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Psilocybin treatment for depression increases brain connectivity

Psilocybin – a naturally occurring psychedelic found in so-called “magic mushrooms” – is effective for treating patients with treatment-resistant depression, according to new research published in Nature Medicine.

Brain scans of 59 patients showed that psilocybin therapy delivered a rapid, substantial and sustained antidepressant effect. The psilocybin works by increasing the connectivity between the brain’s functional networks, an effect that was not seen in patients who received the conventional antidepressant escitalopram.

However, the neuroscientists caution that their results were achieved in a controlled environment and say that patients with depression should not attempt to self-medicate.

Psilocybin for depression
Magic mushrooms and psilocybin molecule, computer illustration. Credit: KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

Edible, fluorescent silk tags can suss out fake medications

The proliferation of online pharmacies in recent years has made it easier for counterfeiters to profit from fake or adulterated medications.

Now, biomedical engineers have created edible tags using fluorescent silk proteins, which could be placed directly on pills or in a liquid medicine. The codes within the tags can be read by a smartphone app to verify the source and quality of these pharmaceuticals.

The team genetically modified silkworms to produce silk fibroins — edible proteins that give silk fibres their strength — with either a cyan, green or red fluorescent protein attached.

They dissolved the fluorescent silk cocoons to create fluorescent polymer solutions, which they applied onto a thin, 9mm-wide film of white silk in a seven-by-seven grid. Shining blue violet, blue, and green light onto the grid revealed the 3D cyan, green and red square patterns, respectively.

Using optical filters over the phone’s camera, an app can then scan the fluorescent pattern, decoding the digitised key using a deep-learning algorithm and opening up a webpage.

The study was published in ACS Central Science.

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Silkworms can produce edible, fluorescent silk cocoons (left side of left image); the proteins from the cocoons can be used in codes (right) to verify the authenticity of medications. Credit: Adapted from ACS Central Science 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.1c01233

A miniature wide-angle camera with flat metalenses

Chinese engineers have designed a new compact camera that takes high-quality wide-angle images using an array of metalenses – flat nanopatterned surfaces used to manipulate light.

The camera is just 3mm thick and can produce clear images of a scene with a viewing angle of more than 120 degrees. They used an array of metalenses that are each carefully designed to focus a different range of illumination angles, which allows each lens to clearly image part of a wide-angle object or scene.

The clearest parts of each image can then be computationally stitched together to create the final image.

By eliminating the bulky and heavy lenses typically required for this type of imaging, the new approach could enable wide-angle cameras to be incorporated into smartphones and portable imaging devices for vehicles such as cars or drones.

The research was published in the journal Optica.

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Researchers designed a new compact camera that acquires high-quality wide-angle images using an array of metalenses. Their new planar camera (MIWC) produced clearer images of pictures projected across a curved screen compared to a camera based on a single traditional metalens. Credit: Tao Li, Nanjing University.

New Zika virus variant could potentially break through pre-existing immunity

Zika virus can mutate to become more infective—and potentially break through pre-existing immunity – according to a new study published in Cell Reports.

A team of virologists recreated infection cycles that repeatedly switched back and forth between mosquito cells (which transmit the virus) and mice (the host) to study Zika’s fast-paced evolution.

They found that it is relatively easy for Zika virus to acquire a mutation that results in a single amino acid change and which allows the virus to make more copies of itself, helping infections take hold more easily. This mutation (called NS2B I39V/I39T mutation) boosts the virus’ ability to replicate in both mice, mosquitoes, and in human cells.

“The Zika variant that we identified had evolved to the point where the cross-protective immunity afforded by prior dengue infection was no longer effective in mice,” says Sujan Shresta, professor at the Centre for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research in La Jolla Institute for Immunology, US.

“Unfortunately for us, if this variant becomes prevalent, we may have the same issues in real life.”

Sunlight could help heal green sea turtles with tumours

Researchers are shedding light on how sunlight can help improve the health of endangered green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) prone to a disease called fibropapillomatosis.

Affecting about 60% of sea turtles in some sub-populations, juveniles are most susceptible to this disease that causes the growth of large debilitating tumours on the skin, eyes and shell. Some turtles are treated at rehabilitation facilities where the tumours are removed; however, their enclosures usually limit exposure to natural ultraviolet (UV) light.

But sea turtles with fibropapillomatosis show reduced vitamin D levels anyway, so a new solution to helping this population could be as simple as increasing their exposure to sunlight.

In fact, turtles kept in sun tanks experienced less regrowth of tumours – and greater blood vitamin D levels – compared to those exposed to low UV light conditions, according to a recent study published in the journal Animals

A green sea turtle with fibropapillomatosis. Credit victoria e. Garefino 1
A green sea turtle with fibropapillomatosis. Credit: Victoria E. Garefino

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