Scientists create a new method to discover antiobiotics

A method for detecting more effective antibiotics that can be hidden in ordinary dirt has been devised by a group of researchers from McMaster University who have published their work in Nature Biotechnology. This method can be used to extract rarer or harder to extract compounds that can be useful for developing new antibiotics.

Today’s antibiotics actually come mainly from bacteria and fungi living in the soil, as Elizabeth Culp, one of the researchers who carried out the study, points out. This method describes how the most common antibiotics produced by soil bacteria can be removed to rediscover the “hidden” ones that could hardly be identified by the “classical” methods.

The method developed by researchers is based on a tool based on CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Researchers have tested the new method on different soil bacteria that produce antibiotics. With this method, they succeeded in eliminating the compounds that form the basis of two common antibiotics, streptomycin and streptomycin.

By subjecting the modified bacteria to a new screening without these components, the researchers discovered new compounds. “This simple approach led to the production of several antibiotics that would otherwise be masked,” said Culp himself. “We were able to quickly discover rare and previously unknown variants of antibiotics.”

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New mesoSPIM microscopes promise visualization of brain tissue into individual neurons

New microscopes, known as mesoSPIM and able to recover the smallest details of brain tissue to visualize individual neurons, were presented in a study published in Nature Methods.

These new microscopes can provide new information about the organization of the brain and its structure, as well as that of the spinal cord, useful information for restoring movement after paralysis or for analyzing the neural networks involved in cognition in unprecedented ways.

MesoSPIM can create high-resolution images and are faster than existing microscopes. In addition, new open-source initiatives, bringing together the best European neuroscience laboratories sharing their skills, are spreading these new microscopes worldwide.

MesoSPIM are light-plate microscopes that optically “cut” the specimen with a beam of light. Through this optical section, it is possible to capture image fragments without damaging the sample and therefore without making real cuts on it.

These “slices” of images are then combined to reconstruct the three-dimensional image, which can be a whole organ or a small sample. In addition, MesoSPIM scans can perform scans much faster than standard light-plate microscopes and can also perform direct visualizations.

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Organic solar cells for indoor use to power devices from the Internet of Things

Organic solar cells that can convert ambient light into electricity have been developed by a research group consisting of Swedish and Chinese scientists.

These cells use the light from the environment (much weaker than the light that a solar cell can get if it is placed outside, of course) to produce low levels of electricity, levels that are still considered sufficient to feed millions of small devices and the ‘Internet of Things’ will come online in the coming years.

These are usually devices that act as sensors and inevitably have to work with batteries. The latter will need to be recharged or modified, which is tricky and expensive. These organic solar cells are flexible, economical to build and can adapt to different aspects of light, but they can be applied everywhere because they are very small at the expansion level.

Researchers have developed new materials that they have used as an active layer in organic cells, allowing them to absorb ambient light. Initial tests showed that a solar cell of one square centimeter, exposed to ambient light with an intensity of 1000 lux, can convert 26.1% of that energy into electricity.

A second solar cell, a little larger, of 4 cm in the square, still manages to maintain energy efficiency of 23%. According to Feng Gao, a researcher at Link√∂ping University, this is a “great promise” in the context of feeding devices for the Internet of Things.

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Researchers train artificial intelligence to recognize smells

A team of Google Brain researchers published a new study on arXiv in which they explain how they train artificial intelligence software to recognize smells. They first created a set of more than 5,000 molecules and then labeled these molecules with descriptions that identified the type of odor.

The researchers used a special artificial intelligence called graphical neural network (GNN) so that these molecules were associated with their descriptions based on their structures. This is not a software that can be compared to the sensitivity of the human sense of smell, because the latter is very difficult to define. For example, there are scents that can appear in one way for one person and in another.

Moreover, some molecules sometimes have the same atoms and the same bonds, but they are arranged as mirror images: these molecules, usually recognized by the same software as practically the same, can have completely different smells. And this without mentioning the fragrances that are the result of the fragrances combined.

Despite these undeniable difficulties, Google researchers think that this is an important first step, a step that can also be useful in the fields of chemistry, sensory neuroscience and the production of synthetic fragrances.

This is not the first team of researchers to attempt to mimic or imitate the characteristics of an olfactory system based on artificial intelligence. For example, a team of scientists from the Barbican Centre in London used machine learning techniques to “recreate” the smell of an extinct flower. In addition, IBM is conducting experiments to create new fragrances generated by artificial intelligence.

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Scientists discover how metal can become magnetic with light

A new method for making non-magnetic metals magnetic has been developed by a group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Nanyang Technology University, Singapore. According to the press release, the process of using laser light can also be used to equip many materials with new properties.

Researchers have discovered that when they stimulate a metal through a certain process with laser light, its structure can transform and acquire new properties. The study was explained by Mark Rudner, a researcher at the Niels Bohr Institute of the Danish University: “We have been studying for several years how to transform the properties of a substance by emitting it with certain types of light. The novelty is that not only can we change properties with the help of light, but we can also change the material from the inside out and create a new phase with completely new properties. For example, a non-magnetic metal can suddenly become a magnet.”

According to researchers, the electrical currents circulating in the metal essentially appear spontaneously when the metal itself is irradiated with linear polarised light. What changes are the plasmons, a kind of electronic wave, present in the metal that begins to rotate clockwise or counterclockwise and change the electronic structure of the material, causing instability in the direction of the autorotation that makes the metal magnetic.

The study was published in Nature Physics.

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New material made of cellulose and silk can replace plastic

A group of researchers from Aalto University and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland created a new biobased material made from wood pulp fibres and spider silk proteins. The end result is at the same time a strong and expandable material that, according to the press release presenting the research, could also be a replacement for plastic in the future.

Because of its intrinsic properties, the same material can also be used in medical applications, in the textile industry and in the packaging industry. The advantage of such material over plastic is clear: it would be biodegradable and would not damage nature as plastic does.

In order to carry out their experiments, the researchers used birch pulp. They converted this substance into cellulose nanofibrils and then placed it on a kind of hard scaffolding. They then placed a matrix of very soft spider silk. It is not silk of real cobwebs, but still of biological silk, because it is produced in the laboratory with the help of bacteria with synthetic DNA.

In essence, knowing the structure of silk DNA, it can be built almost from scratch. In addition to the qualities of this material, this study shows the new possibilities of protein technology.

As specified by Pezhman Mohammadi, VTT researcher and one of the authors of the study together with Markus Linder: “In the future, we could produce similar compounds with slightly different building blocks and achieve a different set of functions for different applications.” The same researchers are also working on other projects to build their own materials with similar methods.

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