Rising temperatures hinder Indian wheat production

Geographers at the University of Southampton have found a link between increasing average temperatures in India and a reduction in wheat production.Researchers Dr John Duncan, Dr Jadu Dash and Professor Pete Atkinson have shown that recent warmer temperatures in the country’s major wheat belt are having a negative effect on crop yield. More specifically, they found a rise in nighttime temperatures is having the most impact.Dr Jadu Dash comments: “Our findings highlight the vulnerability of India’s wheat production system to temperature rise, which is predicted to continue in the coming decades as a consequence of climate change. We are sounding an early warning to the problem, which could have serious implications in the future and so needs further investigation.”The researchers used satellite images taken at weekly intervals from 2002 to 2007 of the wheat growing seasons to measure ‘vegetation greenness’ of the crop — acting as an indicator of crop yield. The satellite imagery, of the north west Indo-Gangetic plains, was taken at a resolution of 500m squared — high enough to capture variations in local agricultural practices. The data was then compared with climate and temperature information for the area to examine the effect on growth and development of the crop.The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, found that:warmer temperature events have reduced crop yield in particular, warmer temperatures during the reproductive and grain-filling (ripening) periods had a significant negative impact on productivity warmer minimum daily temperatures (nighttime temperatures) had the most significant impact on yield In some areas of the Indian wheat belt, growers have been bringing forward their growing season in order to align the most sensitive point of the crop growth cycle with a cooler period. However, the researchers have also shown that in the long-term this will not be an effective way of combating the problem, because of the high level of average temperature rise predicted for the future.Dr Dash comments: “Our study shows that, over the longer period, farmers are going to have to think seriously about changing their wheat to more heat tolerant varieties in order to prevent temperature-induced yield losses.”Currently in India, 213 million people are food insecure and over 100 million are reliant on the national food welfare system, which uses huge quantities of wheat. This underlines how crucial it is to consider what types of wheat need to be grown in the coming decades to secure production.”We hope that soon, we will be able to examine agricultural practices in even greater detail — with the launch of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites which will provide regular data at even higher spatial resolution.”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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Researchers work to save endangered New England cottontail

Scientists with the NH Agricultural Experiment Station are working to restore New Hampshire and Maine’s only native rabbit after new research based on genetic monitoring has found that in the last decade, cottontail populations in northern New England have become more isolated and seen a 50 percent contraction of their range.The endangered New England cottontail is now is at risk of becoming extinct in the region, according to NH Agricultural Experiment Station researchers at the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture who believe that restoring habitats is the key to saving the species.”The New England cottontail is a species of great conservation concern in the Northeast. This is our only native rabbit and is an integral component of the native New England wildlife. Maintaining biodiversity gives resilience to our landscape and ecosystems,” said NHAES researcher Adrienne Kovach, research associate professor of natural resources at UNH.New England cottontails have been declining for decades. However, NHAES researchers have found that in the last decade, the New England cottontail population in New Hampshire and Maine has contracted by 50 percent; a decade ago, cottontails were found as far north as Cumberland, Maine.The majority of research on New England cottontails has come out of UNH, much of it under the leadership of John Litvaitis, professor of wildlife ecology, who has studied the New England cottontail for three decades. Kovach’s research expands on this knowledge by using DNA analysis to provide new information on the cottontail’s status, distribution, genetic diversity, and dispersal ecology.The greatest threat and cause of the decline of the New England cottontail is the reduction and fragmentation of their habitat, Kovach said. Fragmentation of habitats occurs when the cottontail’s habitat is reduced or eliminated due to the maturing of forests or land development. Habitats also can become fragmented by roads or natural landscape features, such as bodies of water.”Cottontails require thicketed habitats, which progress from old fields to young forests. Once you have a more mature forest, the cottontail habitat is reduced. A lot of other species rely on these thicket habitats, including bobcats, birds, and reptiles. Many thicket-dependent species are on decline, and the New England cottontail is a representative species for this kind of habitat and its conservation,” Kovach said.Kovach explained that for cottontail and most animal populations to be healthy and grow, it is important for adult animals to leave the place where they were born and relocate to a new habitat, which is known as dispersal. …

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Fire ecology manipulation by California native cultures

Before the colonial era, 100,000s of people lived on the land now called California, and many of their cultures manipulated fire to control the availability of plants they used for food, fuel, tools, and ritual. Contemporary tribes continue to use fire to maintain desired habitat and natural resources.Frank Lake, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Station, will lead a field trip to the Stone Lake National Wildlife Refuge during the Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting in Sacramento, Cal., this August. Visitors will learn about plant and animal species of cultural importance to local tribes. Don Hankins, a faculty associate at California State University at Chico and a member of the Miwok people, will co-lead the trip, which will end with a visit to California State Indian Museum.Lake will also host a special session on a “sense of place,” sponsored by the Traditional Ecological Knowledge section of the Ecological Society, that will bring representatives of local tribes into the Annual Meeting to share their cultural and professional experiences working on tribal natural resources issues.”The fascinating thing about the Sacramento Valley and the Miwok lands where we are taking the field trip is that it was a fire and flood system,” said Lake. “To maintain the blue and valley oak, you need an anthropogenic fire system.”Lake, raised among the Yurok and Karuk tribes in the Klamath River area of northernmost California, began his career with an interest in fisheries, but soon realized he would need to understand fire to restore salmon. Fire exerts a powerful effect on ecosystems, including the quality and quantity of water available in watersheds, in part by reducing the density of vegetation.”Those trees that have grown up since fire suppression are like straws sucking up the groundwater,” Lake said.The convergence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers was historically one of the largest salmon bearing runs on the West Coast, Lake said, and the Miwok, Patwin and Yokut tribal peoples who lived in the area saw and understood how fire was involved.California native cultures burned patches of forest in deliberate sequence to diversify the resources available within their region. The first year after a fire brought sprouts for forage and basketry. In 3 to 5 years, shrubs produced a wealth of berries. Mature trees remained for the acorn harvest, but burning also made way for the next generation of trees, to ensure a consistent future crop. …

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Biologist warn of early stages of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event

The planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point.In a new review of scientific literature and analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the early days of the planet’s sixth mass biological extinction event.Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.And while previous extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated to human activity, a situation that the lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford, designates an era of “Anthropocene defaunation.”Across vertebrates, 16 to 33 percent of all species are estimated to be globally threatened or endangered. Large animals — described as megafauna and including elephants, rhinoceroses, polar bears and countless other species worldwide — face the highest rate of decline, a trend that matches previous extinction events.Larger animals tend to have lower population growth rates and produce fewer offspring. They need larger habitat areas to maintain viable populations. Their size and meat mass make them easier and more attractive hunting targets for humans.Although these species represent a relatively low percentage of the animals at risk, their loss would have trickle-down effects that could shake the stability of other species and, in some cases, even human health.For instance, previous experiments conducted in Kenya have isolated patches of land from megafauna such as zebras, giraffes and elephants, and observed how an ecosystem reacts to the removal of its largest species. Rather quickly, these areas become overwhelmed with rodents. Grass and shrubs increase and the rate of soil compaction decreases. Seeds and shelter become more easily available, and the risk of predation drops.Consequently, the number of rodents doubles — and so does the abundance of the disease-carrying ectoparasites that they harbor.”Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission,” said Dirzo, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. …

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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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Increasing diversity of marketable raspberries

Raspberries are the third most popular berry in the United States. Their popularity is growing as a specialty crop for the wholesale industry and in smaller, local markets, and U-pick operations. As consumer interest in the health benefits of colorful foods increases, small growers are capitalizing on novelty fruit and vegetable crops such as different-colored raspberries. Authors of a newly published study say that increasing the diversity of raspberry colors in the market will benefit both consumers and producers. “Producers will need to know how fruit of the other color groups compare with red raspberries with regard to the many postharvest qualities,” noted the University of Maryland’s Julia Harshman, corresponding author of the study published in HortScience (March 2014).Raspberries have an extremely short shelf life, which can be worsened by postharvest decay. Postharvest susceptibility to gray mold (Botrytis cinerea) drastically reduces the shelf life of this delicate fruit. “The main goal of our research was to compare the postharvest quality of different-colored raspberries that were harvested from floricanes under direct-market conditions with minimal pesticide inputs,” Harshman said. The researchers said that, although there is abundant information in the literature regarding red raspberry production in regard to gray mold, very little research has been conducted on postharvest physiology of black, yellow, or purple raspberries.The researchers analyzed 17 varieties of raspberries at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, examining each cultivar for characteristics such as anthocyanins, soluble solids, titratable acids, pH, color, firmness, decay and juice leakage rates, ethylene evolution, and respiration.”In comparing the four commonly grown colors of raspberry, we drew several important conclusions,” they said. “The mechanisms controlling decay and juice leakage are distinct and mediated by both biotic and abiotic factors. The colors that performed well for one area are opposite the ones that did well in the other.” For example, firmness was expected to track closely with either leakage or decay resistance; however, the analyses did not indicate this.Red raspberries, in comparison with the other three colors analyzed during the study, had the highest titratable acids (TA) and the lowest ratio of soluble solids to TA, which, the authors say, accounts for the tart raspberry flavor consumers expect.Yellow raspberries had the lowest levels of anthocyanins and phenolics. …

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Microscopic organism plays a big role in ocean carbon cycling

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

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East African honeybees safe from invasive pests … for now

Several parasites and pathogens that devastate honeybees in Europe, Asia and the United States are spreading across East Africa, but do not appear to be impacting native honeybee populations at this time, according to an international team of researchers.The invasive pests include including Nosema microsporidia and Varroa mites.”Our East African honeybees appear to be resilient to these invasive pests, which suggests to us that the chemicals used to control pests in Europe, Asia and the United States currently are not necessary in East Africa,” said Elliud Muli, senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, South Eastern Kenya University, and researcher at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Kenya.The team first discovered Varroa mites in Kenya in 2009. This new study also provides baseline data for future analyses of possible threats to African honeybee populations.”Kenyan beekeepers believe that bee populations have been experiencing declines in recent years, but our results suggest that the common causes for colony losses in the United States and Europe — parasites, pathogens and pesticides — do not seem to be affecting Kenyan bees, at least not yet,” said Christina Grozinger, professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Penn State. “Some of our preliminary data suggest that the loss of habitat and drought impacting flowering plants, from which the bees get all their food, may be the more important factor driving these declines.”According to Harland Patch, research scientist in entomology, Penn State, not only are flowering plants important for honeybees, but the insects are important for plants as well.”Honeybees are pollinators of untold numbers of plants in every ecosystem on the African continent,” Patch said. “They pollinate many food crops as well as those important for economic development, and their products, like honey and wax, are vital to the livelihood of many families. People say the greatest animal in Africa is the lion or the elephant, but honeybees are more essential, and their decline would have profound impacts across the continent.”In 2010, the researchers conducted a nationwide survey of 24 locations across Kenya to evaluate the numbers and sizes of honeybee colonies, assess the presence or absence of Varroa and Nosema parasites and viruses, identify and measure pesticide contaminants in hives and determine the genetic composition of the colonies.”This is the first comprehensive survey of bee health in East Africa, where we have examined diseases, genetics and the environment to better understand what factors are most important in bee health in this region,” said Grozinger. The results appeared today in PLOS ONE.The researchers found that Varroa mites were present throughout Kenya, except in the remote north. In addition, Varroa numbers increased with elevation, suggesting that environmental factors may play a role in honeybee host-parasite interactions. Most importantly, the team found that while Varroa infestation dramatically reduces honeybee colony survival in the United States and Europe, in Kenya, its presence alone does not appear to impact colony size.The scientists found Nosema at three sites along the coast and one interior site. At all of the sites, they found only a small number of pesticides at low concentrations. Of the seven common honeybee viruses in the United States and Europe, the team only identified three species, but, like Varroa, these species were absent from northern Kenya. …

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Carbon loss from soil accelerating climate change

Research published in Science today found that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause soil microbes to produce more carbon dioxide, accelerating climate change.Two Northern Arizona University researchers led the study, which challenges previous understanding about how carbon accumulates in soil. Increased levels of CO2 accelerate plant growth, which causes more absorption of CO2 through photosynthesis.Until now, the accepted belief was that carbon is then stored in wood and soil for a long time, slowing climate change. Yet this new research suggests that the extra carbon provides fuel to microorganisms in the soil whose byproducts (such as CO2) are released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.”Our findings mean that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought,” said Kees Jan van Groenigen, research fellow at the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and lead author of the study. “By overlooking this effect of increased CO2 on soil microbes, models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have overestimated the potential of soil to store carbon and mitigate the greenhouse effect.”In order to better understand how soil microbes respond to the changing atmosphere, the study’s authors utilized statistical techniques that compare data to models and test for general patterns across studies. They analyzed published results from 53 different experiments in forests, grasslands and agricultural fields around the world. These experiments all measured how extra CO2 in the atmosphere affects plant growth, microbial production of carbon dioxide, and the total amount of soil carbon at the end of the experiment.”We’ve long thought soils to be a stable, safe place to store carbon, but our results show soil carbon is not as stable as we previously thought,” said Bruce Hungate, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU and study author. “We should not be complacent about continued subsidies from nature in slowing climate change.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Northern Arizona University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Protein researchers closing in on the mystery of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe disease for which there is still no effective medical treatment. In an attempt to understand exactly what happens in the brain of schizophrenic people, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have analysed proteins in the brains of rats that have been given hallucinogenic drugs. This may pave the way for new and better medicines.Seven per cent of the adult population suffer from schizophrenia, and although scientists have tried for centuries to understand the disease, they still do not know what causes the disease or which physiological changes it causes in the body. Doctors cannot make the diagnosis by looking for specific physiological changes in the patient’s blood or tissue, but have to diagnose from behavioral symptoms.In an attempt to find the physiological signature of schizophrenia, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have conducted tests on rats, and they now believe that the signature lies in some specific, measurable proteins. Knowing these proteins and comparing their behavior to proteins in the brains of not-schizophrenic people may make it possible to develop more effective drugs.It is extremely difficult to study brain activity in schizophrenic people, which is why researchers often use animal models in their strive to understand the mysteries of the schizophrenic brain. Rat brains resemble human brains in so many ways that studying them makes sense if one wants to learn more about the human brain.Schizophrenic symptoms in ratsThe strong hallucinogenic drug phenocyclidine (PCP), also known as “angel’s dust,” provides a range of symptoms in people which are very similar to schizophrenia.”When we give PCP to rats, the rats become valuable study objects for schizophrenia researchers,” explains Ole Nrregaard Jensen, professor and head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.Along with Pawel Palmowski, Adelina Rogowska-Wrzesinska and others, he is the author of a scientific paper about the discovery, published in the international Journal of Proteome Research.Among the symptoms and reactions that can be observed in both humans and rats are changes in movement and reduced cognitive functions such as impaired memory, attention and learning ability.”Scientists have studied PCP rats for decades, but until now no one really knew what was going on in the rat brains at the molecular level. We now present what we believe to be the largest proteomics data set to date,” says Ole Nrregaard Jensen.PCP is absorbed very quickly by the brain, and it only stays in the brain for a few hours. Therefore, it was important for researchers to examine the rats’ brain cells soon after the rats were injected with the hallucinogenic drug.”We could see changes in the proteins in the brain already after 15 minutes. And after 240 minutes, it was almost over,” says Ole Nrregaard Jensen.The University of Southern Denmark holds some of the world’s most advanced equipment for studying proteins, and Ole Nrregaard Jensen and his colleagues used the university’s so-called mass spectrometres for their protein studies.352 proteins cause brain changes”We found 2604 proteins, and in 352 of them, we saw changes that can be associated with the PCP injections. These 352 proteins will be extremely interesting to study in closer detail to see if they also alter in people with schizophrenia — and if that’s the case, it will of course be interesting to try to develop a drug that can prevent the protein changes that lead to schizophrenia,” says Ole Nrregaard Jensen about the discovery and the work that now lies ahead.The 352 proteins in rat brains responded immediately when the animals were exposed to PCP. …

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Humans and saber-toothed tiger met in Germany 300,000 years ago

Scientists of the Lower Saxony Heritage Authority and of the University of Tbingen excavating at the Schningen open-cast coal mine in north-central Germany have discovered the remains of a saber-toothed cat preserved in a layer some 300,000 years old — the same stratum in which wooden spears were found, indicating that early humans also inhabited the area, which at that time was the bank of a shallow lake.The discovery sheds new light on the relationship between early humans and beasts of prey. It is highly likely that humans were confronted by saber-toothed cats at the Schningen lakeside. In that case, all the human could do was grab his up to 2.3m long spear and defend himself. In this context, the Schningen spears must be regarded as weapons for defense as well as hunting — a vital tool for human survival in Europe 300,000 years ago.Officials from the Lower Saxony heritage authority and archaeologists from the Universities of Tbingen and Leiden uncovered a first tooth of a young adult Homotherium latidens in October 2012. Measuring more than a meter at the shoulder and weighing some 200kg, the saber-tooth was no pussycat. It had razor-sharp claws and deadly jaws with upper-jaw canines more than 10cm long.The find shows that the saber-toothed cat died out later in central Europe than previously believed. Along with the sensational wooden spears, the same level has yielded bones and stone tools indicating that early humans — probably Homo heidelbergenis — hunted horses and camped along a 100m stretch of the lakeside.The new finds demonstrate that a long time before anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens have reached Europe some 40,000 years ago, early man was able to defend himself against highly dangerous animals with his weapon technology. The results of the researchers’ study have just been published in a report by the Lower Saxony heritage authority, the Niederschsisches Landesamt fr Denkmalpflege.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Universitaet Tbingen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Inspiration linked to bipolar disorder risk

Inspiration has been linked with people at risk of developing bipolar disorder for the first time in a study led by Lancaster University.For generations, artists, musicians, poets and writers have described personal experiences of mania and depression, highlighting the unique association between creativity and bipolar disorder — experiences which are backed up by recent research. But, until now, the specific links between inspiration — the generation of ideas that form the basis of creative work — and bipolar disorder has received little attention.New research by Professor by Steven Jones and Dr Alyson Dodd, of Lancaster University, and Dr June Gruber at Yale University, has shown people at higher risk for developing bipolar disorder consistently report stronger experiences of inspiration than those at lower risk.The paper ‘Development and Validation of a New Multidimensional Measure of Inspiration: Associations with Risk for Bipolar Disorder’, published in PLOS One this week, found a specific link between those people who found their source of inspiration within themselves and risk for bipolar disorder.Professor Jones, co-director of Lancaster University’s Spectrum Centre, said: “It appears that the types of inspiration most related to bipolar vulnerability are those which are self-generated and linked with strong drive for success.”Understanding more about inspiration is important because it is a key aspect of creativity which is highly associated with mental health problems, in particular bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder highly value creativity as a positive aspect of their condition. This is relevant to clinicians, as people with bipolar disorder may be unwilling to engage with treatments and therapies which compromise their creativity.”As part of the study, 835 undergraduate students were recruited to complete online questionnaires from both Yale University in the U.S. and Lancaster University in the U.K.They were asked to complete a questionaire which measured their bipolar risk using a widely-used and well-validated 48-item measure which captures episodic shifts in emotion, behaviour, and energy called The Hypomanic Personality Scale (HPS).They also completed a new questionnaire developed by the team which was designed to explore beliefs about inspiration, in particular the sources of inspiration — whether individuals thought it came from within themselves, from others or the wider environment. This measure was called the the EISI (External and Internal Sources of Inspiration) measure.The students who scored highly for a risk of bipolar also consistently scored more highly than the others for levels of inspiration and for inspiration which they judged to have come from themselves.Researchers say, although this pattern was consistent, the effect sizes were relatively modest so, although inspiration and bipolar risk are linked, it is important to explore other variables to get a fuller picture and to conduct further research with individuals with a clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder.The research team is currently inviting UK-based individuals with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder to take part in an online survey exploring associations between inspiration, mood and recovery. Go to: www.thinkingstyle.spectrumdevelopment.org.uk.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Lancaster University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Health costs of air pollution from agriculture clarified

Ammonia pollution from agricultural sources poses larger health costs than previously estimated, according to NASA-funded research.Harvard University researchers Fabien Paulot and Daniel Jacob used computer models including a NASA model of chemical reactions in the atmosphere to better represent how ammonia interacts in the atmosphere to form harmful particulate matter. The improved simulation helped the scientists narrow in on the estimated health costs from air pollution associated with food produced for export — a growing sector of agriculture and a source of trade surplus.”The ‘cost’ is an economic concept to measure how much people are willing to pay to avoid a risk,” Paulot said. “This is used to quantify the cost for society but also to evaluate the benefits of mitigation.”The new research by Paulot and Jacob calculate the health cost associated with the ammonia emissions from agriculture exports to be $36 billion a year — equal to about half of the revenue generated by those same exports — or $100 per kilogram of ammonia. The study was published December 2013 in Environmental Science & Technology.The new estimate is about double the current estimate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which suggests a cost of $47 per kilogram of ammonia. The scientists say the new estimate is on the high end of the spectrum, which reflects the need for more research into characterizing the relationship between agricultural ammonia emissions and the formation of the harmful fine particulate matter — a relationship that’s not as straightforward as previous estimates assumed.”The effect of ammonia on fine particulate is complex, and we believe that the models previously used in the United States to price ammonia emissions have not captured this well,” Paulot said.Manure from livestock and fertilizer for crops release ammonia to the atmosphere. In the air, ammonia mixes with other emissions to form microscopic airborne particles, or particulates. The particulates that pose the greatest health risk are those that measure no more than 2.5 micrometers across, or about 1/30 the width of a human hair, which when inhaled can become lodged deep within the lungs. Long-term exposure has been linked to heart and lung diseases and even death. As such, the particles are on the list of six common air pollutants regulated by EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards.An increase in ammonia, however, does not translate to an equal increase in particulates. …

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The first insects were not yet able to smell well: Odorant receptors evolved long after insects migrated from water to land

An insect’s sense of smell is vital to its survival. Only if it can trace even tiny amounts of odor molecules is it is able to find food sources, communicate with conspecifics, or avoid enemies. According to scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, many proteins involved in the highly sensitive odor perception of insects emerged rather late in the evolutionary process. The very complex olfactory system of modern insects is therefore not an adaptation to a terrestrial environment when ancient insects migrated from water to land, but rather an adaptation that appeared when insects developed the ability to fly. The results were published in the Open Access Journal eLIFE.Many insect species employ three families of receptor proteins in order to perceive thousands of different environmental odors. Among them are the olfactory receptors. They form a functional complex with another protein, the so-called olfactory receptor co-receptor, which enables insects to smell the tiniest amounts of odor molecules in their environment very rapidly.Crustaceans and insects share a common ancestor. Since crustaceans do not have olfactory receptors, previously scientists assumed that these receptors evolved as an adaptation of prehistoric insects to a terrestrial life. This hypothesis is also based on the assumption that for the ancestors of recent insects, the ability to detect odor molecules in the air rather than dissolved in water was of vital importance.Early research on insect olfactory receptors focused entirely on insects with wings. Ewald Groe-Wilde and Bill S. …

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Chronic stress in early life causes anxiety, aggression in adulthood, neurobiologists find

In recent years, behavioral neuroscientists have debated the meaning and significance of a plethora of independently conducted experiments seeking to establish the impact of chronic, early-life stress upon behavior — both at the time that stress is experienced, and upon the same individuals later in life, during adulthood.These experiments, typically conducted in rodents, have on the one hand clearly indicated a link between certain kinds of early stress and dysfunction in the neuroendocrine system, particularly in the so-called HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal), which regulates the endocrine glands and stress hormones including corticotropin and glucocorticoid.Yet the evidence is by no means unequivocal. Stress studies in rodents have also clearly identified a native capacity, stronger in some individuals than others, and seemingly weak or absent in still others, to bounce back from chronic early-life stress. Some rodents subjected to early life stress have no apparent behavioral consequences in adulthood — they are disposed neither to anxiety nor depression, the classic pathologies understood to be induced by stress in certain individuals.Today, a research team led by Associate Professor Grigori Enikolopov of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) reports online in the journal PLoS One the results of experiments designed to assess the impacts of social stress upon adolescent mice, both at the time they are experienced and during adulthood. Involving many different kinds of stress tests and means of measuring their impacts, the research indicates that a “hostile environment in adolescence disturbs psychoemotional state and social behaviors of animals in adult life,” the team says.The tests began with 1-month-old male mice — the equivalent, in human terms of adolescents — each placed for 2 weeks in a cage shared with an aggressive adult male. The animals were separated by a transparent perforated partition, but the young males were exposed daily to short attacks by the adult males. This kind of chronic activity produces what neurobiologists call social-defeat stress in the young mice. These mice were then studied in a range of behavioral tests.”The tests assessed levels of anxiety, depression, and capacity to socialize and communicate with an unfamiliar partner,” explains Enikolopov. These experiments showed that in young mice chronic social defeat induced high levels of anxiety helplessness, diminished social interaction, and diminished ability to communicate with other young animals. Stressed mice also had less new nerve-cell growth (neurogenesis) in a portion of the hippocampus known to be affected in depression: the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus.Another group of young mice was also exposed to social stress, but was then placed for several weeks in an unstressful environment. Following this “rest” period, these mice, now old enough to be considered adults, were tested in the same manner as the other cohort.In this second, now-adult group, most of the behaviors impacted by social defeat returned to normal, as did neurogenesis, which retuned to a level seen in healthy controls. …

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Cancer researchers find key protein link

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

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Natural plant compounds may assist chemotherapy

Researchers at Plant & Food Research have identified plant compounds present in carrots and parsley that may one day support more effective delivery of chemotherapy treatments.Scientists at Plant & Food Research, working together with researchers at The University of Auckland and the National Cancer Institute of The Netherlands, have discovered specific plant compounds able to inhibit transport mechanisms in the body that select what compounds are absorbed into the body, and eventually into cells. These same transport mechanisms are known to interfere with cancer chemotherapy treatment.The teams’ research, recently published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, showed that falcarinol type compounds such as those found in carrots and parsley may support the delivery of drug compounds which fight breast cancer by addressing the over-expression of Breast Cancer Resistance Protein (BCRP/ABCG2), a protein that leads to some malignant tissues ability to become resistant to chemotherapy.”It’s very exciting work,” says Plant & Food Research Senior Scientist, Dr Arjan Scheepens. “Our work is uncovering new means to alter how the body absorbs specific chemical and natural compounds. Ultimately we are interested in how food could be used to complement conventional treatments to potentially deliver better results for patients.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Medical marijuana may ease some MS; Little evidence for other complementary or alternative therapies

A new guideline from the American Academy of Neurology suggests that there is little evidence that most complementary or alternative medicine therapies (CAM) treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the guideline states the CAM therapies oral cannabis, or medical marijuana pills, and oral medical marijuana spray may ease patients’ reported symptoms of spasticity, pain related to spasticity and frequent urination in multiple sclerosis (MS). The guideline, which is published in the March 25, 2014, print issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, states that there is not enough evidence to show whether smoking marijuana is helpful in treating MS symptoms.The guideline looked at CAM therapies, which are nonconventional therapies used in addition to or instead of doctor-recommended therapies. Examples include oral cannabis, or medical marijuana pills and oral medical marijuana spray, ginkgo biloba, magnetic therapy, bee sting therapy, omega-3 fatty acids and reflexology.”Using different CAM therapies is common in 33 to 80 percent of people with MS, particularly those who are female, have higher education levels and report poorer health,” said guideline lead author Vijayshree Yadav, MD, MCR, with Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “People with MS should let their doctors know what types of these therapies they are taking, or thinking about taking.”For most CAM therapies, safety is unknown. There is not enough information to show if CAM therapies interact with prescription MS drugs. Most CAM therapies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dronabinol and nabilone are synthetic forms of key ingredients in marijuana. The FDA approved both drugs as treatments for nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy that do not respond to standard treatments. Dronabinol also is approved for loss of appetite associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS.The guideline found that certain forms of medical marijuana, in pill or oral spray form only, may help reduce patients’ reported spasticity symptoms, pain due to spasticity, and frequent urination but not loss of bladder control. …

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Bamboo-loving giant pandas also have a sweet tooth

Despite the popular conception of giant pandas as continually chomping on bamboo to fulfill a voracious appetite for this reedy grass, new research from the Monell Center reveals that this highly endangered species also has a sweet tooth. A combination of behavioral and molecular genetic studies demonstrated that the giant panda both possesses functional sweet taste receptors and also shows a strong preference for some natural sweeteners, including fructose and sucrose.”Examining an animal’s taste DNA can give us clues to their past diet, knowledge that is particularly important for endangered animals in captivity,” said study author Danielle Reed, PhD, a behavioral geneticist at Monell. “This process can provide information on approaches to keep such animals healthy.”The Monell researchers studied the giant pandas as part of a long-term project focused on understanding how taste preferences and diet selection are shaped by taste receptor genes.One previous study found that cats, which must eat meat in order to survive, had lost the ability to taste sweets due to a genetic defect that deactivates the sweet taste receptor.Although giant pandas and cats belong to the same taxonomic order, Carnivora, the giant pandas have a very different diet, as they feed almost exclusively on bamboo.Noting that bamboo is a grass-like plant that contains very small amounts of sugars and does not taste sweet to humans, the researchers wondered whether giant pandas, like their Carnivora cat relatives, had lost sweet taste perception. An alternate possibility was that the panda maintain a functional sweet taste receptor, similar to other plant-eating mammals.In this study, published online in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, eight giant pandas between three and 22 years of age were studied at the Shaanxi Wild Animal Rescue and Research Center in China over a six-month period.For taste preference tests, the animals were given two bowls of liquid and allowed to drink for five minutes. One bowl contained water and the other contained a solution of water mixed with one of six different natural sugars: fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose. Each sugar was presented at a low and a high concentration.The pandas preferred all the sugar solutions to plain water. This was especially evident for fructose and sucrose, as the animals avidly consumed a full liter of these sugary solutions within the respective five-minute test periods.”Pandas love sugar,” said Reed. “Our results can explain why Bao Bao, the six-month-old giant panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, is apparently relishing sweet potato as a first food during weaning.”Another series of preference tests explored the giant panda’s response to five artificial sweeteners. There was little to no preference for most artificial sweetener solutions, suggesting that giant pandas cannot taste or do not strongly perceive these compounds as being sweet.Parallel cell-based studies showed a relationship between the pandas’ behavior and how panda taste receptor cells respond to sweeteners in vitro. Using DNA collected from the giant pandas during routine health examinations, genes that code for the panda sweet taste receptor were isolated and then inserted into human host cells grown in culture. …

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