The question of why we sleep has long puzzled scientists. Brian Preston from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, led an international team of researchers who tested the theory that sleep improves immune function.
He says, “Sleep is a biological enigma. Despite occupying much of an animal’s life, and having been scrutinized by numerous experimental studies, there is still no consensus on its function. Similarly, nobody has yet explained why species have evolved such marked variation in their sleep requirements (from 3 to 20 hours a day in mammals). Our research provides new evidence that sleep plays an important role in protecting animals from parasitic infection.”
By comparing reported information about mammalian sleep, immune system parameters, and parasitism the authors show that evolutionary increases in mammalian sleep durations are strongly associated with the number of circulating immune cells. Mammalian species that sleep for longer periods also have substantially reduced levels of parasitic infection.
According to Preston, “We suggest that sleep fuels the immune system. While awake, animals must be ready to meet multiple demands on a limited energy supply, including the need to search for food, acquire mates, and provide parental care. When asleep, animals largely avoid these costly activities, and can thus allocate resources to the body’s natural defenses.”
This research may yet have implications for human health. Preston warns, “Given the declines in human sleep durations that have occurred over the past few decades, there is a clear need for studies that further clarify the immunological significance of sleep.”
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Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
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Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
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Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
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For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
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