Soil biodiversity, galactic bulges, drugs for sleep apnea

Using citizen science to uncover soil biodiversity in Hong Kong

Soil biodiversity plays an important role in the decomposition and cycling of nutrients in ecosystems, but remains understudied globally.

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

Between October 2019 and October 2020, participants observed and sampled soil species at 21 sites in urban and semi-natural habitats, collecting a total of 3,588 individual samples.

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

“Involving citizens as part of the process of generating new knowledge is important to promote understanding of biodiversity. Educating the younger generation of citizens to learn about biodiversity is of utmost importance and crucial to the commitment to conservation,” the researchers wrote in their study published in Biodiversity Data Journal.

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 time when the throat 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, reboxetine, can reduce the severity of OSA.

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

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

“The current gold standard for treating sleep apnea is with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device during sleep. But this one-size-fits-all approach ignores the fact that there are different causes of sleep apnea. In addition, many people cannot tolerate CPAP long-term,” says Altree.

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

A fossil discovered more than 100 years ago has turned out to be an early relative of pterosaurs

A small Triassic fossil reptile first discovered in 1907 in northeast 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 make the first accurate reconstruction of an entire skeleton of Scleromochlus taylori a fossil.

The results reveal new anatomical details that strongly identify it as a close relative of pterosaurs. It falls into a group known as Pterosauromorphafeaturing an extinct group of reptiles called lagerpetids along with pterosaurs – although Scleromochlus is anatomically more similar to lagerpetids.

Living approximately 240-210 million years ago, the lagerpetids were a group of relatively small (about the size of a cat or small dog) active reptiles and Schleromochlus it was even smaller at less than 20 centimeters in length.

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

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

The size of galaxies’ 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 galaxies’ bulges affects how their spins align with the surrounding large-scale structure of the universe. Specifically, the “cosmic web” – giant filamentous structures that connect massive clusters of galaxies.

Australian astronomers have 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 about the mass of the bulge,” said lead author Dr Stefania Barsanti, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University (ANU).

“Galaxies that are predominantly disc, with a low-mass bulge, tend to have their spin axis parallel to the nearest filament. This is because they are mainly formed by gas falling onto the filament and “winding” it.

“Galaxy bulges grow when galaxies merge, usually as they move along the filament. So mergers also tend to “flip” the alignment between the galaxy’s spin and the filament from parallel to perpendicular.

This study examined 3,068 galaxies between 2013 and 2020 using a spectroscope called SAMI attached to the Anglo Australian 3.9-metre telescope in Siding Spring, New South Wales.

The study was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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

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