Academic World News

Life in the smoke of underwater volcanoes

Disconnected from the energy of the sun, the permanently ice-covered Arctic deep sea receives miniscule amounts of organic matter that sustains life. Bacteria which can harvest the energy released from submarine hydrothermal sources could thus have an advantage. On research missions with the research vessel Polarstern, scientists from Germany found bacteria uniquely adapted to this geo-energy floating in deep-sea waters. They describe the role of these bacteria for biogeochemical cycling in the ocean.

Major advance in super-resolution fluorescence microscopy

Scientists led by Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg have developed a super-resolution microscope with a spatio-temporal precision of one nanometer per millisecond. An improved version of their recently introduced MINFLUX super-resolution microscopy allowed tiny movements of single proteins to be observed at an unprecedented level of detail: the stepping motion of the motor protein kinesin-1 as it walks along microtubules while consuming ATP. The work highlights the power of MINFLUX as a revolutionary new tool for observing nanometer-sized conformational changes in proteins.

Catalysts of the energy transition

When it comes to the energy transition, there has to be the right chemistry. This makes it possible to store electricity from the wind and sun in fuels and base materials for chemical production and also to use CO2 for this purpose. However, the corresponding chemical compounds can only be produced efficiently with the right catalysts; these are, however currently still in short supply.

Fireworks have long-lasting effects on wild birds

A study has tracked wild birds over three countries in Europe to examine the long-term impact of fireworks. The international team of scientists GPS tracked Arctic migratory geese in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands for three weeks over the New Year period, generating the most detailed understanding yet of how wild birds respond to fireworks. Movement data from 347 geese showed that on New Year’s Eve, birds suddenly leave their sleeping sites and fly to new areas further away from human settlements.

Animals are key to restoring the world’s forests

As UN climate talks close in Egypt and biodiversity talks begin in Montreal, attention is on forest restoration as a solution to the twin evils roiling our planet. Forests soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide and simultaneously create habitat for organisms. So far, efforts to help forests bounce back from deforestation have typically focused on increasing one thing—trees—over anything else. But a new report uncovers a powerful, yet largely overlooked, driver of forest recovery: animals.

Do women age differently from men?

The effect of medicines on women and men can differ significantly. This also applies to the currently most promising anti-ageing drug rapamycin, as researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne and University College London have now shown. They report that the drug only prolongs the lifespan of female fruit flies, but not that of males. In addition, rapamycin only slowed the development of age-related pathological changes in the gut in female flies. The researchers conclude that the biological sex is a crucial factor in the effectiveness of anti-ageing drugs.

Iron for energy storage

Energy from sun or wind is weather-dependent and lacks an efficient way to store and transport it. Scientists from the Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung and TU Eindhoven are investigating iron as a possible energy carrier. The idea is to store excess energy in iron and release it through combustion of iron into iron oxide. The team is working to understand the underlying processes and upscale the technique to industrial relevance.

Catching the dynamic Coronal Web

Using observational data from the U.S. weather satellites GOES, a team of researchers led by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany has taken an important step toward unlocking one of the Sun’s most persevering secrets: How does our star launch the particles constituting the solar wind into space? The data provide a unique view of a key region in the solar corona to which researchers have had little access so far.

Genes that influence dyslexia

An international team of scientists, including researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen (Netherlands), has for the first time pinpointed a large number of genes that are reliably associated with dyslexia. Around a third of the 42 genetic variants identified have been previously linked to general cognitive abilities and educational attainment. The researchers say their findings may aid our understanding of the biology behind why some children struggle to read or spell.

A traveler from the edge of the Solar System

The asteroid Ryugu likely formed at the outer edge of the Solar System beyond the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, as high-precision measurements that determine the ratio of iron isotopes in rock samples from Ryugu suggest. The Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2 had taken the samples and brought them back to Earth two years ago. An international group of researchers with participation of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Göttingen and the Georg-August-University Göttingen describes these results in today’s issue of the journal Science Advances.

Vital ventilation

Dying reefs and once-vibrant corals that have since lost all colour: climate change is having massive effects on the architects of undersea cities. As waters grow warmer, the phenomenon of “coral bleaching” continues to spread. Yet not all corals are equally susceptible. An international team led by Cesar Pacherres and Moritz Holtappels from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven and Soeren Ahmerkamp from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen may have found the explanation: using minuscule filaments (cilia), corals can influence the currents in their immediate vicinity, protecting themselves from harmful oxygen concentrations, as the experts report in the journal Current Biology.

Sweet sap, savory ants

Many mammals have a sweet tooth, but birds lost their sweet receptor during evolution. Although hummingbirds and songbirds independently repurposed their savory receptor to sense sugars, how other birds taste sweet is unclear. Now, an international team lead by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence (in foundation) shows that woodpeckers also regained sweet taste. Interestingly, wrynecks, specialized ant-eating woodpeckers, selectively reversed this gain through a simple and unexpected change in the receptor. These results demonstrate a novel mechanism of sensory reversion and highlight how sensory systems adapt to the dietary needs of different species.