Fresno Jury Finds Bendix Despicable, Awards $10.9 Million

Jimmy Phillips San Pedro, CA, May 29, 2014 – TheWorthington & CaronLaw Firm is pleased to announce that a jury in Fresno,California has returned a substantial verdict in favor of our clients, the family of James ‘Jimmy’ Phillips, deceased, a 59 year-old plumber and race car enthusiast.Defendant Honeywell, whose predecessor, Bendix, made asbestos-containing brake pads and linings, was the only defendant at trial. The jury awarded $7.4 million in compensatory damages and assigned 30% of fault to Bendix. The jury also found that Bendix acted with reckless indifference and awarded an additional $3.5 million in punitive damages. This was the first mesothelioma verdict ever awarded in Fresno.The lawsuit was originally filed in May of 2012 in Alameda County, California. The defendants fought to transfer venue to…

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Calcification in changing oceans

What do mollusks, starfish, and corals have in common? Aside from their shared marine habitat, they are all calcifiers — organisms that use calcium from their environment to create hard carbonate skeletons and shells for stability and protection.The June issue of the Biological Bulletin, published by the Marine Biological Laboratory, addresses the challenges faced by these species as ocean composition changes worldwide.As atmospheric carbon dioxide rises, the world’s oceans are becoming warmer and more acidic. This impact of global climate change threatens the survival of calcifying species because of the reduced saturation of the carbonate minerals required for calcification.The ability to calcify arose independently in many species during the Cambrian era, when calcium levels in seawater increased. This use of calcium carbonate promoted biodiversity, including the vast array of calcifiers seen today.”Today, modern calcifiers face a new and rapidly escalating crisis caused by warming and acidification of the oceans with a reduction in availability of carbonate minerals, a change driven by the increase in atmospheric CO2 due to anthropogenic emissions and industrialization. The CO2 itself can also directly cause metabolic stress,” write the issue’s co-editors, Maria Byrne of the University of Sydney; and Gretchen Hofmann of the University of California-Santa Barbara.Contributors to the journal address this timely issue across many taxa and from a variety of perspectives, from genomic to ecosystem-wide.Janice Lough and Neal Cantin of the Australian Institute of Marine Science review historical data on coral reefs to look at potential environmental stressors, while Philippe Dubois (Universit Libre de Bruxelles) discusses sea urchin skeletons.Other researchers address lesser-known organisms that are nevertheless critical to marine ecosystems. Abigail Smith of the University of Otago examines how bryozoans, a group of aquatic invertebrate filter-feeders, increase biodiversity by creating niche habitats, and what features make them particularly sensitive to calcium fluctuations.Evans and Watson-Wynn (California State University-East Bay) take a molecular approach in a meta-analysis showing that ocean acidification is effecting genetic changes in sea urchin larvae. Several papers take a broader population-based view by studying the effect of ocean acidification on predator-prey interactions in mollusks (Kroeker and colleagues of the University of California-Davis) and oysters (Wright and colleagues of the University of Western Sydney).”The contributors have identified key knowledge gaps in the fast evolving field of marine global change biology and have provided many important insights,” the co-editors write.By sharing research on this topic from researchers around the world, the Biological Bulletin is raising awareness of some of the greatest threats to the oceans today and emphasizing the global nature of the problem.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by The Marine Biological Laboratory. The original article was written by Gina Hebert. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Can exercise help reduce methamphetamine use?

The abuse of amphetamine type psychomotor stimulants remains a critical legal and public health problem in the US. In California, 27% of substance abuse treatment admissions are for amphetamines; high treatment-admission rates for amphetamines are also reported for other Western States such as Idaho (25%), Nevada (25%), Arizona (18%), Oregon (16%) and Washington (14%). Additional data show that 36% of the people arrested in San Diego CA, and 23% of men arrested in Portland OR, had methamphetamine in their system upon arrest. A 2009 study by the RAND Corporation estimated the total US costs for methamphetamine at $23.4 billion.Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found that physical exercise may be a useful technique to reduce methamphetamine use. Drs. Shawn M. Aarde and Michael A. Taffe used a preclinical model in which male rats are trained to press a lever to obtain intravenous infusions of methamphetamine. Prior work had shown that an extended interval (6 weeks) of voluntary activity on a running wheel could reduce cocaine self-administration in laboratory rats. The investigators now report that running wheel access in only the 22 hours prior to the test session is sufficient to significantly reduce the amount of methamphetamine self-administered. …

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Help Raise Money for Mesothelioma Research with an Exotic Mediterranean Feast & Cabaret Show!

Please join The Pacific Meso Center Saturday, May 3 at Byblos Mediterranean Restaurant in Westwood, California for an evening of delicious food, belly dancing and prizes to help raise money for mesothelioma research.The evening will be hosted by mesothelioma patient and owner, Mikhaiel Mikhaiel along with The Pacific Meso Center. Mikhaiel was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in November of 2013, and is glad to have this opportunity to raise money and awareness to benefit mesothelioma research.Tickets are $25 and all proceeds will be donated to benefit important stem cell research conducted by The Pacific Meso Center’s laboratory at the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute.“This evening gives people in the mesothelioma community a different bonding experience in a beautiful Mediterranean setting,” said the Pacific …

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Microscopic organism plays a big role in ocean carbon cycling

It’s broadly understood that the world’s oceans play a crucial role in the global-scale cycling and exchange of carbon between Earth’s ecosystems and atmosphere. Now scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have taken a leap forward in understanding the microscopic underpinnings of these processes.When phytoplankton use carbon dioxide to make new cells, a substantial portion of that cellular material is released into the sea as a buffet of edible molecules collectively called “dissolved organic carbon.” The majority of these molecules are eventually eaten by microscopic marine bacteria, used for energy, and recycled back into carbon dioxide as the bacteria exhale. The amount of carbon that remains as cell material determines the role that ocean biology plays in locking up atmospheric carbon dioxide in the ocean.Thus, these “recycling” bacteria play an important role in regulating how much of the planet’s carbon dioxide is stored in the oceans. The detailed mechanisms of how the oceans contribute to this global carbon cycle at the microscopic scale, and which microbes have a leadership role in the breakdown process, are complex and convoluted problems to solve.In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Scripps scientists have pinpointed a bacterium that appears to play a dominant role in carbon consumption. Scripps’s Byron Pedler, Lihini Aluwihare, and Farooq Azam found that a single bacterium called Alteromonas could consume as much dissolved organic carbon as a diverse community of organisms.”This was a surprising result,” said Pedler. “Because this pool of carbon is composed of an extremely diverse set of molecules, we believed that many different microbes with complementary abilities would be required to breakdown this material, but it appears that individual species may be pulling more weight than others when it comes to carbon cycling.”Pedler, a marine biology graduate student at Scripps, spent several years working with Scripps marine microbiologist Azam and chemical oceanographer Aluwihare in designing a system that would precisely measure carbon consumption by individual bacterial species. Because carbon in organic matter is essentially all around us, the most challenging part of conducting these experiments is avoiding contamination.”Much of the carbon cycling in the ocean happens unseen to the naked eye, and it involves a complex mix of processes involving microbes and molecules,” said Azam, a distinguished professor of marine microbiology. “The complexity and challenge is not just that we can’t see it but that there’s an enormous number of different molecules involved. The consequences of these microbial interactions are critically important for the global carbon cycle, and for us.”By demonstrating that key individual species within the ecosystem can play a disproportionally large role in carbon cycling, this study helps bring us a step closer to understanding the function these microbes play in larger questions of climate warming and increased acidity in the ocean.”In order to predict how ecosystems will react when you heat up the planet or acidify the ocean, we first need to understand the mechanisms of everyday carbon cycling — who’s involved and how are they doing it?” said Pedler. “Now that we have this model organism that we know contributes to ocean carbon cycling, and a model experimental system to study the process, we can probe further to understand the biochemical and genetic requirements for the breakdown of this carbon pool in the ocean.”While the new finding exposes the unexpected capability of a significant species in carbon cycling, the scientists say there is much more to the story since whole communities of microbes may interact together or live symbiotically in the microscopic ecosystems of the sea.Pedler, Aluwihare, and Azam are now developing experiments to test other microbes and their individual abilities to consume carbon.The study was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Marine Microbiology Initiative through grant GBMF2758 and the National Science Foundation.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – San Diego. …

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Food quality will suffer with rising carbon dioxide, field study shows

For the first time, a field test has demonstrated that elevated levels of carbon dioxide inhibit plants’ assimilation of nitrate into proteins, indicating that the nutritional quality of food crops is at risk as climate change intensifies.Findings from this wheat field-test study, led by a UC Davis plant scientist, will be reported online April 6 in the journal Nature Climate Change.”Food quality is declining under the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we are experiencing,” said lead author Arnold Bloom, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences.”Several explanations for this decline have been put forward, but this is the first study to demonstrate that elevated carbon dioxide inhibits the conversion of nitrate into protein in a field-grown crop,” he said.The assimilation, or processing, of nitrogen plays a key role in the plant’s growth and productivity. In food crops, it is especially important because plants use nitrogen to produce the proteins that are vital for human nutrition. Wheat, in particular, provides nearly one-fourth of all protein in the global human diet.Many previous laboratory studies had demonstrated that elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide inhibited nitrate assimilation in the leaves of grain and non-legume plants; however there had been no verification of this relationship in field-grown plants.Wheat field studyTo observe the response of wheat to different levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the researchers examined samples of wheat that had been grown in 1996 and 1997 in the Maricopa Agricultural Center near Phoenix, Ariz.At that time, carbon dioxide-enriched air was released in the fields, creating an elevated level of atmospheric carbon at the test plots, similar to what is now expected to be present in the next few decades. Control plantings of wheat were also grown in the ambient, untreated level of carbon dioxide.Leaf material harvested from the various wheat tests plots was immediately placed on ice, and then was oven dried and stored in vacuum-sealed containers to minimize changes over time in various nitrogen compounds.A fast-forward through more than a decade found Bloom and the current research team able to conduct chemical analyses that were not available at the time the experimental wheat plants were harvested.In the recent study, the researchers documented that three different measures of nitrate assimilation affirmed that the elevated level of atmospheric carbon dioxide had inhibited nitrate assimilation into protein in the field-grown wheat.”These field results are consistent with findings from previous laboratory studies, which showed that there are several physiological mechanisms responsible for carbon dioxide’s inhibition of nitrate assimilation in leaves,” Bloom said.3 percent protein decline expectedBloom noted that other studies also have shown that protein concentrations in the grain of wheat, rice and barley — as well as in potato tubers — decline, on average, by approximately 8 percent under elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”When this decline is factored into the respective portion of dietary protein that humans derive from these various crops, it becomes clear that the overall amount of protein available for human consumption may drop by about 3 percent as atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches the levels anticipated to occur during the next few decades,” Bloom said.While heavy nitrogen fertilization could partially compensate for this decline in food quality, it would also have negative consequences including higher costs, more nitrate leaching into groundwater and increased emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, he said.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Amazon Studied to Predict Impact of Climate Change

Three extreme weather events in the Amazon Basin in the last decade are giving scientists an opportunity to make observations that will allow them to predict the impacts of climate change and deforestation on some of the most important ecological processes and ecosystem services of the Amazon River wetlands.Scientists from Virginia Tech, the Woods Hole Research Center, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, funded by NASA, are collaborating with Brazilian scientists to explore the ecosystem consequences of the extreme droughts of 2005 and 2010 and the extreme flood of 2009.”The research fills an important gap in our understanding of the vulnerability of tropical river-forest systems to changes in climate and land cover,” said the project’s leader, Leandro Castello, assistant professor of fish and wildlife conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.The huge study area encompasses 1.7 million square miles, the equivalent of half of the continental United States.In addition to historical records and ground observations, the researchers will use newly available Earth System Data Records from NASA — satellite images of the Amazon and its tributaries over the complete high- and low-water cycles.NASA is funding the study with a $1.53 million grant shared among the three institutions.”Amazon floodplains and river channels — maintained by seasonal floods — promote nutrient cycling and high biological production, and support diverse biological communities as well as human populations with one of the highest per capita rates of fish consumption,” said Castello.The researchers will look at how the natural seasonality of river levels influences aquatic and terrestrial grasses, fisheries, and forest productivity in the floodplains, and how extreme events such as floods and droughts may disturb this cycle.”We are confident that deforestation and climate change will, in the future, lead to more frequent and severe floods and droughts,” said Michael Coe, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. “It is important that we understand how the Amazon River and ecosystem services such as fisheries are affected so that we can devise mitigation strategies.”Amazonian grasses, sometimes called macrophytes, convert atmospheric carbon to plant biomass, which is then processed by aquatic microorganisms upon decomposition.”Terrestrial grasses grow during the short window when water levels are low, sequestering some carbon, and then die when the floods arrive, releasing the carbon into the aquatic system,” said Thiago Silva, an assistant professor of geography at So Paulo State University in Rio Claro, Brazil. “They are followed by aquatic grasses that need to grow extremely fast to surpass the rising floods and then die off during the receding-water period.””Although most of the macrophyte carbon is released back to the atmosphere in the same form that it is assimilated, carbon dioxide, some of it is actually exported to the ocean as dissolved carbon or released to the atmosphere as methane, a gas that has a warming potential 20 times larger than carbon dioxide,” said John Melack, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.Researchers will measure plant growth and gas exchange, and use photographs from the field and satellites.Two other Amazon resources — fisheries and forests — are important to the livelihood of the people of the region.”We will combine water level, fishing effort, and fish life-history traits to understand the impact of droughts and floods on fishery yields,” said Castello, whose specialty is Amazon fisheries. “Floods in the Amazon are almost a blessing because in some years they can almost double the amount of fish in the river that is available for fishermen and society.”The fishery data include approximately 90,000 annual interview records of fisheries activities on the number of fishers, time spent fishing, characteristics of fishing boats and gear used, and weight of the catch for 40 species. The hydrological data include daily water level measurements recorded in the Madeira, Purus, and Amazonas-Solimes rivers.The researchers will examine the potential impact of future climate scenarios on the extent and productivity of floodplain forests — those enriched by rising waters, called whitewater river forests, and nutrient-poor blackwater river forests.For example, extreme droughts may reduce productivity due to water stress and increases in the frequency and severity of forest fires. Prolonged periods of inundation, on the other hand, may decrease productivity or increase mortality due to water-logging stress.”We will evaluate these responses for the first time at a regional scale using remotely sensed indicators of vegetation condition and fire-induced tree mortality to measure the response of floodplain forests to inter-annual flood variability and extreme climate events,” said Marcia Macedo, a research associate at the Woods Hole Research Center.Researchers will measure tree litter dry weight, depth of flooding, tree height and diameter, and stand density. They will also use photographs and satellite images.Previous research has focused on Amazon upland forests and the potential impacts of deforestation, fire, and drought. The research team will compare new greenhouse gas simulations to previous simulations.”Our research informs large river ecology globally because natural flowing rivers like the Amazon are rare these days, and most research to date, being done in North America and Europe, has focused on degraded systems,” Castello said.

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Academic workplace bias against parents hurts nonparents too

Parents have reported before that trying to balance work and family obligations comes with career costs. But a new study from Rice University and the University of California, San Diego, shows that university workplace bias against scientists and engineers who use flexible work arrangements may increase employee dissatisfaction and turnover even for people who don’t have children.”As researchers, we’re interested in understanding the gap between the traditional 9-to-5 work setting and what workers actually need,” said Erin Cech, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice and the study’s lead author. “The majority of parents are in the workforce today, yet the expectations and arrangements of work have stayed more or less the same as they were post-World War II. We’re trying to understand this mismatch and its consequences.”The study, “Consequences of Flexibility Stigma Among Academic Scientists and Engineers,” examined “flexibility stigma” — employers’ and co-workers’ negative attitudes toward employees who seek or are presumed to need flexible work arrangements to deal with child care responsibilities — at one university. The study found that people who reported an awareness of the flexibility stigma in their departments — regardless of whether they are parents themselves — were less interested in staying at their jobs, more likely to want to leave academia for industry and less satisfied with their jobs than those who did not report a flexibility stigma in their department. They also felt as though they had worse work-life balance.”Flexibility stigma is not just a workers’ problem,” said study co-author Mary Blair-Loy, an associate professor of sociology at UC San Diego and founding director of the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions. “Workplaces where this bias exists are more likely to have a toxic culture that hurts the entire department, not only in terms of work-life balance but also retention and job satisfaction, which may affect department productivity.”The researchers suggest that the study sheds light on workplace issues across a wide spectrum of professional fields.”Because this is an academic setting, faculty tend to have a great deal of freedom to re-arrange their busy schedules to accommodate family responsibilities,” Cech said. “We imagine that the effects of flexibility stigma on job satisfaction and employee turnover might be even more counterproductive in professional workplaces that have less schedule control. Dealing with work-life balance issues is not just about instituting the right polices, but it is also about undermining the stigma that comes along with using those policies.”Cech also noted that one consequence of flexibility stigma — employee turnover — can be expensive.”It can be extremely costly — on average, between $90,000 and $400,000 when accounting for lab space and student assistants — for startup packages for new science and engineering faculty,” she said. “This suggests that reducing flexibility stigma would not only be good for workers, but good for the bottom line as well.”Blair-Loy said that the work-devotion schema — the idea that one’s career requires intense time commitments and strong loyalty — is a mandate that is unconsciously part of most professional workplaces and underlies the flexibility stigma.”Work devotion is useful for employers because it helps motivate senior management, but is destructive to people trying to care for family members,” Blair-Loy said. …

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Cancer researchers find key protein link

A new understanding of proteins at the nexus of a cell’s decision to survive or die has implications for researchers who study cancer and age-related diseases, according to biophysicists at the Rice University-based Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP).Experiments and computer analysis of two key proteins revealed a previously unknown binding interface that could be addressed by medication. Results of the research appear this week in an open-source paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The proteins are Bcl-2, well-known for its role in programmed cell death, and NAF-1, a member of the NEET family that binds toxic clusters of iron and sulfur. How the two interact is now known as a major determinant in the cell processes of autophagy and apoptosis — literally, life and death. An ability to uncover binding sites on the proteins that send the cell one way or the other opens a path toward the regulation of those processes, according to Jos Onuchic, Rice’s the Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Chair of Physics and professor of physics and astronomy.Pockets and folds in proteins exist to bind to other molecules and catalyze actions in a cell in signaling pathways. The ability to block a specific binding site or to enhance a desired interaction is critical to drug design, Onuchic said.”In our early work we have shown the link between NEET proteins and cancer. Now we can understand the molecular details of how these interactions are governed,” Onuchic said. “Others have shown that NAF-1 is up-regulated in cancer cells, which leads us to believe that cancer may hijack control over the expression of this protein. This affects the cell’s system of checks and balances. …

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The search for seeds of black holes

How do you grow a supermassive black hole that is a million to a billion times the mass of our sun? Astronomers do not know the answer, but a new study using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has turned up what might be the cosmic seeds from which a black hole will sprout. The results are helping scientists piece together the evolution of supermassive black holes — powerful objects that dominate the hearts of all galaxies.Growing a black hole is not as easy as planting a seed in soil and adding water. The massive objects are dense collections of matter that are literally bottomless pits; anything that falls in will never come out. They come in a range of sizes. The smallest, only a few times greater in mass than our sun, form from exploding stars. The biggest of these dark beasts, billions of times the mass of our sun, grow together with their host galaxies over time, deep in the interiors. But how this process works is an ongoing mystery.Researchers using WISE addressed this question by looking for black holes in smaller, “dwarf” galaxies. These galaxies have not undergone much change, so they are more pristine than their heavier counterparts. In some ways, they resemble the types of galaxies that might have existed when the universe was young, and thus they offer a glimpse into the nurseries of supermassive black holes.In this new study, using data of the entire sky taken by WISE in infrared light, up to hundreds of dwarf galaxies have been discovered in which buried black holes may be lurking. …

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New and improved laser and light treatments take aim at cellulite, fat, tattoos, wrinkles and sagging skin

As more people look for ways to turn back the clock or improve their appearance, dermatologists are pioneering many of the newest aesthetic laser technologies — from tattoo removal to erasing fine lines and wrinkles to reducing fat or cellulite. Before considering any cosmetic procedure, dermatologists recommend that consumers do their homework to better understand the best technologies available for their specific needs.Information was provided by board-certified dermatologist M. Christine Lee, MD, FAAD, assistant clinical professor of dermatologic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco and director of a private practice in Walnut Creek, Calif.Treatments for Cellulite, Excess Fat Now Produce Long-Lasting ResultsCellulite and excess fat are two of the biggest hurdles that many women face in their quest to improve their appearance. While diet and exercise can help reduce body fat, cellulite is resistant to these types of lifestyle changes. Unique to women, Dr. Lee estimates that cellulite affects 80 percent of women regardless of their body weight. Until now, no cellulite treatment could dramatically change the appearance of cellulite, and any results were temporary.1440 Nanometer Laser• First minimally invasive laser treatment to treat cellulite approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012 and provides long-lasting, dramatic results.• Surgical procedure involves inserting a tiny fiber optic beneath the skin to break the fiber bands responsible for cellulite in women. The laser releases the skin and allows the depressions (or dimpling that gives cellulite its appearance) to rise to the surface of the skin. Once the laser beam severs the fiber bands, the blood supply to this area is cut off so the bands do not regrow, and collagen production is stimulated.• Multiple areas can be treated with only one session, and the most common treatment areas are the buttocks, hips and thighs.• Some downtime is required after the procedure, due to bruising and swelling that can take one to two weeks to resolve.Cryolipolysis• Non-invasive procedure approved by the FDA to remove localized areas of fat in the lower abdomen and along the sides of the body.• Works by freezing the lipids in fat cells, which then slowly dissolve without injuring surrounding tissues.• Typically, three treatments are needed to dissolve an inch of fat.• Results are not immediate, as it takes three to four months to see a noticeable improvement.Ultrasound• Non-invasive procedure approved by the FDA uses high-intensity, focused ultrasound energy to destroy or melt targeted fat without harming surrounding skin.• Used to reduce fat bulges in the abdomen, with the average reduction of about an inch per treatment session. Can also be used on the thighs or other large areas of fat.• Results are not immediate, requiring two to three months.• An added benefit is noticeable improvement in the appearance of cellulite in the months following the procedure.These newer treatments provide alternatives to liposuction, which has been used to remove pockets of fat for decades but is more invasive and requires more downtime. …

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Stem cell study finds source of earliest blood cells during development

Hematopoietic stem cells are now routinely used to treat patients with cancers and other disorders of the blood and immune systems, but researchers knew little about the progenitor cells that give rise to them during embryonic development.In a study published April 8 in Stem Cell Reports, Matthew Inlay of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, and faculty member of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and Stanford University colleagues created novel cell assays that identified the earliest arising HSC precursors based on their ability to generate all major blood cell types (red blood cells, platelets and immune cells).This discovery of very early differentiating blood cells, Inlay said, may be very beneficial for the creation of HSC lines for clinical treatments. “The hope is that by defining a set of markers that will allow us to make purer, cleaner populations of these precursor cells, we’ll be able to reveal the key molecular events that lead to the emergence of the first HSCs in development.This could give us a step-by-step guide for creating these cells in a dish from pluripotent stem cell lines” added Inlay, who is an assistant professor of molecular biology & biochemistry at UC Irvine and conducted the study while a postdoctoral researcher in the Irving Weissman lab at Stanford.The work was performed in collaboration with Thomas Serwold, now an assistant professor in the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Irvine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Reintroduction experiments give new hope for plant on brink of extinction

A critically endangered plant known as marsh sandwort (Arenaria paludicola) is inching back from the brink of extinction thanks to the efforts of a UC Santa Cruz plant ecologist and her team of undergraduate students.Ingrid Parker, the Langenheim professor of plant ecology and evolution at UC Santa Cruz, got involved in the marsh sandwort recovery effort at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Although it used to occur all along the west coast, from San Diego to Washington state, this wetland plant with delicate white flowers had dwindled to one population in a boggy wetland in San Luis Obispo County. Federal biologists wanted to reintroduce the plant to other locations, but they weren’t sure where it would be likely to thrive.”When you have a species that’s only known from one place, how do you figure out where it could live? We had very little information about its biology that would allow us to predict where it might be successful,” Parker said.Her team, which included undergraduate students and greenhouse staff at UCSC as well as USFWS biologists, propagated cuttings from the last remaining wild population, studied the plant’s tolerance for different soil conditions in greenhouse experiments, and conducted field experiments to identify habitats where the plant could thrive. They published their findings in the April issue of Plant Ecology (available in advance online).Surprisingly, the plants tolerated a much wider range of soil moisture and salinity than biologists had expected. “This really brought home to me the importance of experiments to help guide conservation,” Parker said. “The one place where this species is found in San Luis Obispo County is a freshwater bog where the plants are in standing water. There are so few places like that left in California, we wondered if that’s the only kind of place where it can grow. Instead we found that it actually does better without standing water.”In addition, field studies showed the importance of small-scale habitat variations, according to first author Megan Bontrager. …

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Exotic plant species alter ecosystem productivity

In their joint publication in the journal Ecology Letters German and American biologists have reported an increase in biomass production in ecosystems colonised by non-native plant species. In the face of climate change, these and other changes to ecosystems are predicted to become more frequent, according to the researchers.All over the world, plant and animal species are increasingly encroaching upon ecosystems where they don’t belong as a result of human influence. This phenomenon is known as a biological invasion. Observational studies on biological invasions show that the invasion of non-native plant species can alter ecosystems. One important aspect of this is biomass production: compared to intact ecosystems, the productivity of ecosystems with non-native species is considerably higher. “In such purely observational studies however, it is not possible to differentiate between cause and effect,” says Dr. Harald Auge from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ). “The question is whether exotic plant species prefer to colonise more productive ecosystems, or whether increased productivity is a result of the invasion.”To get to the bottom of this question, UFZ researchers joined forces with colleagues from the Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, the University of Montana, the University of California and the US Forest Service and staged invasions by setting up experimental sites in three disparate grassland regions -in Central Germany, Montana and California, on which 20 native plant species (from the respective region) and 20 exotic plant species were sown. Researchers investigated whether and to which extent herbivorous small mammals such as mice, voles or ground squirrels as well as mechanical disturbance to the soil would influence exotic plant species colonizing ability.”The experimental design was exactly the same for all three regions to ensure comparability. We wanted to find out whether superordinate relationships were playing a role, irrespective of land use, species compositions and climate differences,” explains Dr Auge. …

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NASA’s WISE survey finds thousands of new stars, but no ‘Planet X’

After searching hundreds of millions of objects across our sky, NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has turned up no evidence of the hypothesized celestial body in our solar system commonly dubbed “Planet X.”Researchers previously had theorized about the existence of this large, but unseen celestial body, suspected to lie somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto. In addition to “Planet X,” the body had garnered other nicknames, including “Nemesis” and “Tyche.”This recent study, which involved an examination of WISE data covering the entire sky in infrared light, found no object the size of Saturn or larger exists out to a distance of 10,000 astronomical units (au), and no object larger than Jupiter exists out to 26,000 au. One astronomical unit equals 93 million miles. Earth is 1 au, and Pluto about 40 au, from the sun.”The outer solar system probably does not contain a large gas giant planet, or a small, companion star,” said Kevin Luhman of the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University, University Park, Pa., author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal describing the results.But searches of the WISE catalog are not coming up empty. A second study reveals several thousand new residents in our sun’s “backyard,” consisting of stars and cool bodies called brown dwarfs.”Neighboring star systems that have been hiding in plain sight just jump out in the WISE data,” said Ned Wright of the University of California, Los Angeles, the principal investigator of the mission.The second WISE study, which concentrated on objects beyond our solar system, found 3,525 stars and brown dwarfs within 500 light-years of our sun.”We’re finding objects that were totally overlooked before,” said Davy Kirkpatrick of NASA’s Infrared and Processing Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Kirkpatrick is lead author of the second paper, also in the Astrophysical Journal. Some of these 3,525 objects also were found in the Luhman study, which catalogued 762 objects.The WISE mission operated from 2010 through early 2011, during which time it performed two full scans of the sky — with essentially a six-month gap between scans. The survey captured images of nearly 750 million asteroids, stars and galaxies. In November 2013, NASA released data from the AllWISE program, which now enables astronomers to compare the two full-sky surveys to look for moving objects.In general, the more an object in the WISE images appears to move over time, the closer it is. This visual clue is the same effect at work when one observes a plane flying low to the ground versus the same plane flying at higher altitude. …

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Sterile flies save food crops, millions of dollars in eradication efforts

Irradiated, sterile flies dropped over seaports and agricultural areas to mate with unsuspecting females save food crops and millions of dollars in prevented infestations and the ensuing eradication efforts. But blasting these secret-suitor insects with radiation via electron beams, X-rays or gamma-rays, tends to make them weaker than typical males — and not so appealing to females as possible mates.What sterile-insect operations need, says University of Florida insect physiologist Daniel Hahn, is the insect world’s version of George Clooney: 52 years old, gray-haired and still dazzling the ladies.Hahn, an associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and his former postdoctoral associate, Giancarlo Lpez-Martnez, now an assistant professor at New Mexico State University, describe in research publications this month and last, that sterilizing insects in a low-oxygen environment helps create suitors who more closely resemble the suave Clooney than do those sterilized in a normal-oxygen environment.”Our males (insects) are not only more sexually competitive, they are maintaining their sexual competitiveness and their virility, into old age,” Hahn said, “and that has the potential to make them much better biological control agents.”The sterile insect technique, or SIT, has been used for decades and is considered a much preferable alternative to spraying pesticides over urban or suburban areas near major ports. In this biological control method, large numbers of sterile, male insects are released to compete with wild males for the attention of invasive wild females.A female duped into accepting a sterile male would then find herself without offspring, thus trimming the population and its threat to the state’s important agricultural crops. The technique has been used effectively against the Mediterranean fruit fly, called the Medfly, and the cattle-infesting screw-worm fly, among others.Florida spends roughly $6 million a year using SIT to prevent Mediterranean fruit fly infestations, while California spends about $17 million a year. Because of the inherent dangers in importing even one Mediterranean fruit fly into the state, in their recent studies, Lpez-Martnez and Hahn investigated the physiological effects of applying low-oxygen treatments prior to and during irradiation sterilization on two other plant pests: the Caribbean fruit fly and the invasive cactus moth.The “low-oxygen effect” has been known for decades, but the physiological basis for it had never been rigorously tested or analyzed, Hahn said. They suspected, and found, that under the low-oxygen conditions, the insects’ cells would produce antioxidants that can help better protect them from the off-target radiation damage.Some operations that rear and sterilize insects, such as one in Guatemala that produces many of the sterile medflies dropped over Florida’s major ports roughly every seven days, do employ low-oxygen conditions, called hypoxia or anoxia. But many others don’t, he said, including those who rear and sterilize the cactus moth.The reseachers found using a low-oxygen environment during sterilization boosted the sterile males’ longevity as well as their ability to attract and successfully mate. They found that the positive effects of low-oxygen treatments even extended into their ‘old age’ — in the insects’ case, about 30 days under cushy laboratory conditions.Treatments that both improve the sexual performance of sterile males and maintain high performance longer in older males can substantially increase the effectiveness and decrease the economic costs of SIT programs, Hahn said.The January paper was published by PLoS One, and the February paper in the Journal of Economic Entomology. Hahn and Lpez-Martnez were joined as authors of that paper by James Carpenter of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Tifton, Ga., and Stephen Hight of the USDA-ARS at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

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It slices, it dices, and it protects the body from harm: 3-D structure of enzyme that helps defend against bacteria

An essential weapon in the body’s fight against infection has come into sharper view. Researchers at Princeton University have discovered the 3D structure of an enzyme that cuts to ribbons the genetic material of viruses and helps defend against bacteria.The discovery of the structure of this enzyme, a first-responder in the body’s “innate immune system,” could enable new strategies for fighting infectious agents and possibly prostate cancer and obesity. The work was published Feb. 27 in the journal Science.Until now, the research community has lacked a structural model of the human form of this enzyme, known as RNase L, said Alexei Korennykh, an assistant professor of molecular biology and leader of the team that made the discovery.”Now that we have the human RNase L structure, we can begin to understand the effects of carcinogenic mutations in the RNase L gene. For example, families with hereditary prostate cancers often carry genetic mutations in the region, or locus, encoding RNase L,” Korennykh said. The connection is so strong that the RNase L locus also goes by the name “hereditary prostate cancer 1.” The newly found structure reveals the positions of these mutations and explains why some of these mutations could be detrimental, perhaps leading to cancer, Korennykh said. RNase L is also essential for insulin function and has been implicated in obesity.The Princeton team’s work has also led to new insights on the enzyme’s function.The enzyme is an important player in the innate immune system, a rapid and broad response to invaders that includes the production of a molecule called interferon. Interferon relays distress signals from infected cells to neighboring healthy cells, thereby activating RNase L to turn on its ability to slice through RNA, a type of genetic material that is similar to DNA. The result is new cells armed for destruction of the foreign RNA.The 3D structure uncovered by Korennykh and his team consists of two nearly identical subunits called protomers. The researchers found that one protomer finds and attaches to the RNA, while the other protomer snips it.The initial protomer latches onto one of the four “letters” that make up the RNA code, in particular, the “U,” which stands for a component of RNA called uridine. …

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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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Role of infliximab examined in treating Kawasaki disease

Kawasaki Disease (KD) is a severe childhood disease that many parents, even some doctors, mistake for an inconsequential viral infection. If not diagnosed or treated in time, it can lead to irreversible heart damage.Signs of KD include prolonged fever associated with rash, red eyes, mouth, lips and tongue, and swollen hands and feet with peeling skin. The disease causes damage to the coronary arteries in a quarter of untreated children and may lead to serious heart problems in early adulthood. There is no diagnostic test for Kawasaki disease, and current treatment fails to prevent coronary artery damage in at least one in 10 to 20 children and death in one in 1,000 children.Between 10 and 20 percent of patients with KD experience fever relapse following the standard therapy with a single infusion of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and aspirin. It is known that IVIG resistance increases the risk of heart damage, most commonly a ballooning of the coronary arteries called aneurysms. These children require additional therapy to interrupt the inflammatory process that can lead to damage of the coronary arteries.A study led by physicians at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego looked at intensification of initial therapy for all children with KD in order to prevent IVIG-resistance and associated coronary artery abnormalities by assessing the addition of the medication infliximab to current standard therapy. The results of their study will be published in the February 24, 2014 online issue of the medical journal Lancet.Tumor necrosis factor &alpha (TNF&alpha) is a molecule made by the body that plays a role in the development of inflammation in KD; therefore, treatment with a TNFa antagonist is a logical therapeutic intervention, according to the researchers. Early experience with infliximab — a monoclonal antibody that binds TNFa — showed promising results. A Phase 1 trial in children with KD and persistent fever following standard therapy found no infusion reactions or serious adverse events, and subsequent studies suggested that infliximab led to faster resolution of fever and fewer days of hospitalization than a second IVIG infusion.The UC San Diego researchers conducted a trial of 196 subjects at two centers — Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, a research affiliate of UC San Diego School of Medicine, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio — to assess whether infliximab could reduce IVIG treatment resistance.”While the addition of infliximab to primary treatment in acute KD did not reduce treatment resistance, it was safe and well-tolerated, achieved a greater reduction in the size of the left coronary artery, and reduced the number of days of fever and laboratory markers of inflammation,” said the study’s first author, Adriana H. Tremoulet, MD, of the UC San Diego Department of Pediatrics and the UC San Diego/Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego Kawasaki Disease Research Center. …

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Shocking behavior of a runaway star: High-speed encounter creates arc

Roguish runaway stars can have a big impact on their surroundings as they plunge through the Milky Way galaxy. Their high-speed encounters shock the galaxy, creating arcs, as seen in a newly released image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.In this case, the speedster star is known as Kappa Cassiopeiae, or HD 2905 to astronomers. It is a massive, hot supergiant moving at around 2.5 million mph relative to its neighbors (1,100 kilometers per second). But what really makes the star stand out in this image is the surrounding, streaky red glow of material in its path. Such structures are called bow shocks, and they can often be seen in front of the fastest, most massive stars in the galaxy.Bow shocks form where the magnetic fields and wind of particles flowing off a star collide with the diffuse, and usually invisible, gas and dust that fill the space between stars. How these shocks light up tells astronomers about the conditions around the star and in space. Slow-moving stars like our sun have bow shocks that are nearly invisible at all wavelengths of light, but fast stars like Kappa Cassiopeiae create shocks that can be seen by Spitzer’s infrared detectors.Incredibly, this shock is created about 4 light-years ahead of Kappa Cassiopeiae, showing what a sizable impact this star has on its surroundings. (This is about the same distance that we are from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star beyond the sun.)The Kappa Cassiopeiae bow shock shows up as a vividly red color. The faint green features in this image result from carbon molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in dust clouds along the line of sight that are illuminated by starlight.Delicate red filaments run through this infrared nebula, crossing the bow shock. Some astronomers have suggested these filaments may be tracing out features of the magnetic field that runs throughout our galaxy. …

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