Inflammatory Diet Linked to Testosterone Deficiency in Men (Medicine)

April 21, 2021 – Consuming a diet high in pro-inflammatory foods – including foods that contain refined carbohydrates and sugar as well as polyunsaturated fats – may be associated with increased odds of developing testosterone deficiency among men, suggests a study in The Journal of Urology®, Official Journal of the American Urological Association (AUA). The journal is published in the Lippincott portfolio by Wolters Kluwer.

The risk of testosterone deficiency is greatest in men who are obese and consume a refined diet that scores high on the dietary inflammatory index (DII), according to the new research by Qiu Shi, MD, Zhang Chichen, MD, and colleagues of West China Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. “While these findings do not prove causation, they do support previous research suggesting a pro-inflammatory diet can contribute to testosterone deficiency, among other potentially debilitating health issues,” Drs. Qiu and Zhang comment.

Does diet influence testosterone levels? New study discovers link

Testosterone is a male sex hormone that plays important roles in reproduction and sexual function. However, 20 to 50 percent of US men have testosterone deficiency – defined as a testosterone level less than 300 ng/dL (nanograms per deciliter). Symptoms of testosterone deficiency may include low libido, decreased energy, poor concentration and depression. Testosterone deficiency is also associated with chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Human and animal studies have linked testosterone deficiency with increased levels of inflammation in the body. Men with low testosterone have higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines: small proteins released by cells during injury, infection or in response to inflammatory factors in the environment. The DII has emerged as a tool for assessing the inflammatory potential of a person’s diet, particularly in relation to other markers of health.

The researchers studied the association between the DII and testosterone deficiency in 4,151 men from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, all of whom completed a 24-hour dietary interview and underwent sex hormone testing. Each participant’s DII was calculated based on the dietary history interview.

Calculated DII scores ranged from ?5.05 (most anti-inflammatory) to +5.48 (most pro-inflammatory). Average total testosterone level was 410.42 ng/dL in men with the most pro-inflammatory diet versus 422.71 ng/dL in those with the most anti-inflammatory diet. Overall, about 26 percent of the men had testosterone deficiency.

For men with the most pro-inflammatory diet, the odds of testosterone deficiency were about 30 percent higher compared to men with the most anti-inflammatory diet. The associations remained significant after adjustment for other characteristics, including body mass index and smoking.

In a fully adjusted analysis, the risk of testosterone deficiency was greatest in men who were obese and had a higher DII. For this group, the odds of testosterone deficiency were nearly 60 percent higher compared to men with obesity who had a lower DII.

Drs. Qiu, Zhang, and coauthors note some important limitations of their study, including the fact that the DII was calculated based on a limited number of anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory food parameters.

“Our results suggest men who eat a pro-inflammatory diet, particularly those who are obese, are more likely to have testosterone deficiency,” Drs. Qiu and Zhang comment. “Since men with obesity likely already experience chronic inflammation, physicians should be aware of contributing factors, like diet, that could likely worsen this inflammation and contribute to the risk of other health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.”

Drs. Qiu and Zhang and colleagues call for further studies to verify the causal relationship between DII and testosterone deficiency. They also suggest that consuming a more anti-inflammatory diet “could be a feasible method to reduce the accumulated inflammatory burden, [potentially] leading to an increased testosterone level.”

Click here to read “The Association between Dietary Inflammatory Index and Sex Hormones among Men in the United States.”
DOI: 10.1097/JU.0000000000001703

Provided by Wolters Kluwer Health

Does Microscopic Black Holes Accelerates Within Stellar Material? (Quantum Physics / Astronomy)

Mikhail Shubov in his work presented a case in which Microscopic Black Holes (MBH) of mass 1016 kg to 3 × 1019 kg experience acceleration as they move within stellar material at low velocities

It was suggested in previous studies that Primordial Black Holes make up a significant fraction of dark matter. Microscopic Black Holes [MBH] can also be formed within stars by coalescence of dark matter composed of weakly interacting massive particles. Up to now, researchers believed that all MBH captured by a star would be slowed down within stellar material until they settle in the stellar center. Now, Mikhail Shubov explored the possibility of MBH accelerating during their passage through matter. His study appeared on Journal Astrophysics and Space Science.

According to him, as the MBH passes through matter, it accretes material at a rate (M˙) and generates energy by accretion. Most of the accreted mass is absorbed by the MBH, while about 0.5% of the mass is turned into the energy of gamma and proton radiation. This radiation heats and rarefies the surrounding material. Dense material ahead of moving MBH exerts greater gravitational pull on the moving MBH than the rarefied material behind it. As a result, the moving MBH experiences a net forward force. We call this force the “MBH ramjet force”. He illustrated the effect below on Fig. 1.

Figure 1: MBH passage through matter. © Mikhail Shubov

He first, derived the conditions under which MBH accelerates within the stellar material. In order to express these conditions mathematically, he define three efficiencies (gas redistribution efficiency, radiative efficiency, accretion efficiency) involved in the MBH passage through stellar material. I am defining them below:

  • Gas redistribution efficiency, ηG , is the ratio of the accelerating force caused by gas rarefication behind the MBH to theoretical maximum of such force. It is expressed as, ηG = r1/r2
  • Radiative efficiency, ηΓ , is the ratio of the total power radiated by MBH to the energy of the mass falling into MBH. It is expressed as P = ηΓc²M˙
  • Accretion efficiency, ηA, is the ratio of the actual and the zero-radiation mass capture rates. It is expressed as:

Later he demonstrated that, in the MBH passing through stellar material at supersonic and subsonic speeds will experience acceleration rather than deceleration as long as

Where M, is mash number and F (M,ηA) ∈ (0.11,1). These are the conditions for MBH acceleration.

He also showed that MBH moving with supersonic speed always experience deceleration within stellar material. While, MBH moving at subsonic speed experiences acceleration when the Mach number exceeds M0 (the equilibrium Mach number) and deceleration when the Mach number is below M0.

In addition, he mentioned that, if microscopic black holes exist in the universe, many of them may have settled into an intrastellar orbit within the interiors of many stars including sun. These MBH on intrastellar orbits, may produce several physically observable effects. First, these MBHs may trigger Type 1a supernovas. The minimal mass of MBHs capable of igniting Type 1a supernovas remains to be calculated. Second, one or more MBHs may be orbiting within the Sun. Sonic waves produced by these MBHs may be detectable using helioseismology – the studying of the solar structure by observing the vibrations of Sun’s photosphere.

“This work and the hypothesis described therein are purely theoretical. Nevertheless, if the hypothesis about MBH orbiting within Solar material is observationally validated, then we may obtain additional knowledge about interaction of particles at very high energies. Even if extra knowledge in areas of physics which are considered purely theoretical at this point bring no immediate technological progress, such knowledge may bring technological advances in the coming decades. In particular, this knowledge may be especially useful in Colonization of Solar System, which is the subject of interest for a broad scientific community.

— concluded author of the study

Reference: Shubov, M.V. Ramjet acceleration of microscopic black holes within stellar material. Astrophys Space Sci 364, 220 (2019).

Note for editors of other websites: Copyright of this article (editing) totally belongs to our author S. Aman. One is allowed to reuse it only by giving proper credit either to him or to us

A Finger Phantom To Train Treatment of Trigger Finger Using Ultrasound Guidance (Medicine)

Treatment of an injured or diseased joint may require precise insertion of a syringe needle — musculoskeletal sonography can help guide clinicians as they drain fluid from arthritic knees or inject corticosteroids into trigger fingers. However, there is a need for training simulators that allow practice on an inert model, before attempting treatment on a patient.

For ultrasound, such simulation trainers are called phantoms.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and University of South Carolina have now made a 3D-printed anatomical finger model, embedded in ballistic gelatin, as a low-cost ultrasound training phantom for procedural guidance of trigger finger injections. Though the finished product looks like a brick, the ultrasound image of the bones, ligament, tendons and the A1 annular pulley inside it appear anatomically and sonographically similar to images observed in a human finger, both pre- and post-injection. Ultrasound shows the anatomical landmarks as the needle is inserted. 

This phantom cost less than $20, was easy to prepare, and mimics the human finger in anatomy and echogenic appearance. The striated appearance of the tendons was mimicked by a bundle of monofilament fishing line.

The A1 pulley is a sheath that holds the tendon that bends the finger close to the finger bone. Inflammation of the sheath can create trigger finger, where the bent finger becomes locked. The corticosteroid injection must be precisely placed inside the sheath to reduce inflammation.

The researchers found that the visual-spatial and tactile awareness required to inject the phantom under ultrasound guidance was similar to injecting human trigger fingers, say Alvin Lee Day, M.D., University of South Carolina School of Medicine, and David Resuehr, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology and leader of the research. They are unaware of any commercially available trigger finger models.

David Resuehr, Ph.D. © UAB

“Many universities have 3D printers available for use, which provides an accessible means of production,” Resuehr said. “Additionally, all software, including computer-aided design, was open-source or free to use under educational licensing agreements.”

“Because the only area of the phantom that could be punctured was the ballistic gelatin outer portion, the 3D-printed bones and soft tissue components remain intact,” he said. “Repeated needle insertions and injections create faint needle tract tracings after several injections, and the use of a hair dryer resolves the needle tracts.”

The usefulness of ultrasound guidance has been shown in two small studies, Resuehr says.

A prospective study showed that only 37 percent of patients treated without ultrasound guidance received all the injection within the sheath; 17 percent received no medication within the sheath. In contrast, 50 consecutive trigger fingers treated with ultrasound-guided A1 pulley corticosteroid injections showed complete resolution in 94 percent of fingers at six months.

Resuehr and colleagues have previous experience building phantoms. Two years ago, they created the first homemade ultrasound knee phantom — a model that was also produced with computer-aided design and a 3D printer — to let trainees practice synovial fluid aspiration. 

Co-authors with Resuehr and Day for the finger phantom study, “An ultrasound phantom for stenosing flexor tenosynovitis,” published in EMJ Radiology, are Joseph Gartrell Willis, James Barrett Harris and Jordan Austin George, UAB School of Medicine. Day holds a Registered in Musculoskeletal sonography certification.

This project was supported by the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology.

Provided by University of Alabama at Birmingham

A Growing Problem of ‘Deepfake Geography’: How AI Falsifies Satellite Images (Psychology)

A fire in Central Park seems to appear as a smoke plume and a line of flames in a satellite image. Colorful lights on Diwali night in India, seen from space, seem to show widespread fireworks activity.

Both images exemplify what a new University of Washington-led study calls “location spoofing.” The photos — created by different people, for different purposes — are fake but look like genuine images of real places. And with the more sophisticated AI technologies available today, researchers warn that such “deepfake geography” could become a growing problem.

So, using satellite photos of three cities and drawing upon methods used to manipulate video and audio files, a team of researchers set out to identify new ways of detecting fake satellite photos, warn of the dangers of falsified geospatial data and call for a system of geographic fact-checking.

“This isn’t just Photoshopping things. It’s making data look uncannily realistic,” said Bo Zhao, assistant professor of geography at the UW and lead author of the study, which published April 21 in the journal Cartography and Geographic Information Science. “The techniques are already there. We’re just trying to expose the possibility of using the same techniques, and of the need to develop a coping strategy for it.”

As Zhao and his co-authors point out, fake locations and other inaccuracies have been part of mapmaking since ancient times. That’s due in part to the very nature of translating real-life locations to map form, as no map can capture a place exactly as it is. But some inaccuracies in maps are spoofs created by the mapmakers. The term “paper towns” describes discreetly placed fake cities, mountains, rivers or other features on a map to prevent copyright infringement. On the more lighthearted end of the spectrum, an official Michigan Department of Transportation highway map in the 1970s included the fictional cities of “Beatosu and “Goblu,” a play on “Beat OSU” and “Go Blue,” because the then-head of the department wanted to give a shoutout to his alma mater while protecting the copyright of the map.

But with the prevalence of geographic information systems, Google Earth and other satellite imaging systems, location spoofing involves far greater sophistication, researchers say, and carries with it more risks. In 2019, the director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the organization charged with supplying maps and analyzing satellite images for the U.S. Department of Defense, implied that AI-manipulated satellite images can be a severe national security threat.

To study how satellite images can be faked, Zhao and his team turned to an AI framework that has been used in manipulating other types of digital files. When applied to the field of mapping, the algorithm essentially learns the characteristics of satellite images from an urban area, then generates a deepfake image by feeding the characteristics of the learned satellite image characteristics onto a different base map — similar to how popular image filters can map the features of a human face onto a cat.

This simplified illustration shows how a simulated satellite image (right) can be generated by putting a base map (City A) into a deepfake satellite image model. This model is created by distinguishing a group of base map and satellite image pairs from a second city (City B).Zhao et al., 2021, Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Next, the researchers combined maps and satellite images from three cities — Tacoma, Seattle and Beijing — to compare features and create new images of one city, drawn from the characteristics of the other two. They designated Tacoma their “base map” city and then explored how geographic features and urban structures of Seattle (similar in topography and land use) and Beijing (different in both) could be incorporated to produce deepfake images of Tacoma.

In the example below, a Tacoma neighborhood is shown in mapping software (top left) and in a satellite image (top right). The subsequent deep fake satellite images of the same neighborhood reflect the visual patterns of Seattle and Beijing. Low-rise buildings and greenery mark the “Seattle-ized” version of Tacoma on the bottom left, while Beijing’s taller buildings, which AI matched to the building structures in the Tacoma image, cast shadows — hence the dark appearance of the structures in the image on the bottom right. Yet in both, the road networks and building locations are similar.

These are maps and satellite images, real and fake, of one Tacoma neighborhood. The top left shows an image from mapping software, and the top right is an actual satellite image of the neighborhood. The bottom two panels are simulated satellite images of the neighborhood, generated from geospatial data of Seattle (lower left) and Beijing (lower right).Zhao et al., 2021, Cartography and Geographic Information Science

The untrained eye may have difficulty detecting the differences between real and fake, the researchers point out. A casual viewer might attribute the colors and shadows simply to poor image quality. To try to identify a “fake,” researchers homed in on more technical aspects of image processing, such as color histograms and frequency and spatial domains.

Some simulated satellite imagery can serve a purpose, Zhao said, especially when representing geographic areas over periods of time to, say, understand urban sprawl or climate change. There may be a location for which there are no images for a certain period of time in the past, or in forecasting the future, so creating new images based on existing ones — and clearly identifying them as simulations — could fill in the gaps and help provide perspective.

The study’s goal was not to show that geospatial data can be falsified, Zhao said. Rather, the authors hope to learn how to detect fake images so that geographers can begin to develop the data literacy tools, similar to today’s fact-checking services, for public benefit.

“As technology continues to evolve, this study aims to encourage more holistic understanding      of geographic data and information, so that we can demystify the question of absolute reliability of satellite images or other geospatial data,” Zhao said. “We also want to develop more future-oriented thinking in order to take countermeasures such as fact-checking when necessary,” he said.

Co-authors on the study were Yifan Sun, a graduate student in the UW Department of Geography; Shaozeng Zhang and Chunxue Xu of Oregon State University; and Chengbin Deng of Binghamton University.

Featured image: What may appear to be an image of Tacoma is, in fact, a simulated one, created by transferring visual patterns of Beijing onto a map of a real Tacoma neighborhood.Zhao et al., 2021, Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Reference: Bo Zhao, Shaozeng Zhang, Chunxue Xu, Yifan Sun & Chengbin Deng (2021) Deep fake geography? When geospatial data encounter Artificial Intelligence, Cartography and Geographic Information Science, DOI: 10.1080/15230406.2021.1910075

Provided by University of Washington

Does Listening To Calming Music At Bedtime Actually Help You Sleep? (Medicine)

Geriatrics Society Research Summary

A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has found that listening to music can help older adults sleep better.

Researchers from the National Cheng Kung University Hospital in Taiwan combined the results of past studies to understand the effect that listening to music can have on the quality of older adults’ sleep. Their work suggests that:

  • Older adults (ages 60 and up) living at home sleep better when they listen to music for 30 minutes to one hour at bedtime.
  • Calm music improves older adults’ sleep quality better than rhythmic music does.
  • Older adults should listen to music for more than four weeks to see the most benefit from listening to music.

Why Older Adults Have Trouble Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

As we age, our sleep cycles change and make a good night’s sleep harder to achieve. What does it really mean to get a good night’s sleep? If you wake up rested and ready to start your day, you probably slept deeply the night before. But if you’re tired during the day, need coffee to keep you going, or wake up several times during the night, you may not be getting the deep sleep you need. [1] According to the National Institute on Aging, older adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.[2]

But studies have shown that 40 to 70 percent of older adults have sleep problems and over 40 percent have insomnia, meaning they wake up often during the night or too early in the morning.  Sleep problems can make you feel irritable and depressed, can cause memory problems, and can even lead to falls or accidents.

How the Researchers Studied the Effect of Music on Older Adults’ Quality of Sleep

For their study, the researchers searched for past studies that tested the effect of listening to music on older adults with sleep problems who live at home. They looked at five studies with 288 participants. Half of these people listened to music; the other half got the usual or no treatment for their sleep problems. People who were treated with music listened to either calming or rhythmic music for 30 minutes to one hour, over a period ranging from two days to three months.  (Calming music has slow tempo of 60 to 80 beats per minute and a smooth melody, while rhythmic music is faster and louder.) All participants answered questions about how well they thought they were sleeping. Each participant ended up with a score between 0 and 21 for the quality of their sleep.

The researchers looked at the difference in average scores for:

  • people who listened to music compared to people who did not listen to music;
  • people who listened to calm music compared to people who listened to rhythmic music;
  • and people who listened to music for less than four weeks compared to people who listened to music for more than four weeks.

What the Researchers Learned

Listening to calming music at bedtime improved sleep quality in older adults, and calming music was much better at improving sleep quality than rhythmic music. The researchers said that calming music may improve sleep by slowing your heart rate and breathing, and lowering your blood pressure.[3] This, in turn helps lower your levels of stress and anxiety.

Researchers also learned that listening to music for longer than four weeks is better at improving sleep quality than listening to music for a shorter length of time.

Limits of the Study

  • Researchers only looked at studies published in English and Chinese, meaning they may have missed studies in other languages on the effect of listening to music on sleep in older adults.
  • Results may not apply to older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
  • In the studies researchers used, people who listened to music received more attention from researchers than did people who got standard or no treatment for their sleep problems. This means that sleep improvements in the music therapy group could be due to that extra attention.
  • Since the different studies used different kinds of music, researchers could not single out which type of calming music improved sleep the most.
  • All of the people in the study had similar kinds of sleep problems. This means listening to music may not help people with other kinds of sleep problems.

What this Study Means for You

If you’re having trouble sleeping, listening to music can be a safe, effective, and easy way to help you fall and stay asleep. It may also reduce your need for medication to help you sleep.

This summary is from “Effect of music therapy on improving sleep quality in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Chia-Te Chen, NP, MS; Yen-Chin Chen, RN, PhD; Heng-Hsin Tung RN, FNP, PhD; Ching-Ju, Fang, MLIS; Jiun-Ling Wang, MD; Nai-Ying Ko RN, PhD; and Ying-Ju Chang, RN, PhD.





Reference: Chen, C‐T, Tung, H‐H, Fang, C‐J, et al. Effect of music therapy on improving sleep quality in older adults: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021; 1– 8.

Provided by American Geriatrics Society

Verbal Fluency Deficits In Multiple Sclerosis May Reflect Impaired Language Ability (Psychology)

Researchers at Kessler Foundation upend long-held assumption that language ability is largely intact in individuals with multiple sclerosis, suggesting the need for more comprehensive neuropsychological testing

Kessler Foundation researchers showed that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience subtle language impairments that standard neuropsychological tests may incorrectly attribute to impaired executive functions. The article, “The role of language ability in verbal fluency of individuals with multiple sclerosis” (doi: 10.1016/j.msard.2021.102846) was published on February 16, 2021, in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

The authors are Nancy D. Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of the Centers for Neuropsychology, Neuroscience, and Traumatic Brain Injury Research at Kessler Foundation, Lauren B. Strober, PhD, senior research scientist at the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, and Amy L. Lebkuecher, MS, of Pennsylvania State University, formerly of Kessler Foundation. Drs. Chiaravalotti and Strober also have research faculty appointments at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Assessing language ability in people with MS is a complicated endeavor, given the vast spectrum of individual clinical experiences within this population. Yet the ability to identify any form of language impairment, not just severe language disorder, is essential to fully understanding a patient’s cognitive profile and providing optimal interventions.

While some early research suggested that language ability is largely intact in people with MS, newer studies indicate that milder language impairments may exist but are too subtle to be quantified by standard neuropsychological tests. As a result, verbal fluency deficits observed in MS are often attributed to impaired processing speed and executive functions rather than language ability. Because individuals with MS have been presumed to have intact language ability, more comprehensive tests are rarely performed, according to lead author Dr. Lebkuecher.

In this study, the Kessler research team challenged the assumption that impaired verbal fluency of individuals with MS solely reflects executive dysfunction. The team analyzed pre-existing data from 74 individuals with MS to evaluate the contribution of various cognitive factors to verbal fluency, including language ability, oral-motor speed, processing speed, and executive functions. They conducted linear multiple regression analyses with letter and category verbal fluency–which relate to a person’s ability to produce words starting with a given letter or within a semantic category–as outcome variables.

The results showed that vocabulary and processing speed predicted letter fluency, while only vocabulary predicted category fluency. Although further research is needed to better understand the relationship between verbal fluency and vocabulary and processing speed, the results suggest the observed verbal fluency deficits in MS may reflect both impaired language ability and processing speed.

“Our results indicate that language ability and domain-general factors were predictive of verbal fluency in individuals with MS,” summarized Dr. Chiaravalloti. “Specifically, language ability played a significant role. This could indicate that verbal fluency deficits in MS reflect underlying language impairment,” she added, “Our findings further demonstrate the need for more comprehensive examination of language in people with MS.”

Funding sources: National Institutes of Health (NCMRR) grant number 1R01HD04579801A1

Featured image: Dr. Strober, senior research scientist in the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, focuses on cognitive effects of multiple sclerosis, and its impact on quality of life. © Kessler Foundation/Jody Banks

Reference: Amy L. Lebkuecher, Nancy D. Chiaravalloti, Lauren B. Strober, “The role of language ability in verbal fluency of individuals with multiple sclerosis”, vol. 50, 2021. DOI:

Provided by Kessler Foundation

Scientists Reveal Origin Of Neuronal Diversity in Hypothalamus (Neuroscience)

A mechanistic understanding of brain development requires a systematic survey of neural progenitor cell types, their lineage specification and maturation of postmitotic neurons. Cumulative evidences based on single-cell transcriptomic analysis have revealed the heterogeneity of cortical neural progenitors, their temporal patterning and the developmental trajectories of excitatory and inhibitory neurons in the developing neocortex. Nevertheless, the developmental hierarchy of the hypothalamus, which contains an astounding diversity of neurons that regulate endocrine, autonomic and behavioral functions, has not been well understood.

Recently, however, Prof. WU Qingfeng’s group from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) conducted a study focusing on the origin of this neuronal diversity. For their work, they profiled the transcriptome of 43,261 hypothalamic neural cells to map the developmental landscape of the mouse hypothalamus and mapped the trajectory of radial glial cells (RGCs), intermediate progeny+++tor cells (IPCs), nascent neurons and peptidergic neurons.

The researchers found that RGCs adopt a conserved strategy for multipotential differentiation, but generate both Ascl1+ and Neurog2+ IPCs. Ascl1+ IPCs differ from their telencephalic counterpart by displaying fate bifurcation whereby they can differentiate into both glutamatergic (excitatory) and GABAergic (inhibitory) neurons. Postmitotic nascent neurons derived from IPCs further resolve into multiple peptidergic neuronal subtypes. Clonal analysis also demonstrates that single RGCs can produce multiple neuronal subtypes.

This finding reveals that multiple cell types along the lineage hierarchy contribute to the fate diversification of hypothalamic neurons in a stepwise fashion, thus uncovering an effective strategy for neural progenitors to generate extreme neuronal diversity.

Furthermore, this study provides a developmental perspective for understanding hypothalamus plasticity and gaining valuable insights into hypothalamic diseases such as anorexia, narcolepsy and insomnia.

This work, entitled “Cascade diversification directs generation of neuronal diversity in the hypothalamus,” was published in Cell Stem Cell on April 21.

It was funded by the National Key R&D Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Strategic Priority Research Program of CAS and the Beijing Municipal Science & Technology Commission.

Featured image: The cascade diversifying model for generating extreme neuronal diversity in hypothalamus © IGDB

Provided by Chinese Academy of Sciences

Astronomers Release New All-Sky Map of the Milky Way’s Outer Reaches (Astronomy)

Astronomers using data from NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency) telescopes have released a new all-sky map of the outermost region of our galaxy. Known as the galactic halo, this area lies outside the swirling spiral arms that form the Milky Way’s recognizable central disk and is sparsely populated with stars. Though the halo may appear mostly empty, it is also predicted to contain a massive reservoir of dark matter, a mysterious and invisible substance thought to make up the bulk of all the mass in the universe.

The data for the new map comes from ESA’s Gaia mission and NASA’s Near Earth Object Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or NEOWISE, which operated from 2009 to 2013 under the moniker WISE. The study, led by astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and published today in Nature, makes use of data collected by the spacecraft between 2009 and 2018.

The new map reveals how a small galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) – so-named because it is the larger of two dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way – has sailed through the Milky Way’s galactic halo like a ship through water, its gravity creating a wake in the stars behind it. The LMC is located about 160,000 light-years from Earth, and is less than one quarter the mass of the Milky Way. Though the inner portions of the halo have been mapped with a high level of accuracy, this is the first map to provide a similar picture of the halo’s outer regions, where the wake is found – about 200,000 light years to 325,000 light years from the galactic center. Previous studies have hinted at the wake’s existence, but the all-sky map confirms its presence and offers a detailed view of its shape, size, and location.

This disturbance in the halo also provides astronomers with an opportunity to study something they can’t observe directly: dark matter. Though it doesn’t emit, reflect, or absorb light, the gravitational influence of dark matter has been observed across the universe. It is thought to create a scaffolding on which galaxies are built, such that without it, galaxies would fly apart as they spin. Dark matter is estimated to be five times more common in the universe than all the matter that emits or interacts with light, from stars to planets to gas clouds.

While there are multiple theories about the nature of dark matter, all of them indicate that it should be present in the Milky Way’s halo. If that’s the case, then as the LMC sails through this region, it should leave a wake in the dark matter as well. The wake observed in the new star map is thought to be the outline of this dark matter wake; the stars are like leaves on the surface of this invisible ocean, their position shifting with the dark matter.

The interaction between the dark matter and the Large Magellanic Cloud has big implications for our galaxy. As the LMC orbits the Milky Way, the dark matter’s gravity drags on the LMC and slows it down. This will cause the dwarf galaxy’s orbit to get smaller and smaller, until the galaxy finally collides with the Milky Way in about 2 billion years. These types of mergers might be a key driver in the growth of massive galaxies across the universe. In fact, astronomers think the Milky Way merged with another small galaxy about 10 billion years ago.

“This robbing of a smaller galaxy’s energy is not only why the LMC is merging with the Milky Way but also why all galaxy mergers happen,” said Rohan Naidu, a graduate student in astronomy at Harvard University and a co-author of the new paper. “The wake in our map is a really neat confirmation that our basic picture for how galaxies merge is on point!”

A Rare Opportunity

The authors of the paper also think the new map – along with additional data and theoretical analyses – may provide a test for different theories about the nature of dark matter, such as whether it consists of particles, like regular matter, and what the properties of those particles are.

“You can imagine that the wake behind a boat will be different if the boat is sailing through water or through honey,” said study co-author Charlie Conroy, a professor at Harvard University and astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics. “In this case, the properties of the wake are determined by which dark matter theory we apply.”

Conroy led the team that mapped the positions of over 1,300 stars in the halo. The challenge arose in trying to measure the exact distance from Earth to a large portion of those stars: It’s often impossible to figure out if a star is faint and close by or bright and far away. The team used data from ESA’s Gaia mission, which provides the location of many stars in the sky but cannot measure distances to the stars in the Milky Way’s outer regions.

After identifying stars most likely located in the halo (because they were not obviously inside our galaxy or in the LMC), the team looked for stars that belong to a class of giant stars that have a specific light “signature” detectable by NEOWISE. Knowing the basic properties of the selected stars enabled the team to figure out their distance from Earth and create the new map. It charts a region starting about 200,000 light-years from the Milky Way’s center, or about where the LMC’s wake was predicted to begin, and extends about 125,000 light-years beyond that.

Conroy and his colleagues were inspired to hunt for LMC’s wake after learning about a team of astrophysicists at the University of Arizona in Tucson who make computer models predicting what dark matter in the galactic halo should look like. The two groups worked together on the new study. One of the models by the Arizona team, which is in the new study, predicted the general structure and specific location of the star wake revealed in the new map. Once the data had confirmed that the model was correct, the team was able to confirm what other investigations have also hinted at: that the LMC is likely on its first orbit around the Milky Way. If the smaller galaxy had already made multiple orbits, the shape and location of the wake would be significantly different from what has been observed. Astronomers think the LMC formed in the same environment as the Milky Way and another nearby galaxy, M31, and was on a very long first orbit around our galaxy (about 13 billion years). Its next orbit will be much shorter due to its interaction with the Milky Way.

“Confirming our theoretical prediction with observational data tells us that our understanding of the interaction between these two galaxies, including the dark matter, is on the right track,” said University of Arizona doctoral student in astronomy Nicolás Garavito-Camargo, who led work on the model used in the paper.

The new map also provides astronomers with a rare opportunity to test the properties of the dark matter (the notional water or honey) in our own galaxy. In the new study, Garavito-Camargo and colleagues used a popular dark matter theory called cold dark matter that fits the observed star map relatively well. Now the University of Arizona team is running simulations that use different dark matter theories, to see which one best matches the wake observed in the stars.

“It’s a really special set of circumstances that came together to create this scenario that lets us test our dark matter theories,” said Gurtina Besla, a co-author of the study and an associate professor at the University of Arizona. “But we can only realize that test with the combination of this new map and the dark matter simulations that we built.”

Launched in 2009, the WISE spacecraft was placed into hibernation in 2011 after completing its primary mission. In Sept. 2013, NASA reactivated the spacecraft with the primary goal of scanning for near-Earth objects, or NEOs, and the mission and spacecraft were renamed NEOWISE. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California managed and operated WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The mission was selected competitively under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NEOWISE is a project of JPL, a division of Caltech, and the University of Arizona, supported by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

This article was originally written for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Featured image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/NSF/R.Hurt

Provided by Center for Astrophysics Harvard and Smithsonian

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The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian is a collaboration between Harvard and the Smithsonian designed to ask—and ultimately answer—humanity’s greatest unresolved questions about the nature of the universe. The Center for Astrophysics is headquartered in Cambridge, MA, with research facilities across the U.S. and around the world.

Early Neolithic Farmers Modified the Reproductive Cycle of Sheep (Archeology)

Over 7,500 years ago early farmers set down the foundations of livestock strategies that persist today

The results, exceptional first time evidence of how early flocks of domesticated sheep fed and reproduced within the Iberian Peninsula, are currently the first example of the modification of sheep’s seasonal reproductive rhythms with the aim of adapting them to human needs.

The project includes technical approaches based on stable isotope analysis and dental microwear of animal remains from more than 7,500 years ago found in the Neolithic Chaves cave site in Huesca, in the central Pyrennean region of Spain. The research was coordinated from the Arqueozoology Laboratory of the UAB Department of Antiquity, with the participation of researchers from the University of Zaragoza, the Museum of Natural History of Paris, and the Catalan Institute of Human Palaeocology and Social Evolution (IPHES) in Tarragona.

“The alteration of seasonal breeding rhythms in livestock represented a huge milestone for prehistoric societies, making it possible to have access to meat and milk throughout the year, and this in turn had a huge impact on diet, on the economy and on the social organisation of the first farming communities, and set down the bases for farming strategies which continue to be carried out now. Until very recently, animal husbandry in the Neolithic period was thought to be in its initial stages, although new possibilities in biogeochemical analyses used in this study have revealed husbandry practices that were fully consolidated since the beginning of the Neolithic”, says Dr Maria Saña, lecturer at the UAB Department of Prehistory and coordinator of the project.

The domestication of sheep did not occur in the Iberian Peninsula. Its agriotype, the Ovis orientalis, can be found in central and southeastern Asia. “What is surprising is the speed in which the sheep are integrated into animal husbandry strategies and their enormous economic importance in the earliest periods of the Neolithic. What we see is a rapid and successful adoption, which demonstrates that their mechanisms of adaptation to both the new environment and their new economic role were well known and controlled by a part of human communities. The selective pressures applied on the species were artificial, they pursued specific objectives and were well defined. This new evidence represents a turning point in the research into animal domestication and the origins of animal husbandry. It was made possible by the new approach that we took with this study, focused on exploring the changes in breeding and feeding of these first flocks of sheep”, states Alejandro Sierra, researcher at the UAB and at the University of Zaragoza, and first author of the article recently published in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

The research focused on the study of sheep rearing in the Neolithic Chaves cave (5600-5300 BCE) in the Pyrennean foothills, a site that is “spectacular for the quality and number of remains recovered. When compared to Neolithic levels of fauna, its 12,754 recognisible remains are at least threefold of what is found in other Neolithic sites on the peninsula, with domesticated sheep and goats being the most numerous species, and with the largest presence of pigs of all the Neolithic sites. All of this points to the stabling of animals and to the type of stable settlement known to be dedicated to animal husbandry, and within a large cave that had 3,000 square metres of habitable space”, affirms Pilar Utrilla, professor at the University of Zaragoza and director of the archaeological interventions.

The results obtained at the Chaves site show that in the Iberian Peninsula, the birth of lambs also occurred in autumn and winter seasons, which is what is now considered to be an “out of optimal season” birthing, an aspect that contrasts significantly with the livestock regimes documented in other parts of Europe during the Neolithic, with births occurring mainly in spring. The modification of the natural birthing cycles of wild sheep affected the physiology of the animals of this species, prolonging their fertility period. That was the result of a more intense and continued human control, alterating interactions between females and males, a breeding strategy that seeked greater predictability in livestock production. “Autumn birthing in the early Neolithic in the Chaves cave would confirm the antiquity of this practice in the Western Mediterranean basin, implying a combination of the biological capacity of sheep, zootechnical skills of the agricultors, and favourable environmental conditions”, states Dr Marie Balasse, researcher at the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

The study also demonstrates that this greater control and selective pressure also had an effect on the diet and movement of the species. By applying for the first time a combination of dental microwear and stable C-13 and O-18 isotope analyses on sequencial samples of second and third molar enamel bioapatite, scientists were able to detect that the flock of sheep at Chaves did not eat a greatly varied diet, neither among the sheep nor throughout the year. The results of the dental microwear show that Neolithic sheep had a more controlled diet than wild animals living in the same types of environments and which grazed on good plant covers, with still very little human impact on their lives. The sheep would graze near the cave during most of the year, and were probably also fed forage. The verification of the use of extraordinary forage is also a novelty. “The results of what the sheep from the Chaves cave ate are surprising when compared with what we expected. We were able to document diets consisting of intensive and established differences between young and adult sheep, and these characteristics can be related to a tight control on livestock production during those earliest periods of the Neolithic”, states Dr Florent Rivals, ICREA research professor at the IPHES.

“The results obtained on the breeding and feeding of sheep of the Chaves cave are key for the discovery of economic systems in early farming societies of the Iberian Peninsula. The new methodology applied in this study will no doubt be fundamental in further studying animal husbandry in prehistoric times”, concludes Dr Alejandro Sierra.

Featured image: The study on the remains of animals found at the site of the Chaves cave in Huesca, led by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, obtains new data on the control of breeding and feeding of the first domesticated sheep heards found in the western Mediterranean region during the Neolithic. The modification of their natural birthing cycles affected their physiology and resulted in prolonged periods of fertility. © Alejandro Sierra

Reference: Alejandro Sierra, Marie Balasse, Florent Rivals, Denis Fiorillo, Pilar Utrilla, Maria Saña, Sheep husbandry in the early Neolithic of the Pyrenees: New data on feeding and reproduction in the cave of Chaves, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 37, 2021, 102935, ISSN 2352-409X, (

Provided by Universitat Autonoma De Barcelona