Rewind: Where the women are

Each 11 February is the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and to celebrate, today we’ve gathered up some of our favourite recent stories covering research studies led or conducted by women scientists.

Exploring Einsteinium

A team from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US, uncovered properties of the radioactive element Einsteinium for the first time ever. They synthesised around 200 nanograms of einsteinium – for comparison, a single human cell weighs about one nanogram – and studied it using X-ray absorption and luminescence spectroscopy.

“There’s not much known about Einsteinium,” says co-lead researcher Rebecca Abergel. “It’s a remarkable achievement that we were able to work with this small amount of material and do inorganic chemistry.”

Shining a light on wine fraud

Wine fraudsters beware, because a team from the University of Adelaide led by Ruchira Ranaweera has devised a way of tracing the geographical origins of cabernet sauvignon.

“Wine authentication can help to avoid any uncertainty around wine labelling according to origin, variety, or vintage,” Ranaweera says. “The application of a relatively simple technique like this could be adapted for use in the supply chain as a robust method for authentication or detection of adulterated wines.”

3D-printed cancer fighter

The world’s first 3D-printed, drug-delivering oesophageal stent has been developed by Australian researchers at the University of South Australia (UniSA) and Flinders University.

“Oesophageal cancer is often challenging to treat, with early diagnosis critical for positive outcomes,” says Paris Fouladian, a PhD student at UniSA. “The most prominent symptom is dysphagia (difficulty swallowing food or drink), which is due to malignant cancer cells blocking the oesophagus.

“Our new drug-loaded oesophageal stents can help prevent further blockages by administering anti-cancer drugs directly to the tumour, limiting further growth while relieving the pressure of dysphagia.”

It has an effect, period

Women, it’s not in your head. The menstrual cycle affects mood, behaviour and vital signs more than changes across days, weeks and even seasons, according a huge, multi-country analysis led by Emma Pierson of Stanford University and Microsoft Research New England, US.

“We also study how menstrual patterns vary across countries, and find that the premenstrual mood dip occurs consistently across countries, and other significant menstrual patterns are consistent as well,” says Pierson.

“This is important because previous studies have often been small, confined to one country, and potentially culturally specific.”

Does that reef smell good?

Gassy reefs may be happier, according to a team led by Caitlin Lawson from Australia’s University of Technology Sydney (UTS). They identified a range of gases produced by reef-building corals off Heron Island, on the Great Barrier Reef, and highlighted a suite of compounds that may play roles in maintaining healthy reef function.

“Our results also reveal that heat stress dramatically decreases the chemical diversity, quantity and functional potential of these important compounds,” Lawson says, “which could further impact the capacity of corals to cope with increasing temperatures.”

Butterfly turn-off, flower turn-on

A study, led by Kathy Darragh, from the University of California, Davis, found that male postman butterflies (Heliconius melpomene) make a chemical compound called ocimene in their genitals, which they leave on female butterflies to deter other males.

“For a long time it was thought insects took the chemical compounds from plants and then used them, but we have shown butterflies can make the chemicals themselves – but with very different intentions,” says Darragh. “Male butterflies use it to repulse competitors and flowers use the same smell to entice butterflies for pollination.”

Cosmic collision spells beginning of the end

How do galaxies die? Research led by Annagrazia Puglisi, from Durham University, UK, and the Saclay Nuclear Research Centre, in France, documented a galaxy losing 46% of its total star-forming gas, which prevents it from making new stars. The gas loss was likely because of a galaxy merger.

Bacterial bioclock

“This is the first time we have observed a typical massive star-forming galaxy in the distant universe about to ‘die’ because of a massive cold gas ejection,” says Puglisi.

Animals, plants and humans all have biological clocks, and bacteria might too, according to research led by Martha Merrow, a chronobiologist from Ludwig Maximilians University, in Munich, Germany.

“We’ve found for the first time that non-photosynthetic bacteria can tell the time,” says Merrow,

“They adapt their molecular workings to the time of day by reading the cycles in the light or in the temperature environment.”

Mozzies off moggies

Kitties love catnip, and a chemical called nepetalactol may have the dual purpose of calming cats and repelling mozzies, according to research led by Reiko Uenoyama of Iwate University, Japan.

“On the basis of some reports that nepetalactone, the feline attractant in catnip, has mosquito repellent activity, we thought that the response allows cats to transfer plant’s nepetalactol or nepetalactone on their fur for protection against mosquitoes,” says Uenoyama.

“This led to a strong hypothesis when we found the mosquito-repellent activity of nepetalactol.”

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