The Fountain of Youth

A step toward discovering the fountain of youth could involve protecting against the inevitable accumulation of “senescentcells associated with aging and age-related diseases. Now, researchers from Japan have identified the MondoA protein as key to protecting against the accumulation of senescent cells.

In a study published this month in Cell Reports, researchers led by Osaka University have shown that MondoA delays cellular senescence, and therefore promotes longevity, by activating . Autophagy is a process whereby cells undergo controlled breakdown and recycling of their components, which is important for maintaining stable conditions in the cellular environment and for enabling adaptation to stress. Activation of autophagy by MondoA partly involves suppressing a protein called Rubicon, which is a negative regulator of autophagy. Rubicon can increase with aging in various tissues and model organisms, which can cause the decline in autophagy seen with aging.

Furthermore, MondoA is also essential to maintaining stable conditions of parts of the cell called mitochondria, which are responsible for energy production. MondoA does this by regulating another molecule, Prdx3, which is involved in mitochondrial turnover. Mitochondria are constantly fusing and dividing, which is important for maintaining their health. Prdx3 is part of the process by which autophagy occurs in mitochondria, preventing senescence. The research team led by Osaka University concluded that MondoA plays a key role in the regulation of Prdx3 and therefore in maintaining mitochondrial stability.

Particularly dense accumulation of senescent cells has been observed in the kidney. The researchers therefore looked at ischemic acute kidney injury (AKI) in mice.

Mice with ischemic AKI and reduced levels of MondoA showed increased senescence,” explains lead author Hitomi Yamamoto-Imoto. “We also found that decreased MondoA in the nucleus correlated with human aging and ischemic AKI. MondoA therefore counteracts cellular  in aging and ischemic AKI in both mice and humans.”

Drugs that eliminate senescent cells, called senolytics, are currently being considered as treatment for age-associated diseases. However, senescent  play important roles, and their complete removal may have considerable side effects. “Our work shows that the transcriptional activation of MondoA can protect against , kidney injury associated with aging, and organismal aging,” explains senior author Tamotsu Yoshimori. “Activation of MondoA and therefore autophagy could be a potentially safe therapeutic strategy.” This work could well open new and safer avenues for the treatment of aging and age-related diseases.


Japan Begins Testing A DNA Coronavirus Vaccine

Japanese biopharmaceutical firm Anges Inc said on Tuesday that it and Osaka University had completed development of a DNA vaccine against the new coronavirus and that it would begin testing it in animals soonShares of Anges surged as much as 17% in morning trade in Tokyo, compared with a 5.3% gain in the broader market.

Anges, a drug-discovery company launched out of Osaka University, announced its collaboration with the school on a coronavirus vaccine on March 5. DNA vaccines are produced using an inactivated virus and can manufactured faster than protein based vaccines, according to the company statement. Takara Bio Co is in charge of production of the vaccine and Daicel Corp’s gene-transfer technology is also being utilized, the statement said.

Global pharma companies are racing to develop vaccines and treatments for coronavirus, which has reached 350,000 cases globally and resulted in over 15,000 deaths. In Japan, market leader Takeda Pharmaceutical Co is working on a plasma-derived therapy, while the active ingredient in Fujifilm Holdings Corp’s Avigan anti-flu drug is being tested as a treatment in China. [nL4N2BG4MK]


Brain function partly replicated by nanomaterials

The brain requires surprisingly little energy to adapt to the environment to learn, make ambiguous recognitions, have high recognition ability and intelligence, and perform complex information processing.

The two key features of neural circuits are “learning ability of synapses” and “nerve impulses or spikes.” As brain science progresses, brain structure has been gradually clarified, but it is too complicated to completely emulate. Scientists have tried to replicate brain function by using simplified neuromorphic circuits and devices that emulate a part of the brain’s mechanisms.

Spontaneous spikes being similar to nerve impulses of neurons was generated from a POM/CNT complexed network

In developing neuromorphic chips to artificially replicate the circuits that mimic brain structure and function, the functions of generation and transmission of spontaneous spikes that mimic nerve impulses (spikes) have not yet been fully utilized.

A joint group of researchers from Kyushu Institute of Technology and Osaka University studied current rectification control in junctions of various molecules and particles absorbed on single-walled carbon nanotube (SWNT), using conductive atomic force microscopy (C -AFM), and discovered that a negative differential resistance was produced in polyoxometalate (POM) molecules absorbed on SWNT. This suggests that an unstable dynamic non-equilibrium state occurs in molecular junctions.

In addition, the researchers created extremely dense, random SWNT/POM network molecular neuromorphic devices, generating spontaneous spikes similar to nerve impulses of neurons.

POM consists of metal atoms and oxygen atoms to form a 3-dimensional framework. Unlike ordinary organic molecules, POM can store charges in a single molecule. In this study, it was thought that negative differential resistance and spike generation from the network were caused by nonequilibrium charge dynamics in molecular junctions in the network.

Thus, the joint research group led by Megumi Akai-Kasaya conducted simulation calculations of the random molecular network model complexed with POM molecules, which are able to store electric charges, replicating spikes generated from the random molecular network.  They also demonstrated that this molecular model would very likely become a component of reservoir computing devices. Reservoir computing is anticipated as next-generation artificial intelligence (AI). Their research results were published in Nature Communications.

The significance of our study is that a portion of brain function was replicated by nano-molecular materials. We demonstrated the possibility that the random molecular network itself can become neuromorphic AI,” says lead author Hirofumi Tanaka.


High Power Generator Utilizes Thermal Difference Of Only 5ºC

Objects in our daily lives, such as speakers, refrigerators, and even cars, are becoming “smarter” day by day as they connect to the internet and exchange data, creating the Internet of Things (IoT), a network among the objects themselves. Toward an IoT-based society, a miniaturized thermoelectric generator is anticipated to charge these objects, especially for those that are portable and wearable.

Due to advantages such as its relatively low thermal conductance but high electric conductance, silicon nanowires have emerged as a promising thermoelectric material. Silicon-based thermoelectric generators conventionally employed long, silicon nanowires of about 10-100 nanometers, which were suspended on a cavity to cutoff the bypass of the heat current and secure the temperature difference across the silicon nanowires. However, the cavity structure weakened the mechanical strength of the devices and increased the fabrication cost. To address these problems, a team of Japanese researchers from Waseda University, Osaka University, and Shizuoka University designed and successfully developed a novel silicon-nanowire thermoelectric generator, which experimentally demonstrated a high power density of 12 microwatts per 1cm2, enough to drive sensors or realize intermittent wireless communication, at a small thermal difference of only 5ºC.

Because our generator uses the same technology to manufacture semiconductor integrated circuits, its processing cost could be largely cut through mass production,” says Professor Takanobu Watanabe of Waseda University, the leading researcher of this study. “Also, it could open up a pathway to various, autonomously-driven IoT devices utilizing environmental and body heats. For instance, it may be possible to charge your smartwatch during your morning jog someday.”

The newly developed thermoelectric generator lost the cavity structure but instead shortened the silicon nanowires to 0.25 nanometers, since simulations showed that the thermoelectric performance improved by minimizing the device. Professor Watanabe explains that despite its new structure, the new thermoelectric generator demonstrated the same power density as the conventional devices. More surprisingly, thermal resistance was suppressed, and the power density multiplied by ten times by thinning the generator’s silicon substrate from the conventional 750 nanometers to 50 nanometers with backside grinding.