Science Reporting

Jaw adapts to food hardness: the harder it is, the stronger it becomes

The jaw adapts to the hardness of the food we chew: the harder it is, the stronger it becomes. This is the result of a group of researchers from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of Tokyo and the University of Kyoto, as well as the medical research agency.

In fact, during experiments on mice, the researchers discovered that if mice ate food that required more chewing power for a longer or shorter period of time, they developed more bone formation in the jaw, which in turn also had an impact on the shape of the jaw itself.

This is not a novelty at all since during the life of various animals, including humans, the bone and skeletal tissue is continually restructured in response to changes in the various forces that apply to them. For example, if you exercise for a medium to long period of time, you can have stronger bones. However, this is the first study to discover how and when the reconstruction of the jawbone takes place, particularly in response to food hardness.

By feeding various mice in the laboratory with harder food, the researchers were able to develop a computer model of rodent chewing that calculates changes in the structure of the mandible. Various hygienic histological analyses have also shown that the mechanical load on the mandible changes the expression of the cytokines of the osteocytes in the bone, which leads to an increase in the size of the bone itself.

“This discovery – that increased chewing itself can directly change the shape of the mandible – could facilitate the development of treatments for skeletal abnormalities, such as deformities of the mandible,” says Tomoki Nakashima, one of the authors of the study.

Science Reporting

First surgery conducted in the uterus on a fetus with spina bifida

The first spina bifida surgery in utero was performed by a group of doctors from Magee-Womens Hospital and Children’s Hospital, University of Pittsburgh. The researchers managed to fix an open neural tube defect in the fetus even before its birth. In fact, the mother was told that her fetus was characterized by the so-called “spina bifida,” a defect that sees a bone of the spine above that makes exposed the spinal cord.

This is because muscles and skin, as well as the bone itself, do not form correctly during the development of the fetus and cause a malformation to one or more vertebrae. This is a condition that leads to severe physical disabilities. Among other things, the fetus itself had been diagnosed with the most severe type of spina bifida.

This is a risky intervention when carried out on already born children, “but research shows that children who are closed in the uterus have better neurological results than children treated after birth,” as reported by Stephen Emery, one of the researchers involved in the operation. A previous study also showed that an intervention performed before birth can halve the risk of hydrocephalus accumulation in the brain, one of the most common negative effects of spina bifida.

The operation was performed two months ago and in the meantime, the baby was born. The first tests, according to the researchers, show that it seems to be characterized by normal leg functions but will have to spend the entire first year of life to completely rule out problems related to hydrocephalus.

Science Reporting

Elephants know how to quantify food by smell with precision

A particular feature of elephants has been discovered by a group of researchers who published their study on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Although well analyzed and studied, elephants have a characteristic related to their sense of smell that until now had remained unknown: they are able to quantify the portions of food not only by sight but also by smell.

During various experiments, scientists have in fact discovered that elephants were able to quantify the number of sunflower seeds closed inside several buckets covered with the lid. The elephants clearly showed that they preferred buckets with the largest number of seeds, even though they could not see inside nor can they move the bucket itself. The greater the number of seeds inside the bucket, the greater the number of elephants who preferred the fuller buckets.

This is the first example of an animal that can quantify, in a fairly precise way, the quantity of a material only through the smell.

What can this discovery be used for? Currently, in many regions of the world elephants are considered as annoying for various human activities and the same humans face many difficulties to move them away from different sites of interest. With this discovery, elephants can be directed to a point where food is accumulated more efficiently.

Science Reporting

Small electric shocks in the brain facilitate memory retrieval

According to a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, it is possible to use small electric current shocks to stimulate a particular region of the brain that is the basis of memory preservation. A small amount of electric current, in fact, according to scientists, could stimulate the left prefrontal rostrolateral cortex and improve the ability of the brain to recover memories.

It is the result that some researchers directed by Jesse Rissman, professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, have achieved when they increased, precisely through small electric shocks, the excitability of this region in the brains of some patients. Patients were equipped with a small device that sent a small electrical signal to the brain through an electrode placed on the scalp.

This electrical signal was used to increase the excitability of neurons in the left prefrontal rostrolateral cortex. This area of the brain, located on the left side of the forehead, is known to play a key role in high-level thinking, including monitoring and integrating information that is conveyed to other areas of the brain itself.

According to UCLA scientists, this specific region is of fundamental importance for access to our “archive” of memories, which in turn is very important when, for example, you have to make a decision.

“The fact that people do better in this memory task when we excite this region with electrical stimulation provides causal evidence that contributes to memory retrieval,” Rissman says.

Of course, this discovery could prove very useful in the context of all therapies aimed at the recovery of memories and in general at improving memory.

Science Reporting

1800 new supernovae discovered

If until a few years ago supernovae could be considered rare and difficult to detect events, today things have changed thanks to the technological advances of modern ground telescopes that make it possible to avoid the use of expensive space telescopes, not always available to all research groups.

An example is the case of a group of Japanese researchers from various universities and institutions who used the Hyper Suprime-Cam, an 870-megapixel digital camera fixed on top of the Subaru telescope. With this camera, they have been able to shoot a large area of the night sky repeatedly for a period of six months and have been able to identify many new supernovae (1800 in total) of which 58 were of type Ia placed more than 8 billion light-years away from us (out of a total of 400 type Ia supernovae discovered).

To understand the efficiency behind this research, it is enough to say that to discover a total of 50 supernovae located more than 8 billion light-years away from Earth, previous researchers had to use the same telescope for 10 years. Supernovae classified as type Ia are very useful in astronomy because they allow you to calculate more efficiently how far they are from Earth and in general, can also help to measure the expansion of the universe.

According to Naoki Yasuda, professor of physics and mathematics of the universe at Kavli and one of the authors of the research, “The Subaru telescope and the Hyper Suprime-Cam have already helped researchers to create a 3D map of dark matter and for the observation of primordial black holes, but now this result shows that this instrument has a very high capacity to find even supernovae far from Earth.”

Science Reporting

Scientists discover that fish can live more than 110 years

A group of researchers from North Dakota State University confirmed that a particular species of fish, the Ictiobus cyprinellus, originating in North America, can live even more than 100 years, an estimate that quadruples all previous estimates concerning the age of this fish. One of the specimens analyzed by the researchers had an estimated age of 112 years.

Also known as bigmouth buffalo, this freshwater fish becomes one of the longest-lived fish in existence. With its brown olive color and dark fins, it can reach a length of more than 120 cm and a weight of 70 pounds. It can be found in various rivers in the United States and Canada, but it can also live in lakes and other shallow waterways. The research group has published its work on Communications Biology.

To determine the age of the fish analyzed, the researchers also used carbon dating of otoloites (calcium concretions embedded in a sort of inner ear of the fish).

According to Alec R. Lackmann, a researcher who conducted the study, we must begin to recognize the bigmouth buffalo as a native and ecological heritage: it is an exceptional fish that deserves some protection like many other native fish species of North America.