You may have missed… medication for sleep apnoea, galaxy bulges, early pterosaur relative and soil biodiversity citizen science

Using citizen science to reveal Hong Kong’s soil biodiversity

Soil biodiversity plays an important role in decomposition and nutrient cycling in ecosystems but remains understudied globally.

So, to help fill the knowledge gap in the diversity of soil fauna in Hong Kong, a team of scientists, from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, created a citizen science project involving universities, non-government organisations and secondary school students and teachers.

Between October 2019 and October 2020, participants monitored and sampled soil species across 21 sites of urban and semi-natural habitats, collecting a total of 3,588 individual samples.

They identified 150 soil macrofaunal species, including arthropods (insects, spiders, centipedes and millipedes), worms, and snails, and even helped identify two millipede species that are new to Hong Kong’s fauna – Monographis queenslandica and Alloproctoides remyi.

“Involving citizens as part of the new knowledge generation process is important in promoting the understanding of biodiversity. Training younger-generation citizens to learn about biodiversity is of utmost importance and crucial to conservation engagement,” the researchers write in their study published in Biodiversity Data Journal.

The soil sampling methodology that the students employed in this study. Credit: Sheung Yee Lai, Ka Wai Ting, Tze Kiu Chong and Wai Lok So

A promising medication for sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea (also known as obstructive sleep apnoea or OSA) is a serious sleep disorder plaguing nearly a billion people worldwide. Sufferers repeatedly stop and start breathing as their throat becomes partly or completely blocked for a short time, when the throat muscles relax too much during sleep.

Now, in a new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Australian researchers have shown that a drug previously used to treat depression, reboxetine, can reduce OSA severity.

Previous research had shown that a combination of reboxetine and oxybutynin (used to treat overactive bladder) could be an effective treatment for OSA but can cause side effects.

By testing single doses of reboxetine compared to a combination of reboxetine and oxybutynin or placebo, with 16 subjects who had OSA, they were able to show that reboxetine alone reduced the number of sleep apnoea events per hour, and also improved oxygen levels, while the addition of oxybutynin didn’t cause additional improvements.

“The current gold-standard treatment of sleep apnoea is with a CPAP device (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) during sleep. But this one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t address the fact that there are different causes for sleep apnoea. In addition, many people can’t tolerate CPAP in the long term,” says Altree.

“It’s therefore important we discover other avenues to assist people, and this study provides an important step for future drug development.”

Fossil discovered more than 100 years ago revealed to be early relative of pterosaurs

A tiny Triassic fossil reptile, first discovered in 1907 in the northeast of Scotland, has finally been revealed to be a close relative of the species that would become the iconic flying pterosaurs.

According to a new study published in Nature, researchers used Computed Tomography (CT) to produce the first accurate whole skeleton reconstruction of the Scleromochlus taylori fossil.

The results reveal new anatomical details that conclusively identify it as a close pterosaur relative. It falls within a group known as Pterosauromorpha, comprising an extinct group of reptiles called lagerpetids, together with pterosaurs – though Scleromochlus is anatomically more similar to lagerpetids.

Living approximately 240-210 million years ago, lagerpetids were a group of relatively small (cat or small dog-sized) active reptiles and Schleromochlus was smaller still at under 20 centimetres in length.

The results support the hypothesis that the first flying reptiles evolved from small, likely bipedal, ancestors.

850 early pterosaur image credit gabriel ugueto
Life reconstruction of Scleromochlus taylori. Credit: Gabriel Ugueto © Gabriel Ugueto

The size of galaxies’ bulges effects how they spin

Like the Milky Way, most galaxies have a central bulge of mostly older stars that grows over time, and an extended disk in which new stars form from gas.

Now, a new study has found that the size of the galaxies’ bulges affects how their spins are aligned with the surrounding large-scale structure of the universe. Specifically, the ‘cosmic web’ – giant filamentary structures that link massive clusters of galaxies.

Australian astronomers have found that galaxies with bigger bulges tend to spin perpendicular to the filaments in which they are embedded, while galaxies with smaller bulges tend to spin parallel to these filaments.

“It all relates to the mass of the bulge,” says lead author Dr Stefania Barsanti, an astrophysicist from the Australian National University (ANU).

“Galaxies which are mostly disk, with a low-mass bulge, tend to have their spin axis parallel to the nearest filament. This is because they form mainly from gas falling onto the filament and ‘rolling it up’.

“Galaxy bulges grow when galaxies merge, generally as they move along the filament. So, mergers also tend to ‘flip’ the alignment between the galaxy spin and the filament from parallel to perpendicular.

This study surveyed 3,068 galaxies between 2013 and 2020, using a spectroscope called SAMI, attached to the 3.9-metre wide Anglo Australian telescope at Siding Spring, New South Wales.

The research has been published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

850 artists impression of the central bulge of the milky way. Credit esonasajpl caltechm. Kornmesserr. Hurt
This artist’s impression shows how the Milky Way galaxy would look seen from almost edge on and from a very different perspective than we get from the Earth. The central bulge shows up as a peanut shaped glowing ball of stars and the spiral arms and their associated dust clouds form a narrow band. Credit:
ESO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Kornmesser/R. Hurt

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