Nobel Prize 2016 : Chemistry Prize could go to gene-editing, new elements or rechargeable batteries

The Nobel Chemistry Prize is to be announced on Wednesday, with observers suggesting it could go to gene-editing, the invention of the rechargeable battery or the discovery of new periodic elements. Sweden’s biggest daily Dagens Nyheter tipped scientists at Russian, Japanese and US institutes that added four new elements to the periodic table: nihonium (Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts) and oganesson (Og). John Goodenough — a 94-year-old US scientist who invented the rechargeable lithium ion battery that is present in cell phones, computers and electric cars — was another of the favourites for the honour, mentioned by Dagens Nyheter and Swedish radio SR. Also seen as Nobel-worthy was a technique known as CRISPR that can edit parts of the genome of still-developing embryos by cutting out, replacing or adding parts to the DNA sequence. It was named by influential US journal Science as 2015’s breakthrough of the year due to its potential to revolutionise health and medicine. But it could be too early for the jury to award it a Nobel this year, Dagens Nyheter noted, as a bitter patent dispute is currently being waged over who discovered it first. Sweden’s other main daily Svenska Dagbladet nonetheless also mentioned CRISPR as a possible winner. It also pointed to Hong Kong doctor Yuk-Ming Dennis Lo, the director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Health Sciences. Lo discovered a technique to detect chromosome abnormalities in unborn foetuses, such as Down’s Syndrome, where previous methods could cause a miscarriage. The chemistry prize is the third Nobel to be announced this week.

On Tuesday, the physics prize went to British scientists David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz for their work in on “topology”, a highly-specialised mathematics field studying unusual phases or states of matter which may one day yield superfast and small computers.

Also mentioned are Russian activist Svetlana Gannushkina, who has championed the rights of migrants and refugees, Syria’s civil organisation of emergency responders known as the White Helmets, and Greek islanders who have come to the aid of desperate migrants. US fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programmes, has meanwhile been nominated for the third straight year. The economics prize will be announced on Monday, 10 October, and the literature prize wraps things up on 13 October. For that prize, the Swedish Academy could tap superstar novelists such as Philip Roth of the US or Haruki Murakami of Japan, or some lesser known writers such as Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse or Syrian poet Adonis. Nobel Chemistry Prize winners of the past decade. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to scientists in the various fields of chemistry. The first Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in 1901 to Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff, of the Netherlands.

Body’s natural defences can treat eczema

The body’s own natural defences could be harnessed in a potential therapy for a common skin condition, a new study suggests. The discovery may help create new treatments for atopic eczema, the condition causes distressing itchy lesions that can lead to broken skin with increased susceptibility to infection. It can have a severe impact on people’s lives, work and sleep, researchers said. The discovery follows recent studies that show having an intact natural skin barrier is important in preventing eczema. Now, researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the UK have found a way to use the body’s own defence system to repair tiny breaks in the skin’s natural barrier, which make people more vulnerable to eczema. “This is a great chance to work with something that the body makes naturally to develop new therapies for atopic eczema, which affects so many people’s lives,” said Dr Donald J Davidson from Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Inflammation Research. The skin’s barrier can be impaired by genetic flaws, environmental factors or bacterial infections. People with eczema are much more likely to carry bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus on their skins. In people with eczema, this bacteria can infect skin lesions and cause damage to the skin barrier.

Bees on endangered species list

Seven types of bees facing extinction in Hawaii have been placed on the endangered species list for the first time in the US. The listing of yellow-faced or masked bees on the federal register came after US wildlife authorities found that their numbers have plunged in recent years. The bees were once commonly found on the islands of Hawaii and its neighbour Maui but they have become endangered due to habitat loss, wildfires and the invasion of non-native plants and insects.

A robotic Surgeon with a Sense of Touch

Researchers, including one of Indian origin, claimed to have developed the world’s first robotic surgical system that can give surgeons the sense of touch while they conduct keyhole surgery using a computer. The HeroSurg robot is a major breakthrough to current technology, which now limits robotic surgery to the sense of sight. This means laparoscopic or keyhole/micro surgery will be safer and more accurate than ever before by reducing trauma and lowering risk of blood loss and infection. HeroSurg was developed by engineers from Deakin University in Australia and Harvard University in the US, along with Suren Krishnan from the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Krishnan said the HeroSurg’s sense of touch, provided through technology known as haptic feedback, would lead to better patient outcomes. “The major drawback of the current system is the lack of tactile feedback. Tactile feedback allows a surgeon to differentiate between tissues and to ‘feel’ delicate tissues weakened by infection or inflammation and dissect them more carefully. Tactile feedback will allow us to use finer and more delicate sutures in microsurgery,” he said. Krishnan said the haptics technology would also improve the ability to distinguish between tissues involved with cancer from normal tissue. The project’s lead researcher Mohsen Moradi Dalvand said, “HeroSurg’s unique features include collision avoidance capability, modularity and automatic patient/bed adjustment.”

High BP in children may limit cognitive skills, Suggests Study

Increasing numbers of children have high blood pressure, largely as a consequence of their obesity. A growing body of evidence suggests that high blood pressure may impair children’s cognitive skills, reducing their ability to remember, pay attention and organise facts. Published on Thursday in The Journal of Pediatrics, 75 children aged 10 to 18 with untreated high blood pressure performed worse on several tests of cognitive function, compared with 75 peers who had normal blood pressure. The differences were subtle, and the new research does not prove that high blood pressure diminishes cognitive skills in children. Still, the findings set off alarm bells among some experts. “This study shows there are some differences,” said Dr. David B Kershaw, the director of pediatric nephrology at C S Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, who was not involved with the research. Dr. Marc Lande, a professor of pediatric nephrology at the University of Rochester Medical Centre, and his colleagues had children tested at four sites in three states, matching those with and without high blood pressure by age, maternal education, race, obesity levels and other factors. The researchers excluded children with learning disabilities and sleep problems, which can affect cognitive skills. Children with elevated blood pressure performed worse than their peers on tests of memory, processing speed and verbal skills, the researchers found. But all the scores were still in the normal range. Because of increased obesity, elevated blood pressure, also called hypertension, is no longer rare in children, though it is underdiagnosed. In a recent survey, about 3.5% of 14,187 children ages 3 to 18 had hypertension.

“Most people don’t understand that cardiovascular risk factors — in this case, hypertension — can affect thinking and memory, and certainly they don’t think there could be an effect in childhood,” said Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology at the University of California, who has researched the effects of cardiovascular risk factors on cognition. Lande and his colleagues noted that children with high blood pressure tended to have other risk factors that might negatively affect cognition, including insulin resistance and obstructive sleep apnea. Children who had a formal diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea were excluded from the new study, but some adolescents with poor sleep participated. Lande said the study found “that the presence of hypertension made the effect of poor sleep on cognition even worse.” Lower scores on cognitive tests do not necessarily indicate that a child is struggling in everyday life, experts cautioned. “Yes, there are certain differences, but what they mean in terms of life functioning isn’t clear,” said Dr. Julie Ingelfinger, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior consultant in nephrology at Massachusetts General Hospital. But, she added, “We know from other studies that problems with memory, attention and cognitive function have a lot to do with how well you do in your job and at school.” Children may be uniquely susceptible to cognitive deficits, Kershaw said. “If you have high blood pressure and you’re 10 to 18 years old, it may impact your cognitive function more than if you’re 40 or 50,” he said. The areas of the brain that control executive function mature until a person’s early 20s. So the idea is that perhaps hypertension could hinder that function, Kershaw said.

Resonance in Rainbow Bridge

Utah’s iconic Rainbow Bridge hums with natural and human-made vibrations, according to a new study. The study characterizes the different ways the bridge vibrates and what frequencies and energy sources cause the rock structure to resonate. The vibrations are small, according to a geology and geophysics professor, but the study provides a baseline measure of the bridge’s structural integrity and shows how human activities can rattle solid rock.

Dental fillings can damage your heart, brain and kidneys

People with more than eight dental fillings may have 150% more mercury in their blood, increasing the risk of brain, heart and kidney damage, a new study has found. Dental surface restorations or,known as dental fillings, is composed of an amalgamation of mercury, silver, tin and other metals. The research by a team from University of Georgia analysed data from 15,000 individuals and is the first to demonstrate a relationship between dental fillings and mercury exposure. “Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases. But the kind of materials the dentist uses is not something that is really discussed,” said Lei Yin, a scientist at University of Georgia. Researchers further analysed exposure by specific types of mercury and found a significant increase in methyl mercury, which is the most toxic form, related to dental fillings. Xiaozhong Yu, an assistant professor, said this result suggests the human gut microbs, microorganisms living in the intestines, may transform different types of mercury. People with dental fillings who are also exposed to mercury from other sources, such as seafood, are most at risk. The study also looked at dental composite resins, a mercury- free alternative for fillings that can release bisphenol A which may cause reproductive damage.

World’s first baby born with new “3 parent” technique

The world’s first baby has been born using a new “three person” fertility technique, New Scientist reveals. The five-month-old boy has the usual DNA from his mum and dad, plus a tiny bit of genetic code from a donor. According to critics, the procedure, carried out in Mexico, is tantamount to genetic modification of humans or even “playing God”. But supporters say it allows women with a particular type of genetic disease to have healthy children who are related

to them. The New Scientist magazine said the baby is now five months told. His parents

are Jordanians and the work was carried out by a team of experts from the US. The child’s mother has Leigh syndrome, a disorder that affects the nervous system and would have been passed on in her mitochondrial DNA. Although she is healthy, two of her children — a six-year-old girl and an eight-month-old baby —have died as a result of inheriting the disease. There are different ways of creating three-parent baby. The technique used by Dr John Zhang, of the New Hope Fertility Clinic in New York, involves taking the nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs

— containing her DNA — and implanting it into a donor egg that had its nucleus removed

but retaining the donor’s healthy mitochondrial DNA. Unlike ordinary DNA, mitochondrial

DNA provides power for the cell. Many scientists insist the term ‘three-parent baby’ is inaccurate as the significant DNA is still from two people. Zhang said as the technique

has not been approved in the US, the team went to Mexico. “To save lives is the ethical

thing to do,” he said. In 2003, Zhang and his team revealed they had used a different

technique to create three-parent babies, sparking international outrage. The UK parliament

voted to allow creation of “three-parent babies” in principle but regulators must still decide whether the technique is safe. Professor Bert Smeets, director of the Genome Centre at Maastricht University, said, “At last, the first child of a mother with a mtDNA mutation

is born after mitochondrial donation. The safety of the method had already been demonstrated by the Newcastle group in the UK and introduction into the clinic would only be a matter of time –

obviously, dependent on national regulation or the absence of it.” However, Dr Dusko Ilic of

King’s College London expressed caution. “By performing the treatment in Mexico, the team were not subject to stringent regulation. We have no way of knowing how skilfull or prepared they were, and may have been a risky thing to do.”

Why C4 plants are neccessary?

Carbon fixation is one of three biochemical processes, along with C3 and CAM photosynthesis, that fixes carbon. It is named for the 4-carbon molecule of the first product of carbon fixation found in the small subset of plants that use the C4 process. This process is in contrast to the 3-carbon molecule products of C3 plants.

C4 fixation is an elaboration of the more common C3 carbon fixation and is believed to have evolved more recently. C4 and CAM overcome the tendency of the enzyme RuBisCO to wastefully fix oxygen rather than carbon dioxide in the process of photorespiration. This is achieved in a more efficient environment for RubisCo by shuttling CO2 via malate or aspartate from mesophyll cells to bundle-sheath cells. In these bundle-sheath cells, RuBisCO is isolated from atmospheric oxygen and saturated with the CO2 released by decarboxylation of the malate. C4 plants use PEP carboxylase to capture more CO2 in the mesophyll cells. PEP Carboxylase (3 carbons) binds to CO2 to make oxaloacetic acid (OAA). The OAA then makes malate (4 carbons). Malate enters bundle sheath cells and releases the CO2 where RuBisCO works more efficiently. These additional steps, however, require more energy in the form of ATP. Because of this extra energy requirement, C4 plants are able to more efficiently fix carbon in drought, high temperatures, and limitations of nitrogen or CO2, while the more common C3 pathway is more efficient in the other conditions.

Sendai Virus causes lesions in respiratory tract

Sendai virus (SeV), previously also known as murine parainfluenza virus type 1 or hemagglutinating virus of Japan (HVJ) is a negative sense, single-stranded RNA virus of the family Paramyxoviridae. SeV is a member of genus Respirovirus, members of which primarily infect mammals.

SeV induces lesions within the respiratory tract, usually associated with bacterial inflammation of the trachea and lung (tracheitis and bronchopneumonia, respectively). However, the lesions are limited. Detection of SeV-specific antigens in several serological methods, including ELISA,immunofluorescence, and hemagglutination assays, with particular emphasis on use of the ELISA for its high sensitivity and its fairly early detection.