International Team Unearths Oldest-Ever Reptile Embryos (CNRS)

Dating back 280 million years or so, the oldest known fossil reptile embryos have been unearthed in Uruguay and Brazil. They belong to the ancient aquatic reptiles, mesosaurs. The study of these exceptionally well-preserved fossils suggests that mesosaurs were either viviparous(1) (pushing back this mode of reproduction by 60 million years) or that they laid eggs in advanced stages of development. These finds, published in the journal Historical Biology, were revealed by an international team including Michel Laurin, CNRS senior researcher at the Centre de Recherche sur la Paléobiodiversité et les Paléoenvironnements (CNRS/Museum national d’histoire naturelle/UPMC).

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Shedding light on memory deficits in schizophrenic patients and healthy aged subjects

Working memory, which consists in the short-term retention and processing of information, depends on specific regions of the brain working correctly. This faculty tends to deteriorate in patients with schizophrenia, as it does in healthy aged subjects. Continue reading

Vitamin B and omega-3 supplementation and cancer: new data

 Researchers from the Nutritional Epidemiology Joint Research Unit (Inserm-Inra-Cnam-Université Paris 13) have just published a study showing that, in men with a previous history of cardiovascular pathologies, supplementation with B vitamins and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (the fatty acids present particularly in oily fish and dried fruit) did not significantly increase the occurrence of cancer. However, women with a previous history of cardiovascular pathologies seem to have a higher cancer risk after five years of supplementation. The research is published in detail in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Continue reading

For The First Time, Scientists Create a 3D Map of Chromosomes’ Organization !

In collaboration with researchers from the Weizmann Institute in Israel, a team from the Institut de Génétique Humaine (CNRS) has, for the first time, revealed the detailed three-dimensional architecture of chromosomes: Giacomo Cavalli and his colleagues have achieved high-resolution mapping of the different contacts that exist within and between chromosomes. They performed this feat using a new very high-throughput technique improved by the Montpellier team. This major research work should shed new light on the impact of 3D chromosome organization on genome expression and on the onset of diseases such as cancer. It is published in the online version of the journal Cell of 19 January 2012. Continue reading

Learning more about chromosome fragility

© Anne Helmrich

Why are some chromosomal regions particularly susceptible to breakage? Finding the answer to this question is crucial because this fragility is a factor in tumour development. A team from the Institute of Genetics and Molecular & Cellular Biology (CNRS/Inserm/University of Strasbourg) has just solved part of the mystery. Laszlo Tora and his colleagues have discovered that breakage in the longest human genes is caused by a phenomenon that, until now, was thought unlikely to occur in mammalian cells: interference between two key genetic processes, DNA transcription[1] and replication[2]. This research, published in the journalMolecular Cell on 23 December 2011, could eventually lead to novel strategies for fighting tumours.
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Record Breaking Explanets Discovered !

Copyright S. Charpinet

An international team led by a CNRS researcher from the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP, CNRS – Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier) has discovered the ruins of a planetary system, consisting of the cores of two former giant planets stripped of their gaseous envelopes, orbiting around the remnants of the core of a red giant. These two exoplanets are the smallest, hottest and closest to their parent star ever discovered. This finding, published in the 22 December 2011 issue of the journal Nature. could shed new light on the fate of planetary systems.

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French and social media : some trends and challenges for the 2.0 years


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If Facebook is as popular in France as it is in the US, it is not the case of other social media networks and tools such as Twitter, Linkedin, Foursquare and similar applications. Nonetheless, According to the Inria/TNS Sofres survey conducted this year, nearly one French person in two declared they could not do without social networks.

Such interest on its own proves what a success the social web is, although success is not without an increase in private data now present in cyberspace. A thorough grasp of interaction tools and controlling one’s web image are becoming major challenges for tomorrow’s web, both for individuals and companies… as well as a challenge for researchers developing social web management tools. 

To know what the 2012 trends in social media will be, the INRIA interviewed two of the best specialists in France : Frederic Cavazza – Social Media Consultant, and Fabien Gando, Researcher at Inria.

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The H1N1 flu vaccine protects both pregnant women and newly-borns

During the 2011-2012 campaign to promote the winter flu vaccination, Odile Launay, Director of the Centre for Clinical Research, Vaccinology, at the Cochin-Pasteur InstituteDirector of vaccinology at the Centre for Clinical Investigation of Cochin Pasteur (Inserm/AP-HP/Institut Pasteur/Université Paris Descartes) published the results of the PREFLUVAC clinical study carried out during the worldwide influenza epidemic of 2009. The researchers studied the immune response of 107 pregnant women after they were injected with a single dose of non-adjuvant H1N1 vaccine. They concluded that the influenza shot boosted the immune response in pregnant women and at the same time protected neuronatal babies via the antibodies that transferred through the placenta.

These results were published in the review Annals of Internal Medicine dated December 6th,.2011. They are available on-line.

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French Research Breaktrough : New Technique to See Crystals Like Never Before

An international team of scientists led by the Fresnel Institute (CNRS/Aix-Marseille University/Ecole Centrale de Marseille) and the ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility) in Grenoble has developed a new technique allowing to observe the nanometer-sized structure of crystalline materials. Using a microscopic X-ray beam to illuminate large areas of a sample, this technique reveals structural details in three dimensions and at high resolution. It could revolutionize research in various disciplines involving the study of complex crystal structures, such as the life sciences and microelectronics. This work is published in the journal Nature Communications dated 29 November 2011.

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Plate tectonics may control reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field

The Earth’s magnetic field has reversed many times at an irregular rate throughout its history. Long periods without reversal have been interspersed with eras of frequent reversals. What is the reason for these reversals and their irregularity? Researchers from CNRS and the Institut de Physique du Globe(1) have shed new light on the issue by demonstrating that, over the last 300 million years, reversal frequency has depended on the distribution of tectonic plates on the surface of the globe. This result does not imply that terrestrial plates themselves trigger the switch over of the magnetic field. Instead, it establishes that although the reversal phenomenon takes place, in fine, within the Earth’s liquid core, it is nevertheless sensitive to what happens outside the core and more specifically in the Earth’s mantle. This work is published on 16 October 2011 in Geophysical Research Letters.

The Earth’s magnetic field is produced by the flow of liquid iron within its core, three thousand kilometers below our feet. What made researchers think of a link between plate tectonics and the magnetic field? The discovery that convective liquid iron flows play a role in magnetic reversals: experiments and modeling work carried out over the last five years have in fact shown that a reversal occurs when the movements of molten metal are no longer symmetric with respect to the equatorial plane. This “symmetry breaking” could take place progressively, starting in an area located at the core-mantle boundary (the mantle separates the Earth’s liquid core from its crust), before spreading to the whole core (made of molten iron).

Extending this research, the authors of the article asked themselves whether some trace of initial symmetry breakings behind the geomagnetic reversals that have marked the Earth’s history, could be found in the only records of large-scale geological shifts in our possession, in other words the movements of continents (or plate tectonics). Some 200 million years ago, Pangaea, the name given to the supercontinent that encompassed almost all of the Earth’s land masses, began to break up into a multitude of smaller pieces that have shaped the Earth as we know it today. By assessing the surface area of continents situated in the Northern hemisphere and those in the Southern hemisphere, the researchers were able to calculate a degree of asymmetry (with respect to the equator) in the distribution of the continents during that period.

In conclusion, the degree of asymmetry has varied at the same rhythm as the magnetic reversal rate (number of reversals per million years). The two curves have evolved in parallel to such an extent that they can almost be superimposed. In other words, the further the centre of gravity of the continents moved away from the equator, the faster the rate of reversals (up to eight per million years for a maximum degree of asymmetry).

What does this suggest about the mechanism behind geomagnetic reversals? The scientists envisage two scenarios. In the first, terrestrial plates could be directly responsible for variations in the frequency of reversals: after plunging into the Earth’s crust at subduction zones, the plates could descend until they reach the core, where they could modify the flow of iron. In the second, the movements of the plates may only reflect the mixing of the material taking place in the mantle and particularly at its base. In both cases, the movements of rocks outside the core would cause flow asymmetry in the liquid core and determine reversal frequency.

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