Higher Narcissism May Be Linked With More Political Participation (Psychology)

New research found that people who are narcissistic may also be more politically active. In a series of studies performed in the United States and Denmark, researchers found that people with higher levels of narcissism—a trait combining selfishness, entitlement and a need for admiration—were also more likely to participate in politics. This could include contacting politicians, signing petitions, donating money, and voting in midterm elections, among other things.

According to the researchers, previous work has shown that higher levels of narcissism are linked with behaviors that could be harmful to functioning democracies—for example, shifting focus from civic responsibility toward a person’s own self-interest and gratification. Higher narcissism in the general public has been connected with more conflict and civic strife, in addition to less cooperation, compromise, and forgiveness.

In a new work, the researchers gathered a variety of data. They conducted two nationally representative surveys: one in the U.S. and one in Denmark, with 500 and 2,450 participants in each, respectively. There was a third, web-based U.S. study with 2,280 participants.

In all three studies, participants were asked about their voting history and political participation, which included attending demonstrations or meetings, contacting politicians or the media, and donating money. Narcissism was measured with a questionnaire in which participants were asked to choose between two statements that could apply to them. For example, “I insist upon getting the respect that is due me” vs. “I usually get the respect that I deserve.”

The researchers found that narcissism was associated with higher participation in early politics, like contacting decision makers and publicizing their opinions. People with higher narcissism were also more likely to vote in midterm elections. Because people with higher levels of narcissism are literally speaking out more, their voices could be more likely to be heard.

Breaking the results down further, the researchers found that the traits of superiority and authority/leadership were related to higher participation. Self-sufficiency, however, was associated with less participation.

References: Zoltán Fazekas et al, Narcissism in Political Participation, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2020). DOI: 10.1177/0146167220919212 link: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0146167220919212

Researchers Designed Antibody To Prevent Clot Formation (Medicine / Cardiology)

Intraluminal thrombus formation precipitates conditions such as acute myocardial infarction and disturbs local blood flow resulting in areas of rapidly changing blood flow velocities and steep gradients of blood shear rate. Shear rate gradients are known to be pro-thrombotic with an important role for the shear-sensitive plasma protein von Willebrand factor (VWF). Now the researchers from Monash university, developed a single-chain antibody (scFv) that targets this shear-sensitive plasma protein to prevent clot formation, or thrombosis, without potential adverse side effects. The antibody is able to stop pathological thrombosis that can cause heart attacks and strokes without impacting normal healthy clotting.

Heart attack and stroke remain the leading causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide. Current anti-thrombotic (anti-clotting) therapies can, and do, cause severe bleeding complications because they also interfere with normal blood clotting. Four out of five patients who receive anti-platelet therapy still have recurring cardiovascular events.

Existing anti-platelet drugs therefore cannot be used in higher doses. As a result, their efficacy remains disappointingly low and future therapies require a fundamental re-design from the ground up.

But, Dr. Westein’s team’s approach was to first identify the biological differences between normal blood clotting and pathological blood clotting, and they found that VWF changes its properties when dangerous blood clots are forming. Next, they engineered an antibody that only detects and blocks this pathological form of VWF and is therefore only active when a blood clot becomes pathological.

Researchers analyzed the properties of existing antibodies against VWF and identified optimal properties of each that would bind and block VWF under pathological blood clotting conditions. They then combined these optimal molecular structures into a new antibody to generate a first-in-class drug candidate that has the potential to stop dangerous blood clots without any adverse effects such as bleeding complications.

References: Thomas Hoefer et al. Targeting shear gradient activated von Willebrand factor by the novel single-chain antibody A1 reduces occlusive thrombus formation in vitro, Haematologica (2020). DOI: 10.3324/haematol.2020.250761 link: https://haematologica.org/article/view/haematol.2020.250761

TL1A Promotes Lung Tissue Fibrosis and Airway Remodeling (Medicine)

Lung fibrosis and tissue remodeling are features of chronic diseases such as severe asthma, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and systemic sclerosis where a build-up of tissue and immune cells, and proteins that form a glue-like substance, which keep the airways from expanding. As fibrosis gets worse, it makes it hard for lungs and airways to function normally. Thus, making it harder to take breathe. But now, researchers in their study reported about the main culprit which hides behind. They found that a protein called TL1A drives fibrosis in several mouse models, triggering tissue remodeling, and making it harder for lungs and airways to function normally.

A protein called TL1A drives fibrosis in several mouse models, making it harder for lungs and airways to function normally.

They used genetic and therapeutic interventions, tissue staining, and fluorescence imaging techniques to study protein interactions in mouse models of severe asthma, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and systemic sclerosis. They first discovered that TL1A acts directly on a receptor on cells in the lungs and bronchial tubes, which leads to fibrosis and tissue remodeling.

But what is tissue remodeling? When a wound on the skin heals, the new area of skin is sometimes shiner, darker or tougher than the skin around it. The tissue has been remodeled. When lungs and airways try to heal—in response to an asthma attack, for example— the cells in the area also change. The damaged area accumulates cells called fibroblasts, which make several glue-like proteins, including collagen. Too much collagen makes the lungs and airways less elastic—and less functional.

As Croft describes it, tissue remodeling is like wound healing, “but wound healing that goes wrong and becomes so exaggerated that it blocks tissue from behaving in its normal way.” With the new study, scientists now know that TL1A is driving this harmful remodeling in the lungs.

In addition to causing fibroblasts to make collagen, the researchers found that TL1A also helps fibroblasts to behave like smooth muscle cells. A thin layer of smooth muscle cells naturally lines the bronchial tubes allowing them to dilate and constrict, but a thick layer of these smooth muscle cells—that includes fibroblasts—will keep the airways from expanding and contracting normally, making it even hard for a patient to breathe.

The scientists then studied lung tissue remodeling in mice that lacked the receptor for TL1A, called DR3 (DR3 was found on CD4 T cells, innate lymphoid type 2 cells, macrophages, fibroblasts, and some epithelial cells), or were given a reagent that blocked TL1A activity. These mice showed less lung remodeling, less collagen deposition and reduced smooth muscle mass in the lungs.

These animal model data may support recent research in humans. Researchers have found that patients with severe asthma have excessive production of TL1A. This could explain why these patients are more vulnerable to lung fibrosis and remodeling.

Their future research will be based on how the DR3 receptor is expressed on tissue cells and whether it is affected by other inflammatory factors. They also want to know how active TL1A is in human patients and how many inflammatory activities the protein might be responsible for.

References: Rana Herro, Haruka Miki, Gurupreet S. Sethi, David Mills, Amit Kumar Mehta, Xinh-Xinh Nguyen, Carol Feghali-Bostwick, Marina Miller, David H. Broide, Rachel Soloff and Michael Croft, “TL1A Promotes Lung Tissue Fibrosis and Airway Remodeling”, J Immunol September 21, 2020, ji2000665; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4049/jimmunol.2000665

The Older The Person, Higher The Self-Esteem (Psychology)

Yuji Ogihara and Takashi Kusumi examined age differences in global self-esteem in Japan from adolescents aged 16 to the elderly aged 88. Previous research has shown that levels of self-liking (one component of self-esteem) are high for elementary school students, low among middle and high school students, but then continues to become higher among adults by the 60s. However, it did not measure both aspects of self-esteem (self-competence and self-liking) or examine the elderly over the age of 70.

Credit: Gettyimages

To fully understand the developmental trajectory of self-esteem in Japan, Ogihara and Kusumi analyzed six independent cross-sectional surveys administered to a large and diverse sample of people in Japan from 2009 to 2018. The responses were obtained from 6113 persons (2996 males and 3117 females) between the ages of 16 and 88. Each study used the most commonly used Rosenberg self-esteem scale (10 items) to measure self-esteem. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale includes items for measuring self-liking, such as “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself”, and items for measuring self-competence, such as “I feel that I have a number of good qualities”. The participants scored each item on a scale of one to five, from “1: Not applicable” to “5: Applicable”. These surveys measured both self-competence and self-liking, on a large and diverse sample (N = 6,113) that included the elderly in the 70s and 80s.

Figure. Predicted self-esteem scores across ages in Japan (2017 survey; Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals). Credit: Tokyo University of Science

Understanding when self-esteem tends to be low can help determine when the adoption of effective preventive measures is more necessary, and allow for timely intervention and response. Their results indicated that, consistent with previous research, for both self-competence and self-liking, the average level of self-esteem was low in adolescence, but continued to become higher from adulthood to old age. However, a drop of self-esteem was not found over the age of 50, which was inconsistent with prior research in European American cultures. Their research demonstrated that the developmental trajectory of self-esteem may differ across cultures.

References: Yuji Ogihara et al, The Developmental Trajectory of Self-Esteem Across the Life Span in Japan: Age Differences in Scores on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale From Adolescence to Old Age, Frontiers in Public Health (2020). DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.00132

How Disk Galaxies Evolve So Smoothly? (Astronomy)

Using the N-body code GADGET-2, astrophysicists showed that stellar scattering by massive clumps can produce exponential discs, and the effectiveness of the process depends on the mass of scattering centres, as well as the stability of the galactic disc.

This illustration shows how two sample star orbits are scattered from nearly circular orbits by the gravity of massive clumps within galaxies. Researchers have found that millions of orbital changes, like those shown here, smooth the overall light profile of galaxy disks. The blue star is scattered several times. The orange star is captured by the gravity of a clump and moves around it. A typical, relatively smooth spiral galaxy (UGC 12224) is shown in the background. Credit: Jian Wu. Galaxy image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey

By using realistic models to track star scattering within galaxies. Researchers realized that they have a much deeper understanding of the physical processes that resolve this almost-50-year-old key problem. Gravitational impulses from massive clumps alter the orbits of stars, the researchers found. As a result, the overall star distribution of the disk changes, and the exponential brightness profile is a reflection of that new stellar distribution.

Previous models treated the gravitational forces of galaxy components more approximately, and researchers studied fewer cases. The latest models showed how star clusters and clumps of interstellar gases within galaxies can change the orbits of nearby stars. Some star-scattering events significantly change star orbits, even catching some stars in loops around massive clumps before they can escape to the general flow of a galaxy disk. Many other scattering events are less powerful, with fewer stars scattered and orbits remaining more circular.

The models also said something about the time it takes for these exponential galaxy disks to form. The types of clumps and initial densities of the disks affect the speed of the evolution, but not the final smoothness in brightness. Speed in this case is a relative term because the timescales for these processes are billions of years.

Over all those years, and even with model galaxies where stars are initially distributed in a variety of ways, the models showed the ubiquity of the star-scattering-to-exponential-falloff process.

References: Jian Wu, Curtis Struck, Elena D’Onghia, Bruce G Elmegreen, Stellar scattering and the formation of exponential discs in self-gravitating systems, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, , staa2750, https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/staa2750 link: https://academic.oup.com/mnras/advance-article/doi/10.1093/mnras/staa2750/5905730

M51-ULS-1b Is The First Candidate for a Planet in an External Galaxy (Astronomy)

Do external galaxies host planetary systems? Many lines of reasoning suggest that the answer must be ‘yes’. In the foreseeable future, however, the question cannot be answered by the methods most successful in our own Galaxy. In a research paper, researchers of U.S. and china reported on a different approach which focuses on bright X-ray sources (XRSs). They found the first evidence for a candidate planet, “M51-ULS-1b”, in another galaxy, because it produces a full, short-lived eclipse of a bright XRS..

M51-ULS-1b has a most probable radius slightly smaller than Saturn. It orbits one of the brightest XRSs in the external galaxy M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, located 8.6 Megaparsecs from Earth. It is the first candidate for a planet in an external galaxy. The binary it orbits, M51-ULS-1, is young and massive. One of the binary components is a stellar remnant, either a neutron star (NS) or black hole (BH), and the other is a massive star.

In most cases, identifying a planet at such a distance would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. But in this case, the work was made easier due to a host of unique candidate attributes. First, the object lies within a binary system that has either a black hole or neutron star at its center, which happens to be in the process of consuming another star. In so doing, it is emitting a huge X-ray signal, which caught the attention of the researchers. Such sources are rare in the night sky. Another factor in the discovery was that the source of the X-rays has proven to be very small—so small that an object passing between it and researchers here on Earth would temporarily block the X-rays. And that is what the researchers observed—a possible planetary transit that lasted for approximately three hours.

Left: false RGB stacked Chandra/ACIS-S image of the Whirlpool Galaxy, M 51 (total exposure of ≈850 ks). Colored points are XRSs: Red is 0.3-1 keV; green is 1-2 keV; blue is 2-7 keV. M 51-ULS1 is the orange source at the center of the 60” × 60” dashed white box. Diffuse emission is from hot gas. Right: HST image of the area defined by the white box in the top image. Red is the F814W band; green is F555W; blue is F435W. The magenta circle marks the X-ray position of M 51-ULS, which lies at the edge of a young star cluster. The source is located at right ascension and declination 13:29:43.30, +47:11:34.7, respectively. Credit: arXiv:2009.08987 [astro-ph.HE]

Thus far, the researchers have ruled out the possibility of another star blocking the X-rays, noting that the binary system is too young for that possibility. They also have ruled out the possibility of material being pulled into the source of the emissions as a reason for the dimming. The light characteristics were not right for such an event.

More study of the system is required before the object can be confirmed as a planet, but if that happens, the researchers suggest it will likely be approximately the size of Saturn.

References: Di Stefano et al., “M51-ULS-1b: The First Candidate for a Planet in an External Galaxy”, arXiv:2009.08987 [astro-ph.HE] arxiv.org/abs/2009.08987 link: https://arxiv.org/abs/2009.08987

Conscious Processes In Birds Brains Reported For The First Time (Biology / Neuroscience)

Humans have tended to believe that we are the only species to possess certain traits, behaviors, or abilities, especially with regard to cognition. Occasionally, we extend such traits to primates or other mammals—species with which we share fundamental brain similarities. Over time, more and more of these supposed pillars of human exceptionalism have fallen. Nieder et al. now argue that the relationship between consciousness and a standard cerebral cortex is another fallen pillar. Specifically, carrion crows show a neuronal response in the palliative end brain during the performance of a task that correlates with their perception of a stimulus. Such activity might be a broad marker for consciousness.

Neuroscientific data indicate that crows are capable of consciously perceiving sensory input – a capability that was previously only demonstrated in humans and other primates. Credit: Wallpapershit

In order to track conscious processes in birds, Neider et al. trained two crows: they had to signal whether they had seen a stimulus on a screen by moving their heads. Most of the stimuli were perceptually unambiguous: different trials presented either bright figures or no stimulus at all, and the crows reliably signaled the presence or absence of these stimuli, respectively. However, some stimuli were so faint that they were at the threshold of perception: for the same faint stimulus, the crows sometimes indicated that they had seen it, whereas in other cases they reported that there was no stimulus. Here, the subjective perception of the crows came into play.

While the crows responded to the visual stimuli, the researchers simultaneously recorded the activity of individual nerve cells in the brain. When the crows reported having seen something, the nerve cells were active in the period between presentation of the stimulus and the behavioral response. If they did not perceive a stimulus, the nerve cells remained silent. Surprisingly, it was possible to predict the subjective experience of the crows with regard to the stimulus based on the activity of the nerve cells.

Neider says that, “We showed single-neuron responses in the pallial endbrain of crows performing a visual detection task correlate with the birds’ perception about stimulus presence or absence and argue that this is an empirical marker of avian consciousness.” He also added, “Neuronal activity follows a temporal two-stage process in which the first activity component mainly reflects physical stimulus intensity, whereas the later component predicts the crows’ perceptual reports.”

These results suggests that the neural foundations that allow sensory consciousness arose either before the emergence of mammals or independently in at least the avian lineage and do not necessarily require a cerebral cortex.

References: Andreas Nieder, Lysann Wagener, Paul Rinnert, “A neural correlate of sensory consciousness in a corvid bird”, Science, 2020, Vol. 369, Issue 6511, pp. 1626-1629 DOI: 10.1126/science.abb1447 link: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6511/1626

Paleontologist Reported New Genus of Mosasaurs, “Gnathomortis” (Paleontology)

Gnathomortis stadtmani, the only species of the newly-described mosasaur genus, swam in the seas of North America between 79 and 81 million years ago (Cretaceous period).

A skeletal mount of the mosasaur Gnathomortis stadtmani at BYU’s Eyring Science Center. Image credit: BYU.

The partial skull and skeleton of Gnathomortis stadtmani was discovered in the Mancos Shale of Delta County in western Colorado in 1975. In 1999, the specimen was assigned to the genus Prognathodon and named Prognathodon stadtmani.

In a new study, Dr. Joshua Lively from the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin examined the original specimen and the recently-uncovered portions of the mosasaur’s skull roof, jaw, and braincase. He determined the fossils are not closely related to other species of the genus Prognathodon and needed to be renamed.

The new name, Gnathomortis, is derived from Greek and Latin words for ‘jaws of death’. It was inspired by the incredibly large jaws of this species, which measure 1.2 m (4 feet) in length.

An interesting feature of the mosasaur’s jaws is a large depression on their outer surface, similar to that seen in modern lizards, such as the collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris). The feature is indicative of large jaw muscles that equipped the marine reptile with a formidable biteforce.

Gnathomortis swam in the seas of Colorado between 79 and 81 million years ago, or at least 3.5 million years before any species of Prognathodon.

References: Joshua R. Lively, “Redescription and phylogenetic assessment of ‘Prognathodon’ stadtmani: implications for Globidensini monophyly and character homology in Mosasaurinae. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology”, published online September 23, 2020; doi: 10.1080/02724634.2020.1784183 link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02724634.2020.1784183

Asteroid 2020 SW Flew Safely Past Earth Today (Astronomy)

A small near-Earth asteroid designated 2020 SW made its closest approach to Earth today at 7:12 a.m. EDT (4:12 a.m. PDT) at a distance of about 22,000 km (13,000 miles).

2020 SW safely flew past Earth today at a distance of about 22,000 km. Image credit: University of Colorado.

2020 SW was discovered on September 18, 2020, by astronomers using the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona.

Follow-up observations confirmed its orbital trajectory to a high precision, ruling out any chance of impact.

A team of astronomers from the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory immediately determined that 2020 SW will make its closest approach on September 24, 2020 over the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

Based on its brightness, the asteroid was estimated to be between 5 and 10 m (15-30 feet) in diameter.

Although it’s not on an impact trajectory with Earth, if it were, the space rock would almost certainly break up high in the Earth’s atmosphere, becoming a bright meteor known as a fireball.

“There are a large number of tiny asteroids like this one, and several of them approach our planet as close as this several times every year,” said CNEOS director Dr. Paul Chodas.

“In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two.”

After today’s close approach, 2020 SW will continue its journey around the Sun.

The asteroid will not return to the Earth-Moon system until 2041, when it will make a much more distant flyby.

“The detection capabilities of NASA’s asteroid surveys are continually improving,” Dr. Chodas said.

“We should now expect to find asteroids of this size a couple days before they come near our planet.”