Academic World News

Zebra finch males sing in dialects and females pay attention

Male zebra finches learn their song by imitating conspecifics. To stand out in the crowd, each male develops its own unique song. Because of this individual-specific song, it was long assumed that dialects do not exist in zebra finches.However, with the help of an artificial intelligence technique, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Biological Intelligence, in foundation), have now been able to show that the songs of four different zebra finch populations differ systematically.

Fewer antibody diversity as we age

As we age, our immune system works less well. We become more susceptible to infections and vaccinations no longer work as effectively. A research team led by Dario Riccardo Valenzano investigated whether short-lived killifish undergo aging of the immune system. Indeed, they found that already at four months of age, killifish have less diverse circulating antibodies compared to younger fish, which may contribute to a generalized decrease in the immune function.

Unravelling the mystery of parrot longevity

Parrots are famous for their remarkable cognitive abilities and exceptionally long lifespans. Now, a study led by Max Planck researchers has shown that one of these traits has likely been caused by the other. By examining 217 parrot species, the researchers revealed that species such as the scarlet macaw and sulphur-crested cockatoo have extremely long average lifespans, of up to 30 years, which are usually seen only in large birds.

There is more to Sars-CoV-2 than meets the eye

The Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus does not only cause infections of the respiratory tract. Other organ systems, such as the nervous system, can also be affected. In fact, Sars-CoV-2 mRNA has been detected in the brain in autopsies of patients who died from Covid-19. There is also growing evidence that coronaviruses can enter the retina of the eye, yet it is unclear which retinal structures are infected by Sars-CoV-2 and whether the retinal pathologies identified in Covid-19 patients are a direct or indirect result of retinal infection.

Near-natural, fractal architecture promotes well-being

An interdisciplinary group of researchers uses basic research to obtain hard evidence about how people perceive and navigate their urban environments. Fractal and nature-like design demonstrably promotes physical and mental well-being, according to the researchers. They call for an incorporation of this knowledge into urban planning decisions.

The wild years of our Milky Way galaxy

A very long ago, our Milky Way had a truly eventful life: between about 13 and 8 billion years ago, it lived hard and fast, merging with other galaxies and consuming a lot of hydrogen to form stars. With the help of a new data set, Maosheng Xiang and Hans-Walter Rix from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg have reconstructed the turbulent teenage years of our home galaxy. To do this, the researchers had to precisely determine the ages of 250,000 Milky Way stars.

Quantum leap on film

In order to better understand (and possibly control) fast chemical reactions, it is necessary to study the behaviour of electrons as precisely as possible – in both space and time. However, up to now, microscopy methods have delivered only either spatially or temporally sharp images. By cleverly combining established techniques of tunnelling microscopy and laser spectroscopy, a team led by Klaus Kern, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, has now overcome these obstacles. Using their atomic quantum microscope, they can make the movement of electrons in individual molecules visible.

The early cooling of the universe

A telescope in the French Alps has allowed researchers to peer deep into the past of the universe. For the first time, they were able to observe an extremely distant hydrogen cloud that shadows the cosmic background radiation created shortly after the Big Bang. The shadow is created because the colder water absorbs the warmer background radiation on its way to Earth. This provides information about the temperature of the cosmos just 880 million years after the Big Bang. To measure the early history of the universe, an international team used the Northern Extended Millimetre Array (NOEMA), the most powerful radio telescope in the northern hemisphere.

Black hole behind a cosmic ring of dust

At the heart of the galaxy NGC 1068 lurks a supermassive black hole, hidden behind a cosmic dust cloud. Using the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an international team of astronomers has unveiled this supermassive gravity trap. The researchers, including scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Astronomy and Radio Astronomy, gained new insights into the mechanisms of active galactic nuclei, some of the brightest and most enigmatic objects in the universe. They also confirmed a 30-year-old theory.

Indian Ocean warming could weaken Summer Monsoon rainfall in South Asia

Paleoclimate data retrieved from ocean sediment cores dating back 130,000 years show that sustained warming in the Indian Ocean during the Last Interglacial increased convective rainfall above the ocean, but weakened Indian Summer Monsoon rainfall on land.

Potato genome decoded

More than 20 years after the first release of the human genome, scientists at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, have for the first time decoded the highly complex genome of the potato. This technically demanding study lays the biotechnological foundation to accelerate the breeding of more robust varieties - a goal in plant breeding for many years and an important step for global food security.

Gamma light from a nova

For the first time, it has been possible to observe the outburst of a nova in very high-energy gamma light and to follow the glow and subsequent fading over a period of one month. The researchers combined the data from the H.E.S.S. observatory with those from the Fermi satellite and gained insights into the processes underlying the emission of gamma rays. The scientists were surprised to find that the nova apparently accelerates particles to the theoretical limit.