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Unlimited, at-home coronavirus testing for your organization

Unlimited, at-home coronavirus testing for your organization | Amazing Science |



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Samsung Forecasts Commercialization of Exceptionally Fast 6G Telecom Services by 2030

Samsung Forecasts Commercialization of Exceptionally Fast 6G Telecom Services by 2030 | Amazing Science |

Samsung Electronics recently stated that it anticipates mass commercialization of sixth-generation (6G) services by 2030. It is projected that the 6G standard network could start as early as 2028 with mass commercialization of the system taking place in 2030, as stated in its publication entitled “The Next Hyper-Connected Experience for All.”

Choi Sung-Hyun, head of the Advanced Communications Research Center at Samsung Research, said that the period it takes to start preparing for 6G research and commercialization would be approximate ten years. South Korea seeks to attain the first implementation and commercialization of 6G mobile telecommunication worldwide by 2028. The country has an excellent track record and was the first to launch a 5G network commercially in April 2019. In line with this, Samsung assembled a research team for developing 6G technologies, which would ensure an advantage in the marketplace. The advancement of 5G into 6G would usher a new era of mobile technology.

Scholars at the University of Oulu in Finland believe that the future-generation 6G mobile network could transmit terabits per second, with nearly instant microsecond connection times.

Samsung said that humans and machinery would eventually utilize 6G in harmony. The 6G network would characterize complex services such as a high-fidelity mobile holograms, immersive extended reality, and digital 3D replications.

Samsung described three categories of performance requirements to start 6G services, namely, performance, architectural feasibility, and trustworthiness. The performance requirements consist of an air latency of fewer than 100 microseconds and a peak data rate of 1,000 gigabits per second. The architectural elements involve applying artificial intelligence solutions in the development process, supporting flexible integration of other networks, and settling concerns resulting from limited computation ability of mobile devices. The trustworthiness requirement tackles security and privacy concerns due to the extensive use of AI technologies and user data.

Samsung cited the following essential technologies to attain 6G capabilities, such as the use of advanced duplex technologies, the terahertz (THz) frequency band, new antenna technologies for broader access of high-frequency signals, spectrum sharing to intensify frequency utilization, the use of AI in wireless communications and the advancement of network layouts.

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Best map of the Milky Way ever reveals a billion stars in motion

Best map of the Milky Way ever reveals a billion stars in motion | Amazing Science |
Data haul from Gaia space observatory offers a glimpse of what Earth’s night sky will look like for 1.6 million years to come.


Data collected by the European Space Agency’s Gaia observatory has been used to create the most detailed 3D map of the galaxy ever made. The new data set could help scientists unravel many mysteries about the universe’s expansion and the solar system’s future.


What is Gaia? Launched in 2013, the Gaia observatory is intended to observe as many of the galaxy’s stars as possible. It is designed to measure stellar positions, distances, motions, and brightness with more precision than any instrument before, with the goal of cataloguing approximately 1 billion objects. It is designed to observe each object about 70 times or so in order to track their motions and velocities over time, accurate enough to measure the width of a hair from 2,000 kilometers away.


The latest data pinpoints the location and movements of just under 2 billion stars, with highly accurate measurements of about 300,000 stars within 326 light-years of the solar system. The new map shows us that our solar system’s orbit around the Milky Way is accelerating toward the center of the galaxy by seven millimeters per second.


The point of the mission isn’t simply to get a glimpse of the galaxy’s stars in motion. The data could help astronomers answer a number of different scientific questions, including how the Milky Way was formed over time, where the solar system and other star systems are headed, what the expansion of the universe looks like, and the distribution of regular and dark matter throughout the galaxy. Previous Gaia data sets have been used to ascertain the mass of the Milky Way and how many sun-like stars might be orbited by Earth-light planets.

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New AI prediction algorithm identifies previously undetected cancer driver genes

New AI prediction algorithm identifies previously undetected cancer driver genes | Amazing Science |

A new study, led by U.S. National Science Foundation-funded researchers at the University of California, Irvine, has deepened the understanding of epigenetic mechanisms in tumorigenesis and revealed a previously undetected repertoire of cancer driver genes. The results were published in Science Advances.


Using a new prediction algorithm, called DORGE (Discovery of Oncogenes and tumor suppressoR genes using Genetic and Epigenetic features), researchers were able to identify novel tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) and oncogenes (OGs), particularly those with rare mutations, by integrating the most comprehensive collection of genetic and epigenetic data.


"Existing bioinformatic algorithms do not sufficiently leverage epigenetic features to predict cancer driver genes, despite the fact that epigenetic alterations are known to be associated with cancer driver genes," said Wei Li, senior author of the study. "Our computational algorithm integrates public data on epigenetic and genetic alternations to improve the prediction of cancer driver genes."


Cancer results from an accumulation of key genetic alterations that disrupt the balance between cell division and apoptosis. Genes with "driver" mutations that affect cancer progression are known as cancer driver genes and can be classified as TSGs and oncogenes OGs based on their roles in cancer progression. This study demonstrated that cancer driver genes, predicted by DORGE, included both known cancer driver genes and novel driver genes not reported in current literature. In addition, researchers found that the novel dual-functional genes, which DORGE predicted as both TSGs and OGs, are highly enriched at hubs in protein-protein interaction and drug/compound-gene networks.


"Our DORGE algorithm successfully leveraged public data to discover the genetic and epigenetic alterations that play significant roles in cancer driver gene dysregulation," explained Li. "These findings could be instrumental in improving cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment efforts in the future."

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A new study

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Elephants have the highest volume of daily water loss ever recorded in a land animal

Elephants have the highest volume of daily water loss ever recorded in a land animal | Amazing Science |

A team of researchers from Duke University, the University of the Witwatersrand and Hunter College has found that elephants have the highest volume of daily water loss ever recorded in a land animal. In their paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the group describes experiments they conducted with captive elephants to measure how much water they lose.


Many animals, such as humans, keep cool in hot weather by perspiring—as sweat evaporates, the skin is cooled down. Other animals, such as dogs, keep cool by panting—and still others, such as elephants, have large organs that work as a cooling system—their ears keep them cool when it is hot. Elephants have sweat glands, as well, but they are small and located in their feet, near their cuticles. Elephants are also known to drink an enormous amount of water—hundreds of liters every day. Such huge amounts of water help to keep elephants cool by its presence in the body, but it is also needed to break down the huge amounts of food that elephants eat—and because their digestion process is so inefficient, they defecate from 12 to 15 times a day. Elephants also lose a lot of water through urinating, as well.


Rather than trying to measure urine, water content in feces, water expelled by breathing and via sweat, and other sources of water loss, the researchers added precisely measured doses of deuterium, which dilutes in body water, to the food given to several elephants at a zoo in North Carolina. By periodically taking blood samples, the team could measure how long it took for the elephants to eliminate the deuterium—an indirect way of measuring water loss. The researchers tested the elephants periodically over the course of three years, being sure to include very hot days. They found that the elephants were losing more water on a daily basis than previously thought—as much as 325 liters on average on cool days, and as much as 427 liters on average on hot days. The researchers also found that the water loss on hot days added up to approximately 10% of the total amount of water in an elephant's body on any given day. They suggest that their findings could have implications for the future, as wild elephants face higher temperatures and water restrictions due to global warming.

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Earth is accelerating towards sixth mass extinction event that could see ‘end to our own civilization’

Earth is accelerating towards sixth mass extinction event that could see ‘end to our own civilization’ | Amazing Science |

Stop The Wildlife Trade: ‘Extinction breeds extinction’, says grim new study revealing more than 500 species are on course to go extinct in next two decades - around the same figure for the whole of the twentieth century.


The scientists who were among the first to declare the world’s sixth mass extinction event was already underway in a 2015 study, have published new research revealing the rate at which wildlife is being destroyed is accelerating and is a direct threat to human civilization.


Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich and colleagues at other institutions report in the new paper that the extinction rate is likely much higher than previously thought and is eroding nature’s ability to provide vital services to people. They state the wildlife trade combined with other human impacts have now wiped out hundreds of species forever, and pushed even greater numbers to the brink of extinction “at an unprecedented rate”.


To help understand the rapid ramping-up of the scale of the disaster, the authors said it is estimated that over the course of the entire twentieth century, at least 543 land vertebrate species went extinct.


In the new study, Professor Ehrlich and his coauthors estimate around the same number of species are likely to go extinct in the next two decades alone. The huge increase in extinctions and rate of wildlife destruction will have a disastrous impact on humans too, the authors warn, with an intensification of health threats such as we have seen with the current Covid-19 pandemic.


The virus is currently believed to originally be of animal origin, and passed to humans due to spillover infection – where a population with a high pathogen prevalence comes into contact with another potential host population. As human activity forces wild animals into more restricted areas, the reservoirs of infection are more likely to grow and more likely to then spillover into humans and other species.


When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system,” said Professor Ehrlich.

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Sun is becoming active again and monster sunspot AR2786 swings into view

Sun is becoming active again and monster sunspot AR2786 swings into view | Amazing Science |
The sun is becoming active again as it enters Solar Cycle 25, and scientists' predictions of sunspots have been proven with photos from amateur astronomers around the world. Giant sunspot AR2786 can be viewed with proper filters and may create strong flares that reach Earth.


The sun is becoming active again as it enters Solar Cycle 25, and scientists’ predictions of sunspots have been proven with photos from amateur astronomers around the world. Giant sunspot AR2786 can be viewed with proper filters and may create strong flares that reach Earth.


After a long stretch of quiet on the sun, solar activity has restarted in earnest. Now, with the beginning of Solar Cycle 25, astrophotographers are capturing clusters of spots as they rotate to face Earth. The photographers had advance warning that the solar storms were on the way and were prepared to capture the dark sunspots. On November 18, 2020, scientists at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) – whose headquarters are in Boulder, Colorado – predicted a large new sunspot group would emerge in time for Thanksgiving in the U.S. The largest spot on the sun above, AR2786, confirms the scientists’ predictions.


How did the NSO scientists know this spot would appear? Their prediction came via a technique developed at NSO in the 1990s, known as helioseismology. It’s a way of “listening” to changing sound waves from the sun’s interior. These scientists’ statement explained: "Seismology here on Earth measures sound waves traveling through Earth’s interior to reveal what we cannot see beneath the Earth’s surface. Similarly, helioseismology can highlight structures on the sun that cannot yet be seen from Earth. Millions of sound frequencies bounce freely throughout the sun’s interior, like a bell. Regions of strong magnetic fields perturb with these sound waves, thus a change in wave signal measurements indicates that sunspots may be present.


Radu Anghel in Bacau, Romania, caught AR2786 on November 24, 2020. He wrote: “It’s been a long time with no sunspot activity and now is comeback time. With the new sun cycle, we have an increased sunspot activity including, today, no less the three active regions: 2783, 2785 and 2786. The last one is a giant sunspot, several times bigger than Earth.”


As seen from around the world, giant sunspot AR2786 will come into even better view in the days ahead, as the sun spins. It’ll be possible to glimpse with optical aid, using safe solar filters, or by using an indirect viewing method. Here are 7 tips for observing the sun safely.


Kiran Jain, the scientist who is leading the efforts at NSO to predict coming sunspots via helioseismology, said that the large sunspot AR2786 produced: "… the strongest far-side signal we have had this solar cycle. We first noticed the signal in our far-side images on November 14, 2020. It was inconspicuous at first but grew quickly, breaking detection thresholds just one day later. Since we are in the very early phase of the new solar cycle, the signal from this large spot stands out clearly."

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Godzilla from below — the first video of a parasitic wasp attacking a caterpillar host underwater

Godzilla from below — the first video of a parasitic wasp attacking a caterpillar host underwater | Amazing Science |

Named after fictional monster Godzilla, a parasitic wasp becomes the first observed and filmed to dive underwater for several seconds, in order to attack and pull out caterpillar hosts, so that it can lay its eggs inside them before releasing them back in the water.


A very few species of parasitoid wasps can be considered aquatic. Less than 0.1% of the species we know today have been found to enter the water, while searching for potential hosts or living as endoparasitoids inside of aquatic hosts during their larval stage. Within the subfamily Microgastrinae (family Braconidae), only two species have previously been recorded to be aquatic, based on their parasitism of aquatic caterpillars of moths. However, none has been known to actually dive in the water.


Recently, during their research work in Japan, Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana of the Canadian National Collection of Insects and his team found and recorded on camera the first microgastrine parasitoid wasp that dives underwater for several seconds, in order to attack and pull out caterpillar hosts, so that it can lay its eggs inside them before releasing them back in the water.


Interestingly, the wasp, which was described as a new to science species in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific Journal of Hymenoptera Research, was given the awe-striking name Microgaster godzilla, because its emergence out of the water reminded the scientists of the Japanese iconic fictional monster Godzilla.


In the video, the female wasp can be seen walking over floating plants as it searches for hosts, specifically larvae of the moth species Elophila turbata, which constructs a portable case from fragments of aquatic plants and lives inside it near the water surface. Once the wasp finds one of those cases, it first probes it repeatedly with its antennae, while moving around. Eventually, it forces the larvae to come out of the case and parasitizes it by quickly inserting its ovipositor. In some cases, the wasp has to submerge completely underwater for several seconds, in order to find and pull the caterpillar out of its case. To do this, the species has evolved enlarged and strongly curved tarsal claws, which are thought to be used to grip the substrate as it enters the water and looks for hosts.


As for the curious choice of name for the new species, Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana explains: "The reasons why we decided to use the name of Godzilla for the wasp species are interesting. First, being a Japanese species, it respectfully honors Godzilla, a fictional monster (kaiju) that became an icon after the 1954 Japanese film of the same name and many remakes afterwards. It has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese popular culture worldwide. Second, the wasp's parasitization behavior bears some loose resemblance to the kaiju character, in the sense that the wasp suddenly emerges from the water to parasitize the host, similar to how Godzilla suddenly emerges from the water in the movies. Third, Godzilla has sometimes been associated, albeit in different ways, with Mothra, another kaiju that is typically portrayed as a larva (caterpillar) or an adult moth. As you can see, we had biological, behavioral and cultural reasons to justify our choice of a name. Of course, that and having a bit of fun, because that is also an important part of life and science!"

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Mysterious Monolith Discovered in the Utah Desert by Biologists

Mysterious Monolith Discovered in the Utah Desert by Biologists | Amazing Science |
A mysterious object resembling the freestanding plank sculptures of the late Minimalist artist John McCracken—or the alien-built monoliths in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey—has been discovered in a remote area of the Utah desert, prompting theories ranging from extraterrestrial visitation to avant-garde installation.

Biologists of the Utah Division of Wildlife spotted the monolith from a helicopter while conducting a routine count of bighorn sheep in the area. The location of the monolith has not been disclosed, but aerial footage showing the object installed within a red rock canyon suggests that it lives somewhere in southern Utah, which has a distinct topological landscape.

According to Bret Hutchings, the pilot of the helicopter, the monolith, which appears to be made from steel or metal, is between 10 and 12 ft tall and was likely installed on the site rather than dropped from above by celestial visitors. “I’m assuming it’s some new wave artist or something or, you know, somebody that was a big 2001: A Space Odyssey fan,” Hutchings told KSL news.

No artist has come forth to claim credit for the monolith yet, and David Zwirner, which represents McCracken, did not respond to a request for comment at the time of this writing. There is no known record of the artist's work installed in the Utah desert, although McCracken did live in-between nearby northern New Mexico and New York until his death in 2011.

The wilderness of the Southwestern US has a rich and storied history of Land Art and especially for works that retain their magic and mystery by being largely inaccessible or challenging to locate, from Robert Smithson’s 1970 magnum opus Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake to Michael Heizer’s 1969 Double Negative near the Utah border in Nevada.
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Mutant Zebrafish Reveals Evolutionary History of Spinal Defects

Mutant Zebrafish Reveals Evolutionary History of Spinal Defects | Amazing Science |

A chance mutation that led to spinal defects in a zebrafish has opened a little window into our own fishy past. Rising fifth-year Duke graduate student Brianna Peskin, who started the project during her first-year rotation in Michel Bagnat's cell biology lab and "kinda kept coming back to it," was merely trying to figure out why this one mutation led to developmental issues in a zebrafish's spine.


What she found is that embryos of the mutant fish have a single-letter change in their DNA that alters the way they build the bones and other structures that make up their spine, leaving them with a shorter body and a tortured looking spine that contains clefts dividing their vertebrae in half.


The mutant fish are named spondo, short for spondylos which is Greek for spine, and also a reference to dispondyly, a condition where each vertebra has two bony arches not one. But that's not the end of the story. When Bagnat's research colleague Matthew Harris of Harvard Medical School showed some pictures of the mutant fish spine to a colleague in fish paleontology, Gloria Arratia at the University of Kansas, she immediately spotted that the mutants look a lot like fossil specimens of ancestral fish whose style of spine has gone out of fashion in most living fishes.


"And then they both got really excited because they were noticing these similarities between ancestral fossil specimens and our mutant," Peskin said. The tiny mutation showed that both recipes for spine development are still to be found in the fish genome.


In the bony fish, known as teleosts, building the spine relies on a tube-like structure running the length of the developing embryo called the notochord. The notochord sets up the patterns that lead to articulated bones and cartilage in the developing spine by sending chemical signals that attract different molecules and cell types to different regions -- bone parts here, cartilage parts there.


Human embryos start with a notochord too, but it doesn't pattern the bony vertebrae the way it does in teleosts; it ends up building the cartilage pucks between the bones, the intervertebral discs. The gene that is mutated in spondo fish is unique to teleosts and the mutant fish's notochord doesn't set up the patterning the way it does in other fish. Rather, its patterning reverts to an ancestral form. So, this tiny difference in DNA may be where land animals like us parted company with our fish ancestors a very, very, very long time ago.


While the zebrafish (Danio rerio) has become a laboratory workhorse for all sorts of interesting studies, its usefulness as a model of human spine development has been in doubt because they grow their backbones differently. But not anymore. The research team's new paper, which appears July 20, 2020, in Current Biology, shows that the difference between the way teleosts and land animals grow their spines comes down to signaling from the notochord, which was revealed by this single-letter change in the DNA. And that, in turn, gives them the insight to study human spinal defects with these fast-growing, translucent fish, because the spondo mutants are sensitive to factors known to cause congenital scoliosis in human children, a curvature of the spine.


"This work not only gave us a glimpse into spine evolution, but also made us understand how the spine is put together in mammals," said Bagnat, who is an associate professor of Cell Biology in the Duke School of Medicine. "Moving forward, we'll be able to use mutations like spondo to unravel the complex genetics of scoliosis and other spine defects that are rooted in the biology of the notochord and have been intractable to this day."

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Search for effective therapies: Venom alkaloids against the Chagas disease parasite

Search for effective therapies: Venom alkaloids against the Chagas disease parasite | Amazing Science |

Chagas disease is an important disease affecting millions of people in the New World and is caused by a protozoan transmitted by hematophagous kissing bugs. It can be treated with drugs during the early acute phase. However, effective therapy against the chronic form of Chagas disease has yet to be discovered and developed.


A research team now tested the activity of solenopsin alkaloids extracted from two species of fire ants against the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiologic agent of Chagas disease. Although IC50 determinations showed that solenopsins are more toxic to the parasite than benznidazole, the drug of choice for Chagas disease treatment, the ant alkaloids presented a lower selectivity index. As a result of exposure to the alkaloids, the parasites became swollen and rounded in shape, with hypertrophied contractile vacuoles and intense cytoplasmic vacuolization, possibly resulting in osmotic stress. No accumulation of multiple kinetoplasts and/or nuclei was detected.


Overexpressing phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3 Kinase) — an enzyme essential for osmoregulation that is a known target of solenopsins in mammalian cells — did not prevent swelling and vacuolization, nor did it counteract the toxic effects of alkaloids on the parasites. Additional experimental results suggested that solenopsins induced a type of autophagic and programmed cell death in T. cruzi. Solenopsins also reduced the intracellular proliferation of T. cruzi amastigotes in infected macrophages in a concentration-dependent manner and demonstrated activity against Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense bloodstream forms, which is another important etiological kinetoplastid parasite.


These results suggest the potential of solenopsins as novel natural drugs against neglected parasitic diseases caused by kinetoplastids.

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Immunity to COVID-19 may persist six months or possibly more

Immunity to COVID-19 may persist six months or possibly more | Amazing Science |
Even after recovery, the body continues to improve its antibody response to the coronavirus — perhaps thanks to viral bits hiding in the intestine.


As coronavirus cases in the United States and around the world rise, scientists are uncovering hints that immunity for those who have had COVID-19 can last at least six months, if not longer.

After people with COVID-19 have largely recovered, immune proteins called antibodies are still detectable six months later.


What’s more, the proteins have sharpened their skills at fighting the coronavirus, researchers report in a preliminary study posted November 5 at Leftover pieces of the virus remaining in the gut after symptoms have disappeared may help the immune system work to refine that response. The finding also bodes well for how long a vaccination might provide protection. Immunity from a vaccine is expected to last as long or longer than natural immunity.


Antibodies, which are immune proteins that bind to microbes to fight off an infection, are part of the body’s cache of immune defenses. People typically make a wide variety of antibodies during an infection. These proteins can recognize different surfaces on viruses — like a Swiss Army knife able to work on various parts of the virus — and evolve over time to better recognize their target (SN: 4/28/20).


Six months after an infection with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, called SARS-CoV-2, people appear to have built an arsenal of antibodies that are not only more potent than the ones developed early on, similar to what has been seen in other infections. Those antibodies can also recognize mutated versions of the virus, researchers found. In addition to antibody upgrades, long-lasting immune cells that make antibodies, called memory B cells, stick around in the blood, poised to launch a rapid response should people be exposed to the virus again. “The main message is that the immune response persists,” says Julio Lorenzi, a viral immunologist at the Rockefeller University in New York City. “We see these B cells surviving over time and the antibodies six months after infection are even better than the beginning of the infection.”


In the study, Lorenzi and colleagues analyzed the antibodies that 87 people made against the coronavirus at one and six months after developing symptoms. Although antibody levels in the blood waned, the immune proteins were still detectable after six months. Importantly, levels of memory B cells were stable, an assessment of 21 of the 87 participants showed — a sign that those cells may remain in the body for a while.


Other studies have hinted that B cells can persist for more than six months in recovered COVID-19 patients. Preliminary results of one study uncovered that memory B cells — as well as other cells involved in immune memory known as T cells — decline slowly in the blood, researchers reported November 16 at That slow decrease could mean that immunity might last for years, at least in some people (SN: 10/19/20).    

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None of the current SARS-CoV-2 mutations seem to increase transmissibility of the virus

None of the current SARS-CoV-2 mutations seem to increase transmissibility of the virus | Amazing Science |

None of the mutations currently documented in the SARS-CoV-2 virus appear to increase its transmissibility in humans, according to a study led by UCL researchers. The analysis of virus genomes from over 46,000 people with COVID-19 from 99 countries is published today in Nature Communications.


First and corresponding author Dr Lucy van Dorp (UCL Genetics Institute) said: “The number of SARS-CoV-2 genomes being generated for scientific research is staggering. We realised early on in the pandemic that we needed new approaches to analyse enormous amounts of data in close to real time to flag new mutations in the virus that could affect its transmission or symptom severity. “Fortunately, we found that none of these mutations are making COVID-19 spread more rapidly, but we need to remain vigilant and continue monitoring new mutations, particularly as vaccines get rolled out.”


Coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2 are a type of RNA virus, which can all develop mutations in three different ways: by mistake from copying errors during viral replication, through interactions with other viruses infecting the same cell (recombination or reassortment), or they can be induced by host RNA modification systems which are part of host immunity. Most mutations are neutral, while others can be advantageous or detrimental to the virus. Both neutral and advantageous mutations can become more common as they get passed down to descendant viruses.


The research team from UCL, Cirad and the Université de la Réunion, and the University of Oxford, analyzed a global dataset of virus genomes from 46,723 people with COVID-19, collected up until the end of July 2020. The researchers have so far identified 12,706 mutations in SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. For 398 of the mutations, there is strong evidence that they have occurred repeatedly and independently. Of those, the researchers honed in on 185 mutations which have occurred at least three times independently during the course of the pandemic.


To test if the mutations increase transmission of the virus, the researchers modeled the virus’s evolutionary tree, and analyzed whether a particular mutation was becoming increasingly common within a given branch of the evolutionary tree – that is, testing whether, after a mutation first develops in a virus, descendants of that virus outperform closely-related SARS-CoV-2 viruses without that particular mutation. The researchers found no evidence that any of the common mutations are increasing the virus’s transmissibility. Instead, they found most common mutations are neutral for the virus. This includes one mutation in the virus spike protein called D614G, which has been widely reported as being a common mutation that may make the virus more transmissible. The new evidence finds that this mutation is in fact not associated with significantly increasing transmission.

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New family of quasiparticles in graphene: Brown-Zak fermions in superlattices made from carbon sheet

New family of quasiparticles in graphene: Brown-Zak fermions in superlattices made from carbon sheet | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK have identified a new family of quasiparticles in superlattices made from graphene sandwiched between two slabs of boron nitride. The work is important for fundamental studies of condensed-matter physics and could also lead to the development of improved transistors capable of operating at higher frequencies.


In recent years, physicists and materials scientists have been studying ways to use the weak (van der Waals) coupling between atomically thin layers of different crystals to create new materials in which electronic properties can be manipulated without chemical doping. The most famous example is graphene (a sheet of carbon just one atom thick) encapsulated between another 2D material, hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), which has a similar lattice constant. Since both materials also have similar hexagonal structures, regular moiré patterns (or “superlattices”) form when the two lattices are overlaid.


If the stacked layers of graphene-hBN are then twisted, and the angle between the two materials’ lattices decreases, the size of the superlattice increases. This causes electronic band gaps to develop through the formation of additional Bloch bands in the superlattice’s Brillouin zone (a mathematical construct that describes the fundamental ideas of electronic energy bands). In these Bloch bands, electrons move in a periodic electric potential that matches the lattice and do not interact with one another.

Hofstadter’s butterfly

In 2013, the Manchester team led by Andrei Geim and Alexey Berdyugin, along with two independent groups at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University in the US, observed a stunning fractal pattern in plots of electron density versus magnetic field strength in these graphene-hBN superlattices. This pattern, known as “Hofstadter’s butterfly”, emerged when the teams determined the energy spectrum of the superlattices by measuring their electrical conductivity in strong magnetic fields of up to 17 Tesla.


The Manchester researchers now report another surprising behavior of electrons in such structures, again under strong magnetic fields. “It is well known that in a zero magnetic field, electrons move in straight trajectories and if you apply a magnetic field they start to bend and move in circles, which decreases the conductivity,” explain team members Julien Barrier and Piranavan Kumaravadivel, who carried out the experimental work. “In a graphene layer aligned with hBN, electrons also start to bend, but if you set the magnetic field at specific values, the conductivity increases sharply. It is as if the electrons moved in straight line trajectories again, like in a metal with no magnetic field anymore.”

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Deepmind Lab Claims Protein Folding Prediction Breakthrough That Could Accelerate Drug Discovery

Deepmind Lab Claims Protein Folding Prediction Breakthrough That Could Accelerate Drug Discovery | Amazing Science |
Researchers at DeepMind say they have solved “the protein folding problem,” a task that has bedeviled scientists for more than 50 years.


Some scientists spend their lives trying to pinpoint the shape of tiny proteins in the human body. Proteins drive the behavior of viruses, bacteria, the human body and all living things. They begin as strings of chemical compounds, before twisting and folding into three-dimensional shapes that define what they can do — and what they cannot.


For biologists, identifying the precise shape of a protein often requires months, years or even decades of experimentation. It requires skill, intelligence and more than a little elbow grease. Sometimes they never succeed.


Now, an artificial intelligence lab in London has built a computer system that can do the job in a few hours — perhaps even a few minutes. DeepMind, a lab owned by the same parent company as Google, said on Monday that its system, called AlphaFold, had solved what is known as “the protein folding problem.” Given the string of amino acids that make up a protein, the system can rapidly and reliably predict its three-dimensional shape.


If DeepMind’s methods can be refined, he and other researchers said, they could speed the development of new drugs as well as efforts to apply existing medications to new viruses and diseases.

The breakthrough arrives too late to make a significant impact on the coronavirus. But researchers believe DeepMind’s methods could accelerate the response to future pandemics. Some believe it could also help scientists gain a better understanding of genetic diseases along the lines of Alzheimer’s or cystic fibrosis.


Still, experts cautioned that this technology would affect only a small part of the long process by which scientists identify new medicines and analyze disease. It was also unclear when or how DeepMind would share its technology with other researchers.

DeepMind is one of the key players in a sweeping change that has spread across academia, the tech industry and the medical community over the past 10 years. Thanks to an artificial intelligence technology called a neural network, machines can now learn to perform many tasks that were once beyond their reach — and sometimes beyond the reach of humans.

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Coelacanth: The Fish That Time Forgot

Coelacanth: The Fish That Time Forgot | Amazing Science |

Often called a living fossil, the coelacanth was long believed to have fallen extinct 70 million years ago, until a specimen was recognized in a fish market in South Africa in 1938. The coelacanth has fleshy, lobed fins that look somewhat like limbs, as does the lungfish, an air-breathing freshwater fish.


The coelacanth and the lungfish have long been battling for the honor of which is closer to the ancestral fish that first used fins to walk on land and give rise to the tetrapods, meaning all the original vertebrates and their descendants, from reptiles and birds to mammals.


The decoding of the coelacanth genome results in a victory for the lungfish as the closer relative to the first tetrapod. But the coelacanth may have the last laugh because its genome — which, at 2.8 billion bp of DNA, about the same size as a human genome — is decodable, whereas the lungfish genome, a remarkable 100 billion DNA units in length, cannot be cracked with present methods. The coelacanth genome is therefore more likely to shed light on the central evolutionary question of what genetic alterations were needed to change a lobe-finned fish into the first land-dwelling tetrapod.


The idea of decoding the coelacanth genome began six years ago when Chris Amemiya, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, acquired some samples of coelacanth tissue. He asked the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T., a biological research institute in Cambridge, Mass., to decode the DNA and invited experts in evolutionary and developmental biology to help interpret the results.


Dr. Amemiya’s team has sifted through the coelacanth’s genome for genes that might have helped its cousin species, the ancestor to the first tetrapod, invade dry land some 400 million years ago. They have found one gene that is related to those that, in animal species, build the placenta. Coelacanths have no placenta, but they produce extremely large eggs, with a good blood supply, that hatch inside the mother’s body. This gene could have been developed by land animals into a way of constructing the placenta.


Another helpful preadaptation is a snippet of DNA that enhances the activity of the genes that drive the formation of limbs in the embryo. The Amemiya team focused on the enhancer DNA sequence because it occurred in the coelacanth and animals but not in ordinary fish. They then inserted the coelacanth enhancer DNA into mice.


“It lit up right away and made an almost normal limb,” said Neil Shubin, meaning that the coelacanth gene enhancer successfully encouraged the mouse genes to make a limb. Dr. Shubin, a member of the team, is a paleontologist at the University of Chicago.


Present-day coelacanths are ferocious predators that live in a twilight zone about 500 feet deep where light barely penetrates. They lurk in caves during the day and emerge at night to attack surface fish as they descend and deep-sea fish as they rise to the surface. They have no evident need of fins that might help them walk on land.


“This is probably an unusual habitat for this lineage,” said Axel Meyer, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany and a member of the team. “Other coelacanths lived in more shallow, estuarylike environments 400 million years ago, and you can envisage them using the fins more like walking legs.”


The Amemiya team reports evidence that the coelacanth’s genes have been evolving more slowly than those of mammals, possibly because of “a static habitat and lack of predators.” But its environment must have changed quite considerably over the last 400 million years, Dr. Meyer said. Its principal habitat at present is the caves beneath the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean, but since these are extinct volcanoes a mere 5 million to 10 million years old, they must be a quite recent home for the coelacanth.


The Amemiya team does not possess a full coelacanth — these are endangered species — and decoded the genome from tissues obtained from Rosemary Dorrington of Rhodes University in South Africa. Dr. Dorrington supplied DNA kits to the Comoro Islands fishermen who occasionally snag coelacanths by accident. When a coelacanth was captured in 2003, they preserved blood and tissues, which were given to Dr. Dorrington and kept frozen, Dr. Amemiya said.


The specimen was preserved in Moroni, the capital of the Comoro Islands, but Dr. Amemiya has been unable to find out where it is now because of the constant state of civil war in the islands, he said.


Can he be certain, then, that the tissue came from a coelacanth? “Oh, no question,” Dr. Amemiya said. “We have DNA from several other coelacanths, from Africa and Indonesia, which is very similar to this one.” The one caught in 2003 was identified as a coelacanth by Said Ahamada, a South African expert, Dr. Amemiya said.


Because the original specimen is not available and the DNA sequencing is incomplete, the Amemiya team does not know its sex.

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Nanomaterials enable dual-mode heating and cooling device

Nanomaterials enable dual-mode heating and cooling device | Amazing Science |

Engineers at Duke University have demonstrated a dual-mode heating and cooling device for building climate control that, if widely deployed in the U.S., could cut HVAC energy use by nearly 20 percent. The invention uses a combination of mechanics and materials science to either harness or expel certain wavelengths of light. Depending on conditions, rollers move a sheet back and forth to expose either heat-trapping materials on one half or cooling materials on the other. Specially designed at the nanoscale, one material absorbs the sun's energy and traps existing heat, while the other reflects light and allows heat to escape through the Earth's atmosphere and into space.


"I think we are the first to demonstrate a reversible thermal contact, which allows us to switch between the two modes for heating or cooling," said Po-Chun Hsu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke and leader of the team. "This allows the material to be movable while still maintaining a good thermal contact with the building to either bring heat in or let heat out."


The results appeared online November 30, in the journal Nature Communications.

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‘Natural killer’ cells found to be one of the key determinants of severe COVID-19 cases

‘Natural killer’ cells found to be one of the key determinants of severe COVID-19 cases | Amazing Science |

An impaired count of natural killer (NK) immune cells and reduced ability to destroy infected cells are key characteristics of severe COVID-19 infection, according to newly published research in the journal Blood Advances.


A team of researchers at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary followed 12 patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms at hospitals in Edmonton. They found that the patients had a reduced number of NK cells and that cytokines—molecules that aid cell-to-cell communication in immune responses and stimulate the movement of cells toward sites of inflammation, infection and trauma—were also markedly reduced.


“This suggests there's something in particular about how this virus triggers the immune system, but also how it changes how the immune system can self-regulate,” said Mohamed Osman, a rheumatologist and immunologist and assistant professor of medicine in the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.


A substantial proportion of COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care die of pneumonia due to a cytokine storm, where the body’s immune system goes into overdrive and attacks itself rather than fighting off the illness. NK cells are a key regulator of the immune response, controlling how active it becomes.


According to Osman, the findings of the study were confirmed with the help of Faisal Khan, director of the Hematology Translational Lab at the University of Calgary and associate professor at the Cumming School of Medicine. Since the initial publication of the findings, Osman said the team has also added data from an additional 18 patients showing similar results.


The team is now working to get a better sense of whether the dampened NK cells are unique to the virus when it causes severe COVID-19. They are seeking to compare their findings with those from patients who have mild COVID-19 symptoms and others who have respiratory infections unrelated to COVID-19. If it is unique to severe COVID-19, the team hopes in future studies to identify genetic signatures that may exacerbate the problem and could be used as a biomarker to identify patients who may be at higher risk of developing severe symptoms.

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NHS to trial blood test to detect more than 50 forms of cancer

NHS to trial blood test to detect more than 50 forms of cancer | Amazing Science |

The NHS is to trial a simple blood test that may help identify more than 50 forms of cancer years before diagnosis, in what it hailed as a potential “gamechanger”. If successful the blood test, known as Galleri, could revolutionize early diagnosis of cancer and save many lives by identifying symptoms quickly enough for prompt treatment to make the difference between life and death.


The blood test will be offered to 165,000 people in England from mid-2021, the vast majority of whom have no signs of the disease. NHS England hopes the test may prove particularly useful at detecting early signs of cancers that are hard to spot and so have worse survival rates, such as ovarian and pancreatic cancer.


Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, said: “Early detection, particularly for hard to treat conditions like ovarian and pancreatic cancer, has the potential to save many lives. This promising blood test could therefore be a gamechanger in cancer care, helping thousands more people to get successful treatment.”

If the trial finds that the blood test can detect cancers early it will become routinely available later this decade.


The 165,000 people who will be offered the test will be aged between 50 and 79. Of them 140,000 will be symptom free. They will be identified through NHS records, randomly selected and invited to join the trial. Those in the trial will have a blood test every year for three years to check for the presence of malignant growths.


The other 25,000 people will be those identified by their GP as having possible signs of cancer, such as a lump or discharge. They will have to give a blood sample, as well have conventional tests such as a CT or MRI scan, to speed up the diagnosis.


NHS England believes the Galleri tests could lead to people with cancer being diagnosed several years before that would otherwise happen. The tests could also pinpoint where in the body cancer was developing, they said.

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Comprehensive list of available SARS-CoV-2 (CoVID19) diagnostic tests

Comprehensive list of available SARS-CoV-2 (CoVID19) diagnostic tests | Amazing Science |

Comprehensive list of available diagnostic tests, because diagnosis matters.

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AI model detects asymptomatic Covid-19 infections through cellphone-recorded coughs

AI model detects asymptomatic Covid-19 infections through cellphone-recorded coughs | Amazing Science |
An artificial intelligence model can detect people who are asymptomatic with Covid-19, through cellphone-recorded coughs. The work was led by Brian Subirana and colleagues at the MIT Auto-ID Lab.


Asymptomatic people who are infected with Covid-19 exhibit, by definition, no discernible physical symptoms of the disease. They are thus less likely to seek out testing for the virus, and could unknowingly spread the infection to others. But it seems those who are asymptomatic may not be entirely free of changes wrought by the virus. MIT researchers have now found that people who are asymptomatic may differ from healthy individuals in the way that they cough. These differences are not decipherable to the human ear. But it turns out that they can be picked up by artificial intelligence.


In a paper published recently in the IEEE Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology, the team reports on an AI model that distinguishes asymptomatic people from healthy individuals through forced-cough recordings, which people voluntarily submitted through web browsers and devices such as cellphones and laptops. The researchers trained the model on tens of thousands of samples of coughs, as well as spoken words. When they fed the model new cough recordings, it accurately identified 98.5 percent of coughs from people who were confirmed to have Covid-19, including 100 percent of coughs from asymptomatics — who reported they did not have symptoms but had tested positive for the virus.


The team is now working on incorporating the model into a user-friendly app, which if FDA-approved and adopted on a large scale could potentially be a free, convenient, noninvasive prescreening tool to identify people who are likely to be asymptomatic for Covid-19. A user could log in daily, cough into their phone, and instantly get information on whether they might be infected and therefore should confirm with a formal test. “The effective implementation of this group diagnostic tool could diminish the spread of the pandemic if everyone uses it before going to a classroom, a factory, or a restaurant,” says co-author Brian Subirana, a research scientist in MIT’s Auto-ID Laboratory.

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Zebra finches can rapidly memorize the signature sounds of at least 50 different members of their flock

Zebra finches can rapidly memorize the signature sounds of at least 50 different members of their flock | Amazing Science |

If songbirds could appear on "The Masked Singer" reality TV competition, zebra finches would likely steal the show. That's because they can rapidly memorize the signature sounds of at least 50 different members of their flock, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.


In recent findings published in the journal Science Advances, these boisterous, red-beaked songbirds, known as zebra finches, have been shown to pick one another out of a crowd (or flock) based on a particular peer's distinct song or contact call. Like humans who can instantly tell which friend or relative is calling by the timbre of the person's voice, zebra finches have a near-human capacity for language mapping. Moreover, they can remember each other's unique vocalizations for months and perhaps longer, the findings suggest.


"The amazing auditory memory of zebra finches shows that birds' brains are highly adapted for sophisticated social communication," said study lead author Frederic Theunissen, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology, integrative biology and neuroscience. Theunissen and fellow researchers sought to gauge the scope and magnitude of zebra finches' ability to identify their feathered peers based purely on their unique sounds. As a result, they found that the birds, which mate for life, performed even better than anticipated.


"For animals, the ability to recognize the source and meaning of a cohort member's call requires complex mapping skills, and this is something zebra finches have clearly mastered," Theunissen said.

A pioneer in the study of bird and human auditory communication for at least two decades, Theunissen acquired a fascination and admiration for the communication skills of zebra finches through his collaboration with UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Julie Elie, a neuroethologist who has studied zebra finches in the forests of their native Australia. Their teamwork yielded groundbreaking findings about the communication skills of zebra finches.


Zebra finches usually travel around in colonies of 50 to 100 birds, flying apart and then coming back together. Their songs are typically mating calls, while their distance or contact calls are used to identify where they are, or to locate one another. "They have what we call a 'fusion fission' society, where they split up and then come back together," Theunissen said. "They don't want to separate from the flock, and so, if one of them gets lost, they might call out 'Hey, Ted, we're right here.' Or, if one of them is sitting in a nest while the other is foraging, one might call out to ask if it's safe to return to the nest."

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Covid-19 vaccines explained: Here's how they work

Covid-19 vaccines explained: Here's how they work | Amazing Science |

There's good news about coronavirus vaccines. At least three of the experimental vaccines show remarkable efficacy, at least according to information released by the makers in news releases.


Global vaccine giant AstraZeneca reports its vaccine prevented coronavirus infection 62% of the time when people got two doses a month apart. But in a subgroup of volunteers who got a half dose followed by a full dose a month later, the vaccine appeared to be 90% effective. That averages out to 70% efficacy. The vaccines made by Pfizer Inc and biotechnology company Moderna appear to protect against symptomatic infection 95% of the time.


Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines use very similar technology, while AstraZeneca uses a different approach. They are among six vaccines getting some kind of federal government support in the United States and dozens in development around the world.


CNN provides a look at the technology behind some of the candidates that are the furthest along in development -- mostly in Phase 3 clinical trials, the last step before seeking the go-ahead from the US Food and Drug Administration and other regulators around the world.

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Study Finds that Memories of the Past Retain Remarkable Fidelity Even as We Age

Study Finds that Memories of the Past Retain Remarkable Fidelity Even as We Age | Amazing Science |
Even though people tend to remember fewer details about past events as time goes by, the details they do remember are retained with remarkable fidelity, according to a new study. This finding holds true regardless of the age of the person or the amount of time that elapsed since the event took place.

Scientists studying the complex relationship between aging and memory have found that in a controlled experiment, people can remember the details about past events with a surprising 94% accuracy, even accounting for age. These results, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that the stories we tell about past events are accurate, although details tend to fade with time.

“These results are surprising to many, given the general pessimism about memory accuracy among scientists and the prevalent idea that memory for one-time events is not to be trusted,” said Nicholas Diamond, the study’s lead researcher, a former graduate student at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), and currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

“These results will be helpful for understanding memory in healthy aging.”Brian Levine, Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute
About 400 academics, including memory scientists, surveyed as part of this study estimated memory accuracy to be around 40% at best, expecting this score to be even lower for older participants or when greater amounts of time had elapsed since the events.

“This study shows us that memory accuracy is actually quite good under normal circumstances, and it remains stable as we age,” said Brian Levine, a senior scientist at RRI and a professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Toronto and co-author on the study. “These results will be helpful for understanding memory in healthy aging.”
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Researchers create AI algorithm to improve antibiotic UTI treatment

Researchers create AI algorithm to improve antibiotic UTI treatment | Amazing Science |
Using machine learning, researchers have developed a treatment algorithm that could help improve antibiotic prescribing for uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs), according to a study today in Science Translational Medicine.

UTIs are one of most common conditions for which antibiotics are prescribed in the United States, resulting in 4.7 million prescriptions annually. But in more than 40% of cases of uncomplicated UTI, clinicians prescribe fluoroquinolones, which are the second-line therapy according to guidelines from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). The first-line antibiotics are the narrow-spectrum nitrofurantoin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.

The decision to use broader-spectrum fluoroquinolones is likely related to concerns about rising antibiotic resistance to first-line treatment for UTIs. And in emergency rooms and other outpatient settings where UTIs are diagnosed and patients are sent home with an antibiotic, clinicians may favor empiric treatment with agents like ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin to minimize the risk of first-line therapy failure.

But this is problematic, because fluoroquinolones are associated with adverse events like tendon rupture and peripheral neuropathy, and increased use of fluoroquinolones can increase the risk of Clostridioides difficile infections in patients and promote the emergence of multidrug-resistant organisms.
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Acromyrmex echinatior, a species of leaf-cutter ants is the first known example of an insect with mineralized armor

Acromyrmex echinatior, a species of leaf-cutter ants is the first known example of an insect with mineralized armor | Amazing Science |

A species of leaf-cutter ant is the first known example of an insect with mineralized armor, which shields them during combat.The armor, which is made up of tiny crystals, develops as the ants mature and seems to be produced by the underlying waxy outer coating of the body of mature workers.


Although calcareous anatomical structures have evolved in diverse animal groups, such structures have been unknown in insects. Here, we report the discovery of high-magnesium calcite [CaMg(CO3)2] armor overlaying the exoskeletons of major workers of the leaf-cutter ant Acromyrmex echinatior. Live-rearing and in vitro synthesis experiments indicate that the biomineral layer accumulates rapidly as ant workers mature, that the layer is continuously distributed, covering nearly the entire integument, and that the ant epicuticle catalyzes biomineral nucleation and growth. In situ nano-indentation demonstrates that the biomineral layer significantly hardens the exoskeleton. Increased survival of ant workers with biomineralized exoskeletons during aggressive encounters with other ants and reduced infection by entomopathogenic fungi demonstrate the protective role of the biomineral layer. The discovery of biogenic high-magnesium calcite in the relatively well-studied leaf-cutting ants suggests that calcareous biominerals enriched in magnesium may be more common in metazoans than previously recognized. Biomineral armor is known in a number of diverse creatures but has not previously been observed in insects. Here, the authors report on the discovery and characterization of high-magnesium calcite armor which overlays the exoskeletons of leaf-cutter ants.

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