Author Archives: Bella Allen

Archiving data in DNA may be possible

Archiving data in DNA: scientists seem to believe it more and more, and the approval of a new $25 million funding in the United States for a new project confirms it. The new project will be born in the context of the MIST (Molecular Information Storage) program and has been set up by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). The project should foster the development of new scalable molecular storage techniques based on DNA.

The project will be led by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and foresees the use of DNA for the storage of digital data, storage that can eventually scale in the exabyte regime without renouncing the reduced physical space requirements of this technology. Currently the technology to store data in DNA already exists but further progress is needed to make this practical, even at a commercial level, and competitive with other data storage techniques, including magnetic tape and optical discs.

“The goal is to significantly reduce the size, weight and power required for storage data storage,” specifies Alexa Harter, director of the CIPHER (Cybersecurity, Information Protection and Hardware Evaluation Research) laboratory. “What would require acres in a data farm today could be stored in a device the size of a tabletop. We want to significantly improve all types of metrics for long-term data storage.”

Data storage technology in DNA provides such a compact type of storage device that one million terabyte hard drives could be stored in a volume the size of a sugar cube, as Nicholas Guise, a researcher at GTRI, explains. Moreover, data, unlike most other data storage digitization technologies, can be stored for hundreds of years if not thousands of years once it is inserted into DNA.

It is thought, however, that this technology can, at least initially, only be used for very important data that must be stored indefinitely but is rarely accessed. This is because, at least for the time being, the time needed to read and decode the data is still a little too long and therefore not suitable for all those data that must be accessed often and quickly.

Nanoscopic mushroom fragments found in the air

It is defined as a discovery “that has implications for our understanding of the air we breathe” made by a group of chemists at the University of California at Irvine. The researchers have discovered the presence in the air of extremely small pieces, measuring about 30 nanometers in diameter, of fungi.

To be precise, as Michael Lawler, the main author of the study, explains, these are fragments that are most likely small pieces of fungal spores: “It was unexpected to identify them as fragments of fungi. The appearance of a large number of atmospheric nanoparticles is usually attributed to gas reactions in the atmosphere, which grow from molecules rather than larger particles.”

According to the researcher, who carried out the study together with James Smith, professor of chemistry, these small pieces of fungal spores are also easier to inhale in the lungs than the cells themselves, which can have a diameter of thousands of nanometres. This means that these particles can, at least theoretically, contribute more to the spread of allergic reactions, such as asthma, and in general to problems for more sensitive people.

They could also be responsible for more ice cloud creation, as Lawler explains: “Large intact biological cells are extremely rare in the atmosphere, but we have identified fungal nanoparticles in higher concentrations of order of magnitude, so if some or all of these are good ice nuclei, they could play a role in ice cloud formation.”

Cyanide in meteorites may have played a role in the origin of life on Earth

Meteorites can be very useful for understanding, among other things, the origin of life on Earth and their importance in this sense is increasing more and more in recent years as they are increasingly seen as the main vectors of the compounds that have kicked off those processes that then brought to life on our planet.

New research, published in Nature Communications and conducted by scientists at Boise State University and NASA, deals with the discovery of several compounds containing cyanide, iron and carbon monoxide in pieces of meteorites fallen to Earth. These compounds, according to researchers, existed on Earth even before the origin of life and may have played a role in this regard.

The idea that the main compounds that originated life have been transported to Earth as a result of asteroid and meteor impacts is not new but in this case we speak of cyanide, a compound considered to be lethal to humans. In fact, according to Karen Smith, one of the researchers working on the study, it may have been one of the essential components of those molecules that gave rise to life on earth. In fact, cyanide may have been involved in the non-biological synthesis of organic compounds, primarily amino acids and nucleobases, which in turn gave rise to life.

The cyano-carbonyl iron complexes also appear to closely resemble those present in the active sites of hydrogenase, enzymes at the base of the energy acquisition of the bacteria through the hydrogen decomposition process. The same researchers also found that the meteorites containing cyanide are part of a group of meteorites called CM chondrites.

Further information will be obtained when the OSIRIS-REx probe will bring the samples taken from the asteroid Bennu to Earth around 2023. At that point we can better understand the levels of cyanide and possibly also its role in the origin of life, as specified by Jason Dworkin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to Greenbelt, another research author.

A swim in the sea alters the skin microbiome for several hours

A simple bath or a swim in the sea of ​​just a few minutes is enough to temporarily alter the skin microbiome, but in a quite evident way according to interesting research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

According to Marisa Chattman Nielsen, a student at the University of California, Irvine, lead author of the study, exposure to ocean water can alter the diversity and composition of the human skin microbiome, although the latter appears to return to its initial condition after several hours.

The experiment was carried out on nine participants who carried out a 10-minute swim monitored by the same researcher who took into account various factors. The beach met the criteria regarding the possibility of not being able to use a sunscreen while the participants had a history of sporadic swimming in the sea. Furthermore, the same participants had not immersed themselves in seawater during the 12 hours prior to the experiment and had not taken antibiotics in the previous six months.

The researcher and her colleagues followed a swab on the back of the calf of the participants in the experiment before they entered the water and after they had come out and dried completely in the sun. Additional swabs were then performed after six hours and 24 hours after the swim.

Before the swim, the participants showed different microbial communities on their skin but after the swim they all had similar communities, completely different from the previous communities.
Six hours after entering the water, the microbiomes of the skin seemed to return to the pre-swim composition. 24 hours after the swim the composition was almost similar to the one before the swim.

Interesting results saw the presence of bacteria of the genus Vibrio on the skin of the participants not only after they had dried but also six hours after the swim (24 hours later they were present only on one individual).

It is a demonstration of the fact that possible species of pathogenic vibrios could potentially persist on the skin even several hours after swimming, which actually increases the vulnerability of the human body to infections with regard to contact with seawater.

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.”