Friday, August 28, 2020

Hidden webs of fungi protect some forests from drought—but leave others vulnerable

Mycorrhizal fungi (bright gray) penetrate root cells in this electron micrograph.  From Science.

Sanna Sevanto, a biophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, watched the fungi in action by dousing seedlings’ roots in heavy water, which served as a tracer. Water moved into the drought-tolerant roots infected with their fungus much faster than when they were sterile, reported Catherine Gehring, an ecologist at Northern Arizona University.

She and her colleagues are working with local researchers to replant pines in the Navajo Nation, not far from Sunset Crater, and they are applying what they learned. Because genetic differences among the trees seem to determine which of the two groups of EM fungi colonizes them, the team will be careful to plant seedlings with the right genotype to attract the drought-resistant fungi.  (Full Story)

Three big threats to satellites — and what to do about them

Space junk illustration, from

Our solar system is bathed in a continuous shower of cosmic rays and salvos of energetic particles from solar storms — all of which can penetrate a satellite, microscopically fry its electronics, and, in extreme cases, render it useless.  One solution is to predict space weather to give satellite operators the chance to temporarily shut down part or all of a spacecraft to protect it. 

For example, at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a new machine-learning computer model accurately predicts damaging radiation caused by the intensification of Earth's Van Allen radiation belts two days prior to the storm, the most advanced notice to date.  (Full Story)

Scientists dispel Coronavirus mutation fears, say ‘Malaysia Strain’ no cause for concern

Illustration from The Wire.

In July, a study in the journal Cell by scientists, including Bette Korber from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US, noted that a variant of the novel coronavirus, dubbed ‘D614G’, can infect more lab-grown cells than other strains.

The study said this mutant – in which a molecule aspartic acid’ (denoted as D) is replaced by another building block glycine’ (G) – had quickly taken over as the dominant strain across the world soon after it first appeared, and grew more rapidly in lab-grown cells. (Full Story)

Fast spreading mutation now Australia's most common strain of COVID-19

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19, from the Herald.

In a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell last month, researchers found the G-variant quickly became the dominant form of the virus around the world, suggesting it may be more transmissible than the original form from Wuhan.

“All over the world, even when local epidemics had many cases of the original form circulating, soon after the D614G variant was introduced into a region it became the prevalent form,” Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and lead author of the study, said in a press release. (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Laboratory computer scientists develop AI system to foil illicit cryptocurrency mining

LANL Illustration.

Legitimate cryptocurrency miners often assemble enormous computer arrays dedicated to digging up the digital cash. Less savory miners have found they can strike it rich by hijacking supercomputers, provided they can keep their efforts hidden. 

“Based on recent computer break-ins in Europe and elsewhere, this type of software watchdog will soon be crucial to prevent cryptocurrency miners from hacking into high-performance computing facilities and stealing precious computing resources,” said Gopinath Chennupati, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-author of a new paper in the journal IEEE Access.  (Full Story)

Also from Government Computing News and the Los Alamos Daily Post

Life after landing on Mars 

A new podcast episode talks about a day-in-the-life of the Perseverance rover on the Red Planet

When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars in February after its seven-month-long journey, the mission will only just be beginning. What will a day in the life of the rover look like as it traverses the dusty surface of the Red Planet, looking for signs of past life? And what features of the landing site are most of interest? In a new episode of the Mars Technica podcast, three experts explain.

“A lot of people think we drive the rover with a joystick back on Earth like a video game,” said Roger Wiens, who leads the team for the SuperCam instrument aboard the Perseverance rover.  (Full Story)

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