Soil biodiversity, galaxy bulges, medication for sleep apnea

Using citizen science to reveal Hong Kong’s soil biodiversity

Soil biodiversity plays an important role in the decomposition and cycling of nutrients in ecosystems, but remains poorly studied worldwide.

So, to help fill the knowledge gap on the diversity of soil fauna in Hong Kong, a team of scientists, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, set up a citizen science program involving universities, non-governmental organizations and secondary school students and teachers.

Between October 2019 and October 2020, participants monitored and sampled terrestrial species in 21 urban and semi-natural habitat sites, collecting a total of 3,588 individual samples.

They identified 150 species of soil macrofauna, including arthropods (insects, spiders, centipedes and millipedes), worms and snails, and even helped identify two millipede species new to the Hong Kong fauna – Queenslandica monograph and Alloproctoides remyi.

“Citizen participation as part of the new knowledge production process is important to advance the understanding of biodiversity. Educating younger generations of citizens to learn about biodiversity is paramount and vital to commitment to conservation,” the researchers write in their study published in Journal of Biodiversity Data.

A promising drug for sleep apnea

Sleep apnea (also known as obstructive sleep apnea or OSA) is a serious sleep disorder that affects nearly a billion people worldwide. Sufferers repeatedly stop and start breathing as their throat becomes partially or completely blocked for a short period of time when the neck muscles relax too much during sleep.

Now, in a new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Australian researchers have shown that a drug previously used to treat depression, revoxetine, can reduce the severity of OSA.

Previous research has shown that a combination of reboxetine and oxybutynin (used to treat overactive bladder) could be an effective treatment for OSA, but it can cause side effects.

By testing single doses of revoxetine compared with a combination of revoxetine and oxybutynin or placebo, with 16 people who had OSA, they were able to show that revoxetine alone reduced the number of sleep apnea events per hour and also improved oxygen levels, while the addition of oxybutynin did not cause additional improvements.

“The current gold standard treatment of sleep apnea is with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device during sleep. But this one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t address the fact that there are different causes of sleep apnea. In addition, many people cannot tolerate CPAP long-term,” says Altree.

“So it’s important to discover other ways to help people, and this study provides an important step for future drug development.”

Fossil discovered more than 100 years ago revealed to be an early relative of pterosaurs

A tiny fossilized Triassic reptile, first discovered in 1907 in north-east Scotland, has finally been revealed to be a close relative of the species that would become the iconic flying pterosaurs.

According to a new study published in Nature, Researchers used Computed Tomography (CT) to create the first accurate reconstruction of its entire skeleton Scleromochlus taylori fossil.

The results reveal new anatomical details that definitively identify it as a close pterosaur relative. It falls into a group known as Pterosaurswhich includes an extinct group of reptiles called lagerpetids, along with pterosaurs – however Scleromochlus it is anatomically more similar to lagerpetids.

Living about 240-210 million years ago, lagerpetids were a group of relatively small (cat or small dog sized) active reptiles and Schleromochus it was even smaller at under 20cm long.

The results support the hypothesis that the first flying reptiles evolved from small, possibly bipedal, ancestors.

Reconstruction of his life Scleromochlus taylori. Credit: Gabriel Ugueto © Gabriel Ugueto

The size of galaxy bulges affects how they rotate

Like the Milky Way, most galaxies have a central bulge of mostly older stars that grows over time and an extended disk in which new stars form from gas.

Now, a new study has found that the size of galaxy bulges affects how their rotations align with the surrounding large-scale structure of the universe. Specifically, the “cosmic web” – giant filamentary structures that connect vast clusters of galaxies.

Australian astronomers found that galaxies with larger bulges tend to rotate perpendicular to the filaments in which they are embedded, while galaxies with smaller bulges tend to rotate parallel to those filaments.

“It’s all related to the mass of the bulge,” says lead author Dr Stefania Barsanti, an astrophysicist from the Australian National University (ANU).

“Galaxies that are mainly discs, with a low mass bulge, tend to have their spin axis parallel to the nearest filament. This is because they are mainly formed by the gas that falls on the filament and ‘wraps’ it.

“Galaxy bulges grow when galaxies merge, generally as they move along the filament. Thus, mergers also tend to ‘flip’ the alignment between the rotation of the galaxy and the filament from parallel to perpendicular.

This study looked at 3,068 galaxies between 2013 and 2020, using a spectroscope called SAMI, attached to the Anglo-Australian 3.9m Wide Telescope at Siding Spring, New South Wales.

The research has been published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

850 artists impression of the central bulge of the Galaxy.  Credit esonasajpl caltechm.  Kornmesserr.  Wound
This artist’s impression shows what the Milky Way galaxy would look like, seen almost edge-on and from a very different perspective than we get from Earth. The central bulge appears as a bright, peanut-shaped ball of stars, and the spiral arms and associated dust clouds form a narrow belt. Credit:
ESO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Kornmesser/R. Wound

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