Tag Archives: Nature.com

Cover Preview: Nature Magazine – May 19, 2022

Nature Magazine, May 19, 2022 – At industrial scales, chemical reactions are typically driven by applying continuous heat to the reactants. In this week’s issue, Liangbing Hu and his colleagues show that pulsed heating and quenching can enhance synthetic performance while also saving energy.

Volume 605 Issue 7910

The researchers use a programmable electric current to switch between high and low temperatures very quickly — typically 0.02 seconds on, 1.08 seconds off. Rapidly quenching the reaction gives high selectivity, maintains catalyst stability and reduces energy usage. The cover image illustrates the heater in action for the pyrolysis of methane — the model reaction the team tested. Methane molecules travel through the pores of the high-temperature heater and are selectively converted into useful products.

Cover Preview: Nature Magazine – April 28, 2022

The cover shows an artist’s impression of the pterosaur Tupandactylus imperator. Although feathered pterosaurs have been reported, these claims have been controversial and it has not been clear whether these leathery-winged flying reptiles had feathers of different colours like modern-day birds.

Volume 604 Issue 7907

In this week’s issue, Aude Cincotta and her colleagues present evidence that not only did pterosaurs have feathers but that the feathers probably had varied coloration. The researchers analysed a partial skull of Tupandactylus, found in Brazil and dated to around 113 million years ago. They identified two types of feather along the base of the crest, one of which featured branched structures very similar to modern feathers. They also found pigment-producing organelles in both types of feather and the skin on the head crest. The team suggests that these coloured feathers would have been used in visual communication and that their presence in Tupandactylus indicates the ability to manipulate feather colour stretches back farther than was previously realized. 

Science: Global Warming Pledges, Energy Storage, Leeches And Biodiversity

What COP26 promises will do for climate

At COP26 countries made a host of promises and commitments to tackle global warming. Now, a new analysis suggests these pledges could limit warming to below 2˚C — if countries stick to them.

03:48 Efficiency boost for energy storage solution

Storing excess energy is a key obstacle preventing wider adoption of renewable power. One potential solution has been to store this energy as heat before converting it back into electricity, but to date this process has been inefficient. Last week, a team reported the development of a new type of ‘photothermovoltaic’ that increases the efficiency of converting stored heat back into electricity, potentially making the process economically viable.

Science: ‘Thermal batteries’ could efficiently store wind and solar power in a renewable grid

07:56 Leeches’ lunches help ecologists count wildlife

Blood ingested by leeches may be a way to track wildlife, suggests new research. Using DNA from the blood, researchers were able to detect 86 different species in China’s Ailaoshan Nature Reserve. Their results also suggest that biodiversity was highest in the high-altitude interior of the reserve, suggesting that human activity had pushed wildlife away from other areas.

ScienceNews: Leeches expose wildlife’s whereabouts and may aid conservation efforts

11:05 How communication evolved in underground cave fish

Research has revealed that Mexican tetra fish are very chatty, and capable of making six distinct sounds. They also showed that fish populations living in underground caves in north-eastern Mexico have distinct accents.

New Scientist: Blind Mexican cave fish are developing cave-specific accents

14:36 Declassified data hints at interstellar meteorite strike

In 2014 a meteorite hit the Earth’s atmosphere that may have come from far outside the solar system, making it the first interstellar object to be detected. However, as some of the data needed to confirm this was classified by the US Government, the study wasn never published. Now the United States Space Command have confirmed the researchers’ findings, although the work has yet to be peer reviewed.

LiveScience: An interstellar object exploded over Earth in 2014, declassified government data reveal

Vice: 

Science: Navigating Life, Coastal Storminess, Boa Constrictors, Old Trees

Your ability to find your way may depend on where you grew up and how coastal storminess is changing.

00:47 Your ability to find your way may depend on where you grew up

Researchers have long been trying to understand why some humans are better at navigating than others. This week, researchers show that where someone grew up plays an important role in their ability to find their way; the more winding and disorganised the layouts of your childhood were, the better navigator you’ll be later in life.
Research article: Coutrot et al.

08:57 Research Highlights

How boas can squeeze without suffocating themselves, and why being far from humans helps trees live a long life.
Research Highlight: How boa constrictors squeeze and breathe at the same time

Research Highlight: Where are Earth’s oldest trees? Far from prying eyes

11:39 How coastal storminess is changing

Coastal flooding causes billions of dollars in damage each year. Rising sea levels are known to be a key driver, but the importance of another factor, storm surges, is less clear. Typically after accounting for increasing sea level, they’re not thought to make much of an impact. However new research suggests that this may not be the case.
Research article: Calafat et al.

16:10 Briefing Chat

We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, a brain implant allows a person who is completely paralysed to communicate, and penguin-like bone density suggests Spinosaurus may have hunted underwater.
Science: In a first, brain implant lets man with complete paralysis spell out thoughts: ‘I love my cool son.’

National Geographic: Spinosaurus had penguin-like bones, a sign of hunting underwater

Video: A swimming dinosaur: The tail of Spinosaurus

Science: Subgiant Stars Age, Yellowstone’s Hot Water, Birds & The Moon

Precisely ageing subgiant stars gives new insight into the Milky Way’s formation, and uncovering Yellowstone’s hydrothermal plumbing system.

In this episode:

00:45 Accurately ageing stars reveals the Milky Way’s history

To understand when, and how, the Milky Way formed, researchers need to know when its stars were born. This week, a team of astronomers have precisely aged nearly a quarter of a million stars, revealing more about the sequence of events that took place as our galaxy formed.

Research article: Xiang and Rix

News and Views: A stellar clock reveals the assembly history of the Milky Way

09:53 Research Highlights

Archaeologists reveal an ancient lake was actually a ritual pool, and how the Moon’s phase affects some birds’ altitude.

Research Highlight: Ancient ‘harbour’ revealed to be part of fertility god’s lavish shrine

Research Highlight: These birds fly high when the full Moon hangs in the sky

12:34 Uncovering Yellowstone’s hot water plumbing

Yellowstone National Park’s iconic geothermal geysers and volcanic landmarks are well studied, but very little was known about the ‘plumbing system’ that feeds these features. Now a team of researchers have mapped the underground hydrothermal system, showing the specific faults and pathways that supply the park.

Research article: Finn et al.

19:27 Briefing Chat

We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, 0why an Australian university has been suspended from winning a research foundation’s fellowships, and the ongoing debate about the cause of ‘COVID toes’.

Nature: Funder bars university from grant programme over white-male award line-up

Cover Previews: Nature Magazine – March 24, 2022

Volume 603 Issue 7902, 24 March 2022

Volume 603 Issue 7902

Star dater’s guide to the Galaxy

The cover image shows a view of the Milky Way captured at Nambung National Park in Western Australia. To understand how the Galaxy formed requires precision age dating of the stars that it contains. In this week’s issue, Maosheng Xiang and Hans-Walter Rix of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, present an analysis of the birth dates for nearly 250,000 stars in their subgiant evolutionary phase, when they can serve as precise stellar clocks. The researchers found that the individual ages of the stars ranged from about 1.5 billion to more than 13 billion years old. Tripling the age-dating precision for such a large stellar sample allowed the researchers to infer the sequence of events that initiated our Galaxy’s formation. Using this information, Xiang and Rix were able to determine that the oldest part of our Galaxy’s disk had already begun to form about 13 billion years ago, just 800 million years after the Big Bang, and that the formation of the inner Galactic halo was completed some 2 billion years later. 

Diet & Nutrition: Nine Tips For A Healthier Brain

• Find time to snack healthily. Take short food breaks to help keep your blood-sugar level reasonably high without surging. Eating a piece of fruit every three hours or so, for example, could prevent hunger and overconsumption of calories. And when you eat, relax. Try not to think about your research. If you routinely stand in the lab, sit down. If your role is more sedentary, get up and take a quick stroll — perhaps to see a colleague on the next floor.

• Put food on your agenda. Schedule regular mealtimes in your work diary — because if you don’t, someone else will fill the gap for you by inviting you to a meeting. Choose a slot that aligns with your ‘biological clock’ and alterations in hormones such as insulin to optimize metabolic health, including microbiota diversity and composition. In other words, follow your gut and eat at times of the day when you feel that your body needs it, but generally try to avoid taking lunch too late in the afternoon. Eating earlier in the day can improve your energy balance, weight regulation, glycaemic control and sleep satisfaction6. Your brain consumes about 20% of the total energy used by your body, so maintaining consistent energy levels is important for optimal functioning. Use the time you’ve booked. Focus on what you eat and take your time. Do not grab a sandwich and munch it down in front of a screen. Your body deserves a rest.

• Enjoy your food. Transform your meal break into a pleasant event by sharing it with colleagues. Propose that everyone take turns preparing a dish from their home country or area so that you can all enjoy the cuisines of different cultures. Eating in a group and discussing the day’s events can help you to relax, to laugh and to share useful information and experiences.

• Plan your meals. If you are feeling particularly hungry, your eyes and hypothalamus (a small region in the brain that controls many bodily functions including hunger and thirst) will not help you to make healthy food choices; instead, they will prompt you to go for sugary, salty or fatty options. Try to organize your meals in advance. Increase your intake of low-calorie items, such as soups, salads, vegetables and minimally processed foods that are rich in dietary fibre. Among these are wholegrains, cereals, fruits, pulses, whole rice and wholemeal pasta. These foods are also rich in micronutrients and antioxidants such as potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin E, B-vitamins and healthy lipids — especially unsaturated omega-3 ones — that can help to prevent chronic disease. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine — all important for good brain function, mood and emotional regulation — require food-derived precursors, as well as vitamins and minerals, to be synthesized7.

• Diversify your diet. Stimulate your appetite by altering your food choices, preferably by incorporating more fruit and vegetables into your diet and reducing consumption of red meat and meat products. Each new day merits a new meal experience. But this doesn’t mean being a fully fledged connoisseur: overthinking what you eat will lead to compromises with your time and will make further compromises in what you eat more tempting. A saying from the Japanese Okinawa islands, where people have one of the lowest rates of chronic diseases in the world, and where many centenarians live, points the way: “Eat until you are 80% full”8. In practice, this means you should eat slowly and avoid ‘stuffing’ yourself.

• Avoid the insulin roller coaster. As well as contributing to chronic disease, excessive sugar intake might harm cognitive performance9. Sugared drinks, such as sodas, smoothies and even fruit juices, have a very low satiety value. After the sugar surge, glucagon — a hormone produced when sugar levels are low — as well as ghrelin, an appetitive hormone, and others kick back in and you’ll be hypoglycaemic and feel hungry again. Artificially sweetened beverages might not work much better — there is scientific debate about their perceived health benefits, because they might stimulate appetite centrally in the hypothalamus, rather than by modulating insulin levels10. Go for water, coffee, teas (including fruit teas), low-fat milk — or, if you’re desperate for sugar, a homemade fruit juice.

• Drink loads of water. Working inside, where the air is often dry (owing to heating in winter and artificial cooling in summer) can hasten water loss through respiration. Two litres a day of fluid intake is recommended by many health agencies. Pay attention to signs of dehydration. Drinking plenty will increase your blood volume and brain tissue fluid and thus boost your circulation and concentration levels. You will also become more tolerant of heat and cold — which is helpful when working in warm offices and cooled labs. Water is the essential carrier for all life functions in your body. It can also increase daily energy expenditure and feelings of satiety. Drinking water half an hour before your meal is an especially good option because it improves satiety11.

• Use healthy leftovers. Pre-packaged sandwiches and processed foods often have high quantities of fat, sugar, salt and additives that trigger the brain’s dopamine reward system, among other neuronal systems, inducing compulsive eating behaviour12. If you have time, prepare a healthy dish from scratch at home, perhaps making more than is needed for an evening meal and using leftovers for lunch the following day. Among homemade foods, well-balanced traditional dishes can improve your performance and health: for instance, the classic Mediterranean diet has long been linked with improved cognitive function and a decreased likelihood of both cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease3. A Tupperware lunch made with leftovers from even the most indulgent dinner could often make a healthier lunch than a standard pre-packaged sandwich.

• Scrap the salt. Excessive use of salt is among the major killers worldwide, leading to increased blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Some salt is essential to the taste of most foods, as well as for life, however, so don’t attempt to cut it out of your diet entirely. Try pepper, curcuma, nutmeg or other spices to add flavour. Some spices, including curcuma and pepper, also help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and can even decrease total mortality rates13.

Cover Preview: Nature Magazine – March 17, 2022

Volume 603 Issue 7901, 17 March 2022

Volume 603 Issue 7901

For more than 50 years, scientists have been trying to understand the relationship between DNA sequence, gene-expression phenotype and fitness to decipher principles of gene regulatory evolution. In this week’s issue, Eeshit Dhaval Vaishnav, Carl de Boer, Aviv Regev and their colleagues present a framework for understanding and engineering regulatory DNA sequences that takes a step towards this goal. The researchers built this framework around an ‘oracle’ they developed using a deep neural network model that predicts gene expression given a promoter DNA sequence. The neural network was trained using the expression measurements for tens of millions of promoter sequences. The result was an AI oracle that predicts expression from sequence well enough to study the evolutionary history and future evolvability of regulatory DNA sequences, as well as to design regulatory DNA sequences for synthetic biology applications. The cover offers a visual representation of the evolutionary properties of sequences at the extremes of the evolvability spectrum. 

Cover Preview: Nature Magazine – March 10