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Venomous sea anemone toxin shows pain-relief potential

A new toxic compound has been found in an Australian tropical sea anemone and is currently being analysed as a potential new drug therapy. Scientists have found 84 potential toxins – including one that has never been seen before – in the tentacles, gut, and body of the reef-based sea anemone Telmatactis stephensoni.

Animal venoms had been used to treat humans through history, and scientists are interested in pain-causing venoms because they have the potential to develop new treatments for relieving pain.

“If we can isolate the neurotoxin and find the nerve cell receptor it activates, we could potentially develop a blocker to stop activation and treat conditions such as chronic back pain,” says Associate Professor Peter Prentis, from the School of Biology and Environmental Science at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

“This means the toxins in the acontia – long, stinging threads used to ward off would-be predators that cause intense pain to marine animals as well as humans – could be a source of an ‘antidote’ to some types of chronic pain.”

The study was published in Molecular Ecology.

Like birds, pterosaurs regurgitated indigestible food

The first fossil evidence that pterosaurs (Kunpengopterus sinensis) regurgitated indigestible food as some species of birds do has been unearthed. Pterosaurs were winged reptiles which lived alongside the dinosaurs during most of the Mesozoic period (228 to 66 million years ago).

A team of international researchers studied two pterosaur fossils from the Late Jurassic, which were found alongside fossilised gastric pellets in China. The pellets – containing the scales of an unnamed fish – were probably vomited up in a similar way to modern birds like owls, indicating they had a two-part stomach and antiperistalsis (contractions of the intestine that force the contents in a regurgitative direction).

Published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, this research adds to previously limited knowledge about pterosaur diet and digestive systems and confirms that they were indeed fish-eating animals.

Two emetolite-pterosaur associations from the Late Jurassic Linglongta Locality of China. (a) STM 19–59, the smaller individual of Kunpengopterus sinensis associated with a pellet; (b), IVPP V 16047, the holotype of K. sinensis, the larger individual associated with a pellet. The green arrows indicate the pellets; the yellow arrows indicate the isolated ganoid scales. Credit: The Royal Society.

Aboriginal Australians in cities have dementia rates as high as those in rural areas

Aboriginal Australians have among the highest rates of dementia in the world. Studies have shown that those living in remote areas of the country are disproportionately affected by dementia, with rates approximately double those of non-indigenous people.

Now, an observational study involving 155 Aboriginal Australians living in urban areas has shown they also have similarly high rates of dementia. The research was published in Neurology.

Participants were aged 60+ and were assessed at a baseline and again six years later. Looking at factors which were associated with an increased risk of dementia revealed that men, people who worked in jobs that require no special training, and people who took five or more medications were more likely to develop dementia.

“While the study was not designed to examine these factors, the ongoing effects of colonisation, systemic racism, and the resulting social and health disparities across Aboriginal Australian communities, likely contribute to these higher rates of dementia,” says author Dr Louise Lavrencic, of Neuroscience Research Australia.

“Larger studies are needed to look at these effects and identify culturally appropriate and effective dementia risk-reduction strategies.”

A graph of the expected increase in life expectancy for optimizing different food groups from various ages.
Expected increase in life expectancy for optimising different food groups from various ages. Credit: Fadnes LT et al., 2022, PLOS Medicine

A healthier diet could add a decade to your life

Young adults in the U.S. could add more than a decade to their life expectancy by ditching a typical Western diet and adopting one that includes more legumes, whole grains, and nuts, while consuming less red and processed meat, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine.

Researchers used existing meta-analysis research and data from the Global Burden of Diseases study to build a computer model that enables the instant estimation of the effect of a range of dietary changes on life expectancy.

They found that beginning this sustained change from age twenty would increase life expectancy by more than a decade, while making the change at age sixty could still increase life expectancy by about eight years.

Earth’s inner core isn’t a normal solid, it’s in a superionic state

The Earth’s core – the deepest part of our planet – is under extremely high pressure and temperature. It’s composed of a liquid outer core and a solid inner core of iron, though the inner core is less dense than pure iron as some light elements (like hydrogen, carbon and oxygen) are believed to be present as well.

Earths interior structure and superionic inner core credit igcas 850
Earth’s interior structure and superionic inner core. Credit: IGCAS

New research has suggested that the Earth’s inner core is not actually a normal solid but is instead in a superionic state. This is an intermediate state between solid and liquid that exists widely in the interior of planets, where a solid iron sublattice exists with liquid-like light elements diffused within.

Published in Nature, scientists used high-pressure and high-temperature computational simulations based on quantum mechanics to find that some alloys of Iron with light elements transform into a superionic state under inner core conditions.

Iron atoms remain ordered and vibrate about a lattice-like grid, forming a solid iron framework, while light elements become disordered and diffuse like a liquid within the structure

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