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Research Roundup: Fitness analysis, infection protection, impact crater

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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 May 24–30.

Blood analysis may shed light on fitness levels

A newly developed blood test may provide insight into a person’s physical fitness levels at the molecular level, a study published on May 28 in “Cell” found.

“Everybody knows exercise is good for you, but we really don’t know what drives that at a molecular level,” professor and genetics department chair Michael Snyder told Stanford Medicine News. “Our goal at the outset was to conduct a highly comprehensive analysis of what’s happening in the body just after exercising.”

The findings suggest that blood samples collected from individuals two minutes after exercise have higher levels of a collection of biomarkers linked to immunity, metabolism and muscle activity. This test could potentially compliment treadmill tests, a more traditional test of physical fitness levels.

“All of these measurements allow us to describe a choreography of molecular events that occur after physical exercise,” Snyder told Stanford Medicine News. “We know that exercise causes an array of physiological responses, such as inflammation, metabolism and hormone fluctuation, but these measurements allowed us to characterize those changes in unprecedented detail.”

Thick layer of proteins may prevent viral infection

Increasing the density of mucins, which are proteins found on cell surfaces, can prevent viral infection of influenza A in healthy cells, a study published on May 26 in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” found.

“This fundamental research gives us and other scientists a leg-up in being able to develop treatments for the flu and other viruses,” Bette Webster, a fifth-year chemistry graduate student, told ChEM-H News. “How do you treat a virus if you don’t know how it’s infecting a cell? And how do you improve an existing therapy if you don’t know why it’s working?”

The dense layer of mucins impeded virus particles from binding to healthy cell surfaces, and thus slowed down the membrane fusion. By inhibiting membrane fusion of the virus to healthy cells, healthy cells can prevent infections since the virus can no longer insert their genetic material into the healthy cell.

“There is increasing interest in the mechanisms by which respiratory viruses make their first point of contact with their hosts,” chemistry professor Carolyn Bertozzi told ChEM-H News. “What we learned from these studies of flu virus may have relevance to other viruses that must navigate a mucus layer while engaging cell surface ligands, including SARS-CoV-2.”

Impact crater 66 million years ago changed Earth’s surface

The Chicxulub impact crater linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs may have contained an extensive hydrothermal system long after its impact on Earth, a study published on May 29 in “Science Advances” found.

“Our results indicate that tiny magnetic minerals were created in the Chicxulub crater due to chemical reactions produced by a long-lived hydrothermal system,” geophysics assistant professor Sonia Tikoo told Stanford Earth News. “These minerals appear to have recorded changes in the Earth’s magnetic field as they formed. Their magnetic memories suggest that hydrothermal activity within the crater persisted for at least 150,000 years.”

After the catastrophic impact event, the hydrothermal system — the circulation of hot water as energy — chemically changed the surface of the crater and created new minerals.

The team’s findings suggest that the hydrothermal system persisted for a long time based on the high concentration of manganese found in seafloor sediments, which results from seafloor venting.

“Our study of the expedition’s rock core from a potential deep Earth habitat provides additional evidence for the impact-origin of life hypothesis,” David Kring, a principal scientist with the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), told Stanford Earth News. “Life may have evolved in an impact crater.”

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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