Posts Tagged ‘Bec Crew’

by Bec Crew

Strange microbes have been found inside the massive, subterranean crystals of Mexico’s Naica Mine, and researchers suspect they’ve been living there for up to 50,000 years.

The ancient creatures appear to have been dormant for thousands of years, surviving in tiny pockets of liquid within the crystal structures. Now, scientists have managed to extract them – and wake them up.

“These organisms are so extraordinary,” astrobiologist Penelope Boston, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

The Cave of Crystals in Mexico’s Naica Mine might look incredibly beautiful, but it’s one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, with temperatures ranging from 45 to 65°C (113 to 149°F), and humidity levels hitting more than 99 percent.

Not only are temperatures hellishly high, but the environment is also oppressively acidic, and confined to pitch-black darkness some 300 metres (1,000 feet) below the surface.

In lieu of any sunlight, microbes inside the cave can’t photosynthesise – instead, they perform chemosynthesis using minerals like iron and sulphur in the giant gypsum crystals, some of which stretch 11 metres (36 feet) long, and have been dated to half a million years old.

Researchers have previously found life living inside the walls of the cavern and nearby the crystals – a 2013 expedition to Naica reported the discovery of creatures thriving in the hot, saline springs of the complex cave system.

But when Boston and her team extracted liquid from the tiny gaps inside the crystals and sent them off to be analysed, they realised that not only was there life inside, but it was unlike anything they’d seen in the scientific record.

They suspect the creatures had been living inside their crystal castles for somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 years, and while their bodies had mostly shut down, they were still very much alive.

“Other people have made longer-term claims for the antiquity of organisms that were still alive, but in this case these organisms are all very extraordinary – they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases,” Boston told Jonathan Amos at BBC News.

What’s perhaps most extraordinary about the find is that the researchers were able to ‘revive’ some of the microbes, and grow cultures from them in the lab.

“Much to my surprise we got things to grow,” Boston told Sarah Knapton at The Telegraph. “It was laborious. We lost some of them – that’s just the game. They’ve got needs we can’t fulfil.”

At this point, we should be clear that the discovery has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, so until other scientists have had a chance to examine the methodology and findings, we can’t consider the discovery be definitive just yet.

The team will also need to convince the scientific community that the findings aren’t the result of contamination – these microbes are invisible to the naked eye, which means it’s possible that they attached themselves to the drilling equipment and made it look like they came from inside the crystals.

“I think that the presence of microbes trapped within fluid inclusions in Naica crystals is in principle possible,” Purificación López-García from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who was part of the 2013 study that found life in the cave springs, told National Geographic.

“[But] contamination during drilling with microorganisms attached to the surface of these crystals or living in tiny fractures constitutes a very serious risk,” she says. I am very skeptical about the veracity of this finding until I see the evidence.”

That said, microbiologist Brent Christner from the University of Florida in Gainesville, who was also not involved in the research, thinks the claim isn’t as far-fetched as López-García is making it out to be, based on what previous studies have managed with similarly ancient microbes.

“[R]eviving microbes from samples of 10,000 to 50,000 years is not that outlandish based on previous reports of microbial resuscitations in geological materials hundreds of thousands to millions of years old,” he told National Geographic.

For their part, Boston and her team say they took every precaution to make sure their gear was sterilised, and cite the fact that the creatures they found inside the crystals were similar, but not identical to those living elsewhere in the cave as evidence to support their claims.

“We have also done genetic work and cultured the cave organisms that are alive now and exposed, and we see that some of those microbes are similar but not identical to those in the fluid inclusions,” she said.

Only time will tell if the results will bear out once they’re published for all to see, but if they are confirmed, it’s just further proof of the incredible hardiness of life on Earth, and points to what’s possible out there in the extreme conditions of space.

http://www.sciencealert.com/ancient-life-has-been-found-trapped-inside-these-giant-cave-crystals

by BEC CREW

Evidence of autism can be identified in the composition of blood vessels in the brain, and certain defects or malfunctions in these vessels could serve as a new basis for detection, scientists have found.

While previous research has focussed on the neurological structure and function in a patient’s brain, a team from New York University (NYU) has found evidence of the disorder in the vascular system, suggesting that this could be a new target for medical treatments.

“Our findings show that those afflicted with autism have unstable blood vessels, disrupting proper delivery of blood to the brain,” says lead researcher, Efrain Azmitia.

“In a typical brain, blood vessels are stable, thereby ensuring a stable distribution of blood,” she adds. “Whereas in the autism brain, the cellular structure of blood vessels continually fluctuates, which results in circulation that is fluctuating and, ultimately, neurologically limiting.”

Azmita and her colleagues figured this out by examining the auditory cortex region in human postmortem brain tissue from people with diagnosed autism spectrum disorder (ADS) and an age-matched control group. To mitigate bias, they stripped the samples of all identifiers so they couldn’t tell which was which when examining them at a cellular level.

They found significant increases of two types of protein, called nestin and CD34, in the autistic brain vessels, but not in the control brains, which indicated that the vessels of the autistic patients had a higher level of plasticity. This protein surge was identified in several sections of the autistic brains, including the superior temporal cortex, the fusiform cortex (or face recognition centre), the pons/midbrain, and cerebellum.

This kind of plasticity is characteristic of a process known as angiogenesis, which controls the the production of new blood vessels. Publishing in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the researchers suggest that evidence of angiogenesis in autistic brain tissue indicates that these vessels are being formed over and over and are in a state of constant flux. This could mean that inside the brains of people with autism, there’s a significant level of instability in the blood’s delivery mechanism.

“We found that angiogenesis is correlated with more neurogenesis in other brain diseases, therefore there is the possibility that a change in brain vasculature in autism means a change in cell proliferation or maturation, or survival, and brain plasticity in general,” said one of the team, psychiatrist Maura Boldrini. “These changes could potentially affect brain networks.”

So what now? The researchers hope to continue their investigation into how blood vessels in the brain differ in people with and without ADS, and if they can confirm angiogenesis markers as a reliable indication of the disorder, they could have a new detection method on their hands, and perhaps even a new avenue of research for future treatments.

“It’s clear that there are changes in brain vascularisation in autistic individuals from two to 20 years that are not seen in normally developing individuals past the age of two years,” says Azmitia. “Now that we know this, we have new ways of looking at this disorder and, hopefully with this new knowledge, novel and more effective ways to address it.”

http://www.sciencealert.com/evidence-of-autism-can-be-found-in-the-brain-s-blood-vessels-study-finds