Hexbyte Glen Cove Loan applications processed around midday more likely to be rejected thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Loan applications processed around midday more likely to be rejected

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Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

Bank credit officers are more likely to approve loan applications earlier and later in the day, while ‘decision fatigue’ around midday is associated with defaulting to the safer option of saying no.

These are the findings of a study by researchers in Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, published today in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Decision fatigue is the tiredness caused by having to make over a long period. Previous studies have shown that people suffering from decision fatigue tend to fall back on the ‘default decision’: choosing whatever option is easier or seems safer.

The researchers looked at the decisions made on 26,501 credit loan applications by 30 credit officers of a major bank over a month. The officers were making decisions on ‘restructuring requests’: where the customer already has a loan but is having difficulties paying it back, so asks the bank to adjust the repayments.

By studying decisions made at a bank, the researchers could calculate the economic cost of decision fatigue in a specific context—the first time this has been done. They found the bank could have collected around an extra $500,000 in if all decisions had been made in the .

“Credit officers were more willing to make the difficult of granting a customer more lenient loan repayment terms in the morning, but by midday they showed and were less likely to agree to a loan restructuring request. After lunchtime they probably felt more refreshed and were able to make better decisions again,” said Professor Simone Schnall in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, senior author of the report.

Decisions on loan restructuring requests are cognitively demanding: officers have to weigh up the financial strength of the customer against risk factors that reduce the likelihood of repayment. Errors can be costly to the bank. Approving the request results in a loss relative to the original payment plan, but if the restructuring succeeds, the loss is significantly smaller than if the loan is not repaid at all.

The study found that customers whose restructuring requests were approved were more likely to repay their loan than if they were instructed to stick to the original repayment terms. Credit officers’ tendency to decline more requests around lunchtime was associated with a financial loss for the bank.

“Even decisions we might assume are very objective and driven by specific financial considerations are influenced by psychological factors. This is clear evidence that regular breaks during working hours are important for maintaining high levels of performance,” said Tobias Baer, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology and first author of the report.

Modern work patterns have been characterized by extended hours and higher work volume. The results suggest that cutting down on prolonged periods of intensive mental exertion may make workers more productive.

More information:
Quantifying the Cost of Decision Fatigue: Suboptimal Risk Decisions in Finance, Royal Society Open Science, royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.201059

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Endangered condor egg hatches in Northern California's wild thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Endangered condor egg hatches in Northern California’s wild

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A California condor egg has hatched in Northern California’s wild, the newest member of Pinnacles National Park’s recovery program for the endangered species.

The egg hatched April 12 after two months of round-the-clock incubation by both who protected their fragile egg from the elements and potential predators, rangers said in a social media post.

Their nest has a installed to help with monitoring and videos shared by the National Park Service this week show one parent feeding the fluffy chick while the other stands guard by the entrance to their refuge.

Since 2003, park rangers at Pinnacles, a 26,000-acre park in rural San Benito County about 120 miles (193 kilometers) south of San Francisco, and Ventana Wildlife Society wildlife biologists have managed a release site at the park for captive-bred California condors.

The two parents have been a pair for about five years, and this is their third offspring. They are condors 589, which is managed by the park. The other parent—569—is managed by Ventana Wildlife Society.

“Condors typically only have one chick every two years. 589 and 569 are clearly doing their part to help their species and maintain their status as a Pinnacles power couple!” park rangers wrote.

The chick, named 1078, still must survive six more months in the nest, relying on its parents completely for food, protection and companionship.

“If all goes well, 1078 will learn to fly sometime in mid-October and will then spend up to another year with its parents, slowly gaining more independence as they show it how to find food and integrate into the wild condor flock,” park officials wrote.

One of the world’s largest birds with a wingspan up to 10 feet (3 meters), the condor once patrolled the sky from Mexico to British Columbia. But its population plummeted to the brink of extinction in the 1970s because of , hunting and habitat destruction.

In the 1980s, wildlife officials captured the last remaining 22 condors and took them to the San Diego and Los Angeles zoos to be protected and bred in captivity. After up to a year at the zoo, chicks are taken to a release site such as Pinnacles National Park. There and in other sanctuaries, they scavenge, breed and raise chicks on their own, under the close watch of wildlife biologists who outfit them with a visual ID tag and at least one radio transmitter. Some birds are also given GPS transmitters.

California condors have been making a comeback in the wild and now occupy parts of California’s Central Coast, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico. The total wild population now numbers more than 300 birds.

Condors can live for 60 years and fly vast distances, which is why their range could extend into several states.

But the vultures still face threats from exposure to mercury and the pesticide DDT. Biologists say the biggest danger is lead ammunition, which can poison them when they eat dead animals shot with lead bullets. California banned the use of lead ammunition near feeding grounds in 2008 and lead bullets in all hunting in 2019.

The birds have been protected as an by federal law since 1967 and by California state law since 1971.

© 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Bill Nelson, head of NASA, hails 'new day in space' thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Bill Nelson, head of NASA, hails ‘new day in space’

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New NASA head Bill Nelson takes over as the US looks to return to the Moon

Former Florida senator Bill Nelson was sworn in Monday as head of NASA, hailing a “new day” for space exploration as the United States seeks to return to the Moon.

With his hand on a Bible, Nelson took the oath of office from Vice President Kamala Harris as he officially took up the role of NASA administrator.

“It’s a new day in space,” he said, after bringing a Moon rock to the event.

Nelson, 78, who traveled into space in 1986, takes over the agency with the United States hoping to put astronauts back on the Moon by 2024.

Humans last set foot on the Moon in 1972 during the Apollo program.

Under the Artemis program, NASA wants to establish a sustainable presence, complete with a lunar space station, to test new technologies that would pave the way for a crewed mission to Mars.

In 2019, then vice president Mike Pence challenged NASA to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, and President Joe Biden’s government has backed the same timetable.

Charlie Bolden, administrator under Barack Obama, attended Monday’s ceremony, while former administrator Jim Bridenstine, who served under Donald Trump, joined by video call.

Nelson said their presence was “to show the continuity and the bipartisanship, with which you run the nation’s space program, particularly NASA.”

In 1986, Nelson, a sitting lawmaker, was a crew member on the Space Shuttle Columbia during a six-day mission in space, and has since sat on many congressional committees on space and science.

“NASA is critical to US national and economic security,” Harris said on Twitter.

“With decades of experience and as a former astronaut, Bill Nelson will advance NASA’s science, aviation, and technology missions as Administrator.”

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Solar development: Super bloom or super bust for desert species? thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Solar development: Super bloom or super bust for desert species?

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The rare Barstow woolly sunflower was more sensitive to solar development impacts than its common relative, the woolly daisy in a study by UC Davis and UC Santa. Credit: Karen Tanner

Throughout the history of the West, human actions have often rushed the desert—and their actions backfired. In the 1920s, the Colorado River Compact notoriously overallocated water still used today by several western states because water measurements were taken during a wet period.

More currently, operators of the massive Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert are spending around $45 million on desert tortoise mitigation after initial numbers of the endangered animals were undercounted before its construction.

A study published in the journal Ecological Applications from the University of California, Davis, and UC Santa Cruz warns against another potential desert timing mismatch amid the race against and toward rapid renewable energy development.

“Our study suggests that and conservation goals may come into conflict in California’s Mojave Desert, which supports nearly 500 rare plant species as well as a rapidly expanding solar industry,” said lead author Karen Tanner, who conducted the work as a Ph.D. student at UC Santa Cruz under a grant led by UC Davis assistant professor Rebecca R. Hernandez.

Tanner spent seven years teasing out the demography of two native desert flowers—the rare Barstow woolly sunflower (E. mohavense) and the common Wallace’s woolly daisy (E. wallacei), comparing their performance both in the open and under experimental solar panels. The authors wondered, how would desert-adapted plants respond to panels that block light and rainfall? Would rare species respond differently than to these changes?

These aren’t easy questions to unearth. At one point, Tanner glued tiny seeds to individual toothpicks to gather emergence data. At another, she scoured the desert floor on hands and knees to count emerging seedlings of the rare sunflower—about the size of a thumbnail at maturity.

A common Wallace’s woolly daisy grows in the Mojave Desert. Common wildflowers appear to be less vulnerable than rare wildflowers to desert solar developments, a study from UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz found. Credit: Karen Tanner

Super bloom surprises

Such painstaking commitment is one reason no previous studies have modeled species’ responses to photovoltaics at the population level. It takes time and overcoming tricky logistical and mathematical challenges to model little-known species interactions in the evasive desert. What is nowhere in sight one year, may thrive the next.

That element of surprise is what makes “super blooms” so special and so captivating. Those bursts of wildflowers blanket expanses of desert landscapes after especially wet years and are believed to be critical to the long-term persistence of desert annual populations.

The study found that solar panel effects on plant response were strongly influenced by weather and physical features of the landscape. During the 2017 super bloom, panel shade negatively affected population growth of the rare species, but had little effect on its common relative.

The study suggests that may be more sensitive to solar development impacts than common species. It highlights the potential for solar panel effects to vary among species, as well as over space and time.

Widflowers blanket the desert near the study site in the Mojave Desert. Credit: Karen Tanner

A question of time

The study provides an example of the importance of taking the necessary time to understand an ecosystem before irrevocably changing it.

“The —and many other biomes—don’t respond on our timescales,” said Hernandez, co-director of the Wild Energy Initiative through the UC Davis John Muir Institute. “If we want to understand them, we need to study them on the timescales they operate. Otherwise, it is like taking a photo of a moving train and calling it a shipping container. Racing to build renewable energy in places that have already been skinned of their biology makes sense—let’s not wait to put solar on existing rooftops. But in natural environments, we need to listen and observe first.”

More information:
Karen E. Tanner et al, Microhabitats associated with solar energy development alter demography of two desert annuals, Ecological Applications (2021). DOI: 10.1002/eap.2349

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Previously unrecognized tsunami hazard identified in coastal cities thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Previously unrecognized tsunami hazard identified in coastal cities

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new study found overlooked tsunami hazards related to undersea, near-shore strike-slip faults, especially for coastal cities adjacent to faults that traverse inland bays. Several areas around the world may fall into this category, including the San Francisco Bay area, Izmit Bay in Turkey and the Gulf of Al-Aqaba in Egypt.

The study led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign civil and environmental engineering professor Ahmed Elbanna and professor Ares Rosakis of the California Institute of Technology used the Blue Waters supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications to model tsunami hazards related to strike-slip faults around the globe. The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Whenever we saw large tsunamis triggered by earthquakes along strike-slip faults, people assumed that perhaps the had caused an undersea landslide, displacing water that way,” Rosakis said.

The researchers said that a strike-slip exists when two blocks of rock on the fault line slide horizontally past one another. The San Andreas Fault is an example of a strike-slip fault.

In September 2018, a moderate 7.5 magnitude earthquake and unexpectedly powerful tsunami swept through Palu, a city situated on the inland side of Palu Bay on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The quake occurred along a northwest-southeast trending strike-slip fault that runs through the city and plunges below the bay along Palu’s northwest shore.

“It looked like a bulldozer had come in and leveled the town,” said co-author Costas Synolakis, the president of Athens College and a professor of civil engineering at the University of Southern California, who surveyed the area following the devastating event. “This is why it is so important that we try to understand what really happened.”

Studies exploring connections between strike-slip faulting and tsunamis exist. However, they focus on specific fault systems or geographic locations, obscuring the complex details of the fault geometry and bathymetry, the study reports.

“What is unique about our study is that instead of considering a location-specific event, we focused on the fundamentals of a strike-slip fault system interacting within the boundaries of a narrow bay,” Elbanna said. “We opted to simulate a very basic planar fault passing through a very simplified smooth-bottomed bay, similar to a bathtub. Having this simplified baseline model allows us to generalize to any place on the planet that may be at risk.”

Intersonic earthquakes are fault ruptures that happen so quickly that their movement outpaces the seismic shear waves they generate—like a sonic boom, but with the shock wave moving through the earth’s crust. The simulations found that intersonic earthquakes can provide enough energy and large enough horizontal displacements to trigger large tsunami waves.

When such earthquakes occur within a narrow bay, the researchers reported three that can lead to a tsunami: the initial fault movement and shockwave causing almost instantaneous shaking of the coastal land; the displacement of water while the earthquake is occurring; and gravity-driven motion of the tsunami wave after the ground motion has subsided that carries the wave to shore.

“Each of these phases will have a different effect depending on the unique geography of the surrounding land and bathymetry of the bay,” Elbanna said. “And, unlike the earthquakes and subsequent water displacement that occur many miles offshore, an earthquake and tsunami that occurs within the narrow confines of a bay will allow for very little warning time for the coast.”

Elbanna compares the effect of horizontal strike-slip fault displacements to holding a water cup in your hand and shaking it horizontally.

“The sloshing motion is a result of the horizontal shaking. When an earthquake occurs along a strike-slip fault in a narrow bay, the horizontal ground motion pushes and pulls the boundaries of the bay leading to displacement of water in the vertical direction and initiation of the tsunami,” he said.

“The physics-based model used in this study provides critical insight about the hazard associated with strike-slip faulting, particularly, the need to account for such risk to mitigate future damage to other bays traversed by strike-slip faults,” said Illinois graduate student Mohamed Abdelmeguid, who conducted the simulations along with former graduate student Xiao Ma, currently a senior research scientist at Exxon Mobil.

The at-risk regions identified by the team—Northern California, Turkey and Egypt—have experienced intersonic earthquakes in the past, and the researchers recommend revisiting the tsunami hazard rating of underwater strike-slip faults, particularly those traversing narrow bays.

“It may not look like the tsunami scene from Dwayne Johnson’s “San Andreas’ movie, but the risk for Northern California and several places worldwide needs to be seriously revisited,” Elbanna said.

More information:
Ahmed Elbanna el al., “Anatomy of strike-slip fault tsunami genesis,” PNAS (2021). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.2025632118

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Hexbyte Glen Cove S. Africa to ban breeding lions in captivity for hunting thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove S. Africa to ban breeding lions in captivity for hunting

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The practice of hunting lions raised in captivity has long been controversial in South Africa

South Africa on Sunday revealed plans to ban the breeding of lions in captivity for trophy hunting or for tourists to pet, advocating a more “authentic” experience for visitors.

The decision was in response to recommendations contained in a into the controversial practice.

The panel studied the rules governing the , trade and keeping in captivity of lions, elephants, rhino and leopards.

Environment Minister Barbara Creecy told a news conference that the study recommended a halt to the “domestication of lions through captive breeding and keeping.”

“We don’t want , captive hunting, captive (cubs) petting, captive use of lions,” the minister said.

The decision, which is yet to be formulated into policy, is likely to set the government on a collision course with the powerful multi-million-dollar industry of captive lion breeding.

The minister said the recommendations were not aimed at stifling the hunting industry.

“Legal regulated hunting of the iconic species under the regulatory environment will continue to be permitted,” she said.

But the report urged a stop to “tourists’ interaction with captive lions, including cub petting”, Creecy noted.

The practice of hunting lions raised in captivity has long been controversial in South Africa, where a large number of animals are confined to pens ringed with electric fences.

Campaigns to ban the importation of captive-bred trophies have in recent years gathered steam in the United States, Australia and several European countries.

The minister said the was susceptible to negative perceptions.

‘Authentic’ hunting

“The intention here is to ensure that those who are interested in… authentic wildlife hunting” will have such an experience and “will not be hunting animals that have been taken out of the cage,” she said.

South Africa counts between 8,000 and 12,000 lions at some 350 farms, where they are raised for hunting, tourism and academic research, according to estimates by wildlife groups.

They are also raised for their bones, used in medicine and jewellery in Southeast Asia, according to wildlife charities.

By contrast around 3,500 lions live in the wild in the country, according to the South African-based Endangered Wildlife Trust.

The global animal charity World Animal Protection hailed the government’s decision as “courageous”.

“Thousands of farmed lions are born into a life of misery in South Africa every year in cruel commercial breeding facilities,” said Edith Kabesiime, World Animal Protection’s campaign manager for Africa.

“This is a win for wildlife” and will ensure that “lions remain where they belong—in the wild,” she said.

Louise de Waal, director of the award-winning documentary feature film “Blood Lions” exposing the trade, said she was “extremely happy” at the government’s decision.

The panel also recommended the phasing out of captive rhino breeding and an examination of the future use of rhino horn stockpiles.

Home to about 80 percent of the world’s rhino population, South Africa has long attracted poachers, but it also counts more than 300 private rhino breeders.

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Newly discovered Miocene biome sheds light on rainforest evolution thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Newly discovered Miocene biome sheds light on rainforest evolution

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Selected plant taxa from the Zhangpu biota. Credit: NIGPAS

An international research group led by Prof. Wang Bo and Prof. Shi Gongle from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS) has collected approximately 25,000 fossil-containing amber samples and about 5,000 fossil plants in Zhangpu County, Fujian Province, southeast China from 2010 to 2019.

Their findings were published in Science Advances on April 30.

The Zhangpu biota, including amber biota and co-occurring megafossils, is the richest tropical seasonal biota discovered so far. It reveals that extraordinary species diversity existed within a 14.7 million-year-old tropical rainforest and sheds light on the evolution of the rainforest.

Diverse winged fruits of Dipterocarpaceae and legumes, as well as leaves of 78 different broadleaf trees show that tropical seasonal rainforests extended further north than today, offering an insight into what changes might take place in a future warmer world if ecosystems are able to adapt.

The Zhangpu amber biota contains a diverse, exquisitely preserved fossil arthropod fauna and abundant botanical and other inclusions such as fungi, snails, and even feathers. Botanical inclusions include bryophytes (liverworts and mosses) and flowering plants.

Arthropod inclusions cover an impressive array of more than 250 families including various spiders, mites, millipedes, and at least 200 families of insects in 20 orders. The extremely high variety of arthropods renders the Zhangpu amber biota one of the world’s four richest, along with the widely known Cretaceous Burmese amber biota (> 568 families), Eocene Baltic amber biota (> 550 families), and Miocene Dominican amber biota (205 families).

Representative inclusions in Zhangpu amber. Credit: NIGPAS

The insect fauna in Zhangpu amber include many ants, bees, lacewings, stick insects, termites, and grasshoppers that are today restricted to tropical Southeast Asia and/or New Guinea.

“The most unexpected finding is that the high diversity of ants and springtails all belong to living genera. In addition, the vast majority of previously identified insects in Zhangpu amber, such as bark lice, grasshoppers, beetles, and bees, also belong to living genera,” said Prof. Wang.

These results suggest that Asian rainforest insect communities have remained stable since the middle Miocene (at least 15 million years ago). It also highlights that tropical rainforests act as museums of biological diversity at the generic level. The relative ecological stability of such “megathermal” environments facilitates the continued accumulation of species diversity and makes them even more precious than previously realized.

The Zhangpu amber biota is unique because the samples are not commercially extracted and consequently the species census is minimally skewed by human selective bias. Moreover, its precise age is well-constrained by radioisotopic dating and the associated plant compression/impression fossils allow quantitative reconstruction of the ancient climate.

Ecological reconstruction of the Zhangpu biota. Credit: NIGPAS

Compared to the modern climate of Zhangpu, the most notable difference is that the middle Miocene climate had a warmer winter, leading to a relatively stable temperature throughout the year.

In scenarios of global warming, winter warming is commonly more pronounced than summer warming, and has larger and more widespread effects on terrestrial and marine ecosystems. It reduces “winterkills” and is beneficial for reproduction and growth of tropical animals and plants.

“Winter warming is likely to have been a major driver of the northern expansion of the megathermal biota in South China during the Mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum,” said Prof. Shi.

More information:
“The mid-Miocene Zhangpu biota reveals an outstandingly rich rainforest biome in East Asia” Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg0625

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Mars helicopter makes 4th flight, gets extra month of flying thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Mars helicopter makes 4th flight, gets extra month of flying

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (above center to the right) is viewed by one of the hazard cameras aboard the Perseverance rover during the helicopter’s fourth flight on April 30, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After proving powered, controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter has new orders: scout ahead of the Perseverance rover to assist in its search for past signs of microbial life.

The next phase extends the rotocraft’s mission beyond the original month-long technology demonstration. Now, the goal is to assess how well flyers can help future exploration of Mars and other worlds.

“We’re going to gather information on the operational support capability of the helicopter while Perseverance focuses on its ,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told reporters Friday.

The type of reconnaissance that Ingenuity performs could one day also prove useful to human missions, by scoping out the best paths for explorers to traverse, and reaching locations that aren’t otherwise possible.

The four pound (1.8 kilogram) mini chopper successfully performed the fourth of its five originally planned flights on Friday, “going farther & faster than ever before,” NASA tweeted.

The fifth is planned in the coming days, then its mission will be extended, initially by one Martian month.

Whether it continues beyond that will depend on if it’s still in good shape and if it’s helping, rather than hindering, the rover’s goals of collecting soil and rock samples for future lab analysis on Earth.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (upper right) using its left Mastcam-Z camera. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras located high on the rovers mast. This is one still frame from a sequence captured by the camera while taking video. This image was acquired on Apr. 30, 2021 (Sol 69) at the Local Mean Solar Time of 12:33:27. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Chief engineer Bob Balaram predicted a limiting factor will be its ability to withstand the frigid Mars nights, where temperatures plunge to -130 degrees Fahrenheit (-90 degrees Celsius).

Ingenuity keeps warm with a solar-powered heater, but it was only designed to last for a month and engineers aren’t sure “how many freeze and thaw cycles (it) can go through before something breaks,” he said.

NASA initially thought Perseverance would be driving away from the site where it landed at the Jezero Crater on February 18, just north of the planet’s equator.

That would have meant the rover leaving Ingenuity behind and moving beyond communications range.

Now though, the agency wants to keep Perseverance in the area for some time after finding a rocky outcrop that they believe contains some of the oldest material on the crater floor.

Credit: NASA

They hope to collect their first sample in July.

Ingenuity’s exploits have captured the public’s imagination since it made its first flight on April 19, but NASA said this wasn’t a factor in its decision to allow the two robots to keep exploring Mars together.

“We really wish to spend a considerable amount of time where we are and so it’s sort of a fortuitous alignment,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley.

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Piecing together the LanCL puzzle thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Piecing together the LanCL puzzle

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Removing the phosphate group from kinases can activate them, which can be problematic. LanCL adds glutathione to these kinases, after which they became deactivated. Credit: Wilfred van der Donk

Researchers from the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology in collaboration with scientists at Oxford University have published a paper in Cell reporting the function of LanCL proteins. These proteins are found in eukaryotic cells but their function was previously unknown. The study is the first step towards understanding the importance of these ubiquitous proteins.

Bacteria contain enzymes called LanC that are capable of producing small proteins called lanthipeptides, which are characterized by the addition of a thiol group to a modified serine or threonine amino acid. Similar proteins—called LanC-like or LanCL—have been found in different for decades, but their function was unknown.

“LanCLs are found in nearly all higher organisms, including humans. Although scientists have worked on these proteins for over 20 years, we didn’t know their function. We had several hypotheses, which we kept ruling out based on our experiments,” said Wilfred van der Donk (MMG), a professor of chemistry and investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The first breakthrough came in 2015, when the Nair lab in the Department of Biochemistry solved the crystal structure of a LanC-containing protein in bacteria. The was bound to another enzyme called a , which modifies proteins by adding a phosphate group. Inspired by this discovery, the researchers tested whether LanCL proteins were also binding to kinases in eukaryotic . “We saw that they were able to bind to many kinases, including AKT and mTOR, and all of a sudden the pieces of the puzzle started forming a picture,” van der Donk said.

The next piece fell into place in collaboration with Benjamin Davis, a professor of chemistry at the University of Oxford. The Davis group showed that eliminating a particular phosphate group in kinases causes them to become activated. Scientists had assumed that such processed proteins would be inactive. Together, the Illinois and Oxford groups were able to show that LanCL adds glutathione to kinases with eliminated phosphate groups, after which the kinases became deactivated. “We realized that when the LanCL proteins are absent, the cell has a big problem because there are active proteins floating around that need to be turned off,” van der Donk said.

The importance of these proteins became evident in mice that lacked them. “A third of the mice that lack these enzymes die when they are between four to six months old. They die suddenly without getting sick and we still don’t understand why,” said Jie Chen (GNDP), a professor of cell and .

The researchers are interested in understanding the role of these proteins and making a complete list of all the possible targets of LanCLs. “When you have abnormal kinases, it can cause all kinds of problems, including cancer. LanCL proteins eliminate these damaged kinases and it is possible that they also affect other proteins that we are not aware of. We need to connect their cellular functions to the results we saw in the mice,” Chen said.

“This study is just the tip of the iceberg. Since these proteins are found everywhere, you can also imagine their effects in feedstock and the future of farming,” said Satish Nair (MME/MMG), Head of the Department of Biochemistry.

“This study was possible because of the persistence of our graduate students. Most of us would have given up long ago because the studies were initially going nowhere,” Nair said. “It also shows the importance of exploratory research, where you’re essentially just looking around. Although it is risky, it is great to see that there are rewards for students who stick it out,” van der Donk said.

The paper “LanCLs add glutathione to dehydroamino acids generated at phosphorylated sites in the proteome” was published in Cell.

More information:
Kuan-Yu Lai et al, LanCLs add glutathione to dehydroamino acids generated at phosphorylated sites in the proteome, Cell (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.04.001

Journal information:

Piecing together the LanCL puzzle (2021, April 30)
retrieved 2 May 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-04-piecing-lancl-puzzle.html

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