Research

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.

Characteristics of a universal simulator

According to many scientists, quantum computers will have great importance in the future but, despite all efforts, research in this field is still in its infancy. One of the difficulties is understanding what criteria a quantum system should meet to be able to solve problems that are impossible for conventional computers. An international research team headed by SISSA has just published a study that establishes a basic characteristic that universal quantum simulators should possess.

Weight and eating habits in Parkinson

A review of the scientific literature on Parkinson’s disease, conducted by SISSA research scientists, shows that even the non-motor symptoms associated with the disease can contribute to the changes in body weight seen in patients (including those subjected to deep brain stimulation). Among the factors affecting eating habits and body weight there could be, for example, an impaired ability to derive pleasure from food and changes in motivation.

“Dressing” in superconductors

The physical mechanism that generates superconductivity in materials at high critical temperature (like cuprates, which appear to be among the most promising materials for technological applications) remains a mystery.

(Nano)bearings on the test bench

“Nano–machines” (around one billionth of a metre in size) of the future will need tiny devices to reduce friction and make movement possible. The C60 molecule, also known as fullerene or buckyball, seemed to many an excellent candidate for nano-bearings. Unfortunately, the results so far have been conflicting, calling for further studies, like the one carried out by a theoretical team involving SISSA, ICTP, CNR and EMPA. Through a series of computer simulations the scientists uncovered the reason for the experimental discrepancies and shed light on the true potential of this material.

The first and the last

Children start to learn the sound of words by remembering the first and last syllables. A SISSA study, published in Child Development, sheds light on the information the infant brain uses during language acquisition and the format in which it stores words in its memory.

DOWNLOAD > Press release

The channel that relaxes DNA

A simple and effective way of unravelling the often tangled mass of DNA is to “thread” the strand into a nano-channel. A study carried out with the participation of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste used simulations to measure the characteristics that this channel should have in order to achieve maximum efficiency.

DOWNLOAD > Press release

The electric slide dance of DNA knots

DNA is an electrically charged molecule, and for this reason the knots that form spontaneously along the strand can be manipulated by applying electric fields, as done by Cristian Micheletti, professor at SISSA, and his team. The research paper has just been published in Soft Matter and is the first example of a technique allowing DNA knots to be driven from the outside.

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