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Wed, 22 Feb 2017
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Beaker

The end of fillings? Researchers develop drug that regrows damaged teeth

Researchers at King's College London in the United Kingdom have discovered that Tideglusib, a drug designed to regrow brain cells in patients living with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's, can stimulate the stem cells contained in the pulp of teeth. This discovery generates enough dentine - the hard, calcified tissue beneath the outer enamel surface in teeth - and naturally regenerates the damaged teeth, substantially reducing the need for artificial fillings.

Previous work by the team has shown that Tideglusib stimulates stem cells in the center of the tooth, triggering them to develop into odontoblasts (specialized tooth cells) and boosting the production of dentine, allowing larger defects to be reversed. Professor Paul Sharpe, lead author of the study, commented:

"The simplicity of our approach makes it ideal as a clinical dental product for the natural treatment of large cavities, by providing both pulp protection and restoring dentine. In addition, using a drug that has already been tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease provides a real opportunity to get this dental treatment quickly into clinics."

Bizarro Earth

Chimps attack and murder former tyrant

© Jill D. Pruetz
A violent end
It was a gruesome scene. The body had severe wounds and was still bleeding despite having been lying for a few hours in the hot Senegalese savanna.

The murder victim, a West African chimpanzee called Foudouko, had been beaten with rocks and sticks, stomped on and then cannibalised by his own community.

This is one of just nine known cases where a group of chimpanzees has killed one of their own adult males, as opposed to killing a member of a neighbouring tribe.

These intragroup killings are rare, but Michael Wilson at the University of Minnesota says they are a valuable insight into chimp behaviour such as male coalition building.

"Why do these coalitions sometimes succeed, but not very often? It's at the heart of this tension between conflict and cooperation, which is central to the lives of chimpanzees and even to our own," he says.

Microscope 2

Growth of bacteria can be stimulated by antibiotics

© The University of Exeter
Two types of lab E. coli smeared across an agar plate. The green ones are drug resistant and the blue ones are not
The growth of bacteria can be stimulated by antibiotics, scientists at the University of Exeter have discovered.

The EPSRC-funded researchers exposed E.coli bacteria to eight rounds of antibiotic treatment over four days and found the bug - which can cause severe stomach pain, diarrhoea and kidney failure in humans - had increased antibiotic resistance with each treatment.

This had been expected, but researchers were surprised to find mutated E.coli reproduced faster than before encountering the drugs and formed populations that were three times larger because of the mutations.

This was only seen in bacteria exposed to antibiotics - and when researchers took the drug away, the evolutionary changes were not undone and the new-found abilities remained.

"Our research suggests there could be added benefits for E.coli bacteria when they evolve resistance to clinical levels of antibiotics," said lead author Professor Robert Beardmore, of the University of Exeter.

"It's often said that Darwinian evolution is slow, but nothing could be further from the truth, particularly when bacteria are exposed to antibiotics.

"Bacteria have a remarkable ability to rearrange their DNA and this can stop drugs working, sometimes in a matter of days.

Galaxy

An extragalactic void is shoving our Milky Way galaxy from behind

What causes some galaxies to speed along faster than others? The answer, it turns out, is nothing. Cathal O'Connell reports.
© NASA / JPL-CALTECH / R. HURT (SSC / CALTECH)
An artist's impression of the Milky Way galaxy. There's a large region of nothing in our extragalactic neighbourhood that's repelling our Local Group of galaxies.
Astronomers have finally discovered why the Milky Way is barrelling through space faster than the universe's rate of expansion. It is being pushed from behind by an enormous void dubbed the "dipole repeller".

The work, published today in Nature Astronomy, fills a gaping hole in our understanding of the local universe.

The Milky Way galaxy is a whirling disc 100,000 light-years across, sparkling with 100 billion stars. But zoom out and our galaxy is but a speck of dust, tossed about by cosmic currents of gravity.

As discovered by Edwin Hubble in the 1930s, galaxies fly apart because the universe itself is expanding. But on top of this general expansion, there is also a local movement of galaxies driven by gravity - like little eddies on the surface of a rushing tide.

Bizarro Earth

Earth 'overdue' for magnetic pole reversal

© Shutterstock
The Earth's magnetic field, magnetic poles and geographic poles.
Earth's magnetic field may be about to reverse, which could have devastating consequences for humanity.

Scientists think that Earth is long "overdue" for a full magnetic reversal and have determined that the magnetic field's strength is already declining by 5 percent each century. This suggests that a fully reversal is highly probable within the next 2,000 years

Earth's magnetic field surrounds the planet and deflects charged particles from the sun away, protecting life from harmful radiation. There have been at least several hundred global magnetic reversals throughout Earth's history, during which the north and south magnetic poles swap. The most recent of these occurred 41,000 years ago.

During the reversal, the planet's magnetic field will weaken, allowing heightened levels of radiation on and above the Earth's surface.

The radiation spike would cause enormous problems for satellites, aviation, and the power grid. Such a reversal would be comparable to major geomagnetic storms from the sun.

The sun last produced such a storm that struck Earth during the summer of 1859, creating the largest geomagnetic storm on record. The storm was so powerful that it caused telegraph machines around the world to spark, shocking operators and setting papers ablaze. The event released the same amount of energy as 10 billion atomic bombs.

Researchers estimate that a similar event today would cause $600 billion to $2.6 trillion in damages to the U.S. alone. National Geographic found that a similar event today would destroy much of the internet, take down all satellite communications, and almost certainly knock out most of the global electrical grid. The Earth would only get about 20 hours of warning. Other estimates place the damage at roughly $40 billion a day.

A similar solar event occurred in 2012, but missed Earth.

Brain

Scientists discover brain-hormone responsible for fat-burning: FLP-7

© Madeline McCurry-Schmidt
TSRI Assistant Professor Surpriya Srinivasan (left) and TSRI Research Associate Lavinia Palamiuc led the new study.
Biologists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have identified a brain hormone that appears to trigger fat burning in the gut. Their findings in animal models could have implications for future pharmaceutical development.

"This was basic science that unlocked an interesting mystery," said TSRI Assistant Professor Supriya Srinivasan, senior author of the new study, published in the journal Nature Communications.

Galaxy

'Rotten Egg' death star: Hubble captures spectacular images of nebula's violent transformation

© Hubble
The nebula has been compared to a rotten egg due to it's sulphur content.
The violent death of a star has been captured in an astonishing image by the Hubble Space Telescope, showing the spectacular transformation of the Calabash Nebula as it blows dust and gas into space.

Situated more than 5,000 light years from Earth, the celestial form is nicknamed the 'Rotten Egg' Nebula due to its high sulphur levels.

Its rapid transformation is occurring over a span of 1,000 years - a mere blink of the eye in astronomical terms.

Info

Rapid gas flares discovered in white dwarf binary star for the first time

© University of Oxford
In February 2016 the dwarf nova SS Cyg anomalous outburst lasted for more than 3 weeks.
Incredibly rapid gas flares from a white dwarf binary star system have been detected for the first time by Oxford University scientists. The first sighting of such activity, it suggests that our current understanding of star habits and their capabilities is incomplete.

Dwarf novae (SS Cyg-like objects, which contain a Sun-like star orbiting a white dwarf star) are well known for their repeated, low-level, bursting behaviour (called "outbursts") but they have never been observed exhibiting behaviour on anything like the scale of rapid flares before.

Outbursts have previously been seen in white dwarfs, neutron stars and even enormous black holes residing in different galaxies. Such stars mainly feed on gas from their companion stars via accretion (where a large amount of gas is accumulated and builds up through gravitational force). Occasionally, these stars "throw up" some of the gas in the form of jets, which are powerful overflows of gas restricted to a single, narrow, cone-like flow.

Initial observations of the SS Cyg activity in February 2016 were considered an atypical outburst, but later telescopic analysis uncovered the intriguing revelation of rapid flares. The most fascinating and unexpected behaviour was observed at radio wavelengths towards the end of the outburst, when a "giant" flare was observed. Lasting for less than 15 minutes, it had the energy of more than a million times the strongest solar flares. The level of radio data recorded from the flare is unprecedented in dwarf nova systems and consistent with that expected from a jet.

Info

Study relates Atlantic hurricane frequency to sunspot activity

© Rojo-Garibaldi et al. (2016)
Figure 1. Annual hurricane count in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea over the period 1749-2012. Red line indicates the linear trend.
Paper Reviewed

Rojo-Garibaldi, B., Salas-de-León, D.A., Sánchez, N.L. and Monreal-Gómez, M.A. 2016. Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea and their relationship with sunspots. Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 148: 48-52.

Although some climate alarmists contend that CO2-induced global warming will increase the number of hurricanes in the future, the search for such effect on Atlantic Ocean tropical cyclone frequency has so far remained elusive. And with the recent publication of Rojo-Garibaldi et al. (2016), it looks like climate alarmists will have to keep on looking, or accept the likelihood that something other than CO2 is at the helm in moderating Atlantic hurricane frequency.

In their intriguing analysis published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, the four-member research team of Rojo-Garibaldi et al. developed a new database of historical hurricane occurrences in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, spanning twenty-six decades over the period 1749 to 2012. Statistical analysis of the record revealed "the hurricane number is actually decreasing in time," which finding is quite stunning considering that it is quite possible fewer hurricanes were recorded at the beginning of their record when data acquisition was considerably worse than towards the end of the record. Nevertheless, as the Mexican research team indicates, "when analyzing the entire time series built for this study, i.e., from 1749 to 2012, the linear trend in the number of hurricanes is decreasing" (see figure above).

As for the potential cause behind the downward trend, Rojo-Garibaldi et al. examined the possibility of a solar influence, performing a series of additional statistical analyses (spectral, wavelet and coherence wavelet transform) on the hurricane database, as well as a sunspot database obtained from the Solar Influences Data Analysis Center of the Solar Physics Department of the Royal Observatory of Belgium. Therein, their exploratory analyses revealed that "this decline is related to an increase in sunspot activity."

Pi

Time crystals: Scientists have confirmed a brand new form of matter

© Kent Schimke/Flickr
For months now, there's been speculation that researchers might have finally created time crystals - strange crystals that have an atomic structure that repeats not just in space, but in time, putting them in perpetual motion without energy.

Now it's official - researchers have just reported in detail how to make and measure these bizarre crystals. And two independent teams of scientists claim they've actually created time crystals in the lab based off this blueprint, confirming the existence of an entirely new form of matter.

The discovery might sound pretty abstract, but it heralds in a whole new era in physics - for decades we've been studying matter that's defined as being 'in equilibrium', such as metals and insulators.

But it's been predicted that there are many more strange types of matter out there in the Universe that aren't in equilibrium that we haven't even begun to look into, including time crystals. And now we know they're real.