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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Forest harvesting intensity varies in Europe

Forests provide us with essential raw materials and the demand for these materials is increasing. To meet this increasing demand, forestry faces the challenge of how to intensify management of the existing production forests in sustainable ways.An international and multidisciplinary team of scientists led by Christian Levers from the Humboldt-Universitt in Berlin show that forest harvesting intensity is distributed unevenly across Europe and harvested timber volumes were mostly well below the increment. The spatial patterns of forest harvesting intensity were well explained by forest-resource related variables (i.e., the share of plantation species, growing stock, forest cover), site conditions (i.e., topography, accessibility), and country-specific characteristics, whereas socioeconomic variables were less important.The study provides concrete starting points for developing measures targeted at increasing regional wood supply from forests or lowering harvest pressure in regions where forests are heavily used.The research was carried out in the context of the Integrated Project “Visions of land use transitions in Europe” (VOLANTE) and supported by the European Commission and the Einstein Foundation Berlin.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by European Forest Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Climate change threatens to cause trillions in damage to world’s coastal regions if they do not adapt to sea-level rise

New research predicts that coastal regions may face massive increases in damages from storm surge flooding over the course of the 21st century.According to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, global average storm surge damages could increase from about $10-$40 billion per year today to up to $100,000 billion per year by the end of century, if no adaptation action is taken.The study, led by the Berlin-based think-tank Global Climate Forum (GCF) and involving the University of Southampton, presents, for the first time, comprehensive global simulation results on future flood damages to buildings and infrastructure in coastal flood plains. Drastic increases in these damages are expected due to both rising sea levels and population and economic growth in the coastal zone. Asia and Africa may be particularly hard hit because of their rapidly growing coastal mega-cities, such as Shanghai, Manila and Lagos.”If we ignore this problem, the consequences will be dramatic,” explains Jochen Hinkel from GCF and the study’s lead author. In 2100, up to 600 million people (around 5 per cent of the global population) could be affected by coastal flooding if no adaptation measures are put in place.”Countries need to take action and invest in coastal protection measures, such as building or raising dikes, amongst other options,” urges Hinkel. With such protection measures, the projected damages could be reduced to below $80 billion per year during the 21st century. The researchers found that an investment level of $10 to $70 billion per year could achieve such a reduction. Prompt action is needed most in Asia and Africa where, today, large parts of the coastal population are already affected by storm surge flooding.However, investment must also occur in Europe as shown by the recent coastal floods in South West England. Professor Robert Nicholls from the University of Southampton, who is a co-author of the paper, says: “If we ignore sea-level rise, flood damages will progressively rise and presently good defences will be degraded and ultimately overwhelmed. Hence we must start to adapt now, be that planning higher defences, flood proofing buildings and strategically planning coastal land use.”Meeting the challenge of adapting to rising sea levels will not be easy, explains Hinkel: “Poor countries and heavily impacted small-island states are not able to make the necessary investments alone, they need international support.” Adding to the challenge, international finance mechanisms have thus far proved sluggish in mobilising funds for adapting to climate change, as the debate on adaptation funding at the recent climate conference in Warsaw once again confirmed.”If we do not reduce greenhouse gases swiftly and substantially, some regions will have to seriously consider relocating significant numbers of people in the longer run,” adds Hinkel. Yet regardless of how much sea-level rise climate change brings, the researchers say careful long-term strategic planning can ensure that development in high-risk flood zones is appropriately designed or avoided. …

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Hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived together for 2,000 years in Central Europe

Oct. 10, 2013 — Indigenous hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived side-by-side for more than 2,000 years in Central Europe, before the hunter-gatherer communities died out or adopted the agricultural lifestyle. The results come from a study undertaken by the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) that has just been published in the journal Science.A team led by Mainz anthropologist Professor Joachim Burger studied bones from the ‘Blätterhöhle’ cave near Hagen in Germany, where both hunter-gatherers and farmers were buried. “It is commonly assumed that the Central European hunter-gatherers disappeared soon after the arrival of farmers,” said Dr. Ruth Bollongino, lead author of the study. “But our study shows that the descendants of Mesolithic Europeans maintained their hunter-gatherer way of life and lived in parallel with the immigrant farmers, for at least 2,000 years. The hunter-gathering lifestyle thus only died out in Central Europe around 5,000 years ago, much later than previously thought.”Until around 7,500 years ago all central Europeans were hunter-gatherers. They were the descendants of the first anatomically modern humans to arrive in Europe, around 45,000 years ago, who survived the last Ice Age and the warming that started around 10,000 years ago. But previous genetic studies by Professor Burger’s group indicated that agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle were brought to Central Europe around 7,500 years ago by immigrant farmers. From that time on, little trace of hunter-gathering can be seen in the archaeological record, and it was widely assumed that the hunter-gatherers died out or were absorbed into the farming populations.The relationship between these immigrant agriculturalists and local hunter-gatherers has been poorly researched to date. …

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New therapeutic approach to fight cancer: Inhibiting cancer cells’ energy metabolism

Sep. 3, 2013 — Resting cancer cells can be selectively destroyed by inhibiting their energy metabolism. This is the recent discovery by researchers at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch, together with other cooperation partners from Germany.The findings of their study have been published in the scientific journal Nature.Chemotherapy does not kill all cancer cells, but instead, some cells enter a state known as senescence (programmed growth arrest). While in this state, the tumor cells are inactive and no longer divide. Nevertheless, senescence comes with hidden dangers. For instance, senescent cells produce protein messenger substances that can cause harmful inflammatory reactions. Moreover, senescent cells may pose a risk of cancer recurrence. Researchers working around Prof. Dr. Clemens Schmitt, Director of the Center for Molecular Cancer Research and Executive Supervising Medical Doctor at the Department of Hematology, Oncology and Tumor Immunology at the Charité, have now discovered a way to target senescent cancer cells for destruction.”We have demonstrated a major increase in energy metabolism in senescent tumor cells after chemotherapy, and that the cells truly crave for sugar,” explains Prof. …

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Boys suffer from their fathers’ long working hours

Aug. 22, 2013 — Fathers’ extremely long working hours can be detrimental to their sons´ wellbeing. This is the key finding of a longitudinal study by Jianghong Li (senior researcher at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center) and four Australian co-authors, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.Share This:The longitudinal study is based on data of more than 1,400 children in Western Australia. Around 19 percent of Western Australian fathers work 55 or more hours per week when their children are 5 years of age. Almost 20 percent of Australian fathers work so long when their children are 8 years old.Boys whose fathers worked 55 or more hours per week later exhibited more delinquent and aggressive behaviors than boys whose fathers worked fewer hours. Their fathers’ long work hours did not appear to affect girls’ behaviors. Mothers’ work hours did not seem to matter, although few Australian mothers worked long hours and no firm conclusions can be drawn yet from this comparison.The culture of working long hours which has crept into many jobs in the new economy should be the next policy frontier. In Germany 15 percent of fathers of children with similar age (3-4) work 55 or more hours per week in 2011.The data come from the cohort study called “Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort Study” well-known under the name Raine Study. The study has been following children from pregnancy to adulthood.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Social Science Research Center / Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin fuer Sozialforschung. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. …

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Appetite hormone misfires in obese people

Aug. 20, 2013 — Glucagon, a hormone involved in regulating appetite, loses its ability to help obese people feel full after a meal, but it continues to suppress hunger pangs in people with type 1 diabetes, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).The primary role of glucagon, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, is to signal the body to release stored glucose when blood sugar falls too low. But growing evidence suggests the hormone also may play a role in controlling food intake and feelings of fullness, or satiation, through signaling the body to reduce levels of other appetite hormones like ghrelin.”Once a person becomes obese, glucagon no longer induces feelings of fullness,” said the study’s lead author, Ayman M. Arafat, MD, of Charité-University Medicine in Berlin, Germany. “Further research is needed to determine why glucagon no longer suppresses appetite effectively in this population, even though they are otherwise healthy.”The prospective, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study investigated glucagon levels and appetite among 11 obese people, 13 people with type 1 diabetes and 13 lean people. Participants received injections of either glucagon or a placebo. Researchers then measured participants’ appetites using a satiety scale as well as levels of the appetite hormone ghrelin.Feelings of fullness did not differ between obese study participants who received glucagon injections and those who were given the placebo. In comparison, participants who were lean or had type 1 diabetes reported feeling significantly more full after receiving glucagon. The response to the hormone was detectable in this population, even 24 hours after it was administered.”The findings could influence efforts to develop new treatments for obesity and diabetes,” Arafat said. “Although therapeutic agents that influence glucagon and other hormones currently are considered a promising avenue for research, this study suggests a treatment involving glucagon may be ineffective in controlling meal size in people who are obese.”Other researchers working on the study include: M. …

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Eating poisonous plants saves life of gemsbok in Namibian desert

Aug. 16, 2013 — In drought periods browsing springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) feed on all plant material they can find, while grazing gemsbok (Oryx gazella gazella), in contrast, switch their diet to a high proportion of poisonous plants — and they survive. These findings were just published in the scientific online journal PLOS ONE.Share This:”We wanted to understand how these quite well-studied ungulates with contrasting feeding strategies can survive and even flourish in an adverse habitat like the Kunene region in Namibia, where the environment is characterised by strong and unpredictable variation in resource availability,” says David Lehmann, doctoral candidate at the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) and first author of the study. Researchers from theIZW, the University of Namibia and other Namibian partners found that gemsbok (also called oryx) adjusted its diet according to season. During drought periods, they fed on a restricted mixture of plants, including more than 30 % of shrubs and trees. Surprisingly, gemsbok diet also consisted of up to 25 % of Damara milk-bush (Euphorbia damarana), an endemic, large succulent plant which is available all year round but highly toxic. When food was plentiful, gemsbok specialised exclusively on grasses and more ephemeral succulent species.In contrast, springboks fed on a higher proportion of shrubs and trees than grasses and succulent plants irrespective of environmental conditions. As the researchers expected, springbok opportunistically adjusted their diet in response to variation in food sources availabilities, preferring e.g. grass sprouts during the wet season and browsing predominantly on leaves of bushes when grass quality decreased during drought. Springbok therefore adopted a different dietary strategy than gemsbok when facing a shortage of food sources.The potential effects of the Damara milk-bush on gemsbok health are still unknown. …

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Ancient mammal relatives cast light on recovery after mass extinction

Aug. 13, 2013 — As growing numbers of species in the modern world face extinction because of global climate change, habitat destruction, and over-exploitation, scientists have turned to the fossil record to understand how mass extinctions in the past proceeded, and how species and ecosystems recovered in the aftermath of such events.Much work so far suggests that the survivors of mass extinctions often are presented with new ecological opportunities because the loss of many species in their communities allows them to evolve new lifestyles and new anatomical features as they fill the roles vacated by the victims.However, it turns out that not all survivors respond in the same way, and some may not be able to exploit fully the new opportunities arising after a mass extinction. A team of researchers from the University of Lincoln, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, and the University of Bristol examined how a group of ancient relatives of mammals called anomodonts responded in the aftermath of the largest mass extinction in Earth history. Their work, published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and titled “Decoupling of morphological disparity and taxic diversity during the adaptive radiation of anomodont therapsids,” shows that anomodonts remained anatomically conservative even as the number of species rebounded during the recovery.The mass extinction at the end of the Permian Period, about 252 million years ago, had profound effects on organisms on land and in the sea, with as many as 90% of marine organisms and 70% of terrestrial species becoming extinct. “Groups of organisms that survive such a mass extinction are said to have passed through an evolutionary bottleneck analogous to the genetic bottleneck that may occur in a population if many of its members die off,” said Dr. Marcello Ruta of the University of Lincoln, the lead author of the study. “At the population level, a genetic bottleneck sometimes allows the population to move to a new evolutionary trajectory, but other times it constrains the future evolution of the population.””Near the end of the Permian, a large number of anomodont species existed that displayed a wide range of body sizes and ecological adaptations, including terrestrial plant eaters, amphibious hippo-like species, specialized burrowers, and even tree-dwelling forms,” said Dr. Kenneth Angielczyk. “The most successful group of anomodonts had canine-like tusks in their upper jaws and turtle-like beaks, and they were the most important terrestrial herbivores of their time.””The number of anomodont species increased during the Permian, sharply dropped during the end-Permian extinction event, and then rebounded in the Middle Triassic Period (about 240 million years ago) before the final extinction of the group at the end of the Triassic,” said Professor Jörg Fröbisch. “However, the variety of different anatomical features found in anomodonts, i.e. …

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Young vs. old: Who performs more consistently?

Aug. 5, 2013 — Sometimes it’s just not your day: First you can’t remember where you put your car keys, then you forget about an important meeting at work. On days like that, our memory seems to let us down. But are there actually “good” and “bad” days for cognitive performance? And does age make a difference in the day-to-day variability in cognitive performance?Florian Schmiedek, Martin Lövdén, and Ulman Lindenberger examined these questions using data from the COGITO Study, an investigation conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Their results are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.The new findings reveal that while variability in cognitive performance does indeed exist, our personal impression that a whole day is either good or bad is often wrong. Rather, most performance fluctuations occur within shorter periods of time.”True variability from day to day is relatively low,” says Schmiedek.The data suggest that both day-to-day and within-day variability in cognitive performance are particularly low in older adults when compared to younger adults.Testing over 200 younger (ages 20-31) and older (ages 65-80) adults on twelve different tasks revealed significant age differences. These tasks — testing perceptual speed, episodic memory, and working memory — were repeated across 100 days, enabling researchers to assess the participants’ learning improvements as well as their day-to-day performance fluctuations.In all nine cognitive tasks assessed, the older group actually showed less performance variability from day to day than the younger group. The older adults’ cognitive performance was thus more consistent across days, and this picture remained unaltered when differences in average performance favoring the young were taken into account.”Further analyses indicate that the older adults’ higher consistency is due to learned strategies to solve the task, a constantly high motivation level, as well as a balanced daily routine and stable mood,” explains Schmiedek.The findings are of importance for the debate about older people’s potential in the workplace.”One of our studies in the car production industry has shown that serious errors that are expensive to resolve are much less likely to be committed by older staff members than by their younger colleagues,” says Axel Börsch-Supan, another researcher studying productivity of the labor force in aging societies at the Max Planck Institute. “Likewise, in other branches of industry that we have studied, one does not observe higher productivity among the younger relative to the older workers.””On balance, older employees’ productivity and reliability is higher than that of their younger colleagues,” concludes Börsch-Supan.This research was supported by the Max Planck Society and an award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation donated by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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Lunch with company reduces cognitive control, may increase social harmony

July 31, 2013 — Lunch at a restaurant with friends reduces cognitive control more than lunch eaten alone at a desk does, according to research published July 31 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Werner Sommer from the Humboldt University at Berlin, Germany, and colleagues from other institutions.Share This:Participants in the study either ate a solitary meal alone at their desk in a restricted amount of time, or took a short walk to a restaurant for an hour-long lunch with a friend. All meals were identical in the kind and amounts of food consumed. After the meal, people who had a restaurant lunch were calmer and less wakeful than those who ate at their desks. They also fared more poorly on performance tests of cognitive control, and neurophysiological measurements indicated decreased cognitive control of performance and error monitoring processes.Since the meals differed in many ways including the presence of a friend, environment and lack of time restrictions, the authors explain “It is impossible to specify at this point, which of the variables above are crucial for the effects observed in our study.”They add, “Reduced cognitive control is a disadvantage when close self-monitoring of performance and detailed attention to errors is required, such as in numerical processing. In other situations, an attenuation of cognitive control may be advantageous, such as when social harmony or creativity is desired.”Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. Journal Reference:Werner Sommer, Birgit Stürmer, Olga Shmuilovich, Manuel Martin-Loeches, Annekathrin Schacht. How about Lunch? Consequences of the Meal Context on Cognition and Emotion. …

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New techniques use lasers, LEDs, and optics to ‘see’ under the skin

July 25, 2013 — Impressive examples of new non-invasive optical techniques using lasers, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and spectroscopic methods to probe and render images from beneath the surface of the skin are featured in a newly completed special section in the Journal of Biomedical Optics published by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. The techniques may be used in a wide variety of medical and cosmetic applications such as treating burns, identifying cancer, or speeding the healing of wounds.Share This:”The skin is the biggest organ of the body, and serves as its barrier to the environment,” noted Special Section Guest Editor Jürgen Lademann of the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin. “It provides protection against water loss, keeps micro-organisms from invading the body, and responds sensitively to external stimuli. As a sensory organ, the skin is an essential means of interpersonal communication.”Because they are easily accessible, the skin barrier and the underlying living cell layers are ideal subjects for investigation by optical and spectroscopic methods using light-based technologies that work from outside the body, Lademann said. Technologies such as fluorescence, reflectance, laser scanning microscopy, and Raman spectroscopy enable identification of tissues and fluids based on how their specific physical and chemical properties cause them to react to different wavelengths of light.Optical imaging methods are becoming increasingly popular in the field of pharmacology, specifically for investigating the penetration of topically applied substances into and through the skin barrier. Other uses are imaging blood flow and analyzing the wound healing processes.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by SPIE Digital Library. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. Journal Reference:Jürgen Lademann. Special Section Guest Editorial: Optical Methods of Imaging in the Skin. …

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Individual atoms imaged in a living catalytic reaction

July 12, 2013 — Groundbreaking new electron microscopy technology developed at the York JEOL Nanocentre at the University of York is allowing researchers to observe and analyse single atoms, small clusters and nanoparticles in dynamic in-situ experiments for the first time.The influential work being carried out at York is opening up striking new opportunities for observing and understanding the role of atoms in reactions in many areas of the physical sciences. It also has important implications for new medicines and new energy sources.So far, observing reacting atoms has been difficult. When studying the reactions at the catalyst surface, scientists usually have to look into idealised systems under vacuum conditions rather than examining the reality of an industrial catalytic process in a gas environment.However, in a world first, the Directors of the York JEOL Nanocentre, Professor Ed Boyes and Professor Pratibha Gai, have developed atomic resolution in-situ aberration corrected environmental scanning transmission electron microscopy technology (in-situ AC-ESTEM) for catalyst reaction studies in realistic reaction conditions.With the new technology it is now possible to observe and analyse single atoms, small clusters and nanoparticles in dynamic in-situ experiments with controlled gas reaction environments at initial operating temperatures of up to 500◦C under transient reaction conditions.The seminal research carried out entirely at the York JEOL Nanocentre — a major long-term collaboration between the University’s Departments of Chemistry, Physics and Electronics, the European Union, Yorkshire Forward and leading electron optics manufacturer JEOL — is reported in Annalen der Physik (Berlin).Professor Gai, Co-Director of the York JEOL Nanocentre and Professor of Electron Microscopy with Chairs in York’s Departments of Chemistry and Physics, said: “Our research opens up exciting new opportunities for observing and studying reacting atoms, the fundamental basic building blocks of matter, in many reactions and is especially important for the development of new medicines and new energy sources.”The team of York scientists, which includes Michael Ward and Dr Leonardi Lari, has successfully imaged individual platinum atoms on carbon supports in a reacting catalyst under controlled atmosphere and temperature conditions.Professor Boyes, Co-Director of York JEOL Nanocentre, with Chairs in York’s Departments of Physics and Electronics, said: “Platinum on carbon supports is important in many applications in the chemical industry including in energy sources such as fuel cells and is an informative model system more generally.”The work was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

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Scientists discover molecular communication network in human stem cells

July 2, 2013 — Scientists at A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics (MPIMG) in Berlin (Germany) have discovered a molecular network in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) that integrates cell communication signals to keep the cell in its stem cell state. These findings were reported in the June 2013 issue of Molecular Cell.Human embryonic stem cells have the remarkable property that they can form all human cell types. Scientists around the world study these cells to be able to use them for medical applications in the future. Many factors are required for stem cells to keep their special state, amongst others the use of cell communication pathways.Cell communication is of key importance in multicellular organisms. For example, the coordinated development of tissues in the embryo to become any specific organ requires that cells receive signals and respond accordingly. If there are errors in the signals, the cell will respond differently, possibly leading to diseases such as cancer. The communication signals which are used in hESCs activate a chain of reactions (called the extracellular regulated kinase (ERK) pathway) within each cell, causing the cell to respond by activating genetic information.Scientists at the GIS and MPIMG studied which genetic information is activated in the cell, and thereby discovered a network for molecular communication in hESCs. They mapped the kinase interactions across the entire genome, and discovered that ERK2, a protein that belongs to the ERK signaling family, targets important sites such as non-coding genes and histones, cell cycle, metabolism and also stem cell-specific genes.The ERK signaling pathway involves an additional protein, ELK1 which interacts with ERK2 to activate the genetic information. Interestingly, the team also discovered that ELK1 has a second, totally opposite function. At genomic sites which are not targeted by ERK signaling, ELK1 silences genetic information, thereby keeping the cell in its undifferentiated state. …

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Alzheimer’s disease protein controls movement in mice

June 21, 2013 — Researchers in Berlin and Munich, Germany and Oxford, United Kingdom, have revealed that a protein well known for its role in Alzheimer’s disease controls spindle development in muscle and leads to impaired movement in mice when the protein is absent or treated with inhibitors. The results, which are published in The EMBO Journal, suggest that drugs under development to target the beta-secretase-1 protein, which may be potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, might produce unwanted side effects related to defective movement.Share This:Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia found in older adults. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 18 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people affected by the disease may increase to 34 million by 2025. Scientists know that the protein beta-secretase-1 or Bace1, a protease enzyme that breaks down proteins into smaller molecules, is involved in Alzheimer’s disease. Bace1 cleaves the amyloid precursor protein and generates the damaging Abeta peptides that accumulate as plaques in the brain leading to disease. Now scientists have revealed in more detail how Bace1 works.”Our results show that mice that lack Bace1 proteins or are treated with inhibitors of the enzyme have difficulties in coordination and walking and also show reduced muscle strength,” remarked Carmen Birchmeier, one of the authors of the paper, Professor at the Max-Delbrück-Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, Germany, and an EMBO Member. “In addition, we were able to show that the combined activities of Bace1 and another protein, neuregulin-1 or Nrg1, are needed to sustain the muscle spindles in mice and to maintain motor coordination.”Muscle spindles are sensory organs that are found throughout the muscles of vertebrates. They are able to detect how muscles stretch and convey the perception of body position to the brain. The researchers used genetic analyses, biochemical studies and interference with pharmacological inhibitors to investigate how Bace1 works in mice. …

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Protection for whistleblowers: New system would allow for secret data transfer

June 19, 2013 — Volker Roth, a professor of computer science at Freie Universität Berlin, is working in a project called AdLeaks to create a system that would make it possible for an individual to submit data over the Internet while remaining unobserved. The AdLeaks system is currently being checked and tested as part of the EU CONFINE project. A first version of the source code is available as download for interested persons. Unobserved data transfer is relevant, for example, for so-called whistleblowers, persons with inside information who inform the public about corporate or official corruption.Examples of whistleblowers are Mark Klein, and more recently Edward Snowden, who revealed the extent to which the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitors the Internet.The current discussion focuses heavily on the PRISM program that, as recently became publicly known, allows the NSA to access user data stored by Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other companies. What is often forgotten is that the NSA also accesses data directly from the glass fiber connections over which a great deal of the communication in the Internet takes place. This includes the contents of the affected communication, as well as the call data showing who communicated with whom and when.”You have to admire the civil courage of Edward Snowden, who sacrifices his future for his democratic convictions, when he reports abuse,” says Professor Volker Roth. Not all whistleblowers dare to step out in public, which is often associated with stigma, loss of employment, or criminal prosecution.. “Even whistleblowers who wish to remain anonymous, take risks when they pass information through the Internet because the information collected by the NSA allows the organization to trace connection data calls made once or Internet connections far into the past.” Encryption would not change anything in that regard. It is better to use anonymizing services such as Tor that route the connections through several computers and disguise their origin.. …

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Chlamydia promotes gene mutations

June 20, 2013 — Chlamydia trachomatis is a human pathogen that is the leading cause of bacterial sexually transmitted disease worldwide with more than 90 million new cases of genital infections occurring each year. About 70 percent of women infected with Chlamydia remain asymptomatic and these bacteria can establish chronic infections for months, or even years. Even when it causes no symptoms, Chlamydia can damage a woman’s reproductive organs. In addition, standard antibacterial drugs are proving increasingly ineffective in complete eradication, as Chlamydia goes in to persistent mode, leading to asymptomatic chronic infection.Share This:Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin (MPIIB) now show that Chlamydia infections can cause mutations in the host DNA by overriding the normal mechanisms by which their host prevents unregulated growth of genetically damaged cells that pave the way for the development of cancer.Owing to their intracellular lifestyle Chlamydia depend on various host cell functions for their survival. Chlamydia manipulates the host cell mechanism to favour its growth, however the consequences of such alterations on the fate of host cells remains enigmatic. Even more worrying is mounting epidemiological evidence which links Chlamydia infections with the development of cervical and ovarian cancer. Cindrilla Chumduri, Rajendra Kumar Gurumurthy and Thomas F. Meyer, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, have now discovered that Chlamydia induces long-lasting effects on the genome and epi-genome of their host cells. Such changes are increasingly implicated in the development of a range of cancers.The team found increased levels of DNA breaks in Chlamydia-infected cells. In normal cells, depending on the extent of damage, cells either “commit suicide” or activate repair by special protein complexes in a process called the DNA Damage Response, which reseals the broken strands of DNA and makes sure the sequence of the genetic code has not been changed. …

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