Nobel prize winner Peter Higgs has joined the ranks of Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein by winning the world’s oldest scientific prize, the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, for his pioneering work on the theory of the Higgs boson, which was discovered in 2012.
86-year-old Higgs received the Copley Medal for his fundamental contribution to particle physics with his theory explaining the origin of mass in elementary particles, confirmed by the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.
The Copley medal was first awarded by the Royal Society in 1731, 170 years before the first Nobel Prize.
It is awarded for outstanding achievements in scientific research and has most recently been awarded to eminent scientists such as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, DNA fingerprinting pioneer Alec Jeffreys and Andre Geim, for his discovery of graphene.
Modern physics suggests that matter consists of a set of particles that act as building blocks and that between these particles lie forces that are controlled by another set of particles.
A fundamental property of the majority of particles is that they have a mass.
In 1964, Higgs proposed a theory about the existence of a particle that explains why these other particles have a mass.
At the same time, yet separately, Francois Englert and Robert Brout proposed the same theory.
The existence of the Higgs boson was confirmed by two experiments carried out at the Large Hadron Collider in 2012.
The Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 was awarded jointly to Higgs and Englert.
“It is an honour to be the recipient this year of the Copley Medal, the Royal Society’s premier award,” Higgs said.
“Peter Higgs is a most deserving winner of the Copley Medal. I congratulate him. His work, alongside that of Francois Englert, has helped shape our fundamental understanding of the world around us,” said Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society.
“The search for the Higgs boson completely ignited the public’s imagination, hopefully inspiring the next generation of scientists. The Copley Medal is the highest honour the Royal Society can give a scientist and Peter Higgs joins the ranks of the world’s greatest ever scientists,” said Sir Nurse.
As well as the Copley Medal, the Royal Society has announced all of the recipients of its awards, medals and prize lectures.
The scientists receive the awards in recognition of their achievements in a wide variety of fields of research.
Keywords: Peter Higgs, Copley Medal, Large Hadron Collider, Higgs boson experiment, God’s particle
Focusing on rare diseases
In yet another instance of collaboration between scientists and doctors, Indian Organisation for Rare Diseases (I-ORD) was formed earlier this year to sensitise policy-makers and convince pharmaceutical industry to focus on the problem of rare diseases in the country. The magnitude of the problem due to rare diseases is not small — approximately one in every 20 persons suffers from a rare disease, according to Dr. B. Srinadh, one of the coordinators of I-ORD and an expert in fatal medicine and reproductive genetics. He said the rare diseases comprise many birth defects, genetic disorders, certain medical conditions and uncommon infectious diseases.
Every year, 17 lakh children are born with various types of genetic diseases and birth defects in India alone, while more than 80 lakh are born worldwide. And in almost all cases, they would have to deal with life-long chronic illness. As a result, mortality remains high in this group compared with others, he added.With the recurrence of new cases every year, the number of children with rare diseases crosses one crore mark in a decade in the country and increases the socio-economic complexity, Dr. Srinadh said. Dr. Lakshmi Rao Kandukuri, principal scientist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, and who has been working on genetic disorders for the past 20 years, is also one of the coordinators of I-ORD. She emphasised the importance of having a strong network between geneticists and medical practitioners to collaborate on the project. “Rare disorders are really ignored. There is a lot to do”, she added.
Plans are afoot to involve scientific institutions from all over the country through Union Ministry of Science and Technology to hold interactive sessions between scientists and medical practitioners to come out with innovative solutions. The sessions would focus on rare cardiac diseases, genetic diseases in ophthalmology, nephrology, orthopaedics and ENT, among others.
Dr. Srinadh said there was also lot of ignorance about these conditions among medical practitioners, while pharma sector was simply not interested in rare disorders as it was non-profitable. “The net result is patients are suffering due to lack of service in public and private sectors”, he added. He said I-ORD has decided to increase awareness among people, sensitise policy-makers and pharma to focus on these diseases as part of social responsibility, promote more interactions between scientists and doctors and establish a centre for innovative scientific interactions.
Brain starved of hormone can spark binge eating
GLP-1 peptides are small sequences of amino acids that have many functions.
Absence of a hormone in the brain may trigger overeating in people who eat for pleasure rather than as a response to hunger, researchers say.
In lab experiments, researchers found that when the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) hormone was reduced in the central nervous system of mice, they overate and consumed more high-fat food.
“The mice in which the peptide deficiency were induced ate beyond the need for calories and showed an increased preference for high-fat food,” said Vincent Mirabella, doctoral student from the New Jersey-based Rutgers University.
“Conversely, when we enhanced GLP-1 signalling in the brains of mice, we were able to block the preference of high-fat foods.”
GLP-1 peptides are small sequences of amino acids that have many functions, including how our bodies regulate eating behaviours. They are secreted from cells in both the small intestine and the brain and are supposed to let our brain know when we are satisfied and should put down the fork.
The results provide new evidence that targeting neurons in the mesolimbic dopamine system, a reward circuit in the brain, rather than targeting the whole body might be a better way to control overeating and obesity with fewer side effects. “Overeating, which causes obesity, can be considered a food addiction and a neuropsychiatric disorder,” assistant professor Zhiping Pang noted.
“By finding out how the central nervous system regulates food intake behaviour via GLP-1 signaling, we may be able to provide more targeted therapy with fewer side effects,” he concluded in a paper published in the journal Cell Reports. — IANS
New species of spiders spotted
Researchers at the Biodiversity Research Centre of Christ College, Irinjalakuda, claimed to have spotted six new species of spiders at Harithavanam (also known as ‘Kuttivanam’) located near the banks of the Aluva Sivarathri manappuram here.
The investigating team had carried out the study coinciding with the World Environment Day on June 5. “The spiders spotted include Argyrodes, which comes from the family of black widow, a notorious venomous spider. It is about the size of a housefly and lives in an irregular web weaved in between green leaves,” said Dr. Sudhikumar A.V., principal investigator.
The researchers spotted two other species belonging to the genus Tetragntha. “The yellow coloured long jawed spider is characterised by four black spots on the back of their abdomen and black bands on the joints of legs. The dorsal surface of abdomen of green-coloured long jawed spider is covered by white coloured scales,” said research scholars Mr. Nafin K.S., and Mr. Sudhin P.P.
The investigating team found the new species of the genus Trachelas, a member of ant mimicking spiders characterised by the presence of eight diamonds like sparkling eyes located in the anterior part of dark brown head.
“Another spider of the genus Dendrolycosa feeds only on insects in water bodies. There are white lines in the brown coloured body and prominent spines on the legs. The eight eyes are located in two rows of inverted U-shaped pattern,” they said.
Dr. Sudhikumar said that the sixth spider comes under the Chrysso genus of comb footed spider family. “This tiny spider builds small webs in between grass blades to catch their prey. It is characterized by black glossy body and brownish legs,” he said. The researchers pointed out that the diversity of species in a comparatively small area like Kuttivanam and the need to protect the ecologically-fragile area.
50 million year old sperm found in Antarctica
The world’s oldest sperm cells preserved in a tiny cocoon in Antarctica for a whopping 50 million years have been recovered by researchers, a scientific journal has reported.
An ancient relative of worms or leeches likely created the cocoon while mating, and released its sperm inside, the study said.
“Our discovery of sperm in a leech cocoon from Antarctica is the oldest record of fossil animal sperm and one of only a tiny number of such fossils in the geological record,” lead author Benjamin Bomfleur, paleontologist at the Stockholm-based Swedish Museum of Natural History, was quoted as saying by Live Science.
The discovery was reported in the journal l Biology Letters. The researchers found the cocoon while sieving sediments for small vertebrate remains during an expedition in Antarctica, Bomfleur added.
Individual cocoons were picked from dry-sieved sediment samples of poorly consolidated, shelly conglomerate.
The fossils were analysed via light and scanning electron microscopy and via synchrotron-radiation based X-ray tomographic microscopy (electronic supplementary material).
Although it is a challenge to compare sperm fragments to the sperm of modern species, the drill-bit shaped head regions “do appear strikingly similar to those of this one peculiar group of leechlike worms that is today only found living symbiotically on crayfish in the Northern Hemisphere”, Bomfleur said.
“The next-oldest known fossil of animal sperm date back to about 40 million years ago,” Bomfleur added.
India earns $100 million launching 45 foreign satellites
India has earned about USD 100 million launching 45 foreign satellites till date and revenue from its commercial space missions is poised to grow with another 28 foreign satellites planned to be put into orbit between 2015 and 2017.
This information was given by Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday while providing details of revenue earned by Antrix — the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) — from launch of foreign satellites.
Mr. Singh said Antrix has signed agreements for launching 28 satellites of six countries — Algeria, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Singapore and the US during 2015-17.
Until now, 45 satellites from 19 countries have been launched by the ISRO and the income generated through this amounts to around 17 million USD and 78.5 million Euros(85 million USD), he said.
Singh also informed that the government has sanctioned 15 smaller PSLV launchers worth Rs 3,090 crore which would be built during 2017-2020.
In a response to another question, Singh elaborated on the initiation of chalking out a roadmap for the country’s space programmes in addressing short-term and long-term areas.
On other issues, Singh said the expenditure on the ground system of the proposed SAARC satellite project will be borne by the regional bloc countries while India will bear the expenses on its building and launching.
“While the cost towards building and launching a satellite will be met by the government of India, the cost towards ground system is expected to be sourced by respective SAARC countries,” Mr. Singh said in his reply.
“The objective of this project is to develop a satellite for the SAARC region that enables a full range of services to all our neighbours in the areas of telecommunications and broadcasting applications like television, DTH, tele-education and disaster management,” he added.
Incidentally, India has maintained that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious SAARC satellite project was a “gift” by the country to its neighbours.
Expectations shape infants’ brains
Infants can use their expectations about the world to rapidly shape their developing brains, shows research.
Portions of babies’ brains responsible for visual processing respond not just to the presence of visual stimuli, but also to the mere expectation of visual stimuli.
“The findings offer insights that can shape future research in the area,” said Janet Werker, a professor at the University of British Columbia.
“We show that in situations of learning and situations of expectations, babies are able to really quickly use their experience to shift the ways different areas of their brain respond to the environment,” said co-author Lauren Emberson from the University of Rochester.
Earlier, this type of sophisticated neural processing was thought to happen only in adults and not infants, as their brains are still developing important neural connections.
The research published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, made a series of experiments with infants aged five to seven months. After exposing the infants to the sounds and images for a little over a minute, the researchers began omitting the image.
In the infants who were exposed to the pattern, brain activity was detected in the visual areas of the brain, even when the image didn’t appear as expected.
“We find that the visual areas of the infant brain respond both when they see things, which we knew, but also when they expect to see things but don’t,” Mr. Emberson said.
“Most exciting to me is the evidence this work provides that from very early in infancy, the cortex is able to set up expectations about incoming events,” Mr. Werker said.
“This shows that infants not only learn about their external worlds, but are ready from very early in life, to make predictions about the co-occurrence of events, on the basis of a very brief previous experience,” he added.
New technique can reveal age of moon rocks
A new technique can successfully put a date on an Earth rock that is similar to the lunar rocks on the moon’s surface, shows research.
The results show that events from solar system history that are recorded on much of the visible face of the Moon can one day be dated directly by instruments aboard a lunar lander.
“We can see cratered terrains on the Moon whose ages, we do not know within a billion years,” said F. Scott Anderson from the department of astronomy at University of Washington.
Ages of lunar terrains are the linchpin for understanding the sequence of planetary—scale events from Mercury to Mars.
“So filling this gap in our understanding of the Moon will help us correct or re—write the history of volcanism, planetary evolution, water and life in the solar system,” he said.
The new technique called laser ablation resonance ionization mass spectrometry successfully dated an Earth rock named the Duluth Gabbro that is analogous to the rocks that cover one—third of the lunar nearside.
“Dating the Duluth Gabbro was approximately 30 times more analytically challenging than our previous experiment, dating the Martian meteorite Zagami,” said co—author Jonathan Levine.
“We are now continuing to analyse planetary samples of increasing complexity,” he said in a paper appeared in the journal Wiley.
The researchers have proposed to NASA to send a dating mission to the Moon called “MARE: Moon Age and Regolith Explorer”.
Birds decreasing in ‘suicide spot’ of Jatinga
Choudhury, dubbed the “Birdman of Assam”, has done field surveys to understand the mysterious behaviour of the avian species.
Assam’s Jatinga village, known the world over as the “suicide spot” of birds, may lose the misnomer as the number of winged guests flying into the place has reduced drastically over the past few years.
“Bird arrival is very scarce these days at Jatinga and the number of birds being killed by villagers has also come down,” eminent ornithologist Anwaruddin Choudhury told PTI.
Choudhury, dubbed the “Birdman of Assam”, has done field surveys to understand the mysterious behaviour of the avian species in the tiny hamlet nestled in the North Cachar Hills near Haflong.
Bikash Brahma, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of Dima Hasao, also agreed, saying not only killings but also the number of birds arriving at the village has been declining gradually since the last few years.
“Earlier birds were killed but due to the awareness campaign run by the forest department such incidents have reduced substantially now,” he said.
The birds are drawn by lights at houses and floodlight of watchtowers during certain times when fog, drizzle and south-westerly winds come together on a moonless night in the months of September-October.
After reaching the village they get disoriented and unable to fly they hit the walls and fall easy prey to hunters who attack them with bamboo poles.
This phenomenon is often wrongly known as suicide by birds.
Why does HIV progress slowly in some people, even without therapy?
It might have something to do with enhanced cholesterol metabolism in certain immune cells
Even in the absence of HIV therapy, some HIV-infected people may not suffer from AIDS for many years due to enhanced cholesterol metabolism in certain immune cells, shows research. And this, is an inherited trait.
The findings may lead to potential development of new approaches to control HIV infection by regulating cellular cholesterol metabolism. “We have known for two decades that some people do not have the dramatic loss in their T-cells and progression to AIDS that you would expect without drug therapy,” said lead author Giovanna Rappocciolo, assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh in the US.
T-cells are a type of white blood cells that play a very important role in human immunity by scanning for cellular infections. “Instead, the disease progresses more slowly and we believe altered cholesterol metabolism in certain immune cells may be a reason,” Mr. Rappocciolo said.
These people are known as “nonprogressors.” This discovery was made possible by using 30 years of data and biologic specimens. Mr. Rappocciolo and her colleagues searched for patterns in gene expression, or the degree to which specific genes are turned on or off.
“These results improve understanding of how nonprogressors control HIV without drug therapy and potentially may contribute to new approaches to manage HIV infection,” Mr. Rappocciolo added. The findings were presented at the eighth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Vancouver, Canada.
New fish species discovered in Kerala
A new cyprinid fish, Puntius Dolichopterus has been discovered in Kerala’s Kayamkulam city, a media report said.
The new fish species has been discovered, named and described by Mathews Plamoottil, head of the department of zoology, Baby John Memorial Government College, near Kollam city, according to the latest issue of ‘International Journal of Pure and Applied Zoology.’
The new freshwater fish was collected from a small water stream flowing in the heart of Alappuzha district’s Kayamkulam city.
“It is characterised by the longer pectoral fin, shorter dorsal fin, unusually elongated dorsal spine, longer head, lesser number of lateral line scales and pre-dorsal scales. It can be further differentiated from its relative species in having 3-4 longitudinal lines present below lateral line,” he said.
The name of the new fish “dolichopterus” has been coined from two Greek words ‘dolikhos’ meaning elongated and ‘pteron’ meaning wing or fin, as refers to elongated pectoral fin.
Describing the new fish, Plamoottil said the body is silvery, dorsal fin is light orange red, pectoral and anal fin greenish yellow, ventral fin yellow, caudal fin dusky and an inconspicuous dusky spot present on 21 and 22 scales.
The spine of dorsal fin in this fish is rigid, strong and long. They have a pair of small barbels. They are between 7.3 and 8.7 cm in length.
The fish, found in small and shallow water channels, is edible and can be utilised as ornamental fish. The fish is included in the fish family Cyprinidae.
Its congeners (relative species) are Puntius nigronotus, Puntius viridis, Puntius nelsoni and Puntius parrah found in Kerala, Puntius dorsalis found in Chennai and Puntius chola and Puntius sophore residing in the water bodies of the Ganga river.
“All these fish were compared and examined for proving the identity of this new fish. This new barb has received Zoo bank register number from International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature, the official body approving the new names of animals. Six specimens of this new fish have been deposited in the Government Museum (Zoological Survey of India) at Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands,” he added.
GM mosquitoes check dengue in Brazil
Aedes aegypti population was successfully reduced using this method.
The use of genetically engineered mosquitoes to control dengue and chikungunya-causing Aedes aegypti mosquito population in the wild got a shot in the arm in a study undertaken in Juazeiro, northeast Brazil. Researchers successfully reduced the A. aegypti population in the wild by as much as 95 per cent, thus effectively preventing dengue and chikungunya epidemic disease. The study was carried out in 2011-12.
The results, published recently in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, are in line with an earlier field trial at Grand Cayman.
Dengue resurfaced in Brazil in 1981, and it is estimated that 16 million dengue infections occur every year. Over 390 million dengue cases are reported annually across the world.
Sustained release of genetically modified sterile male mosquitoes (OX513A) in the city every week for one year by Oxitec, a British company founded and part-owned by the University of Oxford, helped cut the transmission rate drastically.
The transgenic mosquitoes compete with the naturally occurring A. aegypti male mosquitoes to mate with the females. With sustained release, the number of transgenic mosquitoes outnumbered and suppressed the naturally occurring wild males.
The offspring from the mating of transgenic male A. aegypti mosquitoes with female mosquitoes die before adulthood (at the larval or pupal stage) as a consequence of transgenic modification. As a result, the number of female mosquitoes that can cause dengue falls dramatically. Since the male mosquitoes do not bite humans, the release of transgenic males will not increase the risk of dengue.
With no specific drugs or vaccines for dengue, the only way to reduce the incidence is by reducing transmission. While resistance against pesticides is eliminated with transgenic mosquitoes, the suppression of disease transmission depends on the sustained release of GM mosquitoes. According to the authors, the mating competitiveness between male transgenic mosquitoes and wild mosquitoes declined “substantially” with time.
However, the suppression of wild A. aegypti mosquitoes depends on the arrival of pre-mated female mosquitoes from outside the treated area. According to studies, the dispersal distance of A. aegyptimosquitoes is no more than 100 metres. “Effects of immigration would therefore likely be limited to a relatively small boundary zone in a larger programme, or not even that if the whole of an isolated population were treated,” the authors write.
Also, the persistence of viable eggs laid prior to start of treatment may delay the wild mosquito suppression as the eggs may hatch over a “period of months after deposition, depending on environmental conditions.” In the study, a gradual reduction in target population was seen, thus offsetting the harm of residual viable eggs.
Following approval of the Oxitec mosquito by the national biosafety group (CTNBio) for release throughout Brazil, the city of Piracicaba has started the world’s first municipal project of genetically engineered mosquito control.
GSLV Mk III engine completes ‘full endurance test’
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully conducted the much-awaited ‘full endurance test’ of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III’s indigenous cryogenic CE-20 engine at ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) in Mahendragiri in the district on Thursday.
The CE-20 was ignited and tested for 800 seconds from 5 p.m. to study the performance of the engine though the actual required duration was only 635 seconds.
During the actual flight of the GSLV, the engine will be ignited for only 635 seconds.
“All major parameters of CE-20 were normal and the test comfortably met all predetermined results,” D. Karthikesan, Director, IPRC, Mahendragiri, who witnessed the test along with his colleagues, told The Hindu on Thursday evening.
An elated Mr. Karthikesan termed the successful conduct of ‘full endurance test’ yet another milestone in developing a bigger and more powerful indigenously built high thrust cryogenic upper stage for the 43-metre-tall GSLV Mk III that would position heavier payloads (satellites weighing about 4,000 kg) in the geostationary orbit.
He said that the subsystems of CE-20 such as injector, thrust chamber, gas generator, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen turbo pumps were tested at the IPRC, known among the ISRO scientists as the ‘Jet Propulsion Laboratory of India’, as every parameter of ISRO’s launch vehicles are tested only here.
A suborbital flight test of GSLV Mk III launcher, with a passive cryogenic third stage, was successfully carried out on December 18, 2014, and was used to test a Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) on a suborbital trajectory.
A morale booster
Since the ISRO has planned to go in for the next launch of GSLV Mk III within next 18 months, the successful ‘full endurance test’ for 800 seconds has come as a morale booster for its scientists at IPRC.
The mission will put in the GSAT-19E communication satellite into orbit.
Cure for genetic diseases a step closer
Scientis find a way to turn human cells into mutation-free stem cells to treat genetic diseases that currently have no cure.
Scientists have developed a method to turn cells from patients into mutation-free stem cells that can treat genetic diseases for which there is currently no cure.
“Right now, there are no cures for mitochondrial diseases,” said senior author Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, US. Mitochondrial diseases are caused by any of 200 mutations that affect the genes of mitochondria, tiny powerhouses inside nearly every cell of the body.
Depending on the affected genes and cell types, the diseases can cause muscle weakness, liver disease, diabetes, seizures, developmental delays or vision problems. Existing therapies aim to ease the symptoms or slow the progression of the diseases, but cannot entirely cure them.
“We have developed ways to prevent these diseases, so it was natural to next ask how we could treat them,” Belmonte said. The researchers collected skin samples from patients with mitochondrial encephalomyopathy or Leigh Syndrome, both severe disorders that affect the brain and muscles.
In the study published in the journal Nature, the researchers described a method to generate stem cells even from patients who do not have cells with enough — or any — healthy mitochondria to start with. For now, the researchers can use the healthy cells to generate heart, brain, muscle or eye cells from the mutation-free stem cells.
But methods to make those cells fully mature and functional and transplant them into patients are still under development, the study said.
CERN scientists discover new particle called pentaquark
Pentaquarks may help scientists to understand better “how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted”.
Scientists working at the world’s biggest atom smasher say they have discovered a new kind of particle called “pentaquark”.
The existence of pentaquarks was first proposed in the 1960s by American physicists Murray Gell-Mann and Georg Zweig. Prof. Gell-Mann, who coined the term “quark,” received the Nobel Prize in 1969.
The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, says the discovery was made by a team working on one of the four experiments at the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Swiss-French border.
Guy Wilkinson, a spokesman for the LHCb team, said in a statement on Tuesday that studying pentaquarks may help scientists to understand better “how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted”.
The findings were submitted to the journal Physical Review Letters.