Black holes: An upper mass limit for the ‘prima donnas’ of the space opera

Priyamvada Natarajan, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Yale and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, has discovered that black holes can only grow up to a mass limit of about 10 billion times the mass of the sun. After analysis of existing optical and X-ray data as a function of time, Natarajan, along with her collaborator, Ezequiel Treister, has demonstrated that black holes reach this upper limit after consuming the available gas that surrounds them. Relating this upper mass limit to the restriction of the formation of stars, Natarajan has called black holes the “prima donnas of the space opera,” because of their ability to stunt the development of galaxies. With this discovery, Natarajan will now look toward using computer models to simulate the formation of black holes in the early universe.

Trichoplax genome sequence reveals similarities to higher animal species

Scientists at Yale have been able to sequence the genome of an early multi-celled organism called Trichoplax. Sequencing of Trichoplax’s relatively small nuclear genome revealed that it has over 8 percent of its genes in common with humans. Researchers hope that the genome sequence of Trichoplax will serve as a “Rosetta Stone” for learning about the evolution of animal-specific pathways and regulatory sequences.

Plastic problem: Brain function hindered by BPA in clear plastics

Research at Yale has linked a common chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA) — found in household plastic items — to a lack of communication between brain cells. According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, such synaptic hindrance could result in difficulties with memory and learning as well as depression.

Yale neurobiologist wins Kavli Prize for Neuroscience

Pasko Rakic, a professor of neurobiology and neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, was awarded the inaugural Kavli Foundation Prize for Neuroscience earlier this month. Rakic, who received the award in Norway, will share the $1-million prize with Sten Grillner from the Karolinska Institute of Sweden and Columbia University’s Thomas Jessell. Rakic received the award for his research on the cerebral cortex, a part of the brain that controls cognitive function.

The economics of food and health: Yale researchers find that poor neighborhoods lack healthy foods

Research at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has found that poor neighborhoods lack the availability of healthy foods and high-quality produce often found in more affluent communities. In two separate studies, Yale researchers evaluated the food supply available in these neighborhoods using a standardized rating system. The researchers reported that low-income families encounter obstacles when trying to shop for healthy foods.

—Compiled by Sameera Rahman