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The natural brightness of the night sky

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A recent study analyses data collect4d at 44 of the darkest places in the world, including the Canary Island Observatories, to develop the first complete reference method to measure the natural brightness of the night sky using low-cost photometers.

A recent study analyses data collect4d at 44 of the darkest places in the world, including the Canary Island Observatories, to develop the first complete reference method to measure the natural brightness of the night sky using low-cost photometers.

Of the 44 photometers in the survey, the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (Garafía, La Palma, Canary Islands) stands out at the darkest of all the skies analysed.

The night sky is not completely dark; even in the remotest places there is a glow in the sky produced by natural components, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial, and by artificial lighting of human origin. Even though the main bright sources such as the Moon, the Milky Way, and the Zodiacal light are easily recognisable, there is a glow which dominates the sky brightness on the darkest nights, produced in the upper layers of the atmosphere, and whose strength depends on a set of complex factors such as the time of year, the geographical location, and the solar cycle.

Solar Cycles are ordered in periods of activity lasting 11 years. We refer to solar maximum when the activity of the Sun has grown, sunspots appear on its surface, and its radiative emission has grown, which affects the molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing an increase in the brightness of the night sky. When these events are much reduced we call this solar minimum.

In 2018 Solar Cycle 24 entered into this phase and since then a series of photometers, TESS, situated around the world, have collected 11 million measurements which have been used to define a method of reference for the study of natural darkness with equipment of this kind. Among the results in the article, which will soon be published in The Astronomical Journal, there are outstanding “systematic observations of short period variations (of the order of tens of minutes, or of hours) in the brightness of the sky, independently of the site, the season, the time of night, or of solar activity, and which have been shown, for the first time, with low cost photometers, to be associated with events produced in the upper layers of the mesosphere, that is to say to the “airglow”, explains Miguel R. Alarcón, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and first author of the article.

“This work has demonstrated the high sensitivity of low-cost photometers if they are linked in a network. The final analysis of the full set of TESS photometers shows the Gegenschein, a faint glow in the night sky, visible around the ecliptic, the same plane on which we see the zodiacal light and the planets” explains Miquel Serra-Ricart, an astronomer at the IAC and a co-author of the article. “The network of photometers has shown, yet again, that the Canary Observatories are in the First Division” he adds.

From the 44 photometers which took data from such places as Namibia, Australia, Mexico, Argentina and the United States, among others, it was possible to determine that the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (ORM, Garafía, La Palma, Canary Islands) is the darkest of all of them”. As can be read in the article, the darkness at the ORM is very close to natural darkness, artificial light adds only 2% to the sky background. From the network of photometers installed in the Spanish Peninsula, we should pick out the excellent sky darkness in the Community of Extremadura, the region of Montsec (Lleida), Javalambre (Teruel) the Sierra Nevada and the Pyrenees in Navarre.

Studying light pollution

The glow produced by the scattering of artificial light at night (ALAN) by the components of the atmosphere (gas molecules, aerosols, clouds…) is known as artificial skyglow. Estimates suggest that more than 10% of the Earth’s surface receives ALAN and that this figure increases to 23% if we include the atmospheric skyglow. Some 80% of the human population lives in places with light pollution, and around a third of them cannot see the Milky Way. There are few places left in the world where one can appreciate, observe, and measure the natural darkness.

The worrying consequences of light pollution due to human activity, for nature, our health, and for astronomy, have motivated scientific interest in this type of atmospheric pollution. Over the last decades, various increasingly accurate devices have been developed and marketed to measure the darkness at night. The TESS photometers of the STARS4ALL project, which made this study possible, are based on the same sensor as the Sky Quality Meter (SQM) photometer.

EELabs: The sustainable use of artificial lighting

But now there are new projects under way using new technologies, to continue to investigate this threat. This article proposes that to measure the reach of light pollution it is necessary to combine measurements of the scattered light from urban nuclei made from space (mainly from satellites) with maps of darkness in remote natural areas taken by installing networks of self-running photometers with high time resolution and a mean separation of several kilometres. This is one of the main aims of the EELabs project. EELabs (Energy Efficiency Laboratories) is coordinated by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, with participation by the Portuguese Society for the study of Birds (SPEA), the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) and the Technological Institute for Renewable Energies (ITER).

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EELabs has funded the development of self-running photometers which can operated completely autonomously. Using these instruments the EELabs project is hoping to study the impact of light pollution on the protected natural areas of Macaronesia (the groups of islands in the western Atlantic), and on the most threatened group of birds in the world, the sea birds. Currently the project is operating on the islands of Tenerife, La Palma, Grand Canary, Madeira and Corvo (Azores). There are plans to increase the zones of study to include Lanzarote, La Gomera, Fuerteventura and El Hierro (Canaries), Ilhas Desertas (Madeira) and Graciosa (Azores).

EELabs (weelabs.eu) is a project funded by the Programme INTERREG V-A MAC 2014-2020, co-financed by FEDER (European Fund for Regional Development) of the European Union, under contract number MAC2/4.6d/238. There are 5 centres working in EELabs (IAC, ITER, TLPGC; SPEA-Azores, SPEA-Madeira. The objective of EELabs is to create laboratories to measure the energy efficiency of the Artificial Night Lighting in protected natural areas of Macaronesia (the Canaries, Madeira, and Azores). STARS4ALL was a project funded by the European Union H2020-ICT-2015-688135

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Source: https://bioengineer.org/the-natural-brightness-of-the-night-sky/

Bioengineer

Genetic cause of neurodevelopmental disorder discovered

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Transport system of essential materials in brain cells disrupted in certain genetic developmental disorders.

Credit: Dr. Riazuddin

University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) researchers identified a new gene that may be linked to certain neurodevelopmental disorders and intellectual disabilities. The researchers believe that finding genes involved in certain types of developmental disorders, provide an important first step in determining the cause of these disorders and ultimately in developing potential therapies for treating them. The paper was recently published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

About 3 percent of the world’s population has intellectual disability. Up to half the cases are due to genetics, however, because many thousands of genes contribute to brain development, it has been difficult to identify the specific cause for each patient.

Once the researchers identified the gene, they worked with collaborators to give clinical diagnoses to 10 other families around the world, who had relatives with this condition. The researchers also used zebrafish to show the gene’s role in development and survival, demonstrating its importance in helping the brain’s neurons function properly.

“Our goal is to find as many of these genes required for brain function and take this knowledge back to patients and families to provide a clinically relevant genetic diagnosis,” says Saima Riazuddin, PhD, MPH, MBA, Professor of Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at UMSOM.

Dr. Riazuddin and her team collaborate regularly with several scientists in Pakistan studying a group of 350 families geographically isolated, which as a result has led to inbreeding resulting in genetic disorders such as neurodevelopmental disorder and intellectual disability.

The team focused on one particular family with two brothers and an uncle with symptoms of intellectual disability, delayed speech and other developmental milestones and epilepsy. Other members of the family with similar symptoms had since passed in childhood or early adulthood. Dr. Riazuddin and her team identified the gene AP1G1 as the culprit.

Then through collaboration with 27 other institutions, her team was able to identify ten other families with the variations in the same gene that led to growth retardation and intellectual disability. These families lived in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United States.

To determine the gene’s role in development, the researchers engineered zebrafish without Ap1g1. These zebrafish embryos all began to die off by the fourth day. When the researchers added back mutated versions of the genes, like those found in the families with neurodevelopment disorder and intellectual disability, they observed a spectrum of symptoms with some zebrafish embryos dying off, some with major structural defects, and others with only minor tail deformities.

The gene AP1G1 contains the blueprints to make the protein Adaptor Protein 1 gamma 1 (AP1γ1). This protein is one of five pieces that makes up the Adaptor Protein Complex, which builds transport vesicles to move materials around cells.

“Think of these transport vesicles as little vehicles like trucks that have to load, transport, and unload their cargo around the cells (e.g. neurons) to provide the necessary supplies for the cell to function,” says Dr. Riazuddin.

Dr. Riazuddin’s team made normal and mutant versions of AP1G1 which they put in mammalian cells with cargo molecules labeled in red. The cells with the mutant versions of AP1G1 had vesicles that were delayed in delivering their cargo or did not make their deliveries at all.

“Improving clinical diagnosis of these developmental disorders may eventually provide new targets for therapies, in order to one day be able to treat these conditions allowing more people to live independently,” says E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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This studied was funded by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (R01NS107428), the EU FP7 Large-Scale Integrating Project Genetic and Epigenetic Networks in Cognitive Dysfunction (241995), Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (NRPU project 10700), and a Fondazione del Monte grant (ID ROL: FDM/4021).

The researchers have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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Source: https://bioengineer.org/genetic-cause-of-neurodevelopmental-disorder-discovered/

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Pathogenic bacteria rendered almost harmless

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By identifying one of the mechanisms regulating the virulence of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a UNIGE team is proposing a new strategy to combat this bacterium, which is resistant to many common antibiotics

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogenic bacterium present in many ecological niches, such as plant roots, stagnant water or even the pipes of our homes. Naturally very versatile, it can cause acute and chronic infections that are potentially fatal for people with weakened immune systems. The presence of P. aeruginosa in clinical settings, where it can colonise respirators and catheters, is a serious threat. In addition, its adaptability and resistance to many antibiotics make infections by P. aeruginosa increasingly difficult to treat. There is therefore an urgent need to develop new antibacterials. Scientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, have identified a previously unknown regulator of gene expression in this bacterium, the absence of which significantly reduces the infectious power of P. aeruginosa and its dangerous nature. These results, to be published in the journal Nucleic Acid Research, could constitute an innovative target in the fight against this pathogen.

RNA helicases perform essential regulatory functions by binding and unwinding various RNA molecules to perform their functions. RNA helicases are present in the genomes of almost all known living organisms, including bacteria, yeast, plants, and humans; however, they have acquired specific properties depending on the organism in which they are found. “Pseudomonas aeruginosa has an RNA helicase whose function was unknown, but which was found in other pathogens”, explains Martina Valentini, a researcher leading this research in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Medicine at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, and holder of an SNSF “Ambizione» grant. “We wanted to understand what its role was, in particular in relation to the pathogenesis of the bacteria and their environmental adaptation.”

A severely reduced virulence

To do this, the Geneva team combined biochemical and molecular genetic approaches to determine the function of this protein. “In the absence of this RNA helicase, P. aeruginosa multiplies normally in vitro, both in a liquid medium and on a semi-solid medium at 37°C”, reports Stéphane Hausmann, a researcher associate in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Medicine at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and first author of this study. “To determine whether the infection capacity of the bacteria was affected, we had to observe it in vivo in a living organism.”

The scientists then continued their research using Galleria mellonella larvae, a model insect for studying host-pathogen interactions. Indeed, the innate immune system of insects has important similarities with that of mammals. Moreover, these larvae can live at temperatures between 5°C and 45°C, which makes it possible to study bacterial growth at different temperatures, including that of the human body. Three groups of larvae were observed; the first, after injection of a saline solution, saw 100% of its population survive. In the presence of a normal strain of P. aeruginosa, less than 20% survived at 20 hours after infection. In contrast, when P. aeruginosa no longer possessed the RNA helicase gene, over 90% of the larvae remained alive. “The modified bacteria became almost harmless, while remaining very much alive,” says Stéphane Hausmann.

Inhibiting without killing

The results of this work show that this regulator affects the production of several virulence factors in the bacteria. “In fact, this protein controls the degradation of numerous messenger RNAs coding for virulence factors”, summarises Martina Valentini. “From an antimicrobial drug strategy point of view, switching off the pathogen’s virulence factors rather than trying to eliminate the pathogen completely, means allowing the host immune system to naturally neutralise the bacterium and potentially reduces the risk for the development of resistance. Indeed, if we try to kill the bacteria at all costs, the bacteria will adapt to survive, which favours the appearance of resistant strains.”

The Geneva team is currently continuing its work by screening a series of known drug molecules in order to determine whether any of them have the capacity to selectively block this protein, and to study in detail the inhibition mechanisms on which the development of an effective therapeutic strategy could be based.

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Source: https://bioengineer.org/pathogenic-bacteria-rendered-almost-harmless/

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Novel interactions between proteins that help in recovering from brain injury

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Neuroinflammatory response-induced proteases impede the recovery process from brain injury; novel interactions between proteins (hevin and calcyon) help in the recovery of neurons in a mature brain

Patients with brain injury (caused by stroke or trauma) primarily rely on rehabilitation therapy for recovery, as there are no other known effective treatment methods. The rate of recovery from brain injury observed in adults is significantly slower (or the recovery is impossible) than that observed in young children. The consensus among researchers is that the number of excess neural stem cells capable of restoring brain functions is lower in a mature brain than that in the brain of young children.

A Korean research team reported a novel mechanism to describe the brain injury recovery process. The researchers reported that when the animal model experiment was conducted, the time taken to recover from a brain injury could be controlled by regulating the proteins. The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has released an announcement that a team led by Dr. Eun Mi Hwang of the Brain Science Institute, KIST collaborated with another team led by Prof. Kyoungho Suk of the School of Medicine, Kyungpook National University and reported the presence of a novel interaction between proteins (hevin-calcyon); this interaction plays a critical role in the brain injury recovery process in adults. The researchers also revealed that this interaction plays an important role in the early stages of recovery.

The researchers working at KIST identified the calcyon protein as a novel interaction partner of hevin, a protein secreted by the glial cells present in the brain. They also reported that the interaction between the proteins played a critical role in the recovery process of neuronal cells present in an injured adult brain. As neurons are cells that directly influence brain activity, it is believed that brain diseases can be cured when they are recovered and/or treated.

*Glial cells : Cells that support the tissues of the central nervous system, provide nutrients to neurons inside the brain and spinal cord, and create a chemical environment suitable for the activities of neurons

The results from the experiments revealed that an increase in the number of hevin-calcyon interactions in the brain could promote synaptic contacts and reorganization, which could help in the early recovery of the impaired brain. The hevin-calcyon interaction and the expression of these proteins were confirmed by studying healthy brain tissues. It was also observed that the number of interactions in patients suffering from the condition of traumatic brain injury was significantly reduced.

Researchers at the Kyungpook National University studied the recovery process of brain injury by studying the hevin and calcyon interaction using a brain injury animal model. They reported that the neuroinflammatory response-induced proteases formed in the early stages of brain injury resulted in the fragmentation of hevin. This also impeded the generation of the hevin and calcyon interaction. Experiments were conducted using an animal model of brain injury. It was observed that the recovery time could be reduced to approximately 2 to 3 weeks (from 4 weeks) if an inflammatory response inhibitor was administered directly to the injured region of the brain. The rate of recovery could be further slowed by administering an additional inflammatory protein.

The joint research team reported that the absence of the hevin-calcyon interaction in the early stages (a critical period in the recovery process of brain injury) of the recovery process might negatively impact the effective recovery process. The reported result is the outcome of the five years of persistent efforts by the team led by Dr. Eun Mi Hwang of KIST (this team identified the novel interaction between proteins), team led by Dr. Hoon Ryu of KIST (this team investigated human traumatic brain injury), and team led by Prof. Kyoungho Suk of the Kyungpook National University (this team studied the properties of inflammation using various animal models). Each team contributed to the findings based on their area of expertise.

Dr. Eun Mi Hwang of KIST said, “The hevin-calcyon interaction can potentially help in treating brain diseases as brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases can result in the generation of inflammatory responses.” She also added, “The findings can potentially help in the development of procedures for treating refractory brain diseases caused by impaired synaptogenic activity.”

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This research was conducted as a part of the Core Technology Development Project in Neuroscience funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea and supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT). The results were published in the latest issue of “Cell Death & Differentiation” (IF: 10.717, top 6.229% in JCR), an international academic journal.

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Source: https://bioengineer.org/novel-interactions-between-proteins-that-help-in-recovering-from-brain-injury/

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New study uncovers details behind the body’s response to stress

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Findings could lead to new treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions

Study Highlights

  • New research reveals how key proteins interact to regulate the body’s response to stress
  • Targeting these proteins may help treat or prevent stress-related psychiatric disorders

The biological mechanisms behind stress-related psychiatric conditions, including major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are poorly understood.

New research now details the interplay between proteins involved in controlling the body’s stress response and points to potential therapeutic targets when this response goes awry. The study, which was conducted by an international team led by investigators at McLean Hospital, appears in the journal Cell Reports.

“A dysregulated stress response of the body can be damaging for the brain and promote susceptibility to mood and anxiety disorders,” said lead author Jakob Hartmann, PhD. Hartmann is an assistant neuroscientist in the Neurobiology of Fear Laboratory at McLean and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“A key brain region involved in the regulation of the stress response is the hippocampus,” said Hartmann. “The idea for this study occurred to us when we noticed interesting distinctions in hippocampal localization of three important stress-regulating proteins.”

The researchers’ experiments in non-human tissue and postmortem brain tissue revealed how these proteins–the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR), and the FK506-binding protein 51 (FKBP5)–interact with each other.

Specifically, MRs, rather than GRs, control the production of FKBP5 under normal conditions. FKBP5 decreases GRs’ sensitivity to binding stress hormones during stressful situations. FKBP5 appears to fine-tune the stress response by acting as a mediator of the MR:GR balance in the hippocampus.

“Our findings suggest that therapeutic targeting of GR, MR, and FKBP5 may be complementary in manipulating central and peripheral regulation of stress,” said senior author Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PhD. Ressler is the chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital, chief of McLean’s Division of Depression and Anxiety Disorders, and a professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“Moreover, our data further underline the important but largely unappreciated role of MR signaling in stress-related psychiatric disorders,” added Ressler. “The findings of this study will open new directions for future research.”

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ABOUT McLEAN HOSPITAL:

McLean Hospital has a continuous commitment to put people first in patient care, innovation and discovery, and shared knowledge related to mental health. It is consistently named the #1 freestanding psychiatric hospital in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. McLean Hospital is the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a member of Mass General Brigham. To stay up to date on McLean, follow us on Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

https://www.mcleanhospital.org/news/new-study-uncovers-details-behind-bodys-response-stress

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