|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Communal News / October 1, 2019
Russia Announces Revolutionary Quantum Computer Working Prototype - There are Defense Applications
Ученые НИТУ «МИСиС» создали первый в России прототип квантового компьютера на двух кубитах.
Russia has announced the first functioning prototype of the Quantum Computer. The Quantum computing idea began in the 1980s when physicist Paul Benioff proposed a quantum mechanical model of the Turing machine. The field of quantum computing is closely related to quantum information science, which includes quantum cryptography and quantum communication.
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The quantum computer in Russia performed its first quantum algorithm. It was Grover’s alghyrtm, which is a quantum algorithm for searching an unsorted database with N entries in O(N1/2) time and using O(logN) storage space (see big O notation). It was invented by Lov Grover in 1996.
Valeriy Ryazanov is a physicist in charge of the quantum computer project. The quantum computer is located in the basement of the National University of Science and Technology (MISIS) in Moscow.
The basement is kept as close to 0 Celsius temperature by a Helium 3 refrigerator (A helium-3 refrigerator is a simple device used in experimental physics for obtaining temperatures down to about 0.2 kelvins). The rest of the space is occupied by a qubit system. Qubits (quantum bits) are the fundamental building blocks for quantum information processes. Whereas conventional computers store and process data as a series of ‘1’s and ‘0’s, quantum computers use the properties of a quantum system, such as the polarization of a photon or the spin of an electron. Additionally, qubits represent atoms, ions, photons or electrons and their respective control devices that are working together to act as a computer memory and a processor. Qubits are very fragile and can be destroyed by heat, noise and even dust. The qubits can only be seen with a microscope and their main elements have a width of 200 nanometers (nanometer is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one billionth of a meter).
Ryazanov believes the physics field is experiencing a second quantum revolution. The first revolution was during the discovery of Quantum Mechanics that led to the creation of lasers and nuclear weapons. One of еhe advantages of the quantum computer is the ability to calculate tasks a billion times faster vs the regular computer, due to the capabilities of being in multiple states at the same time, having a value of not just 0 or 1, but both, and any amount of numbers in between. Qubits also have an ability to be linked together (entanglement), even over massive distances where there is zero possibility of a physical connection. When two qubits are linked together, they will both share a similar state and each qubit added to the mix doubles the possible processing capabilities.
In order to be able to utilize quantum computers, scientists catch an atom by using electromagnetic or optical traps. After the atom is caught, it is cooled by using a laser. Consequently, such atoms are the base of the quantum computing. Russian scientists are using a method of superconducting nanostructures of "artificial atoms." Basically, using an application of the fundamental physics of the artificial quantum systems.
The Kremlin is specifically interested in quantum computing application in defense, including navy ships application of disappearing qubits.
IBM and Google are fierce US competitors in the race to develop quantum computers. Earlier this year IBM unveiled the Q System One. IBM Q System One is the world’s first-ever circuit-based commercial quantum computer, introduced in January 2019.
The global quantum computing race is on. Thus far the only announcement of a Navy application has been by Russia. Nevertheless, the Pentagon last year commented on their vision of using quantum computing as a main future weapon in space. Putin’s military ambitions and global dominance is the one to watch.
Phys.org / October 2nd, 2019
Scientists of the Samara Polytech sinter lunar soil in a microwave
Making bricks from a lunar soil simulator takes 40 minutes.
Сотрудники Самарского государственного технического университета предложили новый способ изготовления строительных блоков из лунного грунта реголита для постройки защитных барьеров вокруг будущих лунных станций. Технология позволяет изготавливать блоки методом спекания с помощью сверхвысокочастотного излучения. В лунных условиях это будет в пять раз быстрее, чем при помощи солнечных печей, особенно если учесть, что ночь на Луне длится 15 земных суток.
Samara scientists continue to develop the concept of inhabited space. Another method for the manufacture of building blocks from lunar regolith is proposed and a rather simple, but very strong and fast-built construction of the protective dome of the lunar station is developed.
A team of scientists led by an engineer, candidate of sciences, associate professor of the Department of Chemistry and Technology of Organic Nitrogen Compounds, Alexander Pyzhov, taking basalt from the South Ural deposit as a basis, made a model of lunar soil in the laboratory, and baked the samples formed from it in a microwave oven. In addition, scientists have proposed a new technology for the manufacture of a protective dome for lunar settlements. A patent was received for the first version of a unique architectural structure, and in preparation for patenting, a second, more effective version. Recent research results published in the journal "Aerospace Sphere". The initiator of all experiments is the tenth grader of Samara school number 64 Ilya Yanov.
"Many already know about the technology of making bricks in lunar conditions using sunlight", explains Alexander Pyzhov. "But I think this method has two obvious drawbacks. Firstly, the day on the satellite lasts about 15 Earth days, the moon night lasts as much, during which the stationary heliolithographic production will obviously be idle. It also takes about five hours to create one, for example, a 100 kg block suitable for construction in a solar furnace. It's a lot".
The technology used by polytechnic scientists makes it possible to make bricks by sintering regolith in a microwave oven five times faster. The strength of bricks from a simulator of lunar soil is significantly higher than the strength of clay bricks, and the density of the finished regolith block is close to the density of basalt.
Basalt is poured into the mold for the future brick, then it is moistened to simulate the cohesion of the lunar soil and compacted. After drying, the finished sample is placed in a heat-insulating chamber (box). Such a box will reduce heat loss and keep the temperature longer at which the workpiece is sintered. It is about 1100-1150 degrees Celsius. Boxing is closed and put in the microwave without a turntable for 40 minutes. The finished ceramic sample is then tested.
Before starting work, the inhabitants of the lunar station must surround themselves with a strong protective barrier, for example, in the form of a lancet or conical dome, which scientists prefer over the usual, regular hemisphere.
A pneumatic formwork resembling a balloon is inflated in the crater recess, which is then lined with blocks of sintered regolith. From above, the shell is covered with a layer of lunar soil with a thickness of four to five meters, and then is protected from direct meteorites by another layer of blocks. Robots will be able to cope with the construction. Only such a protective structure can protect the inhabitants of the lunar station from cosmic radiation and impacts of meteorites weighing up to 200-300 g.
Tests of models of various types of domes, conducted at the Samara Polytech, showed that when compressed, the lancet shape of the shelter is 15-18 percent stronger than the model of a traditional dome of the same dimensions.
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GenomeWeb / Oct 02, 2019
Plague Genomes Reveal How Pandemic Spread in 14th, 18th Centuries
Международная команда ученых (Германия, Россия, Эстония, Великобритания, Швейцария, Франция, Бельгия, США) проанализировала 34 генома чумной палочки, выделенные из останков людей в 10 захоронениях XIV-XVII вв. на территории Европы, в том числе в российском Поволжье. Оказалось, что поволжский штамм является общим предком всех остальных. По мнению генетиков, это древнейший представитель линии Yersinia pestis, вызвавшей в 1346-1382 гг. вторую из трех известных в истории пандемий чумы.
New plague genomes dating from around the time of the Black Death have given researchers a glimpse into how the pandemic spread across Europe.
The second plague pandemic began with the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century AD and persisted through the 18th century. Estimates suggest that the outbreak caused the deaths of up to 60 percent of the European population. But where the strain of Yersinia pestis that caused this pandemic originated has been unclear.
A team led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History analyzed human remains dating back to the time of the second plague pandemic to tease out remnants of the Y. pestis that infected individuals across Europe. Through their sequencing and phylogenetic analysis, the researchers found that Y. pestis likely entered through Eastern Europe and that its genetic diversity remained low during the time of the Black Death. After then, the plague diversified to give rise to multiple disease branches. The findings were published today in Nature Communications.
"We have shown that extensive analysis of ancient Y. pestis genomes can provide unique insights into the microevolution of a pathogen over a period of several hundred years," senior author Johannes Krause, the director of the department of archaeogenetics at Max Planck, said in a statement.
The researchers searched for Y. pestis DNA within tooth samples collected at 10 archaeological sites across Europe that dated to the 14th to 17th centuries. For each sample that was putatively positive for the presence of Y. pestis, the researchers combined a Y. pestis whole-genome in-solution capture approach with sequencing to generate new Y. pestis genomes.
Using a maximum likelihood method, the researchers constructed a phylogenetic tree of these new and previously published plague samples. All the newly reconstructed plague genomes, the researchers noted, reside on the same branch and are situated near other samples from the second plague pandemic.
One isolate, hailing from Laishevo, Russia, appeared ancestral to the new Black Death-era samples from other parts of Europe and to previously published isolates from London and Bolgar City, Russia. This suggested to the researchers that this is the most ancestral form of the strain that entered Europe from the east.
All the Black Death-era isolates were highly similar. One of the new samples from an archaeological site in Nabburg did not differ from previously published Y. pestis genomes isolated from London and Barcelona. Likewise, other samples from Toulouse, Oslo, and Siena at first appeared to differ by a few SNPs, but when the researchers examined the sequences manually, they found the differences could be due to DNA damage or other, environmental contaminants.
After the Black Death, though, genetic diversity increased among Y. pestis samples and they split into multiple branches. This, the researchers noted, suggests that multiple reservoirs of the plague may have been established. However they noted that no modern descendants have been found, indicating that those reservoirs may have gone extinct.
Late in the second plague pandemic, these lineages lost a portion of the Y. pestis genome that includes two genes, mgtB and mgtC, that affect virulence. This same region was lost, the researchers noted, in an earlier plague pandemic, suggesting that the bacterium might have followed similar evolutionary paths in both outbreaks.
"Given that this deletion occurred in lineages from the first and second pandemic, both now extinct, determining how these genes impact maintenance in human and flea hosts would be an important area for future study," author Kirsten Bos, a research group leader at Max Planck, said.
Copyright © 2019 GenomeWeb, a business unit of Crain Communications. All Rights Reserved.
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ScienceAlert / 3 Oct 2019
Earth's Magnetic Poles Could Flip More Frequently Than We Previously Thought
Изучив намагниченные частицы магнетита и гематита в образцах породы возрастом 500 млн лет, российские (ИФЗ РАН, ИНГГ СО РАН, КФУ) и французские (CNRS) геологи пришли к выводу, что в то время инверсия магнитного поля Земли случалась гораздо чаще. На протяжении 3 млн лет северный и южный магнитные полюса менялись местами примерно каждые 40 тысяч лет, после чего частота инверсий резко снизилась. Последняя смена полюсов случилась около 780 тысяч лет назад.
Half a billion years ago, when trilobites ruled and dry land was a barren wasteland, Earth was having a terrible time making a decision. North and south had switched places nearly 80 times in just a few million years, making it one of the most geomagnetically turbulent moments in history.
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Geologists from the Russian Academy of Science and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France measured the orientations of tiny magnetised particles in rock samples from northeastern Siberia. The source was a set of crumbling cliffs overlooking the Khorbusuonka River - a legacy of a time 500 million years ago when the region's landscape was covered in water. As tiny particles of magnetite and hematite drifted in the waters, they aligned with the planet's magnetic field. Once locked in place among the sediment, they became a permanent record of the compass points at that time.
Of particular interest to the team were the layers of grit that corresponded with a stage of the Cambrian called the Drumian. Based on the results of their previous study, the researchers estimated around half a dozen polarity reversals took place every million years or so during this particular stage of history. But the data wasn't as comprehensive as they'd liked, so in 2016 they returned for another look. From 437 new samples, the geologists identified a total of 78 shifts in polarity over a 3 million year period. This suggests an astonishing maximum frequency of 26 reversals per million years. Even if they're being conservative with their sums and only counting consecutive samples showing polarity swaps, the rate is still around 15 reversals. For some reason, this intense period of magnetic musical chairs dropped off in the later part of the Cambrian to just 1.5 flips per million years. Such a stark difference in frequency suggests that whatever is causing these reversals deep inside our planet's churning guts, it's not a subtle process. In fact, two very different modes in Earth's field-generating dynamo could be at work.
We've understood for some time that the flip-flopping of Earth's magnetic field has varied in frequency. Over the past 20 million years, for example, the poles have switched places roughly every few hundred thousand years or so. The last big swap was about 780,000 years ago. There have been blocks of tens of millions of years where not a lot of change can be detected. Referred to as superchrons, they are probably driven by a drop in the flow of heat between the core and mantle. At the other extreme, there are earlier signs of intense flipping deep in the geological record. During the Ediacaran Period around 550 million years ago, the magnetic field went a little nuts, reversing 24 times every million years.
What's more, some researchers think these rapid swaps could have even been behind an ecological catastrophe called the Kotlinian Crisis, a major extinction event that marks the end of that geological period.
Identifying clues surrounding the frequency and periodicity of these events over vast time scales could help us not only better explain why the magnetic field can change so dramatically, it could help us to better predict future flips.
The question of whether we're about to see a full reversal in our planet's polarity has been a hot topic in geology circles. Something odd is definitely going on, but whether it's an imminent reversal or just a drifting pole, it's hard to say. If it does change, there are also questions on whether it's a sudden switch over centuries or a drawn-out process over millennia, and whether it will put technology or even life at risk of uncomfortably high doses of radiation.
With so many unanswered questions, and such potential risks, it's vital we step back to see what history has to say.
This research was published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
ZME Science / October 7, 2019
The last mammoths lived on a remote island in the Arctic
They died-off suddenly - but perhaps not dramatically.
Финские, российские (ДВО СО РАН) и немецкие ученые выяснили, что последние мамонты жили на острове Врангеля и внезапно вымерли всего 4 тысячи лет назад. Среди возможных причин - инфекции, попадание в питьевую воду ядовитых веществ и тяжелых металлов из горных пород, накопление мутаций из-за изолированности и малочисленности популяции.
An international team of researchers with members from the Universities of Helsinki, the University of Tübingen, and the Russian Academy of Sciences reports that the wooly mammoths likely went extinct due to a combination of habitat isolation and extreme weather events - as well as the spread of ancient humans.
Within a very short timeframe some 4,000 years old, the last population of these animals - which lived on Wrangel Island - went extinct, they add.
Last of the mammoths
"It’s easy to imagine that the population, perhaps already weakened by genetic deterioration and drinking water quality issues could have succumbed after something like an extreme weather event," says professor Hervé Bocherens from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, a co-author of the study.
Mammoths enjoyed great success during the last ice age, from around 100,000 to 15,000 years ago. The species ranged from Spain to Alaska and fared quite comfortably during that time. Around 15,000 years ago, however, temperatures started picking up, and the mammoths’ natural range started to shrink. The Wrangel Island population, the team notes, was cut off by rising sea levels from their mainland counterparts and would live in isolation for the next 7,000 years.
The team examined carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and strontium isotopes from a large set of mammoth bones and teeth dug up from Northern Siberia, Alaska, the Yukon, and Wrangel Island. These specimens ranged in age from 40,000 to 4,000 years ago. The researchers aimed to document possible changes in the mammoths’ diets over this time (which would be ‘recorded’ in their bones as different isotope ratios) as proxies for the environmental disturbances the species was exposed to.
The results showed that the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in the collagen of Wrangel Island mammoths did not shift as the climate warmed up some 10,000 years ago. The values remained unchanged until the mammoths disappeared, seemingly from the midst of stable, favorable living conditions.
Such results show a stark contrast with those obtained from wooly mammoth bones in the Ukrainian-Russian plains, who died out 15,000 years ago. It’s also different from the mammoths of St. Paul Island in Alaska, who disappeared 5,600 years ago. In both cases, the last representatives of these populations (that we’ve found) show markedly-different isotope compositions, suggesting changes in their environment shortly before they became locally extinct.
Earlier research had shown that mammoths on Wrangel Island suffered certain mutations that affected their fat metabolism. In the present study, the team reports finding a different ratio of carbon isotopes in their bones compared to Siberian mammoths, likely due to a difference in the fat and carbohydrates in the diets of the two groups.
The bones of Wrangel Island mammoths also showed higher levels of sulfur and strontium, likely due to increased weathering of bedrock in the area close to the mammoths’ extinction. These elements likely found their way into rivers and streams, affecting the quality of the animals’ drinking water.
All in all, the mammoths of the island disappeared suddenly, but perhaps, not dramatically. The team says short-term events like extreme weather is what likely did them in in the end. A simple icing event can cover the ground in a thick enough layer of ice to prevent the animals from finding food - which is enough to cause a dramatic drop in numbers. Another possible reason is the spread of humans in the area, with the earliest evidence of their presence on the island preceding the last mammoth fossils by just a few hundred years. The chance of finding evidence that humans hunted Wrangel Island mammoths is very small, the team explains, yet a human contribution to the extinction cannot be ruled out.
The study shows just how fragile a small population of large mammals is to environmental shifts and human activity. The team says their findings can help preserve species by aiming conservation efforts at the populations that are not isolated from one another.
The paper "Thriving or surviving? The isotopic record of the Wrangel Island woolly mammoth population" has been published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.
© 2007-2019 ZME Science - Not exactly rocket science. All Rights Reserved.
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CBS News / October 11, 2019
Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space, has died at age 85
В возрасте 85 лет скончался Алексей Архипович Леонов (1934-2019), человек, первым вышедший в открытый космос, принимавший участие в первой в истории стыковке советского и американского космических кораблей, всемирно известный общественный и государственный деятель, талантливый художник.
Legendary cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space - an experience that almost killed him - and later the commander of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that docked with a NASA Apollo capsule, symbolizing a historic thaw in the Cold War, has died after a long illness, the Russian space agency confirmed Friday. He was 85.
An accomplished amateur artist and a widely respected statesman in the international space community, Leonov remained a lifelong friend of his Apollo-Soyuz Test Project crewmates and a source of inspiration to a younger generation of cosmonauts who carried his photo to the International Space Station and marked his 85th birthday during a spacewalk in May.
"Leonov was certainly a cosmonaut's cosmonaut, he was stout of mind, body and heart," James Oberg, an expert on the Russian space program, said in an interview with CBS Radio. "He came through as a real tough guy who could handle problems, including almost being killed on his first spacewalk. But he also was a very decent human being."
Said retired astronaut Scott Kelly in a Twitter posting: Cosmonaut #AlexeiLeonov passed away today in Moscow. He was not only the first person to walk in space, but also an accomplished artist. Most significant, however, he was a great human being. Fair winds and following seas my friend."
The news of Leonov's passing came as two astronauts aboard the International Space Station were beginning a 6.5 hour spacewalk to replace batteries in the lab's solar power system, the 220th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998.
"Here's a toast to a great man whose kindness and mentorship impacted so many explorers," tweeted astronaut Jack Fischer. "On a day when two astronauts carry on the spacewalking tradition he started, his legacy is obvious."
Added moonwalker Buzz Aldrin: "The cosmonaut ambassador to the world. A great pleasure to be his friend. He tried for the moon but we made it. ... Farewell and Godspeed Alexi."
Speaking to the NASA interviewer 50 years later, Leonov said "I really don't know how I managed to turn and go with my legs first. I was running a fever, I was sweating, I could not see much because of the sweat."
Oberg said Leonov "always regretted and apologized in later years that he had been given written statements to give the press about how easy it was and how their training was perfect when, in fact, he said, it was just the opposite. He nearly died."
Leonov and Belyayev returned to Earth on March 19, 1965, landing nearly 240 miles off course after their Soyuz descent module did not properly separate from from an upper compartment. Compared to the pinpoint landings Soyuz spacecraft make today returning from the International Space Station, Leonov's landing reads like an action adventure.
"The capsule's radio beacon antenna broke off while landing among the trees, making it more difficult for the rescue forces to locate them," Newkirk wrote. "Since there were no clearings nearby for helicopters to land, it would be the next day until rescue forces reached the capsule.
"The cosmonauts were forced to retreat to the capsule after meeting timber wolves that night and had to hold the hatch closed ... while trying to rest in the very uncomfortable spacesuits. After skiing to recovery helicopters the next day, they were airlifted back to Star City."
Leonov's second spaceflight came in July 1975 when he and cosmonaut Valeri Kubasov blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and then stood by in orbit while a NASA Apollo capsule carrying astronauts Tom Stafford, Vance Brand and Mercury 7 astronaut Deke Slayton caught up for a historic rendezvous.
The mission grew out of a treaty signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972. It became one of the symbolic highlights of the era of detente when Cold War relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were easy after three decades of nuclear brinksmanship.
After their linkup in space, Leonov welcomed Stafford with a handshake, smiling broadly. He would be promoted to general after the flight and go on to hold a variety of posts in the Russian space program and remained an active observer and a familiar face at Soyuz launchings long after retiring from an active role.
He and Stafford remained life-long friends.
"He was absolutely open and honest," Oberg said. "He didn't think twice about the effect or propriety of what he was going to be saying. He had his opinions, they were very well grounded in reality. ... But he was also genuinely compassionate and generous to people around him. So, as a fine human being, the first person to walk among the stars and now walking further among the stars, he was a marvelous selection, and the first person to shake hands in space with an American."
A close friend of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, Leonov joined Pavel Belyayev aboard the two-seat Voskhod 2 spacecraft and rocketed into orbit on March 18, 1965. It was the seventh piloted spaceflight launched by the Soviet Union and the 16th overall.
The flight came in the heated early days of the Cold War space race when the Soviet Union was chalking up an impressive lists of "firsts" while carrying out flights in near total secrecy. Knowing NASA was planning spacewalks in its Gemini program, Russia beat the U.S. space agency to the punch once again with the Voskhod 2 mission.
Using a jury-rigged inflatable airlock on the side of the Voskhod spacecraft, Leonov floated outside his spacecraft for what turned out to be a 12-minute spacewalk. Grainy video and photos released after the fact showed the cosmonaut floating against the backdrop of planet Earth, arms spread out like a skydiver.
"The most vivid impression of my life has to do with the fact that not only was I in a (spacesuit), but I found myself to be surrounded with the stars," he told a NASA interviewer on the 50th anniversary of the historic outing. "Stars were on the right hand side and the Earth was on the left hand side, and there was just enormous, unbelievable silence.
"The ability to see the whole Earth as a globe is something that was extremely attractive, and I could easily recognize the Black Sea, the Crimea, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy. ... and it was all within minutes, if not seconds," he said. "But the most (lasting) impression had to do with the silence.
"I hear how my heart was pounding," he recalled, speaking through a translator, "I could hear myself breathe."
He said the British writer Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick, working on the film "2001: A Space Odyssey," captured that impression in the movie's soundtrack. And then there were the stars.
"The stars were very bright," Leonov said. "They were everywhere. They were above, they were beneath. On the ground, you can only see stars up in the sky. In space, they are everywhere."
Because of the stiffness of his pressurized spacesuit, Leonov ran into major problems getting back inside the Voskhod spacecraft, only succeeding by risking the bends and lowering the pressure enough to squeeze through the hatch like a contortionist.
"After several futile attempts at bending his legs into the airlock, he had to dangerously reduce air pressure in the suit ... to reduce the ballooning effect," Dennis Newkirk wrote in "Almanac of Soviet Manned Space Flight."
"He found he still could not bend enough to go in feet first, and instead, went head first into the airlock. He somehow managed to turn around in the flexible airlock tube to reach the outer hatch and close it. ... Leonov later said said he was on the verge of a heat stroke and covered with sweat. He lost (12 pounds) of body weight that day."
© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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CNN / October 13, 2019
Russian scientists say they've found the highest-ever 'flares' of methane in Arctic waters
Специалисты Томского политехнического университета зафиксировали в Восточно-Сибирском море рекордный выброс метана - в девять раз больше среднепланетарных значений. Это свидетельствует о том, что подводная вечная мерзлота на морском дне тает.
Russian scientists studying Arctic waters found the most powerful ever methane jets shooting up from the seabed to the water's surface, they said Friday.
Igor Semiletov, the chief scientist aboard a vessel carrying 65 scientists on a 40-day research voyage, told CNN via satellite phone that he found amounts of methane in the air over the East Siberian Sea up to nine times the global average.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a significantly greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide, according to NASA. The methane emissions in the Arctic, fueled by the melting of permafrost on the sea floor, are one driver of climate change, NASA said. The emissions are presenting a growing risk. Methane levels Semiletov's team found in the air above the seawater were "extremely high," he said. "Nobody has detected these concentrations."
Levels are highest seen in decades of research
Semiletov, a professor at Tomsk Polytechnic University in Siberia, said the ship full of scientists reached the East Siberian Sea around the beginning of October. The water is usually tough to get through due to it being "covered in ice," but Semiletov said this year was different. The water was "fully open." The team studied more than 60 sites known to have had methane emissions at the water's surface in the past. Each emission site varies in size. Some spread across 100 square meters of sea surface. Others can cover a square kilometer. When the plumes of methane reach the surface, the water looks like it's boiling. The researchers take samples of the air above the bubbling columns to determine how much methane is coming out of the sea, and its potential to alter the atmosphere.
In previous trips, Semiletov said he found methane at 3, 4 or 5 parts per million at these sites, well above the average atmospheric methane concentration of 1.7 parts per million. On this trip, some of the measurements were up to 16 parts per million.
Semiletov said he embarked on 30 to 35 expeditions over the past 15 years, but on this one there were some surprises. He said the methane emissions, which look like torches or flares, are "all increasing."
Building on a legacy of breakthroughs
Semiletov and his colleague Natalia Shakhova raised an alarm with their 2010 paper in the journal Science showing that underwater permafrost on the seabed of the Arctic shelf could melt and release methane into the ocean.
Prior to that, scientists thought the sub-sea permafrost was essentially an impermeable barrier keeping methane at bay.
In a 2012 interview published by the European Geophysical Union, Shakhova said the hydrocarbons buried beneath the Arctic shelf have potential to be a major contributor to climate change. As permafrost on the seabed melts, it could dramatically change Earth's atmosphere, she said, noting the release of only 1% of the gas could make an impact. "The very shallow water column and weakening permafrost" could lead to the doubling of methane in the atmosphere in "a matter of decades," Shakhova suggested.
In past trips, the scientists found the methane seeps growing year by year and summarized decades of results earlier this year in the journal Geosciences. "It's crucially important to study the change in size of the seeps," Semiletov said.
The methane releases contribute to global warming
Semiletov said so far the increasing methane emissions are a "significant contribution" to global warming, "but not catastrophic." However, "The public should know it would affect climate in the near future if there are increases in the rate of permafrost degradation," he said.
The scientists are expected to return to port by the end of the month and they'll have plenty of new data to process. Semiletov felt confident they'd have enough to publish "a couple of papers" based on the recent voyage. One major takeaway, he emphasized, was the need to focus global scientific attention on the methane seeps.
"This goes beyond geo-political considerations," he said. "We need to think about how to combine our efforts to study this, because it affects everyone."
© 2019 Cable News Network.Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Ars Technica / 10/15/2019
Russia wants to remove space robot’s legs, give it wheels, send it to the Moon
This is certainly a novel approach to exploration.
После отправки в августе этого года на МКС андроида «Федора» (Skybot F-850) Россия планирует послать на Луну робота-кентавра - антропоморфный корпус на колесной базе. Колеса обеспечат подвижность в лунных условиях, «руки» - способность манипулировать инструментами. Неясно только, имеются ли финансовые и технические возможности для разработки и отправки подобной конструкции.
Back in mid-August, the Russian space corporation Roscosmos launched a humanoid robot to the International Space Station to determine the suitability of its Soyuz 2.1a rocket to handle a crew version of the Soyuz spacecraft. The robot, officially referred to as "Skybot F-850" but nicknamed "Fedor," spent about two weeks on the station.
During that time, Fedor performed several tests, including an assessment of the potential for conducting repairs outside the space station. The robot also demonstrated its capability to use a drill, a towel, and electrical equipment. After nearly 16 days, Fedor and its Soyuz spacecraft landed safely in the dusty steppes of Kazakhstan.
Russian scientists and engineers apparently felt the mission was enough of a success to expand their ambitions for Fedor-like robots. According to state news service RIA Novosti, the country plans to send a vehicle to the Moon in three or four years that has a humanoid torso and the body of a rover.
Yevgeny Dudorov, executive director of the Russia-based robotics firm NPO Android Technique that built Fedor, said this centaur-like robot would represent the vanguard of animal-like robots with wheeled bases sent out to explore the Solar System.
This is certainly a novel approach to exploration, and it has some benefits for worlds with gravity, as a robot with "hands" would have the ability to manipulate tools and perform other tasks in the place of humans. The wheels, of course, would allow for much greater mobility on worlds like the Moon and Mars.
But there are serious questions about funding for such an enterprise in Russia, as well as technical questions about whether Roscosmos would be able to mount an interplanetary mission. The last time the country successfully sent a spacecraft to land on another world came in 1976, when its Luna 24 mission returned 170 grams of lunar regolith to Earth.
Since that time the Russians have had a notable space program in low-Earth orbit featuring a succession of space stations, culminating in the partnership with NASA and 13 other nations to develop and fly the International Space Station. But the country has gone no further, and it's difficult to know whether Russia truly intends to finance a fleet of Fedor-like robots to spread out over the Solar System, or if this is just good public relations for the beleaguered head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin.
© 2019 Condé Nast. All rights reserved.
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PRNewswire / Oct 17, 2019
Ural Federal University and Elsevier Collaborate to Support Research Excellence
Уральский федеральный университет и компания Elsevier заключили соглашение с целью создать единую исследовательскую экосистему для сотрудников университета, которая будет включать в себя онлайн-инструменты для поиска статей, управления ссылками и данными, а также для нетворкинга.
Ural Federal University, one of the leading higher education institutions in Russia, and Elsevier, a global information analytics business specializing in science and health, today announced a unique agreement to help support the university in its vision of becoming a world-class research and education institution in the heart of Eurasia.
The agreement will see Elsevier deliver a seamless research eco-system for the university's researchers that includes online tools for discovering relevant articles, managing references and data, and networking. The system will be source neutral and interoperable, bringing in information from third parties and other institutional tools.
The system will help Ural Federal University's management with the research process at an institutional, departmental and individual level. It will help make the university's research output more visible for future international collaborators. University management will also be able to objectively analyze research activity and make recommendations to help researchers achieve their goals, from identifying scientific topics with the greatest funding potential to choosing sources of scientific communication in the university's priority areas. Researchers will be at the center of this activity, with a system that allows the university to flexibly solve the challenges they face.
"The development of scientific research with the involvement of reputable international partners is one of the key priorities of our university," points Viktor Koksharov, Rector of Ural Federal University. "Developing cooperation with Elsevier will help our scientists quickly find current trends in world science and enter new authoritative scientific publications for publishing articles. We look forward to increasing the visibility of our research on a global scale. We have formed a system of rewards for researchers. Thanks to this, our scientists have an additional incentive to be included in the global scientific agenda. I am sure that cooperation with Elsevier will allow us to achieve even greater success in this area. We will definitely use it. This will work to enhance our academic reputation."
Throughout the project, Ural Federal University staff will work very closely with their Elsevier partners by providing valuable feedback on these tools and their functionality. Everyone on the university's campus will be invited to take part in dedicated training sessions, user testing opportunities and on-campus events.
Olivier Dumon, Chief Product Officer, Elsevier said "We know leaders at Ural Federal University are constantly looking at ways to build on the institution's success and our agreement has been set up to help support them in achieving their ambitious goals. We want to work collaboratively with researchers, research institutions and funders to develop tools together that meet their needs. We're thrilled to be working with Ural Federal University in this way."
Ural Federal University is a participant in Project 5-100, the key result of which should be the appearance in Russia of modern leading universities with an effective management structure and international academic reputation, capable of setting trends in the development of global higher education.
Copyright © 2019 PR Newswire Association LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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Stock News Brief / October 17, 2019
How a "biological weapon" can save forests in Siberia & North America
Ученые из Тюменского государственного университета предложили способ борьбы с короедами, которые наносят хвойным лесам вред не меньший, чем пожары. В качестве биологического оружия выступят некоторые виды клещей-паразитоидов, уничтожающих личинки короедов.
Wildfires are not the only serious threat to pine forests across our planet. Bark beetle outbreaks in North America and Siberia have ravaged natural forests so extensively that in some areas the tree death toll has neared 100%. Scientists from the University of Tyumen have come up with a solution that may surprise you: to use microscopic mites as a sort of natural, "biological weapon."
Fluctuating temperatures and severe droughts during the 1980-90s not only weakened pine trees across North America, making them more vulnerable, but they also made normally harmless mountain pine beetles as dangerous for pine forests as wildfires. Warmer winters can lead to a dramatic rise in the bark beetle population, because more beetles than usual survive the cold season and, subsequently, their increased numbers also lead to a reduction of their reproduction cycle from 2 years to 1. As a result, beetles that normally feed on dead or old trees start migrating to new areas in search of food.
To National Geographic, "since the 1990s, more than 60 million acres of forest, from northern New Mexico through British Columbia, have suffered die-offs." The Canadian Forest Service the mountain pine beetle outbreak "the largest known insect infestation in North American history." In some areas, the tree death-toll has almost reached 100 percent. Currently, the only effective way of dealing with bark beetle outbreaks is by thinning and burning the infested areas.
Forest Biosecurity Research Center launched
In order to better understand how to protect forests, University of Tyumen, in partnership with Northern Arizona University, opened a joint Forest Biosecurity Research Center in March 2019. Dr. Richard Hofstetter from the School of Forestry at the Northern Arizona University, says it’s important for his work to study the Siberian pine forest’s ecosystems. "Siberia and North America have a very similar community of plants and beetles and other insects. The species are different. By comparing different communities in different places, different systems, we can look for patterns or differences that can help us solve the problems," he says. One of the center’s current focus is to share knowledge and find solutions to preventing insect outbreaks that damage forests.
Biological weapon against bark beetles
Scientists from the University of Tyumen now believe they’ve come up with a promising solution. Their studies of the Typographus bark beetle - or the European spruce bark beetle, as it’s commonly called - show that the beetle population may be controlled with a specific "biological weapon" - microscopic mites that feed on beetle eggs.
"Mites are one of the main natural controllers of the bark beetle population," says Alexander Khaustov, leading researcher in X-BIO Institute, University of Tyumen. There are dozens of different mites associated with beetles. European spruce bark beetles, for example, coexist with more than 60 mite species. Parasitic mites are just a small portion of this diverse group and they are the mites that actually control the beetle population by feeding on their eggs.
"If we find effective parasitoids that can reduce beetle population within a short time, it will be a very promising biological weapon against forest pests," says Andrey Tolstikov, Director of X-BIO Institute, University of Tyumen. The main idea is to find mites that not only feed on eggs, but use them to resettle. Thus they don‘t need to be grown. "One mite will be enough for its mass reproduction," says Alexander Khaustov.
How to deal with an Asian invader?
Siberia‘s biggest problem is another bark beetle species - the Polygraphus proximus. It‘s an invasive species native to Japan and China that came from the Russian Far East and took Siberia by storm. One of the reasons it succeeded in ravaging vast Siberian forests is that it seems to have left its parasitic mites back home.
Faced with the urgent task of stopping the Polygraphus proximus, Tyumen scientists nearly succeeded finding a parasitic mite for the Asian invader. "We grew Polygraphus proximus […] and tried to artificially plant mites on it. Mites ate well beetle larva, bred well, but failed to attach to it, which is very important, because only mites that can resettle with a beetle species can control its population"
What the specific reasons mites choose to be associated with beetles are yet unknown. Scientists say it may be subject to very intimate chemistry that’s yet to be explored.
The ideal "biological weapon"
Mites seem to be an ideal weapon against beetles, because they are only associated specifically with the bark beetle species. "These mites are associated with bark beetles. Many of them are highly specialised. It means that we do not interfere with nature," says Alexander Khaustov. According to Richard Hofstetter, "The use of mites can be effective when beetle populations are low, it can keep the population down." He says that "these are native mites, naturally found on beetles, so there are ways to increase their abundance. Then, it can be a tool to keep reproduction down and increase the beetle mortality rate within trees."
And even if scientists fail to find parasitic mites for most dangerous bark beetle species, there are other organisms in the pipeline that could be used as a "biological weapon". Like the parasitoid wasp or even bacteria and fungi.
Copyright © 2019 Stock News Brief. All Rights Reserved.
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Science Daily / October 18, 2019
Preventing streptococci infections
Международная группа шотландских и российских ученых (Университет Данди, Эдинбургский университет, Институт органической химии имени Н.Д.Зелинского РАН) обнаружила у бактерий рода стрептококков фермент, блокировка которого останавливает их рост. Это позволит лечить вызванные стрептококками болезни без применения антибиотиков.
Researchers at the University of Dundee have discovered an enzyme they believe could be key to preventing Group A Streptococcus infections that cause more than 500,000 deaths worldwide each year.
Group A Streptococcus can lead to illnesses such as strep throat, scarlet fever, sepsis and toxic shock syndrome as well as several long-term autoimmune diseases with high mortality rates. Working with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh and the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Dundee researchers found an enzyme that is required to produce a carbohydrate on the surface of the streptococcal bacterium which enables it to infect humans and animals.
The team, led by Dr Helge Dorfmueller, is based in the Division of Molecular Microbiology at the University's School of Life Sciences. Their research reveals new opportunities to inhibit this enzyme and, ultimately, fight Group A Streptococcus infections. The fact this enzyme works through a novel mechanism of action that can also be found in other streptococcal species increases the impact and relevance of this finding.
Dr Dorfmueller said, "Strep throat is the most common Group A Streptococcus infection and can often be fought by the body's immune system. Unfortunately, the very same bacterium also causes a plethora of severe and potentially fatal illnesses, such as sepsis and toxic shock syndrome.
"We knew that the carbohydrate coating was an essential component of Group A Strep, but we wanted to find out more about how this worked. What we have now shown is that the enzyme initiates the synthesis of the bacterial coating.
"Surprisingly, we also found that this enzyme fulfils the same function in many other types of streptococci. This includes Group B Streptococci, that can cause severe infections in newborns, and Group C and G Streptococci that cause similar disease as Group A, including bacteraemia and endocarditis, in humans and animals."
The newly discovered enzyme, called α-D-GlcNAc-β-1,4-L-rhamnosyltransferase, is not present in humans or animals, therefore providing a novel opportunity for drug discovery programmes. Antimicrobial resistance is a global problem, and existing antibiotics fail to work in around 20% of cases of strep throat. The long-term aim of the Dundee team is to aid the development of a new class of antimicrobial drug that could completely inhibit or reduce the enzyme's activity. The next step towards this goal will see them work with the University's Drug Discovery Unit to develop compounds that could target this enzyme.
The research was jointly led by PhD student Azul Zorzoli and Ben Meyer, a former postdoc in Dr Dorfmueller's lab. Azul explained, "If you picture a tennis ball, this carbohydrate would be the furry layer that covers the ball. This layer is an essential structural component of the cell and is used by the bacterium to facilitate infection. In our recent study, we show how this protein initiates the production of this carbohydrate through a mechanism never described before.
"Our research provides the opportunity to target this enzymatic step for drug discovery. For instance, these findings can become a cornerstone to potentially develop a new compound to inhibit streptococci, leading to novel therapeutic strategies. Because this step is exclusive to bacteria, compounds targeting this enzyme should have minimal off-target effects, making it an excellent candidate as an antimicrobial drug."
Copyright 2019 ScienceDaily.
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Science / Oct. 21, 2019
Embattled Russian scientist sharpens plans to create gene-edited babies
Июньская статья в журнале Nature о намерении российского генетика Дениса Ребрикова изменить ДНК человеческого эмбриона для борьбы с наследственными заболеваниями при помощи технологии редактирования генома CRISPR вызвала реакцию ученых и специалистов по биоэтике во всем мире - большей частью негативную. В ответ Ребриков настаивает на проведении серьезного этического и нормативного анализа предложенного метода. Ученый считает, что тщательный контроль генетических дефектов клеток на каждом этапе работы поможет снизить риск непредусмотренных случайных мутаций - одной из главных опасностей метода CRISPR.
Earlier this month, Denis Rebrikov went to an old mansion in Moscow that now houses the Russian Academy of Sciences’s (RAS’s) Institute of Philosophy to confront his critics and set the record straight. Rebrikov was a well-regarded but little-known geneticist across town at the Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University when a June news article in Nature revealed his controversial plan to alter the DNA in human embryos with CRISPR, the powerful genome editor, and then implant them so they could develop into babies. He has subsequently become the focus of worldwide attention - and widespread condemnation in Russia and elsewhere as a reckless self-promoter.
At the opening of the meeting, attended by bioethicists, geneticists, and clinicians, Rebrikov lamented that the group wanted to debate the merits of his proposed experiment before he had a chance to describe it in detail. "People are discussing my thoughts and my intentions as if I’m not here," Rebrikov said. "In Russia, we have a saying, ‘I have not read Pasternak, but I have my opinions about him,’" he added, referring to the author of Doctor Zhivago. "That’s my case."
The fury that Rebrikov has faced builds on the outrage surrounding He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who startled the world in November 2018 when news broke that he had stealthily used CRISPR to edit human embryos in an attempt to make them resistant to HIV and then implanted them, leading to the birth of twin girls. Not only had He proceeded with flimsy regulatory review, but the girls were not facing any immediate risk that could outweigh the potential harm the editing could cause. As a result, He lost his university job, got booted from a biotech he started, and is subject to ongoing government investigations. He’s experiment also sparked new calls for a moratorium on any further germline editing - making DNA changes that can be passed to future generations, which is what He did and what Rebrikov’s embryo edits would do as well. Two high-level panels were formed with representatives from several countries - but not Russia - to examine the ethics of such work and how to regulate it.
Yet unlike He, Rebrikov has been open about his intentions. He plans to seek rigorous ethical and regulatory review. He would use the technology to treat inherited deafness, addressing a medical need that is arguably more compelling than the theoretical one He chose. Rebrikov says he has a detailed research plan to assess the risks of altering embryos with CRISPR before he makes any attempt to implant them. And whereas He had no expertise in reproductive medicine, Rebrikov works as the chief geneticist at the country’s largest government-run in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic.
Rebrikov’s critics have made a bevy of assertions about his motivations, suggesting he wants fame and glory, grants for his institution, wider acknowledgement that Russian scientists do cutting-edge research, or to prod the country’s strict regulators to loosen up control on many fronts. A stocky 43-year-old who is a former champion in sambo, a Russian martial art that combines judo and wrestling, Rebrikov deftly ducks those charges and counter punches; he calls them speculations and dismisses the claims with a "ha ha" or a shrug. Rebrikov stresses his belief that germline editing has great promise to help people. "When I see a new technology come forward, I want to see how it works and how I can improve it. I am doing research at the speed that natural biological factors allow."
Some highly respected scientists in Russia who know Rebrikov well openly support his efforts. Sergey Lukyanov, a molecular biologist who heads the Pirogov medical school - and is Rebrikov’s former Ph.D. adviser and frequent collaborator - agrees that germline editing is premature for now. But he supports Rebrikov’s step-by-step approach. "[Rebrikov] is one of these people who takes action towards any imperfection of the universe that can, from his point of view, be corrected. For him, this is an opportunity to give happiness to parents to have healthy children."
Rebrikov takes the sharp criticism in stride. "People are usually very conservative, and that’s normal," he says. Rebrikov, in contrast, says he has a high tolerance for risk if there’s a substantial benefit at stake. "In sports school, we were taught to win without thinking about the magnitude of the problem," he says.
Some opposition he suspects comes from the many scientists who are religious. "For me, it’s strange that some people believe in God and make experiments with DNA," he says, asserting that these people have "cockroaches in their brains" - a Russian phrase meaning they are confused, if not delusional.
Critics, even after learning the details of Rebrikov’s plans at the meeting, think he is the one with cockroaches in his brain. "The clinical use for gene editing is like taking something out of the air, it’s imagined," Sergey Kutsev, a clinician who heads Moscow’s Research Centre for Medical Genetics and is the top genetic adviser to the Ministry of Health, told the gathering. Aside from reservations about whether the deafness mutation Rebrikov has targeted is a good choice, Kutsev insisted that the chance of causing harm with CRISPR germline editing is too great for any genetic condition. "I’m absolutely sure the technology’s not ready, the same as every other doctor."
Rebrikov acknowledges the scientific consensus that a bright red line now prohibits germline editing because the young CRISPR technology remains too error prone. Yet to the utter dismay of many colleagues, he has put his toes right on the line. And he is forcing Russia and the world at large to confront the key question: How, exactly, do you responsibly cross it?
Cowboy or careful?
Rebrikov first discussed editing embryos at a conference in Kazan, Russia, on "postgenome" technologies in October 2018, nearly 1 month before the He story would explode. "I was really surprised that in the full auditorium of 500 people he was freely speaking about this issue," says Egor Prokhortchouk, a genomics specialist at RAS’s Research Center of Biotechnology in Moscow. Even though Rebrikov’s study didn’t violate Russian regulations, Prokhortchouk still thought it was pushing the limits of what the strict science and health ministries would allow.
Working with nonviable embryos made at his IVF clinic - part of the Kulakov National Medical Research Center for Obstetrics, Gynecology and Perinatology - Rebrikov and his co-workers used CRISPR to introduce a deletion into a gene for a protein, CCR5, that studs the surface of white blood cells. People who naturally inherit a defective CCR5 gene from both parents are highly resistant to HIV and suffer no dramatic ill effects from the protein’s absence; this is the same gene that He tried to cripple in the twin girls. But Rebrikov’s experiment - which joined about a dozen such human embryo-editing studies published to date, mainly from Chinese researchers - simply explored the efficiency of CRISPR. He did not discuss implanting edited embryos. "Everybody was interested in technical details and nobody asked questions about ethical things," Prokhortchouk says.
In February, however, Rebrikov disclosed his greater ambitions to Prokhortchouk and his medical students. Rebrikov and his colleagues had described the CCR5 embryo study in the Bulletin of RSMU, which led Prokhortchouk to invite him to a student journal club to discuss the paper and He’s experiment. "Rebrikov insisted that he wants to create CCR5-edited babies and that this will protect them from HIV infection from their mothers," says Prokhortchouk, who was - and remains - opposed to such plans.
Rebrikov says from the outset he was not interested in preventing a specific medical ailment, but rather to prove that he could safely help people with germline editing, which he believes will one day be widely used. He wanted to build his case by finding people with rare medical situations that would warrant the risk. He hoped to identify, for example, women who were living with HIV and wanted babies but were not responding to marketed antiretrovirals, which powerfully reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission. Using IVF to create embryos homozygous for the CCR5 mutant in theory could help prevent infection from their mothers.
Rebrikov’s initial CRISPR embryo experiments aimed to better gauge the risks and challenges. Ideally, when CRISPR is introduced right after an egg is fertilized, it will make its desired edit at the one-cell zygote stage, so that as the embryo divides, all cells are corrected. But if CRISPR enters at the two-cell stage or later, it may create a child who has the desired change in some cells but not others. This mosaic child could still be vulnerable to HIV. But out of eight embryos edited using CRISPR, Rebrikov’s team found evidence of mosaicism in only three of them at the blastocyst stage, when they are 5 days old and have about 250 cells. Still, the study did not assess the equally concerning possibility that the editing would create accidental, "off-target" mutations; theoretically, these could trigger a cancer or cause other health problems. Rebrikov’s publication attracted little attention: A Chinese team had published similar work 2 years earlier - and Bulletin of RSMU is obscure.
Only when Nature ran its news story, which said he hoped to implant an edited embryo within 6 months, did Rebrikov’s plan begin to draw more widespread scrutiny. Leading CRISPR scientists and bioethicists outside of Russia slammed Rebrikov’s plans as "irresponsible," "unsettling," and "a slippery slope," charging that he was a "cowboy" who had "weak data" and was trying to "grab some attention." Rebrikov rejects assertions that he hyped his plans and stresses that he didn’t seek any of the media attention. "If somebody called me and asked, ‘Would you answer my questions?’ OK, well, why not?" he says, noting that he has stopped replying to most media requests.
But the attention led to a July meeting, instigated by Prokhortchouk and hosted by Kutsev. "It was strange to me that Russian scientific society was not reacting at all," Prokhortchouk says. Among the 10 attendees, to Prokhortchouk’s surprise, was a pediatric endocrinologist, Maria Vorontsova. She is widely reported to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s daughter, although no one in the family has confirmed that. (Putin has demanded that his private life remain private but has acknowledged having daughters and grandchildren.) Vorontsova’s presence prompted a Bloomberg story on 29 September with the headline: "Future of Genetically Modified Babies May Lie in Putin’s Hands." It suggested the meeting was "secret" and, with little evidence, that Vorontsova might influence Putin’s position on germline editing and, in turn, its fate in Russia. "The meeting was not secret," retorts geneticist Igor Korobko, a Ministry of Health official who attended. "And we have rules and laws: It’s not the president’s decision."
A detailed plan
Rebrikov couldn’t find any HIV-infected women who didn’t respond to antiretrovirals and also wanted to get pregnant. So he recently switched gears and sought hearing-impaired couples who are homozygous for a mutation known as 35delG in a gene, GJB2, that produces a protein in gap junctions, the channels that help move chemical signals like potassium between cells, including in the inner ear. The 35delG mutation, in which a single incorrect DNA base cripples the protein the gene codes for, is one of the most common genetic causes of hearing loss. Rebrikov wants to use CRISPR to replace the aberrant DNA base with the correct one.
Rebrikov told Science that he plans to do extensive safety checks before seeking approval to implant an edited embryo. First, he wants to sequence the entire genomes of each parent to get a baseline for assessing off-target mutations in their edited embryos. He then wants to stimulate the woman’s ovaries, obtain about 20 eggs, fertilize them with her partner’s sperm, and finally add the mutation-fixing CRISPR. He’ll grow these embryos for 5 days, at which point they will have about 250 cells and be in the blastocyst stage. Then he will do repeated rounds of whole-genome sequencing of 10 of these blastocysts, which aims to reveal all mutations that differ from the genomes of the parents.
If the number of new mutations is in the range seen normally in unedited embryos - about 100 per embryo - he will move to the next stage with the remaining edited embryos: a preimplantation test, commonly done in IVF, in which five to seven cells are removed from an early embryo and their genomes analyzed. In this case, he will check the cells for many types of genetic defects and for mosaicism for the CRISPR edit. But there could be other cells in the blastocyst that have unaltered GJB2 genes or off-target changes. "We always will have some limits of the technology," Rebrikov says.
With help from a Moscow hearing clinic, this summer Rebrikov identified five couples who are likely homozygous for 35delG and certain to have a deaf child. He has met one - though the husband and wife have yet to decide whether they want to participate in his experiment.
Several clinicians and researchers who specialize in hearing loss say they do not believe such couples should take the risk of editing their embryos. For one thing, 35delG homozygotes sometimes only have mild hearing impairment. They also note that a proven alternative is available: a cochlear implant, an electronic device that stimulates auditory nerves. It can restore some hearing and is particularly successful when young children undergo the surgery. People homozygous for 35delG mutations "do really well with cochlear implants," says Richard Smith, an otolaryngologist and researcher at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Smith and others question Rebrikov’s decision to focus on deafness, a condition that some people with hearing loss do not see as a disability. Smith says he would pick something more "lethal."
David Corey, a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston who specializes in the molecular basis of hearing loss, adds that several biotech companies are trying to develop therapies that can correct the mutation in children after they’re born. "If I were a parent, I’d wait for a gene therapy delivered only to the affected cells," Corey says.
Rebrikov counters that potential parents, properly informed of the risks, should make the decision. "How do they estimate the quality of life of their babies?" he asks "Yes, hearing is not a life-or-death issue, but parents can say, ‘Well, we think that we very strongly want our child to have hearing.’"
Pavel Tishchenko, a bioethicist at the RAS Institute of Philosophy who organized this month’s meeting there with Rebrikov, strongly challenged this idea at the gathering. "Just agreement of some patients is not enough for many reasons," he said. "What will you tell the patients? The whole truth or just a part of it?" Will they know, Tishchenko asked Rebrikov, that germline editing was declared premature by an expert committee from the World Health Organization (WHO) and, separately, a prominent group of scientists who wrote an editorial in Nature? (Rebrikov says he will make his informed consent documents public.)
Tishchenko questioned whether Russian society is ready for germline editing, and he worried that Rebrikov’s proposal will not get close scrutiny from regulators. The Ministry of Health has a competent ethical committee, he told the gathering, but he has less faith in other levels of review within Russia. "We have a lot of ethical committees who will say yes to any innovations," he said.
The ultimate question, Tishchenko said, is who is accountable if the child suffers a bad outcome? Rebrikov said that if regulators OK an experiment and something goes wrong, the researcher should be absolved. But Tishchenko recalled the story of a man at a sporting event in ancient Greece who threw a lance that killed a spectator. "Who is responsible? The one who threw the lance or the organizer of the lance-throwing competition?" he asked. "The question is not answered until this day."
Such larger questions won’t be resolved anytime soon. But will Rebrikov’s proposed experiment even clarify the safety of germline editing? Science asked several researchers who have expertise in DNA sequencing about Rebrikov’s plan to search for off-target effects in blastocysts. To a person, they argued that his team would likely miss too many mutations caused by CRISPR.
Spotting these unintended edits "is not trivial," says Fyodor Urnov, scientific director of the Innovative Genomics Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, who has opposed editing of human embryos even for research purposes. Even with state-of-the-art sequencing machines like the one Rebrikov says he will use, it would take sophisticated bioinformatics to detect the rare mutations in the 250 cells of a blastocyst. Urnov, a native of Russia, says it would be "very impressive" if Rebrikov could develop the necessary customized computational algorithm to compare the genomes in an embryo to its parents and detect these mutants.
Urnov notes that other groups that have edited human embryos with CRISPR have found troubling levels of off-target mutations. If Rebrikov developed a convincing way to identify such mutations and found that they were few, would that alter Urnov’s confidence in germline editing? "Yes it would," he says. "From its current state of zero confidence."
The day before the Institute of Philosophy meeting, the Russian Ministry of Health broke what many had seen as its curious silence about germline editing. "Issuing permission to edit the human genome in clinical practice would now be a premature and irresponsible measure," it said in a press statement, noting that this was in line with the WHO expert committee on human genome editing. Korobko, who heads the ministry’s department of science, innovation, and biomedical health risks, says the statement came in response to yet another media account of Rebrikov’s plans, this one in Kommersant, an influential Russian newspaper.
Legally, Korobko says, Rebrikov’s work could fall under existing IVF regulations that make it illegal to create embryos for research purposes, but now, "It’s not prohibited." Rebrikov’s earlier studies were on discarded IVF embryos, and his future plans arguably would not strictly be fundamental research but a clinical trial that aims to help a couple have a healthy baby. Still, Korobko doubts an ethics committee at the ministry would approve a permit for a clinical trial of germline editing. "The recommendation of the WHO means a lot to the Russian Federation," he said.
RAS has not spoken publicly about human germline editing, even though many science academies around the world have called human germline editing premature. One reason may be that many Russian scientists did not take Rebrikov’s pronouncements seriously. "When I first heard about this proposal, I considered this a bad joke because our country overregulates research," says Raul Gainetdinov, a psychiatrist who heads the Institute of Translational Biomedicine at St. Petersburg State University. "We stumble like hell. We cannot push anything through the Ministry of Health." Gainetdinov adds that only a handful of labs in Russia even do germline editing in animal models.
Elena Grebenshchikova, a bioethicist at RAS’s Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences, told the Moscow meeting attendees that she is glad Rebrikov pushed these issues into the public arena in Russia. "There’s a lack of communication between scientists and the society," she said. "His openness to the subject is really a plus to shift the responsibility from a simple scientist or an institution to the shared responsibility where all of society is included."
Rebrikov has grown weary of the frenzied media, some of which has badly misrepresented his work and plans. He will no longer offer a timeline when asked when he might be ready to seek approval to implant an edited embryo. "That’s a very strange question because now, we’re not making babies, we’re just proceeding in a scientific way."
© 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights Reserved.
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Science Daily / October 24, 2019
Massive fangs and a death crush: How a 370 million year old tetrapod hunted and killed
Изучив останки жившего около 370 млн лет назад представителя древнейших четвероногих - тетраподов Parmastega aelidae, палеонтологи из России (УрО РАН), Великобритании, Латвии и Швеции пришли к выводу, что внешне тетрапод слегка напоминал крокодила, имел хрящевой скелет, острые клыки, высоко расположенные глаза, а также привычку дышать преимущественно жабрами и, соответственно, проводить большую часть времени в воде.
The habits of a needle-toothed tetrapod which lived more than 370 million years ago have filled in a piece of the evolutionary puzzle thanks to new research.
An international team of palaeontologists pieced together the fossilised skeletons of a new species of tetrapod called Parmastega aelidae and found it had a skull which resembled a crocodile - a unique feature among the earliest tetrapods - with eyes situated well above the top of its head, suggesting it was capable of "keeping an eye" on unsuspecting prey while swimming close to the surface of a tropical lagoon.
The unusual combination of anatomical features has cast new light on how one of most distant ancestors hunted and its life-style. Researchers believe it would have used its slender needle-like teeth and elastic jaw to snatch prey before crushing it to death with massive fangs protruding from its palate.
The team also found that part of its shoulder girdle consisted of cartilage, and its vertebral column and paired limbs could also be made of cartilage, indicating it probably spent most or all its time in water. The concentration of the fossil remains also suggests that it may have lived in large groups.
Tetrapods are represented today by amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, and Parmastega predates the former earliest records of complete or almost complete tetrapod skeletons by nearly 12 million years.
The new study was led by the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Science, in partnership with the Universities of Lincoln and Cambridge in the UK, the University of Latvia, and the University of Uppsala in Sweden. It was funded by the National Geographic Society, the Latvian Council of Science, and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.
Professor Per Ahlberg from the University of Uppsala in Sweden, explained that a clue to the lifestyle of Parmastega was provided by its sensory canals, used to detect vibrations in the water, which Parmastega inherited from its fish ancestors.
"These canals are well developed on the lower jaw, the snout and the sides of the face, but they die out on top of the head behind the eyes," he said. "This probably means that it spent a lot of time hanging around at the surface of the water, with the top of the head just awash and the eyes protruding into the air.
"We believe there may have been large arthropods such as millipedes or 'sea scorpions' to catch at the water's edge. The slender, elastic lower jaw certainly looks well-suited to scooping prey off the ground, its needle-like teeth contrasting with the robust fangs of the upper jaw that would have been driven into the prey by the body weight of Parmastega.
"These fossils give us the earliest detailed glimpse of a tetrapod: an aquatic, surface-skimming predator, just over a metre in length, living in a lagoon on a tropical coastal plain."
Dr Marcello Ruta from Lincoln's School of Life Sciences added: "The evolution of tetrapods is one of the most important events in the history of backboned animals, and ultimately led to the appearance of our own species. Early in their history, tetrapods evolved many changes in their feeding strategies, movement abilities, and sensory perception, but many of these are still shrouded in mystery.
"Like all fossil organisms, Parmastega occupies a special and unique place in the tree of life. Our study welcomes a new, very early member of that tree which shows considerable anatomical, functional and ecological experimentation.
"These new findings demonstrate that the sequence of evolutionary changes that occurred during the transition from fish-like creatures to tetrapods were much less linear than previously thought. This helps us to amend or challenge previous evolutionary scenarios and give new insights into the life and environments of our most distant forerunners. Findings like those of Parmastega can help us grasp the complex patterns and processes that have shaped life's diversity for hundreds of millions of years."
Copyright 2019 ScienceDaily.
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LiveScience / 28 October 2019
These Weirdo Stellar Corpses Have Creamy Centers Filled with Exotic Quantum Liquids
These cosmic oddballs could put Earthly truffles to shame.
Российские физики-теоретики из Физико-технического института имени А.Ф.Иоффе предложили новую модель жидкого ядра белых карликов - звезд, состоящих из электронно-ядерной плазмы.
Billions of years from now, when the sun is in its final throes of death (that is, after it has already vaporized Earth), its helium core will collapse in on itself, shriveling into a tightly compressed ball of glowing gas called a white dwarf. But while these stellar tombstones already dot our galactic landscape, their interiors remain a puzzle in physics - which is no surprise, given how strange they are.
Recently, a pair of researchers has created a sophisticated model to "look at" a white dwarf's insides. And guess what? These cosmic oddballs could put Earthly truffles to shame, as they seem to have creamy centers chock-full of exotic quantum liquids.
The once-proud star
Stars like our sun get their energy by fusing hydrogen into helium deep in their cores. This energy making can't last forever - eventually, the available hydrogen runs out and the party stops. But near the end of their lives, stars can briefly turn the lights back on by burning helium, leaving behind an inert, dead core of carbon and oxygen. But smallish stars like our sun don't have enough gravitational oomph to fuse carbon and oxygen into any heavier elements like magnesium or iron, and so they die, turning themselves inside out and releasing their atmospheres into a beautiful (or gory, depending on your point of view) planetary nebula.
That core of carbon and oxygen remains behind, a significant fraction of the star's mass locked inside a core no bigger than Earth. When astronomers first discovered these strange objects - now known as white dwarfs - they thought they were impossible, with calculated densities soaring above a billion times that of the air we breathe. How could something have such extreme density and not simply collapse under its own terrible weight?
But white dwarfs are not impossible, and theoretical insights in the early 20th century solved the mystery of how white dwarfs could possibly exist. The answer came in the form of quantum mechanics, and the realization that at high densities, nature is, to put it simply, very weird. In the case of white dwarfs, only a certain number of electrons can be packed inside. Since these spinning electrons repel each other, together they create enough pressure to keep the dead stars ballooned up, withstanding even the almost overwhelming forces of gravity. And so stellar corpses can live on for trillions of years.
While these early calculations showed how white dwarfs could exist in our universe, astrophysicists knew that simple descriptions wouldn't fully capture what's happening in such exotic cores. After all, this is a state of matter that is completely inaccessible to laboratories and experiments here on Earth - who knows what strange games nature might get up to, deep inside these dead hearts?
Physicists and astronomers alike have been wondering about the interiors of white dwarfs for decades now, and in a recent paper appearing on the preprint journal arXiv, a pair of Russian theoretical physicists has proposed a new model of the deep cores in white dwarfs, detailing how their model builds upon and deviates from earlier work, and how observers can potentially tell if their new model is accurate.
In this new model, the scientists simulated the core of the white dwarf as made up of only one kind of heavy charged nuclei (this isn't entirely accurate, as white dwarfs are a mixture of several elements like carbon and oxygen, but it's a good enough starting point), with these particles immersed in a thick soup of electrons.
This setup assumes that white dwarfs are warm enough to have liquid interiors, which is a reasonable assumption, given that when they're born (or rather, when they're finally exposed after the deaths of their host stars), they have temperatures well in excess of a million degrees kelvins.
The outermost layers of a white dwarf are exposed to the frigid environment of a pure vacuum, allowing hydrogen to settle onto the surface, giving them a light, thin atmosphere. And over extreme times, white dwarfs do cool down, eventually forming a giant crystal, but that's long enough away that for the most part, white dwarfs are filled with an exotic quantum liquid of carbon and oxygen, so the model used in this study is relatively accurate for a large fraction of a white dwarf's lifetime.
Since white-dwarf guts represent one of the most unusual environments in the universe, studying them could reveal some deep properties of quantum mechanics in extreme conditions. But since scientists can never hope to rope in a nearby white dwarf to bring it in for a vivisection, how can we possibly get a look under the hood? The researchers of the new model showed how the light given off by white dwarfs can be different heat. White dwarfs don't generate heat on their own; their intense temperatures are the result of the extreme gravitational pressures they faced when they were inside stars. But once their host star blows away and they're exposed to space, they glow intensely - in the first few thousand years after their big reveal, they're so hot they emit X-ray radiation.
But cool down they do, ever so slowly, leaking away their heat as radiation into space. And we've been watching white dwarfs for long enough that we can see them cool off over the course of years and decades. How quickly they cool off depends on how efficiently their trapped heat can escape to their surfaces - which in turn depends on the exact nature of their guts.
Another feature the researchers showed could be used to probe inside white dwarfs is their ever-so-slight wobble. Akin to the way seismography is used to study the core of Earth, the makeup and character of a white dwarf changes how vibrations will display themselves on the surface.
Lastly, we can use populations of white dwarfs to get a hint about their interiors, since the relationship between their masses and their sizes depends on the precise quantum-mechanical relationships governing their interiors.
In particular, the new research suggests that most white dwarfs should cool down faster than we used to think, vibrate slightly less often than older models suggest and be slightly bigger than expected than if we didn't take into account this more realistic model. Now it's up to the astronomers to make precise enough measurements to see if we're really understanding these exotic environments, or if we need to take another crack at it.
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