Slow walking speed, memory complaints can predict dementia

A study involving nearly 27,000 older adults on five continents found that nearly 1 in 10 met criteria for pre-dementia based on a simple test that measures how fast people walk and whether they have cognitive complaints. People who tested positive for pre-dementia were twice as likely as others to develop dementia within 12 years. The study, led by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center, was published online on July 16, 2014 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.The new test diagnoses motoric cognitive risk syndrome (MCR). Testing for the newly described syndrome relies on measuring gait speed (our manner of walking) and asking a few simple questions about a patient’s cognitive abilities, both of which take just seconds. The test is not reliant on the latest medical technology and can be done in a clinical setting, diagnosing people in the early stages of the dementia process. Early diagnosis is critical because it allows time to identify and possibly treat the underlying causes of the disease, which may delay or even prevent the onset of dementia in some cases.”In many clinical and community settings, people don’t have access to the sophisticated tests — biomarker assays, cognitive tests or neuroimaging studies — used to diagnose people at risk for developing dementia,” said Joe Verghese, M.B.B.S., professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology and of medicine at Einstein, chief of geriatrics at Einstein and Montefiore, and senior author of the Neurology paper. “Our assessment method could enable many more people to learn if they’re at risk for dementia, since it avoids the need for complex testing and doesn’t require that the test be administered by a neurologist. The potential payoff could be tremendous — not only for individuals and their families, but also in terms of healthcare savings for society. All that’s needed to assess MCR is a stopwatch and a few questions, so primary care physicians could easily incorporate it into examinations of their older patients.”The U.S. …

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First peanut genome sequenced

The International Peanut Genome Initiative — a group of multinational crop geneticists who have been working in tandem for the last several years — has successfully sequenced the peanut’s genome.Scott Jackson, director of the University of Georgia Center for Applied Genetic Technologies in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, serves as chair of the International Peanut Genome Initiative, or IPGI.The new peanut genome sequence will be available to researchers and plant breeders across the globe to aid in the breeding of more productive and more resilient peanut varieties.Peanut, known scientifically as Arachis hypogaea and also called groundnut, is important both commercially and nutritionally. While the oil- and protein-rich legume is seen as a cash crop in the developed world, it remains a valuable sustenance crop in developing nations.”The peanut crop is important in the United States, but it’s very important for developing nations as well,” Jackson said. “In many areas, it is a primary calorie source for families and a cash crop for farmers.”Globally, farmers tend about 24 million hectares of peanuts each year and produce about 40 million metric tons.”Improving peanut varieties to be more drought-, insect- and disease-resistant can help farmers in developed nations produce more peanuts with fewer pesticides and other chemicals and help farmers in developing nations feed their families and build more secure livelihoods,” said plant geneticist Rajeev Varshney of the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics in India, who serves on the IPGI.The effort to sequence the peanut genome has been underway for several years. While peanuts were successfully bred for intensive cultivation for thousands of years, relatively little was known about the legume’s genetic structure because of its complexity, according to Peggy Ozias-Akins, a plant geneticist on the UGA Tifton campus who also works with the IPGI and is director of the UGA Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics.”Until now, we’ve bred peanuts relatively blindly, as compared to other crops,” said IPGI plant geneticist David Bertioli of the Universidade de Braslia. “We’ve had less information to work with than we do with many crops, which have been more thoroughly researched and understood.”The peanut in fields today is the result of a natural cross between two wild species, Arachis duranensis and Arachis ipaensis, which occurred in north Argentina between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago. Because its ancestors were two different species, today’s peanut is a polyploid, meaning the species can carry two separate genomes, designated A and B subgenomes.To map the peanut’s structure, researchers sequenced the genomes of the two ancestral parents because together they represent the cultivated peanut. The sequences provide researchers access to 96 percent of all peanut genes in their genomic context, providing the molecular map needed to more quickly breed drought- and disease-resistant, lower-input and higher-yielding varieties of peanuts.The two ancestor wild species had been collected in nature, conserved in germplasm banks and then used by the IPGI to better understand the peanut genome. The genomes of the two ancestor species provide excellent models for the genome of the cultivated peanut. A. duranenis serves as a model for the A subgenome of the cultivated peanut while A. …

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Satellite shows high productivity from US corn belt

Data from satellite sensors show that during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season, the Midwest region of the United States boasts more photosynthetic activity than any other spot on Earth, according to NASA and university scientists.Healthy plants convert light to energy via photosynthesis, but chlorophyll also emits a fraction of absorbed light as fluorescent glow that is invisible to the naked eye. The magnitude of the glow is an excellent indicator of the amount of photosynthesis, or gross productivity, of plants in a given region.Research in 2013 led by Joanna Joiner, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., demonstrated that fluorescence from plants could be teased out of data from existing satellites, which were designed and built for other purposes. The new research led by Luis Guanter of the Freie Universitt Berlin, used the data for the first time to estimate photosynthesis from agriculture. Results were published March 25 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.According to co-author Christian Frankenberg of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., “The paper shows that fluorescence is a much better proxy for agricultural productivity than anything we’ve had before. This can go a long way regarding monitoring — and maybe even predicting — regional crop yields.”Guanter, Joiner and Frankenberg launched their collaboration at a 2012 workshop, hosted by the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, to explore measurements of photosynthesis from space. The team noticed that on an annual basis, the tropics are the most productive. But during the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season, the U.S. Corn Belt “really stands out,” Frankenberg said. “Areas all over the world are not as productive as this area.”The researchers set out to describe the phenomenon observed by carefully interpreting the data from the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment 2 (GOME-2) on Metop-A, a European meteorological satellite. Data showed that fluorescence from the Corn Belt, which extends from Ohio to Nebraska and Kansas, peaks in July at levels 40 percent greater than those observed in the Amazon.Comparison with ground-based measurements from carbon flux towers and yield statistics confirmed the results.The match between ground-based measurements and satellite measurements was a “pleasant surprise,” said Joiner, a co-author on the paper. …

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TV linked to poor snacking habits, cardiovascular risk in middle schoolers

Middle school kids who park themselves in front of the TV for two hours or more each day are more likely to consume junk food and have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, even compared to those who spend an equal amount of time on the computer or playing video games, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session.”While too much of both types of screen time encourages sedentary behavior, our study suggests high TV time in particular is associated with poorer food choices and increased cardiovascular risk,” said Elizabeth Jackson, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Michigan Systems, Ann Arbor, Mich., and the senior author of the study.In fact, sixth-graders who reported watching between two and six hours of TV a day were more likely to have higher body mass index, elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure and slower recovery heart rate compared with those reporting low screen time or kids who had comparable computer/video game use. This is the first time researchers have looked at the impact of different kinds of screen time kids get in relation to snacking habits and physiological measures associated with heart health, according to the authors.The study included 1,003 sixth-graders from 24 middle schools participating in Project Healthy Schools across five diverse communities in Southeast Michigan. Researchers used standardized questionnaires to collect information about health behaviors including the type and frequency of screen time, snacking habits, and food and beverage choices in the last 24 hours. Physiological measurements were also assessed, including blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate recovery after exercise (a marker of fitness), height and weight. Students were divided into three groups: low screen time (less than one-half hour a day), high TV time (two to six hours a day) and high computer/video games (two to six hours a day). Self-reported snack behavior and physiologic markers were then compared.The research found that kids who spent more time in front of a screen — regardless of the type — snack more frequently and are more likely to choose less healthy snacks. High TV viewers and computer/video game users both reported eating roughly 3.5 snacks a day — one full snack more than kids who had minimal exposure to these technologies. But children who watched two to six hours a day of TV were more likely than the high computer/video game group to eat high-fat foods such as French fries and chips.Jackson said this is likely because these kids are bombarded by TV commercials that tend to reinforce less healthy foods — often higher in sugar, salt and fats. In addition, kids tend to have free hands while watching TV as opposed to when they are on the computer or playing video games, which provides more opportunity for mindless snacking. Earlier studies have also shown that children tend to eat more when they watch TV.”Snacks are important, and choosing a piece of fruit rather than a bag of chips can make a really big difference for one’s health,” Jackson said. …

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Cereal flake size influences calorie intake

People eat more breakfast cereal, by weight, when flake size is reduced, according to Penn State researchers, who showed that when flakes are reduced by crushing, people pour a smaller volume of cereal into their bowls, but still take a greater amount by weight and calories.”People have a really hard time judging appropriate portions,” said Barbara Rolls, professor of nutritional sciences and Helen A. Guthrie Chair in Nutrition. “On top of that you have these huge variations in volume that are due to the physical characteristics of foods, such as the size of individual pieces, aeration and how things pile up in a bowl. That adds another dimension to the difficulty of knowing how much to take and eat.”According to Rolls, national dietary guidelines define recommended amounts of most food groups in terms of measures of volume such as cups.”This can be a problem because, for most foods, the recommended amounts have not been adjusted for variations in physical properties that affect volume, such as aeration, cooking, and the size and shape of individual pieces.” Rolls said. “The food weight and energy required to fill a given volume can vary, and this variation in the energy content of recommended amounts could be a challenge to the maintenance of energy balance.”The researchers tested the influence of food volume on calorie intake by systematically reducing the flake size of a breakfast cereal with a rolling pin so that the cereal was more compact and the same weight filled a smaller volume. In a crossover design, the team recruited 41 adults to eat cereal for breakfast once a week for four weeks. The cereal was either standard wheat flakes or the same cereal crushed to reduce the volume to 80 percent, 60 percent or 40 percent of the standard. The researchers provided a constant weight of cereal in an opaque container and participants poured the amount they wanted into a bowl, added fat-free milk and non-calorie sweetener as desired and consumed as much as they wanted.The researchers reported their results in the current issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.The research showed that as flake size was reduced, subjects poured a smaller volume of cereal, but still took a significantly greater amount by weight and energy content. Despite these differences, subjects estimated that they had taken a similar number of calories of all versions of the cereal. They ate most of the cereal they took, so as flake size was reduced, breakfast energy intake increased.”When faced with decreasing volumes of cereal, the people took less cereal,” Rolls said. …

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Sensing gravity with acid: Scientists discover role for protons in neurotransmission

While probing how organisms sense gravity and acceleration, scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and the University of Utah uncovered evidence that acid (proton concentration) plays a key role in communication between neurons. The surprising discovery is reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The team, led by the late MBL senior scientist Stephen M. Highstein, discovered that sensory cells in the inner ear continuously transmit information on orientation of the head relative to gravity and low-frequency motion to the brain using protons as the key means of synaptic signal transmission. (The synapse is the structure that allows one neuron to communicate with another by passing a chemical or electrical signal between them.)”This addresses how we sense gravity and other low-frequency inertial stimuli, like acceleration of an automobile or roll of an airplane,” says co-author Richard Rabbitt, a professor at University of Utah and adjunct faculty member in the MBL’s Program in Sensory Physiology and Behavior. “These are very long-lasting signals requiring a a synapse that does not fatigue or lose sensitivity over time. Use of protons to acidify the space between cells and transmit information from one cell to another could explain how the inner ear is able to sense tonic signals, such as gravity, in a robust and energy efficient way.”The team found that this novel mode of neurotransmission between the sensory cells (type 1 vestibular hair cells) and their target afferent neurons (calyx nerve terminals), which send signals to the brain, is continuous or nonquantal. This nonquantal transmission is unusual and, for low-frequency stimuli like gravity, is more energy efficient than traditional synapses in which chemical neurotransmitters are packaged in vesicles and released quantally.The calyx nerve terminal has a ball-in-socket shape that envelopes the sensory hair cell and helps to capture protons exiting the cell. “The inner-ear vestibular system is the only place where this particular type of synapse is present,” Rabbitt says. “But the fact that protons are playing a key role here suggests they are likely to act as important signaling molecules in other synapses as well.”Previously, Erik Jorgensen of University of Utah (who recently received a Lillie Research Innovation Award from the MBL and the University of Chicago) and colleagues discovered that protons act as signaling molecules between muscle cells in the worm C. elegans and play an important role in muscle contraction. …

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Plankton make scents for seabirds and a cooler planet

The top predators of the Southern Ocean, far-ranging seabirds, are tied both to the health of the ocean ecosystem and to global climate regulation through a mutual relationship with phytoplankton, according to newly published work from the University of California, Davis.When phytoplankton are eaten by grazing crustaceans called krill, they release a chemical signal that calls in krill-eating birds. At the same time, this chemical signal — dimethyl sulfide, or DMS — forms sulfur compounds in the atmosphere that promote cloud formation and help cool the planet. Seabirds consume the grazers, and fertilize the phytoplankton with iron, which is scarce in the vast Southern Ocean. The work was published March 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”The data are really striking,” said Gabrielle Nevitt, professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior at UC Davis and co-author on the paper with graduate student Matthew Savoca. This suggests that marine top predators are important in climate regulation, although they are mostly left out of climate models, Nevitt said.”In addition to studying how these marine top predators are responding to climate change, our data suggest that more attention should be focused on how ecological systems, themselves, impact climate. Studying DMS as a signal molecule makes the connection,” she said.Nevitt has studied the sense of smell in ocean-going birds for about 25 years, and was the first to demonstrate that marine top predators use climate-regulating chemicals for foraging and navigation over the featureless ocean. DMS is now known to be an important signal for petrels and albatrosses, and the idea has been extended to various species of penguins, seals, sharks, sea turtles, coral reef fishes and possibly baleen whales, she said.Phytoplankton are the plants of the open ocean, absorbing carbon dioxide and sunlight to grow. When these plankton die, they release an enzyme that generates DMS.A role for DMS in regulating climate was proposed by Robert Charlson, James Lovelock, Meinrat Andreae and Stephen Warren in the 1980s. According to the CLAW hypothesis, warming oceans lead to more growth of green phytoplankton, which in turn release a precursor to DMS when they die. Rising levels of DMS in the atmosphere cause cloud formation, and clouds reflect sunlight, helping to cool the planet. …

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Reindeer grazing may counteract effects of climate warming on tundra carbon sink

Local reindeer grazing history is an important determinant in the response of an ecosystem’s carbon sink to climate warming, say researchers at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland. Their study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change on 16 March 2014. The research project has been funded by the Academy of Finland.The consequences of global climate warming on ecosystem carbon sink in tundra are of great interest, because carbon that is currently stored in tundra soils may be released to the atmosphere in a warmer climate. This could contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, and thus create a positive feedback that intensifies global change.A major portion of the Arctic is grazed by reindeer. In northernmost Europe, the reindeer was domesticated a few centuries ago. In a field experiment in northern Norway, the effects of experimental warming were compared between lightly and heavily grazed tundra. The grazing history between these areas had varied for the past 50 years. Carbon balances showed that under the current climate, lightly grazed, dwarf-shrub-dominated tundra were a stronger carbon sink than heavily grazed, graminoid-dominated tundra. However, warming decreased the carbon sink in lightly grazed tundra, but had no effect in heavily grazed tundra. Thus, tundra with a long history of intensive grazing showed a weak response to climate warming.The main reason for this grazer-induced difference was that in heavily grazed tundra, graminoids with rapid growth rates were able to increase their photosynthesis and carbon fixation under increased temperatures. …

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Sleep disturbance following acute fractures not related to injury

Sleep disturbance is an extremely common complaint following orthopaedic trauma. In a new study presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), researchers assessed the functional status of 1,095 patients following acute fractures to the proximal humerus (shoulder), distal radius (wrist), ankle and tibial plateau (shinbone), using standard orthopaedic tests and assessments.In “Sleep Disturbance Following Fracture is Related to Emotional Well Being Rather than Functional Results,” patient sleep difficulty was compared to the overall functional and emotional status of each patient at baseline, and at three, six and 12 months following treatment. The rate of sleep difficulty was calculated as the percentage of patients reporting moderate, severe or complete difficulty sleeping at each interval. At 12 months follow up, poor sleep was independently associated with poor emotional status, but not poor functional status.According to the study authors, the mental health status of patients with sleep difficulty in the later stages of fracture healing should be carefully assessed in order to provide the highest level of care. In addition, orthopaedic trauma surgeons should counsel patients on the expectations of difficult sleeping following acute fractures.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Atomically thick metal membranes

For the first time researchers have shown that freestanding metal membranes consisting of a single layer of atoms can be stable under ambient conditions. This result of an international research team from Germany, Poland and Korea is published in Science on March 14, 2014.The success and promise of atomically thin carbon, in which carbon atoms are arranged in a honeycomb lattice, also known as graphene has triggered enormous enthusiasm for other two dimensional materials, for example, hexagonal boron nitride and molybdenum sulphide. These materials share a common structural aspect, namely, they are layered materials that one can think of as individual atomic planes that can be pulled away from their bulk 3D structure. This is because the layers are held together through so called van der Waals interactions which are relatively weak forces as compared to other bonding configurations such as covalent bonds. Once isolated these atomically thin layers maintain mechanical integrity (i.e. they are stable) under ambient conditions.In the case of bulk metals, their crystalline structure is three dimensional, and is thus not a layered structure and moreover metallic atom bonds are relatively strong. These structural aspects of metals would seem to imply the existence of metal atoms as a freestanding 2D material is unlikely. The formation of 2D atomically thin metallic layers over other surfaces has previously been demonstrated, however in this case the metal atoms interact with the underlying substrate. On the other hand, metallic bonding is non-directional and this fact along with the excellent plasticity of metals at the nanoscale suggest atomically thin 2D freestanding membranes composed of metal atoms might just be possible. Indeed, this is what an international group of researchers based in Germany, Poland and South Korea have now demonstrated is possible using iron atoms. …

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National U.S. study reveals how urban lawn care habits vary

What do people living in Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Los Angeles have in common? From coast to coast, prairie to desert — residential lawns reign.But, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, beneath this sea of green lie unexpected differences in fertilization and irrigation practices. Understanding urban lawn care is vital to sustainability planning, more than 80% of Americans live in cities and their suburbs, and these numbers continue to grow.The study was undertaken to test “the homogenization hypothesis.” Peter Groffman, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and one of the paper’s authors explains, “Neighborhoods in very different parts of the country look remarkably alike, from lawns and roads to water features. This study is the first to test if urbanization produces similar land management behaviors, independent of the local environment.”Some 9,500 residents in the six study cities were queried about their lawn care habits. The research team, led by Colin Polsky of Clark University and colleagues at 10 other institutions, took into account differences in climate and neighborhood socioeconomics, both within and between cities. A focus was put on fertilization and irrigation, practices with potentially hefty environmental price tags.Fertilizer is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. This stimulates lawn growth, but when fertilizer washes into waterways, it causes algal blooms that degrade water quality and rob oxygen from fish and other aquatic life. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landscape irrigation accounts for nearly one-third of residential water use nationwide.Some 79% of surveyed residents watered their lawns and 64% applied fertilizer. Groffman comments, “These numbers are important when we bear in mind that lawns cover more land in the United States than any other irrigated crop. …

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Outside the body our memories fail us

New research from Karolinska Institutet and Ume University demonstrates for the first time that there is a close relationship between body perception and the ability to remember. For us to be able to store new memories from our lives, we need to feel that we are in our own body. According to researchers, the results could be of major importance in understanding the memory problems that psychiatric patients often exhibit.The memories of what happened on the first day of school are an example of an episodic memory. How these memories are created and how the role that the perception of one’s own body has when storing memories has long been inconclusive. Swedish researchers can now demonstrate that volunteers who experience an exciting event whilst perceiving an illusion of being outside their own body exhibit a form of memory loss.”It is already evident that people who have suffered psychiatric conditions in which they felt that they were not in their own body have fragmentary memories of what actually occurred,” says Loretxu Bergouignan, principal author of the current study. “We wanted to see how this manifests itself in healthy subjects.”The study, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved a total of 84 students reading about and undergoing four oral questioning sessions. To make these sessions extra memorable, an actor (Peter Bergared) took up the role of examiner — a (fictional) very eccentric professor at Karolinska Institutet. Two of the interrogations were perceived from a first person perspective from their own bodies in the usual way, while the participants in the other two sessions experienced a created illusion of being outside their own body. In both cases, the participants wore virtual reality goggles and earphones. One week later, they either underwent memory testing where they had to recall the events and provide details about what had happened, in which order, and what they felt, or they had to try to remember the events while they underwent brain imaging with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).It then turned out that the participants remembered the ‘out-of-body’ interrogations significantly worse than those experienced from the normal “In body” perspective. …

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Mongol Empire rode wave of mild climate, but warming now may be tipping region into unparalleled drought

Researchers studying the rings of ancient trees in mountainous central Mongolia think they may have gotten at the mystery of how small bands of nomadic Mongol horsemen united to conquer much of the world within a span of decades, 800 years ago. The rise of the great leader Genghis Khan and the start of the largest contiguous empire in human history was propelled by a temporary run of nice weather.The rings show that exactly when the empire rose, the normally cold, arid steppes of central Asia saw their mildest, wettest weather in more than 1,000 years. Grass production must have boomed, as did vast numbers of war horses and other livestock that gave the Mongols their power. But the tree rings, spanning 1,112 years from 900 to 2011, also exhibit an ominous modern trend. Since the mid-20th century, the region has warmed rapidly, and the rings show that recent drought years were the most extreme in the record — possibly a side effect of global warming. In a region already pressed for water, the droughts have already helped spark a new migration in a vast region where people until now have lived the same way for centuries, moving herds from place to place and living in tents. Now, those herders are being driven rapidly into cities, and there could be greater future upheavals. The study appears in this week’s early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”Before fossil fuels, grass and ingenuity were the fuels for the Mongols and the cultures around them,” said lead author Neil Pederson, a tree-ring scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Energy flows from the bottom of an ecosystem, up the ladder to human society. Even today, many people in Mongolia live just like their ancestors did. …

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Combined use of oxytocin and human chorionic gonadotropin in intractable pain patients

Two hormones credited with reducing pain and need for opioid analgesics when released naturally during pregnancy and childbirth worked similarly when administered simultaneously to patients with intractable pain, research shows.Following doses of oxytocin (OT) and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), 7 of 9 patients reported a 30% to 40% reduction in opioid use and baseline pain, in results reported today at the 30th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. In addition, the patients reported less intense pain flares, which are sudden exacerbations of pain that occur against a background of persistent pain, and longer periods between flares.Study author Forest Tennant, MD, said side effects were remarkably few, probably because the hormones are natural, bio-identical compounds. Dr. Tennant is an internist and addictionologist who specializes in research and treatment of intractable pain at the Veract Intractable Pain Clinics he founded in West Covina, Calif.”The benefit that these patients mostly talk about is somewhat subjective but relates to what patients routinely call a ‘feeling of well-being,’ ‘more alive,’ or [increasing] ‘will to live,” Dr. Tennant said. “They also believe the combination is one they want to continue.”Sometimes referred to as the “bonding hormone,” OT exerts powerful action in the neuroanatomy of intimacy and also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. HCG supports the development of the fetus during pregnancy among other roles.Both hormones surge during and after childbirth, and pregnant women have frequently exhibited reduced pain and need for opioids. Dr. Tennant has conducted previous small open-label studies that confirmed a similar effect for both hormones when administered separately in patients who suffer from intractable pain. However, no one had tested the effect of administering both hormones simultaneously until now.The study, which was cleared by the facility’s Institutional Review Board, included 9 patients with intractable pain who were being maintained on 1 or more long- and short-acting opioids. …

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Half of veterans prescribed medical opioids continue to use them chronically

Of nearly 1 million veterans who receive opioids to treat painful conditions, more than half continue to consume opioids chronically or beyond 90 days, new research says. Results presented at the 30th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine reported on a number of factors associated with opioid discontinuation with the goal of understanding how abuse problems take hold in returning veterans.Study subjects were drawn from national Veterans Healthcare Administration (VHA) data. Criteria for inclusion included at least 2 outpatient visits at a VHA facility in 2009 and at least 90 days of opioid use within a 180-day period. Opioid discontinuation was defined as no opioid use for at least 6 months. Funding for the study came from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.Of 959,226 veterans who received an opioid prescription, 502,634 (representing 52.4% of the total sample) used opioids chronically.The preliminary analysis showed that certain factors were more likely to be present in veterans who continued to use opioids chronically: They include post-traumatic stress disorder, tobacco use, being married, having multiple chronic pain conditions, the use of multiple opioids and opioid dose above 100 mg per day.Some findings did not align with previous research in the fields of pain and addiction.”Unlike other samples, it appears that mental-health disorders and substance-use disorders are associated with increased rates of discontinuation in the VA,” said Mark Sullivan, MD, PhD, who led a collaborative team of researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash., the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark., and the Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C. “The exception is tobacco use, which is associated with a decreased likelihood of discontinuation.”Dr. Sullivan emphasized that the veterans in the current study comprised the first sample where half of all opioid users were chronic users of greater than 90 days per year. Investigators examined demographic and clinical characteristics as well as treatment choices that could serve to predict opioid discontinuation. Pain characteristics and diagnoses related to medical conditions, mental health and substance abuse were included along with other medications, such as non-opioid pain relievers and those used to treat mental-health disorders.Dr. Sullivan said lack of reliable or interpretable data precluded researchers from looking at pain levels as predictors of opioid discontinuation. …

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Deer feeding puts birds at risk, research shows

By comparing the fate of artificial nests close and far away from supplementary feeding sites located in the forest for ungulates, such as deer and wild boar, researchers found that those nests in the vicinity of feeding sites were depredated twice more. This “predation hotspot” effect extends far away from the feeding site itself: in a radius of 1-km the probability of nest survival is lowered. When accounting for all feeding sites in the study region (ca 2000 km2), this would mean that in one fifth of the area ground-nesting birds will have little chance to see their eggs hatching.These sites attract not only deer and wild boar — the boar is also a nest predator — but also corvids, rodents, bears and other species of nest predators, which are not the target of feeding. Therefore, this management practice, widespread in central Europe, comes into conflict with the conservation of ground-nesting birds, such as grouse species, which are declining worldwide.The study was conducted by researchers of the Institute of Nature Conservation of the Polish Academy of Sciences in the Carpathian Mountains, where this practice is deeply-rooted and increasing. “Hundreds of tons of food are thrown every year in the forest, without thinking on the collateral effects and potential consequences,” said Nuria Selva, leader of a project funded by the National Science Centre to investigate the ecological effects of supplementary feeding. The study recommends to avoid ungulate feeding in the breeding areas of bird species of conservation concern, such as capercaillie or black grouse, and to stop feeding before the bird nesting season starts. “We urge for sensible feeding practices and for taking a wider ecosystem perspective, rather than focusing on single issues or species” said Teresa Berezowska-Cnota, co-author of the study.”All our actions in the environment have some effects, and providing food is not an exception. The spread of diseases, for instance, is one of the reasons why deer feeding has been banned in many regions of North America. While supplementary feeding of wildlife is becoming increasingly common in conservation, management and ecotourism, our understanding of the complex effects of providing artificial food to wildlife is still limited,” commented Selva.The study is published in PLOS ONE.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Nature Conservation of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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A new renewable energy source? Device captures energy from Earth’s infrared emissions to outer space

When the sun sets on a remote desert outpost and solar panels shut down, what energy source will provide power through the night? A battery, perhaps, or an old diesel generator? Perhaps something strange and new.Physicists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) envision a device that would harvest energy from Earth’s infrared emissions into outer space.Heated by the sun, our planet is warm compared to the frigid vacuum beyond. Thanks to recent technological advances, the researchers say, that heat imbalance could soon be transformed into direct-current (DC) power, taking advantage of a vast and untapped energy source.Their analysis of the thermodynamics, practical concerns, and technological requirements will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”It’s not at all obvious, at first, how you would generate DC power by emitting infrared light in free space toward the cold,” says principal investigator Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at Harvard SEAS. “To generate power by emitting, not by absorbing light, that’s weird. It makes sense physically once you think about it, but it’s highly counterintuitive. We’re talking about the use of physics at the nanoscale for a completely new application.”Challenging conventionCapasso is a world-renowned expert in semiconductor physics, photonics, and solid-state electronics. He co-invented the infrared quantum-cascade laser in 1994, pioneered the field of bandgap engineering, and demonstrated an elusive quantum electrodynamical phenomenon called the repulsive Casimir force — work for which he has received the SPIE Gold Medal, the European Physical Society Prize for Quantum Electronics and Optics, and the Jan Czochralski Award for lifetime achievement. His research team seems to specialize in rigorously questioning other physicists’ assumptions about optics and electronics.”The mid-IR has been, by and large, a neglected part of the spectrum,” says Capasso. …

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Big stride in understanding PP1, the ubiquitous enzyme

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of scientists at Brown University reports a major step forward in determining the specific behavior of the ubiquitous enzyme PP1 implicated in a wide range of diseases including cancer.PP1, whose role is to enable the passage of molecular messages among cells, is found pretty much everywhere in the body. Its wide range of responsibilities means it is essential to many healthy functions and, when things go wrong, to diseases. But its very versatility has prevented it from being a target for drug development, said Rebecca Page, associate professor of biology at Brown and the paper’s corresponding author.”The amazing thing about PP1 is that no one has wanted to touch it for the most part as a drug target because PP1 is involved in nearly every biological process,” Page said. “It’s not like you could just target the PP1 active site for, let’s say, diabetes because then you are going to affect drug addiction, Alzheimer’s disease and all these other diseases at the same time.”In other words, make a medicine to block PP1 in one bodily context and you’d ruin it in all other contexts. Structural biologists such as Page and Brown co-author Wolfgang Peti have therefore been eager to learn what makes PP1 behave in specific ways in specific situations.The key is the way PP1 binds with more than 200 different regulatory proteins. Scientists know of these proteins and know the sequences of amino acids that compose them, but they don’t know their structure or how they actually guide PP1.”The ability to predict how these PP1 interacting proteins bind PP1 from sequence alone is still missing,” Page and her colleagues wrote in PNAS.Now, through experiments in which her team including lead author Meng Choy combined NMR spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography and techniques in biochemistry, she has learned how PP1 binds to a targeting protein called PNUTS, forming “binding motifs.” That knowledge, combined with what she learned in earlier studies about two other targeting proteins — NIPP1 and spinophilin — has allowed her team to predict how PP1 binds with 43 of the 200 regulatory proteins that give it specific behavior.”What this work in conjunction with two of our previous structures allowed us to do was to define two entirely new motifs,” she said. “From that, comparing the sequences with the known proteins that interact with PP1 whose structures we don’t have, we were able to predict that 20 percent of them likely interact in a way that is similar to these three proteins.”So by resolving the structure of just three proteins with PP1, Page now has the means to understand the binding of many proteins without having to resolve their structure. Instead she need only know the few motifs and the proteins’ sequences.As for PP1’s interactions with the other 80 percent or so of regulatory proteins, those remain a mystery. But Page said the success her team has had in the lab working with PP1 and resolving key motifs makes her optimistic that those interactions can be solved, too.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Brown University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Ecotourism reduces poverty near protected parks, research shows

Protected natural areas in Costa Rica reduced poverty by 16 percent in neighboring communities, mainly by encouraging ecotourism, according to new research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Although earlier studies indicated that establishing protected areas in poor regions can lead to reductions in poverty, there was no clear understanding why or how it happens.”Our goal was to show exactly how environmental protection can reduce poverty in poorer nations rather than exacerbate it, as many people fear,” says co-author Paul Ferraro, a professor of economics and environmental policy in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.In their article, “Quantifying causal mechanisms to determine how protected areas affect poverty through changes in ecosystem services and infrastructure,” Ferraro and Georgia State alumnus Merlin Hanauer, now on the Economics faculty at Sonoma State University, examine three potential causes of poverty reduction linked to the establishment of protected areas:changes in tourism and recreational services, changes in infrastructure including roads, health clinics and schools, and changes in ecosystem services such as the pollination and hydrological services a protected area may offer. They find that increased tourism accounts for two-thirds of the reduction in poverty caused by protected areas. Changes in infrastructure and land use had little effect on the poverty in surrounding communities.”Our results suggest that by using existing data sets such as poverty estimates from census data, the impacts of conservation programs and policies on human populations can be better defined,” says Ferraro. “Our findings may result in improved conservation programs and policies, and better impacts on the communities adjacent to these sites, locally and around the globe.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Georgia State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Marine algae can sense the rainbow

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shown for the first time that several types of aquatic algae can detect orange, green and blue light.Land plants have receptors to detect light on the red and far red of the spectrum, which are the common wavelengths in the air. These plants sense the light to move and grow as their environment changes, for example when another plant shades them from the sun. But in the ocean, the water absorbs red wavelengths, instead reflecting colours such as blue and green. As part of the study, a team of researchers including Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Senior Fellow Alexandra Worden sequenced about 20 different marine algae and found they were capable of detecting not only red light, but also many other colours. Collaborators in the lab of J. Clark Lagarias performed the biochemical analyses that established the wavelength detection.”It’s an amazing innovation of these algae to sense the whole rainbow,” says Dr. Worden, who leads a microbial ecology research group at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. She is a member of CIFAR’s Integrated Microbial Biodiversity program, which uses interdisciplinary research to study how a diversity of microbial life shapes all ecosystems. Her lab selected and grew the algae for sequencing in a collaborative effort with CIFAR Fellow Adrin Reyes-Prieto, who she first met at the Institute’s program meetings. They specifically targeted diverse but largely unstudied organisms that might reveal new evolutionary insights into photosynthetic organisms. …

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