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Moving towards better volcanic eruption predictions

Scientists might be one step closer to accurate and reliable predictions of volcanic eruptions, finding that water content of magma in the world’s most common type of volcano determines the depth at which it is stored in the Earth’s crust, according to a new study published in Science.

They found that in arc volcanoes – volcanoes that occur at the intersection of two converging tectonic plates and comprise the entirety of the “Ring of Fire” encircling the Pacific Plate – magma with higher water content tends to be stored deeper in the Earth’s crust.

“This study connects the depth at which magma is stored to water, which is significant because water largely initiates and fuels eruptions,” says lead author Dan Rasmussen, a Fellow at the Smithsonian’ National Museum of Natural History in the U.S.

Similar to the way carbon dioxide dissolved in a fizzy drink can cause a shaken bottle to explode, when there is water present in magma and there’s a sudden decrease in pressure, gas bubbles form and cause magma to rise and jet out the volcano.

The researchers used field work and lab analyses, as well as the re-analysis of existing data collected from past volcanic eruptions, to plot the estimated magma storage depths for 28 volcanoes from around the world against their estimated magmatic water contents.

Scientists expect that this is the most important factor controlling the depth at which magma is stored.

This new finding rules out the previous assumption that magma storage depth depends on buoyancy (because the molten rock is more buoyant than the surrounding crust).

Volcanic eruptions
Dan Rasmussen, Peter Buck Fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, collects volcanic ash samples from the rim of the summit caldera on Akutan Volcano in 2016. Akutan is one of the most active volcanoes in the Aleutians. Credit: Anna Barth, University of California, Berkeley. Photo taken under Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Research and Monitoring Special Use Permit #74500-16-009.

Dogs reduce pain, anxiety, and depression in hospital patients

Just 10 minutes with a therapy dog can reduce pain, anxiety, and depression in hospital Emergency Department (ED) patients, according to a new study published in PLoS ONE.

Canadian researchers undertook a controlled trial with 97 adult emergency department patients to measure their pain, anxiety, depression and well-being (using an 11-point rating scale) immediately before, immediately after, and 20 minutes post- being visited by a therapy dog team. This data was compared to those from 101 patients who were not visited by a furry friend. The team found significant reduction in reported pain and changes in anxiety and depression.

Murphy on hospital bed image credit jane smith 850
Murphy the dog on a hospital bed. Credit: Jane Smith, CC-BY 4.0

Virus simulations could help design nanocontainers used in drug delivery

Scientists have used simulations to help explain how a virus can spontaneously find its own genetic material and encapsulate it in a protective protein shell within the crowded environment of a host cell. The new study, published in ACS Nano, could have implications for drug delivery and alternative antivirals.

RNA viruses have genetic material in the form of RNA – a molecule similar to DNA but single-stranded (unlike the double-stranded helix structure of DNA). The RNA dictates how the virus replicates in cells to cause disease, and also encodes how to make a capsid – the protein shell of the virus, which contains the genetic material and protects it.

Researchers performed a series of computer simulations to monitor the growth of viral capsids and found that stress distribution on capsid proteins is lower when they encapsulate their own genome. This means that they are more inclined to form a shell around viral RNA, rather than the other plentiful non-viral RNA in the cell, because the resulting soccer-ball-like structure is much less likely to break apart.

“A better understanding of how capsids form is of vital importance to material scientists and a crucial step in the design of engineered nano-shells that could serve as vehicles for delivering drugs to specific targets in the body,” says senior author Roya Zandi, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, USA.

Capsids. Zandi lab uc riverside. 850
From left to right: The green triangles mimic capsid proteins. In the absence of a viral genome, they assemble around smaller segments of RNA. However, the shell is stressed and can be easily broken into pieces. The color bar shows the different levels of stress. Once the viral RNA is available, the capsid proteins start to leave non-viral RNAs and assemble around the viral genome. This can be done relatively easily because of the high stress level of capsid proteins in the smaller shell. The right figure shows capsid proteins assembled around the native RNA, forming a stable icosahedral shell. Credit: Zandi lab, UC Riverside.

A touch-sensing protein could stop constipation

It’s not traditional dinner-party conversation, but it is important: many [do we have a stat on this? many’s a bit of a placeholder] people suffer from digestive issues, such as chronic constipation, yet we still don’t understand most of the underlying causes.

Now it seems that a touch-sensing protein – found not only in our fingers but also our gut – is responsible for kicking off digestive movement, according to a new Australian study. Researchers think the presence of this protein – Piezo2 {And I think this needs to be PIEZO2? Please check} – is likely playing a key role in constipation.

“Our research identified Piezo2 in cells that line the human digestive tract, allowing them to sense physical stimuli, such as touch or pressure, that would occur when food is present,” explains lead author Lauren Jones, a PhD student in the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University, Australia.

“The cells then respond by releasing serotonin to stimulate gut contractions and push the food along.”

Published in Gastroenterology, they also discovered that the levels of Piezo2 decrease in the gut with age. Interestingly, when the protein was removed from gut serotonin cells in mice, gut motility slowed down and caused constipation.

“This research provides the building blocks for both further research and the development of highly specific treatments to reduce the impacts of constipation,” says Jones.

Welcome the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse to science!

There are hundreds of species of fish found off the coast of the Maldives and a new addition to the fish family, the Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa), is the first-ever to be formally described by a Maldivian researcher.

First collected by researchers in the 1990s at the time it was thought to be an adult Red velvet Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamis), a species which had previously only been described based on a single juvenile specimen.

In this new study, researchers – including co-author Ahmed Najeeb, a Maldivian biologist from the Maldives Marine Research Institute – took a more detailed look at both adult and juvenile C.finifenmaa. By measuring and counting features, as well as genetic analysis they compared the fish to the Red velvet Fairy Wrasse and confirmed that it is indeed a unique species.

It from the local Dhivehi language with “finifenmaa” meaning “rose” – a nod to both it’s gorgeous colouring and the Maldives’ national flower. The research was published in ZooKeys.

This new to science rose veiled fairy wrasse is the first maldivian fish to ever be described by a local researcher. © yi kai tea 850
This new-to-science Rose-Veiled Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus finifenmaa) is the first Maldivian fish to ever be described by a local researcher. Credit: Yi-Kai Tea

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