Leaf-mining insects destroyed with the dinosaurs, others quickly appeared

After the asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous period that triggered the dinosaurs’ extinction and ushered in the Paleocene, leaf-mining insects in the western United States completely disappeared. Only a million years later, at Mexican Hat, in southeastern Montana, fossil leaves show diverse leaf-mining traces from new insects that were not present during the Cretaceous, according to paleontologists.”Our results indicate both that leaf-mining diversity at Mexican Hat is even higher than previously recognized, and equally importantly, that none of the Mexican Hat mines can be linked back to the local Cretaceous mining fauna,” said Michael Donovan, graduate student in geosciences, Penn State.Insects that eat leaves produce very specific types of damage. One type is from leaf miners — insect larvae that live in the leaves and tunnel for food, leaving distinctive feeding paths and patterns of droppings.Donovan, Peter Wilf, professor of geosciences, Penn State, and colleagues looked at 1,073 leaf fossils from Mexican Hat for mines. They compared these with more than 9,000 leaves from the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago, from the Hell Creek Formation in southwestern North Dakota, and with more than 9,000 Paleocene leaves from the Fort Union Formation in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The researchers present their results in today’s (July 24) issue of PLOS ONE.”We decided to focus on leaf miners because they are typically host specific, feeding on only a few plant species each,” said Donovan. “Each miner also leaves an identifiable mining pattern.”The researchers found nine different mine-damage types at Mexican Hat attributable to the larvae of moths, wasps and flies, and six of these damage types were unique to the site.The researchers were unsure whether the high diversity of leaf miners at Mexican Hat compared to other early Paleocene sites, where there is little or no leaf mining, was caused by insects that survived the extinction event in refugia — areas where organisms persist during adverse conditions — or were due to range expansions of insects from somewhere else during the early Paleocene.However, with further study, the researchers found no evidence of the survival of any leaf miners over the Cretaceous-Paleocene boundary, suggesting an even more total collapse of terrestrial food webs than has been recognized previously.”These results show that the high insect damage diversity at Mexican Hat represents an influx of novel insect herbivores during the early Paleocene and not a refugium for Cretaceous leaf miners,” said Wilf. “The new herbivores included a startling diversity for any time period, and especially for the classic post-extinction disaster interval.”Insect extinction across the Cretaceous-Paleocene boundary may have been directly caused by catastrophic conditions after the asteroid impact and by the disappearance of host plant species. While insect herbivores constantly need leaves to survive, plants can remain dormant as seeds in the ground until more auspicious circumstances occur.The low-diversity flora at Mexican Hat is typical for the area in the early Paleocene, so what caused the high insect damage diversity?Insect outbreaks are associated with a rapid population increase of a single insect species, so the high diversity of mining damage seen in the Mexican Hat fossils makes the possibility of an outbreak improbable.The researchers hypothesized that the leaf miners that are seen in the Mexican Hat fossils appeared in that area because of a transient warming event, a number of which occurred during the early Paleocene.”Previous studies have shown a correlation between temperature and insect damage diversity in the fossil record, possibly caused by evolutionary radiations or range shifts in response to a warmer climate,” said Donovan. “Current evidence suggests that insect herbivore extinction decreased with increasing distance from the asteroid impact site in Mexico, so pools of surviving insects would have existed elsewhere that could have provided a source for the insect influx that we observed at Mexican Hat.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. The original article was written by A’ndrea Eluse Messer. …

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Bacteria on the skin: Our invisible companions influence how quickly wounds heel

A new study suggests microbes living on our skin influence how quickly wounds heal. The findings could lead to new treatments for chronic wounds, which affect 1 in 20 elderly people.We spend our lives covered head-to-toe in a thin veneer of bacteria. But despite a growing appreciation for the valuable roles our resident microbes play in the digestive tract, little is known about the bacteria that reside in and on our skin. A new study suggests the interplay between our cells and these skin-dwelling microbes could influence how wounds heal.”This study gives us a much better understanding of the types of bacterial species that are found in skin wounds, how our cells might respond to the bacteria and how that interaction can affect healing,” said Matthew Hardman, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at The University of Manchester Healing Foundation Centre who led the project. “It’s our hope that these insights could help lead to better treatments to promote wound healing that are based on sound biology.”Chronic wounds — cuts or lesions that just never seem to heal — are a significant health problem, particularly among elderly people. An estimated 1 in 20 elderly people live with a chronic wound, which often results from diabetes, poor blood circulation or being confined to bed or a wheelchair.”These wounds can literally persist for years, and we simply have no good treatments to help a chronic wound heal,” said Hardman, who added that doctors currently have no reliable way to tell whether a wound will heal or persist. “There’s a definite need for better ways to both predict how a wound is going to heal and develop new treatments to promote healing.”The trillions of bacteria that live on and in our bodies have attracted a great deal of scientific interest in recent years. Findings from studies of microbes in the gut have made it clear that although some bacteria cause disease, many other bacteria are highly beneficial for our health.In their recent study, Hardman and his colleagues compared the skin bacteria from people with chronic wounds that did or did not heal. The results showed markedly different bacterial communities, suggesting there may be a bacterial “signature” of a wound that refuses to heal.”Our data clearly support the idea that one could swab a wound, profile the bacteria that are there and then be able to tell whether the wound is likely to heal quickly or persist, which could impact treatment decisions,” said Hardman.The team also conducted a series of studies in mice to shed light on the reasons why some wounds heal while others do not. They found that mice lacking a single gene had a different array of skin microbiota — including more harmful bacteria — and healed much more slowly than mice with a normal copy of the gene.The gene, which has been linked to Chrohn’s disease, is known to help cells recognize and respond to bacteria. …

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Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to U.S. obesity epidemic, particularly among children

In response to the ongoing policy discussions on the role of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) on weight and health, The Obesity Society (TOS) concludes that SSBs contribute to the United States’ obesity epidemic, particularly among children. Based on an in-depth analysis of the current research, TOS’s position statement unveiled today provides several recommendations for improving health, including that children minimize their consumption of SSBs.”There’s no arguing with the fact that the high rates of obesity in the U.S. are troubling for our nation’s health, specifically the recently reported rise in severe obesity among children in JAMA Pediatrics,” said TOS spokesperson Diana Thomas, PhD, Professor at Montclair State University and Director of the Center for Quantitative Obesity Research. “Following a thorough review and analysis of the existing research, TOS concludes that, by adding more non-nutritious calories to the American diet, SSBs have contributed to the U.S. obesity epidemic. Further, we recommend that to maintain and improve health children minimize drinking SSBs and adults reduce or avoid SSB consumption as part of an overall strategy to reduce calories.”According to the position statement posted online, TOS defines SSBs as sodas, sports drinks and other types of beverages that are primarily made up of water and added sugar. Consumption of these drinks in the U.S. remains high — Americans report that SSBs comprise 6-7% of overall calorie intake.”Despite the challenges researchers have faced with isolating the impact of specific foods or beverages on body weight, the studies conducted on SSBs thus far have generated important and meaningful data leading to our conclusion,” said Dr. Thomas. “The evidence shows that individuals with a higher BMI consume more SSBs than their leaner counterparts, and that decreasing SSB consumption may reduce overall calorie intake and help individuals with obesity or overweight reach healthy weight goals.”Weight gain occurs when total energy intake exceeds energy expenditure for extended periods of time. …

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Agroforestry systems can repair degraded watersheds

Agroforestry, combined with land and water management practices that increase agricultural productivity, can save watersheds from degradation.A study conducted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in the Gabayan watershed in eastern Bohol, Philippines, has shown that agroforestry systems create a more sustainably managed watershed that allows people living there to benefit from the ecosystem. The benefits include higher crop yields, increased income and resilience to climate change.Agroforestry is an integrated land-use management technique that incorporates trees and shrubs with crops and livestock on farms.The study, called “Modeling the effects of adopting agroforestry on basin scale surface runoff and sediment yield in the Philippines,” uses a computer-based Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to simulate the effects of different land uses on watershed hydrology and the ecosystem services provided by the Gabayan watershed. The tool predicts the environmental impact of land use, land management practices, and climate change.Watersheds are areas of land with streams and rivers that all drain into a larger body of water, such as a bigger river, a lake or an ocean. Watersheds not only supply water for domestic use but also provide a multitude of ecological and cultural services, including water for irrigation and industry, shelter, habitats for biodiversity and, in very poor areas, sources of livelihoods.Over the years, however, many watersheds throughout the world have suffered from intensive resource extraction and mismanagement. In countries like the Philippines, several watershed areas in the country are now degraded due to deforestation and soil erosion.The Gabayan watershed incorporates a heavily degraded, multi-use landscape covering over 5000 hectares hosting about 60,000 people whose livelihoods depend on subsistence agricultureFarmers here have reported environmental problems, such as floods, droughts, reductions in water quality and increases in soil erosion and downstream sedimentation of irrigation networks.”The degraded watershed has been largely deforested and replaced with extensive agricultural and grasslands over the last half century,” says David Wilson, the lead researcher. “It has disrupted the evenness of river flow, resulting in alternate flooding and drought episodes, an accelerated level of soil erosion as well as downstream sedimentation.”SWAT was used to simulate the impacts of current land-use practices and conservation agriculture with agroforestry in strategic locations. The study results showed a significant reduction in sediment yield (20%) and sediment concentration (35%)in the Gabayan watershed under agroforestry and conservation agriculture.The study was therefore able to provide scientific evidence that agroforestry, combined with improved land management practices, are an effective land-use strategy for the watersheds.”Specifically, the use of restored areas that have vegetation next to water resources and contour planting in grasslands appear to be the most effective techniques to reduce sediment transfer to the watershed river network,” says Wilson.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Stigmas, once evolutionarily sound, are now bad health strategies

Stigmatization may have once served to protect early humans from infectious diseases, but that strategy may do more harm than good for modern humans, according to Penn State researchers.”The things that made stigmas a more functional strategy thousands of years ago rarely exist,” said Rachel Smith, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and human development and family studies. “Now, it won’t promote positive health behavior and, in many cases, it could actually make the situation worse.”Stigmatizing and ostracizing members stricken with infectious diseases may have helped groups of early humans survive, said Smith, who worked with David Hughes, assistant professor of entomology and biology. Infectious agents thrive by spreading through populations, according to Smith and Hughes, who published an essay in the current issue of Communication Studies.For early humans, a person who was stigmatized by the group typically suffered a quick death, often from a lack of food or from falling prey to a predator. Groups did not mix on a regular basis, so another group was unlikely to adopt an ostracized person. Infectious disease stigmas may have evolved as a social defense for group-living species, and had adaptive functions when early humans had these interaction patterns.However, modern society is much larger, more mobile and safer from predators, eliminating the effectiveness of this strategy, according to Smith.”In modern times, we mix more regularly, travel more widely, and also there are so many people now,” Smith said. “These modern interaction patterns make stigmatization unproductive and often create more problems.”Hughes studies disease in another successful society, the ants, which have strong stigma and ostracism strategies that serve group interests at the cost to individuals.”Ants are often held up as paragons of society and efficiency but we certainly do not want to emulate how they treat their sick members, which can be brutal,” said Hughes.Stigmatization could actually make infectious disease management worse. The threat of ostracization may make people less likely to seek out medical treatment. If people refuse to seek treatment and go about their daily routines, they may cause the disease to spread farther and faster, according to the researchers, who are both investigators in the Center of Infectious Disease Dynamics in Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.Stigmatization may harm a person’s ability to survive a disease. Ostracization may increase stress, lessening the body’s ability to fight off diseases and infections.”People are very sensitive to rejection and humans worry about being ostracized,” said Smith. “These worries and experiences with rejection can cause problematic levels of stress and, unfortunately, stress can compromise the immune system’s ability to fight off an infection, accelerating disease progression.”Once applied, a stigma is difficult to remove, even when there are obvious signs that the person was never infected or is cured. …

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Scientists find mechanism to reset body clock

Researchers from The University of Manchester have discovered a new mechanism that governs how body clocks react to changes in the environment.And the discovery, which is being published in Current Biology, could provide a solution for alleviating the detrimental effects of chronic shift work and jet-lag.The team’s findings reveal that the enzyme casein kinase 1epsilon (CK1epsilon) controls how easily the body’s clockwork can be adjusted or reset by environmental cues such as light and temperature.Internal biological timers (circadian clocks) are found in almost every species on the planet. In mammals including humans, circadian clocks are found in most cells and tissues of the body, and orchestrate daily rhythms in our physiology, including our sleep/wake patterns and metabolism.Dr David Bechtold, who led The University of Manchester’s research team, said: “At the heart of these clocks are a complex set of molecules whose interaction provides robust and precise 24 hour timing. Importantly, our clocks are kept in synchrony with the environment by being responsive to light and dark information.”This work, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, was undertaken by a team from The University of Manchester in collaboration with scientists from Pfizer led by Dr Travis Wager.The research identifies a new mechanism through which our clocks respond to these light inputs. During the study, mice lacking CK1epsilon, a component of the clock, were able to shift to a new light-dark environment (much like the experience in shift work or long-haul air travel) much faster than normal.The research team went on to show that drugs that inhibit CK1epsilon were able to speed up shift responses of normal mice, and critically, that faster adaption to the new environment minimised metabolic disturbances caused by the time shift.Dr Bechtold said: “We already know that modern society poses many challenges to our health and wellbeing — things that are viewed as commonplace, such as shift-work, sleep deprivation, and jet lag disrupt our body’s clocks. It is now becoming clear that clock disruption is increasing the incidence and severity of diseases including obesity and diabetes.”We are not genetically pre-disposed to quickly adapt to shift-work or long-haul flights, and as so our bodies’ clocks are built to resist such rapid changes. Unfortunately, we must deal with these issues today, and there is very clear evidence that disruption of our body clocks has real and negative consequences for our health.”He continues: “As this work progresses in clinical terms, we may be able to enhance the clock’s ability to deal with shift work, and importantly understand how maladaptation of the clock contributes to diseases such as diabetes and chronic inflammation.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Manchester. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Nanoscale optical switch breaks miniaturization barrier

An ultra-fast and ultra-small optical switch has been invented that could advance the day when photons replace electrons in the innards of consumer products ranging from cell phones to automobiles.The new optical device can turn on and off trillions of times per second. It consists of individual switches that are only one five-hundredths the width of a human hair (200 nanometers) in diameter. This size is much smaller than the current generation of optical switches and it easily breaks one of the major technical barriers to the spread of electronic devices that detect and control light: miniaturizing the size of ultrafast optical switches.The new device was developed by a team of scientists from Vanderbilt University, University of Alabama-Birmingham, and Los Alamos National Laboratory and is described in the Mar. 12 issue of the journal Nano Letters.The ultrafast switch is made out of an artificial material engineered to have properties that are not found in nature. In this case, the “metamaterial” consists of nanoscale particles of vanadium dioxide (VO2) — a crystalline solid that can rapidly switch back and forth between an opaque, metallic phase and a transparent, semiconducting phase — which are deposited on a glass substrate and coated with a “nanomesh” of tiny gold nanoparticles.The scientists report that bathing these gilded nanoparticles with brief pulses from an ultrafast laser generates hot electrons in the gold nanomesh that jump into the vanadium dioxide and cause it to undergo its phase change in a few trillionths of a second.”We had previously triggered this transition in vanadium dioxide nanoparticles directly with lasers and we wanted to see if we could do it with electrons as well,” said Richard Haglund, Stevenson Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt, who led the study. “Not only does it work, but the injection of hot electrons from the gold nanoparticles also triggers the transformation with one fifth to one tenth as much energy input required by shining the laser directly on the bare VO2.”Both industry and government are investing heavily in efforts to integrate optics and electronics, because it is generally considered to be the next step in the evolution of information and communications technology. Intel, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have been building chips with increasing optical functionality for the last five years that operate at gigahertz speeds, one thousandth that of the VO2 switch.”Vanadium dioxide switches have a number of characteristics that make them ideal for optoelectronics applications,” said Haglund. In addition to their fast speed and small size, they:• Are completely compatible with current integrated circuit technology, both silicon-based chips and the new “high-K dielectric” materials that the semiconductor industry is developing to continue the miniaturization process that has been a major aspect of microelectronics technology development;• Operate in the visible and near-infrared region of the spectrum that is optimal for telecommunications applications;• Generate an amount of heat per operation that is low enough so that the switches can be packed tightly enough to make practical devices: about ten trillionths of a calorie (100 femtojoules) per bit.”Vanadium dioxide’s amazing properties have been known for more than half a century. At Vanderbilt, we have been studying VO2 nanoparticles for the last ten years, but the material has been remarkably successfully at resisting theoretical explanations,” said Haglund. “It is only in the last few years that intensive computational studies have illuminated the physics that underlies its semiconductor-to-metal transition.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University. …

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Agroforestry can ensure food security, mitigate effects of climate change in Africa

Agroforestry can help to achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation while at the same time providing livelihoods for poor smallholder farmers in Africa.Scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) say agroforestry — which is an integrated land use management technique that incorporates trees and shrubs with crops and livestock on farms — could be a win-win solution to the seemingly difficult choice between reforestation and agricultural land use, because it increases the storage of carbon and may also enhance agricultural productivity.In a special issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, scientists say that in most parts of Africa, climate change mitigation focuses on reforestation and forest protection however, such efforts to reduce deforestation conflict with the need to expand agricultural production in Africa to feed the continent’s growing population.Agriculture in Africa is dominated by smallholder farmers. Their priority is to produce enough food. Under such circumstances, any measures that will be put in place to mitigate the effects of climate change should also improve food production.”This mixture shows the role that agroforestry can play in addressing both climate mitigation and adaptation in primarily food-focused production systems of Africa” says Dr. Cheikh Mbow, Senior Scientist, Climate Change and Development at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and lead author of the article.”It has been demonstrated by science that if you develop agroforestry it has the potential to buffer the impact of climate change. For example, a farm with trees will suffer less to the impacts of climate change because it will absorb some of these impacts so agroforestry is a good response to develop resilience of agrosystems to the challenges brought about by climate change” he says.The report however notes that for farmers to incorporate trees in their farms there is need to revise the cultivation methods and provide them with some support to ensure swift adoption.Agroforestry is one of the most common land use systems across landscapes and agroecological zones in Africa but need much more adoption in order to increase the impact on food security. With food shortages and increased threats of climate change, interest in agroforestry is gathering for its potential to address various on-farm adaptation needs. “The failure of extension services in poor African countries limits the possibility to scale up innovations in agroforestry for improved land use systems .”The scientists conclude that agroforestry should therefore attract more attention in global agendas on climate change mitigation because of its positive social and environmental impacts.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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A shocking diet: Researchers describe microbe that ‘eats’ electricity

There have been plenty of fad diets that captured the public’s imagination over the years, but Harvard scientists have identified what may be the strangest of them all — sunlight and electricity.Led by Peter Girguis, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences, and Arpita Bose, a post-doctoral fellow in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, a team of researchers showed that the commonly found bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris can use natural conductivity to pull electrons from minerals located deep in soil and sediment while remaining at the surface, where they absorb the sunlight needed to produce energy. The study is described in a February 26 paper in Nature Communications.”When you think about electricity and living organisms, most people default to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but we’ve long understood that all organisms actually use electrons — what constitutes electricity — to do work,” Girguis said. “At the heart of this paper is a process called extracellular electron transfer (EET), which involves moving electrons in and out of cells. What we were able to show is that these microbes take up electricity, which goes into their central metabolism, and we were able to describe some of the systems that are involved in that process.”In the wild, the microbes rely on iron to provide the electrons they need to fuel energy generation, but tests in the lab suggest the iron itself isn’t critical for this process. By attaching an electrode to colonies of the microbes in the lab, researchers observed that they could take up electrons from a non-ferrous source, suggesting they might also use other electron-rich minerals — such as other metals and sulfur compounds — in the wild.”That’s a game-changer,” Girguis said. “We have understood for a long time that the aerobic and anaerobic worlds interact mainly through the diffusion of chemicals into and out of those domains. Accordingly, we also believe this process of diffusion governs the rates of many biogeochemical cycles. But this research indicates…that this ability to do EET is, in a sense, an end-run around diffusion. That could change the way we think about the interactions between the aerobic and anaerobic worlds, and might change the way we calculate the rates of biogeochemical cycling.”Using genetic tools, researchers were also able to identify a gene that is critical to the ability to take up electrons. …

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Can the blind ‘hear; colors, shapes? Yes, show researchers

What if you could “hear” colors? Or shapes? These features are normally perceived visually, but using sensory substitution devices (SSDs) they can now be conveyed to the brain noninvasively through other senses.At the Center for Human Perception and Cognition, headed by Prof. Amir Amedi of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Medicine, the blind and visually impaired are being offered tools, via training with SSDs, to receive environmental visual information and interact with it in ways otherwise unimaginable. The work of Prof. Amedi and his colleagues is patented by Yissum, the Hebrew University’s Technology Transfer CompanySSDs are non-invasive sensory aids that provide visual information to the blind via their existing senses. For example, using a visual-to-auditory SSD in a clinical or everyday setting, users wear a miniature camera connected to a small computer (or smart phone) and stereo headphones. The images are converted into “soundscapes,” using a predictable algorithm, allowing the user to listen to and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera.With the EyeMusic SSD (available free at the Apple App store at http://tinyurl.com/oe8d4p4), one hears pleasant musical notes to convey information about colors, shapes and location of objects in the world.Using this SSD equipment and a unique training program, the blind are able to achieve various complex. visual-linked abilities. In recent articles in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience and Scientific Reports, blind and blindfolded-sighted users of the EyeMusic were shown to correctly perceive and interact with objects, such as recognizing different shapes and colors or reaching for a beverage (A live demonstration can be seen at http://youtu.be/r6bz1pOEJWg).In another use of EyeMusic, it was shown that other fast and accurate movements can be guided by the EyeMusic and visuo-motor learning. …

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Half of veterans prescribed medical opioids continue to use them chronically

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

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Climate change: Improving heat tolerance in trees

Is it possible to improve tolerance of trees to high temperatures and other types of stress derived of climate change? A research group of the Universidad Politcnica de Madrid (UPM), led by Luis Gmez, a professor of the Forestry School and the Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics (CBGP), is studying the tolerance of trees using molecular and biotechnological tools. The research work was published in the last issue of the journal Plant Physiology.The obtained poplars in this project, with the collaboration of the Universidad de Mlaga, are significantly more tolerant to high temperatures than the control trees. These trees are also more tolerant to drought, to the presence of weed-killer, to in vitro and ex vitro crops, to contamination and other ways of abiotic stress that have an applied interest for forestry. This work is a continuation of a project started by of a research team of the UPM a decade ago. This study focuses on mechanisms that plant cells use to protect themselves from stress factors.Due to the human pressure on forests, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is promoting intensive plantations as an alternative to meet the global demand of wood and other products. Besides, plantations have social and economic benefits (job creation, wealth and rural development). This model change has significant ecological consequences.The role of forests is essential for climate change mitigation and biodiversity preservation, amongst others. A documentary “El Bosque Protector,” co-produced by the UPM and available on “A la Carta” of RTVE shows the result of this study. Tree farming plantations as a realistic alternative will be possible if the current yield significantly increases. …

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Some people really just don’t like music

It is often said that music is a universal language. However, a new report in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on March 6 finds that music doesn’t speak to everyone. There are people who are perfectly able to experience pleasure in other ways who simply don’t get music in the way the rest of us do.The researchers refer to this newly described condition as specific musical anhedonia — in other words, the specific inability to experience pleasure from music.”The identification of these individuals could be very important to understanding the neural basis of music — that is, to understand how a set of notes [is] translated into emotions,” says Josep Marco-Pallars of the University of Barcelona.The researchers previously found hints about this form of anhedonia after they developed a questionnaire to evaluate individual differences in musical reward. Those evaluations found some individuals who reported low sensitivity to music but average sensitivity to other kinds of reward. But multiple explanations are possible for these low music sensitivities. For instance, some people might seem to dislike music because they have trouble perceiving it, a condition called amusia. Or maybe some people simply answered the questions inaccurately.In the current study, the research team decided to look more closely at three groups of ten people, with each group consisting of participants with high pleasure ratings in response to music, average pleasure ratings in response to music, or low sensitivity to musical reward, respectively. Participants in the three groups were chosen based on their comparable overall sensitivity to other types of rewards and their ability to perceive music.Subjects participated in two different experiments: a music task, in which they had to rate the degree of pleasure they were experiencing while listening to pleasant music, and a monetary incentive delay task, in which participants had to respond quickly to a target in order to win or avoid losing real money. Both tasks have been shown to engage reward-related neural circuits and produce a rush of dopamine. Meanwhile, the researchers recorded changes of skin conductance response and heart rate as physiologic indicators of emotion.The results were clear: some otherwise healthy and happy people do not enjoy music and show no autonomic responses to its sound, despite normal musical perception capacities. …

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Importance of nutrients for coral reefs highlighted by scientists

A new publication from researchers at the University of Southampton and the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton highlights the importance of nutrients for coral reef survival.Despite the comparably small footprint they take on the ocean floor, tropical coral reefs are home to a substantial part of all marine life forms. Coral reefs also provide numerous benefits for human populations, providing food for millions and protecting coastal areas from erosion. Moreover, they are a treasure chest of potential pharmaceuticals and coral reef tourism provides recreation and income for many.Unfortunately, coral reefs are declining at an alarming rate. To promote management activities that can help coral reef survival, an international group of world renowned scientists have summarized the present knowledge about the challenges that coral reefs are facing now and in the future in a special issue of the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. The contribution of scientists from the University of Southampton to this special issue highlights the crucial role of nutrients for the functioning of coral reefs.The University of Southampton researchers who are based at the Coral Reef Laboratory in the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, explain that “too many” nutrients can be as bad for corals as “not enough.”Dr Jrg Wiedenmann, Professor of Biological Oceanography at the University of Southampton and Head of the Coral Reef Laboratory, says: “The nutrient biology of coral reefs is immensely complex. It is important to distinguish between the different direct and indirect effects that a disturbance of the natural nutrient environment can have on a coral reef ecosystem.”Since corals live in a symbiotic relationship with microscopically small plant cells, they require certain amounts of nutrients as “fertiliser.” In fact, the experimental addition of nutrients can promote coral growth. “One should not conclude from such findings, however, that nutrient enrichment is beneficial for coral reefs — usually the opposite is true,” explains Dr Cecilia D’Angelo, Senior Research Fellow in the Coral Reef Laboratory and co-author on the article.Dr Wiedenmann, whose research on coral reef nutrient biology is supported by one of the Starting Grants from the European Research Commission, adds: “Too many nutrients harm corals in many different ways, easily outweighing the positive effects that they can undoubtedly have for the coral-alga association.Paradoxically, the initial addition of nutrients to the water column might result in nutrient starvation of the corals at a later stage. In this publication, we conceptualise the important role that the competition for nutrients by phytoplankton, the free-living relatives of the corals’ symbiotic algae, may have in this context.””Nutrient pollution will continue to increase in many coral reefs. Therefore, an important prerequisite to develop efficient management strategies is a profound understanding of the different mechanisms by which corals suffer from nutrient stress.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southampton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Mother’s diet linked to premature birth: fruits, vegetables linked to reduced risk of preterm delivery

Pregnant women who eat a “prudent” diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and who drink water have a significantly reduced risk of preterm delivery, suggests a study published on bmj.com today. A “traditional” dietary pattern of boiled potatoes, fish and cooked vegetables was also linked to a significantly lower risk.Although these findings cannot establish causality, they support dietary advice to pregnant women to eat a balanced diet including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish and to drink water.Preterm delivery (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) is associated with significant short and long term ill-health and accounts for almost 75% of all newborn deaths.Evidence shows that a mother’s dietary habits can directly affect her unborn child, so researchers based in Sweden, Norway and Iceland set out to examine whether a link exists between maternal diet and preterm delivery.Using data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, they analyzed preterm births among 66,000 women between 2002 and 2008.To be included, participants had to be free of diabetes, have delivered a live single baby, and completed a validated food frequency questionnaire on dietary habits during the first four to five months of pregnancy.Factors that may have affected the results (known as confounding), including a mother’s age, history of preterm delivery and education were taken into account. Preterm delivery was defined as delivery between 22 and <37 weeks of pregnancy.</p>The researchers identified three distinct dietary patterns, interpreted as “prudent” (vegetables, fruits, oils, water as a beverage, whole grain cereals, poultry, fibre rich bread), “Western” (salty and sweet snacks, white bread, desserts, processed meat products), and “traditional” (potatoes, fish, gravy, cooked vegetables, low fat milk).Among the 66,000 pregnant women, preterm delivery occurred in 3,505 (5.3%) cases.After adjusting for several confounding factors, the team found that an overall “prudent” dietary pattern was associated with a significantly reduced risk of preterm delivery, especially among women having their first baby, as well as spontaneous and late preterm delivery.They also found a significantly reduced risk of preterm delivery for the “traditional” dietary pattern. However, the “Western” dietary pattern was not independently associated with preterm delivery.This indicates that increasing the intake of foods associated with a prudent dietary pattern is more important than totally excluding processed food, fast food, junk food, and snacks, say the authors.They stress that a direct (causal) link cannot be drawn from the results, but say the findings suggest that “diet matters for the risk of preterm delivery, which may reassure medical practitioners that the current dietary recommendations are sound but also inspire them to pay more attention to dietary counselling.”These findings are important, as prevention of preterm delivery is of major importance in modern obstetrics. They also indicate that preterm delivery might actually be modified by maternal diet, they conclude.In an accompanying editorial, Professor Lucilla Poston at King’s College London, says healthy eating in pregnancy is always a good idea.She points to several studies that have proposed the benefit of a diet rich in fruit and/or vegetables in prevention of premature birth, and says health professionals “would therefore be well advised to reinforce the message that pregnant women eat a healthy diet.”

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Education attenuates impact of TBI on cognition

Kessler Foundation researchers have found that higher educational attainment (a proxy of intellectual enrichment) attenuates the negative impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on cognitive status. The brief report, Sumowski J, Chiaravalloti N, Krch D, Paxton J, DeLuca J. Education attenuates the negative impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on cognitive status, was published in the December issue of Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Volume 94, Issue 12:2562-64.Cognitive outcomes vary post-TBI, even among individuals with comparable injuries. To examine this finding, investigators looked at whether the hypothesis of cognitive reserve helps to explain this differential cognitive impairment following TBI. Kessler Foundation investigators have previously supported the cognitive reserve hypothesis in persons with multiple sclerosis, demonstrating that lifetime intellectual enrichment protects patients from cognitive impairment, as published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal. In the current study, they sought to determine whether individuals with TBI with greater intellectual enrichment pre-injury (estimated with education), are less vulnerable to cognitive impairment.Researchers compared 44 people with moderate to severe TBI with 36 healthy controls. Their cognitive status (processing speed, working memory, episodic memory) was evaluated with neuropsychological tasks. “Although cognitive status was worse in the TBI group,” said Dr. Sumowski, senior research scientist in Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation, “higher education attenuated the negative effect of TBI on cognitive status, such that persons with higher education were protected against TBI-related cognitive impairment.””These results support the hypothesis of cognitive reserve in TBI, ie, as in MS, higher intellectual enrichment benefits cognitive status,” concluded Dr. Chiaravalloti, the Foundation’s director of TBI Research. …

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The number of tumor cells spread to sentinel lymph nodes affects melanoma prognosis

Cancer cell spread to the sentinel node — the lymph node to which cancer cells are most likely to spread from a primary tumor — is a risk factor for melanoma death. According to a study published in this week’s PLOS Medicine by Anja Ulmer, Christoph Klein and colleagues from the Universities of Tbingen and Regensburg, Germany, the prognosis of a patient largely depends on the number of disseminated cancer cells per million lymphocytes in the sentinel node. Even very low numbers were found to be predictive for reduced survival.The leading cause of death from skin disease is melanoma, which is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. When melanoma metastasizes and spreads to other parts of the body, treatment options become limited and the prognosis is poor. Melanoma staging (and prognosis) is currently focused on the primary tumor itself, with characteristics like tumor thickness, mitotic rate, and ulceration (break in the skin caused by the tumor) indicating the likelihood that the tumor has started to spread. Looking for tumor cells in the sentinel nodes is done for patients who are at increased risk for spread, but standard procedures for how to measure spread to the nodes and how to integrate this information with the tumor histology are needed. Since melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers, better predictors of prognosis for melanoma patients are needed for patient information and to determine treatment options.The researchers prospectively collected a large number of samples for this relatively rare cancer: 1,834 sentinel lymph nodes from 1,027 patients with melanoma who had been followed for 5 years after the samples were taken. They labelled disseminated cancer cells (DCCs) in the lymph nodes through the use of a marker for melanoma cells, counted them, and calculated DCC density. They then asked whether DCC density was related to a patient’s survival. They found that patients with high DCC density in the lymph nodes were more likely to die from melanoma within 5 years. …

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New depression treatments reported

New insights into the physiological causes of depression are leading to treatments beyond common antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft, according to an evidence-based report in the journal Current Psychiatry.Depression treatments on the horizon include new medications, electrical and magnetic stimulation of the brain and long-term cognitive behavioral therapy for stress management.Authors are Murali Rao, MD, and Julie M. Alderson, DO. Rao is professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and Alderson is a resident at East Liverpool City Hospital in East Liverpool, Ohio.For more than 50 years, depression has been studied and understood as a deficiency of chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that carry signals between brain cells. Commonly used antidepressants are designed to either increase the release or block the degradation of three neurotransmitters — dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.But drugs that target neurotransmitters, such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, succeed in inducing the remission of depression in fewer than half of patients. This has prompted researchers “to look beyond neurotransmitters for an understanding of depressive disorders,” Rao and Alderson write.New theories of depression are focusing on differences in neuron density in various regions of the brain; on the effect of stress on the birth and death of brain cells; on the alteration of feedback pathways in the brain and on the role of inflammation evoked by the stress response.Chronic stress is believed to be the leading cause of depression, the authors write. Long-term stress harms cells in the brain and body. Stressful experiences are believed to be closely associated with the development of psychological alterations and, thus, neuropsychiatric disorders. In conditions of chronic stress exposure, nerve cells in the hippocampus begin to atrophy. (The hippocampus is a part of the brain involved with emotions, learning and memory formation.)The new depression theories “should not be viewed as separate entities because they are highly interconnected,” Rao and Alderson write. “Integrating them provides for a more expansive understanding of the pathophysiology of depression and biomarkers that are involved.”Such biomarkers are molecules in the body that can be indicators of depression. …

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Brain’s ‘sweet spot’ for love found in neurological patient

A region deep inside the brain controls how quickly people make decisions about love, according to new research at the University of Chicago.The finding, made in an examination of a 48-year-old man who suffered a stroke, provides the first causal clinical evidence that an area of the brain called the anterior insula “plays an instrumental role in love,” said UChicago neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo, lead author of the study.In an earlier paper that analyzed research on the topic, Cacioppo and colleagues defined love as “an intentional state for intense [and long-term] longing for union with another” while lust, or sexual desire, is characterized by an intentional state for a short-term, pleasurable goal.In this study, the patient made decisions normally about lust but showed slower reaction times when making decisions about love, in contrast to neurologically typical participants matched on age, gender and ethnicity. The findings are presented in a paper, “Selective Decision-Making Deficit in Love Following Damage to the Anterior Insula,” published in the journal Current Trends in Neurology.”This distinction has been interpreted to mean that desire is a relatively concrete representation of sensory experiences, while love is a more abstract representation of those experiences,” said Cacioppo, a research associate and assistant professor in psychology. The new data suggest that the posterior insula, which affects sensation and motor control, is implicated in feelings of lust or desire, while the anterior insula has a role in the more abstract representations involved in love.In the earlier paper, “The Common Neural Bases Between Sexual Desire and Love: A Multilevel Kernel Density fMRI Analysis,” Cacioppo and colleagues examined a number of studies of brain scans that looked at differences between love and lust.The studies showed consistently that the anterior insula was associated with love, and the posterior insula was associated with lust. However, as in all fMRI studies, the findings were correlational.”We reasoned that if the anterior insula was the origin of the love response, we would find evidence for that in brain scans of someone whose anterior insula was damaged,” she said.In the study, researchers examined a 48-year-old heterosexual male in Argentina, who had suffered a stroke that damaged the function of his anterior insula. He was matched with a control group of seven Argentinian heterosexual men of the same age who had healthy anterior insula.The patient and the control group were shown 40 photographs at random of attractive, young women dressed in appealing, short and long dresses and asked whether these women were objects of sexual desire or love. The patient with the damaged anterior insula showed a much slower response when asked if the women in the photos could be objects of love.”The current work makes it possible to disentangle love from other biological drives,” the authors wrote. Such studies also could help researchers examine feelings of love by studying neurological activity rather than subjective questionnaires.The full article can be found online at: https://hpenlaboratory.uchicago.edu/sites/caciopponeurolab.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/Cacioppo%20et%20al_Current%20Trends%20in%20Neurology%202013.pdfStory Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Eucalypt in Ethiopian highlands: Increasing productivity of important tree

Researchers at the UPM are collaborating in a eucalypts breeding program in the Ethiopian highlands which will increase this species productivity.This program is developed by the research group of Forest Physiology and Genetics and the cooperative group of Support to Forestry Development of the Universidad Politcnica de Madrid (UPM). Also, it is supported by several national and international institutions that will contribute to satisfy the demand of woody biomass and other financial needs of Ethiopian farmers.For years, these two research groups have been collaborating with Forestry Research Center and the St. Mary’s College and supported by Ence and the Council of Alcorcn. Also, they are working on providing the Ethiopian highlands with tools and knowledge for better forestry management. This could constitute a valuable tool to achieve sustainability when using and supplying natural resources. The main project consists of a eucalypt breeding program that will result in improvements in many areas.The great demand for forest products to use for agriculture by the population of the Ethiopian highlands has resulted in the deforestation of a region with the lowest human development rate in the world. The eucalypt is the species with the highest demand among Ethiopian farmers and has an important environmental and socioeconomic key role in the highlands area. The consumption of eucalypt is been boosted because of its compatibility with the grazing system and its high yields even in marginal agricultural soils of abandoned lands. However, farmers are lacking of start materials and the current techniques make production difficult.Within the improvement program, the researchers established an experimental test with eucalypt plants from Ethiopia and Spain in order to compare their potential productivity in local conditions. The Spanish plant, that had a certain rate of improvement, showed a growth and survival rate between 27% and 35%, a rate higher than the Ethiopian plants. …

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