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World’s smallest antenna made of DNA can monitor proteins, help crack disease & drugs

New Delhi: Researchers from the University of Montreal in Canada have created a nanoantenna to monitor the motions of proteins. The device is made of DNA. The new method to monitor the structural changes in proteins over time can help scientists better understand natural and human-designed nanotechnologies.

Co-author Dominic Lauzon has been quoted as saying that in “addition to helping us understand how natural nanomachines function or malfunction, consequently leading to disease, this new method can also help chemists identify promising new drugs as well as guide nanoengineers to develop improved nanomachines”.

The team is currently working on setting up a start-up company to commercialise and make this nanoantenna available to most researchers and the pharmaceutical industry

Inspired by the ‘Lego-like’ properties of DNA, with building blocks that are typically 20,000 times smaller than a human hair, the team created a DNA-based fluorescent nanoantenna that can help characterise the function of proteins.

Like a two-way radio that can both receive and transmit radio waves, the fluorescent nanoantenna receives light in one colour, or wavelength, and depending on the protein movement it senses, then transmits light back in another colour, which scientists can detect.

One of the main innovations of these nanoantennae is that the receiver part of the antenna is also employed to sense the molecular surface of the protein studied via molecular interaction. Read more here.

Chinese lander finds first on-site evidence of water on Moon

Data from China’s Chang’e-5 lander has — for the first time — provided evidence for in-situ detection of water on the Moon. While several orbital observations and sample measurements — including those from India’s Chandrayaan mission — over the past decade have presented evidence for the presence of water, no in-situ measurements have ever been conducted on the lunar surface.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft brought back 1,731 g of lunar samples from the Moon. 

Before sampling and returning the lunar soil to Earth, however, the lunar mineralogical spectrometer onboard the lander performed spectral reflectance measurements of the regolith and of a rock, thereby providing the unprecedented opportunity to detect lunar surface water.

The quantitative spectral analysis indicates that the lunar soil at the landing site contains less than 120 ppm (parts per million) of water. This is consistent with the preliminary analysis of the returned Chang’e-5 samples. Read more here.

One of the oldest human fossils found to be older still

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have reassessed a famed human fossil and found that it dates back over 230,000 years ago. 

The age of the oldest fossils in eastern Africa, widely recognised as representing Homo sapiens, has long been uncertain. 

The remains — known as Omo I — were found in Ethiopia in the late 1960s, and scientists have been attempting to date them precisely ever since. They do this by using the chemical fingerprints of volcanic ash layers found above and below the sediments in which the fossils were found.

Earlier attempts to date the fossils suggested they were less than 200,000 years old, but the new research shows they must be older than a colossal volcanic eruption that took place 230,000 years ago. 

The region where Omo I was found is an area of high volcanic activity, and a rich source of early human remains and artefacts such as stone tools. 

By dating the layers of volcanic ash above and below where archaeological and fossil materials are found, scientists identified Omo I as the one of the earliest specimens of Homo sapiens. Read more here.

Also Read: Drilling under Antarctic ice shelf, scientists find treasure trove of life with 77 species

World’s largest fish breeding area found in Antarctica

Scientists from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute have found the world’s largest fish-breeding area known to date, in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea.

A towed camera system photographed and filmed thousands of nests of icefish of the species Neopagetopsis ionah on the seabed. The density of the nests and the size of the entire breeding area suggest a total number of about 60 million icefish breeding at the time of observation. 

These findings provide support for the establishment of a ‘marine protected area’ in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. 

Researchers viewed numerous fish nests on monitors aboard the German research vessel Polarstern, with the towed camera system transmitting the footage live from the seabed, 535 to 420 metres below the ship. 

Evaluation showed that there was, on average, one breeding site per three square metres, with the team even finding a maximum of one to two active nests per square metre.

The mapping of the area suggests a total extent of 240 square kilometres. Extrapolated to this area size, the total number of fish nests was estimated to be about 60 million. 

Based on the images, the team was able to clearly identify the round fish nests, about 15 centimetres deep and 75 centimetres in diameter, which were made distinct from the otherwise muddy seabed by a round central area of small stones. Read more here.

Rugby-shaped exoplanet twice the size of Jupiter discovered

Researchers from the University of Bern and the University of Geneva have discovered an exoplanet, WASP-103b.

Due to strong tidal forces, the appearance of WASP-103b resembles a rugby ball rather than a sphere. This is the first time that researchers have detected the deformation of an exoplanet. 

On coasts, the tides determine the rhythm of events. At low tide, boats remain on land; at high tide, the way out to sea is cleared for them again. On Earth, the tides are mainly generated by the Moon. Its gravitational pull causes an accumulation of water in the ocean region below, which is then missing in surrounding regions and thus accounts for the low tide. Although this deformation of the ocean causes striking differences in the level in many places, it is hardly recognisable from space.

On WASP-103b, tides are much more extreme. The planet orbits its star in just one day and is deformed by the strong tidal forces so drastically, that its appearance resembles a rugby ball. 

The planet is located in the constellation Hercules, is believed to be almost twice the size of Jupiter, has one-and-a-half times its mass, and is about 50 times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. Read more here.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: A massive filament of hydrogen 55,000 light years away, and how supergiant stars die

Source: The Print

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