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More than half of the trees native to Europe are at risk of dying

More than half of the trees native to Europe are at risk of dying

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has reported that more than half of the known trees in Europe are at the risk of getting extinct. Few of these trees have been in existence before the previous ice age but the perennial woods of Europe are in more danger than the birds, bees, butterflies in the sixth mass extinction. 

According to the European Red List of the IUCN, only freshwater mollusks and leafy plants have more risk of extinction than the trees. Thus they are a highly endangered group of species. After the evaluation of the 454 tree species native to Europe, analysts identified that 42 percent of the species face regional extinction threats. More than half of the endemic trees existing in Europe are in danger of dying out while 15 percent are in the category of critically endangered species. What’s alarming is that even among the trees in the safe zone, a dozen are on the edge of shifting to the threatened category while there is no data on 13 percent of the species. 

Luc Bas, Director of the European Office of the IUCN said that human-led activities have resulted in the decline of the population and increased the extinction risk for several important species all across Europe. This report reveals the status of several species that have been overlooked while they are an integral part of the ecosystems of Europe, contributing to a better planet. 

The number of known plant extinctions has quadrupled since the 18th century. A study published in June reveals that an average of three plant species has disappeared every year since 1900. This rate of extinction is 500 times faster than the natural expectations and twice the number of extinctions faced by mammals, birds, and amphibians. As per the report of IUCN, 38 percent of the examined species in Europe face danger from invasive species. This is followed by wood harvesting, deforestation, development of cities along with climate change, fires and land management. 

In the analysis, it was found that three-quarters of the tree species in the Sorbus genus such as Mountain Ash, were assessed to be threatened and a third to be critically endangered. 22 species were unable to get assessed due to a lack of proper information. Tim Rich, taxonomist who was involved in the study said that he has been quite worried as along with saplings, big ash trees have been affected to a large extent. He found a dead ash tree every five to ten meters in the Pembrokeshire area while driving there. 

The positive side is almost 80 percent of the native species of trees are identified in at least one protected area, while many are present in arboreta and botanic gardens. Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of Red List Unit of IUCN said that European trees with their diversity are an important source for food and shelter for several animals also with an important economic role. We should be taking care of our trees unless it gets too late. 

New information obtained on the first plant on the Moon sprouted by China

New information obtained about the first plant on the Moon sprouted by China

It was a historic moment for China when it’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the moon on the 3rd of January 2019. It became the first spacecraft to visit this area of the moon. It also carried a 2.6kg mini-biosphere known as the Lunar Micro Ecosystem. 

This biosphere measures 18cm in length and 16cm in diameter. It took six lifeforms in conditions simulating Earth except for lunar radiation and micro-gravity. The six lifeforms include cotton seeds, potato seeds, yeast, fruit fly eggs, rapeseeds, and Arabidopsis thaliana, a weed. 

This is the first biological growth experiment to be conducted on the Moon. The cotton seeds gave positive results. 

It took in January 2019 when the lander reached the Moon. The team thought that there was one leaf but the data shows there were two instead. A 3D reconstructed image based on image processing and data analysis shows very clearly two leaves. However, no other organism produced any result. 

The LME was not heated, so after the first lunar day or 14 Earth days, the cotton sprout died since the temperature dropped down to negative 190 Celsius. The experiment however continued for testing the longevity. 

Xie Gengxin is the leader of the experiment from the Technology Research Institute, Chongqing University. No papers are to be published based on this experiment. There were initial plans of sending a tortoise to the moon however it was prevented by the mission constraints. 

Xie said in an interview that it was due to the weight constraint as it could not exceed more than three kilograms on the Chang’e-4 probe. It would have been torture for the tortoise since it would have died with the temperature drop along with oxygen running out in 20 days. The first tortoises in space were two tortoises carried by the Zond 5 mission of the Soviet Union in 1968. Plants and fruit flies were also carried but the tortoises were not provided any food. They were starved but they made it to Earth alive. 

Xie and his group are looking to the next Moon mission as they hope to send more lifeforms. They would send complex life forms according to the payload of the mission. China has planned Chang’e-6, a return mission to the Moon in the mid-2020s. China sent out invitations for international partners for involvement in the additional 10kg of payload the mission in 2018. Chang’e-6 is a backup to Chang’e-5 which is meant to be the first sample return mission for China. 

Many other nations are planning for these lunar biological experiments such as India, the United States, Russia, Japan along with private companies. With long-duration visits to Moon in the future, researchers will study the responses of other organisms to that environment, besides humans. 

 

Researchers trace a neutrino to a collision situated 3.8 billion light-years away

Researchers trace a neutrino to a collision situated 3.8 billion light-years away

A single neutrino was detected on September 2017 in Antarctica by a neutrino detector. It was the first high energy neutrino which was traced back to a blazar galaxy named TXS 0506+056 at a distance of 3.8 billion light-years from us. However, it raised the question of why only this galaxy was the neutrino traced back to? 

Researchers might have obtained the answer. The relativistic jet from the supermassive black hole might have acted as a cosmic particle collider resulting in neutrinos that streamed through Earth due to the jet’s shape. Hence this indicates that a binary supermassive black hole is present at TXS 0506+056’s centre, the end result of the merger of two galaxies. The findings appear in the Astronomy & Astrophysics journal. 

Neutrinos are one of the most abundant subatomic particles in the Universe. They are not charged, nearly massless and do not interact with any object. As a result they are quite hard to detect. They interacted with the ice present below the surface of Antarctica producing a shower of particles, which produced the Cherenkov radiation observed by the Cherenkov detectors at IceCube Neutrino Observatory. 

Tracking a neutrino is another challenging task and it took a multi-messenger astronomy to achieve it. As a result, we now know that this neutrino named IceCube-170922A originated from a blazar. So we might conclude that only blazars are the only source for the neutrinos. But TXS 0506+056 is the only blazar traced back for the neutrinos. Hence an international group of researchers led by Silke Britzen, Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany started to find the reason. Britzen said that they wanted to know the reason for TXS 0506+056 being so special, understand the creation process of neutrinos and localise the site of emission, studying through radio images of high resolution. 

A series of observations by the Very Long Baseline Array between 2009 and 2018 were reanalysed by the team studying the kinematics of the jet along with the flux-density evolution of individual jet components. Special attention was given to the period of 2014 and 2015 where high neutrino activity was detected. 

Jet dynamics were not found to be smooth and undisturbed as predicted, however some jet parts were colliding with other parts. It might be the result of new jet colliding with old jet or jets from different sources or clashing of jets from the same source. Flaring flux density was identified in six jet parts near the collision site, supporting the hypothesis. 

Markus Bottcher, Northwest University, South Africa said that the neutrino detection can only be explained by the collision of the jetted material. Besides providing important insights, it solves the question if jets are leptonic, consisting of electrons, positrons or hadronic, having both electrons and protons. Some of the jet has to be hadronic for the neutrino to be detected. 

The jet was also found to be curved and the black hole wobbling leading to the precession of the jet similar to a wobbling top. There might be a second black hole producing a second jet. Christian Fendt, astronomer at Max Planck Institute for Astronomy said that deeper analysis of the jet sources results in new complicated understanding of the jet dynamics and internal structures. The existence of binary black holes is due to the formation of galaxies by galaxy mergers. 

Journal Reference: Astronomy & Astrophysics

Universe consisting of fuzzy dark matter galaxies visualized by researchers

Universe consisting of fuzzy dark matter galaxies visualized by researchers

Dark matter is considered to be the initial ingredient for the first galaxies in the universe. After the Big Bang, dark matter particles would have combined in gravitational “halos”, pulling gas into cores which on condensation resulted in the first galaxies. Scientists, however, know very little about these particles since they have not been detected directly. 

Researchers at Princeton, MIT and Cambridge discovered that the appearance of the very first galaxies would differ a lot depending on the type of dark matter. The team has successfully simulated the appearance of early galaxies if the dark matter were “fuzzy” instead of cold or warm. The findings appear in the Physical Review Letters journal. 

Dark matter is cold in most scenarios composed of slow-moving particles and does not interact with normal matter besides gravitational forces. The warm version is lighter and faster than cold dark matter. On the other hand, fuzzy dark matter consists of ultralight particles, each with the mass of 1 octillionth of an electron mass, cold dark matter particle is 105 times heavier than an electron. 

It was found in simulations that when dark matter is cold, the first galaxies would have been formed in spherical halos. But with the dark matter being warm or fuzzy, the early galaxies would have formed in tail-like filaments. Researchers can look back into the earlier universes with telescopes coming online and deduce from the galaxy formation patterns if the dark matter is fuzzy instead of being warm or cold. 

Mark Vogelsberger, a physics professor at Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, MIT said the type of dark matter present today may be known from the earlier universes. If the filament pattern is visible, then it is a fuzzy dark matter. 

Till now the hypothesis of dark matter being cold has been successful in the description of the grand scale of the observable universe. Hence, galaxy formation is modeled on the assumption that dark matter is cold. However, Vogelsberger pointed out some of the discrepancies between predictions and observations of cold dark matter. This is highlighted in the case of smaller galaxies where the theoretical models do not agree with the actual distribution of dark matter. This is where alternate theories of warm and fuzzy dark matter have been proposed.

Anastasia Fialkov of Cambridge University, co-author of the paper said that the motivation of fuzzy dark matter is from fundamental physics such as string theory. The final validation lies in the cosmic structures. 

Fuzzy dark matter consists of particles so light that they exhibit quantum, wave behavior instead of individual particles. Philip Mocz of Princeton University, the lead author of the paper said that the first galaxies would differ from the galaxies in the late universe providing hints about the nature of the dark matter. 

A cubic portion of the early universe measuring 3 million light-years was simulated by the researchers to observe a fuzzy and cold early universe. It was tested through different periods of time to understand the formation of galaxies if the dark matter were either cold or warm or fuzzy. 

Simulations of how galaxies form in cold, warm and fuzzy (left to right) dark matter scenarios. Credit: Universities of Princeton, Sussex, Cambridge

Simulations of how galaxies form in cold, warm and fuzzy (left to right) dark matter scenarios. (Credit: Universities of Princeton, Sussex, Cambridge

The simulation was started based on the dark matter distribution known to researchers based on cosmic microwave radiation, “relic radiation” detected 400,000 years after Big Bang took place.  Vogelsberger said that there is no constant density for dark matter. For warm and cold scenarios, existing algorithms were used for simulation. However, for fuzzy dark matter, a new method was used. 

The simulation of cold dark matter was modified for solving two extra equations in order to simulate the formation of galaxies under the fuzzy dark matter. Schrodinger’s equation describes the behavior of quantum particle as a wave and Poisson’s equation tells how the wave creates a density field, dark matter distribution leading to gravity which is the pulling force for the formation of galaxies. This was added to the model about gas behavior in the universe and how it condenses to galaxies responding to gravity. 

In each of the scenarios, the formation of galaxies took place where the concentration of dark matter collapsed from gravitation was high. The pattern differed on it being cold or warm or fuzzy. 

In cold dark matter, the formation of galaxies took place in spherical halos and subhalos. Warm dark matter created galaxies in filaments resembling tails with the absence of subhalos. The fuzzy dark matter led to formation along filaments succeeded by effects of quantum wave as a result of which galaxies took shape of striated filaments. This is due to interference, overlapping of waves which resulted in an alternating pattern of dark matter concentrations, over-dense and under dense. 

Vogelsberger said that there would be high gravity in over-dense regions resulting in the formation of galaxies in such areas. This is replicated throughout the early universe. Researchers are developing detailed predictions of the appearances of early galaxies in a universe of fuzzy dark matter. The main target is to give a map to telescopes such as James Webb Space Telescope that can run back in time to find the earliest galaxies. If filamentary galaxies are observed, then it is the indication that dark matter is fuzzy. 

Journal Reference: Physical Review Letters

Increase in global temperatures by 2°C could result in melting of Antarctic ice sheets increasing the sea levels by 20 meters

Increase in global temperatures by 2°C could result in melting of Antarctic ice sheets increasing the sea level by 20 meters

During the Pliocene geological epoch, three million years ago, Earth faced a rise in temperature. The latest research funded by the Marsden Fund involving researchers from the Antarctic Research Centre, Waikato University and other nations has found that one-third of the ice sheet melted in Antarctica during this period causes a rise in current sea level by 20 meters in the centuries to come. 

Past changes in sea level were measured by drilling of cores at the Whanganui Basin in New Zealand. It contains marine sediments of the highest resolution in the entire planet. Then a record of worldwide change in the sea-level was constructed with much more precision than previously estimated.

During the Pliocene period, the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were more than 400 ppm and the temperature of Earth was two Celsius higher than pre-industrial times. Warming exceeding two celsius might lead to widespread melting in Antarctica dragging the future of the planet back to three million years before. 

Worldwide protests under the hashtag #FridaysForFuture were organized under the leadership of Greta Thunberg as people have realized the urgency to keep the levels of global warming below that of the target of two degrees Celsius set by the Paris Agreement. She criticized the United Nations for not acting on the evidence provided by the scientific community. 

The current rate of worldwide emissions might take us back to the Pliocene period within 2030 thereby passing the target of the Paris Agreement. A pressing question is how fast would the sea levels rise. As per a special report on oceans and cryosphere by  IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) polar ice caps and glaciers are losing mass at an alarming rate, making it difficult to constrain the contribution of Antarctic ice sheets to a future rise in sea level. Following the current trend of emissions, the global sea level is likely to rise by 1.2 meters by the end of the century with an upper limit of two meters. 

In 2015, sediment cores deposited during the Pliocene, preserved under Whanganui Basin were drilled. Timothy Naish, working for 30 years in this area detected more than 50 fluctuations in the worldwide sea level in the last 3.5 million years in the history of the planet. Sea levels changed in response to the climate cycles also known as Milankovitch cycles. These are caused due to long-term changes in the orbit of the Earth every 20,000, 40,000 and 100,000 years. 

Sea levels are estimated to have been varied by several meters but the exact number has been difficult to obtain due to the deformation processes of Earth and the cycles’ incomplete nature. In the research, a theoretical relationship between particle size carried by waves on the continental shelf and the depth till seabed were used. This was then applied to 800 meters of drill core and outcrop that represented sediment sequences spanning a period of 2.5 to 3.3 million years before. 

Fluctuations in the global sea level in the Pliocene were between five to twenty-five meters. This figure is adjusted to the local tectonic land movements and regional changes in the sea level due to gravitational and crustal changes also termed as PlioSeaNZ sea-level record. 

During the Pliocene period, the geography of the continents, oceans, and size of polar ice sheets was similar to the present times, with an ice sheet on Greenland in the warmest times. Melting of this ice sheet would lead from five to 25 meters of the rise in sea level at the Whanganui Basin. 90 percent of heat from global warming has gone to the ocean, mainly to the Southern Ocean on the margins of the ice sheet at Antarctica. 

Deepwater upwelling in addition to entering ice shelf cavities is observed around Antarctica now. The ice sheet is thinning the fastest around the Amundsen Sea of West Antarctica, where maximum ocean heating is observed. One-third of the ice sheet of Antarctica equalling nearly 20 meters of the rise in sea level is situated below the sea level which can collapse from ocean heating. 

Thus if global temperatures are allowed to rise more than two degrees celsius, huge portions of the ice sheet could get melted in the coming times, changing the entire shoreline of the world. 

Researchers find application of Golden Ratio in the human skull

Researchers find application of Golden Ratio in the human skull

A new study has compared human skulls to other animals resulting in the claim that our heads tend to follow the golden ratio – the special number associated with beauty. The findings appear in The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery. 

The Golden ratio is denoted by the irrational number phi equating to nearly 1.618 and is a famous mathematical concept. Neurologists from John Hopkins, Rafael Tamargo, and Jonathan Pindrik claim in their new study that phi might indicate some kind of sophistication going in the brain box. They mention that the human skull denotes the elegant harmony of both structure and function as it has evolved over millennia. The paper compares 100 human craniums physiologically normal with 70 others representing six different mammals. 

The Nasioiniac arc connects the point on nasal bones with a bump located at the back of the head known as the inion. Distances were measured from the nasal bone to a point on skull known as bregma and from bregma to inion. The cranial features were selected as representative distances corresponding to significant neural structures in humans as well as other animals. 

The ratio of the distance from bregma to the inion and bregma to the nasion equals 1.6 which is also the ratio of nasion to the inion and bregma to the inion. 1.6 is quite close to the golden ratio so the researchers think there might be something interesting here. Tamargo said that the other mammals surveyed had ratios nearing the golden ratio with an increase in the sophistication of species. This might have significant evolutionary and anthropological implications. However, these implications are not clear. The ratio has been spotted in several physiological structures in recent years which prompts the doubt if there is at all any biological significance. 

There are two numbers a and b, a being greater. Their ratio is a:b. When (a+b): a equals a:b, then it is considered as the Golden Ratio first named by Luca Pacioli in 1509. Even the great artist Leonardo Da Vinci used it for major artistic proportions. 

It has been found that the spiral shell of nautilus follows this ratio in the form of a golden spiral. The real question is if we are influenced by selection bias when looking for the applications of this ratio or it is actually followed in the evolutionary process. In 2015, Eve Torrence, a mathematics professor at Randolph-Macon College said that it is quite silly to assume that only the golden ratio reflects some sort of perfection since humans are quite diverse. 

It is up to debate in the scientific community if the golden ratio found in the human skull’s midline indicates some complexity or is just a mere observation. 

Reference: The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery

Garbage collection device from The Ocean Cleanup resumes normal operations

Garbage collection device from The Ocean Cleanup resumes normal operations

In 2013, Boyan Slat started The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit for removing the plastic from Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a trash-filled vortex which is bigger than two times of Texas combined. This group developed a device for passive collection of plastic in its fold. 

However, it faced some difficulties including a manufacturing and design flaw. The plastic spilled back to the ocean as a consequence. The plastic also began to flow over the cork line meant to stabilize the system. But the Ocean Cleanup announced that it fixed this problem and thus the device can resume the plastic collection in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It has managed to collect plastic objects such as cartons, crates and fishing nets. The organization announced that it was surprised by the ability of the system to capture microplastics. 

Previous research conducted by the Ocean Cleanup suggested microplastics are collected at the ocean’s bottom hence they are unlikely to stay at the surface. So it has focused on the removal of large plastic objects from the Garbage Patch. A lot of the debris collected by the device is quite broken down and old. Thick plastic fragments are mainly found instead of plastic straws or bags. In addition to this, the device can also retain different types of plastic due to a new parachute system. 

The U shaped plastic collection mechanism of the Ocean Cleanup collects trash from the patch passively with the help of the ocean currents by the creation of a coastline. A 2000 foot pipe of the device is its most visible portion which is made of high-density polyethylene plastic. It is attached to a screen about 10 feet below the surface for catching the debris. Initially, it was attached to the pipe’s bottom which created stress at the junction of pipe and the screen. A crack at the pipe’s bottom led to a fracture and the 59-foot end section detached from the array. To fix this, the Ocean Cleanup moved the screen ahead of the pipe connected with slings. A cork line was also installed for keeping it tight. 

A new version of the device was launched in June named System 001/B. Researchers wanted to know if the device could move at a consistent pace. A parachute anchor was used for deceleration and the device was turned in the opposite direction with the attachment of inflatable bags for towing it faster than plastic. It was found to be the “winning concept”. However, it was found in August that the plastic spilled over the cork line hence calling for the requirement of a taller one to prevent overtopping. Slat announced that there was very minimal overtopping thus proving it a success. 

The next target of the organization is to create a larger version of the device to capture more plastic. One of the main hurdles for it is to demonstrate that the device can retain plastic for more than a year. This is to ensure that it can survive the harsh winter. The next goal is to create a fleet of devices. A ship could be used to tow the debris collected by the array by visiting the garbage patch at regular intervals. The main target is to capture 15,000 tons of plastic every year. Slat hopes to visit the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and observe the debris collection in person. 

NASA detects organic compounds suitable for life in an ocean on Enceladus

NASA detects organic compounds suitable for life in an ocean on Enceladus

Scientists have detected the basic ingredients for life from an ocean on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. Analysis of NASA data shows the presence of organic compounds in plumes of liquid water shooting into space from the ocean. The findings appear in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society journal. 

These compounds contain nitrogen, oxygen and play a major role in creating amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Researchers previously detected organic molecules from the moon but this is the first time molecules were found to be dissolved in water. This indicates that compounds could take part in chemical reactions under the sea leading to amino acids. 

Frank Postberg, one of the study’s authors said that this work reveals the building blocks that are abundant in the ocean of Enceladus. This is a positive indication to carry out research for the habitability of the moon. Jets of ocean water and ice shoot out into space regularly through the cracks in the crust of the moon. 

The compounds were dissolved in the ocean water which then evaporated with surface water finally getting condensed and frozen into the crust of the moon. They were carried into space by the plumes and detected by Cassini spacecraft of NASA. This is an indication that Enceladus might have its own method of generation of life. 

In the oceans of Earth, seawater combines with magma which comes out through the cracks in the ocean floor. This results in the production of hydrothermal vents whose temperature can rise till 370 degrees Celsius. The water from these vents is rich in hydrogen, catalyzing chemical reactions of organic compounds into amino acids. These then combine to form proteins, one of the main components of life. This method works without sunlight and this is significant in the case of Enceladus where the sunlight is reflected back to space in its entirety. So life has to develop in the dark. 

Nozair Khawaja, the research team leader said that the molecules might follow the same pathway in oceans of Enceladus as that of Earth. The discovery of molecules forming amino acids is quite significant. The compounds discovered by the team last were not soluble in water hence researchers were not sure if the organic molecules on Enceladus were capable of life formation. 

Cassini was launched in 1997 and it spent 13 years in the exploration of Saturn and its moons. Scientists purposefully crashed the spacecraft into Saturn thereby ending its mission as they did not want to contaminate Enceladus or Titan in any manner.

Cassini found a global ocean containing liquid saltwater below the surface of Enceladus and captured images of water jets shooting to space. The data about their composition was collected in 2008. Scientists will continue studying the data collected by Cassini as NASA also plans of sending a probe to Titan, another moon of Saturn which also contains organic compounds. Dragonfly, a nuclear-powered helicopter will start for Titan in 2026 and arrive in 2034.

Reference: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society journal.  

Geometry goes viral: Researchers use maths to solve virus puzzle

Geometry goes viral: Researchers use maths to solve virus puzzle

Researchers have developed a new mathematical framework that changes the way we understand the structure of viruses such as Zika and Herpes.

The new mathematical framework changes the way we understand the structure of viruses such as Herpes.

The discovery, by researchers at the University of York (UK) and San Diego State University (US), paves the way for new insights into how viruses form, evolve and infect their hosts and may eventually open up new avenues in anti-viral therapy.

Viruses look like tiny footballs because they package their genetic material into protein containers that adopt polyhedral shapes.

The new theory revolutionises our understanding of how these containers are shaped, solving a scientific mystery that has endured for half a century.

High resolution

For more than fifty years, scientists have followed the Caspar-Klug theory (CKT) about how the protein containers of viruses are structured. However, improvements in our ability to image viral particles at high resolution have made it apparent that many virus structures do not conform to these blueprints.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the new theory accurately predicts the positions of proteins in the containers of all icosahedral (or twenty-sided) for the first time. It simultaneously works for viruses that conform to CKT and for those that posed an unresolved problem to that theory.

Professor Reidun Twarock, mathematical biologist at the University of York’s departments of Mathematics and Biology and a member of the York Cross-disciplinary Centre for Systems Analysis, said: “Our study represents a quantum leap forward in the field of structural virology, and closes gaps in our understanding of the structures of many viruses that are ill described by the existing framework.

Anti-viral strategies

“This theory will help scientists to analyse the physical properties of viruses, such as their stability, which is important for a better understanding of the mechanism of infection. Such insights can then be exploited for the development of novel anti-viral strategies.

“In particular the structures of larger and more complex viruses that are formed from multiple different components were previously not well understood.

“Our over-arching scheme reveals container architectures with protein numbers that are excluded by the current framework, and thus closes the size gaps in CKT.

Viral evolution

“The new blueprints also provide a new perspective on viral evolution, suggesting novel routes in which larger and more complex viruses may have evolved from simple ones at evolutionary timescales.”

Dr Antoni Luque, theoretical biophysicist at San Diego State University and their Viral Information Institute, said: “We can use this discovery to target both the assembly and stability of the capsid, to either prevent the formation of the virus when it infects the host cell, or break it apart after it’s formed. This could facilitate the characterization and identification of antiviral targets for viruses sharing the same icosahedral layout.”

Materials provided by the University of York

Hacker claims access to 218 million accounts of one of the most popular games

Hacker claims access to 218 million accounts of one of the most popular games

A hacker going by the name Gnosticplayers has claimed to obtain access records of 218 million players of Words with Friends which includes names, email and login IDs, hashed passwords, Facebook IDs and phone numbers. If a user has signed up for Words with Friends as recent as last month, then it is best to change the password as soon as possible since there lies a possibility of the data being stolen and misused. 

Cracking a hashed password can be very simple if it is a commonly used term or a simple word or if the original encryption is weak. Thus it is considered a best practice to change the passwords on remaining social accounts where the same email address and password are used. More damage can be caused in these sites than just attacking a simple game like Words with Friends. Security experts thus advice to use different passwords and login details for various social media applications and websites. Any breach of data on one application does not affect any of the remaining ones. 

Zynga, the developer of Words with Friends said that they discovered some player account information to be accessed by external hackers. They initiated immediate investigation along with the assistance of leading forensic firms and the support of law enforcement. 

As the world goes more and more digital, the threat of such attacks increases and the users are often left vulnerable since it is their data which is being tampered with. Millions of user credentials are being leaked out every year even with big giants such as Facebook. 

However, there are certain tips to prevent these damages. One of them includes using unique and long passwords for every account. Using password managers can also help so that you need not remember every password. It is also advised to use the advantage of two-factor authentication wherever provided. Most major accounts including Google, Facebook, Apple support this. Besides the password, this method requires entering the unique code sent to the user’s mobile number in every login attempt. 

Users should also delete their old accounts which they decide not to use anymore. People often uninstall the application and forget but it does not end there. The user should delete their entire account information from the application or contact the developer if such an option is not provided. If all of these practices are followed, then it is highly unlikely for a user to have his/her information compromised. We should learn to protect our data and keep ourselves safe.