You may have missed…

Mid-level solar flare erupts from the Sun

The Sun emitted a mid-level solar flare on April 1, 2022, peaking at 5:05 am ACDT. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the Sun constantly, captured an image of the event.

Solar flares are giant eruptions of electromagnetic radiation originating from the surface of the Sun that can last from minutes to hours. They are caused by the tangling, crossing, and reorganising of magnetic field lines near sunspots, areas that appear dark on the surface of the Sun.

An intense solar flare can interfere with our radio communications, electric power grids, and navigation signals here on Earth, and also pose risks to spacecraft and astronauts.

This flare is classified as an M-Class flare, which are a tenth the size of the most intense flares – X-Class.

New genetic tools to help potential rescue of Victoria’s endangered state bird

Scientists have made a significant advance towards rescuing the critically endangered helmeted honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops cassidix) by deciphering the birds’ genome and creating a high-density genetic map that could help increase their genetic health.

By the 1980s the helmeted honeyeater population had declined to just 50 birds in Victoria, Australia, though through habitat restoration and a captive breeding program this number has since risen to about 250 individuals.

Unfortunately, as a result, this population is mainly comprised of closely related birds with low levels of genetic variation, so inbreeding is common and population’s small size could lead to the accumulation of detrimental genetic mutations.

A “genetic rescue” program is being created to introduce genes from a different subspecies, and now, the risk of losing the honeyeaters’ local adaptation can potentially be avoided thanks to the new research published in GigaScience.

The new genome sequence and genetic map can be used to guide the process of “mixing in” DNA from outside the current helmeted honeyeater gene reservoir. Together, these tools can also inform breeding decisions – allowing a much higher level of precision.

Helena the helmeted honeyeater lichenostomus melanops cassidix whose genome was sequenced at yellingbo nature conservation reserve victoria australia. Photo by nick bradswort
“Helena”, the helmeted honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops cassidix) whose genome was sequenced, at Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve (Victoria, Australia). Credit: Nick Bradsworth.

Women’s health research disproportionally focused on reproduction

Women’s health research remains disproportionately focused on the reproductive years – particularly on pregnancy – and very little on the major causes of illness and death in women, according to a new study.

Researchers analysed the main health content of research articles published in six women’s health journals and five leading general medical journals in 2010 and 2020, categorising the main medical area and life stage under study.

They found that in 2010 just over one third (36%) of women’s health content in both sets of journals focused on reproductive health, but by 2020 this had increased to just under half (49 and 47 percent for each journal type, respectively).

“Overall, we found that many diseases that are actually contributing to considerable ill health and deaths in women – such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and chronic lung diseases – were poorly covered in women’s health publications,” says lead author Laura Hallam, from The George Institute for Global Health, in Australia.

“While women’s life expectancies are generally longer than men’s, women have fewer healthier years and high rates of disability in older age, so it’s important to look at health and well-being across the life span and study diseases that are more common in old age, that might impact women more.”

The research was published in the Journal of Women’s Health.

Mammals put brawn before brains to survive a post-dinosaur world

Instead of developing bigger brains, prehistoric mammals bulked up to boost their chance of survival in the 10 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs, according to a new study.

While much is known about the evolution of the brains of modern-day mammals, until now it has been unclear how they developed following the catastrophic asteroid impact 66 million years ago. Now, scientists have found that mammals’ body mass increased at such a fast rate that there was actually a decrease in relative brain size during the Paleocene (about 66 to 56 million years ago).

They did this by looking at computerised tomography (CT) scans of newly discovered Paleocene mammal skulls, along with other mammal skulls from this time span, to measure the size of the brain and how it changed over time.

The research suggests it was initially more important to be big than highly intelligent in order to survive in the post-dinosaur era. Brain size began to increase among mammals again during the Eocene (about 55 to 34 million years ago). Researchers suggest that it might have helped increase the chances of survival when competition for resources was much greater.

The study was published in Science.

Crania and virtual endocasts inside the translucent cranium of the paleocene mammal arctocyon left and the eocene mammal hyrachyus right
Crania and virtual endocasts inside the translucent cranium of the Paleocene mammal Arctocyon (left) and the Eocene mammal Hyrachyus (right). Credit: Ornella Bertrand and Sarah Shelley.

Most face masks don’t expose wearers to harmful PFAS levels

Face masks are important tools for slowing the spread of COVID-19, and during the pandemic people have been wearing them for long periods of time. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are added to many products to repel fluids, so some companies could be adding PFAS coatings to their face masks, but this hasn’t yet been thoroughly studied.

Now, new research has found that most face masks tested contain low or negligible levels of PFAS, except for one marketed to firefighters, which could pose health risks only in certain situations. The study was published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Scientists used mass spectrometry to measure PFAS in nine types of face masks: one surgical, one N95, six reusable cloth and a heat-resistant fabric mask advertised to firefighters. Next, the team estimated the dose of PFAS that could cause health problems from chronic exposure, based on prior animal studies. According to the calculations, regular wear (10 hours per day) of the surgical, N95 and cloth masks would not pose a risk.

The higher levels in the firefighter mask exceeded the dose considered safe, but only when worn for a full day (10 hours) at a high activity level.

Please login to favourite this article.