SciTech Briefs

Researchers find Viking settlement in Newfoundland

Last Thursday, March 28, archaeologists announced the potential discovery of a lost Viking settlement, 55 years after the first discovery of a settlement located on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Hundreds of miles south of the confirmed site, the second potential location was first picked out by satellite imagery, which was collected by Sarah H. Parcak, an associate professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

The site, called Point Rosee, was excavated by a team of archaeologists last summer. At Point Rosee, the team found remains of turf walls and iron ore deposits and conducted radiocarbon analyses that date to the appropriate time, suggesting the presence of an old Viking settlement.

Furthermore, the temporary settlement would be consistent with the 1000-year-old saga detailing the Vikings’ short-lived colonization attempts in the Americas. If the findings are confirmed, it could lead to the revision of Viking history in North America.

Source: National Geographic

Alzheimer’s may be result of haywire immune system

Beth Stevens of the Boston Children’s Hospital and her colleagues have found evidence for a potential new target that could explain the failure of the majority of drugs that are used in clinical trials of Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disorder that results in memory loss. Instead of aiming to get rid of β amyloid, a protein that is present but has an inconsistent effect in Alzheimer’s patients, the scientists decided to focus on the loss of synapses, or junctions between nerve cells, in areas of the brain responsible for memory.

During their testing of mice, Stevens and her colleagues focused their study on a protein called C1q, which normally prunes unnecessary synapses in the brain during childhood and adolescent development. The researchers believe that elevated amounts of C1q and β amyloid were causing an abnormal degradation of synapses in the adult brain, which is what causes the occurrence of the disease. The results were reported in the journal, Science.

Source: Science Magazine

Researchers map out Zika virus’s physical structure

A new study published in Science has revealed new microscopy images of the Zika virus, an epidemic that has been linked to the rise in birth defects in the Americas. More specifically, the bumpy, spherical structure was imaged using cryo-electron microscopy, which depends on the scattering of electrons as they travel through a biological specimen.

Coauthor Michael Rossman of Purdue University stated that with the new images, scientists can locate areas to target the virus, which could finally lead to the formation of a vaccine or some antiviral compounds to combat the epidemic. For instance, the scientists noticed that attached to exterior protein shell of the virus were knob-shaped sugars.

Displaying unique folding properties, the sugars could be used to explain why the virus infects cells different from related, mosquito-borne viruses, such as dengue fever and West Nile virus.

Source: Science News

Gravitational waves discovered after black holes collide

In a recent issue of the Physical Review Letters, scientists at the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have reported detecting the sound of faint gravitational waves. Similar to a bird’s chirp, the sound was stated to be indicative of the collision of two black holes that are located a billion light-years away.

With the advent of the discovery, the physicists believe that they finally have direct evidence for the ability of gravity to warp space-time through masses, as predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. The signal provides optimism that LIGO, with separate detectors in Louisiana and Washington state, could detect patterns from background waves within a few years.

With the evidence for the background waves, which would be studied through models of binary black hole populations, the physicists would be able to make comparisons of different populations of black holes, allowing for more insight into the parameters needed for the emergence of black holes.

Source: Science News

Possible secret rooms in King Tut’s tomb discovered

According to Egypt’s antiquities minister, Khaled al-Anani, there is an ongoing investigation regarding two possible secret rooms in the tomb of King Tutankhamun (King Tut), which is known to be one of the best preserved tombs in the world.

Last Thursday, Khaled said that with radar antennas, a team of experts took 40 scans around the north and eastern walls of the tomb, which has been around for 3,300 years. After the release of the pending results, more scans will be conducted to explore the exterior top location of the tomb, which will take place in April.

The secret rooms have generated excitement, as some believe that one of the chambers may contain the tomb of King Tut’s mother, Queen Nefertiti, whose body has long been sought out by archaeologists.
However, radar experts outside of the project are skeptical, due to the limitations of radars in characterizing underground features.

Source: Discovery

Research suggests that homeostasis occurs in awake rats

Lead by postdoctoral fellow at Brandeis University Keith Hengen, research published in the journal Cell has provided evidence against the leading theory explaining the necessity for sleep. The previous theory suggests that sleep allows for neurons to recover from overexcitation, allowing for a restoration toward balance within the circuits of the brain.

However, studies suppressing neural activity in rats showed that only when the animals were awake did the rebalancing, or homeostatic processes, occur in the brain. The researchers believe that homeostasis is stopped in favor of the brain’s function of strengthening memories during sleep.

The novelty of the research lies within its use of freely behaving rats, rather than cell cultures or anesthetized rats. Electrodes were used to record the neural activity of the rats, and an algorithm was developed to interpret the data.

Source: Science Daily