Enjoying nature could lower inflammation levels, scientists say

NEW YORK, May 27 — Spending time in nature has already been shown to stimulate creativity or reduce anxiety. Now, a new American study claims that time spent in green spaces could reduce inflammation, especially if these moments are truly enjoyed.Numerous studies have highlighted the beneficial effects of contact with nature and green spaces on physical and mental health. New research, conducted by scientists at Cornell University in the United States, highlights a new advantage. The study reports that frequent positive contact with nature is associated with lower levels of systemic inflammation. To reach this conclusion, Prof. Anthony D. Ong’s team analysed data from 1,244 participants. They were asked not only about the frequency of their exposure to nature, but also about the quality of their contact with these green spaces. “It’s not just about how often people spend time outdoors, but also the quality of their experiences,” said Professor Ong, quoted in a news release.AdvertisementThe results showed that people who reported more frequent pleasant encounters with nature had lower levels of inflammation. Specifically, participants were tested on three biomarkers, interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen. Elevated levels of these proteins indicate the presence of systemic inflammation. “By focusing on these inflammation markers, the study provides a biological explanation for why nature might improve health,” Ong said, “particularly showing how it might prevent or manage diseases linked to chronic inflammation, like heart disease and diabetes.”“Even when controlling for other variables such as demographics, health behaviours, medication and general well-being, Ong said his team found that reduced levels of inflammation were consistently associated with more frequent positive contact with nature,” the study news release reports. “And it’s this sort of nexus of exposure and experience: It’s only when you have both, when you are engaging and taking the enjoyment out of it, that you see these benefits,” adds Professor Ong.“These findings lay the groundwork for future investigations exploring the complex interplay between emotions, health, and the natural environment. Integrating regular contact with nature into daily experience may provide a potent means of promoting public health and fostering resilience amid the myriad challenges of modern life,” the scientists conclude in their paper. — ETX StudioAdvertisement

Antibodies from llamas bring scientists closer to an HIV treatment

With the help of a llama, researchers have devised a new strategy to combat HIV type 1. Unlike humans, llamas are a source of virus-targeting entities called nanobodies, which, when combined with a specific human antibody, can lower the virus’ chances of escaping neutralization.

“HIV-1 is a very challenging virus, and our plan was to repetitively immunize animals over a relatively long period of time to obtain neutralizing nanobodies,” said Jianliang Xu, one of the researchers who headed the study and an assistant professor of biology at Georgia State University.

Since 1981, when the first case of HIV was reported in the United States, a vaccine has remained beyond reach for a few reasons, including the rapid mutation of the virus, which leads to treatment resistance.

Antibodies that are effective against multiple HIV-1 strains, known as broadly neutralizing antibodies, are a promising treatment option, but they still need to be stronger and better designed to maintain their efficacy against virus mutation.  

They can also take years to develop as human antibodies, which consist of heavy and light amino acid chains, cannot easily maneuver around the natural defenses the virus has set up to reach their target binding sites on the virus’ surface.

Nanobodies, small fragments of antibodies, could offer a solution to this predicament.

Llamas may hold the key to an HIV treatment

Camelid animals, including camels, alpacas, and llamas, produce a specific type of antibody known as heavy-chain-only antibodies, which are the main source of nanobodies, Xu explained.

“Nanobodies are about ten times smaller than conventional antibodies,” he stated. “They have an [elongated] shape and are good at binding smaller, often partially occluded sites on [HIV-1] antigens, which may be inaccessible to classical [human] antibodies.”

Nanobodies neutralize HIV-1 antigens by binding to the envelope protein spike, which the virus uses to enter healthy host cells, thus shutting down infection. To obtain the nanobodies, the scientists first needed to induce the production of heavy-chain antibodies in a camelid animal. To do this, Xu and his colleagues injected a single llama with an HIV-1 antigen — the part of the virus that the immune system recognizes as invasive, prompting it to respond.

The HIV-1 antigen they used was fixed in a “closed” conformation with well-exposed target sites, making the immune system more likely to detect the virus. In response, the llama, immunized 13 times over the course of 271 days, produced blood cells that generated heavy-chain-only antibodies from which nanobody genes could be isolated.

These genes allowed the researchers to produce large quantities of the nanobodies in a controlled environment using a technique called phage display, in which the nanobody genes were inserted into viruses that infect bacteria, called phages. These phages displayed the nanobodies on their surface, allowing them to bind HIV-1 antigens.

“We used different HIV-1 protein antigens to select for phages that displayed antigen-binding nanobodies on their surface,” Xu said.

Among the numerous nanobody candidates isolated from the llama’s blood, the researchers identified those that were most effective against a range of HIV strains and had the strongest ability to neutralize the virus.

Two antibodies are better than one

Although the best nanobodies demonstrated promising results on their own, the researchers aimed for even better neutralization performance. According to Peter Kwong, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Columbia University and collaborator on the study, the goal for HIV-1 neutralization is to achieve 100% neutralization at the lowest possible concentration.

“For a therapeutic, it is desirable to inhibit many, if not all, virus strains, enabling close to complete viral suppression in AIDS patients,” he commented.

Even though a single broadly neutralizing antibody or nanobody may be able to neutralize most or even all HIV-1 strains, new mutants will continue to be generated owing to the instability of the virus genome, Xu explained. Simply by chance, some mutants undergo subtle changes that allow them to escape antibody or nanobody binding.

“Treatment with one antibody targeting a single site usually leads to the accumulation of virus mutants that are resistant to the antibody,” he said.

Building on their previous work, Xu, Kwong, and their team engineered a human–llama “chimera” or bispecific antibody that can bind to two of the virus’ vulnerable sites simultaneously, making it much more difficult for the virus to evade neutralization.

This two-pronged attack is possible owing to the different shapes and binding preferences of the llama nanobody and human antibody, which were linked together. The nanobody binds to a specific site known as the CD4 binding site, while the human antibody targets another site known as the V2 apex.

Not only was a very small concentration of the human–llama antibody needed to neutralize the HIV-1, but it neutralized more than 95% of 208 HIV-1 strains simultaneously, making it ten times more potent than the human–llama antibody the researchers previously engineered.

Feasibility for HIV-1 prevention and treatment

Although these results are promising, more practical aspects need to be taken into account, including the antibody’s half-life, or the time required for its concentration to diminish by half after injection in the human body.  

“Half-life is important, as [preventative] treatment would benefit from an antibody that only needs to be dosed once a year,” Kwong stressed, making any therapy based on this technology more easily accessible.

“Critically, we’ve observed that the half-life of the [human antibody]–nanobody is substantially higher than the nanobody by itself,” he added. This is because intravenously injected nanobodies, owing to their small size, are typically cleared from blood serum within an hour by kidney filtration. Connecting it with a human antibody adds bulk, slowing its clearance. The researchers are currently testing the half-life of a variation of the bispecific antibody reported in their paper. 

The researchers also immunized only one llama. At this stage, it’s unclear if immunizing more llamas would lead to broader HIV-1 neutralization, or if other animals could produce more potent nanobodies.

“Another limitation is that all strong neutralizing nanobodies we isolated are targeting the CD4 binding site,” Xu pointed out. “It would be ideal if we could obtain broad and potent neutralizers that recognize other sites on the HIV-1 envelope protein. That way we could build bispecific or multi-specific antibodies with more combinations.”

In addition, the HIV-1 antigen used in the study mainly induced an immune response towards a non-neutralizing site of the antigen, particularly its base.

“This probably could be avoided if we use immunogens that have the base region genetically covered,” Kwong said. The researchers hope to address this issue in future studies.

Sharana Mahomed, a clinical microbiologist at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, who was not involved in the study, said that these study results are promising. Her research mainly focuses on the use of broadly neutralizing monoclonal antibodies against HIV, and she’s currently running clinical trials aimed at fighting the infection in sub-Saharan Africa.

“[Xu and Kwong’s] strategy provides extensive structural and functional insights into the bispecific antibodies’ mechanisms, achieving exceptional neutralization potency and breadth, thus highlighting their clinical relevance,” Mahomed commented. “Furthermore, the study provides detailed structural and functional insights into how these antibodies target the virus, offering a mechanistic understanding that can guide future antibody design.”

“However, the lengthy immunization period presents scalability challenges, and the species-specific responses of llama-derived nanobodies may differ in humans, necessitating further validation,” she noted.

She told us that overcoming these challenges will not only require validation in humans but faster immunization techniques, scalable manufacturing processes, cost-effective production, and strategic partnerships for equitable distribution.

Despite the remaining obstacles, the newly developed antibody represents progress in the now decades-long effort to develop an HIV-1 treatment that can effectively inhibit all strains of the virus.  

Reference: Jianliang Xu, Peter D. Kwong, et al. Ultrapotent Broadly Neutralizing Human-llama Bispecific Antibodies against HIV-1, Advanced Science (2024). DOI: 10.1002/advs.202309268

Scientists Pinpoint Main Cause of Sensory Hypersensitivity in Autism

Researchers at the Institute for Basic Science have identified the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) as a key area in the brain responsible for sensory hypersensitivity in autism spectrum disorders. Utilizing a mouse model with a Grin2b gene mutation, the team observed heightened neural activity and connectivity in the ACC. Suppressing this hyperactivity normalized the sensory hypersensitivity, offering new insights into potential treatment targets for ASD-related sensory issues. Future studies will further explore the detailed mechanisms and broader implications for other ASD models. Credit: SciTechDaily.comSensory hypersensitivity in mice with Grin2b mutations is associated with hyperactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex and increased connectivity throughout the brain.A research team led by Director Kim Eunjoon of the Center for Synaptic Brain Dysfunctions and Director Kim Seong-Gi of the Center for Neuroscience Imaging Research at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) has pinpointed the main cause of sensory hypersensitivity in autism spectrum disorders (ASD).Autism affects approximately 1 in 36 individuals and is marked by significant challenges in social interaction and communication. Around 90% of autism patients also suffer from abnormal sensory hypersensitivity that deeply affects their daily functioning. This hypersensitivity results in exaggerated or dampened responses to common sensory stimuli such as sound, light, and touch, which leads to considerable stress and further social withdrawal. The precise brain region responsible for this sensory dysfunction is unknown, which hinders treatment efforts.The IBS researchers studied an ASD mouse model with a mutation in the Grin2b gene, which encodes the GluN2B subunit of NMDA receptors. NMDA receptors, a type of glutamate receptor in the brain, have garnered attention in the context of autism due to their crucial role in synaptic transmission and neural plasticity. It was hypothesized that the Grin2b gene mutation in mice would induce ASD-like phenotypes, including sensory abnormalities, and that certain brain mechanisms may play important roles. Key Discoveries and Future ResearchThe researchers monitored neural activity and functional connectivity in the brains of these mice using activity-dependent markers and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In these mice, the researchers discovered increased neuronal activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The ACC is one of the higher-order cortical regions that have been extensively studied for cognitive and emotional brain functions, but have been understudied for brain disease-related sensory abnormalities.Interestingly, when the hyperactivity of ACC neurons was inhibited using chemogenetic methods, sensory hypersensitivity was normalized, indicating the pivotal role of ACC hyperactivity in sensory hypersensitivity associated with autism.Sensory hypersensitivity in mice with the Grin2b gene mutation found in patients is related to hyperactivity of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and hyperconnectivity between the ACC and other brain regions. Credit: Institute for Basic ScienceDirector Kim Eunjoon states, “This new research demonstrates the involvement of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which has been known for its deep association with cognitive and social functions, in sensory hypersensitivity in autism.”The hyperactivity of the ACC was also associated with the enhanced functional connectivity between the ACC and other brain areas. It is believed both hyperactivity and the hyperconnectivity of the ACC with various other brain regions are involved with sensory hypersensitivity in Grin2b-mutant mice.Director Kim Seong-Gi states, “Past studies attributed peripheral neurons or primary cortical areas to be important for ASD-related sensory hypersensitivity. These studies often only focused on the activity of a single brain region. In contrast, our study investigates not only the activity of ACC but also the brain-wide hyperconnectivity between the ACC and various cortical/subcortical brain regions, which gives us a more complete picture of the brain.”The researchers plan to study the detailed mechanisms underlying the increased excitatory synaptic activity and neuronal hyperconnectivity. They suspect that the lack of Grin2b expression may inhibit the normal process of weakening and pruning synapses that are less active so that relatively more active synapses can participate in refining neural circuits in an activity-dependent manner. Other areas of research interest is studying the role of ACC in other mouse models of ASD.Reference: “Anterior cingulate cortex-related functional hyperconnectivity underlies sensory hypersensitivity in Grin2b-mutant mice” by Soowon Lee, Won Beom Jung, Heera Moon, Geun Ho Im, Young Woo Noh, Wangyong Shin, Yong Gyu Kim, Jee Hyun Yi, Seok Jun Hong, Yongwhan Jung, Sunjoo Ahn, Seong-Gi Kim and Eunjoon Kim, 4 May 2024, Molecular Psychiatry.DOI: 10.1038/s41380-024-02572-yThe study was funded by the Institute for Basic Science.

Navigating Your Data Science Career: From Learning to Earning

Image by author
With 281 tech companies that laid off 80,628 people, why would you be interested in starting a data science career?
It might seem this is not a good moment, with companies downsizing. Yes, there are layoffs, but the chart below shows recent layoffs are nothing compared to the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. So, it’s not that bad!

Source: layoffs.fyi
Another perspective makes it even more positive: companies are still employing data scientists. In fact, in the last month, there have been almost 5,500 job ads on Glassdoor only in the US.
There’s a rather vibrant job market for data scientists. Only now are the companies more demanding. They are looking more for data science specialists than generalists. On top of that, embracing AI tools is what’s now required from data scientists. Here’s how you can approach the challenges and still come on top in the job market.

1. Educational Pathways

There are always two distinct approaches when it comes to learning data science:

Academic education
Self-learning

Ideally, you would combine both.

Academic education
Academic education is not necessary to become a data scientist, but it does give you broad and structured knowledge. It’s much easier to build on this knowledge later than to become a data scientist from scratch.
Data scientists usually have a Bachelor’s degree in quantitative fields, such as computer science, statistics, mathematics, or even economics.
Having a master’s degree is an excellent idea to boost your chances of getting a job. With it, you can specialize. Some examples of specializations are machine learning, data analysis, business intelligence, etc.
Going for a PhD is usually unnecessary, except if you’re interested in research-oriented roles in companies or academia.

Self-Learning
You can become a data scientist by creating a curriculum for yourself. This can include anything from the (non-exhaustive) list:

Certifications 
Online courses
Bootcamps
YT videos
Books
Blog articles
Community forums

If time and finances allow, I recommend you focus on certifications, online courses, and bootcamps. Then, complement them with other resources.
Some of the certifications, courses, and bootcamps I suggest are:

2. Skills

A data scientist’s skills can be categorized into technical and soft skills.

Technical Skills
They stem from the main data scientist’s tasks: extracting and manipulating data, building, testing, and deploying ML models.
Data scientists must use various programming languages and tools to put all this knowledge into practice.
Here’s an overview.

This should be your starting point for further specialization. For example, you can specialize in BI tools or focus on data engineering tools, such as Apache Kafka, Apache Spark, Talend, Airflow, etc.

Soft Skills
The technical skills have to be complemented by the soft skills given below.

Communication Skills
These include both listening to others’ thoughts and communicating your own.
Your work as a data scientist starts by listening to other people’s problems. You’re the kind of psychotherapist that helps others solve their problems using data. Data therapist? By understanding business problems, you can shape your technical solution to the users’ needs.
Data scientists also must be able to translate the technical complexity of their work to non-technical audiences. They help themselves with visualization tools, meaning effectively visualizing and presenting your work is mandatory.

Analytical Thinking
Business problems that you need to solve will often be explained to you in a very non-technical way: “Oh, God, our customer retention is bombing! Heeeelp! You, the data science guy, come up with something. ”
This calls for the ability to break down the problem into logical blocks and solve it systematically. Also, creativity needs to be sprinkled around, as many problems require finding novel solutions.

Collaboration Skills
Data scientists’ ideal work day would be to be left alone, work on their models, and talk softly to it (in Gollum’s voice): It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious.
Unfortunately, data scientists very often have to collaborate with other colleagues from data team. Projects also include cross-departmental teams.
Being adaptable and flexible, creating a good working atmosphere, and solving conflicts effectively and respectfully? Yes, my precious!

Project Management
Working on a data science project requires project management ability, including prioritizing tasks, coordinating a project team, and tracking project progress and deadlines.
Add to that mentoring junior staff and juggling between several projects, and this skill becomes crucial.

Business Acumen
All data projects are designed to solve business problems. To make them so, you need to have a solid understanding of your company’s business and industry. This makes it easier to understand the business problem and design a solution considering dependencies that may not have been explicitly mentioned.

3. Career Path and Salary

The data science career usually starts with landing a junior data analyst or junior data scientist job.
From there, I suggest you go into one of the specialization roles. Some of the examples are data engineers, ML engineers, business analysts, data analysts, or BI engineers. The data scientist position today is also increasingly a specialist role – more focused on using statistics in data exploration and initial model development rather than doing end-to-end projects.
Depending on the number of years you spend in a specific specialistic position and your interests, you could go into two distinct directions: management roles or advanced specialization roles.
For example, management roles can include a senior manager or director in any of the specializations mentioned earlier. This path takes you away from the technical part of your job, and managing people and departments becomes your focal point.
The other option is to remain an individual contributor and go even deeper into your specialization. These are advanced specialization roles. For any of the specializations mentioned, the titles are usually Staff, Principal, Distinguished, and Fellow.

4. Salary

Data science is still a very well-paying profession. This shouldn’t be overlooked when choosing your career path. Here’s the overview of the salaries for the previously mentioned roles.

Image by author, source of salary data: Glassdoor

5. Getting a Job

Now, the question is how to transition from learning data science to earning all this money, otherwise known as getting a job.
I wouldn’t say anything new if I said: find the job ads you like, apply, kick ass on the interview, get a job. There you go, you’re welcome!
There are, however, two things that can distinguish you from other applicants:

An outstanding portfolio
Experience of the job interviews

An outstanding portfolio means having a solid number of data projects relevant to the job. Data projects are the best way to comprehensively build up and showcase your data science skills, as doing them requires a high level of each skill. Of course, you can also work on specialized projects focusing on specific skills, e.g., machine learning, data engineering, etc.
Experience of the job interviews can be gained in two ways. The first is to fail a lot of interviews before you get a job. This is a legitimate way many of us have experienced. I’m not joking; gaining experience makes you more used to the interview process, approaches, topics tested, and, especially, coding under time pressure.
However, there’s also a less painful way to achieve the same: solving the actual coding and other technical interview questions on the platforms that provide them.

Conclusion

While it might not seem like it, now is the ideal time to get into data science. Two reasons. First, if you’re thinking about starting your data science education, go for it. It will take some time. By the time you finish, data science might again be booming.
Second, if you already have all the requirements, apply for the jobs, as there are plenty of them, despite the layoffs.
Let’s remember that data science is still one of the most attractive jobs there, despite all the shake-ups.

Nate Rosidi is a data scientist and in product strategy. He’s also an adjunct professor teaching analytics, and is the founder of StrataScratch, a platform helping data scientists prepare for their interviews with real interview questions from top companies. Nate writes on the latest trends in the career market, gives interview advice, shares data science projects, and covers everything SQL.More On This Topic

Prominent Scientist Calls for Strict AI Regulation amid Shifting Focus on Safety

Max Tegmark, a leading scientist and AI campaigner, has cautioned that the tech industry’s lobbying efforts have diverted attention from the existential threat artificial intelligence poses to humanity.
The Guardian reports that in a recent interview at the AI Summit in Seoul, South Korea, Tegmark expressed concern that the shift in focus from the potential extinction of life to a broader notion of AI safety could lead to an unacceptable delay in implementing strict regulations on the creators of the most powerful AI programs.

Tegmark, a trained physicist, drew parallels between the current state of AI and the development of nuclear weapons in the 1940s. He referred to the creation of the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction by Enrico Fermi in 1942, which was a significant milestone in the development of nuclear bombs. Similarly, Tegmark believes that AI models capable of passing the Turing test, where a human cannot distinguish between a conversation with another human and an AI, serve as a warning for the potential loss of control over AI.
OpenAI founder Sam Altman, creator of ChatGPT (TechCrunch/Flickr)

The Future of Life Institute, a non-profit organization led by Tegmark, called for a six-month “pause” in advanced AI research last year due to these concerns. The launch of OpenAI’s GPT-4 model in March of that year was seen as a canary in the coalmine, indicating that the risk was unacceptably close. Despite the support of thousands of experts, including AI pioneers Geoffrey Hinton and Yoshua Bengio, no pause was agreed upon.
Instead, AI summits, such as the one in Seoul and the previous one at Bletchley Park in the UK, have taken the lead in the nascent field of AI regulation. Tegmark believes that the focus of international AI regulation has shifted away from existential risk, with only one of the three “high-level” groups at the Seoul summit directly addressing safety, and even then, it looked at a broad spectrum of risks.
Tegmark argues that the downplaying of the most severe risks is not accidental but rather the result of industry lobbying. He compares the situation to the tobacco industry’s efforts to distract from the link between smoking and lung cancer in the 1950s, which delayed regulation until 1980.
Critics have accused Tegmark of focusing on hypothetical future risks to distract from concrete harms in the present. However, he dismisses this notion, stating that tech leaders like OpenAI boss Sam Altman are in an impossible situation where they cannot stop even if they want to, as they would be replaced by their respective companies.
Read more at the Guardian here.
Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship.

Turkmen scientists extracted inulin and fructose from Jerusalem artichoke: new opportunities for the economy

Turkmen scientists have developed methods for the production of inulin and fructose containing natural substances based on the components of the Jerusalem artichoke plant (Helianthus tuberous L.). The invention relates to light industry and can be used in the production of food products, soft drinks, confectionery. In addition, it can be used in the pharmaceutical and food industries. Jerusalem artichoke tubers contain inulin, which is a polysaccharide of fructose and accumulates during photosynthesis of the plant.
The work led by the head of the biotechnology laboratory Altyn Rahmanova and researcher Bossan Taganova took place within the framework of the “Program of the President of Turkmenistan for the integrated development of biotechnologies in the country for 2024-2028”.
The energy value of fructose is 3.8 kcal. It has anti-ketogenic and anti-caries properties. These features of fructose make it possible to improve the treatment cycle of patients with diabetes mellitus. Currently, there are known methods for producing inulin, i.e. a fructose-containing product from jerusalem artichoke. The technical result of our invention consists in creating a waste-free production, obtaining the final product in the form of a fructose-containing powder with a large amount of biologically active substances than syrup or paste from this product. Scientific research is also continuing on the production of inulin from the roots of other medicinal plants of dandelion, chicory, elderberry, onion, garlic, fruits, etc.
In the food industry, inulin is used as a substitute for fat and sugar, and it is additionally enriched with other products, including baby food. The prebiotic properties of inulin help to remove toxins, slags and other potentially dangerous substances from the body, also promotes bone growth due to more intensive absorption of calcium, strengthens the immune system, increases endurance and improves the overall tone of the body. It also has a positive effect on liver function. The creation and use of functional nutrition products is the main component of the concept of healthy nutrition of the population. These products are able to regulate numerous functions of the human body, preserve and improve human health and reduce the risk of various diseases.
Currently, much attention is paid in the scientific literature to jerusalem artichoke, the prospects of its use in the food, pharmaceutical, canning industry and feed production. The value of this plant is due to its high yield, rich chemical composition and unpretentiousness in cultivation.
Altyn RAHMANOVA,
Head of the Biotechnology Laboratory of the Technology Center of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan

Venus ‘Far More Volcanically Active’ Than Was Thought, Say Scientists

Venus’s plentiful volcanoes are still active, and may erupt at a similar rate to volcanoes on Earth, new research has found.Scientists have long known that Venus is littered with volcanoes, but little evidence has been found of volcanic activity more recently than around 2.5 million years ago.Now, astronomers have spotted changes to the planet’s surface between 1990 and 1992 that were likely caused by fresh lava flows, according to a new paper in the journal Nature Astronomy.Venus is the second-closest planet to our sun and is often called Earth’s “sister planet” due to its similar size and composition. However, Venus has a thick, toxic atmosphere composed mainly of carbon dioxide, with clouds of sulfuric acid, and has an atmospheric pressure at the surface of about 92 times that of Earth’s. This thick atmosphere makes it difficult for astronomers to observe its surface. It is also the hottest planet in the solar system, with surface temperatures averaging around 870 degrees Fahrenheit.The surface of Venus is relatively young geologically, with few impact craters, indicating it has been resurfaced by volcanic activity within the last 300 to 500 million years. The landscape includes vast plains, highland regions, and numerous volcanic features like shield volcanoes and lava domes.

The Sif Mons area on Venus with the active volcanic region highlighted in red and (inset) an image of Venus taken by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft. Venus may be more volcanically active than first thought.
The Sif Mons area on Venus with the active volcanic region highlighted in red and (inset) an image of Venus taken by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft. Venus may be more volcanically active than first thought.
IRSPS – Università d’Annunzio / NASA/JPL-Caltech
According to the new paper, however, there may be evidence of volcanic activity in the past few decades hidden within old global radar mapping data from the Magellan spacecraft in the 1990s.The researchers compared radar data from 1990 and 1992 and found changes in the surface of Venus in two areas: in Niobe Planitia and on the western flank of Sif Mons and in western Niobe Planitia. These changes may indicate volcanic activity had occurred within that two-year period, with the changes possibly having been caused by fresh lava flows.”We suggest that these changes are most reasonably explained as evidence of new lava flows related to volcanic activities that took place during the Magellan spacecraft’s mapping mission with its synthetic-aperture radar. This study provides further evidence in support of a currently geologically active Venus,” the researchers wrote in the paper.”Not only might Venus be far more volcanically active than previously assumed, but its volcanic activity could also be of the same order of magnitude as that estimated for Earth.”
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These findings may indicate that Venus is still very geologically active, and considering the distance between the two locations, this volcanic activity is widespread across the planet.Additionally, the authors suggest that Venus may be just as volcanically active as Earth is today.”The flow rates of 25.2 and 37.8 [cubic km per year], which we estimated by considering the maximum thickness of 20 m, are comparable to the average rate of magma emplacement and volcanic output on Earth over the past 180 [million years],” they wrote. “Venus may experience up to 42 eruptions per year, with approximately 20 eruptions occurring within a 60- day period.”Do you have a tip on a science story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about Venus? Let us know via [email protected].
Uncommon KnowledgeNewsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Scientists are growing teensy hearts to learn which drugs raise risk of congenital defects” data-before-rewrite-localise=”/health/anatomy/scientists-are-growing-teensy-hearts-to-learn-which-drugs-raise-risk-of-congenital-defects

How did your heart form? What triggered your first heartbeat? To this day, the mechanisms of human heart development remain elusive.Researchers know the heart is the first organ to fully function in the growing human embryo. It begins as a simple tube that starts to pump blood by the fourth week of gestation. By the ninth week, the heart is fully formed. The heart is critical to early development because it provides essential nutrients throughout the developing fetus.But due to its early formation, the heart is exposed for a long duration to substances a pregnant person might come into contact with, such as medications or pollutants. This may be a main reason why congenital heart disease is the most common type of birth defect in people, occurring in over 1 in 100 births worldwide.Traditionally, scientists have used animal and cell models to study heart development and disease. However, researchers haven’t been able to produce a cure for congenital heart disease in part because these models are unable to capture the complexity of the human heart. Due to ethical limitations, using human embryos for these studies is out of the question.To help researchers study heart development and complications in pregnancy, our team of biomedical engineers and cardiovascular scientists have spent the past several years trying to create the next best thing: mini human hearts in the lab.Human heart organoidsOrganoids are complex 3D cellular structures that replicate significant aspects of the structure and function of a specific organ in your body. While organoids are not completely synthetic, functioning organs (yet), they still possess immense power to mimic key aspects of physiology and disease in the lab.We created our heart organoids using a type of cell called a pluripotent stem cell. Although using these cells in research used to be controversial because they were originally derived from human embryos, this is no longer a concern, as they can be produced from any adult. Pluripotent stem cells have the potential to become any type of cell in the body. This means that cells from nearly any part of your body — typically blood or skin cells — can be turned into your own stem cells to grow your own mini heart.Sign up for the Live Science daily newsletter nowGet the world’s most fascinating discoveries delivered straight to your inbox.Contact me with news and offers from other Future brandsReceive email from us on behalf of our trusted partners or sponsorsBy submitting your information you agree to the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and are aged 16 or over.This figure shows the heart organoid developing over 15 days. The top row is light microscope images, while the bottom two rows show two particular proteins highlighted red and blue. (Image credit: Yonatan R. Lewis-Israeli et al. 2021/Nature Communications, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)By manipulating the ability of pluripotent stem cells to become any type of cell in the body, we guided these cells to become heart cells. The cells were able to self-assemble, replicating the main stages of human heart development during pregnancy. Our heart organoids have blood vessels and all the cell types found in the human heart, such as cardiomyocytes and pacemaker cells, which give them an edge over 2D cellular models. Furthermore, the electrophysiology and bioenergetics of these heart organoids are very similar to human embryonic hearts in ways that animal models aren’t.Our heart organoids beat like a tiny baby’s heart, all while smaller than a grain of rice.Pregnancy and the fetal heartOne area we’re exploring with our heart organoids is maternal and fetal cardiac health. Maternal factors such as diabetes, hypertension or even depression can increase the risk of heart disease in newborns. Studying conditions that increase the risk of congenital heart disease can prevent and reduce the incidence of cardiovascular diseases worldwide.We can mimic these maternal environments and simulate how they influence fetal heart development with heart organoids. For example, we used heart organoids to show that diabetes, a very common condition, increases the risk of heart disease in embryos. Compared to heart organoids created in healthy conditions, mini hearts exposed to diabetic conditions developed heart abnormalities like those of human fetuses and newborns with diabetic cardiomyopathy.Our study found that diabetes-related developmental abnormalities of the heart are likely caused by an imbalance of omega-3 fatty acids, the building blocks of cell membranes and signaling molecules. However, dietary supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids could partially restore this imbalance and prevent diabetes-induced congenital heart defects.Drug safety during pregnancyThe drugs pregnant people take can have significant health effects on both the parent and the fetus. Medications approved for use during pregnancy are not always safe, since adequate testing is complicated. Ethical concerns limit working with biological material from people, so researchers are left with animal models that aren’t able to replicate human physiology closely enough.Testing medications on human heart organoids allows researchers to better explore and predict potential harmful effects during pregnancy. One example is ondansetron (Zofran), a drug commonly prescribed to prevent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Although it has been linked with an increased risk of congenital heart disease, whether it causes the disease hasn’t been confirmed.We showed that heart organoids exposed to ondansetron had disturbed development of ventricular cells and impaired function, similar to what’s seen in newborns exposed to ondansetron. Our findings provide data that may help update clinical guidelines on the use of the drug.Certain medications may increase the risk of congenital heart defects.  (Image credit: Fiordaliso via Getty Images)Another example concerns the use of antidepressants during pregnancy, which is associated with an increased risk of congenital heart defects. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, the most prescribed antidepressants in pregnant people, work by increasing the availability of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is an important molecule in cardiac development. Maternal serotonin, along with antidepressants, readily pass to the embryo and alter serotonin levels in the developing heart.In the future, we plan to expose heart organoids to antidepressants and study their effects on the incidence of congenital heart defects. The results of such research on human heart organoids may also inform recommendations for drug replacement or repurposing.Heart organoids have the potential to help scientists more precisely study how the human heart forms and how it develops disease. In the realm of medical innovation, we believe human heart organoids grown from stem cells are the beating promise of a healthier future.This edited article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.