Research

A “sponge” for culturing neurons

By using an innovative yet simple technique, a team of Italian research scientists (from SISSA in Trieste, the University of Trieste and IIT in Genova) have managed to obtain an in vitro culture of primary neurons (and astrocytes) that is genuinely three-dimensional. The neural network showed a more complex function than its two-dimensional counterparts. The structure is also the first to incorporate carbon nanotubes, which promote the formation of synapses among the neurons in the culture. The study has been published in Scientific Reports.

An “unfocused” eye that sees the big picture

Designed to detect the fossil radiation of the Universe, the Planck satellite, working in tandem with Herschel, can also help to understand the macrostructure of the Universe. A just-published experimental study, carried out with the participation of SISSA, has detected astronomical sources that may be precursors to galaxy clusters, the largest dynamically stable structures existing in the Universe. These primitive elements have long been sought by astrophysicists since they are crucial for tracing the development of the Universe’s macrostructures.

Electrons in slow motion

At the origin of the properties of high-temperature superconductors lies a phenomenon that is too fast to be observed experimentally with conventional methods.

RNA: the unknotted strand of life

It had never been verified before: unlike other biopolymers, RNA, the long strand that is “cousin” to DNA, tends not to form knots. The observation has been published in the journal PNAS by a research team of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste and the CEA of Saclay (Francia). 

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Still doubts on gravitational waves

In March last year the BICEP2 team (the Antarctic observatory) claimed to have observed, for the first time, the effects of gravitational waves in cosmic background radiation. In September Planck demonstrated that the signal observed might be the result of “contaminants” due to the polarised radiation produced by our Galaxy. The Planck and BICEP2 teams therefore joined forces to better investigate the problem, and will publish a paper in Physical Review Letters (announced by an ESA press release).

The brain’s electrical alphabet

The brain’s alphabet is a mix of rate and precise timing of electrical pulses: the observation was made by researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste and the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) of Rovereto, and has been published in the international journal Current Biology. The study shows that the nervous system features a “multichannel” language that makes up the neural code, or the alphabet that processes information in the brain. 

No gain if unfair

For human beings, implementing and having others implement social equity is important, so much so that we are prepared to forego a sure advantage if this derives from an unfair distribution of resources, regardless of whether we ourselves or others are the target of the unfairness.

Tightly packed in its shell

A study, in which the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) collaborated with the Josef Stefan Institute of Ljubljana, analysed how genome mutations of RNA viruses tend to be lethal for these infectious agents. It takes very little to make the RNA too messy and bulky to fit into the capsid - the shell that contains the viral genome – and by doing so disrupt the reproductive process.

Here’s how the prion protein protects us

The cellular prion protein (PrPC) has the ability to protect the brain’s neurons. Although scientists have known about this protective physiological function for some time, they were lacking detailed knowledge of the molecular mechanism underlying it. This gap has been filled by a new SISSA study published in Antioxidants and Redox Signaling, the leading journal dedicated to the understanding of redox principles governing health and disease.

Faces that distract from actions

The sudden appearance of a face within our visual field can affect the motor action accompanying a gesture even if the face is totally unrelated to what we are doing and even if we try to ignore it. At one condition, though: the face must display an emotionally significant expression. A study conducted by scientists of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, and just published in Psychonomic Bullettin & Review, describes the phenomenon in detail.

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