Genome analysis helps in breeding more robust cows

Genome analysis of 234 bulls has put researchers, including several from Wageningen Livestock Research, on the trail of DNA variants which influence particular characteristics in breeding bulls. For example, two variants have proven responsible for disruptions to the development of embryos and for curly hair, which is disadvantageous because more ticks and parasites occur in curly hair than in short, straight hair. These are the first results of the large 1000 Bull Genomes project on which some 30 international researchers are collaborating. They report on their research in the most recent edition of the science journal Nature Genetics.Most breeding characteristics are influenced by not one but a multiplicity of variants. It is therefore important to be able to use all the variants in breeding, say the Wageningen researchers. In order to make this possible, Rianne van Binsbergen, PhD researcher at the Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre of Wageningen UR, investigated whether the genomes of all the common bulls in the Netherlands can be filled with the help of these 234 bulls. Currently, these bulls have been genotyped with markers of 50,000 or 700,000 DNA variants. The positive results indicate the direction for further research into the practical use of genome information in breeding.Dairy and beef cattle The project demonstrates how useful large-scale DNA analyses can be, says Professor Roel Veerkamp, Professor of Numerical Genetics at Wageningen University and board member of the 1000 Bull Genomes project. He emphasises that the requirements for dairy and beef cattle are becoming ever more exacting: “Until the mid nineties, a cow primarily had to produce a lot of milk. But since then, expectations have gone up. …

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Fatigue and returning to normality!

Underlying fatigue sets in after basis exertion, however it does not stop me from getting on with my life while undergoing chemotherapy! I simply stop and have a rest then keep going …. . I have to be careful with my shallow breathing and do stop and rest if need be. Slowly returning to normality. Weds will be day 14 since chemo.When in Washington, April 2014 I was presented with the 2014 Alan Reinstein Award (ADAO Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation) at the annual global asbestos awareness conference for my commitment to education, advocacy and support to countless patients and families around the world. Unfortunately my beautiful crystal teardrop award was broken on the tip in transit. Linda Reinstein, ADAO kindly organised a replacement award to be sent to my home in …

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Male or female? First sex-determining genes appeared in mammals some 180 million years ago

Man or woman? Male or female? In humans and other mammals, the difference between sexes depends on one single element of the genome: the Y chromosome. It is present only in males, where the two sexual chromosomes are X and Y, whereas women have two X chromosomes. Thus, the Y is ultimately responsible for all the morphological and physiological differences between males and females.But this has not always been the case. A very long time ago, the X and Y were identical, until the Y started to differentiate from the X in males. It then progressively shrank to such an extent that, nowadays, it only contains about 20 genes (the X carries more than one thousand genes). When did the Y originate and which genes have been kept? The answer has just been brought to light by the team of Henrik Kaessmann, Associate Professor at the CIG (UNIL) and group leader at the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, and their collaborators in Australia. They have established that the first ” sex genes ” appeared concomitantly in mammals around 180 million years ago.4,3 billion genetic sequencesBy studying samples from several male tissues — in particular testicles — from different species, the researchers recovered the Y chromosome genes from the three major mammalian lineages: placentals (which include humans, apes, rodents and elephants), marsupials (such as opossums and kangaroos) and monotremes (egg-laying mammals, such as the platypus and the echidna, a kind of Australian porcupine). …

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How Australia’s Outback got one million feral camels: Camels culled on large scale

A new study by a University of Exeter researcher has shed light on how an estimated one million-strong population of wild camels thriving in Australia’s remote outback have become reviled as pests and culled on a large scale.Sarah Crowley, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, explored the history of the camel in Australia, from their historic role helping to create the country’s infrastructure through to their current status as unwelcome “invader.”The deserts of the Australian outback are a notoriously inhospitable environment where few species can survive. But the dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius) prospers where others perish, eating 80% of native plant species and obtaining much of their water through ingesting this vegetation.Yet for numerous Australians, particularly ranchers, conservation managers, and increasingly local and national governments, camels are perceived as pests and extreme measures — including shooting them with rifles from helicopters — are being taken to reduce their population.In her article, published in the journal Anthrozos, Crowley proposes that today’s Australian camels exemplify the idea of “animals out of place” and discusses how they have come to inhabit this precarious position.She said: “Reports estimate there are upwards of a million free-ranging camels in Australia and predict that this number could double every eight years. As their population burgeons, camels encroach more frequently upon human settlements and agricultural lands, raising their media profile and increasing local animosity toward them.”The camel was first brought to Australia in the 1800s when the country was in the midst of a flurry of colonial activity. The animals were recognized by pioneers as the most appropriate mode of transport for the challenging environment because they require significantly less water, feed on a wider variety of vegetation, and are capable of carrying heavier loads than horses and donkeys.Camels therefore played a significant role in the establishment of Australia’s modern infrastructure, including the laying of the Darwin-Adelaide Overland Telegraph Line and the construction of the Transnational Railway.Once this infrastructure was in place, however, and motorized transport became increasingly widespread, camels were no longer indispensable. In the early part of the 20th century they rapidly lost their economic value and their displaced handlers either shot their wards or released them into the outback where, quite discreetly, they thrived.It was not until the 1980s that surveys hinted at the true extent of their numbers, and only in 2001 that reports of damage caused by camels were brought to the general populace.Camels are not the most dainty of creatures. Dromedaries are on average six feet tall at the shoulder, rendering cattle fencing no particular obstacle to their movement. By some accounts, camels may not even see small fences and consequently walk straight through them.Groups of camels arriving on agricultural properties and settlements in Australia, normally in times of severe drought, can also cause significant damage in their search for water.In 2009, a large-scale culling operation began. There were objections from animal welfare groups and some landowners who were concerned that the method of culling from helicopters, leaving the bodies to waste, is inhumane. Most objectors, however, were primarily concerned that culling is economically wasteful and felt that the camels should be mustered for slaughter or export.There are also concerns regarding the global environment, as camels may contribute to the desertification of the Australian landscape. They are also ruminants and thus produce methane, adding to Australia’s carbon emissions. …

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Northern and southern hemisphere climates follow the beat of different drummers

Over the last 1000 years, temperature differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres were larger than previously thought. Using new data from the Southern Hemisphere, researchers have shown that climate model simulations overestimate the links between the climate variations across Earth with implications for regional predictions.These findings are demonstrated in a new international study coordinated by Raphael Neukom from the Oeschger Centre of the University of Bern and the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL and are published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.The Southern Hemisphere is a challenging place for climate scientists. Its vast oceans, Antarctic ice, and deserts make it particularly difficult to collect information about present climate and, even more so, about past climate. However, multi-centennial reconstructions of past climate from so-called proxy archives such as tree-rings, lake sediments, corals, and ice-cores are required to understand the mechanisms of the climate system. Until now, these long-term estimates were almost entirely based on data from the Northern Hemisphere.Over the past few years, an international research team has made a coordinated effort to develop and analyse new records that provide clues about climate variation across the Southern Hemisphere. Climate scientists from Australia, Antarctic-experts, as well as data specialists and climate modellers from South and North America and Europe participated in the project. They compiled climate data from over 300 different locations and applied a range of methods to estimate Southern Hemisphere temperatures over the past 1000 years. In 99.7 percent of the results, the warmest decade of the millennium occurs after 1970.Surprisingly, only twice over the entire last millennium have both hemispheres simultaneously shown extreme temperatures. One of these occasions was a global cold period in the 17th century; the other one was the current warming phase, with uninterrupted global warm extremes since the 1970s. “The ‘Medieval Warm Period’, as identified in some European chronicles, was a regional phenomenon,” says Raphael Neukom. …

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Oncology results and a day in the city of Melbourne

Last Friday I had my blood tests and saw my oncologist Dr Allan Zimet on Tuesday 25 March 2014 for results and the okay to fly to Washington for the annual ADAO Asbestos Conference.Allan gave me the green light to fly with a letter to show Qantas airlines just in case they were to question my flying given that I have advanced mesothelioma.My bloods were fine and I am to have a scan upon my return from America, then see Allan end of April for results.I remember last year when I flew to the ADAO Asbestos Conference in Washington with Bernie Banton Foundation as I had to have a scan prior to going. It was very much touch and go as to whether I would be …

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Dust in the wind drove iron fertilization during ice age

Researchers from Princeton University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have confirmed that during the last ice age iron fertilization caused plankton to thrive in a region of the Southern Ocean.The study published in Science confirms a longstanding hypothesis that wind-borne dust carried iron to the region of the globe north of Antarctica, driving plankton growth and eventually leading to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.Plankton remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere during growth and transfer it to the deep ocean when their remains sink to the bottom. Iron fertilization has previously been suggested as a possible cause of the lower CO2 levels that occur during ice ages. These decreases in atmospheric CO2 are believed to have “amplified” the ice ages, making them much colder, with some scientists believing that there would have been no ice ages at all without the CO2 depletion.Iron fertilization has also been suggested as one way to draw down the rising levels of CO2 associated with the burning of fossil fuels. Improved understanding of the drivers of ocean carbon storage could lead to better predictions of how the rise in manmade carbon dioxide will affect climate in the coming years.The role of iron in storing carbon dioxide during ice ages was first proposed in 1990 by the late John Martin, an oceanographer at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California who made the landmark discovery that iron limits plankton growth in large regions of the modern ocean.Based on evidence that there was more dust in the atmosphere during the ice ages, Martin hypothesized that this increased dust supply to the Southern Ocean allowed plankton to grow more rapidly, sending more of their biomass into the deep ocean and removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Martin focused on the Southern Ocean because its surface waters contain the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus in abundance, allowing plankton to be fertilized by iron without running low on these necessary nutrients.The research confirms Martin’s hypothesis, said Daniel Sigman, Princeton’s Dusenbury Professor of Geological and Geophysical Sciences, and a co-leader of the study. “I was an undergraduate when Martin published his ‘ice age iron hypothesis,'” he said. “I remember being captivated by it, as was everyone else at the time. But I also remember thinking that Martin would have to be the luckiest person in the world to pose such a simple, beautiful explanation for the ice age CO2 paradox and then turn out to be right about it.”Previous efforts to test Martin’s hypothesis established a strong correlation of cold climate, high dust and productivity in the Subantarctic region, a band of ocean encircling the globe between roughly 40 and 50 degrees south latitude that lies in the path of the winds that blow off South America, South Africa and Australia. However, it was not clear whether the productivity was due to iron fertilization or the northward shift of a zone of naturally occurring productivity that today lies to the south of the Subantarctic. This uncertainty was made more acute by the finding that ice age productivity was lower in the Antarctic Ocean, which lies south of the Subantarctic region.To settle the matter, the research groups of Sigman at Princeton and Gerald Haug and Tim Eglinton at ETH Zurich teamed up to use a new method developed at Princeton. …

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The ten best weather places in the world

Do you dream of a place that is always sunny? Where the temperature is perfect? Where there is virtually no severe weather? Ed Darack has. His article, “The 10 Best Weather Places in the World,” featured in the March/April issue of Weatherwise magazine attempts to name the top ten places in the world that continually experience the best weather.Darack defines what “best” weather consists of. The basis of this list is founded in weather that has positive effects on human fundamental needs (physical, mental, and emotional). “We can determine meteorological “best” criteria for ideal human physical, mental, and emotional health that includes temperature, humidity, average number of sunny days, and other criteria, by studying the results of research conducted on environmental effects on humans.” With this in mind Darack creates a mythical place of weather perfection, ‘Anthro-Weathertopia’. Here the temperature never strays too far from 68F, the humidity is always comfortably 50%, and the clouds are never a threat. Unfortunately this perfect place does not exist, but his article lists the top ten places that come close.The Manjimup region of the extreme south west region of Western Australia ranks at number ten on the list. It is a piece of lush land off the southern Indian Ocean. …

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Ban Asbestos in Unity – a very powerful message in the sands of Greens Beach Tasmania

A few days ago while I was walking along the beautiful and peaceful beach at a little cove/seaside town in Tasmania called Greens Beach, as there was no one else on the beach I decided spur of the moment to draw this heart in the sand with this powerful message as I felt it reaches out worldwide with a very important message.I stood back and went to take a photograph when all of a sudden a couple appeared from ‘no where’ and asked if they could ‘take a look at my artwork’! I showed them, they looked at each other and went a pale shade of grey and said ”a friend of ours was recently diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and he lives in Launceston’! (Launceston …

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Climatologists offer explanation for widening of Earth’s tropical belt

Recent studies have shown that Earth’s tropical belt — demarcated, roughly, by the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn — has progressively expanded since at least the late 1970s. Several explanations for this widening have been proposed, such as radiative forcing due to greenhouse gas increase and stratospheric ozone depletion.Now, a team of climatologists, led by researchers at the University of California, Riverside, posits that the recent widening of the tropical belt is primarily caused by multi-decadal sea surface temperature variability in the Pacific Ocean. This variability includes the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), a long-lived El Nio-like pattern of Pacific climate variability that works like a switch every 30 years or so between two different circulation patterns in the North Pacific Ocean. It also includes, the researchers say, anthropogenic pollutants, which act to modify the PDO.Study results appear March 16 in Nature Geoscience.”Prior analyses have found that climate models underestimate the observed rate of tropical widening, leading to questions on possible model deficiencies, possible errors in the observations, and lack of confidence in future projections,” said Robert J. Allen, an assistant professor of climatology in UC Riverside’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the study. “Furthermore, there has been no clear explanation for what is driving the widening.”Now Allen’s team has found that the recent tropical widening is largely driven by the PDO.”Although this widening is considered a ‘natural’ mode of climate variability, implying tropical widening is primarily driven by internal dynamics of the climate system, we also show that anthropogenic pollutants have driven trends in the PDO,” Allen said. “Thus, tropical widening is related to both the PDO and anthropogenic pollutants.”Widening concernsTropical widening is associated with several significant changes in our climate, including shifts in large-scale atmospheric circulation, like storm tracks, and major climate zones. For example, in Southern California, tropical widening may be associated with less precipitation.Of particular concern are the semi-arid regions poleward of the subtropical dry belts, including the Mediterranean, the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, southern Australia, southern Africa, and parts of South America. A poleward expansion of the tropics is likely to bring even drier conditions to these heavily populated regions, but may bring increased moisture to other areas.Widening of the tropics would also probably be associated with poleward movement of major extratropical climate zones due to changes in the position of jet streams, storm tracks, mean position of high and low pressure systems, and associated precipitation regimes. An increase in the width of the tropics could increase the area affected by tropical storms (hurricanes), or could change climatological tropical cyclone development regions and tracks.Belt contractionAllen’s research team also showed that prior to the recent (since ~1980 onwards) tropical widening, the tropical belt actually contracted for several decades, consistent with the reversal of the PDO during this earlier time period.”The reversal of the PDO, in turn, may be related to the global increase in anthropogenic pollutant emissions prior to the ~ early 1980s,” Allen said.AnalysisAllen’s team analyzed IPCC AR5 (5th Assessment Report) climate models, several observational and reanalysis data sets, and conducted their own climate model experiments to quantify tropical widening, and to isolate the main cause.”When we analyzed IPCC climate model experiments driven with the time-evolution of observed sea surface temperatures, we found much larger rates of tropical widening, in better agreement to the observed rate–particularly in the Northern Hemisphere,” Allen said. …

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Dingo poisoning should be stopped to protect native Australian mammals

Poisoning of dingoes — the top predators in the Australian bush — has a deleterious effect on small native mammals such as marsupial mice, bandicoots and native rodents, a UNSW-led study shows.The research, in forested National Parks in NSW, found that loss of dingoes after baiting is associated with greater activity by foxes, which prey on small marsupials and native rodents.As well, the number of kangaroos and wallabies increases when dingoes, also known as wild dogs, disappear. Grazing by these herbivores reduces the density of the understorey vegetation in which the small ground-dwelling mammals live.”Dingoes should not be poisoned if we want to halt the loss of mammal biodiversity in Australia. We need to develop strategies to maintain the balance of nature by keeping dingoes in the bush, while minimising their impacts on livestock,” says the senior author, UNSW’s Dr Mike Letnic.The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.The researchers surveyed seven pairs of forested sites within conservation reserves managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.Baiting of dingoes with 1080 poison had been carried out at one location in each pair, but not the other. Apart from the resulting difference in the number of dingoes present, the pairs of locations had similar eucalypt coverage, geology and landforms, and were less than 50 kilometres apart.”This provided an extraordinary natural experiment to compare the impact of the loss of dingoes on a forested ecosystem,” says Dr Letnic, an ARC Future Fellow in the Centre for Ecosystem Science in the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.It is the first study to show how removing large carnivores can result in simultaneous population outbreaks of herbivores and smaller predators. And that these population outbreaks, in turn, can have deleterious effects on smaller mammals.The activity of dingoes, foxes, feral cats and bandicoots was assessed from their tracks. Kangaroos and wallabies and possums were counted from the back of a four wheel drive. Traps were used to catch marsupials and native rodents, and surveys of vegetation were carried out.”We found foxes and large herbivores benefit from dingo control, while small-bodied terrestrial mammal species decline in abundance,” says Dr Letnic.”Predation by foxes is one of the most important threats to small native mammals, and grazing by herbivores can reduce their preferred habitats for shelter, leaving them exposed to predators.”The study’s findings in the forested areas are consistent with the effects of dingo removal in desert areas of Australia.”Actively maintaining dingo populations, or restoring them in areas where they have been exterminated, is controversial but could mitigate the impacts of foxes and herbivores,” says Dr Letnic.”Poisoning of dingoes is counter-productive for biodiversity conservation, because it results in increases in fox activity and declines of small ground-dwelling native mammals.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of New South Wales. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Fat or flat: Getting galaxies into shape

Australian astronomers have discovered what makes some spiral galaxies fat and bulging while others are flat discs — and it’s all about how fast they spin.The research, led by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth, found that fast-rotating spiral galaxies are flat and thin while equally sized galaxies that rotate slowly are fatter.The study was published today in Astrophysical Journal.ICRAR Research Associate Professor Danail Obreschkow, from The University of Western Australia, said it is a much-debated mystery why galaxies look so different to each other.”Some galaxies are very flat discs of stars and others are more bulging or even spherical,” he said.”Much of the last century of research has been dedicated to understanding this diversity of galaxies in the Universe and with this paper we’ve made a step towards understanding how this came about by showing that the rotation of spiral galaxies is a key driver for their shape.”The study looked at 16 galaxies — all between 10 million and 50 million light years from Earth — using data from a survey called THINGS.”The THINGS survey shows you the cold gas in the galaxies, not only where it is but how it moves,” Dr Obreschkow said.”That’s a crucial point if you want to measure the spin, you can’t just take a photograph, you have to take a special picture that shows you the motion.”Dr Obreschkow said the shape of a spiral galaxy is determined by both its spin and its mass and if you leave a galaxy on its own for billions of years both quantities will stay the same.He said the way galaxies are formed looks a bit similar to a carousel made of an elastic disc.”If the carousel is at rest, the elastic disc is quite small,” Dr Obreschkow said.”But when the whole thing is spinning the elastic disc becomes larger because it’s feeling the effects of centrifugal force.”Our own Milky Way is a relatively flat disc with only a small bulge, the shape of which can be seen in the night sky.”The white band of the Milky Way across the sky is a relatively thin band of constant thickness. However when you look right at the centre near the Sagittarius constellation you can actually see a thickening of the Milky Way, which is the bulge,” Dr Obreschkow said. He and co-author, Swinburne University Professor Karl Glazebrook, were able to measure the effect of spin on galaxies more than ten times better than anyone previously.The study used data collected at the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in the United States, one of the most famous radio telescopes in the world and a significant pathfinder for the Square Kilometre Array.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Powerful artificial muscles made from fishing line and sewing thread

An international team led by The University of Texas at Dallas has discovered that ordinary fishing line and sewing thread can be cheaply converted to powerful artificial muscles.The new muscles can lift a hundred times more weight and generate a hundred times higher mechanical power than the same length and weight of human muscle. Per weight, they can generate 7.1 horsepower per kilogram, about the same mechanical power as a jet engine.In a paper published Feb. 21 in the journal Science, researchers explain that the powerful muscles are produced by twisting and coiling high-strength polymer fishing line and sewing thread. Scientists at UT Dallas’s Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute teamed with scientists from universities in Australia, South Korea, Canada, Turkey and China to accomplish the advances.The muscles are powered thermally by temperature changes, which can be produced electrically, by the absorption of light or by the chemical reaction of fuels. Twisting the polymer fiber converts it to a torsional muscle that can spin a heavy rotor to more than 10,000 revolutions per minute. Subsequent additional twisting, so that the polymer fiber coils like a heavily twisted rubber band, produces a muscle that dramatically contracts along its length when heated, and returns to its initial length when cooled. If coiling is in a different twist direction than the initial polymer fiber twist, the muscles instead expand when heated.Compared to natural muscles, which contract by only about 20 percent, these new muscles can contract by about 50 percent of their length. The muscle strokes also are reversible for millions of cycles as the muscles contract and expand under heavy mechanical loads.”The application opportunities for these polymer muscles are vast,” said corresponding author Dr. Ray Baughman, the Robert A. …

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Extreme weather caused by climate change decides distribution of insects, study shows

As climate change is progressing, the temperature of our planet increases. This is particularly important for the large group of animals that are cold-blooded (ectothermic), including insects. Their body temperature is ultimately determined by the ambient temperature, and the same therefore applies to the speed and efficiency of their vital biological processes.But is it changes in average temperature or frequency of extreme temperature conditions that have the greatest impact on species distribution? This was the questions that a group of Danish and Australian researchers decided to examine in a number of insect species.Johannes Overgaard, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Denmark, Michael R. Kearney and Ary A. Hoffmann, Melbourne University, Australia, recently published the results of these studies in the journal Global Change Biology. The results demonstrate that it is especially the extreme temperature events that define the distribution of both tropical and temperate species. Thus climate change affects ectotermic animals primarily because more periods of extreme weather are expected in the future.Fruit flies were modeledThe researchers examined 10 fruit fly species of the genus Drosophila adapted to tropical and temperate regions of Australia. First they examined the temperatures for which the species can sustain growth and reproduction, and then they found the boundaries of tolerance for hot and cold temperatures.”This is the first time ever where we have been able to compare the effects of extremes and changes in average conditions in a rigorous manner across a group of species,” mentions Ary Hoffmann.Based on this knowledge and knowledge of the present distribution of the 10 species they then examined if distribution was correlated to the temperatures required for growth and reproduction or rather limited by their tolerance to extreme temperature conditions.”The answer was unambiguous: it is the species’ tolerance to very cold or hot days that define their present distribution,” says Johannes Overgaard.It is therefore the extreme weather events, such as heat waves or extremely cold conditions, which costs the insects their life, not an increase in average temperature.Drastic changes in storeWith this information in hand, the researchers could then model how distributions are expected to change if climate change continues for the next 100 years.Most terrestrial animals experience temperature variation on both daily and seasonal time scale, and they are adapted to these conditions. Thus, for a species to maintain its existence under varying temperature conditions there are two simple conditions that must be met. …

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Wheat: Genetic discovery to keep crops disease-free

According to John Curtin Distinguished Professor Richard Oliver, Director of the Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens (ACNFP) at Curtin, farmers can lose more than 0.35 tonnes per hectare in wheat yields to Yellow Spot, even after applying fungicide.For an average-sized farm of 4000 hectares, this could mean an almost $500,000 loss to disease per year — or about $212 million worth of damage to the wider Australian agricultural industry.Funded by the Grains Research & Development Corporation, Professor Oliver and his team, in conjunction with independent research provider Kalyx Australia, have demonstrated that by taking away disease-sensitivity genes from the wheat germplasm, pathogens find it difficult to latch onto wheat and cause damage.”Our finding will help breeders produce crops in which disease losses are 60 to 80 per cent lower, and would be a real win for farmers — they will often be able to avoid using foliar fungicides,” Professor Oliver said.”Before now, breeding for resistance to Yellow (Tan) Spot and Septoria Nodorum Blotch was very time-consuming — no molecular markers were in use. The key has been to supply breeders with specific proteins (we call them effectors) that the fungi use to cause disease.”For the first time, our technology allows for a steady and sustained improvement in disease resistance without affecting the farmer’s pocket.”Furthermore, breeders are able to devote more time and resources to breeding for yield, as well as for rust and frost resistance.”Using large wheat variety trials provided by Kalyx Australia, the team looked at yield loss of different cultivars (plants chosen for breeding because of desirable characteristics) when subjected to natural disease and stress pressures in the WA wheatbelt.They compared cultivars with disease-sensitivity genes to cultivars that lacked these particular genes, and were able to show that the cultivars lacking the gene showed no yield loss and in some instances increased yields in the presence of disease.From this, the team were able to conclude if a sensitivity gene was eliminated, there would be minimal associated risks and it would be a safe and straightforward strategy for improving disease resistance.Professor Oliver said this research had never been done before as direct mapping for disease resistance had not led to useful molecular markers.”Previously geneticists would infect plants that were progeny of crosses between relatively resistant and relatively susceptible parents before doing the QTL (quantitative disease-resistance gene) mapping. But as disease resistance is multifactorial due to the several effector reactions, the QTL mapping was always a bit fuzzy and was therefore never passed on,” Professor Oliver said.”Our research looks directly at the loci that recognise the pathogens, which can be readily identified using a process we developed earlier, thereby bypassing the need for QTL mapping.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Curtin University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Sneezing sponges suggest existence of sensory organ: Discovery challenges assumptions about ‘primitive’ organism

When Danielle Ludeman decided to leave her hometown of Vancouver to study evolutionary biology at the University of Alberta, she knew she was in for a challenge that would help her discover things about science and, in turn, herself.What she didn’t count on were the hours, days and months she’d spend watching sponges in mid-sneeze.It sounds like a strange way to pass time, but sneezing sponges have become a major part of Ludeman’s studies at the U of A, including a new paper that points to the sneeze as evidence of a sensory organ in one of the most basic multicellular organisms on Earth.”The sneeze can tell us a lot about how the sponge works and how it’s responding to the environment,” said Ludeman, a master’s student in the Faculty of Science. “This paper really gets at the question of how sensory systems evolved. The sponge doesn’t have a nervous system, so how can it respond to the environment with a sneeze the way another animal that does have a nervous system can?”Ludeman started the work as part of an undergraduate research honours project, working under the supervision of Sally Leys, Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Developmental Biology. It was Leys and a former graduate student who first discovered that sponges do in fact sneeze.The sponge is a filter feeder that relies totally on water flow through its body for food, oxygen and waste removal. Sneezing, a 30- to 45-minute process that sees the entire body of the sponge expand and contract, allows it to respond to physical stimuli such as sediment in the water.Time-lapse sneezesFor their study, Ludeman and Leys used a variety of drugs to elicit sneezes in freshwater sponges and observed the process using fluorescent dye — all recorded using time-lapse video. Their efforts focused on the sponge’s osculum, which controls water exiting the organism, including water expelled during a sneeze.Through a series of lab experiments, the pair discovered that ciliated cells lining the osculum play a role in triggering sneezes. In other animals, cilia function like antennae, helping cells respond to stimuli in a co-ordinated manner. In the sponge, their localized presence in the osculum and their sensory function suggest the osculum is in fact a sensory organ.”For a sponge to have a sensory organ is totally new. This does not appear in a textbook; this doesn’t appear in someone’s concept of what sponges are permitted to have,” said Leys.Leys said the discovery raises new questions about how sensory systems may have evolved in the sponge and other animals, including ones with nervous systems. It’s possible this sensory system is unique to the sponge, she said, evolving over the last 600 million years. …

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Computer literate again! High tea and good bye to a beautiful mesothelioma warrior and dear friend.

Hurrah! After 3 weeks of putting up with our ancient computer that failed recently due to an electrical storm we have bought a new computer and Keith set it up last night. So much quicker for everything. For those that are MAC freaks I hate to disappoint you – we have another PC!Last Saturday 1 February 2014 was the inaugural Ban Asbestos Conference to be held in Pakistan thanks to the Syed Fareed Ahmed Memorial Mesothelioma General Hospital Foundation and in particular Syed Mezab Ahmed and his father who bravely took on the cause/case after their uncle/brother died of tongue cancer caused by exposure to asbestos while working in Pakistan. It is a credit to both of them holding this conference and showing much needed awareness and education. …

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The Anthropology of Addiction

Can we ever integrate neuroscience and social science?Bielefeld, Germany—The last in a series of posts about a recent conference, Neuroplasticity in Substance Addiction and Recovery: From Genes to Culture and Back Again. The conference, held at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) at Bielefeld University, drew neuroscientists, historians, psychologists, philosophers, and even a freelance science journalist or two, coming in from Germany, the U.S., The Netherlands, the UK, Finland, France, Italy, Australia, and elsewhere. The organizing idea was to focus on how changes in the brain impact addiction and recovery, and what that says about the interaction of genes and culture. The conference co-organizers were Jason Clark and Saskia Nagel of the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrück, Germany. Part One …

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Red alert: Body kills ‘spontaneous’ blood cancers on a daily basis

Immune cells undergo ‘spontaneous’ changes on a daily basis that could lead to cancers if not for the diligent surveillance of our immune system, Melbourne scientists have found.The research team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute found that the immune system was responsible for eliminating potentially cancerous immune B cells in their early stages, before they developed into B-cell lymphomas (also known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas). The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Medicine.This immune surveillance accounts for what researchers at the institute call the ‘surprising rarity’ of B-cell lymphomas in the population, given how often these spontaneous changes occur. The discovery could lead to the development of an early-warning test that identifies patients at high risk of developing B-cell lymphomas, enabling proactive treatment to prevent tumours from growing.Dr Axel Kallies, Associate Professor David Tarlinton, Dr Stephen Nutt and colleagues made the discovery while investigating the development of B-cell lymphomas.Dr Kallies said the discovery provided an answer to why B-cell lymphomas occur in the population less frequently than expected. “Each and every one of us has spontaneous mutations in our immune B cells that occur as a result of their normal function,” Dr Kallies said. “It is then somewhat of a paradox that B cell lymphoma is not more common in the population.”Our finding that immune surveillance by T cells enables early detection and elimination of these cancerous and pre-cancerous cells provides an answer to this puzzle, and proves that immune surveillance is essential to preventing the development of this blood cancer.”B-cell lymphoma is the most common blood cancer in Australia, with approximately 2800 people diagnosed each year and patients with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of developing the disease.The research team made the discovery while investigating how B cells change when lymphoma develops. “As part of the research, we ‘disabled’ the T cells to suppress the immune system and, to our surprise, found that lymphoma developed in a matter of weeks, where it would normally take years,” Dr Kallies said. “It seems that our immune system is better equipped than we imagined to identify and eliminate cancerous B cells, a process that is driven by the immune T cells in our body.”Associate Professor Tarlinton said the research would enable scientists to identify pre-cancerous cells in the initial stages of their development, enabling early intervention for patients at risk of developing B-cell lymphoma.”In the majority of patients, the first sign that something is wrong is finding an established tumour, which in many cases is difficult to treat” Associate Professor Tarlinton said. “Now that we know B-cell lymphoma is suppressed by the immune system, we could use this information to develop a diagnostic test that identifies people in early stages of this disease, before tumours develop and they progress to cancer. There are already therapies that could remove these ‘aberrant’ B cells in at-risk patients, so once a test is developed it can be rapidly moved towards clinical use.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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