DAILY DOSE: Stanford University president resigns after misconduct investigation; India’s chromium mining is a mixed environmental bag.

Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne will step down following an investigation that exonerates him of research misconduct but highlights data manipulation in four of his papers dating back to 1999. Commissioned by Stanford’s Board of Trustees, the probe faults Tessier-Lavigne for not rectifying errors in the scientific record promptly and fostering a lab culture that had data integrity issues. Tessier-Lavigne, renowned for his work from spinal cord development to Alzheimer’s disease, acknowledged his shortcomings and stated his intent to correct or retract five papers for the university’s benefit.

Stanford has accepted Tessier-Lavigne’s resignation, with Richard Saller to serve as interim president. Tessier-Lavigne will continue to remain a faculty member and run his lab. Despite the findings, some in the neuroscience community were shocked by the resignation, as Tessier-Lavigne is respected for his integrity and intelligence.

The investigation process, which involved over 50,000 documents, interviews with more than 50 individuals, and forensic science experts, concluded that Tessier-Lavigne lacked knowledge of any data manipulation and wasn’t reckless in identifying the problems. However, the report suggests Tessier-Lavigne should have reacted more appropriately when concerns were raised. (Science)

India, home to the largest chromium deposit, is embracing mineral mining for the green energy sector but is facing environmental and health consequences. Chromium is crucial for solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries. As India aims to become self-reliant in clean energy infrastructure, lawmakers advocate for mining other critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel, recently found in the country. However, concerns remain regarding the environmental and health impacts on nearby villages like Kaliapani, where mining has reportedly led to soil infertility and health problems due to chronic exposure to chromium. Odisha Mining Corporation, the company running the mine, assures it follows India’s environmental regulations. As India joined a U.S.-led critical mineral alliance and published a roadmap listing essential minerals for economic growth, experts emphasize the need for a just transition, considering workers’ rights and local communities. Activists warn that failure to protect local communities might lead to opposition against mining. (Associated Press)

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A team of astronomers has reported the discovery of a potentially groundbreaking celestial phenomenon: two planets that may be sharing the same orbit around their star. This finding, which provides the strongest evidence to date of such a cosmic pairing, has long been suspected but never proven. Using a telescope in Chile, a Spanish-led team observed a cloud of debris in the same orbit as a confirmed planet located in the Centaurus constellation, approximately 370 light-years away. The scientists speculate that the cloud could either be a planet in the process of formation or remnants of a planet that once existed. While asteroids have been observed accompanying planets, planets sharing the same orbit have remained elusive until now. The researchers will continue tracking these two objects, associated with the star named PDS 70, until 2026. The confirmed planet, three times the size of Jupiter, completes an orbit every 119 years. This groundbreaking finding, published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, offers the first evidence of the existence of double planets sharing the same orbit. (Associated Press)

A new study has found that a version of a specific immune system gene, found in some people, offers protection against SARS-CoV-2 when they are exposed to common cold-causing coronaviruses. The research focused on human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, which aid the body in fighting off pathogens. Variants of these genes can influence the body’s immune response to various viruses. This study identified that the HLA-B15:01 variant is found in 20% of COVID-19 positive individuals who remained asymptomatic, compared to just 9% of those who developed symptoms. The gene variant doesn’t prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection but appears to facilitate rapid viral clearance before symptoms arise. T cells in individuals with HLA-B15:01 responded to a fragment of SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein, suggesting prior exposure to common cold coronaviruses could offer some immunity against COVID-19. Researchers suggest this finding could aid in developing new vaccines or treatments. (Science)

Google is developing an artificial intelligence tool, internally known as Genesis, to generate news content, according to anonymous insiders. This tool could serve as an assistant for journalists, automating certain tasks to free up time for other work, and is seen by Google as responsible technology that could help steer the publishing industry away from the pitfalls of generative AI. However, some executives have described the pitch as unsettling, believing it overlooks the effort that goes into producing accurate news stories. Google spokeswoman Jenn Crider clarified that these tools cannot replace journalists but could offer options for headlines and writing styles. As AI tools in newsrooms continue to be a subject of debate globally, concerns remain about the potential for misinformation and the impact on traditionally written stories. The use of AI also prompts questions around revenue sharing and data permissions between tech companies and news outlets. (New York Times)

A team of archaeologists have unearthed a hidden ancient Maya city named Ocomtún in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, described by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History as once being a significant center of Maya life during the Classic Maya era (250-900 A.D.). The team, led by Ivan Sprajc of the ZRC SAZU research center in Slovenia, used lidar technology to help uncover the buried structures beneath dense vegetation, including pyramids, palaces, a ball court, and terraces. Unique to the site are arrangements of structures almost in concentric circles, which is unknown in the rest of the Maya lowlands. Artifacts suggest inhabitants left Ocomtún between 800-1000 A.D., likely due to drought and political strife. Agricultural terraces indicate the Maya’s adaptation to the challenging environment. Future excavations could help answer questions about the settlement’s relations to other Maya cities and offer insights into variations in Maya life during the Classic period. (New York Times)

Scientists at Newcastle University have developed ‘mycocrete’, a building material made from a mixture of fungi’s root network (mycelium) and a knitted textile framework. This composite material, which is more versatile and stronger than previous fungi-based biomaterials, could revolutionize eco-friendly construction. The team overcame the limitation of mycelium’s need for oxygen, which constrained mold size and shape, by using oxygen-permeable knitted molds. This technique improved packing consistency, and the resultant mycocrete was stronger than conventional mycelium composites. They even created a single-piece dome, ‘BioKnit’, as a proof of concept, highlighting the potential for mycelium-textile biohybrids in construction. The development of mycocrete suggests opportunities for innovation in construction technology. (Frontiers In)

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

WORDS: The Biology Guy. (@thebiologyguy)

IMAGE CREDIT: Stanford University.

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