You might have missed: robotic face covered in human skin; levitating atoms; Arctic mushrooms; measles

Engineered human skin gives robots a face

The minds behind the robotic finger covered in human skin have now brought engineered human skin tissue to robotic faces, according to a new study in Cell Reports Physical Science.

The researchers managed to somewhat replicate a human face, which they say could be useful in research into skin aging, cosmetics, surgical procedures, plastic surgery and more.

“During previous research on a finger-shaped robot covered in engineered skin tissue we grew in our lab, I felt the need for better adhesion between the robotic features and the subcutaneous structure of the skin,” says Shoji Takeuchi of the University of Tokyo, Japan, who led the research.

“By mimicking human skin-ligament structures and by using specially made V-shaped perforations in solid materials, we found a way to bind skin to complex structures.”

“The natural flexibility of the skin and the strong method of adhesion mean the skin can move with the mechanical components of the robot without tearing or peeling away.”

Image 2
The new anchoring method allows flexible skin tissue to conform to any shape it’s attached to. In this case, a relatively flat robotic face is made to smile and the skin deforms without constraining the robot, returning to its original shape afterwards. Credit: ©2024 Takeuchi et al. CC-BY-ND

Capturing atoms in place to search for dark energy

Physicists from the University of California, Berkeley, US, have built the most precise experiment yet to detect minor deviations in gravity, which could help find evidence of a hypothesised exotic particle behind dark energy.

It combines an atom interferometer and optical lattice to hold free-falling caesium atoms in place for up to 70 seconds.

“Atom interferometry is the art and science of using the quantum properties of a particle, that is, the fact that it’s both a particle and a wave,” says UC Berkeley professor of physics Holger Müller, senior author of the study published in Nature Communications.

“We split the wave up so that the particle is taking two paths at the same time and then interfere them at the end. The waves can either be in phase and add up, or the waves can be out of phase and cancel each other out.

“The trick is that whether they are in phase or out of phase depends very sensitively on some quantities that you might want to measure, such as acceleration, gravity, rotation or fundamental constants.”

Though the researchers haven’t found any deviation so far, further improvements the precision of the experiment could prove successful yet.

A black and white photograph showing 2 white balls floating below a metallic cylinder
In this photograph, clusters of about 10,000 caesium atoms can be seen floating in a vacuum chamber, levitated by crossed laser beams that create a stable optical lattice. A cylindrical tungsten weight and its support are visible at the top. Credit: Cristian Panda, UC Berkeley

Largest mushroom genomes ever described

A study of 24 species of Mycena fungus from Northern Europe and the Arctic reveals the genus has unexpectedly large genomes for mushrooms.

The Artic strains’ genomes are 2-8 times the size of temperate Mycena species and represent some of the largest mushroom genomes ever described.

The genus has been thought to live by degrading dead organic material alone, but this finding suggests that they might instead have a collection of genes to enable them to adapt to different lifestyles as circumstances change.

The findings are described in a paper in the journal Cell Genomics.

“Evolution tells us that non-advantageous traits tend to disappear over time, so an obvious implication is that adaptability and generalism in those large genome structures must be an advantage for these fungi,” says co-author Francis Martin of the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment and the University of Lorraine, France.

“This is despite the costs of having a large genome with lots of possibly unnecessary features that must be replicated in each cell division. This may be particularly true in an extreme environment like the Arctic, as also seen in plants.”  

3 photographs of mycena mushrooms. They look like tiny umrellas, in brown, coral, and grey varieties.
Mycena vitilis, Mycena rosella, and Mycena leptocephala. Credit: Arne Aronsen and Christoffer Harder

Towards a treatment for measles

Measles is estimated to have caused 136,000 deaths worldwide in 2022. The vaccine, while highly effective, cannot be taken by pregnant people or those with a compromised immune system.

“Measles causes more childhood deaths than any other vaccine-preventable disease, and it’s also one of the most infectious viruses known,” says Erica Ollmann Saphire, president and CEO of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in the US.

Ollman Saphire and colleagues have now shown how an antibody, called mAb 77, stops the fusion process that allows measles virus to enter human cells. In animal experiments, they also found that cotton rats pretreated with mAb 77 prior to measles virus exposure showed either no infection or reduced signs of infection in their lung tissue.

There is currently no specific treatment for measles, so the researchers hope mAb 77 could be used as part of a treatment cocktail to prevent severe disease.

The research is published in the journal Science.

Image of multiple interactions between an antibody and a measles surface protein
Researchers captured the structure of a new neutralizing antibody (blue) binding to the measles fusion glycoprotein (green). This antibody elicits a unique neutralizing mechanism explained through a combination of cell-based assays and structural biology. Credit: Dawid Zyla, LJI

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