What do the following things have in common: a cone, the fur of a fox, and a Christmas tree? Answer: they all occur in the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros). Pictured as a star forming region and cataloged as NGC 2264, the complex jumble of cosmic gas and dust is about 2,700 light-years distant and mixes reddish emission nebulae excited by energetic light from newborn stars with dark interstellar dust clouds. Where the otherwise obscuring dust clouds lie close to the hot, young stars they also reflect starlight, forming blue reflection nebulae. The featured wide-field image spans over three times the diameter of a full moon, covering over 100 light-years at the distance of NGC 2264. Its cast of cosmic characters includes the Fox Fur Nebula, whose convoluted pelt lies just to the lower right of the image center, bright variable star S Mon visible just above the Fox Fur, and the Cone Nebula just to the left. Given their distribution, the stars of NGC 2264 are also known as the Christmas Tree star cluster.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Regular tub bathing is linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease and stroke, indicates a long term study, published online in the journal .
Monday, March 30, 2020
This hot jupiter is doomed. Hot jupiters are giant planets like Jupiter that orbit much closer to their parent stars than Mercury does to our Sun. But some hot jupiters are more extreme than others. NGTS-10b, illustrated generically, is the closest and fastest-orbiting giant planet yet discovered, circling its home star in only 18 hours. NGTS-10b is a little larger than Jupiter, but it orbits less than two times the diameter of its parent star away from the star’s surface. When a planet orbits this close, it is expected to spiral inward, pulled down by tidal forces to be eventually ripped apart by the star’s gravity. NGTS-10b, discovered by researchers at the University of Warwick, is named after the ESO’s Next Generation Transit Survey, which detected the imperiled planet when it passed in front of its star, blocking some of the light. Although the violent demise of NGTS-10b will happen eventually, we don’t yet know when.
The cerebral cortex is the relatively thin, folded, outer “gray matter” layer of the brain crucial for thinking, information processing, memory, and attention. Not much has been revealed about the genetic underpinnings that influence the size of the cortex’s surface area and its thickness, both of which have previously been linked to various psychiatric traits, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism.
Now, for the first time, more 360 scientists from 184 different institutions — including UNC-Chapel Hill — have contributed to a global effort to find more than 200 regions of the genome and more than 300 specific genetic variations that affect the structure of the cerebral cortex and likely play important roles in psychiatric and neurological conditions.
The study, published in , was led by co-senior authors Jason Stein, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Genetics at the UNC School of Medicine; Sarah Medland, PhD, senior research fellow at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia; and Paul Thompson, PhD, associate director of the Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute at the University of Southern California. Ten years ago, these scientists cofounded the ENIGMA Consortium, an international research network that has brought together hundreds of imaging genomics researchers to understand brain structure, function, and disease based on brain imaging and genetic data.
“This study was only possible due to a huge scientific collaboration of more than 60 sites involved in MRI scanning and genotyping participants,” Stein said. “This study is the crown jewel of the ENIGMA Consortium, so far.”
The researchers studied MRI scans and DNA from more than 50,000 people to identify 306 genetic variants that influence brain structure in order to shed light on how genetics contribute to differences in the cerebral cortex of individuals. Genetic variants or variations are simply the slight genetic differences that make us unique. Generally speaking, some variants contribute to differences such as hair color or blood type. Some are involved in diseases. Most of the millions of genetic variants, though, have no known significance. This is why pinpointing genetic variants associated with cortex size and structure is a big deal. Stein and colleagues consider their new genetic roadmap of the brain a sort of “Rosetta stone” that will help translate how some genes impact physical brain structure and neurological consequences for individuals.
Among the findings of the research published in :
· Some genetic variants are associated with cortical folding, measured as surface area, while other genetic variants are associated with the thickness of the cortex.
· Genes that determine surface area are related to very early development in the fetal cortex, while thickness appears to be driven by genes active in the adult cortex.
· People at genetic risk for depression or insomnia are genetically inclined toward having lower surface area, while people with a genetic risk for Parkinson’s disease tend to have higher surface area.
· The vast scale of the project allowed the discovery of specific genes that drive brain development and aging in people worldwide.
“Most of our previous understanding of genes affecting the brain are from model systems, like mice,” Stein said. “With mice, we can find genes, knock out genes, or over express genes to see how they influence the structure or function of the brain. But there are a couple of problems with this.”
One problem is, quite simply, a mouse is not a human. There are many human-specific features that scientists can only study in the human brain.
“The genetic basis for a mouse is very different than the genetic basis for humans,” Stein said, “especially in in the noncoding regions of the genome.”
Genes contain DNA, the basic human code that, when translated into action, creates proteins that “do” things, such as help your finger muscles type or your heart beat or your liver process toxins. But only about 3 percent of the human genome codes for proteins. The vast majority of the human genome is called the noncoding genome. Much of this region is not shared between mice and humans. This noncoding genome consists of tiny molecular switches that can modulate the expression of other genes. These switches don’t directly alter the function of a protein, but they can affect the amounts of a protein that is expressed. Turns out, most genetic variants associated with psychiatric disorders are found in the noncoding region of the genome.
These findings can now be a resource for scientists to help answer important questions about the genetic influences on the brain and how they relate to numerous conditions.
Journal article: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6484/eaay6690