The ugly truth about summer allergies

As if a runny nose and red eyes weren’t enough to ruin your warm weather look, summer allergies can gift you with even more than you’ve bargained for this year. In fact, some unusual symptoms can leave you looking like you lost a round in a boxing ring.”Summer allergies can cause severe symptoms for some sufferers, and can be just as bad as the spring and fall seasons,” said allergist Michael Foggs, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “Symptoms aren’t always limited to the hallmark sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes. Black eyes, lines across the nose and other cosmetic symptoms can occur.”Even if you’ve never before had allergies, they can suddenly strike at any age and time of year. You might want to consider visiting your board-certified allergist if these undesirable signs accompany your sniffle and sneeze.Allergic Shiner: Dark circles under the eyes which are due to swelling and discoloration from congestion of small blood vessels beneath the skin in the delicate eye area. Allergic (adenoidal) Face: Nasal allergies may promote swelling of the adenoids (lymph tissue that lines the back of the throat and extends behind the nose). This results in a tired and droopy appearance. Nasal Crease: This is a line which can appear across the bridge of the nose usually the result of rubbing the nose upward to relieve nasal congestion and itching. Mouth Breathing: Cases of allergic rhinitis in which severe nasal congestion occurs can result in chronic mouth breathing, associated with the development of a high, arched palate, an elevated upper lip, and an overbite. Teens with allergic rhinitis might need braces to correct dental issues. …

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Scientists grow cartilage to reconstruct nose

Scientists at the University of Basel report first ever successful nose reconstruction surgery using cartilage grown in the laboratory. Cartilage cells were extracted from the patient’s nasal septum, multiplied and expanded onto a collagen membrane. The so-called engineered cartilage was then shaped according to the defect and implanted. The results will be published in the current edition of the academic journal The Lancet.A research team from the University of Basel in Switzerland has reported that nasal reconstruction using engineered cartilage is possible. They used a method called tissue engineering where cartilage is grown from patients’ own cells. This new technique was applied on five patients, aged 76 to 88 years, with severe defects on their nose after skin cancer surgery. One year after the reconstruction, all five patients were satisfied with their ability to breathe as well as with the cosmetic appearance of their nose. None of them reported any side effects.Cells from the nasal septumThe type of non-melanoma skin cancer investigated in this study is most common on the nose, specifically the alar wing of the nose, because of its cumulative exposure to sunlight. To remove the tumor completely, surgeons often have to cut away parts of cartilage as well. Usually, grafts for reconstruction are taken from the nasal septum, the ear or the ribs and used to functionally reconstruct the nose. …

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Putting a price on ecological restoration

Putting a price on clean water and soil fertility helps the UN set ecological restoration targets for degraded and deforested land.Forests provide essential ecosystem services for people, including timber, food and water. For those struggling with the after-effects of deforestation, the main hope lies in rebuilding forest resources through ecological restoration.Researchers at BU have shown that placing a monetary value on ecosystem services provides a mechanism for evaluating the costs and benefits of reforestation activity.”Ecological restoration initiatives are being undertaken around the world, attracting investment of $US billions annually,” explained Professor Adrian Newton. “They make a significant contribution to sustainable development but few attempts have been made to systematically evaluate their effectiveness.”To address this knowledge gap, Professor Newton and fellow BU researchers analysed 89 different types of restored ecosystem sites across the world. The results showed that, although restored land was not as productive as land that had not been degraded, restoration efforts increased biodiversity by 44% and provision of ecosystem services by 25%.What’s unique about Professor Newton’s research is that it also provides one of the first evidence-based assessments of how cost-effective ecological restoration initiatives actually are.Professor Newton developed this method as part of the ReForLan research project in the dryland forests of Latin America. ReForLAn brought together researchers from six countries to assess the environmental degradation and the potential for ecological recovery through restoration.The methodology assigns financial value to ecosystem services, such as the provision of clean water, carbon storage and soil fertility that would result from restoration, thereby demonstrating how cost effective these efforts are.”We examined whether ecological restoration can be cost effective, based on the value of ecosystem services provided by restoration actions,” he explained. “This was undertaken by analysing the value of the increased provision of ecosystem services that could potentially be provided as a result of ecological restoration actions.”So successful is the methodology that it was used to inform the United Nations Environment Programme’s restoration targets and specifically ‘Target 15’ of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets to restore 15% of the world’s degraded ecosystems by 2020.The UN say these targets can be achieved through Forest Landscape Restoration, which is an approach developed, tested and refined by Professor Newton during the ReForLan project.”We examined how Forest Landscape Restoration may be implemented in practice, and evaluated the cost effectiveness of this approach and its benefit to human communities,” he explained.Professor Newton has demonstrated that at the heart of successful forest landscape restoration is a flexible and adaptive approach. It should allow communities to participate in the decision-making process, and enhance ecosystem service provision for those living within them.The Forest Landscape Restoration method has been heralded as the solution to restoring 150 million acres of degraded and deforested land. This target is part of a global movement, known as ‘Bonn Challenge’, named from its inception in Bonn, Germany in 2011. Individual countries have so far committed to restoring 50 million hectares of forest, which is a significant step towards achieving the policy goals.”This initiative directly employs the Forest Landscape Restoration approach that we researched, developed, tested and refined,” explains Professor Newton.He conclude, “Ecosystems are a rich source of biodiversity and the services they provide are relied upon by local people. The approach developed through the ReForLan project allows policy makers to identify locations where ecological restoration is most likely to be cost effective.”ReForLan was funded by the European Commission and the full title of the project is ‘Restoration of Forest Landscapes for Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Development’.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Bournemouth University. …

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Flipping the switch on scleroderma

Scleroderma is a rare and often fatal disease, causing the thickening of tissue, that currently lacks a cure and any effective treatments. A group of researchers, including a Michigan State University professor, is looking to change that.”Our findings provide a new approach to developing better treatment options where few have existed,” said Richard Neubig, chairperson of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.Neubig, along with several of his colleagues from the University of Michigan, have identified the core signaling pathway that activates the disease and the chemical compounds that can turn it off.”There are two kinds of scleroderma — localized and systemic — with the latter often proving to be life threatening,” said Neubig, who helped lead the study. “This research shows that by inhibiting this main signaling pathway, we can block fibrosis — the thickening of tissue that occurs with the disease.”For localized scleroderma patients, this process often happens in the skin resulting in loss of flexibility. Systemic sclerosis has the same effect with variable degree of skin fibrosis, but also can spread throughout the body hardening key organs such as the lungs, heart, gut and kidneys.Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder. It’s estimated 300,000 Americans suffer from the disease with about one-third of those having the systemic form. Localized scleroderma patients usually live normal lifespans. Yet about half of systemic patients, especially with widespread skin involvement and internal organ fibrosis, will see their lives cut short.”The majority of drug treatments that exist today for fibrosis basically look at reducing just the inflammation,” said Dinesh Khanna, associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and director of the Scleroderma Program at the University of Michigan. “There are other drugs that block one or two of the signaling pathways that cause the disease, but scleroderma has many of these pathways.”Neubig agrees and adds that this new research could significantly change the quality of life for scleroderma patients and greatly increase the lifespan of systemic patients.”Our research shows promise for the development of a new drug that can reverse the fibrosis process by flipping the main switch on all of the signaling pathways,” Neubig said. “By validating this core switch as a viable drug target, we can now continue our work to improve the chemical compounds so they will work with doses that are appropriate for people. It’s definitely promising.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. …

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Genetic cause of heart valve defects revealed

Heart valve defects are a common cause of death in newborns. Scientists at the University of Bonn and the caesar research center have discovered “Creld1” is a key gene for the development of heart valves in mice. The researchers were able to show that a similar Creld1 gene found in humans functions via the same signaling pathway as in the mouse. This discovery is an important step forward in the molecular understanding of the pathogenesis of heart valve defects. The findings have been published in the journal “Developmental Cell.”Atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD) is a congenital heart defect in which the heart valves and cardiac septum are malformed. Children with Down’s syndrome are particularly affected. Without surgical interventions, mortality in the first months of life is high. “Even in adults, unidentified valve defects occur in about six percent of patients with heart disease,” says Prof. Dr. Michael Hoch, Executive Director of the Life & Medical Sciences (LIMES) Institute of the University of Bonn.For years, there have been indications that changes in the so-called Creld1 gene (Cysteine-Rich with EGF-Like Domains 1) increase the pathogenic risk of AVSD. …

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Revolutionary solar cells double as lasers

Latest research finds that the trailblazing ‘perovskite’ material used in solar cells can double up as a laser, strongly suggesting the astonishing efficiency levels already achieved in these cells is only part of the journey.Commercial silicon-based solar cells — such as those seen on the roofs of houses across the country — operate at about 20% efficiency for converting the Sun’s rays into electrical energy. It’s taken over 20 years to achieve that rate of efficiency.A relatively new type of solar cell based on a perovskite material — named for scientist Lev Perovski, who first discovered materials with this structure in the Ural Mountains in the 19th century — was recently pioneered by an Oxford research team led by Professor Henry Snaith.Perovskite solar cells, the source of huge excitement in the research community, already lie just a fraction behind commercial silicon, having reached a remarkable 17% efficiency after a mere two years of research — transforming prospects for cheap large-area solar energy generation.Now, researchers from Professor Sir Richard Friend’s group at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory — working with Snaith’s Oxford group — have demonstrated that perovskite cells excel not just at absorbing light but also at emitting it. The new findings, recently published online in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, show that these ‘wonder cells’ can also produce cheap lasers.By sandwiching a thin layer of the lead halide perovskite between two mirrors, the team produced an optically driven laser which proves these cells “show very efficient luminescence” — with up to 70% of absorbed light re-emitted.The researchers point to the fundamental relationship, first established by Shockley and Queisser in 1961, between the generation of electrical charges following light absorption and the process of ‘recombination’ of these charges to emit light.Essentially, if a material is good at converting light to electricity, then it will be good at converting electricity to light. The lasing properties in these materials raise expectations for even higher solar cell efficiencies, say the Oxbridge team, which — given that perovskite cells are about to overtake commercial cells in terms of efficiency after just two years of development — is a thrilling prospect.”This first demonstration of lasing in these cheap solution-processed semiconductors opens up a range of new applications,” said lead author Dr Felix Deschler of the Cavendish Laboratory. “Our findings demonstrate potential uses for this material in telecommunications and for light emitting devices.”Most commercial solar cell materials need expensive processing to achieve a very low level of impurities before they show good luminescence and performance. Surprisingly these new materials work well even when very simply prepared as thin films using cheap scalable solution processing.The researchers found that upon light absorption in the perovskite two charges (electron and hole) are formed very quickly — within 1 picosecond — but then take anywhere up to a few microseconds to recombine. This is long enough for chemical defects to have ceased the light emission in most other semiconductors, such as silicon or gallium arsenide. “These long carrier lifetimes together with exceptionally high luminescence are unprecedented in such simply prepared inorganic semiconductors,” said Dr Sam Stranks, co-author from the Oxford University team.”We were surprised to find such high luminescence efficiency in such easily prepared materials. This has great implications for improvements in solar cell efficiency,” said Michael Price, co-author from the group in Cambridge.Added Snaith: “This luminescent behaviour is an excellent test for solar cell performance — poorer luminescence (as in amorphous silicon solar cells) reduces both the quantum efficiency (current collected) and also the cell voltage.”Scientists say that this new paper sets expectations for yet higher solar cell performance from this class of perovskite semiconductors. Solar cells are being scaled up for commercial deployment by the Oxford spin-out, Oxford PV Ltd. …

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Plant growth enhanced through promotion of pore opening

By inducing the pore opening of leaves, researchers at Nagoya University’s ITbM developed a strategy for enhancing photosynthesis and plant growth, which may be applied to crops and fuel plants to support global food production and a sustainable low-carbon society.By determining the key factor in regulating photosynthesis and plant growth, Professor Toshinori Kinoshita, Dr. Yin Wang and co-workers at Nagoya University’s Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (WPI-ITbM) have succeeded in developing a method to increase photosynthesis (carbon dioxide uptake) and plant growth through the promotion of stomatal opening. The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is expected to contribute to the promotion of plant production and towards the development of a sustainable low-carbon society.Stomata are small pores located on the surface of leaves that control gas exchange with the external environment, and are the primary inlet for the uptake of carbon dioxide. “Stomatal resistance, which suppresses gas exchange through the stomata, is considered to be the major limiting factor for carbon dioxide uptake by plants during photosynthesis,” explains Professor Kinoshita, “very few reports have existed focusing on the induction of stomatal opening. Therefore, we decided to develop a method to manipulate stomatal opening in view of increasing photosynthesis (carbon dioxide uptake) and plant production.”Kinoshita’s group has already revealed some of the key factors that mediate stomatal opening. The plasma membrane proton (H+)-ATPase or proton pump, an enzyme creating electrochemical gradients in the cell membranes of plants, has been identified as one of the key components. “An increase in photosynthesis (carbon dioxide uptake) by approximately 15% and a 1.4~1.6 times increase in plant growth of Arabidopsis plants was observed by enhanced stomatal opening achieved through overexpression of the proton pump in guard cells that surround the stomata pore,” elaborates Professor Kinoshita.Professor Kinoshita and his co-workers envisage that application of this method will contribute to the increase in the production of crops and fuel plants as well as towards the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Professor Kinoshita states, “Identifying that the manipulation of stomatal opening is the key limiting factor in photosynthesis and plant growth enables us to consider strategies to solve current issues in food production and carbon emissions.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (WPI-ITbM), Nagoya University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Stress impacts ability to get pregnant, study finds

Having difficulty getting pregnant can be an incredibly stressful experience for any couple. Now, for the first time, researchers have data that suggests preconception stress might play a role in infertility.Extending and corroborating their earlier study conducted in the UK that demonstrated an association between high levels of stress and a reduced probability of pregnancy, this work adds new insight by suggesting that stress is associated with an increased risk of infertility. The study findings appear online in the journal Human Reproduction.Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and colleagues found that women with high levels of alpha-amylase — a biological indicator of stress measured in saliva — are 29 percent less likely to get pregnant each month and are more than twice as likely to meet the clinical definition of infertility (remaining not pregnant despite 12 months of regular unprotected intercourse), compared to women with low levels of this protein enzyme.Researchers tracked 501 American women ages 18 to 40 years who were free from known fertility problems and had just started trying to conceive, and followed them for 12 months or until they became pregnant as part of the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study. Saliva samples were collected from participants the morning following enrollment and again the morning following the first day of their first study-observed menstrual cycle. Specimens were available for 373 women and were measured for the presence of salivary alpha-amylase and cortisol, two biomarkers of stress.”This is now the second study in which we have demonstrated that women with high levels of the stress biomarker salivary alpha-amylase have a lower probability of becoming pregnant, compared to women with low levels of this biomarker. For the first time, we’ve shown that this effect is potentially clinically meaningful, as it’s associated with a greater than two-fold increased risk of infertility among these women,” said Lynch, the principal investigator of the LIFE Study’s psychological stress protocol.Lynch said results of this research should encourage women who are experiencing difficulty getting pregnant to consider managing their stress using stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness. However, she said that couples should not blame themselves if they are experiencing fertility problems, as stress is not the only or most important factor involved in a woman’s ability to get pregnant.Germaine Buck Louis, director of the Division of Intramural Population Health Research of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the LIFE Study’s principal investigator, said, “Eliminating stressors before trying to become pregnant might shorten the time couples need to become pregnant in comparison to ignoring stress. The good news is that women most likely will know which stress reduction strategy works best for them, since a one-size-fits-all solution is not likely.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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‘RoboClam’ replicates a clam’s ability to burrow while using little energy

The Atlantic razor clam uses very little energy to burrow into undersea soil at high speed. Now a detailed insight into how the animal digs has led to the development of a robotic clam that can perform the same trick.The device, known as “RoboClam,” could be used to dig itself into the ground to bury anchors or destroy underwater mines, according to its developer, Amos Winter, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT.Despite its rigid shell, the Atlantic razor clam (Ensis directus) can move through soil at a speed of 1 centimeter per second. What’s more, the animal is able to dig up to 0.5 kilometers using only the amount of energy contained in a AA battery. “The clam’s trick is to move its shells in such a way as to liquefy the soil around its body, reducing the drag acting upon it,” Winter says. “This means it requires much less force to pull its shell into the soil than it would when moving through static soil.”To develop a robot that can perform the same trick, Winter and his co-developer, Anette Hosoi, professor of mechanical engineering and applied mathematics at MIT, needed to understand how the clam’s movement causes the soil to liquefy, or turn into quicksand, around its shell. Now, in a paper to be published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, the researchers reveal for the first time the mechanics behind this process, and describe how their robot is able to mimic this action.Mechanics of quicksandWhen the razor clam begins to dig, it first retracts its shell, releasing the stress between its body and the soil around it. This causes the soil to begin collapsing, creating a localized landslide around the animal. As the clam continues to contract, reducing its own volume, it sucks water into this region of failing soil. The water and sand particles mix, creating a fluidized substrate — quicksand.But the timing is crucial. …

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Child ADHD stimulant medication use leads to BMI rebound in late adolescence

A new study from researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that children treated with stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experienced slower body mass index (BMI) growth than their undiagnosed or untreated peers, followed by a rapid rebound of BMI that exceeded that of children with no history of ADHD or stimulant use and that could continue to obesity.The study, thought to be the most comprehensive analysis of ADHD and stimulant use in children to date, found that the earlier the medication began, and the longer the medication was taken, the slower the BMI growth in earlier childhood but the more rapid the BMI rebound in late adolescence, typically after discontinuation of medication. Researchers concluded that stimulant use, and not a diagnosis of ADHD, was associated with higher BMI and obesity. The study was published in Pediatrics.”Our findings should motivate greater attention to the possibility that longer-term stimulant use plays a role in the development of obesity in children,” said Brian S. Schwartz, MD, MS, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Epidemiology, and Medicine at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead author of the study. “Given the dramatic rise in ADHD diagnosis and stimulant treatment for it in recent decades, this is an interesting avenue of research regarding the childhood obesity epidemic, because the rises in each of these roughly parallel one another.”Previous research has found substantial evidence that stimulant use to treat ADHD is associated with growth deficits, and some evidence of growth delays. However, the reported associations of ADHD with obesity in both childhood and adulthood was paradoxical and somewhat unexplained. The results of this study suggest it is likely due to the strong influence that stimulants have on BMI growth, with delays in early childhood and a strong rebound in late adolescence. The study also found longitudinal evidence that unmedicated ADHD is associated with higher BMIs, but these effects were small.ADHD is one of the most common pediatric disorders, with a 9% prevalence among children in the U.S., and ADHD medication is the second most prescribed treatment among children. Over the past 30 years, treatment for ADHD with stimulants has increased rapidly. From 2007 to 2010, 4.2.% of children under age 18 had been prescribed stimulants in the past 30 days, more than five times the amount prescribed to the same-aged children between 1988 and 1984.The study analyzed the electronic health records of 163,820 children, ages 3 to 18, in the Geisinger Health System, a Pennsylvania-based integrated health services organization. …

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Better livestock diets to combat climate change, improve food security

Livestock production is responsible for 12% of human-related greenhouse gas emissions, primarily coming from land use change and deforestation caused by expansion of agriculture, as well as methane released by the animals themselves, with a lesser amount coming from manure management and feed production.”There is a lot of discussion about reduction of meat in the diets as a way to reduce emissions,” says IIASA researcher Petr Havlk, who led the study “But our results show that targeting the production side of agriculture is a much more efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that within the current systems, farmers would find it more profitable in coming years to expand livestock production in mixed systems — where livestock are fed on both grass as well as higher quality feed — rather than in pure grass-based systems. This development, would lead to a 23% reduction of emissions from land use change in the next two decades without any explicit climate mitigation policy.Cows, sheep, and goats grow more quickly and produce more milk when they eat energy-rich diets that include grain supplements or improved forages. This means that more livestock can be raised on less land, and with fewer emissions per pound of meat or milk produced.The new study projects that the increasing cost of land and continued yield increases in the crop sector will lead to shifts to richer animal diets in the future. Such diets are efficient not only from the perspective of greenhouse gas reduction, but also from farm profit maximization and food production.At a moderate price of US$10 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, livestock system transitions within a given region, together with international relocation of production to regions with the most efficient livestock systems could also reduce the total emissions from agriculture and land use change by 25%. Most of the savings would come from avoided land use change.Havlk says, “From the livestock sector perspective, limiting land use change seems the cheapest option both in terms of the economic cost and in terms of impact on food availability.”Previous work by the group produced a detailed database highlighting the differences in the efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions of different livestock production systems. The new study adds to this by examining the economic potential for a transition to more efficient systems as a mitigation measure, and which policies would be the most effective for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, while also maintaining food availability.The new study also introduces a new metric for measuring the costs of climate measures for agricultural systems, the Total Abatement Calorie Cost (TACC), which complements the pure economic metric known as “marginal abatement cost” while also capturing the impacts of mitigation measures on food security. Mario Herrero, a co-author of the study and a researcher at CSIRO, IIASA’s Australian National Member Organization, says, “Applying current metrics could lead to mitigation, but also food insecurity in developing countries, because it ignores the social cost of policies that focus just on greenhouse gas abatement.. So we developed a new metric which tells you how consumption would be affected as a result of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.”Changing livestock production systems remains a challenge. The researchers say that policies to provide education and market access are the keys for enabling change. In addition, they note that safeguards are needed to insure that the intensified agricultural production does not lead to environmental damage or reduce animal well-being.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. …

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Rapeseed-based animal feed cuts greenhouse gases by up to 13 per cent

The use of rapeseed cake in the production of livestock feed cuts methane and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 13%, according to the initial results of the research carried out by Neiker-Tecnalia within the framework of the Life-Seed Capital project. Specifically, the incorporation of this oilseed plant into animal food cuts methane emissions by between 6% and 13% and carbon dioxide emissions by between 6.8% and 13.6%.The introduction of this oilseed preparation into the diet of ruminants also improves efficiency in the use of digestible organic matter by between 4.4% and 10.1% and cuts the fermentation of the diet by between 6.2% and 11.8%, without adversely affecting its digestibility for this reason. Rapeseed cake, also known as ‘oil cake’, is a by-product obtained after pressing the plant to extract its oil.The Life-Seed Capital project is being funded by the European Union through its Life+ program and is being led by the Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development, Neiker-Tecnalia, and by the Multidisciplinary Centre for Industry Technologies CEMITEC. The project seeks to take advantage of rapeseed crops to improve agricultural productivity and, at the same time, to cut greenhouse gas emissions.The advantages of using this plant start from its use as a rotation crop, because it is capable of increasing cereal productivity and improving soil structure. Once it has been harvested, rapeseed can be used as a biofuel and added to diesel in varying proportions after simple cold pressing. A waste product in this process is used at the same time to produce animal feed with the resulting cost-cutting for farmers and greater efficiency in the emission of greenhouse gases.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Basque Research. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Gestational diabetes may raise risk for heart disease in midlife

Pregnant women may face an increased risk of early heart disease when they develop gestational diabetes, according to research in the Journal of the American Heart Association.Gestational diabetes, which develops only during pregnancy and usually disappears after the pregnancy, increases the risk that the mother will develop diabetes later. The condition is managed with meal planning, activity and sometimes insulin or other medications.In the 20-year study, researchers found that a history of gestational diabetes may be a risk factor for early atherosclerosis in women during midlife before the onset of diabetes and metabolic diseases.”Our research shows that just having a history of gestational diabetes elevates a woman’s risk of developing early, sub-clinical atherosclerosis before she develops type 2 diabetes or the metabolic syndrome,” said Erica P. Gunderson, Ph.D., M.S., M.P.H., study lead author and senior research scientist in the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, Calif. “Pregnancy has been under-recognized as an important time period that can signal a woman’s greater risk for future heart disease. This signal is revealed by gestational diabetes, a condition of elevated blood sugar during pregnancy.”At the start of the study, researchers measured risk factors for heart disease before pregnancy among 898 women, 18 to 30 years old, who later had one or more births. The women were periodically tested for diabetes and metabolic conditions before and after their pregnancies throughout the 20-year period. Carotid artery wall thickness was measured on average 12 years after pregnancy when women were 38 to 50 years old. The study controlled for age, race, number of births and pre-pregnancy body mass index, and fasting blood glucose, insulin, lipids, and blood pressure.Participants were divided into women who developed gestational diabetes and those who didn’t. Overall, 119 women (13 percent) reported they had developed gestational diabetes (7.6 per 100 deliveries).Carotid artery media thickness is an early measure of sub-clinical atherosclerosis and predicts heart attack and stroke in women. Researchers used ultrasound studies to image the carotid artery, with four measurements from the near and far wall thickness.Among the women who did not go on to develop diabetes or the metabolic syndrome during the 20- year follow up, they found a 0.023 mm larger average carotid artery intima-media thickness in those who had gestational diabetes compared to those who didn’t, and the difference was not attributed to obesity or elevated glucose before pregnancy.”This finding indicates that a history of gestational diabetes may influence development of early atherosclerosis before the onset of diabetes and metabolic diseases that previously have been linked to heart disease,” Gunderson said. …

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Boosting self-esteem prevents health problems for seniors

The importance of boosting self-esteem is normally associated with the trials and tribulations of adolescence. But new research from Concordia University shows that it’s even more important for older adults to maintain and improve upon those confidence levels as they enter their twilight years. That’s because boosting self-esteem can help buffer potential health threats typically associated with the transition into older adulthood.A new study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, led by psychology researchers Sarah Liu and Carsten Wrosch from Concordia University’s Centre for Research in Human Development found that boosting self-esteem can buffer potential health threats in seniors.While previous research focused on self-esteem levels, Liu and Wrosch examined changes to self-esteem within each individual over time. They found that if an individual’s self-esteem decreased, the stress hormone cortisol increased — and vice versa. This association was particularly strong for participants who already had a history of stress or depression.The research team met with 147 adults aged 60 and over to measure their cortisol levels, self-esteem, stress, and symptoms of depression every 24 months over four years. Self-esteem was measured through standard questions, such as whether the participant felt worthless. The study also took into account personal and health factors like economic status, whether the participant was married or single, and mortality risk.Results showed that maintaining or even improving self-esteem could help prevent health problems. “Because self-esteem is associated with psychological wellbeing and physical health, raising self-esteem would be an ideal way to help prevent health problems later in life,” says Liu.While it’s easier said than done to tell an older adult to “go out and make more friends, or simply enhance their feelings of self-worth,” says Liu from a practical standpoint, such steps improve self-esteem.”Improving self-esteem provides real health benefits in seniors,” says Liu. “The ultimate solution may be to prevent self esteem from declining.”While this study looked at cortisol levels, Liu says future research could examine immune function to further illuminate how increases in self-esteem can contribute to patterns of healthy aging.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Concordia University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Are you smarter than a 5-year-old? Preschoolers can do algebra

Millions of high school and college algebra students are united in a shared agony over solving for x and y, and for those to whom the answers don’t come easily, it gets worse: Most preschoolers and kindergarteners can do some algebra before even entering a math class.In a just-published study in the journal Developmental Science, lead author and post-doctoral fellow Melissa Kibbe and Lisa Feigenson, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, find that most preschoolers and kindergarteners, or children between 4 and 6, can do basic algebra naturally.”These very young children, some of whom are just learning to count, and few of whom have even gone to school yet, are doing basic algebra and with little effort,” Kibbe said. “They do it by using what we call their ‘Approximate Number System:’ their gut-level, inborn sense of quantity and number.”The “Approximate Number System,” or ANS, is also called “number sense,” and describes humans’ and animals’ ability to quickly size up the quantity of objects in their everyday environments. Humans and a host of other animals are born with this ability and it’s probably an evolutionary adaptation to help human and animal ancestors survive in the wild, scientists say.Previous research has revealed some interesting facts about number sense, including that adolescents with better math abilities also had superior number sense when they were preschoolers, and that number sense peaks at age 35.Kibbe, working in Feigenson’s lab, wondered whether preschool-age children could harness that intuitive mathematical ability to solve for a hidden variable, or in other words, to do something akin to basic algebra before they ever received formal classroom mathematics instruction. The answer was “yes,” at least when the algebra problem was acted out by two furry stuffed animals — Gator and Cheetah — using “magic cups” filled with objects like buttons, plastic doll shoes and pennies.In the study, children sat down individually with an examiner who introduced them to the two characters, each of whom had a cup filled with an unknown quantity of items. Children were told that each character’s cup would “magically” add more items to a pile of objects already sitting on a table. But children were not allowed to see the number of objects in either cup: they only saw the pile before it was added to, and after, so they had to infer approximately how many objects Gator’s cup and Cheetah’s cup contained.At the end, the examiner pretended that she had mixed up the cups, and asked the children — after showing them what was in one of the cups — to help her figure out whose cup it was. The majority of the children knew whose cup it was, a finding that revealed for the researchers that the pint-sized participants had been solving for a missing quantity, which is the essence of doing basic algebra.”What was in the cup was the x and y variable, and children nailed it,” said Feigenson, director of Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Child Development. “Gator’s cup was the x variable and Cheetah’s cup was the y variable. We found out that young children are very, very good at this. It appears that they are harnessing their gut level number sense to solve this task.”If this kind of basic algebraic reasoning is so simple and natural for 4, 5 and 6-year-olds, the question remains why it is so difficult for teens and others.”One possibility is that formal algebra relies on memorized rules and symbols that seem to trip many people up,” Feigenson said. …

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First animals oxygenated the ocean

The evolution of the first animals may have oxygenated the earth’s oceans — contrary to the traditional view that a rise in oxygen triggered their development.New research led by the University of Exeter contests the long held belief that oxygenation of the atmosphere and oceans was a pre-requisite for the evolution of complex life forms.The study, published today in the leading journal Nature Geoscience, builds on the recent work of scientists in Denmark who found that sponges — the first animals to evolve — require only small amounts of oxygen.Professor Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter, who led the new study, said: “There had been enough oxygen in ocean surface waters for over 1.5 billion years before the first animals evolved, but the dark depths of the ocean remained devoid of oxygen. We argue that the evolution of the first animals could have played a key role in the widespread oxygenation of the deep oceans. This in turn may have facilitated the evolution of more complex, mobile animals.”The researchers considered mechanisms by which the deep ocean could have been oxygenated during the Neoproterozoic Era (from 1,000 to 542 million years ago) without requiring an increase in atmospheric oxygen.Crucial to determining oxygen levels in the deep ocean is the balance of oxygen supply and demand. Demand for oxygen is created by the sinking of dead organic material into the deep ocean. The new study argues that the first animals reduced this supply of organic matter — both directly and indirectly.Sponges feed by pumping water through their bodies, filtering out tiny particles of organic matter from the water, and thus helping oxygenate the shelf seas that they live in. This naturally selects for larger phytoplankton — the tiny plants of the ocean — which sink faster, also reducing oxygen demand in the water.By oxygenating more of the bottom waters of shelf seas, the first filter-feeding animals inadvertently increased the removal of the essential nutrient phosphorus in the ocean. This in turn reduced the productivity of the whole ocean ecosystem, suppressing oxygen demand and thus oxygenating the deep ocean.A more oxygen-rich ocean created ideal conditions for more mobile animals to evolve, because they have a higher requirement for oxygen. These included the first predatory animals with guts that started to eat one another, marking the beginning of a modern marine biosphere, with the type of food webs we are familiar with today.Professor Lenton added: “The effects we predict suggest that the first animals, far from being a passive response to rising atmospheric oxygen, were the active agents that oxygenated the ocean around 600 million years ago. They created a world in which more complex animals could evolve, including our very distant ancestors.”Professor Simon Poulton of the University of Leeds, who is a co-author of the study, added: ″This study provides a plausible mechanism for ocean oxygenation without the requirement for a rise in atmospheric oxygen. It therefore questions whether the long-standing belief that there was a major rise in atmospheric oxygen at this time is correct. …

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Inherited Alzheimer’s damage greater decades before symptoms appear

The progression of Alzheimer’s may slow once symptoms appear and do significant damage , according to a study investigating an inherited form of the disease.In a paper published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, Professor Colin Masters from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and University of Melbourne — and colleagues in the UK and US — have found rapid neuronal damage begins 10 to 20 years before symptoms appear.”As part of this research we have observed other changes in the brain that occur when symptoms begin to appear. There is actually a slowing of the neurodegeneration,” said Professor Masters. Autosomal-dominant Alzheimer’s affects families with a genetic mutation, predisposing them to the crippling disease. These families provide crucial insight into the development of Alzheimer’s because they can be identified years before symptoms develop. The information gleaned from this group will also influence treatment offered to those living with the more common age-related version. Only about one per cent of those with Alzheimer’s have the genetic type of the disease.The next part of the study involves a clinical trial. Using a range of imaging techniques (MRI and PET) and analysis of blood and cerebrospinal fluid, individuals from the US, UK and Australia will be observed as they trial new drugs to test their safety, side effects and changes within the brain.”As part of an international study, family members are invited to be part of a trial in which two experimental drugs are offered many years before symptoms appear,” Prof Masters says. “It’s going to be very interesting to see how clinical intervention affects this group of patients in the decades before symptoms appear.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Melbourne. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Climate change puts wheat crops at risk of disease

There is a risk that severity of epidemics of some wheat diseases may increase within the next ten to twenty years due to the impacts of climate change according to a study by international researchers led by the University of Hertfordshire.The researchers carried out a survey in China to establish a link between weather and the severity of epidemics of fusarium ear blight on the wheat crops. This weather-based model was then used to predict the impact on severity of the disease of future weather scenarios for the period from 2020 to 2050.Professor Bruce Fitt, professor of plant pathology at the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Medical and Life Sciences, said: “There is considerable debate about the impact of climate change on crop production — and making sure that we have sufficient food to feed the ever-growing global population is key to our future food security.”Wheat, one of the world’s most important crops for human food, is milled for use in bread, breakfast cereals, cakes, pizzas, confectionery, soups and many other foodstuffs. Fusarium ear blight is a serious disease affecting wheat across many areas of the world. During severe epidemics, wheat crop losses can be as much as sixty per cent. These losses can become larger as, under certain conditions, the fusarium pathogen produces toxic chemicals known as mycotoxins. The levels of mycotoxins present in the grain may render it unsuitable for either human or animal consumption — the mycotoxin safe levels being controlled by legislation.Professor Fitt continued: “We know that the weather plays a big part in the development of the disease on the wheat crops — the incidence of the disease is determined by temperature and the occurrence of wet weather at the flowering or anthesis of the wheat crops.”When the weather-based model developed at Rothamsted Research was used to predict how climate change may affect the wheat crops, it was predicted that wheat flowering dates will generally be earlier and the incidence of the ear blight disease on the wheat crops will substantially increase.The research suggests that climate change will increase the risk of serious ear blight epidemics on winter wheat in Central China by the middle of this century (2020-2050).Similar conclusions were reached about impacts of climate change on wheat in the UK, where climate change models are predicting warmer, wetter winters for the country. This suggests that the UK too will suffer a greater incidence of fusarium ear blight on wheat crops — greatly affecting one of our biggest staple crops.In a world where more than one billion people do not have enough to eat, and our future food security is threatened by climate change and an ever-growing population, it is essential to improve the control of crop diseases like fusarium ear blight around the globe.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Hertfordshire. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Vibration energy the secret to self-powered electronics

A multi-university team of engineers has developed what could be a promising solution for charging smartphone batteries on the go — without the need for an electrical cord.Incorporated directly into a cell phone housing, the team’s nanogenerator could harvest and convert vibration energy from a surface, such as the passenger seat of a moving vehicle, into power for the phone. “We believe this development could be a new solution for creating self-charged personal electronics,” says Xudong Wang, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.Wang, his Ph.D. student Yanchao Mao and collaborators from Sun Yat-sen University in China, and the University of Minnesota Duluth described their device, a mesoporous piezoelectric nanogenerator, in the January 27, 2014, issue of the journal Advanced Energy Materials.The nanogenerator takes advantage of a common piezoelectric polymer material called polyvinylidene fluoride, or PVDF. Piezoelectric materials can generate electricity from a mechanical force; conversely, they also can generate a mechanical strain from an applied electrical field.Rather than relying on a strain or an electrical field, the researchers incorporated zinc oxide nanoparticles into a PVDF thin film to trigger formation of the piezoelectric phase that enables it to harvest vibration energy. Then, they etched the nanoparticles off the film; the resulting interconnected pores — called “mesopores” because of their size — cause the otherwise stiff material to behave somewhat like a sponge.That sponge-like material is key to harvesting vibration energy. “The softer the material, the more sensitive it is to small vibrations,” says Wang.The nanogenerator itself includes thin electrode sheets on the front and back of the mesoporous polymer film, and the researchers can attach this soft, flexible film seamlessly to flat, rough or curvy surfaces, including human skin. In the case of a cell phone, it uses the phone’s own weight to enhance its displacement and amplify its electrical output.The nanogenerator could become an integrated part of an electronic device — for example, as its back panel or housing — and automatically harvest energy from ambient vibrations to power the device directly.Wang says the simplicity of his team’s design and fabrication process could scale well to larger manufacturing settings. “We can create tunable mechanical properties in the film,” he says. “And also important is the design of the device. Because we can realize this structure, phone-powering cases or self-powered sensor systems might become possible.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. …

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Using holograms to improve electronic devices

A team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering and Russian Academy of Science have demonstrated a new type of holographic memory device that could provide unprecedented data storage capacity and data processing capabilities in electronic devices.The new type of memory device uses spin waves — a collective oscillation of spins in magnetic materials — instead of the optical beams. Spin waves are advantageous because spin wave devices are compatible with the conventional electronic devices and may operate at a much shorter wavelength than optical devices, allowing for smaller electronic devices that have greater storage capacity.Experimental results obtained by the team show it is feasible to apply holographic techniques developed in optics to magnetic structures to create a magnonic holographic memory device. The research combines the advantages of the magnetic data storage with the wave-based information transfer.”The results open a new field of research, which may have tremendous impact on the development of new logic and memory devices,” said Alexander Khitun, the lead researcher, who is a research professor at UC Riverside.There are three co-authors of the paper: Frederick Gertz, a graduate student who works with Khitun at UC Riverside, and A. Kozhevnikov and Y. Filimonov, both of the Russian Academy of Sciences.Holography is a technique based on the wave nature of light which allows the use of wave interference between the object beam and the coherent background. It is commonly associated with images being made from light, such as on driver’s licenses or paper currency. However, this is only a narrow field of holography.The first holograms were designed in the last 1940s for use with electron microscopes. A decade later, with the advent of the laser, optical holographic images were popularized. Since, other fields have significantly advanced by using wave interference to produce holograms, including acoustic holograms used in seismic applications and microwave holography used in radar systems.Holography has been also recognized as a future data storing technology with unprecedented data storage capacity and ability to write and read a large number of data in a highly parallel manner.Khitun has been working for more than nine years to develop logic device exploiting spin waves. Most of his initial research was focused on the development of spin wave-based logic circuits similar to the ones currently used in the computers.A critical moment occurred last year when he decided the device didn’t need to replace the computer’s electronic circuits. …

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