SciTech Briefs

New disease carried by mosquitos detected in Haiti

University of Florida researchers have recently discovered a mosquito-borne virus that had not been previously reported in Brazil. Categorized as a Mayaro virus, it originated from one of the blood samples collected by faculty from the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute during and after a viral epidemic occurred a few years ago on the island of Hispaniola.

The virus came from an eight-year-old boy in rural Haiti who demonstrated fever and abdominal pain. A reverse transcription polymerase reaction was done to genetically identify the new virus in the sample.

According to John Lednicky, an associate professor at the University of Florida and lead author of the study, it is uncertain whether the virus originated from Haiti, or was a genetic hybrid of different types of Mayaro virus. The findings can be located in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.

Source: Science Daily

Uber debuts self-driving vehicles in city of Pittsburgh

Last Wednesday, Uber launched its self-driving pilot program in Pittsburgh. For the past year, Uber has kept a low profile on its development of autonomous cars. The work took place at the Advanced Technologies Center, which has recruited Carnegie Mellon University researchers and faculty, in addition to partnering with automakers including Volvo. The ultimate goal is to have the autonomous vehicles replace much of the company’s 1.5 million drivers, while taking lead in the car business industry.

Each self-driving vehicle is a Ford Fusion equipped with 3D cameras, global positioning systems (GPS), and lasers that measure the shape and distance of objects. As the car navigates to the customer’s destination, a driver and engineer are physically present to take control when needed. According to experts, more research and development still need to be done before autonomous cars can become widespread on roads.

Source: Reuters

Honeycreepers, Kauai’s native bird, nearing extinction

According to a new study in Science Advances, the disappearance of Kauaian honeycreepers could mean an extinction of multiple honeycreeper species in the Hawaiian Islands within the next decade. After arriving to the Hawaiian Islands millions of years ago, the ancestors of the finch-like birds had proliferated into more than 50 diverse species, an evolutionary phenomenon that has long captivated many scientists.

The decline in honeycreepers can be attributed to a rise in temperature, which has harbored the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, including avian malaria and avian poxvirus. The honeycreepers also have a more difficult time finding food due to competition with other birds foreign to the islands, as well as the presence of invasive plants.

However, avian scientists believe the birds could potentially be saved through advanced mosquito control techniques, which may be effective but challenging to implement.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Scientists suggest conception without eggs can occur

A recent publication in Nature Communications suggests that in the distant future, eggs may not be necessary for making babies. Researchers at the University of Bath applied chemicals to transform an unfertilized mouse egg into a pseudo-embryo. Sperm was then injected into the pseudo-embryos, which led to successful pregnancies in 25 percent of the mouse experiments. Additionally, the mice born from the experiments were found to be normal and healthy, and were also able to make healthy offspring themselves.

Since a pseudo-embryo replicates and monitors the DNA much like ordinary cells, scientists believe that it is possible to produce a baby by combining ordinary cells from the body with sperm to form human embryos. The study has allowed scientists to learn more about the enigmatic mechanisms behind fertilization. Furthermore, it could lead to more knowledge on ways to reprogram the fate of cells during the early development of life.

Source: BBC News

Movement of atoms may lead to better superconductors

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, physicists were able to lower the temperature of a potassium gas very close to absolute zero. The cool gas was then contained in between a two-dimensional, laser-generated lattice.

For the first time, high-resolution microscopic images were taken of the atoms as they interacted with the lattice. In studying the positions of the atoms, the researchers were astonished to see that in areas of high gas compression, atoms displayed alternating magnetic orientations. They also discovered that pairs of atoms tend to form next to empty spaces in the lattice.

From studying the peculiar behavior of the atoms, the physicists were able to learn more about superconducting behavior. Knowing how to induce superconductivity in matter can allow the researchers to devise ways to make novel and efficient technology powered by electricity. The results were reported in the journal Science.

Source: ScienceDaily

Astronomers unveil most detailed map of Milky Way galaxy

With data collected by a billion-pixel camera on a Gaia probe, a robotic spacecraft launched by the European Space Agency a few years ago, astronomers were able to create the currently largest and most detailed map of the Milky Way.

The map, which was published online last week, features visual information of the positions and brightness of more than 1.1 billion stars, accounting for one percent of stars estimated to be in the Milky Way. The data will enable astronomers to develop a three-dimensional map of the galaxy, which will improve astronomers’ understanding of the distribution and movement of stars across space.

Additionally, astronomers can use the data to identify new planets outside the solar system and to see how planets are distributed in relation to parent stars. The latter could lead to better knowledge of planetary formation.

Source: The Guardian