SciTech Briefs

Sharon Wu Nov 21, 2015

Neurons involved in itch separate from those in pain

Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies discovered a neural pathway involving neuropeptide Y (NPY) neurons dedicated to transmitting non-chemically induced itches, defined as tingling sensations caused by a light touch. In collaboration with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the researchers determined the function of neuropeptide Y (NPY) neurons by removing them from the spinal cord of mice and performed experiments in which they silenced the genes that expressed the NPY neurons.

To their surprise, they found that the mice without NPY neurons were no more sensitive to chemically-induced itch, itch caused by a healing mosquito bite or wound on the skin, or pain, even through their sensitivity to light touch had increased. The study suggests that the spinal neurons involved in an itch differ from those that cause pain and chemical itch. In the future, these findings could help researchers modify neurons to treat patients who suffer from chronic itch.

Source: ScienceDaily

New class of DNA enzyme repair is discovered

A new class of DNA repair enzyme, called AlkD, has been discovered by researchers from Vanderbilt University of California, Davis, and Toyama Prefectural University. Found in soil-dwelling bacteria that cause a certain kind of food poisoning, AlkD binds to DNA that is damaged by environmental factors such as ultraviolet light. This binding causes conformational changes in the DNA that enable the removal of a damaged base, a building block of DNA, in order to make room for a new, undamaged base.

AlkD was previously thought to belong to a class of enzymes known as DNA glycosylase which remove damaged DNA bases through a process known as base-excision repair. The new discoveries by these researchers broadens the scope of DNA repair mechanisms, and suggests that there could be many more mechanisms than previously thought. Information about these new mechanisms could potentially lead to new treatment options for a variety of diseases, including cancer.

Source: ScienceDaily

Dolphins suspected in whale attack off the coast of Skye

Last week, a severely injured, three-year-old pilot whale was euthanized after being found in Dunvegan, a small town on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The whale had teeth marks on its body, flippers, and dorsal fin, wounds that are rarely found along the coasts of the United Kingdom. Marine officials suspect that bottlenose dolphins were the culprit of the injuries. The officials are not sure whether the injuries arose from the whale playing with or being attacked by the bottlenose dolphins.

Scottish waters are home to the most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins in the world, and interactions between dolphins and whales are an integral part of their natural behavior. There has only been one previous incident of a dolphin attacking a whale in the United Kingdom. The incident serves as a reminder to those who come in contact with dolphins that while they are generally friendly, they do possess a potentially aggressive nature.

Source: Discovery News

New artificial skin feels texture and hears sound

The world’s first artificial fingerprints have been designed by researchers at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology and Dong-A University, which are both located in South Korea. The scientists created electronic skin that incorporates fingerprint-like grooves on the surface to mimic real fingertips.

The artificial skin is made of layers of plastic and graphene material that are flexible and sensitive toward external stimuli. Through fluctuations in electric current the skin can detect subtle changes in temperature and pressure. Furthermore, it can detect noises even better than a microphone of a smartphone. The study was published in the journal Science Advances.

The scientists hope to continue this research in order to find a way to relay signals from the electronic skin to the brain. They hope that the skin will ultimately serve as the basis for more comfortable and efficient prosthetics, wearable devices, and hearing aids.

Source: Science Magazine

Probes unveil three hidden blemishes on the moon

In a recent publication of the journal Science Advances, researchers presented evidence that reveals three previously unseen blemishes on the surface of the moon. Back in 2011, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched twin probes from the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL). The GRAIL mission, which went on until 2012, gave the scientists a better understanding of the circular dents on the moon’s surface caused by impact craters. With the data collected from the gravitational pulls on the two spacecrafts, the scientists were able to find evidence for the existence of three basins named Asperitatis, Bartels-Voskresenskiy, and Copernicus-H.

The size and distribution of these basins goes against the idea that four billion years ago space rocks hit the Earth and moon, which is a common suggestion for the eradication of early life on Earth.

Source: Science News

Facebook replaces Other inbox with message requests

Facebook has announced that in the next few days it will be making changes to its Messenger service by getting rid of the Other inbox, similar to a spam folder, in which users receive messages from people that they are not friends with on the site. The Other inbox, which many Facebook users either are not aware of or don’t check, will be replaced by a message request system in which a user receives these messages directly in their inbox and has to either accept or reject them.

While the new request service will enable to users to message virtually anyone on the social network and ensure that their message is seen, there have been increased concerns about the decreased privacy associated with the service. Many organizations and page admins, however, are embracing the new format because it will likely increase the amount of users they are able to contact.

Source: BBC News