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New species of sea scorpion uncovered thanks to a museum cold case

A fossil ‘cold case’ in Queensland Museum’s geosciences collection has been solved, leading to the description of a new species of sea scorpion (eurypterid): Woodwardopterus freemanorum.

Discovered in the 1990s by Nick Freeman on his family property near Theodore in Queensland, Australia, the fossil wasn’t brought to the museum’s attention in 2013. But took until COVID-19-related closures for the team to take another look and discover just how special it is.

Sea scorpions are an extinct group of invertebrates (cold-blooded animals with no backbone) belonging to the Chelicerae – which today includes spiders and scorpions.

This species would probably have been more than metre in length, lived in freshwater lakes or rivers in the area in which it was found, and has been accurately dated as living 252 million years ago. There are very few records of this species in existence, and this one happens is the last eurypterid known to have been alive anywhere on Earth.

The study was published in the journal Historical Biology.

Fossil of woodwardopterus freemanorum
Fossil of Woodwardopterus freemanorum. Credit: Queensland Museum

Serious allergic reactions to food among children stabilise

New Australian research has found the rate of increase in serious allergic reactions to food among children has flattened since changes to Australia’s infant feeding guidelines were implemented in 2008.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) infant feeding and food allergy prevention guidelines have changed in response to scientific research over the past 15 years, which indicated that delaying the introduction of allergenic foods is associated with an increased food allergy risk.

Between 1999 and 2007, the advice was to delay allergenic foods until age 1-3 years. This was changed to not delaying in 2008 and, finally, to introducing them early and often since 2016. The new study examined hospital admissions data from around Australia for food anaphylaxis during these three different time periods, over which a total of 37,132 anaphylaxis admissions were recorded.

They found that the previously rising rates of hospital admissions for food anaphylaxis had stabilised. In particular, there was a slowing of the rate of increase in admission rates for all born after the 2008 changes, against an ongoing acceleration in those born before.

The research was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Dogs grieve their deceased buddies

Human’s best friend may also grieve the loss of their own canine companions, according to a new study that found 86% of owners witnessed negative changes in their pups after the loss of another.

In a survey of owners who had at least one other dog, these behaviours – including attention seeking, playing less, being less active, sleeping more, being more fearful, eating less, and whining or barking more – persisted for between two and six months for 32% of dogs and longer than six months for 25%. 

Published in Scientific Reports, the researchers suggest that these changes might be due to grief-like reaction in response to the loss of their buddy, but also a reaction to the grief of their owners.

A sad looking bernese mountain dog lies on a couch
Credit: Jena Ardell/Getty Images

A first glimpse into the human brain’s lymphatic connections

The first report to show the complete human brain lymphatic system architecture in living humans has been published this week in Nature Communications. It describes the first non-invasive, near real-time visualisation of the human brain’s waste clearance system, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) without the need for a contrast agent.

Until now, observing these lymphatic vessels in action has posed technical limitations as it required the use of the toxic rare-earth metal gadolinium to visualise and differentiate the various structures of the brain. In this study, researchers were able to overcome this by using the brain’s own protein content to create a gradient of contrast.

Structures with low protein content appear dark and those with high protein content (like lymphatic vessels) appear light. This allowed scientists to capture details of how these structures connected areas within the brain to lymph nodes in the neck.

This new technique will allow us to study the lymphatic vessels as we age, and determine their role in the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and how the brain recovers from traumatic injury.

MRI showing the dorsal flow of the brain’s waste clearance system (shown in green). Credit: Dr. Onder Albayram, Medical University of South Carolina

A potential antibiotic through chemical synthesis

Scientists have come up with a method for producing himastatin, a natural compound produced by a species of soil bacteria – Streptomyces hygroscopicus – that has shown potential as an antibiotic. In a new study, researchers used a new synthesis approach to not only produce himastatin, but also generate variants of the molecule which also showed antimicrobial activity.

First discovered in the 1990s, himastatin’s potential antimicrobial activity hasn’t been explored in detail until now. This complex molecule comprises two identical six-carbon rings connected by a bond, which is critical for its antimicrobial activity.

The team built monomers from amino acid blocks and used a new strategy to connect the two together, allowing them to make unique variants that contain different types of subunits (as well as the original naturally occurring himastatin).

By swapping in different atoms in specific parts of the molecule and testing them against six bacterial strains the researchers found that some of these new variants had strong activity, but only if they included one naturally occurring monomer along with one that was different.

The researchers now plan to design more variants which they hope might have more potent antibiotic activity. The study was published in Science.

Colonies of streptomyces hygroscopicus on agar plate through microscope. Credit snuupo 850
Colonies of Streptomyces hygroscopicus on agar plate through microscope. Credit: Snuupo

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