A new instrument will allow mass measurement of exoplanets with extreme precision

A new instrument just mounted on the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in southern Arizona promises to detect mass and other characteristics of exoplanets with unprecedented accuracy. In fact, the new instrument, called NEID, will allow an accuracy three times higher than the previous generation of similar instruments.

A high-precision radial velocity spectrometer will collect light from the stars and measure the sometimes minimal gravitational effect that the planets themselves have on the stars around which they orbit. It is a small “wobble” caused by a periodic shift in the speed of the star. This also happens in our solar system. For example, Jupiter, the largest planet, causes an oscillatory movement of the Sun that can be measured in about 30 miles per hour. The Earth, on the other hand, causes a movement of only 0.2 miles per hour.

Of course, the size of the oscillation is proportional to the mass of the planet and this is why it is possible not only to discover the planets themselves but also to measure their mass with extreme precision. The similar instruments used until now can in fact measure this type of oscillation only up to 2 miles per hour but now the NEID will be able to measure oscillations at even shorter speeds, up to one mile per hour, as explained by Jason Wright, a researcher at the State University of Pennsylvania involved in the project. This means that even exoplanets with a land mass can be more easily discovered.

Such an instrument, in collaboration with others such as the TESS space telescope, will therefore allow a greater number of discoveries of exoplanets so that “things will become really interesting and we will be able to learn what planets are made of,” as the scientist himself explains.

The instrument has already been tested with observations of the brightness of the star 51 Pegasi. The instrument can also be updated and can be used by practically all astronomers, as explained by Sarah Logsdon, another researcher involved in the project.

Supplements with zinc and folic acid do not improve male fertility according to a new study

Supplements based on zinc and folic acid, increasingly propagated as substances to combat male infertility, are not actually responsible for an improvement in pregnancy rates, sperm count and potency. This is the conclusion in a statement published on the University of Utah’s website which refers to a new study published in JAMA.

According to the researchers, this is the most definitive proof obtained to date through a scientific study of the fact that these supplements do not actually meet expectations. “The message for men to take home is that, for the first time, there is high-quality data that zinc and folic acid do not improve live birth outcomes or semen function,” says James M. Hotaling, a urologist at the university and one of the authors of the study.

Among the most popular fertility supplements are those containing zinc, which is actually essential for sperm development. These supplements very often also contain folic acid, another substance that actually helps the DNA formation process of the spermatozoa themselves. However, over-the-counter supplements, also called nutraceuticals, containing these substances do not seem to produce a satisfactory result.

This is the result that the researchers obtained by performing an experiment on 2370 couples who had planned to undergo fertility treatments in various U.S. cities. Some of the men were given a supplement consisting of 5 mg of folic acid and 30 mg of zinc for six months. The remaining men were given a placebo substance.

At the end of the experiment, the researchers found no particular differences in the number of live births between men who had taken the supplement and those who had not. The group of the placebo substance showed 35% of live births compared to 34% of the first group.

In addition, the subjects in the group that had received the supplement, compared to the placebo group, had complained more abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

Deaf people have “rewired” brains that influence learning according to a new study

According to a new study published in Nature Scientific Reports, the brains of people with congenital deafness can develop differently and this can influence the ways in which these same people learn to learn. This study, according to the same researchers, may prove useful precisely to develop new methods of teaching “tailor-made” for all people who have never had the opportunity to use hearing during their existence.

According to Colin Johnson, a researcher at the College of Science of the State University of Oregon, people who are born deaf can have a life that is severely compromised even with regards to school and teaching in general. Often these people, in fact, as specified by the researcher, generally fail to reach an adequate level of education and this leads to cascade to other consequences that certainly do not improve the standard of living.

Researchers have discovered that it is a particular protein mutation that causes hearing loss and that it can also alter the wiring of different groups of neurons. The protein, known as otoferlina, has the sole task of encoding the sound in the sensory hair cells that are found in the inner ear.

If this protein undergoes a genetic modification, total hearing loss can occur. This mutation weakens the link between the protein and a calcium synapse in the ear and this lack of interaction is the basis of hearing loss.

Studying this protein in humans has always been difficult due to its size and due to the fact that it is characterized by low solubility. That is why Johnson and colleagues have studied zebrafish that share a similarity in genetic, molecular and cellular levels with humans.

Thanks to these studies, the researcher has discovered a smaller version of the otoferlina that could be used for gene therapy but only in those brains that have not yet undergone a complete rewiring such as that of adults.

“If you grow up without that protein, it’s not just a matter of replacing the gene. If you are deaf and grow deaf, it seems that the physical wiring of your brain is a little different. This complicates the goal of doing gene therapy. We need to go further and look at these hair cells and the brain itself. Does the brain process information differently? This is an area we need to focus on,” explains Johnson.

Ghrelin can increase the urge to exercise according to a new discovery

As some researchers have observed when performing experiments on mice, limiting access to food can increase the levels of a particular hormone, called ghrelin, and this in turn can increase the motivation to exercise, something that naturally leads, in a chain effect, slimming.

In the study, published in the Journal of Endocrinology, it is described how the increase in the level of this hormone pushed mice to voluntarily start exercising or physical activity. This finding, according to the same researchers, could lead, through the limitation of food intake or through the so-called “intermittent fasting,” overweight people to be encouraged to exercise more.

On the other hand, the restriction of food the same regular exercise are the two main ways and the most economic strategies to prevent and treat obesity, a sort of global “epidemic” that requires much more effective intervention strategies. However, adhering to a regular training regime can be difficult for many because motivation is lacking.

This hormone, also called the “hunger hormone,” can not only stimulate the appetite but, as demonstrated by Yuji Tajiri and colleagues from the Kurume University medical school, Japan, it can also stimulate the same desire to exercise. The mice genetically modified in the laboratory for not having ghrelin of their body, in fact, ran less than the control mice, which instead had normal ghrelin levels.

According to Tajiri, the results achieved by this study indicate “that hunger, which promotes ghrelin production, could also be involved in increasing motivation to voluntary exercise when nutrition is limited. Therefore, maintaining a healthy diet, with regular meals or fasting, could also encourage motivation for exercising in overweight people.”

Exposure to sunlight can modify intestinal microbiome

Exposure of the skin to ultraviolet light from the sun can modify the intestinal microbiome according to a new study published in Frontiers in Microbiology. To mediate this change would be vitamin D and this would also explain the protective effect of ultraviolet light itself with regard to inflammatory bowel diseases.

It is well known that exposure to sunlight gives greater production of vitamin D in the skin. It is known, however, through studies published in recent years, also that the same greater quantity of vitamin D can alter the human intestinal microbiome. It follows that solar radiation on the skin can change the human intestinal microbiome but this has only been shown in rodents. This new study shows that this effect is also real for humans.

The researchers performed experiments on 21 healthy volunteer women. The 21 patients underwent three one-minute ultraviolet exposure sessions throughout the body for a week. Throughout the treatment, stool samples were taken and intestinal bacteria were analyzed. Blood samples were also taken to analyze vitamin D levels. The researchers discovered that the exposure of the skin to ultraviolet rays significantly increased the intestinal microbial diversity and this happened only in those people who had not taken vitamin D supplements in the course of experiments.

As explained by Bruce Vallance, a researcher at the University of British Columbia who led the study, exposure to UVB rays increased the richness and uniformity of the subjects’ microbiome. Before exposure to rays, women who did not take supplements showed a less diversified intestinal microbiome than women who already took vitamin D supplements. Among the bacteria that increased the most were the Lachnospiraceae, a genus of bacteria already previously linked with vitamin D.

“UVB light is able to modulate the composition of the intestinal microbiome in humans, through the synthesis of vitamin D,” says Vallance. Now researchers would like to discover the underlying causes but according to Vallance, it is likely that exposure to UVB light somehow affects the immune system of the skin and this, in turn, has a favorable influence on the intestinal environment for different species of bacteria.

It is confirmed: even fetuses have their own intestinal microbiome

Even the human fetus can boast its own intestinal microbiome. Confirmation came from a new study conducted by researchers at Chicago Children’s Hospital Ann & Robert H. Lurie who conducted observations on both humans and mice. The results show that a community of bacteria lives in the intestines of fetuses and even before birth this microbiome can play an important role in the immune system and the metabolism of the unborn child.

In the study, published in JCI Insight, further evidence is provided that this microbiome is transmitted from the mother to the fetus. The study, therefore, resolves a controversy lasting several decades concerning the existence or not of a fetal microbiome. Previously studies had only shown the presence of microbial DNA in the fetal environment but it had never been confirmed whether this DNA was related to viable bacteria and how it connected to the maternal microbiome.

The researchers analyzed the microbiomes of children at the time of birth, involving only those children born by cesarean section, ie children who had avoided exposure to the maternal genitourinary microbiome during vaginal birth. The results produced by the researchers could prove to be important to help the baby grow better especially in cases where premature birth is expected. One could, for example, somehow stimulate the mother’s microbiome to positively influence that of the unborn child.

According to Patrick C. Seed, one of the authors of the study, these results show that it is probably the controlled exposure to these microbes that forms the first immune system and the developing metabolism, however new research will now be conducted to understand the importance of the microbiome in the fetus and above all to understand how it is possible to modify it to improve the health of the fetus itself.

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