Soft shells and strange star clusters

Oct. 10, 2013 — PGC 6240 is an elliptical galaxy that resembles a pale rose in the sky, with hazy shells of stars encircling a very bright centre. Some of these shells are packed close to the centre of the galaxy, while others are flung further out into space. Several wisps of material have been thrown so far that they appear to be almost detached from the galaxy altogether.Astronomers have studied PGC 6240 in detail due to this structure, and also because of its surrounding globular clusters — dense, tightly packed groups of gravitationally bound stars that orbit galaxies. Over 150 of these clusters orbit our own galaxy, the Milky Way, all composed of old stars.All the globular clusters around a certain galaxy form at approximately the same time, giving them all the same age. This is echoed within the clusters — all the stars within a single cluster form at around the same time, too. Because of this, most galaxies have cluster populations of pretty similar ages, both in terms of overall cluster, and individual stars. However, PGC 6240 is unusual in that its clusters are varied — while some do contain old stars, as expected, others contain younger stars which formed more recently.The most likely explanation for both the galaxy’s stacked shell structure and the unexpectedly young star clusters is that PGC 6240 merged with another galaxy at some point in the recent past. Such a merger would send ripples through the galaxy and disrupt its structure, forming the concentric shells of material seen here. It would also ignite a strong burst of star formation in the galaxy, which would then trigger similar activity in nearby space — leading to the creation of new, younger globular clusters around PGC 6240.PGC 6240 is an elliptical galaxy in the southern constellation of Hydrus (The Water Snake). …

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New data reveal extent of genetic overlap between major mental disorders

Aug. 11, 2013 — The largest genome-wide study of its kind has determined how much five major mental illnesses are traceable to the same common inherited genetic variations. Researchers funded in part by the National Institutes of Health found that the overlap was highest between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; moderate for bipolar disorder and depression and for ADHD and depression; and low between schizophrenia and autism. Overall, common genetic variation accounted for 17-28 percent of risk for the illnesses.”Since our study only looked at common gene variants, the total genetic overlap between the disorders is likely higher,” explained Naomi Wray, Ph.D., University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, who co-led the multi-site study by the Cross Disorders Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC), which is supported by the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “Shared variants with smaller effects, rare variants, mutations, duplications, deletions, and gene-environment interactions also contribute to these illnesses.”Dr. Wray, Kenneth Kendler, M.D., of Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Jordan Smoller, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and other members of the PGC group report on their findings August 11, 2013 in the journal Nature Genetics.”Such evidence quantifying shared genetic risk factors among traditional psychiatric diagnoses will help us move toward classification that will be more faithful to nature,” said Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D., director of the NIMH Division of Adult Translational Research and Treatment Development and coordinator of the Institute’s Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project, which is developing a mental disorders classification system for research based more on underlying causes.Earlier this year, PGC researchers — more than 300 scientists at 80 research centers in 20 countries — reported the first evidence of overlap between all five disorders. People with the disorders were more likely to have suspect variation at the same four chromosomal sites. But the extent of the overlap remained unclear. In the new study, they used the same genome-wide information and the largest data sets currently available to estimate the risk for the illnesses attributable to any of hundreds of thousands of sites of common variability in the genetic code across chromosomes. They looked for similarities in such genetic variation among several thousand people with each illness and compared them to controls — calculating the extent to which pairs of disorders are linked to the same genetic variants.The overlap in heritability attributable to common genetic variation was about 15 percent between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, about 10 percent between bipolar disorder and depression, about 9 percent between schizophrenia and depression, and about 3 percent between schizophrenia and autism.The newfound molecular genetic evidence linking schizophrenia and depression, if replicated, could have important implications for diagnostics and research, say the researchers. …

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