Flickr / U.S. Department of Agriculture

Exoplanet in habitable zone found to have atmosphere containing compounds vital for life

Methane and carbon dioxide has been detected in the atmosphere of exoplanet K2-18b, marking the first time carbon-based molecules have been discovered in the atmos- phere of an exoplanet in the “Goldi- locks” zone. K2-18b joins a unique class of habitable exoplanets with hydrogen-rich atmospheres and pos- sible liquid-water oceans that could pose promising candidates in the exploration for extra-terrestrial life. Observations also hinted at the pres- ence of dimethyl sulfide, suggesting biological activity on the exoplanet

No men beyond this point: scientists discover the secret of virgin birth in fruit flies

For the first time, virgin birth has been successfully achieved in a sexually-reproducing animal spe- cies. The study revealed that ap- proximately 1-2% of second-gener- ation female flies were able to use the ability to produce embryos that developed to adulthood without fertilisation by sperm, but only in the absence of male flies. Under- standing this phenomenon could have wide-reaching implications for agriculture and pest control.

Hedges soak up harmful particle pollution

Research with Lancaster University has shown that hedges can soak up harmful particles from road traffic and that their planting can thus re- duce exposure to particle pollution. This capturing is more efficient for ultrafine particles, possibly due to their preferential filtering out by the ridged surfaces of leaves. Councilor Tracey Rawlins says that "the find- ings underline the contribution which nature-based innovations can make.”

A healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of depression

Using data from nearly 290,000 peo- ple, 13,000 of whom had depression, seven healthy lifestyle factors were identified to be linked to lower risk: healthy sleep, frequent social con- nection, moderate alcohol consump- tion, healthy diet, regular physical activity, never smoking, and low- to-moderate sedentary behaviour. According to Professor Barbara Sa- hakian, “although our DNA ... can in- crease our risk of depression, we’ve shown that a healthy lifestyle is po- tentially more important.” Poorer lifestyle most significantly impacts the immune system and metabo- lism, which in turn increases depres- sion risk.

AI-driven technique reveal new targets for drug discovery

A research team led by the University of Cambridge has developed a method to identify high-risk individuals for certain diseases, including neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, in collaboration with Insilico Medicine, an AI-driven drug discovery company. These diseases are associated with the protein phase separation phenomenon, where proteins spontaneously separate into two phases and disrupt key cellular functions linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Through the AI-driven therapeutic target discovery tool, the team replicated disease characteristics in cells by controlling the behaviour of these targets. It is hoped this method will be integrated into clinical intervention, allowing us to better determine the causal relationship between target individuals and these diseases.

New vaccine technology could protect from future viruses and variants

A new vaccine antigen technology, developed by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with other organisations, could protect against an even greater range of current and future coronaviruses, such as the Delta and Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2. The current vaccines for seasonal flu and coronaviruses are based on virus strains or variants that arose at some point in the past, which make it difficult to prevent reinfections when viruses mutate. Instead of only targeting the spike proteins on the virus that change to evade our immune system, this technology targets the critical regions of the virus that it needs to complete its life cycle. The team used this approach to identify a unique antigen structure that gave broad-based immune responses against different coronaviruses and is compatible with all vaccine delivery systems.

Suppressing negative thoughts may be good for mental health after all

Suppressing thoughts about negative events not only makes one’s worries less vivid, but also improves one’s mental health, according to a new study. In the study, conducted by researchers at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, participants were involved in ‘no-imagine trials’, which encouraged them to stop thinking about negative events and block images/thoughts which concerned them. Following three months of training, participants reported that suppressed events were less vivid and fear-inducing. Furthermore, people with greater psychological symptoms at the outset of the study improved more after suppression training, but only if they properly suppressed their fears. These findings appear to contradict the belief that suppression is a maladaptive coping process.