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New theory on how Earth’s crust was created

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More than 90% of Earth’s continental crust is made up of silica-rich minerals, such as feldspar and quartz. But where did this silica-enriched material come from? And could it provide a clue in the search for life on other planets? Conventional theory holds that all of the early Earth’s crustal ingredients were formed by volcanic activity. Now, however, McGill University earth scientists Don Baker and Kassandra Sofonio have published a theory with a novel twist: some of the chemical components of this material settled onto Earth’s early surface from the steamy atmosphere that prevailed at the time. First, a bit of ancient geochemical history: Scientists believe that a Mars-sized planetoid plowed into the proto-Earth around 4.5 billion years ago, melting the Earth and turning it into an ocean of magma. In the wake of that impact - which also created enough debris to form the moon - the Earth’s surface gradually cooled until it was more or less solid. Baker’s new theory, like the conventional one, is based on that premise.


Segnali, scelte e conflitti: il cervello li sbroglia con attenzione

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La risoluzione di conflitti cognitivi necessita di attenzione esclusiva. Ecco perché sono potenzialmente pericolosi in situazioni che richiedono un monitoraggio continuo, come la guida di un’automobile. Lo rivela un recente studio, pubblicato su Nature Scientific Reports, condotto dall’Istituto di bioimmagini e fisiologia molecolare del Cnr in collaborazione con l’Università di Milano-Bicocca. Distrazioni zero: la risoluzione di conflitti nella percezione dei segnali derivanti dal mondo esterno richiede un’attenzione esclusiva. È quanto emerge da uno studio condotto da Alberto Zani, responsabile del Laboratorio di Imaging Elettrofunzionale Cognitivo dell’Istituto di bioimmagini e fisiologia molecolare del Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche (Ibfm-Cnr), in collaborazione con Alice Mado Proverbio del NeuroMI-Milan Center for Neuroscience e docente di Neuroscienze cognitive presso l’Università di Milano-Bicocca. L’indagine ‘How voluntary orienting of attention and alerting modulate costs of conflict processing’ è stata recentemente pubblicata su Scientific Reports della piattaforma Nature.


Global bipolar disorder study reveals thinning of gray matter in brain regions responsible for inhibition and emotion

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Bipolar patients tend to have gray matter reductions in frontal brain regions involved in self-control (orange colors), while sensory and visual regions are normal (gray colors). [Image courtesy of the ENIGMA Bipolar Consortium/Derrek Hibar et al.]


In the largest MRI study on patients with bipolar disorder to date, a global consortium published new research showing that people with the condition have differences in the brain regions that control inhibition and emotion. The new study, published in Molecular Psychiatry on May 2, found brain abnormalities in people with bipolar disorder. By revealing clear and consistent alterations in key brain regions, the findings shed light on the underlying mechanisms of bipolar disorder. “We created the first global map of bipolar disorder and how it affects the brain, resolving years of uncertainty on how people’s brains differ when they have this severe illness,” said Ole A. Andreassen, senior author of the study and a professor at the Norwegian Centre for Mental Disorders Research (NORMENT) at the University of Oslo.


Modified soybeans yield more in future climate conditions

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Soybeans grown in fields that simulate 2050 temperatures show signs of stress. Researchers have discovered modified soybeans that yield more than current varieties in 2050 field conditions.


●    By 2050—in the midst of increasing temperature and carbon dioxide levels—we will need to produce 70 percent more food to meet the demands of 9.7 billion people.

●    Researchers at the University of Illinois have modified soybeans to yield more when both temperature and carbon dioxide levels increase, which suggests that we might be able to combat heat-related yield loss with genetic engineering.

●    Simplistically, carbon dioxide increases yield and temperature cuts yield; however, this work illustrates that these complex factors work together to influence crop photosynthesis and productivity.


By 2050, we will need to feed 2 billion more people on less land. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels are predicted to hit 600 parts per million—a 150 percent increase over today’s levels—and 2050 temperatures are expected to frequently match the top 5 percent hottest days from 1950-1979. In a three-year field study, researchers proved engineered soybeans yield more than conventional soybeans in 2050’s predicted climatic conditions.


Neonicotinoid pesticide reduces egg development in wild bumblebee queens

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Bombus Terrestris Bee


New research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B has found that wild bumblebee queens are less able to develop their ovaries when exposed to a common neonicotinoid pesticide. The research was conducted by Dr Gemma Baron , Professor Mark Brown of Royal Holloway, University of London and Professor Nigel Raine, (now based at the University of Guelph). The study investigated the impact of exposure to field-realistic levels of a neonicotinoid insecticide (thiamethoxam) on the feeding behaviour and ovary development of four species of bumblebee queen.


Smog, Italia e' paese piu' colpito nella UE

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Siamo al paradosso: l’Unione Europea è costretta a ricordare ad amministratori locali e regionali, nonché al governo italiano che l’inquinamento dell’aria da polveri sottili (PM10) sta provocando enormi impatti sulla salute dei cittadini italiani. La UE  sottolinea che l’Italia è il Paese più colpito nella UE e l’Agenzia Europea per l’Ambiente calcola che il PM10 abbia provocato oltre 66 mila morti. Per il WWF la salvaguardia della salute dei cittadini italiani dovrebbe essere la prima preoccupazione di governi nazionali, regionali e locali, mentre mancano ancora serie politiche di sistema per affrontarne e abbatterne le cause, dal traffico all’energia e al riscaldamento. È necessario un provvedimento quadro che assegni target e compiti alle singole amministrazioni: un provvedimento concepito, da subito, in modo integrato con le politiche di decarbonizzazione che presentano un ventaglio di soluzioni che portano validi co-benefici anche per l’inquinamento (dall’uso delle fonti pulite e rinnovabili, alla elettrificazione dei trasporti, all’efficienza energetica negli edifici che diminuisce drasticamente le necessità di riscaldamento, ecc).


Phthalates increase the risk of allergies among children

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Phthalates, which are used as plasticizers in plastics, can considerably increase the risk of allergies among children. This was demonstrated by UFZ researchers in conjunction with scientists from the University of Leipzig and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in a current study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. According to this study, an increased risk of children developing allergic asthma exists if the mother has been particularly heavily exposed to phthalates during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The mother-child cohort from the LINA study was the starting and end point of this translational study. In our day-to-day lives, we come into contact with countless plastics containing plasticizers. These plasticizers, which also include the aforementioned phthalates, are used when processing plastics in order to make the products more flexible. Phthalates can enter our bodies through the skin, foodstuffs or respiration. "It is a well-known fact that phthalates affect our hormone system and can thereby have an adverse effect on our metabolism or fertility. But that's not the end of it," says UFZ environmental immunologist Dr Tobias Polte. "The results of our current study demonstrate that phthalates also interfere with the immune system and can significantly increase the risk of developing allergies."


Potential for Saudi Arabian coral reefs to shine

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Marine surveys estimating fish population density and diversity are crucial to our understanding of how human activities impact coral reef ecosystems and to our ability to make informed management plans for sustainability. KAUST researchers recently conducted the first baseline surveys of reefs in the southern Red Sea by comparing reefs off the coast of Saudi Arabia with those of Sudan1. “A major issue is that there is no established historical record for Red Sea ecosystems,” said Dr. Darren Coker, who worked on the project with KAUST M.Sc. Alumnus Alexander Kattan and Professor Michael Berumen all of the University’s Red Sea Research Center. “This means we can only hypothesize what the natural reef environment would have looked like before human interference through fishing began.”


Rosemary aroma can aid children’s working memory

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Exposure to the aroma of rosemary essential oil can significantly enhance working memory in children. This is one the findings of a study presented today, Thursday 4 May 2017, by Dr Mark Moss and Victoria Earle of Northumbria University at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in Brighton. Dr Mark Moss said: “Our previous study demonstrated the aroma of rosemary essential oil could enhance cognition in healthy adults. Knowing how important working memory is in academic achievement we wanted to see if similar effects could be found in school age children in classroom settings.” A total of 40 children aged 10 to 11 took part in a class based test on different mental tasks. Children were randomly assigned to a room that had either rosemary oil diffused in it for ten minutes or a room with no scent.


Earliest relative of Brachiosaurus dinosaur found in France

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This Vouivria herd are roaming the coast of what is now Europe.


Scientists have re-examined an overlooked museum fossil and discovered that it is the earliest known member of the titanosauriform family of dinosaurs. The fossil, which the researchers from Imperial College London and their colleagues in Europe have named Vouivria damparisensis, has been identified as a brachiosaurid sauropod dinosaur. The researchers suggest the age of Vouivria is around 160 million years old, making it the earliest known fossil from the titanosauriform family of dinosaurs, which includes better-known dinosaurs such as the Brachiosaurus. When the fossil was first discovered in France in the 1930s, its species was not identified, and until now it has largely been ignored in scientific literature. The new analysis of the fossil indicates that Vouivria died at an early age, weighed around 15,000 kilograms and was over 15 metres long, which is roughly 1.5 times the size of a double-decker bus in the UK.


How do fishes perceive their environment?

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In this image generated using micro-computed tomography, the blue dyed lateral lines of the ide (Leuciscus idus) are clear to see. Source: Dr. Hendrik Herzog


Fishes perceive changes in water currents caused by prey, conspecifics and predators using their lateral line. The tiny sensors of this organ also allow them to navigate reliably. However, with increasing current velocities, the background signal also increases. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now created a realistic, three-dimensional model of a fish for the first time and have simulated the precise current conditions. The virtual calculations show that particular anatomical adaptations minimize background noise. The results are now being presented in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The ide (Leuciscus idus) is a fish that inhabits the lower stretches of slow-flowing rivers. Like most fishes, it can perceive the current using its lateral line. The mechanoreceptors of this organ are distributed over the surface of the entire body, which is why the organ provides a three-dimensional image of the hydrodynamic conditions. Fishes can thus also find their way around themselves in the dark and identify prey, conspecifics, or predators. The recently retired zoologist Prof. Horst Bleckmann from the University of Bonn has spent many years researching the sensitive organ and has used it as inspiration for technical flow sensors in order to, for instance, identify leakages in water pipes.


Researchers develop online support for people with Bipolar Disorder

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An online relapse prevention tool for Bipolar Disorder offers a “cheap accessible option” for people seeking support following treatment, say researchers. Bipolar Disorder (BD) is a lifelong mental health condition characterised by depression and mania. It affects one per cent of adults worldwide and costs an estimated £5.2 billion annually in England alone. It is treated with medication, yet many people continue to experience relapses. Enhanced Relapse Prevention (ERPonline) is a psychological approach developed by the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research. It teaches people with Bipolar Disorder (BD) to recognise and respond to early warning signs of relapse. Lead researcher Professor Fiona Lobban from the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University said: “The key elements are identifying your individual triggers and early warning signs for both mania and depression, and developing coping strategies to manage mood changes in everyday life.”


Why is Herpes Simplex Virus Disease Risk So Much Greater for Newborns?

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Interferon is a crucial component of the human immune system's response to infection by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), but how important a role it plays in determining the severity of disease and explaining why newborns are so much more susceptible to HSV-1 infection than adults remains unclear. A comprehensive review of the contribution of type I interferon (IFN) to controlling HSV-1 infection is presented in an article published in DNA and Cell Biology, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available free on the DNA and Cell Biology website until May 19, 2017. In the article entitled "The Type I Interferon Response and Age-Dependent Susceptibility to Herpes Simplex Virus Infection," Daniel Giraldo, Douglas Wilcox, and Richard Longnecker, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, provide an in-depth look at the IFN response to HSV-1 infection. The authors examine the factors that may explain why newborns infected with HSV-1 are at greater risk for serious and potentially life-threatening diseases such as herpes simplex encephalitis, whereas in adults orolabial lesions are the more likely result of HSV-1 infection.


Storm ahead – how to prepare Europe for extreme weather

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River floods are expected to become more frequent by mid-century, and rainstorms and coastal flooding by the end of the century. From storms to flash floods, extreme weather events are becoming more common in Europe, and can wreak havoc on infrastructure such as transport, telecoms and energy systems. Policy makers, infrastructure owners and local authorities need data and decision-making tools to deal with extreme weather and its effects. The European project called RAIN, which is drawing to a close after 3 years, has designed such tools by bringing together meteorologists, engineers and sociologists to tackle the problem. The consortium recently presented its findings at a public event in Dublin, Ireland. As in all battles, knowing your enemy is key to success. The European Severe Storms Laboratory (ESSL) in Wessling, Germany, has coordinated the analysis of extreme weather events. A team of experts from the Free University of Berlin, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the Technical University of Delft modelled the occurrence of extreme events such as snowstorms, high winds, coastal flooding and wildfires.


Scoperto nuovo gene per sclerosi multipla e Lupus

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Il lavoro, condotto dall’Irgb-Cnr e Università di Sassari e cofinanziato dalla Fism, è pubblicato su New England Journal of Medicine e svela per la prima volta un importante meccanismo biologico che predispone a queste malattie, gettando le basi per nuove terapie personalizzate e per lo sviluppo di nuovi farmaci. L’individuazione di un nesso di causa-effetto diretto come quello tra una particolare forma di Tnfsf13B e il rischio di sviluppare le due patologie è un evento rarissimo in studi di questo genere. All’origine del rischio di sviluppare sclerosi multipla (Sm) e lupus eritematoso sistemico, malattie autoimmuni a carico rispettivamente della mielina del sistema nervoso centrale e di pelle, reni e altri organi, vi sarebbe anche una particolare forma di Tnfsf13B, un gene che presiede alla sintesi di una proteina con importanti funzioni immunologiche: la citochina Baff. A rivelarlo su New England Journal of Medicine, la più antica e prestigiosa rivista di medicina al mondo, uno studio di un gruppo internazionale di ricercatori cofinanziato dalla Fondazione italiana sclerosi multipla (Fism) e coordinato da Francesco Cucca, direttore dell’Istituto di ricerca genetica e biomedica del Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche (Irgb-Cnr) e professore di genetica medica dell’Università di Sassari. Alla pubblicazione italiana la rivista americana dedica anche un editoriale.


Looking to the Moon to better measure climate change on Earth

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The moon appears in an image captured by the SEVIRI instrument on a EUMETSAT Meteosat Second Generation satellite.

When American astronaut Alfred Worden, who was the command module pilot for the Apollo 15 lunar mission in 1971, was asked what he was feeling at that time, he replied: “Now I know why I’m here. Not for a closer look at the moon, but to look back at our home, the Earth.” Those words have an interesting parallel to work being carried out today, as scientists look to the Moon to help gain an accurate understanding of the weather and climate on Earth.


A material inspired by a sea worm changes according to the environment

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Photo caption: The Nereis virens worm inspired new research out of the MIT Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics. Its jaw is made of soft organic material, but is as strong as harder materials such as human dentin. / Alexander Semenov / Wikimedia Commons


The gelatinous jaw of a sea worm, which becomes hard or flexible depending on the environment around it, has inspired researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop a new material that can be applied to soft robotics. Despite having the texture of a gel, this compound is endowed with great mechanical resistance and consistency, and is able to adapt to changing environments. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have looked at a sea worm called Nereis virens in order to create a changing material, which has the ability to be flexible or rigid at convenience. The jaw of this worm has a texture similar to gelatin, but if the environment varies, the material may adopt the hardness of dentin or human bones.


A new study revises the development and evolutionary origin of the vertebrate brain

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A study recently published in PLOS Biology provides information that substantially changes the prevailing idea about the brain formation process in vertebrates and sheds some light on how it might have evolved. The findings show that the interpretation maintained hitherto regarding the principal regions formed at the beginning of vertebrate brain development is not correct. This research was led jointly by the researchers José Luis Ferran and Luis Puelles of the Department of Human Anatomy and Psychobiology of the UMU; Manuel Irimia of the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), and Jordi García Fernández of the Genetics Department of the University of Barcelona. The brain of an invertebrate organism, amphioxus (a fish-like marine chordate), whose place in the evolutionary tree is very close to the origin of the vertebrates, was used for the research.


Così la materia soffice ‘si rilassa’

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Da destra a sinistra, due immagini separate da un intervallo di tempo di 10 secondi, e il differential frame, risultante dalla sottrazione delle prime due. Le particelle che si sono mosse significativamente durante questo tempo producono nel differential frame spot accoppiati di alta (rosso) e bassa (blu) intensità, come idenziato dallo zoom. Il sistema studiato è un modello paradigmatico di materiale soffice: una densa sospensione colloidale di particelle micrometriche (sfere dure) in acqua.

Da una collaborazione tra il Cnr e il gruppo Procter and Gamble (P&G) nasce una tecnica innovativa per studiare il comportamento di una vasta categoria di materiali, dai tessuti biologici a prodotti di largo consumo come detergenti e alimenti. Prodotti di uso quotidiano come shampoo e dentifrici, alimenti come yogurt e maionese e ancora tessuti biologici, come quelli epiteliali, sono esempi di ‘materiali soffici’, con proprietà intermedie tra lo stato liquido e quello solido . Una tecnica innovativa, messa a punto tra Napoli e Cincinnati (Ohio, USA) da una collaborazione tra ricercatori dell’Istituto superconduttori, materiali innovativi e dispositivi (Spin) del Cnr di Napoli, il gruppo Procter&Gamble, l’Università Federico II di Napoli e la University of Cincinnati aiuta a comprendere come si muovono e si organizzano nel tempo le particelle che compongono questi materiali: si tratta della Differential Variance Analysis (DVA), una tecnica che consente di misurare e visualizzare l’evoluzione della microstruttura nel tempo.


Studio FBK sul virus Zika pubblicato dalla rivista internazionale PNAS

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Nel lavoro si dimostra che l’andamento dell’epidemia è stato determinato principalmente da fattori climatici e legati alla mobilità umana ​. Altro importante riconoscimento internazionale per la Fondazione Bruno Kessler nell’ambito degli studi sulla diffusione dei virus. I risultati di un lavoro scientifico sul virus Zika condotto dai ricercatori FBK Stefano Merler e Piero Poletti, in collaborazione con la Fondazione ISI di Torino, l’Università Northeastern di Boston, l’Università della Florida e l’Università di Washington, sono stati pubblicati sull’ultimo numero della rivista PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), una delle più citate al mondo nel campo della ricerca. Il virus Zika è trasmesso principalmente dalle zanzare Aedes. L’infezione nell’uomo si manifesta generalmente con sintomi molto blandi, come febbre leggera, rash cutaneo o congiuntivite, ed è completamente asintomatica in circa l’80% dei casi. Ciò nonostante, ha generato molto allarme l’associazione tra virus Zika e casi di microcefalia osservati in neonati da madri infette durante la recente epidemia del 2015-2016 in Sudamerica.


Some cows may be predisposed to subacute ruminal acidosis

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Some cows are more at risk for SARA than others


Cattle with subacute ruminal acidosis suffer from a number of low-level ailments that affect productivity. A research team led by University of Illinois scientists has documented changes in pH, microbiome, and rumen epithelial cells in SARA-affected cows. Results indicate that some animals may be predisposed to SARA because of an overabundance of certain bacteria. Scientists are not sure why some cows develop the condition known as subacute ruminal acidosis, or SARA, but producers know it causes a number of minor symptoms that add up to major problems over time. “Subacute ruminal acidosis is what happens when the pH of the rumen – the large compartment of a cow’s stomach – gets too low. It’s not severe, but it’s lower than ideal. It’s difficult to detect. Because of that, we don’t have a great understanding of how it happens and what are the contributing factors,” says assistant professor of animal sciences Josh McCann.

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