Prehistoric Herpes, Ancient Squid Bait & Ultrasonic Stickers

The prehistoric roots of the cold sore virus

Human herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) is the most common cause of cold sores and cold sores and is estimated to infect 3.7 billion people under the age of 50. Now, recent ancient genomes suggest that the strain of herpes virus behind facial herpes appeared around the fifth thousand years ago.

Previously, genetic data for herpes only went back to 1925, but researchers have been able to extract samples from the remains of four ancient individuals spanning a thousand-year period – the oldest of which date to the late Iron Age, around 1,500 years ago.

One of the samples of ancient herpes DNA used in the study came from a man aged 26 to 35 who was unearthed near the banks of the Rhine. The man was an avid smoker of clay pipes. Traces of habit are visible in several places on the teeth where the hard clay whistle that is usually put in the mouth in the same place has worn down the teeth. Photo credit: Dr. Barbara Veselka

“By comparing ancient DNA with herpes samples from the 20th century, we were able to analyze the differences and estimate a mutation rate and hence timeline for virus evolution,” explains co-lead author Dr. Lucy van Dorp from the Genetics Institute at University College London in the UK.

This calculation led to the estimate that something happened 5,000 years ago that allowed one strain of herpes to overtake all others. The authors of the new study, published in scientific advancessuggest it may have coincided with the arrival of a new cultural practice introduced from the East: romantic and sexual kissing.

Stickers that can see into the body

Engineers have developed a postage stamp-sized device that sticks to the skin and can provide continuous ultrasound imaging of internal organs for 48 hours, according to a new study published in Science.

The ultrasonic sticker creates high-resolution images by combining a stretchable adhesive layer with a rigid array of transducers. The adhesive layer consists of two thin layers of elastomer encapsulating a middle layer of solid hydrogel. Ultrasonic transducers convert electrical energy to sound energy and back again to generate and detect sound waves.

“This combination allows the device to conform to the skin while maintaining the relative position of the transducers to produce clearer and more precise images,” says co-lead author Chonghe Wang, a PhD student in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.

The current design requires the stickers to be connected to instruments that convert the reflected sound waves into images, but the team is working on wireless devices that could be wearable imaging products for patients.

Ultrasound Sticker
MIT engineers have developed an adhesive patch that creates ultrasound images of the body. The postage stamp-sized device sticks to the skin and can provide continuous ultrasound imaging of internal organs for 48 hours. Credit: Felice Frankel

Simulate fluid flow faster

Modeling the behavior of liquids is important for a variety of applications, from industrial processes and medical devices to computer graphics and visual simulations. However, accurately simulating fluid flow remains one of the most computationally challenging aspects of real-world modeling, as it involves the precise calculation of complex and time-varying pressure distributions within the fluid.

Now, researchers have made a significant breakthrough in computational speed for viscous fluid modeling by combining efficient mathematics with the low-level parallel computation capabilities of modern computer processors, according to a new study in ACM transactions on graphics.

“In this research, we propose the Unsmoothed Aggregation Algebraic Multigrid method as a sophisticated multigrid framework that takes full advantage of modern CPU capabilities and introduces new numerical methods,” explains co-author Han Shao, PhD student in Applied Mathematics and Computational Sciences at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia.

“Our framework can be used immediately by industrial users for faster simulation using the code available on our project website.”

A state-of-the-art method for modeling the behavior of liquids, described by KAUST researchers, represents a breakthrough in computational speed for viscous liquids. Image credit: © 2022 KAUST

The oldest octopus bait in the world

Archaeologists have determined that cowrie shell artifacts found throughout the Mariana Islands of western Micronesia are 3,500-year-old lures used to hunt squid. Similar versions of the lure have been found earlier on islands in the Pacific, but these are the oldest known examples of their kind.

The baits use at least one piece of cowrie shell (Cypraea)—a type of sea slug—is lashed to a sinking rock, which is then thrown into the water and manipulated by an attached fiber cord. The conch cap and an attached stick mimic the octopus’ favorite snail food, luring it out and either activating a hook on the bait or being caught with a spear, net or by hand.

Radiocarbon dating of archaeological layers in the ground has been used to confirm the ages of artifacts excavated between 2011 and 2016. The research results were published in the journal world archaeology.

octopus lures
(Top image) A replica example of an old Tongan squid lure preserved at the Pitt Rivers Museum in England. The bait consists of two cowrie shells, each with drilled holes, attached to a stone sinker with a fiber cord. (Bottom images) Exterior and interior views of cowrie shell octopus bait (left to right) House of Taga on the northern Mariana Island of Tinian, 1100–500 BC. BC; Unai Bapot on the northern Mariana Island of Saipan, 1500–1100 BC. and the House of Taga at Tinian, 1500–1100 BC. Photo credit: Tonga decoy image courtesy Pitt Rivers Museum Artifact Registration 1886.1.1279.2. Images of Mariana decoys courtesy of the Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam.

Ice sheet geology could accelerate ice loss

A new study published in nature geosciences suggests that Antarctica’s ice streams are more susceptible to rapid ice loss and retreat than previously thought. Researchers from the University of Western Australia, CSIRO and the University of Tasmania studied the subglacial geology of Antarctica along the Amundsen and Siple Coasts, Wilkes Land and the Continental Recreation Regions and found sub-ice sedimentary basins at low positions in the Earth’s crust. These basins contain large amounts of groundwater. As glaciers retreat, the basins can drain groundwater, which in turn leads to increased ice loss. The increase in global ocean and surface temperatures due to climate change is the driving force behind the average loss of 150 billion tons of ice per year. Melting ice, in turn, contributes to the ongoing rise in sea levels.

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