Academic World News

Tuberculosis vaccine passes safety test

No other infectious disease has killed more people than tuberculosis. Currently, only one vaccine is available to prevent severe courses: Bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG). However, it is not equally effective against all types of tuberculosis. Especially infants and immunocompromised patients are therefore in urgent need for more effective tuberculosis vaccines. A clinical trial in South Africa has now shown that the new vaccine candidate VPM1002, developed by Max Planck researcher Stefan H.E. Kaufmann and his team, is equally safe for newborns with and without HIV exposure and has fewer side effects compared to BCG.

Galaxies behind a gravitational magnifier

Using the first science image released by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) this month, an international team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics has built an improved model for the mass distribution of the galaxy cluster SMACS J0723.3−7327. They used dozens of multiple images of far-away background galaxies revealed in the JWST image, some of which were too faint to be detected previously. Acting as a so-called gravitational lens, the foreground galaxy cluster produces both multiple images of background galaxies and magnifies these images.

A nanokelvin microwave freezer for molecules

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have developed a novel cooling technique for molecular gases. It makes it possible to cool polar molecules down to a few nanokelvin. The trick used by the team in Garching to overcome this hurdle is based on a rotating microwave field. It helps to stabilise the collisions between the molecules during cooling by means of an energetic shield. In this way, the Max Planck researchers succeeded in cooling a gas of sodium-potassium molecules to 21 billionths of a degree above absolute zero.

Preparing for the World’s biggest radio telescope

An international team of researchers has demonstrated that the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) is capable of detecting radio emissions from normal spiral galaxies in the early universe. The SKAO, whose construction began this year, will soon be the largest radio telescope in the world. The astronomers, who are part of the SKAO's “Extragalactic Continuum” working group, are looking for a way to study a cosmic era in which star-forming activity suddenly decreased after an epoch known as “Cosmic Noon”.

Britains earliest humans

Archaeological discoveries made on the outskirts of Canterbury, Kent (England) confirm the presence of early humans in southern Britain between 560,000 and 620,000 years ago. The breakthrough, involving controlled excavations and radiometric dating, comes a century after stone tool artefacts were first uncovered at the site. The research, led by archaeologists at the University of Cambridge, confirms that Homo heidelbergensis, an ancestor of Neanderthals, occupied southern Britain in this period – when it was still attached to Europe – and gives tantalizing evidence hinting at some of the earliest animal hide processing in European prehistory.

Shedding light on linguistic diversity and its evolution

Scholars from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and the University of Auckland in New Zealand have created a new global repository of linguistic data. The project is designed to facilitate new insights into the evolution of words and sounds of the languages spoken across the world today. The Lexibank database contains standardized lexical data for more than 2000 languages. It is the most extensive publicly available collection compiled so far.

Origins of the Black Death identified

The Black Death, the biggest pandemic of our history, was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and lasted in Europe between the years 1346 and 1353. Despite the pandemic’s immense demographic and societal impacts, its origins have long been elusive. Now, a multidisciplinary team of scientists, including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the University of Tübingen, in Germany, and the University of Stirling, in the United Kingdom, have obtained and studied ancient Y. pestis genomes that trace the pandemic’s origins to Central Asia.

Great white sharks may have contributed to megalodon extinction

The diet of fossil extinct animals can hold clues to their lifestyle, behaviour, evolution and ultimately extinction. However, studying an animal’s diet after millions of years is difficult due to the poor preservation of chemical dietary indicators in organic material on these timescales. An international team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, applied a new method to investigate the diet of the largest shark to have ever existed, the iconic Otodus megalodon. This new method investigates the zinc isotope composition of the highly mineralised part of teeth and proves to be particularly helpful to decipher the diet of these extinct animals.

Misperceptions about doctors’ trust in Covid-19 vaccines influence vaccination rate

How to increase vaccination rates by autumn, without any compulsion is shown by an international research team including the Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance. They found that people’s willingness to get vaccinated is related to the presumed trust the medical doctors have in the vaccines. However, the study shows a large discrepancy between the assumptions of the population and the actual views of the medical profession.

Tobacco hawkmoths always find the right odor

A research team at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology has discovered how tobacco hawkmoths are able to detect odors that are important to them against a complex olfactory background. By looking at the specific activity patterns that the odors triggered in the moths' brains the researcher showed that the sense of smell enables moths not only to perceive the intense floral odors of nectar sources, but also to find the rather unobtrusive smell of their host plants on which the larvae thrive. What is especially amazing is that tobacco hawkmoths can reliably detect the odors of their host plants despite the multitude of background odors emitted by many other plants in the vicinity.

A Center for Visual Computing and Artificial Intelligence

The Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken (Germany) and Google have agreed on a strategic partnership to establish the Saarbrücken Research Center for Visual Computing, Interaction and Artificial Intelligence (VIA) at the MPI for Informatics. The center will conduct basic research in frontier areas of computer graphics, computer vision, and human machine interaction, at the intersection of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The VIA center will be headed by Christian Theobalt, scientific director at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics.

An alarm system against hardware attacks

Radio waves could protect computers, as well as card readers, from attacks on their hardware. As a team from the Max Planck Institute for Security and Privacy in Bochum and the Ruhr University in Bochum has shown, the signal from one antenna in a device generates a characteristic electromagnetic pattern that is received by a second antenna. If an attacker manipulates the device with a wire, for example, the radio wave pattern changes and blows the whistle on the manipulation like an alarm system.