SciTech Briefs

Chemistry Nobel laureates improve microscopy

Eric Betzig, a physicist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va.; Stefan Hell, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany; and W.E. Moerner, a physical chemist at Stanford University, have been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing improved microscopy techniques. Due to resolution limits, traditional optical microscopes can only observe objects larger than 200 nanometers. Objects smaller than 200 nanometers, such as cells, can be viewed by electron microscopy, which requires killing the cells. The new fluorescence microscopy developed by the laureates overcomes traditional resolution limits, which allows for observation of small living objects such as cells and bacteria.

Source: Science News

Prosthetic hand improves sense of touch for amputees

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center have developed a prosthetic hand that revives the sense of touch in amputees. The prosthetic uses a computer to send signals to surgically implanted cuffs surrounding major nerve bundles in the arm to stimulate nerves in the arm and brain. These nerves in turn relay the signal to the brain, where they activate the area of the brain associated with the sense of touch. By varying the pattern and intensity of the signals, researchers allow patients to distinguish between different textures and pressures. Patients using the prosthetic also noted a decrease in phantom pain. The research related to this project is published online in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Source: Science Daily

New links found between genetics and coffee

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have discovered six new genetic variants that can be associated with regular coffee consumption. Of the six newly identified variants, two are related to caffeine metabolism, two are thought to affect the positive effects of caffeine, and two are related to glucose and lipid metabolism, which were not previously associated with caffeine. The variants provide evidence as to why people respond differently to caffeine, and suggest that people automatically moderate their coffee intake in order to maximize the positive effects dictated by genetic predisposition. The research also suggests that genetic factors associated with increased coffee consumption directly increases caffeine metabolism.

Source: Science Daily

Ocean warming significantly underestimated

Paul J. Durack of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, along with a team of researchers, has discovered that previous data regarding the change in ocean temperature is significantly inaccurate. The study concluded that the top 2,200 feet of the ocean has absorbed up to 58 percent more heat from 1970 to the mid-2000s than initially calculated. The researchers concluded that the lack of agreement arose due to inconsistent sampling of water temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere and a general lack of temperature data before 2004, when a worldwide system of autonomous floats was activated. This new data could also impact our knowledge of the rate of sea-level rise data and how sensitive the climate is to the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Source: The New York Times

Dinosaurs coexisted due to different food preferences

David Button, a Ph.D. student in Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences and the Natural History Museum, along with a team of researchers, has discovered that multiple species of dinosaurs were able to coexist due to differences in diet.

The research focused on two species of dinosaurs, Camarasaurus and Diplodocus, which are known to have coexisted. The researchers used CT scans to digitally reconstruct the skulls, jaws, and neck muscles of both species. The research showed that Camarasaurus had a strong bite, which allowed it to feed on tough food, and Diplodocus had a relatively weak bite, which limited it to soft foods. The study suggests that these dietary restrictions ensured that the species did not compete for resources.

Source: Science Daily

Gut bacteria protein linked to eating disorders

Researchers at Rouen University in Rouen, France have discovered that a protein produced by bacteria in the gut could lead to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. The production of the protein triggers the release of antibodies that bind to both the protein and a hormone that regulates fullness. The research showed that mice with the protein-producing bacteria altered their eating habits, while mice without the bacteria did not. It was also found that patients with anorexia and bulimia had higher levels of the relevant antibody.

This discovery has been among the first to associate gut bacteria with eating disorders. The results of this study have been published in Translational Psychiatry.

Source: Science News