Monthly Archives: November 2019

Machine learning algorithm that predicts lightning developed by German computer scientists

Lightning can have serious consequences not only for people and structures but also because they can upset the environment by triggering fires. Predicting thunderstorms with greater precision, even with regard to location, therefore remains of primary importance.

Jens Dittrich, professor of computer science at the University of Saarland, together with his student Christian Schön, therefore thought of developing software that could help in this regard. The two have thus developed a new algorithm that turns out to be more powerful than the previous ones and can predict thunderstorms with greater precision.

Beyond the precision level of this algorithm, this research is important because it explores the possibility of using artificial intelligence as regards the localized prediction of meteorological phenomena. And this is even more true for thunderstorms, a considerable precision is needed when they must be provided for in a specific region: the movement of cold and hot air masses must be detected in advance and with great precision.

The software is capable of using two-dimensional images, those produced by satellites, to detect movements of three-dimensional air masses. Lofa thanks to a new algorithm that basically calculates a future image. The algorithm has been trained with the machine learning technique to minimize errors. In the end, it turned out to be so precise that researchers are now able to calculate lightning and thunder with relative accuracy.

As the scientist reports, the algorithm, based only on satellite images, can predict lightning with a 96% accuracy in a forecast window that can last 15 minutes. In a five-hour forecast window, the degree of precision remains above 83%.

As Professor Dittrich explains, these are the results when the large masses of data that today’s tools, in this case the satellites, can provide us with today’s computational power are combined: computers are now able to recognize patterns that would remain entirely hidden from our eyes.

Scientists discover how plants breathe

A team of scientists from the University of Sheffield has produced a new study, published in Nature Communications, which shows “how plants breathe,” that is how they manage to provide a constant flow of air to every cell.

The presence of so-called stomata, tiny pores on the leaves and stems of plants, had already been discovered by botanists during the 19th century. These pores form a network of very complex air channels and therefore it was always difficult to understand how the flow of carbon dioxide could propagate to every cell of the plant.

Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield think they understand this complex system using genetic manipulation techniques. Scientists have discovered that the greater the number of stomata on a leaf, the more air space the leaf itself can form. This means that these small pores are like the bronchioles, the passages that allow the area to propagate in the lungs.

And it is the very movement of air through the leaves that shapes the structure of these pores and their internal functioning, something new with regard to the evolution of plants. Among other things, in understanding this, researchers have also discovered that over the course of generations humans have cultivated wheat plants that had fewer and fewer pores on the leaves and therefore fewer channels to let the air pass.

This artificial routing of the evolution of wheat plants unknowingly provoked by human beings, in fact, makes the leaves denser allowing among other things to the same plant to be able to grow with a smaller quantity of water.

Nine out of ten insects in English hospitals carry dangerous bacteria

Nine out of 10 insects in English hospitals carry dangerous bacteria: this is the conclusion reached by an Aston University study that once again emphasizes the importance of hygiene and attention to the propagation of pathogenic bacteria in hospitals.

Researchers have collected, using various methods including ultraviolet light traps and sticky traps, more than 20,000 specimens of insects, most of which are flies of various species, in seven English hospitals. Microbiological analysis then showed that 9/10 of these insects were vectors of bacteria that can be considered as potentially harmful. Among the latter we can find, for example, Escherichia coli, salmonella and staphylococcus aureus.

The hospital areas in which the insects were collected were also represented by those areas in which food is prepared or stored for patients, areas intended for visitors or staff as well as departments considered to be particularly “sensitive,” such as neonatal units and sectors dedicated to motherhood. More than 1/4 of the insects collected were domestic flies and midges, while another 14% were represented by rincoti (the latter included aphids).

The researchers isolated 86 bacterial strains, 41% of which were enterobacteriaceae (including Escherichia coli and salmonella). Other bacteria found by researchers were those belonging to the groups of bacilli and staphylococci. 53% of the analyzed strains were resistant to one or more antibiotics.

According to Federica Boiocchi, the main author of the study, the most interesting aspect of these results is represented by the “high percentage of bacteria resistant to drugs found in these samples.”

New genetic database will save the lives of thousands of laboratory mice

A group of researchers from the Francis Crick Institute, UK, have developed a new database of gene activity in mice regarding 10 disease models. The database could allow the saving of life or in any case the use of rodents in the context of medical experiments linked to these pathologies.

The research, published in Nature Communications, describes a database that includes the activities of each gene present in the blood of mice affected by 10 different diseases. There is talk of over 45,000 genes and lung-related genes have also been added to diseases involving the pulmonary apparatus.

The saving is related to the fact that usually researchers must infect mice, take samples from them to extract and sequence the RNA to perform the analysis of the genes they are interested in, and then break down the mice themselves. Using an app, scientists will now be able to monitor the activity of any gene linked to the 10 diseases considered without performing laboratory experiments on mice, according to the researchers.

The database was created by Anne O’Garra and Christine Graham who worked with many other collaborators, some of whom from several other British and US institutions. To create the database they used a sequencing technique defined as “next-generation,” the RNA-seq.

Researchers should be able to understand how the body of immune mice responds to infections and allergens. Infectious diseases taken into consideration include the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, the influenza virus and the respiratory syncytial virus.

Parkinson’s originates in the intestine and spreads to the brain via vagus nerve according to a new study

Parkinson’s disease may have originated in intestine cells according to a new study conducted by a group of researchers at the Johns Hopkins University medical school in the United States.
According to the researchers, the disease could then spread from the intestine to the brain.

The study, published in Neuron, provides “further evidence of the role of the intestine in Parkinson’s disease,” according to Ted Dawson, professor of neurology and one of the authors of the study.
To date, we know that Parkinson’s disease is caused by the accumulation of a particular protein, called alpha-synuclein, which occurs in brain cells. This accumulation causes the death of nerve tissues and this, in turn, causes the accumulation of dead brain matter, a matter called the “Lewy body.”

This new study is based on a discovery already made in 2003 when a German neuroanatomist realized that the accumulations of the alpha-synuclein protein occur in the parts of the central nervous system that are responsible for the intestine. Among other things, this would be consistent, according to the researchers, with the fact that one of the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is constipation. Already this anatomist, Heiko Braak, hypothesized that the disease could advance through the nerves from the intestine to the brain as if it were climbing up a ladder.

The researchers behind the study published in Neuron therefore wanted to understand how this spread could occur from the intestine to the brain and tried to understand if this protein responsible for accumulation traveled along the vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves that goes right from the stomach to the brain base. They therefore performed experiments on mice by injecting 25 µg of malformed synthetic alpha-synuclein into their bodies. The experiment, which lasted 10 months, actually showed that the alpha-synuclein began to accumulate precisely where the conjunction between the vagus nerve and the intestine is present and that it continued to spread reaching the brain.

The researchers then performed a second experiment on mice, similar to the first, but this time they cut the vagus nerve. After seven months, the researchers discovered that mice with vagus cut nerves did not show signs of cell death typical of Parkinson’s disease. The study therefore shows that blocking the transmission path via the vagus nerve could prove to be the key to at least prevent the signs of Parkinson’s disease, “an exciting discovery for the field,” says Dawson.