Hexbyte Glen Cove Thousands of tiny anchors keep our cells in place—and now we know how thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Thousands of tiny anchors keep our cells in place—and now we know how

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Most of the cells in our bodies—be they bone, muscle or pancreas cells—are locked into the right place with the help of tiny anchors (called ‘focal adhesions’). These strong anchors use protein chains to link the cell to collagen, the protein that gives structure to our body.

The anchors help the stay put and, for the most part, resist disruptions to their environment—but if a cell morphs into a cancer cell, the chain can break, letting the cancer spread to other parts of the body.

Now, for the first time, a team of UNSW Sydney scientists have found the specific (or link) in the chain responsible for upholding the connection.

The findings, published today in Nature Materials, build on our understanding of cell mechanics—and could help give new directions for .

“We’ve identified the protein that’s essential for these attachments to function,” says Ms Maria Lastra Cagigas, lead author of the study and Scientia Ph.D. candidate at UNSW Medicine & Health.

“If these attachments fail, the cell could be more prone to moving and invading tissues, like cancer.”

Scientists already knew that cancer weakens cells’ anchors in some way, but they didn’t know exactly how this happens.

One of the reasons it’s been so hard to study this is the miniscule size of the anchor’s chain: it’s only a few nanometres thick—about 1/10,000th the size of a human hair.

The team used specialized 3D —a powerful imaging technique that uses an electron microscope to create high-resolution images of cells—to identify tropomyosin as the key protein in the chain holding the anchor in place. Cryo-electron microscopy is currently the most powerful technique to look at proteins inside cells, and its development won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017.

“This is the first time we can actually see in detail what the anchor’s chain looks like,” says Professor Peter Gunning, co-senior author of the study. The team made the findings at UNSW’s Mark Wainwright Electron Microscope Unit, and are the first in the world to use this technique to look at these tropomyosin chains.

“It’s completely new technology.”

The researchers identified tropomyosin’s role in the anchor’s chain by comparing normal cells with cells from bone cancer patients, along with cancer cells created in the laboratory.

They then tried putting the tropomyosin back into the cancer cells—surprisingly, the anchors managed to attach again.

“Looking into the future, we want to learn if we can leverage this knowledge to reduce the invasion of cancer cells,” says Ms Lastra Cagigas.

“In the short term, we could use this information to find out if a cancer has a predisposition to metastasize, which means to move throughout the body.

“In the long term, we could look into it as a potential target in .”

Prof. Gunning and co-senior author Professor Edna Hardeman, who have been researching this field of science for 40 years, say it’s a milestone in understanding cell mechanics.

“It’s been a real pleasure to watch this work develop,” says Prof. Gunning, who was recently presented with the 2020 President’s Medal from the Australian and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Biology (ANZSCDB) for his contribution to research into cell mechanics.

“It reinforces what has essentially been a lifetime’s work for us: understanding the principles of the architecture of cells.”

A potential drug target

Around 30 percent of the body is made up of collagen, which forms what’s called ‘the matrix’.

“The matrix is like a scaffold present in our bones, ligaments, muscles, and skin. It’s almost everywhere in the body,” says Ms Lastra Cagigas. “Other than the cells that move through our body, like those in blood, the collagen matrix forms the home for most cells—including cancer cells.”

Pancreatic cancer is one of a few cancers that can modify this matrix for its own benefit by creating a ‘barrier’ around the tumor. This barrier works as a defense mechanism, making it harder for cancer treatments like chemotherapy and immunotherapy to kill the .

The tumor forces pancreatic cancer-associated fibroblasts (or PCAFs) – cells around the tumor that are anchored by chains—to build this defense barrier. But now that scientists have identified the proteins in the cell’s anchor and chain, they can explore these proteins as future targets for therapies that could loosen that barrier.

“We’ve identified that the type of protein involved in the chain, tropomyosin, is druggable,” says Prof. Hardeman.

“This means it’s possible to develop small molecule inhibitors, or drugs, that can actually attack these proteins.”

Prof. Hardeman says it’s likely that these potential future drugs would be delivered alongside cancer treatments, so the drugs can temporarily destabilize the barrier while the cancer treatments do their work.

Looking ahead

While the findings are encouraging, Prof. Gunning says it doesn’t mean suitable drugs will be available for use in the next few years.

“We have an understanding of the biology, but to go from that to treating a patient is difficult to predict,” he says.

“We can see what the path looks like, but we are less sure of the timeline.”

It’s more likely that in the near future—potentially the next two or three years—the protein in the chain, tropomyosin, may help scientists predict which cancers are likely to spread more quickly.

“As we build on the underlying mechanisms of cancer and expand our markers of cancer cell biology, our discovery adds a missing link to the development of a personalized diagnosis for ,” says Prof. Gunning.

More information:
Correlative cryo-ET identifies actin/tropomyosin filaments that mediate cell–substrate adhesion in cancer cells and mechanosensitivity of cell proliferation, Nature Materials (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41563-021-01087-z , www.nature.com/articles/s41563-021-01087-z

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Scientists debate promise, peril of tweaking wild genomes thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Scientists debate promise, peril of tweaking wild genomes

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Mosquito-borne avian malaria has wiped out 80 percent of bird species in Hawaii.

In the movie Jurassic Park, reconstructing and tweaking genetic material makes it possible to bring dinosaurs back to life.

Today, a technology that manipulates animal genomes, called gene drive, has become a reality. The goal, however, is not to revive long-gone , but to eliminate invasive ones.

Steven Spielberg’s film was set on an imaginary island off the coast of Costa Rica, and it is also on an island that the first open-air experiments in programmed extinction could take place, according to experts gathered at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Congress in Marseille.

It could happen within a decade, they told AFP.

That’s because fragile island ecosystems are in crisis. Dozens of vertebrate species have vanished in the last century, and dozens more are on a glide path to extinction.

The culprits are non-native rats, snakes and mosquitoes—all introduced by humans, for the most part by accident—that eat , infect birds with disease, or outcompete indigenous amphibians and mammals.

For more than 20 years, Island Conservation has been working to eradicate rodents and other invasive alien species, which are a major threat to biodiversity globally, the organisation’s Royden Saah told AFP.

The conservation NGO has been successful on two Galapagos islands—Seymour North and Mosquera—using traps and poison-delivering drones.

But species eradication using these tools is costly and has no guarantee of success. Rat poison is effective, but poses risks to other species.

‘Obvious ecological risks’

“Should we create a genetically modified rat so that its offspring is only male (or female)?”, Island Conservation asks on its website.

So far, this Franken-rat does not exist.

“But if we don’t do the research, we will not know what the potential of this technology is,” said Royden Saah, who coordinates a team of scientists for the NGO.

At its last Congress in 2016, the IUCN’s 1,400 members created a working group to evaluate the issue from every angle—feasibility, costs and benefits, possible side effects, ethics.

On Friday, following intense debate, the congress endorsed a motion for “synthetic biology”—an umbrella term for genetic engineering that including gene drive—that tilts towards those in favour of continuing with research and experimentation.

How gene drive technology could be used to combat malaria. Includes factbox on malaria worldwide.

“I’m scared about the potential applications of synthetic biology,” the head of the IUCN working group, Kent Redford, told AFP in Marseille before the vote.

“There are obvious ecological risks and concerns regarding genetic modification of wild species”, warned Ricarda Steinbrecher, a geneticist working with Pro-Natura.

That NGO and others such as Friends of the Earth, ETC Group and the Heinrich Boll Foundation have sounded alarms on the dangers of and gene drive.

Scientists themselves cannot agree on the precise boundaries of synbio. Does a modified rat still belong to the same species? At what point does it become a new one?

Avian malaria

For some species, science has explored other options. Take the rhinoceros, careening towards extinction because of a demand in Asia for it’s horn, thought to have medicinal properties.

Scientists can now recreate a molecular facsimile of rhino horn in the lab.

“But people want the real product,” said Steinbrecher.

For some island ecosystems, the situation is no less dire than for the rhino, and that urgency is a problem for the technologies under review.

“While there is the potential, [gene drive] is not going to be here in time to save the birds,” said Samuel Gon, a scientific advisor to the NGO Nature Conservancy.

Of more than 50 known endemic bird species in Hawaii, only 15 remain, and five of those are “critically endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species—the last stop before “extinct in the wild”.

The birds were mostly wiped out by avian malaria, brought by mosquitoes that arrived in the 19th century by boat.

Hawaii is poised to use another technology that sterilises mosquitoes by inoculating them with a bacterium, Wolbachia.

Meanwhile, the Jurassic Park scenario is still on the cards.

Researchers in the United States and Russia announced earlier this year that they have successfully sequenced the genome of a million-year-old mammoth.

But the next step remains controversial—should it be brought back to life?

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove The plant invaders posing a headache for conservationists thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove The plant invaders posing a headache for conservationists

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A garden favourite or an invasive pest?

The tall and attractive stranger has showy plumes and can make itself at home at the coast, in the city or even in your garden.

But conservationists warn that Cortaderia selloana—or pampas grass—is a damaging invasive menacing parts of southern Europe.

Also known as “feather duster”, pampas grass is sold as an ornamental plant despite appearing in a rogue’s gallery of a hundred of the worst invasive species in Europe.

At the world congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), winding down this week in Marseille, a motion called for “urgent action” to restrict and ultimately eradicate the plant outside its native South American habitat.

Conservation groups and ministries, many from Spain, said they were “alarmed because today its seeds can be bought easily and cheaply anywhere in the world, without legal constraints, through different internet platforms”.

The case highlights the difficulties of halting the spread of invasive in the face of low awareness and a massive international online trade offering at the click of a button.

“You see more clearly the impact of animals—they are a predator destroying a prey. But plants can have a very severe effect,” Piero Genovesi, who heads up the IUCN’s Invasive Species Specialist Group.

“It’s less visible in the beginning, but then it becomes huge.”

Genovesi told AFP that in Europe most invasive plants are introduced by being sold for gardens.

“Pampas grass is beautiful, but it spreads very rapidly, so once it’s out, it’s very difficult to contain it,” he said.

The plant is “very aggressive”, according to the EU-backed LIFE Stop Cortaderia project, warning that it has expanded across urban and industrial areas and squeezed out in Atlantic coastal areas of France, Spain and Portugal.

Water hyacinths, seen here in Lagos, have choked waterways across the world.

It featured on a European inventory of a hundred of the worst invasive species—an awareness-raising effort to highlight problem species.

Now the IUCN is going a step further with a new global classification system called the Environmental Impacts Classification of Alien Taxa.

It has scientific criteria to measure the relative threats posed by different harmful species—animals and plants—to help governments prioritise their responses.

The first few have already been added, but the organisation is aiming for hundreds, as a complement to its Red List of Threatened Species.

Imperialism and escape

Experts say invasive species are a key driver of global extinctions—along with , overexploitation and .

Consider the case of the water hyacinth.

Taken from its home in the Amazon by European explorers, the water hyacinth dazzled imperial courts, including France’s Napoleon and his plant-loving wife Josephine, with its beautiful floating flowers.

They took it to Egypt, where it escaped and began a continent-wide invasion.

“In Africa, it creates huge green carpets, blocking navigation, fishing, access to water, destroying the habitat for many fish and also increasing evaporation so it decreases the water stock,” said Genovesi.

“It also creates an environment for mosquitoes and increases the risk of malaria.”

Keeping unwanted species out in the first place, he said, is far easier and cheaper than trying to get rid of them once they have put down roots.

The invasive water hyacinth can block access to waterways.

Bad seeds

One key concern—for pampas grass and many other species—is that climate change will further increase the range and competitive advantage of invasive species.

Another challenge is the international trade in seeds.

This issue was highlighted last year in a bizarre incident where US authorities raised the alarm after thousands of Americans reported receiving packets of seeds they had not ordered, mostly from China.

Many of the packages were likely part of a “brushing scam”, where a seller sends unwanted items and posts fake reviews, but it prompted Amazon to announce last September that it would ban imported seeds in the United States.

Some invaders, however, are more welcome than others.

“You think of the beautiful landscapes of Tuscany—cyprus, poppy flowers and all the cereals. They’re all introduced, none of them are native, but we love them,” said Genovesi, adding that authorities needed to focus their energies on fast-spreading and damaging varieties.

Even at the IUCN conference he had spotted an insect greenhouse, which contained an invasive plant as well as exotic butterflies.

“We look at that and say ‘let’s hope they don’t escape’,” he said.

© 2021 AFP

The plant invaders posing a headache for conservationists (2021, September 11)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Image: Hubble captures a sparkling cluster thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Image: Hubble captures a sparkling cluster

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Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA, A. Sarajedini

This star-studded image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope depicts NGC 6717, which lies more than 20,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius. NGC 6717 is a globular cluster, a roughly spherical collection of stars tightly bound together by gravity. Globular clusters contain more stars in their centers than their outer fringes, as this image aptly demonstrates; the sparsely populated edges of NGC 6717 are in stark contrast to the sparkling collection of stars at its center.

The center of the image also contains some interlopers from closer to home. These bright foreground stars reside between Earth and the cluster. They are easily spotted by the crisscross diffraction spikes that form when their light interacts with the structures supporting Hubble’s secondary mirror.

The constellation Sagittarius is in the same area of the night sky as the center of the Milky Way, which is filled with light-absorbing gas and dust. This absorption of light—which astronomers call “extinction”—makes studying near the challenging. To determine the properties of NGC 6717, astronomers relied on a combination of Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and the Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Image: Hubble captures a sparkling cluster (2021, September 11)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Radioactive rhino horns may deter poachers in S.Africa thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Radioactive rhino horns may deter poachers in S.Africa

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Rhinos in Africa are slaughtered for their horns which are smuggled into Asia.

South African scientists are studying ways to inject radioactive material into rhino horns to make them easier to detect at border posts, a move to discourage poaching, a researcher said on Friday.

Poachers killed at least 249 in South Africa during the first six months of the year—83 more than in the first half of 2020.

The animals are slaughtered for their horns, which are smuggled into Asia where they are highly prized for traditional and .

Injecting with a small amount of radioactive material might deter poachers by making smuggling easier to detect, said James Larkin, a nuclear researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand.

More than 11,000 are installed at ports and airports around the world, he told a webinar hosted by the World Nuclear Association.

Border agents often have handheld radiation detectors that could also detect the contraband, he added.

“We can radically increase the army of people who are capable of intercepting these horns… to push back against the smugglers,” Larkin explained.

Two rhinos have already been injected with a non-radioactive isotope to ensure the material will not travel into their bodies or cause health problems for the animals or humans.

Computer modelling will then help determine what dose is appropriate for rhinos. A model rhino head will be built with a 3D printer to test the doses before the trial moves to real rhinos.

The programme, called The Rhisotope Project, has backing from Russia’s state-owned nuclear company Rosatom, as well as researchers in the United States and Australia.

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Storm Olaf drenches Mexico's Baja California thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Storm Olaf drenches Mexico’s Baja California

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Hurricane Olaf has weakened to a Category One storm.

Tropical storm Olaf swept across Mexico’s Baja California peninsula on Friday, bringing strong winds and heavy rain to the major beach resorts of Los Cabos before losing its hurricane force.

Olaf made landfall near the city of San Jose del Cabo late Thursday as a Category Two hurricane packing maximum winds of 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

It weakened over land and lost its hurricane status as winds dropped to 70 mph, it reported.

A public hospital in Los Cabos, one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations, was evacuated due to the risk of flooding, authorities said.

But there were no immediate reports of injuries or major damage, and a hurricane warning was downgraded to a tropical storm warning for coastline from Todos Santos to Cabo San Lazaro.

A dangerous storm surge was expected to be accompanied by large and damaging waves near the coast, the NHC said, warning that heavy rainfall may trigger “significant and life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides.”

Authorities set up storm shelters and school children in the state of Baja California Sur were told to stay home on Friday.

Ports were closed for smaller boats and flights were cancelled at the Los Cabos and La Paz airports.

Olaf also brought heavy rainfall on the northwestern mainland that could cause landslides, overflowing rivers and flooding, Mexico’s meteorological service said.

Map showing the forecast trajectory of Hurricane Olaf near Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.

The storm was forecast to weaken further and head west back out over the Pacific by Friday night.

Mexico is regularly lashed by tropical storms.

Last month a Category 3 hurricane named Grace left 11 people dead after hitting eastern Mexico.

Storm Olaf came as Mexico recovers from a 7.1-magnitude earthquake and major flooding elsewhere in the disaster-prone country.

Fourteen patients at a hospital in the town of Tula in the central state of Hidalgo died this week after flooding disrupted the power supply and life-sustaining oxygen treatment.

Tens of thousands of residents were affected after a river in the town burst its banks, forcing people to leave their homes.

“From one moment to the next, everything got out of control,” said Jenny Casillas, a housewife in her 40s.

Then came the earthquake that left at least one person dead on Tuesday in the southern state of Guerrero, damaged buildings and was felt hundreds of kilometers away including in Tula.

“It will be difficult for us to climb out of this situation,” said Marisela Maya, 31, who works at a clinic in the town.

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Nature congress calls for protecting 30% of Earth, 80% of Amazon thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Nature congress calls for protecting 30% of Earth, 80% of Amazon

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A woman walks past a partial replica of the Earth during the IUCN congress in Marseille, southern France.

The world’s most influential conservation congress passed resolutions Friday calling for 80 percent of the Amazon and 30 percent of Earth’s surface—land and sea—to be designated “protected areas” to halt and reverse the loss of wildlife.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is meeting in Marseille, does not set global policy, but its recommendations have in the past served as the backbone for UN treaties and conventions.

They will help set the agenda for upcoming UN summits on food systems, biodiversity and .

Saving the Amazon

An emergency motion calling for four-fifths of the Amazon basin to be declared a protected area by 2025—submitted by COICA, an umbrella group representing more than two million across nine South American nations—passed with overwhelming support.

“Indigenous Peoples have come to defend our home and, in doing so, defend the planet. This motion is a first step,” said Jose Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, general coordinator of COICA and a leader of the Curripaco people in Venezuela.

Over the last two decades, the Amazon has lost roughly 10,000 square kilometres every year to deforestation, much of it through fires set deliberately to clear land for commercial agriculture or cattle grazing.

This destruction combined with climate change, scientists have warned, could push the world’s largest tropical forest irretrievably past a “tipping point” into a savannah-like landscape.

‘30% by 2030’

Another hotly debated measure that was accepted in a vote of IUCN members—government agencies, NGOs and indigenous people’s organisations—says that 30 of the planet’s land and ocean area should have protected status within a decade.

The zones selected must include “biodiversity hotspots” teaming with animal and plant life, and be backed up by rigorous monitoring and enforcement, the resolution says.

Many scientists and conservationists advocated for an even more ambitious “half-Earth” target.

“Passage of this motion sends a clear signal to world leaders that the ’30 by 30′ target, and respect for indigenous and local community rights, must be agreed to at COP15,” said Campaign for Nature director Brian O’Donnell, referring to a UN biodiversity summit tasked with delivering a treaty next May to protect nature.

The pace at which animal and are going extinct is 100 to 1,000 times the normal “background” rate, a widely accepted threshold for the kind of mass-extinction event that has only occurred five times in the last half-billion years.

Deep-sea mining

The IUCN’s 1,400 members overwhelmingly approved a resolution recommending a moratorium on and reform of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a intergovernmental regulatory body.

Industry argued that the unattached rocks on the ocean floor some five kilometres below the waves are a greener source of minerals—manganese, cobalt, nickel—needed to build electric vehicle batteries. But scientists counter that seabed ecosystems at that depth are fragile, and could take decades or longer to heal once disrupted.

The measure passed with more than 80 percent of votes from government agencies, and 90 percent support from NGOs and civil society groups.

“The resounding Yes in support for a global freeze on deep seabed mining is a clear signal that there is no social licence to open the deep seafloor to mining,” said Jessica Battle, lead of the WWF’s Deep Sea Mining Initiative.

Climate change commission?

The major drivers of species decline and extinction are habitat loss, hunting for food, poaching for animal parts, invasive species and environmental pollution.

But climate change is starting to loom large as a threat to wildlife, leading members to vote in a motion for the creation of a climate change commission within the IUCN.

The aim is to “bring together the world’s experts on climate change to help shape the agenda around species,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN’s Red List Unit.

“The climate and biodiversity emergencies are not distinct, but two aspects of one crisis,” a draft version of the congress’s final manifesto said.

Programmed extinction

On Friday, following intense and prolonged debate, the congress endorsed a motion on “synthetic biology”—an umbrella term for genetic engineering—that tilts towards those in favour of more research and experimentation.

One technology in particular that causes local extinction of a species, called gene drive, has divided conservationists.

Proponents say it is the best tool available to fight invasive species of rodents, snakes and mosquitos that have already wiped out dozens of species of birds and other vertebrates on island habitats. Opponents fear genetically modified animals could find their way to other continents, or share mutated genes with other species.

“There are obvious ecological risks and concerns regarding genetic modification of wild “, said Ricarda Steinbrecher, a geneticist working with the NGO Pro-Natura.

© 2021 AFP

Nature congress calls for protecting 30% of E

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Researchers reconstruct major branches in the tree of language thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Researchers reconstruct major branches in the tree of language

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Representative image of a branching tree. Credit: Kevin Wenning/Unsplash.com

The diversity of human languages can be likened to branches on a tree. If you’re reading this in English, you’re on a branch that traces back to a common ancestor with Scots, which traces back to a more distant ancestor that split off into German and Dutch. Moving further in, there’s the European branch that gave rise to Germanic; Celtic; Albanian; the Slavic languages; the Romance languages like Italian and Spanish; Armenian; Baltic; and Hellenic Greek. Before this branch, and some 5,000 years into human history, there’s Indo-European—a major proto-language that split into the European branch on one side, and on the other, the Indo-Iranian ancestor of modern Persian, Nepali, Bengali, Hindi, and many more.

One of the defining goals of historical linguistics is to map the ancestry of modern languages as far back as it will go—perhaps, some linguists hope, to a single that would constitute the trunk of the metaphorical tree. But while many thrilling connections have been suggested based on systemic comparisons of data from most of the world’s languages, much of the work, which goes back as early as the 1800s, has been prone to error. Linguists are still debating over the internal structure of such well-established families as Indo-European, and over the very existence of chronologically deeper and larger families.

To test which branches hold up under the weight of scrutiny, a team of researchers associated with the Evolution of Human Languages program is using a novel technique to comb through the data and to reconstruct major branches in the linguistic tree. In two recent papers, they examine the ~5,000-year-old Indo-European family, which has been well studied, and a more tenuous, older known as the Altaic macrofamily, which is thought to connect the linguistic ancestors of such distant languages as Turkish, Mongolian, Korean, and Japanese.

“The deeper you want to go back in time, the less you can rely on classic methods of language comparison to find meaningful correlates,” says co-author George Starostin, an Santa Fe Institute external professor based at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He explains that one of the major challenges when comparing across languages is distinguishing between words that have similar sounds and meanings because they might descend from a common ancestor, from those that are similar because their cultures borrowed terms from each other in the more recent past.

“We have to get to the deepest layer of language to identify its ancestry because the outer layers, they are contaminated. They get easily corrupted by replacements and borrowings,” he says.

To tap into the core layers of language, Starostin’s team starts with an established list of core, universal concepts from the human experience. It includes meanings like “rock,” “fire,” “cloud,” “two,” “hand,” and “human,” amongst 110 total concepts. Working from this list, the researchers then use classic methods of linguistic reconstruction to come up with a number of word shapes which they then match with specific meanings from the list. The approach, dubbed “onomasiological reconstruction,” notably differs from traditional approaches to comparative linguistics because it focuses on finding which words were used to express a given meaning in the proto-language, rather than on reconstructing phonetic shapes of those words and associating them with a vague cloud of meanings.

Their latest re-classification of the Indo-European family, which applies the onomasiological principle and was published in the journal Linguistics, confirmed well-documented genealogies in the literature. Similar research on the Eurasian Altaic language group, whose proto-language dates back an estimated 8,000 years, confirmed a positive signal of a relationship between most major branches of Altaic—Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, and Japanese. However, it failed to reproduce a previously published relationship between Korean and the other languages in the Altaic grouping. This could either mean that the new criteria were too strict or (less likely) that previous groupings were incorrect.

As the researchers test and reconstruct the branches of human language, one of the ultimate goals is to understand the evolutionary paths languages follow over generations, much like evolutionary biologists do for living organisms.

“One great thing about historical reconstruction of languages is that it’s able to bring out a lot of cultural information,” Starostin says. “Reconstructing its internal phylogeny, like we’re doing in these studies, is the initial step to a much larger procedure of trying to reconstruct a large part of the lexical stock of that , including its cultural lexicon.”

More information:
Alexei S. Kassian et al, Rapid radiation of the inner Indo-European languages: an advanced approach to Indo-European lexicostatistics, Linguistics (2021). DOI: 10.1515/ling-2020-0060

Researchers reconstruct major branches in the tree of language (2021, September 10)

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Hexbyte Glen Cove New research integrates the most effective practices for eye tracking in AR eyewear thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove New research integrates the most effective practices for eye tracking in AR eyewear

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The geometrical configuration of a waveguide holographic optical element eye-tracking system. Credit: Jianbo Zhao et al., doi 10.1117/1.OE.60.8.085101.

The eyes have it. They are constantly on the move when viewing scenes in augmented reality (AR).

Now, developers of AR headsets and mixed reality systems have become increasingly interested in the ability to track these eye movements with their eyewear, allowing system designers to improve image fidelity and contrast across the field of view without excessive demands on the power of the projection system. This in turn leads to longer battery life and greater utility of the AR system.

While different eye-tracking systems have been investigated, they are either bulky or have low resolution. Holographic optical elements (HOES) have been shown to be well suited to AR eyewear. They can be fabricated to realize complex optical functions, such as , in relatively thin films that can be deposited on either flat or curved surfaces. Two promising materials for HOES/AR eyewear are dichromated gelatin (DCG) and dry-processed Covestro photopolymers. However, the sensing operations in AR systems require near- in the 750 to 900-nm range. This exceeds the normal sensitivity range of DCG (350 to 550 nm) and PP materials (450 to 650 nm). It complicates the design of optical elements that have focusing power since significant aberrations result when the reconstruction differs from the construction wavelength.

In a recent article, researchers from the University of Arizona devised an experimental holographic input coupling lens via a photopolymer deposited on a 0.6-mm-thick glass substrate with a of 1.80 that corrects major aberrations due to the change in reconstruction wavelength. In addition, an out-coupling waveguide HOE multiplexed with five gratings was designed and fabricated to increase the field of view. The researchers say the result shows the potential of a holographic waveguide eye-tracking system that can be improved upon in future work.

More information:
Jianbo Zhao et al, Design of a waveguide eye-tracking system operating in near-infrared with holographic optical elements, Optical Engineering (2021). DOI: 10.1117/1.OE.60.8.085101

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Banishing bias across disciplines, genders and experience—new tool for fairer research metrics thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Banishing bias across disciplines, genders and experience—new tool for fairer research metrics

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Left panel: Distribution of within-discipline residuals of the relationship between Arel and loge years publishing by discipline (ARC = archaeology, CHM = chemistry, ECO = ecology, EVO = evolution and development, GEO = geology, MIC = microbiology, OPH = ophthalmology, PAL = palaeontology), each comprising 60 researchers (30 ♀, 30 ♂). Right panel: Distribution of among-discipline residuals. Credit: Professor Corey Bradshaw at Flinders University.

‘Where researchers are in their career, be they exciting newcomers or distinguished professors, can also have a strong effect on current metrics.

‘The Epsilon Index is a new way to reduce systemic biases in assessing researcher quality via citations by providing career-stage, gender, and opportunity corrections to citation-based performance metrics,’ he says.

The tool is freely available as a ready-made app—simply punch in a few data for a sample of researchers from open-source databases like Google Scholar, and it does the heavy lifting to produce the result, enabling comparison of researchers at any stage of their career and from any discipline on the same scale.

It’s a boon for anyone who wishes to use an objective metric to rank researchers, be it for grant applications, job interviews, promotions and awards, or even as a staff performance indicator.

Relationship between scaled citation mass and loge years publishing ( for 480 researchers in eight different disciplines (ARC = archaeology, CHM = chemistry, ECO = ecology, EVO = evolution and development, GEO = geology, MIC = microbiology, OPH = ophthalmology, PAL = palaeontology) comprising 60 researchers each. Credit: Professor Corey Bradshaw at Flinders University.

The approach to develop and test the ε-index was itself an exercise in multi-disciplinarity and specifically engineered to ensure gender balance.

The tool was tested and refined through collaboration on sample data with an archaeologist—Assistant Professor Dr. Stefani Crabtree (Utah State University/Santa Fe Institute), a geologist and vertebrate palaeontologist—Professor Kate Trinajstic (Curtin University), a chemist—Professor Justin Chalker, a microbiologist—Professor Bart Eijkelkamp, a palaeontologist—Professor John Long, an ophthalmologist—Professor Justine Smith, and an evolutionary biologist—Professor Vera Weisbecker (all Flinders University).

The sample comprised 480 researchers with Google Scholar profiles, stratified evenly into eight disciplines (archaeology, chemistry, ecology, evolution and development, geology, microbiology, ophthalmology, palaeontology), three career stages (early-, mid-, late-career), and two genders.

Professor Justine Smith, who’s been a ‘superstar of STEM’ actively promoting women’s engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, hopes the ε-index will make a difference to how women in science are perceived, and in turn encourage more women to enter the sciences.

‘More accurately assessing the contribution of women to the sciences and celebrating their successes is pivotal to encouraging future generations of girls into the sciences; as the saying goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. The ε-index gives fairer and greater visibility to women’s achievements, and that it does so across a range of disciplines makes it especially beneficial,’ Professor Smith says.

Violin plots of scaled residuals and m-quotient across all eight disciplines relative to career stage (ECR = early career; MCR = mid-career; LCR = late career). Credit: Professor Corey Bradshaw

How it works

The new index is a ranking algorithm that can be standardised across disciplines, can be corrected for career breaks, and provides a sample-specific threshold that can determine whether individual performance is greater or less than expected relative to the other researchers in a sample.

Using either the R code or online app, it requires just four items of information from public databases such as Google Scholar or Scopus to calculate a researcher’s ε-index:

  • the number of citations acquired for the researcher’s top-cited paper
  • the i10-index (number of articles with at least 10 citations)
  • the h-index, and
  • the year in which the researcher’s first peer-reviewed paper was published.

The tool also provides a simple method to scale the index across disciplines with variable citation trends (ε′-index) to enable fairer comparison of researchers in different areas.

  • Median ranks among the eight disciplines examined (ARC = archaeology, CHM = chemistry, ECO = ecology, EVO = evolution and development, GEO = geology, MIC = microbiology, OPH = ophthalmology, PAL = palaeontology). Credit: Professor Corey Bradshaw
  • Ranks by gender and career stage (ECR = early career researcher, MCR = mid-career researcher, LCR = late-career researcher); (b) bootstrapped debiased (i.e., calculating the scaled residuals for each gender separately, and then ranking the combined dataset) ε′ ranks by gender and career stage. Credit: Professor Corey Bradshaw

The ε-index easily allows benchmarking of subsets of researchers into women-only or men-only to adjust the threshold such that the ranks are more comparable between these two genders. Alternatively, dividing the genders and benchmarking them separately followed by a combined re-ranking effectively removes the gender bias in the ε, which is difficult or impossible to do with other ranking metrics.

‘No ranking metric is perfect, but the ε-index is a big leap forward in overcoming bias and giving a clearer, fairer picture of research performance across the board,’ Professor Bradshaw says.

More information:
Corey J. A. Bradshaw et al, A fairer way to compare researchers at any career stage and in any discipline using open-access citation data, PLOS ONE (2021). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257141

Banishing bias across disciplines, genders and experience—new tool for fairer research metrics (2021, September 10)
retrieved 11 September 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-09-banishing-bias-disciplines-genders-experiencenew.html

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