Cortisol levels in hair indicative of depression or mental illness in adolescents

According to a group of researchers from Ohio State University, one day it may be possible to diagnose depression or mental illness in adolescents by analyzing their hair.

Analyzing the concentration of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the hair as well as the same symptoms of depression in 432 adolescents aged between 11 and 17 years, the researchers have in fact found what was defined in the press release appeared on the website of the University as a “surprising connection.”

In fact, higher cortisol levels seemed to correspond to a greater probability of depression while lower levels could be linked to mental problems. Few types of research in the past have considered this hormone as a possible predictor of depression and in this sense, this research provides fairly new data in this sense.

In the scientific article, which appeared in Psychoneuroendocrinology, we describe the experiments and analyzes carried out by researchers who suggest, as specified by Jodi Ford, a nursing professor at the aforementioned university and the principal author of the study, that there may be an average level of cortisol which can be considered as “normal”: a level that is too low or too high could therefore indicate bad things.

This discovery leads to an important connection whose demonstration requires further research though, as Ford itself points out, “it is possible for some people to experience a reduction in the stress response that reduces cortisol production or changes the way in which is processed. Maybe the body isn’t using cortisol the way it should in some cases.”


New sauropodomorphic dinosaur species identified in South Africa

A fossil dinosaur specimen preserved at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, was analyzed again following an erroneous identification made years ago.
Paleontologist Paul Barrett, along with several South African colleagues, aided in particular by student Paul Barrett, has identified a new species of sauropodomorph, as well as a new genus.

The new dinosaur has been named Ngwevu intloko, which can be translated as “gray skull” in the Xhosa language. As Barrett also specifies, the samples of this dinosaur were collected in the areas of Johannesburg some thirty years ago and have been examined by other scientists and paleontologists. Eventually, it was concluded that it was a specimen of Massospondylus, a sauropodomorph and one of the first dinosaurs to appear at the beginning of the Jurassic.

By analyzing the fossil remains more closely, Barrett and Chapelle understood that it is a new species. The differentiation was possible thanks to the fact that there are various dead Massospondylus specimens at various stages of growth, from the embryo to the adult specimens. The remains were represented by “extraordinarily well preserved” pieces of the skull. It was a bipedal dinosaur, quite large, with a long, slender neck but a small square head.

It measured about three meters from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail and was probably omnivorous. This specimen must have lived around 200 million years ago, on the border between the Triassic and the Jurassic, a period characterized by a mass extinction phase.

The discovery is important because until a few years ago it was thought that there was only one type of sauropodomorph with regard to the area of ​​today’s South Africa. With recent discoveries, including this one, “we now know that there were actually six or seven of these dinosaurs in this area, as well as varieties of other dinosaurs from less common groups. It means that their ecology was much more complex than we thought. Some of these other sauropodomorphs were like the Massospondylus, but some were close to the origins of true sauropods, if not true sauropods themselves,” as Professor Barrett points out.

The study was published in PeerJ.


Could bacteria be useful to extract resources from asteroids?

Could bacteria really be useful for extracting resources from asteroids? According to two researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, the answer is yes. Luis Zea and his colleague Jesse Colangelo of the Department of Geological Sciences have managed to obtain a loan to verify this possibility which, according to the scientists themselves, does not seem at all impossible.

Bacteria are already used here on Earth to extract copper and gold, as Zea himself points out, suggesting that the same method could also be used on asteroids. The process sees the positioning of the bacteria in the water together with the materials, substantially rocks, from which the desired materials are to be extracted. The specialized bacteria are able to extract the desired metals by performing a task similar to that performed by aggressive chemicals that are usually used to separate metals fro rocks, including gold.

And according to Tadg Forward, a molecular biologist who works at Zea project, it is not even more expensive. In fact, it would be cheaper: “Just add water and bacteria on the rocks and it yields a product.”

Researchers are examining the performance of Shewanella oneidensis to extract iron from rocks and in general environments that simulate the environments of the Moon, Mars and asteroids. Researchers are also trying to simulate the reduced severity of these environments.

The potential of these methods seems very promising as the financial potential of mining from asteroids, in general, seems enormous. Many asteroids are in fact “full” of metals that here on Earth are considered rare or difficult to extract. It is thought that future wars could be guided precisely by the need for these rare metals and being able to make a new type of supply truly possible could mitigate this risk, as reported by Zea himself.