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Science Square (Issue 130)
Jul 1, 2019

The hottest month on record for the planet

Global Climate Report. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information ( July 2019.

It’s summer, and it is hot out there; but if it feels like record-breaking temperatures are becoming more common globally, they are. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and European Copernicus Climate Change Service announced that July 2019 was the hottest month across the globe ever measured since measurements began, in 1880. Global temperatures averaged 16.73°C in July, which is 0.95 °C higher than the 20th-century average of 15.78°C . Average Antarctic sea-ice coverage was 8.5% below the 1981-2010 average. And sea ice coverage was 10.5% below the overall average, which is based on records beginning in 1979. The scientists also released geographical data, showing that the regions where temperatures varied furthest from averages, were Alaska, Central Europe, Northern and Southwestern parts of Asia, and certain regions in Africa and Australia. These findings corroborate scientific predictions regarding the effects of man-made climate change. Human activities, primarily from burning fossil fuels, emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions are associated with warmer global surface temperatures. The planet’s 10 hottest years on record have all fallen in the past two decades. Scientists and policymakers around the globe are also feeling this heat.

Unless significant measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions are adopted, scientists expect temperature records to keep falling. Scientists say global temperatures could increase by at least 3°C this century, which will create conditions on Earth that have not been seen in more than 2 million years. Given the notable trends in higher temperatures and natural disasters, we might be pushing the climate system toward states that we haven’t seen in our societal experience – and even in our species’ experience.

Manipulation of brain circuits using smartphone-controlled device

Qazi R et al. Wireless optofluidic brain probes for chronic neuropharmacology and photostimulation. Nature Biomedical Engineering, August 2019.

Scientists recently designed a device that can regulate brain circuits using a tiny brain implant controlled by a smartphone. This bluetooth-enabled device utilizes replaceable lego-like drug cartridges to target neurons with drugs and light. Existing methods to deliver drugs and light to the brain typically involve metal tubes and optical fibers. These tools are rigid and can substantially damage the brain’s soft tissue over time. Moreover, this bulky equipment often limits the patient’s movement because of the wired connections, making them unfit for long-term use. To achieve chronic remote-controlled drug delivery without exhaustion and evaporation of drugs, scientists invented a neural device with a replaceable drug cartridge, which could allow neuroscientists to study the same brain networks for several months without depleting the drug supply. These “plug-n-play” drug cartridges were integrated into a brain implant for mice with a soft and ultrathin probe (about the thickness of a human hair), which consisted of microfluidic channels and tiny LEDs (smaller than a grain of salt), for unlimited drug doses and light delivery. The implant is regulated via a smartphone, allowing researchers to trigger precise combinations and sequences of drug and light delivery. In animal models, these stimuli can be triggered with the target outside of the laboratory, allowing researchers to wirelessly instill changes in the animal’s brain while in its natural habitat. Using these neural devices, researchers are now able to perform fully automated animal studies where the behavior of one animal could positively or negatively affect behavior in other animals by conditional triggering of light and/or drug delivery. This device will allow researchers to better dissect the neural circuit basis of behavior and how specific neuromodulators in the brain tune behavior in various ways. In addition, the device can be utilized in complex pharmacological studies to develop potentially new therapeutics for pain, addiction, and emotional disorders.

The secret weapon of E.Coli 

Melson E. at al. The sRNA DicF integrates oxygen sensing to enhance enterohemorrhagic Escherichia colivirulence via distinctive RNA control mechanisms. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2019.

Scientists have revealed how E. coli (Escherichia coli) bacteria seeks out the most oxygen-free parts of your colon to cause the worst infection possible. E. coli normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Most varieties of E. coli are harmless or cause relatively brief diarrhea. But a few particularly nasty strains can cause cramps, diarrhea, vomiting – even kidney failure and death. Children are particularly at risk. A new study uncovers how this foodborne pathogen knows where and when to begin colonizing the colon on its way to making you sick. Bacterial pathogens typically colonize a specific tissue or organ in the host. Therefore, as part of their infection strategies, bacterial pathogens precisely time deployment of proteins and toxins to these specific colonization niches in the human host. This allows the pathogens to save energy and avoid detection by our immune systems and ultimately cause disease. The researchers in this study identified how E.Coli detects low oxygen levels in the large intestine and then produces proteins that allow it to attach to host cells and establish infection. Oxygen actually diffuses from the intestinal tissue into the gut, and there are comparably higher levels in the small intestine than the large. Remarkably, E. coli specifically waits until it has reached the-low oxygen large intestine before striking. E. coli controls this process via a small form of RNA that activates particular genes when oxygen levels are low. This is the point when the infection really gets established and the bacteria are able to begin to manufacture harmful Shiga toxins. The researchers predict that other bacterial pathogens, such as Shigella and Salmonella, likely utilize a similar control mechanism. Researchers suggest that if we can find a way to block oxygen sensing, we may be able to prevent the infection by allowing E. coli to pass harmlessly through the body.