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World’s deepest-dwelling squid caught on camera

When a team of underwater explorers descended to the world’s deepest known shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean last year, they were only expecting to find a WWII US Navy destroyer.

But when deep-sea researchers reviewed the footage the explorers took, they found something intriguing: a squid. It was swimming along 6.2 kilometres below the surface – 1.5 kilometres deeper than anyone had ever spotted a squid before.

Just 10 centimetres long, it was quickly identified as a magnapinnid, or a bigfin squid – weird creatures with long, spaghetti-like extensions dangling beneath them.

Since squid are top predators, deep-sea ecologists think that this could suggest that there are other life forms down at those depths that it could feed on.

The results were published in the journal Marine Biology.

Grainy images showing squid
Credit: DOI: 10.1007/s00227-021-03993-x

Bonus: last year, these same researchers spotted the deepest jellyfish ever.

China builds artificial Moon

Scientists in China are building a research facility that will simulate the low-gravity environments of the Moon, to help prepare for their future lunar missions.

Inspired by an experiment that used magnets to levitate a frog, the facility will use powerful magnetic fields to simulate zero gravity.

According to Li Ruilin, a geotechnical engineer at the China University of Mining and Technology, it is the “first of its kind in the world” and can nullify gravity for “as long as you want”.

But it won’t be big enough to let an astronaut experience low gravity – the fields will only be applied to a vacuum chamber 60 centimetres in diameter, which is enough to test lunar equipment in prolonged low-gravity environments.

“Some experiments, such as an impact test, need just a few seconds [in the chamber],” Li said. “But others, such as creep testing, can take several days.”

The chamber will also contain rocks and dust to further imitate the Moon.

The facility will be located in the eastern city of Xuzhou, in Jiangsu province, and will be officially launched in the coming months.

New treatment for superbug

Scientists have just used a bacteriophage – a kind of virus that kills bacteria – to successfully treat a patient infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In a study published in Nature Communications, medical researchers report the case of a 30-year-old woman who suffered injuries from a suicide bombing in Belgium in 2016. Over the next three years, she experienced complications as her wound became infected with bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotics weren’t working by themselves – until she began bacteriophage therapy.

In this experimental therapy technique, the researchers selected and adapted a bacteriophage to target and destroy the specific strain of bacteria in the wound – essentially preparing a personalised “phage cocktail”. This was applied to the patient’s wound over six days, while she continued to take antibiotics.

Within three months, her condition had improved, the wound was healing and the infection had disappeared. Three years on, the infection has not returned.

“The present case study can open a new way of thinking about phage therapy: the use of individually adjusted phage-antibiotic combinations,” the team writes in their paper.

They say that although it might be challenging to apply to larger groups, this is still a promising therapy.

The study was led by Dr Anaïs Eskenazi from CUB-Erasme Hospital in Brussels, Belgium.

Image of small multi-legged bacteriophage
Illustration of bacteriophage. Credit: SCIEPRO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

How many black holes are out there in the Universe?

Whether you wanted to know the answer or not, researchers have just calculated that there could be 40 quintillion stellar mass black holes in the Universe – that’s 40 followed by 18 zeroes!

Stellar mass black holes are formed when massive stars die and collapse in on themselves, and they usually have a mass anywhere between a few to a few hundred Suns.

Remarkably, this new study in The Astrophysical Journal found that about 1% of ordinary matter (not dark matter) in the universe may be locked up in these types of black holes.

To get this number, PhD student Alex Sicilia – lead author of the study from the International School for Advanced Studies in Italy – used a new computational approach. It combined a detailed model of stellar evolution with data about the physical properties of galaxies, including the rate of star formation, the amount of stellar mass and the metallicity of the interstellar medium.

“This is one of the first, and one of the most robust, ab initio computations of the stellar black hole mass function across cosmic history,” Sicilia says.

Coffee is good for you, actually

Good news about your morning cup of go juice – it might reduce the risk of developing endometrial cancer.

Worldwide, endometrial cancer affects 12.9 women in every 100,000. Some lifestyle factors are known to affect the risk of getting this kind of cancer – for example, regular physical activity, aspirin intake and some dietary habits may reduce the risk.

Now, a new paper has reviewed 24 other studies, involving nearly 700,000 women, to look at associations between coffee and endometrial cancer.

It found that people with the highest coffee consumption reduced their risk of this cancer by 29% compared to those who drank little or none. Coffee seemed to be particularly effective for people with a higher BMI – but the effect was counteractive for those who smoked or had hormone replacement therapy.

“Overall, caffeinated coffee showed better protection than decaffeinated coffee,” the research team adds in their paper, published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Research. “Different brewing methods of coffee showed no significant effects.”

But don’t go guzzling down endless cupfuls – the benefits aren’t fully understood just yet.

“Further studies with large sample size are needed to determine subgroups and to obtain more information,” the team concludes.

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