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Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Why is there any matter in the universe at all? New study sheds light

Subatomic particles abstract illustration (stock image). | Credit: © Peter Jurik / stock.adobe.com
Subatomic particles abstract illustration (stock image).

Scientists at the University of Sussex have measured a property of the neutron -- a fundamental particle in the universe -- more precisely than ever before. Their research is part of an investigation into why there is matter left over in the universe, that is, why all the antimatter created in the Big Bang didn't just cancel out the matter.
The team -- which included the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK, the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Switzerland, and a number of other institutions -- was looking into whether or not the neutron acts like an "electric compass." Neutrons are believed to be slightly asymmetrical in shape, being slightly positive at one end and slightly negative at the other -- a bit like the electrical equivalent of a bar magnet. This is the so-called "electric dipole moment" (EDM), and is what the team was looking for.
This is an important piece of the puzzle in the mystery of why matter remains in the Universe, because scientific theories about why there is matter left over also predict that neutrons have the "electric compass" property, to a greater or lesser extent. Measuring it then it helps scientists to get closer to the truth about why matter remains.
The team of physicists found that the neutron has a significantly smaller EDM than predicted by various theories about why matter remains in the universe; this makes these theories less likely to be correct, so they have to be altered, or new theories found. In fact it's been said in the literature that over the years, these EDM measurements, considered as a set, have probably disproved more theories than any other experiment in the history of physics. The results are reported today, Friday 28 February 2020, in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Professor Philip Harris, Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and leader of the EDM group at the University of Sussex, said:
"After more than two decades of work by researchers at the University of Sussex and elsewhere, a final result has emerged from an experiment designed to address one of the most profound problems in cosmology for the last fifty years: namely, the question of why the Universe contains so much more matter than antimatter, and, indeed, why it now contains any matter at all. Why didn't the antimatter cancel out all the matter? Why is there any matter left?
"The answer relates to a structural asymmetry that should appear in fundamental particles like neutrons. This is what we've been looking for. We've found that the "electric dipole moment" is smaller than previously believed. This helps us to rule out theories about why there is matter left over -- because the theories governing the two things are linked.
"We have set a new international standard for the sensitivity of this experiment. What we're searching for in the neutron -- the asymmetry which shows that it is positive at one end and negative at the other -- is incredibly tiny. Our experiment was able to measure this in such detail that if the asymmetry could be scaled up to the size of a football, then a football scaled up by the same amount would fill the visible Universe."
The experiment is an upgraded version of apparatus originally designed by researchers at the University of Sussex and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), and which has held the world sensitivity record continuously from 1999 until now.
Dr Maurits van der Grinten, from the neutron EDM group at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), said:
"The experiment combines various state of the art technologies that all need to perform simultaneously. We're pleased that the equipment, technology and expertise developed by scientists from RAL has contributed to the work to push the limit on this important parameter"
Dr Clark Griffith, Lecturer in Physics from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, said:
"This experiment brings together techniques from atomic and low energy nuclear physics, including laser-based optical magnetometry and quantum-spin manipulation. By using these multi-disciplinary tools to measure the properties of the neutron extremely precisely, we are able to probe questions relevant to high-energy particle physics and the fundamental nature of the symmetries underlying the universe. "
50,000 measurements
Any electric dipole moment that a neutron may have is tiny, and so is extremely difficult to measure. Previous measurements by other researchers have borne this out. In particular, the team had to go to great lengths to keep the local magnetic field very constant during their latest measurement. For example, every truck that drove by on the road next to the institute disturbed the magnetic field on a scale that would have been significant for the experiment, so this effect had to be compensated for during the measurement.
Also, the number of neutrons observed needed to be large enough to provide a chance to measure the electric dipole moment. The measurements ran over a period of two years. So-called ultracold neutrons, that is, neutrons with a comparatively slow speed, were measured. Every 300 seconds, a bunch of more than 10,000 neutrons was directed to the experiment and examined in detail. The researchers measured a total of 50,000 such bunches.
A new international standard is set
The researchers' latest results supported and enhanced those of their predecessors: a new international standard has been set. The size of the EDM is still too small to measure with the instruments that have been used up until now, so some theories that attempted to explain the excess of matter have become less likely. The mystery therefore remains, for the time being.
The next, more precise, measurement is already being constructed at PSI. The PSI collaboration expects to start their next series of measurements by 2021.
Search for "new physics"
The new result was determined by a group of researchers at 18 institutes and universities in Europe and the USA on the basis of data collected at PSI's ultracold neutron source. The researchers collected measurement data there over a period of two years, evaluated it very carefully in two separate teams, and were then able to obtain a more accurate result than ever before.
The research project is part of the search for "new physics" that would go beyond the so-called Standard Model of Physics, which sets out the properties of all known particles. This is also a major goal of experiments at larger facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.
The techniques originally developed for the first EDM measurement in the 1950s led to world-changing developments such as atomic clocks and MRI scanners, and to this day it retains its huge and ongoing impact in the field of particle physics.

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Materials provided by University of Sussex. Original written by Anna Ford. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Geologists determine early Earth was a 'water world' by studying exposed ocean crust

Ocean panorama (stock image). | Credit: © peangdao / stock.adobe.com
Ocean panorama (stock image).

The Earth of 3.2 billion years ago was a "water world" of submerged continents, geologists say after analyzing oxygen isotope data from ancient ocean crust that's now exposed on land in Australia.
And that could have major implications on the origin of life.
"An early Earth without emergent continents may have resembled a 'water world,' providing an important environmental constraint on the origin and evolution of life on Earth as well as its possible existence elsewhere," geologists Benjamin Johnson and Boswell Wing wrote in a paper just published online by the journal Nature Geoscience.
Johnson is an assistant professor of geological and atmospheric sciences at Iowa State University and a recent postdoctoral research associate at the University of Colorado Boulder. Wing is an associate professor of geological sciences at Colorado. Grants from the National Science Foundation supported their study and a Lewis and Clark Grant from the American Philosophical Society supported Johnson's fieldwork in Australia.
Johnson said his work on the project started when he talked with Wing at conferences and learned about the well-preserved, 3.2-billion-year-old ocean crust from the Archaean eon (4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago) in a remote part of the state of Western Australia. Previous studies meant there was already a big library of geochemical data from the site.
Johnson joined Wing's research group and went to see ocean crust for himself -- a 2018 trip involving a flight to Perth and a 17-hour drive north to the coastal region near Port Hedland.
After taking his own rock samples and digging into the library of existing data, Johnson created a cross-section grid of the oxygen isotope and temperature values found in the rock.
(Isotopes are atoms of a chemical element with the same number of protons within the nucleus, but differing numbers of neutrons. In this case, differences in oxygen isotopes preserved with the ancient rock provide clues about the interaction of rock and water billions of years ago.)
Once he had two-dimensional grids based on whole-rock data, Johnson created an inverse model to come up with estimates of the oxygen isotopes within the ancient oceans. The result: Ancient seawater was enriched with about 4 parts per thousand more of a heavy isotope of oxygen (oxygen with eight protons and 10 neutrons, written as 18O) than an ice-free ocean of today.
How to explain that decrease in heavy isotopes over time?
Johnson and Wing suggest two possible ways: Water cycling through the ancient ocean crust was different than today's seawater with a lot more high-temperature interactions that could have enriched the ocean with the heavy isotopes of oxygen. Or, water cycling from continental rock could have reduced the percentage of heavy isotopes in ocean water.
"Our preferred hypothesis -- and in some ways the simplest -- is that continental weathering from land began sometime after 3.2 billion years ago and began to draw down the amount of heavy isotopes in the ocean," Johnson said.
The idea that water cycling through ocean crust in a way distinct from how it happens today, causing the difference in isotope composition "is not supported by the rocks," Johnson said. "The 3.2-billion-year-old section of ocean crust we studied looks exactly like much, much younger ocean crust."
Johnson said the study demonstrates that geologists can build models and find new, quantitative ways to solve a problem -- even when that problem involves seawater from 3.2 billion years ago that they'll never see or sample.
And, Johnson said these models inform us about the environment where life originated and evolved: "Without continents and land above sea level, the only place for the very first ecosystems to evolve would have been in the ocean."

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Materials provided by Iowa State UniversityNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Scientists monitor brains replaying memories in real time

Brain abstract illustration (stock image). | Credit: © monsitj / stock.adobe.com
Brain abstract illustration (stock image).

In a study of epilepsy patients, researchers at the National Institutes of Health monitored the electrical activity of thousands of individual brain cells, called neurons, as patients took memory tests. They found that the firing patterns of the cells that occurred when patients learned a word pair were replayed fractions of a second before they successfully remembered the pair. The study was part of an NIH Clinical Center trial for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy whose seizures cannot be controlled with drugs.
"Memory plays a crucial role in our lives. Just as musical notes are recorded as grooves on a record, it appears that our brains store memories in neural firing patterns that can be replayed over and over again," said Kareem Zaghloul, M.D., Ph.D., a neurosurgeon-researcher at the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and senior author of the study published in Science.
Dr. Zaghloul's team has been recording electrical currents of drug-resistant epilepsy patients temporarily living with surgically implanted electrodes designed to monitor brain activity in the hopes of identifying the source of a patient's seizures. This period also provides an opportunity to study neural activity during memory. In this study, his team examined the activity used to store memories of our past experiences, which scientists call episodic memories.
In 1957, the case of an epilepsy patient H.M. provided a breakthrough in memory research. H.M could not remember new experiences after part of his brain was surgically removed to stop his seizures. Since then, research has pointed to the idea that episodic memories are stored, or encoded, as neural activity patterns that our brains replay when triggered by such things as the whiff of a familiar scent or the riff of a catchy tune. But exactly how this happens was unknown.
Over the past two decades, rodent studies have suggested that the brain may store memories in unique neuronal firing sequences. After joining Dr. Zaghloul's lab, Alex P. Vaz, B.S., an M.D., Ph.D. student at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and the leader of this study decided to test this idea in humans.
"We thought that if we looked carefully at the data we had been collecting from patients we might be able to find a link between memory and neuronal firing patterns in humans that is similar to that seen in rodents," said Vaz, a bioengineer who specializes in deciphering the meaning of electrical signals generated by the body.
To do this they analyzed the firing patterns of individual neurons located in the anterior temporal lobe, a brain language center. Currents were recorded as patients sat in front of a screen and were asked to learn word pairs such as "cake" and "fox." The researchers discovered that unique firing patterns of individual neurons were associated with learning each new word pattern. Later, when a patient was shown one of the words, such as "cake," a very similar firing pattern was replayed just milliseconds before the patient correctly recalled the paired word "fox."
"These results suggest that our brains may use distinct sequences of neural spiking activity to store memories and then replay them when we remember a past experience," said Dr. Zaghloul.
Last year, his team showed that electrical waves, called ripples, may emerge in the brain just split seconds before we remember something correctly. In this study, the team discovered a link between the ripples recorded in the anterior temporal lobe and the spiking patterns seen during learning and memory. They also showed that ripples recorded in another area called the medial temporal lobe slightly preceded the replay of firing patterns seen in the anterior temporal lobe during learning.
"Our results support the idea that memories involve coordinated replay of neuronal firing patterns throughout the brain," said Dr. Zaghloul. "Studying how we form and retrieve memories may not only help us understand ourselves but also how neuronal circuits break down in memory disorders."
This study was supported by the NINDS Intramural Research Program and NIH training grants (NS113400, GM007171).

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Materials provided by NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and StrokeNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Ancient shell shows days were half-hour shorter 70 million years ago

Dinosaur scene illustration (stock image). | Credit: © boscorelli / stock.adobe.com
\Dinosaur scene illustration (stock image).

Earth turned faster at the end of the time of the dinosaurs than it does today, rotating 372 times a year, compared to the current 365, according to a new study of fossil mollusk shells from the late Cretaceous. This means a day lasted only 23 and a half hours, according to the new study in AGU's journal Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology.
The ancient mollusk, from an extinct and wildly diverse group known as rudist clams, grew fast, laying down daily growth rings. The new study used lasers to sample minute slices of shell and count the growth rings more accurately than human researchers with microscopes.
The growth rings allowed the researchers to determine the number of days in a year and more accurately calculate the length of a day 70 million years ago. The new measurement informs models of how the Moon formed and how close to Earth it has been over the 4.5-billion-year history of the Earth-Moon gravitational dance.
The new study also found corroborating evidence that the mollusks harbored photosynthetic symbionts that may have fueled reef-building on the scale of modern-day corals.
The high resolution obtained in the new study combined with the fast growth rate of the ancient bivalves revealed unprecedented detail about how the animal lived and the water conditions it grew in, down to a fraction of a day.
"We have about four to five datapoints per day, and this is something that you almost never get in geological history. We can basically look at a day 70 million years ago. It's pretty amazing," said Niels de Winter, an analytical geochemist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the lead author of the new study.
Climate reconstructions of the deep past typically describe long term changes that occur on the scale of tens of thousands of years. Studies like this one give a glimpse of change on the timescale of living things and have the potential to bridge the gap between climate and weather models.
Chemical analysis of the shell indicates ocean temperatures were warmer in the Late Cretaceous than previously appreciated, reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer and exceeding 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter. The summer high temperatures likely approached the physiological limits for mollusks, de Winter said.
"The high fidelity of this data-set has allowed the authors to draw two particularly interesting inferences that help to sharpen our understanding of both Cretaceous astrochronology and rudist palaeobiology," said Peter Skelton, a retired lecturer of palaeobiology at The Open University and a rudist expert unaffiliated with the new study.
Ancient reef-builders
The new study analyzed a single individual that lived for over nine years in a shallow seabed in the tropics -- a location which is now, 70-million-years later, dry land in the mountains of Oman.
Torreites sanchezi mollusks look like tall pint glasses with lids shaped like bear claw pastries. The ancient mollusks had two shells, or valves, that met in a hinge, like asymmetrical clams, and grew in dense reefs, like modern oysters. They thrived in water several degrees warmer worldwide than modern oceans.
In the late Cretaceous, rudists like T. sanchezi dominated the reef-building niche in tropical waters around the world, filling the role held by corals today. They disappeared in the same event that killed the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
"Rudists are quite special bivalves. There's nothing like it living today," de Winter said. "In the late Cretaceous especially, worldwide most of the reef builders are these bivalves. So they really took on the ecosystem building role that the corals have nowadays."
The new method focused a laser on small bits of shell, making holes 10 micrometers in diameter, or about as wide as a red blood cell. Trace elements in these tiny samples reveal information about the temperature and chemistry of the water at the time the shell formed. The analysis provided accurate measurements of the width and number of daily growth rings as well as seasonal patterns. The researchers used seasonal variations in the fossilized shell to identify years.
The new study found the composition of the shell changed more over the course of a day than over seasons, or with the cycles of ocean tides. The fine-scale resolution of the daily layers shows the shell grew much faster during the day than at night
"This bivalve had a very strong dependence on this daily cycle, which suggests that it had photosymbionts," de Winter said. "You have the day-night rhythm of the light being recorded in the shell."
This result suggests daylight was more important to the lifestyle of the ancient mollusk than might be expected if it fed itself primarily by filtering food from the water, like modern day clams and oysters, according to the authors. De Winter said the mollusks likely had a relationship with an indwelling symbiotic species that fed on sunlight, similar to living giant clams, which harbor symbiotic algae.
"Until now, all published arguments for photosymbiosis in rudists have been essentially speculative, based on merely suggestive morphological traits, and in some cases were demonstrably erroneous. This paper is the first to provide convincing evidence in favor of the hypothesis," Skelton said, but cautioned that the new study's conclusion was specific to Torreites and could not be generalized to other rudists.
Moon retreat
De Winter's careful count of the number of daily layers found 372 for each yearly interval. This was not a surprise, because scientists know days were shorter in the past. The result is, however, the most accurate now available for the late Cretaceous, and has a surprising application to modeling the evolution of the Earth-Moon system.
The length of a year has been constant over Earth's history, because Earth's orbit around the Sun does not change. But the number of days within a year has been shortening over time because days have been growing longer. The length of a day has been growing steadily longer as friction from ocean tides, caused by the Moon's gravity, slows Earth's rotation.
The pull of the tides accelerates the Moon a little in its orbit, so as Earth's spin slows, the Moon moves farther away. The moon is pulling away from Earth at 3.82 centimeters (1.5 inches) per year. Precise laser measurements of distance to the Moon from Earth have demonstrated this increasing distance since the Apollo program left helpful reflectors on the Moon's surface.
But scientists conclude the Moon could not have been receding at this rate throughout its history, because projecting its progress linearly back in time would put the Moon inside the Earth only 1.4 billion years ago. Scientists know from other evidence that the Moon has been with us much longer, most likely coalescing in the wake of a massive collision early in Earth's history, over 4.5 billion years ago. So the Moon's rate of retreat has changed over time, and information from the past, like a year in the life of an ancient clam, helps researchers reconstruct that history and model of the formation of the moon.
Because in the history of the Moon, 70 million years is a blink in time, de Winter and his colleagues hope to apply their new method to older fossils and catch snapshots of days even deeper in time.

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Materials provided by American Geophysical UnionNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Ponesimod for RRMS

Image result for ponesimod
Ponesimod (formerly ACT-128800) is an investigational drug being developed by Actelion to treat multiple sclerosis (MS).
Ponesimod is to be taken once a day by mouth.

How ponesimod works

Ponesimod is a selective sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor 1 (S1P1) immunomodulator.
The therapy stops immune cells (lymphocytes) from leaving lymph nodes, by blocking S1P signalling. This reduces the number of circulating immune cells, preventing them from infiltrating target issues. In people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), ponesimod prevents immune cells from crossing the blood-brain barrier and damaging myelin. Myelin is a protective sheath that insulates nerve cells, and is damaged in patients with MS.
The immune cell count reduction is rapid, dose-dependent, and maintained with continued dosing. The drug’s effect is reversible when discontinued.

Studies of ponesimod for RRMS

A current Phase 3 study, OPTIMUM, (NCT02425644) aims to compare the effectiveness and safety of posenimod to teriflunomide (Aubagio) in reducing relapses in RRMS patients. This study has finished recruiting approximately 1,100 participants, who will either be treated once daily with ponesimod (20 mg per day), or receive teriflunomide (14 mg per day) for 108 weeks. The results are expected in 2019.
Another Phase 3 study, POINT,  (NCT02907177) will compare the effectiveness, safety and tolerability of posenimod in 20 mg doses in people with RRMS who are currently being treated with Tecfidera. The study will be conducted under a Special Protocol Assessment (SPA) with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is currently recruiting participants.
Earlier studies showed promising results. It has been tested at different doses (10 mg, 20 mg and 40 mg) in Phase 2 studies (NCT01006265). This study found that ponesimod significantly reduced the number of new active lesions on monthly MRI brain scans and reduced the frequency of relapses. These results were published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. An extension study published in 2013 confirmed the findings.
So far, studies have suggested that ponesimod does not cause lymphotoxicity by destroying or depleting lymphocytes (immune cells) or interfering with their cellular function.
Though no detailed information has been provided yet, the most reported side effects for ponesimod are shortness of breath and asymptomatic liver enzyme elevations.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Janssen Asks EMA to Approve Oral Ponesimod to Treat Relapsing MS

Janssen Asks EMA to Approve Oral Ponesimod to Treat Relapsing MS

Janssen has submitted an application to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) asking that ponesimod be approved as an oral treatment for adults with relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS) in the European Union.
Ponesimod (formerly ACT-128800) is an experimental treatment that targets the sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor 1 (S1P1), and reportedly with high selectivity. In doing so, it works to ‘trap’ immune cells in lymph nodes, limiting the damage they can do to the nervous system.
The MS therapies Gilenya (fingolimod) and Mayzent (siponimod), both of which are already approved in Europe, are also S1P1 receptor modulators, working through a similar mechanism of action.
The company’s Marketing Authorisation Application for ponesimod is based on data from the Phase 3 clinical trial OPTIMUM (NCT02425644). In this trial, 1,133 people with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) or active secondary progressive MS  (SPMS) were randomly assigned to either ponesimod at 20 mg or Aubagio (teriflunomide) at 14 mg, both taken by mouth once a day for two years (108 weeks).
Aubagio, by Sanofi, is an approved first-line therapy for MS. Like ponesimod, it works by reducing the activity of the immune system, albeit through different mechanisms.
Topline results from OPTIMUM showed that the annualized relapse rate (ARR) was significantly reduced by 30.5% with ponesimod, as compared to Aubagio, treatment — on average, 0.202 relapses per year in the ponesimod group and 0.290 among those given Aubagio.
A significant reduction (56%) in the number of new active, inflammatory brain lesions visible on a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan was also seen with ponesimod treatment, as compared to Aubagio. There was also a trend towards lesser disability progression with ponesimod, but this did not reach statistical significance.
Ponesimod did lead to a statistically significant reduction in reported fatigue relative to Aubagio.
“Fatigue remains a challenging, yet invisible, symptom among those living with MS. We are encouraged by the results ponesimod shows in alleviating this symptom, as well as the reduction in new inflammatory lesions and disability accumulation,” Husseini Manji, MD, FRCPC, the Global Therapeutic Area head for Neuroscience at Janssen Research & Development, said in a press release.
“We look forward to collaborating closely with the EMA as the application process progresses,” Manji added.
Ponesimod’s safety was consistent with the that reported in previous trials, and with the known safety profile of other S1P receptor modulators.
“More than 2.3 million people worldwide live with MS — including 700,000 in Europe alone — and of this population, approximately 85 percent are initially diagnosed with relapsing MS. This submission is an important milestone as we work to bring a new treatment option to those living with relapsing forms of MS,” Mathai Mammen, MD, PhD, the global head of Janssen Research & Development, concluded.
Marisa holds an MS in Cellular and Molecular Pathology from the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied novel genetic drivers of ovarian cancer. She specializes in cancer biology, immunology, and genetics. Marisa began working with BioNews in 2018, and has written about science and health for SelfHacked and the Genetics Society of America. She also writes/composes musicals and coaches the University of Pittsburgh fencing club.

Astronomers detect biggest explosion in the history of the Universe

This extremely powerful eruption occurred in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, which is located about 390 million light-years from Earth. Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity, containing thousands of individual galaxies, dark matter, and hot gas. | Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Naval Research Lab/Giacintucci, S.; XMM:ESA/XMM; Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRTN; Infrared: 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF
This extremely powerful eruption occurred in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, which is located about 390 million light-years from Earth. Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity, containing thousands of individual galaxies, dark matter, and hot gas.
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Naval Research Lab/Giacintucci, S.; XMM:ESA/XMM; Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRTN; Infrared: 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF


Scientists studying a distant galaxy cluster have discovered the biggest explosion seen in the Universe since the Big Bang.
The blast came from a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy hundreds of millions of light-years away.
It released five times more energy than the previous record holder.
Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, said the event was extraordinarily energetic.
"We've seen outbursts in the centres of galaxies before but this one is really, really massive," she said.
"And we don't know why it's so big.
"But it happened very slowly -- like an explosion in slow motion that took place over hundreds of millions of years."
The explosion occurred in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, about 390 million light-years from Earth.
It was so powerful it punched a cavity in the cluster plasma -- the super-hot gas surrounding the black hole.
Lead author of the study Dr Simona Giacintucci, from the Naval Research Laboratory in the United States, said the blast was similar to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, which ripped the top off the mountain.
"The difference is that you could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the cluster's hot gas," she said.
Professor Johnston-Hollitt said the cavity in the cluster plasma had been seen previously with X-ray telescopes.
But scientists initially dismissed the idea that it could have been caused by an energetic outburst, because it would have been too big.
"People were sceptical because the size of outburst," she said. "But it really is that. The Universe is a weird place."
The researchers only realised what they had discovered when they looked at the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster with radio telescopes.
"The radio data fit inside the X-rays like a hand in a glove," said co-author Dr Maxim Markevitch, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
"This is the clincher that tells us an eruption of unprecedented size occurred here."
The discovery was made using four telescopes; NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA's XMM-Newton, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Western Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India.
Professor Johnston-Hollitt, who is the director of the MWA and an expert in galaxy clusters, likened the finding to discovering the first dinosaur bones.
"It's a bit like archaeology," she said.
"We've been given the tools to dig deeper with low frequency radio telescopes so we should be able to find more outbursts like this now."
The finding underscores the importance of studying the Universe at different wavelengths, Professor Johnston-Hollitt said.
"Going back and doing a multi-wavelength study has really made the difference here," she said.
Professor Johnston-Hollitt said the finding is likely to be the first of many.
"We made this discovery with Phase 1 of the MWA, when the telescope had 2048 antennas pointed towards the sky," she said.
"We're soon going to be gathering observations with 4096 antennas, which should be ten times more sensitive."
"I think that's pretty exciting."

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Materials provided by International Centre for Radio Astronomy ResearchNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

How caloric restriction prevents negative effects of aging in cells

Peas on plate, dieting concept (stock image). | Credit: © Studio KIVI / stock.adobe.com
Peas on plate, dieting concept (stock image).

If you want to reduce levels of inflammation throughout your body, delay the onset of age-related diseases, and live longer, eat less food. That's the conclusion of a new study by scientists from the US and China that provides the most detailed report to date of the cellular effects of a calorie-restricted diet in rats. While the benefits of caloric restriction have long been known, the new results show how this restriction can protect against aging in cellular pathways, as detailed in Cell on February 27, 2020.
"We already knew that calorie restriction increases life span, but now we've shown all the changes that occur at a single-cell level to cause that," says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a senior author of the new paper, professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory and holder of the Roger Guillemin Chair. "This gives us targets that we may eventually be able to act on with drugs to treat aging in humans."
Aging is the highest risk factor for many human diseases, including cancer, dementia, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Caloric restriction has been shown in animal models to be one of the most effective interventions against these age-related diseases. And although researchers know that individual cells undergo many changes as an organism ages, they have not known how caloric restriction might influence these changes.
In the new paper, Belmonte and his collaborators -- including three alumni of his Salk lab who are now professors running their own research programs in China -- compared rats who ate 30 percent fewer calories with rats on normal diets. The animals' diets were controlled from age 18 months through 27 months. (In humans, this would be roughly equivalent to someone following a calorie-restricted diet from age 50 through 70.)
At both the start and the conclusion of the diet, Belmonte's team isolated and analyzed a total of 168,703 cells from 40 cell types in the 56 rats. The cells came from fat tissues, liver, kidney, aorta, skin, bone marrow, brain and muscle. In each isolated cell, the researchers used single-cell genetic-sequencing technology to measure the activity levels of genes. They also looked at the overall composition of cell types within any given tissue. Then, they compared old and young mice on each diet.
Many of the changes that occurred as rats on the normal diet grew older didn't occur in rats on a restricted diet; even in old age, many of the tissues and cells of animals on the diet closely resembled those of young rats. Overall, 57 percent of the age-related changes in cell composition seen in the tissues of rats on a normal diet were not present in the rats on the calorie restricted diet.
"This approach not only told us the effect of calorie restriction on these cell types, but also provided the most complete and detailed study of what happens at a single-cell level during aging," says co-corresponding author Guang-Hui Liu, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Some of the cells and genes most affected by the diet related to immunity, inflammation and lipid metabolism. The number of immune cells in nearly every tissue studied dramatically increased as control rats aged but was not affected by age in rats with restricted calories. In brown adipose tissue -- one type of fat tissue -- a calorie-restricted diet reverted the expression levels of many anti-inflammatory genes to those seen in young animals.
"The primary discovery in the current study is that the increase in the inflammatory response during aging could be systematically repressed by caloric restriction" says co-corresponding author Jing Qu, also a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
When the researchers homed in on transcription factors -- essentially master switches that can broadly alter the activity of many other genes -- that were altered by caloric restriction, one stood out. Levels of the transcription factor Ybx1 were altered by the diet in 23 different cell types. The scientists believe Ybx1 may be an age-related transcription factor and are planning more research into its effects.
"People say that 'you are what you eat,' and we're finding that to be true in lots of ways," says Concepcion Rodriguez Esteban, another of the paper's authors and a staff researcher at Salk. "The state of your cells as you age clearly depends on your interactions with your environment, which includes what and how much you eat."
The team is now trying to utilize this information in an effort to discover aging drug targets and implement strategies towards increasing life and health span.
Other researchers on the study were Shuai Ma, Shuhui Sun, Lingling Geng, Moshi Song, Wei Wang, Yanxia Ye, Qianzhao Ji, Zhiran Zou, Si Wang and Qi Zhou of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Xiaojuan He, Wei Li, Piu Chan and Weiqi Zhang of Xuanwu Hospital Capital Medical University; Xiao Long of Peking Union Medical College Hospital; and Guoji Guo of Zhejiang University School of Medicine.
The work and researchers involved were supported by grants from the National Key Research and Development Program of China, the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Beijing Natural Science Foundation, Beijing Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning, Advanced Innovation Center for Human Brain Protection, the State Key Laboratory of Membrane Biology, the Moxie Foundation, and the Glenn Foundation.

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Materials provided by Salk InstituteNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Why is there any matter in the universe at all? New study sheds light

Subatomic particles abstract illustration (stock image). | Credit: (c) Peter Jurik / stock.adobe.com
Subatomic particles abstract illustration (stock image).

Scientists at the University of Sussex have measured a property of the neutron -- a fundamental particle in the universe -- more precisely than ever before. Their research is part of an investigation into why there is matter left over in the universe, that is, why all the antimatter created in the Big Bang didn't just cancel out the matter.
The team -- which included the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK, the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Switzerland, and a number of other institutions -- was looking into whether or not the neutron acts like an "electric compass." Neutrons are believed to be slightly asymmetrical in shape, being slightly positive at one end and slightly negative at the other -- a bit like the electrical equivalent of a bar magnet. This is the so-called "electric dipole moment" (EDM), and is what the team was looking for.
This is an important piece of the puzzle in the mystery of why matter remains in the Universe, because scientific theories about why there is matter left over also predict that neutrons have the "electric compass" property, to a greater or lesser extent. Measuring it then it helps scientists to get closer to the truth about why matter remains.
The team of physicists found that the neutron has a significantly smaller EDM than predicted by various theories about why matter remains in the universe; this makes these theories less likely to be correct, so they have to be altered, or new theories found. In fact it's been said in the literature that over the years, these EDM measurements, considered as a set, have probably disproved more theories than any other experiment in the history of physics. The results are reported today, Friday 28 February 2020, in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Professor Philip Harris, Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and leader of the EDM group at the University of Sussex, said:
"After more than two decades of work by researchers at the University of Sussex and elsewhere, a final result has emerged from an experiment designed to address one of the most profound problems in cosmology for the last fifty years: namely, the question of why the Universe contains so much more matter than antimatter, and, indeed, why it now contains any matter at all. Why didn't the antimatter cancel out all the matter? Why is there any matter left?
"The answer relates to a structural asymmetry that should appear in fundamental particles like neutrons. This is what we've been looking for. We've found that the "electric dipole moment" is smaller than previously believed. This helps us to rule out theories about why there is matter left over -- because the theories governing the two things are linked.
"We have set a new international standard for the sensitivity of this experiment. What we're searching for in the neutron -- the asymmetry which shows that it is positive at one end and negative at the other -- is incredibly tiny. Our experiment was able to measure this in such detail that if the asymmetry could be scaled up to the size of a football, then a football scaled up by the same amount would fill the visible Universe."
The experiment is an upgraded version of apparatus originally designed by researchers at the University of Sussex and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), and which has held the world sensitivity record continuously from 1999 until now.
Dr Maurits van der Grinten, from the neutron EDM group at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), said:
"The experiment combines various state of the art technologies that all need to perform simultaneously. We're pleased that the equipment, technology and expertise developed by scientists from RAL has contributed to the work to push the limit on this important parameter"
Dr Clark Griffith, Lecturer in Physics from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, said:
"This experiment brings together techniques from atomic and low energy nuclear physics, including laser-based optical magnetometry and quantum-spin manipulation. By using these multi-disciplinary tools to measure the properties of the neutron extremely precisely, we are able to probe questions relevant to high-energy particle physics and the fundamental nature of the symmetries underlying the universe. "
50,000 measurements
Any electric dipole moment that a neutron may have is tiny, and so is extremely difficult to measure. Previous measurements by other researchers have borne this out. In particular, the team had to go to great lengths to keep the local magnetic field very constant during their latest measurement. For example, every truck that drove by on the road next to the institute disturbed the magnetic field on a scale that would have been significant for the experiment, so this effect had to be compensated for during the measurement.
Also, the number of neutrons observed needed to be large enough to provide a chance to measure the electric dipole moment. The measurements ran over a period of two years. So-called ultracold neutrons, that is, neutrons with a comparatively slow speed, were measured. Every 300 seconds, a bunch of more than 10,000 neutrons was directed to the experiment and examined in detail. The researchers measured a total of 50,000 such bunches.
A new international standard is set
The researchers' latest results supported and enhanced those of their predecessors: a new international standard has been set. The size of the EDM is still too small to measure with the instruments that have been used up until now, so some theories that attempted to explain the excess of matter have become less likely. The mystery therefore remains, for the time being.
The next, more precise, measurement is already being constructed at PSI. The PSI collaboration expects to start their next series of measurements by 2021.
Search for "new physics"
The new result was determined by a group of researchers at 18 institutes and universities in Europe and the USA on the basis of data collected at PSI's ultracold neutron source. The researchers collected measurement data there over a period of two years, evaluated it very carefully in two separate teams, and were then able to obtain a more accurate result than ever before.
The research project is part of the search for "new physics" that would go beyond the so-called Standard Model of Physics, which sets out the properties of all known particles. This is also a major goal of experiments at larger facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.
The techniques originally developed for the first EDM measurement in the 1950s led to world-changing developments such as atomic clocks and MRI scanners, and to this day it retains its huge and ongoing impact in the field of particle physics.

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Materials provided by University of Sussex. Original written by Anna Ford. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.