices. But now, they have begun to take the place of traditional silicon-based memory in some smartphones. As it turns out, PCMs-based processors use less energy, making them not only faster but also more environmentally friendly.

Source: SciTech Daily

Study reveals effect of artificial sweeteners on body

Researchers have found that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s blood sugar regulation, thus causing metabolic changes that can lead to diabetes. Even though previous studies on the effects of artificial sweeteners have had conflicting conclusions, this report has earned many positive responses from scientists. The researchers performed experiments on mice to back up their assertion that the sweeteners change the population of bacteria in the digestive system.

A control-group experiment found that there was little change in the mice that drank water or sugar water while mice that received artificial sweeteners developed a clear intolerance to glucose. However, at present the scientists still cannot explain how the sweeteners affect the bacteria and what exactly results in the changes from the glucose metabolism.

Source: The New York Times

World population to reach 11 billion by mid-century

Most estimates in the past 20 years predicted that the human population would grow to around 10 billion by mid-century, a number that now seems to be an underestimate. It was previously assumed that the decline in birth rate in Africa is occurring at the same pace as declines in other regions (for example, Asia). However, it turns out the rate of fertility decline has slowed (and even reversed) in some African countries in the last 15 years.

At current rates, scientists believe Africa will likely become as densely populated as today’s China. As Hans Rosling, an international health researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, expects, the world should prepare for at least 11 billion people by mid-century.

Source: Scientific American