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Research Roundup: Battery car testing, African killifish embryos and ocean organism extinctions


Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Feb. 16 – Feb. 22.

Artificial intelligence decreases testing time for car batteries

An artificial intelligence (AI)-based method has decreased electric vehicle (EV) battery testing time from around two years to 16 days, a 98% reduction, according to a study published on Feb. 19 in “Nature.”

“In battery testing, you have to try a massive number of things, because the performance you get will vary drastically,” computer science assistant professor Stefano Ermon told Stanford News. “With AI, we’re able to quickly identify the most promising approaches and cut out a lot of unnecessary experiments.”

The researchers focused on finding the charging method for an EV battery that maximizes the battery’s lifetime. The AI program efficiently tested battery protocols to figure out the best optimal protocols for charging.

“It gave us this surprisingly simple charging protocol — something we didn’t expect,” Ermon told Stanford News. “That’s the difference between a human and a machine: The machine is not biased by human intuition, which is powerful but sometimes misleading.”

Increased gene activity associated with fish embryo diapause

An increase in the activity of a specific gene has been identified in African killifish embryos that undergo a hibernation-like state, called diapause, during early development, found a study published on Feb. 21 in “Science.”

African killifish enter diapause to avoid the harsh conditions during the dry season, and exit diapause when conditions are optimal for development. 

“Diapause lasts around five months, about the same as an average African killifish lifespan,” genetics professor Anne Brunet told Stanford Medicine News. “But some killifish have stayed in diapause for 2.5 years. If you think about that in human terms, that’s like if we were to exist, paused as an embryo, for some 400 years, only to resume natural development and live out a full life.”

The findings suggested that during the diapause period, activity of the CBX7 gene increases. The gene is associated with regulating muscle maintenance, and African killifish embryos lacking CBX7 display muscle atrophy, which leads to exiting diapause too early.

“As time passes, our organs progressively degenerate, especially in disease,” Brunet told Stanford Medicine News. “So identifying the general, fundamental mechanisms of organ preservation could be important to understanding how to counter the normal atrophy of organs over time or under disease conditions.”

Extinctions of smaller ocean creatures throughout the past 485 million years

A fossil study indicated that the extinctions of smaller ocean organisms were more common than previously thought, according to a report published on Jan. 30 in “Paleobiology.”

“Our findings suggest that the controls on extinction risk for marine animals across evolutionary time were quite different from those that are operating in the current extinction crisis, but were consistent across time and distantly related groups of animals,” geological sciences Jonathan Payne told Stanford Earth News.

The researchers analyzed fossils related to the bivalve group Pectinida. The findings suggest that bivalve-related organisms, pancake-thin and smaller than a human palm, went extinct disproportionately more often than larger species. Larger bivalve-related organisms were more likely to survive.

“The fossil record is our only archive of past extinction events,” Payne told Stanford Earth News. “This finding adds substantial urgency to our efforts to conserve species and ecosystems before extinction occurs.”

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’

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