Hexbyte Glen Cove Sustainable Development Goals partnerships may perpetuate inequalities between countries

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Partnerships between organizations that support the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may perpetuate inequalities in resources between high and low-income countries according to new research. The findings are published in Scientific Reports.

The SDGs promote social and economic development and environmental sustainability. Partnerships involving public and private sector organizations between and within countries can support SDG implementation by facilitating expertise and resource sharing. Prior to this study, it was unclear which countries are involved in these partnerships and which goals they support.

Malgorzata Blicharska and colleagues analyzed data on 2,876 partnerships, involving organizations from 195 countries, registered on the UN’s SDG Partnerships Platform—a global database of partnerships and the SDGs they support—in July 2019. The researchers found that 60% of the countries involved in SDG partnerships were high or upper-, while 24% were lower-middle- countries and 16% were low-income countries. On average, each low-income country was involved in 18 partnerships, while each high income country was involved in 34 partnerships and each upper-middle and lower-middle income country was involved in 30 partnerships. Of partnerships involving organizations from more than one country, 55% were between organizations from low or middle-income countries,10% involved only organizations from , and 35% were between organizations from high and low or middle-income countries.

The researchers also found that the focus of partnerships was associated with the income of the countries involved. The percentage of partnerships focusing on SDGs aiming to reduce poverty and hunger and improve health, wellbeing, and gender equality decreased as the income of the countries involved increased. As a result, lower-income countries may not benefit from the resources and expertise of higher-income countries when implementing these goals.

The authors suggest that the unequal distribution of SDG partnerships globally may perpetuate existing inequalities in resources between higher and lower-income countries and that inequalities in establishment and implementation need to be addressed for the SDGs to be achieved. They recommend that funders should support organizations in low-income and encourage partnerships between organizations in high and in order to promote sustainable development worldwide.

More information:
Malgorzata Blicharska, SDG partnerships may perpetuate the global North–South divide, Scientific Reports (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-01534-6. www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-01534-6

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Hexbyte Glen Cove ‘Super jelly’ can survive being run over by a car

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Credit: Zehuan Huang

Researchers have developed a jelly-like material that can withstand the equivalent of an elephant standing on it, and completely recover to its original shape, even though it’s 80% water.

The soft-yet-strong material, developed by a team at the University of Cambridge, looks and feels like a squishy jelly, but acts like an ultra-hard, shatterproof glass when compressed, despite its high water content.

The non-water portion of the material is a network of polymers held together by reversible on/off interactions that control the material’s . This is the first time that such significant resistance to compression has been incorporated into a .

The ‘super jelly’ could be used for a wide range of potential applications, including soft robotics, bioelectronics or even as a cartilage replacement for biomedical use. The results are reported in the journal Nature Materials.

The way materials behave—whether they’re soft or firm, brittle or strong—is dependent upon their molecular structure. Stretchy, rubber-like hydrogels have lots of interesting properties that make them a popular subject of research—such as their toughness and self-healing capabilities—but making hydrogels that can withstand being compressed without getting crushed is a challenge.

Credit: University of Cambridge

“In order to make materials with the mechanical properties we want, we use crosslinkers, where two are joined through a chemical bond,” said Dr. Zehuan Huang from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, the study’s first author. “We use reversible crosslinkers to make soft and stretchy hydrogels, but making a hard and compressible hydrogel is difficult and designing a material with these properties is completely counterintuitive.”

Working in the lab of Professor Oren Scherman, who led the research, the team used barrel-shaped molecules called cucurbiturils to make a hydrogel that can withstand compression. The cucurbituril is the crosslinking molecule which holds two guest molecules in its cavity—like a molecular handcuff. The researchers designed guest molecules that prefer to stay inside the cavity for longer than normal, which keeps the polymer network tightly linked, allowing for it to withstand compression.

“At 80% water content, you’d think it would burst apart like a water balloon, but it doesn’t: it stays intact and withstands huge compressive forces,” said Scherman, Director of the University’s Melville Laboratory for Polymer Synthesis. “The properties of the hydrogel are seemingly at odds with each other.”

“The way the hydrogel can withstand compression was surprising, it wasn’t like anything we’ve seen in hydrogels,” said co-author Dr. Jade McCune, also from the Department of Chemistry. “We also found that the compressive strength could be easily controlled through simply changing the chemical structure of the guest molecule inside the handcuff.”

To make their glass-like hydrogels, the team chose specific guest molecules for the handcuff. Altering the molecular structure of guest molecules within the handcuff allowed the dynamics of the material to ‘slow down’ considerably, with the mechanical performance of the final hydrogel ranging from rubber-like to glass-like states.

Credit: Zehuan Huang

“People have spent years making rubber-like hydrogels, but that’s just half of the picture,” said Scherman. “We’ve revisited traditional polymer physics and created a new class of materials that span the whole range of material properties from rubber-like to glass-like, completing the full picture.”

The researchers used the material to make a pressure sensor for real-time monitoring of human motions, including standing, walking and jumping.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that glass-like hydrogels have been made. We’re not just writing something new into the textbooks, which is really exciting, but we’re opening a new chapter in the area of high-performance soft materials,” said Huang.

Researchers from the Scherman lab are currently working to further develop these glass-like materials towards biomedical and bioelectronic applications in collaboration with experts from engineering and materials science. The research was funded in part by the Leverhulme Trust and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship.

More information:
Zehuan Huang et al, Highly compressible glass-like supramolecular polymer networks, Nature Materials (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41563-021-01124-x

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Lions at Zagreb zoo catch COVID from their keeper

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Two lions at the Zagreb zoo have tested positive for COVID-19 that they had contracted from their keeper, officials said on Wednesday.

These are the first confirmed cases of the disease in in Croatia, an agriculture ministry statement said.

Laboratory tests on samples taken from the two animals after they had developed symptoms of the disease confirmed that they have COVID-19, it said.

The big cats, who are undergoing , caught the infection from their keeper who was also tested afterwards and was positive, head of the zoo Damir Skok said.

“The zookeeper as well as (lions) Leo and Ayana are fine.

“They sneeze and cough occasionally” and are recovering, he told local media.

Zoo visitors cannot contract the coronavirus from the lions as they are kept behind a glass fence, he added.

Other animals that the keeper was taking care of were also tested for COVID-19 and results of the tests are excepted soon.

In September, several US zoos, including the one in Washington, launched a vaccination campaign for susceptible to COVID-19 after a bout of sickness among them.

Croatia, which has some of Europe’s lowest inoculation rates, is currently facing a record surge of coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic.

The respiratory disease has claimed more than 10,000 lives in the country of 4.2 million people.

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Arctic Ocean started getting warmer decades earlier than we thought, study finds

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An international group of researchers reconstructed the recent history of ocean warming at the gateway to the Arctic Ocean in a region called the Fram Strait, between Greenland and Svalbard, and found that the Arctic Ocean has been warming for much longer than earlier records have suggested. Credit: Sara Giansiracusa

The Arctic Ocean has been getting warmer since the beginning of the 20th century—decades earlier than records suggest—due to warmer water flowing into the delicate polar ecosystem from the Atlantic Ocean.

An international group of researchers reconstructed the recent history of at the gateway to the Arctic Ocean in a region called the Fram Strait, between Greenland and Svalbard.

Using the chemical signatures found in marine microorganisms, the researchers found that the Arctic Ocean began warming rapidly at the beginning of the last century as warmer and saltier waters flowed in from the Atlantic—a phenomenon called Atlantification—and that this change likely preceeded the warming documented by modern instrumental measurements. Since 1900, the has risen by approximately 2 degrees Celsius, while sea ice has retreated and salinity has increased.

The results, reported in the journal Science Advances, provide the first historical perspective on Atlantification of the Arctic Ocean and reveal a connection with the North Atlantic that is much stronger than previously thought. The connection is capable of shaping Arctic climate variability, which could have important implications for sea-ice retreat and global sea level rise as the polar ice sheets continue to melt.

All of the world’s oceans are warming due to climate change, but the Arctic Ocean, the smallest and shallowest of the world’s oceans, is warming fastest of all.

“The rate of warming in the Arctic is more than double the global average, due to feedback mechanisms,” said co-lead author Dr. Francesco Muschitiello from Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “Based on satellite measurements, we know that the Arctic Ocean has been steadily warming, in particular over the past 20 years, but we wanted to place the recent warming into a longer context.”

Atlantification is one of the causes of warming in the Arctic, however instrumental records capable of monitoring this process, such as satellites, only go back about 40 years.

Using the chemical signatures found in marine microorganisms, researchers have found that the Arctic Ocean began warming rapidly at the beginning of the last century as warmer and saltier waters flowed in from the Atlantic – a phenomenon called Atlantification. Credit: Sara Giansiracusa

As the Arctic Ocean gets warmer, it causes the ice in the polar region to melt, which in turn affects global sea levels. As the ice melts, it exposes more of the ocean’s surface to the sun, releasing heat and raising air temperatures. As the Arctic continues to warm, it will melt the permafrost, which stores huge amounts of methane, a far more damaging greenhouse gas than .

The researchers used geochemical and ecological data from ocean sediments to reconstruct the change in water column properties over the past 800 years. They precisely dated sediments using a combination of methods and looked for diagnostic signs of Atlantification, like change in temperature and salinity.

“When we looked at the whole 800-year timescale, our temperature and salinity records look pretty constant,” said co-lead author Dr. Tesi Tommaso from the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council in Bologna. “But all of a sudden at the start of the 20th century, you get this marked change in temperature and salinity—it really sticks out.”

“The reason for this rapid Atlantification of at the gate of the Arctic Ocean is intriguing,” said Muschitiello. “We compared our results with the ocean circulation at lower latitudes and found there is a strong correlation with the slowdown of dense water formation in the Labrador Sea. In a future warming scenario, the deep circulation in this subpolar region is expected to further decrease because of the thawing of the Greenland ice sheet. Our results imply that we might expect further Arctic Atlantification in the future because of climate change.”

The researchers say that their results also expose a possible flaw in climate models, because they do not reproduce this early Atlantification at the beginning of the last century.

“Climate simulations generally do not reproduce this kind of warming in the Arctic Ocean, meaning there’s an incomplete understanding of the mechanisms driving Atlantification,” said Tommaso. “We rely on these simulations to project future , but the lack of any signs of an early warming in the Arctic Ocean is a missing piece of the puzzle.”

More information:
Tommaso Tesi, Rapid Atlantification along the Fram Strait at the beginning of the 20th century, Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abj2946. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abj2946

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Study determines whether cultures play games that correspond to how cooperative they are

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This figure shows the categories of games, in terms of how cooperative and competitive they are. The green box indicates the cooperative games, the red box indicates competitive games, and the blue box shows solitary games. In the figure, each dot is a player. A dotted line refers to a competitive interaction, a solid line refers to a cooperative interaction between players, and no line refers to no interaction between players. Credit: © Leisterer-Peoples et al. (2021), License: CC-BY 4.0

Play is important for the development of complex social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills. Play provides young individuals with a safe space to practice new behaviors without grave repercussions. While most animals engage in play, only humans engage in rule-based games. Which kinds of games people play—competitive or cooperative—may depend on their cultural background. In a new study, published in PLoS ONE, researchers from Germany and Australia screened historical data to answer the question whether cultures play games that correspond to how cooperative they are.

Humans all over the world play games, but games are not played equally throughout the world’s cultures. Humans might use games to store and teach culturally specific information to community members. For example, was the last game that you played a cooperative game, a competitive game, or a game that you played by yourself? “If you live in Germany, chances are high that you played a competitive ,” says Sarah Leisterer-Peoples, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. “We think that games might reflect aspects of human cultures, such as how competitive and cooperative the cultures are.”

Previous research suggests that in socially hierarchical cultures, or those with differences in status and wealth, competitive games are played frequently. And the opposite has also been suggested—in egalitarian cultures, or those with little or no differences in status and wealth, games tend to be more cooperative. However, previous studies have investigated this relationship in only a small handful of cultures, thus limiting the breadth of this claim. In a new study making use of historical data, researchers from Germany (Leipzig, Jena, Gera) and Australia aimed to answer the question whether the games cultures play correspond to how cooperative they are.

A historical perspective on Pacific cultures and the games they played

In a first step, the research team sorted through a database on historical games played by cultures located in the Pacific. “The cultures in our study lived in a broad geographic range, spanning the Pacific Ocean. The cultures were very diverse, but also shared similarities, which allow for a comparison on several aspects of the cultures,” says Leisterer-Peoples. For example, when two groups live next to each other, it might be that they share some characteristics, such as how they get their food, but they might differ in other aspects, such as the norms surrounding competitive behavior. “We tried to hone in on these differences, while accounting for their similarities,” says Leisterer-Peoples.

In a second step, the scientists identified characteristics of cultures that indicate how cooperative they might be. “One of the difficulties with is that you can’t go back in time to do interviews with people from different cultures, but have to rely on the historical documentation of these cultures,” says Leisterer-Peoples.

For example, they looked at how socially hierarchical cultures were structured, how often members of a conflict with each other, how often cultures conflicted with other cultures, and how often group members hunt and fish in groups. “These are real-world proxies for cooperative behavior,” says Leisterer-Peoples. In the end, they were able to identify 25 cultures that had historical information readily available on both the games they played and relevant cultural characteristics.

Games mimic real-world behavior

The researchers found that the cultures that frequently engage in conflicts with other cultures have more cooperative games than competitive games. On the other hand, cultures with frequent conflicts with their own community members have more competitive games than cooperative games. How socially hierarchical the cultures were and whether they fished and hunted in groups did not reliably relate with what kinds of games were played.

“These findings might be non-intuitive at first glance, but make sense in light of theories on the evolution of cooperation in cultural groups. In times of conflict with other cultures, group members have to cooperate with one another and compete with their opponents. This is reflected in the kinds of games that are played—games with competing groups. And when there’s a lot of conflict among the members of a group, they tend to play games that are competitive. These findings suggest that the games we play reflect the socio-ecological characteristics of the culture that we are in,” says Leisterer-Peoples. Games mimic real-world behavior and may be one avenue in which group norms are learned and practiced during childhood.

“Science lives through replication of previous findings. It’s important that future studies investigate this finding further, especially in other parts of the world and in modern-day cultures. We don’t know whether this effect is still relevant in today’s gaming culture. Nowadays, store-bought games and video games have overtaken the traditional games that were played in children’s free time. Future studies also need to investigate the specific skills that are learned through games, not just the degree of cooperation in the games,” says Leisterer-Peoples. “This is just the beginning of studies on games across cultures. There’s much more to uncover.”

More information:
Games and enculturation: A cross-cultural analysis of cooperative goal structures in Austronesian games, PLoS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0259746

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Hexbyte Glen Cove How eating less in early life could help with reproduction later on

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Switching from a restricted diet to eating as much as you like could be beneficial for reproduction in later life, according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Researchers studied the eating and mating habits of the small fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

They found that females that consumed less food for their entire lives lived longer; however, they didn’t reproduce as well as their better-fed counterparts.

But those that switched from a to unlimited food started mating and reproducing more. These flies produced three times more offspring than those that were kept on a restricted diet.

Meanwhile, their survival was similar to females that had been fully fed their whole lives.

Lead researcher Dr. Zahida Sultanova, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said, “Dietary restriction is associated with longer life and better health in many organisms, including humans.

“We wanted to find out what happens when dietary restriction in early in life is followed by eating a lot later in life.”

The team investigated the effect of early life dietary restriction on survival, mating behavior and reproduction in fruit flies.

While some were given enough food, others were put on a restricted diet with just 40 percent of their usual intake of yeast.

A third group were put on a restricted diet in early life, followed by being allowed to consume as much as they liked.

Dr. Sultanova said, “Dietary restriction is generally associated with and reduced reproduction.

“However, when our flies were switched from a restricted diet to normal eating, they started mating and reproducing more, while their survival became similar to fully-fed females.

“These results in show that females reproduce little while they are eating little, but they maintain their , and when they have unlimited food late in life, they immediately start reproducing a lot.

“This shows that reduced reproduction due to eating less in can be fully compensated by switching to a rich diet late in life.

“There have been very few studies on dietary restriction and reproductive health in humans—mainly because these sorts of studies have ethical and logistical limitations.

“However, the results from studies in model organisms suggest that it is worth exploring this further using approaches that are more suitable to humans.”

“Fitness benefits of ” is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday, November 24, 2021.

More information:
Fitness benefits of dietary restriction, Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2021). rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2021.1787

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Hexbyte Glen Cove For a fungus, the right ‘accessories’ can make or break a relationship with a plant

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Plants interact with a diversity of organisms over the course of their lifetime, but even very similar microbes can cause opposite reactions. Two strains of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum (Fo) share a core genome, but one is a beneficial endophyte while the other is a detrimental pathogen causing wilt and death. A new study, published in the Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions journal, tried to tease apart why these two strains cause such opposite reactions, and more generally how plants respond differently to useful and harmful microbes, by exploring the interaction of these two strains with the model plant Arabidopsis.

As explained by senior author Li-Jun Ma, “strain-specific interactions with a common host are likely dictated by the accessory chromosomes from each F. oxysporum genome.” Accessory chromosomes are extra pieces of genetic material that are considered to be more plastic in that they move and change based on the lifestyle that the fungus has, unlike the core genome. Like the gadget laboratory in a spy movie, the accessory chromosomes of Fo strains contain tools used to infiltrate the plant and shut down defenses. Using closely related strains that differ in accessory chromosomes “allows a that minimizes between strains to address the underlying mechanism that results in distinct phenotypes (growth promotion or disease or even death),” says leading author Li Guo.

In this study, metatranscriptomic data reveals that most (about 80%) are expressed similarly in response to both fungal strains across timepoints over four days. By just twelve hours, the most obvious differences in plant response are occurring. Co-first author Houlin Yu explains that “it is important to realize that can rapidly react to signals of microbial presence by changing their .” For example, plant defense-related genes are induced by both the endophytic and pathogenic strains, but the endophyte is better able to suppress these genes. The other host genes that varied include plant growth-related genes that were reduced in expression when the pathogen was present, whereas nitrogen uptake and metabolism genes were increased in expression (upregulated) when the endophyte was present.

The accessory chromosomes are also where a lot of the gene expression changes were seen in the fungal . The endophytic strain upregulated genes involved in and nutrient transport, while the pathogenic strain unsurprisingly upregulated those enriched for virulence or detoxification roles. Identifying the fungal genes with changes in expression on the accessory chromosomes that correspond to the ultimate outcome of plant health tell researchers what to investigate further to increase disease resistance and promote plant growth. Ma emphasizes that, “This research has a profound effect on plant and perhaps even animal immunology, suggesting that cells have a remarkable flexibility and plasticity in response to microbes of same species but genetically different.”

More information:
Li Guo et al, Metatranscriptomic Comparison of Endophytic and Pathogenic Fusarium–Arabidopsis Interactions Reveals Plant Transcriptional Plasticity, Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions (2021). DOI: 10.1094/MPMI-03-21-0063-R

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Hubble finds flame Nebula’s searing stars may halt planet formation

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Credit: Main Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and K. Stapelfeldt (Jet Propulsion Laboratory);Image Processed in November 2021 by Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

The Flame Nebula or NGC 2024 is a large star-forming region in the constellation Orion that lies about 1,400 light-years from Earth. Hubble studied this nebula to look for protoplanetary disks, or “proplyds”—disks of gas and dust around stars that may one day form new solar systems.

Hubble found four confirmed proplyds and four possible proplyds in the nebula, but the proplyds are being worn away by the intense radiation of nearby stars and may never have the chance to form planets as a result.

Hubble also located three “globulettes” in the nebula—small, dark dust clouds that can be seen against the background of bright nebulae.

These dust clouds are thought to form —warm objects too big to be planets but without enough mass to become stars—and other free-floating, planetary-mass objects in our galaxy

The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, which includes such famous nebulae as the Horsehead Nebula and Orion Nebula.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove New deep learning method adds 301 planets to Kepler’s total count

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Over 4,5000 planets have been found around other stars, but scientists expect that our galaxy contains millions of planets. There are multiple methods for detecting these small, faint bodies around much larger, bright stars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists recently added a whopping 301 newly validated exoplanets to the total exoplanet tally. The throng of planets is the latest to join the 4,569 already validated planets orbiting a multitude of distant stars. How did scientists discover such a huge number of planets, seemingly all at once? The answer lies with a new deep neural network called ExoMiner.

Deep neural networks are machine learning methods that automatically learn a task when provided with enough data. ExoMiner is a new deep neural network that leverages NASA’s Supercomputer, Pleiades, and can distinguish real exoplanets from different types of imposters, or “false positives.” Its design is inspired by various tests and properties human experts use to confirm new exoplanets. And it learns by using past confirmed exoplanets and false positive cases.

ExoMiner supplements people who are pros at combing through data and deciphering what is and isn’t a planet. Specifically, data gathered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft and K2, its follow-on mission. For missions like Kepler, with thousands of stars in its field of view, each holding the possibility to host multiple potential exoplanets, it’s a hugely time-consuming task to pore over massive datasets. ExoMiner solves this dilemma.

“Unlike other exoplanet-detecting machine learning programs, ExoMiner isn’t a black box—there is no mystery as to why it decides something is a planet or not,” said Jon Jenkins, exoplanet scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “We can easily explain which features in the data lead ExoMiner to reject or confirm a planet.”

What is the difference between a confirmed and validated ? A planet is “confirmed,” when different observation techniques reveal features that can only be explained by a planet. A planet is “validated” using statistics—meaning how likely or unlikely it is to be a planet based on the data.

In a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, the team at Ames shows how ExoMiner discovered the 301 using data from the remaining set of possible planets—or candidates—in the Kepler Archive. All 301 machine-validated planets were originally detected by the Kepler Science Operations Center pipeline and promoted to planet candidate status by the Kepler Science Office. But until ExoMiner, no one was able to validate them as planets.

When a planet crosses directly between us and its star, we see the star dim slightly because the planet is blocking out a portion of the light. This is one method scientists use to find exoplanets. They make a plot called a light curve with the brightness of the star versus time. Using this plot, scientists can see what percentage of the star’s light the planet blocks and how long it takes the planet to cross the disk of the star. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The paper also demonstrates how ExoMiner is more precise and consistent in ruling out and better able to reveal the genuine signatures of planets orbiting their parent stars—all while giving scientists the ability to see in detail what led ExoMiner to its conclusion.

“When ExoMiner says something is a planet, you can be sure it’s a planet,” added Hamed Valizadegan, ExoMiner project lead and machine learning manager with the Universities Space Research Association at Ames. “ExoMiner is highly accurate and in some ways more reliable than both existing machine classifiers and the human experts it’s meant to emulate because of the biases that come with human labeling.”

None of the newly confirmed planets are believed to be Earth-like or in the habitable zone of their parent stars. But they do share similar characteristics to the overall population of confirmed exoplanets in our galactic neighborhood.

“These 301 discoveries help us better understand planets and solar systems beyond our own, and what makes ours so unique,” said Jenkins.

As the search for more exoplanets continues—with missions using transit photometry such as NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, and the European Space Agency’s upcoming PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars, or PLATO, mission—ExoMiner will have more opportunities to prove it’s up to the task.

“Now that we’ve trained ExoMiner using Kepler data, with a little fine-tuning, we can transfer that learning to other missions, including TESS, which we’re currently working on,” said Valizadegan. “There’s room to grow.”

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Hexbyte Glen Cove COVID gets airborne: Team models delta virus inside an aerosol for the first time

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Visualization of the virus’ spike protein (cyan) surrounded by mucus molecules (red) and calcium ions (yellow). The viral membrane is shown in purple. Credit: UC San Diego’s Lorenzo Casalino, the Amaro Lab, and the research team

In May 2021, the Centers for Disease Control officially recognized that SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—is airborne, meaning it is highly transmissible through the air.

Now University of California San Diego Professor and Endowed Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry Rommie Amaro, along with partners across the U.S. and around the world, has modeled the inside an aerosol for the first time.

This work was a finalist for the Gordon Bell Prize, given by the Association for Computing Machinery each year to recognize outstanding achievement in high-performance computing. Amaro led the team that won the prize last year for its work on modeling an all-atom SARS-CoV-2 virus and the virus’s spike protein to understand how it behaves and gains access to human cells.

“It’s wonderful to be a finalist for the Gordon Bell Prize a second year in a row,” stated Amaro. “But more than that, we’re really excited about the potential this work has to deepen our understanding of how viruses are transmitted through aerosols. The impacts could change the way we view airborne diseases.”

Aerosols are tiny. A human hair is approximately 10 microns in width. A droplet—think of the spray that come out of your mouth and nose when you sneeze—can be up to 10 microns wide. Aerosols are less than one micron in width. Whereas droplets fall to the ground in under 30 seconds, aerosols, because of their small size, can float in the air for hours and travel long distances.

Kim Prather, Distinguished Chair in atmospheric chemistry and director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE), has studied sea spray and ocean aerosols extensively. She contacted Amaro several years ago noting that these aerosols had much more than seawater in them.

Visualization of delta SARS-CoV-2 in a respiratory aerosol, where the virus is depicted in purple with the studded spike proteins in cyan. Mucins are red, albumin proteins green, and the deep lung fluid lipids in ocher. Credit: UC San Diego’s Abigail Dommer, the Amaro Lab, and the research team

“The common thinking used to be that ocean aerosols only contained salt water,” Prather stated. “But we discovered there was a ton of ocean-biology inside—living organisms including proteins and viruses. I not only thought Rommie would be interested in studying this, but also thought her work could be really beneficial in helping us gain a better understanding of aerosol composition and movement and airborne survival.”

Amaro’s lab began to develop computer models of what aerosols looked like using Prather’s work in sea spray. These simulations paved the way for Amaro and her group to understand the experimental methods and tools used to study aerosols, generally, as well as develop a useful framework to build, simulate and analyze complex aerosol models.

When SARS-CoV-2 came on the scene in early 2020, she began modeling the virus and was able to show how it infects host cells through a sugary coating called a glycan that covers the spike proteins.

Aerosol scientists always suspected SARS-CoV-2 was airborne, so studying the virus inside an provided an opportunity to back those suspicions with evidence. Taking the work her lab was already doing with aerosols and the work her lab was also doing with the virus, Amaro put two and two together.

“It’s these fine aerosols that can travel the farthest and move into the deep lung, which can be devasting,” Amaro stated. “There is no experimental tool, no microscope that allows people to see the particles in this much detail, but this new computational microscope allows us to see what happens to the virus—how it moves, how it stays infectious during flight. There is something very powerful about being able to see what something looks like, seeing how components come together—it fundamentally changes the kinds of questions people even think to ask.”

To better understand how the virus moves and lives inside aerosols, Amaro worked with a team of 52 from around the globe, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, using their Summit supercomputer to simulate the models. Summit is one of the few supercomputers in the world capable of performing these large-scale simulations, which allowed researchers to see aerosols at an unprecedented one billion atoms.

These simulations included more intricate details of the virus’s membranes, as well as visualizations of aerosols. In addition to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, these sub-micron respiratory aerosols also contained mucins, lung surfactant, water and ions.

Mucins are polymers that line most of the surfaces of the body that are wet, including the respiratory tract and they may work to protect the virus from harsh external elements like sunlight. One of the hypotheses that Amaro’s team is exploring is whether the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is more transmissible in part because it seems to interact so well with mucins.

Now that the models have been built, Amaro hopes to formally create an experiment that will test the predictions of aerosolized virus movements. She is also developing tools that will investigate how humidity, wind and other external conditions affect the transmission and life of the virus in aerosols.

Beyond the immediate needs of learning as much as possible about how SARS-CoV-2 operates, computer models of aerosols can have wide-ranging impacts, including climate science and human health.

“What we learned during the pandemic is that aerosols were one of the main drivers in spreading the and that their importance in the transmission of many other respiratory pathogens has been systematically underappreciated,” said Dr. Robert “Chip” Schooley, a professor in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The more we learn about aerosols and how they host viruses and pollutants, such as soot, that have adverse health impacts, the better positioned we are to create effective treatment and mitigation measures. This benefits the public health and wellbeing of people around the world.”

This work appears in The Proceedings of SC21, Virtual Event, November 14-19, 2021

COVID gets airborne: Team models delta virus inside an aerosol for the first time (2021, November 22)
retrieved 23 November 2021
from https://phys.org/news/2021-11-covid-airborne-team-delta-virus.html

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