What you might have missed: algae on your sores; European beer and aging dogs

Coating wounds with microalga

Australian researchers have transformed Spirulina maxima, a blue-green microalgae, into ultrathin bioactive coatings as an innovative approach to wound care.

Described in a new study in the journal Small, the researchers developed an argon atmospheric plasma jet system which disrupts structures within the algal cell wall, while preserving the bioactive compounds.

The coatings could be applied to wound dressings and other medical devices to protect patients from infection, accelerate wound healing, and modulate inflammation.

“This new plasma facilitated downstream processing can improve extraction and purification of useful compounds from biomass without the need for harmful solvents and a lot of energy input,” says Krasimir Vasilev, professor in Biomedical Nanotechnology at Flinders University, Australia, and co-author of the study.

Two researchers standing in a laboratory setting, holding the antimicrobial coating.
Dr Vi Khanh Truong, right, with Ms Tuyet Pham, whose Master of Biotechnology thesis formed the basis of the study. Credit: Flinders University

Low ‘hops’ for the future of European beer

Beer is the third most widely consumed drink behind water and tea and the world’s most popular alcoholic beverage.

But new research in Nature Communications predicts a potentially bitter future for European beer.

Made using water, malting barley, and yeast, beer is flavoured using hops, which containalpha acids, compounds responsible for beer’s unique bitter aroma. Only relatively small regions have the right climate and environmental conditions to cultivate high-quality aroma hops.

The research projects that European beer producing regions will experience a 4-18% reduction in yield of traditional aroma hops, and by 2050, a 20-31% reduction in the hops’ acids, key for flavouring.

Scientists collected data on yield and alpha content between 1971-2018 from 90% of European beer hop growing regions in Germany, Czechia and Slovenia and combined that with climate models to project these declines.

According to the models the declines will be caused by rising temperatures and more frequent and severe droughts. They authors suggest that traditional beer hop farming practices will need to adapt to alleviate these negative effects of climate change.

A pint of bear sitting on a small table under a hops plant
A pint of local beer sits under the leaves and flowers of a Kentish hop plant. Credit: Penny Tweedie/Getty Images

Size matters when it comes to dogs’ aging patterns

While the average life expectancy of dogs is known to vary – giant dogs generally live 7 years and small dogs 14 – little is known about how these differences impacta dog’s behaviour and cognitive abilities as they age.

New research using data from more than 15,000 dogs suggests that larger dogs (more than 30 kg) experience earlier onset of age-related decline, at around 7-8 years of age, compared to 10-11 in smaller dogs, but experience a slower rate of decline.

Whereas dogs that weigh about 7 kg had 4 times higher prevalence of cognitive decline in old age.

“For those who want a smaller sized dog but do not want it to risk severe mental health problems in old age, or want a larger dog but do not want to risk physical health problems at 7-8 years, we recommend a dog from the 10-30 kg size range,” says Enikő Kubinyi, Head of the Senior Family Dog Project at ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, and co-author of the study.

“Based on our results, these dogs have a longer healthspan relative to their expected lifespan than their smaller and larger counterparts.”

The details of the study are published in the journal GeroScience, the Journal of the American Aging Association.

Senior great dane resting on the couch
A senior great dane. Credit: Monica Bertolazzi

The microbes of Old Faithful geyser

Each year millions of tourists flock to Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park in the US to watch hot water and steam violently eject 30-55 meters into the air roughly every 90 minutes.

From first appearances one might assume such an extreme environment is entirely inhospitable for life, but not according to research published earlier this year in PNAS Nexus.

In fact, more strains of the bacteria Thermocrinis are found in Old Faithful than in any other non-geysing hot spring in Yellowstone.

“We think that the highly dynamic geyser environment creates many different ecological niches that Thermocrinis can occupy, causing increased sub-species level diversity,” says lead author Lisa M. Keller, a PhD student from Montana State University.

According to Keller this is the first step to learning how to sample active geyser eruptions on moons like Enceladus and Europa in our solar system.

“Everybody gets excited about sampling Enceladus plumes, but prior to this work we didn’t even have terrestrial geysers microbial samples. I thought, let’s take a step back and figure it out on our own planet first.” 

A photo of old faithful geyser from ground level
Image of the conduit of Old Faithful geyser where steam is rising up (left of picture) and splash pool sampled during this study immediately to the right of the opening. Tubing can be seen extending from where they were sampling in the splash pool. Permit number #5544. Credit: Lisa M. Keller

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