You may have missed… Mum’s vaccination gives breast feeding babies COVID-19 antibodies, Martian meteorites, lab caterpillars, and anti-fogging coating for lidar

More evidence that breast milk of those vaccinated against COVID-19 may protect infants

While COVID-19 can’t be transmitted through breast milk, new research has found that the breast milk of vaccinated individuals may provide antibody protection to infants too young to receive the jab.

Building on a previous study in 2021, which showed that the breast milk of vaccinated people contained antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, researchers have now found that these antibodies are present in gastrointestinal tract of babies consuming it.

The researchers used neutralisation assay to show that the antibodies, found in the infants’ stool, also offered protection against the virus. This involved isolating antibodies from the stool and adding them to cells with receptors used by the virus.

They introduced a SARS-CoV-2 pseudo virus, which is fluorescent and safer to use in the lab, to visualise when the pseudo virus was able to bind to and light up a cell.

Woman breast feeding a baby, covid-19 antibodies
Credit: JGI Tom Grill/Getty Images

SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – can infiltrate the cells of the GI tract as well as the lungs.

“We saw that when the antibodies were present, there were fewer fluorescent cells compared to our controls where no antibodies were present,” said Lauren Stafford, one of the study’s first authors and a doctoral student at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in the US.

The new study has been published in the Journal of Perinatology.

Coating prevents dangerous fogging and reflections on autonomous vehicle sensors

Optical surfaces in the lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors of autonomous vehicles and drones can sometimes experience fogging, kind of like how glasses fog up when you walk into a warm room from the cold outside.

A gloved hand holds a piece of glass, the uncoated half is foggy, the coated side transparent
Researchers developed an optical coating system that combines antifogging and antireflective properties. The new technology could help boost the performance of lidar systems. Credit: Anne Gärtner, Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering and Friedrich Schiller University Jena

But, instead of a slight inconvenience, this loss of transparency can be disastrous.

To solve the problem, researchers have developed an optical coating that combines both antifogging and antireflective properties, according to a new study in the journal Applied Optics.

The team combined a polymer coating, that prevents fogging by acting as a water reservoir, along with porous silicon dioxide nanostructures that reduce reflections – something which has not been feasible before.

The process involved etching a nanostructure into the antifog coating, then fabricating a second nanostructure on top of that. And because the structures were made using a standard plasma-ion-assisted coating machine, the approach can easily be incorporated into commercial manufacturing processes.

“Samples manufactured with this new coating technology have already been used successfully for a year in several airborne lidar prototypes operating in various climatic conditions around the world,” says Dr Anne Gärtner from Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering in Germany.

Goodbye lab rats, hello lab caterpillars?

Rodents like rats and mice have been a staple of the field of biomedical research for decades – from understanding cancer, to pioneering new treatments, and testing new drug compounds – but scientists are currently working to develop nonmammalian animal models as an alternative.

A new study reported in Nature Communications has demonstrated that caterpillars could be used for studying gut inflammation – a risk factor for developing colorectal cancer which is the third most common type of newly diagnosed cancer in Australia.

3 blue caterpillar larvae
Tobacco hornworm caterpillars (Manduca sexta). Credit: Dr. Anton Windfelder, Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology

“Caterpillars are basically just one long bowel, so they made a great model for studying inflammatory bowel disease,” says co-author Dr Jan Grimm, a radiologist, nuclear medicine physician, and researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the US.

The researchers used the larvae of the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) because their guts are similar to the human gut, and because they’re large enough (about the size of an adult’s finger) to be imaged by the same instruments used for human patients.

The use of these caterpillars in research would reduce the number of rodents used in biomedical research, while lowering the cost of research and accelerating results. This is because caterpillars are invertebrates (animals without a spine) there’s less of an administrative burden in getting experiments approved, they grow much faster than mammals, and are less expensive to house.

Tobacco hornworm caterpillars in an mri machine
Tobacco hornworm caterpillars (Manduca sexta) in an MRI scanner. Credit: Anton Windfelder, Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology

Martian meteorite contains organic magnesium compounds never before seen on Mars

One of only five Martian meteorites observed as they fell to Earth, the Tissint meteorite, crash landed in Morocco in 2011; pieces of Tissint were found scattered around the desert about 48 kilometres from the town it was named after.

Now, researchers have analysed the organic compounds present in the meteorite – molecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and sometimes other elements – that are commonly associated with life (though they can be created by non-biological processes).

In a particularly interesting find, the researchers uncovered an abundance of organic magnesium compounds – a suite of organic molecules not previously seen on Mars. These findings offer new insights about the high-pressure, high-temperature geochemistry that shaped Mars’ deep interior and indicate a connection between its carbon cycle and its mineral evolution.

A gloved hand holds a meteorite in front of an image of mars
Tissint meteorite photograph courtesy of Kurt Kracher, Natural History Museum Vienna.

“Understanding the processes and sequence of events that shaped this rich organic bounty will reveal new details about Mars’ habitability and potentially about the reactions that could lead to the formation of life,” says co-lead author Dr Andrew Steele, an astrobiologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in the US.

The research has been published in the journal Science Advances.

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