Bar-tailed Godwit. Photographer: Lars Edenius


More species of birds have accumulated in genera inhabiting climatically stable areas. This is shown by a new study from Umeå University, published in tyhe journal Ecology Letters. “The explanation may be that a stable climate makes it more likely that diverging lineages persist without going extinct or merging until speciation is completed, and stability reduces the risk for extinction in response to climatic upheavals,” says Roland Jansson, researcher from Umeå University who led the study. How life has evolved from simple origins into millions of species is a central question in biology that remains unsolved. Advances in genomics and bioinformatics mean we now know a lot about the relationships among species and their origins, but surprisingly little is known about which environmental conditions that allows species to multiply.


Embryos lacking TLK2 (left) appear morphologically normal but developmentally delayed. (S. Segura-Bayona, IRB Barcelona)


The work is the first to report on the key role of the TLK2 gene in mouse embryo development. The study solidifies an important role for both TLK1 and TLK2 in genome stability. A massive genomics study of people with intellectual disabilities performed in the Netherlands points to patient mutations in the TLK2 gene. The placenta, a transient organ that links the developing embryo to its mother, is responsible for nutrient, waste and gas exchange between the foetus and the mother. Scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) reveal that the TLK2 gene is vital for the development of the placenta and for embryo viability in mice. The results are published today in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation, which belongs to the Nature group. In spite of the difference between embryo development in mice and humans, this finding may be of biomedical relevance. Recent clinical data obtained from a massive genomic analysis of people with intellectual disabilities undertaken in the Netherlands detected mutations in 10 new genes, among them TLK2.

New key systems allows car owners to enter and start their vehicle without ever touching a key. But the technology is not entirely safe. That is why two ICT experts from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) at the University of Luxembourg partnered up with Honda R&D Europe to address security vulnerabilities. Prof. Thomas Engel and Dr Florian Adamsky signed a 30.000 euro grant agreement with the automotive giant in the Spring of 2017 to collaborate on secure key systems.  Much like contactless payments, the new key technology lets individuals unlock their cars just by getting close to it. Conversely, walking away from a vehicle locks it. The only security measure is thus the limited range of key systems that is about 10 meters. Car thieves can buy off-the-shelf products from the black market to amplify the key signal. This enables them to unlock and start the car and drive away while its owner is just a few meters away. It is such a clean theft that no traces are effectively left behind, making a claim with insurance difficult to nearly impossible. 


Postdoctoral fellow Anne-Sofie Helvik at NTNU’s Department of Social Medicine and Nursing says that nursing homes must first and foremost focus on high quality care rather than on medication. Photo: Frøy Katrine Myrhol


For the first time ever, researchers have looked at the long-term use of psychiatric medication in Norwegian nursing homes. Psychiatric drugs are a collective term for medicines used to treat mental disorders, such as antipsychotics, anxiolytics (anxiety suppressants), antidepressants and sleeping pills. The researchers followed approximately 1000 residents in different Norwegian municipalities for a period of six years. Experienced nurses who were specially trained for the study collected information about each of the patients during the period. Residents, nurses and family members all agreed to residents’ participation in the research study. Data collection in the study took place from 2004-2010. Nurses obtained information from residents' medical records and through interviews with residents' relatives via questionnaire. The information was also given to residents and relatives afterwards. The study revealed that the use of medications for mental illness was high, regardless of whether residents had dementia or not. Those who had symptoms such as aggressive behaviour, irritability and hallucinations were more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medication.



Image: Lauri Orho

The presence of the carp, a freshwater invasive species spread worldwide, is alarmingly reducing the populations of diving ducks and waterbirds, according to a study published in the journal Biological Conservation by the researchers Alberto Maceda Veiga, from the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio) and Raquel López and Andy J. Green, from the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC). This is the first study which clearly shows the ecological impact of the carp on water birds in Mediterranean shallow lakes, and it warns about the dramatic effect of this invasive species on other species such as the white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) and the red-crested pochard (Aythya farina), classified as endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN).

Among the Top 100 of the most threatening alien exotic species worldwide

The carp (Cyprinius carpio) is considered one of the most threatening alien exotic species worldwide according to the UICN. This species, from the European and Asian continents, is included in the Spanish Catalog of Exotic Invasive Species and can live in a wide range of habitats, even the most degraded ones. Quite valued in sport fishing and aquaculture, the carp causes well-known ecological impacts in several countries but there is a lack of studies on the effects on some organisms such as water birds. The authors of the scientific study have studied the natural reserves in the lakes of Medina (Cadiz) and Zoñar (Cordoba) in Andalusia. These shallow depths are quite emblematic in the south of the Iberian Peninsula and are areas where many water birds hibernate –one of the reasons why the Board of Andalusia tried to eradicate the carp.



The ongoing revolution in packaging is the use of 100% organic materials obtained from the leftovers of agricultural production. An expert from the Italian National Research Council (CNR) says that in the early 2020s these bioplastics may become as competitive as traditional ones, even if not suitable for all uses. What if we could turn the waste from the world’s crops into a biomaterial suitable for packaging? This is not science fiction. Today plastics can be made with the waste from tomato production, for example. Or with the unused organic elements of coffee, spinach or cauliflower plants. In this way, oil derivatives and other first-generation organic polymers can be replaced by renewable and sustainable 100% organic raw materials. These bio-materials are being studied by the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) based in Genoa, Italy. “The main advantage is their biodegradability, in addition to the opportunity offered to stimulate the process of a circular economy,” explains Giovanni Perotto, researcher at the Smart Materials lab of IIT. “One possible result could be a shopping bag similar to traditional polyethylene ones, but which is organic and sustainable. If we think about it, it does not make sense today to use plastic that lasts for millennia for a product we use for only five minutes”.


Lutein, a nutrient found in several highly coloured vegetables and fruits, can suppress inflammation, according to a new study by researchers at Linköping University, Sweden. The results, published in Atherosclerosis, suggest that lutein itself has anti-inflammatory effects in patients with coronary artery disease. Inflammation is a key factor in many types of coronary artery disease, such as myocardial infarction and angina. “A considerable number of patients who have experienced myocardial infarction still have low-level chronic inflammation in the body, even after receiving effective treatment with revascularisation, drugs and lifestyle changes. We know that chronic inflammation is associated with a poorer prognosis,” says Lena Jonasson, professor in the Department of Medical and Health Sciences and consultant in cardiology, who has led the study. Previous research has suggested that our diet influences inflammatory processes in the body. One group of substances that may be interesting are the carotenoids, a large family of fat-soluble natural colouring agents found in plants. Beta-carotene and lycopene are among the more well-known substances in the family. Several previous studies have shown that the levels of carotenoids are inversely correlated with inflammation markers. The question has thus arisen whether carotenoids themselves have anti-inflammatory effects.


Following a daily movement programme can improve children’s physical development levels and has the potential to boost their chances in the classroom, researchers from Loughborough University have found. Academics from the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences have been working with two schools and more than 40 Foundation Stage children in a year-long study. They found that those who took part in a daily movement programme for one academic year showed greater improvements in throwing/catching, balance and manual dexterity compared to those not taking part in the programme. The participating children also improved their overall levels of physical development from the 32nd percentile to the 50th (an improvement of approximately 18 percentile points) bringing them back in line with scores for children of the same age established in 2007. A child’s physical development level impacts their ability to complete simple tasks such as sitting still, holding a pencil, putting on their shoes, and reading – all skills essential for school. Tests carried out by the team in 2016 found a larger number than previously estimated were starting school with lower than desirable levels of physical development, with almost 30% of children presenting with symptoms typically associated with dyslexia, developmental coordination disorder (dyspraxia), and ADHD.



Coastal communities are struggling with the complex social and ecological impacts of a growing global hunger for a seafood delicacy, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia. "Soaring demand has spurred sea cucumber booms across the globe," says lead author Maery Kaplan-Hallam, who conducted the research as a master’s student with the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) at UBC. "For many coastal communities, sea cucumber isn’t something that was harvested in the past. Fisheries emerged rapidly. Money, buyers and fishers from outside the community flooded in. This has also increased pressure on other already overfished resources." Sea cucumber can sell for hundreds—sometimes thousands—of dollars a pound. The “gold rush” style impacts of high-value fisheries exacerbate longer-term trends in already vulnerable communities, such as declines in traditional fish stocks, population increases, climate change and illegal fishing. "These boom-and-bust cycles occur across a range of resource industries," says co-author Nathan Bennett, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC. “What makes these fisheries so tricky is that they appear rapidly and often deplete local resources just as rapidly, leaving communities with little time to recover."


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Pubblicato a Roma – Via A. De Viti de Marco, 50 – Direttore Responsabile Guido Donati

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