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Antarctic fuel-eating microbes may help in plastic clean-up

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A team of Argentine scientists is using microorganisms native to Antarctica to clean up pollution from fuels and potentially plastics in the pristine expanses of the white continent.

The tiny microbes munch through the waste, creating a naturally occurring cleaning system for pollution caused by diesel that is used as a source of electricity and heat for research bases in the frozen Antarctic.

The continent is protected by a 1961 Madrid Protocol that stipulates it must be kept in a pristine state.

The research on how the microbes could help with plastic waste could have potential for wider environmental issues.

“This work uses the potential of native microorganisms – bacteria and fungi that inhabit the Antarctic soil, even when it is contaminated – and make these microorganisms eat the hydrocarbons,” said Dr. Lucas Ruberto, a biochemist.

“What for us is a contaminant, for them can be food.”

Ruberto traveled in December with other researchers to Carlini, one of the six permanent Argentine bases in Antarctica, going through a quarantine to help avoid bringing COVID-19 to the continent, where there have been isolated virus break-outs.

The team carried out bioremediation tasks, which involve cleaning soil affected by diesel, using indigenous microorganisms and plants, a process that can be used in the austral summer and removes some 60-80% of contaminants.

Ruberto said that the team helped the microbes with nitrogen, humidity and aeration to optimize their conditions.

“Basically with that we get the microorganisms to biologically reduce, with a very low environmental impact, the level of contaminants,” he told Reuters by Zoom.

The team has now started to research how the microbes could help clean up plastic waste elsewhere. Both fuels and plastics are polymers, molecules made up of long chains of mainly carbon and hydrogen.

“This year we incorporated as one of the group’s projects the search for indigenous microorganisms that are capable of degrading plastic,” said Nathalie Bernard, a biochemist and specialist in plastic biodegradation.

The researchers collect samples of plastic from the Antarctic seas and study to see if the microorganisms are eating the plastics or simply using them as rafts.

“If we find that it is indeed degrading plastic, the next step would be to understand how it does that, so that in the long-term we could find a way to put together a biotechnology process for low-temperature polymer degradation,” Bernard added.

Ruberto said doing their work within the awe-inspiring surrounds of the Antarctic helped motivate the research.

“Being able to investigate in Antarctica is a dream come true,” he said. “It is a unique, protected place, with very special ecosystems.”

 

(Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Diane Craft)

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Astronaut study reveals effects of space travel on human bones – Euronews

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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON – A study of bone loss in 17 astronauts who flew aboard the International Space Station is providing a fuller understanding of the effects of space travel on the human body and steps that can mitigate it, crucial knowledge ahead of potential ambitious future missions.

The research amassed new data on bone loss in astronauts caused by the microgravity conditions of space and the degree to which bone mineral density can be regained on Earth. It involved 14 male and three female astronauts, average age 47, whose missions ranged from four to seven months in space, with an average of about 5-1/2 months.

A year after returning to Earth, the astronauts on average exhibited 2.1% reduced bone mineral density at the tibia – one of the bones of the lower leg – and 1.3% reduced bone strength. Nine did not recover bone mineral density after the space flight, experiencing permanent loss.

“We know that astronauts lose bone on long-duration spaceflight. What’s novel about this study is that we followed astronauts for one year after their space travel to understand if and how bone recovers,” said University of Calgary professor Leigh Gabel, an exercise scientist who was the lead author of the research published this week in the journal Scientific Reports https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-13461-1.

“Astronauts experienced significant bone loss during six-month spaceflights – loss that we would expect to see in older adults over two decades on Earth, and they only recovered about half of that loss after one year back on Earth,” Gabel said.

The bone loss occurs because bones that typically would be weight-bearing on Earth do not carry weight in space. Space agencies are going to need to improve countermeasures – exercise regimes and nutrition – to help prevent bone loss, Gabel said.

“During spaceflight, fine bone structures thin, and eventually some of the bone rods disconnect from one another. Once the astronaut comes back to Earth, the remaining bone connections can thicken and strengthen, but the ones that disconnected in space can’t be rebuilt, so the astronaut’s overall bone structure permanently changes,” Gabel said.

The study’s astronauts flew on the space station in the past seven years. The study did not give their nationalities but they were from the U.S. space agency NASA, Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Space travel poses various challenges to the human body – key concerns for space agencies as they plan new explorations. For instance, NASA is aiming to send astronauts back to the moon, a mission now planned for 2025 at the earliest. That could be a prelude to future astronaut missions to Mars or a longer-term presence on the lunar surface.

“Microgravity affects a lot of body systems, muscle and bone being among them,” Gabel said.

“The cardiovascular system also experiences many changes. Without gravity pulling blood towards our feet, astronauts experience a fluid shift that causes more blood to pool in the upper body. This can affect the cardiovascular system and vision.

“Radiation is also a large health concern for astronauts as the further they travel from Earth the greater exposure to the sun’s radiation and increased cancer risk,” Gabel said.

The study showed that longer space missions resulted both in more bone loss and a lower likelihood of recovering bone afterward. In-flight exercise – resistance training on the space station – proved important for preventing muscle and bone loss. Astronauts who performed more deadlifts compared to what they usually did on Earth were found to be more likely to recover bone after the mission.

“There is a lot we still do not know regarding how microgravity affects human health, particularly on space missions longer than six months, and on the long-term health consequences,” Gabel said. “We really hope that bone loss eventually plateaus on longer missions, that people will stop losing bone, but we don’t know.”

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Understanding Plants Is Key to Finding a Cure for Cancer – SciTechDaily

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The scientists state that if they can understand unchecked plant growth, they believe they can find a cure for cancer.

If scientists can fully understand plant growth, they might be able to find a cancer cure

In order to increase agricultural yields, it is important to understand how plants process light. Plants use light to determine when to grow and bloom. Plants find light using proteins called photoreceptors. However, understanding plants have impacts in fields other than agriculture.  Ullas Pedmale, an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), and his colleagues have discovered how the proteins UBP12 and UBP13 regulate the activity of a CRY2 photoreceptor. Their finding could make new growth-control strategies apparent, with potential implications well beyond agriculture.

There are CRY photoreceptors in both plants and people. They are connected to a number of conditions including diabetes, cancer, and several brain disorders.  CRY2 helps in regulating growth in both people and plants. Uncontrolled development in plants reduces their viability, whereas it causes cancer in humans. “If we understand growth,” Pedmale says, “we can cure cancer.”

Plant CRY2 Protein

Manipulating the levels of CRY2 and UBP12 and UBP13 proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana plants affects growth. The first plant from the left shows normal growth. The second plant is missing CRY2 and grew too much. The third plant lacked UBP12 and UBP13 and grew shorter. The fourth plant had high levels of UBP12 and UBP13, and the fifth had high levels of CRY2. Credit: Pedmale lab/CSHL, 2022

Plants need the right amount of CRY2 to know when to grow and flower. Pedmale and former postdoctoral fellow Louise Lindbäck discovered that manipulating UBP12 and UBP13 can change the amount of CRY2 in plants. They found that increasing UBP12 and UBP13 reduces CRY2 levels. This made plants think there wasn’t enough light. In response, they grew longer, abnormal stems to reach more. Pedmale says:

“We have a way to understand growth here—and we could manipulate growth just by manipulating two proteins. We have found a way we can actually increase flower output. You need flowering for food. If there’s no flower, there is no grain, no rice, no wheat, no maize.”

Pedmale and Lindbäck didn’t know exactly how UBP12 and UBP13 regulated CRY2. When the researchers took a closer look, they made a surprising discovery. In humans and other organisms, versions of UBP12 and UBP13 protect CRY photoreceptors from degradation. But in plants, the team saw the opposite. UBP12 and UBP13 were actually helping degrade CRY2 instead. Lindbäck, who is currently a research and developmental engineer at Nordic Biomarker in Sweden, explains:

“From literature, it’s known that if you find an interaction like this, it will protect from degradation. Initially, we saw the opposite, and we thought, ‘okay, maybe I did something wrong,’ but then when I did it a few times, we realized, ‘okay, this is true.’ Instead of protecting CRY2, it causes CRY2 to degrade.”

Pedmale hopes their discovery will help plant researchers and plant breeders improve crop yields. He also hopes his work helps inform cancer research. “My colleagues at CSHL are working hard trying to understand cancer,” he says. “We are coming at it from a different angle with plants.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. 

Reference: “UBP12 and UBP13 deubiquitinases destabilize the CRY2 blue light receptor to regulate Arabidopsis growth” by Louise N. Lindbäck, Yuzhao Hu, Amanda Ackermann, Oliver Artz and Ullas V. Pedmale, 13 June 2022, Current Biology. 
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.05.046

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Rocket Lab's Lunar Photon Completes Sixth Orbit Raise for NASA's CAPSTONE Mission to The Moon – Parabolic Arc – Parabolic Arc

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CAPSTONE (Credit: Terran Orbital)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Rocket Lab PR) — Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, today confirmed its Photon Lunar spacecraft successfully completed a sixth on-orbit burn of the HyperCurie engine, bringing the CAPSTONE satellite closer to the Moon. Lunar Photon’s apogee – the point at which the spacecraft is farthest from Earth during its orbit – is now 43,297 miles (69,680 km).

This sixth burn was originally scheduled to be two burns, but Rocket Lab’s space systems team determined the HyperCurie engine would be capable of performing a single maneuver to accomplish the same delta-v, so combined the two.

The next and final burn is designed to set CAPSTONE on a ballistic lunar transfer trajectory to the Moon travelling at 24,500 mph (39,400 km/h) to break free of Earth’s orbit. This final maneuver is currently scheduled to take place as early as July 4th. After separating from Lunar Photon, CAPSTONE will use its own propulsion and the Sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon, a four-month journey that will have CAPSTONE arriving to its lunar orbit on Nov. 13.

ABOUT CAPSTONE:

Designed and built Terran Orbital, and owned and operated by Advanced Space on behalf of NASA, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) satellite will be the first spacecraft to test the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. This is the same orbit intended for NASA’s Gateway, a multipurpose Moon-orbiting station that will provide essential support for long-term astronaut lunar missions as part of the Artemis program. CAPSTONE was successfully launched to space on Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle on June 28.

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