Designer potatoes on the menu to boost consumption

A decline in overall potato consumption has Texas A&M AgriLife Research breeders working on “designer” spuds that meet the time constraints and unique tastes of a younger generation.Dr. Creighton Miller, AgriLife Research potato breeder from College Station, recently conducted the Texas A&M Potato Breeding and Variety Development Program field day at the farm of cooperator Bruce Barrett south of Springlake.”Potatoes are an important delivery system for nutrients to humans,” Miller said. “The average consumption in the U.S. is 113 pounds per year per person. But overall potato consumption in the U.S. has generally declined somewhat.”So what we are doing now is developing unique varieties that have a tendency to appeal to the younger set with high income who are willing to try something different,” he said. “This has contributed to an increase in consumption of these types over the russets, which are still the standard.”Miller said the objective of the Texas A&M potato breeding program is to develop improved varieties adapted specifically to Texas environmental conditions.”However, some of our varieties are widely adapted across the U.S.,” he said. “Three of them collectively represent the fifth-largest number of acres certified for seed production in the U.S., so we’ve released some successful varieties,and we are developing more all the time.”The Texas Potato Variety Development Program currently has 412 entries at the Springlake trials and 927 entries at the Dalhart trials. Additionally, the 2014 seedling selection trials at both Springlake and Dalhart include 115,408 seedlings from 634 families or crosses.One selected Best of Trial at Springlake this year is BTX2332-IR, which is a round red potato. And, he said, the traditional russet potatoes will always be a mainstay, as they are used primarily for baking and French fries. …

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Surprising new clue to the roots of hunger, neurons that drive appetite

While the function of eating is to nourish the body, this is not what actually compels us to seek out food. Instead, it is hunger, with its stomach-growling sensations and gnawing pangs that propels us to the refrigerator – or the deli or the vending machine. Although hunger is essential for survival, abnormal hunger can lead to obesity and eating disorders, widespread problems now reaching near-epidemic proportions around the world.Over the past 20 years, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) neuroendocrinologist Bradford Lowell, MD, PhD, has been untangling the complicated jumble of neurocircuits in the brain that underlie hunger, working to create a wiring diagram to explain the origins of this intense motivational state. Key among his findings has been the discovery that Agouti-peptide (AgRP) expressing neurons – a group of nerve cells in the brain’s hypothalamus – are activated by caloric deficiency, and when either naturally or artificially stimulated in animal models, will cause mice to eat voraciously after conducting a relentless search for food.Now, in a new study published on-line this week in the journal Nature, Lowell’s lab has made the surprising discovery that the hunger-inducing neurons that activate these AgRP neurons are located in the paraventricular nucleus — a brain region long thought to cause satiety, or feelings of fullness. This unexpected finding not only provides a critical addition to the overall wiring diagram, but adds an important extension to our understanding of what drives appetite.“Our goal is to understand how the brain controls hunger,” explains Lowell, an investigator in BIDMC’s Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Abnormal hunger can lead to obesity and eating disorders, but in order to understand what might be wrong – and how to treat it – you first need to know how it works. Otherwise, it’s like trying to fix a car without knowing how the engine operates.”Hunger is notoriously complicated and questions abound: Why do the fed and fasted states of your body increase or decrease hunger? And how do the brain’s reward pathways come into play – why, as we seek out food, especially after an otherwise complete meal, do we prefer ice cream to lettuce?“Psychologists have explained how cues from the environment and from the body interact, demonstrating that food and stimuli linked with food [such as a McDonald’s sign] are rewarding and therefore promote hunger,” explains Lowell. “It’s clear that fasting increases the gain on how rewarding we find food to be, while a full stomach decreases this reward. But while this model has been extremely important in understanding the general features of the ‘hunger system,’ it’s told us nothing about what’s inside the ‘black box’ – the brain’s neural circuits that actually control hunger.”To deal with this particularly complex brain region – a dense and daunting tangle of circuits resembling a wildly colorful Jackson Pollack painting – the Lowell team is taking a step-by-step approach to find out how the messages indicating whether the body is in a state of feeding or fasting enter this system. …

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New system developed to better study behavior, cell function

Sep. 5, 2013 — A team of researchers led by Charles D. Nichols, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, has successfully translated a new technology to better study behaviors and cellular function to fruit flies. This powerful genetic tool — Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs — allows scientists to selectively, rapidly, reversibly, and dose-dependently remotely control behaviors and physiological processes in the fly. The fruit fly shares a significant degree of similarity to humans and can be used to model a number of human diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, epilepsy, ALS, mental illness, and more. The research, published on September 5, 2013, is available online in the journal, Cell Reports.Share This:”Significant advantages the fly offers as a model are the advanced genetic tools available for manipulating gene expression, like the ability to selectively express genes in any defined cell or tissue, in combination with its prolific and rapid reproduction cycle and ease of growth,” notes Charles D. Nichols, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans.In order to study behaviors, a common method is to manipulate the activity state of neurons and observe the effects. By and large, current methods are essentially switches to turn the neuron on or off and can produce dramatic changes in neuronal activity that can manifest in significant behavioral changes. One disadvantage with these switch-like approaches is that they can mask more subtle functions of neuronal circuits in regulating behaviors.Another is that many require expensive specialized equipment like light sources and fiber optics to manipulate neuron function. Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs, or DREADD, technology was first developed by one of the co-authors (B.L. …

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Raising the IQ of smart windows: Embedded nanocrystals provide selective control over visible light and heat-producing near-infrared light

Aug. 14, 2013 — Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have designed a new material to make smart windows even smarter. The material is a thin coating of nanocrystals embedded in glass that can dynamically modify sunlight as it passes through a window. Unlike existing technologies, the coating provides selective control over visible light and heat-producing near-infrared (NIR) light, so windows can maximize both energy savings and occupant comfort in a wide range of climates.”In the US, we spend about a quarter of our total energy on lighting, heating and cooling our buildings,” says Delia Milliron, a chemist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry who led this research. “When used as a window coating, our new material can have a major impact on building energy efficiency.”Milliron is corresponding author on a paper describing the results the journal Nature. The paper is titled, “Tunable near-infrared and visible light transmittance in nanocrystal-in-glass composites,” co-authored by Anna Llordés, Guillermo Garcia, and Jaume Gazquez.Milliron’s research group is already well known for their smart-window technology that blocks NIR without blocking visible light. The technology hinges on an electrochromic effect, where a small jolt of electricity switches the material between NIR-transmitting and NIR-blocking states. This new work takes their approach to the next level by providing independent control over both visible and NIR light. The innovation was recently recognized with a 2013 R&D 100 Award and the researchers are in the early stages of commercializing their technology.Independent control over NIR light means that occupants can have natural lighting indoors without unwanted thermal gain, reducing the need for both air-conditioning and artificial lighting. …

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Luxury products’ role in relationships revealed

July 24, 2013 — Purchasing designer handbags and shoes is a means for women to express their style, boost self-esteem, or even signal status. New University of Minnesota research suggests some women also seek these luxury items to prevent other women from stealing their man.Through a series of five experiments featuring 649 women of varying ages and relationship statuses, Carlson School of Management Associate Professor Vladas Griskevicius and PhD student Yajin Wang discovered how women’s luxury products often function as a signaling system directed at other women who pose a threat to their romantic relationships.”It might seem irrational that each year Americans spend over $250 billion on women’s luxury products with an average woman acquiring three new handbags a year, but conspicuous consumption is actually smart for women who want to protect their relationship,” says Griskevicius, coauthor of The Rational Animal: How Evolution Made Us Smarter Than We Think. “When a woman is flaunting designer products, it says to other women ‘back off my man.'”Griskevicius and Wang first investigated what other women infer about a woman’s relationship partner based on the luxuriousness of her possessions. “We found that a woman who is wearing luxury items and designer brands is perceived to have a more devoted partner and as a result other women are less likely to flirt with him,” says Wang. “Regardless of who actually purchased the items, other women inferred that the man had something to do with it and is thus more devoted to her.”In another study, Griskevicius and Wang made participants feel jealous by having them imagine that another woman was flirting with their man. Shortly afterward, the women completed a seemingly unrelated task in which they drew a luxury brand logo on a handbag. The result? When women felt jealous, they drew designer logos that were twice the size of those in the other conditions.”The feeling that a relationship is being threatened by another woman automatically triggers women to want to flash Gucci, Chanel, and Fendi to other women,” explains Wang. “A designer handbag or a pair of expensive shoes seems to work like a shield, where wielding a Fendi handbag successfully fends off romantic rivals.”Another of Griskevicius and Wang’s studies revealed that when romantic relationships were threatened, women not only desired more expensive handbags, cars, cell phones, and shoes, they also spent 32 percent more of their own money for a chance to win an actual luxury spending spree.This research highlights that luxury products serve an important function in relationships, but that men and women use conspicuous consumption for a different purpose. Past research by Griskevicius has found that men often seek expensive products to show off to the opposite sex in order to attract them as mates. …

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